We decided to head over to Redcar last weekend to try our hands at the ITU world qualifier. We have family up North so it was a good excuse to see them.

My goal for this race was different to past races. While I wanted to have a good race, my main goal was to use the race and the training as a way to develop some base fitness. My preparation for this race however was not ideal. Having just raced the weekend before at the National Aquathlon Championships, my body was still in recovery mode and I hadn’t done any sprint work for two weeks. I knew going in that I wasn’t as fit as I had previously been for other races. My plan was to race conservatively and try to get as many of the little things right as possible.

Day before the race

On Saturday, the day before the race, we were told by the organisers that there was a chance the swim could be cancelled due to the thunderstorm and strong winds. If the swim got cancelled we’d have a 2.5km run instead, making it a duathlon. I had mixed reactions to this: on the one hand I’d be disappointed not to do a proper triathlon but on the other hand a duathlon would be ideal for me. Running has always been my strongest discipline and replacing the swim with a run would be to my advantage!

Race day

On Sunday morning it was still raining a lot but the wind seemed to have got worse and it was going at 30mph on the sea front. The organisers couldn’t make up a decision about the swim and we saw the buoys being taken in then put back out.

It was frustrating not knowing what was happening. Much of racing is about having the right mindset but it was impossible to “curb” the mind when we have no idea if we’re doing a triathlon or a duathlon! Five minutes before we were due to race, they confirmed that the swim was going ahead, and off we went into the sub 14 degree sea water!

Swim (750m)

It was a congested mass start which had the potential to get really chaotic so I positioned myself near the back so I wouldn’t have to endure too many kicks in the face and large bodies trying to swim over mine.

It didn’t look like the waves were that high from the beach but when I was in the sea I was drinking sea water with every breath (or every other breath) – not ideal! However, I managed to avoid panicking, unusual for me in this sort of swim, and I just kept going. I had only two things in mind: go straight and get out of the way of other swimmers!

Bike (20km)

After the swim, I took off the wetsuit, I put on my socks, cleats, sunglasses, helmet, and made my way out onto the four lap bike course along the sea front.

The course was relatively flat, with a good surface for the most part. While there were no hills, the course itself was really technical with multiple 90-degree turns. It was also extremely windy (30mph wind!) and for much for the race I felt like I was riding into the headwind. I was really scared and I didn’t dare to drink on the bike, which meant that I was dehydrated going into the run.

I was also quite lonely for most of the ride. The race was supposed to be a fast draft fest but I couldn’t hold on to any of the groups that went past me. I was not dealing well with the crosswind and was sitting super weird on my bike trying to stay low. So overall, not a great ride but it was certainly an experience and it highlighted what I need to work on!

Run (5.5km)

Back at my spot in transition, I racked my bike, took off my helmet, changed shoes and took off for the run course.

The run course is a 3-loop course, with a water station at the end of each loop. My legs felt really heavy starting the run, and my only focus was to get the legs moving, but the route had lots of twists and turns and in a few places I had to come to complete stops to avoid slipping.

My run was slow and my average pace was 4.30/km. I think being stronger on the bike now makes me more fatigued on the run, so I need to learn to balance these two legs carefully.

In the end, I crossed the finish line in 1h30, placing me 14th in my age group. While I was disappointed with my time, I’m happy that I’ve shaved 20 minutes off my last sprint triathlon time (1h50) and I’m proud that I managed to finish in such tough conditions.

Post race

After the race I caught up with Hayley while we cheered for the men (who started 45 minutes after us). Clinton’s finishing time was 1h14 (another PB!), Dan was literally a min or two behind, and Mac and Richard also did amazingly well in their age groups! We grabbed lunch at a pub and then hit the road for the long 5-hour drive back to London.

Final thoughts

Overall, this was the hardest triathlon I have encountered yet, simply because of the weather conditions. I felt like I swam in the Arctic and cycled into a hurricane. To be completely honest, I was hoping to go a little faster, especially on the bike, however considering the conditions and the course, I think I’ve done the best I could.

It’s easy to get hung up and get clingy to numbers, but if there’s one thing I learned from Brett’s Zen & the Art of Triathlon podcast, it’s that states of frustration happiness and states of suffering are temporary. Let it go, move on, and try harder next time.

– Jess

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