This race was ethereal. There one minute and not the next, appearing through the swirling mists of Covid travel restrictions and then disappearing again. Would we, could we? Three weeks before race date I went to Scotland for a middle distance race in the belief it wasn’t going to happen. Then, suddenly, the mists cleared and WE WERE IN! Well done the powers that be. Well done Verity, admin at British tri, who worked her socks off to get us the right paperwork. Holland didn’t want us as the UK has high levels of the Delta variant, we are a Red country to them. Quarantine works as a deterrent. Look at how empty that plane is – lots of space to get the legs up! Our email says – reason for exemption from quarantine is ‘top level sport’…. that’s a first. I was SO excited.
The first aim for any race, especially long distance, is getting to the start in a condition to race, no mean feat this time. Training for an ironman distance is a big commitment when you are sure it’s going ahead, training for one you think will disappear is considerably harder and many didn’t make it, choosing to drop out of registration earlier on. I felt very privileged to have the opportunity.
Luckily my three weeks tapering was in progress as I was busy at work, people were staying and there was a small mountain of paper to accumulate …flights, letters of exemption, declaration of health forms, NHS vaccine proof, insurance, hotels, trains, pcr tests, return tests, race waiver, etc. We were all as confused as each other. I printed everything I could find and crossed my fingers.
Finally I set off, only to find that my train from Oxenholme to Manchester Airport was cancelled. Great start. The later replacement had a change at Preston….and steps up to the platform . A bike box and a case and three minutes to go… kettlebell strength wasn’t quite enough for this challenge and only the kindness of strangers got me onto that train. Phew I thought All will be ok after that….and it was. Just one little hiccup at security when they decided tinned rice pudding in hand luggage was a liquid, and confiscated it.
Almere is a short train trip from Amsterdam and my hotel was five minutes from the station. Perfect. My roomie was ‘Sprinty McGinty’ who is an awesome athlete, and, as a bonus, has raced Almere twice before. I’d met her a couple of times which meant sharing for five nights over a very stressful period would obviously be a breeze, which it was. It’s great to have someone to chill with, to check things with, to laugh and at times cry with and to provide you with everything you’ve forgotten! I knew it would be ok when she promised to bring tea bags.
There are never that many people in long championships, they are somewhat committing. Even less women, who normally make up only 20% of any iron distance race. You have to complete a long distance race well enough to qualify and then want to go through it all again. Many people do one ironman, some do two, Sprinty was going for her tenth!
Race day crawled nearer..recce, check kit, eat, drink, rest, be anxious, check kit, register, bag kit, rack bike, check kit and so on. This is all spread out over three days and it feels like the race will never arrive, but then, suddenly, it’s in your face. Aaaaaaargh… Two years of prep and training, what if it all goes wrong. OMG. I wrote in my race plan that I didn’t want to be last, but realised half way round the bike that what I really meant was I didn’t want a terrible race, I SO badly wanted a good race. Even if that meant I was last that would be ok. I was getting a good race by then.
Anyway, swim was a blinder for me 1:15:59. My pb is ten seconds faster and that was set on a flat lake. This was a bit choppy and everyone’s Garmin’s were saying 4km – we think they forgot to change the course when the start moved from deep water back to the shore. I just thought about breathing on the first lap, right back to basics. Did a fab corkscrew roll round a buoy, only to collide with a little one hiding behind it. Ooops. On the second lap I counted strokes, sighting every 20 to avoid bringing my head up too often. I think yoga has helped both my shoulder flexibility and my wrist strength for the swim. I very happily hopped out and found my bike.
Perfect weather, so lucky, the bike course is flat and runs along a dyke so wind speed and direction is critical…low speed, and behind us??? At least for one lap, the Gods were indeed smiling. Just kept thinking ‘What do I need to do right now?’ The answer was usually ’just stay aero.’ More thanks to yoga and kettlebells for giving me the flexibility and strength to hold this. Managed to eat and drink well. Loved the bibs on volunteers at food stations, blue for water, yellow for bananas, and my special needs bag was there with more Beta fuel and, best of all, some crisps. I probably wasn’t that aero as I licked the salt off the bag but that was well worth it.
At the only tight ‘s’ bend I was shouted at and overtaken by three french guys in a chain as we zig-zagged from a road to a cycle path. Felt a bit squashed so smiled when the ref pulled them for drafting a few minutes later. Bert, my monkey, came to help me by massaging my shoulders with his paws which eased the tension in them. Well done Bert, although he often sabotages me outside of races he’s usually on side on the day. My power was down a bit in second lap, damn, but I was hoping for just under 6 hours and my time was 5:47 so delighted.
Could I hold it together on the run? Again weather perfect, dry but not too hot. Finally managed to listen to my coach and set off very slowly for the first two miles despite the cheerful shouts of spectators trying to rouse me to a run. I had a horrendous run on long distance at Eastbourne long distance eight weeks earlier, please not that again. It was round the lake – six times. But the electronic board told you how many laps you’d done which helped. Counting to six by then tends to be a challenge. Eating and drinking were both hard, but gradually the miles ticked by with some great support on the course. Bert did draw the line at putting his tail between my feet and the pavement to act as a cushion when my feet hurt, but he agreed to rub ice cubes on them instead. I should point out that Bert is purely imaginary, but he still causes a lot of trouble at times. Held pace, with my slowest mile being the second, and my finish time was 4:44:12. Maybe I’m gradually getting the hang of this pacing lark. I thought I was heading for inside 12 hours, but had no idea it was as close as 11 seconds. What a difference 11 seconds makes! I am so pleased to go sub 12 – 11:59:49
The floor looked a good option at the end. A volunteer got me a space blanket, scooped me off the floor and shuffled me inside on a table with another kind stranger. I put my head on the table and cried. Sometimes I just need to. He gave me space to cry, looking only marginally confused, to his credit, when I said I’d had an amazing race. Then fetched me wonderful chicken soup. Friends gradually found me, someone found results- third.
Third, get up and on that podium. The icing on the cake, sub 12 and 3rd in the World.
Just occasionally it all comes together. And I have a ball.