This post is dedicated to my best friend Cassie who overcame her demons and took on this race again a year after missing the cut off time for the bike. She has huge courage and bottle to go back to a race that totally devastated her and almost made her quit racing. In 2016, she took on the race and in a moment of great human kindness helped a fellow competitor change a flat tyre, but unfortunately this made her miss the bike cut off time by a matter of minutes. We had trained together hard for months so it was absolutely devastating for her. This year was her chance to come back stronger and complete the course.
Ironman Exmoor was a complete disaster for us last year. Not only did Cassie miss the cut off on the bike, but I managed to flip the car onto its roof the day before the race which meant racing with an injured hip! The venue for this race is beautiful, but you could already sense nerves and excitement from the other competitors when we got to registration. After we registered we had a look at the lake to get an idea of how we wanted to swim and planned the route out of the water into transition. Next we drove the bike route (which is really hilly!) and then went back to our little cottage which would be base camp for the weekend. That night we packed our transition bags and checked over the bikes to make sure all was OK, we had dinner and went to sleep excited about the next day.
We woke up bright and early ready for a fairly busy day racking and getting swim practice in the lake. We had a plan to get this out the way early in the morning to give us enough time to relax and enjoy the day. We got to the venue at 8:30 am for the swim practice at 9 am; the weather had took a turn for the worse and it was getting cold and started to rain so we decided to miss the swim practice and just get our gear sorted. We grabbed our bikes and headed to transition to rack and drop our bags off; finding my rack number was easy and then we hung our bags up in the transition tent. We then worked out our routes from swim to bike then bike to run just so we were prepared in the blur of the race. With this all now sorted we had a look around the expo and headed back to base camp. That afternoon we spent time fuelling up for the race and preparing; I decided to go for a little run in my new Sundried Triathlon suit to loosen the legs and also see how it was during a run. I only ran about 5km but the suit felt great and super comfy.
Back at base camp, we put our feet up and recharged for the next day. Looking at the weather it was going from bad to worse with heavy rain and 30mph winds predicted. Cassie was getting nervous so I suggested we race together as we had trained together and I could keep her informed on times and pace during the day. She was reluctant at first in case I got a penalty for drafting, but I assured her I would stay well behind on the bike and outside the drafting zone, in the end she agreed and the plan was set.
My alarm sounded at 3:30 am and we woke with feelings of nerves and excitement. We managed to get some breakfast down and headed to the venue to get into transition at 5 am. We prepared our bikes by pumping up the tyres, added nutrition and bike computers, and then went and sat in the car waiting for the start of the race. Time ticked down and nerves started to build; myself and Cassie chatted about the race and reassured each other that we would be fine and have a good race. Then it was time to get our wet suits on and head for the start line. The atmosphere was a mix of nervous chatting and excitement. The rain started to pour and the winds picked up and the lake looked huge, grey and scary. The music played on the loud speakers and a countdown ticked down to the start.
The swim started and I had a plan to attack the swim straight away; previous races this season I have started way too relaxed so I wanted to change this. My arms were burning from the sudden burst into life but I knew this would pass as I got used to the swim. This was proved right after about 400m when my arms started to relax to the pace. I felt in great form while swimming and passed people along the way which was a great confidence booster. I wondered how Cassie was doing and kept getting glimpses of the beautiful scenery around the lake. I turned the far end buoy and started to head back to the start. In the distance I could see the exit tunnel and pushed on to get there as fast as I could. Exiting the water I felt super light headed but got my bearings and walked up the hill to T1 whilst getting out the wet suit. The plan now was to take my time to give Cassie some time to catch up. Once in the T1 tent I got changed into my bike kit and headed out to find my bike. As I walked towards bike exit I saw Cassie’s family and headed towards the bridge out on the course to wait for Cassie. The bridge is about half a mile into the bike route and no one really stands there so I was confident I wouldn’t be too bothered by people whilst I waited.
Sooner than expected Cassie zoomed past after having an amazing swim and the battle of the bike started. I had written on my handlebars worst case scenarios of times we needed to hit at every 10 mile blocks, Cassie had trained so hard for this race and it proved as she started super strong. I sat about 10-15 metres behind her and every now and then pulled up beside her for a few seconds just to give her a time check then dropped back again. The rain was freezing and pouring down, the winds were so strong and kept blowing me across the road but Cassie just kept pushing. At 10 miles we were 6 minutes ahead of time and 20 miles we were 11 minutes ahead but then the horrendous hills really started. Cassie was riding so well and got her head down and cycled up them gritting her teeth and working really hard, I knew we would lose time here but I didn’t expect the amount we lost. At 30 miles we were back to zero time ahead and on worse case scenario. The 40 mile marker on the side of the rode came up and to my horror we were 3 minutes behind time, I have no idea how this happened but I got alongside Cassie and told her I needed her to work harder up the hills than she ever has before. A few of the hills she had to get off the bike and run up with me shouting for her to dig deep and keep going. We got to mile 50 and to my complete shock we were back bang on time. We flew into T2 and the bike section was completed with about 7 minutes to spare, cheers from her family lifted both of us and we quickly got changed and went out onto the run course.
The start of the run didn’t go well for Cassie as she was dizzy and exhausted from the bike but I got her into a walk run rhythm and she fuelled up at the first feed station. The first lap went by and she found out just how hard the run is but she also knew what she had to do for the next two laps. Cassie was digging deep and I asked her to keep with me as I picked up the pace, she battled fatigue and sickness trying to fuel when she could and keep up with me and then the end was in sight; 400 metres were left to the end when she looked at me and said she was really struggling, I think I actually begged her to keep going which made her smile and then we hit the red carpet and finishing straight.
Cassie's story is a real inspiration to never give up on your dream; she could have picked an easier Ironman after missing out on this course last year but she didn’t want to. She said there would always have been a question mark if she had. She risked failure again but she had the bottle to do it. She is an amazing person and a real inspiration to others.