The start of the season, the first big race has arrived and boy am I looking forward to getting it underway. It’s now time to put all that winter training into practice and get out there. This is where the training hopefully pays off. Feeling ready and raring to go we flew into Madrid and made the 2-hour journey to Soria and set up in our great little Airbnb apartment. Arriving at 1 am we were soon in bed, and eager to see what the place looked like, as it was pitch black and snowing when we arrived.
Having had a lie in to catch up on the night before, we opened the blinds to an amazing view! We had a lovely view of church at the back on top of a hill and a nice clock tower on the other side. The apartment was perfect! Eating and then unpacking, I put the bike together and we soon headed off into the cute little town to get our bearings and do a little exploring.
We enjoyed a great breakfast at a nice little patisserie we were recommended and visited the markets, getting fruit and food for the next few days. It was soon time to go get a massage, register, put my stickers on etc., and have my bike checked over. I then went out on both the bike and run course and all looked good. It was all becoming real and exciting … So far, so good.
The bike was a nice and fast, 13km out and back, along fairly nice roads. Although there was talk about cobblestones and it being a hilly course, I didn’t really think it was. You left the park, headed right, round a corner, up a fairly shallow incline, took a left turn onto a fast road, flat at first before the first descent, getting steeper the further you went round, then a little section of headwind and gusts from the side to be careful of, before going under the motorway, taking a right turn, onto some uneven surfaces, first short, sharp hill to keep it interesting before taking another right onto the fast descends, U-turn, and headwind back, before a little gusty, open section on the motorway, back down to the open gusty road that you went out on, up the long but not so steep climb before heading back into transition … easy enough. Just got to be careful of some of those gusts on the descents but otherwise seemed ok. Having taken out two rear wheels this time, the 50s and 808s, and having ridden them both, on the course, the 808s seemed safer and easier to handle … I had crashed on 50s, so preferably wouldn’t ride them anyway.
The run course was also easy enough, a 4-lap, up-and-down the park 4 times. You could practically see the whole course from the entrance of the park! The only thing to note was that heading away from the entrance was deceptively harder than heading back, due to a slight incline.
The day had arrived and I was ready to go! I checked my bike into transition, put it into gear, checked the wheels, breaks and loaded my gels and water. I then attached my Co2 canisters (as I didn’t want to risk anything) and shoes onto the bike. Garmin on the bars, Helmet too with my sunglasses inside and that was it. I was done. Time to check the mount and dismount lines and make sure I knew where I’d be entering, leaving and where my bike was located. I used the adverts on the barriers to help with that. Ok, checklist done. Transition complete. Time to go warm up.
I headed out onto the adjacent road, did some drills, warmed up properly and then before making my way to the start, I headed back into transition to make sure that everything was ok and nothing was tampered with or adjusted, as it unfortunately was in Lanzarote. Quick run in, before it closes, ran to my bike and started checking. Bike still in the same location, Garmin mounted, drink ok, gels ok, shoes ok, gears ok, box ok, front wheel ok, brakes ok. Perfect and off I went, down the hill and off to the start pens. With the wind now picking up and rain starting, I thought this is going to be a good race. Windy but I’ve been practicing on the bars so that’ll level it out. I’ve been out onto the course and know where all the gusty places are and I just wanted to head out there but first the 10km run!
Doing a few jumps and drills to stay warm, the tape keeping us in the pen was soon removed and we were called to the start line. Jogging over I made my way to the front, towards the left. The time had arrived. With the crowds waiting in eagerness as we were held, I focussed and tried to keep warm. I knew what I had to do. Just stay with the group, make sure you don’t give them too much time on the run, pace it slightly on the ascents and push harder on the descents. Just count the hills off one by one and then the laps off one by one. (Ok, when I say hills…they’re not hills…it’s just a slight gradient but you can definitely feel it’s easier coming down to the park entrance then heading away from it). Ok, here we go, silence all around.
“ON YOUR MARKS” … BANG!!! We were off and the start of the European Standard Duathlon was underway. We made our way up the very even brick-laid street before heading down the outside of the park. Picking the pace up as I originally planned, I took a few people, turned the corner and back up through the park. Trying to keep my position, I pushed up to the top, turned and picked up the pace once again, catching a few more, turned at the bottom, and now back up. I had two people hot on my heels and they came round the side of me, overtook, and led us up to the top. We turned again and I pushed past once again, turned at the bottom and back up we went. They once again came past and I tried to stay with them, turned at the top and again went past them and caught up with two of the people in front, putting about 5m into the two behind. We took the right towards the side gate of the park and ran down the hill, pushing on in front of the others to make sure that I got to the cobbles first, as there was a smooth path in the middle of the road. I saw a good friend and teammate, Jordan, pull over, and from speaking to him before, I just knew that his injury just wasn’t ready to run on. I passed and he cheered me on but I knew I couldn’t say anything to make him continue, as we were barely 2.5km into the race, and I know that if he could have done, he would’ve pushed through, but he didn’t and so I knew that was it and it was bad. The race continued and a good friend was out the race.
Heading around the corner, onto the blue mat and through the start line, I started lap two. I repeated this process and kept pushing on the descents and taking it slightly easier on the ascents. I was feeling good and as the laps clocked on, I was gaining slightly on some of the others, overtaking those that had pushed too hard on the first couple of laps and where the deceptive ascents had taken their toll.
