Updated: Jul 20, 2018
Melanie Hayes tells of her journey to the World Long Course Triathlon Championships.
It was never my intention to race long in 2018.
My daughter was taking her GCSEs this year and I didnt think it was fair if I spent all my time training and wasnt there to support her if she needed it. Training for an Ironman distance race takes up so much of your time and often family life suffers at the expense of our sporting endeavours. I love triathlon but I will always put my family first at important times like this.
I had already pre qualified for the European Middle Distance Championships in Ibiza in October so it was my intention to find some races to compliment and get in good shape for this race. I decided that I would try and qualify for the World Standard Duathlon Championships in July, a distance I had never done before, and do the Outlaw half which has always been a favourite of mine.
My training would concentrate on building strength on the bike and getting faster over the half marathon distance. My first race in 2018 was the Blackpool half marathon. It was a while since I had raced a half marathon but my training seemed to indicate that I should be able to improve on my previous PB of !:38. I wasn’t disappointed I managed to take off 4 minutes and run 1:34 and finsih 5th lady overall and first in the V50's. A few weeks later in training I managed a 1:31.
Next race up was the qualifying race at Clumber Park for the World Standard Distance Duathlon. The race was in March and everyone will remember all too well how awful the weather conditions were at the beginning of the year.
Races were being cancelled all over the country because of freezing conditions and snow. The Clumber Park race was no exception and was rescheduled for the 5th May. Although I was disappointed I was happy that they had made the sensible decision to cancel the race, and anyway I hate being cold.. However, the new date clashed with a 50mile time trial I was planning to do as part of my training for the Outlaw half. After some deliberation I decided to do the 50 mile tt and fore go the potential opportunity to race the Standard Duathlon at the Worlds. This wasnt an easy decision as I love racing for GB but I wasn’t guaranteed to qualify and the Outlaw half was only in a couple of weeks.
It was my first ever 50 mile TT race, I had done the 100 mile tt last year in preparation for IMUK, and it was my first oppotunity to see if the low candence high power work had paid off. Also I had a new TT bike, having finally found a frame that would fit a shorty like me and take 700 wheels. My previous bike had 650's and I was convinced that if I could get onto 'a big girls bike' I would go faster. My first rookie error of the year was to forget to turn on my bike Garmin. I could see the speed and power I was going but it was not recording the overall time. By the time I realised I thought it was pointless turning it on so just got on with it. Time trialling in the Manchester area seems to be run by a load of OAP's who I am guessing were fine cyclists in there time. When you finish you are served cake, tea and sandwiches by lovely ladies that makes you feel more like you are at the WI do, than a TT trial event.
Anyway I wasn’t disappointed with my performance. I managed to finish in 2:17 an average speed of 21.7 faster than I had ever gone before. It seemed that the bike was a keeper.
This result gave me a lot of confidence going into the Outlaw half. My swimming had still not improved but it was evident that my bike and run had. The Outlaw half is one of my favourite races in the UK. Its always well run and supported and it has the added bonus for me that Nottinghamshire is where I grew up. The bike course goes right past where I went to high school.
I always like to check out if I recognise any names in my age group on the start list. The only name I recognised was Melanie Clarke who I had raced against at a few European Middle Distance Championship races. She is a better swimmer than me and the previous year we had been fairly similar on the bike. However, I know Mel won’t mind me saying this but I am a much better runner.
My lovely friends who I always stay with when I do this race and who are my number one supporters were on strict instructions to let me know how far ahead she was after T2, but also to let me know if anyone else in my age group was ahead of me. I came out of T2 and was told it was only Mel who was ahead and that she had 2 minutes on me. Head down the chase was on. At the 3 mile point I overtook her. The race is never over until the finish so I didnt rest on my laurels and continued to plough on. Finally finishing a good 19 minutes up on Mel who came in 2nd place.
I was over the moon with my performance and a new PB of 5:15 plus 16th lady overall including the elite. Not bad for an old lady.
I now found myself in the position of not having a race until October which seemed forever away. My husband had qualified for the World Long Course Championships and suggested that seeing as our daughter was coping well with her revision and the timing of the race meant that the big mileage could be done once her hardwork was over made me think that maybe I should go for it.
