I must begin with apologies for the length of this report, but when you “race” at my speed it is a very long race!
I signed up for my first triathlon a few years ago, read Chrissie Wellington’s autobiography, and was convinced that I would have qualified for Kona by now. I love training, as there are those occasional days when I feel ‘magnificent’. When I “race”(loosely used verb) it becomes apparent that I am clearly not (magnificent), and that if I do have any genetic gifts they certainly do not predispose me towards triathlon. By the time I had acknowledged this I had bought all the kit so decided to press on in denial and enter another half Ironman.
Scanning down the Staffs 70.3 start list for my race number, I realised that my arch rival was racing again. I was going to have to execute my race plan perfectly to beat her this time. I thought back over the hours and hours, and miles and miles of training. Through the cold and wet; the garage turbo sessions; the turned down social occasions; the money spent on kit rather than wine; and I hoped that I could beat her, I hoped that it would all be worth it.
This will not be a race report bathed in glory, with a surprise podium finish. I will not be qualifying for any championships or finals. But I am gonna beat that b@*?h today… the battle is on.
The weather forecast was 23 degrees, calm and sunny. For a wimpy Southerner this was destined to be perfect conditions. Add another ten degrees and make it the hottest day of the year and it mixes things up a bit.
I began the race weekend by breaking the first commandment of triathlon – “Thou shalt not buy new kit at the event expo and race in it”. I got chatting to a wetsuit rep, and to cut a long story short, walked away with a spanking new demo wetsuit to test in the race – would the triathlon gods make me suffer for such sacrilege? The swim is my favourite and strongest part, and conditions were brilliant; the water must have been 18-20 degrees. I knew that I could be well ahead of my rival coming into T2. It was a rolling start and I had clear water until I (surprisingly) started to overtake athletes from the previous two waves which was a morale boost, as I never overtake anyone on the bike or run (unless they have a mechanical or heat exhaustion). I exited the lake with an amazing double-take of my Garmin – sub 40 minutes which was brilliant for me. I needed transition to be hasty to maintain my lead going into the bike, and as I was so elated by my swim time I sailed through it.
The joy of a great swim carried me through the first technical 30km of the bike on a real high. The bike was destined to be the tightest section of the race, as I knew that my rival was strong here and I expected her to be right on my tail coming into T2. I also had two secret sub-goals for this race. The first was to beat Tom in the swim (sshhh don’t tell), and the second was to get through T2 before Tom crossed the finish line. I was concerned about the first one, as Tom didn’t do his ‘stealth matt black zoom’ past me until 20km into the bike, and I thought for a while that perhaps he was ahead of me.
The bike went really well, it was a beautiful scenic course, and I was a good ten minutes faster than I had predicted. There were people pushing their bikes exhaustedly up one of the hills, which was unusual but a hint of the suffering to come. As I approached transition the bike route ran alongside the run course for a few hundred metres, and I must confess to harbouring strange impressions of my fellow athletes. They resembled a herd of elderly wilderbeest in a slow motion, dusty, snorting shuffle. I saw, and shouted out to Tom, who I thought must be either finishing his second lap, or having an absolute stormer and nearly finishing. His face was a mask of dejection, and he was moving as if through treacle, which I didn’t understand until I dismounted my bike. After the cooling effects of the air on the bike, as soon as I stopped moving it felt like stepping off an aeroplane into a wall of heat in a hot destination.
I found the one remaining space to rack my bike in, and entered the suffocatingly hot transition tent. I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible, which I did, onto the suffocatingly hot run course.
I think that the run (term used loosely) will remain a blur for many athletes. I cope with the heat quite well but my body wouldn’t let me keep running. It wasn’t a conscious decision to walk at times, the body just refused to comply. I had hoped for a good run, but disillusioned,
turned the pace screen off my Garmin and just set it to distance and resolved to chip off the 21 kilometres one by one. (I knew that my rival would be generous to me in the run and I could probably walk a lot of it and still be ahead.)
So many people were complaining about their feet, which I think must have swelled in the 30+ degrees. My feet (unusually) tortured me for the first lap, and then miraculously just ceased to hurt (which was an interesting lesson in pain tolerance). I completed two laps with handfuls of ice shoved down the front of my tri top which sounds ridiculous, but it didn’t even feel cold. Event staff had a few water sprays set up around the route, but the saviours of the day were the local residents. Hosepipes, sprinklers, water pistols, buckets and jugs of water to douse athletes with just kept coming until the very end, they were absolutely amazing, and the DNF list would have been significantly longer without them. (Obviously, none of the athletes that I saw, committed the cardinal sin of accepting help from an outside source, as they would have been DQ’d). I have never seen so many people walking in a race, so many people suffering, even my jelly babies melted.
Eventually the finish chute beckoned and the announcer described me as the most colour co-ordinated athlete of the day – confirming my motto – if you can’t be fast, be flash!
So the final scores? Okay, I was 1548th in a time of 7hours and 44mins. I beat the contender for the glory of my finishers’ medal by a whopping 46 minutes… her name? Madame Cut-off Time. A small victory, but very sweet. Worth it? Yes.
posted by Heidi Hill on