Eton Dorney Super sprint – 27 September 2015
I’m not sure who was more excited about this race; me or my parents. Not because they anticipated a podium finish from me miraculously pulling out a miracle swim to rival Becky Adlington, ride to rival Chris Froome, nor run to rival Jess Ennis. No. It was because, having done this race in 2014, my parents knew that there’s a blinking great picnic spot on the run course!
There’s something rather magical about driving up the winding drive to the lake at Eton Dorney. As you get closer you see the Olympic rings that are still attached to various buildings lining the water, reminding you that you are about to swim in the same water that Olympians rowed (and perhaps even peed) in in 2012!
With this race marking the end of my second season of triathlon I am now better practiced at timing my race arrivals. As such we sauntered up in the love bus a comfortable hour and a half before my race start – unlike 2014 when we arrived so early I practically saw the Olympic distance race – the day before mine!
Duties were assigned: Sister – on a rare weekend off from her own racing involving running stupid amounts of miles across stupidly rough terrain my sister became my official race photographer, videographer – for Blair to analyse my running – and social media propagandist. Mum and Dad – apart from being the allocated support drivers for the day (this is an entirely voluntary role I might add – I even offer petrol money!), also took on the important tasks of bag holding and bike leaning posts whilst I carried out the tri admin – collecting timing chip and number etc. and looked at the tri goodies in the tents (I absolutely needed that new pair of tracksuit bottoms!!).
Now at the end of my second season I’ve developed enough as a triathlete to have my helmet buckled tight and my numbers on show so as to avoid being shouted at by the wonderful volunteer marshalls. So moving through the pearly gates separating the mortals from the, well, mortals with a screw lose, I entered the transition area and tried to work out the best spot for running the least amount of distance with my bike after the swim. Pink bag, check. Pink sunglasses, check. And of course all of the actual necessary apparatus – check!
I joined my parents with a cool excitement that only comes from knowing a course – and knowing you love a course. I didn’t realise just how cool my excitement was until I realised that I had been so happy with my parents at the aforementioned carefully selected picnic spot, that I entered transition on the final call for my wave – Jesus Christ – you go all the way to breath in the same oxygen as Olympians and future Prime Ministers, and you end up nearly missing the main event!
I rushed over to my area and pulled my wetsuit on faster than Usain Bolt eats a box of 24 McChicken Nuggets. Realising to my relief that all was well and I did in fact have plenty of time (they clearly hire someone from the army to do the voice over on the caller who only knows time when it’s ten minutes ahead) I decided to start up polite conversation with the girl next to me. It was her first triathlon, and her friend had ditched her at the last minute (apparently, I am told, I did this to my sister – social media propagandist - with the 2014 Wall Ultra – I have absolutely no recollection of this!). I promised her she’d be fine and that if I could do it anyone can (I am not going to mention that she beat me by 24 seconds!!!!).
The race briefing came and went and I felt nothing but excitement to get into the water. Unlike a lot triathletes I absolutely love the swim! I knew exactly where I wanted to be – near the back but as far right as possible to be close to the turning bouy (read, practically marrying the turning bouy). The buzzer sounds and off I glide – and I’m not even being sarcastic (miracle!). Since being coached by Blair I now actually think about my technique and so I worked hard to ensure that I was swimming well, if not fast (we can’t have it all). When not focussing on the turn of my body when I took a breath, or the reach of my fingers, I was pondering whether or not all of the nations of the world had any idea what exactly was at the bottom of the lake when they sent their greatest rowers to work it in the summer of 2012 – from the top Eton Dorney looks like a smooth swim, but really every pull you do includes a good tug at some kind of tree like structure that does not want you in its watery home! On the swim back to dry land I take a breath to my left (the only side I can take a breath in fact) and I notice my sister and Mum looking towards the exit. So what do I do? I’d love to say it spurred me on to swim faster and exit for them to see even sooner. But, no. What I actually did was wait for my next breath and scream ‘‘MUM’’ at the top of my voice before putting my nessy head back under the water. Worked a treat for photos! Not so sure it will be a technique I adopt when I get to Ironman!
My exit from the water was the first in my tri career (5 races – swit swoo) in which I didn’t get light headed and fall straight back in! I felt strong and Pamela Anderson like and actually managed a run (I have an official photo to prove it – I even paid for them to remove the ‘THIS PHOTO HAS BEEN STOLEN’ watermark from it this time!).
To Gabby, soggy socks on feet, and away. I’ve heard that Eton Dorney is renowned for its PB potential due to the course being as flat as Iron Bru with the lid off. What nobody mentions however is the hurricane that could rival Dorothy’s whimsical adventures that you face on the bike course. It’s the only place I’ve ever experienced using my lowest gear on a surface that is practically downhill. Two laps of climbing Everest, K2 and another really big mountain later and I swing into T2.
This my friends is where the magic began. I’m a sub 5:16 marathon runner. That’s a pretty much perfect 12 minute mile. A long distance wiggle if you will. But at this race those very same 12 minute mile legs decided they had had enough – this was a new game, with some awesome new tracksuit bottoms waiting for them at the end, and the sooner they were clad in those fluffy, flannel like bad boys, the better. So off I went, at a pace unknown to me as a 9 minute mile – it felt fast, and it felt bloody awesome! Gone was the ‘’MUM’’ shouting swimmer, here was speedy short girl, and she was smiling for no one – not even the official race photographer (not my sister – the actual proper one!).
I finished the race feeling exhausted but exhilarated – to find that I had shaved a whole 2 minutes 1 second off my 2014 time – and that the majority of that reduction was from my run!
- Gabby has now retired from racing and is enjoying a well earned rest in the Bahamas
- A man with a pink beard from the ultra running community was apparently out there marshalling and looked out for me to cheer me on – thank you – and I’m sorry I missed you!
- This race took place a mere 5 weeks after I started being coached by Blair – those 2 minutes 1 second are entirely his doing!
The wondrous new track suit bottoms (and a touch of the love bus)