This year, the European Duathlon Championship was held in a little German town, called Kalkar. Just on the Eastern boarder and only a couple of hours from Brugge. We therefore took full advantage of that and decided to have a little road trip, stopping off in Brugge, breaking up the journey slightly.
When we arrived we were slightly surprised to find out that it was actually held 5km away from Kalkar, at a Pontins kind of venue, called Wonderland. It was a bit weird to say the least, a disused power plant that had now been converted into a children’s theme park but still, that’s where it was. After walking around and trying to figure out where everything was, we went into the lovely historic town to have a look around. It wasn’t massive but it was cute and had a good coffee and cake shop so I was happy.
Unfortunately, in the lead up to the race, I had a slight foot injury. It wasn’t anything major or I didn’t think so anyway, but we weren’t sure what it was. It was a slight numbing/tingling feeling that I had across the outside of my foot every time I rolled my foot, slight problem seeing that was every stride. I was told that it was probably best not to run and to do a little more cycling instead to make up, till I had it checked out, at least. I knew that I’d be fine for the race as it would only be pain but it was annoying that I had to drop my run sessions.
Heading out to recce the bike course, it looked easy enough, 4 loops of an out and back with a slight technical first bit, cobbles, uneven road, potholes, and sharp turns but once you were out of Wonderland it only had two wide left turns and a U-turn at the end, the rest was pancake flat, nothing more to it, smooth, manicured roads, no potholes, covers, stones, glass or anything. It was the perfect TT course, where you’d get on the bars, head down, and power all the way. It was going to be fast but also harder to gain time than a hillier course. Oh well, at least it was windy.
Race day soon arrived and it was time to put all the training sessions and hard work into practice. Arriving at Wonderland, I set up transition, warmed up and listened to one of my spin sessions that soon got me into race mode, with the sun shining and expecting it to stay out till the end of my race, just, I was ready.
Not long after being lined up on the start line, the horn sounded and we were off. The 2016 European Championship was underway and with a technical first kilometre, the initial pace was fast. However, I soon decided to ease off slightly and pace myself, building the speed throughout the 10 kilometres, as I knew that we’d soon spread out and with only one wave being out on the course at a time there’d be plenty of space to pass the sharp corners.
Having recced the course beforehand, I knew that the second corner of the run was the part that hurt my foot the most. However, I figured that if I increased my cadence slightly it would help relieve the pain. Thankfully it did, however, after turning the dreaded corner I soon realised that there was a stone or something in my shoe, not good at all! No numbing feeling but the stone really didn’t help. As a bit of advice, always check your shoes before you start!
Passing the first few corners, I headed out along the Rhine. It was a long straight and a fairly even course that was sheltered for the first bit but then really opened up. Being on the top of the riverbank, the wind was strong and I found myself in no man’s land between two groups. I tried to push on and close up, to protect myself slightly, but it wasn’t going to happen. I was on my own.
Fighting through the side wind, I soon got to the turn around point and headed back along the river to Wonderland. I could feel that it was going to be a tough run. I was only 1/8th into it and already finding it tough to build the pace up. I wasn’t sure what was happening. I hadn’t gone off too hard, I didn’t really have a problem with my foot, yet I had no oomph. I felt like a car with no acceleration. I tried the best to push on a bit more and increase the pace slightly but that wasn’t working.
After I got into the sheltered part, I was able to get a bit more speed up and I overtook a couple more athletes. I worked my way up slightly but it felt tougher than it should’ve done. Perhaps, I wore too many layers? I really wasn’t sure.
I kept going though and pushed onto the second lap of four and with the amazing support of the Irish team; I had a little boost of energy. Heading back out along the river I clocked some of the other athletes in front and tried to keep the distance minimal so that I’d be able to take them on the bike and make some time back up.
With my pace towards the last lap building up again, I made a final effort and pushed the last few kilometres, I took a few more people just before heading into the hanger where transition was and was ready for the bike. Time to do some damage!
Running straight in, along to the 2nd door, I saw my bike, grabbed the helmet, put my glasses on, whilst taking off my trainers and headed out towards the hanger exit, over the mount line, I jumped on, turned sharply and tightened my shoes. With a fairly good mount, I was off, soon to be out of Wonderland and onto the lovely smooth road.
Having taken a while to settle down off the run, with all the cobblestones and potholes, I was soon out of Wonderland and after a cheeky TORQ gel; I put my head down and went for it. Here we go!
