August 31st 2018 and it’s 40 degrees in Cagliari, Sardinia. I’m back on the road bike. To be entirely honest, I only ever pick up a road bike for the Virgin Strive Challenge. It started back in 2014 when I was asked to join Sam Branson on his inaugural ‘Strive’ for Big Change. Sam wanted 9 other people to join him in the core team going from the O2 in London to the top of the Matterhorn under human power only. And so we did.
We ran to Dover, rowed the Channel, cycled to Verbier, hiked to Zermatt, and climbed the Matterhorn. I tell you what; earlier that year, at home with 2 kids and my own fitness business the thought that I could have achieved something like this in a 4 week period was beyond my wildest dreams. Not only was it an amazing physical challenge (especially for a non cyclist) but it was a month to be me…. Lara…. Not mum, wife, PT, sister, daughter….. total freedom doing what I love – exercise outdoors and for a youth charity.
2016 dawned. And with it a new Strive Challenge. Bigger, further, harder. And three times as much cycling. I had to say yes through gritted teeth because I knew I could not say no. Our first day in September 2016 took us straight up to over 3000m as we hiked from the Matterhorn into Northern Italy. 5 days later we started our 15 days of cycling – over 160km a day to cover the length of Italy. There is not enough space in this blog to describe how tough this was; to describe the roller coaster of emotions, highs and lows; to describe the stunning views and heat but also the pot holes, the dogs, the Italian drivers and who knew there were HUGE hills in the ‘toe’ of Italy. 15 days on the bike and over 3,000km later and I had no words left. I am not sure where or who I was but I knew we still had to swim to Sicily, mountain bike to Etna and run up it. And we did.
I guess you know what’s coming next? Ah yes. 2018. The Strive Challenge continues. I was honoured to be asked to be the Official Fitness Partner for the challenge and responsible for putting together the 16 week training schedule to get the core team ready for their four-week journey from Sardinia to the top of Mont Blanc via a combination of cycling, kayaking, sailing, hiking and climbing. I joined the team for Stage One this year; cycling 400km and kayaking for 2 days to reach the north of Sardinia.
As I write, the core team have just reached the summit of Mont Blanc and to be honest we are lucky to have Sir Richard and Sam Branson still with us.
Since the challenge started in 2014, I have covered 5,500km (not including the training mileage) raised about £45k for Big Change and I am a better person, a better trainer and better prepared to always challenge myself
About the author: Lara Milward is a fitness coach, co-founder of Blitz Fitness and Sundried ambassador
Sam Hudson is a Team GB Age Group triathlete and a Sundried ambassador. He gives us a race report of his first duathlon of the 2018 season, Anglian Water Duathlon.
Anglian Water Standard Distance Duathlon
Despite it being a cold, wet and muddy day it felt good to get back to the start line and it was nice to race without any specific target.
Having never raced at Grafham Water before I wasn't sure what to expect, but from looking at the course online beforehand I knew the runs were effectively cross country and given the weather conditions were going to be hard going - in contrast the bike course looked pretty flat and fast which would provide good respite from the hard going runs.
Arriving at 7am there was still frost on the ground and a dense fog surrounded much of the lake. Luckily by the start time the frost and ice had cleared and visibility had improved (picking up a twisted ankle would not have been a positive start to the season).
The opening run was as expected, hard going, it was probably about 500m short of 10k but the undulating terrain and trail nature of the course more than made up for it. Heading out my main goal was not to get carried away and maintain as consistent and comfortable a pace as possible so I didn't burn out for the 40k bike. This worked in my favour, particularly up the hills, as I was able to reel in many of the quicker starters and managed to come into transition in around 15th position.
Heading onto the bike course I was mostly concerned with trying to keep the feeling in my fingers and taking on enough nutrition to not crumble in the second run. Pretty quickly I was able to settle into a good position on my aero bars and just focus on maintaining a comfortably uncomfortable pace while trying to pick up a few places over the hour. Overall the bike was uneventful, I managed for the most part to keep warm and although I lost a few spots I also managed to overtake a few and so finished up in roughly the same position as I started.
