As we crossed over the state line heading into Georgia from Florida, I received a text from my sister: “Going into hospital at 5pm to be induced.”

….

Laura was 39 weeks pregnant. We had booked Ironman 70.3 Augusta back before she was even pregnant, in November last year as part of the Ironman race package with Ironman Florida. We only realised the race was a week before her due date a month ago. But first babies are always late, right? And hey, there was no reason why she also couldn’t look after our dog while we were away….

We did arrange alternative dog-sitting, but we still didn’t really think the baby was going to come early. But Laura had had a tough pregnancy, with extreme back pain, nausea, and more recently was presenting with a dangerously high heart rate – 157 bpm while sitting down in the doctor’s office. Considering that’s nearing my Zone 4 heart rate on the bike… that wasn’t good.  Doctor said it was time to induce.

In a flurry of texts, we continued to drive (that is, Tom drove, I flurried the texts). Concerned friends were asking whether we were going to turn imagearound. Laura said keep going, there was nothing we could do. But another text said:  “I’m scared.”  I couldn’t believe I wasn’t there for her. But her husband Zach was going into hospital with her and she didn’t need more people taking up space while she laboured. And I needed the time on the drive to finish my baby quilt. Yes, I reckon out of the nearly 3000 athletes racing Ironman 70.3 Augusta, I was the only one frantically sewing the binding on a quilt on the way to the race. (Also yes, I have really nerdy hobbies.)

But what better way to take my mind off of the race? I always get bad pre-race nerves. To the point that every single time, I wonder why I put myself through so many races. (Because as much as I hate races before the start, I love them just as much after I finish. It’s a complicated twisted mindset.) On we drove to Augusta, Georgia.

Pre-race

Ironman Florida is our main goal this year, so we intended to treat this half as somewhat of a training race. We arrived early enough to get to to the Ironman Village to register and pick up our race packets, ate some dinner and went to bed for a night of no sleep, filled with anxiety for my poor sister in the throes of labour and me with the usual pre-race nerves.

imageSaturday morning we met up with my old friend Emily who lives in Augusta (my sister jokes that I know someone in every city everywhere in the world), enjoyed meeting her husband Andrew and her two kids that they had miraculously popped out since I last saw her 5 years ago, whilst also being an amazing trauma surgeon (yes, I feel intimidated!), and had a little walk along the Savannah River – the same river we would be swimming down the following morning.

 

A little bike ride to check out the bike course and a short run in the afternoon and we headed to the Bike Transition area to rack our bikes.  Ready to race!

But still no baby. The flurry of texts with Laura and Zach continued, mostly saying things weren’t going well and it looked like they might have to do a C-Section. Tom and I went to bed early and worried, but for once I wasn’t thinking about racing.image

Race Day

Our alarm was set for 5am so we could head to transition to pump our tyres and lay out our final gear for the race. But first things first. I woke up, looked at the phone, only to see some 52 messages from my family. Kylie Isabella Phillips had arrived safely during the night, a natural birth and a healthy baby girl. Well, if Laura could manage to deliver a baby naturally after 25 hours of labour, surely I could squeeze out a measly half Ironman? Time to race!

 

The Swim

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I had heard great things about the swim at this race – swimming with the current in a straight line down river, sounded good to me! It was a wave start and Tom’s wave was right before mine so we headed to the start together. It was very well organised. Wave by wave, we headed out onto a large pier and jumped into the water to swim 1900m downriver.

Photo thanks to http://www.pingjeffgreene.com

Photo thanks to http://www.pingjeffgreene.com

There were 220 in my age group, but we were well spread out across the pier and as soon as the horn sounded, I shot off to try to avoid any carnage. I needn’t have worried, as I was very quickly by myself, a few others within sight but nowhere near fighting distance. I knew this swim was going to be nice and short so I didn’t mind exerting a bit more effort than I might normally for 1900m. The current was ever-so-obliging and it wasn’t long before I was getting stuck into the pack of Tom’s orange-capped men ahead of me, trying to swim around them without wasting time.

I exited the water in 25:09, definitely a PB half Ironman swim for me but of course somewhat of an artificial time with that wonderful current. My swim had me 11th in my age group.

