The Long-Distance European Championships: Our Challenging but bronze 3rd place in Madrid

Team GB ladies on the podium.

When I started out as a triathlete I dreamed of one day racing for my country and going to the World Championships as a Team GB cyclist last year only fueled my desire to do so. I never thought my first appearance as a triathlete would come less than four years into my triathlon career, nor did I think I would come home with a bronze medal on my first start.

Our trip to Madrid was quite simply often full of more emotion than we could handle, but it was the stuff dreams are made of and it will never be forgotten. Most of it couldn’t even be made up. Here are a few of the more unique and ‘special’ moments.

Friday – 21st September 2018

Myself and my mum arrived safely in Madrid having travelled from Malaga. Despite the usual nervous wait for the return of bike box, all was well, until we faced the task of building the bike. We felt like heroes having got the pedals, wheels and headset on. And then we crashed back down to reality. The rest of Friday night did not go without incident. The bike pump broke, tire sealant went everywhere. Google said the nearest bike shop was 20 minutes walk away and would close in one hour’s time. Off we trot, no time to notice our dehydrated and hungry bodies. The hypoglycemic attack would have to wait. We arrive at “Bicycles We Trust” according to Google. Except Google lied and there was no bike shop in sight. Next we head to “Mammoth” bikes. Thank the Lord that the bike shop we found by better luck than judgement answered our prayers and serviced us with a shiny new pump without charging us tourist prices.

We had an equally eventful dinner and then tried to sleep. After four hours of cursing every moving vehicle on the road directly below our second-floor room, at 1am we inform reception of our dismay and are moved to the ‘quieter back of the hotel’. Walking down the corridor in my pyjamas in the middle of the night, blind as a bat, with my bike, wetsuit and every race possession I own is not a moment I shall cherish. True athlete panic had set in and at 3am I am convinced I won’t even get to Sunday’s start line because I don’t think I will be able to keep my contact lenses in my eyes if I don’t sleep enough.

Saturday – 22nd September

Of course, the new room on the same floor does not induce anymore sleep than its counterpart a few doors away. In our sleep deprived state we then spent the entire day either faffing, packing stuff or in a bus traveling between the venues of the three disciplines. By the afternoon I felt like I had moved house 5 times. The longest racking in history, in 30 degrees and burning sun, walking 12,000 steps. We find better spirits though as we hang out with the other 30 or so Team GB athletes and are comforted being in this organized chaos together. By Saturday night, we are in our third(!) room in the same hotel in less than 24 hours. Fast asleep at 11pm in our quiet 7th floor room our peace is disturbed once more. One of the kind hotel staff had come to return our broken pump that I left in the first room in a strop. I never wanted to see that ever again and definitely not when I was getting up in 3 hours to race. The shock of the man waking me up nearly gave me a cardiac arrest.

Sunday – 23rd September

In short, the most beautiful courses of swim, bike and run I have encountered, but equally the most brutal. Around one fifth of the race starters did not finish. I was out of the swim 1st in my AG and managed to avoid a face plant up the steep hill to transition. The bike course had 3 mountains in the first 60 miles which meant I needed to exercise a careful regime of foot pain management and also conserve energy. This seemed to pay off as I felt fresh in the second half of the bike. Until one of the marshalls unnecessarily chased me into transition for nearly an hour as I was close to the bike cut off. I never expected to be on my bike almost 8 hours and I don’t think I was as close to the cut off as he liked to think. Personally I think he wanted to go home and put his feet up. Nevertheless, I deployed beast mode and if he was to end my race then he was going to have to peel me off the floor and probably take me back to transition two via the nearest hospital. Happy days, despite feeling like I had diced with death, and feeling somewhat depleted having rushed the last feed and water station, I made it with 30 minutes to spare ready to start the death march of a marathon in boiling conditions after a traumatizing bike course. I knew my maths wasn’t that bad and I knew I needed 5 miles an hour for 5 hours and I would be home and dry by midnight. This became a challenge to finish rather than a race.