This left it all down to the last run, but as my plan was just to test my body at this early point in the year I again set a comfortably uncomfortable pace and looked to hold it while chasing down those ahead of me. Similar to the bike I was able to pick up a few spots but unfortunately got chased down by a runner behind over the last kilometre - I decided to resist the lung busting final km and inevitable sprint to the line and collapse and let him pass without much resistance (won't be doing that next time out).
Overall I crossed the finish line in 17th and 3rd in my age group, which for an early season tester I am pretty happy with. Both my run and biking felt good and definitely in a good position to build on to the next race (which having just been told it'll be the elite race at the national championships is going to be much faster and harder....)
Elite National Duathlon Championships, Bedford, 25th March.
Sundried ambassador Oliver Crossley won his Age Group at the ITU World Championships in Switzerland and is now World Champion. He tells us about his racing experience in Lausanne.
Racing at the AG World Championships was my main focus for this season. The European Championships went really well back in June, as I was able to retain my title from last year. Following that race, I managed to sneak in a few rest (active recovery) days before getting back on schedule in preparation for Lausanne. I worked closely with my coach to build a plan to ensure I was in the best shape possible come September.
I’m absolutely sure that consistency is key when it comes to training. This is not always possible when you have a full-time job but luckily, this year, I was able to complete every session, despite some being abroad or during work trips! I got to within 3 weeks of the race and everything was looking good, too good to be true actually. Everything that could have gone wrong in the 2 weeks before I boarded the plane to Switzerland did go wrong. My brake cable snapped, my chain buckled and my cleats snapped to name a few. Although very stressful, this turned out to be extremely lucky as it meant that when I arrived in Switzerland everything was in tiptop condition.
The Final Countdown
We landed in Geneva on the Wednesday, hired a van (big enough for 3 suitcases, a bike box, and 5 people) and drove around lake Geneva to Lausanne where we had booked an Airbnb 5km away from the race venue. We spent Thursday taking in the atmosphere, having a look at the run course and sorting out registration before going back to the apartment to assemble my bike.
The compulsory bike tinkering took the best part of Friday morning - just in time to recce the bike course with a group of other team GB athletes. We cycled the course, albeit the wrong way due to the races that were happening, to make sure there were no nasty surprises come Sunday.
It always seems to be extremely hot at these events and Lausanne was no different. I was hoping that the temperature would cool down for the race but the blazing sun and the crystal clear waters of Lake Geneva made for a perfect swim course recce on Saturday. It was obvious that it was going to be a non-wetsuit swim as the water was lovely and warm which meant that I ended up swimming a bit further than I should have as I didn’t want to get out! After racking my bike in transition, we went back to cook the traditional mound of pasta, put on our race tattoos and get an early night.
I’m always a bit nervous on race morning but I have the best family and fiancée anyone could wish for who put up with me getting a bit grumpy when things aren’t quite right. After transition set-up and warm-up, I took my pre-race gel and entered the holding pen to await the race start. This race was different to usual as there were so many entrants in my age group that it had to be split into 2 waves. I was in the later wave so I had some chasing to do (5 minutes)!
I like to take the swim out hard and get some clear water. This has always been my tactic since my first ever open water triathlon where I ended up in the dreaded swimming washing machine. I got a good amount of clear water by the 250m buoy and could only see one person in front of me. After the first turn there was a long (~700m) straight section which I spent trying to shake a swimmer that had caught my tail. Although I couldn’t shake him, we put a significant distance between the rest of the pack by the end of the swim. I climbed out onto the beach in second position, about a minute behind the lead swimmer.
This was a non-drafting race, which makes it a lot easier to plan for. During training, I had spent months on the turbo at target race power so I was confident that I would be able to repeat this. I got my head down and cycled hard. I do not remember much of the bike course as my focus was only on the 20m of road in front of me!
Coming into the last couple of km of the bike I knew I was in a good position. I heard my family shout “Come on Oliver, you can actually do this”. Without wanting to tell me directly, I knew this only meant one thing – I was winning the race!
Wow, this was hot! I spent the first 1km of the run settling into a rhythm, as I always go out of transition a bit fast! At about 1.5km I found myself running with a Mexican and a Swiss athlete and we began working together to push the pace on. We were giving each other encouragement up the hills (there were 2 very step ones) and the Mexican even offered me some of his water when I missed my cup at the aid station! By this point, it was into the high 20s Celsius so I was very thankful for the water!
