I didn’t enter Busso, Sybil[ did. She does things like order tequila when I should go home (I’m writing this very hung over) … and she enters me in Ironman races when the idea of completing one is as ridiculous as me ever entering Australia’s Top Model.
At the time, I’d had a tough couple of years privately, I hadn’t raced for over 8 months, I had not consistently trained for 6 months. I’d made plans with my coach that I had abandoned multiple times, including going to Las Vegas for the 70.3 Worlds. I was in Augusta for Christmas and was walking up to the lighthouse, I tried to run and didn’t make it 2km before I abandoned it. I was 10kg heavier than I had been for Melbourne IM. Sybil doubted me, “maybe you have already been as good as you could be”.
One day while I was swimming Bianca swam past me, she is such an inspiration and positive person. It was a reset button – you just need to put one foot in front of the other. As I turned arm over arm I said “Shut up Sybil”. I lost 5 kg and the next TT I swam 10 seconds faster than my first. I set a year of races that would end in Busso.
Here’s my number…Kona maybe?
I entered Cairns IM, I didn’t finish. At one point a bloke rode up to me and said incredulously “you’re looking at a 5:10 bike!” I race with pace and heart rate. It was a shock. For 10 km of that ride I daydreamed… I thought about Kona… for the first time… like it might actually be possible. I was heartbroken not to do the marathon. I went for a swim the very next day. Sybil was oddly quiet.
I got back to Perth, week one we had a 5km run TT. I ran my first sub 20min. I entered the City to Surf marathon. I spent my Saturday mornings just running. It gave me a break from the constant organisation of triathlon. I just needed my runners and my music. I lost 5 kg. I comfortably ran 3:21 marathon. I rode and swam throughout. Deb said “Well you got that monkey off your back.”
Busso specific training - maybe I had done too much?
Work exploded and I fell in a hole…a deep bottomless crater. I turned up to the 20km ride TT one Thursday, I didn’t want to. I couldn’t push, I bitched with Sybil the whole way. I had a fight with MGee at the end. I was exhausted. I ran that night and my hamstring was sore. I ran on it for two weeks and damaged it. Stupid. Sybil was unrelenting “you’ve stuffed this, you’re an idiot” she said. My iron was colossally low. I had no fight. I sat in the shower and cried. I told my mum to cancel her flights. I had another fight with MGee.
I called Deb. I went to the doctor and I refused to leave until he got me an iron injection. I was not polite. Two weeks later, I felt rational. I talked to Al Nicols, he said ‘You keep riding girl’. And he set me off on my new bike.
Gravel in my stomach…
I rode, I swam and I ran. I train quite a bit on my own. But the speed sessions with Blackfins are the most important sessions, as well as tempo ride with the girls. It is hard to explain the kind of calming competitive companionship I get from them. Toughness is expected – they are unrelenting – I love them for it.
Surprisingly I placed 3rd at Mandurah. I hadn’t run particularly well, I got distracted and let my pace lag. I had wanted to test my resilience to heat, and I coped well, yet #1 beat me by more than 13 minutes. Even on a good day I couldn’t match that. But maybe a top 5 at Busso was reasonable? Sybil started to tell people “I’m looking for top 5 at Busso”. I was embarrassed, what if it didn’t come off? She shrugged, ‘eat your gravel” she said.
Taper came and I called MGee. “I’m nervous; I nearly started a fight with an exec”. “That’s what I’m here for” he said. I settled. I looked up the race list (which I’ve never done before) bugger me… on a reasonable day, I would be hard to beat. MGee said “at the end of the marathon you need toughness, I’ll back you in a toughness competition any day.”
The last two weeks I prepared for a fight. I watched Rocky. I rested my mind. I accepted that I was in for battle, and I felt less fear. My friend Kelly messaged me from New Zealand, I replied “I’m ready”. And Sybil said nothing, because it was true.
...and grace in my heart.
20 minutes until race start …I stood on the decking at the kids pool and I looked out to the end of the jetty. I said to Sybil, “You’ve a sub 60 swim in training tired, you’ve a 2:30 bike at Mandurah, and you have a 3:21 marathon. You add 20% to all that, and you are still hard to beat.” I looked at the water, and I felt lightness. Deb had spoken to me. Sometimes I am hard on myself (and hard on others). She counselled me, to have gravel in my belly but grace in my heart. I had grace.
Not everything went to plan Sunday. I got lost in the swim. I dropped my salt on the ride. The aid station from Tuart Road to Busso was too far away for the amount of water I needed vs. what I could carry. My watch wouldn’t pick up heart rate for the first half of the ride. I managed. I took Gatorade for the salt (though I hate it), I took more and more water at the start of the ride lap even though it meant losing my pacers. I slowed because my stomach was telling me I was riding too fast to digest. At the 150km mark Deb gave me a familiar message from mum “don’t come home unless you win”. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had swum 58 min and I had ridden 5:07. 20 minutes faster than I had predicted.
I hit the run. Or it hit me. Rob told me I was in first, all I needed to do was keep a solid run pace. I didn’t believe it, I thought I had misheard. He told me again on the way back. Sybil said “There is a long way to go”. I ran tap tap tap…. CVD, my Kona hero, told me I was his hero, tap, tap, tap, Walker told me to smile, tap tap I cheered Justine and Bianca (two women with hearts of hot iron) tap tap. MGee said #2 had bridged the gap to 4 minutes. Weakness crept in “second is okay right?”
At the 32km mark my feet and calves were cramping badly and I’d taken my last salt tablet. Andrea gave me no sympathy “Winning is hard” she said, tough as nails… “Go and be a winner”. tap tap tap I did yoga in my head to fend off the cramping. I put my finger to my lips when people yelled at me (I needed to concentrate on the battle). Tap tap Neil Powers gave me some salt (a true gentleman). tap tap tap
There is a radio show I’ve listened to for years, Competitor Radio. One of my favourite introductions is a guy on the run in Kona, he says something like “The men and women out here, they are thinking ‘If I just get to the end, if I get to the finish line, I’ll be an ironman, I’ll have won.’ and they are right, but there are a few, a few that are still racing, thinking ‘can I catch that guy up there’ ‘is that guy coming up on me…’. and that that is what Ironman is all about”. MGee said I now had 7 minute lead.
Sybil never once let me think I was going to Kona during that run. I chewed my gravel… I rounded the turn, I was looking for MGee, I gave him a high 5, and finally I could stop running. I’ve watched the video a hundred times, in case it isn’t true.
My favourite part of the whole day is when Deb found me post race. She jumped on me full throttle and we rolled on the ground laughing and crying. Because she knows what this means to me. Mum says I can come home now. And Sybil is quiet – except at a bar when I should go home.
I have a Kona spot, 1st place and a (very marginal) sub 10 IM.