When I arrived in the UK it was the first time I had been anywhere near home since January and my first trip to England since I left Milton Keynes in December. I was really excited to be returning to the race and excited at the prospect of defending my title. I knew that no matter what happened it was going to be a tough race but I was looking forward to it and to racing a top quality field.
Just before I left for the UK I strained or tweaked my neck/upper back which at the time didn’t worry me but it seemed to get worse and worse. Luckily the pain was easily relieved with some light treatment and I was soon able to get back to focusing on the race. Race day soon came around and I was feeling relaxed and ready to go. Last year we were in the water for a long time before the start so this year we were allowed to wait on the pontoon while the age groupers got in to the water. This was much better for us but it was still a breath taking shock to jump in to such cold water. I used a Fusion speed top under my wetsuit again this year which and a neoprene cap under my race hat which I think helped to stay a little warmer.
The gun went off and I got a decent start. I was swimming with another pro woman and the pace felt strong but manageable. Then suddenly we had a group of age groupers with us and as they surrounded us I got blocked from the other girl’s feet and was a couple of people behind. Suddenly the swimmers at the front group got a gap; I tried to bridge up but couldn't make it. I was annoyed at myself for letting people swim over me instead of holding my place in the pack and for not managing to bridge the gap but I continued on the best I could alone for much of the second half of the swim. As I exited the water I heard some people shouting splits at me, they said everything from 5 minutes to 2 minutes from the lead. The actual time gap was 3mins and 5 seconds. A little better than in previous years.
Up the steep hill in to transition I decided to just race with my Fusion speed top and some ZeroD gloves that I had been given the day before. As I ran out of transition I suddenly realised how cold my feet were. I jumped on my bike and tried to put my feet in my shoes but it didn't go so well. My feet were so cold it made it difficult to get my shoes on. I had one shoe half on when it unclipped and I almost took a tumble just trying to keep the shoe on my foot. Eventually I got the shoes sorted and set off up the first hills of the course.
I wasn't sure what position I was in but I did know some of the names that would be ahead of me. I rightly presumed that Holly Lawrence would be way in front and that Simone Braendli and Susie Hignett would be somewhere up the road. I was quite surprised to see both Simone and Susie quite early on the bike course. I passed Susie and just kept riding strongly until I got to the rolling section on the main road. As I rode along I began to become aware of how cold I was and I was beginning to wonder if I should have layered up more. As we turned off the main road Susie came flying past me, I kept riding at my pace keeping her just in sight in the distance. I could see that she was getting away on the flatter sections and I was gaining on her on the hills.
I was struggling a little with the cold for much of the first lap. I've never been so happy to see steep hills as that's the only thing that would heat me up! I was telling myself that it was the same for everyone and I started to warm up towards the end of the first lap; soon my legs began to feel a little better. As I approached the end of the first lap I overtook Susie and made a conscious effort to ride a bit harder to keep warm, get a gap and to make up some time on Holly who was riding very strongly in front. The second lap of the bike was much better for me and I felt more like myself. I climbed better and even though the weather conditions were worse I was feeling warmer and much more up for it. I did have some minor mechanical problems all the way round where shifting from the small to big ring was a problem, this was very frustrating at the time but I was just thankful that it wasn't a major problem. I managed to get the fastest bike split and by T2 I had ridden to within 90 seconds of the lead. I was ready for the hard slog that is Wimbleball run course.
I always seem to find the run at Wimbleball way tougher than the bike, it's much more about strength rather than run speed. I never feel like I am actually running, it always seems to feel like a shuffle round the hilly and mostly off road paths. I decided to keep my long sleeves and gloves on for the run as the weather was still getting worse. It was cold, windy and rainy. I set off and as I began to run I realised I couldn't feel my feet and could barely feel my legs, I was also aware of how sore my back was. I soon forgot about the cold and the pain when I could see how close Holly was in front of me. Two years ago I came off the bike a few minutes down and ran myself in to first place only to totally blow up not far from the end. I had learned my lesson and I didn't want to repeat that so I made a sensible decision to chip in to the lead gradually rather than going all out to catch up.
I can usually make up some ground on the steep downhill sections but the ground was so muddy and my legs and feet were so cold that I couldn't let them go or get much speed up. Throughout the run people were giving me splits and I could see that I was gradually gaining on Holly but she was running so strongly that it wasn't an easy job. Towards the end of the second lap I eventually caught Holly and just kept my steady pace going all the way home. It was a relief to finally get in to the lead but I still had over a third of the run to go and I knew how well Holly was racing so I wasn't going to let myself get too excited too soon. I kept my steady pace going and was relieved when I finally reached the last hill which seemed to be getting steeper on each lap. It felt really amazing to have that feeling of running down the finish shoot to take another Ironman UK 70.3 title.
Winning this race last year was my first major win so it really meant a lot for me to come back and defend my title. It felt great to cross the line totally covered in mud as if I had just done a schools cross country race. It was a tough but fun day out and it was all worth it in the end. Thanks to everyone who volunteered and supported on the day. It was really great to have so many people out there on such a cold and wet day. I’m already back to training in Switzerland and am looking forward to racing again wherever and whenever that may be!