I haven’t been living my life as a pro-triathlete this year. But I haven’t been able to let go of triathlon either. I just love it too much. When Bolton came round, I was so glad there wasn’t a pro race. It meant I didn’t have to make the decision not to be there. When I did the Long Course Weekend in July, I was almost in tears at the finish, remembering how much I love Tenby and how sad I was that I wasn’t racing Ironman again. But after Norseman, I started to ask myself why I couldn’t give myself one final Ironman outing. What was stopping me from racing, other than the fact that I’d said I wouldn’t?
It took me a while to make the decision; I needed to be certain I was doing it for the right reasons. It was actually conversations with two young men at work who unknowingly convinced me. Their bodies aren’t letting them do what they want to. I went home that evening and realized, if your heart is telling you to do something, and your body is strong enough to let you, why on earth wouldn’t you. Some people thought I was setting myself up for failure. I wouldn’t win; if I did it would almost be making a mockery of all the hard work and sacrifices I made to get those wins when I was living my life as a professional athlete. But I knew it was nothing to do with winning. It was about having one last chance to race my favourite Ironman and about saying goodbye.
Going into race week, I felt nothing but pure, unadulterated excitement, like a 5 year old on Christmas Eve. I was more excited than I’ve felt before any race for a long time. Yet the night before the race I suddenly got really nervous. Like stomach churning, run to the toilet, can’t sleep nervousness. What was I nervous about? It wasn’t performance. And I realized, I was nervous that I would get so caught up in the racing that I wouldn’t enjoy the day. I was nervous that I’d let my performance ruin my reasons for racing. And I was nervous that even after this I still wouldn’t be ready to let go.
It turns out Sunday was enough for me to sign off. I had 10 glorious hours, a glorious, joyous ‘lap of honour’, to savour saying good-bye to Ironman and good-bye, finally, to my pro career. It would have been nice to have ‘float’ legs in my last race, but actually, perhaps then I wouldn’t have been able to soak up the cheers, interact with the crowds and generally have as much fun as I did. I’m always humbled by the indescribably incredible support I’ve had every time I’ve raced in the UK and Sunday was the best yet.
I entered my first Ironman as a drunken dare and it turned out to be a drunken dare that’s changed my life. Ironman has taught me to live outside my comfort zone and to face up to my fear of failure. It’s taught me to find the ladders I want to climb rather than racing to the top of the one I’m on as quickly as possible. It’s taught me to do things for the right reasons, not just because you can. And it’s reminded me that, with passion, patience and perseverance, dreams can become a reality.
Looking back I’m proud of my wins, but I’m more proud of the races I didn’t win. I’m more proud of the bad days when I gritted it out and finished, hopefully always with a smile. I’m more proud of my zero DNF rate. I’m more proud of being known as the crazy doctor who dances on the start line, dances at the finish, is a bit of a chopper and races just because she loves it. And I’m proud that it’s taken me so bloody long to finally retire, simply because I love it too much to stop.
I’m proud I’ve done triathlon my way. I’m proud that, in general, I’ve been self- coached and have managed everything myself. I’m proud that I’ve shown you can combine working and racing at the top. But I’m most proud that I’ve kept it fun.
Thank you to the amazing friends who have helped me become the athlete I did. Thank you to those who have advised me over the years. Chris, Helen, Tim, Ian, Simon, Leigh, Steve and many many more. Thank you to my sponsors, particularly Erdinger, who made being a full time athlete a reality for a couple of years. Thanks to Paul, Jo and all the other larger than life announcers who make start lines and finish lines so special. Thanks to John, and all the other writers who have written about me; without people like them, I’d never have found sponsors. Thank you to the photographers who’ve captured me at my best and my worst. And thank you to every single person who has cheered me, congratulated me, commiserated with me, messaged me and helped me realise that racing can have a bigger impact than simple results. And finally, thank you to mum and dad who have quite literally travelled the world with me, offering unequivocal support whatever I choose to do in life.
I do have one final play-date in Patagonia before I finally walk away from triathlon with my head held high. But in my heart and in my head, Tenby on Sunday was enough. I’m enormously sad to be giving up what feels like a massive part of me but its time to close this chapter with innumerable amazing memories bottled. I’m grateful and immensely proud. If I could, I’d go back to the beginning and do it all over again. But I wouldn’t change a single thing.