I had previously been put off the Long Course as the swim is usually longer than in an ironman, and when your swimming is poor like mine you need it to be the smallest % of the race in order in my case to catch up with the rest of the field. Normally it is 4km which plays to my husband’s strengths not being a brilliant runner but at this World Championship race is was going to be a 3km swim, 121km bike and a 30km run.
One small problem the window for submitting a qualifying time to British Triathlon had closed two weeks earlier. I had nothing to lose so I phoned them up and explained that I had hoped to qualify for the duathlon but that it had been cancelled and I couldn’t make the new date due to other race commitments. Was there any chance I could put my name down for the Long Course? My time for IMUK was good enough for qualification and I might have mentioned that I was the current World Long Distance Duathlon Champion for my age group! Much to my delight they let me in.
Ok so now I had a new race to plan and train for. I put my name down for the 100 mile TT which was two weeks before the race. I didn’t really need to go this long but was interested to see if I had improved on last year.
Unfortunately the course was cut short to 92 miles due to road closures. This turned out to be very disappointing for me because I would probably have smashed my previous 100 mile TT time by 15 minutes. However, it was a very hot day so I wasn’t too disappointed to finish at 92 miles.
So all was looking good for the World Championships although I knew the competition was high. I knew before you even took into account the other 34 athletes in my age group from the other countries around the world that there were two ladies on the GB team that are fantastic athletes and had won many European and World titles. The mighty Gill Fullen won the Outlaw Full outright last year. I went into the race thinking if I could come in the top 50% that would be a successful day for me.
It was nice to travel with my husband to the race. Something we had never done before as usually one of us stays to look after the kids but they are older now and my parents were happy to help out. My daughters exams were well and truly finished so I felt that I could go without feeling guilty, something us Mums are very good at. Pre registration went well and it was lovely to see all the other athletes both from GB and the other countries taking part. The Japanese always put in a big squad and they are a very friendly happy bunch. Taking photos all the time of course.
The race briefing however was confusing and the officials seemed to have conflicting views on what bags we did or didn’t need to put in transition the day before the race. All you can do in these situations is try and stay calm and follow what they tell you when you go down to transition. It was a split transition, The day before T2 wasnt even set up so we had to leave our run bags in T1 and also the pegs for our bike bags were not ready either. We would all just have to hope that we would find them on race day. Again you have to remember that its the same for everyone so no point getting your knickers in a twist about it. Its not great but it is what it is. Once all the faff was done we headed off to eat, hydrate and rest.
Unfortunately for me I never seem to be able to sleep before a race but I have learnt that you can do amazing things on very little sleep. The trick is to make sure you get plenty of good nights sleep the days before a race when you are not so nervous.
Race day was here and I was ready but not for the weather. The day before it had been 27 degrees and the forecast for race day the day before was around 25 by midday. However when we got up it overcast and about 10 degrees. Now I was worried as I knew we could not access our bags in transition until the race was underway so no opportunity to put a jacket or arm warmers in my T1 bag.
Everyone was stood about shivering and we were all putting on our wetsuits much earlier than normal just to keep warm. The next problem was a distinct lack of toilets. Only 8 fo 1000 athletes !! Whilst standing around in the ridiculously long toilet queue I could hear the athletes ahead of me from the USA talking about jellyfish in the water. This was news to me. I knew that there had been jellyfish at the Aquathlon the day before but this race had happened somewhere else. I had spoken to athletes who had done it who recalled horror stories of being stung really badly, with many ending up in the medical tent after the race. I had never swam with jellyfish and this was making me very nervous. Then another lady in the queue from the GB team piped up that yes there were jellyfish in the sea canal we were about to swim in, but that they were not stingers. She informed me that she was a marine biologist and knew her stuff.
Hooray for having a marine biologist in the race!!
I was in the last swim wave with the mature ladies which is always and interesting group to chat to. Generally we are a friendly bunch and you will find us talking about the woes of being premenopausal and how crap that is. Sleepless nights hot sweats, inconsistent periods and how it makes it more difficult to train when you are knackered all the time. Talking of inconsistent periods a fellow GB athlete and I were moaning that we hadn’t had a period for months and the morning of race day low and behold they decide to appear. Again what choice did we have but to just get on with it.
