It’s that time again. The time when I find myself staring at the three race bags on my hotel bed, wondering if I’ve put the right kit into the right ones, what I’ve forgotten, what things need to be taken out in the morning, what still needs to be put in. Argh! No matter how many times I do this it never gets any less stressful.
And rightly so. As I do my triple-check I realise my goggles are not in my pre-race bundle. In fact, my goggles are nowhere to be found. Rookie Error No. 1. Cue an extra trip via the Expo on the way to the bus to leave my bike in T1. Or is that T2? My brain is already hurting. Just as well my daughter’s with me. Even more confusing is the fact that there are TWO T2s – T2.1 and T2.2!! Just what I need. Thank you Caitriona for working that one out for me!
As always, the actual ‘doing’ was far easier than the ‘thinking about’. We were in a super hotel in the gorgeous Vitoria-Gasteiz, about an hour north of Bilbao and priding itself in being the ultimate in ‘Green’ – and boy, could UK Green-wannabes learn a thing or two. Open motorways with not a single car passing the speed limit; cars cut out engines at ALL traffic lights, streets totally spotless … Delightful.
We quickly became experts in the tram system – priding ourselves after the first day in being able to order our tickets in Basque! So much fun. Registration was super-efficient, marshalls incredibly helpful and general organisation superb.
The briefing was led by a team of marshalls who tried so so hard in English and it was soon apparent that this was a room of serious athletes who were immune to the little language ‘mishaps’ which had Caitriona and I in complete hysterics (we were very much alone – weirdoes??). The briefing would’ve been far ‘briefer’ had they called a bib a bib, for example, rather than a bee-ai-bee? After the 100th time it, well, from now on it will forever be a bee-ai-bee number 😊 Our favourite was the acetate informing us that whilst some athletes would use of ‘personal aid’ bags, most athletes ‘couldn’t be bothered’ (exact wording)! You’ve just got to love English translations!
Enough of that. Race morning breakfast at the hotel was the best I’ve ever seen – just WOW!. There was absolutely nothing missing. My sole mission was to avoid the Doom Fruit (see report of IM Cairns). After, while I faffed around fighting with my wetsuit, Caitriona tended to my Rookie Error No. 2 – namely that I’d left the attachment for my bike computer at home (with my goggles, apparently). Those battles fought and won, time for the start.
Oh. My. Sweet. Holy. Mother. Of … I remain speechless. And bruised – head, ribs, shoulder, legs! I honestly don’t think I’m a wimp when it comes to the ‘washing machine’ of mass starts – but this was brutal. GORGEOUS lake with beautiful clean water was assaulted by 1000 athletes all at the same time, all heading for the same first buoy. Cue a panic attack after 50m which sent me reeling and thinking about IM Cairns and DNFs and, if it’d been a possibility I might have turned around and headed back for shore, but there was no way out. I was in the middle of 4000 flailing arms and legs (total). If I had a proud moment in that whole race, I think it was probably right then. I treaded water for a few moments, still being knocked around, then decided to start forcing my breathing, refusing to be beaten at the first hurdle. I got my head down and turned thoughts completely inwards and literally ‘yelled’ the Bubble Bubble Breathe swimming drill for a good 100m or so. I was elbowed in ribs and head, legs were grabbed, I was kicked in the side and in the head – I guess it’s pretty much normal but I’ve always managed to find some clear water and there simply wasn’t any! By the second buoy (500m) I’d found some space. Woohoo. I lift my head, sight, and hear the horn blowing again. Effing bloody marvellous. Guess what? Here come another 1000 FULL distance (140.6) athletes – all strong, aggressive and 800 of them men. Round 2. At this point I’d developed a whole new style of swim stroke and was holding my own much better in the elbow-strike, don’t-fucking-dare-swim-over-me stakes, my breathing was under control and I was getting this done. And so it went. 45 minutes, including panic attack and faffing. I was happy with this when I found out afterwards (never looked at my watch). I’d been aiming for 50.
Everyone who knows me knows that the bike leg is my nemesis. My strategy was not to faff but not to ‘race’ here. Managing to get my wetsuit off without entertaining the other athletes was already a win. Salt tab at the ready and out I went.
What a gloriously beautiful course. Although classed as flat – and it certainly was in comparison to most other courses, there was a clear 10km gradual ascent which I thought might be a problem, but I didn’t even notice it. It really WAS flat (kinda). Little rolling hills all the way around with some long flat stretches in between. There were just two ‘kicks’ which required a bit of out-of-the-saddle and gear change but apart from that, to be honest, there could be NO excuses here for not finishing other than my own head – and I kept my head in a good place with my usual messages taped to the bars. I was a little worried about my bike handling on a rental bike (it’s already crap on my own bike, for goodness’ sake) but the magnificent Oscar (known as ‘O’) from the rental shop in Bilbao did the most amazing job with my five-min set-up and saddle change and I have to tell you now I am sold sold SOLD on electric gears! Bloomin’ Heaven! When I win the lottery ….
