Another World Championships – that makes it sound mundane and just run of the mill! Ha Ha!
For me this was my 5th start in Kona, and 6th Ironman World Championships start. How the heck did we get here when I still feel like such a rookie. Yet, the second oldest female Pro and one of a handful with more than 4 World Champs starts.
Did I think when I turned Pro, I’d be able to say that? No way!
Ironman World Championships 2023 had a slightly different feel to them. Not only was it the first time in the history of the sport that Kona was an all women event, not only was it a record breaking year – Lucy Charles-Barclay breaking the course record; Anne Haug breaking the run record, and 16 women going sub 9hours. In 2014 when Mirinda Carfrae won, her time would have put her 17th in 2023. Annoyingly for me I finished in that 16th spot, which whilst put me ahead of Rinny and her 2014 win, it left me in the first non prize money spot.
However, it’s not necessarily about that (although would have been nice), for me 2023 had a different feel. At Ironman Brazil in May, I was hit by a car during the bike leg and suffered a brain bleed. That was where I was hoping to qualify for the Ironman World Championships. I went from 30hours a week training to zero. I wasn’t allowed to drive, I could only walk for 20mins, and was meant to rest… a lot. No screens or anything either. Training took a back seat obviously whilst I just tried to rest and recover and let my brain heal. I have never had a sustained period of time for 5 to 6 to 7 weeks where I have done nothing! I’ve always played sport. Even off seasons are active of some sort. Also, with a brain injury it’s just so new, and also unknown. An invisible injury that is hard to explain and hard to also understand.
It’s been a long road back, at times I wasn’t sure I would be back. Lingering symptoms and changes in energy levels and fatigue levels have all meant that the amazing team I’ve had around me have also been working over time to get me back. I was fortunate to be offered a Wild Card to allow me to compete at this years Ironman World Championships, and the opportunity to line up against the best women in the world, and heck was this year stacked and on fire!
I went into this years race with a bit of an unknown. The last time I raced was March (a half distance), and the last full I did was Kona 2022! Training in the last few weeks had gone well for where I was at, but it was still an unknown as to on race day would my body and brain play ball.
Swim – I had a solid swim but missed the pack I was ideally wanting to be in. But found some good feet who moved through the packs and we caught back up with a group by the end of the swim.
Bike – the plan was if the legs felt good, to ride aggressively. We figured this year there was nothing to lose so why not. Legs felt pretty good as we hit the hot lap around town and I managed to relatively easily ride away from the swim pack I’d been with. But once on the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway, I just wasn’t quite able to get the numbers. So, plan B – keep riding as hard as I could, and as best as I could, but it would be a bit more of a conservative day. And, keep your head in the game as it’s a long way to go. I rode pretty solo for the first 60km, and only once I started the climb to Hawi, did I start to see women coming back to me. This gave me confidence that even though my numbers were down, I was moving through the field and race. I continued to make progress, still predominantly solo, passing more women, and felt the strongest I’ve ever felt in the last 20km back into T2. I think we were pretty lucky with the weather making for the fast day and quick times. There was relatively little wind for Kona, and feel in hindsight I could have easily have chosen the Parcours Chrono wheels set for front and rear. I had, with the lead up I’d had, gone with the Chrono Rear and Strade front wheel. This pairing pushing the centre of gravity into the back and offering a little more stability at the front. It’s a good option for windy gusty conditions which was my pre race decision. As said in hindsight, with the conditions that showed on the day, the Chrono Front could have been used.
Run – again the run was steady. I came off the bike in 17th (after 37th after the swim… oops) and ensured I took the first part of the run controlled, knowing it’s about the last 12km after the Energy Lab. I felt pretty good (relatively) and controlled. Passed a couple of people, was also passed and so hovered around that 16th/17th position. I managed to move up to 15th – coming out of the Energy Lab and made an effort to catch 14th, exchanging places trying to secure that 15th position. It was painful but good to be in a bit of a fight and to keep engaged and the pressure on. Although you always feel like you are upping the pace and “sprinting” when in reality you are still moving at the same steady pace, the body and everything just is hurting more! Ha ha! In the end I wasn’t quite able to hold it, although I tried.
It was awesome however to see fellow Brit and Parcours athlete Ruth Astle having a great day after the years she has had, and full credit too, to also Brit and Parcours team mate Fenella Langridge, for finishing the day off when it wasn’t going her way or what she’d hope for.
So 16th for my 2023 Ironman World Championships. Would I have liked more – for sure. We are athletes and we always strive for more and better. So am I satisfied, no. Am I happy, well I’m pretty proud of what I achieved and what I gave on the day, considering the last 5 months since Brazil and the build up we had.