Having only started training for and racing triathlon in 2015, at what can only be described as rudimentary level, standing in the start pen on the beach, looking out over the Mediterranean Sea in Nice, France, minutes away from beginning my race at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships was a surreal experience. The buzz and nervous energy amongst my fellow competitors in that pen was palpable but all I felt was a warm sense of calm and pride at just being there. Today was a celebration of all the hard work I've put in over the last 4 years and I was just so happy to be there. I was ready to go.
The week leading into the race had been filled with incredible moments that just added to the experience of being at my first World Champs. The Ironman team really does put on a show for athletes from the moment the expo opened on Wednesday all the way through to the closing Banquet on Sunday. Combine that with being in one of the most amazing locations in the world, meeting up with old friends and making new ones and there was nothing to not love about the entire week. I was also incredibly grateful to be sharing these moments with my Dad and also one of my best friends, Mardi.
So, back to the race start and that morning the swim had surprisingly been ruled a wetsuit swim. The cut off for wetsuits is 24.5 degrees and apparently the water was 24 degrees, allowing age group athletes to choose to wear a wetsuit for the swim if they choose. I had been in the water all week and it was really warm (and had been reported as 26 degrees only on Wednesday), so I was shocked by the ruling but chose to wear my wetsuit when I saw how many other girls were wearing theirs. The pebbled beach was painful under foot as we shuffled our way to the rolling start (even though we were standing on carpet) and although there seemed to be some signs for time seeding, it didn't really make a lot of sense and I found myself at the back of the pack, when I probably should have started towards the front. But with my focus being on celebration, I didn't stress too much and eventually was standing at the front of the queue waiting for the volunteer to raise their arm and let me into the water with about 10 other girls. And then we were off! Plunging into the water quickly to avoid the pain under foot of the pebbles, I was swimming towards the first buoy and trying to ensure I took it easy and not spike my heart rate too much. The swim course was a triangle shape and, on the way out towards the first right hand turn, I was focused on easy breathing and sighting and I felt good. I noticed it was a little warm in the wetsuit but tried to just focus on the process of the swim rather than any discomfort. I braced myself as I came around the first buoy for what I knew was going to be some choppy water but it was WAY worse than I thought it was going to be and the next 400m was a slog as I was getting hit in the face from every angle. In comparison to some of the swims I've done over the years at home this was nothing but it wasn't the glass like conditions I had expected earlier in the week! As I turned the next buoy for the swim back to the beach, I was ready for the push from the tide on the way home and to my dismay it wasn't there! It was the exact same as the back straight. So, where I thought I would pick up the intensity and swim a little harder to the beach, I had to slog it out in the chop! But focusing on the process, I picked off each swim buoy and was eventually coming towards the beach and the hands of the volunteers who were pulling us out of the water (something that is really difficult on the steep pebbled beach!). Looking down at my watch, I was disappointed to see 38 mins when my goal had been to swim 32mins, something I was definitely capable of, but before the disappointment took over, I just reminded myself I had just swum in the Mediterranean Sea in a World Champs! Woo Hoo! Later, I realized I had swum almost 300m more than the usual 1.9km too (apparently most people did so I don't think it was poor sighting this time!) so from pace that would have given me the goal time of 32mins 37sec for 1.9km. In hindsight, I should have swum harder on the first straight, but oh well! You learn from every race, right?!
I hit the huge transition, had my wetsuit stripped by volunteers (who got me to lie on the ground to rip it off my legs quickly haha) and grabbed my bag and took a seat on a chair to get ready for what I knew was going to be the hardest ride of my life. I took longer than usual in T1 as I made sure I was properly prepped for the gruelling 91.66 ride ahead of me. The run to my bike was intensely long, highlighting to me just how big this event truly was and I enjoyed every careful step I took. Grabbing my bike off the rack I hit the mount line and I was off!
The first 10km of the ride was flat but I was surprised to see "No Aerobars" signs as we dodged some obstacles along the Promenade Des Anglais, I was again pleased I had chosen to bring my safer road bike with disc brakes and clip on aero bars rather than my TT/Triathlon bike since even on the flat sections you couldn't consistently be on aerobars. As we passed the airport and took our first turn out of town I was surprised and delighted to see my friend Mardi who had run all the way from the start line to this point to cheer us on in what would have been a very quiet section! And then out of the town we went and onto the first of many hard hill climbs. I had been told that this first section was a slog and at 11km in we hit 17%!!! Remembering the advice to not judge how you felt at this point, I embraced the work and enjoyed how many people I was able to pass as we climbed, all those hills in Melbourne were paying off!
