Here it was then, the day that was the whole purpose of this trip: race day at the European Triathlon Championships in Kitzbühel. Olympic Distance racing requires a 1.5km swim, a 40km bike and a 10km run (or there abouts). This was going to be my 4th race in as many weeks after Hyde Park, Mid-Sussex and Brownlee Tri, and I was hoping that the strategy of racing myself to half decent shape would pay off.
My alarm went off at 4.45am to give me enough time to faff about and have breakfast before leaving for the race venue at 5.45am. Our newly arrived British neighbour was blasting Journey’s ‘Don’t stop believing’, clearly needing loud music to wake up and get psyched up.
It was a glorious morning, although the fog that lingered over the Schwarzsee while the sun started to burn its way through, made me think of the mists of Avalon and I fully expected some mythical creature to rise from the waters. Instead, the omnipresent Kitz would need to do.
6.15am. 45 min until transition closed and 2hr 38min until the start of my race. I wiped the morning dew off Mighty Whitey, spread the contents of my transition bag generously around me and started to put my stuff out. There’s not a lot to do really, but it is astonishing how much time you can spend pumping up tyres, clipping shoes in, attaching rubber bands, prepping with baby powder and Vaseline, laying your running shoes out, more prepping, making sure the Garmin is set, your helmet ready (it has to be in the box), shades, filling water bottles, checking gears and of course chatting to fellow competitors and helping each other out with things we’ve forgotten or can’t find. 5 min until transition closes. Quick run through transition to locate entry and exit points. 1 min. Quick picture of me and Mighty Whitey race ready.
Get out. I frantically grab my stuff. Quick last picture over transition and the mountain. That’s it. If I’ve forgot something now, there’s nothing I can do. It’s up to the gods.
Still nearly 2 hrs to race time. I find a nice spot in the shade and lie down on my picnic blanket. The venue has free WiFi I discovered, and so I relaxed typing yesterday’s blog while hearing the announcements of the other start waves and the cheers of the supporters while staying hydrated.
8 am. Time to get ready and start with my usual pre-race routine and warm-up. I sip my Elivar Prepare (got to be strawberry), munch a few EnergyBits. Last panic trip to the toilet. Put number belt on, take wet suit out, go over to bag drop. Have a last chat with some fellow Team GB ladies wishing me all the best. Time to crack open the sun screen (NEVER race a triathlon without sunscreen – protect yourself!), lube up. Bag drop. Jog to holding pen. 20 min to start. The sun is burning down. Many of the ladies have their wetsuits on and zipped up. I’ve not even put it on yet. Too hot. We move to the 3rd holding pen. 10 min. I climb into the bottom half of my wetsuit. 2nd holding pen. Time to zip up. Standing even just 5 min in the sun fully zipped up, I feel like I’m getting boiled in my suit. 3 min. We are led onto the pontoon. I spot my mum and brother, pose for a photo.
Yes, I am relaxed. Oddly relaxed. I take in the scenery, the cheers, but underneath it is nervous excitement. We hop in the water, the heartbeat music booms over the venue. I hate this part. Can we just go alright? At least they are not playing the Pirates of the Caribbean tune, that would reduce me to tears. On your marks. The hooter sounds.
Off we go! I battle for my space in the water and to my content, I am successful. I am actually near the front of my group. A second group started a bit further to the left. Very quickly I have lots of space and can focus on the things I wanted to do in the swim: maintain technique, sight regularly and swim my own race. During the race, the glorious scenery I had admired so much didn’t register at all. All I saw was yellow buoys and other swimmers to catch. There was a small group ahead of me, but they were off like rockets.
Somewhere between the 1st and 2nd buoy, I caught the first swimmer from the previous wave who had started 3 min before us and I pulled back a few girls from my wave. In the water, I lose any concept of time because I can’t adequately judge my speed, so the only thing I can focus on is my technique and keeping a straight line between the buoys. I caught up with another girl and we battled for a while. After the 4th buoy, she went wide towards the finish. Red buoy, 100m to go. I had maintained a good turn over and still felt strong, so kicked it up a notch. Finally, the exit. I dash up the ramp, 5 steps onto the foot bridge my wetsuit is off. Excellent! I know I’ve had a good swim. Later on I find out, I swam 24.33 min. I’m very pleased.
It’s a long run to transition, but to my surprise I can actually run a good pace. Normally, T1 is quite a daze for me as I struggle to adjust to being upright. I find my bike without hassle, wetsuit off helmet on. Throw the suit in the box! Quick look around, my immediate neighbours’ bikes are still here. Double pleased, off we go!
The bike was always going to be hard due to the 6 substantial climbs. My plan was to push along on the flat bits, slightly below my threshold power, climb strongly with a good cadence and really focus on the downhills by taking calculated risks. The downhills were going to be my weak spot and I always knew that. Right out of transition, my friend Ray passed me. He was on his second lap, so I chased after him, passed him on the flat again. I cruised past my friends Michaela and Tanya who were cheering along the roadside.
First climb. It felt blooming hard as my legs weren’t quite warmed up yet. I hadn’t judged this climb as bad on the recce, but boy it felt a lot steeper. Thankfully, all the local residents had set up their camping chairs along their driveways and cheered every competitor to the top.
Then the first descend, the steep one, the one that had cost a few collar bones on Friday in the wet. Today was different, it was hot, dry, and quite frankly I was glad for the shade. I had never much practiced descending on the drops. Usually, I am on the hoods. But here I went down on the drops, occasionally feathering my brakes at what I considered break neck speed and waaay out of my comfort zone. At the same time, I was quite relaxed because I knew there was no oncoming traffic. I vastly enjoyed descending something I never thought I would say.
