Monday 8th September
It’s race week. A BIG race week. My debut race for GB Elite team at the European Long Distance triathlon Championships in Almere, Netherlands. And I’m feeling crappy. I’ve had a sore back since Friday which has got progressively worse over the weekend, add to that some nausea and general “unwellness” and I’m not a happy bunny. I managed a 50min easy ride in the morning before admitting I probably should get things checked out with the Doc. Part of me is thinking it’s pre-race paranoia but, being pretty in tune with my body, I can tell something’s not quite right. The check up reveals a mild kidney infection, which explains the back pain and other symptoms. I’m prescribed low dose antibiotics for 3 days and I sloped out of the surgery with my head down and a growing sense of disappointment. Such bad timing. I ditched the rest of the days plans and R&R took priority.
Tuesday 9th September
Four days until the race. I’d spent the night falling in and out of sleep, waking up drenched in sweat and simultaneously hot and cold. I must have drunk 2-3 litres of fluid overnight. Powerbar electrolyte tabs are literally saving my life right now! Once up and moving I don’t actually feel too bad. I’m on a mission now – to make that start line in Almere. After a scheduled ride and pre-race chat with my coach Joe Beer, I’m feeling a little bit more positive and optimistic about the weekend. Four days is still a long time to turn things around. Despite lingering nausea and lack of appetite, I’m forcing myself to keep eating well to keep those glycogen stores topped up. The afternoon is spent in a sweaty mess, moping around the house in a pathetic heap, channelling all my energy into getting healthy. Luckily we’re driving to Holland and I’ve already packed most of my race kit and my bike in the van. All that was left to do is pack a bag and take the train to London to meet up with Dan (Chaffeur extraordinaire) to begin the road trip.
Wednesday 10th September
First sweat free night of the week! I feel like a weight has lifted off my shoulders. I’ve definitely turned a corner and I can see light at the end of the tunnel. It’s my final day on antibiotics so fingers-crossed they’ve done the business and cleared the infection. A little swim tester – just 1.5k with a few 50s at race pace – reveal I can in fact still swim. And I haven’t morphed into a sumo wrestler despite unaccustomed inactivity. I head to London for a pre-race treatment with Caroline. She picks up on my low energy and does her witch doctor thing on me. That night I slept like a baby.
Thursday 11th September
I wake up early and take stock of my body and energy levels. I’m feeling GOOD! After a 30min shakeout run with some accelerations, I text my coach to say “GAME ON!” and all negative thoughts of illness and interrupted preparation are put to the back of my mind. I can’t afford to dwell on the negatives. Now I’ve made the decision that I’m healthy enough to race it’s time to take responsibility for my performance and not cushion myself with pre-prepared excuses. It may all go tits up and I may fail but I’m feeling too good to not at least try. It’s better to try and fail, than fail to try, right? After a long travel day we arrive in Almere in time to check into our accommodation and head down to the swim recce. One lap of the swim course down and we head for food and much needed sleep.
Friday 12th September
Pre-race day! In place of the usual pre-race nerves is a feeling I’m not so used to – a feeling of confidence. At this point I’m counting myself well and truly IN! A day of the usual pre-race faffing – registration, race briefing, bike check in, race bag check in – and all of sudden it’s time for ” the last supper” before bunking down and getting a few hours of kip ready for the customary middle-of-the-night race day alarm.
Saturday 13th September
04:30 10min shakeout run before a breakfast of COFFEE, Kallo rice puffs with banana and soya yoghurt.
05:45 Uniform check (ETU are strict on size/position/number of sponsors logos on suit). Luckily – I PASSED! Phew.
06:00 Final bike check, tyre pressure check and adding drinks bottles and nutrition to my bike.
06:30 Powerbar Charger, wetsuit on, arms swings and a quick dip in the lake to flush out the suit.
06:50 Presentation of Elite athletes on the pontoon.
07:00 RACE START. Now I’m happy, I’m in familiar territory. Until this point I’m a tightly coiled spring of anticipation and nervous energy. Now it’s all about just doing what I do every day in training. It’s my first experience of starting in an elite wave and with the swim still being my weakness I had prepared myself for a lonely start to the day. I shouldn’t have worried. I had company! I exited the water in a relaxed 1:01 in 7th place.
