Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Back in the game : The Kielder Off-Road Duathlon

Winning is hard. Whatever level you race at, there will always be someone who can run, bike, swim just as fast as you can and is just as hungry for the win. Although I have not got a lot of victories behind my name, I had to learn how to do it, how to attack that podium, how to race in the zone, its a real skill. Learning how to channel thoughts, handle doubts and negativity. How to eliminate demons. But when it all falls into place there is no better feeling. My first female overall win was in the Highland Fling 50km MTB race in Australia in 2012. I can still visualise every corner, every move, recall every thought in my head and feel every muscle acing when I think about that race. It was magic. Winning is magic. Strangely enough I don't really like competition, I have always thought that I lack what it takes because I will not thrive in a competitive environment. It affects my confidence. That is why I often train alone and like my space before a race. In my opinion I lack the self believe and certain amount of arrogance you need to keep on performing week after week. To keep on bouncing back from losses. To deal with the highs and lows of racing. What I do love about racing is getting it right, getting the most out of my body in the best possible way regardless of where I end up in the field. It is then, when I relax through a race that I can excel and perform. It is then that I can challenge that podium, and when a solid performance gets rewarded with a win, magic has happened.

Over the last 6 months I just run when I felt like it, most often with dog Fynn

January arrived and I was so keen to start looking again at my familiar training calendar with Nico's humoristic comments on a weekly basis. It had been 6 months. I was mentally ready to start again. I had not done any structured training for a long time. An athlete on the side line. I became the un-fittest I had been in over 5 years and I felt like a hairy, chubby race horse coming back from a spell. In December I started slowly "moving" again and I started to think about what I wanted out of 2016. I searched off road races in Scotland and the UK. I found a perfect one in the first week of January. I heard a lot of good stuff about the organisers so I signed up for The Kielder Off-Road Duathlon. 8km run, 25 MTB, 7km run. A bit to early may be? No, for me it was perfect, as I was unfit with absolutely no race speed I would have no expectations and just go do my thing. The way I liked it. It was described as a flattish fast fire road duathlon which I thought would take me around 2 and a half hours. Perfect. Nico wrote on my training program "although your unfit, be energetic and race with fighting spirit" That was the plan.
Partner in crime : my dog Fynn and I with our

January threw a bit of a curve ball though with the worst flooding North-England and Scotland had ever seen. The weekend had snow and ice forecasted but I was determined to race. I needed it. So of I went with dog Fynn by myside. I wanted to show up, race, and go home. Un noticed, un known, racing purely for me, without any pressure, just the way I liked it. I layered up with the merino layers from which kept me as warm as was physically possible with the conditions we were presented with!!! Good friend Jantiene send me some awesome arm warmers from her web shop which I was very thankful for!!!

Relaxing into my own pace

The weather forecast had not been kidding! I hit heavy snow driving to the event centre on race morning and whilst getting ready for the race it turned into heavy rain. The conditions were freezing and a cold gale force wind made an appearance. I felt sorry for the volunteers who had to stand still in this nasty weather! I am always surprised to see so many people show up for a race in these conditions! My planned 30min warm up was shortened to 5 minutes to keep as dry and warm as I could before the race. Standing on the start line there was the usual friendly banter and I got a bit worried when one of the guys told me my lips started to turn blue! I had not even raced yet!! There was a mention of a change of course from previous years in the race briefing including more hills. Damn.

Finally the gun went off, I shivered through the first run, struggling to warm up, struggling with the front pace and struggling with the steep, muddy, icy, rooty underground. I started to doubt my existence as an athlete. Negative thoughts flowed into my brain. Then I thought, NO. I eased up the pace until I was running a bit more comfortably, and I was surrounded by other friendly athletes cursing the conditions, I relaxed. I was here to have fun. I picked up the pace again in the last km and I was ready for the bike. An embarrassing long transition followed. I had only brought one pair of gloves which I wanted to keep dry for the bike, therefore my hands were so frozen I struggled putting my MTB shoes on and did not manage to tighten them properly! This resulted in me pulling my heel out of the shoe everyt time I tried to really push on the climbs!! Not ideal!

I found flow on the MTB, best feeling ever. The course was not technical but smooth and flowy with some real cool single track and sharp climbs. I was on a mission to catch as many people as I could. It was not quite technical or hilly enough for me to really put the pressure on the faster runners but I was lucky I could see a human dot in the far distance at any point in the race so no gale force head winds and heavy hail was going to stop me from chasing. I had no idea where I was in the race, I had lost count of the people I passed and with mud in my eyes I could not always work out if I was passing a guy or a girl! The volunteers on course were awesome! Rock stars! What a day to be out standing for 3-4 hours to support crazy athletes. Bitter cold!!

Last little hill into transition
On the final run. I was surprised to find I had legs left, it had been since August I last run off the bike. This was good. I stuck with a small group of guy's. "this is good" I kept on thinking "this is good". I had done all the passing from the MTB leg onwards and had not been passed. This is good! The 2nd run was about 1km longer than planned and I started to feel my lungs from the cold and wet weather. The 2nd run was as challenging as the first one and I was happy to see the finish banners, I finished. I was satisfied. "A good race" I thought. A lovely lady at the finish congratulated me "huge achievement" she said. "did I win?" I thought but I was scared to say the words out loud, I looked around me and could not see any other girls. I looked over at the time keeping people, but again I did not want to ask. I wanted to hold on to the happy feeling of having finished a great race and for me at that point in time it did not matter where I had come in the field. For anyone finishing in these tough conditions was a great achievement. Wet and freezing cold I quickly grabbed all my stuff and headed for my car where Fynn patiently awaited me. I generally like to stay for prize giving to show respect for the organizers and fellow athletes and these guys definitely deserved a lot of respect today! But with the bad weather forecast and a 3hrs drive back by myself (and dog Fynn), I decided to hit the road as soon as possible so I could drive most of my journey in day light.

I did play in my head a lot on the drive home, did I win? could I have won? Why was I so stupid not to ask!!. It was a long wait for me for the results to come out to see where I had placed. Best feeling ever : I WON. Magic had happened.

"it's not who you are that holds you back, it's who you think you're not"

race photo credit

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