It’s funny, when people asked me what my A-race of the year was and I responded with Ironman 70.3 Buenos Aires, there was an element of surprise in their response. “What, you mean it’s not the 70.3 World Championship in Nice?”. Well, not exactly true as that was a 'sort of semi A race' but my main A race was always the 70.3 South American Championship in November. Why? Because I was going there with the intention to win my age group.
With a season that had already surpassed expectation, I could quite happily have left it there and put a big green tick next to 2019. But we had one more race to deliver, and not only deliver, but peak for.
All the numbers on Training Peaks were pointing towards a fitness peak. All my training sessions in the last few weeks leading into Buenos Aires were pointing towards me peaking. This was extremely encouraging; I was in the shape of my life - just as long as I didn't get ill! I felt weirdly confident, I knew there was nothing to do but to just go out and deliver what I needed to, what I was more than capable of, and the result would just come.
But as I neared the race, I wasn’t even focused on the result anymore. It was almost like the result was irrelevant at this time, because I just needed to stick to the plan and what would be would be. Or, as my coach Duncan said to me on race morning, “Follow the process and it will come to you. Let it just come to you, you’ve got this.” I felt zero pressure.
In fact, in the few days before the race, I just walked around in a bit of a daze, feeling almost numb. I was asked if I was excited. “No.” I was asked if I was nervous. “No.” I felt nothing. Absolutely nothing. I felt no pressure whatsoever, and actually, it was a bit disconcerting. “Shouldn’t I care more!? This is supposed to be the most important race of the year!”. Duncan kept telling me this was absolutely perfect, the ideal state to be in, but it felt a bit weird to me, I felt like I should be feeling something other than total blankness…
Race morning arrived and the weather was perfect. The lake was still, the wind was light, the sun was shining, not a cloud in the sky, and I went through the race morning transition process like some sort of robot, still totally neutral and relaxed.
The only point at which I felt some emotion was as I moved down towards the swim start, ready to go, and had a final pep talk from Duncan. As he talked, and told me I had everything I needed to make this happen, with no pressure, because it’s going to just come to me, I felt myself well up. What the…!? No idea why, or where that came from, but I nodded, we had a quick hug, and off I went.
Where the hell were my nerves? Or excitement? Had I run out of adrenaline or something!?
The rolling start was relaxed and I was soon off, settling into my stride, feeling super calm and relaxed. The swim was pleasant and non-eventful; other than being kicked hard in the chest at the first turn buoy. I felt like I was swimming relatively strongly but felt comfortable with it. Ideal, I think.
It went quickly and despite not being able to see my hand in front of my face due to muddy-ish dirty lake water (trying valiantly not to swallow any!), I exited the swim and glanced at my watch. 31 minutes something, jeez that’s pretty good for me, a few minutes up on where I had anticipated – so far so good!
The wetsuit strippers surrounded me and I was de-wetsuited rather style-lessly – i.e, lying on my back on the ground with my legs in the air! Helpful though, can't we have these at every race!?
With boxes and kit by our bikes in transition, in typical American style racing, the lack of transition bags makes for a fast T1 and I was out on the bike pretty swiftly.
On the bike, my focus was on keeping my position as aero as possible, tucking my head low and holding the power. I settled in quickly and felt strong. Knowing this was a fast bike course, I was about 5 watts over the plan but felt comfortable – my aim was to hold it throughout.
The two-loop bike course meant that you have a pretty good idea of your predicted bike split by the end of lap one. The problem was, by lap two, there were more athletes (and slower ones) out on the course which means there was more dodging to be done, and trying to avoid any inadvertent drafting. By the end of the first lap not a single female had over-taken me, and in fact, barely any men had over-taken me. I knew I was riding well, I just needed to be able to hold this for the second lap and not over-cook it for the run!
I think I was still in some weird zombie state as I recall thinking, and telling myself, in the last 10-20k of the bike course that "I need to wake up ready to run." How. Weird. Is. That. It was a very odd sensation as I knew I was on for a PB bike split and top power for any race I had done. But I felt comfortable; just really zoned out, almost a bit sleepy. Is this what they call “the zone”!?
As I hit T2 with a 2:26 bike split (PB), I didn’t feel excited that I had just achieved that, I just did my thing in transition (where there were very few bikes), and started running. It was the most emotionless race I had ever taken part in so far. What the hell was up with me!? Not complaining, it just all felt a bit weird.
I concentrated hard on my run form as I started the 21k run, knowing this would be absolutely key for our ambitious run split target. I knew exactly what pace I was supposed to be running at and initially, I felt AMAZING. I was running faster than the projections. If I can hold this, I’d literally have the race of my life. COME ON!
