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I’m delighted to be able to say I have automatically qualified after coming 3rd in my age group at Strathclyde this weekend.  It came on the back of a challenging 2 weeks though.  This single post had intended to be 2 posts (one for each race) but due to results it never happened.  I’ll explain more shortly.

I had entered 2 races this year to qualify, Nottingham and Strathclyde.  Nottingham I had tried to qualify at last year and Strathclyde was a new course though I have raced on it before in a standard and relay race.

Going down to Nottingham I was feeling fit and all my preparation was suggesting I had improved on last year though of course you are never sure until you race and prove it.

I did have a slight concern that my bike which is normally my strength was weaker as I had not put as much training into it to allow focus on my swim and particularly my run.  I had run my 5K PB at Park Run 2 weeks before so I knew that was going well.

All prep was going well in Nottingham until I got the mail to say the swim course was being changed on the morning of the race.  This is no big disaster as it is the same for everyone but I had checked my sight markers the day before which now would be different.

The organisers told us the start was delayed and we would get into the new transition area, etc in plenty of time.  This didn’t work out as we were told and I didn’t have the time I would have wanted to get changed and warm up.  In fact I didn’t really get a warm up.

I had decided after last years race when the swim was one of the most violent I had been in (due to lack of space not intentionally by anyone) that I would line up on the inside straight at the buoy.  If I was going to get beaten up I may as well do it in the shortest route possible!  I had also been training to sprint for the first 200m and then hang on.  It was time to commit in a race and try.

As it turned out in the swim it was completely clean, maybe others had started to stay away from the potential rough area.  I felt my swim was OK though I never really got a good draft on  anyone.

The bike course at Nottingham rectangle shaped and is practically flat apart from a small rise at the start of each lap.  With the wind direction straight into your face along that length it would be slightly harder than last year but it still a ridiculously fast course.  I broke 30mins for the first time over a 20km sprint and headed out on the run.

I didn’t feel my run legs really came to me.  On the way out it was into the wind so I was just thinking about keeping a pace going and hoping it would get better once we turned back and had the wind behind.  It never really happened but my time was OK so the suffering had paid off.

My final time was 1hr 5mins 50secs.  I was 40 seconds faster than last year so was happy with my result.  Then I saw the other finishing times….the winner was finished in 54mins.  Compare this to last years age group time of 1hr2mins and I was miles away.

If you don’t come in the top 4 and automatically qualify then for the other places it goes to a percentage roll down for who is fastest over the 3 qualifying races hence what inspired this blog title.  I was now at 120%.  Rather than find 4% I had lost 13%!!

This was why I never got around to writing about the first race, I was gutted.  I’d gone faster than before and moved backwards.  Nottingham seemed a waste a time.  2 years of training was disappearing.

Fortunately I has already written my training plan for the week after Nottingham as Strathclyde was only a week later.  This turned out to be a good think as I just got on with what I had decided previously.  it didn’t require any thought, just do the sessions.

By Wednesday I was beginning to get my head around it.  I had gone substantially faster than the previous year.  My swim sprint start I had managed, my bike was in a good place and I thought I could still do better on the run.

I started to get in a really good place for Strathclyde of basically just give it everything from the start and if you blow up then so be it.  If I wanted a qualification slot then it was my last chance this year.

Again a swim course change to start the day though this time it was to make 1 long loop rather than 2 shorter ones which I thought would be better anyway.

I lined up straight at the first buoy holding onto the pontoon.  As the course was going anti clockwise and most people were lined up to my left I knew I was on a shorter route.

The first buoy was only about 100m away and I sprinted for it.  I could see lots of swim caps angling in from my left but they weren’t too many making much distance up.  As we came around the buoy I got straight on the toes of someone who had made it up my inside, they’re obviously faster than I am.

I now ended up in a group of 3, one in front and one to my side which was perfect.  About half way around I fell back slightly and immediately gave myself a mental push to get back on again which I managed.  I was then determined not to lose them the rest of the way.  The swim was done and as it turned out was probably my fastest time of the year allowing for where the timing mat was.

As it was a local course I had done a bike recce a  couple of weeks earlier and knew even though it was an undulating course with a longish hill at the start it was a big gear all the way at the front so just concentrate and stay on top of it.

As everyone had letters on their legs for their age group I passed a few from a different age group but saw none of my own letter.  I was either going really well or badly and didn’t know.  The same rules applied though, just keep pushing.

On to the run and it was a hot day by now.  A perfectly flat run course except for one minor blip near the turn point.  Again knowing it was there meant I was ready for it.

On the second lap I got overtaken by someone with the same letter on them.  It didn’t feel good was another reminder that I had to keep pushing as hard as I could as time could matter in the roll down.

I finished absolutely exhausted with no idea how I had done.  I got my ticket printed out and saw I was 3rd in my age group (I checked that ticket a lot of times during the rest of the day) and couldn’t quite believe I had an automatic place and the roll down didn’t matter.  I kept checking the results online as well just to make sure there wasn’t an error.

I was delighted and also relieved.  Could I have faced another hard year of training to try again.  Thankfully I don’t have to find out.  I can look forward to a hard year of training for a European Championship in Dussledorf 🙂

Looking back Nottingham wasn’t the waste I thought.  It had given me the confidence I was faster than last year and probably once I turned it around mentally set me in a better mind-set for the start of Strathclyde.

Can’t wait for next year.

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