Wimbleball is an amazing race. I love it because it's truly testing course and there's nowhere to hide. I drove the course the day before the race and it looked harder than I remembered. I decided not to look at the run course as I didn't want to scare myself. When people talk about the race they always mention how hard the bike course is with its 52 hills in 56 mile and the gradient of the hills... Not too many people mention that the run course is pure brutal, with varying terrain, testing little hills and a monster climb every lap.
The build up to the race was good. Although I finished second (after leading) last year all of the focus and pre race predictions had Emma Kate Lidbury as a clear favourite and given her recent form and results the rest of us knew she was the one to beat. Maybe because I haven't raced much this year or partly because I think many thought that my result here last year was a bit of a fluke but I don’t think anyone (bar my coach) really expected me to win. I had every belief that I was there to at least try to win but really you never know what's going to happen or how things will play out until you are actually doing it. This race certainly didn't play out the way I or anyone else would have thought.
The start of the swim was a little rougher than expected but it soon settled down. I got off to a fairly strong start then fell back a little. I just had to remind myself to push on and to try to swim straight. I came out of the water with Lucy Gossage just behind me and started to make my way up the steep slippery hill in to transition.
At the end of the swim I felt surprisingly calm and I didn't seem to have the usual rushed sense of urgency that I usually feel when I got out of the water. As I went through transition I tried to catch my breath a little and bring the heart rate down before getting on the bike as knew the first hills weren't far away. I went through transition fairly quickly as I wore my Fusion speed top (http://www.fusionsportsuk.co.uk/bike/cycling-tops/fusion-speed-top) under my wetsuit so didn't have to worry about putting on extra clothes. It worked really well and dried quickly to keep me warm.
Knowing that Lucy (a friend and training partner) was just behind me out of the water and I had a feeling that she would be coming after me quickly on the bike. She caught me very soon on one of the first hills and came past quite quickly shouting ‘come on Mully!’ I didn't want to let her get too far away but it was very early on and I didn’t want to go in to the red on the first hills or get caught up in racing in the first 10 miles. When it flattened out I decided to push on a little to see if I could get a gap and I managed to pull away.
Before I got on to the bike I didn't have a game plan. I don’t ride with power I didn’t bother with heart rate or even a bike computer. It was just a case of ‘get out there, see what happens, see how you feel and go from there’. As it played out my approach was to go steady/hard on the flat sections and to ride the hills a little easier in an attempt to save the legs for the run. So I rode fairly hard on the first lap not really thinking about where I was or where anyone else would be. To be honest I thought that the faster swimmers would be so far in front that I would just ride my own race and hope to be within touch at the end of the bike. So it was a total shock to me when I saw what I thought might have been at least 2 females in front on the first lap. It was an even bigger shock when I saw that it was Emma Kate and Simone Braendli (Benz) as well as Susie Hignett. I rode past them and expected them to chase me so I kept riding for a couple of minutes before looking round to check... Much to my surprise no one came with me.
At that point I was in a state of shock and panic; I thought I had taken the lead which was a big unknown for me, I started thinking 'oh no I've gone too hard, Should I back off? Are they chasing me?’ I backed off a little and at the start of the second lap someone shouted your 2 minutes off the lead. I had a sense of relief; I could get back to what I'm used to, chasing. I didn’t see many people on the course until the aid station where I slowed down a little to take on some water at which point Susie Hignett came past me. I'm not really used to having to make decisions as to what to do in this situation. I knew there was a big descent coming up so I decided to try to get in front of Susie before we got to it as I didn’t want to be behind on the no overtaking zone. I pushed hard for a few minutes and descended fast. It was enough to get away which was a little relief as I know how fast Susie can run. As we started climbing on the second lap I could see Holly Lawrence ahead of me. She was having a great race, she had a super swim and was biking very strongly. I slowly caught up to her at and we were swapping positions for a while until I got a little gap after the last aid station. When I turned back towards the lake I backed off and tried to prepare myself for the run. Eating, drinking, spinning and whatever else ;) and for the first time ever I was first off the bike!
In T2 I had a little moment where I ran the wrong way after racking my bike and I could see that Holly was very close behind me. As we started the run she was just on my heels. I wasn’t sure how I would feel on the run but I soon realised that it was going to be a tough one. Last year when I got to the run I went hard. I basically put everything in to catching the leaders and soon after catching them I totally blew. I was very inexperienced and just didn’t have the strength to keep running like I had done in the first two and a half laps. This year I knew that I had to run steady and just try to keep it going to the line. The first lap felt very slow. The difficulty of the course means that there is basically no time to get in to a rhythm and therefore there are very few points where you feel like the legs are flowing. The great thing about the course is that there are many points where you can see where your competitors are. I saw that Emma Kate was gaining ground on second place but I couldn’t work out if she was gaining or loosing time on me. On the second lap my legs felt little better and I managed to push on a little while things were feeling good, I could see then that I was gaining time which was a great relief and on the 3rd lap I was just telling myself to get to keep it steady and get to the line without any dramas.
It wasn’t until I got to the last little hill just before turning for the finish that I totally believed that I was going to do it. The feeling when I turned that corner and saw the red carpet and finish chute was unreal. It was so good to win after being so close last year. I still don’t think it has sunk in but there’s not too much time to think about is as I need to get myself prepared for Ironman UK in less than 5 weeks time.
The support on the course was just amazing, so many people were out on these hills making a great racket which really was a great boost. I don’t think the people who are out there supporting and cheering us on really know how much of a difference it makes especially when you see familiar faces.
They say not to change things before a race but I have to say my new bike, kit and wetsuit were all great on the day :) Thanks to my sponsors; Corley Cycles, Dread http://www.dread.cc/home/, Fusion, Body Limits, Compressport, …. (Also SWANS, Runworx, Team MK).