Kona race report. The actual day.

Kona race report;

As a reminder of my day…FYI all 11 hours and 50 minutes of it…

I felt nervous. I always do. A few little nerves are always good before a race they take your mind off what will come. Usual race prep. Get to bed early. A few hours sleep. Up. Breakfast. Head to the race. We rack our bikes the day before the race. You know that you are at the World Championships as you have a personal chaperone to take you through transition and talk over any questions that you might have about the race. My personal chaperone is called Emma, a very lovely lady from New Zealand. Her brother is racing so she volunteered her time for the duration of race week. It was her second time in Kona. It was my first.

Race morning I get a lift to the race start. I see someone hitching. I ask if we can pick her up. We drive on. We get a great spot in the car park. We walk to the start. It is each person for himself now.

Spectators are already taking their viewing spots on the pier wall for the swim start. It’s 4.45am.

By the time the canon goes off this viewing wall will be 5-10 people deep.

We are ushered through a tent. Line up to be weighed. Line up to collect race numbers. Line up to get the race numbers stuck on. It is an efficient (ish) production line of zombified humans, process, process, process.

Competitors. Doctors. Volunteers.

On the morning of a race, I kind of go in to this zone where everything becomes a little hazy and abstract, you are there but not quite there, if that makes sense. It feels soothing to not have to think about too much.

Some of the volunteers (5000 in total) are trying their hardest, to start with shouts of encouragement. I can’t help but feel it’s a little misplaced with how I’m currently feeling. It’s 5.15am.

I drop nutrition bottles off to my bike, pump up the tyres. Not quite sure of what PSI to put in. Maybe I put too much. Last minute run hydration bottles dropped off in run bag. Now what to do with my clothes.

Ask friendly looking female if she knows where the bag drop is. Walk away towards bag drop. Hear male congratulate friendly looking female on her latest win. Go back and apologise to Corrine Abraham for not recognising her.

Drop off bag in designated area, as identified by Corrine.

Wait.

 

There is a moment before a race where I begin to question why I am here. Why do I do this? This moment is amplified on the Kona stage.

I am entranced by the singing of “Star Spangled Banner” and the sight of 2 paragliders spiraling above, ringlets of smoke billowing from their heels. Drummers drumming. Sun rising. Heart racing. Helicopters hovering noisily above.

I feel like I am part of a show.

I am.

The Ironman show.

The canon goes. I catch a glimpse of the male professionals as they head off through the chop.

Zip up an age groupers “a little bit too tight” speed suit.

Wish him good luck

“Good luck”…

I have always felt to wish another “good luck” is to take away their effort. For it is not good luck and fortitude that has gotten them to the start line, it is more like a lot of sweat, a great deal of hard work and sacrifice, with a little luck thrown in.

“Good luck” I said. I meant it.

Female professionals. Male Age groupers. Female age groupers.

 

Wow. That 30 minutes flew.

My turn.

I get to the swim start, I swim far left and bump in to my new friend. Excitedly I launch myself at her. We hug. “Alright” she jokes “I don’t want to drown before I’ve started”.

When the canon goes I’m a little surprised.

 

Ooh. Race.

 

I swim. I swim some more. Will my goggles be ok? I swim a little faster. My goggles feel ok. I started far left. I’m now far right. I feel like I’m swimming really hard. I like the swim. Are my goggles ok? Ooh. There are the boats. That’s the turn around point. I swim some more. Goggles will be fine. The water is getting much choppier now. It’s more difficult to navigate, especially as I catch up to the slower male swimmers. I find myself swimming at the same pace as a woman. She elbows me in the face. Then she pushes me. I move.

It was at this moment when I realised that I don’t want to win badly enough to hurt someone else to get to that aim. I just don’t.

 

I run out of the swim. Underneath the hosepipes fashioned as showers. Towards my “bike” bag and T1. There is a line of “callers” calling out the numbers for the bags. “1460’” I shout as a woman thrusts bag number “1468” towards me. No, I say “1460”. She nods, still thrusting “1468” towards my chest. This charade carries on for about 20 seconds, until I move her out of the way, grab my bag (which she is stood in front of), still hanging by it’s string where I had left it the day before, and run off towards the female changing tent.

 

When I put my watch on, I have to double take at the time. I can’t believe that I have been swimming for that time. I keep shaking the watch and looking at it. I then manage to convince myself that we had started late, and that I could easily take 10 minutes off the time. A late start was obviously the problem.

Ha.

My swim time was actually 1hour and 17 minutes. I thought that I had had a great swim. Before I knew the time it had taken.

Out on the bike. Steady rhythm. Should feel easy. It does. A quick lap around the town then out on to the Queen k highway. Boy it’s windy. Makes me smile. I think, lots of people will over bike in this wind. I will make up good time on the run

I smile again as I think of myself as a runner.

That’s a first.

I can run.

Feel a little dehydrated. Salt tabs. Top of the salt tab dispenser comes off in my mouth. 2 out of 5 tabs drop on the floor. Take a salt tab. There is actually only one salt tab left total. Salt tabs are my life right now. Until a second later and I get over it.

