Back in mid-July I had my final shot at qualifying for the Olympic Distance Triathlon Age-Group World Championships, happening this September in Rotterdam, Netherlands. After the disappointment of missing out on qualification after my first qualifying race in June, having suffered a mechanical issue during the bike, I was keen to improve for my final race.
It was clear that in back in June, that my swim times and my run times were competitive, it was just my bike that had let me down. Although this had been in part due to the mechanical issue I had, I also knew, from reviewing my training, that I had not be doing enough miles on the bike. Back at the start of the year, I had set the target of doing at least 100 miles a week, but had barely been achieving 80 miles. To remedy this I made sure I got out for a long-endurance ride every week between my two attempts at qualifying. I’m not sure why I’d been skipping out on the longer rides – perhaps due to the fact that I’d be doing the miles solo, or whether I felt that I didn’t feel that I could hold a high enough heart rate (145-155bpm) for my training to be efficient, in my MAF training range. However, knowing how important the bike portion is to my race, being the longest portion, I made sure I got out in my few weeks between my qualification races.
When race day came, after full recovering during the taper week, I felt ready. I’d increased the amount of carbohydrate I was eating in the last 3 days before the event, from 25% of total calorie intake that I would tend to eat when training, to nearer 50%, keeping protein levels the same, just reducing the fat intake. I got a relatively decent sleep, despite the 5.30 am race briefing, and the 3.30am alarm call. The weather looked good, not much wind. It was all set for a good race.
The swim went brilliantly. I smashed out the first 200m to the first buoy, hoping to find the feet of the fastest swimmers. Despite some punching and an aggressive start I found some breathing space, and managed to find the feet of some quick guys, and there were 3 of us in a train all the way to the finish. I set a new 1500m PB for the swim, partly due to the increased buoyancy from the salt-water, but also due to the fact that the tide had started to turn, and the flow in the river was starting to help us out by the time our race had started. Still, I think I can claim 20.42 as a new PB, much quicker than the 29 minute swim I set in my first Olympic tri 2 years ago.
The bike was tough. A relatively hilly course (especially for me, living in a flat area of sub-urban London), with a tough climb at the end meant that I had to pace the race well. There was no point smashing the opening of the bike, and having nothing left for the the climb, where I could have lost lots of time to competitors. The bike started well, and I managed to get a better transition from swim to bike – not just in T1 itself, but having kicked enough for the last few 100m of the swim to get enough blood flow to my legs to make sure I could start the bike strong. It was the first time I hadn’t almost passed out in T1 after an Olympic swim – normally I get a rush of blood to my head and have to steady myself against the racking when taking off my wetsuit.
The run was tough too. An off-road, 2-lap course with tough climb mid-way through the lap made pacing key. The good thing was though that it was practically downhill for the final 1.5miles, meaning you were ensured a quick finish, and could almost mentally pace yourself to finish with 1.5miles to go, at the top of the hill, knowing the descent would carry you to the finish.
I knew that to qualify, I would either have to come in the top 4 in my age-group (20-24) or hope for one of the couple of fastest loser spots available, with only the top 20 from the 3 qualification races going to the World Championships. Upon crossing the line, immediately my heart dropped. I hadn’t been as quick overall as I’d hoped, and I could see several racers in my age-group already finished. Checking the results, I knew I was outside the top 4 automatic qualification places, and I didn’t think I’d race fast enough to get the fastest loser spots. It was tough to take. Particularly as my bike was where I lost all my time, and I would consider myself relatively strong on the bike.
Reflecting on the race over the next couple of weeks, I thought back on how much I’d learnt over the past year. I’d taught myself so much about time management, being able to train twice a day on most days, whilst maintaining a job and social relationships. I’d learned a great deal about my own body, and nutrition – when to have which fuels, and what foods were adding unnecessary calories whilst not increasing performance. I’d lost weight, even getting down to 67kg at one point, significantly down from the 72kg I was when I started in triathlon. I’d also shown myself what was possible when you set a goal, that you’re truly emotionally motivated by, and that you apply yourself to, day-in day-out. From being a novice triathlete just 2 years before, missing the start of my first race while I struggled to put on my wetsuit, I’d come up just a few seconds short of qualifying as one of the best of my age-group in the UK. That was some improvement. Whether I qualified or not, I had learned so much – I hadn’t failed if I was still learning.
However, returning from my holiday this week, I received an email from British triathlon. To my surprise, I was in. I had qualified for the Age-Group World Championships with one of the last fastest loser spots.
The news was astonishing. I had qualified. I had taken myself from novice, to a high-performing athlete, without a coach, but with a radical training philosophy courtesy of Dr. Phil Maffetone, and the MAF method. The training plan was validated in that email – it works!
I’ve got 7 weeks until the Age-Group World Champs. I’m splitting it into 4 weeks of base work (155bpm work), 2 weeks incorporating anaerobic training, fine tuning for the race, and one taper week. Let’s get it!