Kona: My Nemesis

Bex plaiting my hair

My Ironman journey has been without doubt, arduous. The long months of training outdoors, on the hand bike and race chair, over the last year, in all British weathers, tested my resolve to carry on, at times. Frequently, I have had to fight for the right to space in a public swimming pool lane, when people assumed I was not a ‘proper’ swimmer as I do not use my legs…I’ve followed a strict LCHF diet for six months, training low and aiming to race high, to tap into my fat reserves and not rely on a constant carbohydrate/sugar intake come race day. I lost 4.5kg of body fat in the process, something I’ve struggled with post-menopause.

I’ve also tapped into every resource that I possibly could, for those ‘marginal gains’ and more, that are so important to success. My lovely sponsor Huub Design adapted a 3mm wetsuit into a pair of ‘kick pants’ for me, and TYR donated a top-of-the-range swimskin, plus goggles to use come race day. Duncan and Topliss supplied a brand-new Zone 3 long course Tri-Suit. The University of Lincoln did my Lactate Threshold testing for me, which saved expensive trips to Hannover to see my Coach, Dr. Ralf Lindschulten. I was also able to be tested in my racing wheelchair for the first time on a treadmill, so Ralf could dictate my training better. Sheffield Hallam University Lab For Living, 3-D scanned my wetsuit clad legs and 3-D printed a pair of knee splints for my open water Kona swim. I contacted Ingenium in Illinois who make 3-D printed push gloves for the racing chair to improve my power transfer on the push rims. Sugru offered me more free supplies to mould some new hand cycle grips, so I could avoid blisters cycling 112 miles in the heat of the Queen K Highway, and avoid having to put on cycling gloves in T1. VivoLife sponsored me with Vegan protein and Electrolyte products as I wanted the cleanest products possible that would not affect my sci impaired digestion. I used my Fogarty Products sponsored VW Van to travel to Luxembourg and camp to compete in my qualifying race.

I spent weeks and months exploring avenues for sponsorship, setting up a CrowdFunding campaign, sending out letters to local Companies, applying to Charities, doing talks at Schools and Companies. I did attract new sponsors, but I still relied too heavily on my credit card, getting into serious debt, all to fulfill the dream of competing at the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.

After all this preparation, I failed to meet the combined Able-bodied swim/T1/bike cut-off of 10:30 hours by less than 1:30 mins. This frustrating and disappointing result was because of my inability to do simple maths due to a neurological impairment acquired during my sci accident in 2005. I’d also not set up my PC8 computer to show the correct time in Hawaii-it was still set on UK time. I simply thought that I had more time. It was a NBC TV crew who first alerted me to the chance that I might not make the cut-off, but I was still about 27.2 km from the finish. I went into TT mode, making a promise to myself that I would bury myself on the bike to meet the cut-off. Everyone I passed shouted, ‘You’re going to make it’ and I rolled into T2 with a smile on my face, only to meet a blockage of officials, camera crews, my Coach and my daughter, Bex. She hugged me, and Ralf held my limp hand as the race official told me I’d missed the cut-off. I simply couldn’t believe that I’d disappointed so many people who had helped me on my Ironman journey. I was devastated that I couldn’t carry on, knowing that my run in my racing wheelchair would have been faster than most of the Age Groupers currently out on the course.

I was very fortunate to have my Coach Ralf over in Kona and he was given permission to do a scientific study of my blood Lactate after each discipline. My actual swim time for 2.4 miles was 01:15: 28 (from my borrowed Garmin 920xt) but my chip had not registered when Ralf and volunteer Nathan had carried me up the steps into the shower and across the timing mat, so they had to carry me back over it… My official time was therefore 01:18:56 and my Lactate suggested that I had gone a little too hard. However, my Lactate after the bike showed I had merely done a long endurance ride, despite my hard effort at the end.

Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I should have pushed harder on the bike, which I was more than capable of. I kicked myself for virtually stopping at every aid station on the bike course, one every six miles, to douse myself in water to keep cool, as the temperature rose to 39 degrees Celsius and the legendary winds battered me from every direction throughout the course of the day. I’d stopped at Special Needs after the turnaround to ask a volunteer to top up my camelbak, replace one of my drink bottles and pick up my spare nutrition, most of which was not consumed. I didn’t want to throw away my drink tube, so I wound it up and stuffed it under my lap belt. I perhaps stupidly, made sure to give a Shaka sign every time I was given one by volunteers and spectators. I was staying in the moment, but not focusing fully on my race.

Unfortunately, the build-up to race day had not been ideal as both my hand bike and racing wheelchair arrived damaged via American Airlines from Florida, where I’d spent a week acclimatizing to the heat and humidity, in preparation for Kona. The wheel guards on both sides of the race chair were bent and split making it impossible to mount my disk wheels. They were temporarily fixed with a hammer, a block of wood and a metal file. The front mech on my new bike was bent and the Di2 would not shift from large to small chain ring, which I needed to tackle the 1138m of elevation. It took two days to eventually have this repaired after trying numerous bike stores and Exhibitors stands. Ceepo, a sponsor of Laura Siddall, a Pro Athlete who used to reside in Lincolnshire, kindly helped out.

interspersed with tackling bike and race chair repairs, was a keen Media interest in both my back story and my attempt to be only the second woman to complete the Kona course. I attended three interviews in one day, having already given more than four before I’d even left the U.K. I was also keen to represent the Challenged Athlete Foundation as much as possible and took to the stage in the Athlete Village on a Charity Panel and completed a practice swim and photo shoot with other challenged athletes. I’d only arrived in Kona late Monday evening, and race registration, bike racking and a meeting with my Coach needed to be done, as well as some training! Plus my Parents had traveled out to Kona to watch me race and my daughter Bex had come as my carer and support, so some time had to be made to accommodate their wishes too.

Next year, I aim to tackle Kona again-with a good watch and a more consistent effort on the bike! And a Media black-out, if it can be managed. I’d also like to ship all my equipment out to Hawaii, hopeful that this would avoid damage to my adaptive equipment. I’d also like to arrive a week or two earlier, stay in an air-conditioned Condo close to the race start, but away from the melee of Ironman. Of course, I will need new sponsors, and I will need to work hard on retaining my good relationship with my current ones. Just now, I’m not really looking forward to another year of training for Ironman at the moment, but I have unfinished business…

 

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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.

 

fullsizeoutput_110f.jpegHowever, everyone without question, was accommodating and encouraging, which I am thankful for.

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