*** many thanks to Amanda Borlotti for this race report ***
My story begins six months ago, when planning a holiday in Phuket to watch some friends race in the 70.3 Laguna Phuket. Julie, an awesome runner and ironman, remarked how much more fun the after party would be if I were wearing a medal myself. I knew she was right, and the next day I insanely signed up for the race. Insane, because I had only owned my road bike for around a month and could barely swim front crawl. My background is running, but I am only an average runner at best. Yet there I was, with the race just twenty weeks away – stupid, moi?! Yes, maybe - I clearly like a challenge!
So, I found myself a training program online, and with the help of Simon Marshall, I launched myself in. I found it tough, to find the time and energy – the commitment was huge and resulted in a total lack of social life, but I never gave up. Several weeks into the program my good friend Jon also decided to sign up for the race, and being a fellow novice we set about training together. I live in Abu Dhabi, but spent most weekends driving up to Dubai to cycle at Ghantoot or Al Qudra at some ungodly dark hour, and we ran along the beach, and swam amongst the jelly fish. I think we only missed one long cycle during the twenty weeks, but there were times when I really battled with why on earth I was doing this – ‘was it really worth it’ I kept asking myself?
And having now completed the race, I can whole heartedly say ‘yes, it was worth it’! I haven’t stopped grinning ever since – I’m wondering when I’ll come down from the post race high!
So here’s how the race itself panned out..........
We arrived in Phuket a few days early, to familiarise ourselves with the course and get used to the time difference and heat. I don’t think we were prepared for how hot and humid it would be, despite coming from the UAE, and when we drove the bike course we realised we certainly hadn’t prepared ourselves fully for the hills – OMG! We mostly rested, apart from a 15/15/15 session to loosen everything up – and to check our bikes were fully functional after having been put back together by Jon – and they were, thanks Jon!
The day before we registered, sorted out our transition bags, checked our bikes in and attended the race briefing. Which added a whole new layer of terror to my ever growing panic. I won’t lie, I was scared stiff and once again had the ‘why why why’ thoughts! The day passed in a blur – we wore our compression tights, rested, took on plenty of fluids and ate all the right carbs. Bed came early, but of course sleep remained elusive.
Race day started at 4am – Jon’s wife Rosemary glided us all over and slapped on the sunscreen – we were expecting it to be hot out there later. We forced down some coffee and porridge and double checked everything we needed to take with us – then we were off! Aaaarrggh!
Check in was hectic – we pumped our tyres, checked our transition bags, got our body marking done, queued for a last minute trip to the loo. Before we knew it, we were on the shuttle bus to the beach and waiting with hundreds of other triathletes all looking silly in the brightly coloured swim caps. The gun went to mark the pro start, and we watched them race down to the sea and plough through the crashing waves – even they found it hard to break through and make progress. Jon was next, in his green cap, and then it was my turn. I’ve no idea how I got through the waves, but I eventually found myself out far enough to start swimming properly, and after the initial panic of legs and arms flailing, I found my rhythm and moved slowly round the course. I only struggled when I got close to shore, when the crashing waves kept dragging me under. The final wave caught me totally off guard and ripped my goggles from my head – luckily they got caught in the back of my tri suit so I was able to rescue them, but I then realised I’d been swept a hundred yards down the beach so had a longer run back to the lagoon – which felt like a calm haven after sea. I can’t say I enjoyed the pond weed, but it was preferably to being knocked over. I finally reached the other side of the lagoon and heaved a sigh of relief when I looked at my watch and realised I’d finished much quicker than I’d hoped – 52.08 minutes.
Next up, T1. I probably spent more time here than I should have, but I wanted to regain my composure before the cycle – I very sensibly ate my banana, put on more sunscreen and took my time putting on my cycle shoes - thanks for the talcum powder tip Simon!
