I’ve struggled a bit writing this report. I know why – it’s because when a race doesn’t go entirely to plan you focus on the negatives. You question the decisions you made – whether you paced it right, whether you stuck to the plan, whether you got your nutrition right. And most importantly, whether you were tough, especially in those critical moments which is when the toughness really matters.

 

So did I? And was I? Well let’s see…

 

I was lucky enough to arrive in Kona in early September after racing the 70.3 World Champs in Vegas. It’s no secret I’ve taken some time off work this year and I figured it would be foolish not to spend as much time in Kona as possible, so I embraced the opportunity and joined the influx of pros training there in the weeks ahead of the race. I also had company when I arrived from Sonja, Nick and Scott: this isn’t the place to elaborate on the pre-race build up, fun and vats of ice cream consumed but they were fantastic company and I was lucky to have them around. This is probably not the only time that we had Island Style pancakes and Sonja brought some colour into our otherwise dully coordinated lives…

 

 

I should also thank Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen who helped enormously with getting me in shape for the swim in Kona, and Steve and the team at Kona Aquatics who welcomed me into their midst for a few weeks of masters swimming ahead of the race. And finally, a big high five to the Powerbar guys on the ground in Kona who were incredibly helpful in terms of providing everything I needed in terms of nutrition, even rushing around the day before the race when I realised last minute that I hadn’t brought quite enough race nutrition to cover racing both Vegas and Kona in one trip. Nothing was too much trouble and I couldn’t ask for a better sponsor, so thank you.

 

Race day came around soon enough, and after a good sleep and decent breakfast we were heading to the start. Body marking and transition were easy enough, I found Sonja and friend Michelle to hang with and it was almost swim time. A few signs that it might be a stormy day were naturally ignored.

 

 

I actually felt pretty relaxed which hopefully is obvious from the below:

 

 

Probably the biggest change in my preparation this year was how to approach the swim. No more being a swimming wuss. By race day I had swum masters or in the ocean almost every day for a month, I had swum the full course 5 times, had two sessions with Karlyn and I was swimming better than I have ever been. I survived the swim at St George let’s not forget, where we all had a fun time being dunked by waves like this:

 

 

So now I was in Kona and it was time to position myself aggressively and actually do this properly. First step = get a good starting position. Well we got right onto the pier for the pro start to get a good spot into the water and this worked a treat. It means you’re in the water a bit early but hanging onto one of the canoes meant we didn’t have to tread water for more than 5-10mins or so, during which time I was mostly trying my absolute best not to freak out about getting my head kicked in during the swim start. I felt really calm about the rest of the day, but the swim start, not so much. This is Sonja and Michelle in the centre looking uber chilled and me looking like I might cry, but not as bad as the woman in front of me who actually is crying (and thanks to Sonja whose photo this is).

 

 

We got a fantastic spot at the start, a little left of the buoy and around 2/3 across. I don’t remember the actual start but apparently the cannon didn’t go off so Mike Reilly just went GOOOOO and the gun fired a few seconds later. The next few minutes were a lesson to me in what real Ironman swimming is all about. The first 5 mins or so I just kept my head down, breathed every 2 strokes and went as fast as I could. There is zero point in sighting when you are in a mass that big. You aren’t “on feet” because there are just bubbles everywhere and you are all being swept along like a big wave. I knew at some point I was likely to panic so I just kept repeating “follow the line” “follow the line” “follow the line” to myself every second until it got better. My friends and teammates at Black Line London, those few minutes were for you.

 

 

And it did get better, but it took until nearly the turnaround buoy for things to thin out. Some of the bashing was pretty bad – I don’t know if it’s the pink hat but there was some aggressive stuff including one dude that hit me on the head every single stroke for about 10mins and followed me any time I tried to move into some space. I was swimming with a lot of blue hats though which was kind of cool and as the race started to sort itself out I was in a happy place. I noticed the strong current which pulled us all right on the way out and left on the way home. I had a few cramps on the way back and one kick to the face which dislodged my goggles but otherwise the second half was pretty uneventful. Up the steps I saw 1.11.50 on the clock on the pier and I was pretty a-ok with that, I’d been hoping to swim under 1.10 but with some cramping, a bit of extra distance and a decent swell I knew I’d had a good swim. Having talked since to friends who are quality swimmers and who swam around 1.09-1.10, I’m even happier. Maybe next time I race Kona I’ll have got those times closer to the hour, but that’s 10 minutes off my swim here in 2010 and I’ll take that. Trust me, I was happier than I looked!

 

 

Quickly I was onto the bike and my only thought was to stick to the plan. Don’t push the watts, take it “easy” out to Kawaihae and get the nutrition and fluids in. This also meant I had plenty of time to take in what was happening around me. And mostly what was happening was a shedload of drafting. The main problem I saw constantly was people not straight wheel-sucking but just sitting say 4-5m back. So obviously when you pass that person you are already in the draft zone of the person ahead, so you have to pass them too. This means you are always assessing whether you are able to pass the whole group or whether you are willing to back right off on the power, which will feel ridiculously easy, and sit at 7m behind the last man in the line. I did a bit of both, but erred on the side of holding back and not spiking my power, which in hindsight was probably a mistake as I feel 5-10mins up the road was really where I needed to be and if I’d been a bit more aggressive this might’ve been on.

 

 

Added to that was a serious amount of blatant cheating. Not dropping back at all when I pass you and then immediately going round me again and forcing me to drop back. Not loving that. Sitting a metre or two back and a couple of feet off to the side so you can take a good look at my race number (yes we were in the same age group and not loving your top 10 finish). Not cool. And finally the girl/guy (sorry couldn’t tell) who not only got a red card from a marshal right in front of me on the Queen K, but then hopped out of the penalty box at Hawi also right in front of me (you made up those 4 minutes I’m sure entirely legally) and latched immediately onto another set of wheels. Even less cool in a trisuit with both GB and YOUR NAME on it.

