And the rollercoaster continues…
I raced the ITU World Paratriathlon Event in London at the end of May and finished second to Lauren Steadman, who once again demonstrated why she is World Champion and currently a class apart in the PT4 category. Another medal on the International stage, with which I know I should be pleased. With just 15 months until the Paralympics, the standard of competition is increasing in every event and my competitors are edging ever closer to me; and that is my issue. Despite all my hard work, I am simply not progressing or seeing any development in racing or even training, if I am honest. The race in London felt just as much a slog as the race in Llanelli. The run was survival after a very mediocre bike leg. I just couldn’t understand why. All I want is to fulfil my potential and produce a race performance which reflects my training.
I could sense despondency starting to cloud in. The last time I felt like this was during the 12 months leading into the Atlanta Paralympic Games where I had very average performances by my standards and then quit swimming. I could see the signs as could my psychologist, Yvie Ryan, but this time I didn’t want to just give in. Yvie and I had a good talk, going through every detail and very soon the option became clear.
For the past two and a half years I have been working with Tom Bennett who is based in South West London; I live just outside Cambridge. Whilst I was working in London the additional travel to training didn’t seem a big deal but the reality was that on days I trained in London with Tom’s squad I was spending at least five hours in a car travelling there and back, more often than not it was closer to six hours. I was spending 10-15 hours a week driving to training sessions and over £100 a week on fuel. This alone was becoming increasingly frustrating and the costs too much. On days I was based at home I was on my own all day. Whilst I am motivated and always execute training to the best of my ability, I was starting to struggle swimming on my own so much and was missing social interaction. When I was working, I was surrounded by people in the office all day. At the time I didn’t fully appreciate how much my mind needed something outside triathlon to focus on and the positive effects of simply being around others.
Having been in the sport for six years, I had developed a need to be self-sufficient; believing that if I was to receive the very best, individualised support for me, I needed to find it myself. Hence why I elected to work with a coach who wasn’t based near me. A few years ago this was very much the reality but paratriathlon has developed so much, particularly in the past 12 months, that this is no longer the case in the UK. Therefore, at the beginning of June I made the very difficult decision to stop working with Tom and to relocate to Loughborough to train fulltime with the British Paratriathlon squad and coaches based at the World Class facilities at Loughborough University.
Tom has been a superb coach over the past two and a half years. His support was unwavering and he invested a lot of himself in helping me to be the very best athlete I could be and to race in the inaugural Paralympic triathlon. Thank you Tom for everything you have done for me. You have helped me become a better athlete and put me in a position where I can now hopefully make the gains that we know are possible.
Ending relationships is never easy and many will think I am mad to make such a significant change mid race season. However, with less than 15 months until Rio, every day counts and I needed to do what is right for me now. Changes in my personal circumstances also means that relocating to Loughborough removes a lot of other stresses, which would have surfaced in the next couple of months. I needed to take control.
I have been based in Loughborough for six weeks now and it has undoubtedly been the right move for me. I train daily with coaches at facilities which are no more than a five minute walk, I have EIS physio, nutrition and medical support available pretty much on demand. There is always another athlete around to train with and I live with a small group of my paratriathlon team-mates. The latter alone has made a huge difference. I have had so much fun living with these guys and cannot remember laughing so much in a long time. My passion for triathlon has been reignited and this is reflected in my training.
I travelled to Geneva this week to race in the European Paratriathlon Championships. I was feeling relaxed, excited to race and, for the first time, I truly felt like I was part of the team. In hot conditions and with 10 athletes on the start list in my category, I knew it was going to be the toughest European Championships I have raced yet. I had a good swim, exiting within a minute of Lauren and a minute clear of the rest of the field. I jumped on my bike and rode hard for the first lap. The power was where I was hoping it would be but I was working hard. As I came to the incline on the second lap I was nowhere near as strong as I had been on the first lap and I could see the numbers starting to drift. I re-focused my attention to my effort and trying to just push as hard as I could. My team-mate, Faye went past me on the second lap, which put me into third at the end of the bike leg. The run felt hard but after the first lap I could see I had put time into fourth place and Faye wasn’t too far ahead of me. I pushed on, tired and the incline was a real struggle on the second lap. Whilst I didn’t feel hot or uncomfortable during the race, perhaps the conditions did sap my energy. However, the run was nowhere near the slog it had been in Llanelli and London. I enjoyed the downhill, shaded section through the park and then just gave it my all as I ran along the promenade to the finish. A bronze medal, joining Lauren and Faye on the podium to make it another British clean sweep.
There are a lot of positives to take from the race and lots to work on in the next 10 weeks until World Championships. I can’t expect miracles after only five weeks training in Loughborough but there were definite signs of progress.
Unfortunately, by finishing third Brit in this race, I did not meet the selection criteria for the Paralympic test event in Rio on 1 August and the ITU has not granted me a wildcard for this race. It also means that I will have to rely on a wildcard if I am to race in the World Championships in September. This is obviously disappointing but I am looking at the bigger picture – being in Rio next year is what really counts. I will remain positive. I now have time to work through a couple of hard training blocks before World Championships but ultimately I will continue to enjoy life and, in the words of Paula Radcliffe “laugh a lot, it’s good for you”.