A tremendous slamming, like the whole world colliding with me. The noise, filling my whole head. Flying. Lying on grass with one arm bent underneath me at a wrong angle. People shouting. “Don’t move, the ambulance is on its way.”image

Saturday’s long brick session ended very early with a hit and run.


I’m ok.



I can’t believe that I am ok.  It all happened so fast. I never saw the car coming. I was pedalling happily, down in aero, riding east along Northlake Boulevard towards the coast.  It’s a big road, but I was in the bike lane. It’s a long straight road. There were no cars pulling out, no turns, nothing to make me wary. I had been working against a fierce wind heading north for the first hour of the ride and was now in a crosswind that allowed my efforts to reflect some speed. I was riding moderately hard and going 34 km/h (just over 21 mph).  I had swum an hour in the dark that morning, got on the bike around 8 and was looking to be on the bike for a solid 6h30 before running for 50 minutes.  It was to be my very last full big brick session before Ironman Florida.

Last year I had a major crash 4 weeks out from Ironman Lanzarote.  That one was caused by bad luck and my own doing – I hit a pothole and lost control and crashed into a tree (read about it here if you’re interested).  This year, it’s just 3 weeks out from Ironman Florida, and it was absolutely not my fault in any way.  That makes it feel worse.

We don’t know what happened.  The driver just drove out of his lane into the bike lane. He clearly didn’t see me.  Witnesses said they watched him crash into me and just keep going.  Nobody got his license plate number.  The impact was hard enough to tear his whole wing mirror off his car. He was going about 50 mph (80 km/h). The police speculated he may have been drunk, he may have been uninsured, he may have been texting. We don’t know.


The wing mirror that ripped off when it collided with my arse


What I do know was everyone else that day was tremendous. The witnesses who stopped to help me, who called an ambulance for me. The paramedics who took care of me – who even let my bike come on the ambulance with me once the police had taken photos for evidence. The nurses and doctors at the hospital, the police who came to the hospital to check on me. Everyone was brilliant.

As I lay on the stretcher in the ambulance, my phone buzzed. A text from my friend Ben. “The wind is bad coming from the north. Hope you’re only riding south today.”  I hesitated. Do I tell her? I didn’t want to worry anybody or be melodramatic. But it had happened. It was real.  I told her.

She and Travis met me at the hospital 7 minutes after I arrived.  7 minutes.  With clean clothes for me because mine had been cut off by the paramedics. Tom arrived not long after. The shock was starting to set in.  Seeing them all there in my room felt like tangible happiness.image

Ben told me that our friend Nancy was also trying to track me down. We eventually learned that she had heard about the crash on Facebook.

I had sent Nancy my planned route the night before. She knew exactly where I was going. She knew it was me although she desperately hoped it wasn’t. She was frantically texting and calling all our mutual friends, not saying why, trying not to scare anybody but trying to find out if I was ok.

And actually, truly, I was.

The Good News

  • I was alive.
  • I didn’t hit my head. Zero head injuries (I will still likely replace my helmet just in case!)
  • X-rays showed no broken bones!
  • When I was hit, I was next to a grass verge, so rather than flying through the air and landing on concrete or asphalt, I landed on grass. I think that made a real difference.

The Bad News

  • Road rash. We aren’t sure if it’s just from the car or whether I somersaulted through the bike lane before ending on the grass, but I have bad road rash on my shoulder and elbow, and also some on my hip and knee. I lost my favourite jersey and shorts – both were burned through and then cut off off by the paramedics.
  • Big puncture wound in my left elbow and very swollen elbow area.
  • Sprained shoulder / rotator cuff issues from landing with the arm at a wrong angle.
  • Severe hematoma on my left arse/hip where the car had direct impact.  Some utterly fantastic colours coming through now….
  • Sprained right ankle, likely from the bike hitting me as I fell.
  • Various bruises of varying degrees of severity all over my knees and calves.

All in all, I got off pretty lightly considering that a car ran me over at 50 mph.

As for the bike, it didn’t come out too badly. Unlike last year’s crash, where the bike frame literally ripped in two, this time I only managed to tear off the left Di2 shifter and there are some compressions on the frame. If I manage to heal in time to race, the bike should be good to go too. If I’m not too scared to get back in the saddle.


