Katherine O’Hara’s race report on her gold medal for GB at Soria 2017

Soria European Duathlon Championships April 29/30th 2017

This time last week Sunday 30th April I was in Spain and raced the European Duathlon Championships held in Soria. I have to admit it all seems like a dream and looking at the weather forecast there today (sunshine and 22 degrees) it reinforces how unpredictable racing can be. When I first qualified in Oulton park racetrack March last year in Chester and decided to go to Spain, I didn’t imagine rain, gusty winds and temperatures below 10 degrees.

The Standard Duathlon race comprises of a 10Km run 40Km bike and 5Km run and the route last week was a complex series of 4 park loops in each 2.5 km which were repeated 2-4 times. The flow through transition is really important to physically and mentally rehearse where losing a minute is easier than a minute in a 5Km run for example. I placed first in my age group at the qualifier in March 2016 which was 8.6km/38.3km/4.3km and at that time my running saved the fact that my cycling was not nearly as strong as it needed to be.

On 11 November 2016 I started the cross-country race in Lancing and the arch of my foot was tight. I had been steadily increasing my mileage and intensity and was ignoring the fact that each morning it was painful. I was a 1km away from the finish line and I felt and heard a pop in my arch, it was as if a car airbag had been released under my foot. Over the next few months I wore a ski boot and was firmly informed by a foot surgeon I could not even think about running for at least 3 months. 

It really helped to be able to see Tom the running physio that Fiona recommended. We started rehabilitation and gradually over the months were able to do specific strength work. I wrote myself a Cross training programme and my goal was to be able to run 10km before the Duathlon. I deferred my place in the Brighton Marathon plus all the other races I had in my diary for early 2017 were also taken out. A combination of the opportunity to represent GB and the expense/time away from my girls etc. I felt the Duathlon Champs had to be my A race for the year. I stretched, did my physio exercises and included hot yoga time permitting. I can honestly say I have never been so strict with dropping out of races and following a physio programme in this way before (my twin sister is a physio and would agree as I have ignored her advice for years).

I was lucky to join in with a group of fit female cyclists training for a ride in Mallorca (thanks Rachel!)  and was able to build my rides from three to six hours alternate Saturdays when I didn’t have the girls. My longest ride was 130km and it had been 10 years since riding that far. A couple of memorable rides to Beachy Head and Tunbridge Wells where the wind rain and hail made me feel incrementally tougher! Without these rides I am sure I would not have achieved the result last week. I also included brick sessions running before and after bike training or spin sessions.

I really missed the social part of Arena and it was fantastic to be able to join in at the Christ Hospital relays in April. One month out from Soria, when I had only started back running, on the 3rd Feb I tested getting up to 4 min/km pace that day. My lungs hurt although my foot felt ok so from there on I built up to short intervals in the weeks to follow. 

Team GB buddies – Katherine and Claire.

The trip to Spain required considerable planning – hiring and shipping my bike plus the expense of kit etc. I went for a Team GB package and stayed at the team hotel which made all the difference. The atmosphere started at the opening ceremony on the Friday night where the whole town came out to welcome us. The team hotel had a mechanic to put my bike together and a physio was on hand. We had to adapt to Spanish time… no evening meals available until 8.30pm so we worked with the fact that lunch was served until 4 pm and just had to go with the flow.

So enough of the story let’s get to the exciting stuff…knowing my fastest 10 km since November was  47 minutes mid-April I checked out my competition before the race hoping I could get closer to my PB’s. I had my Brooks Hyperion shoes which was a risk, trading psychological speed for support. There is plenty of nervous tweaking before a Triathlon/Duathlon which included thinking about which layers to wear as the weather was changing every hour or so and my race didn’t start until midday. Nutrition is also important.

Eva Ribalta is the current World champion age grouper from Spain and, as I expected, she set off at 3.45km pace. I had a race plan to catch up on the bike and was able to catch her on the first lap of the 3 x 13.6 km loop despite being 2 minutes down. Jaqueline Uebelhart was my second main competitor who is a Powerman 2016 winner from Switzerland. I did Powerman (30/150/10) in 2007…in fact it is 12 years since I had competed at this level. 

The race was at altitude 1100m or so and I felt it in my lungs. The Swiss girl flew past me on lap 2.. I saw her thighs before I saw her and my goal was to keep her in sight without drafting (risking disqualification if you get within 10m). I hoped I could outrun her on the 5k…although it’s much harder to make up time in a 5 km run than a 40Km bike. The bike course was hilly which gave me an opportunity to hit 75kph on the downhill. The cross wind took one girl down and 10/80 female standard competitors did not finish the race because of this.

The wind had blown my gels off my bike… luckily I found a couple of clif cubes down my bra (littering is instant disqualification also). I came in to T2 transition and my supporters yelled the Swiss girl was a couple of minutes ahead. I overtook her on the first lap and as I started the second lap my quads started to pull as the inclines of the park were taking their toll. I spotted a German age grouper and panic set in. She was less than 20s behind me and I was at that point where, if anyone was on my shoulder, could have taken me on the line…no matter how much I was talking to myself I could not find another gear.

Showing the men a clean pair of heels.

The finish line was around the corner and I heard people yelling O’Hara… my legs charged for the line and I went through first… turns out the German had another lap to run! My splits including T1/2 – I did the 10km in 42.30, 40km in 1.24 (6 mins faster than the World Champion) and 5km in 21.13. I was the second fastest of the day. In fact for the Sprint distance the winner was a female in the 50-54 age group….How fab is that!

This brings me to my reason why? We all need to focus on this when the wind picks up or the legs are tired… I wanted my 2 girls to know that you can do anything you put your mind to. It was not purely about winning (although it was my goal!)…it was about doing my absolute best on the day. I also thought about my Dad who I lost in 1998 to Cancer. I know he would have loved the fact I did a bike recce with the Irish Team.

One thing I have learnt since I have been racing over the past 18 years or so is how useful it is to reflect after a race. I put so much energy into physically training yet identifying what worked and what didn’t can be a real clue to a marginal gain next time around. It can then focus the mental training that is just if not more important once you have been training for more years than you can really remember. If I can offer any training or racing tips to anyone out there then I am happy to do so. A combination of pre-race visualization, staying calm in the conditions as well as the support of the crowd and my reasons why, got me to the start line.

Next up is the South Downs Relay and I cannot wait to be part of the Arena 80 Team again.

In the words of Spandau Ballet – You are GOLD.

We must congratulate Katherine on such a great achievement by overcoming many problems on the road to Soria. She is a fine example of what can be achieved if you want it bad enough. Sacrifices were made in the short term but it worked for the long term gain. A proud day for Katherine and a proud day for Arena 80. Lovely to have you back Katherine.

If you have a race report you would like to share with the other members of the club then send it to marc.bonaldi@googlemail.com. There will be a prize for the best race report later in the year.