Alnwick Tri Club
Five members of Alnwick Tri Club saw the culmination of 18 months’ planning and hard training on Friday at the European Sprint Triathlon Championships held in Kitzbuhel, Austria.
With the Europeans being held so early in the season, the qualifying races all took place in 2013 and the five club members had an extra winter of training to improve on their qualifying positions.
Four of the five club members had never competed for Team GB before, so there were a lot of nerves.
James Bolam competed in the 16-19 age category, Tracey Sample and Lisa Williams in the 40-44 category, Denise Drummond in the 45-49 category and Sue Bolam in the 50-54 category.
With it being their home turf, the Austrian competitors did very well. The hills were much steeper and longer than we can find in Northumberland and the altitude made it doubly difficult.
Arriving on the Saturday, almost a week before the race, to allow acclimatisation and practice on the course made for fabulous preparation.
The bike course was practised and strategies for how to gain time on both up and down-hill decided, the run route was reccied and knowing the last kilometre to the finish line was downhill was a relief and the lake (Lake Schwartzsee) became our base for the week, training in it a number of times a day.
The water temperature throughout the week was a steady 22c, which would make the swim leg of the race wetsuit-illegal.
That means the water is too hot to allow the competitors to swim with their wetsuits on and again it is very difficult to replicate these training conditions in Ladyburn Lake at Druridge Bay.
With the bikes racked in the transition area the night before the race, there was rain forecasted as a small possibility. This was good news as a bit of rain would likely cool the lake down to 21.9c or below to allow the wetsuits.
It rained heavily all night meaning wetsuits would be allowed but bringing another set of problems: The roads were very wet so the mountain passes would be treacherous.
Thoughts turned to surviving the descents on the bike course which the race organisers had lined with pads tied to the trees to stop competitors hitting them or going over the edge on the slippery corners. Very disconcerting. Indeed, there were a number of serious crashes but thankfully none involved the Alnwick contingent.
With the event being so big, the competitors started in their age groups.
James Bolam was in the first wave with the girls starting later. He managed to just about finish the bike leg before the heavens opened again; proper mountain rain bouncing off the lake and roads making it hard to even see the buoys marking the swim course and turning the roads into rivers.
The swim for all five was excellent. All put in personal bests on the 750m swim with Drummond coming out the water in fifth and Sample in 11th in their respective races.
On the bike, most of the preparation went out the window due to the road conditions and the highest priority became getting down the hills safely.
That said, the 20km bike route was spectacular and, despite being the hardest anyone had ever seen in a sprint-distance triathlon, was great fun; slogging up the 17-20 per cent gradients and haring down the other side, three hills before following the valley back to the lake.
Drummond, Williams and James Bolam were all 14th quickest on the bike in their respective categories with Williams moving up through the rankings from 22nd to 18th at the start of the run.
James Bolam was in a category with very good runners so his fantastic 19m 11s 5k time made no impact on his position and he finished 14th in category in 1:12:00, the best result of the club members.
Sue Bolam put in a great bike and run to finish an amazing 16th in category in 1:32:41.
Denise had the added pressure of knowing that all the kids at the Duchess’s Community High School were following the progress of ‘Mrs Drummond’ via a live stream at the school and they were able to watch her cross the finish line in 15th position in 1:26:59.
In the only head-to-head race of the day, Tracey Sample finished the swim a minute ahead of Lisa Williams, but Williams had pulled back to 30s at the end of the bike. By 2km into the run she had almost caught Sample and for the last 3km they ran almost shoulder to shoulder, Williams unable to catch any further and Sample unable to pull away. It made for a great finish with Sample finishing in 16th and Williams 17th in category, in 1:25:15 and 1:25:21 respectively.
All club members made top 20 in their age groups in a championship that had the best Brits, Austrians and Germans competing.
Testament to the girls’ performances, Denise won the Alnwick Sports Council’s most improved sportsperson this year, but has been caught up by Sue and Lisa over the winter.
Alnwick Tri continues to have a very high standard of athlete and the coaches have done a great job in preparing the club members for competing in the top flights of amateur competition and all these athletes had to start at least one of these sports from scratch when they took up triathlon, taking between four and 10 years to reach this ability. Contact info@alnwick triathlon.co.uk