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Inside the Head of the Leader

Anyone who has toed the start line, knows that once the gun goes off, it is a constant mental battle. You push yourself to your physical and mental limits, with your body and brain trying to tell you to stop as soon as it starts hurting. It doesn’t matter if your leading the race or bringing up the rear, it’s a struggle. We all find ways to dig deep and keep going.

Have you ever wondered what exactly is going on in the head of others? How about the mind of the leader? That guy or girl with a target on their back, who literally has every person in the race chasing them down. Elite cross triathlete and duathlete, Nienke Oostra, recently won the Kielder Off Road Duathlon in Northern England and wrote about her thoughts going into, during, and after the race.

Winning is hard. Whatever level you race at, there will always be someone who can run, bike, swim just as fast as you can and is just as hungry for the win.  Winning is a real skill and it certainly does not come natural to me. But when everything falls into place there is no better feeling. My first female overall win was in the Highland Fling 50km MTB race in Australia in 2012. I can still visualise every corner, every move, recall every thought in my head and feel every muscle acing when I think about that race. It was magic. Winning is magic. What I love about racing is not necessarily beating the competition, it is getting it right. Getting the most out of my body in the best possible way regardless of where I end up in the field. It is then, when I relax through a race that I can excel and perform. It is then that I can challenge that podium, and when a solid performance gets rewarded with a win, magic has happened.

January arrived and due to health problems it had been 6 months since I had done any structured training. I had become the un-fittest I had been in over 5 years and I felt like a hairy, chubby race horse coming back from a spell. I found the perfect race in the first week of January to get me going again. An Offroad-Duathlon 8km run, 25 MTB, 7km run. It felt perfect. I was unfit with absolutely no race speed and would have no expectations. I would just go do my thing.

The conditions on race day were freezing wet including snow, hail and cold gale force winds. Standing on the start line there was the usual friendly banter and I got a bit worried when one of the guys told me my lips started to turn blue!

Nienke Oostra battling the cold and wet at the Kielder Off Road Duathlon
Nienke Oostra battling the cold and wet at the Kielder Off Road Duathlon

I shivered through the first run, struggling to warm up, struggling with the front pace and struggling with the steep, muddy, icy, rooty underground. I started to doubt my existence as an athlete! I decided to eliminate bad thoughts and I eased up the pace until I was running a bit more comfortably. Transition did not come to soon!

I found flow on the MTB, best feeling ever. I was on a mission to catch as many people as I could and to my surprise I, myself, did not get passed. I was surprised to find I had legs left on the final run, it had been since August I had last run off the bike. This was good.  I was happy to see the finish line. A lovely lady congratulated me “huge achievement” she said. “Did I win?” I thought but I was to scared to say the words out loud. I wanted to hold on to the happy feeling of having finished a great race and for me at that point in time it did not matter where I had come in the field. Wet and freezing cold I quickly grabbed all my stuff and headed for my car where dog Fynn patiently awaited me to make our long journey home. The weather forecast was so bad I did not want to risk getting stuck and decided to miss prize giving.

I did wonder on the way home, did I win? Could I have won? Why did I not ask?? A long wait before the results came out. I WON. Magic had happened.


What are some of the things that go through you head during a race? Share with us in the comments below.

You can follow Nienke’s Adventures via Twitter, Facebook, or her Blog

To check out all the results from the Kielder Off Road Duathlon, click here. To find more off road duathlons and triathlons check out our ever-updating events calendar.





Will Kelsay

Will Kelsay is one of the top cross triathletes in the world with a 10 year career spanning 5 continents competing in more than 18 countries. He has 20 career wins and more than 70 top 5 finishes. Anyone who has met him knows his passion for the sport is only overshadowed by his huge smile & his appetite for fun.

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