The race report I didn’t want to write.
It’s hard to articulate what I feel one week on from Hawaii, a trip that really was the best of times and the worst of times. I’d always said I’d be happy whatever the outcome if I went there and did myself justice. That didn’t happen and I can’t pretend I’m not disappointed. I’m better than my race there and I’m gutted I couldn’t put a decent race together on the day I really wanted to, the day that really mattered.
Like every single athlete on the start line I’d made sacrifices and a small bit of me can’t help but look at all the time and effort I spent in the run up to the race and wonder ‘was it all worth it’? Yet deep down I know I did everything I could to prepare myself and I like to think that, in years to come, this will be one of the experiences that I’ll look back on with pride. I’d rather fail at something than wonder ‘what if?’ Dealing with the bad days is part of being a professional athlete and I know that in the past I’ve always learnt more from the bad races than the good ones.
There are lots of positives from the trip. Perhaps the biggest achievement for me was getting myself in a positive mental state before the race. I was so nervous going out there as a pro on my own, particularly after a bad race, albeit one marred by mechanicals, 3 weeks before at 70.3 Lanzarote. So my first few days in Kona were spent doubting myself and feeling more than a bit intimidated by the whole experience. Turning this psychology around wasn’t easy but by race morning I believed in myself and was quietly confident that I’d be able to pull together a strong performance on race day. That for me is some success and I know this process will be useful in other races further down the line. I remember lying on my back in the water just before the start absorbing the crowds on the pier, the helicopters, the noise. I was full of excitement and on the edge of tears with nervous anticipation with an immense sense of pride that I’d got myself to the start line happy and confident.
And, despite a crappy race, I’ve learnt lots about how to race Kona, which I hope will stand me in good stead if I manage to get out there next year. As I know now you can’t go to Kona and do your own race. My race plan entailed finding a pack in the swim, riding the bike by myself, avoiding over biking, making up time in the second half of the bike and running a 3hr marathon. I know now that kind of race plan will never work in Kona and I wish I hadn’t held back so much on the bike, particularly at the start.
I’m still not quite sure why I was so set on riding so conservatively; maybe the mechanicals in Lanza had been playing with my head more than I realised. You can’t afford to give away too much time in the first half and I’d have been much better trying to get into a pace line with some of the other strong bikers in my swim pack. As it was making up time in the second half was near to impossible, partly because half of it had a strong tail wind, and partly because of age group packs coming past, taking full advantage of their 7m (in many cases 1m) draft zone to slot in ahead of me. The pro draft zone is 13.5 m so I had to sit up to create this gap, by which time another age grouper or pack would have slotted in in front of me. From where I was in the pro field it’s impossible to ride your own race in the second half of the bike and riding hard is pretty tricky when you’re spending chunks of time freewheeling to ensure you’re not in someone’s draft zone. So in a nutshell I messed up the bike by massively underbiking the first half, and, even if I’d done the run I wanted to I’d still only have ended up 13th at absolute best.
As it was, a dodgy Achilles which had flared up in Lanzarote soon put pay to any hope of a three hour marathon and instead of picking off places on the run I ended up walking from 5 miles in. I guess it’s testament to my positive psychology that, despite not running pain free for 3 weeks, I’d convinced myself it wouldn’t be a problem on race day. Anyway, I always knew winning the 1500m walk at secondary school would come in useful one day! While I was walking there were lots of tears but also some smiles. Lots of time to think but also time to chat. I guess the hardest bit was making the decision to stop running. I don’t think I really had a choice but I still wonder, if I was winning the race would I have been able to run through the pain? I don’t think so but it’s a question that haunts me. The second hardest bit was arriving at the top of the energy lab with 10km to go. That was the stage in my race plan where I ‘press the hurt button’ and charge for home. I knew I’d be hurting at that stage but never imagined I’d be walking.
So my race didn’t give me what I wanted and of course it hurts. But, I still had a great trip and looking back on my year I can’t help but be proud of what I’ve achieved. This time last year I was starting to write up my PhD. Since then, other than Hawaii I’ve finished 1st or 2nd in every race I’ve entered. I’ve been to South Africa, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, Majorca, the Alps and Hawaii. I’ve made new friends, found new limits, been on radio 4, the BBC website, the front cover of magazines and done a whole list of things I never thought I’d do.
Deep down I know one bad race doesn’t make a bad season. But it does put a fire in my belly for 2015. I’ll be back!