Looking Back Over the 2021 Race Season

By Professional Triathlete Sam Wade

One race season finishes, another begins...

Triathlon 2021 Race Season

As my 2021 professional race season draws to a close, I thought I would look back over the year as a whole and give a little insight into what it's been like getting back to regular racing over the past few months.

A Slow Start

Best Triathlons in Europe

Like 2020, due to a surge of winter COVID cases around Europe, Coronavirus threw much of the early season racing calendar into chaos. The tight regulations in the UK and the fact I was unable to swim for almost eight weeks due to COVID restrictions meant that standing on a professional start line, as early as I usually would, seemed almost out of the question. Instead, I took the opportunity to continue to build my fitness, and when I was eventually allowed back into the pool, I took my time working my way back until I was pretty close to the shape I was in pre-lockdown.

While focusing on my training, I also used a couple of UK races to help sharpen up and took wins at both the DBMax Chilly Duathlon & the Dorney Lake Triathlon and picked up a 5k PB (14:47) at the PB5k.

Back at the Races

Pro Triathlete Rankings

Thankfully as the PTO (Professional Triathlon Organisation) saw that many British professional triathletes lacked high-level racing opportunities, they decided to put up some prize money for a couple of UK races. The first of these was to run alongside the Dorney Lake Triathlon and was a hybrid distance (1.8k Swim, 60k Bike, 15k Run), with the second being held at the Outlaw Holkham Half at the start of July.

The race at Dorney was held in some of the hottest conditions I have faced, with very little wind or shade to get any respite from the heat. I had a great swim, getting out in 3rd just behind Tom Bishop, and put in a strong bike leg to get into T2 in 4th. It was about 5k into the run through that I realised I had hugely underdone my fluid intake, and from that point, the body overheated, and I was left to jog myself home to a 7th place finish. Thankfully I had a much more positive experience in Holkham, which attracted another stellar field of British athletes. After a good swim and bike leg where I kept myself in the race, I used a strong run to hold onto my position and run to a 3rd place finish and my second ever professional podium.

International Triathlon Racing

International Triathlon Racing

July would prove to be a pretty busy month with lots to sort out for an impending house move, as my girlfriend and I got ready to move from our home in Cardiff to our new place back closer to our family homes in Buxted, East Sussex.

Out of necessity, I took an easier couple of weeks as we settled into our new surroundings. A change of location also meant a change in the training environment, and I was excited to get started with the squad at Team Bodyworks based down on the south coast in Eastbourne.

I got a really solid few weeks of training in the bag, taking a few measured risks regarding volume and intensity. I was looking to get in the best shape possible for my goal race of the season, the Challenge Championship coming up at the end of August. This was my first international travel in over 14 months & despite not everything going to plan in the week leading up to the race, I produced a great performance and came away with a 7th place finish. This race was beyond my expectations and a great confidence booster after such a long time away from international racing.

After that, the races came thick and fast. Here is a little round-up of each of them:

Challenge Herning (8th)

Challenge Herning 2021

© Challenge Family, Activimages 2021

After a strong showing at the Challenge Championship, I believed a shot at the podium was a real possibility. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be, as after exiting the water in 2nd at the front of the race, I suffered a mechanical just 10k into the bike leg. This meant I had to spend much of the race out of my tribars, which consequently meant on such a flat, fast course, I lost a lot of time to the front guys. However, I was determined to get something out of the day and ran hard off the bike, coming away with the fastest run split of the day by over a minute & pulling my way back up to an 8th place finish.

Challenge Salou (DNF)

Challenge Salou 2021

© Challenge Family, Activimages 2021

I came into this one having come down with some illness the week before the race, so I was unsure how the body would fare come race day. Due to stormy sea conditions on the morning of the race, making it impossible for the boats to mark out the course, the swim was cancelled, which left us with a duathlon of a 5k run, 90k bike, 21k run. Again, I executed well for the majority of the day, finishing the first run in touching distance of the front & putting in my best bike leg to date to come into T2 within the top 10. However, as a possible consequence of my body not being fully recovered, my heart rate stayed extremely high for most of the race. Spending that much time in and around my threshold inevitably came to bite me on the final 10km of the run, where my pace dropped significantly. I could barely put one foot in front of the other. With health in mind, I reluctantly stepped to the side of the course with just under 10k still to run.

Challenge Mallorca-Paguera (17th)

Sam Wade Challenge Mallorca 2021

© Challenge Family, 2021

This race was without a doubt the largest and strongest field I had faced all season and likely the most depth you would find outside of a World Championships. After many weeks of racing, recovering & tapering, I was not 100% sure how the body would hold up on such a demanding course against such strong opposition. As it so happened, I needn't have worried. On the day, the body responded well, and I don't feel there was much more I could have gotten out of myself with the shape I had. I swam well, exiting the water in the main front pack with a few guys up the road and pushing hard on the first portion of the bike to make the best group possible. I carried all my fluid for the race on the bike with me, which made climbing tough on the first lap but did mean I was able to consistently fuel (this was an area I fell down on in Salou and possibly contributed to my DNF). I knew as a heavier guy that I had to work hard to stick with the group on the climbs and then be able to recover on the downhills and flat sections where my good aerodynamics and power would come into play.

I came into T2 with a really strong group of guys and felt good as I exited and headed out onto the 21k run. I stuck to my plan of trying to maintain my pace throughout without dropping off and felt this would be the best way to move up the field as some athletes would most likely overcook it on a tough run course with lots of dead turns and gradual climbs. I gradually moved up the field and put in one final push over the final 3km to take back a position and hold off a fast-finishing Spaniard behind me. It was 17th place for me on the day, and I was the first British athlete across the line, a solid result and a good end to what has been a long back half of the season.

Final race season thoughts

Triathlon Off Season

On a personal note, I feel I have made big strides this year in the way I have approached and executed my races, and although a couple of bits of misfortune may have hampered me, I am proud of what I have achieved. With another full winter of work behind me, I am excited to see what I can do next season.

I have always thrived on racing, which motivates me to get out the door and train on those rare days that I maybe don't want to. With so few opportunities over 2020 and the start of 2021, I feel I have a new, even deeper appreciation of the opportunities we have to race and the work organisers and volunteers did to put these events on.

I recall one particular moment as I was in the holding pen at Challenge Herning this year when amongst all the pre-race nerves, I took a moment as I looked around and thought to myself, 'how bloody awesome is this!'.

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About Sam Wade

Sam Wade Pro Triathlete

Sam began training and competing in triathlons when he turned 18, and had been competing in biathlon events beforehand. From 2012-2015, Sam was the most successful British Universities multisport athlete.

With the 2021 race season now under his belt, we're excited to see how he will fare in 2022!