I have been competing in triathlon for around 3 years now, predominantly sprint distance with the exception of one standard distance triathlon.
The idea of turning from sprint distance to 70.3 distance had been brewing last year but was cemented when I competed at the Age Group European Aquabike Championships in October 2018. I really enjoyed the training leading into this race as the bike training sessions coach Gareth Pymm was setting me were much longer and this challenged my mental fatigue levels. I enjoyed overcoming this mental barrier of being able to train for a longer time on my bike than I had done previously for sprint distance.
The Aquabike was set over the same distance as 70.3 in both swim and bike and although race day itself brought stormy conditions which cut the bike short I won my age group by 14 minutes and overall female by 1 minute so physically it highlighted maybe longer distance might be better suited for me.
I have always done pretty well at sprint distance winning British AG Championships twice, English AG Championships and multiple AG World Championship podium positions but I have always struggled with my run. I haven’t quite learned how to train properly in running to avoid injury and consequently each season I am always hampered by different injuries which limits my progress in the run discipline. Knocking a 19-minute run out just isn’t quite enough for gold and knowing in my heart I will struggle to ever become a 17-minute runner I can only do my best and work on my bike split to limit my losses. After 3 years of this I was ready for a new challenge and felt although 70.3 consists of a longer run, the pace is generally a little slower and the bike split ALOT longer!
Holding an old injury, I rested until mid-November then started to work out what I was going to do in 2019 having already qualified for both European and World sprint championships 2019. I decided if I was going to switch to 70.3 I would need a European and World championship to aim at to motivate me to get me out of bed at 5am in the morning to train! I sent an enquiry to British Triathlon and they said as I hadn’t completed a full 70.3 I needed to before the deadline in April 2019. So I needed to find an early 70.3, obviously none in the UK at that time! I had a scheduled reading week in February meaning no lectures so I decided the best way to educate myself that week would be smash myself in half ironman! The reading week coincided with a 70.3 in Thailand….so Thailand it was!
The race was held in Bangsaen which is about 1 hour from Bangkok on the coast. It was a choppy sea swim with a rolling bike course and a hilly run round a temple surrounded by hundreds of monkeys!
A 4am start meant lining up on the start line in the pitch dark. At 6am the sun came up, the horn was started and we were off! Rolling start so I was the 2nd line into the water. Often the swim can be quite a fight for around 300m but it was nice and easy to get some clear water from the off. The sea was really choppy and made a tough swim. 2nd out of the water to an Olympic swimmer for Thailand, I was pretty pleased with both my position and my time considering the conditions. Onto the bike I felt really good and it definitely reflected the tough sessions I had been putting out in training. Gareth Pymm had really been putting me through my paces to prepare me for the race. I was averaging around 25 mph and I knew this was going give me around a 2:30 bike split. Coming into transition I knew I was in the lead as I had a camera man with me the whole ride and the crowd were really cheering me on into transition. I had never such an amazing atmosphere to race in before!
Setting off onto the run I was around 15 minutes ahead in the overall lead but knew that I was hugely under trained on the run. 4k in I was on schedule and then the heat hit hard! It was 35 degrees with 75-80 humidity, and it all came crashing down. I vomited multiple times…to my embarrassment on live coverage!! My hips seized up really badly and I had horrendous pain in my right glute. It was the hardest physical challenge I have ever done, I was in so much pain and feeling really dizzy and faint. I shuffled along and took walking breaks at each feed station and up the steep sections of the hills. I really didn’t think I was going to finish the run but I did. I pushed on and fought to the finish line where massage and cooling tents were there to bring me back around. What an epic experience! 2nd in my age group and 15th overall and most importantly…successful qualification for the Europeans which was the reason for heading out to Thailand.
I had some issues with the bike I had ordered from Canyon which took longer than expected to arrive. Simon Pickard from Jedi Cycle Sports who has been a superstar and supported me with a Winspace TT bike ever since my first triathlon a few years ago stepped up and offered me to borrow the bike for the race, thank you Simon!
Everything was pretty rushed because I ended up booking the race only one month before and so getting all my kit and body together in time was a push and to be honest a bit botched together! Nevertheless, I made it to Thailand!
Pre- race I was very aware to make sure I was properly hydrated leading into the race. Just before kick off I had an OTE caffeine gel. During the bike leg I had three OTE energy gels spread over the 2 and a half hour bike leg. One caffeine and two normal energy gels. I also had one bottle of energy drink, one bottle of water and one bottle with an OTE Hydro Tab on the bike. I felt fine and really well fuelled coming into the run. I took one more gel on the run and I think this is where I took a tumble. I have not trained using gels on a run before and as they say ‘nothing new on race day!’. My stomach didn’t feel good at 5k in but I think this may have been a combination of the gel taken on the run which I am not use to taking and the total heat exhaustion that I was struggling with on the run leg. I took on water at every aid station on the run and threw a lot of it over my head to try and cool down but even after 3k I was really thirsty and way too hot again.
In terms of race tactics I was bang on schedule until the run which is how I have been training and feel although I pushed the bike it wasn’t as if I left it all on the bike. I felt well-paced on the bike and not spilling my guts. I think the issue lay in the fact I hadn’t had a TT bike to train on leading into the race so all the hip muscles were not use to the position I was riding in for 2 and a half hours so when I came to the run as well as being under trained my muscles were already super tight from just being in a different position.
I had nothing in the tank at the end, and definitely pushed beyond my physical capabilities as it took around 2 weeks to properly recover from the race. Something to work on for next time.
The following points are the ones I learnt from this experience which I would encourage anyone coming from a shorter triathlon distance into 70.3 to consider:
This will get your hip muscles used to the position so when you come to the run its not such a shock to the system! I did want to do this leading into the race but it was a bit too much of a rush and I didn’t have the bike at this point.
Because of my epic vomiting episode, I will now train with gels on the bike and run to get my stomach used to pushing hard and taking on fuel at the same time. We train everything else, so why not our digestive system as well!
I didn’t realise how much of an effect this would have on my body in the run. I have always trained really well in hot conditions on cycling training camps so thought I would be ok. But racing 35 degrees takes its toll and I have never actually trained my running in the heat. Most 70.3 other than the ones in the UK obviously are all mid-summer and generally in pretty hot countries so its well worth considering this as a vital part of the training just like training the swim, bike and run sections. I will be closing the window, turning off the fan and wearing a few more jumpers leading into the next race!
My run training has always been plagued with injury. I have never really addressed the weaknesses I have in my body I have just got treatment when I get them. I have made a concerted effort to make S and C an essential part of my weekly training now so that I can get more consistent with my run training and would encourage any first timers to do the same.
So Thailand qualified me for the Europeans in July in Romania so I will be heading out there later this year. I will also be doing Barcelona in May with my sister and some friends. I hope to try focus on this race as a worlds qualifier for Nice. I would most probably have to win my category to qualify so it’s a big ask but we got to dream big! If I do qualify for the worlds, that will be in September. These are my main aims for this year although I have also entered the English and British Sprint Championships and the Standard British Championships alongside some local races to keep me ticking along between the big ones!
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