Let me kick this off by shouting out the most important piece of information, “I WON MY AGE GROUP AT IRONMAN LANZAROTE 70.3” and in doing so qualified for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Canada next year! What an incredible year I have had, my story gives power to the phrase ‘life begins at 50’. After 10 years of taking part in Ironman races, in this my first year ‘competing’ rather than just ‘completing’, I have been on the podium in 2 out of 2 races. To top all of that off, on the 17th October I won the Sue Ryder ‘Woman of Achievement Sportswoman of the Year’. That was made all the more special as it was presented to me by last year’s winner, Olympic Gold Medal Rower Katherine Grainger.
I can’t even get myself out of the door…
I arrived in Lanzarote the evening of 30th September a few days before my race on the 5th October. I knew my preparation had not gone as well as I would have liked and there were several aspects of the race that I was not entirely confident about. I had not done enough running or swimming and I had put on a bit of weight. I had been struggling with a bad bout of depression for a couple of months, and actually just a couple of weeks before I left for Lanzarote I visited my doctor as I was finding it really tough. When I woke up to my first morning in Lanzarote I had that horrible ‘blackness’ weighing heavy on me. I did not even want to leave the apartment to see my friends and I did not want to be there! That in itself sent me into a panic!
I love being in Lanzarote and I have so many wonderful friends there, so I knew that I must be in a really ‘bad place’ if being there was not having a positive effect on me. I decided the best thing to do was a bit of self hypnosis which calmed me down and sent me to sleep. Unfortunately when I woke up I still felt bad and went back into panic mode. I thought about who I could possibly call to help me try and get into a better place. I called my friend Kim in the UK who had recently started teaching me some meditation techniques to help manage my depression. I blurted out to her in a teary voice; “I am 4 days away from my race and I can’t even get myself out of the door at the moment. I don’t know what to do…”. As you would expect she was taken aback initially but after a bit of thought she gave me some advice. That helped and along with a a couple of chats with two of my Lanzarote friends I gained enough mental strength to move myself away from the ‘black cloud’ I had been stuck under. A few days of calm focussing and I would be ready for race day!
Who is the lady with the beard?!?!?…
The start of an Ironman race is always congested with all the age group competitors setting off at the same time. We are all trying to get the best position and swim as hard as we can. Having missed the swim start at this same race last year I made sure I was ready and positioned near the front. That meant being with the largest percentage of men and I knew it was going to be very physical. Standing close to me I saw a Spanish woman who I had spoken to a few times during the lead up to the race. I said to her ‘it is going to be quite a ‘scrum’ here at the front and if she was at all nervous she should move back a bit. She did move and thanked me for it after the race. It was the usual onslaught of arms and legs flying everywhere and I definitely came out with a few bruises that I had not started the race with! Friends told me after the race I also came out with an attractive ‘muddy’ beard! Swim time 36 mins 45 seconds, my friend Ingrid beat me out of the water by 22 seconds. I knew my swimming was not as strong as it should be and I need to get back to swimming 5 days a week.
I met the most amazing man…
My transition from swim to bike was no more than ‘okay’ at 5 mins 48 seconds which was within a few seconds of all the other girls in my age group. However the professional women were all closer
to 3 minutes so there is still room for improvement there.
The bike section of the race was really the part I was most confident about. I knew it was going to be tough with just under 4000 feet of climbing in 56 miles in hot and windy conditions. But I also knew how much hard bike training I had done after my disappointing bike performance at my last big race in May. I knew then if I was going to be able to compete with the best 50-54 age group women athletes in the world I was going to have to get stronger in that department. I actually went nearly 20 minutes faster than the closest woman, in my age group, to me. I would like to make an ‘encouraging’ note to anyone reading this who is struggling with the bike or any of the other triathlon disciplines; up until a few years ago I really was such a weak cyclist and I would refer to it as my ‘nemesis!’. After lots of work and lots of miles I can honestly say I am now a really good cyclist and continuing to improve.
I was very conscious of not repeating the energy ‘crash’ I experienced during my last race so I was consuming gels like clockwork. I had worked with a physiologist and I knew what my carbohydrate intake per hour needed to be. I was also being careful not to drink too much because I do tend to wee more often than other people. As it was I went 3 times, twice I was able to go whilst rolling along downhill but had to stop once because my body would not ‘let it go!’. What I did not know then was that I was setting myself up for a different problem once I got on the run, more about that later.
The bike section is the time when you get to interact the most with your fellow competitors as you pass and get passed along the route. I was privileged to meet an amazingly inspiring man called Lionel Morales Gonzalez whilst going up the infamous 10km ‘Tabayesco’ climb. Lionel swims, cycles and runs alongside his fellow athletes, same rules, same course, with a prosthetic leg. I love that he shows us all that you just have to work with what you have got and amazing things are possible!!!
As I neared the end of the bike I felt strong but my tummy was grumbling a fair bit and was clearly not happy. I had experienced stomach cramps during a race before and they had always gone away almost as quickly as they came. I assumed it would be the same on this occasion!
My back is cramping…My stomach is cramping…I’m falling apart!!!
