The art of peeing in a GB tri suit in Mallorca
My main concern leading up to the European Middle Distance Triathlon Championships was how I might go to the loo as quickly as possible in a one-piece GB tri-suit. I wasn't too worried about a non-wetsuit swim as I knew everybody would be in the same situation. I figured the bike wouldn't be harder than the tough, hilly course at Ironman 70.3 UK in Wimbleball. And I imagined the run would be super flat and super fun through the streets of Paguera.
How wrong could I be? As I was checking out the run course two days before the race, I realised it certainly wasn't flat. And it wasn't exactly cool. In fact it was rather hot, especially for a pale Brit who prefers to sunbathe in the shade. Suddenly my toilet worries were irrelevant. I questioned why I had even bothered attempting practising peeing on the bike that morning. Surviving a half marathon in 30 degree heat was of far greater concern!
After two days of faffing I was glad when race day finally arrived. The team photos were done, the bikes were racked, there was nothing more I could prepare. It was time to make my GB age group debut.
With around an hour to go, we made our way to the start at Tora Beach. I joined some other friends in the shade where we chatted nervously as we waited to be called to our starting pen just after midday. I was glad to have familiar faces around me at the start, it made me more relaxed. But it was getting hotter and uncomfortable and I couldn't wait to start.
Unlike the day before, the sea was beautifully calm and running it to it was incredibly refreshing. No swell, no waves, and for the first time in a number of races, I avoided getting bashed about at the start. The sea was warm at around 24 degrees and without a wetsuit, I didn't feel restricted. It was one 1.9km loop and towards the turning point I looked down and suddenly felt very far out and very small, with a huge mass of deep water beneath. A quick glance up ensured me it was ok, I wasn't alone, there were other white caps around me and all I had to do was keep moving and I'd get back to the beach.
I looked at my watch coming out of the water- 35mins. Decent start! I was cheered along as I ran off the beach and concentrated hard as I neared T1. I couldn't afford to pick the wrong bag up again a la Wimbleball.
"Race number 550. Spot, grab, and go," I repeated to myself. I find transitions particularly hard without my glasses, but I soon found my bag and bike and continued the long run towards the mount line.
Part of me thought I should hold back on the first lap and push on the second, but the other half of me just said "go for it, if you blow up you blow up." I was conscious I was breathing hard as I passed people on the first ascent. I continued to push on the downhills and remained focussed during the technical stretches. For large parts in the first lap I played cat and mouse with a fellow GB girl. I'd pass her on the climbs, she'd fly past on the descents.
By the start of the second lap I'd dropped her, but that was when the heat started to get to me. There were moments when the wind died down completely, the shade disappeared and it felt like you were cycling in an oven. My head ached and I was conscious my mouth was bone dry.
Nailing the aid stations was key.
Approaching each aid station I concentrated hard and followed a strict routine: throw out empty bottle, grab water, take two gulps, squirt over body and face, throw away, take energy drink and shove in drinks cage, finally grab another water and repeat as above. I kept myself as cool as I could and most importantly hydrated.
I was also very careful about my nutrition. As usual, I tried to eat something every ten minutes or so. I chopped up bite size pieces of Clif bar knowing I had to just get it in me. But for the first time ever I went a bit freestyle. I knew with the heat, salt was vital, so I put a handful of pretzels in my nutrition caddy, along with some small pieces of rice cakes with peanut butter. Both I love eating as a normal snack so I figured I'd enjoy them on the bike in the middle of a race too. Perfect.
I stopped eating with about half an hour to go but continued to take on liquid. It's a tactic I've used in my last two races and I haven't had any issues on the run.
Approaching transition I slipped my feet on top of my shoes and dismounted safely. My first attempt at running through transition felt horrendous. "Oh dear, I've stuffed up," I thought. But when I got to my bike, there weren't many other bikes around me. That meant I'd had a fair swim and bike and couldn't be doing too badly.
So I put my socks and trainers on and gave myself a talking to. I looked at my watch knowing that worst case scenario, I'd have two hours of running to do. "Come on H let's go do this," I said to myself.
I headed out of the shade and into the scorching afternoon heat. "My god this is going to be hell", I thought. But I felt happy, I felt confident and most importantly I was smiling. I decided i'd run through the aid stations until I couldn't any longer.
Like the bike, you had to be fast and smart to stay on top of your hydration. This time the first task was to take some sponges, quickly stuff them under your top, then grab water, take a sip or two but throw the rest over your head, carry on head down then grab a second bottle at the end of the aid station, take another sip or two then throw the rest over any part of you that was crying out for a soaking.
The aid stations were important but the support out on the course was crucial.
Just after the first aid station I spotted two friends who had travelled out to Mallorca to cheer me on. Once I hit the high street, Rich's parents were there smiling and encouraging me. Then just before the second aid station was the loudest and funniest support crew in town made up of my Mum and Dad, two wonderful friends and a lovely clubmate from Knutsford Tri. They were armed with whistles, cow bells, rattles and water pistols and they weren't afraid to make a lot of noise.
As the laps went on I got slower. But I knew I felt better than a lot of people around me because I was still smiling. In thirty degree heat, people were suffering. I saw one man just throw up beside me, some faster runners were reduced to walking and others couldn't stay in a straight line.
I hadn't been to the toilet on the bike but I did need it on the run. I'd toyed with the idea of doing a Paula behind a bin, then I spotted some portaloos near the aid station. On my first two laps they were engaged but on the third I dashed in. Time was ticking so I left the tri suit on, opting for a Paula in private, before throwing even more water over me at the next aid station.
Toilet panic over, now it was now a case of doing one more lap and getting to that finish line. Yes I was suffering, but I refused to walk. I just had to keep moving my legs and savouring the cheers and support.
I hit the grandstand area one last time and I could finally take the chute towards the finish. Crossing the line I simply felt elation, relief and in need of a cold beer after a 1.51 run.
I finished in 5.28. On paper I've raced faster but given the heat, I feel I did myself proud in the conditions. I was 37th female overall, 15th female (excluding the elite) and 5th in my age group. I lost out on 4th by taking a minute longer in transition and stopping to pee!!!
As ever, there's plenty to work on, but that's why I love this sport. I've worked so hard this year, secured four 4th places and raced in a GB age group vest at a European championships. Not bad for someone who didn't own a road bike until 2012.
A huge thanks to coach Rob Wilby for being with me all the way and getting me to the stage where I can compete not just plod. And a massive thank you to cheerleading friends and family. Your support and love is simply incredible!