And so the season begins; Dexing

As I write this, I am some 34,000ft in the air, somewhere over India en route to Madrid. I’m not a fan of travelling at the best of times but I have to say this time around I welcomed the opportunity to just sit and do nothing but watch some movies, read, catch up with my thoughts, and hopefully catch a few Zzz.
Suitcase life commenced three and a half weeks ago with my return to Hong Kong and between the return to full training, hitting the middle of semester at uni, racing, travel and everything that goes along with it (organising visas!) life has been hectic!

The weekend before last I opened my ITU season in Dexing, China.
Going in I joked with my squadmates that my race plan was simple: swim fast, ride hard, run with whatever I’ve got left. A little crude, but that’s pretty much what the plan was.
We had predicted that the race would break apart in the swim. The Chinese have some strong swimmers but beyond that there wasn’t much swim depth in the field. I would work with a small group on the bike and if the opportunity arose and I felt like it, I could have a go at breaking away towards the end of the bike to give myself an edge onto the run. A solid run of 37-38 mins we thought would be enough to close the deal. The possibility of winning was there, but the objective was more about remembering what racing was all about, getting the processes right, and getting a solid Olympic Distance under my belt (and maybe enjoying being back in the game again too!).

Settting for the race in China; I must confess I don’t find travelling to and racing in China particularly easy but aside from the food, the smog, and the cultural differences it is a beautiful place

It had been 6 months since I’d toed the start line so race day brought a mix of uncertainty, anticipation, nerves, and excitement. Mildly concerned if I’d remember what to do, I reminded myself that I have done this hundreds (literally!) of times before.
I felt great on the swim, alternating turns leading with one of the Chinese girls, and led out of the water. Up the stairs to T1 my lack of race fitness showed a little as I struggled to find my legs and was passed by a couple of girls on my heels. A quick transition and I was out onto the bike in the lead.

The swim hadn’t strung the field out as expected so a pack formed pretty much immediately, containing the majority of the field. Everyone was rolling through and we were keeping a reasonable pace. After a lap I had found my legs and lungs again, and decided I wanted to challenge myself. It wasn’t in my race plan to attack this early on the bike, but I was hoping to get a few girls away with me, set up the smaller pack I had wanted, and give myself a taste of the harder racing I could expect on my return to the World Cup and WTS circuits.

I had one go and opened up a small gap. No-one came with me but I was reeled back in after a minute or so.
My second attempt was more successful. I jumped out of the one U-turn per lap and with two Japanese and a Korean, formed a break of 4. We rolled through quick turns, and with a few shouts of encouragement “C’mon, we’re pulling away, let’s make this stick”, we opened up a tangible gap. Sadly the enthusiasm of the other 3 girls waned pretty quickly and one, then two, then all three of them stopped pulling through and we were reeled back in.

A KM down the road was the only hill per lap, no HC that’s for sure, but enough to facilitate another breakaway attempt so I attacked. Mengying Zhong from China responded and continued the push over the top of the hill. We swapped turns, flicking elbows, heads down bums up, we were away!
Half a lap later she turned to me and said something I didn’t quite understand about there only being two of us, and too many of them and we should stop.I thought the opposite; we were in the perfect position so urged her to keep on working. We swapped turns for another KM or so before she sat up again and explained here Chinese teammates were behind. I hadn’t wanted to go alone, we were only about 15km in, but there was no way I was giving up the work we’d done to form what was at this stage to my estimation a 15 second lead.
She took a drink. And without a second though, I took off. I didn’t know if I had it in me to stay away on my own but I’ve done it before so I gave it a crack.

img_2552
Back in a familiar position

By the end of the 40km I had a lead of 1:30, an advantage I was more than happy with. It had cost me this time though. I had run out of water on the bike and was unable to take my second gel. The run disappointingly turned into a matter of survival. I held the lead until about the 4km mark before being passed like I was standing still by Mengying Zhong who went on to win the race. With what felt like one of the longest 10km of my life, I hung on to 5th.

I have mixed feelings about the race. I had wanted more. But I always want more.
Were there things I could have done better? Absolutely! But that was the point of doing this race. To iron out the wrinkles. Remember what racing is all about. And jolt the system back into action. On those fronts, I ticked every single box.

None of my best races have ever come about by playing it safe so I wanted to take the risk. To risk it in a small race like this so I can risk it on the days that count, and in the hope that one day it will pay off. Breaking away may have cost me a spot on the podium but I chose have a crack. More than anything I’m pleased I had the confidence to do so in my first race back!

The key is this: Progress.
Although it still seems like a way to go to be back where I want to be, in this race I took some very big steps in the right direction.
I swam well, surprised myself with what I was physically capable of on the bike, and was very pleased with my mental approach. The run will come.

It is now almost race time again and I am quite excited to be lining up on Sunday for the Madrid World Cup!

Gillian


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