Heaver Heartache, Hefei Hope

I wanted to include Dublin Discipline in the title but really that would have been too much of a mouthful…plus it didn’t rhyme 😉 I really should start with Dublin 70.3 having not blogged about it. My first DNF- a heartbreaking experience, but all part of the rollercoaster ride that is pro triathlon.

This year has been challenging (massive understatement!). I had anticipated the struggle getting my strength and fitness back from ‘ground zero’ after surgery, but the illness that followed literally derailed my season – and my finances. I’m still on the road back to full health, but after months of tests I have learned that at some point I’ve had Glandular Fever and more recently I’ve picked up a nasty parasite that has wrecked havoc on my GIT and hence my immune system. It was a confusing time for me when I didn’t know what was wrong. It cost money and all the while I couldn’t generate any as an athlete – that was incredibly stressful. My thanks to Tamsin Lewis of CuroSeven (www.curoseven.com), my GP who was brilliant (little pitch there for our hard-working NHS), my nutritionist Ryre Cornish (www.movenourishchange.com) and the wonderful Kirsten and Guy at Well4Ever clinic (www.well4ever.com). All these wonderful people have helped me wade through the muddy waters and somehow clamber to dry land again.

So back to Dublin. I knew I wasn’t ‘right’, but I had finished Alpe D’Huez whilst sub-par so surely I could get around a flatter course? How wrong I was! Within 10 minutes of the swim I was in trouble, secretions in my throat choking me and I struggled to breath. On the bike I couldn’t take on  fluid or gels and I simply had nothing in the tank. When my power meter revealed my max out effort was barely hitting 160watts I knew I was in a bad way and needed to pull the plug. It was awful to experience my first DNF, but for sure it was the right call.

Six weeks later I lined up for Heaver with the question to answer – “Am I better?” A resounding NO!!! I had been warned it could take months to eradicate the parasite and reverse the issues in my gut, but I didn’t have months…I’d lost most of the year already.

Stubbornness/madness/a lack of better options saw me committing to an ambitious Asia tour involving 7 weeks travel and 5 races. Utter lunacy but I wanted to know in my heart I had given this season everything – regardless of the outcome I would have no regrets.

By this point I’ve rented out my house and am dependent on the kindness of friends with spare rooms. I’ve sold pretty much everything I own and even share my car to make ends meet. It’s cost me everything to continue racing this year. I would choose the same path again if I had to. One thing for certain – I have the most patient sponsors (thanks to Correlation Risk, Investec and CSP) and the most generous family and friends – without whom I would not have made it this far. In particular I want to thank my dear friends Emma and Ant who have shared their home (and even their holiday accommodation in Majorca) with me to make this year possible.

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The impressive sprawling developments on the outskirts of Hefei, contributing to a unique race in many aspects.

And so it was I toed the start line of Hefei 70.3 feeling extremely apprehensive about how the race would unfold but resolute that I would finish! Race plan was to cruise the swim so as not to experience the breathing issues I had in Dublin and Heaver, in a position to get on the bike and build from there. It worked though it was demoralising watching the other girls swim away so quickly.

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Transition on race morning – misty, wet and colder then I anticipated.

The bike course was a completely closed course! I kid you not, 90km of barriers with 1900 policemen and women lining the streets. Riding through the misty city with crowds cheering behind the barriers was surreal. Once out of the city it was an incredibly fast and flat 30k out and back loop along the Chaohu lake. The headwind on the last 30km was a test and my only disappointment was seeing the packs of AG men blatantly drafting. It’s not in the spirit of Ironman – to strive, to endure and to overcome our doubts and know at the end that you have raced fair. Don’t draft – it’s cheating!!! Honour the sport and your competitors. Rant over!

On the run I was able to time gaps to the others. I was in 5th about 10mins back on the leaders. My running has been going well due to the many hours of rehab and a focus on technique with my coach Tom Bennett. I was keen to see how it would feel. Surprisingly I ran the first 2km in 3.45/km. I know I haven’t the fitness to sustain that, so I eased back and held a fairly steady pace to get round in 1.24.30 a 4.01/km average pace, and possibly the most encouraging aspect of the day! With great delight I cross the line in 4th, feeling extremely hopeful about building from here.

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A nice moment shared with the others on the podium. The vibe in Asia is always very friendly.

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Your Hefei 70.3 women’s podium. Superb racing by Radka, Emma, Robin and Heather. My privilege to join you.

It will take diligence to stay healthy. Past experience shows that I thrive in Asia and I hope this may still be true. For now I have renewed joy to be competing again, aware of the great privilege to be here and holding lightly the sacrifices I’ve made so far. I post this from a little piece of paradise in Thailand about 3 hours out of Bangkok.

Tomorrow I line up for Challenge Kanchanburi, unsure how my body will react racing again so soon, but quietly determined to race hard and do my best. Challenge Family look after their athletes so very well and it’s sure to be an incredible race – more to follow. Thanks as ever for following my journey.

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