Blog

9
Nov

To race or not to race….

So I have a confession to make – two actually! I said I would NEVER do an Ironman. Also if I’m honest I never really thought I could do it. Just shows – never say never! So what changed? Firstly the Long Course Weekend in Tenby. This year to my delight I was able to take on the whole thing- an Ironman in 3 consecutive days! It took away the fear factor, the unknown – especially my first marathon! I’ve done all 3, now I just have to link them together on the same day!

The second reason…I got sick! Let me explain. As a hockey player I had an engine for repeated high intensity efforts, this transitioned well to age group olympic distance triathlon. Going Pro meant I had to double that distance, I struggled at first, but with time I developed a genuine preference for 70.3 – long enough to need some strategy but still basically racing at threshold, no holding back.

Midway through last year I lost the ability to smash myself, to over-ride my body and push a high threshold. I dragged myself through several races in Asia to finish the year and expected the break over Christmas to ‘sort me out’. I got worse. Much worse. I was forced to stop completely – almost no training, no physio work. There’s something about turning 41 while living in your sisters spare room, no job to show for yourself and supported by family that makes you ask ‘what am I doing with my life?’.

The forced time out brought me many unexpected blessings, and I was relieved to finally get to the source of my issues when I was diagnosed with Lymes Disease. Now 4 months into treatment, its not gone completely, but I feel human again. What does this have to do with Ironman? Well all that time I’ve had to train at a low heart rate. In fact l’ve still not regained that top threshold – its just not where it used to be. So Lyme forced me to go long – I almost have no choice if I want to continue racing, at this level anyway!

The obvious choice for a first Ironman was Wales – I know the course, I can drive there, it’s a cheap experiment (if you discount the $1000 fee I pay Ironman for a year’s pro license). I had 8 weeks between LCW and Wales IM. It was not easy. I was juggling part-time physio work in London– a job I love but its physically shattering. I got sick, struggled with my gut and found myself having to adapt and shorten sessions. I ventured to Finland for a half distance race and was so demoralised by my performance .The week following the race my health dipped and my doubts got the better of me…”Can I really race pro again after all these setbacks? Who am I kidding?’ I felt rotten, my training was terrible, and a frank discussion with my specialist in SA reminded me that I was dealing with a dangerous illness.

It was a Tuesday. I decided to withdraw from Wales, I stopped training, ate chocolate, drank wine for the first time in months and cried – a lot. I genuinely thought its time to close the book on triathlon. Saturday I was committed to racing the National Sprint Relay Champs in Nottingham with Team Sponge. I went along, it was only a sprint, and I couldn’t let the team down. At dinner that night I received a pep talk like none other from Lucy (Gossage). Her rationale- with such a small pro field in Wales I’d be nuts not to start and see how I got on? The test to see if I had enough fitness was to keep up with her for a 6 hour ride in the Peaks the next day. I felt ok on the bike, better then I had in months no doubt due to 5days of rest I’d just given my body. Ah alright, lets do this thing!! At the very least I could walk the marathon and pay off my ironman fees!!

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Talked back onto the start line. Tenby looking picturesque behind us as we pose after the pro race briefing.

It seemed my body could cope with the bacteria but not exercise AND the bacteria, so my strategy was race fresh not fit. I’d managed the LCW without much volume and that kept my nerves from getting the better of me as I contemplated the task ahead. Also my long suffering twin sister, Dallah, had left her 3 kids in SA with my even more long suffering brother-in-law. Dals and my good friend and training partner Paula were roadside to support me. I felt so brave with them there.

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Minutes before the race start, this photo captures the great friendships and camaraderie on the tri circuit.

Standing on the beach listening to ten thousand people singing the Welsh National anthem was spine tingling. I felt utterly grateful to be there and ready to embrace the day. My main objective was to be economical in each discipline. To avoid red-lining at any stage, my body had shown me I couldn’t recover from any threshold efforts. The swim was a delight – I felt so comfortable in the water. The second lap I needed to surge to stay in a pack, but I kept a lid on my effort. Exiting almost bang on an hour was a good start. I tailed Goss out the water only to wave goodbye as she sprinted up the hill for the 1k run to transition. I had a plan to stick to – no red lining!

As I got into the change tent I saw Goss run out, she hadn’t put any extra layers on. I got flustered and thought ‘don’t waste time here’. Oh how I came to regret that stupid decision. There were gusts of 40mile/hour, rain and a feel factor of about 10 degrees with me wearing just a tri-suit and not even a pair of socks! I was frozen in minutes and genuinely concerned about hypothermia. I didn’t warm up until we hit the hills at 70k, though I did pee on the bike a few times and that warmed my feet up nicely (you can say ‘ewwww’ but I was not stopping and I was so wet anyway!).

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Wet, cold and filthy on the bike! It was treacherous – even with my visor up the rain was so heavy at times I could barely see where I was going.

I caught Rachel Hallam and Kate Comber just before the steep climbs up Wisemans Bridge and Saundersfoot. I like climbs and I felt confident I could drop them and solidify my place in 2nd. The support was incredible. Even at remote parts of the course people were cheering and the scene up Saundersfoot was like a mountain stage of the Tour de France! I was feeling good and I gave the biggest smile as I passed my sister and Paula to reassure them I was loving this.

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The support all day was immense – especially up Saundersfoot. It made this a very special race.

Then it was into the wind again and I noticed my speed drop off. At 130k Kate passed me and I realised I had forgotten to eat for the last hour and I was beginning to bonk (that means ‘hit the wall’ for the non-tri peps reading this!). I had a small bar of dark chocolate that was frozen but I crunched it down with some water. I had one more gel in my back pocket that I decided to save for the final climbs. I kept Kate in sight and did my best to regain some form. I simply had not taken enough nutrition with me – a rookie error made worse by the cold conditions which increase your metabolic demands.

The final steep climbs loomed, I reached for my gel to find my pocket empty! My numb hands must have dropped it at some prior point. I gritted my teeth and crawled over the climbs. At the 170k aid station I took on 2 bananas and a whole bottle of carbohydrate drink that I devoured on the descent back into town.