A couple of women over take me. I keep to my plan. Steady rhythm. Should feel easy. I do-so-do with a couple of women for about 20 mins. Then I watch as they hammer it into the wind.

30 minutes later, I happily over take them as I keep my rhythm and stick to the plan. It’s working. I feel good. Average speed is good. Happy days.

Side winds are a little hairy.

Checking average speed. Checking nutrition. Checking hydration. Feeling good.

80km.

See one of the guys I know racing passing on the other side of the road. Spend the next 10km trying to work out how far ahead of me he is. Fun.

90.5km. This is not the answer, as to how far ahead from me he is, although it might as well have been.

 

90.5km and a strange but oh so familiar whirring noise.

 

Puncture.

 

Pitt stop?

 

Change the tube?

 

Pitt stop?

 

Change the tube?

 

If I use Pitt stop I can be on the road in less than a minute.

Use Pitt stop.

Notice 2 holes in the tyre as the Pitt stop spits through the holes. Hold the wheel. Spin it. Decide that the Pitt stop will set and go to put the wheel back on the bike. The Pitt stop is spitting out of the valve and the holes in the tyre. The Pitt stop is not working.

I’m holding the wheel.

I’m holding the wheel and looking desperate.

“Would you like some help”, another competitor asks???

“What about your race”? I say

“I’m only here for the experience” he says, “I’m not here to get a time”.

How lucky am I???

The two of us try and get tyre levers under my new tyres to change the tube, to no avail. 10 minutes later he leaves me to go and get help.

“Go”, I say “think of the children”,

OK, I don’t say that. But before he leaves he asks me if I need anything, water? Gel? and this reminds me to eat.

It’s hot.

He does exactly what he said he would.

I spend that time squeezing Pitt stop out of the tube so that I might be able to get the tyre off to change the tube.

I’m contemplating moving to the shade when Frankie and Seaton arrive on a motorbike with their “Marshall” over vests on, and save the day. They tell me that I am lucky it’s only a puncture. Several women have been thrown off their bikes by the side wind.

The difference between moving and actual time=23 minutes.

23 minutes at the side of the road.

23 more minutes out of the race.

I am back on the bike and on my way.

I now have a battle in my head. 20 minutes you can run it back. It’s actually 30 minutes you have no chance. 20 minutes you can run it back. It’s actually 30 minutes you have no chance.

I ride. I ride hard. I have a head wind. I have a head wind for 180km (even though there’s only 90km left of the ride) apart from when it’s a side wind. It’s a head wind. I feel cautious. I want to stay on my bike.

I ride as hard as I safely can.

My average speed is dropping, as is my fighting spirit.

I’m picking off the dregs. I’m riding solo. I’m feeling deflated. My average speed is dropping and dropping. As is my will to dig in.

I see several women at the side of the road crying with their bikes.

I gain perspective. I feel lucky to be moving on my bike and heading towards home.

Oh wait, no, heading towards a Marathon…

My goal changes.

My goal is now to finish. My initial goal was to finish. Then to finish with a smile. Then to finish in as best a time as possible.

I’m happy to finish right now.

I get to T2. I check my bike split. My bike split is shocking.

6 hours 30 minutes and change.

I get off my bike, and it is taken and racked for me.

My legs feel rubbish. My first thought is that I have to run a marathon on these legs and I want nothing more than to stop. Now. My legs hurt.

I run out onto Alii drive. My legs feel terrible. My head feels terrible.

Km1. 4:40. You don’t need to run that fast. Km2 4:50 you don’t need to run that fast km3 feels horrible I just want to stop. Slow down. You don’t need to run that fast. Km4. Feels horrible want to stop. Ok. You can walk up Palani. But I want to stop now. No. you must run, but don’t check your run splits because you will be disappointed. Watch beeps. Keep running.

You can walk when you get to Palani. 8km out and 8km back.

16km total.

Run.

Run.

Run.

Palani. Hill. Very. Busy. Spectators. Competitors. I walk. Right from the very base of it. Probably a fraction of a second before it even becomes a hill.

Now in my head I recall that section taking me just under 10 minutes. I even looked at my watch. I’m convinced that I did. The walk up Palani takes me just over 8 minutes.

I also looked at my first 16km splits this week. The majority of them were under 5 minutes. With a few over, but not by much.

It is interesting for me to recall where my head goes to in a race.

And then

I got to the top of Palani, and saw a message that had been written in chalk, for me. By a friend who’s sister happened to be at the race.

“GO GAIL LFTC. LFTC GO GAIL”

My friends.

They’re thinking of me.

I think of my friend who finished an ironman on water alone, unable to eat from 15km into the bike.

It is the detail of the logo. LFTC.

It is exact.

They’re thinking of me. My London Fields Triathlon Club friends.

I can run.

If I couldn’t run, that would be different,

I can run, I just can’t win.

“GO GAIL LFTC” was my mantra.

Left foot “Go” right foot pause, left foot “GAIL right foot pause, left foot “L” right foot “F”, Left foot “T” right foot “C”…

Left foot “Go” right foot pause, left foot “GAIL right foot pause, left foot “L” right foot “F”, Left foot “T” right foot “C”…

I’m on the queen K and I feel incredible.