So what next?

Ironnman Florida is in 2 weeks, 3 days. I don’t know whether I will make it to the start line. The hospital wanted to send me home on crutches with an air cast, but I said I would rather hobble. I am acutely aware that I am lucky to be alive, to be relatively intact, and that whether or not I’m fit to race is irrelevant when I consider the big picture. Nonetheless, I’ve been training hard for this race for months and I really have put in nearly all the work. It is crushing to miss it after all that.

I’m taking it day by day. My good friends Will and Malogsia are flying in for the race from London, arriving in 10 days – yahoo! And I’m trying to stay positive, moving gently, drinking copious cups of tea and hugging my dog Haile despite his protests.

I am grateful to be alive and to have such caring friends and family who came to visit me in hospital, who brought me homemade cookies, sent me flowers, chocolates, books, made me cups of tea, and who continue to send messages of encouragement and love every day. Thank you all.


Thank you Zoe, Alex, & George for the flowers!

The cooking theme continues!

This past weekend was another massive brick session, and I needed to be sure to power up for it appropriately.  It dawned on me to try two of my own foolproof recipes.  These ones are guaranteed delicious.

Banana Muffins or Banana Breadimage

I have made this banana bread for years, but this time I made the same recipe into muffins in order to have portable food for the bike, and it worked perfectly.  The original recipe comes from A Little Bird with the omission of the booze and sultanas. I save old bananas by popping them into the freezer, and when I have enough I thaw them out and bake ’em.  I should add that the quantities set out below are for one cake or one pan of muffins…. I nearly always double that batch and either freeze the second loaf or give it away, ‘cuz that’s how delicious it is.

175g plain flour (=1 1/2 cups)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

125g unsalted butter (melted, or not – I’ve done both. I also frequently use salted butter. = just over 1/2 cup)

150g sugar  (=2/3 cup)

2 large eggs

around 4 very ripe bananas

30g chopped walnuts (walnuts aren’t my favourite nut, but they work well in this recipe. I’ve also used pistachios in a pinch. = a handful)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 170°C / Gas Mark 3 / 338°F.  Grease up your loaf tin or muffin tin. I’ve used butter for this or olive oil spray.

Spread the walnuts out onto a baking sheet and place them high up in the oven so they toast.  Keep an eye on them; it only takes 4-6 minutes and you don’t want them to burn.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl.  Melted or room-temperature butter makes this much easier.  Add in the eggs and the bananas and mash it all up.

Slowly mix in the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt. Don’t over stir.  Add in the vanilla then stir in the walnuts.  Boom, you’re done.

Pour the mixture into your tin(s) and bake.  If you’re making a loaf, it will take around an hour.  A big loaf may take more time (put a knife into it when you think it might be done. If it comes out clean, you’re good.  Messy, bake some more).  I’ve found that it’s hard to overbake these babies.

If you’re making muffins, around 40 minutes should be enough.

Cool and enjoy.


This recipe does seem to be pretty idiot-proof. I’ve not managed to mess it up yet. However, see those chocolate cookies on the right in the above photo? Don’t they look delicious? Want a closer look?


Don’t be fooled. They were disgusting.  My attempt at gluten free chocolate cookies. Tom and I shared one freshly baked, both made faces and the rest went straight into the bin. Yuck. Epic fail. No, I’m not giving you the recipe.

But I was on a cooking binge. That same evening I also whipped up most delicious carb-loaded trick of all: tortilla española. I learned to make tortilla years ago when I was living in Ireland, taught by my Irish boyfriend Des who had in turn been taught by his Spanish ex-girlfriend.  Thank you, Des – this recipe has proved to be the gift that keeps on giving!


Tortilla Españolaimage

Tortilla to Spaniards is like PB&J to Americans or tea to the Brits – as commonplace as it comes, but always welcome, always delicious. But to be boringly healthy, I’ve changed the oil from the gallons of vegetable oil to much less coconut oil. It makes the tortilla just as moist and you can use way less.

3-5 potatoes, depending on how big you want it to be. If you’re making your first one or if you have a small pan, smaller is definitely more manageable.  I try to make them as big as possible!

a hearty tablespoon of refined coconut oil

around half a cup of frozen peas (other veg can be used too)

4-6 eggs, depending on how much potato you’re working with.

1/2 chopped onion (I buy frozen chopped onion and it’s a great shortcut)

Get the onions gently cooking in the coconut oil in a large frying pan.image

Cut the potatoes into very thin slices. Think dauphinoise type slices. As you cut them up, add them to the onions frying away, until all the potatoes are in the pan.  Keep the heat low and stir occasionally so the bottom potatoes don’t burn and so that the top potatoes get their turn on the hot bottom too.  If you have a lid to your frying pan, putting that on in between stirrings will cook the potatoes through even faster.  You want the potatoes to be cooked through so they are really really soft. This normally takes 15-25 minutes depending on how many potatoes you’ve used.  If at any point you notice the pan going too dry, add a little bit more coconut oil.

If you are using a fresh vegetable, like chopped up asparagus or peppers, add them in with the potatoes to cook. If you’re using the extremely convenient and very tasty frozen peas option, add them in at the end. I find that the peas give a really satisfying pop of moisture and sweetness.image

Crack open your eggs into a large bowl and beat them.  Add a bit of salt and pepper, but don’t overdo it (you can always add more to the cooked product, but you can’t remove it!).  Add in the cooked potato, onion, and miscellaneous veg and stir it up. You can mash it up a bit too with your wooden spoon.  Then pour it all back into your frying pan, still on low heat on your stove top.  Let the mixture settle into the bottom and pat it on top until smooth and press the spoon around the sides to try to bring the mixture into a vague cake-shape.  Leave cooking for maybe 15 minutes or so. I watch for little bubbles appearing at the sides of the tortilla – usually a sign that it’s ready to be flipped.

Flipping sounds scary, but it isn’t. Just place a large plate on top of the tortilla, hold it in place and flip the pan so the tortilla ends up on the plate. Then gently slide it back into the pan to let the other side cook. This side takes less time – maybe 5-10 minutes.

Then stick a plate back on the tortilla and flip it out of the pan again. Presto!  A perfect looking potato “cake”, absolutely delicious and full carbs and protein. I cut a few squares, wrapped them in cling film and stuck them in my jersey pocket for the ride. Delicious. As a main meal, it looks impressive to guests and is a vegetarian (although not vegan) meal.


These foods kept me going strong for the day – a 1 hour swim, 6 hour bike ride, and 50 minute run. Best of all, my friend Molly surprised me by showing up for the run, meeting me at my house, no less. With our chit chat, the run flew by and suddenly I was done for the day – relief! 12 hours later I was back out running at 5:20 am, 2h45 minutes with the Wellington Runners’ Club and feeling surprisingly good. Which I put down to being adequately fuelled from the day before.

This Saturday is my very last mega swim-bike-run session and I’m also racing the Wellington Horse Country 10 Miler on Sunday.  I’m using the term “race” here very loosely as I don’t expect to have much oomph left!

3 weeks 1 day until Ironman Florida! 

What are you training for?

08. October 2015 · Comments Off on More food to go: potato cakes au velo · Categories: embrace the bike, Food

A number of readers were very interested in the baked rice balls I made the other day for my long bike ride from Skratch Labs’ Feed Zone Portables, and I promised to follow up with another recipe.

Last weekend was another big brick session with another mammoth bike ride: 50 min swim, 5 hour bike, 50 min run.  I was dealing with the usual Florida heat issues, but also a massively unpleasant headwind the whole second half of the ride.  I mean, a killer headwind that had me crawling. It was ugly.

In anticipation of yet another long day on the bike, I tried out another recipe from Feed Zone Portables. This time I made mashed potato cakes, and they were really very decent.

Mashed Potato Cakes

1 cup instant potato flakes (I’d never heard of these, but it’s just dehydrated potato and sold in supermarkets, who knew? very easy)

2 tablespoons grated parmesan

1/4 teaspoon tarragon

1 vegetable bouillon cube in 1 1/2 cups hot water

2 eggs, lightly beaten

Optional: 2 tablespoons chopped cooked bacon (I left this out)

Mix potato flakes, parmesan, and tarragon in a bowl.  Add the veg stock, then the eggs and stir quickly until all combined. Batter is somewhat thick and lumpy.

