#PORTMAC703

After the unpleasantness of my last blog post, it’s nice to be able to share a more encouraging post and remind everyone that I’m still on the winning side of life.

Late last year I decided I needed another challenge to focus on, so I decided to sign up for another half ironman. There were two reasons I chose to race Port Macquarie. First, there was a big group from my club going, and team support makes these events all the more enjoyable and rewarding. Second, I could throw the bike in the car and drive there. I probably didn’t really consider how far the drive was, and the fact I would have to drive home after the race. I have now learnt that it is also a good idea to check out the course profile. It wasn’t until I was well into my training that I discovered there were a few bumps (read: hills. read: one massive hill some people have to get off and walk their bike). To late now…

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Image: Team Pursue via Pursue Club Instagram

A week out from the race I saw my race number was 2444. I joked that it was lucky I wasn’t from China, as 4 is considered an unlucky number, and I had three of them! As it turned out, instead of being ‘unlucky’ I had a good omen: 2444 is the Port Macquarie post code. As the volunteers handed me my race pack, they joked that there would be a lot of locals jealous of my number.

On the day before the race, after doing a practice swim (hands down best swimming conditions I have ever raced), we went to go see what all the fuss was about with Matthew Flinders Drive. It was tough, but doable…and hopefully doable with 80km in the legs.

On race morning, we couldn’t have asked for more perfect conditions. A light breeze, no rain – bliss. Although I was flying solo at this event (my PIC couldn’t make it down), I was thankful for all the Pursue members to settle the nerves. I was one of three doing the 70.3 distance, with 11 doing the full Ironman distance.

There’s no better feeling than starting the race. No more anticipation – just go. I pulled out my best swim time, averaging 1:52/100ms. Steady, consistent and strong (for me). I raced to transition to my rockstar racking position (I was the first bike in transition, as I had to move from my original designated spot due to a green ant mound taking up residence there too).

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Heading out on the bike there are a number of hills for the first 8kms. I was a bit worried I was pushing too hard, as I was overtaking a lot of guys. But I felt I was maintaining a comfortable pace and this continued for the whole bike leg. I didn’t have any moments of thinking “I hate this”, “What the hell are you doing this for?”. I was loving it, so much that I was excited when I saw the sign for the dreaded Matthew Flinders Drive. Words of affirmation were said out loud and there was no way I wasn’t making it up. I watched as numerous people stopped and unclipped, but I was determined I was going to make it. There are a lot of spectators on this hill, and I got the lift I needed by them calling out my name and telling me I was going to make it. And I did…(meanwhile I think my heart rate spiked to about 190 beats). For me, the indication of a good cycle leg is overtaking guys, but not having many girls overtake me (and of course getting in enough nutrition and staying consistent). It’s a confident boost to know you’re holding your own with the girls on course – and of course I love nothing more than saying “On your right” and shooting past a guy.

I was feeing confident I was going to make my sub-3 hour goal on the bike, but my excitement was short-lived when the guy in front me stopped dead in his tracks, causing me to panic stop and unclip. I felt for him as his chain had fallen off, but he stopped on a small rise, and my legs were too fried from the monster hill that I couldn’t get started again. I couldn’t believe I had just made it up Matthew Flinders, and now I was scooting myself along up the tinniest rise. Finally I was back clipped in and heading back to transition, but those few minutes cost me my sub-3 time, and I finished the bike in 3:02.

In the lead up to this race, I was most excited about the run. I had an awful run in Cairns, but this time I had been training using a run/walk strategy. The plan was to run strong between the aid stations, and walk the aid stations. I knew I would be mentally stronger, as walking wasn’t a failure –  it was part of the plan. Sadly, it didn’t turn out that way. I was feeling very ordinary all run with bad reflux and couldn’t take in any nutrition. I pulled out a reasonably good 10km, but then faded. Part of me wanted to throw in the towel with 10km to go, but I knew I had done so well to this point. So I stuck it out. I was encouraged and rewarded with team support each lap, and there is no better feeling than knowing the finish line is only minutes away. My goal was sub 2-hours on the run, and I finished the run leg in a time of 2:02.

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Image: Amanda from Pursue Triathlon Club

My watch was telling me lies and I thought I had finished in 5:44, but the official time was 5:48. It’s a 9-minute improvement from Cairns, but I have to remind myself that every course is different, and this was definitely more challenging. The best thing about the rest of the day was cheering from the sidelines all the Ironman athletes.

