When it was announced where the AG World Champs would be held in 2013, I decided that I would attempt qualification. After 2 full seasons concentrating on coaching and away from competing, I now had the goal of racing in the biggest triathlon event ever held in the U.K. and on a course around the streets of our iconic capital city – London.
I last competed in an international AG race in Budapest 2010 but a lot can happen in 3yrs. I had a good idea of what was needed to qualify, but I was under no illusion that qualification for London would be straightforward.
I went down to watch the men’s Olympic Triathlon in Hyde Park in the summer of 2012 having started my training some 4 weeks earlier. The events that day really cemented my desire to come back in September 2013 to compete myself.
My weakness like many triathletes is swimming. I have no swimming background whatsoever and poor swim specific flexibility and buoyancy. For various reasons I had not done an actual swim session for over 18months so I committed to doing a minimum of 4 swim sessions a week.
It’s obvious to think that because you coach triathlon that makes training for it simple. As with many things this wasn’t the case. I always knew I would have to make it up as I went along – which I did, keeping good records along the way. I always made sure I did my 4 swims. I swim on my own and often in busy lanes – some of those sessions really test your desire, but I built my fitness back up whilst working on my technique and feel. I integrated cycling and running into or around coaching sessions, like so many things in triathlon this took a lot of forward thinking. Basic principles always applied though and I stuck to them throughout – an emphasis on good diet, plenty of sleep/rest and consistent training with very few absolute ‘killer’ sessions.
After around 10 months training and a couple of running races I was looking forward to starting multi-discipline racing. I was hopeful of completing my full schedule as I had decided to only do a handful of races in the build up to London. My calendar panned out like this:
Carlise Duathlon – Cancelled.
Clitheroe Triathlon – 4th
Horwich Triathlon – 2nd
Keswick Triathlon – DNS (10 degree water temp)
Chester Triathlon – 11th in AG – missed automatic qualification. (Got a roll-down)
Liverpool Triathlon – DNF. (punctured)
Salford Triathlon – 3rd
I hadn’t completed as many races as I would have liked and felt I needed a pre London stimulus to arrive in better shape. 2 weeks out I planned on doing a 1000m swim/30km bike/7km run session under race conditions and at racepace.
Finishing the 30km bike I had to enter the David Lloyd car park. I followed a car on who had activated the barrier, being in race mode I thought I could make it – I was wrong and it knocked me off at speed, damaging my meniscus in my left knee. Initially I thought I’d just taken a bad fall but I soon realized it was a little more serious. It was under 2 weeks to the race and I thought I’d blown it.
I did everything in my power to get to the start line able to compete. Come race day I managed to convince myself that I was absolutely good to go.
An absolute curve ball on race morning came in the shape of the 1500m swim being cut to 750m, these are not our decisions and rightly or wrongly we should accept it and concentrate on what we have to do. I had worked very, very hard on my swim and I was as disappointed as most.
The time came and all the pre race prep had gone well. There was 173 guys in my 35-39 AG split across 2 waves. Looking for last min tactical information I watched the 1st wave set off from the holding pen (with my old socks & gloves on to keep warm). We got away a few mins later – once away I found myself in clear water and slipped into full race mode.
I made up a number of places towards the back end of the swim and got out in decent shape. Into transition, I went for safety over speed – no silly mistakes today.
I got out onto the bike and immediately felt good. You really had to have your wits about you for the whole 40km, contending with other cyclists and people crossing the road. I attacked the bends and really focused on smooth power. I was having a great bike leg, nobody came past and stayed in front, a few would come past fast, then almost immediately drop back. I was making up rapidly places and really enjoying myself. I was more aggressive on the 2nd lap as I had a better idea of the racing line. This proved costly as I pushed just a little too much on one corner and had to lock my body up to prevent me from hitting some cones – this sent a nasty ‘tennis-ball’ calf cramp to my right leg. I stopped pedaling and sat up straight away to try to alleviate it. I free wheeled for what felt like an eternity, watching riders pass me who I had already overtaken (one GB athlete asked me if I was OK, wish I knew who he was to thank him). My calf slightly eased off and I tentatively got going again – trying hard not to get too annoyed by it. I had my gels in good time, drank all my drink as planned and made a smooth dismount paying attention not to aggravate my calf.
Through transition smoothly – no mistakes and out onto the run. I knew that this was going to be hard so it was a case of staying focused. I decided that I was going to run with a slightly higher cadence than normal to take a little impact out of my knee. I definitely felt like I was running with a significant amount of compensation – something that the body is far better at than most of us realise.
In the last km I really gave it everything I had and as I turned for the finish after 3 laps out sprinted 2 guys who were in my wave. In came across the line 1st GB and 2nd overall in my wave. Unfortunately there were a handful of faster guys in the 1st wave which put me down into 8th overall. I was pleased with how things went and the experience was one that I’ll never forget.
Both the men’s and women’s elite races were breath-taking. Mixed fortunes to say the least, incredible entertainment and inspiration delivered from the highest level of our sport. There’s no doubt that the sport of triathlon is in great health and is here to stay.
The message I’d like to convey is that sport and in this case Triathlon is a good metaphor for life itself. Things sometimes go your way and sometimes they don’t. Learn from your mistakes, hold your head high and be honest with yourself. There are some amazing people out there who can inspire you to subsequently inspire others – how ‘fit’ or how ‘fast’ you are isn’t the be all and end all. As long as you have some real direction and are motivated to embrace life you will never go too far wrong.
CCTV footage of the barrier incident