I am totally rubbish with nutrition on the bike so I really made a concerted effort. My main problem is usually dehydration combined with water sloshing in my stomach so I can’t drink any more and I’ve finally sorted this out with salt tabs. I had 3 nutrition bars at the ready but only ate one (that alone is pretty good for me). I alternated between bites of bar, the local electrolyte drink and water (which I drank least of). I’d ordered the electrolyte drink Finis Sport and used it in training so knew it would work for me. I think I drank about 1 ½ litres of this, my oaty bar and a litre of water.
Took me 3 ½ hours. I FINISHED! I’d already won! I made it to the run.
Rookie Error No. 3 – I always run with a running belt, but wasn’t going to carry anything here, relying entirely on aid stations, so when I had to fumble around looking for my inhaler (recently diagnosed with asthma) I realised I’d forgotten to practice carrying stuff in my tri suit pockets. Could I find the damn pocket? So stupid. Extra minutes lost. I didn’t spend too long in T2 but what did take time was a much-needed toilet break and that delayed me somewhat. That done, I was THRILLED to realise that while I’d come in off the bike thinking ‘Oh my God, I’m achey, I’ll never get through this run,’ once I was on my feet I felt fab!
Warm, completely flat, pretty and very very twisty so no chance of getting bored on any long ‘straights’. There were no ‘straights’. Two loops of 10.5 km for the 70.3 distance. I had planned run-walk strategies of various kinds and I did this for the first couple of km but after that if I felt I could run, I ran. After all, my run is not much faster than I walk. People think I’m joking. Really! There is a reason I don’t run with people! But in my own little running world I was running, not walking, and proud and so SO happy to be on this course and ‘running’. So much so, that the first loop went by without a bother. Setting out on Loop 2 I needed a reset so I started dedicating miles. THANK YOU to my dedicatees (my word?) for entertaining me and I hope you don’t mind.
Kilometre 12 – Sebastian: You go out too fast and you crash and burn so we did a few 4:1 walk-runs on this stretch while I congratulated you on falling 6 times and getting up 7 – and that’s what I would do!
Kilometre 13 – Chris: You ran your first HM without any training (or warning – emergency team member required lol). If you can do that, I can run another km. You make your own success. So would I.
Kilometre 14 – Rebecca: Bless you, my darling, you hate running probably as much as I do at this particular point in the race. Let’s walk a bit – a couple of 4:1s over this bit.
Kilometre 15 – Karim: Your running’s getting better and you can go for longer with adequate rest. We did a couple of 9:3s and ran the rest. Whatever happens, you keep moving forwards.
Kilometre 16 – Issi Doyle: No matter how bad you feel, how injured you are and in spite of a mountain of medical issues you just battle through and keep crossing those finish lines. If you can conquer all of that every day, I can bloody well conquer one kilometre. Slow and steady.
Kilometre 17 – Becky Taylor: Any excuse not to run. Ha! Ok. I can do with a bit of that right now. A bit of 1:1 walk-run here.
Kilometre 18 – Jo Andrews: The woman with the strongest ‘finish’ I know. Inspires me every time – always pulls it out of the bag. In my ear ‘Get a f***ing move on!’ Focussed on my cadence, picked it up and did my best to push out faster kilometre. Almost did it. Managed 950m before I failed you. Dammit. Next time. I was chuffed to do my fastest km here though 😊
Kilometre 19 – All for me. Focus inwards. Everything seems fine. No injuries, no niggles, bit bloated (not surprising with the concoction of water/coke/Aquarius and orange segments), head in a good place – no excuses available!
Kilometre 20-21 – Caitriona: My never-failing supporter at every race, at every finish line, in between races … on my shoulder the whole way. Saw me into the swim, out of the swim, onto the bike, onto the run and several times around the run. For you. THANK YOU! Strongest finish I could manage.
Big thanks to FABULOUS support all the way around. I particularly got SO MUCH motivation, amusement and energy from the older generation dotted around cafes who got up from their chairs specifically to applaud and encourage this ‘older generation’ runner on the course. Definitely the Granny vote but hugely appreciated.
Finish line was low-key apart from the stronger athletes but didn’t bother me one bit. Across the line there was …. Beer or coke – and melon. Local event 😊 Fab. Got my medal, tee-shirt, towel – and hug from my biggest fan, my daughter.
She had a celebratory G&T for me. I had a celebratory smoothie – after about an hour 😊 Oh, how times have changed.
Nothing more to bore you with. Purely by chance we went to the medal ceremony the following day – where I found myself on the podium. I think my words were ‘Oh My God, second place and there were more than two of us!’
Finish lines, not finish times. I am thoroughly pleased with my result and so happy with a training programme that suited my needs, my head, my body, helped with race without injury …
As the words on my tee-shirt said (that I’d saved especially for the run):
‘There will come a day when I can no longer do this. Today is not that day.’
Lots to ponder and improve on, but for today – HAPPY!