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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