08:05 After a fast T1 I moved up into 6th place heading out onto the bike. The bike course in Almere is a 2 loops, flat as a pancake with the only adversity being ” a little wind”. After a twisty first few kms it was “head down time” as we headed out onto a 20mile straight road along the dyke into a significant head wind. I didn’t actually mind this bit too much. I knew to look at my average power (and NOT speed) for fear of being demoralised by the slow going so early on the race. I was a bit concerned to be vomiting every time I took some fuel on board, but I kept eating and drinking hoping my stomach would settle down. After reaching the turn point, we enjoyed a tailwind for the remainder of the loop, it felt like almost cheating to be floating along using very little energy. Heading onto lap 2 I’d moved up into 5th place and my legs were feeling really good. I’d stopped being sick (I put that down to the ingesting some lake water, as it only happened for the first hour on the bike) and my race day feeding plan was on track. I was relishing the long straight headwind section, I was getting a buzz from the discomfort and the challenge. It was a lonely ride, just me and the road. Then I spotted a speck in the distance. Head down, pedal, pedal, look up. The speck had got bigger. Oh good, I’m making progress. Head down, pedal, pedal. I play mind games. How long can I keep my watts EXACTLY the same for? How long can I go without looking up or shifting position? (bear in mind I’m on a dead straight, closed road, with no competitors around me). Then I played around with my head position, watching the speed/power numbers change depending on the drag. I felt like I was in my own personal wind tunnel! Fun and games. By this time, the 20 mile headwind section was over and I was almost disappointed. The speck I’d seen earlier up the road turned out to be a female German elite who I passed just before turning for the “cruise” home. Except the wind had decided it was going to play some games of it’s own. It was as if it was saying “well if you’re having that much fun, how about I keep you company for the rest of the ride”. Ho hum. The easy cruisey pace we enjoyed on lap 1 disappeared and it was now time to work for it! I maintained my position, gaining a little time of the German, and dismounted and ran into T2 having put down a 5:15 bike split. Pretty solid.
13:25 It’s time to RUN VICKSTER RUN! The ironman run is where you really find out what kind of legs you’ve got that day. To some extent you can bluff the swim and bike, but the run will find out any weakness you may have and EXPLOIT them until you’re stumbling and crying and promising your body that you’ll never put it through this ordeal ever again. The run course in Almere is 6 laps around the lake which gives spectators lots of cheering opportunities, and my support crew did not disappoint. My game plan was to get 2 laps out of the way before assessing how I’m feeling physically and mentally. 2 laps down and I’m feeling strong. I’m boosted by the fact I passed the 3rd place female halfway round the second lap, so I’ve now got a cycling chaperone for company. My spectators are going crazy, I’m staying calm outwardly but starting to get a little bit excited inside. But with 4 laps to go it’s way too early to start celebrating, the hardest part of the race is yet to come. I hit half way in 1:37, putting me on schedule for a 3:15 run split. Now I’m in unknown territory. I’m running faster than I ever have before in an ironman, but it’s a pace I should be capable of maintaining. This is where I let myself relax. I give myself a lap “off”. I’m a comfortable 3rd, there’s still a long way to go, and I get scared. The pace slips. 4th lap down. Heading onto lap 5 someone shouts “keep the pressure on”. I wake up and snap myself out of my comfort zone – the race is FAR from over. SUCK IT UP. 4th place may be catching me, I can’t afford to slack off. With 10k to go I take a Powerbar Cola Hydrogel. At this point in time it tastes like HEAVEN. A few minutes later the caffeine kicks in and the pace picks up. I’m floating, feeling no pain, and I begin asking myself “how much do you want this?” and my body is responding. 1 LAP TO GO! I think I’m clear in 3rd place, I’ve lost track of what time I’m on for, and all I think is “CONSOLIDATE, CONSOLIDATE, CONSOLIDATE”. With a few km to go, my bike companion says “enjoy the finish” and I now I know I’m going to do it. I’m going to finish on the podium. At this point I got a little bit emotional, I’m not going to lie. I pushed on those last 2km, just in case, it’s not over til it’s over. If I keeled over and had to do the ironman crawl, I wanted a bit of a buffer over whoever was running in 4th. I need not have worried, I hit the magic red carpet and soaked up every bit of atmosphere on that finish chute. This is a finish I will remember for a long time! I’d done it! A Bronze medal at the European championships. Only later did I realise I’d also set a new PB on the run (3:20) and an overall iron distance PB of 9:42. I’m whisked straight off for the medal and flower ceremony. My legs are shaking so much I’m worried I’m going to fall off the podium in front of everyone, which would have been a bit embarrassing! Then I’m off to doping control before an emotional reunion with my wonderful supporters who had sweated out there with me, albeit with a burger and beer in their hands….
I learnt a lot of lessons last week, the biggest of which was to NEVER count yourself out.