I got off the bike not sure where I was in my age group but I did know that only a couple of women had gone past me and they were younger than me. I was optimistic that I must be in one of the top positions and just told myself ‘you need to move quickly!’. Once in the transition tent I sat down, firstly putting anti-chaffing cream on my feet to prevent blisters and then socks and trainers on. As I sat there I was aware that my lower back felt quite tight but I thought it would ease as soon as I got up and started moving, it usually does! I asked a volunteer to slap sun cream on my shoulders and off I set ready to run hard…OUCH, OUCH, OUCH!!! My back had seized up big time and I went into panic mode. I was thinking ‘I can’t even walk, how am I going to run 13 miles?’. I stretched it out a bit and then slowly jogged forward onto the track at Club la Santa which was the start of the course. Again…OUCH, OUCH, OUCH!!! I had to stop after about ten shuffling paces. Once again I tried to get it moving and the pain got even worse. I really thought at that point my race may be over. But I couldn’t face that idea so again I set off at a slow shuffling pace and this time I managed to keep going.
Once I got out onto the run course the next ‘challenge’ began to show itself in a spectacular fashion. My stomach cramps started to really, really hurt and it felt like there could be some explosive manifestation coming at either or both ends of the chain! I knew I needed to keep the energy going in but every time I tried a gel the pain got worse so I stopped eating and drinking. At one point I thought I would have to go to a toilet along the route. The problem was I did not know where I was in the race and making a stop may mean me being overtaken. I thought about when I had seen others ‘go’ in their shorts during a race (and I am not talking about a wee here!!!) and I felt for their dignity but on the other hand I knew they were racing. I never thought I would find myself in the same position as up until a year ago I had not imagined myself ‘racing’ a race! I weighed up the risk of stopping against the ‘mess’ I would be carrying across the line and decided, if necessary, I was prepared to let my dignity take a dive!
The half marathon run course was 3 laps and there was plenty of spectator support along the way. It also allows you to see your fellow competitors and try and get some sense of who is closest to you in the race for your age group. That said I can honestly say I was not at any time entirely sure where I was placed. At the turning point of the first lap I saw Bella Bayliss who was not racing but she, Stephen and Charlie were cheering us all on. She shouted to ask me how I was doing to which I replied “I am struggling, I have the worst stomach cramps”. She told me to start taking electrolyte drink at the feed stations as it was most likely because I had not had enough on the bike. I followed her advice and the result was pretty dramatic, in a good way. With each sip I took the result was almost instantaneous thunder!!! I tried to make sure no-one was coming up behind me but I did not have that much control and to be honest we were all at it!!! Sometimes you just can’t hold it in and during a race that is one of those times. Put me in a dress and a pair of heels and I can be as girlie as the next but put me in a race and I can mix it with the best of the boys!
Running ‘blind‘ with a crash to follow…
The whole run was hard and I never felt good at all. I just knew I had to keep myself moving forward as best I could. Throughout the whole race I did not know my position but I kept thinking about what Rikki, my A.W. Cycles team mate said to me before I left; “whatever happens you need to cross the line knowing that you gave everything you had on that particular day”. So I just kept ‘fighting’ and resisted the temptation to walk. I crossed the line in 2 hours and 9 minutes which was 9 minutes slower than the same race last year and 19 minutes slower than I had been aiming for. That said I did give everything! As soon as the photographers had finished with me I fell into the arms of my friend Chris and sobbed my little heart out. If you ask him he will be able to tell you about the out-pouring of emotion having ‘left it all out there’.
Once I had managed to compose myself then came the question of where I had come in the race, I needed to know! Chris came with me to the tent where the results were being generated but can you believe it the computer had crashed just before I crossed the line. They were working on getting it back up and said it would be a few minutes. They did however think I was first in my age group but I would have to wait for confirmation. The wait was not long but it felt like an eternity! Once the computer was back up I hovered over the desk in anticipation and…YES…I DID IT…I WON MY AGE GROUP…I AM GOING TO THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS! I screamed and everyone in Lanzarote must have heard me, in fact you might have heard me wherever you may have been in the world at that moment!
I won by just under 7 minutes despite a terrible 2nd transition and run. The overwhelming positive I take from the race is the big margin I created on the bike which in the past has been my weaker discipline. I know I can swim faster and I know I can run faster, now I need to get the balance right in my training so they are all strong at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Canada next year.
Bring on 2014…
So as the year end draws near it is a good time to reflect on my successes in 2013 and in turn set my goals for next year. I think it is fair to say that in this my first year transitioning from ‘completing to competing’ I have much to be pleased and proud about. I have learnt valuable lessons along the way that will help me be even more successful in 2014. I now need to get myself into my best ever shape so I can go to Canada strong and ready to compete for the top place in my age group. It is time to set the ‘bench mark’ even higher!
I need to say a very big thank you to all those who have supported me throughout the year. Friends and family in the UK, in Lanzarote and all around the world. My swimming buddies and the staff at Bradfield College swimming pool. My sponsors, Wiliers, ATB sales, HIGH5 sports nutrition, along with local sponsors Pulleyn transport and Seal-group. The biggest thank you has to go to A.W.Cycles for believing in me and putting me on their team. I am a 50 year old woman who, up until this year, has never been very high up on the results list and has finished last many times over the years. Thank you for believing me when I said; “I know I can do it…”.
My message to YOU whoever you may be…I have gone from being a ‘back of the packer’ to a race winner who will next year compete to be a World Champion. If you have a dream I dare you to take a leap of faith and turn it into reality!