 

What about the wind? Well when you are riding into a headwind before Kawaihae (around 40 miles in) you know the road up to Hawi is going to be bad. There was a strong headwind this year rather than the cross we had in 2010, but firm enough that I remember thinking at Hawi that my early Queen K optimism of biking around 5.20 was not going to happen, and this was going to be more like a 5.40 day. Just before the turn at Hawi I saw Sonja on the descent, at around 10 minutes ahead of me she was biking well and I thought it unlikely I would catch her (I didn’t!) On the hill from Kawaihae back to the Queen K we were into a firm headwind again and this was a good taste of what to expect over the next couple of hours. I was actually still feeling quite good at this point, although having seen the race photos the salt all over my kit is not a good sign… here’s me quite early on and then on the road up to Hawi a short while later:

 

 

 

I have ridden the last 35 miles of the bike dozens of times. You tick off the landmarks: Mauna Lani, Waikoloa, the blue helicopters, the bit where the black goats hang out, Scenic Point, Donkey Crossing, Veterans Cemetery, the Airport, the Energy Lab, and the harbour. I know where the turnings are; I know where the hills are; where the lava turns from new and smooth to broken up and old; where the white rocks say “Dirty Sue” and where the green bushes point against you whatever the wind direction. And on race day it will always always be tough. Even when you prepare for it to be tough, you give yourself landmarks, and pointers, and mantras, you’ll still suffer here on race day. Why? Because it’s Kona. It’s hot, windy and humid; the gallons of water you’ve poured over your back have washed off half the suncream by now, your feet hurt, you’re sick of gels and you still have a really long way to go. But time passes, the miles ticked by and as I got closer to town I was falling off the pace a little but felt reasonably happy. With the wind and biking fairly conservatively I was at a little under 7hrs race time and thought a good run would bring me in under 10.30. Game on.

 

 

I ran out of T2 and boy, I didn’t feel good. Not just the usual heavy legs but that kind of feeling where you know something is wrong and you can’t put your finger on it. While I was thinking about this I was caught by a friend who I’d run with in Cozumel, and tried to stick with her for a bit. I did, for around 2 miles, but it was tough. We were probably only running around 4.45 k’s but it was all I could do to hang on, and considering this was around target marathon race pace and we were only 15mins in… not good. Any idea of not walking the aid stations went straight out of the window as I thought about what I could do to help me feel better. Maybe it was the heat… ok this is an easy one, handfuls of ice wherever you can put them: under my cap, in my fists, down my shorts, top, you name it. Salt? Well I’d taken 16 salt tabs on the bike but I had another 16 on me, so why not take a few more? Maybe it was calories… ok, have a gel, some Ironman Perform, maybe something solid even. I have been in this position in races before and you usually come good: often you just need some time for the body to rehydrate, or digest some food, sometimes you just need to cool down. And unfortunately sometimes whatever you throw all over yourself, it just doesn’t seem to work. A few miles in and already looking pale and interesting…

 

 

I started to see friends from the UK passing in the other direction including Tim, Matt and Stuart in quick succession who given how I was feeling weren’t as far ahead as I might have imagined. Around this time I also saw Tam who after a chat about how horrific I was feeling said I knew what I needed to do to get to the finish. Well yes, I did know. Just be tough, and keep on going. But I was also having a few doubts I could make myself do it and with time goals out of reach and mile splits being decimated by increasingly long walk breaks at aid stations (I was trying desperately not to walk any other time but I’m sure I didn’t stick to this to the end) this was a pretty low time.

 

The turnaround at Ali’i Drive was a key moment as once I got there I think I knew I would finish. It was a big relief to head back towards town and while I still had a long way to go I didn’t think I’d pull out once I got to the Queen K. My biggest concern at this point was that I was cold, in fact I was freezing, like actually shivering and shaking with cold. Now Kona is toasty warm, and in probably the hottest part of a very hot day this was odd and the first sign I had that things were really not ok. The next sign was severe pins and needles in my hands which progressed to persistent numbness as the run went on. Not promising. But my legs were still working, sort of, so on we went.

 

 

It’s worth mentioning here that I do feel it is a real privilege to race in Kona and I am always very aware of the history of the race and the athletes that have raced over the years on what is truly hallowed ground. Before the race I had said to myself that you cover every part of the course only once and when you are finding things difficult you should remember this and try and execute every short section of the course the absolute best you can on the day. And while I wasn’t executing in the traditional sense I know there are thousands of people who would give their all to be running down Ali’i Drive on race day regardless of any thoughts around race time, position and so on. So I was thinking of these people when I told myself there was no way I was walking off the course. Being carried off at times didn’t seem impossible. But I would walk to the finish if I had to.

 

The highlight of my run by far was turning the corner to Palani and seeing the helicopter hovering at the top. This could mean only one thing, and as I was doing a sort of shuffle/run up towards the aid station I saw Leanda sprinting down the hill with Caroline only seconds behind. Well I’ll be honest, I didn’t see that coming. So I stood and cheered, and then cheered for Caroline too even though she was shaking her head and I guessed the race had just got away from her. And as I turned the corner to the Queen K I saw Mirinda too and knew the women’s race must have been epic. And just as I was digesting this I also realised that I was starting to feel better: I had picked up the pace a little, I was still cold but the shaking was a little less, and I was fairly sure that no matter what happened I could finish from here.

 

 

My only really good section of the run was out towards the Energy Lab on the Queen K. The pace was unspectacular but I was at least moving consistently and I felt ok. As I neared the Energy Lab I started to see friends coming back to town, Rachel who was amazingly still in the race despite suffering from illness all week (that gave me another kick to get myself to the finish), Sam and Conan looking good, Tim a little ahead of Stuart and Matt who had Richard riding with them and a few others. At the turnaround in the Lab I figured I might as well pick up my special needs bag as I’d put a frozen bottle in there with some ice packs, which to my surprise was still frozen solid. As it turned out a frozen bottle was the last thing I wanted, but as a plan it was a good one and I was happy it worked.

 

While I didn’t have any goals on position or time by now I remember thinking that if I ran the last 7 miles at around 8min pace I would still break 11 hours. Given the previous 18 miles this was wildly optimistic and luckily I didn’t dwell on it for long. I saw Andrew on the Queen K and told him that I was doing ok, that I had stuck to the plan but that it just wasn’t my day. And as I made my way back along the Queen K and the sun started to set over Kona I thought to myself that the least I can do is enjoy this last hour of the race and appreciate for a moment the friends I have made through this journey and how regardless of results or performance it is the people that I really care about and I am proud to be out on the course or on the sidelines with every one of you. Might have been feeling a little emotional at this point. Judge yourself by the people around you. I do pretty well.

 

 

Things deteriorated a little in the last mile or two. I was very very cold. I couldn’t really feel my hands or feet. I was losing places left right and centre but I didn’t really care. I shuffled up Mark and Dave hill and got a little tearful with the wonderful people cheering and telling me I only had a mile to go and it was all downhill from the top of Palani (this isn’t true by the way, but you appreciate it at the time). I stumbled down Palani ignoring the last aid station. I thought yet again that running away from the finish in the last mile really sucks. And then finally… Ali’i Drive and the longest finish chute on the planet.

