At that point I had to decide whether or not to take the risk, give up my job and have a stab at making a living as a professional triathlete. I never want to look back and think ‘what if’. You only get one chance at life and the most important thing is for me to know that I have given it everything, fulfilled my potential and been the best that I can be. I didn’t know where that would take me in terms of triathlon, but unless I gave it a shot at going pro I would never really know. I was put in touch with the well known coach Brett Sutton, and jumped at the chance to spend a week with him at his camp in Switzerland in January 2007. By February I had left London and was making plans to join the then newly formed triathlon team, TeamTBB at their training camp in Thailand. And yes – I am so grateful that Brett (and teamTBB) gave me that chance and that I decided to take the step into the total unknown!
I always thought I would focus on Olympic distance triathlon, and had the Olympics as a distant dream. I didn’t really know anything about longer course racing. In fact, I had only learned that Ironman even existed in 2005 when I met a girl who was training for IM Zealand – and I remember saying to her “You run a marathon after cycling 180km….are you completely crazy?!”. And as for Kona – that was something that hadn’t even entered my mind! I know now that Brett had other ideas, but he never told me at the time…
2007 started very well, I came second in my first ITU points race in Thailand, won an Olympic distance race in Bangkok, the ITU points race at Subic Bay in the Philippines, an Olympic distance event in Zurich and the wonderful sprint triathlon in Bleinheim, UK. I also did the Alp D’Huez Long Course Triathlon in July 2007. This has to be one of the best, most beautiful and well organised races I have ever done. The location is simply amazing – swimming in the crystal clear waters, the legendary Tour De France climbs and hairpin descents which pass through lush forest, green meadows and small alpine villages, and the beautiful views from the run course at the top of Alp D’Huez itself. Winning this race was a real highlight of 2007, and I was so happy to repeat that performance again in 2008.
A few weeks before Alp D’Huez Brett asked me whether I wanted to do an Ironman. All I said was “am I ready?” Next thing I knew it was 26 August and I was on the start line at Ironman Korea. I loved every minute of my first Ironman – despite the oppressively hot and humid conditions. One of my most abiding and inspiring memories was seeing an 80 year old Korean man cross the line 20 minutes before the midnight cut off. Simply amazing. I never expected to win Ironman Korea, but doing so gave me the best ticket that I could have hoped for – my passport to the World Ironman Championships in Kona.
After Korea I flew straight to Singapore to do the 70.3 there. I got my first time trial bike that weekend, and spent the month before Kona learning how to ride in what was a completely alien position. I flew to Hawaii nine days before the race……..and never in a million years could I have predicted what would happen next!
I was so proud and pleased just to have been on the start line at Kona – to come up against some of the best triathletes in the world was an amazing opportunity for me. Though, to be honest, I went into the race totally blind, not really appreciating the scale and magnitude of the event. I was quietly hoping I could break into the top ten, but at the end of the day I was just excited to go out there on the lava fields, give it everything and enjoy every minute. To win the race was something that hadn’t crossed my mind, so to find myself in the lead at about 120km on the bike, to cross the line in first place and be crowned World Ironman Champion was amazing, surprising and incredibly overwhelming. And more importantly to stand there until midnight watching people achieve their dreams, is a memory that will never fade and one which I will treasure forever.