Tuesday 24 October 2017

Athletics: Reid ready for a new chapter

Olympian pushing for her triathlon limit after investing in top coaching

Aileen Reid
Aileen Reid
Marie Crowe

Marie Crowe

When the Olympics are done and dusted some athletes get a tattoo to symbolise their achievement, some get the Olympic rings etched on their skin while others are a bit more creative with their markings.

Irish Olympian Aileen Reid (née Morrison) didn't need to go down that road; the scars on her elbow from her horrific fall outside Buckingham Palace serve as a constant reminder of her Olympic experience.

However, there's no denying that London was a bad race for the athlete. She went into the Games seventh in the world rankings, full of hope and determination. She felt good on the day, not very nervous. Her competitors were all girls she had raced against all over the world for several years; it was another day on the triathlon calendar.

So first came the 1.5km swim. It's the sport she grew up competing in and at the first buoy she was in a decent position, ahead of the girls on her left but that's as good as it got. From there she lost places, fell behind the lead group and left the water 35th out of 55 starters.

Next came the cycle and it was in this event that her day went from bad to worse. When she got on the bike she was well behind the leaders but still hadn't given up on a decent performance.

She started chasing the pack, giving it everything, the road surface was wet and slippy, but the only thing on Reid's mind was making up the ground. The rain had poured the morning before so parts of the track were treacherous for the cyclists.

She flew around the corner at Buckingham Palace but like several others she came off the bike and hit the ground hard. Reid lay there for a couple of seconds looking at the blood pouring out of her arm and felt sorry for herself. But then she thought of all the training and work she'd done to get there and got back in the saddle. If the bike worked then she was going to go for it.

"I wouldn't have felt like an Olympian if I didn't finish the race," explains Aileen, who now goes by Aileen Reid following her recent marriage to former runner David Reid in New Zealand.

"I caught onto a group of cyclists but it was immediately obvious that they were happy to sit there and not try. They were just lazy, they saw that I was prepared to do the work so they let me, they hung me out to dry."

The run that followed was just as bad as her two previous events but she got through it trailing over the line in 2.08 hours and 43rd of the 52 finishers. Reid spoke to the waiting media, got her arm stitched up, and then dealt with the disappointment.

The rest of her season passed unspectacularly and before Reid had even settled into married life the time came for her to make a decision about her future. Reid is 30, she reckons she has four years as an athlete left, in fact that's the time she has allocated to top-level triathlons. After Rio a new chapter will begin but for now it's all about the journey.

Chris Jones has been her coach since she was identified at a triathlon talent day almost five years ago. His association with triathlon high performance and European Cross-Country champion Fionnuala Britton have made him a household name in the coaching world.

In October, he mentioned to Reid that Darren Smith, the famous triathlon coach, had been asking about her. And while this wasn't an intentional steer away from Ireland and its high-performance centre, a seed was planted in Reid's mind.

Smith was training most of the world's top female triathletes, he previously coached Olympic silver medallist and World Series champion Lisa Norden and he rarely took anyone on. So Reid did a bit of research, bounced the idea off her husband and weighed up the costs. She'd have to pay Smith of course and his team but spending that money would be an investment in her future, so she decided to commit.

"If it doesn't work out I can always come home," said Reid. "The Commonwealth Games are on in two years so I hope to stay with them until then and then reassess. I could stay on until Rio or I could return home. I have options."

Reid admits that she would love to stay in Ireland and continue her training but realistically she doesn't have training partners who will push her to her limits both physically and mentally.

"I've great clubs here that I train with but they are mostly guys. And it's one thing when we are cycling up a hill and I'm trailing. I'll think sure they are guys anyway but it's another thing going up a hill with girls you'll be competing against."

However, that looks set to change. Triathlon is one of the fastest growing sports in the country and, according to Triathlon Ireland, their membership numbers in 2012 have increased by 20 per cent to 7,340. The number of sanctioned clubs has jumped from 24 to 71 in five years. The association now hopes to qualify four athletes for Rio in 2016.

Today in Greystones they are holding a talent identification day, a similar event to the one where Reid was discovered. They had a record number of applicants from both male and female athletes between the ages of 14 to 23 and 70 athletes were chosen to attend the trials and they will be put through a series of running and swimming tests today and will also be shown a high-performance presentation.

But the change won't come quick enough for Reid. So on January 4, she'll head off to Canberra in Australia for three months' hard training with Smith and his other athletes before heading to Auckland and America and possibly Japan for some World Series races.

Then it's on to a training base in either Spain or Switzerland where she'll be based until August for the European races. After that Reid will take a small break and if everything goes to plan she'll train for a few months for the cross-country season.

"I'd love to give it a go, the National Championships and hopefully the Europeans. When I was in college I came third in the Irish university cross-country championships and then competed at the worlds on a team which included Fionnuala Britton and Linda Byrne."

And so a new chapter begins for Aileen Reid.

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