ITU World Triathlon Yokohama - the DTU Olympic Qualification Race

I do believe that everything happens for a reason. So there will be a reason for this, even if I can’t quite see it yet.

Yesterday was my final chance to qualify for the Olympic Games this year – and I wanted to walk away from this knowing that I had been able to execute even just a decent race in one of the selection races. My wish or hope wasn’t supposed to come true, which currently is the toughest pill about yesterday to swallow. Ever since last summer I’ve been trying to work out what made some of my races last year, like Cape Town and London, so good and what the difference was between these and the not so good races last year; I’ve been trying to pinpoint all my weaknesses and tried my best to fight these to become a better athlete, to come closer to the athlete I aspire to be.

It was all going so damn well. I had gained such an amazing base in running – stronger than I had ever been before. I was starting to see some positive improvements in swimming – something that I know to be probably the most important thing in trying to become a consistently good triathlete – and last but not least I was doing more cycling than I had ever done before and thanks to my first winter with a power meter I was able to train better on the bike. It was all going so well and I was so happy in my PhD place in Oxford and all the people I got to train with, whether Oxford Uni triathlon / swimming / cross country club, the Bavarian squad and all the others brought me so much joy in training and the environment in Oxford and at home made me just a “happy little girl” – but then 2016 rolled along and with it some trouble …

It started off with a little niggle in the foot. I spent a while running through it, trying to ignore it, hoping it would just go away again. Soon enough that wasn’t possible anymore and I had to reduce my running to just the running sessions and hoping the foot had recovered enough for the next session again. But at some point and after discussions with my physician, I had to take a break from running. I felt like with every day that passed all the running form I’d been working so hard on was slowly slipping away through my fingers – and the only thing I could try to do to stop it was working hard in aquajogging and on the crosstrainer. And I did - I don’t remember my legs ever hurting as much as after these few weeks of aquajogging… but that was again a problem: I went too hard and my legs couldn’t recover. But this is just the physical side of the story. The timing of the injury also just knocked me down massively mentally – I tried to do everything I could to help the healing of the foot, forgetting to also look after my head.

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A week after my first run back, it was time for the first Olympic selection race this year, the ITU World Triathlon in Abu Dhabi. The brutal truth is, I wasn’t fit mentally and I was physically at my limit. I had pushed my legs too hard in aquajogging to give them any chance to recover in time. I dropped out after a km on the run… I had a horrible swim and got beaten up, had nothing in my legs on the bike and even less on the run – plus the risk of worsening the foot again by running 10k in racing flats on tarmac was not worth taking for a top-50 finish. Onto the next I thought…

After Abu Dhabi it still took my legs a week or two to be reasonably recovered from aquajogging. I was finally back running, and even though I was absolutely loving it, it also just did not feel right or in any way smooth yet - and it still didn’t by the time Cape Town came around. I was hoping that an easy week before the race might sort it, but it didn’t. The run in Cape Town was just something I’d really rather forget about. At least this time I was actually enjoying myself in the race (until T2) again and had probably my first ever actually good swim in a WTS race!

The weeks since Cape Town I spent sorting all sorts of tightnesses in my legs out and finally – I was starting to wonder whether this day would ever come again – two weeks ago it clicked in running! It felt almost effortless again and I was FINALLY back to hitting times in training that I should be hitting! Just in time I thought, not knowing that (according to more experienced athletes than me) the feeling comes back first in training and takes a few extra weeks to come back in racing as well. But at least my mental balance was coming back and I started laughing lots again, having great fun in my PhD as well as training and all other areas of life – a massive thank you to everyone that has made me smile for whatever reason in the past weeks, there is literally no better medicine for the soul. 

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Then it was time for Yokohama, the final selection race. I was excited to race and just wanted to be able to have a good race for myself – there is no point in worrying about the ability of other people or how I compare to them because I just can’t do anything about that. There was again a lot of laughter the days leading up to the race and I just felt at peace and ready to go hard. The swim was probably my best swim in a triathlon yet, coming out safely in the first pack – something I am definitely not used to at all! It was so good to see all the work on swimming over the winter pay off and to feel like I have finally started to defeat my greatest weakness. Plus I actually genuinely enjoyed the swim, again a first. The bike was also good, it all stayed very controlled so it was just a case of not falling off really. But then the race started going downhill. In T2 I ran past my bike rack and had to turn back around – which meant that I was dead last of my pack out of transition and the run was just painful and not enjoyable at all. It did not feel smooth at all at the start and every hope that the feeling might come after a few kilometres also slowly died with every kilometre run. It was a 34th place with a run just below 37 minutes – definitely not a good reflection of the shape I am in and my ability. That is what made me disappointed, far more than the fact that I missed the olympic qualification: the knowledge that I was running so well at the beginning of the year, that I was running so well in training again and that I have had runs in triathlons that would have put me in the top 8. But as I said before, it wasn’t meant to be. There will be a reason for that and I won’t give up so easily – I will be back and I am determined to be back running properly even in races very soon. I am still young, I make mistakes - but with every mistake I make, with every adversity I face, I learn something and become a slightly better version of myself.

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The best view comes after the hardest climb – so for now I’ll just keep climbing, triathlon won’t get rid of me quite this easily.

Let me end with a massive thank you to everyone who helped me every step along the journey and never stopped believing in me - my boyfriend, my family, my coach, my partners and sponsors, friends, many companion athletes and all the others. I could not be doing this without you! 

And a big congratulation to all the girls who qualified for Rio!

© Sophia Saller 2016. All rights reserved. Impressum