 

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Image: With Amanda & Kathy from Pursue (who did a sneaky drive down to support us) cheering on the Ironman athletes

I’ve had a solid 6 days of recovering and being lazy, but I’m ready to get back to training for the next challenge.

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How’s ya health?

It’s a questions I’m asked often. And the usual reply is “No complaints”.

If you had asked me that questions last week, it would have been a difficult one to answer.

For those not in the boob industry, you may not have heard that last year they revealed some findings that has linked breast implants to a rare type of blood cancer – ALCL (anaplastic large cell lymphoma). The link has been made with textured implants (there are two types – textured surface or smooth…in case you were interested to know), and my guess is 99% of women who have implants due to reconstruction from breast cancer have textured – as we don’t have tissue to help with forming a nice shape, which textured ones do.

Of course when I heard this news, my first phone call was to my plastic surgeon to ask the million dollar questions: which type do I have? I’ll let you guess the answer to that… After consulting with my plastic surgeon, Dr O, I learnt that even though I am at higher risk of developing ALCL – 1 in 6000 chance (compared to the 1 in 500,000 they originally reported), I would probably notice the symptoms early. These include pain, swelling or a pocket of fluid. Not having tissue will make these symptoms more noticeable.

Fast forward 6 months from that appointment, to last week.

Wednesday morning my alarm went off at 3:50 am for my usually Wednesday morning run session. As soon as I got up, I felt a stabbing pain in the side of my breast; I instantly knew something felt “off”. I tolerated it for most of the morning before deciding maybe I should see someone about it. I sometimes feel like a hypochondriac, and worry the doctors will just shake their head and say I’m imagining it, but as it turns out I hadn’t imagined it and the ultrasound revealed fluid around the implant.

As you can imagine, my first reaction when I learnt the news was: “But I have an Ironman 70.3 in 3 weeks???”

As you can imagine, their reaction was: “And…?”

I’ve spent the past weekend trying to act normal. Trying to train as I would without the cloud of uncertainty following me around. After all, if it was nothing, why waste my last weekend of solid training before tapering (I know, priorities…).

And I’m glad I did, because the results came back clear.

I know this will be something I will constantly have to face for the rest of my life, and I swear if cancer doesn’t kill me, I’m sure to die of a heart attack from the scares along the way.

Back to tapering…

 

Crushin’ goals.

Note: It has taken me way too long to write this post, so much so that it feels almost ‘outdated’.

Continue at will…

….a few years ago I had a crazy idea. I had decided I wanted to represent Australia in triathlon as an ‘Age Grouper’ (age grouper = non professional). And now I can say that just over a month ago my crazy idea came true, except not in triathlon (swim-bike-run) but in duathlon (run-bike-run).

I had no idea this was a thing – representing your country as an ‘Age Grouper’, until I started getting back in the triathlon circle in Ipswich and Brisbane. To explain simply how you can represent your country in such events: do some races, get some points and apply to be on the team. Presto. There are a certain amount of spots for each age group and each event, and if you have enough points then qualify.

Now, I must make it clear that this opportunity to wear Green & Gold is entirely self-funded: race entry, flights, accommodation, uniforms etc. So, as you can image, not everyone that is racing in these events is racing to quality. Which allows for opportunities for people (like myself) to get the golden ticket by only competing in one qualifying race. I call it my Stephen Bradbury moment.

Qualifying was one thing, however, getting to the start line was more difficult. It wasn’t smooth sailing and I had to work through a rolled ankle, influenza/man flu, and a month before the race inflammation in the foot. A few weeks before the race I did consider withdrawing – what was the point if I wasn’t prepared properly for the world stage? But I decided that a DNF (did not finish) was better than a DNS (did not start). And it was non-refundable…

Without boring you all with all the other drama of broken bike parts and trips to the physiotherapist, I’ll skip straight to race day…

 

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There’s a common thought process with racing: never try something new on race day. I’ve never been one to follow the rules, and so to throw into the mix the lack of training, I was going to be wearing new shoes for both the 10 km run and 5 km run off-the-bike, I would be wearing the Australian triathlon suit for the first time, and using completely foreign nutrition during the race.