T2 was ridiculously slow. My feet were so cold and too sore to run barefoot on the concrete – I should have left my cleats on! Kate was in the tent when I got there and I resolved to pass her on the run. With socks and trainers on (oh the bliss!) I headed out and was surprised how good I felt. The carbs had kicked in and I was so happy to be safely off the bike and not feeling the cold. I passed Kate after 6km and I knew I was running too fast. Each check of my garmin showed a pace I didn’t expect and one I might not sustain for the marathon. I forced myself to ease up and make sure I held onto second place.

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Running my way to my first Ironman finish and second on the podium.

I don’t think there is a town that does supporting like Tenby! As with the swim and the bike, the cheering on the run was immense. The 4 laps meant I saw my sister often too. The run literally passed in a blur and before I knew it I was heading towards the finish line. Wow what a feeling- finishing my first Ironman, and after so much uncertainty. I’m so grateful to Goss for talking me back onto the start line, and to my family for their unwavering support despite real fears I would kill myself trying to finish.

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If there is one word that sums up my feeling on the finish line, its gratitude. I look up and thank God for getting me here.

Every race I have a scripture that I memorise to get me through the dark moments. My Wales verse was Joshua 1:9 “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” It is this I am most grateful for in life – that wherever I go, whatever I set my hand to, I know the Lord is with me.

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The moment you dream of – on the podium in a shower of champagne.

I remind myself of that now as I write this in Langkawi, preparing to take on Ironman Malaysia in a few days time. It will be an entirely different beast to the Welsh dragon, a fire breathing one as it will be hot, hot, hot!! I cant wait to race and I look forward to sharing the story with you after. The next blog I hope to be more prompt in writing and less verbose! Thanks for reading.

God Bless

22
Jul

Loving the Long Course…

The Long Course Weekend was highly anticipated by myself for many reasons…firstly it ALWAYS delivers the best atmosphere with a truly well organised event. It’s an annual favourite of both myself and Lucy (Gossage) for good reason! Secondly I’ve been out of action for nearly 8 months now – the majority of that time was spent feeling utterly rubbish, not knowing what was wrong with me and facing the prospect that my triathlon days were over. It was a tough time. A few months ago I set my sights on making it to the LCW – I needed a goal and flat-out racing didn’t seem realistic but breaking it up over 3 days in a fun environment did. I told Tom (my coach) and we set about doing some really cautious training – managing my heart rate, listening to my body and backing off when I had to, but gradually building up my fitness. There were days I felt so dreadful, and honestly my efforts those days seemed pathetic. Meredith Kessler aptly calls these WEB sessions – Why Even Bother? Ha I LOVE that! But I ticked them off and my motivation was that I had to keep moving forward or I would not be ready for the LCW.

 

Fast forward to one month ago and I finally discover the reason behind nearly a year of declining performance and worsening health…Lyme Disease!! This in conjunction with an intestinal fluke, Candida, Mercury & Aluminium toxicity plus my on-going struggle with Leaky Gut Syndrome…no wonder I felt so rubbish!!! AT LAST I had some answers but the future was still foggy – no clear cut/quick fix treatment for the Lyme and possibly months ahead of feeling worse before I felt better. I made the call to opt against antibiotics as that really would tip my leaky gut into the abyss. I started herbal treatments and a natural chelating agent (I am going to blog again about this with many more details about Lyme, heavy metal toxicity and the chelating recipe!). I had no choice but to press on and see how my body would react. To my delight I am responding very quickly – I’m training more and coping, it’s amazing. I feel…well I’m starting to feel vaguely ‘normal’ again and my goodness how lovely normal is!!

 

At this point I must give credit to the big things that got me through what seemed like a career ending setback. Thanks to my friends and most importantly to my incredible family, especially my long suffering twin sister and her husband who housed me and fed me for 6months (and I eat a lot of expensive organic food!). They put up with my lowest points when on a daily basis tears would come unbidden and I was pretty much incapable of anything productive (except eating!). Also I honour God. I simply can’t imagine navigating life without faith in something bigger, in more then what this world offers. Without my hope for eternity I would be crushed by things like illness/injury and the prospect of my triathlon career being over. Yes I was low, but I was never crushed and I give God all the credit for that.

 

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The swim – its a huge event, but the sea was calmer then the crowd- a good scenario!

 

So there I was at the start of the swim, heart in my throat, with 2200 athletes about to take to the water. I went to the front but didn’t have the courage to start in the middle with Goss and the others so I stood to the right side. The horn blew, the fire-works went off and we all plunged in. The water was chilly but there was hardly any swell and the current was in our favour. I did my best to get on feet and stay out of trouble and to my surprise came out sub an hour with a swim PB of 57min42. My sessions at the Wahoo Pool in Johannesburg (www.wahoo.co.za) with Cyndi and her fab ‘mums group’ have helped my technique and its given me a massive confidence boost in this my weakest discipline.

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Usually I stagger up the beach half dead, but here I run strong and after a PB…super stoked!

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Guns pumped after the swim…Love training with this girl – her energy and enthusiasm are contagious!!

Day 2 and the 180km bike course on the cards. I’ll be honest this was the part of the weekend I was most doubtful about. I simply haven’t done the miles in training, my longest ride being 110k. In years past I have ridden this course with the ‘Cambridge Crew’ a bunch of strong guys who trained with Goss before she moved back to Nottingham. I love riding with them, it’s a fast but safe peloton, so I took my road bike and we agreed a 9am start. *(The bike ride is part of the Wales Sportive and hence drafting is legal). However I found out late on Saturday night that I had to start from the ramp at 8am. I tried to negotiate with the event organisers about a later start, but it couldn’t be moved. They look after me so well and I needed to fulfil my part so I messaged everyone to stick to their plan (I knew the group couldn’t get there earlier) and went to bed expecting to ride 180k on my own on my road bike.

