Having just arrived home from Mallorca and spent a day at work, I am finally starting to feel like I can look back, review, and reflect on my first experience on a pro start line. It has taken a while to recover and to feel able to do this, having spent much of Saturday and Sunday either being sick or lying in bed! To be honest, being so unwell after the race has somewhat clouded my view of the whole experience, but now that I have started to feel a little more normal (and my pee has returned to a colour that would be more in keeping with a hydrated individual) I will try to reflect on what in many ways I feel is a good platform to build from.
The final training block leading into the race had been good. I had been a bit over tired, but some rest, and then a solid 6 week block had seen lots of good quality sessions. I was hitting quality times in my km run reps, keeping up with the 400m pace in my swim group and feeling strong on the bike. Whilst this did not make my aims for Mallorca any different, it did make me feel confident going into it.
Having arrived in Mallorca during the week I had done the final few sessions, practiced the swim start and recce'd the bike course - paying particular attention to the winding descent. After that, there was nothing left to do, but all the normal pre-race set up that always seems to be most nerve wracking and stressful time... "Have I got everything I need?" "Am I going to go the wrong way?" "Was the coke before the water or after at aid stations?!" These nerves and questions are as much about the race as about the questions themselves, but we all need something to occupy our minds and for me the logistics seem to be where my mind goes. I like to be organised and my race preparation and set up is no different!
Race day arrived and before the race start I felt surprisingly relaxed.... I did have some nerves, but knew these were a good sign. My stomach wasn't feeling great and I did say to Pete I felt a bit sick, but at the time I thought nothing of it. As I watched the pro men go off I was pretty excited and positioned myself on the start line ready to go. As I ran into the sea I was right up there and got a good start, finding some feet and feeling like I was being pulled along at a good pace, but not having to be going off too hard or work over my limit. After this, however, I think I just misjudged the effort level and did not push on to go with this group. I became isolated and did the rest of the swim out to the turn point alone, going slightly off course twice, before turning back to bring a big group back to shore. I am really disappointed with my swim time and the fact I didn't push hard enough, because I feel that this is something I have been able to do consistently in other races. This is a good lesson for me and I need to find the belief I have in training and bring it to my next swim start. I have worked really hard to get quicker in the water and I am now a better swimmer than my time suggests, particularly the speed and endurance I have found in the pool recently. A lesson learnt and something to think about for my next race.
As I got through transition and out on the bike, I pushed hard all the way to the base of the climb. It was a wet, windy and lonely section of the course. As I then began the climb it got misty and still pretty lonely. I started to see others coming back down the other way, having called it a day and I wondered if it was going to get worse. I kept going and just tried to focus on working up the climb at my pace, regularly taking on my Etixx sports drink and Etixx peach gels to stay fuelled. I was making good progress without pushing too hard. As I approached the summit I knew it was now time to take a deep breath and remain calm for the descent. I was delighted with how relaxed and well I was able to descend as a result. Nothing silly, but also a good level of confidence and composure to allow me to focus on the process needed, particularly in the wet conditions. It was easy to feel balanced on my Argon E-118 and the bike responded well in the wet and slippy conditions. It was great to have my Fulcrum racing Quattro wheels with 25mm tyres to choose. They were light on the climb and grippy on the way down! As I came off the descent I was very cold and I knew it was taking me a while to warm up, because anytime my legs were still, they were still shaking on the pedals! A final hard, flat and fast effort back into transition eventually helped me warm up, despite the rain continuing to fall. I had a key focus for the last 20km of the bike and was pleased to pull this off, making up two places in this section. This shows that learning from each race is really helping me develop. On reflection, the words effort level feel important again for the bike section and I am still aware that there is potential for more, but time and experience will tell.
Onto the run and taking my own Etixx gels to encourage me to stay appropriately fuelled, I wanted to put the tough brick runs from training into action. I went out well and maintained a good pace, focusing on a quick leg turnover. I have been running in the Skechers go run4, which have been great in my speed work sessions and were paying off in the early stages of the run. Although I knew I was working hard, I held relatively good pace and reminded myself to relax and keep the legs moving and my feet light. The weather conditions were not easing and I was finding it more difficult to drink at aid stations. As I started to tire, I suddenly felt a lot colder than I had and my stomach just seemed to go instantly. For the last 5km I don't really recall much other than willing myself to get to the next toilet stop, persuading myself to not stop or walk and encouraging my mind to tell my body that it would pass. As the finish line approached I felt everything and nothing all at the same time. I felt relief and a sense of disappointment, but also in some ways, proud just to be there and have got to the end. The race was not perfect, in fact a lot went wrong! The race was, however, solid and strong and in many ways fitted with my expectations.... A chance to learn, experience a quality pro field and produce a performance to build my 2016 year on.
The finish was a welcome sight (as were the toilets!), but it seemed to be a catalyst to allow my body to actually respond to the bug that had probably been there all along. I am so grateful for my support crew getting me back to my room before the sickness began! I spent the rest of the day and the following day and night in bed. As a recovery strategy, both in terms of hydration and hunger, I don't recommend it!! All that time in bed you would think I have done a lot of thinking and reflecting, but to be honest I haven't. I need to get healthy and then build back up for the next week. I will review the race with Andy and take the learning into my next race, setting new objectives and areas to focus on. I will have new motivation and belief in training and now know what I am aspiring to be... There is lots of work to do!!
A huge thank you to:
Orca for my new race suit, the comfort of a great Alpha wetsuit and their continued support and encouragement.
EtixxUK whose products are easy to digest when racing and keep me going through the hard training blocks. I have recently noticed a big difference in levels of fatigue thanks to taking their Iron supplements.
I-Ride UK for giving me the best bike, wheels, accessories and helmet for racing.
Skechers Performance whose trainers I have only recently been running in, but since I have I have had less calf tightness and no soreness through a previous foot injury.
Andy Bullock whose guidance, support and willingness to listen during my training is fundamental to my enjoyment and development in the sport.
Hampton Pool for the swim lane and endless heated outdoor swim action.
Freespeed for the bike fit that was fast and comfortable.
And not forgetting Pete and Mum for just being them (and for standing in the rain watching me suffer)!!