Wednesday 7 September 2016

Edmonton WTS 2016

I guess I might as well take this opportunity to talk a bit about what I have been up to for the past month or so.

As I said in my last post I was selected as the reserve athlete for Ireland at the Rio Olympics, I was also a training partner for the lead up to the Games.

So I'll start where I left off in the last post after returning home from my Asian adventure in Japan and Singapore. Shortly after getting home I traveled down to Dublin to train with Bryan for 5 or 6 days which was very hard as I was still very tired from the travel and racing but it was very beneficial as I was aware that I had lost a decent amount of fitness due to racing four weeks out of five. I would have stayed longer but I traveled back to Stirling, Scotland to move out of my house and pack it up as it was costing me too much money to pay rent in somewhere I wasn’t spending a lot of time in the coming months. After sorting all that out I traveled with Bryan, Aileen, Tommy (TI Head Coach) and Marty(Physio) to Clermont Florida for triathlon Ireland's Rio prep camp.

It was a great experience being immersed in the lead up to an Olympic Games. I learned a lot from the experience and hopefully it will stand me in good stead when it's hopefully my turn in four years time. I cannot express how beneficial it has been this season attending training camps etc as a training partner for the lead into Rio; I would not have had the results the season otherwise.

After 12 days in Florida it was time for me to part ways with the team as they headed to Rio and I boarded a flight to Colorado. Splitting off and walking in opposite directions to the others in Orlando Airport as we headed for different flights was tough. Walking away from the guys who I've spent so much time with this year as well as the fact that in my bag I was carrying my own 2016 Olympic accreditation that I knew would never be laminated or ever hang on a lanyard around my neck.
I was able to content myself knowing I wasn't quite ready, it wasn't my time and that I still have much work to do in what I would like to consider my breakthrough season... I'll be more than ready in four years time.

The adventure continued for me as I traveled on to Colorado Springs for 18 days leading into Edmonton WTS (Canada). I was lucky enough to be welcomed into Ian O'Brein’s ‘Origin Performance’ squad. Ian is someone I had bumped into at a few World Cups over the past year and I was very appreciative of him allowing me to train with him during my prep for Edmonton. Not only was it a great opportunity to train with a great squad but it also saved me adding the extra travel of two long haul trips returning home between the Florida camp and the Edmonton race.

Ian has a great set up training out of the USA Olympic Center and the fantastic training environment that is Colorado Springs; a lot of solid work was done to get my fitness back up after my last period of racing.

After 18 days in the thin air it was back to chasing the blue carpet around the world, this time heading north to Edmonton, Canada. This would be my third time in Edmonton and I can thankfully say it has always treated me well. My 1st race there was 2014 World u23 Champs where I finished 18th, then last year I finished 28th in what was my best WTS performance before my 11th in Leeds earlier this year; I always like returning somewhere that I felt I raced well.

So after, a not so short recap of my past few weeks I'll give an insight into the race.
Going into the race I was ranked 19th; my highest ever WTS start number. Besides optimistic aims for the race, the aim of most of my races is to beat my start number, which usually means your moving in the right direction, climbing up the rankings and beating others currently ranked ahead of myself. If I was to achieve this aim it would result in a top 20 WTS finish which I would consider pretty impressive, although after finishing 11th in Leeds, deep down I was really wanted a top 10. Although realistically I knew that it would not be that easy, as this time around it was a sprint distance race and currently I have had much better performances at the longer Olympic distance. I can say with great pride that I managed to finish 14th, maybe not a top 10 but I beat my start number and it's still a top 15 in a World Series race. If someone had told me I would have two top 15 WTS results this season I would have laughed at them- thankfully it's now true.

The race was ballistic from the start. I didn't have the best of swims as on the run into the water I managed to get hit in the rough and tumble and my left goggle filled with water, with no time to fix it I swam on with no vision to my left. When I had the bad start I bailed out wide (which I don't advise) but this time it paid off and I was swimming well and got to the 1st buoy in a half decent position. I moved up slightly in the sound half of the swim to exit the water in 7th (might be my highest WTS swim position).
Out of the water and it was all about trying to get a smooth transition and onto the bike when the body was shocked into acclimatising with the 7-8°C air temperature.

