Bourne duathlete Steels up for shot in the dark at Euros
World duathlon champion Claire Steels (29) is ready for a journey into the unknown at the European Sprint Duathlon Championships in Germany on Saturday.
Claire, a self-employed personal trainer from Bourne, will be the duathlete to beat in the continent’s supreme test of speed and endurance over two 5km runs with a 20km bike ride in between.
The championships take place in the German city of Kalkar, near the border with the Netherlands, with the added intrigue of the event being decided at night.
Claire said: “I don’t race very well in the evening so I tend never to do them and I’m a little unsure about what my preparation is going to be ahead of riding a bike on Saturday night.
“Everyone going to Germany will be wanting to perform as well as they can and I can only do what I can on the day.
“If I can get another medal it’ll be an amazing achievement.
“But if that doesn’t happen, I don’t think I’d come away from Kalkar too disappointed, as long as I race well, put in a couple of decent 5k runs, don’t mess up in my transitions and manage 31 or 32 minutes on the bike.”
The last 18 months have been a fairytale for Claire, especially so because she only took up the sport in October 2014.
But successes at last October’s ITU (International Triathlon Union) World Sprint Championships in Adelaide, Australia, have been backed up by four wins in an eight-week spell at the Anglian Water, Dambuster, Clumber Park and Windsor Duathlons.
Claire, who attended Bourne Abbey Primary Academy and Bourne Grammar School, said: “Racing a lot in recent weeks and working long hours hit me a bit hard and I had a couple of days where I was just exhausted.
“My body is just taking a break before flying out to Germany on Thursday when a big focus for me will be to get as close to 30 minutes for the bike split as I can.
“It’s always been a big dream of mine to represent Great Britain and to say that it’s something I think about every day wouldn’t be an exaggeration.
“I’m very close to my dad and we’d watch any sport on TV together so that one of my earliest sporting memories is watching the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 with him.
“I was just in awe of it and all I wanted to do from then was to be an athlete.”
One of Claire’s best friends is Gemma Hempstead, a PE teacher at Bourne Grammar School who is running in the London Marathon on Sunday, April 24, for the Teenage Cancer Trust and BK’s Heroes, a charity specialising in bone and kidney conditions amongst young people.
“I went to Bourne Grammar School with Gemma and it was very good at nurturing talent,” Claire said.
“If you enjoyed sport and showed an enthusiasm for it, the school was quick to nurture you and give you as many opportunities as possible to bring through your sporting ability.”
Despite her keen interest in sports ranging from netball and rounders to hockey and swimming, it was a combination of cycling and running that eventually won Claire’s heart and took her to the verge of completing a clean sweep of World, British and European duathlon titles.
Claire said: “There’s always been something there because, underneath the surface, I’m an incredibly competitive person and whatever sport I apply myself to, I want to be very good and do as well as I can.
“Two weeks before the Dambuster Duathlon this year, I did the Anglian water Duathlon and recorded the fastest bike split for a woman out of all the races.
“The Dambuster itself felt really comfortable and I was a lot happier than a year ago because I decided that it was the race I really wanted to focus on.
“Clumber Park was where I hit an early season peak which was weird because after they sent the ladies off first, I came into the first transition completely by myself and whenever I turned round, there was no one behind me.
“But at the British Championships in Windsor, I went out on the run and was just really, really exhausted.
“I stayed calm though because I knew the bike ride was becoming my strongest part of the race.
“In the end, I was third overall and first in my age group which I was delighted with, considering that 18 months ago, I wasn’t even racing.
“But I think it’s amazing to have so much talent in the area and it’s great to be a part of it.”
Cheering Claire on from their home in Peterborough will be friend and Team GB triathlete Abi Schofield (25) who said: “I’m with the same coach as Claire (Mark Griffin) and she’s made me tap into why I’m doing the sport.
“It’s hard work but it’s been really good for keeping my motivation up and learning to accept that I’m doing sport for myself.
“Claire is really good at helping me with eating better and training harder, as well as making me realise that I want to be a triathlete.
“I love watching Claire race because I can learn so much from her, especially on the bike.
“I’m with her every day and I see her preparation, so when people think she’s going to do well just because she’s a world champion, I know that her motivation is there because she wants to do it.
“I’d never have met Claire if I hadn’t have done the Great Eastern Run in 2014 and it highlights how sport can really bring people together.”