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Finishing my first ever triathlon, the Nuffield Health Tri Challenge sprint at Eton Dorney Lake

I love racing. From the moment I finished my first race, a sprint triathlon at Eton Dorney Lake, I wanted that feeling again, and again, and again. I love pushing myself and I just love the ambience at races. The feeling of everyone coming together to do the same thing, the nervous tension, the fun, the effort involved from the person sprinting across the finish in first place to the person walking across the finish line last.

 

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It’s not always about going fast. I just love to take part, even when I am not racing.  Which is why I did a couple of races while pregnant, my last one a 5K at 30 weeks.  I like looking for a challenge in any circumstances. Racing while pregnant was great because I had a very visible excuse as to why I was slow. I had so many people waving at me and telling me how wonderful it was that I was out there.

 

 

Post-partum, it’s a different story.  I don’t have anything on me that tells the random bystander “Hey, I just had a baby, cut me some slack!“, but really the only person who needs to know that I need that slack is myself.

2014

This past weekend I ran the Wellington 10 Miler & Sebastian’s 5K (I only did the 5K!) as my very first race since having Eva 11 weeks ago. This race holds a special place in my heart.  When Tom and I first moved to Wellington two years ago, we noticed signs up in our neighbourhood stating that a race would be held on the roads that weekend.  I immediately investigated further and discovered that the Wellington Runners Club was holding its annual race. Clearly a perfect introduction to our new home – I entered it immediately.

Three days after moving countries and continents, I lined up at the start of the 10 mile course. I had never run a 10 mile race before so wasn’t sure how to pace it.  2014 was a huge year for me – I had come off of many endurance events, including Ironman Lanzarote, the Anglesey Ultramarathon, the London Marathon, the Sierra Leone Marathon, and the SVP100, a 100km ultra marathon. I hadn’t done any speed workouts since the Ironman in May. But, as I’ve already stated, I love to race and I definitely wasn’t going to miss a race in my new neighbourhood.

At the start of the 2014 race

At the start of the 2014 race and 20 lbs lighter!

Unsurprisingly, I went out too fast. I wasn’t used to the Florida heat, I wasn’t really trained for speed, and by mile 7 I was losing ground. I was overtaken by a girl with long dark hair in a plait who ran a very steady pace. I finished 5th woman, and as I gasped at the finish line, I saw the girl again and congratulated her on much smarter running that I had done.  She was wearing a Wellington Runners Club vest and she told me about the club and invited me to the track workouts. That girl was Benjamine.

Meeting Ben immediately brought us into the inner folds of Palm Beach County’s running community. I joined the club and started running the track sessions to try to find some speed again. Ben and I were almost perfectly paced for each other and ended up training for our spring marathons together (London for me, Boston for her). We also ran the Leadville Marathon in Colorado together, along with our husbands Tom and Travis, went skiing,  and spent hours running through swamps all last summer preparing for our respective ultra marathons (Laugavegur in Iceland for us, Trans-Alps for them). We also ran many other local races together, from half marathons to 5Ks to triathlons. Sometimes she beat me, sometimes I beat her, but we always had fun and enjoyed a big brunch afterwards with our men.

2016

Last year I was all set to run the Wellington 10 Miler again when I was hit by the car the day before the race. I didn’t make it to the start line. This year, at 11 weeks postpartum, I wasn’t ready for the 10 Miler, but the 5K looked like a perfect goal.  I’d been back running (or should I say jogging) for around 4 weeks, although hardly anything much – 1.5 to 3 miles max, 3 times a week, plus swimming and daily core exercises. A small slow start, as it should be. Returning to running after a baby is no joke. It’s almost like starting over as a complete beginner, except your brain is light years ahead of your body and gets frustrated that the body can’t keep up. It’s okay to be slow right now. It’s okay to need to take walk breaks. This is normal. This is what I keep telling myself.

My friend Carly – who is 14 weeks pregnant –  was running with her two young girls in her double pram. I think we calculated at one point that the total weight she pushes is well over 100lbs?! She is a hell of a runner. So with her triple handicap, we ran together for the first three kilometres and chatted pregnancy, birth, sport, babies. We kept a nice steady pace and she was the perfect companion to stop me from getting ahead of myself.

