Just home from the ETU Middle Distance Championships with a gold medal and her first official title, European Middle-Distance Champion! Shortly after, Katrina Matthews gave us an insight into her recent success.
Living as a professional athlete has meant a few adjustments to general lifestyle, routine but also fitness/race fitness mentality. I have spent the last couple of years as an “age-grouper” training hard with a full time job, planning long term and “peaking” fitness for a determined race. With highly regarded advice, from multiple sources, as a new professional my mentality was “I’m fit, lets race”. This was the idea that got me into racing back to back middle distance triathlons over the last 2 weekends. It is a fortunate position to be in because optimal recovery can be achieved rather than a 40hr working week, compression socks and some early nights. I raced hard in both races, but I did have a game plan and tactics to which I was also granted some luck that I was able to play it out. IM 70.3 Finland was the priority race of the two, being first and with a known highly level of competition. I was up against a few ex/current ITU athletes and a former 5th in the world and seasoned pro plus a few other big names. With a tough bike I landed well into 3rd on the run and having run comfortably into 2nd I was able to drop the pace and conserve the stress thinking ahead for the next weekend. The European Champs was held in Targu Mures in Romania, not a part of the world I would have thought specifically to visit if not for this race. The town had culture and such a welcoming atmosphere my preconceptions were immediately wiped. It was my first time in Elite GB kit but I still very much felt part of the wider GB Age Group team with a few friends racing as well. Despite the occasional bad credibility rep and expensive nature of the GB Age Group, the team ethos really excels itself in these events!
By arriving into Romania on Thursday (race Sunday) I had had 4 days of very light training around travelling constraints and very little else. I had focussed on good sleep, good food (substantial carbs, protein, fruit/veg and chocolate) and lots of general self TLC. Despite this, on Friday morning I was still feeling fragile, unmotivated and just tired. Not ideal for 2 days out, but with some positive encouragement (and another nap) I got out on the bike to recce the course and although I couldn’t muster the effort required to physically recce the swim course I took a thorough look (2hrs lounging in the sun on the bank watching in admiration very motivated age group athletes). For me, the day before a race my nerves dissipate, as by this point you can’t really do anything else so the race is out of your control- hence why worry. Not a conscious mental strategy just (in my head) factual. Normally the day before a race I would do a very light swim (20mins), spin (20mins) and strides (15mins) but not be tied to this. This race, just a swim, due to the higher overall load during this period my coach decided it was all that was necessary which I was more than happy to agree with! I was feeling so much better having dropped the training yesterday and feeling it was the right decision (I’m good at convincing myself of this) I ticked off race admin, elite briefing and found some relatively plain spaghetti before an early night. Having been slightly unwell in a the last few races I am playing around with my pre-race and during-race fuelling strategy. This race is the best so far; super plain carbs (sadly no pizza now) and zero planned caffeine during the race (hoping to build this back in).
Race day was a very friendly 0900 start, swim was non-wetsuit which wasn’t ideal for me with more ex ITU swimmers. I was 3rd out of the water, which was pretty good. My only race specific plan today was to go steady on the bike (IM 70.3 Staffs and Finland I had gone too hard early and paid for it). Legs therefore felt great today sitting at “easier” watts. By the second lap of 4 I got a bit bored and pushed on (thinking I was now in 2nd, but actually was leading). 2 more laps of constantly undulating and technically challenging TT’ing flew by and the heat of the day was building up (late start negatives starting to shine through). Into transition and my first experience of handing someone your bike and they rack it for you (amazing) I heard I was in the lead “by miles”… not that useful but reassuring all the same.
4 laps of 5km with 3 dead turns a lap all in the centre of a small town was challenging but with hundreds of supporters (including lots of GB Age Group supporters) it was actually great. After 1 lap I had a 4min lead, 2 laps 4.5mins and knowing it would be a tough challenge for even the best runners in the game to take 4 mins out of me in 10km I settled into a much more socially pace for the last 10km, just putting one foot in front of the other and trying to grab as much water as I could.
I knew the only thing that would stop a win now was the temperature, now 29C. The water being handed out wasn’t cooled (at all) and I was barely getting a couple of gulps per aid station. I made a real effort to slow into the aid station (dodging a few people each time), ensuring a decent cup of water and now an available soaked sponge. My father had also lent me a plain white hat which, although initially didn’t quite meet the image standards, I was so grateful for mid run. Crossing the line was a happy relief. A tough 8 days “in the office”. It was made so worth it for the win and the experience. I’m really proud with my body for coping with this back to back racing load and I have learnt so much about the importance of physical and mental wellbeing. Re-confirming my belief in knowing when it’s ok to just say no, I’m not going to do that session and having the confidence to believe you can achieve something which on paper looks out of reach. Two years ago, I raced as an GB Age-grouper for the first time in the Europeans and today I won the Elite race. How? I just continued to work on my weaknesses (and strengths) day in day out, committed to just improving myself.