Exiting the water in 1hr 8mins, running past the cheering crowds and into transition was exhilarating. I took my time in transition, got myself organised for the bike and downed a bottle of recovery drink. On the bike I could feel it was still a chilly morning but I got my head down for the first 14 miles of the course which took us out to the main bike course loop. The main loop was about 33 miles which we went round three times. My strategy was to work solidly but not too hard out to the main loop and over the first lap to get a good average speed in the bag. At that point I assessed the effort and knew I was comfortably inside a good time. I eased off through the second lap to keep my heart rate under control and focused on getting enough fluid and nutrition in. On each lap we had to go up a long nasty steep climb which was a severe lung buster and leg-burner. Minimising the damage from these climbs was my priority so I approached these sections as easily as I could but maximised my effort for the downhill or tail wind assisted sections of the course. For the third lap the wind had picked up making it harder work, but as I was still on good time so I backed off a fraction more to conserve my legs for the run. This was the part I feared the most!
As I approached the 112th mile and second transition of the bike section I was hugely relieved. I’d spent nearly 5hrs 45mins in the aero position and my body was screaming at me to get off and straighten up. Getting off the bike and running to get my transition bag I was acutely aware that I was pretty much bent over double stuck in my bike position. I braced myself that the run was going to feel quite uncomfortable for the first mile or so! In transition I slumped on a chair reluctant to do anything in a hurried fashion. Having stopped, I now began to feel the tiredness and I the enormity of the next run section began to dawn on me. “I don’t know how I’m going to be able to do this” I whimpered in despair to the volunteers who were helping me with my bags. “You will” they chirped back encouragingly. As I let out a big sigh and trotted off to run a marathon they raised my spirits by telling me I’d do great!
Gradually I felt my back straighten up and my legs began to loosen. My body started to respond, clearly much happier that it was doing something other than hunching over bike handle bars. For the first few miles I skipped along at a comfortable pace. But I was hugely uncomfortable with a bloated, painful stomach and feelings of nausea. It was to be expected as it’s hard to consume the quantities of fluid and food that’s needed and digest it whilst doing exercise. My body was making sure I didn’t force anything else down it by making me feel ill. Ideally, during the first hour of the run I should have been taking in lots of energy and fluid but I couldn’t do it. I didn’t feel like I was lacking in energy so I made the decision to consume nothing more until I felt better.
It wasn’t until the 6th mile that I started to feel more comfortable and resumed a steady intake of sipping energy gels and water. By this point my pace was no longer comfortable. The course had taken us along a canal and up round a super steep hill which was so steep I pretty much had to crawl up over the crest. It was like someone had taken a sledge hammer to my legs. ‘Bang’ – they blew big time and their working capacity was reduced by about 25%! There was still a huge distance to go but I tried not to think about it. My legs were only capable of doing what they were doing, I had no control over making them go harder and I accepted my slower pace. In order to protect my hip which I feared would be my main limitation and prevent me from reaching the finish, I ran with a shortened, higher stride rate. The feeling for most of the run was not a feeling of propelled running, but more of a ridiculous shuffle which at times felt like my feet were barely leaving the ground. But I was going to do whatever I had to do to keep going whilst being sensible about my pace. Crossing the finish line in a slow time was preferable to trying to run faster, which would only gain me a few minutes, but risk blowing and crossing the finish line in a really slow time or not at all.