Luckily finding my bike wasn’t hard – there weren’t many left by now! I pushed it out to the mount line and hopped on, feeling daunted at the long ride ahead and petrified about the hills – but I can honestly say it was amazing, I loved every minute (apart from the hills!) and the time literally flew by. I welled up every time I went past the troops of school kids, who had come out on a Sunday to cheer us on, I had random chats with other competitors as I passed them or as they passed me. I stopped to borrow a kind volunteer’s t-shirt to clean the rain and sweat from my sunglasses – I think he was relieved I didn’t blow my nose on it! I helped a poor guy who had come off his bike at the bottom of the first hill – despite being injured he was determined to carry on and needed a spare inner tube – he’d blown two in his fall. He was so grateful it was worth adding 5 minutes on to my time for. The scenery was stunning, the roads winding and the hills – well, the hills were challenging for sure! I had already made the decision to walk the four biggest, and sure enough I walked the first three. What scared me the most were the downhills though – I was gripping my brake hoods so tight I honestly thought they would break, and I worried my sweaty hands would slip. But somehow I survived, and before I knew it was on the last hill and found myself actually cycling it! I thought it would never end, just one more bend, one more turn, my legs were screaming at me – then I was on the home stretch and the end was in sight. The smile on my face when I dismounted must have been huge.
Once again I used transition as a chance to calm myself before the next challenge, and took my time getting my running gear on and applying yet more sunscreen – by now the rain had passed and the sun was out in full force – it was scorching out there. I finally emerged from T2 after 8 minutes and embarked on the toughest part of the race - the run.
Running is my strongest of the three disciplines, but nothing had prepared me for how hard the 21.1k would be. My legs were tired, I was low on energy, but worst of all was the strength of the midday sun and the humidity. There was very little shade along the course and the only respite was the ice cold sponges being handed out at every water station. I soon realised I wouldn’t be able to run the whole way, and started walking through the aid stations. The walking stints got longer and longer though, and I began setting myself mini challenges – just get to the next tree, the next turn, the next sponge. I think I was slightly delirious by this point, no doubt dehydrated and overheated, but somehow I made it round the first lap, and onto the second, and eventually found myself with the finish line in sight. I could see Rosemary and Jon (who had finished well ahead of me – yay Jon!) sitting under some trees and I forced myself to pick my feet up and run the last hundred meters or so. The feeling was amazing, and as I crossed over the line and heard my name called, I couldn’t help but cry. The weeks of training, the early starts, the worry and panic, and finally, finally it was all over. I had finished in 7hrs 33.45, a time much better than I ever dared hope for. To say I was happy is an understatement. The rest of the day passed in a spaced out daze – I needed a shower and real food and a well deserved beer. Of which I later had many, at the awards party, and then even more while dancing in the tropical rain at the pool party with very special new friends – what a totally amazing day, and one I will never ever forget.
So thank you Julie, for being the one responsible for me entering the race. I cursed you many a time when I was struggling with the gruelling training schedule, but now I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I never thought I’d say it, but I’m already wondering which 70.3 to do next.........!
So what did I learn? I learnt that I need a structured training schedule, and preferably someone to train with to give me less chance to skip sessions – being committed with someone else makes it far easier to stick to. But I also learnt that training isn’t everything, rest is equally important and we must listen to our bodies. I got sick half way though, and the temptation was to keep on training – but in hindsight it was probably my body’s way of saying slow down. Talking to experienced triathletes is also invaluable – thanks to Simon, Julie & Noel, Roy etc for the invaluable tips and advice and support. Speaking of support, thanks to all my family and friends (especially Rosemary) for putting up with me, I know I’ve probably spoken of nothing but training and triathlons since this all began. Being prepared is essential when packing for the race itself – lists, lists and more lists!
Next time I intend to pick a course with less hills and a more temperate climate. I can definitely shave a few minutes off my time just by being less social on the cycle and more hasty in transition. Having a couple of swimming lessons will definitely benefit me too.
I’ve written this report partly for myself, to remember how amazing the whole experience was, but also in the hope that it will inspire other beginners and novices not to be daunted by triathlons. It can often feel intimidating being surround by triathletes who are so fit, and who all know what they are doing, but the truth is we all have to start somewhere. And no matter what your ability, there is room for everyone – I will never ever be fast, but I now know I am not the slowest out there, and that everyone taking part is as important as the pros at the front of the pack. Even if we finish last, we are still winners – it is better to come last than to never start at all! :)
Oh, I nearly forgot – the funny thing is that I almost could have gone to Vegas for the World Championships – despite being 22nd in my age category the place rolled down to me – it’s probably just as well I wasn’t there to accept it!