Spoon the batter onto a hot griddle to make small cakes.  Cook 5-6 minutes per side, until golden brown.


These cakes were a winner.  They had the consistency of pancakes on the outside, but when you bit into them, it was still just mashed potato, meaning they were nice and creamy and really easy to swallow while out on the bike, and washed down quickly with a gulp of water. They tasted good – just like a big dollop of mashed potato. They were easy to unwrap and cram into my mouth and they didn’t take up much space in my jersey.

Nutrition per serving

The above recipe says it makes 10-12 cakes, which calculates to 2-3 per serving.  My batch came to 10 cakes, so I went with 2 per serving.

Energy 125 cal  Fat  5g  Sodium 349mg  Carbs 13g  Fiber 1g  Protein 6g  Water  70%

These were a winner!

Tom did the same brick session on Monday. He had mostly conventional energy food on the bike – gels, chews, and bars – but said his stomach was a bit queasy when he finished the bike and was about to start his run. He couldn’t face another gel, but he saw these cakes sitting in the fridge and grabbed two. He stuffed them down before his run, said they tasted good and actually settled his stomach, and then had a great brick run.


A dorky photo at about 50 miles into the brick ride.

Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 13.36.07

My friend Zoe took this photo of graffiti on the Parkland Walk, an amazingly beautiful and somewhat hidden away woodland trail in north London, minutes from our house. It was one of my absolute favourite places to run, with or without Zoe. I remember running by this graffiti and the words sticking in my head.  What would I do if I weren’t afraid?

Zoe posted this photo 115 weeks ago, some 2 years 3 months – around the time that I raced my very first half Ironman, Ironman 70.3 Haugesund, in Norway. That was already a huge leap for me. When I contemplated doing a full Ironman, I thought to myself, it’s not fear holding me back – it’s just common sense. I can’t do an Ironman. That’s not fear, that’s just being rational.

But it stuck in my head. What would I do if I weren’t afraid? What would I do if I weren’t afraid?

I’ve talked about Kathrine Switzer before, the first woman in the world to race a marathon, in my Thanks Paula, Thanks Kathrine post about running the London Marathon this year. Kathrine talks about the fear she felt when the race officials attacked her mid-race, trying to drag her off course:

That was how scared I felt, as well as deeply humiliated, and for just a tiny moment, I wondered if I should step off the course. I did not want to mess up this prestigious race. But the thought was only a flicker. I knew if I quit, nobody would ever believe that women had the capability to run 26-plus miles. If I quit, everybody would say it was a publicity stunt. If I quit, it would set women’s sports back, way back, instead of forward.

Kathrine finished that race, and many more since (in blistering times!), and most recently started up 261 Fearless, an organisation to promote women in sport. The organisation’s describes itself as “a global community of women, be she a walker, jogger, runner, or front of the pack racer, who have found strength, power and fearlessness from putting one foot in front of the other.”

There is no doubt that sport empowers us. A run in the rain is one of the best cures for a bad day at work, in my opinion – allowing you some ownership over your day. Some people take baby steps – I did. I started with a sprint triathlon, then an Olympic, then a half Ironman, and just when I thought I could go no further, I signed up for my first ultramarathon and my first Ironman.  My friend Karis didn’t need baby steps. She went from sprint tri to Ironman in one fell swoop. Some people will never do more than a 5K. The distance doesn’t matter. It’s learning to believe that you can do whatever you decide you want to do that does matter. And you learn this just one step at a time, one run at a time.

I’m not one for inspirational quotes and rah rah cheering. I like to get on with things and get the job done. But I do believe that every single person out there can do it if they believe they can do it, and for that reason I was honoured to be asked to be an ambassador for 261 Fearless to promote women in sport, to empower women through sport.

I now have a couple of ultramarathons under my belt and I’m currently training for my second full Ironman, which takes place in just 5 weeks. Training is really tough. I’m beginning to realise that I just don’t like being out on the bike for so long. Whether I race another Ironman distance after this one or not, however, I will know that the decision is based entirely on choice rather than fear.


Pre-dawn swims, but the pool is much warmer here than in London!


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.


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



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.



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:

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 18.39.29

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.


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.


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