All year I have wanted the opportunity to race with the Elites you see on TV in a draft legal race. To be able to enter these races, you have to apply with a race CV which is stressful enough in itself. Up until this past weekend I hadn’t been able to take part because I didn’t have a road bike which I could use in the draft legal races. The London Triathlon has been the first opportunity I have had to enter thanks to Peter Exton, a very kind triathlete I met at the lake whilst swimming a few weeks ago, who agreed to lend me his. The bike issue was sorted, and it fitted in with my race schedule, which left me with no excuses not to take part. The reason I wanted to enter one of these races was to use it as a benchmark. I know my swimming is weak (swimming is a key component of elite racing) but my bike and run are strong.
The start list was released a week before the race, and it scared the living daylights out of me. I wanted a comparison to elite athletes but not necessarily the best ones! I was watching a lot of these girls whilst in Lisbon competing in the Elite European Championships. Now just a couple of months later, I was due to compete with them! The field included people who had just missed out on a spot at the Olympics, including some Australian ladies and the fastest swimmers around. Still, it was going to be an experience and if I was going to do it, I might as well jump straight in at the deep end.
When I racked my bike on race morning a TV crew instantly put a camera in my face. This set the tone for the day. Petrified and not quite sure what to do I tried to carry on getting ready but when I opened my kit bag the things which were on top included a multi coloured stripped beach towel, some bananas and a makeup bag. I’m sure this didn’t really look like an elite kit bag, so let’s hope they don’t air this part on TV!
One thing that I really loved about the day was that there were quite a few girls who are also in my age group doing it for the first time too, along with some other Yonda Racing team members and people from our local lake. The more races I do, the more the triathlon community is becoming like a family. Being able to share these experiences with each other makes it so much more enjoyable.
The swim start. We had a race briefing which wasn’t really useful at all. In essence they said “you’re elites, you’ve heard it all before and know what to do”. Well us newbies didn’t! This led to a bit of panic because there were certain things about the course they didn’t explain, including that the 2nd bike lap was shorter than the first, how they wanted us to rack our bikes – by the seat or handle bars and a swim cut off time of 25 minutes! Fortunately the other girls told me all this on the way to the start. In age-group races we are generally allowed into the water a couple of minutes before the start.
However we had ten minutes in the water, then had to get out again. They announced the important people (whilst we stood at the back admiring them) and then we got into the water again. The swim started in the water (thank goodness we didn’t have to dive in) by a rope being lifted up. I had quite a good start as I didn’t get too bashed around and was able to swim in a pack for a bit. However, this quickly ended up with just three of us swimming together. I wanted to be with others ready to start the bike together so being in a group was fine with me. We exited the swim, quickly took our wetsuits off and put them into the plastic bags and ran up the stairs, through the Excel centre, into transition.
Transition went relatively smooth and I came out with one of the girls right behind me. Excellent! We agreed to work together on the bike but then I turned round and I had left her far behind me. Oops! I then realised this was going to be one very long lonely ride. This was a draft legal event so it was really important that I found some other girls to cycle with so we could go faster and save energy at the same time.
Being on my own meant I was exerting more energy and also losing time on the lead pack of girls. I was cycling on closed roads all the way from the Excel Centre to Westminster, but had no-one to enjoy them with as all the age group races had finished. This was great for sightseeing but tough on the mind as I had no-one to chase down. It was only made worse when I saw the two packs of girls go past me in the other direction with the TV crews. They were full of smiles, going fast and not putting much effort in. This spurred me on to try and catch them up but as it turns out all I was doing was trying to limit the time difference between me and them, especially as we had a horrible head wind on the way out.
The run. As I came out of transition the lead girls were just starting their 2nd lap (we had three to do in total). Running just behind Lucy Hall, trying to chase her down was great. Then an Australian lady, Natalie Van Coevorden caught me up (lapped me) and I stuck on her shoulder for a lap. This was incredible. I have been watching these girls on TV all year and I was running amongst them! On her third lap though she found an extra gear but I still had another lap to go and just couldn’t keep up with her (she finished 4th overall). On my final lap I had Tom Bishop, who was the overall male winner, run past me at speed which made me feel like I was walking.
I was incredibly relieved, hot and exhausted by the time I finished. I was so grateful for the support of my friends and family who had come to watch. It was certainly a very different type of race for me than I am used to and for them as spectators, so it was reassuring to see their happy faces. There was nothing particularly surprising to me about my race, as I already knew my swim still needs a lot of work before I am in with a chance of being up there in the top ten. My run was 9th fastest and that’s with tired legs off the bike so if I can get into a pack and save my legs who knows where I could finish. It was an incredible experience and a good benchmark to lay down for the future. Watch this space!!
Thank you as always to my sponsors and supporters who were a massive part in getting me there and race ready. Yonda Racing, DP World London Gateway Port, Hireco, ACS_Mitchell, Ed Kirby Physiotherapy, Paddock Cycles, TrueStartCoffee and Threo.