[Side note: Carly ran hill repeats while in labour. She was the inspiration behind my 5K run after my waters broke.]

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Carly, Travis and Ben, with Molly and Skylar in the pram. Molly was very upset she wasn’t being allowed out to run the race herself.

With two kilometres to go, and Carly being blocked by her wide-load pram from overtaking runners in front, I said goodbye and tried to find any remnants of speed in my legs, heart, lungs. There wasn’t much, but I managed to get to my old marathon pace (!) and finished with a sprint when another lady tried to overtake me.

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Ben won it.

Just like any other race, I had to sit down gasping at the finish line. My goal for the race had been to beat my 30 week pregnant 5K time of 26:59, and I succeeded with 25:37. Not a time I would be proud of normally, but at 11 weeks postpartum I was pleased.

Also, most of the faster runners tend to run the 10 Miler rather than the 5K, so it also meant I won my age group and received a handy pint glass for it. Ben was jealous. She and her husband only got trophies for first woman and first masters…!

With Jen Leeds, the head off the Wellington Runners Club, the race director, and overall just an amazing person

With Jen Leeds, the head off the Wellington Runners Club, the race director, and overall just an amazing person

I have a long way to go on the road back to fitness, but I loved being back on the running scene, back in the race, and yes, as embarrassing as it is to say it, back on the occasional podium.

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This is New

I’ve done a lot of running races and triathlons in the last 4 years. This was my first time having to figure out how to do it with the complexities of a small baby. Here is how it worked out:

  • Tom wanted to run the 10 miler, and I wanted to run the 5K. Someone had to watch Eva.  I won. Tom had to stay home with the baby. This does make me sad. I especially love racing with him.
  • I had to feed Eva before the race. Eva is starting to sleep through the night. She WAS sleeping through the night before the race. I had to wake her at 5am to feed.  Do you have any idea how wrong it is to WAKE an 11 week old baby who is sleeping through the night?! WRONG!!!
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Waking the sleeping baby at 5am. NOT COOL.

  • I had to figure out running with boobs filled with milk. Needless to say, this was not something I ever had to think of before. 1) Empty them as close to run time as possible. 2) Wear the most supportive bra you own even though it chafes terribly. 3) Scream when you have a shower afterwards and the water hits your raw chafed back.
  • Remember to wear black. Because I’ve read enough blogs about leaking milk and leaking wee when running postpartum. Neither happened, thankfully. But better to be prepared….
  • I wasn’t sure if I had time to stay for the awards ceremony or if I had to rush back to feed Eva again. Tom confirmed – she remained asleep and I stuck around for my pint glass.

 

I’ve been touched by the outpouring of congratulations and support after my Pregnant Pause post last week. I was in Canada for a short visit with my parents / escape from Florida heat and unsurprisingly I discovered that I could run much better in the cooler temperatures.

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The half marathon in 2013

I enjoyed a couple of cooler runs (16-19° C/ 61-66° F) at the cottage, including a mighty 9 km (5.6 miles) which is the longest run I’ve managed to do since I think about 21 weeks of pregnancy. I felt good!  I felt great! So what to do but enter a race over the weekend? Of course!

Tom and I ran the Toronto Women’s Half Marathon in 2013 when visiting Toronto for our friends’ wedding. It was conveniently the same weekend that we were in town and it takes place every year in Sunnybrook Park, which is very near to where my parents live.

So I was pleased to discover that I happened to be in Toronto yet again for the event. Now, don’t think I’m so foolish or crazy to try to jump to a half marathon at 30 weeks’ pregnant after doing one 9km run… no, but they offer a 5K too!

So I entered.

Cue the heat wave!

Forget the ideal running temperatures of the previous mornings. By the weekend, it was hitting highs of 32°C/90°F. I was lucky enough to be coming from a hot place with plenty of heat acclimatisation, but all the runners here were training over a cold winter and it actually snowed just two weeks ago.  From snow to sweltering!

My father had kindly accompanied me to the race, and we had nearly a mile hike on steep trails from the car park to the start of the race. My heart rate was already far too high. When we got to the start, I jogged a 1 km warm up and my heart rate was hitting 180 (that’s nearly exploding, if numbers are less meaningful to you). I thought, well, it was a nice try, but today is not going to be my day.  Oh well, let’s jog it and see….