Bike

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Photo thanks to Podium Performance

It was drizzling gently as I headed off on the bike – hurrah! Training in Florida has been harsh with the extreme heat and humidity so I was really praying for a cooler day in Georgia. Although I couldn’t see out of my glasses for most of the ride, it was worth it for the lovely cooling effect.

The bike has always been my hardest/worst leg, and this race was no exception. The last half Ironman I did was HITS Naples back in January, where I had a massive PB of 5:01 with a 2:42 bike split (spoiler: I did not PB at Augusta). But that was on a dead flat course. While Augusta wasn’t crazy hilly when compared to some of the cycling I’d been doing in 2014 at Ironman Lanzarote, Yorkshire, and the Alps, including various Tour de France routes – it still had around 540m of climbing, which was a lot compared to the big fat ZERO of climbing I’ve been doing in Florida.

Let’s compare.

Ironman 70.3 Augusta bike:imageVs. HITS Naples Half Ironman bike:

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That Naples bike course is typical for most of my training rides in Florida, save for the occasional bridge. But I digress.  The Augusta bike course was great. We crossed the Savannah River downstream from where we had been swimming and set off into the South Carolina countryside and into the rolling hills. I love cycling on closed roads and the volunteers and police did a great job of keeping us riding safe and fast. I couldn’t see much through my wet glasses but I focused on keeping my heart rate in check, climbing steadily and descending safely. I had enough nutrition and drink on my bike to keep me going without needing to top up at any aid stations and I worked on picking off the men in front of me one by one. Of course, plenty of people were overtaking me too – including many of the fast women. Best of all was the weather. After the sweltering heat of Florida, the relatively cool temperatures (20°C / 68°F) and the drizzle meant I never felt hot on the bike. Amazing. Bliss.

Ironman Augusta 70.3 Julia bike

I arrived back at transition in 2:56:05, very pleased to have done sub-3 hours over the hilly course, with an average speed of 30.7 kph / 19.08 mph, with my bike leg placing me 24th in my age group.

Run

The race doesn’t really start until the run, does it – but uh oh, my legs were dead. This is going to be a disaster, I thought to myself, as I trudged up the (only) hill from the river to the city streets. Tom and I have been doing a lot of volume in the recent weeks and we didn’t taper for this race, and I could feel it in my legs. I had felt strong coming off the bike, but suddenly I felt like I had nothing left in me. Surely this triathlon business was pretty silly, wasn’t it? Did I really need to bother with this run?

But then I remembered Laura, 25 hours in labour, 25 hours of pain without knowing how or when it would stop… and I thought, I can do this. What’s a measly half marathon compared to what Laura went through? It’s amazing what a little perspective does for you. So I kept on plodding, trot trot trot, and when my watch beeped at the first mile and I saw that it was 8:12 (5:05 min/km), I realised it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I let myself walk the aid stations, which meant that I knew I never had to run for too long, keeping the walks to a maximum of 30 seconds.  The run course was two loops around downtown Augusta, with every single citizen out on the streets cheering for us by name – it was fabulous. I took a gel every half hour, I kept on trotting, and when I reached the halfway mark I told myself it was time to get a bit more serious and I upped the pace just that little bit more.

I soon noticed that I was overtaking the people who had dropped me back at the beginning when I had first started walking the aid stations. I wasn’t running fast, but I was running consistently and it slowly gained me ground as many of the others started to slow down. One of the great advantages of being a better runner than a cyclist is that you then get to overtake people in the run, and that’s what my run was from start to finish, just picking people off one by one.  I finished the race strong, with my last mile at 7:03 (4:22 min/km). In fact, in the overall rankings, I moved up 458 spots on the run.

Ironman Augusta 70.3 Julia run

I finished the run in 1:45:40, with an average pace of 8:03 min/mile / 5:00 min/km. Again, not my fastest run split (I did 1:40 at Naples) but I felt like I ran the best I could given the mileage in my legs and after those hills, and Tom was waiting for me at the finish line with a sweaty kiss.

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I placed 17th out of 220 in my age group, 67th woman and 432nd overall out of 2645 athletes, and most importantly, number one Auntie to Kylie.Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 12.55.09

This past weekend was the HITS Naples Triathlon.  I did the Half Ironman while Tom, still recovering from a running injury, did the Aquathon.  It was a fantastic event.

We registered and racked our bikes the evening before:

And checked out the beach where we would be swimming the next morning:

And readied our nutrition for the race…

No, we didn't actually take all of these!

