Last year I raced Ironman Nice. Most of you will know that I had a solid race and managed to come 6th in my age group and thus qualify for Ironman Hawaii. I expected my times to be what they were but I did not expect to come 6th let alone get a sought after slot. So when booking my flights, I came back on the Monday morning therefore not being at the presentation awards where you have to be to accept and pay for your entry. In fact, I am sure as I was in the taxi to the airport I could hear my name being called out!

Fast forward a few months and I had decided to return to the place where I had such a great time to recreate the perfect race and go a bit faster to make sure I got that slot. Training changed a bit – more consistent hard indoor bike sessions and while nutrition last year gave me enough energy I altered a couple of things.

For some reason I had decided to tell only a few close friends that I was doing Nice. I didn’t want too much pressure being put on me. I had told people I was racing Majorca and that went well. A great opportunity to put into practise Nice strategies – and they worked.

Once in France things were nicely coming together and I was confident that I would go faster than the previous year. Whether it would be good enough for a Hawaii slot I didn’t know, but I was willing to give it a bash and see where I would be placed at the end of the day. I was hoping for a hot race – last year a lot of people suffered on the run and while it is never nice to see others suffering, I benefited from not blowing up as much as others. The heat didn’t arrive. Due to the race being nearly a month early as the football was set to take over the whole of Europe the temperature was about 10 degrees less.

The swim was also different – a rolling start worked well in Majorca as they let off 5 people every 10 seconds meant less crowds. However Nice is famous for its mass start. 2 steps and you are up to your chest due to the steep slope on the shore. Arms, legs and bodies all getting mixed but it didn’t last long as the start line was very wide. Not to be this year and it was different to Majorca too. The gun/cannon went off and everyone filtered through the arch. When you crossed the timing mat you were racing. It was chaos. Quite possibly the most aggressive swim I have done up – it was like a battle scene from Game of Thrones, only with fewer dragons. I guess because of the narrowness of the start channel.

After a frantic start it settled down and I hauled myself out of the water in 54 minutes – 2 minutes faster than last year. Good start.

Onto the bike and the plan was to hold about 240 watts over the whole day. I have been working with Best Bike Split that predicts and plans your power for the race and had success with it. 240 watts would leave me with enough energy to run a good marathon. Then nutrition plan was simple – 10 gels, 10 salt tablets, and 5 bottles of energy drink. Drink when thirsty and make sure the gels have gone by the time the bike is parked in T2.

Being a strong(ish) swim/runner and an average biker I know that there will be a constant stream of people called Gunter, Jan, Pepe, Jean-Paul etc. going past me – as well as the usual Emma. I get used to this and my ego can cope with it but at times you get lonely. There was the odd dark moment but I felt I was riding well and my body was not having too many issues.

Bike racked and after saying “Oui Monsieur” to a very helpful lady who asked if I wanted sun cream on my neck I set off. The plan was as simple as the bike. Stick to 7:05 minute miles for each and every mile. Take salt tablets regularly to stop the legs from cramping and seizing up and take something at each aid station. Keep your head up and your hips will follow. First mile – 6:55. Bugger. Slow down. 2nd mile – 6:59. Bugger but getting closer. 7:01; 7:02; 6:56; 6:56. First lap was 2 minutes too quick. After a quick shout at myself to stop cocking this up I settled into the second lap. 6:57; 7:01; 7:00; 6:54; 7:03; 7:12. Pretty bloody consistent and I was probably more impressed with that than I was angry and scared about was would happen anytime soon. Half way in 1:31 – too fast. The wheels were well and truly going to come off. Lap 3 – 7:20 (had a chat with a friend/athlete I coach – still feeling like David Rudisha); 7:01; 6:55. Running very nicely with an Italian and a French guy who were younger than me. Then it went wrong. At the turn of the third lap I laughed out loud as the fat lady started to sing. 7:18; 7:27; 8:16 (double gel trick); 7:44; 7:23 (double gel trick working). A 25-minute half lap doesn’t sound disastrous at all. But I was struggling. I picked up my special needs bag with my special drink in and that just settled everything. More shouting at myself and the last lap was underway. Picking up the pace. Back on it for the out section and I was flying for the last bit. A 21:26 final 5.4km was way more than I expected and I was running on adrenaline and the fact that I was staring down the barrel of a low 9:30 ironman – more than 10 minutes faster than last year – and a possible Kona slot. No dramatic aeroplane across the line this year. Due to the fact that it was a rolling start I knew that people who crossed the line after me could still be faster than me and I didn’t want to lose by seconds. Over the line and splat.

9:32:49 – 11 minutes faster. With a 3:02:29 run split. Pleased didn’t even come close to how I felt at that moment.

Then I found out that I was 10th. TENTH??? I had overtaken Leanda Cave and left the former world in a cloud of dust. I had run 2 minutes faster than I had planned. 9 minutes faster than last year where I had the 21st fastest run overall.

And that is what makes this sport amazing and yet so frustrating. I had the race of my life. So did lots of others. To share the course with at least 3 professional World Champions was an honour.  To be 41 minutes behind the winner of our age group is so humbling. To be 4 minutes 38 seconds off the podium is on one hand hard to swallow but I didn’t have those 4 and a half minutes. My best wasn’t good enough and I can live with that.

I have to say thank you to a few people who have helped me -

Andy Blow from Precision Hydration – the salt tablets gave me the confidence to chase on the bike and the run. Not back off just in case I was going to cramp. Andy has also been a massive help talking to over the past 6 months –I got so much information from him – once I caught him up in the pool!

Zone 3 Wetsuits – The 2016 Vanquish is just the most amazing and comfortable wetsuit I have ever worn. The perfect balance, buoyancy and fit for me.

Newton Running – This years’ Distance V is such a great shoe. Comfortable, light, firm yet cushioned in all the right places. Plus, they look superfly!

Xendurance – the Fuel5 was my magic drink when things were looking dodgy. Easy to drink, not too sweet at all and picked me up straight away.

All my friends and family who gave me the motivation to push – again without even knowing. Who helped me with training and gave me a shove when I needed it and made me laugh and remind me that there is more to life than swim/bike/run. I raced with you all in my heart.

Oscar – he won’t read this yet but having a 9-year-old as my hero is the best thing. Seeing him grow, learn, fail, succeed and overcome things is amazing. I have learnt more from him than you can imagine. He surprises me every day and I am so proud to be able to watch develop and have an influence.