Fitness and Lifestyle

The Training Diaries: Ironman Copenhagen - The Final Countdown

"It's the final countdown! Doo doo doo, doo! Doo doo doo doo doo!"

Can you tell I'm excited? It's t-minus 5 days until I get on the start line at KMD Ironman Copenhagen. This time next week, I should be the proud owner of 1 big shiny Ironman medal, 1 finisher t-shirt and 2 very sore legs (because we all know the second day DOMs is when sh*t really gets real). The bags are just about packed, the bikes are tucked up in their boxes and soon we'll be hitting the road for endurance event number 1 - the long drive to Denmark. It's going to be an adventure.

It's all feeling a bit surreal at the moment. It feels like only a nanosecond has passed since I was stood at the finish line of Ironman Bolton in 2015 on support crew duties for G, feeling kind of incredulous that actual human beings had managed to complete 140.6 miles of swimming, cycling and running and were still in one piece. It seemed impossible. I wanted in. "When I grow up, I'm going to be an Ironman!" Now here I am, big girl pants firmly on and ready to go. Everything I've done over the last 2 years has been leading up to this and now it's time to put my tri suit where my mouth is and see what I can do. 

Tapering off this last week or so has been weird and it's made me realise just how much I've loved my training this year. Okay, the big 7 hour training days, the 5 hour turbo stints (thanks, Beast from the East) and the freezing early season lake swims were tough. But getting out there and getting it done, feeling my body getting stronger with every session? It's been awesome and I kind of don't want it to stop. I'm definitely happiest when I've got training to do and a goal to aim for! 

So here it goes - the culmination of 112 hours of running,  146 hours of cycling, 33 hours of swimming. 1,152 km travelled on foot, 4,193km on two wheels and 101,282m spent doing my best mermaid (aka sea cucumber) impression. Blood, sweat, blisters, tears. God knows how many fig rolls and litres of chocolate milk. Obscene amounts of time spent galloping about in fluorescent, stretchy clothing. Now, it all comes down to one day. Obviously I've got a time in mind that I'd like to achieve but the perk of this being my first Ironman is that as long as I finish it's a guaranteed PB! And "just finishing" is a huge achievement in itself. It's a long day and I know from my experience at IM 70.3 Zell am See that anything can happen. Come what may. The plan is to control the controllable, race strong, enjoy the experience and give it everything I've got. Whatever happens, as long as I can come away from it knowing I've done my best I'll be happy. I've got my mantras in my pocket - "things get tough, you get tougher", "suck it up princess", "don't be shit" - and a determined fire in my belly. Add in the promise of Danish pastries and beer once I've finished and I'm good to go. Ironman Copenhagen, I hope you're ready because this little lycra-clad weirdo is coming for you!

See you on the other side...

An Estonian Adventure: AG European Champs Race Report

The day we set off on our journey to Estonia for the ETU age group European standard distance triathlon championships began, as all good adventures do, with a notification from the Easyjet app. Our flight had been delayed. After a few hours of scampering around Gatwick airport, we eventually got up in the air and landed in Tallin just after midnight. Bikes safely retrieved - with a big sigh of relief from me as this was the first time travelling with my shiny new Canyon - we headed down to the hire car place, expecting a quick 5 minute form to fill in before we could head to the nearby hotel we'd booked. No such luck - the guy seemed to want our full life stories and the promise of our first born child before he'd hand the car over. We eventually arrived at our hotel at 2am where we had a short nap before getting up at 5.30am to drive down to Tartu in time for the team briefing. Tired, but excited, we arrived in Tartu at about 8.30am and headed to the conference centre. Despite being surrounded by fellow GB athletes, taking our team photos and getting a full run down of the ins and outs of the race details, it still hadn't sunk in that I was in Estonia, getting ready to race at the European champs.

The day flew by in a blur of rushing around, finding registration, figuring out where transition was and just about managing to catch the start of the elite women's race before heading to our Air BnB. Guess who managed to book a top floor apartment with no lift? Just about managing to avoid dissolving into a puddle of our own sweat, we dragged both bike boxes and our suitcases up 8 flights of stairs and G set about putting the bikes back together. It was soon time for us to head down to check our bikes into transition, meaning that we hadn't had time to recce any of the bike course or even really ride our bikes properly to check they were working. Lesson very much learnt for the next time we race abroad - turning up less than 24hrs before you're due to race is a really bad idea!

After another sleepless night, race morning had arrived and I still hadn't quite got my head around the fact that I was there and about to race. This was only my second ever time racing the standard distance and it was at the European championships. Less than 2 years ago, I could barely ride a road bike and now I was here in GB kit. It all just felt a bit surreal and I was still half expecting someone to tap me on the shoulder and ask what I thought I was playing at!

With only a few weeks until Ironman Copenhagen, this race was all about making the most of the experience but coming home in one piece, ready to take on my final big block of Ironman training. With this in mind, I was having a small internal struggle with the part of me that wanted to go all guns blazing, and the part that knew I needed to race sensibly. We walked down to transition to do a few final bike checks and then walked the mile or so along the river up to the swim start. My wave were due to set off an hour before Graham's and soon it was time to say goodbye and get into the water. The swim was a deep water start and lining up at the buoys you could feel the current trying to pull you along - it was so hard to stay on the spot and wait for the customary heart-beat countdown before the gun went. Non-wetsuit definitely wasn't going to be a problem here. We swam downstream with the current pulling us along. I'd never swum in a river before - it was awesome! It was hard to gauge how fast we were being swept downstream. I spotted a guy from a previous wave up ahead, but figured that I didn't need to worry too much about him just yet. A few strokes later and the next thing I knew I'd managed to beach myself on his back like some sort of pesky river dwelling whale. Awkward. Turns out I was swimming a lot faster than I would in a regular lake. Minor beaching incident aside (sorry, man in the blue hat - at least I'm a fairly small human being!) the swim was great fun. The distance had been extended from the usual 1500m to account for the current and 24 minutes later, with my watch clocking a total of 1800m, I was making my way up the steep exit ramp to T1.

Bike time. Goggles off, helmet on, grab bike - go! The bike course was made up of two loops, taking us out on a long out and back before winding through the town right down by transition and back out again. Other than a few sharp little inclines here and there, the course was pretty flat and the conditions were ace, with very little wind. It was so tempting to go as hard as I could on the out and back, just to see what speed I could get up to! I managed to stay disciplined and stick to my planned power. Go hard, but don't break. With the Ironman in the back of my mind, I was probably a little overcautious round some of the bends in town (I was so paranoid about coming off and wrecking my bike with only weeks until the big day) and lost some time there, but overall I was happy with my bike split and I had a great time out on the course.

Soon I was rolling into T2. You'd think that, having completed two of the three disciplines, it would have sunk in by this point that I was racing at the European champs but nope. Dilly daydream over here was on autopilot. Bike racked, helmet off, trainers on. Time to run. I've been working hard on my running this year, but it's all been about the long slow stuff ready for the Ironman marathon. I knew I needed to be realistic with my pacing - clinging on for dear life works in a sprint but blowing up a few kms into the 10km run of a standard distance wouldn't be a pretty picture. I settled into my pace - go hard, don't break. I overtook a couple of people on the bridge out of town and found myself a little bit in no-man's land for the long out and back section. Usually on the run I like to go into shark mode and choose people ahead of me to try and overtake one by one, but for quite a long section of the run there was no one really around me - only people going in the opposite direction heading for the finish! As much as this was mentally a little tough, I was kind of glad for it as it was good preparation for the inevitable lonely sections that I'm sure I'll encounter during the Ironman marathon. The humidity of the day was starting to make its presence known by this point and I chucked water over my head at each aid station to keep cool. I settled into a good rhythm on the run, but it was here that I really started to feel our less than ideal preparation from the day before - the 20,000+ steps we'd walked, the numerous flights of stairs we'd slogged up and down to drag the bike boxes and suitcases up to our apartment, the major lack of sleep - I could feel the fatigue in my legs. I would have loved to have been able to negative split the run and speed up for the second half (that was the plan!) but, not today satan. I knew realistically that pushing any harder was going to be risky in terms of being able to recover enough for my big Ironman training block. I had a 5 hour bike ride and a 20 mile run to complete just a few days later. Calm your pants, keep it smooth. I held my pace, keeping it consistent until I knew that blue carpet to the finish line was near. With supporters lining the barriers, I managed something vaguely resembling a sprint finish (in reality it was probably more like a shuffle) and crossed the finish line with a new PB for the standard distance. There's still a huge amount of work to be done if I ever want to get competitive at this distance, but all things considered I was happy with how I went on the day.

It wasn't until I was back at the finish line, on the other side of the barriers now, waiting to watch Graham and our friend Chris finish that it really sunk in how cool it was just to be here. To go from 'I'd never be caught dead doing a triathlon' to qualifying for the age group European champs is a pretty big step, and I feel so grateful that I had the opportunity to go and race in a really cool city and represent my country. A GB lady who was racing in the 75-79 year old age category (she was quick to point out that she's only 75!) was talking to the commentator at the finish line - this was her 21st time racing at a championship, after taking up triathlon in her 40s. That kind of sums up how special this sport is. You don't have to have been a child sporting prodigy to be able to compete at a high level. There's so much opportunity for anyone to get involved. Give it courage, commitment and maybe just a little bit of madness and triathlon will take you places.

As I type, it's exactly 1 year to the day since my qualification race last August. I've come a long way since then and I feel like I'm only just getting started. Next stop, Ironman Copenhagen - 13 days to go!

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