Tri-ing for Commonwealth Games consideration times
Since my latest blog entry, there has been lots of action starting from the winter of 2016/17 all the way up to this summer. This past year has been filled with experiences at university, at home and at events, so I’ll try my best to update.
The winter season is often used to build up strength and stamina in preparation for the faster work in the summer to get ready for racing, so a lot of gym work and long steady miles in the saddle and on foot. To compliment this work, I always like to race the cross country season, which runs from October through to February; perfect for keeping up the racing during the off season for triathlon. Plus, it’s always good fun getting covered in mud in the middle of winter!
I had some great races this year running for Team Hallam in the South Yorkshire XC League and BUCS cross country, as well as for the Manx Harriers in the Lancashire XC Championships and the National XC Championships. These trips are always great fun with the guys that I train with, when I’m back on the island, and it’s good to see some of the triathletes I race with during the summer doing the same thing.
With cross country season finished by the end of February, it wasn’t long before my first triathlon, the East Leake Triathlon which formed the Varsity Triathlon for 2017. At the end of March, Sheffield Hallam squared off with the University of Sheffield for Varsity. It was a competitive event as always, with Hallam coming out on top in the men’s event and the University of Sheffield winning the women’s event, so the points were split equally.
I had a good race despite training all the way up to the event and racing on my road bike with training wheels on! I achieved a second place overall, with some good swim and run splits. As well as the Varsity Tri, I thought I’d try my hand at the time trial, hill climb and swimming events, all with a lot of success. Although I’m definitely not built to go uphill on a bike, I enjoyed competing alongside the guys I train with every day. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts Hallam lost to the University of Sheffield overall. However, we did win the final, which was the ice hockey match at the Motorpoint Arena, so we did have bragging rights on that night!
I hadn’t been back on the island during the course of the two semesters apart from the Christmas break, so it was nice to be back at Easter for a couple of weeks to spend time with the family. During the break I competed at the Easter Festival of Running after a hard training block, coming close to a 5K PB in not the nicest of conditions, which gave me a boost of confidence going into the tri season.
After a few weeks at home over Easter it was time to head back to university for my exams, although I didn’t end up sitting one of them during the exam period. I’m not sure who had the clever idea to put an exam on at 9am on a Saturday morning, which also happened to be the Microgaming Sprint Triathlon Championships back on the Isle of Man. One of the perks of being on the performance program is being able to defer an exam or assignment if it clashes with an event. So luckily, I was able to change the date of my exam to come back and race on the island, much to the annoyance of my course mates.
I was pleased with how well I did in my exams despite them being rather difficult, but engineering always is.
Once my exams had finished I was back into full time athlete mode and loving it once again. My first race in the UK was the Nottingham Sprint Triathlon, a very fast and flat course which always produces quick times and great action-packed racing. With windy conditions, the race resulted in some slower than expected bike splits, so unfortunately I didn’t hit the time I was looking for.
The day after it was a trip to Southport to support my dad and fellow triathletes at Hallam in the standard distance triathlon which incorporated the BUCS Standard distance triathlon championship as well. For once I wasn’t competing and I was able to just focus on supporting, keeping time splits and taking lots of poor quality photos as I wasn’t quite quick enough to spot people coming past.
I spent the five weeks in the lead up to the Gotland Island Games back on the island training with several other athletes, swimmers and cyclists. It was great to have my final training block with likeminded people, motivating each other. I’d forgotten how flat some of the roads were when I was back, having been used to the Peak District for nearly eight months, so it was a nice relief to be able to train on my time trial bike on fast roads once again.
The most stressful part of the entire Games was definitely the flight heading out there. With fears of our luggage not being able to actually fit in (that’s what happens when 32 bikes are put on a plane), we ended up with a dozen suitcases at the back of the plane on the seats. After nearly three hours sat on the tarmac, we finally made it to Gotland a little later than planned.
