Yet again a few months have passed without writing a blog. Often athletes refrain from writing blogs when things aren’t going so well. It’s easier to withdraw from the spotlight and deal with adversity in private than publicise it. However, this year, this could not be further from the truth for me.
For the first time in three years I have been able to train consistently throughout the pre-season without injury. I have worked hard throughout the winter and spring at keeping on top of pre-hab, working with a great team to ensure my body is in tip-top shape and ironing out any niggles before they develop into issues. As a result I have not only been training consistently but, with the additional time now available for recovery, I have been able to back up hard sessions with more hard sessions and generally I felt like I was in great shape.
However, no medals are awarded in training. It’s performing in racing that really counts. I chose to test myself in an early season race in South Africa at the beginning of March. I had an opportunity to race in an ITU World Paratriathlon Event, two months after starting to train full-time, which was perfect to assess where I was and how my new lifestyle was working for me. The race provided a good opportunity to secure some early season ITU ranking points but also to race in conditions similar to what we could experience in Rio de Janeiro, such as a potentially choppy sea swim and warm, windy weather. Before travelling, I was fortunate to do some heat acclimation work with the CHASES lab at St Mary’s University in Twickenham to help my body adapt to the potential heat we may have had in South Africa on race day. It was a very interesting process and will certainly help us develop an effective strategy for Rio.
Come race day the sea swim was disappointingly calm and flat although wading through shallow water for 20m, followed by a 75m run across sand and then a 200m uphill just to get to T1 more than made up for it! I felt strong and focused throughout the bike and run, showing signs of the potential we had been seeing in training through the winter. Temperatures crept up to 25 degrees and 80% humidity during the race but the acclimation work I did before travelling definitely paid off – I was sweating a lot but at no point did I feel hot. To win the race by over 9 minutes was extremely satisfying.
I then had a further 12 weeks of pre-season training before my next race, the British Paratriathlon Championships in Llanelli on 16th May. This event was also a selection race for the GB team for World and European Championships and the Rio test event this year. Having met all the selection criteria up to that point, I needed to finish in the top two in my category in Llanelli to secure selection. As a medalist at all World Championships since 2009, it may appear to outsiders that this would be a formality. However, when I represent a country, which has produced the World Champion in women’s PT4 every year since 2009, including a clean sweep of the podium for the past two years, this was a far from straight forward task. All I could do was perform my very best on the day and what would be would be.
To say I was disappointed with my performance in Llanelli is an understatement. I was pretty devastated. I could go into various reasons/excuses as to what happened but ultimately my job as an athlete is to deal with whatever happens in a race. As I said at the beginning of the blog, no prizes are awarded in training. I don’t want to be the athlete that trains well but cannot put a race together.
At times like this I always think back to an experience when I was 14, competing in the European Swimming Championships in 1991. My first race was one of my best events; 100m backstroke. I had won a World Championship bronze medal in this event the previous year. In the heats I had a shocker and failed to make the final. I was devastated and my Dad took me to McDonalds for lunch to get away from the team – I was only 14! When I returned to the hotel, as the team was leaving for the evening finals session, one of the staff, Richard Brickley, just said to me “it’s how an athlete responds to adversity that is the true demonstration of an athlete’s worth”. I went on to win two silver medals in that Championships. If that 14 year-old girl can turn things around, then this 37 year-old hag can too!
As it turns out I got a little lucky. Unfortunately, one of my competitors was unable to race in Llanelli due to injury and so I finished second behind Lauren Steadman, who is simply going from strength to strength and put together a great performance. The selection policy has been upheld and I have been officially selected for the European Championships in Geneva on 10th July.
Right now I feel relieved but I am still processing a lot of emotion from the weekend. However, I will be racing the ITU World Paratriathlon Event in London on 30th May; an opportunity to right the wrongs of Llanelli. Being an athlete isn’t easy. It’s a constant rollercoaster of emotions. However, ultimately, I love what I do and that is what continues to drive me to be the very best I can be. Onwards and upwards…