After 1 lap of the 2-lap course, I knew that I had to give everything if I was going to win. I have never pushed so hard so far from the finish line but once I had started, there was no looking back. Coming down the finishing straight, I gave it absolutely everything, as I still wasn’t certain I was in the lead. I fell to the floor after crossing the line and after about 5 seconds I heard the commentator say, “Well done Oliver Crossley, our new World Champion!”
I knew I was in good shape and I always believed in myself, but when I actually won, I still couldn’t believe it!
I want to say a massive thank you to my coach Andy who has worked very closely with me to get to this point and to my family for their awesome support through training and racing!
About the author: Oliver Crossley is a Team GB Age Group triathlete and Sundried ambassador.
British Triathlon's Big Weekend is a celebration of the performance of athletes of all ages. This pinnacle event at the end of the season, traditionally a key milestone in the development of future triathlon stars, previously known as the British Triathlon U20's Festival, now also includes racing opportunities for Elite Senior athletes. It is held at Mallory Park in the East Midlands. Sundried ambassador Will Grace gives us his report of the race.
My first taste of elite racing
On Saturday 7th September 2019, I raced in the Junior/Senior Tier 2 race at The British Triathlon Big Weekend, the last race of the British Super Series. Despite not being in the top wave at this event, Tier 2 was a massive step up from Age Group racing and I loved it. The course consisted of a 750m swim followed by a 20km draft legal bike (6 laps of Mallory Park race track, with many technical turns) and a 5km run.
After spending the morning watching the juniors race, mid-morning came and it was my time to throw it all down. Bike checked in, trisuit on, Vaseline on, wetsuit on, all set to race. Before the start, all 46 competitors were called into the start pen for the race brief and to be called into the water to swim across to the start. Athletes were called into the water based on their rank in the series. Being my first race of the series (that of elite level racing) and with my name beginning with W, I was last to be called in, meaning I had no choice as to where to place myself on the start line.
I settled on pushing my way into the line in the middle of pack and very quickly we were off. This was a fast swim and I found myself fighting for a strong position in the middle of the field.
After the first few scrappy turns, I found myself in a bit of clearer water as the race began to string out. Out of the water I was about 25th, and was happy to be there in the middle of the pack as I headed into T1.
After a quick turnaround, we were onto the bike and quite quickly a group of 10-15 guys formed and we settled on the race. Being my first draft legal race, I was loving the style of racing, as it was fast, technical and definitely got the heart pumping.
A few times, myself and a few others tried to break away from the rest but were soon caught by the chasing group. Throughout the 20km we didn’t gain much ground on the leading guys so I made sure I was positioned at the front of the pack heading into T2. After a quick racking of the bike, the shoes were on and the time was to go hunting.
Two weeks before the race, I set a new track 5km personal best (15:06), so my aim for the race was to see how close I could get to this after the swim and bike. Myself and two other lads came together on the run and we were slowly picking off a few people in front.
After the first lap (of 4) I soon got into a rhythm and could settle in my running. Onto the final lap, I tried to open up the legs a little more and got a few more guys before the run down the blue carpet.
As I crossed the line, I had no idea what position I was in or what time, so was very happy when my partner told me I had come 9th overall, in just over an hour, with my 5km being 16:06. I'll take that for my first elite level race!
I only have one more race this season, the Jersey Super League Enduro at the end of September, which is a double super sprint back to back! 350 swim, 10km bike, 2.5km run x2. After this, it will be time to settle into the winter training programme so that next year can be even better. With the hope to be racing in all the British Super Series events, as well as the European and World Age Group Championships, where the aim is to maintain titles!
Ibiza. A glorious sun-kissed island, usually. But we timed this one a bit wrong. Heavy storms on the morning of the race caused a flooded bike course, burst sewers which started trickling into the sea, and a delayed start until 3pm. Lovely!
As we were running out of daylight for a half iron distance race (given that the fastest athletes take 4 hours and the slowest, 8.5) the format had to be changed due to darkness closing in on the bike leg, and was finally confirmed as a 45km bike instead of the usual 90. Usually good news for me, but in this case, I could have done with an extra buffer to Sarah, as you will see!