No, we didn’t actually take all of these!

 

 

We had a typically sleepless night, woke at 4:44am and got ready to do battle.

It was so cold.  So so so cold.  I was so unhappy!  (12 deg C is 53 F.) It was cold, dark and windy.  It’s not supposed to be windy at 5 in the morning!  Water temperature was around 18 C / 65 F.

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I will be the first to admit it – I am a huge wuss when it comes to the cold.  I hate being cold, and I get cold extremely easily.  I don’t perform well when I’m cold, either.  My first instinct is to make myself as small as possible and not move at all, which isn’t really compatible with a half Ironman triathlon.  And c’mon, we are in Florida – it’s not supposed to be cold!

I have never come so close to backing out of an event as I did Saturday morning!  I was shivering hard while still dry and couldn’t even imagine how I would cope coming out of the water into the wind.  But as always, when the horn sounded, I forgot everything and dove in for the fight!

Swim – 1.9 km Half Ironman / 3.8 km Ironman

The chop!  The wind was up and the water was very choppy.  And I lost my timer chip off my leg as soon as I started.  Argh!  I had to stop and search for it and then when I couldn’t get it back on, I stuffed it down the front of my wetsuit and dove back into the fray.  The water had zero visibility – I couldn’t even see my arms as I swam.

I was certain that it would be my slowest swim yet due to the chip incident and the strong chop, but once I made the first turn I found my own space and a good rhythm and was surprised to come out of the water and back into transition in 32:11, my fastest half Ironman swim yet.

Tom also had a good swim, doing two laps of the course in 1:03:37, which was the exact time he swam in Ironman Lanzarote!  Although in this tri, the swim time included the run from the ocean to transition, about 400m, which means that we both had our best swims to date.

Bike – 90.1 km Half Ironman / 180.2 km Ironman

The course was flat and fast and amazingly marshalled by the local police – we had a clear run through every single stoplight, fantastic!  My feet were frozen through and my hands shortly followed suit, which made changing gears and opening shot blocs challenging.  I kept it a steady Zone 2 heart rate throughout – arguably too low, but that’s what felt right so that’s what I went with.  There was a good cross-wind on the bike which meant that we had some head wind for nearly the entire course – can’t tell you how disappointed I was when I hit the halfway turnaround point and discovered that I wasn’t getting the tailwind that I had been looking forward to the whole way out!

The course was out and back but would you believe I nonetheless managed to make a wrong turn?  I only mention this because that wrong turn cost me 2 minutes extra which then later caused me to go just over 5 hours, arghhhhhhh!  Live and learn!  Oh well, mustn’t dwell on it.

I finished the bike in 2:42:42, which was a PB by 10 minutes for me.  Very happy!

As for Tom, he crushed it!  180.2 km in 4:52.46.  I’ll do the maths for you – that’s an average speed of 37 km/h or 23 mph!  He was in second behind RW Training coach Rich Wygand until poor Rich had his tyre explode*, after which Tom got to follow the lead motorcycle around the course and was first bike back from the full Ironman distance bike leg.

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First off the bike in the full Ironman distance!

Tom won the Aquathon! Yay Tom! (And then he got to rest.  He says Ironmans are much better when you don’t have to run a marathon too.)

Run – 21.1 km

The run course was again out and back.  My feet were numb from ankles downwards for the first half hour, always a strange sensation.  I took it easy for the first half, a steady Zone 2 heart rate and a comfortable pace.  When I reached the turn around point, I knew I could survive an hour or less of suffering, so I upped the pace and pushed, ending up with a nice negative split and an overall half marathon run of 1:40:36.  Maybe I should have pushed harder earlier, but it was still a significant half Ironman PB for me so I was happy!

I finished the race in 5:01:19 – a thrilling PB, but so disappointing that I would have gone sub-5 hours if I hadn’t take that wrong turn!

I was 8th woman overall (out of around 70 women) and 49th in the whole race (around 300 people).  I was particularly pleased to see that my run was actually the 29th fastest run out of everyone.

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The best moment of every race!

 

*Rich Wygand had to wait around 45 minutes for the support vehicle to swap him a new tyre, but he somehow managed to make a storming comeback to finish sub-10 hours, 2nd overall in the full Ironman!  Legend!  Meanwhile his wife Carol Wygand won her age group in her first Half Ironman in 5:13!