Once out on the bike a small group of three, with huge fire power of J.Brownlee, Varga and Royal were up the road. It was a group that nobody wanted to get away as it would be a podium for that trio. The chase was on but the pace was never full on and the gap wasn't really closing down very fast, I just tried to be smart and position myself near the front I do what I needed to do.
We didn't quite catch the trio but we enter transition only a few seconds apart.

With the fastest transition time of the day it saw me exit onto the run in forth and I quickly moved into 2nd ... 2nd on the road of a WTS, really? I just rolled with and did what I felt I could do without over extending myself. When Richard Murray comes past you and setting the pace it's time to buckle up and see how long you can hang with it, it wasn't long but it allowed me to be stretched away from the massive stampede of guys behind. I settled into a rhythm I could sustain and although I struggled around the half way mark of the run I don't feel I faded too much and was able to finish in 14th. On the coverage it was a photo finish for 12th,13th,14th I knew I hadn't got the others, as I had ran out of road, but it just shows how I was even so close to 12th which does fill me with a lot of confidence.

More big news is that I have now got a start in the Grand Final which will be my 1st ever senior World Champs, in two weeks time in Cozumel, Mexico.

So currently I'm heading back to Colorado Springs for one week before traveling onto Mexico. I'm currently carrying a lot of confidence and already looking forward to racing Worlds. It will be over the Olympic distance and hopefully I can produce another strong performance. Heat will obviously be the biggest factor for me to overcome, but if I do, I know there is still another good result in the tank.

Tuesday 23 August 2016

Singapore Continental Cup Triathlon.

Singapore Continental Cup Triathlon. 

This was my second triathlon of a two race Asian adventure, chasing lucrative ITU points and some all-important confidence. Last week I started my trip in Osaka, Japan at a sprint continental cup where I finished 4th, agonizingly close to the podium; being denied the chance to stand up on the steps by a mere four seconds. Disappointed as I may have been finishing fourth (toughest position in the world), I still left with points on the board, some cash in my pocket and the confidence that I still had a great race in conditions reaching 29°C, 86% humidity; not bad for a 6ft2” ginger, Northern Irish man.
Six days later and I was standing on the sandy beaches of Singapore toeing the line of an Olympic distance Continental Cup. With the number 3 printed on my race cap I was there as one of the race favourites, in a position that I wasn’t entirely used to, but one that I came to Asia in the search of; somewhere I could learn the trade of dictating a race and one that I would be able to get my teeth stuck into.

Currently I am very confident in my swim form and my aim was to see if I could stretch the swim out and put some pressure on others. I got to the first buoy in third position but once I safely negotiated the three turn buoys I moved to the front to set the pace, I was able to line out the swim but not able to cause any real damage. Exiting the water with one other athlete and onto the bike we had a small gap, but nothing of significance and after half a lap it was never going to stick, so we didn’t waste any energy trying to do anything stupid. 

The 40km bike section ended up being very tactical as all of the top ranked athletes were closely marking each others every move, forcing the race to be decided on the 10km run.
Out on to the run and after nearly racing for 80mins and once temperatures had crept up to an uncomfortable 34°C there was not going to be an easy way to finish off this race. 
With a good T2 I was out at the pointy end of the race, giving myself every possible chance to contend for the major positions - a few athletes went out much harder than I was prepared to, but thankfully by the end of the first lap of 2.5km I had reeled back everyone but the eventual leader.

Although by the end of lap 1 I had got myself into 2nd position there was still so much that could go wrong. Lap two I still felt good but at the 5km mark I started to panic, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to keep my cool in the ever rising temperatures but I just locked myself in the hurt locker and focused on how much I wanted to hold onto that 2nd place finish.
Thankfully I did just that and in doing so recorded my first ever international podium and hopefully, first of many as this experience has fed the hunger to get myself back up on those steps. 

