This year is different. 2017 is different. My entire life is changing and how that translates into sport is an interesting one. Sport is the steady state in my life, the constant, the known. Or actually is it? Because this year is different. This year I seem to be flying a lot more by the seat of my pants. Letting my racing unfold and making less plans. It’s exciting. It’s unsettling, it’s WORKING.
I’m dealing with a lot of personal stuff. I’m on a rollercoaster of emotion and of life right now and triathlon training and racing is my rock. I’m very up and down, but only those very close to me would know that. Right now I’m trying to juggle what feels like 3 thousand different things in my life. It’s tough. I have incredibly shit days and I have AMAZINGLY GREAT days. So, 2017 is different and was always going to be an experimental year for my sport anyway – just as well.
Wimbleball aka Ironman Exmoor 70.3 UK
This has been the most incredible journey for me. Ever since I started triathlon 6 years ago, and picked up my first triathlon magazine, I’ve known about Wimbeball, or Wimblebitch as my Tri friends like to call it. This was the first race I read about and I remember reading about the long, uphill run into T1. I also remember thinking why the hell would anyone want to do that? According to this article, the bike was super hilly and incredibly tough and DNFs were aplenty if you hadn’t trained for it. WHY OH WHY would you want to do THAT? But hey the bitch of Wimbleball didn’t just end her torture on a hilly bike, no she sticks the knife in with a hilly, sometimes off road, multi terrain run. Dear lord above – WHY would anyone want to do that?
“ME. I WANT TO DO THAT”
said a little voice from within my head somewhere.
said the sensible one.
“Don’t be daft. That’s for seriously tough, seasoned athletes. Not you. You can’t do that.”
“OH WATCH ME”
said the little voice who was determined that this would happen one day.
And every year, I would see Wimbleball (WB) race come and go and I’d laugh. Until 2 years ago, after I’d completed (and recovered from) my first middle distance and decided I was decent at this distance too and wanted to have a crack at WB. I almost did it last year, but I’d set my sights on Alpe d’huez long course instead and WB had to be parked again. So this year, was the year I was going to do it and in the nick of time too as it was the last running of this race ever.
I’d also never done any Ironman branded event before and I was told that Ironman is a bit of a spectacle and I have to say, I was super impressed with the organisation.
However, 5 weeks before this race, I way lying in a bed, attached to an IV drip in Frimley Park Hospital, pushing fluids and antibiotics. I was there for 3 nights and kept being told by the consultants and senior nurses just how sick I actually was. I didn’t really FEEL ill, but apparently my blood results were showing massively increased infection markers for a kidney infection I seemed to have “picked up” however I did THAT! You know the body/mind is so super powerful, my belief is that I wasn’t able to give myself permission to have a rest from everything in my life, so I created the conditions in order to do so. The body is SO clever.
But it was whilst lying there and being told over and over (till I was fed up hearing it) that I was really quite sick and it takes people months to recover from this, that I began to think WB was over before it begun. Not many athletes that I know of handle this kind of information well and the little voice in my head, the one who DOES NOT GIVE UP, told me:
“ah but you’re not people Momo. You’re Morag. You’re different.”
Oh! How bloody arrogant was THAT! But honestly, only I knew how I was feeling. Only I inhabit my body. And only I was going to get me back. And I did, slowly and surely and listening to my body and building back up. I don’t actually believe I was anywhere as fit as I would have been at WB had I not had the little interlude in a hospital bed. However the counter argument to that is – I was well rested and recovered and a lot of little niggles that I was harbouring, had gone. So you know what? Maybe it was all good. Part of the plan haha.
The Day Before – Saturday 24th June
I’d travelled on Friday afternoon just to take the stress of the race away and to be able to relax. I also registered and bought some expo items (I’m a sucker for an expo) and had a good look around the race venue. Bumped into a client of mine whose legs I’d gotten ready the week before haha.
I woke up sharp on Sat and left the guest house in the middle of Dunster to arrive at the race venue for the swim familiarisation. It was a wee bit chilly, overcast and drizzly. Having swum earlier in the week in my home lake in skins as the water was 26.7c, I needed to re-acclimatise to this lake temp of 19c. Pretty big diff, so this needed to be done. The day before a race is not about gaining anything fitness or training wise, it’s about acclimatising to the conditions of the venue, familiarising yourself to the race surroundings and to fire up all the bodys systems in readiness to race.