It was really special to see all the ‘Bluey’ GBR athletes out on the run, all of us cheering each other on. I was running really nicely until about 18 miles, I was hydrated and had already drunk around 15 litres throughout the race and my legs were relatively fresh. Feet were hurting but had felt worst. At mile 18 I had to calm it down and walk though as I was feeling very sick. This wasn’t helped by the now lacking water on the feed stations, but eating cold ice gently seemed to help. I walked most of the 3rd lap, I knew I was going to finish and was in a good position. I was quite simply terrified that if I upchucked I would pass out and would end up rotting in the dark in the park and hopefully eventually in a hospital, branded with a DNF and distraught without a medal. By the last lap I was able to run a bit more and crossed the line in 15 hours and 7 minutes with plenty of time to spare. I received my finisher’s medal and immediately I was rushed to the podium to collect my bronze medal! At the European Championships!

All in all the race was brutally epic and I don’t think any of us expected to take that long, but I had a ball. The Spanish and British supporters were simply amazing and words don’t do it justice. I’ll never forget running through Madrid city centre, watching the sunset and with my name being called at virtually every corner. I had broken my race number and so simply became ‘Smit’.

Challenge Madrid was indeed very challenging but I think it’s fair to say we overcame the challenges, learning the Team GB spirit along the way. Something tells me I may have just upped the game.

Revolve 24, 6-hour challenge: A brutal 1st place

1st place, 96.37 miles, 8714 feet climbed, 5:59:05

revolve winner

As I rocked up to Brands Hatch at 7.30am this morning I was immediately hit by the special ethos of the Revolve 24 event. I know the organizing team and it was good to see them. I came 3rd in the 24-hour ride last year but couldn’t do that long this year due to racing the European Championships Long Distance on the 23rd. I probably shouldn’t be racing this weekend but settled on the 6-hour challenge to try and find some confidence in my feet for Madrid. I also wanted to remind myself that Madrid isn’t about the result, it’s the journey that got me there in quite difficult circumstances that’s important. In the final week of a 38-week training block I know I should be remembering that even if I can’t always do that.

So, as I went to try and confidence build, I had hoped for a podium but not necessarily a win. I also didn’t really expect to do that many miles to get myself the win once it happened. I started well as I meant to go on, holding circa 9-minute laps. For someone who doesn’t climb, it’s quite a brutal 2.67 miles each lap with short sharp hills. It’s also very windy and open.

By 50 miles in, I was really hurting. I didn’t want to stop at all until 75 miles as I knew that’s around where one gets a podium. I pushed onto 4 hours and circa 60 something miles but knew I had to break the monotony for just two minutes to replace water bottles and grab some sugar to get me to the end. It wasn’t a surprise I needed these things when I looked at the calories burned which was very high compared to normal (6712 in total). I’ll be honest, I was broken but I saw a text from my Mum saying I was right up there and to push on. I knew I was doing quite well as I could see I had lapped a few.

Lots of positives to take home. I don’t like holding the lead, I am much better chasing and so to hold on in the end was good. I did some pretty big digging. I hadn’t connected my Garmin to receive texts but looking at them post-race they confirm the grinding. “30 laps done, 2nd place a lap behind”. “1 hour to go, 2nd place now two laps behind”. “45 mins to go, 2nd place still two laps behind”. Another positive was that it’s a good result at one of my most trained distances in my best and most treasured discipline. I ride 100 miles on a Sunday countless times in the year and generally do quite well but rarely race them. It’s nice to add something shiny to all of that grafting. And lastly, I did all this without my racing bike which is currently in flight heading to Spain. Bizzare eh.

For winning, my prize (apart from Prosecco) I will be given a personalized jersey. You bet I will be wearing that and returning to Brands Hatch next year to defend my title. Thank you as always for all of the support and well wishes. It was a bit lonely at times without my headies and when it was hard work just knowing you guys are out got me through. Now maxing out the recovery and tapering for a week.

