Since my last tri race in Malmo, Sweden, I’ve raced in both Denmark and France. If only fitness was gained at the same rate as air miles, hey!
The European Cup round in Denmark coincided with the Nordic Championships and had only a small number of starters. I went into it wearing no. 9 on my arm and was ever so hopeful of ‘beating’ my race number. My original goal was a top 10 and my edited goal, closer to the race with the excitement building, was a top 5. On the day I managed ninth place and achieved my original goal and my first European Cup top 10 in a senior field. First international top 10… I will take it.
I forgot my biking legs
Was I disappointed? Yeah. Why? Well… a trending pattern this year is that I seem to forget to pack at least one of my three abilities be it swim, bike or run. This race it was my biking legs! Will I ever pack them all for the same event? I do hope so!
The race went as follows: a sea swim with approximately 300 metres to the first buoy which meant not so much hustling and bustling to get to the front as soon as possible. I appreciated this and made it to the first buoy in fourth place sitting on the hip of Amanda Bohlin, who is currently ranked 64th on the World WTS rankings. I had her marked before the race as she also raced in Sweden and I knew how much faster she was in the water than me there. I got to the first buoy and was happy. I had a hip to swim on and I felt good.
Right hand turn around the buoy and it seems I maybe stepped out of the race for a few seconds… where did that hip go?! I couldn’t believe what had just happened. I put in a big effort to try and get back on feet, but it seemed I was swimming in a ‘30 mile an hour zone’ when the rest of the girls were cruising along the motorway… the feet were gone. Exiting the water in sixth place with an 11 second gap to the front pack, I was faced with the most difficult of T1’s I have yet to endure. There was a man made scaffolding structure put in place to get us from sea level to the road… it was steep! The picture below doesn’t lie!
I suffered… a lot! Anyway, onto the bike and I thought – with my biking usually being my strongest discipline – that I could get on to the back of the front pack. Rich shouted the time gap to me and I could see the girls just there. ‘Just there’ became a little more with every wincing glance. Legs – shot. Engine – empty… Uh oh, this is gonna be a hard day!
I chased as hard as I could, for as long as I could, before hearing the group from behind coming up behind me… Okay Ailbhe, settle yourself because your now in the main chase pack with three girls up the road (such a dream number for a breakaway group, but anyway, next time!). I knew two of the girls in the break, one had beaten me in Sweden (Bohlin) and the other I had beaten so I was hoping that I could stay in the chase pack – sit quietly – and catch that girl on the run… dream world – BANG – back to reality.
Sitting in the back of the chase pack when I was already suffering was silly because the course had corners and a lot of them. I didn’t like having to get up and sprint every few seconds and in no time at all, after yoyo-ing for a little while, that elastic went pop and I was in no man’s land… oh god Ailbhe, what have you done?
After a couple of more corners two other girls from that chase pack had the same experience as I had earlier. They came back to me and we had a group of three. In the blink of an eye, I had lost them too. You are kidding me! Looking down at my legs wondering if they were actually still attached, I just closed my eyes and pedalled as hard as I could and I eventually got back on to the two girls. A second wind maybe? Who knew? I was ready to work though.
We rolled through on 20 second efforts until the last lap where for some reason the two girls wanted to play tactics and decided they didn’t want to roll through… ok, great. I flicked my elbow numerous times, but there was no sign of anyone pulling through. I looked back – I had a small gap. Ah! That explains that. I moved right over to the side and ushered the girls through. I couldn’t trust that my run legs were packed based on my bike legs being a no show. I needed them to pull their turns. Up the final hill and into T2… the girl in front of me came crashing down.
Thankfully I had a bit of trouble getting my feet out of my shoes and a gap bigger than I would usually like had grown between us ended up being a blessing as she fell and took up a considerable width of the road! Thank god for my god knows what number mistake of the race so far!
On to the run and I flew out of transition – faster than usual… uh oh, was I going to suffer?! We hit the hill on the run which we would do twice and wow oh wow were my legs on fire. Oh god Ailbhe please, please, please come on! Crested the hill and suddenly started to feel ok – ish… The girl just ahead of me was a different girl who I had beaten in Sweden but we ran very similar run splits so I was aware of how level pegging it might be. She had a gap out of T2 and it stayed that way. Although I feel like my legs came back a little bit, they were just not really in the mood to race. I hurt a lot during the race but I wasn’t hurting because I was breaking speed limits, I was simply hurting because my body was just not feeling race day! It happens.
I passed girls from the chase pack and finished up in ninth place. Upon analysis of the race it actually looks that had I just stayed in the chase pack, never mind the front pack I was actually running to battle for a podium spot. That’s an encouraging outlook on a very topsy turvy performance but people don’t always see the ifs and buts of racing because it doesn’t really matter most of the time. You judge a race on the result not on the ‘if’.
On to a French tri
I had a week before my next race which was with my French Grand Prix team Brive Limousin Triathlon in Quiberon. Quiberon is the fourth race of five in the grand prix Divison 1 league. I was very excited to get over there and race in France again as I hadn’t raced with the team since Dunkerque in May – which was my first race of the season. I was all set and ready to rock and in the days before the race I was feeling very springy and everything was looking food. Bike legs felt like they were present on the bike warm up. Run legs felt like they were present on the warm up. Shoulders and arms didn’t feel heavy and I felt happy in my nappy and ready for what was to come.
Down to the beach start and one look at the starting pens had my jaw dropping! It was such a long run-in that the race format all of a sudden had changed. It was now a run-swim-run-bike-run race. There was a lot of beach running to be done in Quiberon with entry and exit in and out of the sea. My run-in left a lot to be desired and its sad to say that that was actually the best of what was to come in the next ten minutes.
My swim – pffffft – just didn’t happen. No reason behind it – it just wasn’t there. I would have been quicker aqua jogging through the 750m than swimming it like I did! Absolute no, no. Out on to the bike and the chase was on. There were single bodies all over the place and I knew the chase had to be hard or this was really going to be an awful day. I could see two groups of two girls up the road and I absolutely drilled it as hard as I could on my Ribble Aero 883 and I bridged that gap by myself and we were now a group of five. Ok, time to work. We could see the chase pack up the road. They were just there.
We had one really strong girl in our group who was organising the turns and drilling it as hard as she could. I did my bit and kept on her good side. With two laps to go she decided she wanted to go and see who would go with her on the technical bit of the lap coming into the transition area. I had just taken my turn on the front and had slotted in at the back when she went. The girl behind her went with her but the girl third in line didn’t want any of it. I came from fifth wheel back and chased it down and got on their wheels again.
My legs were feeling strong but that gap wasn’t closing. 45 seconds was the call. As a group of three we rode the last two laps and came into T2 only to hear the group from behind hot on our heels. All of that work for just six or seven seconds advantage? Oh no!
Out of T2 I went in third position and the legs didn’t feel half bad. Ok Ailbhe – run with these girls, just run with them! I was passed by four girls, I think, on the run and I passed three girls but at that stage it was a little too late. It turned out that the front pack was huge and it was a case of running for a spot from around 45th onwards… yikes what had happened? Bad day at the office… what on earth? One day all three will go smoothly and I won’t know what to do with myself – I dream of that day!
Anyway, next up for me was a race in Ireland. Maybe all three disciplines will go to plan there… who knows? The suspense is a killer! The season is drawing to a close now so better make the most of the evenings and weekends.
Stay safe and happy pedalling,