Thursday, 21 September 2017

WTS Grand Final Rotterdam.

WTS Grand Final Rotterdam.

I had one aim for the 2017 season; Qualify for the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast. Last week I can say, I made automatic criteria.

Why did I start with that statement over talking about the race, well if you’re reading this and you are from a Commonwealth Country, you will understand the significance.  You will have watched them on TV growing up and always viewed it as a major games (obviously a level below) in between every Olympics; well that has always been my view anyway. It’s also a big deal being from somewhere like Northern Ireland, that means a lot to me, more than people outside of N.Ireland will understand and Commies being the only opportunity to race and represent Norn Iron within triathlon; that’s huge.
This wont be my 1st Commonwalth Games as I did go in 2014 in Glasgow, but it was of the discretion of the selectors, helped by the fact that it was the 1st time the games held a mixed team relay. I wouldn’t say I was there to make up the numbers, but in hindsight I was a little out of my pay grade.
This time around, I read the criteria set for Northern Ireland and didn’t ready past the automatic selection paragraph, I didn’t need to know, I already had my aim; “Top 15 in any WTS race in the 2017 season.”

All season it was my sole focus and my main target, last year went well and exceeded expectation, my ranking jumped massively and I wasn’t in dire need of ranking points. I could have chased lower level races, made some podiums that look good on paper and possibly made a lot more money but that didn’t interest me; all in for World series races.
The  year started off full of confidence, “… I’ll just do it in my 1st race in Yokohama and get it out of the way, easy!”
Always easier said than done, the season didn’t go as smooth as I wanted it to. I’m not going to be negative, that's just the way it was meant to pan out. ‘always darkest before the dawn’, ‘sunshine after the rain’ … all those silly clich├ęs work fine.
I crashed; I made silly mistakes; I got sick etc, etc…
Then things started to click.

The last couple of races were starting to come together, my confidence started to build, the belief in myself and my training started to return. Montreal; 24th, Stolkholm; 20th.
All getting closer but no cigar, what more could I do? Only one more chance left, the Grand Final.
How could I do what I wanted to do in the Grand Final (the hardest, most stacked race of the season) when I couldn’t in any other WTS.
Well I didn’t have any other choice, so I just had to. Last chance saloon!

That sounds as if I just chose to do it. I didn’t, it was always planned to be a possibility. I had been at altitude for 2.5 weeks leading into Stockholm and then straight back up for a further 2.5weeks leading into Rotterdam. I knew altitude worked for me as it was pretty successful last year. I must thank my coach for facilitating this camp and my training partners (Alec, Danilo and Vittoria) up there pushing eachother along every day.

So on to the race, before I bore you anymore.
I knew I was in good shape, I knew I had done the work and anything I hadn’t done I believed the altitude work cover (placebo or not).

I guess I should follow the order of the triathlon and start with the swim leg. It was uneventful to be honest, at no point could I even roughly work out where within the field I was situated. I just followed white water (even though there was definitely a lot of swimming off course) and thankfully felt good and excited within the top 20.
A good transition and I knew from the 1st corner I had safely got myself in the front pack. Finally no missed break away, I was at the head of the race from the start, 1st race target achieved. Now for task 2; ‘try and stay upright for 40km’

The bike course in Rotterdam was pretty crazy, not helped by the weather conditions. Wet, cold miserable on top of a tight technical route, with tramlines, cobblestones and countless numbers of 90* corners and U-turns just to make it interesting… and the verdict? I want more courses like this!
It suited me, the conditions were nothing I wasn’t used to growing up in Northern Ireland and being at Uni in Scotland (tame in fact), but the technical element was great fun and sprinting out of corners, I will take any day compared to sitting on the rivet as a pack is lines out.

I stayed near the front of the pack for much of the race, never really pushing the pace but being in control, staying on safe wheels and avoiding the elastic band effect out of every corner and actually felt pretty comfortable, I can honestly say I didn’t find it a very hard bike leg.
I’ll thrown in a little fact for those in the know when it comes to bikes just to give you an idea of what the conditions of the course were like. I raced with 70psi in my front tyre and 75psi in my back, just to make sure I had grip and control, that’s pretty dam low … but it worked.

A good position and a fast transition and I was out of T2 sitting in 5th. No that’s where the hard part starts, 10km standing in my way of a good result. I waited to be caught by the big names in the race, knowing I wasn’t going to be able to stay with their pace, but it was worth trying to pull me away from the rest of the field.
I had the same tactic anytime anyone came up on my shoulder; try and get dragged along without digging too deep.
Finally I found my rhythm, it just so happened to be while running for 15th/16th position. This was it, how much did I want it? Just to make things trickier, that other person running for 15th/16th was Matt Sharpe from Canada. I would consider myself to have a very good sprint finish if I needed to use it, with not too many triathletes able to out sprint me, but there has been one who has on more than one occasion, yes; Matt Sharpe. So for once, I couldn’t leave it to a sprint, I just had to grind it out.
For three laps out of four it was all I was thinking about, before managing to shake him off, for the last lap, it was just don’t crumble … push on.

I did it! I crossed the line in 15th exactly what I needed, I couldn’t believe it, it meant so much to me, to be able to perform and produce when the chips were down, I did it! I achieved my aim for the season.
Not only that but it was a bonus to achieve the highest finish by an Irish Male in a Grand Final. Something I take pride in as I have spent the past few years chasing the guys that came before me and I aim to raise the bar for those that aim to chase me. On top of making my Commonwealth Games auto selection it was nice when someone pointed out I was the 5th across the line from a commonwealth Country, good confidence for next year. (I totally understand that the others in the race make a huge impact on overall results.)

Hopefully this was a much more positive post than previous ones as to much negativity was a common statement on the feedback I received, so just so that it wasn’t too positive; 14 guys still beat me on Saturday … there is work to do, bring on 2018.

Although the 2017 season is not completely finished I race a World Cup in Huelva, Spain this Sunday. Just one more race before putting my feet up for a few weeks and getting refreshed ready for a big winter of training to make 2018 one to remember.

Thanks for reading!
Russell. 

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