As I begin to build back into training I thought it was a good time to put some words down about the past two weeks of racing. Pays d’aix and Barcelona 70.3 races have been in the diary since January, when I began my winter block of training.The decision to race back-to-back 70.3 races was something some people questioned, but throughout the winter it gave me a really clear vision of what I was aiming for and the closer the races got the more I felt confident that it was a good decision.
When you arrive at the first race of the season you are always wondering what kind of shape you are in. I knew that training was going well. I was swimming faster than ever, had consistently backed up a good mixture of hard work and easy miles on the bike and my running had been progressing well too. Nevertheless, putting them all together in a 70.3 is a very different kettle of fish. Whilst I was confident, I also had some nerves. It was important to just focus on getting the processes right and see what I could do on the day, something that in many ways can be easier said than done.
I am a creature of habit and my pre-race routine reflects this. We travelled on the Thursday after my final bike and run sessions before the race. I like to do a couple of high intensity sessions in the build up to races to make sure I am sharp. I always rest two days out from the race, which helps me feel recovered both mentally and physically. This day is usually spent registering, organizing my kit and getting to know the bike course by driving around it. Knowing the course is really helpful on race day. I am able to know what is coming up, when to eat and drink and what parts of the course I think I am able to attack on. This was particularly the case with Pays d’aix due to the technical descents and steep climbs! The day before the race I always do a short run and then swim on the course. I try to practice the start and finish of the swim course so I know exactly what I am doing on race day. Then it is about racking the bike, getting off my feet and fueling up for the following day.
In the past I have dreaded the swim and felt particularly nervous about it going into races. Whilst the nerves were still there, this felt different and I was determined to put the swim training to full effect. I managed to start well and get on the feet of some good swimmers. I then swam side by side with another athlete for a long time. As she accelerated I tried to go with her, but did not quite hold the pace at this point. Nevertheless, I knew I was near the front of the field and I just kept focusing on the processes of my pull and rotation. I managed to hold the gap to the swimmer in front and maybe even close a few metres in the later stages of the swim. Coming out in the top five was a perfect platform for the rest of the race and a swim that was a big step up from previous years.
Start hard and maintain it. I went off out of transition and passed a couple of athletes very early. At first the legs were taking a while to get going, but I continued to push on and was pleased to start to feel better and better as the ride went on. I knew it was hilly and as we climbed I quickly found the front of the field. It was great to be in a race on the bike. There was lots of changing of position on the front and I really felt like we were all pushing each other to ride harder. The time I lost on the bike was the descents. I just didn’t have the skills, confidence and ability to stay with The other athletes on the technical descent. This was frustrating at the time, but a good lesson and something to work on over the next few months in training. The legs held up well and despite a bit of a tough spell at about 70km I still felt strong up the final climb and set about staying in contention as we came into transition.
I came off the bike in 3rd, about two minutes down. I set about making up the time and tried to build into a rhythm as quickly as possible. I try to focus on my cadence, running tall and working the arms during the run. Every aid station I passed I was taking on water and Coke and things seemed to be ticking along nicely. I went into second place on the second lap and up until about 10k felt pretty strong. Then what started well soon began to feel like a real effort. I was doing my best to hold good form, but I was feeling increasingly dehydrated and was finding it difficult to focus. The aid stations seemed further and further apart and I just couldn’t get enough fluid in to try and compensate for what I now know was not enough fluid and nutrition on the bike. As I lost second place due to the well paced running of the other women, it was then about not letting things completely fall apart. Pete was a massive help at this point, pushing me on and also letting me know that the whole family and coach were sending messages on What’s app. I kept plugging away and as I came into the final few km I started to know I could hold on.
Crossing the line was initially a huge sense of relief and was quickly followed by drinking copious amounts of water. As I started to feel a bit better I enjoyed the realization that I had performed well and was proud to find myself on the podium.
The week leading into Barcelona was the best preparation for a race I have had. Not working, being in the sunshine, being able to ride parts of the course and enjoying a mini holiday with Pete meant I was relaxed and well recovered. I had also gained confidence from Pays d’aix, but more importantly I had spent a long time on the phone to Andy to debrief the race before and make a plan to correct the mistakes I had made before. The best way to learn is to race and the opportunity to put things into practice so quickly as really exciting.
