Being a teacher (Head of PE and Student Leadership at The Deanes school in Essex) the end of term is always hectic; trying to get the celebration assemblies sorted and finalising loose ends before the break. This year was slightly more hectic than normal as I was leaving on 17th July to travel to Tartu, Estonia for The European Triathlon Championships (Age Group). This was my first standard triathlon at this level so I was expecting really strong competition and the nerves were starting to set in.
Pre Race Preparations and Travel
On Tuesday morning, my boyfriend and I travelled to Heathrow for our 8am flight. Thankfully, the journey around the M25 was hassle free and we made it to terminal 5 with plenty of time. This ensured we had time to get our luggage and more importantly my bike box to the check in desk without too much stress. Our flight landed at Tallinn Airport 20 minutes earlier than scheduled - another bonus as we were picking up a hire care to drive the 2 hours to Tartu.
The drive to Tartu was great; the roads were empty compared to British standards and the 2 hours flew by. Steve had visited Tartu in 2002 when he was competing Internationally as a 400 metre hurdler, so he was quite intrigued to see how things had changed. It turned out that although it was more modern there really wasn’t much difference to 16 years ago!
Once we arrived at our hotel we had a walk into town and scouted out the transition area and had a sneak peek at parts of the course. Tartu is a lovely riverside town which is really invested with its University status. It almost felt like one big University campus!
The next few days flew by with preparations for the upcoming race; course recces with the GB team, swim familiarisation which was to be my first ever non-wetsuit swim, and a gentle run along the run course beside the river. Team briefing took place on Friday morning; this is always a great time to meet the other athletes and of course get the team photos!
The weather was similar to home, holding a daily temp of high 20s/low 30s-not something I was looking forward to competing in, especially when I wasn’t starting until 9:30am! Bike racking was taking place the afternoon before the race, this is when everything suddenly feels very real! Visualising your bike spot, entry from the swim and exits are all valuable things to practise pre race so nothings distracts you on race day.
I kept my normal pre-race routine the same as at home. I arrived at transition and checked the bike over, set out my bike helmet, shoes, energy gels and running trainers ready for the race. Transition closed at 8am so this allowed me plenty of time to do my normal jog warm up and make my way to the start area which was 1500m up stream. This swim was different to any of my other triathlons; it was a simple downstream swim which, due to the current, had been extended to 1750m.
The start area was very chilled; it was a small man-made beach at the side of the river bank that thankfully had plenty of toilets!
Race time came and my wave were called to the starting pen. We were allowed into the water about 5 minutes before race start. This is always the daunting part when you normally dread the water temp! The river was approx 23 degrees so thankfully nice and warm for my first ever non wetsuit swim.
The start of the race was signalled by the starter klaxon and off we went. I have been working hard on my swimming over the last few months so I was hoping for a personal best swim time. Due to the current I smashed my previous time of 26 minutes to record 23:51. I exited the water in approx 8th place in my Age Group (35-39) and worked hard up from the pontoon into transition to start the bike section.
The bike was a 2-lap 40k course that had a long stretch and had fantastic smooth tarmac so I knew it would be fast! Coming back into transition after the bike I was still holding a strong position 8/9th in my Age Group with just the 10k run to go.
Leading up to this championship, my back had been causing lots of issues when running and my run training had reduced massively compared to normal due to muscle tightness and pain around the sacro-iliac joint in my back. My consultant had discussed with me a new procedure that could relieve my pain dramatically but we knew I would have to wait until after Tartu to have it performed due to recovery time.
Normally, my run is my strongest disciple but I was dreading it as I just knew it would be uncomfortable! I wasn’t expecting the level of pain however that I felt at about 1 mile into the 6! My right glute totally jammed up and this made lifting my right leg incredibly painful; I started having spasms in my lower back and in all honesty wanted to stop...but I am too competitive and didn’t want a DNF next to my name, so I pushed through at an incredibly slow pace. I managed to hold on enough to finish 12th in my Age Group which actually was great especially when you consider I only started competing in triathlon a year ago!
Since returning to the UK, I have now had my Radio Frequency Rhizotomy procedure which basically means I have had my nerve endings around the facet joints burnt off to hopefully relieve my pain and discomfort in my back! Although early days in the recovery process I have swum and cycled without pain, running is next!
I now have 4 weeks until The World Triathlon Championships in the Gold Coast Australia and I am on a mission to do myself justice!
About the author: Louise Douglass is a Team GB Age Group triathlete and Sundried ambassador.