20 Mar A fond farewell….
Well here it is, as usual a few months post event, but I’ve been busy! At the end of January I travelled to Israel for my final professional race at Israman. I’d had the race on my radar since a chance conversation last year with a Saffa friend of mine who lives there. In truth this race should be on the radar of many more athletes – its really brutal (hence it appeals to most of us nutters!!), and its a superbly organised independent race in spectacular scenery. On a personal note I had another motive – its Holy Land and as a Christian there could be no more fitting destination to end my career.
I had thought that ‘staying fit’ for another 8 weeks after my disastrous race in Malaysia would not be too much of a stretch, but I was so wrong. I was emotionally spent so I promptly got sick and missed 10 days of training. I increased my work hours to keep the clinic open over the holiday season, and crammed training and family time into what was left of each day. My body just wouldn’t play ball, every niggle was at its worst making each session a painful slog. Two very festive weddings and a week without my bike in Cape Town didn’t help my training, but did wonders for my mood!
I arrived in Eilat 3kg heavier then I had been in Malaysia and struggling with injuries. I genuinely questioned my ability to do this race any justice. So if Malaysia was everything I couldn’t show with my fitness, Israman was everything I could without it! I gulped at the prospect of a 3.8k sea swim, 180k bike into the desert with 3100m of ascent, followed by the marathon kicking off with a steep 12k descent (back off the mountain I had just hauled my bike up). The day prior to the race I tried my usual 5k run and limped home after 4k. I could feel my pelvis was out of alingmnent causing bad sciatica on one side, and pain in my grumbling hamstring and plantar fascia on the other side. Back at the hotel, I did a self assessment then instructed my friend Angela what to do to correct it. I felt some immediate improvement and hoped it would be enough. Instead of panicking about the race, I reflected on the incredible memories I’ve had over the past 5 years and generally felt a huge sense of amazement and gratitude for the journey. I so badly wanted to finish it well.
As my alarm went off the next morning I thought ‘this is the last time you have these crazy race morning nerves, embrace it!’. The air was chilly and the sky still dark as I waded into the water for my swim warm up. Once that was completed I bobbed in the waves and looked around. Across the bay towards Jordan I could see the town of Aqaba. If I had telescopic vision I would have also seen the border with Saudi Arabia and Egypt- how epic to be swimming in the Red Sea. As is always my custom, I took a minute and floated on my back looking up at the sky committing the race to God. My race verse was totally apt, the same one I’d used for my very first pro race in Aarhus in June 2014, but here I was nervous for entirely different reasons.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.’ Joshua 1:9
The race started well, for a change I was one of the faster swimmers and found myself on my own at the front when usually I’m at the back! The sea was deceptively rough once out the bay and the waves tossed us around. This and zig-zagging between the slower swimmers on the second lap put me just over the hour and I clocked 1h02 on my Garmin as I exited the water.
A long run up to T1 and a record long transition split as I put on arm warmers, gillet, socks, gloves and loaded up with the extra nutrition required for this epic bike leg. Quickly out the town and we hit the first big climb into the mountains. The sun was shinning and I could hear 70.3 athletes chatting to each other on the bike and any Brits in the field encouraged me as I rode passed. There is nowhere in the world I would rather have been and I was really going for it when Darren came alongside on a motorbike to get some photos. The second loop into the desert was tough. Its lonely and exposed, windy and seemingly endless. A mental challenge. My aero position sucks and I battled with my neck and shoulders. At the final turn point I knew I was in the lead but local athlete and last years champion, Antonina, was 2min behind and flying on a disc wheel! She passed me with 20k to go but I kept her in sight, always gaining time on the climbs and losing on the descents.
Running into T2, I sat on a chair next to Antonina, but not for long as she sped off while I took time to put on thigh compression sleeves, clean socks, and tightly laced up trainers to save my poor little toes on the descent ahead. My body felt ok as I trotted down the mountain. No sciatica and no major hamie or foot pain. The adjustment the day before had worked, I’ve never been so glad to be a physio! I controlled my pace carefully so as not to go too fast, but also not to have ‘the brakes on’ for the entire descent. I was off the mountain much quicker then I expected and now I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Three flat loops of roughly 11k finish the run course and by the final one I knew I had second place in the bag if I could just kept going. I told myself absolutely no walking, not even at aid stations, and I stuck to this.
There were moments in the last 10k when I wasn’t sure if the wheels would come off, but I got to enjoy the final 1km knowing it was done. I cant believe how smoothly the race went after such awful preparation. I was so relieved to have been able to give what I had on the day and feel some peace about finishing racing.
I wondered how I would feel after the race. Would the anti-climax hit me so I panic and want to change my mind about stopping? I can now report that I’ve felt mostly…relief! Its hard to describe the constant pressure on you racing at that level. Pressure to tick off every training session, maximise every margin including disciplined eating and getting enough sleep which means no social life. Effectively living hand to mouth financially and always feeling selfish about your training needs. I’ve loved the journey, but now I’m excited to train for pure enjoyment and try new things. I’ve since raced on a tandem and on my road bike, and even hopped on a mountain bike. I’ve also been busy on an exciting work opportunity with runners, watch this space. I’m sure I’ll be found on the start line of some fun events, but for now I say farewell and thanks for following.