The day Blobby Boris Johnson overtook me

boris day

I reposted this picture today ‘for the lols’, as I put it, when it came up on my Facebook feed as being 5 years ago. Before I reposted I did think to myself, ‘this is so embarrassing’. For starters, my helmet wasn’t fitting properly and was on the wonk, I seemed to have lost both of my gloves, and sunglasses, and god only knows what was in one of those drinks bottles. And the drinks bottles weren’t matching, a big no no for a cyclist. Sorry fellow comrades. I was riding my trusty Boardman, my first full carbon road bike and was wearing Livestrong (Lance Armstrong campaign) shorts that I still have to this day because they are so comfortable and I can’t ditch them despite their holes and rather tainted brand associations. I then noticed the jersey I was wearing, it was for the London Ride Prudential 100 miles. I might just add that it was only ever white once (you’ll see why in a minute). It was at that point that I realized despite its comical value, that this picture was a very early part of my journey, it was in 2013. I remember the ride well. It was not long after I had started riding centuries and doing so by myself. It would have been in the days where I could run a marathon but was an avid cyclist and hadn’t yet fully pledged myself to triathlon. The route was fantastic, closed roads (a rarity for a cyclist) and I remember climbing Box Hill and actually enjoying it. There was still paint on the roads cheering on Team GB from 2012. However, it remains to this day one of the longest times I have taken to ride 100 miles. This wasn’t because of my fitness, it was because of the punctures. This was the day I had no less than 7. The most I have ever had in a ride and now thankfully ride tubeless which means it shouldn’t happen to that extent again. I spent most of my day by the side of the road fixing them, covered in grease, begging spare inner tubes off fellow riders, borrowing track pumps from people’s front lawn whom were stuck in their homes because of the closed roads, stealing gels and bars off people when I got hungry. I had just fixed the 5th or 6th, a rear one I believe, I stood up and was about to get back on the ‘bloody thing’ but then there was a huge whoosh and a very large pack of riders surrounding someone going past.

Who was that someone?

It was ‘Blobby’ Boris Johnson as I called him.


I was crestfallen. Boris had signed up as a challenge and nobody really thought he could ride a bike but yet he and his posse had just overtaken me whom had trained for weeks and had been putting their heart and soul into this day for hours. I carried on and soldiered to the end of the ride, with just one more puncture. I’d learnt to grind somehow but I’d learnt lessons about punctures that I will never forget. As a result I have puncture paranoia for life. There’s so many rides, miles and places I go on my bike but on this occasion I think this one is right to remember and its of little surprise that it’s still laughing stock in our house.

Blobby, oh Mr Blobby, your influence will spread throughout the land. 
Let’s hear it for Mr Blobby…

National champs race report, peak performance reached in August and a busy September!

vitruvianIt was great to be back racing yesterday at the National Middle Distance (70.3) miles Championships (Rutland Water) despite getting up before 3.30am for a half Ironman! It was an extremely tough field, dominated by Army and Air force athletes. My result was 11th place, 5 hours and 36 minutes. I can’t be unhappy with that given that it’s only my second-best distance, albeit my 5th one of the year!

The swim took on a new level of brutality. I tried not to let a beach start, it being 6.20am in September and two massive clouts on the head get to me (I thought I was going to get concussion at one point). The bike was consistent, but I did make a very dim decision to leave my aero bars off (that new bike has to happen, especially if I want to compete properly at this distance). I was basically resting on my handlebars or drops on my arms without any pads. It killed but I needed to try and make up the 20 minutes I’d lost without bars. The run was also solid, didn’t fall over either but I did have a bit of foot pain which disappointed me as it was after only 10 miles, although I hadn’t any pain relief since 5.30am so I could easily have had some more but had left it in transition. Nutrition went a bit wrong for me yesterday which is rare. There were was only one feed station on the bike and I’d exhausted my supply of gels. Thank christ I didn’t drop the very last one I had at 40 miles. On the run I was getting stomach cramps which is also very rare and all I could manage was a few small sips of energy drink. Overall though I was happy with how it all felt as I hadn’t raced since Outlaw in July.

It’s been different for me this year. Normally I’d just be having a bit of fun in September at the end of the season but when I qualified for the long distance European Champs (23rd sept) and after I’d already planned a full distance at Outlaw (28th July) I knew I was going to have to reach peak performance differently and possibly twice. I was virtually at peak for Outlaw full in July, although perhaps not totally tapered. Whilst August didn’t see me race, I trained very consistently and solidly, most of which was outside of my normal environment. I was out of the country for a lot of it with three trips abroad and being quite a busy academic. I only really needed to maintain fitness but taking an athlete away from their norm can sometimes be anxiety provoking. In short, I planned meticulously and I worked my ar@E off. I packed kit (and much travel wash!) and nutrition and took it everywhere. I rode 100 miles from Ipswich before leaving for the airport, in the UAE, I ran at 5am before teaching, in Portugal I completed a full weeks training from a less than average hotel gym and I also spent 3 miles teaching myself to swim again.

