World Duathlon Championships - Jean Knapp

 The World Championship, Aviles – Spain Jean Knapp

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The bike got shipped almost a week before me, one man compared it to leaving his child on the first day of school, a few years ago I would have thought that extreme, but now.. What had happened to me? I can’t actually remember buying non-bike/running clothes in years, my magazine rack was an array of cycling magazines, I spent hours pouring over articles to improve technique and further develop bike maintenance. I started racing on a track and loved the adrenaline rush. It made me happy.. Running can be as expensive as you like, but for most people three pairs of trainers and you’re there. Cycling, when it becomes a competitive sport, is the hobby that keeps on taking, you will be poor, you will wonder why you haven’t got money for other luxuries, non cyclists will wonder why on earth you don’t sell one bike to fund another but here’s the thing, you don’t sell your trail shoes to buy track shoes as a runner do you? We need both, cycling is the same, a bike for every occasion, only more expensive, presenting a host of storage problems, x + 1. You wonder all of this and then you realise, like running, this is wonderful, that is why, simple.

I don’t think anything can prepare you for being part of the GB team. It is simply life changing and many first timers said it. You are aware you are part of one of the strongest countries in Duathlon (we scooped 56 medals with podium places in most age groups in Aviles) and this is the tough selection process. First 4 ladies of any of the 3 tough UK selection races to qualify. Other countries work on a points system or no pre-qualification race at all. 
When we proceeded through the streets of Aviles on opening ceremony night in country order, it was an emotional point. Getting here, being welcomed by a wonderfully friendly country and a sense of duty to perform. I made many friends but two, Katy Toms and Debbie Clarke were two of my closer associations over the 5 days. These women were experienced and strong finishers and it was wonderful to learn from their expertise. Our coach, Jez Cox, is an 81 times medal holder and his final race briefing highlighted the wealth of his knowledge, together with experienced past medal holders that shared their tips to prevent the panic to the finish line. 

We were also lucky enough to have the expertise of one of the best mechanics in Team GB. Over the course of the weekend over 300 bike checks and bigger issues were carried out in the basement of the hotel. It’s quite overwhelming, the scale of the operation. 

On the day, nerves were replaced with an urge to race and my mantra (gathered from lots of reading) ‘keep calm, you can do this, you trained to do this’ and a text from my coach Steve Mott, ‘be awesome’, it worked. 

The Duathlon course first run is by a canal, bike route was a complicated series of turns, hills and roundabouts out of the town and back (a longer than standard 42k) and the last run near the canal. On my final run, I had not seen the signage for another loop and realised I’d made an error (along with many others) too late. My last 5k was just over half done and despite my PBs, DSQ remains the outcome. However, I thought, you worked really hard to get here, there’s lots of PBs to be proud of (my first 5k in 80+ degree heat was just over 20 minutes and my 10k, 41:34, your running was 3rd place all along (thanks Runnymede Runners, Steve Mott at Streamline Coaching and Ellie Gosling) it’s just the bike I could improve further but I’m only two years into cycling and since my first standard Duathlon last September, I’ve shaved 7 minutes off my bike so I’m working hard to shave another 7-8 minutes this summer before training begins again in November for my European Championships in April 2017 otherwise, what I’m gaining in the run, I’m losing on the bike. I’d pass many people on the run but fewer on the bike, although, I’d always catch up and pass quite a few on the hills! 

The event is far stricter on penalties than anything I’d experienced before; littering, drafting (in the standard) – this is anything closer than the length of a bus or 3m in width to gain advantage of the wind they are taking) and dangerous manoeuvres which could cost you 2 minutes out in a penalty box and disqualified with the red card if you get two of these. 

I remember smiling the whole way round. I realised this is where I wanted to be. My passion for Duathlon was growing and my determination to be better and better each time, increasing.  

I’d asked GB athlete, Debbie Clarke if there’s anything she had taken away from her first event a few years back and she told me she’d wished she tried harder, she felt she had held back. I think this is true of my bike but I’m looking forward to the next time. Mistakes are opportunities to learn, grow and overcome them and for me, overcoming them is something I look forward to, it’s in the challenge I feel truly alive. 

The closing ceremony was a reminder that Duathlon could sustain me for some years as the remarkable achievements of the 80+ age category were being applauded, fireworks and a party lingered well into the night. I am very fortunate to have some amazing friends, friends who’d text me virtually every day to check I’m ok and ask about training, some are going to the Europeans with me next year, all of these people make life a very rich and varied experience, one where you can grow and feel really loved. There are days these people provided the timely reminders and advice where required. 

The buzz and adrenaline from the event is preventing me any sleep, hence the blog or should I say ‘War and Peace – Part 2’ but there it is, until April 2017.