The course in Gotland was a rather technical one with a four lap bike featuring cobbled streets and an interesting descent alongside the medieval wall in the capital of Visby. The run was more like a cross country course on tarmac which made for a very tough end to the race, however the start of it was no easier. The forecast for the sea conditions had threatened to cancel the swim, with 2m high swells and strong currents pushing the waves back into the beach the swim had to be cut short from 1500m to around 600m for the men. However, with the height of the waves and difficulty in sighting the buoys to turn, it felt like we swam around 1000m. I’m glad I don’t get sea sick!
I came out of the water and took a tumble which ended up putting a rather large hole in my wetsuit around the knee. This didn’t faze me however, and I got straight back up to continue. Thankfully, I made it onto the bike in one piece, but at the end of the first lap I got a bit over confident in one corner and made friends with the barrier on the side of the course, in the process stabbing my leg with the brake level of my time trial bike. This later proved to be a lot of hassle on the run. As if the course wasn’t technical enough, it started raining half way which made things even more interesting. Several athletes crashed on the wet cobbles as the grip level dropped rapidly. I managed to make it off the bike with only one incident and made my way onto the next discipline. However, on the first climb I hit some trouble as my quad locked up as a result of the brake lever leaving a small hole in my muscle. This cramp continued for the entire 10K and I struggled on posting one of the slowest 10Ks I have in a race.
It's safe to say that Gotland wasn't my race, but I was determined to finish and take something out of the race - which turned out to be a new wetsuit!
After the mishaps in Gotland, I was determined to have a good race in London at the senior elite race. My first elite standard distance race was always going to be a big step up having previously only ever raced as a junior at the elite level, and therefore racing sprint distance. The quality of athletes in the field at London is always very high and it was the same this year, with several of Britain’s best competing.
With the water temperature being above 20⁰c it was a non-wetsuit swim for the elites, making things a bit more difficult for those who aren’t as strong as the top guys. However, I was able to sustain a good pace and ended up at the front of a chase pack in the swim. This pack got whittled down to about six athletes on the bike and we rode much our own race, holding the gap to the leaders but not closing them down. The wind started to pick up for the run and was at an annoying angle meaning you were running into the wind for the longest stretch of the course. I was pleased with my time and placing, especially considering it was my first elite standard distance, and only my fifth ever standard distance triathlon.
After having a week off from training post London and a surprise from my family and girlfriend with a trip to the island. I have been back into training in the lead up to the end of the season where I hope to be able to gain a Commonwealth Games consideration time.
I’m looking forward to getting back to university and getting stuck back into the work and training again. I’ve now moved into the house I will be living in for the next year and already started planning the gaming nights (perks of having a 50-inch TV) and looking out for a barbeque to fit on the patio!
I am very much looking forward to what the rest of the season holds and to seeing how this winter goes, with several cross country races planned and potentially a few mountain bike and cyclocross races as well. I know the second year of my engineering course will be difficult but I am looking forward to the challenge it brings!
If you’d like to keep updated with my training and races take a look at my Instagram and Twitter for updates.
Dreams don’t work unless you do
Dreams don’t work unless you do. It was a quiet end to the season after the last blog update in July, with just the British Elite Championships in Liverpool in August. The race came after a lot of individual races, backed up by some good training. And despite being ill two weeks before, it was a thoroughly enjoyable trip with the Manx Tri Club and fellow athletes.
With the sun shining and the crowds cheering, it was a pleasant day in Liverpool to race and the atmosphere was amazing. The support from the Manx Tri Club was great, and the fact I was racing with the best triathlon talent Britain has to offer, made it a memorable experience. Race wise, it wasn’t the result I had been hoping for or the performance I knew I had in me after a very successful season, but overall I was happy. And always thinking of the positives, I had the opportunity to show off the amazing new tri suit from Microgaming’s kit provider Mobel Sport! I’d like to say a massive thank you to both companies for the race kit – I wear it with pride at overseas events.