 

But here comes the best bit of the weekend for me…Goss woke up at 7.15am saw my message, inhaled her breakfast and rode up to the start line at 8am telling me that we could ride a 2-up! What a friend! So off we set, Goss riding like a beast for the first hour and me sitting on her wheel wondering how it is that Britain’s best long course triathlete was my domestique for the day! After an hour we were joined by Craig and James from WhittleFit. They were on TT bikes and we sat behind them with Goss getting a bit of a reprieve. Thirty miles later our group split as James had to fetch a dropped water bottle. From then on Goss sat on the front, riding within her heart rate, pulling like a train and letting me save my legs for the marathon the next day. I had a proper go at the Queen of the Mountain Stage up Saundersfoot and regained bragging rights for that title.

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I give it a full go for the QoM – I love attacking a climb!

We were blessed with great weather and it remains one of my favourite rides to date. Goss heads to UK Ironman in superb form – after sitting on her wheel for 180k I woudn’t want to race her this weekend! Go get ‘em Goss, I’ll be cheering. **I wrote this blog a few days after the LCW but waited a week to get the photos to add. Goss has since smashed UKIM for her 7th Ironman win…I called it!

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Love this moment – event director Matt knows I’m targeting the win and this ride puts me firmly in the lead.

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High 5 – two down one more to go!

Day3 and my first marathon- GULP! I had a 16minute buffer in the lead and I knew I could pace it and just get round. Of course you never know about cramps etc and I said a prayer that it wouldn’t be too much for me and result in an injury. I planned to run steady at 4min40/km to get to the 21k mark in 1hr37 and hopefully maintain that pace for a 3hr15 split. It’s a brutal course – literally steep up or down hills and hardly any flat. Not the easiest to pace evenly, but I found a great rhythm and pretty much held it.

 

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The marathon profile – utterly brutal!! That last big descent at 40k was painful!!

As I ran towards the 21k start I heard it…”Paaaarys! Paaaarys! Paaaarys!” Goss and the gang chanting my name. I could have out-run Mo Farah at that point!! For much of the marathon I ran alongside a guy called Christian from South Derbyshire RC, and his presence was a big help. So too was my wonderful bike marshal, Mike, who had done heaps of all the toughest Ironman races including Norseman, Celtman and Wales Ironman five times, we chatted lots and he was awesome! The friendly TV bike crew were alongside me for much of the run and this helped as it reminded me that my objective was to win this event and to win it well.

 

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We trudge up one of the many hills. To my right is Christian who was great company on the run.

Passing 25k took me into new territory as I have never run longer then this before. At 30km the pain was pretty bad, the hills taking their toll and I had to pull on my mental strategies not to crack. As usual scripture was my companion in these dark moments and I recited my race verse for the weekend- Ephesians 6vs10 “Stay strong in the Lord and in His mighty power”. Stay strong Parys! It helped me pull energy from within and by the time I was on the outskirts of the Tenby the crowd did the rest. I’m told there were 8500 people taking part in the event and nearly 35 000 visitors to Tenby that weekend. Well it certainly felt like it when I ran the last 500m to the finish – words wont do it justice. What a passionate crowd and what an incredible vibe. The memory will stay with me for some time to come.

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The crowd were immense, the support simply breathtaking…

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I’ve been dreaming of this moment for many months now- what a joy to make it a reality.

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Erm – about that reality! Wow my legs hurt now that I’ve stopped…but it was totally totally worth it :)

If the marathon finish was amazing the presentation was out of this world. The top 3 male and female finishers walk the final hundred meters of red carpet through a ‘guard of honour’ of all the LCW finishers. Music played, ticker-tape and ribbons rained from the sky and something like 20 000 people cheered- I felt like I had won the world champs! It was all the more special because I had imagined this very moment during the darker times of my illness. I can’t recommend the weekend more highly – as a training event for the experienced athlete or as a confidence boost for your first ironman. So sign up and I hope to see you there next year!

 

And what next for me? I am in the process of confirming a half distance race next month. Following that I can’t help but return to Tenby and have a go at my first Ironman, but now without getting an overnight sleep in T1 and T2!! Ironman Wales is the target – I simply can’t wait!! Thanks for following  me. Stay tuned and God Bless.

28
Dec

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 🙂

22
Oct

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.

31
Jul

Alpe d’Huez Triathlon….A lesson in suffering!

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Pre-race contemplating the Alps

 

From rookie to suffering expert…

Two years ago when I raced here, it was only my second pro race. I was completely green behind the ears, terrified of the daunting task ahead and my pre-race highlight was meeting Lucy Gossage and Cat Morrison in the pool the day before the event. I returned feeling privileged to call Lucy a friend and feeling very much a different athlete. More confident in my ability across all 3 disciplines, most especially on the bike for the mountain climbs, and utterly determined to finish higher up the podium.

I’ve learn so much on this journey as a pro and the truth about racing is that there are (in my humble opinion) two types of races….the ones where you suffer but you’re feeling ‘good’ and the ones where you suffer but you’re feeling ‘bad’. The suffering might sound the same, but it’s a completely different beast and I’m sorry to say I wrestled the second one in this race. As tough as they are, if you can keep on suffering and grit out a result you come away, not with the time/splits/power you hoped for, but with a different satisfaction- the knowledge that you were in a dark place and you kept going despite the odds. Its something you can draw on in future. Its teaches you perseverance and as usual I find it no coincidence that precisely this word was in my race verse, Hebrews 12:1 “…and run with perseverance the race marked out for you.” I recited that verse often in the nearly 7 hours it took to complete the race and it is with extreme pride and gratitude that I crossed the line in 3rd place.

A bucket-list race.

So let me tell you more about this event, one I consider to be an absolute bucket list race! A more iconic setting you will struggle to find, nor a more defining challenge. As one of the independent races on the circuit it is superbly organised and I must thank Cyrille Neveu and his team for their support and hospitality. Probably my favourite bit of the day was the ride to the swim start. After setting up my run things in T2, I hopped on the bike with Lucy and Jo and we flew down the mountainside in the morning sunshine, it was simply breath-taking. The very civilized start time of 9.30am allowed for more sleep then usual and it was even fairly warm setting up in T1, completely different to my previous experience when it was misty and cold. The water temperature was said to be 15.9 degrees – almost tropical the commentator declared- but that did not deter me from using my thermal BlueSeventy Helix wetsuit and skull cap. I have no ability to tolerate the cold so thermal gear in the water is a game changer for me. Please understand I will endure the cold, but the blood goes to my core, my limbs shut down and I simply cant push – so when `I say it’s a game-changer to stay warm I don’t exaggerate! For those like me who suffer in the cold, check out the BlueSeventy thermal helix (http://www.blueseventy.co.uk), it will be the best money you ever spent!!!

