As I have said in some previous musings, one of the things that lifted me back up after the disappointment of not racing the World Championships in Kona was one of my favourite poems – ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling. Reading ‘If’ over and over again, gave me the confidence to trust in the difficult decision that I had made but also to take responsibility for my actions; to immunise myself against others’ negative thoughts and opinions; to try and act with dignity and integrity especially when that Kona curve ball hit me square on the forehead, and to always continue to dream, but never allow that dream to totally control me. So after leaving Hawaii I headed back to Boulder, and set about trying to get physically healthy and, just as importantly, mentally strong. I knew that if I could achieve both there was nothing I wanted more than to be on the start line at another ironman race. And that race was Ironman Arizona.
My first trip to Arizona was back in the 90s, when I traveled in an old dilapidated lime coloured bus from the east to the west coast of the US after time spent working in Boston. I loved Arizona, but my idea of triathlon was ‘sightseeing/lose money in vegas/party’. Not a swim/bike/run in sight. But last week, I had the chance to go back – fortunately by air rather than on a bus that looked like a green slug, and was slower than one.
Arriving 9 days before the race, Tom and I were fortunate to be hosted by a wonderful couple, Craig and Laura Norquist. They live in an area about 20 minutes north of the Tempe race site, called Paradise Valley. It was less Valley and more Paradise. The heavenly homes were the size of shopping malls. I contracted a severe case of green-eyed monster house envy.
I did my normal swim and long bike on Saturday, taking the opportunity to ride the course. The bike course was a simple 3 loop out and back, transecting the Indian Reservation. I was immediately struck by the unique, arid landscape, beautifully barren. The wide desert sky reminded me of my home county, Norfolk. Although that’s where the similarity ends. Norfolk has dark peaty soil. Arizona has amazing ochre coloured rock formations, which glow as if on fire as the sun sinks over the horizon. Norfolk has carrots and turnips. Arizona has cacti. They stand tall and proud, like old grandfathers that have witnessed the passing of decades and maybe even centuries. I have to say though, relieving oneself behind desert flora is somewhat hazardous, and not recommended, unless you derive pleasure from having thorns reach parts that thorns really shouldn’t reach.
We used a couple of local pools. The first was the local ‘Cactus Pool’. Which, despite its name, did not present any thorny ‘behind the bush hazards’. The second was the more upmarket private members club at Gainey Village. Never before have I seen such an array of changing room goodies to make sure I am plucked, pricked, brushed, scrubbed, lathered and lubed. This meant that a one hour swim turned into a three hour session as I proceeded to use every single bodily hygiene product known to man or woman.
Training and lubing aside, I had two amazing rub downs from www.endurancerehab.com and also had the pleasure of talking at a Cytosport event at Roadrunner Sports in Tempe. Tom and I also participated in a few marathon DVD watching sessions which comprised an oversized couch, a duvet and Erin ‘kick butt’ Brockovich, followed by a documentary on the Badwater Ultramarathon. The British amputee, Chris Boon, was particularly inspirational, and I realised that ironman pain would never even come close to the discomfort that the crazy Badwater bad a*ses endure.
So, eventually race day arrived. I was up at the crack. 4am to be precise. Enough time to devour my Cream of Rice (avec sunflower butter and honey) and a strong cup of the black stuff before heading to the swim start for the 6.50am kick off. Luckily there was water, unlike a month ago when it would have been a bog snorkel. The air was relatively warm. Less can be said for the lake, which was suitable for polar bears and slightly less appealing for athletes with the body fat of a twig. Thankfully I had the TYR Hurricane for insulation (as well as a full bladder, which I deployed to full, warming effect). I also used ear plugs to help keep the cold water out of my lug-holes. Ingenious. Unless you actually want to hear the start gun.
I was determined to go out fast and try and get myself on the feet of the stronger swimmers. Thankfully all the work that Dave and I have done paid dividends. Less can be said of my swim exit. With ice blocks for hands and feet I wobbled up the steps like a drunkard. In this frozun-cum- drunken stupor I completely missed the wetsuit stripper – which is a shame, as that is something I was looking forward to (might have to go to Spearmint Rhinos if I want such action in future).
Thawing out, I hopped onto my Cannondale – affectionately named ‘Kipling’, after the author of my favourite poem, and also the maker of a rather fine British culinary cake delight, called ‘Mr Kipling’s …yes you’ve guessed it….Slice’. ‘Exceedingly Good’ as the company’s slogan proclaims. Mr Kipling also makes tarts. But that’s an entirely different story (and nothing to do with the gentleman’s club mentioned above).