I felt the water a little chilly and thought that 1.9k swim the next day was going to feel cold by the time I was half way round. So it was good to get my head around this after swimming in bath water earlier in the week. It also gave me the chance to walk the long uphill drag towards T1.
After the swim, I wanted to take my bike out for a spin. I wanted to ride the initial few kms out of T1 because again, although undulating, a lot of this was looking uphill when I drove in. It was also raining and as I only had super slick race tyres on, I needed to check that a) my bike was running ok and b) that I felt confident on the descents, in the rain, on my tyres. Now I won’t lie, I was a little nervey on the descents and as always I’d much rather climb (yeh keep reading – I think I’ve changed my mind in the race haha). But I could do it and Kolin (race bike) was running smoothly. All good.
So, all I now had to do was rack my bike in transition and put my bike and run bags into the transition tent.
Now I’d never ever, in the 6 years of doing triathlon, used bags and a transition tent. I’m used to having all my gear by my bike and making my clothing decisions around the conditions, on race morning. I had to make my clothing decisions earlier in the day before I left the guest house, and pack those bags accordingly. Would I be cold on the bike? Would it rain on the bike? The forecast kept changing every time I looked at it. Would I need my famous bike glove to keep my right hand warm and functional. Oh god, I need to put my run gels into the run bag. The thought process I went through was hilarious on Fri night because I was tired from driving that day and well, just tired. My decision making was below par and I was afraid I’d forget something. So I laid everything out on the bed and did a dry run through the race. But it was still wrecking my head. As soon as those bags were racked in transition, there was apparently no going back, so I had to get this right. Shits sake – WHAT DO I NEED?
Anyhow, I’ll stop making a short story long. It got done. And the rest of Saturday was spent between being a tourist around Dunster Castle, napping and at the open mic event in the pub next door, where I attracted ever more random people to myself. Well sleep wasn’t going to happen was it? So if you can’t beat em, join em. So I did. Then left the pub and forgot to pay for my dinner – hilarious when I got a call from the guest house on Monday asking me to call the pub. Woops. And NO I hadn’t been drinking. THAT would NEVER happen the night before a race. I was just distracted and having a laugh with the randoms. They wanted to know inch detail about triathlon and I think they thought I was elite by the end of it. A nice ego boost for me hahahaha.
Alarm at 0400. I was all set to go and just ate some breakfast and packed the car. Arrived at the race venue by 0530 as per my plan and clipped my bike shoes onto the bike, blew up my tyres and prayed to the triathlon gods to get Kolin and I around in one piece. Ran through transitions in my head again and made my way to the loo queue. Still drizzly.
The race started with a rolling start at 0700, so I made my way to the baggage tent and started putting on my wetsuit when my support crew turned up. OMG that was a welcome sight as I didn’t really know anyone at the race and had no-one to talk to. Well, actually, if I’m honest that never deters me, I’m happy to talk endless rubbish to random strangers on race morning to occupy my over active imagination. But when I saw Grant, I threw my arms around him like a long lost pal (he was) and he introduced me to his partner and kids. Lovely. They were here, I could relax now. I know him from my earliest days of being a newbie at my first ever Tri club, Fleet Tri and we rode bikes together a lot with the rest of the crew. We reminisced a little bit and he reminded me of when he told me in those early days that he could see my potential and knew I’d be good. I’m not sure I ever believed him, but we did acknowledge how far I’ve come since then. Thanks so much you guys, was so appreciated when you popped up on the run course when I was in the hurt locker that I’d never really gotten out of all day. And Grant, having done this race three times before, knew EXACTLY the hurt and the “all kinds of trouble” I was in.
THE SWIM: 1.9km, Wimbleball Lake
Another first for today was a rolling start to the swim. Never done one. Hadn’t a clue how it worked. I’m used to deep water starts where it’s a higher state of anxiousness and lots of flailing arms and legs and bumping and pushing. Hannah had walked me through this start in my head and she told me it would be relaxed and actually, it really was. You self seed in time order a bit like at the beginning of a run race. I looked for the 30-40 mins closest time marker as I’d previously swum 1.9k in around 34mins, and stood there. Nervous chatter. I just breathed. Deeply. Closed my eyes. Visualised the task ahead. Peed in my wetsuit as I stood there – there would be no time as soon as I crossed the timing mat. I have no shame. haha
Then the starting horn went, the queue started to move and the next thing I’m through the gate and over the timing mat and in the water, splashing my face, acclimatising, and I’m off. Wow. Relaxed or what? Now that’s the way to start a triathlon.