Running past Duncan in the first kilometre confirmed it – he shouted that I looked amazing, but it was short-lived. As a long out and back course, I knew that after seeing Duncan I’d be on my own until the finish line. That was a lot of concentration on holding form without having someone to shout at me, without that little buzz you get every time you run past your friends and family, and in fact, without any crowd support whatsoever. It was like a ghost town out there. Mentally, that was tough to accept but it is what it is and you have to just get on with it.
Keep. Ticking. Off. Those. Kilometers.
At the turnaround point my pace slipped. I was now running into a bit of a headwind, and the most excruciating thing on my entire body was just solely the blisters on my little toes. Seriously. If I didn’t have such sore feet I reckon I’d be able to hold this pace. Everything else felt ok, I felt ok. I was fuelling well, body was feeling strong. But my goddamn feet were unbelievably sore!
This, unfortunately, meant that my form slipped as it was hurting too much to run ‘on my toes’. Pace slipped, I was swearing at myself in my head. A lot.
Just before the turnaround, I saw the first female age grouper – annoyingly for me, she was ahead of me. I had seen no females apart from pros so I knew I was having a good race. But this girl, looking fast in an ITU-style swimsuit-esque race suit, was ahead of me. All I could do was just keep holding on to my pace as much as I physically could, I knew she was ahead of me and there was nothing more I could do about it, I couldn’t even see her.
In the last couple of kilometres I decided enough was enough and that I needed to block out the pain in my feet. My pace quickened and I was back to just a fraction below my target race pace. KEEP. GOING. I was reassuring myself that I had less then 20 minutes left of my WHOLE SEASON. Knowing I had a big break coming up was really motivating to get me through - "it's 20 minutes of my life!". "It's now just 10 minutes of my life!."
The last kilometre was tough mentally, as I pushed hard (cue more swearing at myself), and as I rounded the very last corner before the finish chute I saw "the girl" ahead of me! Wow. I thought she’d be much further ahead! JESUS! I sprinted as hard as I could (which was very far away from a sprint but let’s just gloss over that) and didn’t catch her in time. I was about 20 seconds down, I think.
I crossed the finish line with a PB run of 1:31 and an overall Ironman 70.3 PB of 4:34. I collapsed on the ground before being asked by an official if I was ok. I stood up and was promptly accosted by a guy with a clipboard who was asking me to sign a form – anti-doping control. Wow, they really don’t hang about.
I went to the athlete exit area to find my boyfriend and Duncan, and was promptly informed that I had won my age group - and better still, ALL AGE GROUPS. I was the first amateur female over the line. The girl in front of me that I had been semi-chasing was an ITU athlete stepping up to 70.3 distance. I’d beaten her by 3 minutes on the bike so I was chasing for nothing.
I could. Not. Believe it.
Overall age group champion? This couldn’t be happening….
I stood there absolutely crying my eyes out. There it was. The emotion that had been suppressed for days. Coming out, all in one go. I was sobbing uncontrollably. It was a strange mixture of happiness at my result, and utter relief that this was the end of my season. And what a bloody season it has been.
Anti-doping guy with clipboard was standing a few feet away probably thinking I was a total nutcase. He then said in broken English with a few hand gestures that we would test when “tranquil”. I was not tranquil, not anymore, I was a mess, a thesaurus of mixed emotions.
We walked over to the anti-doping control and I sat on a plastic chair wiping away the last tears, and I could not help but marvel at the surreal situation I suddenly found myself in. I was in a tent with all the female pros – the winner, Chelsea Sodaro, last year’s winner, Pâmella Oliveira (who I was only 17 minutes behind), and all the women I looked up to with admiration and respect. This was so weird. There were no other age groupers, I couldn’t believe this was happening – although it was an absolute faff, I felt absolutely honoured that I was there, being tested. It was testament to my performance, a true compliment.
The testing process was bizarre. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, and stupidly, I was shocked when an official had to watch me wee into a cup. I guess I’d never really thought about it before! I’d certainly never had to. The process was surprisingly rigid, it took about an hour and every single effort was made to ensure there was no contamination – it was impressively thorough.
Finally I was through and I burst into tears again when I saw Duncan. The pride on his face told me everything. This was the epitome of teamwork. We had done it, and I was on cloud nine.
Later on, as I stood on the podium with my trophy, and accepted my slot for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in New Zealand for 2020, I couldn’t be more proud of what I had achieved. This was a dream come true – I had worked for seven years to get to this moment.
I had set out and achieved what I wanted to achieve, it was perfect. In fact, so perfect, that I think it was quite easily the best day of my life.
To all the people and brands who supported me in the early days and are still there now, I am honoured, humbled, and no words of appreciation can quite express how I feel. But just know, that although it’s taken many, many years to get to this point, this is the start of something very exciting, and I cannot wait to see where it goes….
With thanks to: