This race had been in the back of my mind since moving up to Loughborough in September. Luke mentioned it in our first meeting together and since then I wanted to be there, racing in Austria on the 30th August. I didn't really tell anyone about this dream, just buried it deep within, put aside for when the time was right.
After a great win on Exmoor I managed to qualify for the race. Mum surprised me after Exmoor saying she'd like to come out and help with the race and enjoy a well deserved mini holiday with my sister Elinor whilst I looked at the courses and sharpened up for the race.
We flew out to Austria landing in Vienna on the Tuesday. The plan was to drive down to Zell am See to enjoy the country we were visiting and get a good perspective on where we were travelling to. The drive was amazing, we followed the motorway for 400km winding though the lower slopes of the Mountains, with the high peaks cutting into the horizon. We arrived at our apartment in the pitch black and had a weird 30 minutes or so convincing the owner that we had booked a place to stay for the week.
Wednesday and Thursday were spent bringing the intensity back up in training. I swam in the lake in the mornings, was out on the bike course during the day and checked out the run route and some trails in the area in the evening. The mountains and scenery in the area were stunning, I've not been to a place this beautiful before. The lake was warm and crystal clear. On the bike the roads were smooth and the course features a long climb with very steep sections in it. A truly amazing place to be able to race.
Two days out from the race I stuck to my usual training plan, getting the swim, bike and runs ticked off before race day. I use these to replicate short durations of the race pace that I will use for Sunday. The rest of the time was spent getting everything ready, and putting my feet up. I had a good catch up with Luke Watson the night before to go though my race plan and tactics.
Race day came around very quickly. It was a relaxed start time of 11:15, not the usual 6am starts for the long distance races in the UK. I completed my pre race morning ritual, a mixture of activation and mobility with a small jog to loosen up. Walking to the start line was quite magical alongside the lake, the crowds swelled and grew by the second, with thousands of competitors and spectators making there way to the start line. The atmosphere was electric all day, the kind that gives you goosebumps and that rush of adrenaline, truly special.
I sorted my bike out in transition and made the way to the swim start for my wave, ages 18-24. We were started by a cannon and headed out for a 1.9km swim strait out and back. I got really stuck in during the swim drafting as much as possible and working with others to try and save as much time as possible. The lake was crystal clear and this was one of the most enjoyable swims open water that I've ever experienced. I exited the water and made my way though the long transition, featuring bags with all your kit in (not the normal kit by bike set up).
I settled into my rhythm quickly on the bike sitting to the numbers planned for each stage of the race. I spent the entire duration of the bike leg overtaking, all the way onto the run. The course featured a 13km climb in the middle which I got stuck into. The route wound its way up an alpine pass with a steady gradient for the first 10km. The climb really kicked up at the end hitting 15% over the top. It was then a really fast run back into Zell Am See where I was hitting 60kph in parts on the rolling roads. I pushed the bike quite hard and had moved up from 50th out of the water in my wave to 16th.
A 21km run alongside the lake to finish. I went out hard at my planned and target pace wanting to clock a 1:15 half. I felt good and started strong, but by the 5th KM my bodies core temperature went through the roof and I was struggling to concentrate let alone hold the 3:30 per Km I had targeted. The run turned into a phycological battle for me helped enormously by my mum's and sister's encouragements and spectators lining the course. At each aid station I had to down 2 cups of water and soak myself with at least 2-3 sponges of icy water. The finishing chute was incredible, a wall of noise and atmosphere. I crossed the line found the nearest spot of shade and lay down for a long time mentally and physically exhausted.
I was really happy with my performance and it sets me up for the next stage in my triathlon career which will be racing at professional level. The race highlighted where I need to be but most importantly that I can be competitive at this level. The result from the race would have put me in the top 35 of the 50 best male long distance pros in the world which is a good start in my first season. Next up I have Bala Olympic on 6th September. Hever Castle Series on the 27th September and Challenge Mallorca on the 17th October.
Thanks to everyone who sent message of support before and after the race and to my sponsors, Aske Bike, Pedal Potential, Le Col, Huub, OTE and JWCT for making it possible.