AG World Cross Triathlon (Sarah Jepson)

At the end of the 2016 season, after five years of coaching with Rodger, we made a mutual decision that I had arrived at the point we'd been working so hard to get to. I had an understanding of what I needed to do and how to deliver my best performance on any given day, so from that point forward I was setting my own sessions and making my own decisions with regards to where and what I wanted to race.

I still have daily contact with Rodger, it’s always great to bounce ideas off someone else, but at the end of the day the decisions made were mine. Therefore after racing Sprint and Olympic distance races I decided to enter the world of cross triathlon. Now it wasn’t such a massive step into the unknown, I had raced mountain bikes as a teenager and in recent years have spent many hours running on trails as a guide for Love Trail Running so combining these two with a swim was going to be a great adventure.

I decided to put my name down to try to qualify to represent GB at the Age Group World Championships in Penticton, Canada in August which I did. To really give myself something to work towards I decided I wanted to go there to win a medal. Some people may think this was being presumptuous to think that I could achieve this in my first year of racing cross tri, but my belief was that I could go there and race ‘smart’, using the last five years of experience, and back it up with racing with heart. As long as I finished knowing I could do no more, no matter the result or finishing position, I would be happy.

August soon came around and I found myself on a plane with my #1 support crew, my husband Pete, heading out to Penticton. We arrived a week before raceday and soon settled into the apartment we had rented for the two weeks we would be here. As the cross tri bike leg would be raced in a protected forest the route had not been released to make sure the trails weren’t ridden too much. Despite this, some fellow GB athletes had found a map, so five days before the race I headed out with Pete to have a look. Luckily for us someone had been out previously and placed branches across the junctions so it was fairly easy to follow the route and after this ride I couldn't wait for race day on Wednesday 23rd. Apart from a wide gravel path to and from the forest, the trails were all dry and dusty single track - the exact opposite to what I had been racing during the year. I also managed to get out on the run course which again was dry and dusty apart from a 400m section towards the end where I would be running in the edge of the lake.

The cross tri was just one race in a week long multi-sport festival. First up where the sprint and standard duathlons. It was great to see so many GB AG athletes but particularly special to watch my Racepace teammate Wendy Drake race hard during the standard duathlon. Wendy always 'brings it' to races and is an inspiration to watch - just watching her made me want to get out there myself.

Wednesday morning was an early start and luckily for me came with some good news. The race referees had measured the water temperature and at 22.2degrees the swim would be non-wetsuit. As a relatively strong swimmer I always prefer the swim to be non-wetsuit but it doesn’t happen often, if at all, when racing in the UK. At 7.39am I got myself to the front of the swim start which involved a short dash down the beach into the water. I was ready to see just what I could do. The hooter went and all the women were off.

I had decided to get swimming as soon as possible whereas the women around me went for the dolphin jumping in the shallow water. At the time I felt like I lost a bit to those athletes but having spoken to Pete after the race I had actually stayed pretty level with them. The swim was quite easy to navigate, we started on one beach and swam round to the right onto another. I quickly found some feet and stuck with them, being smart in the swim and finding a good pair of feet to swim on can save time and energy but you always have to be aware to both make sure the feet you are following are going the right way and also to make sure a better set aren’t swimming past.

Luckily for me the feet I found were good and I was able to follow them the majority of the way until they started getting mixed in with another wave. From this point on (300m from end) I made my own way into the shore. I wasn’t sure on my position exiting the water but knew I had to make a good, quick transition to get out on the bike.

As I left transition Pete shouted I was 5th women out, a great position to be in. As I mentioned earlier the start of the bike was on a wide gravel path, the KVR trail, and unlike many triathlons it was legal to draft off the same sex so I found myself a Canadian lady and got to work. After 3km we approached the single track so I made a move to get onto it before she did and it worked. A couple of miles into the single track I was passed by a female New Zealand athlete so did all I could to stay on her wheel with her but unfortunately with some male athletes to pass on the single track it was becoming increasingly harder to stick with her. She knew what I was doing so was passing the men with little room left for me to follow. The bike route was fantastic - quite technical but nothing too difficult and the descent off the hill was fast and great fun but unfortunately I soon found myself back on the gravel path for the 3km back into town. On one of the more technical sections of the descent I had caught and passed the New Zealand athlete but back on the gravel path we teamed up with a German to time trial back into town.

In and out of T2 and Pete called I was still in 5th. All I knew was that I had 8km between me and the finish line and it was time to dig deep and keep those legs moving. After around 2km of single track I made it up the last steep climb onto the KVR trail again. This section was a simple out and back to the aid station and then down to the lakeside for the final 2km. The run along the KVR was tough, the sun was up and it was hot with very little shade so by the time I got lakeside the run in the water was a blessing. By this point I had been passed by a few other runners but not knowing my age group position all I could do was keep pushing. Turning the final corner for the home straight, I’ve never been so pleased to see a finish line. As I crossed the line I could see Pete and both Wendy and her husband Paul, who had delayed leaving Penticton to support me. Crossing the line I knew I could do no more, my mind and body were exhausted from the effort so hearing that I was 9th female overall and first female Brit was amazing but we were still unsure of my Age Group position.

Moving through the finishing area I was finally able to sit with Pete, Wendy and Paul and it was at that moment that we discovered I had finished third in my Age Group. The feeling of elation passed through us all and it was incredible to be able to share this experience knowing what it meant not just to me but to my friends and family back home.

Its been a few days since race day and the feelings of happiness have still not passed. I can go a couple of hours without thinking about it and then I catch a glimpse of the medal and remember what I have done. To be able to put together a medal winning race didn’t just happen on that day, or even just this year, it’s been five years of blood, sweat and the occasional tear and not just from me. I’ve already mentioned Pete and the support he gives but there honestly aren't enough words to describe how much it means to have him by my side. Another special mention has to go to Rodger, who over the last five years has put a lot of time and effort into getting me in the best mental and physical shape possible, what he has done is above and beyond what other triathlon coaches would consider doing for their athletes and for that I will be forever grateful.

So with my goal of the season accomplished I have just two races left, the Xtramile Events Leeds sprint triathlon and then the Age Group Sprint Triathlon World Championships in Rotterdam. Then I'll be turning my focus to coaching triathlon - I'm very excited to use my passion, understanding and experience to help other athletes reach their potential.

AG World Cross Triathlon