…. or so said Chrissie Wellington. Here’s Molly’s account in her own words of her first ever triathlon - will she qualify for the ITU World Standard Distance Championships? Time will tell.
30th June Leeds Castle Standard Distance Triathlon - Standing on the banks of the Leeds Castle lake, looking out at the carefully placed orange buoys that marked the swimming course I generally had no idea what to expect. Not only was this a standard distance triathlon, but the GB age group qualifiers for World Championships. And I was out of my comfort zone – I’d never done a triathlon before.
Only days before had I ridden my bike for the first time, practice clipping in and briefly discussed how triathlons generally worked with my Neil my Coach. I also was wearing cycling shoes that were too big, a helmet I had stuck padding into so it would fit and goggles that I had tied onto the back of my head because days earlier I had pulled them too tight and snapped them. I had confessed only the day before to Neil that this was my first ever triathlon and I had never swam in open water before.....was this a good idea?
We all lined up on the banks of the lake, as instructed by my Coach, I was stood right at the front (surrounded by girls in GB kit and a lot of experienced triathletes). I remember waving to my parents and looking around with a huge nervous grin on my face….bang, the starters gun went off, I was immediately overtaken by girls who once entering the water performed a beautiful dolphin dive into the water…. I tripped and face planted the surface of the water and did the one thing my mum told me not to do….drank a huge gulp of green pond water. I started to swim front crawl and immediately settled into a nice rhythm…despite changing my breathing pattern as discussed with Neil to every 2 breaths rather than 3. When I looked up to breathe I realised I had clear water in front of me…I was winning I knew I was alright at swimming but I had no idea I was this good and this fast! Was I going to win the triathlon??!!….but then I realised I was looking to the left – I was heading to the second buoy, the complete wrong direction to the first buoy! I immediately changed course, catching up with the other girls and began to navigate my way around the course. In the last 200m (roughly) I could see a lot of heads in front of me…I was swimming as hard as I could but immediately felt my heart drop, I was at the back of the pack. However when I drew closer I realised they were in pink swimming hat…the wave that were behind me and still on their first lap! In fact, there were hardly any orange swimming hats…so either I was so far behind all the girls in my wave had vacated the water and were already making their way down the 40k bike course, or I was actually one of the faster girls! I soon passed the last buoy and started to half skip/wade out of the water. Once on dry land I started to knock all the water out of my ears as I knew this would give me a headache after…however just as I started to do this the camera man started clicking away so my swim exit shots looked like I had had an accident in the water and sustained a broken neck…I mean they do say race phots are never that flattering!
I ran as fast as I could to the transition area, and after locating the porta loos I located my bike! I carefully put my helmet on, race belt, socks, shoes and sunnies and grabbed my bike and trotted over to the mounting zone, closely followed by two other girls. Rather than performing a ‘flying mount’ like the two girls (who now where in front of me) I stopped my bike, said sorry and thank you to the marshal, clipped one foot into the pedal, kicked off with the other foot and rather wobbly, I started the climb up through the Castle grounds and out on the main road.
I don’t think anything prepared me for the burning sensation I felt in my legs during that 40k! I pedalled as hard as I could but despite this, I soon was getting overtaken. However, rather feeling frustrated I was more in awe at how smooth and fast the other girls were on the bike and how well their bikes were moving. As I had only just started to get used to mine, only having ridden it the day before, it was fair to say I lacked the sleekness the other girls had. 20k later, I (carefully) navigated the roundabout, saying thank you to the marshal on my way round, and begun the final leg. The next 20k went a lot better than the first, I had started to pick up a good rhythm on the bike, had begun to catch up (and even overtake) a few of the girls in front and soon was riding back through the Castle grounds. I think I gained a little too much confidence because on my way back I misjudged a rather steep speed bump…and well lets’ just say thank goodness I used to horse ride and was used to ‘bucking’ as I nearly was thrown off! I was a little more careful for the remainder of the ride however much to my disappointment, this was captured by the camera man and after reviewing the photo it looked like I was on a nice little jaunt enjoying the beauty of the castle grounds, rather than racing to qualify for GB!
