Racing ETU Champs in my second year of Triathlon – Nicky
Being a tri-club member? Apparently it makes you 2 mins per month faster!
Last year was my first year of tri training, and I relied very much on self-training, and a few sessions with uni and work friends here and there. Surprisingly though, off the back of that I did manage to somehow qualify for ETU Weert, which was only because it is easier to qualify team NED compared to team GB!
Since September last year, I have joined Ful-on tri and Hampstead tri and had the pleasure of sharing almost all my sessions and training camps with some lovely and speedy club members, many of whom I now feel privileged to call as my friends.
The training so far has been a blast, but with some injury bumps on the way. With a few years of rowing in the bag I was no stranger to training lots, but I found that your body definitely has to adapt to each of the disciplines. By virtue of being Dutch and having done leisurely road cycling all my life, it is not a surprise that biking is my favourite and strongest discipline.
The week before the race was a little more erratic than I would have wanted it to be: My wetsuit tore, my garmin watch (essential for pacing) broke, I got last minute surprise shin splints and was on antibiotics. But thanks to friends letting me share some of their kit (thanks Justin!) and a sharp taper, ultimately nothing stood in between me and entering a home race so close to where my parents live.
Once I arrived back home at my parents’ a day and a half before the race, it was great to solely focus on getting ready. I bagged some much-needed transition practice, and was able to explore the swim and bike course in Weert and meet the fellow athletes.
The set-up was very professional, with two separate transition zones, and lots of additional rules to adhere to. The atmosphere was brilliant – even more so than in other tris, as the age-groupers were super friendly, open and very willing to share course insights. The racking was done per country per age-group, so I made friends with the other Dutch girls and we did the setting up and getting ready as a team. Even though the race started at 9AM, it was already over 20C and it was predicted to turn into a blistering hot day.
Having my parents there on the day was also absolutely brilliant, Not only were they my most enthusiastic on-course supporters, but they were also also taxi driver, kitbag carrier, bike mechanic, wetsuit repair seamstress, cook and emotional support team. This definitely translates to free speed on the course!
Needless to say, I was a little nervous at the start: Given training had been going well, I had set myself the ambitious target to go sub 2.30, which meant I needed to knock 17 mins off my PB from last summer.
At 8.55AM. F18, F20 and F25 (with me) were the first ones to be called to the start line on the sandy beach of a beautiful blue coloured lake (or as the Dutch say “het blauwe meertje”). We started on a long, numbered mat on the beach and we were meant to start the race by running into the lake. A first for me, but luckily I managed to practice this the day before the race.
SWIM: After what seemed like an endless time of waiting and some really nerve wrecking music (think: loud gongs with drumrolls), we finally heard the “on your mark” and “GO” and off we raced into the water! I had a superb start and sprinted the first 200 meters swimming into the water, as part of a little front group. However after about 400 meters swimming, multiple kicks in the face from other girls, and gulps of water, I started to feel a little panicky and totally lost my rhythm. This wasn’t the first time I got a little bit of open water panic, and I knew what to do. I slowed down, let some girls pass until I found a smaller group that was swimming at a more relaxed pace. 5 more minutes of uncomfortable swimming subsided, and I found my rhythm back – I was back in business! To be on the safe side, I stayed at a slightly more comfortable pace than intended but it meant I could swim well and with okay technique, rather than rushed and ragged. Swim time: 28.16
T1: I still haven’t nailed the running after swimming, and felt once again completely spaced out. However, I knew this would happen, so during the last leg of the swim I rehearsed the transition sequence in my head. I was a bit bummed to straight away be overtaken by a girl who sprinted like a cheetah out of the water, but I found my stuff okay and remembered to place all my swimming kit IN the basket. First attempt of flying mount failed due to being lightheaded still, so I got on “the normal way”. T1 time: 1.22
BIKE: I had looked forward most to this part of the race. 1 minute into the bike course I felt like my old self again and it was time to put some serious power down. Since March I have been riding a proper TT bike and I must say it did not disappoint. The course consisted of three laps and other than a 180 turn (3 times), it was really quite fast. There were many referees on motorbikes, and especially in lap two and three, I saw lots of unhappy female athletes in the penalty box for drafting, littering or blocking. My favourite lap was the third and final lap. By that time some slightly slower people had gotten onto the course, and I managed to overtake quite a few of them, and benefitted from entering into their draft zones while doing so. Added bonus was overtaking people who rode insanely expensive bikes with disc wheels (ha!). Overall really happy with this leg of the race, and managed to control my enthusiasm to not go flat out, so I could conserve some energy for the run. Bike time: 1.03
T2: Not much to say about T2. I ran in, found my shoes, had a disgusting caffeinated gel, followed by 250 (!!) meters of running out of the transition area on the usual jittery, overexcited legs. It took me a good minute to settle into race pace. T2 time: 4.08
RUN: By far my weakest and most feared discipline. I was off to a good start, but due to the heat (27C by then), I quickly noticed that my target pace of 4.40 mins/K was a bit too ambitious. Things felt a lot better once I slowed down to 5.05 mins/k and was able to hold this for the rest of the course, which I was very happy with. The run was where I found most supporters, and lots of Dutch people shouting “Go Nederland, pak die Britten” (read: eat those British AGers!)” and “Go Huskens”. Also, lots of athletes had breath left to say encouraging words to each other, I felt very loved! In the last 1.5 K I found myself running with a British age-grouper and we made the deal to speed up for the last K and run together to the line. It really helped to have someone to run next to, and it was a really nice thing to share! Run time: 50.52
Finish: I was met by super happy parents by the finish line, and I was super chuffed with my time of 2.28 and a 19 minute PB!! It is not often that I am a little proud of myself, but today was one of those days. Added bonus was the finish line massage with two Dutch men looking after my legs (one for each leg!!), and meeting up with fellow FoT and HTC members. The Dutch chips and Limburgse vlaai (local delicacy) tasted heavenly. The day was well organised, the atmosphere was brilliant and seeing some super speedy people race by (across all ages) was incredible inspiring and energizing.
All in all, I had a great race. I clearly need more open water practice to effectively translate my pool swim to the race and I need to keep working on my running. The real take home message though is that thanks to 9 months of swimming, biking and running after some superfast friends (you know who you are!), who are willing to drag me around, coupled with team mates helping me with bike set up and training advice, that I have seen some serious gains in my tri time. A bit of simple maths reveals that I knocked off about 2 minutes for every month that I trained with tri members. As such, I would recommend to anyone who wants to push themselves a little more, to do this within a club. Another big help has been Coach Dan from HTC, who helped me with my weekly programming and session design.
Onwards and upwards from here: there were still 19 athletes in my age group faster than me (I came 20th), but I am confident I can improve, and am very much looking forward to sharing this journey with others. Next stop: Ironman Bolton on the 14th of July!
To read the original: https://nickystriathlon.sport.blog/2019/06/01/etu-olympic-distance-european-age-group-championships-weert-netherlands/