Sophie Kirk is a Sundried athlete ambassador. She tells us about her experience racing her first ever Ironman.
As a (tri)athlete it's difficult to go more than a few weeks before setting goals.
70.3 was surely the 2017 challenge after competing in Standards in 2016. My friend Vicki was already eyeing up several races for the season, now a seasoned 70.3 athlete so I jumped on the bandwagon for IM 70.3 Vichy signing up back in January.
Goals were set with my coach making IM 70.3 Vichy my A race of 2017 with European Standard just before and Worlds just after as B races. I set time goals for each which seemed achievable if I put in the hours and worked on my run speed which was lacking after months of injury in 2015/6! It seemed a long way to the A race of the season with only a couple of lead up races.
So here's my account of my first ever 70.3 Ironman race (it's long, but hey it is a 5 hour race!):
The Build Up
The summer months in the lead up to this weekends race couldn't have gone better, I was lucky. No illness, no injuries and huge support from friends and family both out on the road and at the end of the phone. Despite work colleagues trying to fatten me up the nutrition goals were in full swing with Matt Gardner and I'm convinced this helped me remain strong and illness free!
Race week came around quickly and soon my number 1 supporters Mum and Dad were down to collect our TT bikes and drive down to France. Taper plans were short but gave me no time to get nervous which I seriously appreciated, thanks Imo!
Vicki and I flew out on Thursday morning hand luggage only. Always a win. The 2 hour drive from Lyon airport passed quickly and we were soon at the expo checking in. My first IM branded event, the arena looked awesome and of course I had to buy some stash!
On Friday we went out for a short spin to check the bikes and settle the nerves followed by a short run. 'Iron' dad agreed to drive the bike course with a picnic spot just over halfway through the 90km route we would tackle the following day.
The course looked flat, beautiful and with only one short significant climb it was going to be fast. That goal I set back in January began to look good. In the afternoon we racked our bikes and dropped off our transition bags for the bike and run sections. In IM events you have to store all your additional equipment (like trainers, gels, helmet) in bags which you collect during transition, something I'm not used to at all!
I tried to get an early night but after a fairly long couple of days the stress and nerves finally got to me. I had a headache and couldn't wait for the race to be over. I had coped so well up until this point. What was going wrong? Some wise words from the girls back home and coach set me straight and off to sleep I went. Fingers crossed.
I woke up feeling good surprisingly after the previous evenings meltdown. I was excited and looking forward to getting stuck in after 7 months of training! Porridge gobbled and we were soon on the way to the start line for the 7am start
We watched pro Imo start from the sidelines and soon we were running down the pontoon (why does everyone run so fast!?!) and jumping into the water, or diving if you are feeling pro/silly. I had never done a rolling start before so it was an interesting experience! We self seeded on lakeside based on our predicted swim time. But despite starting with others who predicted a 30 minute swim for the 1.9km I found myself swimming past people for the majority. It was non wetsuit so I was doing my first race in my Zone3 swimskin. I felt slow but when I finally got clear water 400m from the end I kicked on determimed not to get a bad time. Swimskin off, run to bag. Shoes on, helmet on bib on. Hop on bike. Lets go
Swim time: 30:41
Now this was going to be fun. The sun was out and it was only going to get hotter. The main goals of this were eating consistently (I had 2.5 tribe energy bars split over the ride and a high5 gel at 80k to get ready for the run) and HYDRATING. I think I upset most of the volunteers handing out water bottles on course when I proceeded to swipe most of them to the floor before eventually picking one up on my 10th go. Before I knew it I was at 45km halfway through in 1hr15 exactly. On target for the 2hr35 goal. 60k where the rolling hills started I knew I had it in the bag so took the corners carefully not wanting to ruin the day! From 80k it was all downhill mostly freewheel taking the opportunity to rest the legs pre run.
Bike time: 2:34:12
I knew I was going to have to slow myself down. I knew I was. I just didn't appreciate how hard it was going to be. This was brilliant. I was having so much fun. I ran with a Spanish guy at around 4.40 mins/k for 7km and it felt easy. He told me he was going for 1hr33, I knew I couldn't get that but he looked like he was slowing so I kept going. There is a straight section in the 2nd half of each 10km lap where you can see the bridge you have to cross for a long time....and it never seems to get any closer. But I just got my head in the game and settled in to my pace. Still 4.40s!? By the end of the first lap I had given up slowing down and just focused on what felt right whilst making sure I took on plenty of water.
The end of the first lap went through the finishing arena and the music gave me that extra boost, I couldn't wait to get back there! Nothing can describe the feeling of running through the arena. You will just have to do one to find out how awesome it is!! I started running with another guy from about 8k to 12k which helped a lot. But we both agreed we were going too fast! Then he wished me luck and sped off, cheeky!
My knee was twinging around 15km so I took my foot off the gas to around 5min/ks to ensure it wasn't going to get worse. Then the straight came again and I knew it was 3/4k to go. I sped up! Back to 4.40s this was it, I could see the end and I was still smiling. The supporters and marshalls were incredible. Onto the carpet, sprinting, taking it all in. Waving to those who cheered my name and then I spotted the guy who had sped off earlier. I had caught him, we high fived and crossed the line together. It couldn't have been a better finish! Epic.
Run time: 1:35:28
Total time: 4:47:26
I later found out through friends following back home (and abroad!) that I had finished 2nd in AG 25-30, 18th Female overall including pros! A podium finish was a dream. I had never expected that, I'm still surprised writing this now. My aim was just 4hrs51 total time. Mission complete, and more.
Learning Imo had finished in 4th place in her first IM 70.3 pro race and Vicki had finally got her sub 2hour goal in the run (1:50!!) was the icing on the cake. And the first time we had all been reunited since Thailand last November!
I had put myself under a lot of pressure in the lead up to the race with the prospect of a podium finish but I tried to keep my eyes on the primary goal of 4hrs51. I also had a sneaky goal of World Champs selection, although I thought it would be more achievable in 2018/9. And Coach Imo kept telling me to enjoy my first 70.3. But I'm so damn competitive!
The award ceremony World champs slots in South Africa 2018 was possibly the most nerve racking part of the day. I refused to believe there would be more than 1 slot for my age category. I couldn't even drink the celebratory beer Rich and Giles had gone to get! When your name is called out, it's a bit like an auction where you have to shout 'YES' if you want your spot otherwise they continue down to the next place. I think all of my family and friends shouted for me and I practically ran up to claim my place despite the pain 😂
So that's it. Place secured for 2018. Guess I have some new goals to set for 70.3 Ironman World Championships in South Africa 2018!! Next up is the World Standard Championships in Rotterdam in just over 2 weeks time, before a well deserved rest!
As always a huge thank you to all my friends and family who have supported me throughout my training/racing! This has been the most intensive 7 months training of my life and I couldn't have done it without you.
Special shout out to those over in Vichy who helped with everything:
Transport/logistics Mum & Dad,
superstar coach Imo,
bestie Vicki for being a legend,
Michelle & David who signed up to the race because I did, it was great to have a friendly faces out there and a cheer from you David!
And finally Rich & Giles for ensuring the celebratory drinks flowed!
Thanks also to:
Matt Gardner (Mile27)
Jon Beckett (Fuel It)
Huw Stradling (Active Root)
Ben Hillier (Department of Endurance)
Victoria Samson (Ken Physio)
Cesare Gaetini (Fulham Massage)
Pat Leahy (Turbo training)
Tri Camp coaches for the brilliant middle distance training camp that gave me that early season confidence!