Two weeks after returning from Austria and it was already time to head back to North Wales for the next race in the Always Aim High Series, The Sandman. Set in Newborough Forest in Anglesey, it was an absolutely stunning location for a race and I was excited for the sea swim, rolling bike and sandy run. After the Slateman I was sitting in second in the series, but after a good season of racing I felt confident about trying to decrease the gap to Susie Richards and with a trip to Nevis on the cards felt motivated to give the race everything I had.
I registered on the Saturday and finalised my preparations with a swim in the sea and a drive of the bike course. In both cases, there were more hills than expected, particularly in the water! Sunday morning came and the pre-race routine was smooth. Warming up I felt relaxed and ready to go. We walked down the beach to the beat of a drumming band and being with my support crew right until the start line was a great distraction before the race. The atmosphere was great and I was pleased to see Tom, Aidan and Jack from the race team before the start. I find it helpful to not think too much before the start and the more distractions the better. It is only when I line up that I become focused and concentrate on, as much as possible, staying in the moment.
The Sea - The start was brilliant, I loved the run into the sea and was quickly into my swimming. I got to the first buoy first and was ready to turn and settle into a rhythm. Turn was fine, but looking up I had no idea where I was meant to head.... Everytime I tried to sight I couldn't see the buoy, so I just kept swimming, looking up, swimming, looking up! Finally, after swimming towards shore for a while I saw that there was a yellow hat to my right and the lead boat. I decided to head back towards them and swim together for the remainder of the swim. Anytime I saw a buoy, I tried to increase my speed. The waves kept coming and I swallowed a lot of water, but I made it back to the beach in one piece and was excited to get going on the bike.
The Sun (and Wind) - Having driven the course the day before, it didn't seem that up and down. I was wrong. I went out pretty hard and tried to get into a rhythm as quickly as possible. The roads were open and with lots of long straight sections it was nice to get some good speed up. I focused on my plan and had three Powerbar gels on the way round. I felt strong for most of the bike leg and kept my cadence as constant as possible. The way back into Newborough was tough. There was a strong headwind and at times it felt like I would never get back. The end of a bike leg is a key part of the race and one I am still improving my approach to. There are times when I start to think too far ahead, or feel I am 'nearly there'. At this point I try to re-focus on the moment and make sure that I finish the bike with the same intent that I started. In this instance I felt I did that, but I know in other races I have been looking forward to getting off the bike far too early.
The Sand - The run is "just a trail run" Pete said, "it's pretty flat and you will be fine... Only a bit of sand at the end." Well it was sandy and hilly from the start. My favourite moment was sliding down a hill on my hand due to slightly mis-judging how steep the sand dune was on the way up and falling down the other side. I wanted to attack the run and set out with real intent. I spent about 8k of the run on my own and tried to keep my cadence high and my form good. The legs were just about holding out and I started to realise that I had created enough of a lead to enjoy the final kilometre along the beach. I hit the beach and loved having Pete, my mum and his mum to cheer me home. It was a really special feeling and I was delighted with how the race panned out. The final Sand dune and the finish line were a welcome sight and I made the most of being able to break the tape... Whilst I hope it will not be the last, I know it is an important moment to savour and not take for granted.
In two weeks time I will be taking on the Snowman which has an 'interesting' bike and run profile. I am focused on recovering well now so I can finish my season with a hard race and a smile on my face!