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Devonport Oceania Championships – remembering how to back up

I feel almost like a local popping down to race the Devonport triathlon these days – I’ve now raced down there 6 times, my first being at the National All Schools triathlon in 2008, then in the Oceania Championships in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016 and now 2017. I was absolutely stoked to win the race back in 2014, however the title has alluded me since then.

Consistency, both in training and in racing, is something we strive for as Athletes, however as simple as it might seem, it takes years to master.

After almost 4 years of training at the elite level, I am starting to get the hang of training consistently. Of turning up to training switched on and ready to get the job done both on days I feel great, and on days it’s an effort just to get out of bed. I’m not going to fool myself and pretend I don’t have lapses from time to time, but I’m a lot better than I used to be.

Racing consistently, it would seem, is something that I still need to work on.

* * *

Coming back from Abu Dhabi I found it a little difficult to get back into the swing of things. I’ve always struggled to get back into training after a good race. You might think that a good result would make me more motivated, that I’d be on a high and ready to hit the ground running but I often find the opposite is true. Often the better the result of the race, the deeper I’ve dug both mentally and physically to get that result. Coupled with the resulting fatigue, I also find returning to the relative mediocrity of day to day life and training shakes me back to reality and off cloud nine.

Being the first race of the season and the first race time I believe I have raced to my ability since Edmonton in 2016, plus the accompanied nerves and pressure I felt going into the race (not to mention the jetlag!) I felt floored upon my return to training after Abu Dhabi. It took me a good week (and a kick up the backside from Mossy) to get back into the swing of training. Before I knew it I was back at the airport and headed South over Bass Straight.

With the WTS Gold Coast race a mere 3 weeks away, I was not afforded a taper for the race, and after a solid week of training, I was feeling a little flat again by the end of the week. I had been looking forward to a low-pressure, just for fun and a hit-out race in Devonport so was looking forward to racing nonetheless.

After almost dead flat conditions the day before, Devonport put on the washing machine for us on race day. Emma Jeffcoat used her surf skills to put a sizable gap on the rest of the field in the swim. I had a reasonable first lap, following Emma out through a rip to the first buoy and was only about 15 seconds behind but struggled out through the waves on the second lap, exiting the water in 2nd, 50 seconds back, with the rest of the field further behind.

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Time trialling 40km on the dream machine

The chase was on from the start in the bike – Emma by herself, followed by me, followed by the rest of the field. Slowly but surely I could see I was gaining time each lap. It was hard to judge how much as I only had a visual at the U-turn near transition, and at the top of the infamous North Street hill, with no-one taking splits, but I judged to have about halved the gap in the first 3 laps.

Then the next lap I noticed the gap stayed the same. Instead of refocusing and cranking up the speed, I started questioning myself. It was windy, the hill was hard, there was a 10km run to go. Would I cook myself if I continued to push harder? Maybe Emma would blow herself by the end of the ride, or if not, on the run. I started to feel tired and the drive was hard to maintain without being able to see who I was chasing. Lap 5 the gap extended, then a little more, and a bit more still. By the end of the bike I was 1:30 back. I was disappointed and frustrated but headed out onto the run remembering that I was there, yes to try and win of course, but by focusing on the processes, as well as to get a good hit out in preparation for the bigger WTS races coming up as the season gets further under way.

I headed out onto the run at a controlled pace as per the plan, and pushed it home in the final 5km. In retrospect I was probably a little too conservative in the first 5km, second guessing myself after losing time on the bike, but I managed to claw back 45 seconds on Emma to finish in second.

Emma raced with gusto, and deservedly won on the day, but I can’t help feeling disappointed with my efforts.

It’s all too tempting to play the blame game. To complain I was tired, that the surf conditions didn’t play into my hands, to come up with any number of excuses. But that would be to miss the most valuable part of a disappointing race – the learning experience.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had to back up from a good race. Yes, 2 weeks is hardly a difficult turn around physically, but it’s all a mental game. This weekend was a good reminder of how important it is to refocus after a race, to not take any opportunity for granted, or overlook the need to focus on the processes not matter how low key the race.

In Devonport, I was there to win, but did not bring a winners mindset.

One thing’s for sure though, I will next time!

Gillian

WTS Abu Dhabi

Shiny red nails, and a shiny red bike. 2017 is off with a bang!

WTS Abu Dhabi was not originally on my race plan for the year. It’s a very long season to be trying to hit form for the beginning of March (particularly after taking almost a month off training at the end of last season) and the UAE is a long way to fly!

We were going to hit the Mooloolaba world cup as my warm up race into the season then start my WTS campaign for the year at race 2 on the Gold Coast.

After returning from my break I was really enjoying training, a lot more than I have for a long time. With absolutely no expectations on myself and no races on the horizon I was relishing in just focusing on getting the job done day to day, and as a result put together my most consistent block of training in the 2 months heading into Christmas. By the time the new year rolled around it was apparent I was much fitter than I had expected to be at that point, and it seemed almost madness to miss any opportunities that might arise early in the season.

I was off to Abu Dhabi, and I was excited.

