Nearly two weeks has passed since the World Ironman Championships in Kona, the photos have been taken, the blood sweat and tears have been spilt, the stories have been told, and my toe nails have finally fallen off – and I am still pinching myself. I still have a hard time believing that I was crowned World Champion once, and so it is incredibly difficult for me to actually come to terms with the fact that I have won for a third year in a row.
I look back to how my life has changed over the past 2 or 3 years, and I truly cannot believe that I am triple World Ironman Champion. As I said in my award speech, as a child I grew up watching a British television show called ‘record breakers’ – where the presenter, the late Roy Castle, would go about trying to break all manner of crazy records (his ability to play about 100 musical instruments simultaneously was particularly memorable). One of my childhood dreams was that I could too have my named etched in history as a record breaker (my other childhood dream, incidentally, was to become a tractor driver). I have put my tractor driver training on hold for a while, but in Roth earlier this year, and again at Kona last week, I managed to make my record breaking dream a reality.
As I mentioned in my pre race blog, I love being in Kona. The sound of the ocean, the schools of dolphins, the fish dancing beneath the waves, the flowers, the lava, the coffee, the mai tais. Running along al’ii drive and cycling along the Queen K I find it hard to keep the smile off my face. I like to arrive about 11 days before race day, so that Hawaii retains that special allure and excitement and to give me the chance to squeeze in another week of solid training before a 4day taper. I came to Kona ready to compete, and to do so with a fire, and a passion that I hoped would shine through.
I wasn’t actually that nervous on race morning. Yes there are expectations, but no one expects more out of me than I do. So the added pressure doesn’t really weigh that heavily on my shoulders. If anything it gives me a boost. I was in the water, sculling on the start line, and remember looking to the shore. It was a perfectly clear day, with the dawn sun casting a beautiful light over the mountain – and I felt complete peace. It was a very special moment. Then the gun went off and the feeding frenzy began. I have been working hard on my swim all year, and it was great that all that hard work bore fruit (more about fruit – and bananas specifically – later). 54mins for the 2.4miles was a big improvement on previous swims/drowns, and it set my up for the rest of the day. All aboard the Slice (fondly named Seabiscuit after the famous racehorse, and the dvd that I watched that week) I was determined to ride my heart out from the outset. And I think I took the lead at about the 20mile mark. It seemed to me that there was a slight headwind on the way out – superb, I thought – that means a tail wind on the way home. But no one told Madame Pele that as she gave us a tasty gust to battle into over the final 30miles. She also decided to turn the temperature up so that it was like cycling inside an oven.
Onto the marathon, despite the smile, I didn’t feel that great in the first few miles, but the turning point came at about the three mile mark. In Australia I was lucky enough to encounter a flasher, and at Kansas there was a blow up doll. And at Kona I received a marriage proposal. This guy was on the sidelines, holding a huge placard that said, ‘will you marry me?’ Great, you might be thinking. That is so flattering. Until I tell you that he was dressed from head to toe as a banana. Its not every day that you get proposed to by a piece of fruit (would be interesting to know what his – banana – ‘split’ might look like).
Anyway, the banana certainly gave me an adrenalin boost and I managed to find my stride, and actually felt strong as I went up the hill of death (aka Palani) onto the Queen K. But after a few miles I became convinced that someone had played a trick and moved the (no) energy lab further and further away – as it seemed like an eternity until I saw the trademark solar panels. I think I left any energy I had left in that lab, and the final stretch home was a real struggle. It was only in the final 5miles that I was sure I would actually win the race, and maybe even break the record.
Crossing the finish line evokes emotions that are very difficult to put into words. I think some of the pictures that have been taken of me describe far better than I could exactly how I was feeling – elation, relief, satisfaction and immense pride. And to have my parents and friends there to greet me, and catch me as I wobbled, was incredibly special.
Paula Newby Fraser is an icon – a legend. To have broken her record is hugely humbling, and have my name etched in triathlon history is an incredible honour. This achievement is significant not just for me, but for the sport. Throughout 2009 many girls have shown that more is possible, racing harder and faster than ever before. Mirinda also demonstrated that on the run in Kona, obliterating my old record with a phenomenal 2.56. I hope that I, and others, can continue to raise the bar, keep the men looking over their shoulders and that my record too will one day be broken, by myself and others.
Being a triathlete at any level requires dedication and sacrifice, and it will not always be pretty – there is hard work, sweat, tears, dodgy tan lines, chaffing … Yet we all put ourselves through this pain. I often wonder why – what actually drives me? Is it records, is it the competition, is it the desire to improve, is it to make my family proud, is it the thought of marriage proposals from a banana, post race pizza (sub optimal – the fries were far better) and mai tais (always delicious, especially after about 4 of them), or is it something else?
Its many things – a deep passion for the sport. Yes, there will be times when the toys come out of the pram, but deep down you truly have to love it. And I really do. Of course I am a masochistic. I love the fight, the competition and I love the pain. And I am motivated by that little something inside. That stubborn streak that will not rest until I know I have fulfilled my potential and been the best that I can be. Most importantly though, there is the platform for change. This drives me every single day. To be able to roll for Jon Blais, to meet so many great people, to raise awareness, to give interviews and speak about things that I am passionate about, to be an ambassador for important causes, like GOTRIbal (www.gotribalnow.com). The more I achieve in the sport the bigger the platform for positive change will be. And when I train and when I race, this is at the fore of my mind.
As I did at the Awards Ceremony, I would like to finish this blog with some heartfelt thankyous.
First, to other pros – I am incredibly fortunate to have the chance to compete against such amazing athletes. I would like to extend a special ‘mahalo’ to Leanda Cave, who singlehandledly organised the Great Athlete Auction to raise much needed funds for the Blazeman Foundation (www.waronals.com). The auction raised $9000 and all the money will go towards making Jon’s dream of finding a cure for Lou Gehrigs disease (ALS) one step closer to reality.
To my wonderful family and friends. I cannot do this alone. My win is a reflection of their unconditional support. And that support means more to me than they will ever know. A huge mahalo goes out to my Hawaiian ‘mum and dad’ – Linda and John Oery, who are my rock in an ocean of chaos during race week. To my hugely supportive sponsors, to Dan for making sure my bike was ready to rock, and to Mark Saunders (www.physio4life.com) and Bob Cranny (www.altitudephysicaltherapy.com) for making sure my body was up to the job.
To Diana, Ben and the rest of the Ironman committee for putting on such a tremendous event, and, of course, to the thousands of volunteers who gave up their precious time to help. Their unwavering enthusiasm and commitment never ceases to amaze me. It is the volunteers that help all of us realise our dreams – I know I speak on behalf of all the athletes when I extend my sincere gratitude to them all.
So many mahalos to the thousands of supporters, who give us the energy we need to perform, and to the hundreds of people who have taken time to email me since the race with words of congratulations – I really do read and appreciate every message I receive. And a special mention to the banana. Thankyou. For making me smile even more than normal!
For us professionals this is our job. We might grab the headlines, but we are really only a small part of the story. People ask me why I go down to the finish line until mid-night? Its simple – it is the age groupers that give so much to me, before, during and after the race. I want to give something back. So the final word goes out to them – thank you so much. I am honoured to be your World Champion.