The work paid off, my fitness is at its highest and that always feels pretty special. Whilst I am now taking it down (keeping intensity up) I have decided to ride a 6-hour challenge next weekend. I wouldn’t normally do this a week before a full Ironman, but it was a considered decision and it’s also less damaging than a solid 6-hour ride as I can rest/stop at any point. Primarily I want to travel to Madrid with a good result behind me and being in September it should be cool enough during that challenge to only experience minimal foot pain. I’m also hoping it will take some of the damage away from what might happen in Madrid which is likely to see me really suffer with foot pain due to the higher temperatures and terrain. The best I might be able to hope for is to finish, even if the current x-ray shows a clean bill of health, but that is a long story for another day…

So, my September looks like this:

3rd– rode 101 miles from Chelmsford

8th– 70.3 Vitruvian National Championships

16th– Revolve 6-hour solo bike challenge (Brands Hatch)

23rd– Challenge Madrid Full distance European Championships

30th– One last very relaxed 100 miles from Ipswich (with considerable cake)

After that I will have to sit down and assess several things including foot pain, winter training and races, next year’s races (including GB stuff) and all given the funds available etc.

Enjoy the glorious September sun should it return.

Geraint Thomas: ‘I won the Tour, man’ and the story of more ink

Sport is really special. Like really special. Perhaps being an amateur athlete and cyclist myself makes me more attuned to appreciate professional’s efforts and achievements, but I will never ever forget what follows.

On the afternoon of the 28th of July, the day before the storms and my first Ironman of the season, I sat on the sofa sobbing quite badly. The very same sofa where I also sat almost exactly a year previously sobbing when JT played for Chelsea for the last time and was subbed after 26 minutes. I was naturally a little apprehensive about a full 140.6 miles the next morning in a storm but I really can’t blame that. And this was also considerably more sobbing than for my beloved Chelsea.

Geraint Thomas ‘G’ was stood on the podium in the yellow jersey having just won the Tour De France (2018) after 20 stages (no racing for general classification on the last day, stage 21). Some of you will know I’ve long been a ‘G’ fan. I posted on the morning of the defining Alpe du Huez stage ‘Your stage to take today G, ditch the lanky Froomy’. It was only 12 stages in but something told me to ready myself to dare to dream and it was also something for me to hold onto in otherwise difficult times. I don’t think many believed me. I heard cries ‘Team Sky will never let Geraint race Froome’.

If not now, when?

I then spent the next two weeks avoiding the internet until after 7pm until I’d watched the highlights of each stage.

Most of the time I had to sit behind a cushion. Not because of G’s riding but because I so desperately wanted such a deserving and talented candidate to win. He was quickly becoming the nation’s favorite but he’d been mine for years. The day the peloton was attacked by pepper spray? That. Was. Bad. In the end I had to look at the results with the overall times rather than watching the whole race or highlights. I was so excited, but I needed to put my anxiety to rest in the quickest way possible.

G is now 32 years old (the same age as me) and is thus one of the older pro cyclists. He’s been a huge talent, starting as a track rider, played a big part in London 2012 but always either having a mechanical or crash at the all-important moments. He’s also a very good domestique and has spent many years at Team Sky keeping Froomey safe and sound without being allowed to actually race him.

This year it was different. It was clear the team were letting them race after around stage 12. Green light, green light. They couldn’t not given G’s strength and when roles reversed and Froome took on the job of G’s domestique it really put him up in my estimations!

However, cycling needed a change from Froome’s domination and the many doping scandals previously but right until the last day G was clearly not believing it would be him delivering it. I see a lot of myself in that mindset including the bits where one doesn’t take oneself seriously enough as means of protecting themselves against defeat or deficient performances. Like most sports people he broke it down, steady Eddy, ‘one day at a time’ until the commentator pointed out to him ‘well, there are no more days after tomorrow!’. He did the simple things to perfection, kept himself out of trouble, pushed on when he needed to.

G has a good few more years in him but I doubt he will win many more, if any, grand Tours. I wouldn’t have thought that will matter. He’s waited years for this and one defining victory at the Tour de France is enough to put him up there as one of the best cyclists around. It’s everything he deserved after tirelessly working and serving others for over a decade.

And no, before you would like to suggest my new ink refers to the ‘G8’ summit, it doesn’t. G’s race number was 8 throughout this year’s Tour de France.

I don’t care if you think I am sad for having a second cycling related tattoo on my skin. Nor do I care that few will remember G in 30 year’s time when I am grey and old. I live for the now and all my tattoos come as part of my story, history and moments that were truly special to me and I definitely won’t forget this one.

Paint the town yellow please, give everyone free Welsh cakes and then hand out the Personality of the Year Award to G.