Meanwhile the half marathon was shortened to a 12km race in an effort to prevent people from fainting on course. Always a good sign!

I started at the very back of the first corral. Pregnant running is very strange… you just can’t have any expectations. Some days I don’t make it to 500m before I have to walk. Other days, I feel great. What would it be today? Especially in the unexpected heat?

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I won’t bore you with a blow by blow of a slow 5K, but I surprised myself, staying even paced and slowly overtaking the overly keen runners in front of me. I had to take two short walk breaks to get my heart rate down from the heavens (190s), especially after a couple of the little hills, and I grabbed the proffered water that I would normally fly by on a regular day. I did ignore the chocolate station…yes, they have a chocolate station, all melting oozy in the heat, I am sure.

I had lots of support on course from other runners, including the winning lady as she streaked by me after the turnaround point. And lots of looks of outright surprised looks!

2016-05-29 | 2016 Toronto Womens Half Marathon and 5K

And there it was, the finishing arch! I had made it through, and in a better time than I had expected, given the heat (uh and the bump), 26:59.  I was aiming for under 30 min and felt like I’d given it the best shot that I could.

2016-05-29 | 2016 Toronto Womens Half Marathon and 5K

imageI was surprised and pleased to find out that I actually finished 7th in my age group out of 111 people, and 62nd overall out of 772 runners.

imageMy poor father looked slightly worried as I collapsed onto the grass after the race, catching my breath. “Are you feeling okay?” he asked. I had to explain that this was my typical posture after any 5K race and had nothing to do with pregnancy!

I hope to keep running for as long as I can, IF I can. And now that I’ve resigned myself not to care about finishing times, well, I might just keep an eye out for another 5K race in the next few weeks…..

I know some people don’t approve at all of my running/cycling at this stage, but more and more, doctors are saying that exercise during pregnancy is only a good thing:

  • This study showed that female mice who exercised during pregnancy were more likely to have offspring who actively sought out exercise. Where exercise-loving mice were prevented from carrying out exercise during pregnancy, their offspring did not show a love for exercise.

 

  • On Monday, the BBC published this article debunking myths that women shouldn’t exercise during pregnancy, stating, “For a long time exercise was simply thought to conflict with a woman’s reproductive ability. The roots of this feeling were unscientific, and more to do with gender roles than with the health of mother or baby.”

 

  • A number of elite athletes have continued to train throughout pregnancy with amazing results, including most recently: Stephanie Bruce (who ran an Olympic standard 10K just 6 months post-partum, yes, that’s a 32 minute 10K – read her blog about it here); Julia Webb; and Alysia Montaño (made famous in non-running circles for this EPIC photo of her racing 800m on the track at 8 months pregnant).  And of course the fact that Jo Pavey won the gold medal at the European Games for the 10K at 40 years old 10 months after giving birth.

 

  • There is some evidence that women can become even faster and stronger after giving birth.  For example,  Paula Radcliffe‘s unbeaten world record for the women’s marathon (still standing since 2003!) of 2:15:25 was set 3 years after the birth of her second child, or again Jo Pavey as above.

Of course lots of women would like to be active during their pregnancies, but can’t, due to various complications or even just plain and simple pain and discomfort. I’ve had to dip in and out of it myself due to the latter so I certainly sympathise with those who are experiencing more limited options. I consider every run I do now to be savoured and appreciated, as I never know which run might be my last! This morning’s 6km jog was a complete disaster!

 

I walked out towards the ocean. We had pumped our tyres and filled our water bottles in transition in the dark, scurried to the transition bags to put our last-minute items away while the loudspeakers brayed with a countdown to head to the beach for the swim start. I reluctantly took off my sweatshirt, my flip flops, and awaited a shiver in my tri shorts and sports bra, all that I was going to be wearing for the swim. But the air was already hot.  Somehow you don’t notice the moment between dark and light when you’re occupied with a thousand thoughts. We had gone from the harsh glow of head lamps flashing in our eyes to a calm and underwhelming sunrise.