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A beautiful sunny morning and a fun vibe before the start

A bad start despite good plans!

I had a specific strategy for the swim – get into the water earlier then 2 years ago, swim on the right-hand side of the pack (as I drift to the left), and get on feet! I set up as I planned, second row from the front towards the right, and after what seemed like the longest wait treading water below the helicopter we were off. Instantly I felt someone swimming over my legs, I was on feet and doing everything I could to stay ahead but the person behind planted his hand on my back and pulled me fully under the water. I choked badly and in that moment I had a vision of all the thrashing arms and legs behind me and it was truly terrifying. Adrenaline shot through my body, and I went into survival mode flinging my arms forward to keep moving and gasping desperately for air. It was awful. I really wanted to swim out the pack to the far right to collect myself, but stubbornness overcame fear and I ploughed on, out of breath, trembling badly and already feeling exhausted.

I told myself I would find a rhythm and that the second lap would get easier, it did, but it was a dog fight at every turning buoy and for me a traumatic swim (again…I thought I had ticked that box in Durban!). Into transition and my friend Paula called out that I was 2min30 behind the first lady (Lucy). In my mind I felt the margin was achievable in view of the climbing ahead. Game on!

 

The climbs beckon…

The first 20k of the bike is a delightful fast section, the only hazard are the packs of age group men. They pass you, forcing you to sit up so you are not drafting, then you max out the power to pass them again, but they stay on your wheel for a bit, then go to the front only to hit the wind and slow up so the whole process is repeated. Rant over. This is not a new complaint amongst pro women (especially those of us ‘non-swimmers’). I was very glad to have brought my TT bike (not my road bike like last time), and the fast sections between the climbs justified the decision. I was held up for 3 km when I got stuck behind a big truck, but I used the opportunity to drink and take on a gel. Then I hit the first climb – the Col du Grand Serre, 14.9k with an average gradient of 6.9%. I wanted to be disciplined and cap my efforts here, which I did. Quite a few guys passed me and I told myself I would see them later when I had more left in my legs. At this stage my power was looking ok, but already I felt I was labouring more then I wanted to. I figured it was fatigue from my bad swim and fully expected to shake it off on the next 3 climbs.

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Happy with the bike I had chosen for the race, but less happy with the legs that I had for the day ;)

 

The battle of the mind

Road-works resulted in an extra 5km diversion and a cheeky extra climb -the Col du Malissol – which was only 2.5km long. The weather was perfect, the scenery stunning and I would have been in my element had my legs felt better. However my first time check confirmed my fears that I was not riding as strongly as I hoped. I heard that Jeanne and Lucy were now about 10minutes ahead- I had already lost a big chunk of time on the first 2 Cols! This is where my mind started turning on me. I had very dark thoughts about retiring – clearly this just wasn’t going to be my day. Was I sick? The way I was feeling would I even make it up the Alpe d’Huez climb with still the Col du Ornon to go before then? I recalled my race verse, remembered how grateful I was to be back racing after so many months off injured, and decided I would finish what I had started. A saying that resonates with me came into my head “If you want something badly enough you find a way, if you don’t you find an excuse”. I banned all excuses from my mind, forced myself to repeat simple positive statements and simply kept pedalling. I felt dreadful. It was particularly testing at the bottom of the final climb when I was out the saddle and was still struggling to push 200watts. Just keep going Parys. And I did.

Into T2, with huge relief but unsure if I would be able to run, though I suspect everyone felt this way after that brutal final climb! The run course is 3 laps with 2 tough climbs and 2 fast descents. A fair section is off-road. Oh and its at an altitude of 1850m. Like the bike section its more challenging then most other races. There is a short out and back loop about halfway round the lap where I was able to time the gap to the next woman behind me. To my great surprise I never saw her, this meant I had a +7minute lead. A quick calculation told me that if I could keep running and not lose more then 3 minutes a lap I would secure third place. It was a massive motivator after such a disheartening bike performance.

 

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A superb race from Lucy to finish 2nd and I complete the podium with great pride

The joy of persevering

With great relief and gratitude I crossed the line, and I am very proud of this result. That’s racing for you – there are no guarantees how you will feel on the day. We toe the start line with expectation and high hopes but it is perseverance and determination that get us over the finish line. A massive congratulations to Jeanne Collonge and Lucy Gossage for superb performances – both in a league of their own.

 

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The top 10 women at Alpe d’Huez 2016. Well done ladies and to all finishers – a race to be very proud of.

Next up for me is Dublin 70.3 on the 14th August, a completely different race altogether but I expect I shall be using my thermal wetsuit again (please picture my smug grin). Until then I have the good fortune to join my friends Emma Bilham and Mirjam Weerd in St Moritz. I hope to enjoy the mountain air, some good training and that come my next race I’ll be able to fully rev the engine and suffer with a smile.

21
Jun

Durban 70.3 – The Comeback Race

I was reminded recently of a wonderful Afrikaans saying that very aptly sums up this race for me – “mooi van ver maar ver van mooi” which basically translates as “beautiful from afar but far from beautiful”….Viewed on paper (or online) this looks like a great comeback race, but witnessed up close it was far from pretty!

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Chatting with race winner Anna Watkinson before the start.

Preparation had gone fairly well, I’d put in some big bike miles and I felt like my cycling legs were getting there. My swim – though still my Achilles heel – has come on so much, regularly I’ll tick off a +5k swim these days, something which required a herculean effort to achieve previously. My running – well that was probably the main question mark going into the race. To think that 3 months ago I started a walk/run program involving 4min walk/1min run and those minute efforts were the longest 1 minutes of my life! My running just hasn’t felt ‘normal’ yet, this is because the tendon is still remodelling (and will be for over a year) and the neuromuscular connections are still reforming following surgery in December to repair the tear in the tendon. It’s a work in progress and my rehab remains a priority as I steadily build up the run volume again. I knew I could complete the 21k but I wasn’t sure what pace I could hold over the distance. Hence the plan was to draft feet in the swim, bike to the front and then be able to dictate the pace for the run. But things did not go to plan.