 

 

I got whisked into the medical tent pretty quickly – hitting a couple of their red flags of the freezing cold / no feeling in hands variety. The next couple of hours are a little fuzzy but after 2 litres of IV fluid, a number of standing up / sitting down tests as my heart rate was off the charts and allegedly a large amount of time spent repeating myself in a drunken-like manner (I’ll let Tamsin Lewis verify this one as I don’t remember) they let me out. It was getting late by this point and I had one mission left – having failed to do this in 2010 I was stubbornly determined to have my photo taken in the athlete area, so this is me at about 9pm when I’d finally made my escape from medical:

 

 

And before my legs swelled up the next day to look like this (thanks to Tim on the left for illustrating what an only slightly swollen post-Kona leg should look like):

 

 

 

Today I looked at the results for the first time. I finished in 11.16 and ran a 4.10 marathon. I’m still not sure why. But when I go back over the question of whether I really was tough enough, I remember this. It wasn’t pretty, but I got to the end. And I’ll see that finish line again.

 

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Black Line London

Below is a little something I put together for my friends and teammates at Black Line London. Please take the time to check out the site and see what the rest of the team have been up to. Black Line London is a collective of like-minded athletes who swim, bike and run while doing our best to enjoy the ride…

 

Postcard from Hawaii

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Ironman 70.3 World Championships Las Vegas

Before anyone suggests I am having too much fun in Kona to remember my responsibilities… I thought it was about time I shared my thoughts on the smoking hot 70.3 World Championships in Vegas which took place a couple of weeks back. If you are to take one thing from this post it would be this… Acclimitisation works. Or rather, complete absence of acclimitisation does not! Apologies for the lack of photos – I’ll add some once I can get to a working computer…

 

With the second half of my season firmly focused on Kona it was an unexpected bonus to qualify for the 70.3 World Champs in Vegas in a rare outing at the distance at 70.3 Florida. Having not raced this event before it seemed like a good opportunity to race both World Championship events this year and to use Vegas as a stepping stone in my Kona preparation – in more ways than one as having travelled from the UK to the West Coast I would fly straight to Kona after the race. With both races on the calendar and coming off the back of a big training block I was more fatigued for Vegas than would be typical, and the timing of my trip meant only a couple of days to acclimatise, but I was looking forward to the race and felt in shape to do well. The course is challenging and not necessarily one that plays to my strengths: I was always likely to struggle in a non-wetsuit swim and I generally prefer a less hilly bike course, although a good result at Ironman St George on a more challenging course certainly gave me confidence. I had paid very little attention to my competition and hadn’t even seen a start list but based on previous results I thought a time under 5 hours was achievable and would be competitive. The overriding theme of the few days before the race was the temperature – well into the 40′s was unlike anything I had ever experienced before and with nighttime temperatures still in the 30′s there was little escape from the heat and I was a little apprehensive about how this would impact race day.

 

The swim went pretty much as expected, although a combination of seeding myself more aggressively and the higher quality of the field meant I took a good bashing throughout the first km, including losing my hat and becoming involved in a small fight to retrieve my goggles before I lost them too. A little becalmed on the way back and not impressed when my Garmin buzzed for 2km (either the course or my line a little over-distance) I was not best pleased to see 36.50 on my watch but for a non-wetsuit swim I was a little relieved it wasn’t worse. While it seems like a recurring theme I do know how I need to improve my swim, and am grateful for Dan at SwimForTri for his help in figuring this out, but Vegas was certainly a race too soon for any dramatic improvement.

 

Onto the bike and almost immediately I was feeling the heat. I knew coming to Vegas only 2 days before the race was a risk and allowed little time for acclimatisation and I was effectively relying on time spent in the sauna in the UK and a measure of blind optimism that race day might not be too warm. I also expected the heat to be a factor predominantly on the run and had been relatively unconcerned about the bike, reasoning that you would be early enough in the day to avoid the really hot weather and that the cooling breeze generated by riding would offset the worst of it. The first few miles out towards Lake Mead National Park were fine and I settled into my usual routine of passing the fast swimmers and looking out for girls in my age group. But as we headed into the hills I found it difficult to maintain my effort level, watching my power numbers dwindle to a level completely out of kilter with my perceived effort and in fact far below what I would consider even a respectable Ironman pace. The dryness of the heat seemed to strip any moisture out of your throat immediately and even drinking a full 750ml water bottle between every aid station (every 40mins or so) amounting to around 4.5 litres in 2hrs50 did not feel like nearly enough. I was pouring bottles of water through the vents in my helmet at each aid station which helped but only briefly. By the turnaround I was being passed by age group girls and knew my chances of a decent position were gone; I thought long and hard about pulling in at our hotel (at around 45miles) but talked myself out of this with the promise of trying to take some positives out of the run.

 

From this moment on my thoughts were occupied with Kona and more specifically whether pulling out would help or hinder my Kona prep. The first few miles of the run I was deeply unconvinced of the merits of carrying on, as following a fast first mile I had to spend around 10mins at an aid station packing ice around my neck and chest in a vain attempt to cool down. Miles 2-6 were a bit of a death march; short bouts of running at a decent pace punctuated with lengthy and frequent walking breaks and severe dizziness. There was nothing wrong with my legs (which incidentally 2 days after the race felt fresh as a daisy) but the problem was convincing the body and the brain to get them moving. It wasn’t much consolation but you could see a number of the women pros suffering badly in the heat too as they went through the latter stages of the run. For the middle part of my run all but one of the aid stations had run out of ice which notwithstanding the conditions and the high level of demand was disappointing for an event of this level. As well as slowly melting I was also coping spectacularly badly with temperature changes – at one “misting station” where there were people spraying ice cold water I had to sit down abruptly with a bad case of “ice cream head” which made me feel really dizzy and oddly emotional.

 

Two moments of the remainder of the run stand out: hearing Leanda’s victory speech as I passed transition to start lap 2 was great and shortly afterwards a brief chat with pro superstar Natascha Badmann initiated by her giving me some encouragement on the uphill section perked me up no end. I also had the small carrot of a certain Mr Molloy chasing me down and following some pre-race banter I was determined to preserve my 30 minute head start and cross the line first, despite us both going rather more slowly than we anticipated.

 

But in the end continuing for me was all about confidence. Like many athletes I thrive on confidence, feeling invincible when on good form but liable to convince myself following a poor session (typically due to tiredness) that I have somehow lost all fitness with no prospect of it ever returning. Often these occur within days of each other. And for me to finish that day was to walk away with my head held high and to take to Kona the confidence that while the body sometimes refuses to play, whatever the race threw at me I didn’t give in.

