London (Under 20s) Super Series
London was a race that gave me a chance to lay ‘ghosts to rest,’ as they say from my previous, not so triumphant, race at Liverpool.
Up at 4:30am on Sunday morning, I changed into my new Natural Ability gear (courtesy of Brian and Annie Butler) and was off on the journey to London, which I mostly slept through. After many complications with the Sat Nav, we arrived at the ExCel centre near the docklands. I ate my usual jam sandwiches and banana before making my way into the expo.
The expo was massive and filled with stands and various race points, such as the swim assembly, the finish and transition, which catered for thousands. I registered and found my way to transition. I set up transition as normal with my shoes attached to my bike and my run shoes Vaselined. It was an honour to be within the elite transition where the racks were more spacious, the floor was carpeted and the whole thing was enclosed by red railings, to make it extremely eye catching, which was useful mid race. I ran through transition a few times to ensure I knew where my space was and used my tactics of finding a marker to help me reinforce this. After, I worked out where the mount and dismount lines were positioned and had a look at the swim route. I sun creamed my face and shoulders (as I didn’t want another burn like at Bowood Triathlon) and stuck on my decals. Before long, it was time for a pre race warm up.
I gathered at the swim assembly where I slipped on my Huub Xena wetsuit, oiled up, (avoiding my hand area this time) and got my coloured luminous green swim cap on. We were allowed into the water for a quick warm up and brought back out to hear the final race briefing. All the junior girls gathered in a pack, roasting in our wetsuits, which seemed to trap in any heat from the warm weather. This race wave just consisted of juniors this time, instead of mixing us in with the seniors. After the briefing, we jumped into the cool water and made our way to the swim start between 2 large buoys, separated into sections via kayaks.
Brian and I in our usual pre-race briefing had discussed general race tactics, but we were very specific about the swim start and swim leg of the race so with this in mind, I found my position between 2 kayaks and with little warning the starting horn was blown and we were off. I kicked extremely hard for the first 100m to avoid being held back by other swimmers or hit excessively. I managed to get myself into a good position with relatively clear water and decided to draft behind a pack of girls. After the third, buoy I decided to work hard to reach the pack of girls in front and draft behind them, so that when I came out of the swim I was fresh, but was still in a good pack for the bike. After the final buoy I climbed out onto the pontoon and started to unzip my wetsuit. Due to the transition being indoors, the marshals were handing out large plastic bags for athletes to put their wetsuits in. I grabbed a bag, ran a few metres, threw my hat and goggles in before promptly stripping out of my wetsuit and putting it in the bag. The run into transition consisted of a 500m run up a flight of steps.
I ran out of transition, mounted and was off on the bike route, which consisted of a 21km course along closed roads, which also passed under a long stretch of tunnel. I worked with two other girls for the first 5 minutes as a pack, before we started to catch up other cyclists and the pack increased. When we reached the half way mark, the pack had grown to roughly twelve of us. It felt amazing to ride in such a large pack, as I have only ridden with a group of roughly six, whilst racing. It took immense concentration to work within such a large group, as you have to be constantly aware of who is around you and you have to be able to read the group’s behaviour. Over half way into the bike leg, the pack split into a smaller breakaway group, which luckily I managed to stay with. It was a congested bike course with other non-drafting competitors scattered over the course. Our group had to be constantly aware when overtaking, which often proved a challenge, especially on narrow sections of the road. I came into transition with only a few other girls in front, which helped give me a fluent dismount. However, when I entered into the transition area, the lane into transition was crowded with other competitors from a previous wave, who were racing less hard. This meant that myself and the other girls had to frantically weave our way through the steady stream, resulting in a few expletives!
By the time I was on the run course the temperature had risen, but I gave myself a few minutes to relax and settle into the run, before picking up the pace. I was extremely grateful for the water station and spray showers midway through the run course, as I could feel myself dehydrating. The run course was a two-lap route on a twisting course, which made it difficult to maintain a consistent pace. The music and cheerful spectators gave me a lot of motivation. The run course was full of all mixtures of competitors; male, female, elite, sprint and standard, which made it hard to recognise where I was positioning. Finally, I ran into the finish straight, where a male competitor, and myself had a final tense sprint finish together, which I am happy to say I won.
At the end, I congratulated my fellow competitors and chatted to them for a while about the race before I proceeded to warm down. Whilst warming down I noticed my left knee was a bit sore, so I stretched a bit and retrieved an icepack from the medical staff, who were very friendly and helpful. I looked around the stalls in the expo where a lot of products that took my fancy. Swim suits, protein shakes, t-shirts, some great looking bikes, (Annie)!!!. At the Huub stall I bought myself a pair of Acute open water goggles (tried, tested, approved, recommended!).
It was an amazing race with all aspects being enjoyable and relaxing and I was very pleased to come fifth place. The other competitors, marshals and race officials were all very friendly and it was lovely course to race on, especially with the lovely warm weather.
A big thank you to Brian Butler, my amazing coach, and Annie Butler for waking up at some godforsaken time in the morning, to come support me and always keeping me cool and calm before the race. But as always ‘Never be satisfied’, there is so much more to learn.