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Before the race with my family. I have waited a long time to get onto a start line again and it was very special to have them there with me.

Nature played its powerful hand. I’ve since learned its something to do with the alignment of the moon and the sun, not sure of the exact details but it resulted in a big swell and a very strong rip current. As a result the Age Group swim was cancelled, but us Pro’s were still going in. None of us (me included) thought this a problem as we stood on the beach awaiting the start. Sure the waves looked big, and we had been warned of a strong rip pulling to the left, but I didn’t doubt I would be ok. I dived in determined to stay with others but after ducking under a few waves I surfaced too soon and felt myself pulled backwards off the pack. Looking ahead all I could see were more sets rolling in, then a brief glimpse showed the first buoy was off to the right and I did my best to head in this direction. More of the continuous washing machine and I had not made progress. A lifesaver on a jet-ski told me I was swimming against the rip and just to get out through the sets then aim for the buoy. Wisely I listened and finally found myself out of the worst of the waves but now somewhere around 300m to the left of the first buoy. I had to swim against the current in the wrong direction of the course to make it around that buoy or I would be DQ’d….I could have cried. This was not helped when I swam through the pack and they were going in the right direction.

At this point I thought I was the only pro to have gone off course, later I found out that all barring one (an ex-pro surfer apparently) had been pulled off course, but I had faired the worst. The mind can be cruel and inside my head was the thought that everyone on the peer could see me and was laughing at the lone idiot who was now swimming in the wrong direction. It’s a particular strategy of mine not to allow ‘negative chatter’ in a race but I was tested greatly to avoid this for the duration of the day. I kept my head down and swam for dear life, but that first buoy seemed to take forever. Finally I reached it feeling utterly shattered and demoralised.

Now at least I could swim with the tide but there were no marker buoys (all dragged well off course!) and the swell was too high to get any idea of progress. All I could do was keep the shore on my left and frequently look behind me for the jet-ski following to ensure I was still on course. What felt like hours later and I still couldn’t see the final turning buoy – the one you have to keep to your left or you are DQ’d. At this point a jet-ski pulled up and the man aboard shouted there was ‘no last bin’…I had no idea what he was saying. I stopped to clarify – he was saying turn in but the passenger behind him was saying swim on and then turn in– I was not amused. I swam on and later asked if I could turn in receiving the same ‘yes/no’ reply from them. I thought ‘stuff it I’m going in, I’ve had enough!’ I wont lie at this point I was terrified of the waves dumping me as I came in. I said a quick prayer for safety and miraculously I got to the shore without too much of a dunking. Stuart Marais and Lucie Zelenkova (both much more accomplished swimmers then me) were not so lucky with their exit from the sea. Stuart had to be assisted by a jet ski resulting in a very frustrating DQ.

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Running towards my bike as the last female pro out the water but utterly determined to fight my way back into the race!

As I staggered up the beach my sister called that I had an 8 minute deficit from Lucie, wow I expected at least 15minutes…Game on! I resolved to bike my way back into this race and then hope I had enough in the legs for the run. Suicide pace is a good description of my effort and I was rewarded when I had worked my way into 2nd place by the 60k mark. But I was hurting! I saw I was 2minutes down on Annah at the 70k turn but I couldn’t reduce this further before T2. Legs were decidedly wobbly off the bike….hmmm this run would be interesting!

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Pushing to threshold on the bike. I loved the ‘Antwheel’ and clocked some high speed on the descents. Thanks to Ant Siesel for the loan of the disc.

Amazingly I found myself running 3.55/k for the first 2km. I knew I was digging myself a hole if I carried on at that pace, so I eased up to 4.15/k. After that it was a matter of holding it together for as long as I could. At one point I closed the gap behind Annah to about 1min35 but my right leg started cramping badly and I just couldn’t hold my pace. I could feel my form going and I had to really focus hard to keep it together. With 5k to go I could see Annah had the win but I felt confident that I could hold onto 2nd  if I kept going until that finish. A quick high 5 to my family along the finish shute and with huge relief I crossed the line. Massive congrats to Annah Watkinson on her first pro win and Claire Horner for completing the podium – we were all survivors. A mention also for the wonderful Lucie Zelenkova who announced her retirement from 70.3 racing – her cheerful presence in the pro ranks will be greatly missed.

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Crossing the finish line.

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Immediately after I need a moment to collect myself…

All considered I’m very pleased with the result and for certain I’ll never dread a swim again – if I can survive that one I can survive anything!!! There is more work to be done on the hamie and a progressive build of my running, but I’m very excited for the season ahead. Next race up will be the iconic Alpe d’Huez Long Course Triathlon – stayed tuned friends and thanks for following me.

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Grateful to have a race under my belt and a podium finish too! Always I glance heavenward when I cross the line. ‘The joy of the Lord is my strength’.

21
Apr

The Tour of Nyanga…3 days in paradise

When my friend Dave Martin mentioned in January that this cyclo-sportive was in April, I did the maths and instantly had a big incentive to make sure that I was back on the bike in time. It was a close call as my training has been a bit stop start thanks to a niggly knee (same side as my operated hamstring…grrr!). But with a taped up knee and less miles in the saddle then I would have liked, I found myself at the start line.

The view from Troutbeck Inn over the lake and venue of the Troutbeck International Triathlon!

The view from Troutbeck Inn over the lake and venue of the Troutbeck International Triathlon!

Day 1 we set off from Troutbeck Inn at 1pm with 95km and 1730m of elevation ahead of us. The first 30km hurt – I felt so off the pace and even had to swallow back some of the late lunch I’d eaten an hour before – error! There was mercifully a short respite when we all slowed to safely negotiate a long section of road with ‘Zimbabwean Cobbles’ (aka pot-holes!), then the pace was back up and I was clinging on to the front pack counting down each kilometer and delaying the inevitable ‘drop’ for as long as I could. Then a marvellous thing happened and my legs seemed to wake up at the 50km turn around. From there I felt more comfortable – well until I got saddle sore and numb toes…the unavoidable result of time off the bike! Our group fragmented as we hit the return climb and I stayed with Greer and Conrad for the final 5km uphill, grinning like an idiot just to be back on my bike in the late afternoon sunshine.

