Where to start?
The back end of this season is turning out pretty well!! If you had asked me at the start of the season if I would get two second place Ironman 70.3 professional finishes I am not sure what I would have said. I think I have often thought about what I could achieve and always felt like I would caveat it with the reality of not being able to fully focus and commit to my goals in the way that I wanted to. Yes I know many athletes work full time and achieve incredible results, but the intensity that I need to achieve in training to develop and compete at the level I want to is not compatible with a full time job.
I have pushed so hard in training since May and really tried to utilise the benefit of working three days instead of five. The guidance from Andy has been crucial and we have been balancing the need for more volume with the need for some quality high intensity work. Nothing shows the work I have done more than the big step up I have taken in performance. The second place finishes show this, but more importantly, so do the times I have achieved in bike and run and the way I have been able to compete much more in races. There is still a long way to go, but to be running and biking like I am is exciting and holds much promise.
So what about Weymouth?
Anyone who raced on Saturday 10th September would know that the weather was in stark contrast to the Sunday. On the Saturday morning, in the pouring rain and howling wind, I did my final run and swim preparations. I then spent the rest of the day watching BBC weather and hoping that the Sunshine that was due would arrive! I was really fortunate to be able to stay with friends who lived on the end of the run course. This made the logistics for the whole event very easy and I am very grateful for not only the house, but also their amazing support on the day. People who get what it is about when you are racing are so important to have around and these guys totally get it…. Check out the trailer for the documentary of their amazing second place at RAAM: https://twitter.com/raamin4charity/status/775224189791895552
By this point in the season the familiarity of race morning preparation is a welcome one and I felt calm and ready. There was a great atmosphere at the start, particularly with the Ironman event going off at the same time. The view across the sea as the sun rose was pretty spectacular and I tried to soak up the energy and experience for the race start. After a short warm up in the water we were all trying to stand on the stony beach and not get cold. I was unsuccessful in A: walking on the stones without my feet hurting and B: not getting cold. The start hooter was therefore a welcome sound and charging into the sea I was off and swimming well, trying to chase the very fast Hannah Drewett and Emma Pallant towards the first buoy. Too much kicking quickly landed me in trouble and I was unable to keep pace, feeling like I was not holding a good rhythm and slowly drifting off the back of the lead three. The swim leg has had a consistent theme this year and is something I am continually trying to work on. I am learning all the time and trust that the performance will come soon. In the race I tried not to allow the frustration get to me and just focus on the rest of the swim. This can be difficult, especially when feeling isolated on the swim course, but I was sure there was a lot of racing left in the day and pushed on to the swim exit.
I exited the water in 4th, with 5th Suzie Richards hot on my tail. As I got through transition and out onto the bike I really wanted to attack hard. I knew that after the short flat section along the prom, there was a drag up into Preston. I worked hard from the off and for the first few kilometres my legs were burning and my heart rate fairly high. Once into my rhythm though, I felt stronger and stronger and before I knew it I had passed third and had the opportunity to see first and second on the out and back section of the course. This gave me a real boost and the incentive to keep pushing on. There was a lot of tree cover and fast descents in the first half of the course. This led to numb hands on the bike and toes that never warmed up. Luckily the uphills came and the sun came out – a good combination for getting warm. Through half way and finally I caught second place and continued to build time on her into the final kilometres. Emma rode really well up in first and kept the distance at 2 minutes 45 by the time I got to transition.
As I headed out onto the run I knew that it would be difficult to catch such a good runner, but I didn’t want to give any time away to third and I wanted to push hard and put in another good run performance after my 1.21 at Dublin. The first few kms of the run, as with the bike are always going to feel tough, but I worked hard to focus on my cadence, arm position and posture. I remembered the tempo runs and speed work from the weeks leading into the race and trusted I could hold the pace I set out at. The run course was very special as it was lined with people the whole way round. It was made even better by my sister, her partner, and my nephew being there as well as Pete, Mum, Phil and Suzanne. Having so much support spread around the course meant I was always being given bonus energy. The cheers from the Freespeed crew and other supporters only added to this. My particular highlight was a group of children singing ‘Don’t stop know…. “You are having such a good time!” This truly captures what is so great about the Ironman events and I felt lucky to be performing well and being given the support to push on. The final half a lap really hurt and I was struggling to hold my form and pace. Safe in second I settled and just tried to enjoy the last two miles into the finish line.
Crossing the finish line was a mixture of joy, relief, satisfaction and pride in another good performance. When I stop I always feel a bit unsure what to do with myself, particularly as the adrenalin wears off and I start to feel the effects of the racing. There were a lot of high fives and hugs with my family and friends and there is nothing better than sharing the success with them.
I had made no concrete plans for post Weymouth, but have now decided to race Bahrain 70.3 at the end of the year. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain from putting myself into a championship race to close the season. I am hoping to carry my form and momentum through a little longer and go and have some fun in what will hopefully be an amazing experience. An experience for me to learn from, benchmark where I am against some quality athletes and get a bit of winter sun!