 

Do you do any races in your off season?

 

Weekly Roundup

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Total time:  10:28

Swim:  3km, 53 min

Bike: 124 km, 3:55

Run:  38km, 3:10

 

 

I raced the Miami Man Half Ironman last month.  It was my first triathlon on this side of the Atlantic, first triathlon in hot sunny Florida.

It rained non-stop.

But I still had a blast.

Things boded well when I got to meet a hero and a legend, Leanda Cave, at the expo the day before (4-time World Champion!).  She was doing a Q&A and I took away some excellent swim sighting tips that I put into practice the next day.

Amazing Leanda Cave!

At the Race Briefing, they also confirmed that yes, there were alligators in the lake we were swimming in.  Incentive to swim faster….

Yup, let’s get this triathlon started!

 

Sunday Nov 9 2014

Swim – 1900 m – 34:42

Leanda had said in the race briefing to try to sight the swim course out of the water before starting the swim.  This made all the difference, because it turned out the swim buoys were not in a straight line at all.  I definitely saved some time by choosing the more direct path as a result of Leanda’s sighting tips.

A wave start meant that there wasn’t a frenzied fight at the beginning, but instead a nice straight swim.

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I’m the one in the centre breathing to my left.

 

“Sight like an alligator”

 

It was two laps around the alligator-infested lake.  I can’t say I saw any alligators, but it was a nice smooth swim.  Not the fastest I’ve done, but not too far off and by far the most comfortable.

Then up out of the water into transition to discover it was pissing it down…. sigh.

Wetsuit strippers stripped me of my wetsuit.

Transition had a long run across the grass with the bike to get to the start of the bike course.  Tom ran alongside the transition fence shouting at me to remember that my carbon wheels would mean very poor brakes in the rain.  Noted!

 

Bike – 90 km – 2:52:10

The bike course had a deceptive number of sharp 90 degree turns which were tricky in the driving rain.  And the rain!  It came down in a flood, in a tropical downpour, the rain blinding me, fogging my glasses, covering the roads so I felt like I was a speedboat leaving a wake through the flooded roads.  I did notice that every time the rain got worse, I overtook more people, though.  I’m no expert in rain riding, but I’ve certainly been forced to do it a lot in the UK and perhaps that helped a bit!

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22 90 degree turns in this course!

On the plus side, the course was pancake flat.  What a nice change from my last triathlon, Ironman Lanzarote (2551m of elevation…).

The bike has been my weakness for a long time, and my crash this year didn’t help with that.  I will post about bike confidence another day, but since moving to Florida I’ve been learning to push myself more on the bike.  I was really hoping to finish the 90km in around 3 hours, so I was thrilled with 2:52, especially as that included the long jog in bike cleats.  Despite the rain, I had my best bike split ever.  It was also my first tri on my new Trek Speed Concept!

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Run – 21.1 km – 1:48:53

I knew I had done my fastest bike split to date, but how would that affect my run?  Having a good bike split had been my main goal, so I was ready to sacrifice the run a bit if need be.  As long as I finished within 2 hours…  or perhaps within 1:49 (my Ironman 70.3 Norway run time)…

The sun made a brief appearance for the run, enough for me to curse the heat (c’mon!  raining on the bike, hot on the run? That’s just wrong!),  but thankfully that didn’t last and the extreme rain returned to do more damage to the already soggy course.  From the start I made the decision to run straight through the ankle-deep puddles rather than try to trot around the outside, and that was a good choice given that one way or another, every single athlete was going to get soaked.  (I did see one man running in a big flapping poncho.  Wish I had a picture of that.)

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The run course was 2 laps around the Miami Zoo.  But it was raining so hard that all the animals were in hiding (smart!).  I won’t lie, it wasn’t a pretty run – either the course, or how I felt – but I got around in a reasonable enough time for me.  I overtook around 150 people, while only 1 man overtook me.  Clearly my running is still better than my cycling.

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Total:  5:21:50

I came 3rd in my age group, which was my first podium finish in a triathlon and was pretty exciting!  (I know it was because Leanda Cave wished me good luck). And I even got a trophy… as strange as it is….

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My first triathlon trophy… a zebra?!

 

And following Miami Man, Tom and I were inspired to sign up for Leanda Cave’s Triathlon Camp in Florida in February.  Can’t wait!