by Shannon Scovel
Standing just behind the start line of the 2017 BUCS Duathlon Championship on November 19, the first heat of male triathletes exuded nervousness and anxiety as they bounced on their toes, stretched and jogged through their warm-up routine awaiting the start of the race.
Amongst a sea of UK triathletes, Stirling first-years Tom Hug and Colin Fleming, and fourth-year captain Darcy Crowther prepared for the start with enthusiasm, while Cameron Richardson – Stirling’s performance team member in the heat – faced the expectations of a podium finish.
Richardson, the 2017 Junior Duathlon World Champion and an elite Stirling racer, stood near the front of the pack as the heavy favourite in the race, and prepped himself for the sprint race ahead of him.
Sporting a red and blue Great Britain triathlon kit, Richardson waited patiently with the runners anticipating the signal that would set them off and racing. The athletes were poised, the spectators were ready, and, as the clock hit 1.05pm, the flames shot out from the sides of the start line to mark the start of the event, and the men were off. Their legs turned over rapidly, and their arms pumped forward with force on every driving step. The race was on.
Richardson fought for an early lead, but in the crowd of runners, he quickly fell back into a chase pack. He battled through the first run in 12th and gained some speed on the bike circuit, posting the third fastest cycling time overall. Heading into the run, however, Richardson started to fade from the leaderboard, and as he raced towards what would ultimately be a 10th place finish, a second University of Stirling star emerged.
Tall and lean, this second star, Tom Hug, dashed across the red carpeted finish line smiling like a kid who just enjoys racing. Hug finished 27th among a field of elite racers, and he said his performance surprised him, particularly given the fact that he achieved such success in his first ever duathlon.
“The field was very strong, so [I was] happy with the performance, especially with the running performance. I was even a bit surprised that it was that fast,” Hug said. “On the bike I lost a bit of time, but still 27th for first duathlon.”
Hug trains with the University of Stirling Triathlon Club, a group slightly distinct from Richardson’s performance squad, but he’s still commits himself to over seven training sessions a week. The Geneva native hopes to continue to build on his results from the BUCS race and chase professional dreams.
“I will definitely have to improve my swim, but I would love to compete some day for either Germany or Switzerland – I don’t know yet, in an international race – that’s my main goal, that’s what I’m working for and yeah, we will see how it goes,” Hug said.
“But at the moment, short term goals are just enjoying training here in Stirling, do some local races, and show some good performances, and yeah, that’s it. It’s all a dream, we will see what the future brings.”
Hug’s emergence into the elite triathlete world came as a surprise to the young athlete, considering his “serious” triathlon training started about a year ago. A natural runner, Hug said he’d been cycling and running for several years before he added the swim to his repertoire, but he’s found cycling to be the most enjoyable discipline as of recently because of the scenery and the camaraderie that accompanies the sport. Yet Hug hasn’t let his running slip as he added in the swim and increased his miles on the bike.
Already in the 2017 academic year, Hug’s competed twice in cross country races for Stirling, and his eyes lit up as he described racing on off-road trails. While he has never before raced a cross-country style event, Hug said he loved the challenge and plans to compete again in February at the 2017 BUCS Cross Country Championship.
“It’s good training, good racing,” Hug said. “I really enjoyed it my first two races here and looking forward to more next year.”
Hug’s running background, combined with the chance to show off speed on the bike, helped him in the BUCS duathlon that favored those skills, and while he has committed himself to improving on the swim, he said he did enjoy racing in just two disciplines at Castle Combe.
“Running and cycling are my favorite disciplines, and swimming is sometimes a bit tough, following the black line and counting the squares on the bottom,” Hug said. “But I’m enjoying it more and more, and especially when you are swimming in a good group and racing each other, so that’s good fun as well.”
Tri-ing as a Team
Hug said a large part of what has made his triathlon experience so special at Stirling is being part of a team, and the BUCS trip, he said, would not have been possible without the coordination and camaraderie of his teammates.
“I think we really have to say thank you for all of the team supporting us, organisation, and the drivers,” Hug said. “We had four drivers, and photographs as well, so like thank you for all the support and without these people, like Darcy [Crowther], Steve [Vaughan], Alastair [Penny] and Jamie [Ross], it wouldn’t be possible to have such a great event to race.”
Crowther, who has been a member of the triathlon team for the last four years, said he managed to organise the trip with the help of Jill Lowe, the Sports Union administrator, and while the build up to the start of the day proved stressful, Crowther left the race “buzzing” about the results.
“It was a really, really fast day, the race was crazy,” Crowther said. “It was the fastest one I have raced in over the last couple of times I’ve been there, and the team itself did amazing.”
Crowther finished 180th in the men’s race, a performance he said he was particularly excited about given his recent injuries, while teammates Colin Fleming took 105th and Steve Vaughan crossed the line in 305th.
Fleming, who was racing in his first event with the triathlon team, said he enjoyed the size and experience of the event and will be using the duathlon as a building block for his running training.
“I learned that I need to work on power in my stride, so I’ll be doing a lot of hill reps going into next month,” Fleming said.
Hug will also use the BUCS race as a training tool, and he too will be back in action as he heads back home to Geneva to race in what he calls the “most important race of his season,” a 7.3k hilly sprint.
“[I’m] looking forward to showing up a good performance back home in Geneva, and then I will have a rest for maybe one, two weeks, off-season, enjoy Christmas, and then an easy week, just start training again, and then get ready for BUCS cross country and the next season,” Hug said.
On the woman’s side, Becky Storrie led the Stirling team with a dominant 11th place finish, followed by her performance teammate Phoebe Lloyd-Evans, who notched a 48th place finish. The two women raced in the second heat of the duathlon, with teammates Elena Melton, Sarah King, Ailsa Beck, Carolina Fernandez, Yana Semerdjieva, and Ciara Peters, while the remainder of the team competed in the mixed third heat.
Storrie’s time put her 174th overall, ahead of many elite men in the field, but she said she entered the race with a very open mind, free of expectations.
“I had no expectations for the race, as I have never done a BUCS event before, although I was very happy with my result,” Storrie said.
“I loved the team’s optimism. Everyone was so positive and supportive of one another – it was great.”
With BUCS over, the triathlon team looks ahead, and for Storrie that means more winter training and preparation towards her British Duathlon Championship race in April. Hug, on the other hand will use the winter break will be a chance to rest and recover from his big Geneva race.
For others the winter will involve more rebuilding, but regardless of the individual training plans, the triathlon team plans to return to Stirling in January with new and improved goals, building off a successful race in Castle Combe.