The 2016 season finale.

Well my last race of the season in Phuket did not disappoint, in many respects it was an accurate summary of the year I’ve had. The build up was rocky after missing the Laguna Phuket Triathlon the week prior due to illness so I was extremely doubtful that I would be able to race (a common theme this year). My health improved enough that I felt too well to stand and watch but I toed the start line with some trepidation and pretty much no idea what my body would let me do (another common theme this year!). The race itself was a mixed bag and it demanded everything I had in order to finish and claw out a final podium. In the same way it feels like this year has asked more of me then I thought I had to give. It’s taught me new levels of suffering and tested my perseverance. But it’s revealed to me the depth of my desire, matured my faith and surprised me by what I’ve been able to overcome…you simply don’t know your limits until you push them.

But first lets set the scene, I returned to Phuket after racing a 70.3 in Xaimen (China). I had travelled there fuelled by the frustration of not finishing the race 2 weeks prior in Thailand due to a mechanical issue with my bike. However when I arrived in Xaimen I was feeling uncertain of my fitness and frankly a bit intimidated by the competitive field. When I’m far from home and feeling unsettled like this I am always comforted by scripture and this occasion was no different. Perspective regained and with a race verse reminding me, “The sovereign Lord is my strength…” I got myself to the start line.

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The start of the women’s pro race at Xaimen 70.3 – a competitive affair from beginning to end.

To my amazement I found myself swimming in a tidy little pack of 5. We had a strong current against us for 2/3rd of the course so the swim times were slow, but this was a break-through swim for me. I stayed with the pack until the last 400m when I swam into a dingy boat…note to self don’t stop sighting regularly even when in a pack!!! It was a very long run into an even longer transition and I made back the 20seconds I lost in the final part of the swim. So I emerged from T2 hoping I would finally get myself in a pace-line. However our group splintered quickly as Sarah Piampiano rode away from us like we were stationary and I pulled ahead of the others.

Looking at photos of the race I noticed that I had lots of dirt around my mouth as I ran up the beach and for some time on the bike. I comment on this because the day after this race I became ill…really ill! I had sores in my mouth and in my nose, diarrhoea and vomiting and even a chest infection….I literally felt like death! I must have inhaled and swallowed a fair amount of water and my weakened immune system was completely overcome. For those interested, google the importance of Secretory IgA, of which I have barely any, to understand why I am so vulnerable to something like this.

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Its easy to see the dirt around my mouth. Almost as if someone drew a fake beard on me for a laugh, but it was no laughing matter the next day!

To summarise the rest of the race I over-biked after deciding I could push a bit harder and suffered the consequences. The run hurt terribly from the first kilometer! I was off the bike in 4th, and by halfway on the run found myself in 3rd when Emma Pallant, who was in second, collapsed due heat exhaustion.

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I’m looking composed but I’m dying inside…its safe to say we all suffered on that run!

However my podium place was not to be when Lisa Roberts caught me with about 4km left. I could only watch her sail past as I continued to put one foot in front of the other (great run Lisa!). I felt pretty sick at the finish line and I worried that I might have dug too deep. Its likely I would still have become sick had I contained my effort, in view of my low immunity and the exposure to pollution in this part of the world.

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Utterly finished at the finish line – Xaimen 70.3 took its toll on me.

This brings us back to the start line in Phuket 2 weeks later. Barely any training logged, but at least a few days without diarrhoea and a slightly reckless ‘its the last race of the year’ feeling, so why not finish with a bang! I opted to race in a 2 piece training kit to facilitate any emergency porta-loo visits.

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On the start line for the Phuket 70.3, my final race of 2016. Unsure I should be there and praying for courage.

Again the swim saw me neatly in a pack resulting in a swim PB. A much better start then I anticipated, but yet again my bike strength was disappointing and I was unable to work with anyone in a pace-line. The majority of the course was on a fast highway and I rode entirely on my own until near the end of the bike when a massive pack of nearly 20 age groupers shot past me.  Even sitting 12m off the back of the pack my power dropped by nearly 50w. However this was short lived when I was delayed in congestion crossing the pedestrian bridge. The group disappeared and I finished the last 10k in solitude.

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Riding alone, digging deep and worried about over-biking as I did in Xaimen….

However to my delight as I ran out of T2 I heard Michelle Dillon call out “You’re only 3minutes down on 2nd and 3rd, come on you can catch them!” I had 21k separating me from the end of the season and I decided to give it everything for a podium place.

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The look says it all – early in the run and I’m in a dark place already.

My pace paid off and I could see I was making up ground rapidly. I passed Imka shortly before the end of the 1st lap and then caught Dimity early in the start of the second and final lap. Wow I was in second, “Come on Parys you can do this, just keep going!”. Try as I might, I could not drop Dimity, who stayed with me and we ran shoulder to shoulder for about 6km. It was a ding-dong battle, racing at its very best, and in a surreal out of body sense I was able to appreciate this at the time despite being in absolute agony.

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I make the pass and run my way into 2nd place, but all credit to Dimity who did not let me widen the gap.

Alas with about 5km to go I could feel my body hitting the wall, there was nothing left in the tank and my pace slowed down. By now I’m wasn’t running very straight and I have a hazy recollection of colliding with another athlete at an aid station. My Garmin watch must have been knocked off me because it wasn’t there when I next looked to check how far I had left to run. I told myself it was probably for the best that I could not see my dwindling pace, and I focussed on getting over the finish line. It seemed an impossible task and I willed myself forward and recited my race verse (uncannily appropriate – “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’ Matt 19:26).

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A defiant yell and those ridiculous lap bands around my neck make this photo as messy as my finish.

At last I saw the finish line and once I hit the carpet I knew I would finish and that I had gritted it out for a podium place. I found myself yelling incoherently – a scream in response to a year of setbacks, of cranks falling off, of DNFs and DNS’s, of illness and doubt, of sacrifice and perseverance.

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A dramatic end to a roller-coaster season – how glad I was to stop fighting once I had crossed the finish line.

Once over the line I hit the deck, I could go no further. I could now look forward to a few months off racing to allow my gut to improve, though ironically I recovered pretty quickly thanks to receiving  a litre of IV fluids in the medical tent post race.

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Down for the count! I’m shown great kindness by Dimity, the race organisers and medics.

What next? Well I write this from Zimbabwe, the home of my childhood. I may travel the world for my sport but I think my heart has never left this place. From here to SA for some warm weather training, more precious family time and hopefully an opportunity to deal with a few niggles and my on-going gut issues.

As I reflect on this past year, tough as its been, I recognise I’m immensely blessed by lots of support and a few miracles along the way. My heartfelt thanks to my amazing sponsors Correlation Risk, Investec, CSP, Blue Seventy, 32Gi and CycleWorx. I feel that my journey thus far has prepared me for hopefully another year of racing professionally, but with a different race schedule in mind- a new challenge. I shall say no more until I can be sure of the plan. Thanks for sticking with me through 2016 – its been a bumpy ride! For now I wish you all a most blessed and happy end to the year. See you in 2017 🙂

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