Nothing much to say about the swim except that it still felt busy. I still was swum upon, I still had my legs pulled and I still got bumped at the first turning buoy. Maybe not as much as in a World Champs race, but it still happened. I felt super relaxed. This was nice.
When I swim train I breathe bilaterally. When I race, I’m so pumped up on adrenaline, that I can only breath to the right and this is how I started this race. It annoys me because I think I’d be more efficient breathing to both sides in a race. So I dared myself to do it. I don’t know what the actual fear is over breathing to both sides in a race. Perhaps I’m scared to get hit from both sides. I dared and dared and I couldn’t do it.
“Oh FFS Momo, get on and JUST DO IT”
said the driver’s voice in my head (those who read me regularly in race season will know who I’m talking about). So I caved and tried it. OMG what a world of new scenery I was missing! I kinda just laughed at myself. Breathing to the left was beautiful. Breathing to my natural right was full of swimmers. So I kept bilateral going for a bit, until some nut job, who couldn’t sight to save his life (we’ll call him a he as he was a big unit), crossed in front of me, destroying my stroke, my breathing, my rhythm and flow and ease and that was that. Dunked by the big whale like man in black neoprene. Back to right sided breathing only (and neck ache next day hahaha).
Why is it that when you find a decent set of feet to swim off (by decent I mean just faster than you) and draft behind, they cannot sight to save their lives? huh? Is that another rule to put down to the law of life? That was my main mission for the swim, a strong and relaxed swim but to draft. Oh well.
Swim was going pretty well really, until the last buoy. DO NOT KNOW where my head was. But I seemed to give it a wide berth and ended up off course and became one of those buggers who can’t sight to save their lives. I think I was having too much fun trying to draft and lost concentration. So I probs swam a little too far tbh by the time I caught sight of the exit gantry and got myself back on course. I was heading way off down the lake. Hysterical.
Overall, was really pleased with my swim and it came out as: 34.38 and second fastest swim of my AG. Pleased with that. Maybe had I not acclimatised at the beginning and just swam and not veered off course, I would’ve had my first sub 34. Maybe. Who knows.
So you drag yourself out of the water, lift your goggles off your face to see and are met with a bloody great hill, in slippy grass in the slurry rain. Turns out it was the best run of the day for me and I left it all out there. Overtook so many people on that hill I think I peaked a little too soon. Stripped off my wetsuit to the waist and felt the cold. I was breathing so heavily, my chest felt so tight that my heart might burst out through it. I felt pretty constricted and felt a little panic set in too.
“Oh bloody hell it’s going to be cold on the bike and I already can’t breathe”
“So slow down Momo you nutter. Take your time. It’s a long day”
Into the tent and run straight past my bag. Yup, hadn’t practised that. But found it. Didn’t even know if it was the red bag or the blue bag and I couldn’t think or see straight in the little panic I was having. Looked around and saw what colour bag everyone else had and did that.
“For gods sake Momo, sit down and chill out”
So I did sit on the school benches that they had laid out and got my wetsuit off and helmet on and thanked the triathlon gods & my inner wisdom that I’d had the foresight to put some arm warmers in the bag at the last minute “just in case”. But no gloves. Grrrr.
Ran to my bike desperately trying to put my arm warmers on – tricky manoeuvre on wet skin moving at pace. Everyone seemed to be proper racing to their bikes, so I joined in lol. Second fastest run of my day haha.
Awesome, shoes were nice and wet on the bike, but the talc in them helped. Took my bike off the rack, fired up my Garmin and headed for the mount line. Pretty narrow road to mount with a crowd of people and I did the scooter motion to get on the bike that is normal for me and had a near heart attack. Swung my leg over and lost my right shoe. Oh FFS. It didn’t actually fall off but was twirling around the pedal and was catching on the floor. Tried to sort it out looking down at my foot whilst moving and I could feel I was going to do a slo mo crash to the floor. Classy Momo, classy. Somehow managed to dismount again on my wrong side, collected myself, laughed and sorted myself out. HOW MANY TIMES have I mounted like this and NEVER got it wrong? Arrgrhhhh.
