Autumn 2020 was a baptism-of-middle-distance-duathlon-fire for me. A far better than anticipated result achieved by approaching a lengthy race as if it was short and fast, and challenging myself to push for as long and as hard as I could. This “give it all you’ve got” strategy revealed I had hidden capability. It showed me how stepping outside of my comfort zone whilst trying my very hardest could take me to places I never expected.
Several weeks prior I had unexpectedly conquered my age group category at Darley Moor Sprint Duathlon. I now found myself on route to my first ever middle distance duathlon. It is the actual weekend of Barcelona Ironman which is cancelled due to Covid, so I have a year and several thousand miles of training in the tank. I’m sad not to be in Barcelona but I’m excited at the chance to compete in an event, any event to be precise, considering the global pandemic situation.
I pull into the expansive car park at Oulton Park race track. The race ahead is a 10.8km run or 2.5 laps of the track followed by 14 laps/60.3 km on the bike tailed with 2 laps/8.6km running. I plan to race hard, and see when I blow up to give myself a chance to learn how hard I can push.
I head on to the race track. There are buildings overlooking the finish line and pitstop area where we assemble our bikes ready for transfer. I chat to other racers and get some advice re when I should be eating my energy gels. I position my helmet and bike shoes in the best place for a quick change over – I am getting a little more serious nowadays. Then join the queue for a staggered start.
Soon I’m sprinting out onto the long undulating race track, with my Darley Moor sprint win fresh in my mind. There are lots of bends and hills around Oulton Park. I was here many years back for the World Super Bikes championships, and again for the Volkswagen Audi Group Trophy so have watched motorbikes and rally cars fly around the familiar course.
I run up and down hills built into the track, looking out at the expanse of grassland dotted with supporters cheering us along.
Soon I’ve done the first run section in what I think is a respectable time. I charge into transition and get the bike, and now I really go for it.
I’m off at sprint triathlon speed as I figure once I am tired hopefully the end will be near and that will drive me to the end. I have sticky children’s gems glued to my bike frame to count off each of the 14 laps, and peel one off every time I pass the finish line.
When I pass the photographer positioned by the start/finish I manage a big smile. He soon gets to recognise me and shouts encouraging comments as I charge around.
One racer has a Kona Ironman World Championship triathlon suit on and I catch him on the hills. I keep singling people out to overtake and race on by. It’s getting tough so I start counting in my head to distract myself as I pedal hard.
I ride round and round, fast and hard, counting away the time, setting little goals as to when to drink and when to eat. I reach a point when I’m really getting tired as I have been racing at sprint pace for getting on for 2 hours, plus an hour of running. But I push through, until finally I peal off my final sticky gem and put my head down to charge around the final lap. Then the bike session is over.
I’m through transition again. One of the guys I was chatting to at the start asks a little incredulously what I’m doing there! It cheers me to know I’m keeping up. I spent my childhood competing against two brothers, so my competitive nature is strong.
Helmet off, trainers on. Then I am running the final 2 laps. I give it my all but my legs are like jelly and whilst I am willing myself to go faster my legs aren’t listening to my brain.
After a mile I feel my legs belong to me again, but now its fatigue holding me back. I just tell myself to go as hard as I can even if the speed won’t set the world alight. I have tried my hardest and I am happy with my performance whatever my position. Getting this far, 3.5 hours in still going harder than I thought I could motivates me on. I’ve given it my all. Someone overtakes again and I just keep on going, foot after foot, breath after breath, until finally I’m home.
The finish is a bit of an anti-climax as there are no celebrations due to Covid restrictions and I have no idea how I have got on. I grab my bits and head back to civilisation.
Many hours later I get online to check out the score boards and do the usual data forensics any racers or fitness app lovers will be familiar with. I check out my age category and am absolutely amazed to have won the female 40-45 group. Then as I slice and dice the results further I am flabbergasted to see I have won the female event outright. I never thought I had anywhere near enough capability to win anything. As I look even further I realise I haven’t even won it by a whisker, but by an incredible 12 minutes!
Later I receive an email from the organisers, and for the first time in my life, I have actually won some prize money! It is a sport shop voucher, and once I’ve offset the entry fee I am actually in the money. £20 in the black. Not enough to retire on just yet, but still a lifetime achievement for me as a very ordinary athlete.
So I guess my learning from this event was that we are all way more capable than we think. I’ve learnt it before from surviving child bereavement and competing in marathons and Ironman. But I continue to learn there is so much more in us, that we can keep on discovering if we look and persevere. I never knew what inner reserves I had until I pushed myself as hard as I could. By regularly stepping out of my comfort zone, and trying my very hardest, I surprise myself time and time again with the challenges I can overcome and the scale of things I can achieve.