For the next 15km ish, we rolled through some undulations in beautiful French country villages and I was having a ball taking in my surroundings and the atmosphere from the locals on the side of the road! Then we hit "the big climb" the infamous Col De Vence that had been the subject of much hype and speculation from the competitors in the months and days leading up to the race. This is a proper European mountain bicycle climb, classified as a Category One for races like the Tour De France. The Col De Vence climbs for 9km at an average of 6.6% and has signs every 1km telling you how many more km's you have and what the next km has in store for you in terms of % gradient. This was an awesome way to tick off the climb and I just turned my mind to ride to the next sign. I seemed to be the only one enjoying the ride, as I passed other riders and was saying to them "How good is this?!" I was met with more grunts than anything else. I chose to take it all in, looked around at the scenery and embraced the burn in my legs knowing that "this too shall pass". It was a slow slog up the mountain with one of my splits being 10km/hr average (to which lots of people back home were apparently worried I had had a mechanical problem or accident!) but before I knew it, I had made it to the summit! We were then rewarded with a false flat section for about 10km, which actually felt harder than the climb! And at about 45km and 2hrs 15min in, we had gained almost 1300m elevation! No wonder it was hard! I was proud of how I handled my nutrition and hydration to this point-and now began the part I was most scared of, 30km of technical descents! I braced myself and ensured I had enough fuel in to concentrate. It was incredibly scary at times and I was sad to see a pretty bad accident on one corner and this was just a reminder to keep careful, no amount of speed or race time is worth risking your life or health. There were plenty of obstacles (apart from riders who didn't quite know how to overtake safely) including cars that decided they didn't care there was a race on and decided to drive down the mountain between me and some other riders. Besides the danger of falling off a cliff that was less than a metre from me, it was again an incredibly beautiful ride and when I could I took it all in. But gee did I breathe a huge sigh of relief as we hit the flat road back into town and I had survived both without a mechanical or a crash. I loved the last part of the ride into town, it was flat and fast and the atmosphere was electric! I was definitely doing a little happy dance in my saddle as I hit T2! My Best Bike Split prediction for the 91.66km course on my road bike was 3hrs 38mins 43sec and I hit transition in 3hrs 38mins and 57secs! Talk about bang on!
I struggled to find where to rack my bike in the huge T2 and wasted a few minutes running around like a crazy person until a volunteer came to my aid and pointed me in the right direction! Then I grabbed my bag and sat down to put my dancing (running) shoes on for my favourite part of every race! I could hear my Dad in the background somewhere cheering me on as I exited the transition which gave me a big boost!
Hitting the run course on the Promenade Des Anglais I was struck by the volume of spectators lining the course and I knew I was going to have fun! I was also surprised by how fast the girls around me were! I am so used to passing people on the run and I was not passing the volume of people I usually do, and then I remembered, this is the World Champs! Of course, everyone is running fast! These are the best 70.3 athletes in the world! So, I stopped worrying about passing people and focused again on the enjoyment and doing the best I could! Racing in the Green and Gold, made the run so special. So many "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie" cheers and seeing my friends and my Dad waving the Australian flag as I approached was a huge highlight. It was hot on the course, so hydration was key to being able to keep the pace going. The course was two laps of basically 5km out, 5km back so I just broke it down and focused on each 5km and before I knew it, I was heading back to the finish line for the final time. Hitting the finish chute and red carpet at any Ironman event is always special but this was next level. I had told myself before the event to make sure I slowed right down and took it all in, which was exactly what I did, giving high fives to people in the grand stand and walking across the arch to a high five from the French commentator, for once I can remember it all.
I excitedly took my HUGE medal, finisher's shirt, hat and towel and headed to the huge post race buffet and recovery zone to sit quietly and absorb what had just happened. I had completed the hardest race of my life at the Ironman 70.3 World Champs! An incredible achievement for a girl who literally could not ride a bike 4 years ago. The time result was pretty much bang on predictions and although much slower than any other race time, I was proud of the result. My placing in my age group was not what I would have liked but I have a fire in my belly to keep improving in this sport and at this distance and see that ranking improve. But to be 188th in the world in my age group and one of the 5700 qualified athletes out of over 200,000 athletes worldwide who have raced a 70.3 event in the last 12 months is something I am very proud of and I can't wait to get out there again one day to mix it with the best and see what I am capable of.
Thanks to everyone who made this dream possible, including but not limited to my amazing coach Katee, Nuna Tri Club, Kelly Cycle Coaching, MJN Myotherapy, Spine Health & Stability, my team and clients from Vision PT Hawthorn & Templestowe, my amazing friends, especially those that made the trip to Nice (Mardi, Matt & Stricko), my Dad who was my number one fan on the course and in the lead up and last but certainly not least, my husband and partner in business and life, Tom, who without his unwavering support, belief and patience I could never do half of what I do.
*Disclaimer: Individual results vary based on agreed goals. Click here for details.