Then I see my friend.

I start to tell him that I had a puncture, and, and, and, and,

He tells me

“Focus on the now”

13km. Mantra.

Left foot “Go” right foot pause, left foot “GAIL right foot pause, left foot “L” right foot “F”, Left foot “T” right foot “C”…

All the way into the Natural energy lab. I look up. The sun is setting on the sea. It looks beautiful. The water glistens. The sun shimmers a pinky orange hue. A runner stops in front of me. We’re heading down hill.

I tap her on the shoulder “come on”, I say “this bit is the easy bit”, “it’s down hill”, I say “with me”.

She runs.

We run.

She picks up her pace.

3km. Side by side. 3 lovely km.

I’m hot.

Water. Water. Water. Water.

One over head.

One drink

One over head.

Sponge. Ice cold. Over my head. Takes my breath away. Lovely.

Turn around in the energy lab, still not checking run splits. Feeling hard. I want to walk. Try and work out how much longer I have to run if I continue to run at this pace to the end. My head hurts. I work out that it will take me 4 weeks. I think that my math is not working so well right now. My head really hurts. Strike a deal with myself. You can walk the aid stations.

I hear that I can walk.

I walk.

I walk for a km.

I walk out of the energy lab.

Then I run.

My hopes of a daylight finish are dashed.

The sun has set. Beautifully on the horizon. I share the moment with another woman who has had a bad day.

Volunteers have had time to clear the paths of the plastic cup debris.

Its getting late. It’s dark.

Water? Cola?

“Chicken soup?”

No thanks.

“Chicken soup?” I think are you kidding me? “chicken blooming soup”, then I chuckle to myself and think “well, it is dinner time I suppose”…

Run some, walk some,

The support is sensational.

Counting down the kilometers.

10km camaraderie

7km hear about your day

6km her race didn’t go to plan, nor hers,

6km what lovely, lovely people, it might be fast at the front, but it sure is friendly at the back,

6km, I’m at the back

6km oh come on, it’s been 6 kilometers for EVER

5km,

4km I walk. And then a tap on my shoulder now, “Come on, only 4km to go, it’s all down hill now”

Karma.

I start to run.

Top of Queen K. Final aid station, glow sticks, volunteers dancing, in two lines. Music pumping. I run through.

Irene Cara “WHAT A FEELING” playing on the loud speaker:

“What a feeling

Being’s believing

I can have it all

Now I’m dancing for my life

Take your passion

And make it happen”…

3km “what a feeling”…

I’m running

2km “blah blah blah” what’s the next verse?

Sill running…

How does that song start?

Still running…

Where is that damn finishing shoot?

Still running…

1km

Seriously!

It can’t come soon enough.

There it is. The arch. It doesn’t look as wonderful as I thought it would.

I only care about crossing the line.

I don’t think about the 2 other people getting their moment of glory.

I don’t think about my vi-zor turned backwards,

Or the shades that I no longer need hanging from my race belt

I don’t think about the photographs at all.

“Gail Marie Wilkinson, You are an Ironman…”

Now where the bloody hell is that chocolate milk…

Kona Race Build

Kona race build;

Dolphins, Sunsets, Manta-Rays and some really lovely people

I was swimming back towards the pier, having swam out to the “Coffee’s of Hawaii” boat, moored at sea for the duration of race week, from which free coffee (or tea/water) is served. I was interviewed by Bevan (James IMtalk pod cast), grabbed a quick shot of coffee (which I don’t even drink) and was happily swimming back towards shore when I saw a massive Manta- Ray float right beneath my feet. I stopped a fellow swimmer (also swimming leisurely towards shore) to show off my great find. She was not impressed. “can you see the manta-ray”? I chirped. “no” she snapped and stuck her head back in the water and swam off.

This, and several other experiences during my build week in Kona, reminded me that I do this sport because I love it. I love the places that it has taken me to, the experiences that I have and the people that I meet. Most importantly I get to experience the environment from a swim, bike and run perspective that is very different to any other I have experienced before.

I do this for a hobby, to get to know myself a little better, to see where my limits are, to make myself feel better and so that I can guiltlessly eat cake, or in this case “pan cake”

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Having swam for months on end in an often cold, sometimes over crowded, mostly murky, with bits floating in it, local municipal pool, following the black line, counting laps; the joy of swimming in open water, sun on my skin, being distracted by the most exquisite and colourful fish, in abundance, is such a treat, I felt happy and excited just for this opportunity alone. I did not want to beast myself in the sea the same way that I have done in session after session in the pool. Pull buoy. Paddles. Fins. Drills. Sets. Reps. RPE this. Rest that. No. This was not the time for blind focus. This was the time to take it all in. The sea life, the sunshine, the enjoyment, this is part of my reward.

