IRONMAN 70.3 DUBAI 2021
It’s been a week since Dubai 70.3. On one hand it feels like it was ages ago, on the other hand I can feel the nerves, excitement, disappointment and relief like it was yesterday. It was a true rollercoaster of emotions, and I definitely needed a few days to process and reflect on the race and the outcome. Now that the race is over, I almost feel like it has come and gone too quickly and I want another shot at showing what I’m worth! That’s one of the challenges of our sport, with the demands of a middle or long distance race we simply can’t do very many of them, and often weeks and months of training have to come together on that very day. Throw Covid-19 in the mix and we’re even more limited to showing our worth and fighting for that top spot.
Leading up to the race I had felt quite unsettled and unprepared. The change of scenery from the peace and quiet in France to the hussle and bussle in Dubai was quite a shock to my system. Then there was the uncertainty of the race, the morality behind it taking place if it were to go ahead, and the unknown of where the current fitness was. Luckily I have some top coaches who somehow always find a way to give me a bit of self-belief when it is lacking. I’d managed to get in consistent weeks of training with a few key sessions that all went to plan if not better. Swimming was my biggest worry, having had 5 weeks of being back in the water after some time out due to pool closures in France. Tim convinced me it wasn’t all so dramatic as I had made it in my head, and luckily I had a bit of a breakthrough session just 4 days out from race day.
Although I was super nervous, I managed to stay very calm on race morning and go with the flow. Race prep didn’t actually feel that unfamiliar but it was quite surreal to be surrounded by all these athletes one year later, with a pandemic that had made it’s way around.
Finally we were on the start line, a little line of tape holding us with just seconds to go. The start gun went and the tape.. the tape stayed! A little surprised we scrambled our way under the tape and into the water. It was shallow, with a few little waves. I had clearly not practiced my beach starts enough and awkwardly stumbled, dove, swam, and then stumbled again. Somewhere during this process I must have swallowed some water and missed a breath. I quickly started to feel a panic coming on, not being able to get my breath back and hyperventilating while trying to stay on the feet in front of me. My mind started running,
‘I think I'm going to need rescuing by a safety kayak’
‘Have I done all this prep to only swim 100m and then pull out of the race?’
‘Breathe.. just breathe..’
‘Relax, you’re getting there.. just settle and relax’
Slowly I found my body relaxing and getting the oxygen it needed. By them my little swim group had been and gone, and I was on my own at the back of the field. Not the greatest confidence booster but I managed to swim my way around and finally took the last turn to head towards the beach. The home stretch felt like it took an eternity, with a current making me feel like I wasn’t making any forward progress. At one point I had a bit of a distraction from the local inhabitants, a massive school of fish. There seemed to be thousands of them underneath me and somehow the sight of these little creatures who had no idea what was happening above the surface was calming and comforting. I finally reached the beach, surfed in on a wave and ran through transition.
T1 was rusty, not placing my suit, cap and goggles in the box correctly meant I wasted precious time. Seeing all but two pro bikes gone was a little demorilising but if I’ve learned anything over the past few years of racing it’s that the race isn’t over 'til it’s over. With that in mind I headed to the mount line to start the 90km ride. Unfortunately my left shoes then came off the pedal, the elastic band must have snapped while running down the ramp and as it hit the ground my bike jumped and the shoe came lose. I managed to keep the bike and myself upright but had to run back to grab my shoe, put them both on before finally mounting. By this time the girl behind my had overtaken me and started her ride. ‘Great, I’ve even given a spot away by simply messing up my mount!’
I got nice and aero and hoped for some strong legs to get me a bit further up in the race. Unfortunately that was not the case, my glutes and quads were screaming. They were tight, heavy, crampy and not willing to push the power that Coach Matt had set me. It took about 30mins for the feeling to fade, although the legs never came through and the power remained unimpressive. I held around 38kph on the outward 45km, in which we had a light headwind. Pace wise I was still mostly on track and as I approached the turnaround I tried to gauge the splits with the girls in front. To my surprise, Ryf and Symmonds seemed only about 5-6mins ahead, which they would have easily put into me on the swim. It was a moral boost to realize I was holding pace against these top riders and I continued to stay focused on the job and committed to keeping my head in the game until the end. The home stretch was fast and furious and saw my pace creep up to an average of 41.2kph. I clocked a 2h11 bike split which gave me hope that I might still have a chance of making up some places.
T2 + Run
Another embarrassingly slow transition saw the girl behind me fly out of transition again before I’d sorted out my own sh*t. I finally made my way out and tried to settle into a pace. I remembered Tim’s words, ‘If the other girls run out of transition at crazy pace, trust in your ability to race smart’. I settled into a pace before looking down at my watch. 3:50min/km. Okay, not bad! I knew if I could hold this pace steady I would likely catch a couple girls in front of me, some of which simply won’t run as fast, and some who will suffer with the heat in the second half. Sure enough I passed the first 2 girls, running confident and strong and gaining distance very quickly. The first turn around came after about 4km and I steadily overtook another two pro women, wary of staying calm and not getting carried away. It was around the 10k mark that I ran my way into 6th place. A motivating pass as the top 6 would be awarded in the flower ceremony. 4th and 5th were running strong and I simply ran out of time to catch them. I held my pace, looking back every now and then to see if there was any threat from behind. From my calculations something needed to go terribly wrong to be overtaken in the final stretch but I tried to stay focused and steady until the end. I finished with an average pace of 3:51min/km.
Crossing the line with the UAE flag held high, I instantly felt a sense of relief and gratitude. Relief of having turned my race around and make the best of the situation. Gratitude for the chance to race. And not just any race, one on home turf with the best support of the local tri clubs & teams. And one with the world no. 1 ranked female triathlete and last year’s winner. Throw a couple of Olympians in there and seasoned professionals, I couldn’t be disappointed with 6th as the youngest female pro on the start line.
If disappointed isn’t the right word, maybe dissatisfaction is applicable? Either way, I definitely feel a sense of having missed out on an opportunity to have performed better, placed higher, show my potential. I’m gutted about what happened in the swim, and I’m certainly not proud of my sub-par transitions. But the biggest takeaway from this race is my ability to overcome and persevere when things haven’t gone to plan. It’s not often that athletes have perfect days, so having this tool will certainly help me going forward. Making mistakes and dealing with ‘failure’ helps us learn and grow and become better and more prepared versions of ourselves as we continue to raise the bar for ourselves. There were a lot of things that went well in this race, and I’ve proved to myself that my bike-run combo in on par with some of the best in the world. Let’s crack this swim, speed up those transitions, and I think we’re on our way to bigger and better.