Race morning preparation went as it always does. Check my bike, add my nutrition and hydration, warm up, wetsuit up, swim warm up, family hugs, kisses and good lucks and then focus on the start line. The men went off ahead of us and I was in a good spot on the start line. Despite this the shout of ‘take your marks’ and the hooter all happened a bit quicker than I had expected and I felt like I was left standing. The first few 100 metres of the swim was therefore really messy as people tried to find space and form groups. I tried to stay calm and find some space to swim in, but just couldn’t seem to get out of the chaos. Eventually this subsided and I found myself at the front of a big second group. I set about getting into a good rhythm and tried to build the pace throughout swim. Me and another athlete were side by side for much of the swim and I was pleased that we kept the small group ahead of us in sight.
Coming out of transition Pete yelled at me that he thought I was in about 9th. I was pretty disappointed to hear this at the time, but it made me go on the chase. I passed two athletes as we went out of town and then tried to settle into a solid pace as we hit the bottom of the first climb. The first 45km went really quickly. Most of it was uphill and I continued to push on. As I caught 4th and 5th they came with me. We then passed 3rd not long after that and 2nd at the top of the final climb in Montsany. As we crossed a timing mat I thought about my family and friends watching the tracker and wondering if I had gone off too hard. I also felt excited that they would know I had made some good ground. At this point in the race there was a very narrow, windy descent on a poor road surface. Luckily I had been down the descent during our course recon on Friday. Nevertheless it was sketchy and I struggled on some of the sharper corners. I got passed on the descent, but as we came to the wider sections I tried to attack more than I did last week. There was also (finally) some flat road, so I enjoyed travelling at a faster pace for a few kms. I stayed in second until the final aid station, where I get passed as I was taking on fluid. I knew I had to drink here and took the decision to do so. I had been really focused throughout the bike to stick to the nutrition and hydration plan in order to run well.
The run was the part of the race I really wanted to improve on from the previous week. I made the decision to build more slowly into the first few kms and then get into my running. I found a solid rhythm pretty early and felt relaxed and composed. I knew exactly what I was doing with my run nutrition this time and it was brilliant in helping me split the course into smaller sections. As I moved back up into second place I could see a group of three or four athletes all fighting it out for 3rd on the out and back course. It was hard to say how far they were from me, but it felt closer than it was and it was big motivation to hold strong and maintain the pace I was running. I didn’t really believe I was going to hold second until the last kilometer. The final three kilometers were starting to hurt and I tried to push harder to ensure I held the position. Coming into the finish line was an amazing feeling and a combination of shock and excitement. I was so pleased I had put together a good performance and also put into practice what I had learnt from the previous week.
I have been overwhelmed by the support and messages I have received over the last few weeks. It has been great to start the season well, but this only makes me hungry for more improvements. I have been able to consistently train with good volume, but more importantly good quality. As I am now back up to full training it's taught me that racing is much easier than training (I'm exhausted)! I still have much to improve on in swim, bike and run to get to the top step of the podium, but making these improvements is the motivation I need.
Behind the scenes....
Racing is the part that everyone sees, but here are some of the things I think have contributed to my development...
- More swim volume and more swimming in my wetsuit. This has meant that I have been swimming steady when I need to and then had better quality in the hard sessions.
- Lifting heavy in strength and conditioning sessions and then backing off into races. This is key for the development of power and stability through swim, bike and run.
- Specific power development sessions on the bike at Digme fitness.
- A coach who has changed my training programme as I have developed and pushed me just enough as we work on all aspects of training and racing.
- The best equipment. Check out why I wear the Alpha wetsuit here, all about the Argon18 E119 here, the Fulcrum disc and racing Quattro, the x-lab hydration system here and the Skechers meb4 here.
- Run often and with good form. My run volume is about the same, but I'm running more frequently and again with the easy easy and the hard hard!
- More massage and treatment from Helen Smith. As someone who isn't always good at keeping on top of this, it has made a noticeable difference.
- The best support from Pete, not just on race day, but all through training. When I'm tired he puts up with me and also makes sure I get out the door and get the work done.
Following the last two races I am now going to race in the Ironman 70.3 European Championship race on June 18th. I'm excited to take on a quality field and compete at a championship race. This will be another challenge and one I hope I can rise to!