I started in the summer of 2015 as a way to get back to full fitness, after the birth of my 2 son in February 2015. I’d done a few marathons and some adventure races before, along with a fair bit of cycling and in my youth I surfed a lot, so I kind of knew my swimming would be OK. I wasn’t quite sure which event to focus on but my husband (who had done a bunch of Ironman and ultra-marathons before) was very supportive and suggested I enter Challenge Weymouth, which is just down the road from our home in the New Forest. To be honest I didn’t even know it was a full Ironman distance at that point and only later discovered it was also the European Long Distance Champs.
It seems a bit strange after all this effort and relatively speaking, success in the last 5 years but probably my most memorable achievement was that first big event. It was all staggered starts etc so I didn’t really know how I was doing but somehow I ended up as the first amateur and 9th overall. It was pretty weird at the prize giving when they called up the top 10 up on stage and there were all these serious looking pros in their team kit and I was there with my 6 month old and a 2 year old.
Aside from that, Ironman Western Australia last year was massive for me. After a 10th in age-group at Kona in 2017, I was all ready to push for a podium in 2018 and then in May, I had a big bike accident in the Tour of Wessex. My collarbone was broken in several places, I had to have surgery and my recovery was far from straight forward. Anyway, I got back into decent shape for Kona, pulled off a solid swim and then had a mechanical right at the start of the bike. I’d had some help from the neutral service on the morning of the race, which let’s just say didn’t go so well… I lost about 30 mins messing around on the bike trying to get it all sorted and by the time I got into town I was so wound up I made myself ill.
I ripped into the marathon but after about 10km, I knew the day was going badly wrong on so many fronts. Eventually I pulled out and Nick (my husband) found me on Ali’I Drive and I broke down in floods of tears. I’ve done something like 12 Ironman and this was my only failure… I was totally heartbroken after everything we, as a family, had put into it. I was so convinced I was going to smash it and then bang. Within a few days I knew I had to go again in 2018, I knew I was capable of a very big day and I wanted to capture that moment before it slipped away.
When we got home, I entered Ironman Western Australia and locked in another month of big training, before heading out there to race in December. Juggling family life was as tough as ever but I knew I had to do this and I knew whatever happened I was going to finish. In the swim I got absolutely battered like never before and exited the swim a mess but got it together and then just floated round the rest of the race. Of course the going got tough at times but it was one of those days when it all just came together in the end and I finished 6th overall in 9hr 34, 1st amateur and ahead of a bunch of pros. It was pure redemption. I loved the moment, celebrated my victory, didn’t hesitate in *turning down my 4th Kona slot and got on the plane home the next day to my family with a massive grin on my face.
*The Kona debate after Western Aus was short. I knew it was all just too much money and too full on to go for a 4th time. Never say never but I’ve loved it, learnt a lot, had performance highs and lows there and knew that I just didn’t need it anymore. There are so many other amazing events out there that don’t impact on my family in such a big way.
A huge, huge question… I try to set a good example by living a full, positive and active life, whilst giving our boys the attention and support that they need. Undoubtedly though, I can only do what I do because of the support of family and friends around me and everything is a stretch. Day to day life can be totally crazy but I suppose ultimately, my children get to go places they would never see if it wasn’t for the racing and certainly their lives are rarely dull!
I suppose the difference between my racing now and the way I approached sport before children, is that now I always want to make sure I get everything out of every event that I can. It’s never really ‘just for fun’… that’s kid birthday parties, kicking back with friends and spending time on the water. All the planning and hassle that goes into each event needs to be for a reason and with a goal. Winning isn’t totally essential (and if you set big enough goals that certainly isn’t always possible) but I love to compete hard and put it all on the line every time I zip up my race suit. I’m full of smiles day to day but when I race I battle, suffer and grimace my way round like most other people! There’s not much pretty about it.
Sometimes I wonder why and question if I’m being selfish with all these sporting goals but my husband Nick loves it all and gives me an incredible amount of support to get out there and take it all on. He’s done so many amazing events, challenges, adventures etc that I always feel like I’m really only dipping my toe in! Obviously though, as we look ahead we have to find ways to fund this way of life and in fact for a long time, I’ve tried to combine sport with earning an income.
In the early days this was teaching sailing and then more seriously, helping to manage the crazy logistics of the Volvo Ocean Race (the premier round the world professional yacht race) team that my now husband was sailing for. To be honest once we realised I seemed to be half decent at triathlon, then I pretty quickly started to think about coaching. I’ve always loved the idea of teaching and the sailing coaching stuff was probably my most enjoyable job ever! Triathlon is undoubtedly a growing sport and industry, and people put a huge amount of time, effort and money in at all levels, so it’s logical to want a bit of professional guidance for your training, in order to be efficient with your resources and I guess to also make sure you’re using the right equipment, nutrition!! and really just looking after yourself.
Over the last 3 or 4 years alongside my racing, I’ve been doing a lot of study, been on a lot of coaching courses, got qualified and more recently have started to coach a few athletes alongside family life and my own racing. I’ve taken a few athletes through their first Ironman, first 70.3 and one of my athletes even secured a spot at the 70.3 Worlds last year, so there are some solid foundations in place to build on and I’m excited to give a bit back to the sport and to start contributing to family finances a bit more, especially with both my children now at school from mid-September onwards.
Naturally most of my athletes and the enquiries at the moment, are women juggling family and work life which I love but that’s not really a specific focus for me. I just want to make sure I’m adding to people’s enjoyment and contributing to their success, however that may be defined! Aside from remote coaching through Training Peaks and running a few warm weather spring training camps, I really want to try to push fun and affordable, long weekend training camps at our home in the New Forest. We have so many quiet roads, stunning trails and secret open water swimming spots here and I’m excited to share some of it.
It’s everything! Although I used to be a bit of a foodie, Nick sees it purely as fuel and over the years this sadly has slowly become my approach too. Without proper nutrition then I simply have no energy! In shorter events you can kind of get away with it by using sugar and caffeine boosts but in endurance sport, you’ve no hope with that approach. Fundamentally though, it’s not just about race day, you have to be able sustain your training volumes (and have energy for normal life…) week in, week out and without the likes of OTE, then this would be near impossible. Combing OTE products, of which there are masses, with fresh food from my vegetable patch just about keeps us all operational.
This sounds a bit cheesy but OTE make so many great products that I’m fully addicted too… orange gels are probably the one thing I couldn’t manage without though. Great flavour and texture, kind on the stomach and keep me going for hours. That said, without the duo bars -cookies & cream– I would never be at 100% on the bike and the strawberry protein recovery drink (with full fat milk…) is the thing I look forward to most after a mega session (and the sofa).
Goodness in = greatness out, says it all really!
If you’d asked me after the worlds in May I’d probably have said, with a bit of luck a few years of pro Ironman racing and some coaching. However things have changed a little, I really struggled in June/July with all sorts of minor illnesses and fatigue and came unstuck at Challenge Roth on the run. It was only afterwards that I found out I had contracted glandular fever. Whatever the science, my body was clearly needing a break and in some ways it was almost a relief. I stepped away from the single-minded goals and slept! I hung out with my family and friends and worried less about what my competitors were doing.
In the last few weeks I’ve been feeling much better, so have fired up my training again and am very happy with how it’s all going. With a few hard decisions to make I opted out of the Ironman 70.3 Worlds in Nice this coming weekend. My priority was always the European Long Distance Tri Champs on 14th Sept with the GB elite team and I felt I just couldn’t manage both in the way I wanted to.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’d also opted not to take up my Kona slot this year and I felt like I wanted to try a few new things… so in mid-October instead of racing Kona, I’m going to be doing my first off-road triathlon just outside London. (there will definitely be no underpants run the week before!). I’ve been very fortunate to acquire a great mountain bike and over the winter I will doing a lot of mountain biking and trail running. Not entirely sure where it’ll all go but I quite fancy a bit of Xterra and also a few proper alpine XC mountain bike events next summer!!
At the same time… I’m also looking to start taking on some of the big ultra-marathons, especially the Skyrunning series and this kicks off for me with the Garmin Mourne Skyline Mountain-Trail Race in Northern Ireland on 19th October. The organisers have very kindly given me an elite entry, so am feeling a little bit of pressure for my debut in this world! In November however, I’ll be back in my comfort zone at sea level at the Gosport half marathon, firmly focused on finally going sub 80 minutes after getting so close in the spring!
After that we’ll have to see but there are a lot of amazing events out there and I’ll certainly be taking on some of the tougher ones with a grimace and smile at the end!
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