Viktoria Brown: Hungarian National Champion!
You know what would be a LOT of fun? To do that 140.6 in Hungary" - this is what I said to my coach, Allen Stanfield, after seeing the finish line of a 70.3 race in June that was not canceled. He didn't reply. He must have been thinking I was nuts – the race was less than six weeks out.
Once I established that it is feasible, there are flights from Canada, where I live, to Hungary where the race is. Once I confirmed that we would be allowed to enter the country (and return home), I sent Coach Allen a second email, saying I was serious. A 5-week IM crash course. He said, "ok, let's do it!".
That's how I got to the start line of the Hungarian Long Course Triathlon National Championships after my whole season had been wiped out by COVID. We had no idea what I could bike or run since all the test races had been canceled, and I haven't had a flat race in 3 years.
It is a unique race with different rules than a banded IronMan. They allow for individual nutrition, and your family can run the finish chute with you. These all contribute to the most athlete- and spectator-friendly race I've ever participated in.
The swim was relatively uneventful. As usual, I lost my swim cap just a bit faster this time and got kicked in the face once by a breaststroker. Other than that, all went as expected, and I was happily out of the water at 1:32:46. In a non-wetsuit race, this is as good as I can do. I could blame COVID and that I couldn't swim in a pool since March or that I couldn't sight from my hair after losing the cap, but to be honest, this is what I can do right now at my best.
Once I get on the bike, my time to shine starts. My coach's instruction was not to go over 75% of FTP for the first two hours of the ride, but I didn't like that idea. I'm a bit like the Kenyan runners in this respect: "let's go out at a crazy pace and see what happens and how long I can hang on."
This is not a strategy for everyone. You have to be the kind of athlete for whom it works, and I'm pretty sure most coaches would advise against it. But Allen knows that's what I'm like. So I bet he was not surprised to see me go out at 84-89% of FTP for the first two hours.
To be honest, I was feeling great! I was happy, and I knew the power would settle a little bit to something I can actually sustain, and it did. I rode at 80-84% of FTP for the most part. I know that most coaches would set the range for an IM at 65-75% of FTP. That is the generally accepted norm. But I'm a bit different. My FTP is not that high, to begin with, and I lack high-end power. However, whatever power I do have, I can hold it pretty well. So my race plan had a cap of 82% instead of 75%.
The course consisted of loops. I could see my daughters and my mom cheering at every loop, which was incredible. My support crew handed me my Maurten sports drinks, and I picked up water from the aid stations. I felt the power starting to drop by the last loop (28km / 18 miles left). But at that point, there was not much left of the bike. I also knew that I run well off the bike, so I don't need to worry much about over-biking.
For that reason, I pushed that last lap a bit just to not drop the power quite as much. It was still my slowest lap with the least power, but I did my best to hold whatever I could. My average power ended up being 1W over 82% and 2W over what I was hoping in my dreams to maintain.
Official bike time was 5:12:51, which was the fastest female of anyone who finished the race. My original expectation was to win my age group. It was the Hungarian Championship, and I wanted to be the champion of my AG. I had no expectations to even podium overall because there were professionals in the field too. Looking at previous results, I didn't think I had a chance.
I had no idea where I was standing in the race at this point. I kept looking for girls to pass on the bike, but after the first little bit, I didn't really see any, and on the small loops, I didn't know who was on which lap. It was impossible to find out when I actually passed someone in the race.
I got the first information about my position when I was going out for the run. Zoli told me I was in 4th overall, leading the AG and that the overall 3rd is right in front of me, "not looking good", so I can expect to pass her in the first lap. And that's what happened, so after the first lap of the run, I was already in podium position and doing better than I expected!
We had no idea what pace I could run, so Coach Allen and I agreed that I would go out by feel. I have a good idea of what effort I'm looking for in an IM run and what pace I can and what I can't hold. So I went out by feel, and it was really strange. I felt very slow, but my watch showed I was fast. I knew this pace wasn't sustainable, but I was sure it would settle. It did so by the second lap. The run consisted of 8 laps, and I knew that my pace was sustainable at this point.
I used my Maurten drinks throughout the run, Zoli handed them to me in each lap. He also followed the tracker and told me that I would pass the 2nd place girl in the next few laps. I saw my family twice per lap, which was amazing.
The temperature was 98F, and the organizers put one of the inflatable sprinkle gates in front of our rented house. My three daughters were splashing in their bathing suits there and had a great time, high-fiving me as I went by.
The female leader of the race was a pro athlete who had almost an hour on me. Then on the 4th lap, I saw her walking! I passed her again in the next lap, and shortly after, she dropped out, which meant I was the leader in the race – something I never expected! The last two laps were brutally hard, but at that point, I was leading, and nobody was coming behind me who could catch me.
My daughters ran the finish cute with me as I became the National Champion. I gave many TV interviews right after the finish and was invited to different TV shows and magazine interviews over the following weeks. I had the race of a lifetime, and I'm so happy that my daughters and my mom were there to see it; that was what made it so unforgettable.
For a more detailed race report including nutrition and gear tips, read Viktoria's blog post at https://holdthecarbs.ca/blogs/viktoria-brown/how-i-became-a-national-champion