 

Writing this overlooking the ocean in Kona I have already moved onto the next challenge and with 5 weeks of acclimatisation to come before the race I will never have a better opportunity to prepare and familiarise myself with the conditions. Being back in Kona is fantastic and I’ve thrown myself into island life already, the highlights so far being 3x weekly masters swimming (more pros turning up each time), getting comfortable in the ocean (no dolphins yet but always on the lookout) and of course having a few of the legendary Island Style pancakes. More to follow on Kona over the next few weeks… but in the meantime I can only thank all those who’ve been in touch since the race and who took the time to follow on the day, to my sponsors TheTriTouch and Powerbar and to the great training buddies I’ve been lucky enough to have over the last few months. It’s not over yet.

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Challenge Roth race report

When I entered Challenge Roth a year ago I set at the time a rather ambitious goal of 9.45 based on splits of 1.05 / 5.05 / 3.30 & 5. However after racing 10.20 at Cozumel on a slower course and limited training and having improved considerably across the board I went into this race seeing 9.45 as pretty conservative, and with my only real aim for the race to go under 10 hours by as much as possible. With no need to chase Kona qualification I hadn’t even considered who was in my age group and hoped / expected to be one of the first amateurs and ahead of some of the slower pros.

 

Pre-race bike recce

Bike recce done and ready for action

 

While typically not a fan of wave starts, with 3200 individuals and a further 2000 racing in teams this year I can see the necessity. Starting all amateur women together is a neat way of keeping the race open, although with 28 pro women starting 15 minutes earlier it would be a day of adjustments and time calculations. As a one loop course in the canal the swim is very easy here and the key to a good swim would be getting in a good pack and hoping for a good tow round. My splits tell the story pretty well: 1st km (17.09) alternating between trying to get into a group and trying to resist the slight panic that makes you want to get out of the group and swim on your own; 2nd km (18.20) out of the group, on my own and generally not enjoying myself; 3rd km (16.47) drafting well and swimming hard just to keep in touch; and the final 800m (14.50) split between a slower draft and a push over the last 300m or so when I realised I was going way too easy. All of which adds up to a 1.07 which equals my best IM swim time but frankly is well below the level that my pool swimming and current level of fitness suggests. I got through transition fairly quickly, taking the time to put on the arm coolers / “cat flaps” (not the coolest item of clothing I’ve ever worn but with zero sunburn they are effective!), filled my pockets with Powerbar ride shots which were due to be a treat on the bike and I was onto the bike at around 1.10 race time which was a few minutes behind target but nothing dramatic and I was confident of making the time up later.

 

Having ridden parts of the course in training and driven the rest, I knew it was fast and represented probably my best opportunity for a sub-5 hour bike split. However it was clear within the first few miles that this was unlikely as we faced a brisk headwind out of town which was nudging my speed well below the required 36km/h to more like 32-33. I tried to push harder to compensate, thinking the second half of the lap would be quicker in the tailwind, but within the first 20k it was clear my legs just weren’t responding. I passed a few girls on the first couple of rolling hills including Lotte Carritt who I had ridden with briefly at Wimbleball (“nice swim” seemed an appropriate shout) but generally I was being passed by faster guys and not making the progress through the field that I usually do at this point. And as each hour went past I slipped further off my goal time, with my garmin beeping every 36k just to remind me that yes, over an hour had passed since the last time! I found it difficult to enjoy the course as I was struggling to explain how I was feeling; going through halfway in around 2.40 was at least 10 minutes behind target and gave me the impetus for a major push between hours 3 and 4 which probably gained me a couple of minutes but mostly put my effort levels off the scale which forced me to rein things in more later. At different points during the ride I convinced myself that a) my back brakes were rubbing; b) my rear tyre was deflating; c) I was getting sick, not to mention d) e) and f) of various other random potential ailments that might be to blame. Truth is, my legs just weren’t there on the day, and increasing my effort levels for little to no response in speed only served to depress me further. By the end I was just trying to stick to my lowest / disaster-scenario power target of 190w but my legs weren’t even up for that. I ended up with normalised power around 10w lower than I held at Ironman St George for 6.5hrs which does not speak to a good day. 

 

Feeling the pace. Courage legs!!

 

And with things not going well the real problem was that my goal of a sub-10 time was slipping quickly out of reach. This race was the first time I had chased a time (rather than e.g. an age group win or a Kona slot) and it makes you realise the margins for error are small – what I thought were very conservative goals slipped out of reach very quickly when things weren’t going well. For a long time between hours 3 and 5 I held out for the 5.15 split that would only require me to run a sub 3.30 marathon which I knew was feasible, even hoping as I made the turn towards Roth that the rumours the course was only 109 miles might be true, but in fact I made the course just over 111 miles which gave me a rather depressing bike time of 5.30, over 10mins slower than Cozumel last November on both a slower course and far windier day and slower even than IM Austria in 2010 despite significantly better fitness! On the plus side I wasn’t passed by any girls, I passed two German pro women in the last 10 miles despite their 15 minute head start and having not seen any age group girls for a while I was hopeful my position in the field was at least reasonable.

 

Before leaving the bike I should just mention the Solarberg. The photos do not do it justice! At the point the barriers begin on each side and you go under the “Are you ready for Solar” sign you cannot actually see the hill, and as I came round the corner the sight actually brought tears to my eyes. Quite spontaneously and I am at a bit of a loss to explain why other than that I felt like while I was having a disappointing day there were thousands of people out there who actually cared! So thank you to the thousands of volunteers who made the worlds biggest Mexican wave as you went through. That 5 minutes of the bike course and the fireworks at the finish are worth the entry fee alone in my opinion.

 

Solarberg. Legendary.

 

Hitting T2 at around 6.40 race time meant it was decision time – cut my losses and go for the sub-10 somewhere else or stick it out and finish somewhere between 10.15 and 10.30. Unlike at Wimbleball where a mechanical meant I had very fresh legs for the run, here I had actually worked hard on the bike, just without the time to show for it, so I was a little unsure how my legs would hold up. And while my running has improved considerably a 3.15 marathon is still a little out of reach. But it is a beautiful course, and a beautiful country; I wanted to see Rachel win, and there are many reasons why I would be rather ashamed to DNF when in a position many people would be happy with just because I didn’t fancy running a marathon and was having a bad day. I knew what I’d signed up for after all, and with each Ironman I learn something new which will help me in the next one… and the next one is the big one in October.

