Rewind 6 years ago to 2011. Literally this time 6 years ago I crossed the IRONMAN Bolton finish line and swore I would never do a Triathlon again, and that I would just stick to rowing. Fast forward 6 years, and I'm back as a Pro, aiming to qualify for Kona. In 2011 I didn't train for the IM and would never in my life recommend it. However, even trained it never gets easier. The boundaries are just pushed further. For those who are just joining my 'journey'. In 2011 IM Bolton was my second triathlon, and I did this race whilst still rowing on the World Class Start rowing system, and my goal was to complete and raise money for charity.
(Photo credit: Huw Fairclough IRONMAN)
So here's how the race went...
In summary IRONMAN UK has to be without a doubt one of the most challenging courses out there. So far to say that I actually found it harder than IM Wales. I don't particularly agree with 'hillier courses are harder' as flat and fast courses are relentless with no give up / free wheeling. But every segment of this course really tested me, questioning my choice in life, asking myself whether to bin the race in and generally challenged my mental toughness.
The swim (3.8k: 2x 1.9k loops with an Aussie exit):
On a wet, windy morning 3,000 crazy athletes started their IMUK journey. All of the Pros went off at 5.55am (so frigging early, and frustrating that there wasn't a separate Pro men and Pro women start). At 6am all of the AG rolling starts went off. Which made for a mental second lap.
On exit Lucy and I were 2mins down from Diana Riesler, and 8mins from Hannah. Out of T1, and throw back 6 years ago, and my front nutrition came off again. I literally didn't know what to do with the system, and started cycling along with it in my hand wondering what the hell to do with it. It stored my garmin and water bottle so it was a no brainer to stop and try to reattach... a crap start to the bike leg...
(It unfortunately wasn't like this on race day!)
Bike (112 crazy miles):
In this time I lost 2mins to Lucy and made the biggest mistake after, and caught her back up in 24mins. But after stopping 4 times in total, I realised taking my garmin off and half filling my bottle, it kind of stayed on.
I've never seen SOOOOO many corners in my life in one bike course. I felt that you were literally going around a corner, or up a hill. Luckily the sun came out. But by 40miles I was really suffering and felt quite bonky. I definitely didn't take in enough nutrition on the course, and lost a fair few minutes towards the back end of the course. However, all in all i'm very pleased with how the bike went. And I know there's a lot more to come speed wise. There were some fantastic parts of the course, full of amazing spectators which I cannot thank enough. Parts of the course were pretty lonely so when you heard a roar of cheering, it perked me up.
(Photo credit: Caroline Livesey. This face sums up how I felt all day!)
I came off of the bike around 5mins down on Lucy and 2.5mins off of Diana - 3rd place.
Run (as if we get off the bike to run a marathon, loons):
On to the run and I felt okay for the first 8-10 miles, chipping along nicely. Feeling pretty comfortable. When boom. The struggle began. The first section of the course takes you up a leg zapping hill, then onto the canal which was brilliant to tick along into a nice rhythm. Then you get onto the main part of the course, which is literally one massive long stretch uphill, then downhill, into town, teasing yourself running past the finish line, repeated 3 times in total.
(Photo credit: Caroline Livesey)
The spectators on the course was absolutely immense. You have no idea how you help motivate us to get around, putting one foot in front of the other. Which sounds so simple, but becomes so so difficult. The wheels really did come off, and my amazing team of supporters and coach Rob were beyond incredible. This sport is far far farrrrr from an individual sport, and 6 years ago I would have laughed at the thought of being a Pro, actually competing in an IRONMAN. Until you race one, you really cannot understand the emotion that comes with the race. When Bex and Rob shouted (individually at different points) 'I'm so proud of you', I did shed a tear and was rather choked with appreciation and love for being able to do this sport, pushing your body to places you never thought it would and could go.
(Photo credit: Daddy Bartlett)
For me, the performance was pretty average. I did lose some time on the bike, which effected me on the run, but on my best day, I still wouldn't have challenged the win or second, as two classy athletes were better on the day.
I felt very proud to grit through and finish off the race, and yet again, when hitting that magic red carpet, all of the previous 9hours and 59mins disappeared. For about 10 seconds, until I crossed the line and felt awful ;). But that finish line, seeing your personal support crew smile and cheer you through, and sharing that moment with people who encouraged you to that line, was pretty special. An average performance, but a memorable day, finishing 3rd Pro.
(Photo credit: David Hughes)
I want to say a personal thank you to Jamie, the lead bike dude who was amazing. The athletes on the course who were cheering me on, absolute legends, all I could respond with was a thumbs up. And if I was at the point where I couldn't even do that, then a personal thank you. Finally, thank you spectators, volunteers and the IRONMAN team. You make memories which last a lifetime. Finally to Bex, Rob, Mum, Dad, Craig, Abi, Bex's Mum, Dad, Uncle, Grandma and Pebbles. So much love for your continued support, you guys are incredible. Finally thanks very much for personal messages I've received, I've been overwhelmed by so much support.
(Photo credit: Oxygen Addict)
(Photo credit: Huw Fairclough IRONMAN)
One more memory I will cherish from the race, was the 'final hour' - fantastic atmosphere cheering on the heroes!
What's next? Well I'm on around 4,050 points, so it might be a close call for Kona qualification. It's bloody tough to qualify with my points (in one year) as:
3rd Pro IM Wales
9th Pro IM South Africa (Regional Championship)
2nd Pro IM Staffordshire
3rd Pro IM Bolton
A tough gig, but so it should be to get one of 35 slots (or just over after discounting Regional Champions). So a bit of a waiting game. For now, some much needed recovery and planning a 70.3 race to target soon.
Thanks to my sponsors for allowing me to develop as an athlete :)
(Photo credit - post race selfie with Jo Murphy)
(Photo Credit: Huw Fairclough IRONMAN)