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IM World Champs (Loooong Version)

Overall:08:57:54 - 9th Pro Female
Swim: 00:58:42
Bike: 04:38:16
Run: 03:16:27

Every race has a story and here is mine, the unedited and self indulgent version. The more concice edited version can be found here

It was a fast day in Kona. has the swim and the run as fairly comparable to other years, but the island wind was on a rest day so the bike splits were considerably faster than normal. I know some of you are up to speed with the course conditions and the impact that they have on the race, and if so, skip ahead! If not, the next paragraph should go some way to covering it… 

The thing with the Kona winds (for those who aren’t familiar with cycling in them) is that they change direction during the day. Essentially you are nearly always cycling in a cross wind of some kind, which is more tiring than no wind or direct head / tail as it requires you to stabilize the bike a lot more. The road is fairly straight and open to the lava fields, so there is no protection from the wind and you are relentlessly exposed.  Coupled with being in the TT position where you inherently less stable than being on regular handlebars or on the drops of a road bike, over the course of 180km you use significantly more energy in gusty cross winds than you would in other conditions. The wind changing direction doesn’t work in your favour either, particularly for the slower riders, who can and will be facing the head wind on the way out to the Hawi turnaround, and on the way back. Character building stuff. At the pointy end of the race, wind will favour the strong rider and enable them to break away from the pace line or pack if they are strong enough, as the ‘weaker’ rider is less able to overcome the force of the headwind to follow the attack, and will eventually get dropped.  A lack of wind will favour the less strong rider and makes it more likely that there will be a ‘chain’ of athletes on the bike course and the aerodynamic savings of being in the pace line are significant, even when you are 12m apart. In this way some athletes (those in the middle of the chain generally speaking) are able to save more energy for the run section of the course, making it more of a runners race. Interestingly though, in my opinion, I’m not sure that the wind conditions made too much of a difference to the end result as I think that those who were in the top 10, were the strong bikers anyway… who’s to say?! You can listen to what Rinny had to say on it here. Certainly I know for myself I’m not keen on cycling in a pace line during a race. As Rinny said, it is mentally demanding, and physically you are pushing, coasting, braking, pushing hard, coasting, braking etc. all to try and maintain pace and your position without breaking the drafting rules. But thankfully, this didn’t affect me as for most of the bike course I was in no mans land in 4th place. 1st being Lucy Charles for most of the bike course, 2nd and 3rd was Dani and Sara Crowley, then me, and a couple of min further back was the pace line.  But let me back track to some pre-race preamble, and the swim…

I qualified late for Hawaii; This year was more about individual races, racing healthy and not putting all of my eggs into the Kona basket. My race in Kalmar, Sweden in August was the last opportunity to qualify and winning there bumped me up in the rankings to make the August cut off. Even though I accepted my ‘slot’ I still didn’t 100% commit to Kona at that time. I wanted to see how my body recovered and I only wanted to go back to Hawaii to race if I felt like I could put in a solid performance. To do that I would need to be recovered, healthy and fit. Gradually I recovered from the race and as my body started to feel more energized again, I realized that yes, I wanted to go back to the world championships and see what I could do. By this time, race day was 3 weeks away so I made the necessary flight and accommodation bookings for 7days later, and committed to the race. I kid you not; Within 48h my calf started to hurt, so I had massage, saw the physio, had another massage, saw the osteopath, ran out of time to work with my usual team of therapists(!), flew to Hawaii, and picked up treatment appointment times there as well.  By the time that race day came around I’d run twice in the past 3 weeks and my calf was still frustratingly sore and tight. It’s hard to describe the emotional ups and downs through this time, but I went through a spectrum of being annoyed, frustrated, disappointed, angry, optimistic, pessimistic and resigned. Should I have cancelled my flight and not come out? Should I have postponed it to get a clearer diagnosis or gone to the UK to work with Alex at the Drummond Clinic? Should I fly home now before the race and not risk further damage and injury to myself? A huge thanks to those who were helping me through this tumultuous time!  Thursday before the race I turned a bit of a corner with all of the emotional stuff and felt more accepting of the situation. I felt like I could look forward to the swim and the bike and see what my fitness was like and how I might perform. Normally as you probably know, I’m looking forward to the run, but I was able to ‘park’ this and accept that I’d just have to wait and see how the body was going to respond to running a marathon on race day.  