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Cooke bay, Big Island, Hawaii

Exercising on the island for the first 7 days of my arrival felt horrible for my body. My muscles and lungs felt very stiff. On one particular training run, I ran past 4 times Ironman World Champion Chrissie Wellington who was chatting at the side of the road. About 10 minutes later I heard footsteps approaching and as she passed, Chrissie said “hi”…running in the footsteps of this great champion I realised that the paths I was running on are steeped in history. Trodden by many a great champion. I felt very grateful to be given and to have gained the opportunity to train and race here, surrounded by the great and good of our sport, at every corner that I turned.

It was a beautiful run that took me out towards the south of the island. The vegetation is lush in the south. The terrain was undulating, various scents emanating from jasmine, taking in spectacular views, before heading back through a sandy bay replete with canoes and home. I’m not sure if the scenery or Chrissie put a spring in my step, however it was definitely my best run to date.

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Everything that I could do to prepare for this race I did. I slept in the afternoons, I avoided mid-day sun. I acclimatized steadily. I was patient. By day 7 I did a ride out towards Hawi and felt invincible. Occasionally you might see a goat silhouetted on a rock, or a garland of flowers in honour of someone, the white coral and flowers forming their name. Growing out of the rocks, you randomly have pockets of crimson, lilac and acute pink flower bushes dotted along the highway that give a stark contrast to the black volcanic wasteland.

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I felt so happy, all of my senses were heightened. I was in the best place possible, emotionally, physically and literally.

Our accommodation was immense. In every sense of the word. It even had a pool that you could swim in. As the sun set over the pool on the first evening, I captured this;

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At 3.5 miles from the Ironman start line the condo was a great distance for me to be able to get away from it all too. As the staging and Ironman paraphernalia set in so did my sense of anxiety every time that I ventured anywhere near Kona town.

I went for a swim out towards the 1.9km mark of the swim course at “Dig me” beach and after I had turned and was heading home, alone, my sighting was well off. I looked up at one point and a kayaker was paddling towards me with purpose. I looked up to the kayaker, conscious that she was aiming her kayak towards me, wondering if I had done something wrong and then I looked to my right, where I saw a black fin, sear through the water. As I saw another fin do the very same thing, the theme tune to that very famous 80’s shark movie went through my head. Dern-um.

I asked the kayaker if that was a “shark or dolphins fin”- to which she replied, “oh, they’re Dolphin’s, there’s a pod of about 25 of them at your feet”.

“I’m still really scared” was my reply.

She kayaked while I swam breaststroke, too scared to put my face in the water, back to the next buoy. Once I’d calmed down I could appreciate what an incredible experience this was, seeing so many dorsal fins and noses, so near. As I watched the fins disappear into the horizon.

I also went to the parade of nations. Essentially it’s a walk from the King Kam hotel that all (most/some) athletes participate in.

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Realising that there are so many athletes competing from all over the world, each country representing felt a great thing to be a part of. I was 1 of 112 athletes from the U.K who qualified to be there in Kona, 2014.

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The parade finished at the ironman village. A cynic might think this a great marketing ploy from Ironman. I have a shopping attention span that lasts about 45 minutes. This number might be amplified if said shopping could be extended to bikes and bike paraphernalia.

However behind the shopping village was the sea. And upon it the sun was setting to the most spectacular sunset I have seen in years.

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Call me a romantic, but sunset versus shopping you’ll find me soaking up the lap of the ocean and the calm of the sea, with the canoes and boats silhouetted in the background of the setting sun every time.

Immediately behind me, seated at a desk, offering “signing” (books/t-shirts/posters) were Dave Scott and Mark Allen the infamous ironman duo each having won the ironman world championships 6 times.

I asked one of their assistants if they would mind if I took a photograph. There was a long line of queuing hopefuls waiting to get their little keepsake. The guy pointed to the line and said, if you get in line, I’m sure they’d take a photograph with you, they’re super friendly. I looked at the line, then back at the sun setting-concerned I might miss a glorious sun set.

I explained this to the “assistant”, he replied “how many more days are you here”?

“There will always be more sunsets, you’ll only get to meet Dave Scott and Mark Allen once in your life time”…

And that is where I realised what was most important to me.

I am truly inspired by greatness. I love reading about other people’s adventures and experiences. However what is important to me is the experiences that I have and create for myself, that are centred around me doing and being something, being a better, faster, nicer, kinder, version of myself not having or holding on to something that belongs to someone else.

So I quickly took this snap

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Dave Scott and Mark Allen, Kona 2014

And went back to my little perch on the wall, watching the sun set upon the ocean.

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During the build up week, there are so many things going on, lots of opportunity to meet with the stars of triathlon and hear them speak. I went to the Witsup Breakfast panel chat with Julie Dibbens, Emma Snowshill, Siri and Berlinda Grainger. This was great, inspiring, and came just at the right time.

Even bumped into Mirinda on our way out…

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Every day you see people, jogging, running, racing up Alii drive. Looking in the best shape of their lives.  As well as being inspirational, intimidating and sometimes just amusing, there is definitely a sense of people at their best, doing their best, or trying to. Most people focussed, lots of people happy and some looking incredibly uptight and miserable.

