I’m writing this from Phuket airport, reflecting on the past week. As you know from my previous post, I signed up for the Challenge Laguna Phuket 70.3 a mere 9 days before the race, to honour our friend and team mate Mehdi, who sadly lost his life in a cycling accident. Now, I can’t believe the race is all over.
Leyla and I arrived in Phuket with 48 hours to get organised. On the day we arrived Leyla’s husband William assembled our bikes, and we registered to pick up our race packs. The day was rainy, but also hot and humid, so we were apprehensive about what race day would hold. Hills with rain would be treacherous, and heat on the run would be no fun.
On Saturday, we went to the race start on the beach for a gentle swim, hopped on our bikes to test the set up, and went for a little jog. Later in the day we checked our bikes in, after getting them looked at by the bike mechanics. The highlight of our day was meeting Chris ‘Macca’ McCormack, a really nice guy who couldn’t resist my sad pleas for a groupie photo with him!
The night before the race we were surprisingly calm. We ate well and kept drinking our electrolytes, and packed up our bags for race day. Bed come early, but sleep remained elusive.
Finally the big day was here. Transition at 5.30am was a strangely eerie place, dark but buzzing with nervous chatter and excitement. After laying out our T1 and T2 gear under bin bags to keep dry, and loading the bikes with electrolytes and nutrition, we made our way to the swim start, on a ferry across the lagoon. A pretty cool start that not many races can boast!
Pink caps and googles were on, and we joined the throngs of athletes and spectators, and soaked up the atmosphere. Soon the pros were in the water, then the male age groupers, and finally it was our turn – argh! I felt like I had a good swim, my pull felt strong, I was following the buoys, and I even overtook a few people, including guys with yellow caps from the wave before. When I came out of the sea, I couldn’t understand why my time was so slow, then I realised I had swum 1600m instead of 1300m – damn. This knowledge threw me, and I had a bad swim across the lagoon- I headed towards the ferry pontoon instead of the finish, and as a consequence ended up swimming even further, totalling 2.21k instead of 1.9k. If I had swum on course, my time would have been 49mins, 3 mins faster than last year.
No time to dwell though, I pushed through T1 as fast as I could, and I knocked 4 mins off last year. Then I was on the bike and out on the crazy, scenic, hilly course. And boy was it hilly, way hillier then I remembered – I think my brain had erased the bad memories! I made it through the first 45k and hit the two steepest hills, which I walked up as planned. Coming down I was much braver than last year, and just coasted down pumping my brakes. Then it was back to the other side of the island, dismounting for a second time to cross the bridge over the main highway. The last set of hills were a killer, and once again I had to walk twice. Then the end was in sight, and it was time to hop off and prepare for the next part of the challenge. I didn’t realise until later that my bike time was 2 mins slower than last year – I am still puzzled by this as I am way stronger on the bike now.
I managed to cut my time in T2 by 5 mins, and then I was out on the run course. The heat was unbelievable, and the sun was out, making the run extremely hard. I struggled through the first 5k due to some bladder issues, then found my rhythm a little, but I have to confess the heat got the better of me and I walked far more than I should have. I was mentally done, and I allowed my body to give in. Definitely something I need to work on before my next long race. I struggled from aid station to aid station,taking coke and sponges to cool me down. But eventually I was on the second loop and the end was in sight. I knew Leyla was waiting for me, and I managed to pick my feet up and run the final stretch. I saw Leyla’s face and she handed me Mehdi’s flag, and that was it – I ran through the finish line with his flag high above my head and a beaming smile on my face. I accepted my medal and found Leyla – I collapsed on her and we both cried, a mixture of elation, exhaustion and thoughts of dear Mehdi. I wish he and the rest of ONEndurance could have been there to share the magical moment.
And that was it, it was all over. My final time was slower than last year, but by now I was just glad to be finished, and proud to have crossed the finish line for Mehdi. The rest of the day passed in a blur – we collected our bikes, had a dip in the pool and dressed up for the awards party. A few drinks, and it was early to bed again, too tired for wild partying.
Leyla did fantastically well in her race, finishing in just over 6 hours, coming 6th in our age category. All her hard training over the past 16 weeks really paid off. She is my hero! We have already been plotting our next big race, and Leyla has signed up for the Ironman Eagleman 70.3 next June, in the US. I hope to join her, and this time I will have plenty of time to train and work on the lessons I’ve learnt.
We spent the rest of the week just chilling by the pool and on the beach, having massages and generally relaxing. I need to say a huge thank you to Leyla’s beautiful family for adopting me and making me feel so welcome, and to Leyla herself for making racing together so much fun – I think we made a good team.
I also need to thank Luis, my incredible coach and friend. I had no time for race specific training, but the base training that Luis has prescribed over the last 6 months got me through the difficult race. He was with me every stroke, pedal and step of the way, the little voice in my head pushing me on. Thank you Luis.
And now it’s off to Singspore for some more fun with my dear friends Ruth & Ben, and their little boy Brae who I haven’t met yet. Bring on the next set of adventures!