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

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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.

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