On October 18, 2015 in Adelaide, Australia I became the International Triathlon Union (ITU) Sprint Duathlon World Champion in my age-group. I was absolutely delighted, totally thrilled. I still can’t quite believe that someone like me can achieve something so significant on the world stage and at the first time of trying. The culmination of an extraordinary couple of years and a fusion of circumstances made the opportunity possible. A relentless faith from my coach, Tom Craggs, plus focus, strength and determination from me underpinned it all.
This is an abbreviated version of that story.
As many people my age are winding down, kicking off their shoes and enjoying the fruits of their successful careers, I feel as though I’m just getting started. Following a couple of traumatic years in my personal life I decided that 2015 would be the year to find a different way to channel my energies, and discover a new focus.
With my sister Fiona there to cheer me on, in March 2015 I won the British Triathlon Sprint Distance Duathlon in Clumber Park in my age-group. Hanging around waiting for the results was a bit awkward as there had been a problem with the timing system so no one really knew their position. Outside of London, I was an unknown quantity in duathlon so there was much surprise when my name was called out. It was windy, tough and not enough toilets but my efforts were sufficient to qualify me for the World Championships in Adelaide.
For many years I kept an ‘Australian fund’ with a desire to one day visit the country and one of my old school friends in Sydney. Now was my chance.
And so training began. Having thoroughly researched the competition I needed to get a significant chunk off my qualifying time to put myself in medal contention – eight minutes to be exact. Together with Tom we discussed a training programme, breaking the next six months into three chunks, I learnt what it means to be single-minded and focussed. My social life all but disappeared but fortunately my friends and tiny family were incredibly supportive.
I usually trained six days a week, often two sessions a day, gradually building my strength and speed (and bonding with my bike). Each month I entered duathlon races at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Velopark gradually chipping minutes off my time. Meanwhile I slotted in work when I could and often coached two evenings a week at my running club. Other races became part of my training and I really enjoyed seeing my speed improve with virtually everything that I did. Rest days were always welcome and Swim Club became an important part of my schedule twice a week.
Tom gave me the most incredible send-off speech as I also celebrated 10 years as a member of Mornington Chasers in September.
By the time I stepped onto the plane for Australia I knew I would at least give the international opposition a good race.
Despite a sniffly cold on the day, the conditions were perfect and in a wonderful location by the notorious River Torrens. With our bikes racked the previous afternoon there was much activity by 06:30 on race morning as competitors returned to transition. All around the outside of the fenced-off area team mechanics and managers were on hand with track pumps, tool kits and last minute advice. My tyres felt fine so I left them alone. I checked my shoes, my brakes and that my bike was set in a low gear. I added my filled water bottle, not that I’ve ever drunk from it during a race, but just in case. It was barely light and I felt surprisingly calm despite all the hustle and bustle around me. Confident that I knew how to find my bike (we were not allowed to leave any conspicuous markers, such as towels which was a shame when my eyesight with contact lenses is a way off perfect) I headed off to warm up.
An easy run followed by warm-up drills and strides, a familiar routine that helped to settle the building excitement. The team hotel was less than 10 minutes stroll from the start gathering point so I had plenty of time to whiz up to my bathroom – what luxury! I also managed to squeeze in another loo visit: n +1 (where n= number of loo visits before a race).
I didn’t need to use the tactics Tom and I discussed as I led in my age-group all the way through. I had no idea exactly how close people were and didn’t want to waste time looking back so I just kept pushing as hard as I could. I was so overwhelmed and thrilled to be on the podium wrapped in the British flag and totally amazed that I came in ahead of the silver-medallist (in the early nineties she was just 15 seconds off making the Australian Olympic team for the marathon).
There is a footnote to all of this: a huge thank you to Tom Craggs, David Hidasi, Jon Train, Jez Cox, Leigh Harvey, my friends (especially Helen in Australia), my sisters, Carol and Fiona, and to the memory of my mother, Isolde Reece (nee Lester) who sadly died in August 2014 – I could never have achieved this without their support. Mummy thought I was crazy when I said I wanted to run a marathon but I gradually won her round and I know she was enormously proud of my efforts. She would’ve loved to see my World Champion’s medal although would, inevitably, have fretted about me speeding about on my bike.