Great Britain’s Jessica Learmonth has taken a step to the “dark side” (as some of her World Triathlon competitors like to call the move to long-distance racing.) Last year the World Triathlon star followed up her ninth-place finish in the individual race at the Olympics with a gold medal effort in the mixed relay in Tokyo. She then took three wins at the Super League Triathlon Championship series last September, eventually ending up second in the overall standings behind Georgia Taylor-Brown.
On the weekend Learmonth competed in her first long-distance race, picking possibly the hardest 70.3 race in the world – Ironman 70.3 Lanzarote – as her intro to the sport. Turns out she loved it.
“I really enjoyed it,” she said after the race. “The crowd was really good and the course was really hard. Hopefully every other one should be easier. I’m really happy to have completed it – there’s a lot that can go wrong. There were a lot of people that were puncturing. As soon as I got on the run I thought “Thank God for that, I can hopefully finish.'”
Learmonth did the race on a road bike with aero bars, but learned the hard way how much of a difference a triathlon bike can make.
“The climb was alright, but as soon as we got on the long straights, they would start flying past me,” she said. “The sound of the TT bikes … it’s going to give me anxiety when I hear it. It’s like PTSD for me – they just whizzed past. There was nothing I could do. I was spinning out and I was just getting dropped. I had to stay calm and stick to my plan – it didn’t make sense to suddenly try and push 300 watts instead of 260. It was good fun, but hopefully I might do a TT bike for the next one.”
Turns out she hasn’t received much grief for doing a long-distance race from her draft-legal brethren,
“Not really,” she laughed. “I think they’d like to see the back of me, to be honest. I’ve tried to dabble, but everyone keeps asking me ‘Will you just decide?’ I don’t know why people are bothered about it – no one needs to worry about me coming to either races.”
Learmonth found it very different to compete at an Ironman event – especially at the start.
“It was very stressful,” she said. “Normally we have swim warm up times, transition times … it was just ‘get here at 6:45 and that’s it.’ Very strange.”
It might have been strange, but it turns out she’s pretty good at it. Learmonth’s third-place finish behind Kat Matthews and defending Ironman world champion Anne Haug bodes well for a promising long-distance career.
As long as she can get over the sound of those TT bikes, that is.