It’s always satisfying when you make a plan, stick to the plan and the plan pays off.
Easy to say, harder to do, particularly for me if the plan involves patience! There were 6 weeks in between South Africa and Lanzarote. Though to many, racing two Ironman so close together may sound overly ambitious, previously that kind of gap has worked well for me, and in fact I’ve tended to race better in the second race than the first.
This time I did have a few doubts going into the race; I ended up with extremely painful infected nail beds after Ironman South Africa. Instead of doing the sensible thing and letting the antibiotics do their job before starting to run I tried to do something which I called running but was really hobbling on the outside of my feet and ended up with an inflamed right peroneus brevis.
Fortunately, when I finally gave in and took a week off it settled down fairly quickly but deep down, I was a bit concerned the lack of any quality running between the two races may be a problem come race day.
But, as I’m learning, when it gets close to a race there is absolutely no point focusing on what you haven’t done. You just have to focus on what you have done and what your strengths are. If you don’t back yourself you’ll never do yourself justice. I flew out 10 days before the race and had a really fun week being pampered by my kind friends, Daz and Debs, at Trisports Lanzarote (www.trisportslanzarote.com). Normally when I’m there I’m smashing myself all day every day so it was somewhat of a novelty to have time to lie on the sunbeds with a book around some relatively short but fairly intense key sessions. I enjoyed hanging out with Jo Carritt who was also staying there and if either of us looked as though we were getting nervous about the race, the other guests in the villa, Alex, Jude and Katy stepped in to give us some lessons in how to chill out by the pool…
I moved down into Puerto del Carmen for race week and come race day I felt in a pretty good place mentally and physically.
My race plan was simple:
Drink, drink, drink on the bike.
Ride to power, control my run and ignore everyone else until the last 10km of the run.
Unlike certain other races I felt absolutely no pressure whatsoever. And though, when I’d first looked at the start list I’d been somewhat daunted at the number of world class athletes entered, I’d managed to get myself into a place where all I was thinking about was what I could do and the plan I was going to execute rather than how quickly others might go.
Having finished such a close second in South Africa I really wanted to win this. Deep down I believed I could, but I also knew that it was highly likely to be a close race and even my best performance may only put me into 5th or so.
I think on balance this was probably my smartest race so far. I’m not sure where my swim came from but, despite feeling like I was in a fist-fight rather than a swimming race, I ended up coming out 2nd or 3rd female, and, by fluke, a few seconds behind my flat mate Tom who usually does 400m for my 350m. Brilliant – this was a nice little confidence boost for me (probably less so for him!)
So onto the bike and I was determined to ride to power and not think about anyone else. Tom sat (legally) behind me for the first 30 miles or so – when he caught me at the start of the bike I screamed at him, “you can ride with me but you’ve got to stay behind”. The last thing I wanted was people starting rumours that I was being paced by a friend, though I was chuckling at the thought of friends at home seeing us racing literally neck and neck.
A couple of girls passed me early on but I knew I was riding well and managed to restrain myself. I think the gap was up to 6 minutes at half way but down to 3 minutes by 80 miles. To be honest I was more than happy with this and was more interested in what the super runners behind me were doing, though I didn’t get any information on them until the final 15 miles when someone told me they were a ‘fair way back’. That information was pretty useful – it meant I allowed myself to relax on the final 10 miles to the finish, get some food and drink down and prepare myself for the run.
So, unlike South Africa I didn’t rush through T2 like a headless chicken and I didn’t start the run like it was a 5km race. I’d learnt my lesson. Instead I set off at a pace that felt easy and waited until the first turnaround at 5 miles to see where that put me. I ran myself into second by around 5km and could see I was gradually catching Susan Blatt who was at the head of the race. Even more reassuringly, the ‘uber-runners’ Corinne, Sonja and Kristin were all far enough back that I knew, barring disaster, I’d be able to hold them off. So I stuck with cruise control for another 5 miles then picked up the pace slightly for 5 miles to make the pass. Then back into cruise control until 20 miles. At that stage I was only 45 seconds or so ahead of Susan but I knew I was running well within myself and had saved my kick for the final 10km. At that stage I quite literally ‘pressed the button to the pain cave’ and kicked ahead to finish the race 3 minutes or so ahead of Susan. If you’re going to make yourself hurt it is so much better to do it at the end of a marathon than the start!
Looking back, I feel like this is my most mature race to date and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so much in control of my body, my brain and my effort level as I did on Saturday. Despite admitting openly to a few close friends that I really wanted to win this race I had got my head in a place where I felt no pressure whatsoever. And I enjoyed this race as much as any other I’ve ever done.
The support out on the course was incredible – the run course was lined with Brits and I felt like I was racing in England. I love hearing my name when I’m racing, it really motivates me; thank-you so much to everyone who was cheering and huge kudos to anyone who finished the race, particularly Tom (you may not have beaten me but you will next time!) and Ele. IM Lanza is a tough old race (though I still think Wales and Zofingen are tougher….) and anyone who beats the course should feel immensely proud.
All in all, it’s been a pretty special start to my ‘sabbatical’! I think I’m now more or less certain to have bagged myself a Kona slot which is scary and exciting at the same time! I’m certainly in a pretty good position for the rest of the summer. I haven’t yet decided what I’ll do between now and then but it definitely involves a bit of a break right now. It seems a long time since I’ve spent any time in Cambridge and I’m looking forward to some fun training with my regular training buddies.
Life is pretty good when you’re away so much that coming home seems like a holiday!
Thanks as always to my sponsors, particularly Lightweight who generously lent me a shallow rimmed Gipfelsturm for the race. I was very glad of this in the strong winds on race day! And to my parents who never fail to support me, whatever path I choose to take in life.