Ironman France 2018

img_0446.jpgI’ve taken a few days to process this, because to be honest, it’s taken a little while for Sunday to properly sink in!

After Kona last year I knew that this year I wanted the chance to go back and do better, but only if I could put together a performance that gave me the confidence I could go back there and smash it.

Whilst the winter was a really consistent and solid training block, the last few months have been a few ups and downs with a few weeks off running with a calf tear, and a couple of weeks of feeling pretty crap with some kind of cold/flu type thing, and a race I was disappointed with in Samorin, I wasn’t entirely sure what I might be able to do in Nice.

The run up to the day was quite smooth, got out to Nice Thursday lunchtime, and despite being completely scammed by the taxi driver, felt quite relaxed by the time I got to the apartment, and managed a little swim and run that day, as well as registering. I was staying with two club mates, one of whom was doing her first Ironman, and the other who was being our chief supporter – this helped keep a nice chilled atmosphere in the lead up to the race.

Friday I did a little spin (was not the easiest trying to dodge pedestrians in the bike lane or cars on the road!), swim and jog. I was testing out my new Orca Alpha, which I have to say is amazing! Feels even more like not swimming in anything restrictive or constraining than the previous version. Both swims had been quite choppy but I was hopeful that race day as we were starting earlier it would be calmer.

Taper week is always tough – for me I feel lethargic, a load of phantom niggles or pains seem to appear and lots of self doubt creeps in! But both Barney and Will were doing a very good job of pre race pep talks, and my sister, brother in law and nephew flying out to support also gave a huge confidence boost.

Given some of the tummy trouble I have had, I was very strict from Thursday onwards to eat very plain food – literally just rice, chicken, sweet potato and oats on the Friday and Saturday.

Race day:

The alarm was set for 3.30am – I woke up at 3.15 feeling relatively calm and not too tired – Thursday and Friday night I managed to get two solid 10 hour sleeps in!! Rice pudding for breakfast was consumed and then I went back to bed to snooze for an hour. Eimear and I walked down to transition at 5, walking down the promenade with lots of drunk French teenagers who were definitely not doing the race!! Final bike prep done and it was time for the mandatory portaloo queue time and then it was time to get lubed up with baby oil, wetsuit on and head down to the start.

This was definitely the calmest I have felt before a race – unlike last year I hadnt heaped loads of pressure on myself, and really wanted to be able to enjoy what everyone had said was the most stunning bike course.

We saw the pros set off and just 4 minutes later we were off!! With a rolling start I nearly got crushed just trying to get through the very narrow start gate, but then out into the water and it spread out quite well. I enjoyed most of the first loop, other than when we got near any buoys, when people seem to start swimming like twats even when they weren’t turning buoys but still in a straight line! Into the second half of the swim and it was quite choppy, and was becoming more of a fight. I always seem to end up in between 2 people who cant swim in a straight line and try and swim over me! Because of the tighter arms on the new alpha, I wasn’t wearing my Garmin so had no idea what I had done the swim in – I had felt quite comfortable but not particularly magic. So when I went under the time arch and it was showing 1.06, I was pretty chuffed to think I had probably got a swim pb and come out in an hour given the pro men set off 6 mins before us!

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Onto the bike – the first 10k you are on a flat bit getting out of town. There was a group of about 8 men ahead who seemed to think they were in a peloton, so rather than surge to get past them I rode under my target power to stay a good distance off the back of them. I had passed a couple of women early on but had no idea how many might be ahead. A woman came past me before we got to the climb and I did a bit of a double take when I saw it was Corinne Abraham – I wasn’t expecting to have overtaken any pro women in the water – but we had the advantage of wetsuits which would have helped. Seeing her come past I saw first hand how much the short gap to the age group race impacts the female pro race – she kept having to sit up as men surged past her and then dropped off their power. Clearly didn’t impact her too much with her ridiculous bike split and then run to go on and win!! She soon disappeared into the distance when we hit the climbs!

