I wasn’t quite sure what shape I’d be in for the National Paratriathlon Championships which were taking place at Mallory Park, Leicestershire on 28 August 2017. One thing I promised myself was that I was going to enjoy myself and get myself around the course. I hadn’t been training for the 750 meter lake swim, 20k bike and 5k run sprint distance triathlon and I knew my top end speed would be compromised. Having said that I love taking part in the national championships and have been very fortunate to have been able to take part in every national championship since 2009. It’s a wonderful event involving a highly competitive field of athletes with a range of physical and visual impairments. It is fast and furious and above all great fun.
I approached Jack Peasgood a few months ago to ask him to guide me for this race. I was extremely chuffed when he informed me that he was available. Jack and I have raced together in paratriathlons in the past. I think the last occasion was in Hyde Park in July 2014 when we came 4th in a very close run international race when I picked up some valuable International Triathlon Union (ITU) points.
It was great to hook up again with Jack for the National Champs. I’ve always got on extremely well with Jack who understands my needs as a totally blind triathlete. He also has a degree in Military warfare…very useful when trying to gun down the opposition when racing.
I normally get quite nervous before races but I was feeling pretty relaxed for this race which could either be a good thing or possibly a disaster. I’d just had a lovely couple of days in the Peak district and I had, I must admit, let my hair down a little more than I planned to in the food and drink department. A little too much cake and cider than I intended. Well, it was the first time I have been away properly with Mary on holiday this year so I wanted to get some proper down time. It was also a beautifully hot bank holiday weekend. Just perfect in the build up to a race.
So, to say I was laid back regarding the race might have been an understatement. Plus on my return to Leicester it was straight out to a friend’s birthday bash. I was good though, getting back home before 9 pm and I had only one and-a-half pints of cider. Maybe not the best prep for a sprint distance triathlon. But, how much could it hurt really? It’s just a sprint right? It’ll be over in just over an hour. No problem.
Race day arrived pretty damn quickly. I gathered all my kit together which is always interesting when you can’t see. Maybe next year I could be a little more organised and not throw everything into a corner cupboard and hanging up in various locations around the house. I had also asked my daughter to black out my goggles using black spray paint while I was away. However, it had slipped my mind to ask her where she had put them after finishing the job. She had popped over to stay at a friend’s house and time was running out before Jack would turn up to pick me up. I checked the place where I had originally left my goggles for her and yes, they were there, and, yes, they were spray painted. Unfortunately I couldn’t actually tell whether they were properly blacked out because when I put them on, it looked just as dark as when I took them off. Strange that.
Jack arrived at 12.45 and we loaded the tandem into the back of his car, both wheels off and it just about squeezed in. It was already around 24 degrees centigrade so I knew it was going to be very hot during the run. Good job I had remembered to bring my Erdinger sun visor with me.
On arrival we made our way to the registration office. As a “B1” competitor which means I am classified as totally blind, I get a factor or head start of 3 minutes and 16 seconds. It also means I have to wear blacked out goggles during the swim and black out glasses for the run. All of this equipment plus my swim and run tethers have to be checked during the registration process. Phew, my blacked out goggles passed with flying colours, well done Ayeisha! We then sat through race briefing and it was soon time to rack the tandem and get ready to race. I’ve done countless races over the years and still can’t get over how quickly the time flies between registering and the start of the race. Well, that didn’t change on this occasion. Having such a competent guide in Jack is a huge confidence boost for me. He knows the drill and gets on with setting everything up ready for us to race. So, for example, he will clip the cycle shoes in to the pedals and fasten them in to position with rubber bands. That allows us to run bare foot after coming out of the swim and we simply run beside the tandem until we get to the mount line and then get ourselves on the tandem. I place my feet on the shoes and we then push off, getting in to our shoes when the tandem is picking up speed.
Everything was ready in transition and we hurried to the swim start thinking we were running late. We weren’t actually. Wetsuits on, we entered the water for a little warm up. The start had been delayed by around 10 minutes, but that was fine – more time to warm up. We found out that the reason for the delay was that the organisers had decided to move the bike mount line, just before the race. Jack and I then were asked to line up against the first buoy to be set off first before everyone else to allow for the 3 minute and 16 second factor. Now, my swim isn’t the quickest so when the hooter sounded I began my swim quite hard, harder than I intended. However, I felt fine, that is for the first 5 minutes! I then decided to go a little steadier as I didn’t think I would be able to maintain the pace. I knew we were going around 6 buoys and these were right hand turns. As we reached the first buoy Jack tapped my back and I started to turn, as I did, my right hand slapped the buoy. That was a little close for comfort I thought. But the turn wasn’t too bad and felt smooth otherwise. We got to the third buoy and I felt another swimmer bump into my right hand side. That’s got to be Dave Elis who is in the B3 visually impaired category which means that his sight is partial but on the less severe side of sight loss. Dave, a former world champion and current European champion is one fast dude. I take comfort in the fact he is 17 years younger than me – age before beauty and all that. Well, there was work to do. In next to no time we hit the matting for the swim exit and Jack pulled me to my feet. I fumbled around for the quick release to undo my tether while still trying to run. As we got to the bike I slipped out of the wetsuit relatively quickly for me, unassisted, and Jack popped my helmet on my head. Thanks Jack.
