It’s always funny how quickly your A-race comes around. You think you have all year, but a few ‘warm-up’ races and a whole lot of training later, and suddenly you’re there, on the start line, wondering where the hell life has gone and whether you’ll be able to achieve what you plan to over the course of the day.
For the third consecutive year, my A-race was the Ironman 70.3 World Championship. After two years of distinctly (and quite possible less than) mediocre races, it was time to face my demons.
I get nervous before races – mostly the day before and the morning of the race – but no matter how much I race (which is a fair bit, for an age grouper), it doesn’t seem to change an awful lot. At last year’s 70.3 world champs in Australia, I even had a total meltdown the day before the race. Far from ideal prep, but often not something we can fully control.
This year was very different. I flew out much later than usual, arriving just four (really three by the time we got there in the early hours of the morning!) days before the race. Get in, get it done. No point in faffing about with body clocks and time zones this time.
A few recces of the course and a massive shop in the Wholefoods store (who thought you could get healthy food in America!?), and race day was upon us in a flash. The team at the Ceepo stand in the expo had kindly rewired my gears (thanks guys!), everything was running smoothly and it all went well during the course recces. I mean, there was a massive current in the river, a monumental climb on the bike, and the hilliest run I have ever seen on a 70.3 course, but apart from that, what could possibly go wrong!?
Probably not a lot, other than forgetting half your kit. Yep, I did that too. Despite how much I race, and being the most organised person in the world (I have lists and spreadsheets for everything, even for packing for a triathlon), I forgot two VERY important (and personal) components of a triathlon. My goggles, and my bike shoes. Yep, you read that right.
In completely uncharacteristic style, I remained pretty calm. I went down to the expo and bought the only pair of triathlon bike shoes available. I even got a massive discount because my friends at Ceepo had a word with the team on the stand – bonus! New cleats as well, it felt like Christmas. Now just to work out how the hell I needed to position the cleats on bike shoes that I’ve never worn before….
Having checked the expo for a pair of goggles that I usually use, and having no such success, I needed a plan B. Sticking to the sensible option of racing in goggles I am used to (and not wearing new kit on race day!), I posted on social media. The next day, I had the exact same pair of goggles that I always wear in my hand. (Thanks Mark Julier!)
Ordinarily, I’d be more than a little disconcerted by all of those things. Quite possibly even freaking out. This time though, I was completely calm; almost, dare I say it, a bit nonchalant. It didn’t faze me one bit.
This, I reasoned, was mostly down to the fact that all my prep had gone amazingly well. Since discovering my hypothyroidism and going on medication for it, my training has only gone from strength to strength – I was still producing really good numbers (for me), making continued improvements, and I had lost 6kg so was feeling leaner than ever.
I had massive confidence in myself – something I can unequivocally say I have never had since I have been taking part in triathlons. Ever.
My coach, Mark Pearce, has been fantastic – he has worked me harder than I’d ever imagined and some of the sessions left me totally broken. But they work, and it was reassuring to know that I not only had confidence in myself for the first time ever, I had huge confidence in the training my coach has set me.
A nice relaxed race morning (still feeling weirdly calm) in beautiful weather, and we were heading down to the rolling age group start. I stood on the pontoon quietly confident and feeling great.
The swim was fairly uneventful – I felt like I didn’t get myself into the most amazing position being on the far outside of the ‘pack’, but gradually moved in towards the buoys as we pushed along. It felt a bit slow if I’m honest, maybe I just wasn’t pushing hard enough – the hills were in the back of my head and I was possibly conserving some energy. Who knows as it wasn’t a conscious decision!
After what felt like a pretty long time, I exited the water and was a bit disappointed to see a swim time of 34-odd minutes. Jeez, that really was slow.
Hoping it was the same for everyone, I ran into T1 and off out onto the bike. As I exited T1, I heard someone shout my name and saw my Ceepo guys at the bike mount line. Embarrassingly, as I went to mount the bike, I pushed the pedal back to line it up and the chain fell off. Awkward. Not looking very slick right now….
A quick ping back on and I was off, feeling like the absolute chopper that I probably am in reality. Ok, time to hit some mediocre power numbers!
The climb was early on in the course, only about 10k in, so I felt barely warmed up before we hit the unrelenting gradient. We had decided that I needed to be around 100% FTP for the whole climb (around 20 minutes’ worth), otherwise I’d lose too much time and would be unable to reclaim it for the remainder of the race.
I started climbing at this power target and felt fantastic. I couldn’t believe how good I actually felt. So for context, historically, I have pretty much only been overtaken on climbs. I’m not a natural climber. This time, I was overtaking everyone. I think only one girl passed me on the climb. It felt incredible!
The rest of the course was rolling before a pretty awesome descent (no-one overtook me on the descent either), and then a rolling/flat-ish final 45k. I felt ok but seemed like I was fading a bit towards the end and was looking forward to getting off the bike.
Again, a seemingly disappointing bike time of 2:51 but I knew from being out there on the course that it wasn’t terrible, as I could compare myself to other girls I had seen.
Onto the first of two loops of the run, and almost immediately I could feel the climb in my legs. As soon as the road saw even a slight incline, my average target pace dropped and I struggled to hold it. I felt ok, but I didn’t want to push too hard too early on otherwise I’d be in a hole I wouldn’t be able to recover from. So I kept it at an uncomfortable but not unbearable level.
Then the hills came. My average paced slowed to almost a walk, a little waddle upwards. People around me were walking. The hills felt ridiculous – long and not exactly a gentle gradient. I pushed hard on the downhills to recover some time, but it wasn’t really good enough – I knew I wasn’t going to go sub-5 on this course, not even close. It was brutal.
Ploughing on (literally), I finally made it to the finish line with a 1:44 half marathon and an overall time of 5:16. Not exactly a dazzling performance but not horrific either.
Yet again, I was disappointed to learn I had come 44th in my age group (out of 243). I’d had higher ambitions than that. I was slightly appeased on learning that the winner of my age group finished in 4:54 and that only six girls had gone sub-5 on that course. Testament to how hard it was, but still.
In a debrief with Mark, he said that it was a really solid performance and that I couldn’t have asked much more of myself on the day. I sort of felt the same – that while it wasn’t an amazing performance, it wasn’t half bad either (top 18% in my AG in the world), but more importantly, it was an honest reflection of my current ability.
He also said we could shave 20 minutes off that – which would have put me on the podium – so let’s just see about that! That’s another bridge to cross – right now, it was time to enjoy the moment and be proud of what I have achieved this season.
Now, I’m enjoying my end of season break without having the demands of training, and although I am still thinking about triathlon a fair bit, it’s nice to have a mental break from it as well as physical.
So thank you to those that have supported me during the build up to this race, you know who you are, and I am forever grateful.
2017 season, over and out.