Anyway finally on the bike, the camera man was cracking up at me (thank god he never took any pics of that!!) and started to focus. At this point I’m wondering if averaging 4 hours sleep the previous two nights was not great for my brain to sort out the mess I seemed to be getting myself in.
Having ridden this first section of the road the day before, I felt confident and pleased I had done that. It was rainy and windy but I was in race mode. My race proper starts on the bike. The red mist has descended. I was off and I was on my bike. I love my bike.
The bike was two loops of sheer and utter HELL. There is NO other way to describe this. It wasn’t even a lovely day for looking at scenery. I was cold. Just plain cold.
“Suck it up buttercup”
“Oh Fuck off, I want to go home”
“Well you chose to be here and do this. You’ve wanted this race for years”
“Not helpful at this point thanks!”
I mean ok, it wasn’t all hell. There were some fast straight bits. And some awesome downhills. However in the wind, the awesomely fast straight bits were just scarey because the wind would whip up through the gates in the breaks in the hedges, catching my front wheels and blowing me over the road. I hate the wind on my TT bike because I’m so small and light and the wind just has a good old laugh with me. But I’m a determined little madam. I won’t be beaten and hung on.
There was a super stonking cracker of a downhill too that was a no overtaking zone (instant DQ if you did) and it was proper sketchy in the wind and rain. I went down there SO SLOWLY and held up all the boys behind me. I felt really bad about that but I wanted to be safe and not hit the deck. When we turned the tight corner at the bottom, I apologised to each man as he passed by for holding them up. But they were all incredibly gracious and said thanks to me for giving them an excuse not to kill themselves. Phew….
So I’m thinking that this bike course is going ok and really? Its not THAT hilly. Its windy and rainy, cold and sketchy, but hilly? Its not THAT bad. What was everyone talking about? And then I saw it. OMFG. I’m already in my lowest gear climbing and I see this electricity pylon ahead and up at the top of very steep hill.
“oh holy fuckeroony”
THAT is what they were talking about. I began to gather my mind for sucking up some big hurt on this climb. Out the saddle, in the saddle. Out the saddle, no back in. Oh for goodness sake I thought as I tried to get a grinding rhythm together. Honestly, that climb must’ve been 25%. I was turning my pedals so slowly I thought I’d never get to the top, but kept telling myself that I just needed to keep grinding it out. I so knew I would need to draw upon my ADH experience of last year and this was that moment.
“Come on Momo. You’ve climbed the alps. This isn’t very far. Just keep going. Just keep going. Just keep going. You WILL get to the top. YOU ARE NOT GETTING OFF”
I looked up and saw the top and told myself it was just there and I could do it. Just keep grinding. So I did. And I felt sick. I really honestly thought I was going to puke. THIS was tough. And I also had to draw upon past experience of riding Honister Pass. That was a grinder of some 25%. All these past experiences just come flooding back in.
“Come on. KEEP GOING. You’re mentally bulletproof – remember THAT?”
“Oh god but what if I’m not mentally bulletproof today?”
“Yes you bloody well are. Now KEEP GOING”
“NAILS Momo – you are friction NAILS”
And of course I made it. Just needed a minute or so to settle again and get my breath back and then the thought of having to do that again entered my head. Oh crikey, my quads were in bad enough shape as it was from the first time.
So I cracked on and overtook a man on another little hilly section and he said “Oh Morag I was waiting for you to come by. You’re so light you’re just skipping up these hills. WTF? I cracked up laughing and told him how much hurt I was in and that I was cold. He then gave me the great news that there was another belter of a climb on its way that I’d get warm on.
I began to silently curse the course designer for sticking these monsters in on the second half of the course, because until then, I thought it was pretty easy. That second hill just kept giving. Just feeling the love of grinding of Jens Voight and “shut up legs” and finding all sorts of mental distraction techniques. At the top of this climb was a feed station and it was fantastic because a mini crowd had lined the top of the climb and were shouting us on (and even running beside you) like in the Tour de France. For a brief moment I smiled and laughed and felt VERY special. Like I was a pro.
