Read the interview with me published with Tri247 this week
With the appeal of taking on a triathlon abroad, in particular an Ironman or Challenge event, becoming more and more popular, we sent Paul Hayward to speak to Race Force’s Director Kate about what value they can offer to a triathlete and how they can help us before, on and after that all important race day with their services from bike transportation to full “race day” support.
PH:Please tell us a little about yourself and how you came to set up / work for Race Force?
Kate: I grew up in sport. Both myself and my brother played national level team sports, including track & field. My Triathlon story started in 2009 (with a DQ at the no longer running Tatton Park Triathlon…long story), like many I saw it as cross training exercise due to long distance running injuries but soon enough I was racing the longer distances again, this time adding a swim & a bike before it. Within a year I had started travelling abroad to race as I love to explore. The locations were places I had never been before. However travelling by plane with my bike was always an issue for me as I was never 100% confident I would put it back together right and that is not ideal if you have some technical descending to do, so I started driving to races and before I knew it I had a car full! Then this soon moved to a van full and the seed for Race Force was planted there really. After taking a year out from my job and travelling; taking in a few Ironman races in the US we came back to Europe for the 2013 season, hired a van and took 40 bikes across 4 events. Each season we have grown and now have a calendar of 11 Triathlon events with groups between 20 - 44. We have learnt, adapted and developed really good relationships with our athletes to tailor our offering. We have evolved and become much more than just bike transport; our services now include comprehensive race tours including airport transfers, accommodation, coaching on the course but always underpinning everything is our unique & loved “door to door bike transport service”.
PH: Please tell us in three words how you would describe yourself? and in two sentences a typical day at Race Force!
Kate: I would describe myself as “relentlessly energetic, positive and loud” (which is good for race day!).
A typical day “off season” at Raceforce - on the phone or at the Tri clubs helping athletes plan their racing seasons. We take most of our bookings between Sept - Feb for the following season.
However “on season” is a little different and generally driving a van! Each event takes us about 10 days start to finish, half of that being on the road either collecting/delivering bikes or driving to an event and then being at the event itself. Most of our team are in training for a race so we find some interesting places to train en-route. It is not unusual to see a kettlebell workout happening at a service station in Germany!
PH: What is the attraction of racing abroad and what are the main issues triathletes (and their supporters) face?
Kate: The "racing experience” abroad is much more sensational than local events. Partly because of the great work the Ironman & Challenge teams do to create this atmosphere in the lead up to race day but the back drops and courses are truly stunning and memorable. The race calendar holds something for everyone, whether you prefer flat, fast coastlines or challenging bike routes in the mountains and lakes of the Alps; the options are endless. As triathletes we train long and hard in the UK’s weather; we deserve a little payback and these countries and climates certainly give you that. It is also a great way to involve your friends and families in the sport. There are always a host of events for them to take part in and let us face it a trip to Barcelona has a nicer ring to it than a trip to Bolton
PH: Please tell us what Race Force can do to address these issues and the options available including what races, support and logistics you offer?
Kate: The main issues are “faff, faff, & more faff” as can be shown through the following points:
1) Choosing and securing your race entry can be a major headache. For example which course is best for you, your family or Tri club? This can take a huge amount of time and involve quite a bit of research. This issue is coupled with the fact that the best races sell out within a few hours. This where we can add value as we know the courses like the back of our hand and can discuss any concerns or questions you may have and take the fear of the unknown out of the decision. In addition we have a good idea of what races sell out and when, so we can help you pick the right race for you in one phone call! We also have the added bonus of guaranteed race entries for all Challenge events including Roth.
2) Once you have chosen your race, the issue of where to stay, when to arrive, how to get from the airport, what the event schedule is all can be a bit much to work out amongst the training hours, full time jobs we all do and families to feed. When you factor We do all of this for you to ensure that once you have chosen your race, the rest is as stress free as possible. We pick our hotels based on ease of location, facilities, the food offered for athletes and their families plus simple things like the friendliness of the staff. We are waiting for you at the airport with your transfer and by the time you arrive at your hotel you know the event schedule, the water temperature, what the course is like, what Pros you might spot and you enter a state of calm knowing you are in good hands. We even know the better restaurants to dine in and coordinate dinners for those who want to join, particularly for those travelling individually.
3) The final issue is the packing of all of your kit, your bike, and what can go in the bike box or what do you need with you in hand luggage? Packing can take hours and is usually done the day before you fly due to work or family commitments. This is when you realise you are missing something or cannot quite get your bike in the box like you thought? We are able to take the stress out of this as we collect your bike fully assembled (no bike box) and we can take your luggage too. We generally collect the weekend before which means a lot of the hard thinking is done and it is a much more pleasant packing experience on race week.
