The Uphill Climb to the European Age-Group Duathlon Championships
(AKA Up, up, up!)
By Liz Burgess
In 2012, my New Year’s resolution was to do something new. I had wanted to do triathlon for years but had always been too scared that I would not be good enough. So at the age of 40 (I am clearly a late developer!) I joined DTC. Then I got the bug! In 2014, my New Year’s resolution was to increase my fitness again and to increase my distance from sprint to standard distance races. I had done lots of marathons in the past so I knew somewhere deep down I had running endurance memory, I just had to find it again! So, I entered the Dambuster Standard Distance Duathlon in March, which gave me 8 weeks to train. By having no swim section, it meant that I could concentrate on my running and cycling and have longer to get fitter at swimming (which will probably take me a lifetime!). The race was a qualifier for GB age-group representation at various future races. I must have been in a rather optimistic and deluded frame of mind that day, so, I registered my intent to qualify on the BTF website. Then I felt a bit of a fraud and realized I hadn’t really factored in that I hadn’t done that distance at any sport recently so I had to get fit quickly!
8 weeks of haphazard, high-intensity training later, I arrived to the race shattered and still not knowing if I could actually run 10km again yet as I hadn’t quite got there in training! Anyway, I decided just to go for it and see what happened! The race nearly killed me and I have never felt so ill on the final run. I sprinted up all the hills on the bike for the first 30 minutes and then died for the next hour. I am surprised I didn’t get pulled off the run course for so much grunting! Many lessons were learned on that day. However, I did somehow qualify to represent GB at the World Duathlon Championships. I was rather surprised to say the least (and now had a back injury!) and unfortunately realized I couldn’t go to the World Champs as it was my husband’s 50th birthday and we had already arranged to go to a cousin’s wedding. So, I entered the Cambridge Duathlon a few weeks later, a European Champs qualifier and I knew I was actually free this time on race day! I qualified here for the European Standard-Distance Duathlon Championships in Weyer, Austria in August.
So now it was time to knuckle down to training as I didn’t want to embarrass myself in a tight GB tri-suit! However, I didn’t really know what I needed to do. I wrote a training plan with all my favourite high intensity sessions in it (spin, circuit training, track sessions). I thought my training plan was great and was really looking forward to lots of fun getting very fit. If you don’t drip with sweat and get very breathless, I always believed there was no point in exercising! I was quickly told this was not going to work as I was training for an endurance event not a sprint. I was told I had to slow down to get faster. My heart sank! So my stubborn streak came out and I tried to rationalize why I needed to keep all my favourite sessions in the plan. I struggled with my new plan for a while as I found the long, flat, steady bike rides really boring as I like racing up hills with my heart pounding and my legs on fire. The long runs were really slow but allowed my body to remember marathon training from years gone by.
Over time, I could tell my endurance fitness was improving as my training became the norm and I was no longer too tired between sessions. I felt I was on the way to Weyer in reasonably good shape. Then, on an early morning brick session, 3 weeks before the race, I decided to do my first run in the field at the back of our house for a nice change from road running. A rabbit hole beckoned and I found myself on the floor, with a loud crack coming from my ankle down the hole. Disaster! Game over! All that time and training wasted and I had felt I was so ready to race. I was gutted. I decided it was mind over matter, and that I had to rest and allow my ankle to recover. At my last physio appointment before Austria, I was told not to be too disappointed as my running would be slow as I still couldn’t stand up on my toes at that stage. I was not having that! So, I spent the next 5 days practising walking on my toes in a rather obsessive fashion and doing little runs around the house.
Off to Weyer we flew, and I was very excited about the race but apprehensive about my ankle. However, I was feeling great as I was now so rested. I was so ready to move and sweat! My GB age group team-mates were lovely and about half of them were representing GB for the first time, so I felt more relaxed. On race day, I wasn’t as nervous as I expected to be (probably because it was so early and cold!) and I felt great on the first run. The atmosphere was amazing. The bike was hilly and technical, so with it being wet, I decided just to stay on the bike at all times and not take any risks. The scenery around Weyer was spectacular with hilly green pastures and woodland and amazing views. And lots of locals were ringing cowbells and shouting what sounded like “Up, up, up!” on all the hills which made me laugh! I felt great on the bike and was gunning for the last run, however, as soon as I started running again, my ankle was screaming in pain. I decided to ignore it and see if it would settle and luckily it did, as various body pains merged into one. Then the pom-pom girls and the quirky finish-line ramp beckoned. Why they put a ramp on the finish line I will never know! I saw it as the final test for my ankle. The whole experience was amazing, I was grinning from ear to ear. When I realized I had won the European silver medal in my age group I was shocked and ecstatic!
Looking back to earlier in the year, I am so pleased I took the plunge to register my interest on the BTF website to qualify for a GB age-group place. I would advise anyone who is interested in a bit of a challenge to take the plunge and do it. I must thank DTC for all their support (financial, emotional and training) in helping me to achieve a dream. And I recommend a new hill-climbing mantra to all: “up, up, up”. Try it, it will make you smile!
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