Our wave was finally told to get in the water and it was actually a relief to get in as it was warmer in the water than outside. The first part of the swim went quite well for me but I was conscious that the aquabike race was starting 3 minutes behind us. Now I can’t say for certain but I am guessing if you put yourself forward for the aquabike you are probably a decent swimmer. I wasn’t wrong I could feel them coming up behind me and eventually I had to just put my head down and try not to panic whilst they rammed their way through. We had a very odd Australian exit half way round through the swim.
They had basically built a small wooden jetty wide enough to hold a timing mat into the canal which we climbed up some stairs onto, crossed the mat and then jumped back into the water, or in my case I sat down and slipped back in. I got cramp in my calves 3 times in the swim which is something I seem to get regularly and i still havent found the cure for. It did mean for part of the swim i was swimming with my feet flexed to ease the cramping. Which I am sure you can appreciate is not great because I am creating drag or putting on the brakes.
Swim over and this is where it started to go downhill for me. I really struggle to keep warm and am known amongst my friends for always being cold. I was now wet from the swim and had no jacket to put on in T2. I was cold already and I knew this was going to get worse once I was on my bike. It was a windy day and I was bloody freezing. My teeth didn’t stop chattering for the first 37.5 miles of the course and I was tensing up with the cold. I found myself desperately looking in peoples gardens hoping that they might have left some washing out that I could steal to keep me warm. I knew I would get DQ if I did. Not because I had stolen something but because you are not allowed to cover up your race suit. Anyway the opportuntity never arose and after lots of swearing and near tears I finally started to warm up. I was worried that all the energy I had used up would affect my run and I could do the only thing I knew might help. I just kept on eating and drinking in a desperate attempt to replace the lost energy.
When you get off your bike you are never 100% that your legs will work well enough to run. Yes you put in the training to hope that they do but you can never be sure. But that day mine did and i seemed to be having a cracking run. Part of me thinks that my body was overjoyed to be finally warm again. Typically though as is quite often the case with triathlons the bit when you don’t mind if its a bit cooler is when it warms up. I do what I always do when it gets warm, picked up water and drink a bit and then pour the rest over me. I was picking people off on the run with every lap and seemed to be keeping a consistent pace. The final results show that I was 23rd out of the 35 in my age group after the swim, hooray I wasn’t last, 9th after the bike and finally 5th after the run.
I was ecstatic! 5th in the World!
What did I learn from this race? Well this first thing was always put warm stuff in your bag in T1 for the bike if you cannot access it the next day just in case. In my case probably a tampax too (other brands are available) as my periods are too unpredictable.
When I got back from Denmark I had a meeting scheduled with one of the female athletes I am currently coaching. It was her first year in triathlon, having come to it like me from a running background. We were discussing how she could improve on her race performance so in her words 'she felt less like an imposter in the world of triathlon.' Her words resonated with me because you might be surprised to hear that this is often still how I feel. I always feel embarrassed about how poor my swimming is compared to other triathletes and I will never forget a young guy, who I won’t name but he will know who he is if he reads this blog, who is a member of Man Tri like myself saying to me at a club swimming session in the winter months that I might be better sticking at duathlon. I know he didn’t mean to offend me and actually he has a point. I am never going to medal at the European 70.3 or World Long Course if my swimming stays the same but you know what - I take being the 5th fastest female TRIATHLETE in the World. Perhaps it’s time to feel less like an imposter.
Finally I would just like to thank my coach Paul Savage who has been my coach for the last 3 years and continues to support and inspire me to try and be the best I can. Paul started coaching me before I qualified to be a coach myself and i am often asked why I still have a coach. Yes I could write my own training plans but being a coach is not just about the plans its having someone in your corner, someone to whom you can talk to about just you and your training/racing, someone to discuss things with when things go wrong and when things work. I have learnt so much from Paul but equally I might have taught him a thing or two about training older woman and a menopausal woman at that. I admire Paul immensely and am always grateful that he continues to want to coach me when he has such amazing athletes like Lewis Eccleston on his books.