One lap to go, and this was to be shorter, I came round onto the blue mat, expecting to go into the park as told, but the barrier wasn’t open and the crowd s in the way so the race information was obviously wrong. Oh well, everyone’s got to do it and although I was just looking forward to getting on that bike, I just readjusted my thoughts and did the extra bit as everyone else would and the guys in front had done. Out up the bricks, down the side of the park, final turn into the park, cheers from the crowed and this was it … two more reps to the other end and then final turn up to the gardens into transition.
T1 had begun! Running through my checklist, I ran up the outside, into the transition, to the centre row, ran down to the end of the advertising board. Glasses on, helmet on, shoes off, reached down, popped them into the box and off I went with my bike. Overtaking one of my AG competitors and hot on the tail of another, they were all within sight as I went into transition and I was already gaining. Here I come. Let’s go get them! They’re not too far and I’ve got 40km to put some distance into them. Time to have some fun!
Turning the last corner out of the park, I reached the mount line, next to two other competitors, jumped on the bike, shoes fastened and onto the bars. I was off … or I should’ve been anyway! But something was odd! I could feel the ground too much! It wasn’t right! It was bumpy and uncomfortable! I knew that something was wrong with my wheel. I signalled to the outside and said that I was stopping, jumped off the bike and the thing that every athlete doesn’t want, a flat tyre! Only just jumped onto the bike and I have a flat … great! I tried to stay calm and relaxed, as that’s all you can do. I was pleased that I had decided to take my CO2 canister with me and along with the sealant already in the tyre, I wasn’t out of the race quite yet. I spun the wheel, checked for glass… nothing. Spun it for the sealant to move around, got the CO2 canister off the bike, spectators were watching and even chatting to me in various languages but I just tried to focus on getting it fixed, as I couldn’t understand anyway. C02 regulator onto the canister, turning it to the off position, onto the wheel and open … air went in, stayed up, froze, went back down and that was it. No more air, flat tyre and nothing else I could do! I contemplated riding it flat for the 40km but knew that it wasn’t worth it as together with the wind, rain, gusts, descents and all, nothing would come out of it except a very large bill to repair/replace the wheel at best and a horrible crash at worst. Plus it was just too dangerous already and I didn’t want to end anyone else’s day either. As much as I didn’t want to believe it, my race was over. 10km run and a 10m bike! All this way and I didn’t even manage to turn the first corner.
I was pumped up and prepared, ready to fly, my mind was ready, I was ready, but the ever so quick change in that had just left me hollow and stunned. It felt like the race had been taken away from me. I was prepared. I trained. I had done all I could, but to end the race on a mechanical is everyone’s nightmare and I now know how it feels and it’s not nice. It’s even harder when your bike is your favourite bit and you haven’t even been able to race a lap, or even a kilometre. That would’ve been better! But this was just sad and as I walked off the course and towards the marshal where he took my chip. That was my race over! It was such an abrupt ending I just wasn’t prepared for! I can’t change anything now but maybe it happened for a reason, maybe I would’ve pushed it too hard on one of those descents or lost control in a gust or slipped off in the rain around a corner or maybe if I had ridden the other wheel, the bent spoke would’ve snapped, or maybe I would’ve had a flat on a descent. I know that none of this might just be me trying to make it seem better but all I do know is that it happened and that’s it!
Although it was not the way I wanted to end my race, as no one would, I learnt a harsh bit about the sport. You can train as much as you’d like, prepare for everything, check everything and do everything right but you still need that little bit of luck to avoid that tiny bit of glass or whatever it is, that can end your race just like that. It’s just part of it! It felt worse than the crash I had at Worlds last year. At least with that, it was my fault and even with 6 minutes and my race over, I could still carry on, carry the bike into transition and finish the race, even though again my race for a podium position was over!
Time to reflect
Ok so since starting with Mark, a season and a half ago, I set out the aim to try and better myself in the sport, reach the podium, build a strong foundation, gain experience and more, for my goals as an Ironman athlete. Well, I suppose I’ve done exactly that! I’ve given myself a penalty I didn’t actually get, I’ve crashed, I’ve punctured, I’ve finished third, second and first, I’ve won overall and therefore I’ve got what I wanted … experience in all outcomes. Now can we re-adjust that to not having any more crashes, penalties, mechanicals and aim more on those podiums and PB’s!
Onwards and Upwards
Although my race was over, it was time to enjoy the rest of the trip as there was no point to make the whole trip a failure and one advantage of only doing a 10km run is that I wasn’t as tired and so we could walk 20km around Madrid, having fun and exploring, along with making the most of all the great coffee houses, tapas and patisseries. I’ve also signed up to another Middle Distance race next weekend, before Slovakia, which I wouldn’t have done otherwise so let’s see what happens there.
I’d now like to say a massive thank you to Mark, who plans all my training, providing great sessions that continue to make me stronger and improve. I can feel the difference that we’ve made and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season and my other races.
I’d also like to say thank you to all my sponsors, Apex and daysout.co.uk, for the amazing bike and their continued support (the wheel wasn’t from them – so don’t worry), TORQ for all their great nutrition, the Stamford Endowed Schools and the LEAP Athlete program for their financial support. Cycle Transfer and 1LIFE, for their help and to Susannah Beckett’s Podiatry for providing me with great shoes to run and cycle in and Runaround Sports, Worcester for their advice and fitting.
I’d also like to say a massive thank you to my mum for all her support and although I know that you wanted to see me up on the podium and you came all that way to support, I appreciate all the things you did in the lead up, looking after me and for the great trip in Madrid afterwards. Next time…Let’s go get it in Slovakia instead!
Until next time, enjoy training, have fun and good luck with any races,