Insights from two time Olympian Aileen Reid about her early race experiences, and what perhaps she might have done differently.
"If I could write to my younger self before that first International race I'd tell myself to relax and not focus too much on the result but to keep it simple, be organised and learn from every moment"
My first ever International race was in Brno (Czech Republic) and having never raced outside of Ireland before I didn’t really have many expectations. I had done a few races at home – Lough Neagh, Joey Hannon – and so naturally heading away to an international race was quite different, but thankfully my coach Chris was there and being with the team in advance meant that in some ways pre race was a little better, easier even – it was exciting! (it's not like you do a course recce or get time to study a local race in advance!). You do get to be familiar and come race day you should know the aspects of the course – definitely Chris being there helped me. I sort of felt a little less pressure or a different kind of pressure when I was away cause at home I was expected to win or do well and in those early days abroad I was learning and our definition of winning was different,
I had goals to tick off not dependant on final position. Of course as my career went on, ultimately the final position was a goal but no matter what race I knew that if I could do XY and Z well I knew I should represent myself and Ireland well
In the end I finished 6th in Brno and was really pleased with that as before the race I was really nervous and may have had a few moments when Chris needed to reassure me a few times that everything would be fine! At the end of the day every athlete has similar fears or pre race nerves and sometimes it's those who can handle them that do well.
When I think back to my early days I do think maybe there were quite a lot of excuses, IF THIS, IF THAT, rather than, I need to work on this to be better; this is the level of the swim or bike and realistically this is where I am and that’s where I need to be. I would definitely encourage younger Irish racers to make notes after each day and to have positive plans coming out of races about what or how to improve the next time out.
It is a real achievement to be representing your country in the first place but it really is about how to do it better the next time and the next time. I'd think, how could I make the travel easier? Do I have everything I need to be self sufficient? And then you learn about what sort of training your competitors are doing, how do I compare ? etc etc.
You do your best or you do better than before by learning and you need to constantly strive to make any changes you need to, to compete at a higher level. Many of the worlds best are around for years before shining at the top. Success takes time.
Practising transitions is something I did more and more as my career went on. From being able to do a good flying mount to getting on a pack, to positioning in the pack in advance of T2. The best practise is having people around you for these sessions and maybe that’s one thing I lacked in my early days.
I trained really well but training alone and hitting good fitness numbers is one thing, learning to race is another skill entirely. Training technically on the bike and then also transition work is far better when you have others around – you learn who is the good wheel to follow, you learn to fight a little for that wheel etc and then you bring that to the races
Overall, you know what, I am not sure I'd actually change too much about my first race. You need those experiences early in your career to ultimately build you as a better athlete. The most important thing is that you learn from them.