4) Finally, and maybe most importantly for those travelling with friends and family - keeping your spectators entertained. We accept (as do most triathletes) that not everyone wants to spend the day watching a triathlon, so we give people options and rest points (especially those with young children) ensuring that they get to see their athletes when it matters and get chance to enjoy their holiday too. PH: What are the best moments you have had at Race Force and the worst whilst supporting triathletes? Kate: Our best moments are when our athletes bring their bikes back to the Race Hub and share their race stories with us. People can sometimes hang out with us for hours, get a massage, compare splits, it is such a great vibe and even athletes that may not have had the greatest race get consoled & encouraged by other athletes within the group. My number one favourite moment of last season was at Ironman Austria. A frequent flyer of ours (and now a good friend) Jennifer was taking on her first Ironman. Something she never believed she could do and she knew she was going to be pushing the cut off times all day so I was incredibly excited to see her on the run. I had to leave the course later in the evening to start loading bikes. It got to about 11.45 and we were almost done so I finished up and legged it to the finish line. At this point I wasn't sure if she’d crossed the line or not but I could not see her, so I proceeded to run about 1km out onto the deserted course and sure enough, there she was, still going and with another British female athlete Helen alongside her. We were a mess of emotions and seeing that final 1km was possibly the most inspiring & incredible moment I’ve had with Race Force. The worst moments are when an athlete has to DNF, especially if it is due to injury. Ultimately it is going to happen at some point in your racing career and it all adds to your buildup of racing experience but it is a sad moment involving hugs, tears and more hugs. Depending on the athlete we can normally pick some positives and learning points from the race and even start talking about next steps and goals to help move them forward but it is a tough one. We had a particularly high number of DNFs last year due to heat and de-hydration. Central European racing can be hitting 40 degrees and we had a few surprise non-wetsuit swims. British athletes just cannot train for the impact of that kind of heat on your run. It had such an impact last year that we’ve since teamed up with the guys at Precision Hydration to bring knowledge and understanding to athletes on their sweat composition so they can tailor their hydration plan and have a better chance of maintaining their performance for longer.
PH: What other exciting events does Race Force have planned for 2016 and what are your plans for the future post 2016?
Kate: Our plans for 2016 are to keep doing what we are doing with our Triathlon events. We are hoping to grow it a little but we don’t want to be a high volume company. It is important for us to know the names of all our athletes and keep our operations small enough so we can give all the attention we like to our athletes and actually add value to their race and their experience. 2016 sees us dip our toes into the Cycling market at the Tour of Flanders. This is a great early season event to get some long training in and it gets our teams out on the road that little bit earlier.
We also have a fab new cycle tour for Ladies called Palace to Palais, 400km from Buckingham to Versailles taking in the final stage of the TDF from Chantilly to Pairs, the day before the Tour itself!
As well as this we are working with some of our favourite UK race series to bring fun filled, highly skilled training weekends out on their iconic courses. We’re really passionate about bringing more people into our sport and will also be introducing a race buddy system at these events allowing people to connect with our race hosts before race day and have a friendly face to meet up with at the event itself.
PH: How do you feel about the news from Nirvana & SMTB that they have merged to form “the biggest & best Travel & transport service”?
Kate: Well, they’re definitely the biggest! I think it’s a great partnership for them and absolutely makes sense. I have always been really close to the guys at ShipMyTriBike, we spend our summers together and they are a lovely bunch. I knew they were testing out this relationship last season and they were having success so this is no surprise to me and I wish them the best of luck. They are both "volume” companies which is completely different to what we are offering. We want to add value to our athletes and be “the hands on personal service”, so it depends what you want. I think there is definitely a place for both in this market and I hope our customers stay loyal and support us so we can keep on doing what we’re doing. Like for like on accommodation, transfers & bike transport packages we are actually cheaper and I would always argue that we are still the best of course.
PH: What options are left for 2016 for those still considering racing abroad or using your service?
Kate: Mallorca 70.3, Challenge Roth & IM Barcelona are almost full so be quick if you want to secure places on them. Our Snowdownia Triathlon Training weekend with Always Aim High is proving to be popular and with only 16 places available it is likely to sell out soon. All our other tours have availability and you can secure your place with just £100 down so please do get in touch.
PH: Finally and most importantly - what is the after race party like for all those racing with Race Force?
Kate: Ha ha well…if the walls of the Banana club in Mallorca could talk! Each race is different and it really depends on the makeup of our groups. It is fair to say that some are more of a bad influence than others but generally there are a few beers flowing as people re-group around the Race hub to handover their bike and those with any energy left will be accompanied to the finest local establishments. Banana Club Mallorca being possibly the rowdiest however Ironman Barcelona shares the weekend with the local Oktoberfest which has been known to house a few Triathlete table dance offs until the wee small hours. Now that’s endurance!
Happy Anniversary Jennifer! 52 weeks!
April 2, 2015
I am really quite surprised that it's been over 10 weeks since Paguera. How did that happen?
I vaguely remember doing some training soon after; cruisi...