• lucyjeczalik

Panic stations! Dorney Lake ETU Sprint Triathlon

I made the (interesting) decision to enter the Dorney Lake ETU Sprint Qualifier last weekend rather than the 'normal' sprint. I did this for a few reasons:

a) I was feeling confident (cocky) at the time I entered

b) I wanted (at the time) to race against super athletes

c) Why in the hell not!

The race organiser's explanation of this event is as follows: 'This event is a qualifying race for the ETU Sprint Distance European Championships in 2020. The level of interest in competing for the Great Britain Age-Group team at ETU European Championships is higher than ever, so join fellow aspiring team members and race to earn the right to wear the Great Britain tri-suit.'

Yea, ok, cool.

I clocked *not long enough* before the race that it was a draft legal race. I did not mention this to my coach because I was:

a) Freaking out and pretending it wasn't happening and

b) Didn't want him to think I was stupid for entering in the first place

So clever old me kept it to myself and quietly panicked for an extended period of time.

Here's Team USA's explanation of draft legal races:

'Draft Legal racing is a style of Triathlon racing that allows athletes to draft off of one another on the bike leg of a Triathlon. This reduces the effect of drag on an athlete due to following the lead bikes slipstream.'

Huh. Sure.

This extended worrying plus my second successful leave-your-helmet-on-the-train experience meant that the Saturday was pretty fraught. There were tears, there was an unusually high heart rate, a cider was needed, it wasn't ideal.

Swim start (750m)

I arrived at Dorney Lake in good time, registered and racked up. Chit chat with other competitors diffused the more obvious anxiety and as I jogged over to the swim start, I felt ready to go.

Hat on, goggles on, in the water and set to go. Everything suddenly felt quite serious. I hung over to the left as Coach had told me to but forgot the main follow-on instruction: 'Do not go off with everyone else.' He was, of course, right. I should have hung back and got started in my own time.

I did not.

Off I went, at 85% capacity for... 9 strokes. At this point my muscles stopped working, I couldn't breathe out underwater, I wasn't taking in air when I needed to, everything was stuck. The water was murky, everyone was splashing, I couldn't sight properly, weeds kept brushing my hands.

Fight, flight or freeze.

I froze.

I stuck my head up and the safety kayakers came bobbing over asking if I was OK. 'I'm fine, it's just panic!' I shouted back, as if panic was no big deal. I was actually really annoyed with myself for panicking (trademark Lucy J) because I know I'm a strong swimmer and I know my swimming is in an excellent place right now. I trod water and tried to find my breath again. I was looking with frustration at the group pushing on ahead of me and thinking about my options. My muscles felt like they'd stopped working completely. I could get out and see Paul and not finish. That got veto-d immediately. We came all the way here and I woke up early for this! I'm not backing out! I could carry on and be overtaken by the frustration and sadness I could feel rising and it would be Paris Marathon all over again, crying, needing support, hating every moment. No. No I wasn't going to do that again...

At that moment a safety kayaker nearby, noticing my frustration, said to me: 'It's your race, it doesn't matter how fast you swim.'

This approval, allowance of my panic combined with my decision not to do another Paris helped something change in my brain. I took a few strokes, I stopped, I took a few more. I realised I could do it and I ploughed on. From the VERY back of my start wave I came up past two swim groups, all the while a commentary in my head spurring me on...

'And just look at what we're seeing here, this athlete who stopped for at least a few full minutes and who we were pretty sure wasn't going to carry on has, against all odds, started moving up through the field! Her kick is strong, her stroke is long, she swims with determination.'

Draft bike (20km ish)

Out of the water and into transition 1: Goggles, hat, wetsuit off. Helmet, glasses, race number (on your back), socks, bike shoes on. Bike off rack. Go.

The stress of the swim hadn't yet worn off and I couldn't see or remember where Bike Out was and ended up running through athletes trying to rack up shouting 'I'm so sorry! I'm in the wrong place!' without slowing down as I shot through the bewildered group jumping out of my way.

Mount the bike, off you go.

My bike training has been really strong, I knew I was in a good place for this. I quickly fell into pace with another competitor and through actions and minimal words she showed me how to draft and we switched positions with each other every few minutes to provide the other with a slipstream to cycle in. BOY WAS THAT GOOD FUN. My draft-mate was absolutely superb and she helped me rebuild a huge amount of confidence after a difficult swim. I dismounted just infront of her and ran back into transition.


Transition 1: Bike back on the rack, helmet off, bike shoes off, run shoes on. Turn race belt to the front.

I was slower than I wanted to be and as I pulled my run shoes on, my draft mate ran past and tapped me on the shoulder: 'Come on, let's go'.

This simple action that acknowledged me as a fellow athlete and someone she wanted to race with gave me an overwhelming sense of pride and purpose. Off I went.

I started the run strong, confident, happy. I ran past Paul and started to reel people in. It wasn't the fastest run but by golly did I feel powerful. I kept moving up the field, remembering all the form points I could and trying to move with fluidity and rhythm. I was aware that I'd lost my draft mate but I looked forward to shaking her hand when she crossed the line. I waited for her when I finished and did just that. I should have hugged her, I should have done more. She did a lot for me that morning.


That was it! I was done! I didn't vomit water everywhere this time and I managed to make some kind of joke to the person who took of my ankle timing chip. Paul was running towards me, I was smiling, life was good.

I had panicked, I had regained control, I had excelled on the bike and learnt to draft on the fly and I had put in a solid run.

My notes to Coach Bright the next day ended with the following:

Would I have been better off in the normal sprint? Probably.

Would I have learnt so much about my mental strength? Maybe not.

I know I can do better but in the circumstances I'm very happy. It's got the triathlon FIIIIIRRREEE burning in me!

All told, I think that means it went pretty well.


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