After Liverpool, I took a break from training with a nice holiday to Tenerife (when I say a break… I did quite a bit of pre-season open water training!). Whilst I enjoy the occasional rest and trip away, I was glad to get back into my routine and be home. It wasn’t long after that before I was departing for university, in September. I am studying Automotive Engineering at Sheffield Hallam, an amazing university with some great academic and sporting facilities, not to mention the peak district being on the doorstep for a ride and run when needed! It’s not quite the Isle of Man though, but the training and studying is everything I expected and more. Sheffield is also a vibrant city with some amazing views – and did I mention it’s incredibly hilly?
I have already competed for Team Hallam in a few races this winter, including the BUCS (British University & College Sport) Short Course Swimming Championships, where I managed to post a 30 second PB during the 1500m, as well as starting one of the relay teams with a 25.6 second 50m free after swimming 18:31 45-minutes prior! And there was the BUCS Duathlon too, where I placed 29th in a field of 400, achieving the 5th fastest bike split of the event (it was nice to be back on the time trial bike after 4 months apart!). So things are looking optimistic for a better placed triathlon finish in years to come.
I have also been lucky enough to be awarded a PASP (Performance Athlete Support Programme) contract through the university, which is a performance programme run for students who compete at an elite level in their respective sports. This is a great opportunity to progress my academic and sporting abilities and to be able to compete for Sheffield Hallam in swimming, cycling and running events, along with the BUCS Sprint and Standard triathlons next year. I’m set for a very busy first year, with the main goal for me being the Inter-Island Games in Gotland, as well as gaining further qualification for the Commonwealth Games in 2018.
Aside from sport, life as a student athlete is as interesting as a full-time athlete; managing study, training and general house-work. The studying is coming a lot more naturally lately. Having taken a year out after high school, some of the theory and techniques to the work took a little bit of getting used to, but I am adjusting very well and thoroughly enjoying the course. Plus I’m excited for some more interesting modules in my second semester.
The one downside to living in student accommodation though, is the lack of workspace for my bikes, so my flatmates have become accustomed to me bringing my bikes into the hall to work on in between rides, along with plenty of sports bottles dotted around the kitchen! All of them have walked into the kitchen at some point to see me foam rolling next to the couch watching Netflix on the TV. I’m not sure I represent the typical student lifestyle! Fortunately the house I have for next year has a nice patio and outdoor area behind the property, that will most likely be turned into my workshop and BBQ area for burgers after the gym on a Monday.
If you want to keep more up to date with my training and racing, take a look at my Twitter or Instagram for some insight into my life as a student athlete, as well as the occasional Peak District photo!
A PB-smashing season so far
The early months of my season have been full of amazing experiences and races. Since my last update (in March) I have competed in seven diverse races, each with a specific goal or aim. And I’m pleased to say, I’ve already achieved several core goals this year. Here’s how my season has panned out so far…
My first race back at the start of April set the scene for some action-packed trips to the UK and further afield. I started my season at the Ormskirk Sprint Triathlon at Edge Hill University, where despite a fall in the second transition, I achieved 2nd place overall and 1st place in the juniors. I also managed to post a 5k personal best (PB) during the run discipline of the triathlon by around five seconds.
Unfortunately, the fall in the race eventually developed into a bit of an injury in my knee, which went on to affect my next contest just one week later.
Competing at the National Junior Performance Assessment for British Triathlon in Loughborough was a rather different experience to that in Edge Hill. An 800m time trial swim undertaken on the Saturday, and a pursuit style bike/run race on the Sunday (based on swim finish position), made for some interesting racing. Over the short and fast 2.5k bike loop, a large portion of the field were lapped by the leaders, such was the pace at the front of the race. I was positioned well in the chase pack and knowing my knee would be an issue running, I wanted to make as much impact on the bike as possible. Going into the race, with the knowledge that I would not be able to run anywhere near my best, actually took a small amount of pressure off and actually allowed me to have some fun on the semi-technical bike course. Opening up small gaps on corners, and initiating breaks in the group was reminiscent of a road race not a triathlon. Nevertheless, I still managed to place 21st in a field of over 60 of the best juniors in England – all things considered, I was pretty pleased.