I decided since this was the World Championships, I should put a little effort into warming up before the race. I was still nervous to not do too much, in case the pain starting in my foot before the horn even sounded. I used the knowledge I had from my Wednesday morning speed sessions with Pursue (thanks Andy) and put in a solid warm up. We were called into our waiting pens and the nerves were kicking in. Our wave was 18-39 year olds, so I was going to be taking off with some seriously fast kids. And as usually, once the horn sounds everyone takes off at lightning speed with false expectations of being able to hold the speed.

I looked at my watch and I was running 4:10 m/km. Clearly not an achievable pace for me to hold, as my previous best time for a 10 km was an average 4:40 m/km plus. I slowed my self down and tried to be smart. That was until a group of American girls came behind me. They were working in a group and encouraging another American girl to join them. I know the invitation wasn’t to me, but I decided my best chance to get through this run was to jump on the back of the group. They were pushing a solid pace, but it was comfortable. One girl was constantly encouraging the others, and I was soaking up those words like a sponge – even though they weren’t directed to me. After the first lap they had accepted I was there and was encouraging me too. The final lap of the 2.5 km course I knew I was heading towards a 10 km personal best time. It was my motivation to keep pushing, and I had no foot pain. As I entered transition knowing I had taken about 1.5 mins of my personal best time, I was ecstatic – Thanks Team USA!

The first transition was the calmest and most organised I’ve ever felt. I knew exactly where my bike was – always a good start. Then I saw a Brazillian girl who I knew had her bike racked opposite me. She was running around frantically with a volunteer – she was lost! I decided I should help her, and yelled out for her to follow me. It must have been the good vibes I was feeling from my new 10 km time, but then I had the realisation that she may be in my age group and could now beat me – doh!

As I left transition and mounted my bike I instantly knew something didn’t feel right, especially when I moved down onto my aero bars. I kept looking at my leg and realised I couldn’t get a full extension. I kept looking down at my seat and I knew it was too low. I couldn’t work out why, as I had tested my bike over the previous days. There was nothing I could do, as I didn’t have a tool in my spares kit to adjust it (lesson learnt). It was frustrating seeing girls blitz past me that I had beaten on the run. There was a lot of expletive language mixed with motivational pep talks. I alternated riding on and out of the saddle to give my legs a flush out and stretch. Not only was this going to affect my bike leg, but running after 40km in this position was going to hurt. The bike course was 2 x 20 km laps: head wind out, tail wind back – twice. I’ve never been so happy to part ways with my bike after finishing the 40 km course.

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All that was left was two more laps of the 2.5 km loop. I just wanted to get it done and I was surprised at how well my legs were coping off the bike. I keep pushing hard and came away with a 5 km personal best time off-the-bike. The highlight of the whole event, was running towards the finish line and being handed an Australian flag by the team support crew. I waved that flag as hard as I could and crossed the finish line with the biggest smile on my face.

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Regardless of what happened on the bike, I couldn’t have done anything more. Yes, the bike slowed down my overall time and affected my overall placing, but pulling off two running personal best times, when I didn’t even know if I could run the first 10 km was more than enough to walk away with. And there is always next year…

And after every hard race, one deserves a treat.

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The Last Goodbye

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When I was going through treatment, I wrote. I wrote to process information and events. So here I am, again, putting finger to keyboard (it just doesn’t sound as good as pen to paper…). However, this time the cancer journey was not mine, it was my fathers.

Many people were unaware that my father was battling metastatic prostate cancer, even his close friends. He was not one to concern others with his problems (sometimes even his daughters). He found out it had become ‘metastatic’ (meaning it had spread) a bit over five years ago.

In those five years he continued to live life in the same way – full of adventure and taking any opportunity that came his way. He sailed the Caribbean – twice – and recently bought a Harley Davidson, and rode it from Gladstone to the Gold Coast. That was two months ago, and that is when the reality of his illness hit home. It would be his last big adventure, as it was becoming evident that his body was starting to lose the battle.

In the past two months there were many doctors appointments, but the options were running out. Being the fighter that he was, he didn’t believe the doctors and searched tirelessly for other options. He was never a man to accept the word ‘no’ and now was no different. But there was no cure and no treatment, and I think that was the hardest thing to accept.

On Friday October 29, I had planned to have lunch with him. During the past few years battling cancer, he had given up drinking to try to improve his health. But now as there were no other treatment to stop the progression of the cancer, he decided it was time to have a drink. And it would be his chance to share some stories about his life.