The climbing starts with an initial steep ramp – I was being very careful not to go over FTP power, and not burn my matches early. This then turned into a more gradual 5k climb, where again I kept to a nice consistent power and just ignored some of the men coming past. There was then a lovely rolling bit, and then it was onto the real test of the day – a 17k climb (with a bit of flat /descent in the middle). This part was absolutely stunning – we went past waterfalls and the views down the valley were unreal!! Again I stuck to my power. About quarter of the way up an age group lady came past. Thinking I must be near the front of the race I stuck to my 12m behind her and as I was still riding to a reasonable power stuck there for a bit. She then started to tire so I went past and she decided she would stick on my wheel for the rest of the climb up. A couple of Marshall’s came past but did nothing, and I unfortunately couldn’t quite muster any fluid for the classic pee deterrent. Getting to the top I had a quick stop to pick up my special needs which had my energy drink in (part of my nutrition strategy), and she came past – I wasn’t too worried as I caught her up pretty quickly on the descent. The next part was unbelievable – long sweeping descent through some amazing villages.

As we approached 110k I went past a female pro, and was then overtaken by Lisa Roberts a bit further on. I managed to stay near Lisa for about 20k before she powered on! On the more technical descents there were quite a few people in the medical tents, and we learnt at the awards that someone had unfortunately died as a result of crashing, which is always horrible to hear. I was being fairly cautious but mainly just absolutely loving the whole of the bike course. I felt good for the whole thing and nutrition was going down well, so I felt positive for the marathon.

Coming into t2 I had a decision to make. Talking to will before the race he had told me to be cautious, set off at 4.55 pace and aim for a 3.30 marathon to try and ensure qualification was in the bag rather than push it. I had told him I wanted to push it to see what I could do to give me the confidence for Kona. We had agreed to disagree. As I ran out of t2 I was feeling good, and Paul Kaye announced I was the first age grouper. I decided to run st whatever felt comfortable and just try and go off feel. I looked down after 1k and was running at 4.00/k pace – definitely wasn’t going to hold that!! Forced myself to slow down a bit and settled into about 4.35/k pace. My sister told me I had 3mins to next age grouper and 8 mins to next one in my age group. The decision was made – I couldn’t afford to just do a 3.30 marathon.

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I decided to just keep going st that pace for as long as possible, and kept my fingers very tightly crossed that I didn’t have a massive blow up and end the day with Will saying ‘I told you so!’ It was pretty hot, so I made sure I ran under all the showers and took on a water and coke at all the aid stations. Unfortunately they didn’t have any ice or sponges, which would be one of my only negatives about the day. Heading onto the 3rd lap – the legs were starting to tire a bit, the feet were a little bit sore, and the distance between aid stations seemed that little bit longer. However the crowds were epic and I just focussed on keeping moving.

Coming into the last lap, my sister and Ruth who was supporting told me I had about 8 mins to the next age grouper. I knew then I just had to keep moving forward. I had slowed a little bit but the wheels didn’t seem to be falling off. Maybe, just maybe I thought I might be able to get that 3.20 that had been my real stretch goal marathon target time.

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The final turnaround point I started to relax a bit and really try and soak it all in. I had finally put together an Ironman where I felt good the whole day, had managed to get nutrition in on the run, and was running pretty well despite having a bit of a run break a couple of months previously.

The crowds were amazing, and coming down the finishing Shute I soaked up the cheers, high fived as many people as possible and almost collapsed over the finish!! To be greeted by Paul Kaye is always awesome, and knowing I had managed to do my training proud I was completely over the moon.

To get my first sub 10, a swim and run pb, and be first age grouper by 11 minutes, was everything that I had been aiming for. To be able to put together a good race from start to finish really was magical, and gave me the confidence that I can go back to Kona and improve on last year.

The main challenge will be trying to juggle work and training the next few months – I have just been promoted st work into a really exciting opportunity, which is going to mean longer hours especially to start with. However, I know that Will can rise to the challenge of adjusting my training around that, and I just have to accept that I may not be able to compete against some of the age groupers who aren’t sat at a desk for 10-12 hours a day. If I can go to Kona and have a better race than last year I will be pretty happy – I would love to win but we will see what happens!