This also reminded me what is important to me and why I participate in triathlon. I am here to beat myself. I do this sport for fun. That essentially, World championships or not, I am on holiday with a race thrown in at the end. That the outcome of this race will not change my life, change all of the work that has got me here, or make me a different person. It is a great stage on which to challenge myself, to work through a process and the outcome is the outcome.

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Kiholo Bay, Big Island, Hawaii: Where I swam with turtles;

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And went swimming in a fresh water spring too

Throughout my race prep week I felt so very grateful. Grateful to have the physical and mental capacity to gain a place to race in Kona and to be there fulfilling that dream. Being grateful to be surrounded by wonderful, inspirational people (near and far) who continually offer me a lot of love and support. I met some incredible, lovely, people, who were so very generous with their time and their spirit too.

Feeling grateful to be having the experience. Trying my hardest to stay focused on the now. The feel of the warm water on my skin, the fish, the dolphins, the manta ray, the sunsets, embracing the warmth, embracing the experience. Embracing the nerves, and feelings of overwhelmed-ness.

Ironman is a really lonely sport. It is a selfish sport that takes a lot of focus and hard work. It requires you to choose early mornings over late evenings, to choose lycra over sequins and the most part protein shakes over champagne. You do most of your socializing over a handle bar. Permanently feel tired. Permanently feel hungry. Have little energy for much other than swim, bike, run, and the occasional weights set thrown in. And yet is so very rewarding nothing else matters than getting to that finish line. And for me, getting to the finish line with a smile.

The Kona experience is a reward for hard work, focus and sacrifice.

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us” anon

Highlights of my week;

Random acts of kindness

Dolphin’s swimming alongside me out at sea

Running in the footsteps of the great

Exquisite sunsets

Yoga at dawn

Swimming with turtles and Manta-Ray

Getting to know some wonderful people

Getting to know my self

Getting to the finish line

Ironman Nice Race Report

Race Report, Ironman Nice 2014.

I’ll start by talking about the swim, mostly because that’s where the race starts, and in writing that I realise that the race actually begins and ends in my head. Regardless of how many hours you put into training, where your head is at the weeks, days, hours, leading up to and during the race are key to the outcome of your race.

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To say that I was anxious about the swim start would be an understatement. I was lucky enough to have several of my friends competing in IMNice with me this year, and even luckier to have them by my side as we headed for the pre-race warm up swim.

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I was so anxious that I hadn’t noticed that the lady sat putting on her wetsuit next to my friend Guy, was only Leanda Cave. Still didn’t notice as we left and Seb said “good luck with your race today Leanda”, and I was like “oh, Leanda, have a great race” and I gave her a hug.

The swim warm up was actually very nice. I realised as I swam back towards the massive POWERBAR flags, that I had already swam in this particular bay a few days earlier. This was more luck than judgement on my part, however it gave me a glimmer of much needed confidence at that stage.

The race begins on the beach. It’s a sea swim with 2 laps of a 1900m loop.

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I was standing in the pen waiting for the race to start rehearsing all of my fears in my head. It is a reminder to me, to be careful what thoughts I allow to go on repeat, which of these are useful and those which are definitely not useful, like “I am going to drown/die/be swum over by 2500 swimmers all of whom are going to use me as their human stepping ladder/island/ I will be punched and kicked and pummeled to death. I was asked by a local racer (done the race 8 times and qualified several times for Kona at this race) if I was ok. I shared some of my fear of being beaten up on the swim, to which he replied quite matter of factly “oh yes, you will be beaten up, every year it is the same. Every year it is a fist fight, stay to the right.”

Every word he spoke was true. Especially the bit about telling me to “stay right”. Within minutes of starting the swim I had a mini panic attack. The water was churning up around me, bodies moving, arms flailing and all happening very, very quickly. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, & I wanted for it all to stop. I wanted out. I started to swim breaststroke, but the anxiety and the people just kept coming. People swimming over me, into me, around me, I just kept swimming to the right, looking for clear water and hoping that I would calm down. By the time I got to the clear water at the right of the pack I had been swimming breaststroke for what felt like an eternity. Time enough for me to calm down and catch my breath. 2500 people are a lot of people to fit around a couple of buoys in the sea. So much so that there were a hundred or more swimmers forced to swim on the wrong side of the first buoy. I was not one of them. The bunching around the buoys really was awful.

I then managed to find some clear water and had a slow, and mostly uneventful swim. Apart from the bit where I got punched in the face, and thought I had a black eye.

I had been advised that if someone hits your toes to kick as hard as you can. But I’ve tried this in previous races, and it’s exhausting. Every time someone tapped my toes, I just relaxed and thought, “it’s an accident, they’ll move away”, and that is exactly what happened. There were pockets of 2 swimmers swimming by my side with no room for me to move through, so I waited and took another line.

This was not the swim that I had imagined, practiced for, or am capable of.

It was a slow swim, but I managed to compose myself and get my self back together, and finish it, so job done. The transition was slow also, but no slower than the 50 other people who were congested on the steps as we headed off the beach towards the bike/run bag racks, where your bag is easily distinguishable from the other 2500 competitors bags.

