It’s been a very busy jet setting 2 weeks of travelling & racing for me on back to back weekends and on 2 different continents.
After a mixed start to the season and some bad luck thrown in (1st in Quarteira European Cup, crashed out in WTS Abu Dhabi & punctured in WTS Cape Town), I was keen to get some racing under the belt that actually reflected my form.
First up was the African Champs in Egypt. There were some very important Olympic ranking points up for grabs and I was keen to retain my title for the 4th consecutive time. Sharm El Sheikh was the race venue. Sharm is a sea side resort on the Red Sea primarily known for its beautiful diving. It was boiling hot, a stifling 36 deg when we raced which was quite something. I love racing in the heat, I’m quite small and efficient and growing up in a very hot area of South Africa it doesn’t bother me too much. My biggest fear was probably sharks as there has been a spate of shark attacks over the years in the area. On race morning I was swimming the course to warm up and all these speedboats came flying up next to me, whistles blaring and I saw everyone getting out the water. I swam on air for a moment thinking there was a shark in the water and they were clearing us out. However, they were just clearing the course for the men’s race to start…phew!
I had a good swim. I was a bit distracted by all the pretty fish but I’ve worked hard on my swim over the winter and have seen a remarkable improvement. I exited the water in 3rd, just seconds behind Anel Radford. We were 30 seconds behind Mari Rabie up front. Anel & I worked nicely on the bike together. We didn’t kill ourselves and were 15 secs behind Mari come run time. I took the lead after 1.5km on the run and enjoyed the mental battle with the heat, winning by 2 and a half odd minutes and gaining my 4th African title. I was really pleased but knew I now had 6 days to get recovered for Japan. I had a post race massage, did some snorkelling in the beautiful Red Sea, donned my compression gear and flew back to London that night.
The next 2 days in London were all about ice baths, compression and lots of sleep. I had a long flight across 8 time zones to look forward to on the Wednesday so I needed to be as recovered as possible. I had a moderately hard swim session on the Wed morning before I flew which didn’t feel great but my legs felt ok in my little run session also on Wednesday morning pre flight. I landed in Tokyo on the Thursday morning and just made a decision to sleep whenever I was tired. I was only there for 3 days so there was no point getting into any time zones. That night I slept for 14 hours, waking up at midday on Friday. I felt totally refreshed. This was pre race day and I did all my usual pre race training and drills and got some good food in, including lots of rice. I love racing in Japan and I usually go back to some of the same restaurants to eat, with my pre race dinner being lots of sticky rice with chicken coated in panko breadcrumbs, miso soup and some weird cabbage and sesame seed/soy salad. I managed 4 hours sleep pre race and woke up to pouring rain on race morning.
Luckily I’m very used to doing everything in the rain and the air temperature was still very humid which was good as it meant we wouldn’t get cold. I had a great 1st lap of the swim, exiting in 18th but after being a bit bullied on the second lap, lost quite a few places. A fumble with my helmet in T1 meant I was just 5 secs off the chase pack. However, I was in a hardworking group of girls and we quickly caught up. The race was now just one big pack and the priority was staying upright when you could hear girls crashing behind you in the wet. I had a decent T2 and it was run time! I know I can run so that’s just what I did. I started feeling stronger and stronger as the run went on and I was counting the girls in front of me. I was really excited when it got down to single figures and I pushed the last 800m really hard making up some more places and finishing 5th, my best ever WTS result. The field was a quality one too, with very few of the top ranked girls missing. Gwen Jorgenson put in a remarkable effort to win with Australia’s Ashleigh Gentle 2nd and Emma Moffatt 3rd. Renee Tomlin of the USA was 4th and me 5th.
A wonderful 7 days of racing in 2 very different places. I am happy that the shape I’ve been in training is finally reflecting in my racing. Thanks to James and all my training mates at Optima.
By Gill Sanders