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Top Ten at Ironman World Championships

Top Ten at Ironman World Championships Overall, the race went well. The atmosphere at 5am was of calm and precise organisation, with hundreds of volunteers facilitating the body marking of 1800 athletes. I found the whole experience really cool and ended up in transition with plenty of time to give Stealthy the once-over, inflate tyres and load all my nutrition needs for the day. After giving fiancé Rob the final thumbs-up, I joined the massive queue forming to get into the water. The Hawaiian blessing and concho shell was blown, and I was able to get into the water pretty quickly once the pros went off at 6.45am. I had a very brief loosen up in the water, not wanting to expend too much energy! The extreme left hand side of the swim start provided me with a great position once the cannon went off. I enjoyed being among the human washing machine out to the turnaround catamaran. Underwater it looks surreal! There was definitely a swell coming back in, and I took as many opportunities to find feet as I passed tiring swimmers towards the pier, where I spotted Rob waiting for me to exit the water. Transition was hectic. Volunteers scrambled to assist and turned us around in as few minutes as possible. I easily found the Stealth right at row end, gleaming in the sun ready to go find those lava fields. Before I knew it, I was out of the screaming corridor of noise and colour and spinning along the clockwise lap of Kona out towards the highway. This should have been where I started to feel great, but instead my left leg was generating very little power thanks to an excruciating cramp / muscle spasm which set in not long after strapping my foot in. I tried to ease it by keeping the gearing light and getting mobile on a relatively easy part of the course, but it simply got worse until I was forced to stop having only gone approximately a mile. I attempted to stretch it out using the Stealth for support, when a police officer and trained nurse spotted me at the side of the road and offered their help. The best solution I could generate was a firm fist to massage and release the piraformus area (left glute), which must have looked pretty amusing to anyone who noticed as they whizzed by. It helped a little, and I got back on the bike gritting my teeth at the pain involved every time I lifted the left pedal. 10 minutes later and it seemed like just about everyone in the race had passed me. I was feeling frustration at the power limitation the pain was causing and it made me start to consider alternative 'what if?' options. I decided to take my chances once I made it out along the Queen K towards the airport, hoping I'd get used to it, rather like a deep tissue massage. That idea kept me going and kind of worked. Andy's words 'give it some welly, F' seemed to be tattooed somewhere in the Stealth's carbon skin…. The headwind for the first 30 miles was a surprise, as I'd encountered great tailwinds along the Queen K towards Mauna Lani right up to the 18 mile section up to Hawi. Today it was different, it was hard work all the way, and each time I upped the ante in effort, my left leg reminded me it hadn't gone away! The rolling uphill section to Hawi held no surprises, just the same 30-40mph cross winds that kept things interesting all the way to the turnaround. I'd been doing pretty well on the hydration front, and the aid stations every 7 miles were something to look forward to. I carried a customised Infinit blend of carbohydrate and electrolyte, made up as triple concentrate in a couple of bottles in my Minoura system behind my saddle. This worked well, by diluting a measured amount with cold water in my Profile bottle on the Stealths' tribars and it ensured I fuelled consistently with a cool mix. It really felt like a furnace on the way back, with the reflection of the midday/ early afternoon sun off the lava fields and the road surface generating an amazing amount of heat. Nothing stayed cool for long, and I actually started to appreciate the headwind once I left the cross wind fun of the downhill section from Hawi. The last 3 aid stations provided ice water which worked magic on painful feet complaining about being inside 100 degree+ bike shoes! The airport provided a welcome sight, as it's only 9 miles from Kona. I started to feel positive about ignoring the low level pain emitting from my left leg for nearly 6 hours and being able to run off the bike. Surely that would free the spasm? I hadn't expected to put in such a long bike split out there, but was so pleased I'd made it back to town. Getting off the bike was interesting, as my legs really had deserted me and a familiar knee ache was generating with each step. This is normal I've decided, racing IM, every part of your body decides to take turns hurting at various stages throughout the race. It's just attention-seeking behaviour! I spent way too long in T2 after handing the Stealth over to one of the volunteers. Ice towels and more cold water went a long way to help prepare me mentally for getting back out in the full sun again. The marathon was fantastic, with Alii Drive transformed into a tunnel of supporters despite a day which brought no afternoon respite in clouds blowing across from Mauna Lau. My family were about a mile along from Kona, which gave me a double boost on the out and back 10 mile stretch to St Peters' Church. This was also great as Rob and I were to be married here 3 days later! Palani Drive was tough, it's straight up and everyone I passed was walking. My halfway time check for the 26.2 miles was on target and I'd forgotten about being conservative to keep my left leg pain at bay. It seemed ok. I had one prolonged rough patch where I felt average heading along to the Energy lab as it's so exposed up there on the Queen K. The only support you find is the aid stations every mile. I saw the helicopter hovering over Chrissie heading back to the finish literally miles in front, and contemplated her meteoric progression from age-group World Champion last year in Lausanne (ITU Olympic distance), where we both finished in the top 5 overall only minutes apart. Wow, she's done well! The Energy Lab didn't daunt, I'd recce'd this a few days before the race and I came out of there feeling pretty strong. The next 6 miles I found a great rhythm and continued passing people all the way to the last aid station with a mile to go. With Kona in sight I put in a final sustained effort to fly to the line and secure a top ten age-group finish. Emotions and relief took over as I crossed under the finishing gantry, it was brilliant just to complete, in what had proved to be an incredibly tough day for me. The experience of an Ironman race is probably the most unpredictable, challenging and rewarding days of your life! Enjoy, Fiona

20 October 2007

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