Anyway, the British trio of Leanda (aka the phenomenal ‘racing machine’), Rachel and I – were in each other’s sights until the end of the first lap. All credit to them for giving me the mental push I needed to really put the hammer down. Unfortunately Rachel had close encounter of the asphalt kind and couldn’t finish. I know she would have had a great race, and I want to say a huge ‘get well soon’ to her.
By the last lap the course was pretty crowded and I spent much of the time screaming ‘keep right!’ to everyone that I passed. I should have handed out some of my swimming ear plugs. I am sorry to all those who are now deaf. Apologies also go out to those riding behind me. It could not have been pleasant to bear the brunt of my 6 pees (But having already suffered a painful thorny backside experience i wasnt about to stop and relieve myself behind a cactus). The gusty wind, torrential rain, hard hitting hail stones and resultant sense of humour failure, were decidedly suboptimal. But the resultant rainbow more than made up for it. I also gained a boost when I saw an age group athlete who had a doll strapped to his saddle. Although it wasn’t a blow up one, he obviously had a special need all of his own.
Having not had a flat tyre all season I knew I was due a dose of bad rubber luck. But fortunately the puncture came as I rounded the last corner, about 5 mins from the end, so I bumbled along on the rim over the final mile. In T2, I donned my limited edition ‘Chrissie’ Brooks T7 Racers (on sale now with $25 going to the Blazeman Foundation for ALS!) with the awesome Greepers ‘live it: love it’ logoed laces. I started off at a speedy pace with the crowds spurring me on – particularly energising was the sight of many men dressed as women (complete with oversized ‘assets); the comedy, and slightly camp, fancy dress police-people (complete with truncheons); my manager Ben (who had resisted the urge to dress as either a policeman or a woman , thankfully) and two women dressed as bananas. Unlike the famous Kona 2009 fruit these girls did not, however, propose to me.
In all seriousness though, the crowd support was amazing, and it wasn’t just the spectators that were yelling, almost every athlete spent some of their precious energy cheering me on, and powering me onto a 2.52 marathon. For that I am so incredibly grateful.
As I ran down the finishing chute, with the Union Jack raised high over my head, a new World Ironman Record of 8.36 on the clock and a beaming smile on my face, I was overcome with a huge sense of pride, or satisfaction, exhilaration and joy. The feeling I have when I finish a race never fades, and if anything grows even stronger. And this win was all the more special because I was able to share it with my boyfriend Tom. This time last year Tom was on crutches after a knee operation. And last weekend he came 3rd in his first Ironman, taking the British record and recording the fastest run split. To say I am proud is an understatement. Tom: you truly are amazing.
After the finish line interviews, the drug testing (again, great to see WTC testing at all races. I hope in future we can also have in-competition blood tests, instead of just urine) I headed straight to the local carnivorous joint – aptly named ‘Fatburger’. I managed to woof down a very fat, double cheeseburger, two oversized plates of fries and an equally sizeable plate of onion rings. For starters. For the main course I had 15 donuts, and for desert dessert I had to sample the famous ‘In and Out’ burger (which Jordan Rapp so kindly bought for all the finish line volunteers). Mine was an in in in in burger. A world record in gluttony. And after all of this excess consumption I rolled myself back to the finish line to greet all the athletes until the clocked tolled at midnight.
I take great pride in what I achieved in Arizona – to win and have broken the World Ironman Record, is something that will take a long time to truly sink in. As with Roth earlier this year, all the pieces of the jigsaw came together to create a perfect picture – that of the finish line smile. But this victory is not just personally gratifying. I hope that women look at me, Rinny, Julie, Leanda and other athletes, and realise that there are no limits, that anything truly is possible with hard work, determination and passion. To plunder the words of Eleanor Roosevelt “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do”. I try and live my life by that motto. Challenging what people think is possible and hopefully proving that we can all achieve more than we could ever have dreamt of.
As always, I want to finish this blog with some words of thanks. First of all to the people of Tempe, who welcome this race with open arms. The hospitality and generosity of the community is unsurpassed, and is what helps makes this race so great. A huge thank you particularly to Craig and Laura Norquist for being the best homestay family an athlete could wish for (and to Chris Reap from Make A Wish Foundation for introducing us) and to the thousands of volunteers whose limitless energy, commitment and enthusiasm enables us to realise our dreams. To Linsey, Leanda and all the other pros for pushing me every step of the way and to Tom, for making it so special.
And now it’s time for the off season – did someone say fatburger?!