The next flat bit was uneventful and the same with the middle climb and descent. The last climb I knew was the one that would hurt and I got into my climbing gear early. A guy on a TT bike zoomed past me on the first bit only to then rapidly slow down and grind his way up. A bit further on I zipped past him with a smug grin on my face. Further up I saw a white number. My wave. So I worked my way up there past many riders who pushed hard up the hill. I was extremely happy, I had ridden Flanders in the spring. It had prepared me well for this. I caught up with the woman, a Spanish competitor. She was pushing the pedals round slowly. Only to come absolutely bombing past me on the descent, as did the guy on the TT. So much for that. What followed was a good 5km of TTing and I focused back on my power meter. Spanish lady caught, now to drop her cos she was getting on my nerves. Past Tanya and Michaela again, back to transition. Lots of ‘Go GB’ shouts.
Onto lap two. Just into lap two, I met Andrey from Belarus. Well, I caught up and he did that male thing of not wanting to be chicked. Our battle lasted the whole second lap for gender superiority. I got ahead on the uphills, he bombed past on the downhill, I caught up on the flat. Cat and mouse. On the steep downhill he nearly threw himself in a hairpin turn where he locked his brakes and his rear wheel broke out left and right. I don’t know how he stayed upright and it definitely put a dampener onto my newfound descending confidence. Shortly after an Austrian and a Russian woman zoomed past. I briefly considered going after them, but then reassessed that I still had a run to do, which was questionable anyways. Back to battling with Andrey.
The rest of the loop was uneventful except for Andrey and me continuing to do battle. Over the second hill I dropped Andrey and he never came back. Christine 1 Andrey 0. I spun my legs out the last few hundred yards, got my feet out early as the dismount was behind a tight turn.
I thought my bike ride was good. I had done what I intended to do. That’s two check marks to the plan. Looking at the final results though, I did worse on the bike than I usually do in relation to other competitors. But hey, what counts are my own check marks and I know there’s room for improvement. 1hr 25 min for 38k with nearly 700m of climbing isn’t shabby after all.
I got off the bike and my running legs reported for duty. Hooray! The organisers had laid out dark-grey puzzle tiles to make transition more even and to prevent people from running through knee-deep mud if it rained. However, in blazing sunshine the dark grey tiles heated up. We’ve got a run over burning coals thrown in for free. Talk about broadening your horizon… I don’t remember having ever tip toed my way through transition the way I did. Putting on running shoes required standing still. Balls! Fortunately, my T2 is reliably quick and so I got out pretty quickly to shouts of ‘Go Christine!’ and ringing cowbells.
Grab some water at the first water station, straight over the head. The first bit of the loop was on a nice little gravel path. Half a mile in, Andrey ran past me. Where had he come from!? I wasn’t having this so I stayed on his heels. Then it played out exactly like on the bike: on the short uphills I went past him, on the downhill he used gravity to his advantage. At each water station, I grabbed water, had a sip and chucked the rest over my head to stay cool.
On the next downhill, I had to let Andrey go because my hamstrings went into pre-cramp mode. Christine 1 Andrey 1. Meh! I refocused on maintaining my running form and pace, keeping just enough pressure on to maintain pace and waiting for the next uphill, which would solve the problem. On the way, I came past some friends, cheered them on and received in return. Lap 1 done.
Going into lap 2, I fell into a small hole, but the cheers from the sides kept me going. And then, I saw a white number ahead of me in a Russian suit. Come on, one more, catch one more! Up the short sharp hill I got closer to the Russian woman, on the downhill my hamstrings complained and twitched. Come on, little legs, please! Pretty please! No use. I had to ease off slightly and the Russian woman got away, but I never lost sight.
Onto the last kilometre, this is where I can usually make something happen. And I did, except I ran out of road. The finish line came too quickly, but in many ways not quickly enough. I crossed the line quite exhausted. 2.39 said the board. 20 min slower than Hyde Park, all from the bike. A Technical Official caught me, got a girl to pour water over my head. That’s better. Slowly I can focus again. Say congrats to the Russian woman, go get a drink.
My foot hurts like hell. It has done so since km 3. Dreading what I will see I take my shoe off. A massive blister with the skin in bits. I have a couple of glasses of water. The sprint team manager, Dawn, sees me and gets me to the medical tent. The medics take care of me (excellent care in fact, as 2 days after the race, my blister is almost completely healed).
I go back for another drink, have a quick chat with some of my team mates and my AG ladies. Everyone is exhausted, but happy they finished and everyone enjoyed the race, well mainly the scenery.
In the end it turns out, that my 2hrs 39 min puts me in 9th place in my age group and 4th Team GB. 4th. Again. The place where you go home with nothing but a completed race. However, I’m actually quite happy. Before the race, I thought a top 15 might be possible because the Austrians and Swiss racers were unknown quantities. A top 10 was great. However, 4th Brit means that I have just missed out on a pre-qualifying spot for next year’s championship in Geneva. So this was the last time I’ve put on my Team GB suit in an international race for a while. But 4th Brit also means a vast improvement on my placing at the British Champs in Liverpool, where I came 11th last year.
The most important thing is that I did what I wanted to do. I ticked all my check boxes for my race and I am happy with that. I raced hard, but the enjoyment of racing was back. My plan of racing myself fit for the ET U Triathlon Championships in Kitzbühel had worked out. Now onto the long stuff to mix things up.