The ocean had its own surprises. Yesterday it has been a tranquil dozing beast. Today it had shaken off its stupor and the surf was crashing down, lashing out in mock fury at the nearly 3000 swimmers lined up on the beach. And it was a non-wetsuit swim due to the unusually warm sea temperatures.

Tom, Will and I ran into the waves for a quick wetting and warm-up before the official start. The ocean wasn’t playing nice. I fought my way out for less than a minute before heading back to shore. The swim is normally my best discipline of the three. I knew today’s swim wasn’t going to be good. It also didn’t help that I hadn’t done any swimming since the morning of the hit & run three weeks earlier. Never mind. It wasn’t the moment for doubts. I had had ample reason and opportunity to pull out of this Ironman, but by now I knew I was doing it, whatever the day would bring.

We squeezed our way into the starting queue. We were immediately absorbed by over a thousand hot bodies, naked skin against skin, smooth skulls in bathing caps and goggles hanging around necks, people anxiously glancing at their watches counting down until the start, the whole lot squeezing, pulsing, moving towards the start. At 6:15, the crush burst over the timing mats and we threw ourselves into the sea.

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With thanks to Kris Swarthout and Nick Morales for this photo of Ironman Florida 2015 swim start

And so Ironman Florida began.

I think it’s fair to say that Ironman training had begun once we had completed Iceland’s Laugavegur Ultra Marathon on 17 July (best race I’ve ever done, by the way – see here for some spectacular photos). We had a week off after the ultra, and I had 3 weeks off after my crash, so that left 15 weeks of training for the Ironman. In that time, I:

  • swam for 26 hours – 70 km / 44 miles in the pool and/or ocean
  • cycled for over 76 hours – 2187 km / 1359 miles
  • ran for over 48 hours – 471 km / 293 miles

Many people will have done a whole lot more to prepare, but nonetheless it was a significant time commitment and effort, and originally I had hopes for a good race. Then, stuff happened:

  1. I got hit by a car. Yeah yeah, you’re sick of me saying that by now. 3 weeks off pre-race and nursing injuries and wounds is not really ideal, though.
  2. It was too bloody hot so it was a non-wetsuit swim. For any non-triathletes reading this, wetsuits are like body-sized life preservers. They give you free buoyancy, free glide, free speed.  Most swimmers are significantly faster in a wetsuit than without one. No, it’s not cheating because in most triathlons, wetsuits are mandatory so every single person has that same advantage.
  3. And…. I got completely decked by the surf going in for my second lap and I lost my goggles.  Yes, lost my goggles!

Swim: 3.8 km / 2.4 miles – 1:26

My first lap was uneventful. There was the usual scrum of bodies kicking, hitting, punching, and trying to get through the surf took a while and lots of diving under the big waves, and then once we were out there was a pretty strong current dragging us off course if we weren’t sighting the buoys consistently. But overall I just kept it steady and made my way around and didn’t really worry. Swimming is normally my thing.

As I came out onto the beach after my first lap, I heard our friend Dave the announcer saying that huge numbers of people were losing goggles. I thought to myself as I ran back into the sea, what would I do if that happened?

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A swimmer heads back out for the second lap, with thanks to Nick Morales

It was even rougher heading into lap 2. I had made my way out maybe some 300m, diving under the big waves, when I saw a huge one coming. I am comfortable in the sea, I am a strong swimmer, waves don’t scare me. I dived underneath, but it was no use – it slammed me to the ground, tumbled me upside down, dragged me to the side. For the moment, the race was forgotten and it was just the moment of staying calm and not fighting the drag until I could make my way to the surface. And then I came up sputtering, feeling for my head, knowing already that my goggles were gone. I saw a glimpse of them in the swirl of the opaque water but as I lunged for them, another swimmer thrashed over top of them and then both the swimmer and the goggles were gone.  I felt around blindly. I was being dragged further out to the side into the bigger and bigger surf and I knew I couldn’t do another whole lap without goggles.  For a brief moment, I wondered whether this race was just not to be. I could end it now. Swim to shore, walk to transition and turn in my chip. It was just too much after everything else that had happened.

But I knew I wouldn’t do that.

