In my last blog I wrote about the end of the 2015 Kona qualifying year for me – and how missing out shaped my motivation looking to 2016. That determination paid off yesterday – surfacing at the moment that I really needed it.
I made the decision to race Ironman 70.3 Turkey mainly because it was perfectly timed as springboard for Ironman Malaysia which is in three weeks. As one of the last 70.3 races in the calendar it also fitted well with my goal to get a couple of races under my belt prior to Christmas. As the first m-dot event Turkey has hosted this also promised to be an experience different to any European race, and Mark and I love to see new places.
Arriving just a day before the event – I have to say that it seemed as though the organisation was a little behind. Rumours of stretches of the bike route with no tarmac, and evidence in town of roadworks still progressing added an element of anxiety to my race preparation. Mark and I talked through the various options which could occur during the race (multiple punctures, crashes, going wrong on the route) and resolved that I had to put safety above all else and race conservatively and intelligently – making good decisions on the day.
Luckily my anxiety proved unfounded. I have no idea quite how – but the race organisers seemed to pull it all together at the last minute. Roads were surfaced (mostly) and the number of police on the course almost outweighed the number of competitors. It ran like clockwork – and it was a pleasure to race.
Standing on the start line I was totally in the zone. I experienced a sharp focus I hope I can harness for future races. I have often said “when the gun goes I am on it” – but this time I was all focus in the ten minutes before the start too. As Paul Kaye counted us down I felt every fibre of my body tense with determination. You can see it in the video – I easily make it to the water in the lead off the beach, and have the novel experience of leading out the swim for the first 300m.
In second after the Australian exit, I eventually came out of the swim in 5th but in sight of 3rd and 4th . My swimming has improved recently and was aided by a new super-fast HUUB swimskin, but I would also put this down to sighting. Despite choppy seas I was savvy with my line in the water and I saw many of the girls heading off in various wrong directions during the swim.
The flat bike course did not play to my strengths, and for the first 30-40km despite my best efforts I could not drop the 4 or 5 girls that were riding near me (two of them very strong age-groupers who had wetsuit swims but had started 2 minutes behind us). At 40km the bike gets very slightly lumpy and then has a long drag up to the turnaround point. It was at this point I made a decisive move and dropped all the ladies (and age-group men) who had been near me. I had been getting pretty frustrated with some questionable drafting gaps so I was relieved when I looked back to see open road behind me. The turnaround meant a long downhill stretch – so I was worried I would be caught by a “pack”. For the next 20km I worked really hard – desperate to put some time between myself and the girls behind. With a rear disk on (thanks to Tribe Cycle Solutions) the Specialized SHIV was super smooth and I felt strong. Around 65km I caught and passed Alexandra Tonduer, the eventual winner. I think she was a little surprised to see me – and perhaps it spurred her on. I tried hard to drop her – but on the flat roads it was impossible. She kept her fair distance behind me for those last 35km – and we came into T2 together.
Having done my homework (and having raced Alexandra previously in Wiesbaden where she was third) I knew she would run in the low 1:20’s for the half-marathon and that I couldn’t match that pace yet. As we left transition shoulder to shoulder (for a split second!) I settled into my own pace and watched her put a gap between us straight away. Then Gurutze passed me at about 5km. In third – and feeling a bit ropey – I started to wonder how many more places I would lose on that run. I pushed on – and as I lapped through the stadium onto my second (and last) lap – a high five and a big shout from Paul Kaye galvanised me – and I began to come out of that bad patch. Mark was appearing regularly on the route, shouting times and encouragement to me. For the last 5km I had been holding third place steadily – but now I got the information that a new competitor (Elisabeth Gruber) had run into 4th and was rapidly gaining on me. I had just 90 seconds on her. I had a race on my hands. The next 5km I suffered – legs on fire, heart rate up another level. But by the final turn around point and still with 6km to go the gap to Elisabeth was just 20 seconds. It looked bad. I could have given up. 4th would be safe. I could have settled for that – accepted the internal voices that told me the pain was already too much. But as I came out of the final underpass onto the flat road back to town (5km to go) – I took a bold decision. Make or break. Mark was there – screaming at me that I could do it. He told me after the finish that at that point the gap was just under 10 seconds. Somewhere deep down I found another gear. I stopped looking at my watch – but more importantly I stopped expecting her to pass me. I started to focus on the time I would be putting between us – to believe that the gap would grow not shrink. The last 5km might be the most painful I have ever run. Every single step I asked myself if I could hurt more, and the answer was yes – I did. As I rounded the final bend before the stadium – with just 500m to go I saw Mark and I screamed “where is she??”. The answer came “I cant see her”. I didn’t believe him. I have never run so hard for the finish line. As I crossed it into third place it was only in that instant that I knew I had done it. The emotion, the relief and the joy flooded through me – the fight made that position and that result all the more sweet.
I learn something every time I race. This time I learnt just how much I can ask of my body when it really matters. With Ironman Malaysia in a few weeks I just hope I can bottle that feeling and that it might come in useful on race day. You can follow my build up to that race on twitter.
I raise awareness for the South African charity Ironman 4 the Kidz. If you have enjoyed reading this blog please spare a moment to pop over to their website and donate a small amount (in rand). Just £2 is over 40 rand – every little donation counts
Thanks once again to all my fabulous sponsors:
Thanks also to Steve Haynes and David Annett for their superb osteopathy treatment, and to Ian Freeman for his wise support and advice. I couldn’t do any of this without the help, support and incredible camera skills of my husband and coach Mark Livesey. He puts up with a lot and I hope he knows how much I appreciate him.