Team athlete Claire Shea-Simonds brings us up to speed with her season so far as she looks forward to Ironman Austria in just over a week…

“My early season has all been geared towards this year’s first big goal, IM Austria (just over a week away at time of writing – yikes!), hence few race reports as, to be perfectly honest, I haven’t had a lot to report upon.  The season opener, Halesowen Tri, was rather thwarted by a bike mechanical and resulted in a pretty average third place and a similarly lack lustre performance at the Triathlon England Olympic Distance AG Championships.  The swim and bike were great, but my usually reliable running legs decided they’d enjoyed the preceding 2 weeks in Mallorca so much they’s like to stay on without me – cheers legs!  I did manage to pick up an AG silver medal and 5th overall in a competitive field, with one of the faster bike splits of the day, so I had confidence the form was there, it was just taking a little while to show.

With relatively few races, big training weeks have been keeping me out of mischief, I’ve had my head down and been working hard, week after week with Coach Jack Maitland keeping a close eye on progress, fatigue levels and training load.  My final block of training included the Outlaw Half – a race I was keen to do having so enjoyed racing the Outlaw full last year, a race in which I’d finished second.  I was keen to do well in this race but was realistic about what my form could deliver at that time.  Jack and I agreed a race strategy / pacing and I actually felt really relaxed going into the race, I knew the plan we’d agreed was well within my ability, it remained to be seen where that would place me on the day as the start list included a number of strong competitors.  Most notable on the start list was Linda Evans, Linda trains up in Leeds and is a regular training partner of Non Stanford and Vicky Holland, such is her bike strength!  Linda also has a number of impressive 70.3 finishes at European races so I knew I had my hands full.  Plus, as my charming team mates Chris Hine and Matt Dewis regularly remind me (bastards!), I’m not getting any younger!

Race day dawned and the weather was considerably better than that which I’d endured at the Outlaw Full the previous July.  The Outlaw team certainly deliver a very slick event, bike check in, briefings and swim starts all run like clockwork and make for a relatively low stress race experience as a competitor.  I positioned myself positively at the start and quickly found clear water, sadly that didn’t last long as the ladies wave is the last to start which means the faster girls are left to pick their way through the back markers and slower moving men but the swim was reasonably uneventful and I exited the water in 29mins and change.  I was 6th lady out of the water but a slick transition saw me leave T1 in 4th. I’m always surprised more long course athletes don’t invest more into transitions, it can be, and proved to be, significant in seeing me onto the bike well positioned.  I moved into second place fairly early on the bike course and was riding strongly and feeling relaxed. I had given away almost 3minutes to Linda in the swim and the gap between us continued to grow as she delivered a phenomenal performance on the bike.  I rode pretty strong (and was actually the second quickest lady on the bike) but Linda was just stronger – she actually put 7minutes into me on the bike, meanwhile I rolled in in 2:42.

With husband Duncan and friends on the course I was getting good information as to the big time gap that had opened up.  Out of T2 and I quickly learned I’d got a comfortable gap on the chasing ladies so decided to throw caution to the wind and temporarily go ‘off piste’ to chase Linda as hard as I dared and actually clawed back some time on the first lap.  I was setting fire to matches at an alarming rate but it seemed a worthwhile risk – I wasn’t prepared to settle for second, as insurmountable as it seemed I had to at least try and close!  I did claw back 4mins of the first lap but sadly my match box was almost empty as I started lap 2 and I began drifting back again.  An ambitious first lap definitely cost me a faster run split but I had tried to respond to Linda’s challenge.  I ran nominally faster than Linda but I was well beaten by a more talented and stronger competitor.  I wasn’t disappointed with my performance, I ran 1:34 and finished in 4:50 – exactly the time my coach Jack predicted in spite my rather overzealous first run lap that definitely cost me a faster run split.  I was second overall and won my Age Group by 12 minutes so it was a solid enough performance and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Outlaw Half certainly delivers in terms of atmosphere and more than stands up to other ‘Outlaw Half distance events’ in terms of a race experience.

So I am now just over a week out from Ironman Austria and feeling satisfied in that I couldn’t have worked any harder to get myself into good shape for the race.  I’ve set myself some pretty heady targets for this race, targets which sit very much at the periphery of my ability.  It will be a big roll of the dice and will require a gutsy race from me (and a dollop of good luck) to pull it off but it does sit within my ability!  I have finally began to believe it myself and just when I think I’m deluded, Husband Dunc and Coach Jack step forward with their unwavering belief, for which I am endlessly grateful.   On 26th June I will be pulling on my ‘big girl pants’ and putting it all out there on the course in pursuit of my target… after all nothing ever grows in the comfort zone and it’s time to get comfortable with uncomfortable!

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Thanks to my fabulous team, Racetime Events and our fabulous sponsors Giant UK, Skechers, Zone 3, Champion System and USN for supporting us, I would not be able to dream big without your support”.