I’d only started to get some good race results in 2014, so this was my first triathlon for Team GB. I had travelled to Rimini, Italy, alone, for a recce and relaxation week, but met up with two seasoned GB triathletes in the evenings for dinner. They gave me two bits of information that changed my outlook on the whole race. And probably influenced my result. Firstly, that the top three GB finishers in each age group would automatically qualify for the subsequent European Championships. And secondly, that the competition, and their previous form, could be easily perused online. Cue Project Qualify-For-Next-Year.
There were 20 GB women in my new age group (40-44); The Project required that I needed to beat at least 17 of them. So I sussed out the top GB contenders and aimed to finish among their ranks. Five of the first six 40-44 year old females in the 2014 championships (held in Majorca) were British, and four of them were competing again at Rimini. Uh oh. But I was encouraged by looking at their split times for Majorca as it seemed that my run time was likely to be much quicker than theirs – until someone pointed out that the Majorca run was hilly and race day had been a scorcher, so run times were much slower. Ah, the folly of trying to compare races. Still, I memorised their names – Bungay, Grayson, Wainwright, and Goodwin, – and race numbers, in the hope this would help me gauge my progress during the race, and give me people to chase. Part of me thought that this was a foolish exercise, given the status of this race and the class of the competition, but a more boisterous part of me beat the cautious part down, in the spirit of ‘well, if you don’t try…’ So, I tried.
I couldn’t have been more relaxed come race day – the holiday had done me good – and I was greatly relieved that the torrential rain of the previous few days had stopped. My biggest fear was wet roads for the cycle. I also naively hadn’t realised that the bike course would be entirely on closed roads – of course it would have to be with 2600 competitors charging around it. Finding this out the night before the race really calmed my nerves. Now, with my magic cape on (i.e., GB trisuit with ‘Richardson’ emblazened across the front and back) I felt invincible and raring to go.
Here’s a snazzy 2 minute summary of the race to set the scene:
The sea swim was choppy but warmer than the sea in Scotland (unsurprisingly), and progress was good. The course wasn’t well buoyed and as a result most of us got a bit lost between two buoys, and did about 2.4 rather than the intended 1.9 km. Swim time 35:33 (4th in age group, 3rd GB).
From the bikes left in transition when I took mine I could tell I was one of the first out of the water in my age group (4th I know now), but with nearly 5 hours of racing to go I knew that was nothing to get excited about. I also had no idea how many Brits* were in front (*only referring to GB women in 40-44 age group, because that was the race I was racing). I sustained a good pace out of Rimini, climbing 1,100 m over the next 48 km up to the turnaround point at the stunning Monte Cerignone, after which it was all downhill back to the coast. My heart sank on one of the steeper ascents as Fran Bungay powered past me, meaning I’d lost one place in the GB rankings. I thought I was good at climbs, so it was really demoralising to realise I couldn’t keep up with her. (Fran is seldom off the podium in European Championships in sprint, middle and long distance triathlon and duathlon, so I shouldn’t have been surprised). Soon afterwards we hit a heavy rain storm, just in time to ensure glass-like roads for the descent. Mental blow #2. I got really chilly from a combination of the soaking and the less-energetic descent, and contemplated stopping to put on another layer. But I hated the thought of losing more time, so toughed it out and eventually warmed up nearer the coast. Bike time for 93K was 3:05:36 (5th in age group, 2nd GB).
In every middle distance race I’ve done I get such a kick out of finishing the bike – having completed two of the three stages, and the one where most could go wrong (punctures, mechanical problems, crashes). To rack my bike back in transition, shed all associated bike gear, and just don my running shoes is like breathing a sigh of relief: ready for the simple bit, the end bit, the home straight. I’m nearly there. Then the reality of the next task hits me: this ‘home straight’ is 13 miles long.
In Rimini this home straight was three out-and-back 7K laps along the sea front, past the beach huts, bars, cafes and holidaymakers. Although, come to think of it, I was a holidaymaker too, just with a different ‘leisure’ activity. As I headed out on the first lap I kept scanning the runners heading back in, looking for the GB competition. The only one I saw was Fran Bungay, and by timing how long it took me to get the point where our paths had crossed I worked out she was 4 minutes ahead. This timing exercise at each turning point gave me a useful distraction/obsession: I was catching her by 30 seconds every half lap, which meant I wouldn’t catch her by the end of the race. But, I was pretty sure I was 2nd Brit, so was on course to successfully complete Project Qualify-For-Next-Year.
Although the temperature was only in the low 20s it was hard going – my pace slowed and I feared I would grind to a halt. I took every opportunity to get some water, and to get a soaking at the invaluable sponge/hosepipe station. Then, at the end of the second lap, I overtook Fran somehow. My pace hadn’t changed so something must have gone wrong with her run. In fact she’d had some issues and had run out of energy (see her blog). It’s uncomfortable to write about benefitting from someone else’s misfortune but I guess that’s sport. So starting my third lap felt great – this really was the home straight, and I was on course for a really good finish. My race had gone well and I’d enjoyed most of it, so I just emptied the tank on the last 7K. I sped up as I soaked up the positive energy from the complete strangers shouting ‘Come on Richardson!’ at me. I was overjoyed to finish the race, knowing that I couldn’t have done any better, and feeling pretty confident that I was first Brit. I had no idea how many other nationalities had finished in front of me, but that was unimportant. My run time was 1:35:12 (3rd in age group and 1st GB).
I wasn’t too bothered about finding out my overall placing, so went for a massage and then picked up my kit and bike from transition. A fellow competitor told me that results had been printed out at registration, so I headed over there about 2 hours after finishing and looked for my name. It wasn’t on the print outs, so I had a sinking feeling that maybe my timing chip hadn’t worked. I went in to enquire further, trying not to panic, and got a hand written confirmation of my performance: overall time 5:22:28, and 1st in age group! There were no other nationalities in front when I finished – so I’d won the race I was racing as well as the one I wasn’t! I was a European Champion! I can leave you to imagine what that felt like after such an amazing day, but suffice it to say that I was grinning my head off as I walked back to my hotel. It’s cliched, but such a result was truly beyond my wildest expectations. It was immensely rewarding, to know that the hard training had paid off. Overall, out of 210 female finishers in the championships I was 19th female, and 12 of those ahead of me were elite level. I even beat one elite female. I’ll take that.