Minutes later, I approached to the dismount area. Safely unclipped and ‘ran’ with the bike to the transition zone…when I say ran I mean hobble. Because I wasn’t used to wearing cycling shoes I found the action of running, whist holding a bike and looking for my ‘rack’ a little tricky! The camera man also captured that (well they captured me grinning from ear to ear after I has seen and heard both my parents and my Coach!’ I racked my bike, pulled on my trainers and after being told to ‘turn my racing number round’ (of course I had already forgotten to do!) off I went.
I knew I had a lot of ground to make up and knew how hard I needed to push on the run but the support from my parents and Coach I knew I could make up that critical time. And all I had was 10k between me and the finish line….well that and a lot of hills…
Generally, I’m not a bad runner and usually, I am good at running of the bike….well not today! As soon as I passed the crowds and entered the fields full of mini Everest’s (covered in grass and not snow) my legs once again imploded with fire..actually they felt like they had been turned into concrete and then set fire too! I adopted a ‘trot’ which seemed to work as I started to catch up and overtake those in front and whilst I couldn’t do my usual long stride, I managed to summit each hill and soon I was into my last 1k!....then pop, a blister which had formed on the inside of my foot burst and boy did I feel it?! Although, I should have expected this to happen as the shoes I picked (Hoke One One) had never failed to give me a new blister every time I had worn them so really this was my fault and another rookie error on my behalf! But despite this, I could feel myself straightening up, I could hear the roar of the crowds and soon I was sprinting towards the finish (I say sprinting, it was more of a fast limp!)
I can’t explain how proud I was when I crossed that line, to hear my name being called out as I crossed the finish and to see my team mate Jas waiting for me and Chris crossed the line shortly afterwards and the Performance Edge Racing Team were reunited! I was so proud of everyone.
After collecting my official race time and placing I felt my heart sink and the pride slip away. I had come 8thin my category and whilst to some it is a fantastic achievement, I knew I had not done enough to get to qualify for Worlds and whilst this was just my first triathlon I wanted to qualify so badly. I knew that both my inexperience and ability and strength on the bike had let me down, I knew this would have happened before I had even started, but nothing prepares you for post-race feelings and how disappointed one can feel despite doing so well when looking back over the whole experience. Half of me felt I had let my Coach down, and the other felt ashamed that I hadn’t performed or get the result that I should have done. However wheeling Spider (my newly named bike) back to the car I thought, how lucky I was to have so much support from my Coach, my parents, my friends and fellow team mates and actually regardless of qualifying or not, without them I wouldn’t have even had the opportunity to compete in such a thrilling, exhilarating and challenging event in the first place.
A few hours later however, I received a text. It was from my Coach, Neil. It read …I have news…my heart leaped…I read on….Neil explained how I still stood a chance of qualifying and whilst we had to wait for the official decision to be released, it was looking very promising. The race was on Sunday and now it is Thursday and we still are awaiting the release of the results. Between the both of us, I think we have refreshed the results page over 100 times but despite still not knowing whether I will represent GB or not, I still cannot comprehend how proud I am to represent my team, and to have the Coach I have. I am one of the luckiest athletes ever.
Chrissie Wellington once said ‘remember, everyone was a beginner once’ and in all honestly, her words are just perfect. I think it is all too easy to get worked up on outcome, to rate how the race went simply by looking at the numbers, and whilst yes, where you come, how fast you swam/cycled and ran, it is much more healthy and constructive to evaluate the race by looking at performance. I nearly let outcome ruin what I believe was the best race of any description I have ever experienced because I got too caught up on my placing. Looking back on the event a few days later (and with the help of my Coach and friends) I can see how well I performed. I pushed myself physically and mentally, I put myself out of my comfort zone, I did not let nerves get the better of me and I listened and did the best I could do, and for me that is the biggest victory.
Whilst representing Great Britain at World Championships is a dream, with all my heart I hope this will be one that turns into reality, the adventure I am about to embark on is just one that I am completely overwhelmed with excitement about.
My race advice: Believe in yourself, never give up, listen to those who know you best and just go for it.
The qualification process should be ratified by British Triathlon next week so we’ll see if Mols qualifies for the Worlds in her first ever race - until then we are planning the next few races.