Glorious, Glorious Copenhagen!

Its funny how things work out.

A week ago I was fretting big time about my troublesome hip after crashing on the bike 3 weeks earlier. I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to start the race in Copenhagen, let alone come away with a bronze medal.

IMG_1998 In the build up to the race I was getting shooting pains through my left thigh every time I tried to run anything beyond a gentle jog. As a result, I reframed my goals for this particular race, the European Long Distance Duathlon Championships, and rather than putting huge expectations (and therefore pressure on myself) of a podium finish I decided that my aim was to enjoy the Championship race atmosphere, manage my way through both runs as well as possible and put in a strong performance on the bike leg. The most important thing was not to make the injury worse as there are three more “A” races to come this year. By acknowledging this change of plan I immediately felt better and I realized just how silly it is to put so much pressure on myself by setting such lofty, but ultimately uncontrollable goals. As a coach I know this, as an athlete I’m still as guilty as the next athlete of falling into the unrealistic goal setting traps. When will I learn?

So we set off for Copenhagen feeling excited about the weekend rather than anxious about how the injury might affect my performance. The journey was a joy, the world seemed to be in a happy place (or perhaps that was the filter I was viewing things through) and Copenhagen looked stunning for our arrival. The weather was glorious, beautiful sunshine for 5 days and not a single cloud to spoil the perfect blue sky. The locals were wonderfully welcoming everywhere we went and I can’t speak highly enough of what a charm there is about Copenhagen. And to top it all, it is a cyclists heaven. We cyclists are given priority throughout the city and everyone respects each other. Why cant all cities follow their lead?

Having arrived on Thursday we had a really relaxed build up to the race and were able to combine course recce with other touristy type trips. My leg continued to give me shooting pains but not with the same frequency or intensity so I knew I’d be able to complete the race, but just didn’t know how quickly. Lots of the pre race prep was completed on Saturday and I went to bed the night before knowing the bike was safely racked and all I had to do on Sunday morning was check tyre pressures, set shoes up and ensure race nutrition was on board.

I woke feeling good. A positive mindset is always helpful, but strangely, can’t always be guaranteed, so I stood on the start-line ready and excited. Given my injury concerns I didn’t bother fighting my way to the front of the wave queue but put myself somewhere in the middle where I thought id be able to manage my pace without the threat of my race Chimp butting in and encouraging me to go too hard to keep up with the quick boys!

After the 1st kilometer where I experienced lots of shooting pains through the left leg, things settled down and I knocked out a fairly solid 10k, arriving in T1 in around 6th place.

IMG_1867 The start of the bike course was very narrow due to road works and so I treated this as a neutralized zone and used it to fuel up ready for the next 60km. Once onto the open roads I felt strong, powerful and importantly comfortable on my new bike and new position. Having only got the bike a week earlier this was its first test and it felt dreamy compared to my old bike that I’d struggled with over the last 4 years. 60km went by in a flash and I was back in T2 91 minutes later, having worked my way through the field, apparently into 2nd place. The new bike helped me to post the fastest bike split in the AG and whilst I didn’t know my position at the time I did have a sense that I was in contention given that T2 was pretty much empty of bikes as I arrived.

IMG_1885 Out onto the 2nd run I went and I was pleased to find that I wasn’t in danger of cramping even though I knew I was tired. I’d carried out my nutrition plan on the bike perfectly and knew I had enough fuel to get me through this last 10km. The unknown of course was how would my leg deal with it? The answer was pretty well. I couldn’t push hard but I did get into a bit of a rhythm and ground out the miles. As I headed down the final straight towards the finishing chute the crowd was creating a brilliant atmosphere and I remember taking it all in, despite the fatigue that was now bubbling under. I checked behind to ensure there were no national kits coming flying towards me and relaxed to really enjoy the last 100metres.

IMG_1926 I crossed the line with a huge sensation of pride in representing my country, knowing I’d given my absolute best on the day. On this occasion I wasn’t immediately anxious to know my finishing position. It was enough to know I’d put everything out there and I was really happy whatever the outcome. A Dutch athlete, Henry Dullink, came over and introduced himself. He’d won our AG and I was delighted for him. We struck up a rapport straight away and when I discovered I’d finished 3rd and won the bronze medal, I was overjoyed. It was a really special moment to go up and receive the medals together. He is going to be in Aviles next month for the World Champs so it will be fun to have another chance to race against him then.

IMG_1942 As always I owe a huge thanks to Kathy for being there for me and putting up with all my pre race nerves, to Annie for believing in me and helping to get me ready to race, despite the injury, to Charlie my physio for keeping my legs together and to the team at Erdinger Alkholfrei for their generous sponsorship.

On this occasion I also want to give special mention to Barron Mendelson the GB Team Manager who did a tremendous job for the whole team throughout the weekend. I also want to thank Phil Murphy from Total Tri Training in Chester who fitted my new bike for me and the new position feels powerful, aerodynamic and comfortable. Once I get used to the bike, I will be flying!