I fought my way out of the water. The big surf kept dragging me back every time the waves rolled in, and so it took me ages to get back to the beach. I ran along shouting “goggles!” and – bless her, bless her, bless her – a woman reached into her bag and threw a pair in my direction. I have a terrible time getting goggles to fit my face at the best of times so I made these as tight as they would go and crashed back out into the water for my second lap. While I was utterly grateful to this unknown woman for allowing me to continue the race, these new goggles were terrible. They were tiny and dark and foggy and they pinched and hurt. I couldn’t see a swimmer next to me until they thwacked me and I definitely couldn’t see the buoys to sight properly. But don’t mistake this for a complaint, because those goggles got me around when I would have been a DNF (“Did Not Finish”).

I finished the swim in 1:26. In absolutely ideal conditions (never count on those!) – that is, no accident, wetsuit swim, calm waters – I would have hoped for 1:00 to 1:05. This was the slowest swim I’d ever done in any triathlon. Oh well. I reckon I lost 10 minutes to the goggles incident. In reality, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I was 36th out of the water in my age group out of 126. I reckon if I hadn’t lost my goggles, I would have been top 10. Tant pis.

T1: 12:14

I’m slow in transition at the best of times. This was the worst of times. We had a long run up from the beach (600m according to Tom’s Garmin, or nearly half a mile) and into a hotel ballroom. The volunteers were excellent. One grabbed me and proceeded to help me – yes, don’t laugh – wash the salt out of my wounds, clean them up, cover them in vaseline (she barked as she dabbed her fingers into a giant tub – “you don’t have any blood born illnesses, do you?” – and then she wrapped me up with my assortment of sticky burn windows and bandages. Then she helped me get my compression sleeves over the wounds (important to keep the bandages on, the wounds clean and the sun off of everything), calf sleeves on my legs for yet more sun protection, my sleeved-top over it all, sprayed the remaining showing skin with sunscreen and filled my pockets with my food for the bike. She was superb. I wouldn’t mind having her dress me every day. Without her, I expect my 12 minute transition time could have been closer to 20.

Bike: 180.2 km / 112 miles – 6:22

IMG_0529The bike remains my weakest discipline of the 3. Unlike my first Ironman, Ironman Lanzarote, this time I didn’t have any fears about actually making it around the course, but this almost entirely flat course had some of its own challenges.  The wind is always an issue in Florida, because it is so flat – there is nothing to stop it as it comes blowing in, whistling through the flat land and giant clear-cut roads. The forecast that morning showed that we would start with a headwind, and then end with one too, because the wind would change direction during the course of the day, so that was fun – a headwind for most of the ride. That said, it wasn’t a terribly strong wind so it really could have been much worse. The course is, quite frankly, dull. There was one wooded section early on that looked like it had some nice trails, and I thought, ooh, trail running, that sounds like much more fun. Otherwise it was black or grey tarmac ahead, white lines, avoiding cars, avoiding cyclists, eat, drink, pedal pedal, don’t think about the painful hip, don’t think about the painful elbow and hands, just pedal. For over six hours.

My one major criticism of Ironman Florida was that much of the bike course was on open roads. That is to say, roads fully open to cars, trucks, motorbikes etc. Every other triathlon I have ever done has been mostly closed roads, with just the occasional local vehicle going by. No, this was full on heavy traffic and given that I was hit by a car for no good reason at all 3 weeks previously, that did make me nervous. Especially since the shoulder was full of cyclists in race mode, overtaking while big trucks thundered by. I emphatically did not enjoy those big roads in any way.

My ride was uneventful. The road lay ahead, long straight sections. It was hot but overcast. We had 5 minutes of rain late into the ride.  I tried hard to eat on schedule, as per all the long training rides I’d done – alternating between Clif bars and Honey Stinger Waffles every hour, and drinking my bottles of Scratch Labs. I stopped at a couple of aid stations for water and bananas, I stopped three times to pee, had to queue once for the loo, and otherwise I plugged away for 112 miles. The puncture wound on my elbow made going into aero position very painful so I mostly stayed upright the whole time, very uncomfortable on a tri bike. I reckon I got down into aero maybe 30% of the time. Enough for one photographer to snap a photo, at least.

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Pre-crash, my goal for the bike was around 5:50-6:00.  I still had pain in my left hip when I pedalled, aero position meant full weight on an open puncture wound, and I’d had nearly 3 weeks of no cycling.  I was not unhappy with 6:22.  I came off the bike 42nd in my age group.