Swim swim swim.
After IM Sweden (8 weeks out from Kona) I made some changes to my swim training… A risk? I hoped not. While training with Brett and the TriSutto group, I spent 3 years swimming with a pull buoy, every session. I understand why (to learn body position in the water), however I felt that while I was now ‘aware’ of what a better body position felt like, I was not able to maintain it without the buoy. Put me in the race situation with head up sighting as well, and I reverted right back to sinking hips and legs. So; Now being my own coach and more responsible for these things and encouraged by my Geneva swim buddy (a swimmer-swimmer no less!), I started leaving the pull buoy in the swim bag and swimming without it. A challenging time as you might imagine, times all go backwards, effort goes up and I’m constantly feeling like my swim technique is really not very effective.  This wasn’t negative thinking, but fact. However, in and amongst the ‘struggle’ (it’s all relative…) I had glimpses of change, fleeting moments or laps where I felt that the body was more on top of the water and there was coordination between the legs-arms and connecting torso in between. Trying to hang on to these moments was like trying to hold mist. It’s there and it’s gone. But I took encouragement from it being there at all and persevered, convinced that this was what I needed to do if my swim was to improve. I wasn’t sure that it would be effective in time for Hawaii, so I also focused more on it being a longer term process and not to expect drastic results within the short timeframe to the next race.  My swimmer-swimmer buddy was great - a huge thank you to her. She was encouraging, adapted her sessions so that they could suit the both of us, and then closer to the race, was advising and suggesting sessions specific to my preparation. So for the first time I was looking forward to seeing what the swim segment of the race might hold for me. When I got into T1 in the company of the second pack, I was quietly pleased with how the swim had gone, certainly I’d say my best swim in a race situation ever. It was a big pack and I found myself quickly in the transition muddle. Space at the transition in Kona is at a premium and there is no room to get past people going into the change tent, out of the change tent or as you run around the perimeter to your bike. In my head I was ‘COME ON! MOVE! RUN FASTER!’ but had a quick chat with myself and realized that we were all going to go at one pace through the transition whether I was fussing about it or not. Goodness only knows what it is like when there are 2000 athletes all coming out of the water together. Carnage I imagine. 

Bike bike bike.
A little hitch at the start of the bike course where my gel jumped off my handlebars and onto the road - that snatched decision where if you don’t make it quickly enough, you are already 20m up the road and it is too late… but I stopped quickly and picked it up. As I went up Kuakini - a little out and back at the start of the bike course, I saw the front pack swimmers (normally well ahead of me at this point in the race) and also spotted Daniela not far ahead.  Obviously I was  surprised by this but later found out she’d been stung by jelly fish and struggled on the swim course. Having said that, since that was the last that I saw of her until I got to Hawi turnaround, she didn’t feature heavily in my race thoughts (no offence Dani ;) ). Gradually over the first 35-40miles of the bike course I picked my way forwards through the pro-women’s field. At this point there were small groups of riders and one main pack, but every time I came up to them, the pace and effort seemed to be lower than I thought was my ‘race pace’ so I passed on by. Each time expecting riders to come with me, but they didn’t, so I pushed on solo.  At Kawaihae (~85km) I was shown a white board with splits on it, but given my inexperience of being at the pointy end of the world championships, I couldn’t read it quickly enough and basically leaned nothing about the time splits between riders. Still, I saw it a few more times over the course and the information became more useful. Unfortunately (or not, depending on your perspective), my powermeter wasn’t calibrated properly so my garmin had me riding at 185-190W. I thought this was highly unlikely given my effort and HR, as well as the fact that I was moving forwards through the pack, so I kept working on HR and effort, and didn’t worry too much about the other ‘outlier’ number being so low. End of the bike course with 4h38 and I’d just pipped myself into 3rd place, overtaking Sarah Crowley in the last kilometers before town. I’d made up the 6min deficit to the front pack swimmers and put time into them on the bike so I was in a good position. 