 

So off along the canal I went, and apart from a few stomach problems and some soreness in my feet reminiscent of Kona my legs were feeling ok. Feeling pretty out of it at the first aid station I had a small picnic including devouring an entire packet of cola Powerbar ride shots which fortunately I still had in my pocket from the bike as well as a large dose of salt tabs and coke which served to pick me up and set the tone for the rest of the run. Without the carrot of a time goal and with few women to chase I lacked motivation, I remember thinking as I passed 4k that the next 38k were unlikely to be much fun and I was going to have to just toughen up and get through the next 3 hours. I was soon seeing people on the return leg who I had wanted and expected to be close to in the race which was a fairly brutal reminder that things were not going great. I had chosen to run with a ipod as it is permitted here which was a godsend when your race is not going well as it provides a distraction from the negative thoughts which otherwise can easily talk you into not finishing. And so I kept going, walking each aid station (sometimes for rather longer than I intended), and even stopping for a few minutes to speak to Andrew at around 20k as I knew he would be worried about what had happened on the bike. I knew from the course that 22k is basically your last opportunity to DNF as then you run away from town, fortunately by this stage I was running ok and making up some places so I pressed on as most of the top 10 ladies passed in the other direction as they neared the finish. I was making up time on the slower pros by this point but being around 20 mins back from where I expected to be those places were out of reach. Approaching the last turnaround I saw some familiar faces around 20 minutes ahead – as they were people from the pro / sub-9 wave with a 15 minute head start I thought with a push over the last 10k I could take home some bragging rights (sorry Russ and Jamie and thanks Jamie for the high five, I’ll pretend I wasn’t thinking at the time that I might beat you to the finish ;)

 

Me: "Felt rubbish on bike. Should run under 3.40" A: "Only if you hurry up and start running again"

 

As I turned into the finish straight and saw a finish time of 10.25 I didn’t really feel anything, unlike previous IM finishes which have been quite emotional I mostly felt a little embarrassed but also vaguely proud that I had dragged myself through the marathon again in around 3.40, though unlike St George this was with many more stops and honestly rather less effort both physically and emotionally. Although only 5 minutes off my Ironman PB I had made no effort to chase a new PB as I know I am capable of far quicker and I would rather take the experience and use it to fuel the fire for another day. Based on previous results and talking to a few people after the race the bike times seemed to be around 15 mins slower than usual due to the wind, and while it’s difficult to assess the impact of having tired legs a 5% drop-off equivalent to another 15 minutes on the bike doesn’t seem unreasonable so it is pretty clear where I lost the time on the day.

 

I didn’t even check the results until the next morning and was surprised to see I was 3rd in my age group (ex pros) which I thought at the time meant I would get an age group podium and an ETU bronze as the race was doubling up as the long course European Champs. However in a rather bizarre awards ceremony they gave the age group awards to pros who finished outside the top 10 and the ETU silver and bronze to people who finished behind me, although to be honest having not been targeting age group awards in any case I couldn’t get too excited about this. One to follow up with British Triathlon at some point. I was also 30th overall and 8th amateur which is well below my expectations but probably a fair assessment of my performance on the day.

 

Having had a few days to reflect on my performance, I’ll do some more soul-searching about why my legs just weren’t there on the day but I suspect the most likely answer is that having raced three Ironmans, Abu Dhabi long course and two 70.3s since November, travelled extensively and trained harder than I ever have before it was the accumulation of a lot of fatigue which unfortunately chose this race to come to the party. I strongly believe I am capable of a sub 9.45 Ironman let alone a sub-10 and with three months until Kona I have time to get things together. I am resisting the urge to squeeze another fast course in (Challenge Copenhagen anyone?) so sub-10 at Kona will be the target. And if I pull that off the podium is there for the taking. 

 

Performance aside, the best thing about this race for me was seeing so many old and new friends racing and it was a pleasure to see people both achieve their goals and overcome difficult days to get to the finish. Special mentions to Troy, Paul B and Paul D who beat me into the sub 10 club this time, Matt who had a day not unlike mine but ran much better, and of course Rachel who romped to the win as expected with another awesome performance. I plan to be on better form when we meet again in Kona :)

 

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I am delighted to announce that Powerbar will be providing me with sports nutrition for training and racing during 2012. As a long time user of Powerbar products, not least of which my long-term and thoroughly road tested ironman race fuel of blackcurrant / strawberry & banana gel mix, I am extremely grateful for this support and see this as a fantastic opportunity to optimise my nutrition as I prepare for the World Champs “double” of Vegas and Kona later this year. Coinciding with the recent announcement that Powerbar will be the official drink provider for all North American Ironman races, and ideally timed with my 6th Ironman approaching this weekend at Challenge Roth, I look forward to building on my success so far this year in partnership with one of the world’s leading sports nutrition companies. Thanks for the support!!

 

 

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This race was a late addition to my schedule, coming in between a successful 6 week trip to the US for St George / Florida and Challenge Roth in 3 weeks which is my summer ‘A’ race, but having the luxury of training full time at the moment I was well prepared for it and expecting to race well. I had been looking forward to returning a much more experienced athlete to the scene of one of my first triathlons; I felt in good form and saw it as a good opportunity to test myself vs. a very stacked mostly UK-based field and hopefully to see the benefits of the training I have done at altitude over the past couple of months. Despite a large number of logistical “challenges” in terms of getting on and off the race site in the days preceding the event, race day itself was pleasant and dry, we were at the start in good time and I was looking forward to the day.

 

The race itself was a very different experience to the one I had planned! I swam ok – once you got over the fact the water was FREEZING it was quite a relaxed swim, I was less inept than usual at finding some feet and I was pretty happy to exit around 32.50, although rather less happy later with numerous reports the swim was a little on the short side. Still… I felt good, whipped my wetsuit off halfway up the hill to T1 and pretty quickly was onto the bike and powering past a lot of people. I actually really like this bike course – it was much less hard than I remembered (with 6000ft of climbing and 52 hills in 56 miles I was frankly terrified of it when I raced in 2009!) – I made up loads of places on the first couple of hills and felt on target for the sub-3hr time I was hoping would set me up for a good position in the later stages.

 

And then the wheels fell off. Around 11 miles you go down a very steep downhill, midway down I hear a loud rattling from my aerobars followed almost immediately by the right side of my rear shifter actually falling off and bouncing down the road. And then the remaining parts also bounced out leaving me with the rear shifter dangling from the cable and no ability to change out of my smallest cog!! I stopped at the bottom of the hill to assess the damage – things didn’t look good! I quickly established the bike was still ride-able, but I only had 2 gears (i.e 53/12 or 39/12) to choose from. And with around 45 miles and probably 5000ft of climbing remaining this probably wasn’t going to cut it. A quick rush of emotions later… anger, frustration, a vague plan to throw my bike in the hedge… it seemed the only thing to do was to at least ride the rest of the loop and DNF at the end of it. In the meantime the people I had passed earlier were flying past me and I was wondering how best to approach the two steepest hills which I hadn’t reached yet! As anyone who has ridden the course will know, a 26 or 27 cog comes in handy and you’ll still be out of the saddle on the steepest parts. Well I had a 12, and I wasn’t out of the saddle, I was walking!

