When your best is not enough

Ironman Malaysia

I always knew that I was taking a risk going to Malaysia to race in November. A late season Ironman at one of the hottest venues in the world could go one way or the other. Typically a small field of women line up for this race – so I took my chances and entered. Having raced well in both Kona and Texas previously, I believed I would be able to tough it out on the day.

Unfortunately it was not to be. I won’t go into too much detail here – but suffice to say the race did not work out for me. I felt pretty good during the swim and was reasonably pleased with my performance. However, the water was about 30 degrees– so before I even exited the water I was hot. I set off on the bike and within a few minutes I was thinking “Wow – it is hot”.  That thought dominated my mind for the next 5.5 hours on the windless flat route. Too flat, at least for me anyway. It was like being on a turbo trainer in an oven – I was too hot but with no way of cooling down and few opportunities to change position. Throwing water over myself at the aid stations would help for a few minutes – but was not a lasting solution. I don’t remember ever being that uncomfortable on the bike. Not in Kona, Cozumel, Texas or any training ride. I battled on, concentrated on holding my power, and entered T2 trying to stay positive. Other than being too hot – I was eating well, my stomach was sound, I was hydrated, I told myself perhaps I would feel better on the run.

I knew as soon as I dismounted the bike that something was up with my legs. I took my time through T2 – making the most of the air conditioned conference centre. As I exited onto the run route the heat hit me like a punch in the stomach. I tried to pick my pace up, but I couldn’t breathe. Every muscle was screaming “walk” from the moment I started that run. I made it to the first aid station at a reasonable pace and stopped to pour water over myself and take on water and coke. Once running again I tried to ignore the feeling of my head boiling, my legs wobbling, and my heart rate climbing. It was torture. There was no shade, I was literally cooking.

I gave myself a half marathon to sort it out – in Ironman anything can happen and I was still in the top ten. I wondered if I might turn a corner out of the pain and start to feel better. But it was not to be. I felt worse and worse, and my pace slowed and slowed. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t imagine it was an easy race for anyone. But I know how to suffer with the best of them and on this day it was just not to be.

At the 25km point I took the difficult decision to stop.  Well…it wasn’t really a decision. By that point I had no choice. I could probably have walked to the finish – but I wasn’t there to just finish. If I am to qualify for Kona in 2016 I need top 5 finishes at 3 full distance events. So finishing against my body’s will and sacrificing the ability to race again in the next few weeks was not an option. I had some worrying symptoms and I did not want to go down the heat stress route. The disappointment was overwhelming and I spent a long time in the athlete area at the finish (where I stopped) coming to terms with it.

It is sometimes said that we learn more from the bad experiences than we do from the good. I have much I can take away from Ironman Malaysia. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to race there – to put it all on the line and test myself against some of the best athletes in the world in some of the toughest conditions. Malaysia is a truly wonderful place, amazing people, food and a superbly well organised race. I wish I could have performed, but wishing it and doing it are two very different things. Of course I suffered every emotion going after I stopped, and continue to battle the self-doubt and criticism which are bound to occur after a bad race. But as Harry Wiltshire pointed out to me at the finish (when he had just podiumed in a seriously tough men’s race) – if I am to succeed with my goal to get to Kona I don’t have the time or energy to wallow on the bad races. I have to dissect, learn and move on.

So I suspect I will be on the start line for the Bahrain 70.3 in a few weeks…trying to pick up those last points before the Christmas cake takes over.

Huge thanks as always to my sponsors and supporters:

Xhale

HUUB

Specialized

Proto-col

Brodie Skin Care

RAWnola

Primal Pantry

David Annett

Ian Freeman

Steven Haynes

Mark, my wonderful husband and coach and constant voice of calm through all the chaos.

And this time extra special thanks to Natalie Syrette. Fabulous Travel Counsellor and even better friend. She made the trip to Malaysia a lot of fun – and despite the race it was a holiday I won’t forget.