Day 1

Our merry front pack.

The final day we set off from Troutbeck again but turned left out the gate and descended almost constantly until the turn around. This is the shortest day, only 56km in total, but with 18km of unrelenting climbing up Nyamaropa and 1450m total elevation it was a toughie. I was now a ‘marked’ rider and led the second pack up the climb after Chad and Dave pulled away from us. Another gruelling but fantastic climb and I crossed the line with my school-friend Greer and a young triathlete Drew who is one to watch for the future!

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Nyamaropa…Dave and Chad pull away from us, good thing I couldn’t see his grin at the time!

Digging deep towards the top of Nyamaropa.

Digging deep towards the top of Nyamaropa.

My heart feels full and not surprisingly – I’m back on my bike and riding in the beautiful countryside that I generally only get to visit in my childhood memories. A huge thanks to the Tour organiser David Martin. He is my training partner of choice when I’m home and its no surprise – his CV is impressive, including a world record breaking attempt riding across Africa from Cairo to Cape town last year (http://www.herald.co.zw/martin-sets-cycling-record/). He works tirelessly to raise awareness of cycling in Zimbabwe and he’s an inspiration to me and so many others.

I can’t recommend this sportive enough – It’s a fantastic weekend of riding with brutal climbs, stunning scenery and the wonderful etiquette of a peleton that wont make a break when a strong rider punctures (or has a pee stop!). For those reading this who fancy a holiday in Zim and a truly spectacular sportive, please contact Dave at fitreak@zol.co.zw. I might just see you on the start line next year.

Safe cycling friends and thanks for following my blog.

31
Dec

2015: Five lessons learned and the dark side of a tendinopathy.

Like many of you, it’s the time of year to look back and also think about the season to come. I’ve learnt the most tremendous amount, travelled the world to race in beautiful places, met fantastic people and generally had the time of my life. It was my second season racing on the pro circuit, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything! However, you might also be reflecting on some hard training, great racing and then a worrying array of niggles which stopped you in your tracks. I’ve missed out on 6 months of racing this year. Here’s what happened, and how to avoid a heap of disappointment next year….

I took a three-week break at the start of December 2014, which left me feeling refreshed but surprisingly unfit and heavy. When I started again (some warm weather training while staying with family in Africa) the first few training rides were hell – I was saddle-sore, weak and impatient

Lesson number 1 – give your body the time off it deserves and then build up steadily.

I had struggled with a hamstring tendinopathy since my first pro race in June 2014 and the short break was not nearly long enough to allow it to recover. I was impatient and wanted to train, and, after all, I had gotten away with this before, with an Achilles injury. The process was the same – the tendon thickens and small blood vessels linked with nerve fibres grow into it in an attempt to heal. With careful management many athletes race with this type of injury, so I persevered. However, the hamie tendon is harder to manage then the Achilles. It’s less accessible and endures more eccentric loading (it’s under tension while moving into a stretched position) and this would be my downfall.

I opened the season with the 70.3 in East London (SA) at the end of January. I was not quite race fit, but I was lean and healthy thanks to an exclusion diet to manage the ‘Leaky Gut Syndrome’ diagnosed in October of 2014 (my learning curve on nutrition and gut health is a whole separate blog). Already I was feeling the benefits with 3rd place in a strong field. I wrote in my diary after the race that my hamie was really sore and I almost felt like I was dragging my leg up Bunkers Hill.

Lesson number 2 – don’t start a season carrying a stubborn injury.

I really needed a few months off, but I had an 8 week race tour of Asia booked at the end of February and I was simply too impatient to miss any of the season. This prompted an ultrasound-guided injection into the tendon before travelling to the Philippines where I pulled off a gutsy 3rd place on a challenging course.

My hamie was now pain-free for the first time in 8 months and the next 6 weeks were the highlight of my career. I secured my first Ironman win two weeks later at the Century Tuna Subic Bay 70.3. The glorious training continued in Thailand and I won my next 2 races – the first of the Tri League in Cha Am and the Golden Triangle International. Last stop was the Putrajaya 70.3, but I was now completely over-trained and road-weary. I ignored the signs pre-race and paid the price.

Lesson number 3 – listen to your body; it will have the last say!

By early April I had 6 races (3 wins and 3 third places) under my belt. I was fit and back in Europe where most of the pro’s had yet to start their season. In May I lined up for Barcelona 70.3 keen to see how I would fare against some of the strongest athletes in Europe. The hilly course suited me and my good form saw me finish a close 3rd behind Lucy Gossage, with Camilla Pedersen winning comfortably.

I wish the story was different after this, but my hamie pain had returned the week before Barcelona. I should have stepped back and fixed it properly, but I was having too much fun and I guess I was greedy for more. I opted for the quick fix and had another injection. It gave only short-term relief. By the end of May I was really sore and I tripped whilst walking across a car park. I kid you not – in a millisecond I had kicked off what would ultimately end a very promising season. I tried to run, but I simply couldn’t push off my right leg.

Lesson number 4 – don’t look for the quick fix!

I started 2 months of rehab and set my sights on the inaugural Durban 70.3 in August. I still had pain, but I thought the tear had healed and only the pre-existing tendinopathy remained. I took my chances and secured my second 70.3 win of the year. With hindsight it wasn’t worth the risk, as I was very sore after that race. The final blow was going to the World champs after terrible preparation and with an infected elbow thanks to a tumble off my bike. I should never have even started, but I did, and something inside would not let me quit. Somehow I limped over the finish line, the last pro, feeling utterly wretched and embarrassed.

Broken, I returned to London. A strong course of antibiotics cleared the infection in my elbow but the hamstring was another story. An MRI revealed a longitudinal tear still deep in the tendon. This is when I knew my season was over. I threw everything at it and I began extensive rehab with my friend Kate Steele who is a rehab guru. I also went back to work as funds had run dry without the trickle of prize money enabling me to break even each month. It was a testing time for me emotionally and physically.