We ran to the bike mounting line and clambered on to the tandem. And, off we went. As I tried to slip in to my left cycle shoe the shoe unclipped off the pedal. Typical I thought, there’s always something that goes wrong with my cycle shoes. Anyway, it wasn’t long before I clipped back in and my feet were comfortably in my shoes. Time to put in the power.
The bike leg was extremely technical with a number of sharp turns and dead turns. Fortunately for me I had a guide who loves cornering. As we approached the very first sharp corner at pace Jack shouted out “lean left…and, now right”. It was both exhilarating and pretty scary at the same time. However, I trust Jack implicitly and there was only one little minor incident, if you can even call it that, where Jack’s left pedal scraped the ground. I felt the damage post race and there was a finger tip sized dent on the top edge.
After the little chicane we climbed a slight incline which steepened further at the top before a sharp turn again to the right. The little hill didn’t seem so bad the first or second time of asking but by the 8th loop it got harder. From what I recall we had to do 9 loops. However, we lost count! Fortunately Jack had programmed his GPS watch to bleep at 18k of the 20k course. Also, his brother, George, was just ahead of us and was clearly better at counting than the two of us on the back of a tandem. Who said that two heads were better than one?
I’d been working very hard on the bike and now it was time to ease off on the last loop. As we entered the bike dismount, which came up on us faster than we anticipated, I hadn’t had time to get out of my cycle shoes. So it was a little messy with my left foot still in my cycle shoe. I managed to work myself loose and I ran next to the bike into transition. Boy, Jack can run fast and I hoped that my feet wouldn’t smack into any barrier legs or other obstacles that might be lurking along the way. Once the bike was racked I quickly took off my helmet and slipped on my shoes and hat. Jack looped the run tether on to my hand and we started running slowly to run exit.
The run felt quite slow at the beginning. My legs just refused to turn over quickly. We had to do a four lap loop of the run course. I wasn’t really worried at this stage knowing that eventually I would pick up the pace as my body recovered from the bike leg. Jack was very comfortable at the pace we were going and told me when we were coming up to a turn,
“OK Has a 90 degree turn to me…now…keep coming and now straighten up.”
He also helpfully told me to pick my legs up and drive through my knees. On the second lap I heard someone go by. It was Dave Ellis. He had pretty much left his guide behind and was running by himself. I was to find out later that he was to be disqualified for doing that as a visually impaired athlete should always be tethered to his/her guide. However, Dave is so fast that he has trouble finding guides who can keep up with him. Nice to have that problem I thought…
Anyway, shortly afterwards who should be coming to lap us but Jack’s brother George. Again, Jack shouted helpful tips to George,
“Drive through your arms…yes; just like that…try to relax.”
I heard John Levison on the mic mention my name and my book. Some of his comments were quite tongue in cheek and made me chuckle inside. I so love it when the person on the PA can carry off great commentary but do it with good humour. John was brilliant in that regard. And, yes, he will get a free copy of my book!
On the third and forth laps of the run I was starting to relax myself and picked up the pace. But it still felt hard. The support on the course was phenomenal with lots of my friends and family who had come to support. I was particularly pleased that my brother Toseef who is also visually impaired was able to come and support me together with his family. This was the first time they came to see me race.
Even though the race was shorter than the Ironman races I have been doing of late, it was still tough. Everything was hurting towards the end of the run and I was glad when I finally ran on to the finishing shoot and broke the ribbon. I had come first in my category and a win is a win. This was the second time I had won Gold in the National Champs. The previous occasion was in 2011, 6 years ago. I didn’t think I would win Gold again so it was great for my family and friends to see me snatch a win.
I want to thank my guide Jack for being an awesome friend and guide. His mum and dad Teresa and David for their help and support on the day. I want to thank all of my family and friends who came to cheer Jack and myself on.
Well done also to all of my wonderful friends who were racing on the day including all the juniors who had completed their races before us.
Next stop for me will be the Leicester half marathon on 15th October. I’m looking forward to doing a road race which isn’t at the end of a swim and bike!
Ps: here’s a few more photos: