Date: Sunday 25th June 2017
Venue: Dusseldorf, Germany
Distance: 750m Swim/20.4km Bike/5km Run
European Champion. I cannot believe it. It still doesn't seem real. What a day! So, how did it happen? It’s a very good question and if you asked me I would probably reply with “I don't know.” My coach might say I deserved it. My parents say you've worked nine years for this. This blog hopefully will give an insight into how it happened.
Saturday 24th June.
The day before the race. I had a little swim in the river looking at the course and swim exit, how I might start and got used to the warmth of the water as it was 24C. Obviously I was not wearing a wetsuit in anticipation, but deep down I was hoping the water temperature would drop. I then had a little spin in the hotel gym on the static bikes and went to eat my standard pre race meal…Chicken! I said goodnight to my parents and the lights went out.
Sunday 25th June
Race Day. I woke up, had a coffee with two shots, cheerios and some water. I then headed down to complete the rest of my transition, as the bike had to be left there over night. Walking out of the hotel, it was chilly, it was damp and the roads were slippery. I knew the bike course could be a bit dangerous and I started to hear rumours that wetsuits might be allowed. Sure enough they were! The chilly air temperature meant that we were allowed wetsuits. I was a very happy bunny. Our wave was the U25’s, so it made for some good extra competition.
I got ready and headed down to the start. I ate my energy bar, downed an energy gel and warmed up. I was feeling pretty relaxed, chatting to the other GB guys and just having a laugh. As soon as they said you can head to the pontoon I went into race mode. The horn sounded. I sprinted away into the lead. I had visualised myself leading the Europeans some nights before, a little goal I set myself, but it was weird that it was happening for real. I had over a 10 metre lead after 300m. After the first buoy the pack of three behind started to catch me and joined me turning into the final two buoys. One Brit overtook me but I wasn’t too worried. I knew I was still in contention. I’m sure I exited the swim in under 10mins, but after 66 steps and a little run the timing mat was finally under my feet so it clocked 10.27. However, at this point I honestly felt rubbish. Running the 670m to my bike I felt horrendous, but I ploughed on and leapt onto my bike. I suddenly felt a whole lot better. I was in 3rd for half of the bike, but then slipped back down to about 9th.
Coming into T2 I sprinted through transition praying my knee would hold up as it’s now been three months without any run training and pain when I do run. In transition I made up 4 places and moved into 5th place. After the first 1km of the run I moved into 4th and was feeling surprisingly good. My knee wasn’t hurting and at the switchback I had a chance to see exactly where I was and who was in front of me. I was 4th, but more importantly I was in gold medal position in my age group! This spurred me on, but made me to check behind as I knew my running wasn’t as strong as normal. I couldn’t see anyone! I kept saying to myself it’s all or nothing, it’s all or nothing. With 400m to go I had another look behind and still there was no one.
Approaching this point I wasn't exactly sure where I was. Let me explain. In first place was actually someone in my age group, however he was from New Zealand…so is he allowed to win the European Championships?
Nevertheless, I crossed the line screaming, cheering, astonished and delighted at my position which was either a silver or gold. More importantly I had achieved my goal of getting on the podium at a major championships! I was also the first British person to cross the line! What a day!
It took a good hour or two to see that it was official. I was the European Champion! Wow! There were cheers all round, friends and family and fellow Brits. It was lovely. A day in my life I will never forget.
I have been overwhelmed with all the kind words from people on social media and I know I have not replied to everyone, but I will be getting onto that soon. I cannot thank you all enough for your support and messages since last Sunday. A massive well done to all the other 29 British medallists including Jonathan, Kiera and Rosie who all secured a medal in the U20 race too. 4/6 on the podium, not bad!
There is no way I would have been able to have reached this podium position on my own. I am very grateful for the support from friends and family, but also from my sponsors.
A huge thank you to Pedal Potential for their funding, Sam Farmer for supplying me with lots of personal care products, Zone 3 for their super speedy suit getting me the 2nd fastest time in the race and Swim Canary Wharf for coaching me to swim like a fish! I would not have been as comfortable in the swim if it wasn't for Vorgee UK’s Missile FUZE goggles.
Thank you to Max Curle for his strength and conditioning programmes to keep me up with the best of the best, The Body Therapy Company for their sports oils keeping my muscles warmed up pre race and able to recover quickly post race.
I must thank Excel Physiotherapy a huge amount for the work Gary has put in over the last few months keeping my knee as pain free as possible and making sure it holds up for such important races. Finally, thank you Dermott Hayes for coaching me over the years and getting me this medal.
I hope you enjoyed this blog and I look forward to writing about next race. I’m sure you will be hearing from me shortly but make sure you follow me on Twitter and Instagram @sammileham for regular updates!