After a long old wait, made easy by joining my fellow GB elites in our manager’s hotel room for some laughs (what can you do but laugh?) the storms subsided and the race was finally on. Hurrah.
It was a tight affair. I was always within striking distance of the medals but the swim and bike saw me in around 5th place with a couple of minutes to make up on the run; which is the norm for me.
I was excited to see what I could do run-wise, but I wasn’t feeling ridiculously amazing (this phenomenon can happen maybe once or twice a year only). Solid enough, but no ‘magic’ today. Time of the month can have a huge influence on how good I feel, and the last day of Phase 4, whilst being nowhere near as bad as the first day of Phase 1 (close call!) is far from ideal timing (females would be looking to race in Phase 2 or on day 12-14 for peak performance). It’s great to have knowledge of all this stuff now as female athletes can suffer hugely with hormone fluctuations that are very performance-impacting. Some obviously have more issues than others.
And aside from science being able to explain things, there’s also the unknown of the human body - you can have a great day when you don’t expect it and a bad day when you do - so no matter what should happen, it’s important to race with an open mind: anything can happen and that’s what makes it interesting!
Back to the run. It was the least flat course I’ve ever seen described as flat! Described by many as an obstacle course, we had arbitrary bollards, twisty, slippy, cobbly, narrow roads, and a serious kicker of a climb every lap, with a treacherous, wet, cobbled descent then some steps to follow. It was challenging for each and every one. I was happy with my half marathon of 1.22 as I’m what I describe as a ‘rhythm-based’ runner: stick me in a straight line, wind me up (like a toy I mean, no shouting) and off I go.
Whilst not having the run of dreams, I was consistently fast enough for long enough to hold second place for 19km. Unfortunately for me, it’s 21.1km, and having been chased for the duration by one of the best runners in the sport, fellow Brit and good friend Sarah Lewis, she swept past at 1.19 pace (on that course, that’s seriously rapid) and I was suddenly struggling to hold it together for a medal. 4th and 5th were around 1-2 minutes back so there was a little time to spare, but I was starting to see stars and rock a bit; I’d really pushed the last few kilometres to make Sarah work for it and also be in a position to take advantage should the girl in the lead falter (no chance of that today; I’ve raced Alexandra for a few years and she’s taken a big step up now).
But having gambled a bit to go for gold/silver (because you have to, right?), I was paying the price. I was so close to the finish but as I’ve always said, it’s never over until that line is crossed. I’ve gone from second to fifth in the space of seconds in the closing stages before, so you absolutely cannot take anything for granted when you’re putting your body on the edge of its capability.
So, in hindsight, I think the best thing then happened. I stacked it on a turn with less than a mile to run. I got up straight away, my hip and elbow having taken quite the donk, but the adrenaline surge was exactly what I needed to hold myself together and squeeze out just another 3 minutes of effort to secure my third place.
It’s such a nice feeling to step on to a podium, especially at a championship with your country flag being raised, despite the FREEZINGNESS, and especially when a local gives you their pet parrot to join you on your shoulder! That really made my day; the parrot even tried to help me uncork my champagne with its beak. I’ve now added “buy a parrot” to my bucket list.
I’ll be looking to upgrade on my bronze in Romania next year, but if that’s the culmination of my past few years’ work, I’m cool with that.
My coach and support team believe there is some more ‘complete racing’ to come out (and so do I), so the decision has been made to stick at 70.3 for 2019, before moving on to a (possibly feeble) attempt at the British 100 mile run record from 2020 onwards, which is 14.43 and has been held since 1990 (exactly why it’s been held so long I’m sure I’ll be in for a treat finding out!) But I also just want to see how fast I can go, and wherever that places me on a list, who cares. From there, we’ll go full steam ahead for Badwater 135. But I’ll be a long time retired from pro triathlon, so whilst I can still improve, it’s time to embrace the bike for another year, get my head down in the pool and crack on with a solid winter’s work!
About the author: Alice Hector is a professional triathlete who has enjoyed some incredible wins over the course of her career. Sundried is proud to sponsor such an inspiring athlete.
Read more from Alice Hector