 

But having resigned myself to my race being over I figured I might as well enjoy the rest of it. So I chatted to everyone that went past me, most of whom offered words of encouragement that I was “doing great” (I wasn’t) until they noticed the sorry state of my gears. I moaned about the hills a lot. I chatted to every spectator and volunteer. I queried loudly why on earth we were all doing this stupid event in the middle of nowhere. And actually I had quite a lot of fun doing it. I even ran up some of the hills with my bike until my hamstrings convinced me that was a really bad idea. I started to see the same people over and over again, who I’d pass on the flats (MASSIVE GEAR!) and then they’d pass me either pushing my bike or climbing in a marginally less massive gear. Saw lots of my buddies go past having varying degrees of good and bad days – Steven, Tim, even Russ who lost his race to a worse mechanical later.

 

Soon enough I was approaching the turnaround and it was decision time. DNF / Don’t DNF. DNF / Don’t DNF. I’ve actually never not finished a race, not out of any highbrow principles but just because I’ve never been in the position where I’ve needed or wanted to. And I really didn’t want this to be the first one, not least because having the rare occurrence of my husband, parents and sister all coming to watch I would have been really disappointed for them to only see me once briefly on the bike and not making it to the run. Also for a more selfish reason I actually wanted to run – even if I wrote off the bike segment it was still a good tester to see how I could run on another challenging course and to see if the work I’d done in Boulder was paying off. In the end I didn’t even make a conscious decision. I got to the turnaround, turned right, and was heading round the loop again. More big gear riding, lots more walking. I was overtaken by the same people on the same hills which was quite funny; I fell off my bike once when I misjudged the steepness of the hill and ground to a halt; I had some good banter with spectators who saw me pushing on both laps and probably wondered how on earth I was still going at a respectable pace with all the pushing; and I just basically got through it. According to my Garmin I walked for around 18 minutes in total – I would expect to have lost at least another 5 through some “unconventional” gear choices so all things considered a 3.23 was not too bad, albeit nearly an hour slower than my ride at Florida 70.3!

 

I saw my family in transition who were pretty worried by this point that something awful had befallen me, blurted out “I only have 2 gears!” and headed out on the run course. Feeling like running was an unexpected bonus, but also mindful that I was miles behind the age group leaders and have to do an Ironman in 3 weeks, I’ll admit I took the run pretty steady. I waved to my family. I walked some aid stations. I heeded some good advice to run the downhills hard although my quads took a battering. And generally I had some fun, only pushing the pace on the third lap to ensure I came in under 1.40 and to make sure I finished strong. 4th in my age group and around 22nd overall was not what I had envisaged at the start of the day, but as a good training workout and a solid run I’ll take it. Hopefully I created some amusement for my fellow competitors and spectators at least. And if anyone has a good photo of me pushing my bike please send it to me, I’d like it as a reminder!!

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A quick recap of my race yesterday: I was racing Florida 70.3 following a great 10 days training in New Mexico after IM St George. More on NM to follow but I would thoroughly recommend it as a destination to train at altitude – at 7500ft, no people, great roads, beautiful scenery, what’s not to like?! With only two weeks since St George this race was a bit of an experiment and I had only entered as my training buddy and New Mexico host Sarah Crewe was racing and hoping to qualify for Vegas for the second year running. Sarah is a super fast 50+ who raced Kona in the early 90′s, used to train with Paula Newby-Fraser, Heather Fuhr and co and is going back to Kona this year now her lovely twins have grown up a little. She also kills me in the swim. We had a fun road trip.

 
Even by my standards I had a terrible swim. Non wetsuit, in a shallow muddy lake with alligators. Was a little spooked by the gators. Swallowed lots of mud. The field was huge (2500) and being in wave 13 of 18 it was a constant struggle to get past people from many waves ahead. Swim was a little over distance but not much. 37 mins or thereabouts.

 

Followed plan A which was to time trial the bike. When I drove the course I thought it would be super fast – actually on the day the rolling hills and stiff breeze in the second half sapped my tired legs a little so not as quick as I would have liked. Through halfway in 1.08 and finished in 2.29. Quicker than Nina Kraft, 5 minutes off race winner Jessica Jacobs. Lance beat me by 28 minutes over 90k. I’ll take that. Not going to bother complaining about the drafting but there was a lot. Especially Mr Costa from Argentina who sat on my wheel from 0 to 35 miles before jumping on the peloton that passed me. You’re all class. And obviously don’t understand gestures or indeed English.

 

Unsurprisingly I felt pretty terrible on the first few miles of the run. It was really really hot, blazing sunshine and the big hill at the start of each lap didn’t help. Downed 4 cups of coke at the first aid station. Time trialling through all but one aid station on the bike perhaps a leetle bit foolish. Filled every part of my kit possible with ice – top, shorts, arm coolers, clenched fists, you name it. You could hear me coming miles off. I did feel progressively better as the run went along and was running low 7min miles by the end for a 1.41.

 
Finish time of 4.55 was probably around 15 mins below par on this course but not bad given the buildup and limited recovery time since St George. Surprised to take 3rd in AG and 20th overall and after some soul searching took a Vegas roll down slot. I expect to be on form to race much better in Wimbleball in 4 weeks time. Have also made the sensible decision not to race Eagleman on 10 June – I thought I might have been going for Kona and Vegas slots there but with both claimed now I’ll benefit more from training through.

 
Sarah had a great race to finish in 5.11 and also take 3rd in her AG but no Vegas slot this time after being passed in the finishing chute! She’ll be going for it again at Lubbock in a few weeks time.

 

Next stop for me, a couple of weeks training in Boulder and then home!!!!

 

(photos to follow once I get to a computer…)

 

 

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I wanted to write this while the details were still fresh in my mind. Some of them I am unlikely to forget any time soon…

 

I decided to race Ironman St George earlier this year after narrowly missing out on a Kona slot at IM Cozumel. A reasonably new race to the circuit, it has a challenging (i.e. very hilly) bike course based in the Snow Canyon region of Southern Utah, around 100 miles north of Las Vegas. I thought the course would suit me and as my first time racing in the 30-34 age group I was expecting strong competition but thought I would be in the mix. My preparation had been good and I was really looking forward to racing. Arriving a week before meant we had the opportunity to ride the bike course which lived up to expectations with stunningly beautiful scenery and some good climbs. Based on a steady pace in training I was expecting to ride around 5.45 for the bike and expected a finish time of around 10.20-10.30 to be pretty competitive. Preparation went well and our house in Washington was perfect – away from the bustle of the town and close to the swim start. Thanks to Tim and Lindsay for sorting that out and being a (mostly!) calming influence during race week. We swam in the reservoir several times during the week which ranged from glassy flat calms to quite choppy waves the day before the race and from very cold to just mildly toe-tingling, seemingly unconnected to any noticeable change in the weather, so I was prepared for most things, though not what actually transpired…

 

 

Race day dawned nice and calm and we were soon in town and on the buses to transition. Having a split transition can be awkward but it was was all very well organised with plenty of parking and buses to take athletes and later spectators to the swim start. Preamble went smoothly and soon we were heading down to the start. I was happy to see there was very little wind and the lake was much calmer than the day before. We had a nice group of travelling Brits this time and with Tim and Brett both also going for Kona slots it was good to have some friends out on the course. I found myself with Keavy and Katy treading water at the start alongside a load of other pink (ladies) caps and we were ready for the off.