Finally, I was onto the second lap. I looked at the time on my Garmin and saw that there was no way I’d match or beat Brett’s time that Goran had bantered about the day before. He’d done 3.06. I needed to get 3.05. Yup that was already lost. Well done Brett. lol.
I pushed much harder on the front of the course on this second loop and knew what was coming. I thought push hard here, make up some time, you know where the wind is and the corners and hills etc. The second half of the course seemed really lonely. The truly fast people had long gone and the slower people behind. I felt in no mans land. And this is where your mind starts to play tricks.
“oh shit, have I gone off course. I haven’t seen anyone for ages”
But I hadn’t. It was still windy. Still raining but I didn’t seem so cold anymore. I was starting to worry about my lower back. It was getting really sore around the kidney area and the fact I was coldish, was playing tricks with my health and wellbeing in my mind. How were my kidneys coping with all this? But I decided I was just cold and the fact I was now bursting for a wee wasn’t helping the pressure on my lower back and it was just that. Time to try to pee on the bike. God I hate this! It takes me about 20km to actually do it. The trick was to semi stand on the pedals, bum off the saddle and be going downhill at the same time, so not pedaling. I could finally relax enough to let some go and relieve the pressure on my back.
I know this is TMI but these things never get talked about and they are REAL. Real problems when racing this long people! I never fully emptied my bladder and I had to try again later on. I needed to empty to be able to concentrate on the impending climbs. Three times I tried. No-one would know anyway as I was wet from the rain.
As I approached the climbing section for the second time, I could feel my adrenaline kick. What if I couldn’t make it up this time. Oh the shame I would heap upon myself. And the weird and horrible thing is, as human nature has it, if you see someone else getting off to walk, it kinda gives you permission to do so also.
And half way up to the pylon, I saw someone walking. Oh dear god. NOOOOOOO.
“YOU ARE NOT WALKING. YOU DO NOT PUT YOUR HEART AND SOUL INTO HILL REPS EVERY SINGLE WINTER TO GET OFF AND WALK. IT IS NOT HAPPENING”
“But I can’t do it”
“OMG YES YOU CAN. YES. YOU. CAN. END OF.”
That was me told by the driver in my head. What helped was I managed to catch and pass a pretty fit looking male athlete on his TT bike, grinding it out and almost going so slow as to stop. I was going just marginally faster. That helped my head a lot. That even although I felt so bloody sick, I was still able to chick someone else. The other thing I could draw on this time was that I’d been up there before and made it. So I told myself that if I could do it once, I could do it again.
Getting up there the second time was a game changer. I’d dreaded it the entire second lap. But with me, as it gets longer, I just get better (unless I run out of fuel – that’s different). Yes my quads were in all sorts of trouble. My back hurt and now my neck was hurting from battling the wind on the bike and from being in the TT position so long, but I was alive. I was healthy. I was feeling every inch of this testing course. And you know what? Somewhere deep in my being, I was LOVING all these sensations. I love tough. I love getting through tough. In essence, I think I like this because I SURVIVE again and again and again. I am alive and I made it all over again. Something like that.
Ans the rest is just a blur. The TDF moment on the second climb wasn’t as good second time around as the support crews had dwindled a little from there – I expect they’d gone back to see the run.
I made it back and I was so happy to get around safely and without a mechanical. At this point you KNOW you are going to finish this race, even if it’s on your hands and knees. Thank you triathlon gods.
Bike time: 3.39.00 and third bike in AG
I decided to stay safe and not take my feet out of my shoes. Conditions were too sketchy and I was feeling too vacant in my head to negotiate shoes off before dismount. So I just dismounted the bike and had the slippery run along the wet tarmac in bike shoes instead. I racked my bike, took my shoes off and tested out my run legs on the long run back to the transition tent.
“Oh legs feel pretty good”
I was surprised.
Now to negotiate which colour bag the run kit was in. What colour did I do 3.5 hours ago? All fairly straight forward.
So I come flying out of T2 thinking OMG this is going to be an amazing run. I actually feel fantastic. My run legs are here. Took the first of the three gels I’d loaded in the bag, one for each run lap, and cracked on. Lap one went pretty well. I seemed to run (slowly) up the big hills and was feeling great. Was still needing a pee and my back still hurt.