Dropping down the gears and passing the first roundabout cautiously, due to the head winds, I focussed on the person in front and chased him down. I was in my element again. I put the first run behind me and just focussed. I knew what I needed to do.
Travelling into the headwind was great news for me, with all the practice I’ve had living by the Fens, I was well prepared and could power through and really make up some time, which I needed, especially as I wanted to do well and get a podium finish, having just missed out in Alcobendas last year, coming 4th.
Turning at the end of that long straight, I continued to power round, maintaining the speed and as soon as I came out of the apex, increased the gears even more and pushed harder. With the wind behind, it wasn’t long till I topped 45kpm. Loved it!
Making my way up the field, place by place. I swept around the nice wide turn point and made my way back along the lovely smooth roads, still keeping track of the athlete’s in front.
Back into Wonderland, I turned over the potholed entrance, past the barriers, up the small hill before being cheered on again the Irish and the Brits. I turned the four consecutive sharp bends and headed down the cobbles and back out onto the main road. Another gel and off I went, back into my comfortable position, head down and power.
Another lap soon passed, then another, and now with only one lap to go, I passed a good friend of mine, Craig, we cheered each other on and then I knew I had to make time up. He was a faster runner than me and it had taken longer to catch him on the bike than I had expected. I only had one lap to gain time but I knew I had to do it if I wanted a chance of that podium position. The race was on!!!
Coming back into the Wonderland entrance, past the supporters, up the hill I prepared to dismount, feet out and placed on top, I brought my leg over and jumped off and legged it through transition. It needed to be quick! Every second really does count now.
Same routine as any other race, down the row, rack the bike, helmet off and shoes on, with the sun going in I decided to take my glasses off and I was soon out of the hanger and onto the first lap of two.
Thankfully for me, I was feeling strong, a lot better than the first 10km, and I pushed it hard. Out past the first few corners and onto the river straight, I was holding the pace, and was in my element. Come on, I can do this!
As I turned at the end, I looked out for Craig. I noticed him not far behind. The last thing I was going to do was allow him to take me on the last 100m so I started building the pace back down the kilometre straight and around the hanger before heading out onto the final 2.6km lap. I hoped that I was just able to pull it off and keep the distance between us. I pushed on and with the loud Irish not failing to show their support, I was soon back along that long stretch.
As I turned, with only 1.5km to go, my quads spasmed and with Craig just behind, I dug deep, made a few wide legged strides and fought against it. I really didn’t have long to go and I wasn’t going to give up easily.
I pushed harder and harder, the closer to the finish I got. Now with only 500m to go, I turned the corner, looked over and pushed as much as my body would allow. Come on, final stretch.
I took the last few corners and ran onto the red carpet; with the crowed cheering I crossed the finishing line. Phew, I’d done it. I wasn’t sure whether I had made it onto the podium but it wouldn’t be long till I found out. With Craig crossing the line, only 8 seconds behind, it was a very close tough race but therefore even more rewarding. As he crossed, we congratulated each other for a great race performance and our sub 2-hour time. We were both very chuffed.
Soon after I found out that I had made it, coming 3rd. I was delighted. My first sub 2-hour standard race, finishing in 1:59:18, and a podium finish at European Championships. Amazing!!! Now time to recover, have a massage and eat something. 🙂
It was a fantastic week and I feel so fortunate to be able to race in so many different places, around the world, meeting some incredible people. I love these races and it was just incredible to be apart of and none of it would be possible without the support from my sponsors, friends and family, especially my mum. So I’d like to say a massive thank you to the whole Irish team that were cheering me on the whole way, I could hear you a mile away. To all the amazing supporters and organisers that made it such a great race, it really did work well at Wonderland, my mum who not only drove me but supported, cooked and helped with all the race preparation and to Craig who made it such an interesting race and pushed me on. Sub 2 hours for us both. I’ll see you at Worlds, in Aviles, in a few weeks.
I’d also like to thank all my sponsors, Apex and daysout.co.uk, for the bike and gear along with their continued support and backing, TORQ for their amazing sports nutrition products (www.torqfitness.co.uk), Warwick Physio + Rehab for their help in making sure I’m fit and ready to race and to the Stamford Endowed Schools for their financial support. Along with my family, friends and Charlotte (who without knowing, really pushed me on the run), you have all supported me massively throughout my various competitions and have helped me get to where I am now, so thank you.
Till next time,