I now need to use this motivation to get my head down and get some more solid training as over the past 5 weeks there has been plenty of racing but just not much training being logged. The last 5 weeks have consisted of: Leeds WTS (11th); Chateauroux European Sprint Championships (16th); Osaka Continental Cup (4th); Singapore Continental Cup (2nd). 
Motivation to get back train will not be a problem as at the start of August I fly to Clermont, Florida to train with Aileen Reid and Bryan Keane in their final preparations for Rio, Olympic Games. I am pleased to announce that I am not only there as a training partner, but in fact I have been selected as the Reserve Irish Male Athlete for the Games.
Although it is not the same as going to the Olympics I am still privileged to have secured this role and it only fuels the desire to be ready for Tokyo 2020, but there will be plenty of races between now and then and I am very focused on keeping my momentum going for the rest of my 2016 season. I have moved up over 130 positions in the World Points List and my aim is to continue to progress upwards over the remainder of the year.

Wednesday 15 June 2016

Leeds WTS 2016

Finally decided that it’s about time that I start writing blogs again it's been well over a year so here goes …

World Triathlon Series (WTS) Leeds.

So leading into this race I had been in Font-­Romeu (Pyrenees, France) at altitude for three weeks with Irelands Rio selected Athlete; Bryan Keane and Aileen Reid. This was my 1st ever time at altitude and was all learning for me, with no certainty on how my body would react dropping into such a hard race like Leeds WTS.

You can read an interview I did with Triathlon Ireland Pre Leeds about altitude training and my preparation for the race here 

I knew leading into the race I was confident in my form and each race this season has had many positives, but I still had not put a full race together just yet. I was aiming to string everything together and knew it would result in a decent performance at this level. The aim going into Sunday was a top 20 finish however my 11th place result in a WTS was far better than I could have hoped for.

Alistair Brownlee was ranked no.33, I was 34 and Javier Gomez was 36, so it was quite irregular for the 2012 Olympic Gold and Silver medalists to have such low ranking numbers due to their lack of racing this season. This meant that I had two of the most consistent front pack swimmers either side of me.
The race was rough and fast and at one point I received a punch to the nose, which resulted in me, not only being taken aback but forced me to stop and put my goggles back on and get swimming again.
Luckily I had been off to a good start and was on the outside and was able to quickly get back into a rhythm but it did result in me losing my ticket right to the front of the swim.

The rest of the swim was uneventful albeit, extremely fast (sub 17mins) and I managed to exit in a respectable 11 position. 
Credit ; Trimes

Quickly through T1 and it was onto the notoriously hard bike course, nothing about this course was designed to be easy. For starters we had a steep hill straight out of transition, which took us on a 13-­14 km stretch through the suburbs to bring us into Leeds City center for 7 fast technical inner city laps.

A small group including the Brownlee’s got away from the swim and with many of the other British athletes in the chase pack intentionally sitting back and refusing to push the pace the gap to the front to extend. Once in the city the course was well designed for being fast, technical and spectator friendly, which was great fun to race on but not so kind on the legs. It was the type of course that required good bike handling skills and an ability to
hold a wheel and be able to sprint out of corners. I played it safe and tried to stay as close to the front as possible as it was safer, easier to negotiate turns and reduced the elastic band effect when others sprinted. I must say it was one of the most interesting and fun bike courses I have ever raced on.

Credit; Ed Byrne
On the last lap of the bike I started to feel my legs tire and was not sure what state I would be in come for the run leg, but I willed myself on for one last push to make sure I stayed up near the front of the pack entering T2 to give myself the best possible position to start the run. My bike rack and shoes were position on the left hand side therefore I decided to be on the left entering transition, luckily that was the case as to my right there was a slight collision and a small pile up slowing a lot of people up. With my clear route to my rack I managed to exit T2 1st out of the pack and 5th in the race.