I will forever be indebted to the team at Isokinetic London (http://www.isokinetic.com/en/sports-rehab/london/) who arranged greatly subsidised MRI scans, shockwave therapy, hydrotherapy and specialist reviews. My colleagues at Southfields Physio were amazing and I received weekly physio and chiro for free. The rehab with Kate had also revealed several core weaknesses I had been compensating for. I felt that we had finally found the underlying cause of the hamstring injury. Now all I needed was for the tear to heal and I was optimistic I would return stronger!

Three months later and in my heart I knew the tendon was still torn. During a trip to see family in Johannesburg, I consulted a specialist. He explained that the tendon was unable to heal on its own due to the extent of the tear and the presence of so much scar tissue. He recommended surgery to repair it and I now had a big decision to make. I discussed it with my coach Tom Bennett, who had remained calm and very supportive during my injury, and I opted for the surgery. However it would not have been possible without the unwavering support of my main sponsors at Correlation Risk who advanced my sponsorship money for 2016 to enable me to pay for the operation. At the same time my good friends Emma and Ant offered me a room in their house so I could rent out my room.

I am now just over 3 weeks post op. The surgery was justified, as expected the surgeon repaired a bad tear that split the tendon and cleared away lots of scar tissue around the tendon and the sciatic nerve. Already it feels so much better and I’ve commenced my rehab. As I sit here on cushions with my butt on an ice pack I feel pretty excited at the prospects of another season. I’m working hard and with my bionic tendon, strong core, and wisdom gained from my second season I advise you to watch out for Parys version 2.0!

Lesson number 5 – every cloud has a silver lining!

All that remains is for me to wish you the heartiest happy New Year. I hope that your 2016 (like mine) will be the very best season yet!

God Bless and thanks for reading.

 

18
Sep

Woeful at Worlds…

World Champs was heartbreakingly disappointing for me but in hindsight not surprising. I’d come in with terrible preparation. My hamstring was at its worst after I’d had to stop taking anti-inlfamatories (I developed diarrhoea and gained 1.5kg in fluid retention- really how can both those things happen at the same time?). My elbow wound was infected and weeping pus at several of the stitches. The writing was on the wall, but somehow I still hoped that I could pull out a decent performance? I ask myself what it is that makes us think like this and I guess its the fighting spirit that says ‘I’ll go down trying!’ So yes in hindsight it’s easy to see that it wasn’t the right decision to race, but how would I have known otherwise? As dejected as I feel right now, it’s better then thinking ‘what if?”

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A swollen and stitched up elbow – part of the comedy of errors I was faced with in the build up to the race.

But before I feel too sorry for myself, I must admit the build up was incredible and I did enjoy the perks and privileges of being there as a pro. Looking around the room at the pro race briefing was surreal. The world’s best triathletes all gathered – toned bodies and nervous faces behind trendy sunglasses and oversized caps…the tension in the room was palpable. No matter who you are – race favourite or the last on the roll-down – you are nervous because you can’t guarantee the result. The risk of disappointment but also the possibility of it all going to plan or better then you dared to dream…that in a nutshell is why sport is just so darn exciting!

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Signing this board was nearly as surreal as sitting through the pro race briefing.

And what a venue for a world champs. To say it was picturesque doesn’t do it justice. The lake was utterly divine – clear water which was below the wetsuit ban temperature to my great relief. Hemmed in by the mountains on each side and the quaint town of Zell-am See. Even I enjoyed the swim, no small miracle for this land-based mammal!

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How could you not enjoy a swim like this?

The bike course ventured up into the mountains affording a challenging 17k climb followed by a short and tricky descent, but otherwise was flat and for the most part on lovely open roads. The run took us around half the lake and into the cobbled streets of the town, lined with spectators cheering madly. Yes it was everything a World Championship race should be, and despite it not being a good race it was a great experience.

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The “Antwheel’ looked great…sadly my power readings did not!!! Photo by kind permission of Marcel Hilger Photography

Experience aside it still hurts to have such a bad performance on the world stage and my pride is bruised for sure! To regain some perspective I list all the things I’m grateful for; gratitude is a wonderful tonic to prevent bitterness. This include the love and support I have from friends and family. The hours of free treatment I received from everyone at Southfields Physio in a desperate attempt to get me here. The opportunity to visit beautiful places and travel the world doing something I’m so passionate about. The loan of the eye-catching ‘AntWheel’ from my good friend Ant Siesel. The cheerful Kate at Race Force taking my bike back to the UK so I didn’t have to lug it up and down the stairs (check them out at www.raceforce..co.uk – this is quite simply the very best way to transport your bike!). And of course my wonderful sponsors Correlation Risk, Investec and MCSP who are constant in their support of me. Surely I am blessed indeed!

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The wonderful Kate from RaceForce- what a pleasure not to have to pack my bike up and lug it home!

Its ironic as my division rank was 23, and my companion in every race (especially this one when I was limping along the run course wondering if I could finish) is Psalm 23 – “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want”…. One bad race does not change how I feel about this. But for now its time to take a step back, get my injury sorted and return a better athlete. I am supremely fortunate to access the truly world class facility and medical team at Isokinetic London (www.isokinetic.com). A scan is imminent, following that work begins to correct some long standing asymmetries and see me back racing stronger and faster then before! Stay tuned anyone struggling with recurrent hamstring issues as I shall be blogging all you need to know about this pesky injury. Thanks for reading, may you stay grateful whatever circumstances this finds you in.

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A post race walk/hobble into the mountains…perspective regained!

 

10
Sep

Barcelona Brilliance

I am doing one of my favourite things, refecting on a previous race -Barcelona 70.3 on 17th May- in the days leading up to my next race -Durban 70.3 on the 2nd August. *(A lack of wifi in SA means this post didn’t get published until a much later date) The build up to a race is a strange time – during the taper your mind is unsettled and wants to hit the gas and keep training hard, doubts creep in “Have I done enough?”. It’s a discipline to do the physical training and more so to do the mental preparation. My strategy – don’t focus on the results, control the process and it will take care of the results. Also be ruthless with negative thoughts. In their place I put positives like how strong I felt on my last hard bike session, or I simply recite a helpful scripture. And too blogging about my last race reassures me – I’ve done this before, I can do it again!

