This weekend saw me travel back to my homeland to take part in a double whammy of a race:
My first time racing a Half IronMan and my first time racing as a ‘Pro’.
Exmoor is a truly beautiful part of the world seemingly cut off from the rest of the world… you dip off the main road at Tiverton and then womble you way through endless twisty country roads, before finally seeing a sign for Wimbleball Lake.
Every year the IronMan fraternity descends on Exmoor for the Iron Man 70.3 UK.
This year the weather gods were on our side which meant the usual slip sliding around muddy fields and shouts of ‘damn I wish I had 4 wheel drive’ were thankfully absent.
The first thing I noticed when I arrived was how friendly and accommodating the volunteers were. Organisationally speaking things appeared to be spick and span.
On the Friday, I had my instructions from coach to ride 1 lap of the course, so after a bit of mingling and checking out the usual piles of tri-wear at the expo…off I went. 20 minutes into my navigation of the course (I am u s e l e s s with maps) but managed somehow to be on track… I heard the familiar phrooooom sound of an aero disc approaching… and some dude clad in red Specialized everything whizzed passed me, rather amicably sticking his tongue out as he did so. Nice I thought, this was meant to be a steady ride… but said red-kit clad person, turned around and the necessity for map-navigating skills was thankfully no more. So with my companion Phil Graves I rode the rest of the course uneventfully, although a damn bit faster than I would otherwise liked. Hoping I would have ‘had’ him up the hills, (given that I weigh about 18kg less!).. but alas no.
Race Morning: After a night spent sharing a single bed with my beau – forced on us by the fact that e v e r y B&B within a 20mile radius had apparently been booked since last November! – I was actually glad to get up at 4.45am!
Breakfast of some stodgier -than –I- would- like porridge with banana and honey and we were on our way to the race venue.
I have to say the whole IronMan transition bag thing served to cause me some confusion, having never raced in such a format before. I convinced myself that I’d managed to rack my swim bag where my run bag should be … hmmmm
At this time of the day it was 2 degrees Celsius… blimin cold. Walking down to the lake I wished I had kept my shoes and socks on like Bella and Steve …
Then the lake… Now I haven’t actually swam in open water since September last year. Coach doesn’t like the idea of trying to do so the day before the race (in case of nasties in the water)… so getting in was a shock to the bod.
Brrrrrr… quick ‘warm-up’ –a lthough I didn’t seem to warm at all… and I was at the starting line with the canoes surrounded by age-group competitors thinking where are the rest of the pro’s. I look around and they are standing on the pontoon ‘warming up’. Sooooo much to learn (recurring thought of the day..)
By the time the start gun went off – (so much for holding the Age groupers back!) I could barely feel my hands and feet.
The whole swim for me was a bit of a non-event. I couldn’t get a rhythm…. Arms felt like jelly and didn’t seem to be ‘pressing and pushing’ the water at all. In fact I felt that if I might as well be swimming doggy-paddle. Hey ho… approaching swim exit I was surprised at how quickly it had gone and a bit guilty that I felt like I hadn’t used any energy! Up the ramp to T2 and I hear roars from my beau of – ‘you’re not THAT far behind… with the not-so-subtle undertones of – ‘what the heck happened in there??…’
Was glad to get out on the bike… although new shoes and trying to mount on an uphill slope was fraught with a few difficulties… (that learning curve again)..
I seemed to catch up with the other girls, Bella, Lucie Zelenkova, Yvette and Emma within a relatively short space of time, and from then on the race was on.
I stayed ahead for most of the bike… I must say that riding with a motorbike by your side and a big camera in your face, is slightly distracting…. But I kept thinking how proud my Nan would be to see me on TV… and that kept me on track ☺
From about 15 miles in, I could feel my gears slipping. One of those other things that I learnt is that riding with an old chain on a new cassette with a worn outer chain ring (from all that BIG GEAR riding that coach makes us do) is not a good idea. Twice my chain came off, the first time I managed to click it back into place changing gears, but on the second time, going up a steep hill when the chain came off I was screwed. So for some reason, I decided to turn around and ride back DOWN the hill in order to try click the chain back on. No success and the blimin thing twisted too… nothing for it but to get off. At this point I was in the lead, apparently 1km up from Emma-Kate Lidbury, the TV cameras managed to catch the action of me swearing at my bike whilst I got my hands dirty untwisting the chain.
Back on .. and back up the hill. I still thought at this point I was in the lead as didn’t see Emma slip past. But coming into T2 I found that she was a minute and a half ahead. Bella not far behind me.
Running out of T2 … I didn’t feel too bad considering… but was soon reminded that I had never run more than 10k off a bike before, let alone a 56mile supa-hilly bike…. Shouts of –‘steady, it’s a long day out there’ reminded me what I was in for, during the 900m of climbing that ensued. Lap 1 I was running with Bella with Emma-Kate a 1.30 ahead. The first hill came and I knew I had to pull a toilet stop… having never voluntarily peed in my pants before, I took the mantra that ‘one should never try something for the first time on race day’ and stopped briefly. Lap 2 I suffered (see link to photo page for evidence!)…. In retrospect the fact that I had been unable to stomach anything more than 2 gels and 550mls of fluid the whole race… meant that the tank was running seriously low. Trying a few sips of coke (yes I should have slowed down a bit to give myself a chance to swallow it) was the best it got. On the last lap… I could see that Bella was steadily running stronger and pulling away, but I also saw that Emma-Kate was slowing and encouraged by the crowd I started to believe that I may stand a chance of catching her. The last 5 K I felt strong… another gear came from somewhere and despite the screams of my leg muscles… I ran past Emma and continued strong up until the finish.
The finish line was the best moment of the day… the crowds were awesome and seeing my family and boyfriends proud faces was enough to see the pain slip away.
Next was my first experience of dope testing and the hours it seemed to take to try and pee again! It turns out we had a looong afternoon ahead to wait for prize giving anyway so in retrospect I didn’t mind being followed around for an hour until my bladder finally gave out.
All in all a top day… and a lot of lessons learnt. It was a tough day and truly inspirational to race with someone as strong as Bella and also to see the exhilaration of thousands of other competitors finishing throughout the day.
So what’s next people ask me? A bit of time with my family and then back to the Leysin camp at the end of the week…. From then on, only the boss knows.. watch this space
p.s – will upload pics when they come through.
But check out this website for some various shots showing painful facial contortions!