After two competitive trips to the UK, it was time for a trip up to the north of the island to race in the Microgaming Sprint Triathlon Championship, which always feels just as long as travelling half way across England to race! With my knee once again being an unknown quantity on the run I knew that if I wanted to do well I would have to build an unbridgeable gap on the swim and bike. With my swimming coming into good shape, I was confident I could post a good split, which is exactly what happened, taking the lead from the first metre of the swim and never looking back. With a gap of 90 seconds accrued, I had some breathing room on the bike, however I’m never one to shy away from a tough bike session, and I extended my lead by another 30 seconds coming into the run. I held on during the final stage to win the race by 1 minute 27 seconds, and proudly set a new course record of 56:27, an improvement of around two minutes from 2015. This was a real confident booster!
After the long and tiring trip over the mountain to Ramsey, it was a quick drive down to the south coast of Wales for the second round of the British Triathlon Junior Super Series, a six round series of multisport events throughout the UK for the elite juniors. My performance at the National Junior Performance Assessment gave me a spot on the start line, however I wouldn’t get to see the finish line due to an untimely puncture on my rear wheel during the third of five laps. So, it was a nice mile or so walk back to the race HQ for me whilst wondering “what if?” But, whenever anything like this happens to me that is out of my control, I take the positives on board and ultimately have even more motivation to perform well at my next race. Luckily for me my next race was the European Championships…
The trip to Lisbon was as rewarding for the race result as it was for the cultural experience; Portugal is a beautiful country and is now firmly on my short list for any warm weather training camps! The entire city got behind the Championship as well as the local law enforcement, who closed a main highway for two hours to allow an escorted reconnaissance ride to take place with around 600 athletes riding behind two police cars, five police bikes and a few Portuguese tag-alongs out for a café ride! The race itself was one of my best performances to date, staying in the front pack on the swim and not losing any ground through transition, then showing the rest of Europe how the Manx ride, taking the lead of the whole event after a few kilometres and holding this into the second transition, with the lead motorbike and police escort for company during the 20k. I was overtaken on the run, but managed to draw a few seconds back on the 4th place finisher during a sprint finish to take 5th place overall and 3rd place in the under 20s age group. The podium was separated by just 19 seconds, and both boys and girls were a GB lock out. Although it is only a bronze medal I am now rather fond of Lisbon as it was one of my best races so far.
Only a week after competing in Lisbon it was another road trip, this time down to Blenheim Palace to compete in the Bloodwise Elite Triathlon. With a mix of juniors and seniors in the one race, it is always a highly contested field with many juniors wanting to step up and show how they can perform against the countries best, and by best I mean the current Olympic Champion! Alistair Brownlee only confirmed he was racing the event the Friday before, in preparation for the Leeds WTS round. Walking to the swim start and looking over to see the Olympic Champion and Rio Olympic team member Gordon Benson, was rather surreal. But that is the nature of triathlon, you can race the world’s best on a typical Sunday morning. Not surprisingly, the race was extremely fast and I ended up finishing 38th overall - 6th place junior.
It was now a few weeks before my next race which I would need to nail my pacing, as this would be a Standard distance event (1500m swim, 40k bike & a 10k run), in Cardiff. My goal for this race was to gain an Island Games qualification time for Gotland in 2017 and to see how far off the two-hour mark I was after Sprint distance training. I didn’t expect to be in the form I was, however when I came round to see the finishing clock I was stunned.
It was one of those days where everything goes well and falls into place. Despite coming from a swimming background I was actually not looking forward to the longer swim. When I started though I had nothing to worry about, leading the right hand sight of the start field until the first buoy at 400m, where the two packs came together and a break of five swimmers was formed, with myself being in the midst. Coming out of the water in a PB-smashing 17:15 I made one place up in transition straight away and exited onto the bike with one other athlete next to me.
Training with some of the UK’s best cyclists certainly paid off and I found myself in second place rather quickly with a TV camera motorcycle for company this time. I did my best not to pull any stupid faces whilst riding and got settled into my rhythm. After posting a 40k time trial PB I was fully focused on the run ahead, evidently however, the camera crew were fully focused on me coming into transition. It was actually quite intimidating having a TV camera on you when you are trying to get your shoes on and helmet off as quickly as possible, which is probably why I had the fastest T2 time of the entire event!
Out on the run it became a blur, I don’t even remember being overtaken by 2nd, 3rd and 4th place. I was simply focused on getting the Island Games time and not worried about finish position. So when my Dad told me to pick the pace up going onto the second lap because someone was behind me, I wanted to shout a lot of things at him, but luckily for him I had no breath to say such things! He of course knew I was on for a slightly quicker time than I was aiming for, however didn’t want to disturb or interrupt my race. So when I came round the Millennium Centre to finish and saw the clock ticking over, 1:55:21… 22… 23, I thought to myself “I should probably pick the pace up now!”. Finishing in a time of 1:55:31, taking over 10 minutes of my previous best time, I managed not only to secure an Island Games time, but also posted a Commonwealth Games consideration standard for the Gold Coast in 2018. This was beyond my expectations, as this was my aim for 2017, and it didn’t really settle in until I arrived home and started talking to people about it. It has been my dream since the previous Commonwealth Games in Glasgow (2014) to compete for the Isle of Man at this level, and I’m now one step closer to this, which is exciting and scary all at the same time.
I can’t thank everyone enough who has helped me to get where I am, and I can’t wait to see how the next two years pan out, as well as the rest of the season. Look out for my next blog entry coming at the end of the season, with hopefully some more fantastic race results to share!
Maximising your fitness during winter
I’m sat writing this blog post with just two months until the European Championships in Portugal, wondering where all the time has gone throughout the winter season! Those cold 5am starts and the muddy Sundays spent mountain biking or cross country running are such a contrast from the typical 23 degrees Celsius I’ll experience in Lisbon, which is just around the corner in May. They do say time flies when you’re having fun!
The winter season is always a good time to reflect on the previous year’s achievements and to look forward to future goals and ambitions. But you can’t just sit around day-dreaming; winter is the time for serious training! The off-season is when a lot of strength training takes place, not just running or cycling but also countless hours in the gym. A lot of my time this winter was spent cross country running and mountain biking in order to build up a strong base needed for the summer season, when faster track sessions and time trial rides will be a key element of my training.
I have also been competing in some off-road racing, which has helped to keep things interesting throughout the monotonous grind of the colder months. I also took part in the Isle of Man winter cross country league, sponsored by Microgaming, which is always a good test for any athlete no matter their background or sport. With several rounds throughout the winter, and running the same courses towards the end of the series, the cross country league allows you to test your fitness and form.
The Manx Harriers group that I train with specifically targets these races in the lead up to January and February when the bigger cross country races come around: The Lancashire XC Champs, National XC Champs followed closely by Inter-counties XC Championships. All of these races and the training sessions in between help to build the aforementioned strength that is needed on the hilly and muddy British courses. It is extremely rare to walk away from any cross country race without at least half of your legs covered in mud!
But for all the fun you have playing in the mud, it is always nice to get back out in the sun and heat, which was just what I got when I attended a training camp in Spain in March, providing beautiful twisting climbs followed by glorious fast descents. One such outing ended with a 40km ride along the coast where I think I spent more time staring at the sea and beaches than actually concentrating on where my front wheel was going! Along with some gorgeous riding, Spain is perfect for long runs, speed sessions and some extremely tough hill reps. A great run route not far from my accommodation was a dried up river bed which wound 10km uphill to some wind turbines, not a lot of runs I have done have compared to it!
In addition to training on my feet throughout the off-season, I have been working a lot on my swimming. I want to be at the front of the race coming into transition and onto the bike where I can then put my strengths to good use. Therefore I have been training with the island’s swimming squad, which features some of the best junior swimmers in Britain! This has drastically improved my swimming and given me great confidence going into the 2016 tri season.
Looking to the next few weeks in the lead up to my first ‘A’ race, I cannot wait to be competing once again. I’m really excited for the months ahead. I’ll keep you updated throughout the season on this blog, but for more regular updates, follow me on Twitter @ricciardi_joe.
I both love and hate travelling
Hopping on the boat to race in Liverpool is okay, however multiple flights and time spent in airports are two of the downsides to travelling abroad to race. The major upside however is, you are travelling abroad to race triathlon! Racing in Jersey and Geneva this season were the highlights of my first year as a Microgaming Ambassador; competing at the Island Games and the European Championships were huge for me as this was the first time I had raced on such a grand scale and outside of England.
My season however began on the Isle of Man, and with strong races throughout the winter months I knew I had a good base when building up for the summer. A solid performance in May at the Isle of Man Sprint Championships and with times tumbling off my individual disciplines (swimming, cycling and running), I felt confident going into a training block for the Island Games. A small matter of my A levels was between me and Jersey, however, after working hard on an academic and training balance I had high hopes for great results in both. And on results day in August, I couldn’t have been happier, gaining entry into my first choice University, Sheffield Hallam, for automotive engineering.
Despite doing as much research as possible on each event and course you race, there is no substitute for riding or recceing the route yourself and seeing road conditions, surrounding terrain, etc. first-hand. This was certainly the case in Jersey at the Island Games, where I had not realised the amount of climbing on the course, and despite having implemented hill reps into my training I was not fully prepared with the equipment I had on my bike. In spite of this I gave my absolute all, and with it only being my third assault at the Olympic distance I was pleasantly surprised at how I performed on each discipline in the heat and humidity of Jersey. Although not up to my personal high standards, I learnt a lot from my race, not least to check and recheck courses and to have options on equipment choices come race day in the future. As Winston Churchill wisely said: “All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes.” And I know for next time what I need to do differently.
With little time to dwell, a mere three days after arriving home, I was back out on another flight. It is surprisingly difficult to manage bike transfers on such a short turn around, however it is even worse when your bike is almost forgotten to be loaded onto the flight from the Isle of Man to Gatwick. That would have been a nice surprise at baggage collection! From dreary weather back home to 37⁰C heat in Geneva, it was a difficult transition to cope with, made slightly better by my adaptation in Jersey where luckily my race day was only a max of 32⁰C. After a few days spent tapering in Geneva and trying to take in any sights I could with my fellow Manxies, it was soon race day. An 11 o’clock start meant the same problem as in Jersey, heat, but this time I had better prepared and had an amazing performance in the shadow of Mont Blanc. Qualifying for European champs is an incredible achievement however finishing 8th is something I did not expect, much less at my first major championship!
After my jet setting days were done for the summer it was time to knuckle down for some domestic racing. With events in Liverpool, London and Leicester, it was time to get used to no leg room in the back of the car instead of no leg room on flights, although at least with these trips I would have a double bed unlike the team hotel in Jersey, which was most likely a prop from The Hobbit films! With 2nd overall and 1st in my age group at the Tri Liverpool event (and a two minute P.B. from 2014), 23rd overall in the Junior Elite event at The AJ Bell London Triathlon (and a five minute P.B. from 2014) and a strong 34th in a stacked field featuring the Youth Olympic Champion at the British Triathlon Under 20’s festival at Mallory Park, I had a successful end to an amazing summer of racing. The icing on the cake for me was a win at the Granitemann Triathlon in September back on the island and defending the title I claimed last year at the inaugural event. I now have a nice “Paris-Roubaix” inspired chunk of granite on my mantelpiece for another year.
With some amazing memories alongside plenty of inspiring people this year, I look forward to a good winter getting in the miles before coming back and smashing 2016. I have exciting plans in place for the next few years, and strong goals set. What’s more I have an attitude to take me there…which my parents would just call an attitude I’m pretty sure...