T2: 8:45

Another painfully slow transition. I changed socks. I re-applied sunscreen. I swapped out uneaten food for gels. I took 2 ibuprofen for my hip. I ate a gel. I blow dried my hair. Ok, not quite.

Run: 42.2 km / 26.2 miles – 4:32

IMG_0442I didn’t know how well my hip would hold up for the run. I also think it hurt me a lot to have essentially 3 weeks off running prior to the race. But it was what it was, and I was going to make the best of it, at whatever pace I could manage. My plan was to walk the aid stations for no more than 30 seconds, and otherwise to maintain a steady if not fast run. And that actually worked out pretty well. The only time I didn’t run outside of an aid station was just before mile 19 when I stopped to vomit 5 times. Yeah, that wasn’t so good.  My stomach was happy on the bike and for the first 10K running, but I am generally not great with gels and despite practicing with them, my stomach still started rebelling after the first hour. I stopped for the loo a few times but nothing helped… the stomach was just getting worse and worse until finally I vomited, when I then felt much better, and decided I would have to continue from that point onwards taking on no more nutrition. Just water and a little bit of coke (in retrospect, I should have had a lot more coke). And here is a dirty secret. Not long after the vomiting episode, I came to an aid station where they were offering chicken broth. I’ve been vegetarian for around 3 years but at that moment I needed to get something down me, something salty, not sweet.  I took that paper cup and I downed it in three gulps and it was absolutely delicious.

It was unseasonably hot. But it was a cloudy day and that helped enormously. I put ice in my cap at every aid station, poured ice water over myself, and stuffed sponges down my front and back in an effort to keep cool. It seemed to work – I never suffered from heart rate drift like I so often did on the super hot long brick days I did in training. This was not my best day running, by any means, but I kept moving, was consistent, and I overtook 598 people on the run course.  Pre-accident, I was looking to run 3:45 to 4:00 for the marathon; on the day, I ran 4:32. Again, I wasn’t unhappy with my result considering the circumstances.

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The run course is two laps, and it gets dark very early in Panama City – sunset was 5:15, I believe, which meant that you had to finish within 11 hours to finish in daylight. Once the sun had gone, the course was dark, as in properly dark, couldn’t see where you were putting your feet type dark, which I hadn’t expected. But I’ve done a lot of very early morning training runs before sunrise so I’m not unused to running semi-blind, and at plodding speed you don’t risk tripping up quite so much. Before long I was on the home stretch, stomach still in a bloated knot, legs barely lifting but still running until the end. The red mats of the finish line stretch came up sooner than I had expected (who says that in an Ironman?!) and then it was all over. As I crossed the finish line, the loudspeakers boomed with announcer Dave’s voice,

You are an Ironman, Julia. Major car accident, hit on her bike 3 or 4 weeks ago. Way to go Julia. Brain power trumps body power.

Total time: 12:41:57

I finished 27th in my age group, 125th woman and 670th overall out of around 2980.

This was my second Ironman. I’m not in love with the distance, but I haven’t decided whether I’m done with it yet or not. I also have had major bike crashes weeks out from both Ironmans. It would be kind of nice to see what I could do if I weren’t nursing injuries or forced to take time off to convalesce.  My original goal for this Ironman was 11:10-11:45, and I reckon it was not unreasonable if things had gone right. But I’m not sure I need to chase that goal any further – does a number really matter? Maybe I will move on to new and different challenges. I’m still taking it a day a  time.  It’s two weeks post-Ironman right now and my hip still hurts to walk or run, so I have been focusing on yoga and having a harsh reminder that being fit to swim/bike/run means nothing once you enter a yoga studio!

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This was Part II of my Race Report. You can read Part I here.

After being hit by a car while out cycling just 3 weeks out from Ironman Florida, I didn’t expect to be able to race Ironman Florida. I was thankful to be alive, to be mostly in one piece, but I was also extremely bruised, swollen, and bloodied.  I could barely walk – surely it was ridiculous to put any more thoughts towards the Ironman.