 

 

Going out hard from the start I quickly found some space. I knew Katy would swim under the hour so my plan was to stay on her feet as long as I could and aim for a swim around 65mins. The first 1km out to the turn buoy passed quickly, way too quickly I was about to realise, but at the time I felt like a swimming goddess. All the swimming training was paying off! Finally!! The course is a rectangular anticlockwise loop, so you swim 1k out, around 300m across, then 1.8k straight back past a large island and past the start, before completing the loop by swimming across and then around 600m back. As I turned around the first buoy I was hit in the face by a large wave. And then another, and another. Waves that I had been merrily surfing along a few minutes earlier but were clearly increasing in size, and fast. What had been a neat pack was scattering quickly as unable to see the next turn buoy or the land over the waves it was difficult to keep any sense of direction. With the waves coming hard and fast from the left it was also pretty obvious that at the next turn buoy we were going to have to turn again and swim 1.8k straight into them. 

 

 

The next hour or so is a bit of a blur. I’ve heard the waves were anything between 3 and 5 feet high. It went a bit like this. Get smacked in the face. Look round angrily before realising it was a wave not a person. Get smacked in the face by the next one. Stop and tread water while trying to see the island from the top of a wave. Have several more waves break in your face. Try and swim for 100m or so without swallowing too much water. Seems impossible. Waves would disappear from under you so what would have been a stroke turned into grabbing at thin air. Stop. Reset. Look again. Think it may be calmer when we get to the shelter of the island. Wonder how on earth to get to the island which looks miles away. Start to feel seasick. Must keep swimming. Remember that 560 people in the field are first timers. Begin to worry they won’t get through the swim. Begin to worry I won’t get through the swim! Find myself completely unable to see a single other swimmer. And repeat. Eventually I passed the island. It seemed like an eternity. At the far turn buoy there were swimmers treading water and looking at where to go next. Wasn’t at all clear so I followed those closest to me. I learned later the marshalls were telling people to miss the last turn buoy and head straight to the exit. The safety boats couldn’t get anywhere near the last buoy. Didn’t save any distance for me as I still swam over 4k and frankly am amazed it wasn’t more. Having already revised my expectations massively lower during the melee I was still terribly disappointed to see 1.34 on the clock. Game over. Who qualifies for Kona with a 1.34 swim. That would be insane…

 

 

My wetsuit was stripped off by a helpful volunteer and I got to my bag which was in number order with those of my age group. Still tons of bags there. Ok. At least I’m not last. I felt very sick from swallowing so much water but tried to get through transition as quickly as possible. An excited volunteer said well done for making the swim cutoff. Not exactly the target I had in mind! The volunteers were very helpful but I did get irrationally annoyed that one put my left compressport sock on my right foot. Told myself to stop being such an idiot.

 

 

The first part of the bike is around 23 miles from Washington to St George where you join the loop where the main hills are (which you do twice). Within seconds I was hit by massive head / cross winds even on the access road to the lake. Not good. Shouldn’t have been surprised given the conditions in the swim but hadn’t really figured out what the hell was going on yet. My stomach was cramping from the lake water and I couldn’t put any pressure down. I was regretting each of the disc, 404 front wheel and 25 cassette at this point. And worried about Tim with his 808 front wheel. I was reminded that another racer said the wind would be northerly (and 5-6mph!!!) which meant a headwind all the way up the canyon and tailwind on the downhill stretch home. I realised any time goals for the days have been left crashing around in the lake. But I pressed on, trying desperately not to be blown into the path of any faster bikers who have managed to swim even slower than me. I still felt sick and could drink only water. Looked at my bottle containing 1500 cals of chocolate flavoured goo. Felt even more sick. I was overtaken by a girl in SOAS kit. This never happens. Attempted to chase but cannot push without stomach cramping. Resolve to see her again later when I feel better.

 

 

The first glimmer of sunshine came when I caught Katy around 1h30 in who told me she swam a 1.22. As she is capable of swimming well under the hour this put my swim in a bit of context. Felt a little less depressed and decided I maybe only had say 20-30mins to make up on the fast girls instead of more like 45. I randomly decided I was 10th in my age group to give myself a target and starting counting through positions as I passed people. Still a long way to go.

 

 

The loop is around 20 miles undulating but basically uphill finishing with “the Wall” which is a not particularly scary climb with a switchback, followed by a flattish section before a 15 mile descent back into St George. The headwind was basically full on in your face on the climbs, with occasional cross sections where you wound your way up the canyon, such as the one where men’s winner Ben Hoffman got blown off his bike. Winds were 40-45mph at times I’m told. I was going at about 5mph. In my smallest gear. Going downhill. The only respite was when we finally made it to the switchback on the Wall the tailwind blew you straight over the steepest section! I got to halfway in around 3hrs 30. While the second half would be quicker as I would do the descent twice, for someone who usually bikes in the low 5′s these were scary numbers. I had also only drunk water for the first two hours and eaten very little since, which I thought likely to come back to bite me later. But… I was sticking to the plan which was to get to the start of the second loop feeling fresh. Average power just shy of 200w after lap 1 which was close to target. I told myself not to worry about the time. On a fast course that power would be equivalent to low 5hrs. There can’t be many girls going quicker than that. On the descent I was passed by a fast girl in some very flash black and green kit. Time to go. I chased her down and we had a great ride down the descent, riding legally and switching places a few times. This doesn’t often happen to me in races as I rarely ride with girls and I enjoyed it. A nod of recognition for some good biking at the end of the loop as we hit the flat section and I was off. 