Winning this medal feels very special. Having won medals at Sprint and Standard distances, this is my first at longer distance racing and its given me a huge boost of confidence for the rest of this season, when I’ll be testing myself much more over the longer distances. Importantly, it’s also the next step towards my crazy dream of contending at Kona one day!

Dream big, work hard and you never know what might happen!

I love it when a plan comes together.

I love it when a plan comes together.

I love it even more when I can see evidence of a dream coming true.

Yesterday I ran the Liverpool Half Marathon. It’s a while since I’ve run a big City race with many thousands taking part and there is something really special about the atmosphere of these events. This gathering of people of all shapes, ages and ambitions to celebrate health and fitness, to enjoy being alive, filling bodies with fresh air, cheered on by loved ones is an example of humanity at its best. If you haven’t been along to support or participate in one of these great events then you really must. With 6500 people in the field yesterday, there were 6500 different stories and probably 6500 different reasons for taking part. What a fantastically inspiring way to start a Sunday.

For me, the reason for taking part was to test out my run form.

A year earlier I’d run a more low key half marathon near Wrexham with only around 10% of the field size and I had stunned myself by running a new Personal Best of 1 hour 26 mins and 59 seconds. I’d gone into that race hoping to run under 90 minutes and I chose that word “hope” very deliberately, because for years I’d felt that I had the potential to run under the 90 minute barrier but had never succeeded. I knew I’d trained well leading into that race, but proving I could do it created an uncertainty, a doubt about whether I had what it takes to convert potential into performance. Not only did I go under 90 mins ( I’d have been overjoyed with 89:59 ) but I truly smashed it by going more than 3 minutes under my target time.

So I’d done once, but could I do it again? Another year had gone by. I’d trained really well. Consistency has been excellent. I’ve not missed many sessions and I’ve completed them all in line with Coach Annie’s plan. I was ready to test out where I’m at ahead of another big season where I’ll be running many more half marathons, but just to make them a bit more of a challenge, they’ll be at the end of Middle Distance triathlon races.

Conditions were ideal. It was cool, bright and just a gentle breeze. Just before race began I got a message from Coach Annie. “Smash it” read the message. “Better do as I’m told”, thought I.

The race began at 9am sharp and runners filtered slowly across the start line. I took the first couple of miles easy as I had not been able to warm up ( 20 minute queues for the loo had put paid to that) and then at around 3 miles I caught up with the 90 minute pacer who was accompanied by a huge group of runners. As I approached them I was deciding whether to tuck in alongside them for a few miles as I was clearly going more quickly than might be sensible or go past straight away. My own pace felt comfortable and so I went past and didn’t give them another thought for the rest of the race.

We then entered Sefton Park and for the next 4 miles I enjoyed discovering what a beautiful public space this is. At 8 miles I decided it was time to take a gel. Last week in the duathlon I’d made the mistake of forgetting to have one with me and so this week I was better prepared. Fatigue was just beginning to kick in as a few little things were starting to bother me. The running surface suddenly seemed more uneven, the odd runner was now getting in my way( they weren’t it was just my interpretation ) the heavy “breathers” sounded louder in my head. I was mentally tired and starting to get irritated. It’s interesting though that physically I was still knocking out the miles as consistently as earlier. This tells me that I get mentally fatigued way before I get physically fatigued and my brain can easily trick me into slowing down if I let it.

Fortunately this didn’t happen. The gel worked its magic over the next mile or two and as I entered the last 3 miles I was once again sharp and focused on maintaining form to the finish. This was actually the trickiest part of the course. The riverfront promenade was twisting and turning with long sections of cobbles to deal with. It was definitely beginning to hurt but I was thinking straight and knew that I was heading for a special finishing time and so I just kept it going. I didn’t once try to calculate what my time might be. This felt unnecessary. I had the mindset that if I just focused on what I was doing which was staying relaxed, ensuring that I safely navigated each of the twists and turns, then the result would take care of itself. This worked as the last 5k was my fastest of the race. I entered the finishing straight and saw the clock had only just passed 1 hour 25 minutes.

One hour 25 minutes and 3 seconds was my finishing time. I was so happy. I’d well and truly smashed it! Kathy came rushing over to the finish and she knew straight away that I’d done something special. I could see in her eyes that she was delighted for me.

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Once again I’ve set a new personal best. I thought 1:27 was pretty good, but to take a further 2 mins off and set a new best of 1:25 is really exciting. Who knows where my limit will be? I’m just really enjoying the process of discovery and putting into practice my belief that we can be faster after 50.

I don’t know which part of the brain confidence comes from but the tap inside me is definitely wide open right now and confidence is flooding my body. Knowing that I am going faster than ever is such a powerful sensation. Hard evidence that proves that at 56 years of age I’m running faster that at any other moment in my life gives me such a boost of belief to keep chasing that dream of winning at Kona one day.

This race has been so important for reinforcing the power of benchmarking progress to build confidence that I know will help me as I prepare for my “A” races this season.

I’d better get back to training then!