As those of you who have been following my journey would know, I went through a rough patch last year. In short I lost my fire to train and more devastatingly my fire to race. I was left asking a lot of questions of myself, some of which were answered by the time I finished the 2016 season, and many of which I answered on my return to training and as I made a conscious and concerted effort to address the issues and weaknesses that had been uncovered.

Some questions however, could not be answered until I toed the line once again in the Green and Gold, and faced the pressures and emotions once more.

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Deep down I knew I had it in me. That I could and would race with the hunger, the drive, and the joy I always used to have.

I was scared though. Scared of the consequences of not racing well, of not feeling the spark, of the pressure I was putting on myself, and of what I thought it would mean if I faltered.

Why?

Because this gig is too hard to do if you don’t love it.

And I LOVE it. So much that the thought of giving it away terrifies me. So naturally, I was terrified of not feeling the love.

Makes perfect logical sense, right?

That’s emotion for you!

* * *

As much as I still struggle not view 2016 in a negative light, it was a huge and invaluable learning experience for me.

This year, instead of letting the fear overcome me and become a self-fulfilling prophesy, I have been able to accept that I’m feeling it, understand it, and deal with it.

It has forced me to do what I can do – train well, focus on what I can control, and learn to follow the processes to a T in training so that I know I will under pressure in the race. Instead of just stewing over things in my head I’ve been able to talk about what is worrying me, helping me to understand and deal with it. I owe a lot to my coach Stephen Moss, my psych Michele MacNaughten, and my mentor Di Gray who have all lent a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on!

* * *

Back to the race…

The first race of the season is always a nervous one. There are so many unknowns, it’s been quite a while since you’ve gone through the motions, and you always want to start the year off on a good note.

I was petrified, but knew that all I had to do, not only in the race but in the days leading up, was follow the process.

I went to briefing ✔

I did the course familiarisation making sure to thoroughly understand the course, the potential conditions, and how tactics might come into play ✔

I painted my nails bright red to match my new bike – something I always used to do every race that meant it was time to come out and play ✔

I checked over my bike, packed my bag, numbered myself, and meticulously made sure everything was ready to go ✔

I have never been so organised leading into a race before!

I was still super nervous but instead of focusing on how I was feeling I just worked through everything I needed to do.

By the time the hooter went off I was feeling relatively calm, and 100% ready to go. I knew what I had to do, how to do it, and was pumped to get it done.

Starting as number 28 of 32 I didn’t get the best of start positions on the pontoon, with the strongest swimmers to my far right, but managed a solid swim none the less. By the mid-way point of the swim, a group of the 5 strongest swimmers had a small gap on the rest of the field. I was out of the water in 8th and confident of my fitness, pushed the pace running out of the water, through T1 and onto the bike.

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Exiting the water

By about 1km into the bike I could see the leading 5 up ahead and really pushed the sweeping bends around the F1 track, knowing this would be free time and where some of the other girls would really struggle. Three km in, myself and the two girls riding with me, Kirsten Kasper and Alice Betto, bridged up to the leading 5 and it was time to take a swig of water and assess the situation. We were now a pack of 8, a mix of weak and moderately strong cyclists, with a pack of about 8 headed by Jodie Stimpson and Andrea Hewitt some 20 sec back, and a 3rd pack even further behind. It didn’t take long for our pack to dwindle to 6; myself, Katie Zaferes and Kirsten Kasper doing all the work. We were working moderately well together but Jodie Stimpson and Andrea Hewitt in the chase pack were on a mission and caught us towards the end of lap 3 of 10.

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Navigating the multitude of cones on the Yas Marina F1 circuit

The technical nature of the course was clearly making some girls uncomfortable but I was absolutely loving it on my new bike, really enjoying pushing the corners and making the most of how well it handles.

We were getting feedback each lap on the number of girls in our pack, the chase pack, and the time gap between. It started out as 15 in our pack, 10 in the chase, and the number dropped as the gap grew. By just past the mid-way point we had 70 seconds on the chasers and we started to get a little complacent. Andrea, Jodie, Katie and I had been rolling turns well, and I had been mindful to vocally encourage the girls to roll their turns if anyone got stuck on the front for too long. Our urgency dropped though, and I wasn’t taking the corners as aggressively as I began to tire towards the end of the bike, and although the numbers had dropped to 9 in our pack and 8 in the chase, they had caught back time and came off only 45 seconds behind through T2.

I went out at a controlled pace in the run, conscious not to get caught up in the other girls races and go out too hard, in order to finish strongly. By the end of the first lap of 4 I had established myself in 5th/6th running with Yuko Takahashi. We ran together for the next lap until I decided to start pushing the pace with 5km to go and she dropped off. Ai Ueda, another of the Japanese, was running strongly from the chase pack and caught me with 1 lap to go. She passed me but I was able to get back on, and then pass her running downhill as I had a significant advantage with my long legs. We ran together until the final long straight heading back to transition, just over 500m to go, when she surged and I had nothing left to respond.

I crossed the line in 6th, happy, relieved, and having loved every minute of the race.

2017 is officially under way and I can’t wait to see what the year has in store!

Gillian