Ironman UK, Bolton - NEVER GIVE UP
This race was a long time in the making. Bolton is not far from where I grew up, so it was a perfect opportunity to race and go home to see friends and family.
Race week was awesome, I felt really relaxed and spent a lot of my time catching up with friends and family, some of whom I hadn’t seen for 6 years!!
My race prep for IMUK started in January this year. Knowing the challenging nature of the bike course, being extremely hilly and technical we decided that the Peaks Challenge Ride in the Vic Alps in March would be a great way to build bike strength. A big area of weakness for me is descending, so this was something I really focussed on, aiming to improve my skills and confidence. I was unsure whether to use my road or TT bike for the IM, but after speaking to from Ken Ballhause from Adaptive HP whilst doing my bike fit, he advised that even if only 20% of time is spent in the aero position, the TT will be better. Decision made – TT it is. The strategy was to get as strong as possible on the bike, so I was fresh enough to run well in the marathon off the bike. Going into this prep I had just finished rehabbing a fibula stress fracture, so we were mindful not to overload the running too much. In fact the longest run I did in this prep was 2.5 hours. I did a lot of work in the gym plus spent time fine tuning my nutrition at every opportunity. The prep went really smoothly with no interruptions and I went into this race feeling confident and ready to go.
Race start was 6am, so got down to transition for around 4:30am. It was a cold and rainy morning and had a lot of layers on but was still freezing cold, anybody who knows me knows that I don’t handle the cold very well. I was a shivering mess. My friend Sarah came down so I had a coffee with her to help warm me up.
SWIM – It’s a lake swim and the water temp was about 17deg. I got myself into position and was ready to go. The gun went off and the rolling start commenced. It’s a 2 lap swim, with an Aussie exit, I started off really well, felt in control and there were lots of feet around to follow. After the second turning buoy my left hamstring started to cramp, I was able to slow my kick and extend to relieve, exited the water for the second lap and as I was getting out it cramped really badly and had to stand and stretch it for a second, ran around the pontoon and jumped in for the second lap and it instantly grabbed again as my foot left the platform. Pretty much the whole of the second lap I alternated between a light kick and extending my leg to relieve the cramp. Not exactly sure why I was cramping but think it may have been due to standing around in the cold, combined with the cold water. I was panicking a little bit at this stage. Got into T1 still cramping and got on to the bike.
BIKE – This bike course is BRUTAL!! It’s a brand new course plus there were some last minute changes to the route. It was supposed to be 2,500m of climbing which is hard enough, but ended up being almost 3,000m. That combined with lots of technical twists and turns, extremely poor road surface and a lot of wind and rain made for a very tough ride.
Onto the bike and my cramping started to subside. I got straight into my nutrition and hydration plan and put the swim out of my mind. It’s a 3-lap course with 7 climbs per lap. My aim was to average around 73% Normalised Power over the whole ride, to give me the best possible chance of running well, as the run course is also very hilly. This is higher than I’ve done in the past, the highest I’ve held before in an IM bike is 71% NP, but after a solid bike prep, we thought this was achievable but still sensible. My plan was to be confident and focus on good technique on the descents and keep a lid on the power on the climbs. Due to the sheer volume of climbing, I realised at about 100km that I was well over my targeted power and was sat at about 79% NP! (3.14w/kg). I decided I had to back it off. I just knew this was essential if I wanted to run well. I was getting increasingly nervous on the technical descents due to the rain and seeing somebody crash, so felt like I was already losing a lot of time because of this. I had no idea where I was in regard to my AG but tried to remain calm and just focus on my own race. I Eventually finished the bike and NP was 75% (2.98w/kg). Higher than planned, but still felt good. I saw my friends Cat, Jo and Sarah as I came in which was amazing.
RUN - The run course is also really tough, plus the wind had really picked up. It’s a 4-lap course and like the bike is all either up or down. There’s a 1km climb at the start of each lap averaging 3.4%, with a stretch at almost 6%, then a gradual long climb out to the turn, which was into a head wind, then after the turn it was downhill with a tailwind. I was feeling a bit apprehensive after being on the bike for so long AND holding higher than planned power, meaning the total training stress of the ride was significantly higher than I’d experienced in an IM before. Getting off the bike, Sarah told me I was in third place, 12 mins behind 2nd and 34 mins behind 1st place. My plan was to start the run conservatively and build the intensity. The first 2-3KM’s felt horrible and struggled to find a rhythm, but all of a sudden, I started to feel great and within about 8km I had moved into second place in AG. I was ticking along really well, feeling so strong. I actually couldn’t believe how good I was feeling, I aimed to stay as even as I could, remaining patient to not push too hard and risk blowing up. As each lap passed, I could see I was getting closer and closer to the lead. I got to the last lap at around 30km and Sarah told me I was 12mins down from the leader, she also passed a message from Lesley, who was tracking back in Melbourne and said if I could keep the pace I could catch her. This was a real lift and although I was starting to feel the fatigue, I still felt strong enough to hold the pace. I got to just before 41km and could see the leader and was able to lift the pace and pass her, she’d started 1 min behind me so I not only had to catch her, I had to finish more than 1min ahead of her to win, from there I threw my nutrition at the next aid station bin and gave it absolutely everything I had all the way to the line, which was almost 2km away as the run course turned out to be 600m long. It was such a huge relief to get to the finish line and when I realised I’d won and also was 4th female overall I was ecstatic. My goal was to qualify for Kona and realised I’d done it. What a relief!!! I’d just ran an IM marathon PB in the process on such a tough course and after that ridiculous bike course and couldn’t believe it. Cat, Jo, Sarah and my Dad were all at the finish line and it was so special.
I’m so grateful to everybody who helped me with this prep, especially Sean, who helped me believe in myself and devised a plan to get me in the best possible shape specifically for this race. It worked!! I was also blown away when I switched my phone on and saw all the messages and comments of support from our squad and people within the tri community back in Melbourne. The whole thing was really special. I can’t wait to get into my Kona prep with the crew after a bit of rest and recovery.