So lets recap Barcelona – a stacked European field, tonnes of hype and a challenging course, it all made for a great race. I wasn’t sure how I would fare on the European circuit- its more competitive then Asia with far more depth to the pro field. The start list was impressive – Camilla Pedersen, Lucy Gossage, Emma Pooley, Eva Wutti and Tine Deckers to name a few. Yup no doubt about it, this was the toughest field I had faced! I’d had a good block of training and I felt ready to attack the course and see where it put me. I was flying in under the radar with no predictions of a top 6 finish (how do the usual race favourites deal with that constant pressure I wonder?).

Some pre-race fun after a swim session…who wouldn’t be cheerful with a gorgeous pool like that to train in??

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Post swim coffee. I’m always heartened by the friendliness of everyone on the long course circuit. L to R Mirjam Weerd, Emma Bilham, Lucy Gossage and me.

My race plan was simple – get on feet to draft the swim. Hold back on the first of the 3 climbs on the bike and then give it some gas for the next 2 climbs. Then BE DISCIPLINED (it was written in caps in my race diary!) on the run and hold 4min/km from start to finish. I lined up next to Lucy on the swim and worked hard at the start to put myself on her feet. Lucy in turn swam on Mirjam Weerd’s feet and so we formed a neat little row of 3, with myself and Lucy greatly benefitting from Mirjam’s pace. This was going swimmingly (literally) until we reached the turn buoy at the halfway way point when we caught up with some of the Pro men who had started 2 minutes ahead. Unfortunately they broke up our little group and I spent the remainder of the swim an agonising 10m behind Lucy unable to draft. Still it gave me a pacemaker and I was thrilled to exit close behind her with a sub 30minute swim split.

A peak at the swim course…a change from previous years where we started 1.5k down the beach and swam back towards T2.

Up the steep beach (Gasp. Wheeze!!!) and unsurprisingly T1 was not my slickest. Here I lost a precious 20 seconds here to most of my rivals. However on the bike and I was in my happy place. I cruised up the short climb out of town with the sea stretching towards the horizon on my left and I quickly passed some of the girls who had swum quicker then me. I had sight of Lucy in her distinct blue kit and planned to stay behind her on the first climb, but I quickly found myself making up ground and worried I would breach the 12m draft zone, I overtook her and hoped I wasn’t pushing too hard. I simply love the hills and I rode hard but kept within myself.

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The bike course- hilly and technical…just how I like it!!!

I knew I was having a good ride when I passed several more girls and a bike camera followed me up the second climb, but I had no idea what position I was in. After the tricky descent that followed the road opened up and there was a fast section before the last climb. This is when Lucy caught up with me and we in turn caught up with Tine Deckers and Charlotte Morrel who were bunched with a group of Age Group men. We literally could not separate ourselves from them – when we pushed ahead they sat on our wheel only to go in front of us forcing us to sit up to not get penalised for drafting. Lucy was going berserk and I was very worried – this was dangerous and not just from a drafting perspective. Two motorbikes drew level, one a race referee and the other a camera bike. We all had a few things to say at which point the race referee blew his whistle at the AG men with little effect. The road kicked up at this point so I stomped on the pedals and just went for it on that last climb. It paid off as I pulled away and descended safely, putting some time between me and the other girls. Tine passed me on the last flat section back towards town and I kept her in sight until we got to transition.

This is the view heading back into town at the end of the bike course. Pictured on my recce ride a few days prior to the race.

Into T2 and I felt excited. I had been running my best in training heading into this race, albeit at the expense of my hamstring beginning to complain again. Within the first km of the run I passed Tine but what position was I in – I still had no clue? There was a bike marshall with me so I dared to hope I was in the top 3? As I approached the turn near the finish I heard Paul Kaye over the mic and a huge smile spread across my face as he said “Lets welcome in Parys Edwards who is currently in second position”. I was delighted and loving every minute of this race. On the run back towards T2 I kept a sharp eye out for Lucy who I knew was not far behind, and Emma Pooley who I expected would catch me on the bike. I had just under a minute over Lucy, but there was no sign of Emma. I glanced at my watch and realised I wasn’t exactly being disciplined, so much for the capital letters. I was holding around 3min50 per km. I felt really strong, soI focussed on an easy run style and I held this pace for the first 7km after which I ran consistently around the 4min mark.

The crowd support was fantastic and I was really enjoying myself. I kept a careful eye on Lucy knowing that she gets stronger in a run (did you see how she ran her way to 2nd at Ironman SA!). Lucy later confessed she was thinking ‘Parys is running fast but she always fades!’ Sad but true! I could feel my hamstring for most of the run, but it wasn’t limiting me. A look at my garmin reveals that my pace dropped as at km 19 and 20, both taking 4.12min/k. I lost precious seconds to Lucy who dug deep and ran a 37min second 10k to catch me with less then 1 km to go. I had nothing to follow her and am glad she didn’t pass me on the finish straight – mustering up a sprint then would not have been pretty! And there it was the finish line, utter joy and a big hug from Lucy and Camilla.

30seconds separate us after roughly 4hr30 of racing and this hug says it all!

All smiles – your Barcelona 70.3 podium

The champagne and flower presentation was awesome – the stuff of dreams for me. After that was also my first experience of doping control where I found myself sitting in the waiting room with the mens winner – Gold medallist from Beijing, Jan Frodeno, and some of the top athletes in Europe….it was surreal!

Yes it is a waste of good champagne but such a fun thing to do!!

Still grinning like an idiot while waiting in doping control with Lucy.

My race verse was unsurprisingly apt, “Do not be afraid little flock, for the Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” Luke 12:52. It speaks of a promise still to come, but the journey to eternity has already begun, and for me this day in Barcelona was a particularly special part of it.

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Your top 5 pro women’s at the awards presentation…I’m still grinning ;)