Posted on June 22, 2017 by Kim Mead
On Sunday 30th April 2017 I did something I’d dreamed of doing since I was a child…..I donned a Great Britain outfit and represented my country! I found out in November 2016 that I had qualified to represent Great Britain my age-group (35-39 years) in the duathlon at the ETU Standard Distance Duathlon Championships in Soria. For reference, this is a 10k run, 40k bike, 5k run. (All back to back, unlike my Dad who thought I did each of the elements on separate days….which would be nice!)
I started doing triathlons around two years ago; prior to this I’d always been an ‘above-average’ runner. My run times weren’t ground breaking but they were normally above average in the race field. Like many people, I hit my mid-30’s, my body was broken from too much running and not enough stretching (I know, as a personal trainer by trade I should know better!) and so I decided to try my hand at triathlons.
After trying a couple of triathlons, I decided one of my goals was to aim to qualify for an age-group race. I started training with a coach, who whilst encouraging me to continue with triathlons suggested I try to qualify in a duathlon (run-bike-run) as this played to my strengths more.
In the lead up to the event my training was intense, training between 10-14 hours per week whilst still running a business. Spending time with friends and family was put to the back of the queue as I prioritised training. Six weeks before the event I began to doubt whether I could keep it up as the training and lack of free time seriously began to take their toll. I was TIRED and constantly hungry, not a good combination! However, as the event approached, the hours of training were stripped back, to focus on short, intense workouts and everything, all of a sudden, seemed much more manageable. I could do this!
We arrived in Soria, a small town, about two and a half hours drive away from Madrid, three days before the race. The ‘we’ being my amazing family who had come to support me. My husband came along too as he needed to see whether all those training hours I’d prioritised over spending time with him were worth it! My parents had flown over from Cyprus, and my brother and his family had come along too! I was in the ‘zone’ during the race, so much so that I didn’t really acknowledge their support whilst I was competing, but I can tell you it definitely spurred me on and kept me going, especially in the horrendous weather conditions which I’ll come to later.
The elites ran on the Saturday which was epic to watch. The parathletes also raced on Saturday…..what an inspiration to watch. The next time you are in a race and begin to struggle I urge you to think of the hard work these guys put in and that should be enough to keep you going.
On the Friday night there was an opening ceremony where all of the athletes from the different countries were paraded through the town square. It was pretty surreal, an amazing atmosphere and the GB age-groupers were out in force…I felt famous!
In the lead up to the race I was feeling in pretty good condition. I had a slight niggle in my left hamstring, but I didn’t care….I was racing in Spain regardless, nothing was going to stop me from living my childhood dream! I’d felt pretty light and strong in my training runs, and like I was getting stronger on the bike. The bike is still my weaker discipline, especially compared to most of the other women in my age-group, but I planned to just give it my all.
I had been studying the weather for about 2 weeks leading up race day it was forecast to be perfect racing whether! However, 5 days before, how things changed….each day the forecast showed the winds to get stronger, and on Sunday it was forecast rain and thunderstorms…..awesome! Just what I needed!
My age-group raced at 11:40am. At 10am I racked my bike up in transition, the sun looked like it might be making an appearance, maybe the forecast was wrong?! But as I started to warmup, it started getting colder, the odd rain shower occurred but, most importantly, the winds began to get stronger. Racing in the wind is not good for me; I’m pretty tiny which I find makes it harder to battle against strong winds.
As we approached the ‘holding area’ before we went to the start line, the metal barriers started to blow over…..not good!
Run 1 – 10k
I set off on the first run feeling strong. This time I was focused on running my own race, I have a tendency to set off too fast, as I worry about keeping up with the faster runners, then die towards the end of the first 10k (not recommended!) I’d studied the form of the other females before the race and knew I wasn’t in the running for a top 3 spot, so this took some of the pressure off. I just wanted to complete the course in a good time and enjoy the race.
The first run was 4 x 2.5km laps through a park, with plenty of cheering opportunities for any support teams. Four laps sounds simple…. but they zig-zagged through the park….uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill, across the park then downhill to the start again. The uphill sections weren’t too bad, taking around 2-3 minutes to complete each one…..if you could focus on this then it seemed manageable, however I must admit by the time I got to lap 4 they did begin to tax the legs, so I had to dig in for the final lap!
Bike – 40km
The transition from run to bike went well – it was a good 200-300m of running up a gentle slope from the transition area with the bike to the mount line. I clipped in, and started the first ascent on the course…..pretty cruel of the race organisers to put a hill in at the start! Thankfully, I had done a recce of the course on the Friday with some of the other age-groupers so I knew there was a hill at the start and was, thankfully, in the right gear on the bike!
The course was 3 laps of a 13.5k route, which some people may have described as ‘hilly’ but, being a ‘Yorkshire-lass’, I’d describe it more as undulating. There were a couple of short, steep climbs with one long drag in the mid-section and then another long drag back to the town centre at the end of each loop. During the recce I was confident all of the hills I’d done in training would work to my advantage. Well, that would have been the story, had it not being blowing a gale!! Wow, as I cycled round the first bend to the main road the wind really hit me! It was so strong that it was significantly slowing me down on the flat and downhill, this did not bode well for the uphill sections!
Strong winds on the bike is my absolute nightmare. As I mentioned before I’m pretty small and light, in no wind this really works in my favour on the uphills….in strong winds it works against me. In fairness, the winds slowed everyone down, I estimated that 60%-70% of each lap was into a strong head or cross-wind and added about 10 minutes on to my bike time. There were times when I was cycling downhill into a head wind and instead of going at 40mph with no wind, I was doing about 10 mph! Then to top it off, as I attacked lap two the rain came! Thankfully I had sunglasses on….not to keep the sun out of my eyes but so I could still see as the rain lashed against my face!
Not to be beaten I battled on the best I could; I thought the organisers may even stop the race at one point as the winds had gotten so bad and I vividly remember being on lap 3 screaming out loud at the wind ‘come on you (insert swear word here!), let’s have you!’. I wasn’t going to let it beat me!
At the turn around point of each lap, we had a section of around 5km where there was no wind…absolute bliss. This section also had a great long downhill section where I managed to get to a speed of 41mph. I’m normally a scardy-cat going downhill, so this is pretty fast for me, although I heard that one guy achieved a pace of 50mph….WOW!
I hit transition two and ran/hobbled/staggered to the bike racks as my legs felt like lead, the wind had really taken it out of them, and my hamstring started to twinge a little. All I had to go was the final 5k run!
Run 2 – 5k
The final run was a little different to the first; the wind had increased, but thankfully most of the 2 x 2.5km laps were in the park which kept you sheltered. There was one leg outside of the park which was pretty tough into a head wind, so it was almost a treat to get inside of the park away from the wind.
The support on the final 5k was phenomenal, having complete strangers cheer you on by your name is the most uplifting experience when you are tired. I’d also had a great amount of support from all of our clients at motive8, thinking of this support with the encouragement from my family really kept me going.
The final 300m was downhill , so digging in deep I pushed myself on to the finish line to be greeted by my very soggy, and cold supporters!
My target time
Anyway, I pushed on….it was windy and tough, but the cheers and shouts from my family really kept me going, as did thinking of all the lovely messages of support people had sent me before the event. The final run was 5k, 2 x 2.5km laps around the park with a downhill finish. I did my best to finish with a sprint and passed the finish line in 2:55