With two weeks to go until the first race in my calendar of the season I started to feel unwell: as if I were on the cusp of developing flu yet not properly ill, maybe I was just tired I thought. I had planned to cycle a lap of the Ironman UK course and it was whilst doing this that my suspicions were correct- I wasn’t well and lacked any power.
I figured that two weeks out from a race there was nothing to worry about- there was plenty of time to develop and overcome a cold or even a virus. I now realise that this was very naive. Hind sight eh?
The following week my coach tweaked my training plan, pulling back the intensity and duration of sessions. The week passed with me completing a couple of short easy sessions and not attempting others. Under the advice of the pharmacist, on the Friday of that week, I took some cold and flu medication and enjoyed a brief improvement in symptoms which allowed me to swim and believe that the possibility of me racing was quite good. I went to bed that evening and slept solidly, yet when I woke up I felt slightly odd.
I had planned to go out on my bike to test how I was feeling and also to give me confidence for the race the following weekend. I knew I was physically ready for the race and the hard work was done but being ill had started to make me doubt my ability. I tried to picture the 15 mile loop I had mapped out but couldn’t get past the next village. I struggled to remember where I was supposed to be going. Now most people who know me will know that this can just be me; spatially challenged. One of my friends is literally a human Sat-Nav; I’m more of a blinkered donkey. So being unable to recall the route was frustrating but I knew once out I’d be fine and I didn’t think much of it. So off I went on my bike, a steady 15 miles, followed by a hard 15 and finally an easy 15. When I got home I realized how dizzy I was and that I couldn’t mentally add 48 and 46 together – I felt drunk. I had been significantly affected by the cold and flu meds. I decided not to take anymore. I began to feel slightly worse again but was still pretty blasé about the race – OK I’d have to reassess my goals and would probably not be able to push as hard, but it was only a half ironman wasn’t it!?
The following week saw no improvement in my health and the race became relegated to a training experience, that was if I felt well enough to do it. On Wednesday my case was packed and I had been trying to sleep whenever I could in the hope that the extra rest would see me shake off the lurgy. I planned to complete the swim (my first race sea swim), take the bike pretty easy and see how the run went. Alternatively if I felt worse I would be cheering on my friends. Easy, I thought.
A few hours before I was due to leave my youngest son fell and broke his arm. There followed a tense few hours of deciding what to do. It transpired that it wasn’t a clean break and that he would need surgery and an overnight hospital stay- I would not be going to Mallorca. I reasoned that this was fate and unpacked my case, emailed my coach and spent a sleepless night worrying about my son.
The following day, out of surgery and home we discussed whether I should still go to Mallorca. The consensus from my sons and husband was yes. I booked another flight and tore around throwing things into a case. I was tired, nervous and too wired to think about the implications of this very clearly.
Arriving in Mallorca I was tired but running on nervous energy. I checked my bike, registered, swam and racked before trying to get my head down for a good night’s sleep. It never came. I lay wondering if my son was OK, whether I should have left him, whether I was ready, whether trying to get around was a good idea.
Race morning came I was nervously excited but confident that at the very least the swim would go well. I started at the back, partly because I figured that not feeling 100% this was a better option as I wouldn’t be swum over, and partly because I didn’t believe that I belonged at the front. As it happens this was a mistake, it took me what seemed like an age to get far enough in to the water to start swimming and when I did I was packed in tight like a sardine. People in front weren’t moving fast enough for me to get through and I refuse to swim over anyone. There is never any need in my opinion to behave as though you have sole right to the water. I began to feel anxious, I wasn’t enjoying the barrage of flailing limbs and I needed space. I knew I was anxious because I was tired and unwell, telling myself this worked and it quickly passed. By 300m people were thinning out and I made a bee line to swim tight against the buoys where it was less crowded. I stopped by one to have a major coughing fit and coughed up the contents of my lungs – pretty grim but at least I could breathe easier. I swam slowly but with purpose, knowing that I couldn’t risk overdoing it, so I was overjoyed to realise I had not been quite as slow as I was imagining. Job done!
I made my way to transition, fairly hard work- one of my friends supporting noted that I didn’t look happy and wasn’t really running. I couldn’t. I told myself I’d be fine once in my bike, I could settle into a rhythm and just spin along. I grabbed my bike, put my helmet on and noticed a couple of the visor magnets that I had re-glued the previous day, had fallen off. I figured the visor would either stay on or fly off – nothing I could do about it and I put it out of my mind. As I mounted my bike I caught the bottle lid on my rear cage mount, it flew completely off, which I thought was odd as I’d filled them only a few hour’s before in the apartment and brought down to my racked bike. I reached behind to have a drink only to find there was no water. It was completely empty. I knew it was full earlier and that the lid had been on tight- someone must have forgotten their drink and borrowed mine?
As I approached the climb I noticed my aero bars were loose and had dropped. Over the next 3 miles they became so loose that I was constantly pulling them back up from almost vertical to horizontal. I needed to stop and tighten them, the only problem was that I was now well into the climb. I decided to risk it and get to a place where the climb gave out to more of a gentle slope before I hopped off and fixed them.
The bike course is beautiful, some fast downhills and technical descents and some very fast flat sections. I was enjoying the bike but was definitely not pushing as hard as I usually would, being mindful that I had a run to do and was probably in no fit state. This was confirmed when 9 miles out from the bike finish and on a fairly fast section; I began mentally ticking off the miles. I wanted off and I wanted it to be over. I tried pushing the negative thoughts away, telling myself I would sail easily through the run, the problem was I knew I was kidding myself.
Onto the run, I set off at a relaxed easy pace which lasted all of 3 miles before I knew I was definitely in trouble. I would like to blame it on the heat, but I’ve raced in hotter and for longer, I felt ‘unfit’ as I struggled to breathe easily or move forwards. I knew it was because my body was not coping with what I was asking it to do and yet I began to doubt myself. Why was I unable to pick up the pace? Was I simply not a very good athlete? I passed one of my best friends 3 times, each time the temptation to stop and give up got stronger. I wasn’t having a good race, I wasn’t going to get the time I wanted, I wasn’t sure why I was there…. and then I had a word with myself – I knew all of that when I had started, that I had decided to just get around and use it as a training experience, that I had left my darling boy with a broken arm to do this and I would get that medal for him. So that’s what I did.
So what did I learn from all of this:
1. Rest and rest some more. The temptation to push on when I am bordering unwell is huge. I am not good at doing nothing and am still learning when doing nothing is more beneficial than doing something
2. I am not good at compromising on my goals and getting around a half ironman which was supposed to be one of my significant races took a lot of flexibility mentally. I am still working out whether getting around a race is helpful to me mentally when my initial aim is to go all out. Initially I struggled with my performance and tormented myself, even though I knew I hadn’t given 100% and stuck to my revised goals,I wondered if I could do another Ironman. A day later, with some objectivity thrown in I know I can.
3. I need my own space to get my head together before a race and cancelling my plans and then deciding last minute to do the race wasn’t great prep for me. But I did manage ok – better than I had given myself credit for.
4. I can swim in the sea and enjoy it!!! This was one of my main revised race goals and I’m happy that along with the others I got this one done.
I loved the race, I will definitely be back to ‘race’ it and do it properly. Would I race it again if I wasn’t well? No, been there, done that. But that’s not to say that I wouldn’t risk it again for another race…Never say never!
‘Do not fear mistakes. There are none.’ – Miles Davis