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But I am stubborn, and I didn’t want to give up yet. I said I would take it day by day and make no decisions until the day, and that’s what I did.  After 4 days of complete rest, I started seeing an excellent physio, Hillary Hamer, herself a strong triathlete and ultra runner so she knew where I was coming from and she didn’t flinch when I said that I still had hopes of making it to the start line.

Instead, Hillary put me to work, forcing me raise my left arm above my head – a move that I had tried to avoid since the crash, due to road rash all over my shoulder and a deep puncture wound on my elbow, and just general hurt.  She made me do hip and glute strengthening exercises despite the massive bruising (or rather, because of it), she made me use all the things that were hurting rather than continuing to baby them, and she ultrasounded, massaged, iced and taped all my bruised and swollen bits.  My bum – where I was hit directly by the car – was just a black and purple mess of bruising.

The irony was that I had gone through all this last year – when I crashed my bike just four weeks out from Ironman Lanzarote.  This time I had one week fewer and more serious injuries (last year I had severe bruising but no road rash or open wounds), but it seems I’ve got the recovery routine down pretty well – unfortunately! After a week of rest, icing, and phyio, Tom set up my bike in the living room on the turbo trainer and on I climbed for my first 30 minutes of cardio.  My bruised hip/glute hurt with every pedal stroke. But I was told that as long as the pain was not intolerable, it wasn’t a bad thing.

imageThe next day I did an hour on the turbo trainer, just easy spinning.  Same pain, no worse, no better. I thought to myself – I can handle this. What was more worrying was the puncture wound on my elbow, which was directly where I would put my full weight onto the aero bars in a race.  But again, take it a day at a time, make no decisions.  10 days after the crash, I rode my bike outside again for the first time, with my friend Nancy.  Nancy had also suffered a terrible bike crash this summer, and after extensive surgery and physio it was also her first time back on the bike outside. We were a sorry pair and a great team.  My bruised hip/bum still hurt, but no worse than before.

And then it was time to run. It didn’t matter at all if I could cycle if I couldn’t run.  And so after nearly 2 weeks of convalescence, I did my first 30 min jog.  Same old story – it was painful but it was manageable. And although it looked nasty and was very sore to the touch, my bruised ankle didn’t seem to mind jogging.

And so the week of Ironman was upon us.  I had done a couple of gentle rides and a few short trots.  No swimming, so that my wounds could continue to heal. My friend Will had flown all the way from London with his fiancée Malgosia to race with Tom and me. We had been planning for over a year to race this Ironman together.

My options:

  1. Do Ironman Florida, knowing it would be a sub-par race, given injury and extended time off.
  2. Skip Ironman Florida, and do Ironman Cozumel instead (3 weeks later).
  3. Forget about Ironman this year.

I discussed these options with Tom and friends ad nauseam (sorry guys).  And although really options 2 and 3 were the more logical choices, I was still keen on doing Ironman Florida, providing I wasn’t going to do any long-term damage to my body.  The visible bruising was gone, but I was still very sore and with limited range of movement. I didn’t mind if my time was slower than I had originally been training for. I wanted to do the Ironman.  To do, not to race.

IMG_0385We made the 8 hour drive up to Panama City on Wednesday. I packed as if I were racing, although I still wasn’t certain I would be. Every day counted as another day for my injuries to heal. We bought yet more expensive bandages for my wounds for the race. We went to the expo.  And as I stood in line to register, I thought, that’s it – once I pick up my bib packet, it looks like I’m doing it. I still hadn’t made a definitive decision, although “yes” was the likely answer. Despite injury and nearly 3 weeks off everything… I wanted to swim, to bike, to run.

Nancy texted me that night, asking how I was feeling. I told her – nervous and unsure. She told me to do a headstand to drain the boogiemen out of my brain. I liked her way of thought, so I did what she said.  She was right. It helped.

We racked our bikes the next day. My bike, racked. This race was looking pretty likely. But until my timing chip on my ankle passed over the starting line, I could still pull out. Meanwhile, we were hearing more and more mutterings that the swim was going to be non-wetsuit legal, something which made my situation even more complicated with a slew of bandages to put on my still-open wounds in transition.

I didn’t get much sleep that night. Was I being foolish to race – or melodramatic not to race? Was I being too hard on myself – or at risk of being too easy on myself?

 

My Race Report is continued HERE.

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