Onto the run I was thankful that I had a good transition giving me the best possible chance on the run, as this is the point of the race that I normally start to go backwards. To my shock I made the first corner … still no one had passed me, onto the aid station … still no one passed me, around the corner and up the hill … still no one, and then … who else other than 5 time world champion; Gomez. I stayed on his shoulder down the hill around the dead turn and partly back up the climb, slowly I started to believe that the run legs had decided to turn up for the race, I was running well. I knew staying too long at Gomez pace (fastest run of the day) was going to be a step too far so I eased off and waited ran my own pace until I had someone else to run with. LeCorre, Connix, Justus, all known for the run pedigree and all on their way to Rio, I stuck in and felt comfortable. I decided to see how long I could last, it felt too good to be true, LeCorre surged away once we got back to transition but I stayed with the other two for another full lap. Lap three was when the hurt began to kick in and things started to get ugly, now it was time to dig deep and not throw away the good race I had set up for myself.
7.5km still in tenth, I now knew I was really on for the race of my life.
The last lap was brutal, thankfully I was only caught by Ryan Bailie, and finished the day in 11th the equal highest WTS result by an Irish Male triathlete.

My form was obviously good leading into this race but I still think the crowds had a major impact on my performance, the atmosphere was electric; you couldn’t help but try and show off and give them something to cheer about. The support that I received on the course was phenomenal – Thank you.

Credit; Trimes
I have always had great support behind me, so many people have believed in me and told me I was capable of a big performance, I have always sort of believed them but never fully, until now. Sometimes it takes the chips to be down and a turning point in order to really get the most out of yourself, the training had been done … the body was ready, it was just a case of getting the head to believe.

Three weeks at altitude was great for training but when your 1850m up a mountain with nothing to do between sessions in can be a lonely place and a mixing pot of emotions. Up that mountain I had a lot of time to think, I was the only Irish triathlete there not to be getting ready to go to Rio – had I wasted the last 6years?… was there ever a chance … would I even be good enough in 4 years time?
I had Stirling Council emailing and phoning me looking me to decide whether I was taking a 1year guaranteed teaching position in August – and the hardest question I had to answer was; can I really justify turning down the security of a full time job to be a triathlete?
How was I going to be a triathlete with no money coming in, no real results to my name, only potential that people told me I had; you can’t pay the bills with potential!!! I took the leap of faith and turned down the job !

So I stood on that start line, I had faith in the people who believed in me, faith in the numbers training had been telling me, and for once I can honestly say I had faith in myself … it worked.
I had equaled the highest result of any Irish triathlete in a WTS race. I have jumped 90 positions in the world ranking, 40 positions in the World Series rankings and made it into the prize money for the 1st time ever for me in an international race.
I have tasted success and I am determined for these results to continue … The best is yet to come!

I think I couldn’t write a blog like this without thanking a lot of people that made a result like this possible, because I did not achieve this by myself.
My family who have supported me 100%, through the good times and the bad; for everything they do… the 4.30am swim starts from the age of 11 are starting to pay off.
Triathlon Ireland for supporting me constantly since I started triathlon in 2010. Tommy Evans, who over that past couple of years has believed and invested so much in me and trusted I had a performance like this weekend in me.
Blair Cartmell, my coach, who has put so much work in and I’m sure has been very frustrated at times that I have not raced how my training reflects.
Everyone at Triathlon Scotland and the University of Stirling, who have helped me along the way since starting Uni.
All the guys training in Stirling; for the training and the good times.
Lisburn City Swimming Club and everyone involved for whom I would definitely not be a triathlete without.
Banbridge CC, what can I say? The amount of help and support I have received is unbelievable.
Bryan Keane, Aileen Reid, Gavin Noble and Conor Murphy who inspired me and showed me its possible to be a triathlete from a tiny Island.
Marty Loughran, who keeps me in one piece and who would definitely let me know about it if I left him out ;)

And to all my sponsors whom it wouldn’t be possible without;
Lakeland Bikes Enniskillin (Peter Jones)
On Running (Ladi Demko)
Vodaphone Ireland
Champion System
Verve Cycling – InfoCrank

There have been so many others who have helped and supported me I could be here all day, but it doesn’t go unnoticed.

Thank you so much, it’s all very much appreciated!

I hope I didn’t bore you and you made it this far.