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My chain came off in the bike transition but it was straightforward to put back on. I was safely on my bike and happy to have survived the swim.

The bike course is stunning. You climb out of Nice, into the mountains and a wonderful climb called Col D’Ecre. I’d done a course reccie on Google earth, and had hired a car to drive the final 50km that was a little more technical. Having driven and ridden the final 40km of the bike course, I was nervous that I would be unable to ride the final switchbacks. The weather had turned, the rain was coming down heavy, and the roads were really greasy. People were skidding off their bikes at every turn, and having fallen off my bike two weeks ago, staying on my bike became the most important thing to me.

I slowed to a snails pace, and took each of the corners really wide. So much so, a marshal whistled and shouted in French (to be translated by another rider for me) that if we took the corners on the opposite side of the white lines again, we would be disqualified. I thought this a curious position to take in treacherous cycling conditions. I’ve watched the Tour de France you know.

I was being overtaken left right and centre on the descents. But I felt so nervous about falling off, and I knew from the reccie that I had done that there were a few hairy turns at the end of the bike route that if I took wrong could see me off the side of the mountain, or so I thought.

A few riders overtook me as the road took a sharp turn right, two of them wobbled, the third pulled on his brakes and his bike dropped from underneath him and he went crashing into the side of the road. I knew if I braked I would surely follow him, and so I had no choice but to ride my bike off the side of the road, where there luckily was a slip road, and into a hedge.

This meant that I slowed even further whilst still waiting for the treacherous switchbacks that I knew awaited the end of my descent. I was still braking, slowing and generally holding back when I passed some greenhouses. I remembered seeing these whilst driving the route with my coach on Google Earth, and had not seen them on the reccie that I had driven with a friend who was also competing in the race, and navigated our course reccie. Realising that my friend had navigated us on the wrong route I knew that there were no switchbacks (that would surely send me to my death) to navigate, and I felt confident to ride strong and had a great 20km ride back into town.

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The roads were very wet, and slippery, even on the flat. There is only one other notable point to make about the bike course and that is the amount of drafting there was out on the course. It was shameless in some parts. There were pockets of riders, happily taking the wheel of the next. I think that drafting will be hard to eradicate, and there is a fine line when you are riding at a similar speed to other riders around you, and periods of do-se-doing, where you’re in front and then they are, which will always happen, but when I am riding in a race, and I have had the same face on my wheel for more than 10 minutes, I generally think “shame on you!”

If my swim had been below average and my bike was cautious at best, when I got off my bike and started running into transition, my legs felt AMAZING. I thought to myself “Game On”!

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I was racing with several of my friends from London Fields Triathlon Club, and there were lots of club members, friends and their family on the sidelines to support too. The hairs on my arm literally stood on end when I heard the first shout out from the LFTC supporter’s corner…this was an amazing and much needed lift every 5km or so.

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The run went to plan until about 25km and I started to lose my head. Fear took a hold and I was wondering when I was going to start to feel the pain. Then all I could think about was how my legs were hurting and I could focus on little else other than the pain.

Having approached the bike to run transition and asking a marshal “where are the loo’s” and being pointed straight out onto the run course, by the marshal there was not a loo in sight, so I thought that I should just get on with running. I only spotted the porter loos at the 5km turnaround mark, 15km into the race. I then waited another 20km before using them, 36km into my race. It is only now in seeing my running time that I wished that I had gone to the loo in transition.

I also wished that I had more control over my thoughts, and not walked km39. I also walked through a few of the final aid stations, before I had a word with myself and finished the final 2km running and a total run time of 3:28:and change.

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I did enough. A finishing time of 10:35:37 means a place in the Ironman World Championships, Kona.

The power of kindness

The power of kindness

 

Power to weight ratio is a number athletes care about. It’s the magic number by which athletes gauge how fast they can go. As an athlete I know how much power I can produce over a certain period of time, and what this translates to in terms of performance.

 

I was on a training ride on Saturday. It was one of those days where I really didn’t want to ride. I wanted to curl up on the sofa and read my book. But I needed to do a run off the bike, and I have a competition coming up, that I’ve put in a fair few hours training for, got up early for, missed parties for, basically slogged my guts out for so yes, I am going on that training ride, even when I don’t want to go.

 

On the ride over to Richmond Park, I thought to myself, I’ll do one lap then head home. By the time I got to the park, I thought, I’ll do two laps, then head home, and after the second lap I thought, if I do one more lap I’ll have done the exact right amount of riding time that I’m supposed to and I can do my run off, guilt free.

 

On the third and final lap of Richmond Park, I fell off my bike at the Kingston gate roundabout. I wasn’t going fast. There had been a flash shower, and the road was a little greasy. My bike just skidded from underneath me. I looked up at the car approaching me, and the driver put up his hand to show that he had seen me, and then he got out the car and helped me stand up and move my bike to the side of the road.

 

Another cyclist stopped and chatted with me, made sure that I was ok, and then asked a lady who was running by if she happened to have any tissue or plasters (which I thought was a little weird). Another duo of runners passed me by, a lady offered to go home and get her car to take me to the station. I thanked them all profusely, assured them that I was fine, and sent them all on their merry way.