 

 

The second loop was better, in the sense that I had got used to the wind a little. I stayed in my aerobars more. I ate more. I saw lots of marshalls who seemed to be being sensible by keeping the gaps but leaving some leniency on the climbs where with a lot of people going 5mph steeply uphill on tri bikes it is not feasible to keep a 7m gap. Later I had an idiot on my wheel who said to me “there are so many marshalls… Why can’t they give us a break… It’s really windy…!” I ignored him. Didn’t have the energy. The hilly section was from 70 to 90 miles so I counted them down, one mile at a time. An amusing aside was that my and a few other people’s numbers had “Professional Athlete” written on them due to some sort of printing error. I had forgotten this until when passing someone I was asked “how was the swim for the pros?” to which I irritably replied I had no idea. He must have been very confused (and thinking as a pro I was having a terrible day). I had passed quite a lot of people and from my random starting point of 10th I thought I had counted my way to 4th in my age group. I decided 10th was clearly too optimistic as a starting point so mentally added a few places on. Hoped I was in the top 10 at least. Laughed at myself for thinking I could possibly finish top 20 or even top 15 in the overall women’s race. What an idiot.

 

 

I turned up the wall into the blessed tailwind but was immediately hit by shooting cramps in my quads. Drinking only lake water and real water for the first few hours of the day not going down so well. Anticipating something not exactly like this I had some salt tablets in my pocket so I scoffed two which seemed to do the job. Finally I made  it over the wall and had only the descent to go. Reminded again of some good advice from Tim I planned to take the descent as easy as possible and eat as much as I could. At least I had plenty of food left. I had been sensible with the power and still reading low to mid 190s which was fine. Legs felt good. Stomach did not. The last few miles ticked by quickly and I noticed my bike time was going to be around 6.5hrs. I realised with a shock I would have to run well to even break 12 hours. A far cry from the sub-10 I have been talking up. Still a long way to go. A fairly quick transition (for me) of around 2.5mins with a loo stop and I was on my way. I see the girl in SOAS kit leaving transition. Aha! Not so far ahead after all. 

 

 

A quick explanation of the run course to give the next part some context – it’s 3 loops each of which have 4 out and back sections. The first 3 are basically an M shape (main, 200 and 400 streets) where you run downhill down the arms and uphill back. Each out and back section is about 3k. Then you have a longer out and back up Diagonal Street (it is actually diagonal) which is around 4k, with the remaining 1k coming from the joining sections. While it looks boring on paper it was actually a great course for knowing where your opposition is and for easy access to aid stations. The only flat sections are between the arms and at the end of each lap you have to run around 4k continuously uphill (back up 400 then up diagonal) before then running the same amount downhill (back down diagonal and then down Main street for the start of the next loop). 

 

 

Within the first mile I was in trouble. Stomach cramps were back. I kept passing people and then having to double over and stop. After the second time a nice girl in pink calf guards asked if I was ok. I grimaced and said I hope so. Straight onto the water and coke at the first aid station. Things can only get better. And to my surprise… they did. Coming back up the first out and back section I started to feel good. My legs were fresh, I was running around mid 8min mile pace up the hill and I felt mentally focused and ready to run the marathon. Enough negativity. I didn’t come this far to just be miserable. Brett passed me around this point with some kind words. He was only a lap ahead of me. Interesting. Then I saw Tim just under a lap ahead of me. Also interesting. Around the gap I would have expected. I started catching more people. I passed two girls in my age group quite quickly including SOAS. Saw Lindsay who tells me I was 5th in my age group off the bike, which means I’m now 3rd with around 20 miles to go. I’m still in this. Game on. 

 

 

I followed the same routine for the next few miles. Aid station every mile, water, coke, ice down top. Gel every half hour. Keep some ice in mouth between stations. Good move to try the orange segments. Definitely avoiding the cookies! Lots of kids helping at aid stations which was great. I passed another girl in my age group, and then another. Am I leading? Brain not able to process this. Randomly decide I have miscounted and must be second. Maybe 2 slots, maybe not. Been burned before. Keep pushing. Still holding mid 7 min miles downhill, slipping slightly to high 8′s uphill. On the second lap I notice I have gained a minute or two on Tim and hope he is ok. At some point Tim tells me it’s a slow day and not to worry about the time. Chat to Jack who is injured and planning to DNF at 15 miles. Forget to hit him for the 5-6mph wind forecast. See Katy who also looks miserable and says she may DNF. Don’t blame anyone who does that today. Next turnaround, gap to chasing girls extended to around 90-120secs. Keep pushing it out. Waiting for the bad patch to come. It doesn’t. Nod to Brett and Tim as I pass them. See the leaders again. Seem to have made up a bit of time on Meredith Kessler that lap. Think I must be imagining it.

 

 

Last lap and I have around a 4 minute lead to the girls behind. Feel if I can hold this until 4 miles to go I’m not going to lose a minute per mile. Then I see another girl in my age group around two minutes ahead. Newton kit. Where did she come from? No idea if we are even on the same lap but she looks good. Really good. I knew I couldn’t be leading. I firmly decide there is one Kona slot and that is it up the road. Here we go again. Think I can maybe go a little harder. Feet and ankles struggling now, arms hurting from the swim. Onto 200 street and I’ve gained about 30 seconds. Then 400 street, maybe another 20 seconds. No longer worried about the girls behind. I had 4k left uphill to bridge the gap and then it was 2k downhill to the finish. I noticed the pace has slipped from low 3.30s marathon pace to more like 3.40 but I don’t really care. One foot in front of the other. Managed to get pace into the 8-minute range on the uphill which felt like a small victory. I turned onto the uphill leg of diagonal street and I’m into the last few kms. About 15 metres from the turnaround I see Newton girl in front walking. I shoot past, eyes forward. Don’t look back. Too much effort, hamstrings go into spasm. Hobble around the turnaround. Fingers crossed she didn’t notice. Look up and she’s running again. Great. 

 

 

Only one thing for it. I sprint the last 2k as fast as I can. Ignore the last aid station. Try and lean forward and let gravity do the work. If I’m running 6 min miles nobody is going to catch me. Other athletes are commenting on how fast I am finishing. I don’t acknowledge. Can’t acknowledge. The roundabout at the bottom of the diagonal is my first chance to see behind. Not a single girl in sight. Just keep running. Look behind as I enter the finishing chute and still no-one. Made it. Stop the clock on 11.55. 1st in 30-34. 15th female.

 

 

A few comments to wrap up. This was the 3rd and last running of Ironman St George as from next year it will be a 70.3. Personally I think this is a great loss to the calendar. These races are not meant to be easy and in other conditions this would be a challenging but fair and honest course. In these conditions for any first timer or inexperienced athlete it was near impassable. The fact that only 5 pro men went under 10 hours shows that even the best athletes there were going around 90 mins slower that usual and this would be extended the further you went down the field. I don’t know yet the percentage dropout rate but I know 100s of people failed to complete the swim and at least 100 more were unable to finish the bike. Thrilled for my compadres Brett and Tim who also both qualified for Kona. We earned every inch of it.

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