IM 70.3 Luxembourg

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My second Ironman 70.3 competition took place in Luxembourg on June 18th. After discussions with my Coach, Dr. Ralf Lindschulten, I had the new and exciting aim of  trying to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii on October 14th, and this race was one of only three qualifying races worldwide for Handcyclists. I loaded up ‘Viva’ the VW Van with all my race kit and camping gear but sadly my two elderly dogs had to be put into Kennels. We have had many adventures in Europe the last two summers, but both are well past retirement age now. It felt very odd to be boarding the EuroTunnel without them, by-passing the Pet Control, but it’s certainly quicker to be traveling solo!

 

I stopped overnight at my favorite campsite outside Calais and travelled the next day to Port de Schwebsange, where I set-up base camp close to the river, only 5 km away from the race start in Remich. I always find campsites in Europe incredibly accessible, with great toilet facilities, ramps everywhere and helpful staff, but this particular one turned out to be absolutely stellar, especially in relation to my race preparations.

As usual, there are a few harder, but shorter sessions to be done before Race day on both the bike and racing chair, so I trained on the wide bike path between a quiet road, and the Moselle River. Then it was off to the race Expo for Registration, packet pick-up and race briefing, where I met the other Handcyclists competing.

 

I didn’t want to have to detach the awning from my VW Van to drive to the race venue as it was so close, but it’s impossible to move both racing wheelchair and hand bike by myself whilst self-propelling a manual wheelchair. Luckily for me, Rent-a-Bike, Miserland, were right next to my camping spot and had offered mechanical assistance when they saw me setting up. They arranged for me to have use of their long wheelbase van and we loaded up all my equipment and dropped it into transition. The race directors had arranged two helpers for me, but they were not available until race day morning.

 

I always worry that I will oversleep on race day morning, but the weather was so hot that it was difficult to sleep in the van at night anyway, plus our actual race start was scheduled for a very leisurely 9:05am! Arriving in transition at 7:00 am I met my two handlers and ran through what was required in helping me transition from one piece of adaptive equipment to another. They helped pump tyres, attach nutrition, fill bottles and got me into my wetsuit, then we rolled over to the swim start.

 

This Ironman race had the newly introduced swim ‘rolling start’ but the Handcyclists and Physically Challenged categories had a glorious 10 minute head start on the Age Grouper Athletes, as we were straight after the Elite Men and Women. This meant that only the quickest swimmers caught us up and I had a lovely relaxed swim without being hit, swum over or kicked! And it was a massive PB!

T1 was unhurried as there is no need for super quick transitions at 70.3 IM level. My Coach had given me a race plan in Watts for the bike, as although the first 35km are very flat, the course then winds through both France and Germany with plenty of hills to climb. Plenty of support at the roadside kept me motivated on the 90km ride, and I was able to help a man struggling, walking up a hill, who had obviously ‘bonked’ (run out of energy), giving him a Clip bar that I didn’t need. He soon peddled past me, shouting his thanks.

I came into T2 a little later than I had predicted, and wasn’t surprised to see Jetze Platz, a Dutch Paralympic Handcyclist had already finished his race! It transpired he was 8th overall male, beating some pros! Off onto the run with the heat rising, lots of other athletes on the course, paper cups and sponges strewn all over the road.

The run was a four lap course, each athlete having to collect a different colored band at each checkpoint. This turned into quite a game, with me approaching at speed on the racing wheelchair, sticking my arm out and the young volunteers snapping it over my pushing gloves and onto my wrist-they scored every time!

To my amazement, I did a new stand-a-lone Half-Marathon PB, despite people dodging, cups and sponges. The good thing about a four lap course is that you pass the same athletes again and again, so they are then aware of a wheelchair racer coming up behind. Of course, in an ideal world, we would have a separate lane for safety and to avoid any accidents, as they do in Sprint Paratriathlon.

 

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When I finally rolled along the Ironman red and black carpet, I had to hold my competitive side back from sprinting for the line, and instead, savor the moment, and contemplate the journey that has got me to the finish line in the first place, and earning my qualifying slot to the World Championships!

There will be obstacles. There will be doubters. There will be mistakes. But with hard work, there are no limits.” —Michael Phelps

 

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New York City Triathlon

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It might seem strange that I would choose to do an Olympic distance Triathlon when I am training for a full distance Ironman, but I love competing in the NYC Triathlon! It hosts the Accenture Challenged Athlete Foundation International Championships, which is the only race, worldwide, that provides a prize purse for Para Triathletes. CAF also provide travel stipends for International athletes to attend, which makes traveling to New York in the summer from the U.K. a little more attractive!

I’ve competed at this race twice before, and been on the Podium both times, being overall female winner in 2016, based on a ‘par’ system for all categories. My friend Carolynn, from Washington State, travelled up on the overnight bus to do crowd support as usual and I had been allocated volunteers Carrie and Brian as PT Handlers for the race.

Everything about the race is superbly organised, from the briefings, road closures and volunteers. However, transition, as always, is a logistical nightmare, with two pieces of adaptive equipment to juggle in a small allocated space, grass with bumpy matting, steep inclines out, gravel, tight corners and lots of people!

They say knowledge is power, however, and since I’m already aware of potential problems, I knew what to expect on race day. I’d also had a chance to cycle and do a practice run in Central Park having arrived a few days earlier this year and staying at a more central Hotel. The weather had been unexpectedly wet and windy though, and I had to wash, plus try to dry, my hand cycle cushion in my tiny Hotel bathroom the day before my race!

I really enjoyed my race, I had lots of support for me as a CAF athlete-I’m proud to have their logo on both my bike and my Tri-suit-from both spectators and other athletes. I managed the fastest swim of all the challenged athletes in my wonderful Huub Design 3mm wetsuit, ‘chick’d’ another male hand cyclist out on the bike course, and had an incident free run in Central Park, thanks to a superb lead cyclist clearing the way.

I was really pleased to set a new course record for PT1 female athletes, and come overall first place female for the second year running! My road to Kona seemed to be heading in the right direction…