Keeping in the game: The relief of Team GB Middle distance triathlon qualification

For a few months now I’ve been wondering about my presence in triathlon racing both next season and beyond. And those queries being particularly relevant to full Ironman distance racing (140.6 miles). With things going on at work, having lots of project work, not sleeping well, the cost of racing (with no spare time to find a sponsor even) and unbearable foot pain, start lines have begun to become difficult to cross for the first time in my life. Apart from foot pain though, I’m in good physiological shape considering. Heart rate and particularly power readings are tops. However, racing requires the next level that I’ve been short of recently. I can push myself in training when planned (e.g. Trainer Road bike software says, 2 minutes at 110% of my full power and I will do it because I know its coming), but when someone else (i.e another competitor) puts the hammer down, I simply flop. I’m also not enjoying riding my bike like I always have done due to torturous foot pain virtually all the time. Without being able to ‘get in the zone’ I’ve found my mind switching to worry mode as I think about other academic stuff whilst riding and not about moving my bike forward in the quickest and most efficient way. These feelings were all made very apparent with twenty hours riding in Wales in early June. I had a really enjoyable Welsh tour but ultimately I had pretty much overdosed on paracetamol and ibruprofen in a desperate attempt for just a slither of less pain. I was slower at every stage compared to 2017 despite knowing deep down I am much fitter and capable of considerably better. That hurt. It’s also not just about racing though, riding a bike is my love and my drug and it is one of the most pleasurable ways of spending time and seeing the world, more so than running. As I drove across the M4 home, with my feet throbbing, I was truly gutted.

So with all that taken into account I decided I’d do my 7 races this year (5 half ironmans and 2 full ironmans), get a new related tattoo (still happening, sorry Mum) and then not plan for any next year yet. This could backfire very badly as I really need to be registering and planning now. At my cross roads though at the back of my mind I had been hoping to qualify for Team GB age group at 70.3 middle distance half Ironman as this may provide an answer of sorts to work issues and foot pain. I know this shorter length of race would give me far less pressure training and ultimately require shorter harder sessions that so far this year have been very effective. It would still cost just as much money but it would give me thinking time. I love to train, swim, bike and run and that will never change, but going 70.3 miles is much easier to get around one’s head than 140.6 miles right now. I am also too aware that I don’t need start lines to keep me fit, I’ve done that all my life without anyone ever telling me to do so. Ultimately though, if I can’t be competitive, I don’t want to race. Just finishing stopped being enough for me several years ago.

Here comes the more positive bit. Promise.

At 4.30am last Sunday morning I looked up to the rising sun as I drove through the countryside from Kings Lynn to the start line of Holkham half Ironman 70.3 and thought this is going to be a good day. I can sense a good race coming and as I munched my pre race caffeine gum and listened to my pre-race tunes, I knew if I tried quitting triathlon, I would miss the race atmosphere like hell. On the Saturday I’d decided to leave my loving team behind and go and stay in a hotel the night before the race, by myself, in the interest of energy conservation and catching up with work. I’d had a really good week of preparing for the heat, tapered really well, had slept, had eaten and was getting there with hydration. So I took my chance, I knew I wouldn’t get many chances at races to do all those things right this season, even though they should happen every time. Things just aren’t like that just now.

The swim was good (no getting lost this time). I came out of the lake in 2nd. 1st was just in front but I didn’t need to push past, even though I could. I preferred to keep my heart rate down due to the heat. However, I did do a pretty nifty transition and that saw me out onto the bike 1st. The bike itself wasn’t great, more foot pain and I am sad about that as its probably my best and the most important discipline, but it could have been worse. That was made up with a run, that saw me actually running 13.1 miles, non-stop, with perfectly nailed feed stations and a steady pace the whole way. Interestingly I stuck to liquids and didn’t have a single solid bit of food all race.

I came home 12th, higher up the placings and faster than the same course last year and I felt I had been able to race. I found out the winners’ time and knew it was close enough to be worth running the maths. As I drove two hours home, working out 115% of the winners’ time over and over again in my head, I knew my maths wasn’t that bad. I was well within 115% which is enough for Team GB qualification at that distance. The relief is massive. I’m probably better at 140.6 miles as opposed to 70.3 miles but this will keep me in the game long enough to work things out. I’m also proud to say I now have Team GB qualification at cycling, half Ironman and full Ironman and hopefully soon Aquabike distances. It’s good to have choices, right? I’m still learning and the decisions and practices I deployed last week for heat management worked a treat. I’m also a little hopeful that I have learnt yet more about managing the recent collisions between academia and athlete stuff.

This weekend is the British Championships at 70.3. Recovery from last weekend has been good. I’ve never raced two half Ironmans a week apart though, which might prove difficult, but we will see and there is reason to believe a bit at least now.

Catch you all later

p.s. I’ve also found some new storage space for a new time trial bike! I suspect such is not actually for storing bikes, but instead is my Dad’s new shed he was hoping to keep bike and Charlie free. However, I am pretty sure I can find the key under his pillow.

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