Then the wheels gradually started to come off. As I popped out of a wooded section, Grant was there cheering me on. He could see in my concentrated, contorted face, how much hurt I was in and I was doing my best to suck it all up. He gave me a cheer and he actually got a big smile out of me. THAT never happens.
The second lap was bloody awful. I was starting to grind to a halt. I can’t pee when running and I had to make the decision to stop and go for a pee at the muddy cross country bit of the course. I’d clocked a gate to a field on lap one. So I stopped there. It really wasn’t secluded and again I congratulated myself on not wearing a one piece trisuit. The two piece is great for these moments. Lots of people saw me, bum out, but I didn’t care. The relief was enormous. Had a couple of girls ask if I was ok. That was nice. I think they were worried a fellow sister was in gastro distress.
I had a new lease of life after that and skipped up that first hill and overtook everyone who had passed by when I was in the gate. I loved the muddy downhill section because everyones quads (the running downhill braking system) were mullered and mine seemed ok. I had Sarah Cleland (she’s in my running club and an awesome downhill runner) in my head and thought she might be proud of the way I came down there every time.
The end of lap 2 was fab. I was hurting like a bitch. Of course I was. Everyone was. But it was ok.
I kept changing places with a chap called David who’d spoken to me on the bike and with a guy from Ely. On the third lap we walked up the hills together and on the flat tarmac bit, along the dam wall, I decided to make a break for it. What a loony. Like it mattered? But I needed something to make me work for this. To actually, get it over with haha. So I finally left my new pals behind. They found me at the end though and congratulated my awesome last run loop (really? lol).
Coming up the grassy hill that had been part of T1, for the final time, I could feel the emotion welling up inside of me. Uh oh. Can’t lose it before the actual finish Momo.
To think 5 weeks ago I might not be here. To think that SO MANY PEOPLE had told me not to risk my health and do it. That I was doing too much too soon, and to be coming up the hill the final time and knowing I would finish. To have wanted this race for a number of years and to be finally doing it and almost finished. To be processing ALL the emotions I have had over the last year with many things and people. It was all in the mix. And it was all about to come out. Wow, tearful writing this part.
I decided to enjoy coming into the finish chute and I was the only one on it at the time. I felt like I had won the thing and I ran down there with the biggest smile on my face enjoying my moment.
“Here’s Morag completing her first Ironman 70.3 and what a smile”
Said the finish line announcer. Or words to that effect. I was so full and ripe and juicy and ready to explode my emotions, I’m not sure of the exact words.
My finish chute photos show just how ecstatic I was to finish. I HAD MADE IT.
And I jumped over the finish line like a spring lamb and then it hit. The tidal wave came in and all my emotions erupted. I sobbed like a baby and was guided to a chair at the finish line where they put on my medal, shoved water down my face and checked I was ok.
I don’t know what this is about. It happens a lot when I have had a hard race and have to dig deep. I think it has something to do with survival. That I nearly didn’t make it, but then I actually really did. And something to do with pride. I have finished a lot of races in my time where no-one was there at the end for me and I had to be proud of myself and not hear or feel this from anyone else. I think that has a lot to do with it too. This could get a bit deep, so I’ll keep the rest to myself lol.
Run: an abysmal half marathon by my standards but who cares: 2.00.13
So during this race, all thoughts of an AG podium had disappeared on the bike and I had to keep reminding myself that I was here to finish. Nothing more. So to find out later, that I’d come second in AG and would get a lovely M dot trophy, was just amazing. I had not expected it. I was tired but overjoyed.
Finish Time: 6.22.06
I hooked up with Kirsty Myles that I know from twitter (good old social media) and she had come 5th female overall (WOW) and third in her category (some days I’m glad I’m an old fart). We ate chips and hung around for a couple of hours watching the last finishers until the presentation was ready. It was bloody awesome to finally stand on a proper podium. THAT was a moment.
Thank you to all my coaches and friends and family who endure one helluva lot with me. I know I test everyones patience at times. I know I frustrate the hell out of you all. I know I push and probe and question and dig my heels in sometimes. But it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t. It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t ask questions and filter what I want to hear and do my own things anyway. I especially want to thank Hannah. My god she has been on a long journey with me the last year. She has lived and breathed every moment of it all. We have had lots of tears and laughter in the gym but she has ALWAYS been by my side, every step of the way. THAT moment I listened to my inner wisdom and came to your lake was an utter game changer.