 

To be honest, I felt awful, and wanted them all to leave me alone so that I might cry in peace. And once they had all gone, this is exactly what I did. I sobbed my little heart out. There is something about falling over even as an adult, that strips you bare of all your composure, and takes you right back to that time when you first grazed your knee (or in this case, thigh, knee, elbow, hand and shoulder-ouch).

 

I was sobbing away to myself when I felt a presence beside me. The lady who had been jogging by, and to whom the cyclist had asked if she had a tissue or a plaster, had gone back to her car and returned with, you guessed it, a tissue and a plaster. She told me that she usually carried a first aid kit because she was a first aider. She sat besides me, gave me a hug, then offered to take me and my bike to Richmond station.

 

I accepted. It’s not a far journey. However I felt very shaken and was so very grateful for her kindness, it made me cry all over again. There was a fair bit of traffic, and despite my offering to get out and walk/ ride now, she soothed me with kindness, and said she didn’t really have anywhere to be in a hurry.

She talked of her son, it turns out he’s a cyclist. We talked about her working for the Kingston cycling junior club. We talked about her learning to swim. We talked about how I got into triathlon.

 

She then said that she was so very pleased that she had met me, and that hearing I had learnt to swim as an adult, she felt inspired to continue to learn to swim herself, even though she found it difficult. There was a genuiness and kindness about her that was so very soothing. I have been moved by the power of her kindness. I have been moved so much by this power, that it has reminded me that the true nature of power is found in those small acts of kindness, of compassion, of going out of our way to be human and to look out for other people. I also felt humbled that she could feel grateful to have met me, when it was me who should feel the gratitude.

 

The power this lady has, has moved me. She treated me, a stranger, as a friend. She gave me her time, and took time out to do something that had no seen benefit to her. There is a great power in the smallest acts of kindness.

I feel truly humbled, and grateful.

 

This power could not be measured in wattage, it cannot be measured in speed.

 

Quiet.

Supportive.

Kind.

Compassionate.

Humble.

 

Those are the numbers that I’d like to improve.

Spring Ballbuster 2014

Aside

“Ballbuster”

What are you going to call it now @humanraceevents???

Although Lucy Gossage busted everyone’s balls, so perhaps the name is apt.

WHAT. A. DAY.

The morning was misty and oh, so cold. I was as nervous as ever taking on a new course, beginning of the season, and nowhere near peak fitness.

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I bumped into a friend who didn’t recognise me even though she was a meter in front of me, the race anxiety having contorted my face into something unrecognizable. I literally had a sleepless night. It’s not even an important race for me, I told myself, it’s practice, a training race I said, and yet the nervousness would not subside.

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I want to do well. I want a race where everything comes together. The race where I have prepared my best, raced my best run/bike/run combo, or swim/bike/run combo. This is what I am seeking. Perfection. This is what keeps me hungry. This is what keeps me coming back for more. The end of race “if only’s”, “coulda, woulda, shoulda’s” still fresh in my mind as I write my first race report 2014.

And what a cracking start to the season.

I started the first 8 mile run at the head of the field. It was the first time that I have raced with a Garmin and the first race I have run being coached by ABCPure. I got chatting to a guy whom I had fallen into pace with. As I was overtaken by a woman and I said out loud, “it’s ok, I’ll catch her on the bike”. As I was overtaken by woman number 2 and 3, I also said “I may need to adjust my racing strategy”.

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The sun was shining. I was smiling. And running. I have ridden along Headley, Surrey many a time in training and never thought in a million years that I might be running along there. It truly is beautiful. For point of reference I nicknamed Headley “Narnia” with my girlfriends, the trees that line either side of the road remind me of Narnia, not that I’ve been to Narnia, of course.

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Wonderful tree lined roads, with breathtaking views across Surrey and beyond. Dappled and sunlit. Birds singing. Wall lined cottages, and a stream to boot. It was like something out of a Disney movie. Whatever gets you through, right?

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I had no idea what to expect running up Boxhill, but as we ascended the top of the climb, I felt pretty strong. Followed by 3 glorious laps of Boxhill at a “moderate’ pace on the bike, thanks coach,

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and then another 8mile run ascending Boxhill to finish, strong.

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I mentioned that it was a cold day. I rued the decision to take the liners off my hands pre putting gloves on, and was rather grateful for the first ascent of Boxhill to add a little warmth. I spend my life not knowing what to wear. I definitely could have done with an extra layer. Apart from my calves twinging on the final 3km of the run, that slowed my pace a little, race pacing strategy was good, and I finished with a negative split on the run.

I definitely smiled hard during the race. I loved it.

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I had no idea where I was in the pack by now, having been overtaken by several women, I was reckoning on top 10, so I enjoyed the scenery, enjoyed the lovely marshals and wonderful course, and enjoyed the last lap run.

90 seconds after 3rd place, and 4th lady overall I took 1st vet.

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It felt amazing to be racing in that field. 25 years in the running and history was made with the first woman winning a Human Race event outright. Lucy Gossage taking 1st place overall, truly awesome.