Given the lack of objective numbers, I can’t say for sure, but I feel that I actually biked better at IM Kalmar, Sweden. It is intangible, but certainly the couple of weeks before the race I’d felt stronger in Sweden and I think that the effort came more ‘easily’ on race day. The wetsuit swim will also have made a difference (in Kalmar) and conserved energy that I could tap into the bike, however that elusive term ‘form’ I think was better slightly better in August. I’m not disappointed with my bike performance in Kona in the slightest, it is just encouraging to feel that things can still be tweaked and developed to improve my performance further.

The run, the run, the run.  
I’m sure it must have been as painful for anyone watching my sippery slide from 3rd to 9th as it was for me to experience it. I actually felt ok in the first kilometers but then as the body started to compensate for the calf not functioning properly I started to experience soreness in the right glute, then the left glute, left femur, then the left knee. All of it was manageable and I told myself that I would stop if it got ‘painful’ and so kept on running. Sarah re-passed me within the first 8km of the run and then the next pass from Sarah True came before the turning back up Palani hill. Most of the other passes are then a blur. Except for Rinny, who much to my surprise and amusement gave me a slap on the backside as she tripped on past and said something encouraging that I can’t recall now. Honestly, this was so unexpected and kept me amused for a good while, I thank Rinny for being so sporting. Sarah Crowley also said something encouraging on her way past and the other run highlight (as well as the cheering from friends and spectators on the course), was hearing Crowie on Palani cheering me on. Class.  I also have to give a mention to Bob de Wolf (BMC team), the Pewag team and the TriSutto coaches for their encouragement. Obviously I’m no longer on either team or training with TriSutto, but I was grateful to say the least for their support, past and present. 

But back to the running; as I came out of the Energy Lab, Angela Naeth passed me and I was bumped from 8th to 9th. A few kilometers back I’d seen a group of the chase women at the turnaround point, and given that my run speed was nearly at ‘Sunday long run’ pace I knew that I’d have to pick it up if I was going to finish in the top 10. Honestly, I still wasn’t confident that I would finish at all, but if you don’t try, you don’t know, so I galvanized myself, clawed back the 15m that Angela had put into me and started to hang on. Trying to tap into her pace and tap into a new (faster) rhythm. I was racing, yes, but in all honesty, I was racing myself and the women behind me more than I was racing Angela. With about 3km of the run course left, I felt that I was out of danger from the chasing women (ha!) and Angela pulled away. Horror of all horrors, as I turned into the last mile of the course, I heard over the tanoy that Linsey Corbin was not far behind. Linsey I knew would be chasing hard. In fact, in a strange twist of circumstance, in 2017 our positions were reversed, I was chasing her in the final kilometers by a similar time deficit. I tried to open my stride up and told myself it was ‘only 4 laps of the running track’ to go, and willed myself toward the finish line. I’d love to say that I celebrated that finishing stretch, but it was tunnel vision and I missed the high fiving and waving as I ran up the finishing carpet. Maybe next time... (Next time?!)

It was great to finish 9th and in the coveted top 10.  It was great to finish at all given the weeks running into the race. I’m happy to park the sub-par run performance pretty squarely with the lack of running 3wks before the race, and the fact that I ran 3h16 at all, I attribute to the solid training that I did before the hiccough.  If you’d asked me a several months ago, I didn’t think that I would have been content with 6-10 finish, I wanted and placed ‘value’ on being top 5. But now, I’m more than happy with how it’s worked out.  I’m hugely encouraged by the swim and bike performances and more than delighted with how this year has been - winning Challenge Lisbon as well as winning and setting bike and course records in IM Nice and IM Kalmar is more than I could have hoped for. I know that it is not solely my doing and the changes that I’ve made this year, but it is built on the support of others and foundation of the last 7 years of training (ok, 40years of life ‘training’!), the experience of coaches and teams that I’ve worked with and learned from, as well as most recently, the last 2 years of training and racing injury free. Rob (significantly better half), Liz (friend), Tim (friend and run coach), Alex (friend and physio) have been constants through all of this and much thanks goes to them for their support and sharing their experiences and knowledge with me. 

If you’ve reached the end of this self indulgent marathon of a brain dump, well done and thank you for following along. It’s back to Europe in a couple of days to get the calf sorted and then make a new plan… I’ll keep you posted! 

~ Aloha ~

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