The sweetest victories

The sweetest victories are the most hard fought ones and Ironman UK 2017 was a proper battle. I’ve had some ‘easy’ wins in Bolton but I hard to fight tooth and nail for this one, which makes the win so much more rewarding. I’ve always said it’s not about the winning but about getting the best out of yourself. And that still stands true. But a win when you really have emptied yourself is absolutely the sweetest kind of win. I’m ecstatic after last weekend and am glad Diana was there to push me the whole way.

Race weeks now I’m working are much less relaxing than they used to be. I was working Monday to Wednesday and while I usually love work, last week was tough. I had to break a lot of bad news to a lot of patients that I had got to know well and emotionally I was exhausted. Leaving the hospital at 7pm on Wednesday I could only just start to turn my mind to the upcoming race. I’m not sure I had the mental energy to get excited yet. There seemed an awful lot of pre-race faffing to do before then in terms of getting my bike and equipment sorted, doing the final training sessions, getting a massage and getting to Bolton. I’d planned it so that I could have Friday as a complete rest day doing absolutely nothing than watch netflix in the hotel and attending the race briefing to give my brain and body a complete recharge. But unfortunately a completely unavoidable, unforeseen and unpredictable bike mechanical meant Friday was spent with my friend Dan (without whom I wouldn’t have been able to race) and the Simplon guys on skype, trying to work out what was going on and ultimately piecing together last year’s race bike. 9 hours total, 50 miles driving round the ring road 3 times between my house and Dan’s to collect parts and a lot of stress. When I got to Bolton on Friday night I was shattered.

I hadn’t ridden this bike since Kona and it has a much more aggressive and far less comfortable set up than my Simplon. So much so that when I first got back on it felt like I was riding a kid’s bike. In the old days issues like this would have played with my head. But I’m older and wiser nowadays and honestly, come race day, wasn’t thinking about it at all. I had a bike and I was racing and that was all that mattered. I was racing to win the race. It was a very small field (it’s such a shame the UK races aren’t more popular) but I had some good competition in Nikki and Diana. I believed, perhaps somewhat overconfidently as it turned out, that if I came off the bike with even a minute’s lead on either of them I could win. So I paced my bike to achieve that. I wasn’t using power (the numbers were meaningless on this bike). So I made a bit of a cock up at the start thinking I’d come out of T2 4 mins behind Diana (in fact it was 2). So when I heard the gap was 3 mins at around 30 km I thought I was catching at what felt like a very comfortable perceived effort. In fact I was losing time…. Luckily mum and dad and a few other people I trust were out there to give me some accurate splits so I upped the pace between 70 and 140 km and caught Diana going up Hunter’s the second time. Happy days I thought to myself. You’ve got this. And then I started to bonk. School girl error, in part because I’d had to ditch my aero-bar bottle which was stopping me holding the bars properly. I managed to salvage it, just about, at the last aid station and coming into T2 with no sign of Diana or Nikki, again, I told myself, ‘Happy days, You’ve got this’. And then I started to run. Mmmm. Not so happy days. Maybe you haven’t got this. My back had been agony for the last hour of the bike and I had been taking every opportunity to sit up and stretch. As soon as I started to run I realized this was going to be an issue. Happy days soon became unhappy days and I realized it was going to be a marathon battle. The support out on the run course is absolutely immense and I doubt I could have won the race without it. For the second half of the marathon Diana was slowly eating into my lead. Meanwhile, I was only just managing to keep myself upright. Coming into town the final time, I’m not exaggerating when I say the noise was deafening. I heard it all, but I just couldn’t acknowledge it. Not until I got to that red carpet. And even then, I almost tripped over 5 meters from the finish. There was no #doingalucy physically, but there was in my head!

I relish the battles like these. These are the days that define us as athletes and I’m glad I had to fight for the win this year. It would have been easy to settle for second and blame it on the bike and I’m so proud I stuck it out to cross the line first. I may not have acknowledged everyone’s cheers but I heard them all. Honestly, without that support, I doubt I would have had the mental strength to win. Thank you!

I met so many amazing and interesting people in Bolton. Ironman brings together people of all backgrounds and all walks of life and seeing so many people complete their own battles to cross the finish line is for me one of the most special parts of Ironman. If you raced – be proud. If you were supporting – thank you. You were part of my win for sure! 4 for 4 in Bolton. How on earth do I stop at that?

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