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In transition there was a special buzz, with the guys chatting across racks about being “chicked” (they may not have used that word exactly), with a great respect and reverence for Lucy. It truly felt like being a part of something special.

I also got a “f@## me you’re not that old” and “that’s a great advertisement for triathlon” comment that made my day.

All in all a great day out on the bike and run.

Strangely looking forward to the next one.

Bring it on.

p.s Thank you for the photographs @challengesophie.com & sportcam.net

Learning to swim

I entered my first triathlon in 2008. It was to give me a focus to learn to swim. I can pretty much say I couldn’t’ swim in my first triathlon, or my second. A few weeks ago I applied to join Team Freespeed, UK’s finest amateur elite triathlon team.

I still feel like I can’t swim.

I sometimes feel so out of my depth that I feel I might drown. And that’s just in life. Sometimes I find it hard to get motivated, to stay positive. To focus on what I have achieved. It is easy to notice what you have not done, the negativity instead of focusing on the good. We notice the gaps between where we are and where we want to be. Instead of focusing on progress, we want perfection, we live in the gaps of our hopes and our fears, instead of living in reality.

Performance is about progress, life is about progress, being a perfectionist I can often forget this.

I sent my 154 character application to Team Freespeed, and I had an idea that I would show some of my personality along with it. I would send a little “love” in the form of baked goods, exhibiting passion, personality and another of my love’s “cake”, it was St Valentines day after all. I also wanted to show that I am willing to go that extra mile.

The next day after I had sent the application I felt stupid. I thought, who am I to think that I am in with a chance of getting into this team. I started to beat myself down, and talk myself out going through with my plan, through the rejection that I feared was coming.

The fear of rejection, the fear of change, sometimes hold me hostage, and stop me from applying for things that might advance or change my life in someway. I am afraid of humiliation. I am afraid that what if I say I really want this thing and then this thing says “no” I don’t want you. My fear is that I am not good enough. And sometimes the fear makes me behave as a different version of myself so that I am not seen as me anyway.

Through time, mediation and a lot of miles on the road I realise that these fears are about something else entirely. I realise that it is not that I am not good enough, it might be that I am not the right fit, or that I am not at the right time, it often has nothing to do with me at all.

So I had a quiet word with myself and for the first time ever I applied. I stood up and I said, yes I would like to be a part of this. Yes I believe that I am the right fit for you, and I told the truth and I was the best version of myself in my application to give myself the best chance.

Was I selected?

I am currently waiting to find out.

Those feelings of insecurity, yep they’re there, but they’re looming in the background of something different now.

The feeling of “doing” something. Of having an idea and following it through. Of  process. Of completion. Of being in the game. This feeling is immense.

This feeling is not unique to me. We all have it. Through writing, through drawing, creating, breaking code, counting numbers, exercising, meditation. Through applying ourselves we are all finding a truer version of ourselves. Finding what it is that makes us work and what it is that makes us happy.  We’re all learning to swim in our own unique way.

The finest realisation is that in knowing that if I don’t get in, it’s not because I’m not right, but because it’s not right for me; (I still want a place though, obviously)!

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Life lessons.

Here endeth mine today.

Does exercise make me a better person?

Does exercise make me a better person?

When I think about how angry, hurt and irrational that I can sometimes get, my humanness if you like, and how when I go on a bike ride, or allow my feet to pound on the ground, when I run, or my body to glide through the water when I swim those feelings seem to dissipate, get worked through and often times, I gain a new perspective. Or the feelings dissolve into something so miniscule and insignificant, I return from the exercise, feeling like a different person.

It got me thinking; does exercise make me a better person?

I mean that, does exercise help to channel these feelings of “humaness”?

I suppose it may be helpful to think about what I might mean by the concept, “better”? A better, more rounded even version of myself.

Exercise allows me to take time out, to do something other than worry about what i’m not doing. The changing scenery allows me to keep introducing new thoughts, new perspectives, and new ways of being.

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I enjoy being in the company of others, but in this hectic world it is often difficult to schedule time for ourself. Time to catch up with others is so precious, we can feel guilty about scheduling a little “alone time”.

There is definitely a solitude to the sports that I choose, that allows me to process what is important and let go of what is not.

During a recent run, I got to thinking about the contact of my feet with the earth. It happened to be concrete, but with each step I felt more and more connected to my surroundings and more connected to myself. This is where the original question arose.

Through exercise I notice my foibles. Exercise allows me space to run wild with my imagination. New thoughts come in. I have time to process what is important to me. My subconscious processes thoughts and themes without my ego stepping in.

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Exercise gives me space to be. Through doing, I find stillness and “being”ness.

Does exercise make me a better person? Who knows.

Exercise makes me feel better in myself, it gives me confidence that there is something that I can “do”. I can do something about my mood, I can do something about my overactive brain, I can do something that can make a difference to me.

Exercise makes me remember that I have a choice.

Exercise gives me a sense of meaning and purpose, and adds a definite value to my life.

How about you? Does exercise make you a better person?