Adios to snail cycling at Ironman 70.3 UK
The last piece of advice I'd been given ahead of Ironman 70.3 UK at Wimbleball was to enjoy it. I'd also been told to fly. I thought I'd try the former before attempting anything which might involve me going over my handlebars. In the back of my mind, I thought if I enjoyed it and had a perfect day, I might just be able to scrape over the line in under six hours, at 12.59.59, but I'd have to bike better than I'd ever done before. Game on!
I'd had my nervous breakdown earlier on in the week and come race day morning I was strangely chilled out, so relaxed that I was alone in the car park putting my wetsuit on at 0640 for an 0700 start.
The swim was more like a one-sided underwater sparring session. Mr annoying next to me skilfully managed to make contact with every part of my body; my head, my arms, my feet, my ears, my legs, my back, my bum, my hands... He didn't miss a shot. Frustratingly every time I tried to move he seemed to follow and whack me again. Exiting Wimbleball lake was a joy.
Transition was fun, especially when you're half blind like I am. 2s and 3s look rather similar without glasses and as I went to tip my blue bike bag out I realised my shoes hadn't suddenly turned black. I'd grabbed the wrong bag. Cue panic, guilt and a swift jog back to the transition pegs of hell to find my bag. Next up locate my bike and then my cycle legs.
Said legs were there and ready. Yes! I'd been advised to take the first hill really steadily, I tried, but I also span past a couple of girls. Legs wanted to get going. Who was I to completely stop them?
Then something weird happened. The aero helmet shaved leg (with balls) brigade didn't all shoot past within ten minutes of me getting on the bike. Similarly I wasn't overtaken by a load of women after around half an hour. This was a huge boost. I was no longer a snail on a bike. A tortoise compared to others, maybe, but definitely no longer ridiculously slow.
Exmoor is hilly. The steep descents are tough. The tough ascents are steep. But my legs kept on turning, I kept on smiling and I was onto the second lap and on course to complete the bike leg in under 3.30.
This made me happy. "Keep spinning, keep climbing, ignore the fools who pass you in the no-overtaking zone, ignore the pain creeping in on the climbs, keep drinking, keep eating," I told myself.
I was passed by more people on the second lap and in the last fifteen minutes I had really slowed. People who I'd passed at the start of the bike overtook me. "Don't panic," I told myself. "Save your energy and catch them on the run."
T2 couldn't come soon enough. I was done with cycling and wanted to get my trainers on!
After a quick wee and switch of shoes, I left the transition tent. I looked at my watch. I had just under two hours to do a tough half marathon in order to reach the finish line before 1pm.
On one hand I had every confidence I could do it. On the other I wasn't sure how much pain my right glute would be in as It had been giving me some gyp in the fortnight leading up to the race. I just had to trust myself, pace it well and ignore any demon voices.
I went for the special run look-scratched sunglasses and a classy baseball cap. Firstly they shielded me from the sun, but secondly it's a psychological thing. To me, hiding your eyes behind shades under a hat makes you go even deeper into your own world. They are your problems to deal with, your mind games to solve. And nobody can see how much you're truly suffering if they can't see your eyes.
Wearing the cap also enabled me to hide from the hills. I couldn't see the top of the biggest climb unless I removed my cap. I didn't remove it once-which meant I just kept running no matter the incline.
The run was hot, it was hilly, it was hard. But it was fun. I took sips of water at each aid station and threw the rest over my head. Had it been a marathon I would have been screwed as I just couldn't stomach any food or gels. But it wasn't, I'd got it just about right and I had enough in me to keep going.
With so many people out on the course at the same time there was always another target to aim for which really helped. I didn't do anything stupid, rather I maintained a steady pace, and gradually picked my way through the field, passing about 5 or 6 girls on the run.
Of course I was overtaken too, by some really speedy ladies. Hats off to them for being so strong and making it look so effortless!
As I approached the final corner where the course divides, I was so relieved. This time I was able to take a right to the finish chute. I started to take my cap off, put my sunglasses on my head and prepare to run down the blue carpet and enjoy the moment.
But another girl had a different idea. She came flying past me. That wasn't in the script! A sprint finish at the end of a 70.3? But my legs were up for it. I chased her down the carpet, both of us giving it everything, the crowds either side cheering us on. It was an unforgettable moment. I didn't beat her but I'd given it a go. And pushing myself into 5th gear at the end meant I crossed that line in 5.49.49. I'd smashed my target. Annoyingly for her, I also totally photobombed her finish pictures.
I'd crossed the line in time for a picnic lunch and a cold beer in the sunshine. I sat eating my ham and cheese sandwich with a massive smile on my face. Not only had I managed to enjoy the race, but I'd finished in the top twenty women, fourth in my age group.
I was miles behind the faster girls in the 30-34 group, so there's a ridiculous amount of work to do. But for someone who recorded the second slowest bike split in their age group and a 2.08 half marathon at Rapperswil 70.3 in 2012 I'm bloody proud of how much I've improved. Snails never were my favourite animals anyway.