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Photo Credit: James Mitchell

Huge thanks to Barney for the constant support, Will for the epic coaching, Eimear for absolutely smashing her first Ironman despite lots of challenges throughout the day, Ruth M, my sister, brother in law and nephew, and Eimear’s mum and friend for the support the whole weekend, and all the people who have supported/ encouraged along the way.

Huge thanks as well to the brands that make it possible:

Orca – amazing new wetsuit and awesome kit

Skechers – for trainers that don’t break my feet

Clifbar – for your amazing nutrition

Precision Hydration for always keeping the cramps at bay

Parcours for the seriously speedy wheels (use RUTHP50 for a £50 discount)

Challenge Champs 2018

Well, Challenge Champs in Samorin was certainly an epic race. Superbly organised, great location and so nice to have so many friends out there as well as Barney, and also my parents on race day.

Having not been able to finish Challenge Roma as I wasn’t running at that point due to a slight calf tear, I was excited to have my first proper hit out at a middle distance and see where I am at. I was trying to manage expectations a bit, with having had 3 weeks off running and so missing any speed sessions, and on top of that being Ill last week and not really getting over it 100% for the race. However my sessions the couple of days in the run up felt good and so I was hopeful that the overall AG win and a pb could be on the cards.

One of the best things about the race was having so many friends out there – great to catch up with everyone and see everyone have a good race.

Swim:

The swim was tough!! Heading out into the current, it was choppy and slow. I lost touch with the front group of girls within about 20m, spent around 500m with 2 girls either side, but then as we got to the turn bouy I pulled ahead of them and was swimming on my own as we were catching the wave in front. I thought it was a terrible swim but time wise it wasn’t too bad considering most people had quite slow swims.

Onto the bike:

Barney told me there were 5 girls in my wave ahead, so running into transition my aim was to catch them as quickly as possible. I caught 3 girls within the first 30 mins, which was also the section with the nice tailwind. As we turned onto the dam and into the headwind I was just concentrating on being as aero as possible. As we got to the end of the dam I passed Jane Hansom who I thought was probably at the front of the wave of ladies in front. At this point I thought there were 2 more ladies to catch in my wave (18-39). I finally caught the 4th age grouper and then it was back into the headwind for the final 25k. To be honest the whole bike was really tough – my power was nowhere near my usual 70.3 race pace, and nutrition was not sitting well in my tummy. Coming into t2 I still thought there was a girl ahead so was pleasantly surprised to hear them announce I was first age grouper.

The run:

Heading out into the run I firstly ran the wrong way (following the red carpet), but that meant I came into my first lap just behind Lionel Sanders coming past. Was a very cool moment!! I obviously wasn’t close to him for long!

The first lap I felt ok, not great but was moving ok and I knew I had a big gap on my age group, but that there was another age grouper only a couple of minutes behind. Heading into the second lap it was heating up and my tummy was not playing ball – I thought I was going to have to stop but managed to just about keep moving. I knew the age grouper behind me was closing the gap so my main aim was just on moving forward! Final lap I started to feel a bit better again, and the support was awesome. Barney and my parents were able to see me at about 4 different points each lap, and I really needed that encouragement!

Coming down the finish Shute was a huge relief – I knew at this point I was 2nd age grouper – so was quite disappointed in not winning and also not breaking my pb. However, on reflection there are a number of positives to take into IM Nice:

1. In a block of IM training my numbers and pace would set me up for a v good IM – so if the race is a reflection of what I can hold for that distance then I will be very happy

2. I got a bike pb by 8 minutes despite the power not being there

3. I managed to run back into a comfortable pace despite thinking at one point I was going to have to stop

4. I pulled off a decent result on a day that wasn’t my best, and where I wasn’t feeling 100% from having to take a few days off training in the run up to it because I felt ill

5. My support network of family and friends is the best!

Just 2 weeks until the big one now, final few big training sessions to tick off and then taper time!

As ever thanks to Will Clarke for dealing with my many moans from bad sessions and adjusting the schedule around work.

And bigger thanks to Barney for agreeing to spend our 5th wedding anniversary watching me race 👍

it was also great having my parents out there watching – first race in a while I have managed to coordinate my plans with theirs!

Great to see the Brits smashing it – lots of inspiration from all the great athletes!