Lunch never eventuated. Friday morning he went to the Emergency Department. We didn’t think he would survive the night or week end. He said our goodbyes to us, and us to him. But the next morning, he was back to his cheeky self. Without knowing what was ahead of us, close friends stopped by to visit and reminisce on times together. In those moments he was happy; he was living. But in other moments he wanted to check out. He didn’t want to live in pain, nor did he want to live in this state. He was an independent, adventurous man, and he was losing touch of that man. To his credit, he kept his wicked sense of humour to the very end.


After five nights in hospital, he was moved to a Palliative Care Unit at a different hospital. Although he often felt he was a burden on us, as my sister an I spent every day with him, it was never the case. It allowed us to look through photos together, and spend as much time as possible with him. Over the next few days, fatigue and tiredness took over his body, and each day he slipped further and further away. I was fortunate enough to be staying in his room overnight when he passed. He was not alone.

Today marks a week since his friends were able to visit and say goodbye while he was still with us. And today we gather to say goodbye one final time with him watching from above, but to also celebrate a life lived well and full.

You learn a lot when you have someone in your life that has a terminal illness.

1/ The hardest conversations are sometimes the most rewarding conversations. Our father was a sailor, and he lived a lot of his life at sea. When I thought about what his wishes would be after he passed away, I thought he would want to have his ashes scattered at sea. This is what we would have done or decided if we hadn’t had that conversation. So when I asked him, when he was filling out his Will, I was shocked to find out that he wanted to be in a spot where some of his friends had been buried. He wanted to have a resting place where people could come and visit and lay flowers.
2/ It’s ok to plan ahead. I felt sick at the thought about asking Dad if he wanted to pre-plan his funeral arrangements and speak with a Funeral Director. But apparently it is a very normal thing to do, and rewarding for the person dying to have their say. We were in the process of this, but he became too unwell too soon.  I wish I had been brave enough to have the conversation earlier.

3/ Technology is the best. When I sat with him in the Emergency Department on the day we were due to have lunch, he started to tell me stories. He still wanted to share his life story, and he knew he was running out of time. I took out my phone and started taking notes, and then I remembered that I had an app to record. That app was used many times in the last week, and now my sister and I will always be able to listen to his voice and his stories.

4/ Write your story, while you are healthy. Although he didn’t get a chance to tell his whole life story, he was able to share things with us that nobody else knows, as most of it was from his younger years and growing up in Finland. I wish we had started writing his story earlier, because there were so many to be told.

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Goal set. Goal achieved.

You would think that after pushing the body and mind to its limits, you would just want to crawl up into a ball and collapse. I thought I did, but that lasted all of 5 minutes. So instead, I am sitting on my balcony watching the Ironman Athletes slug out a 42.2km run. And. I. Am. In. Awe. Not only for what they are achieving, but also the camaraderie I can see from here – pats on the back and words of encouragement to fellow competitors.

But I’ll take a break from that and share my thoughts on today – sorry it’s a long one.

For three long years I have lusted over the idea of competing in a half-ironman event, or an Ironman 70.3, as it is formally known.

I first decided to compete in one after only 6 months of involvement in triathlon. A friend at the time was training for the full iron distance event. At first I thought he was crazy when he would tell me about the distances of the race. But, the more I though about it, the more I started to think differently… I want to do that…I can do that…

In true Rochelle fashion the decision was made. I set about researching different courses and was spoilt with many exotic locations to choose from, as I was living in London. After a few months pondering my options I decided on Mallorca — crystal clear waters and Sangria post race. It wasn’t a hard decision.

As I was a newbie to the sport I was being conservative and giving myself plenty of time to train; it was June 2013 and the race wasn’t until May, 2014. In hindsight, it was lucky the race wasn’t until 11 months later, because it allowed me to hover over the registration button. Next payday I’ll register, I would say to myself, it won’t sell out just yet…

In the end, my procrastination paid off. Before I took the giant step to commit and register, I discovered I had breast cancer.

ButI don’t need to sit here and rehash the whole breast cancer journey — most of you have been there every step of the way, and most of you have known how driven I was to get back to this point of competing in my first 70.3.

There’s been frustration, from having my fitness taken away and having to start from scratch…a few times. But each time I thought of the professional athletes who have had to deal with injuries. Breast cancer was my injury. If they could get back to the start line, so could I.

So here I am. On the other side of that invisible point that never left my sight.

“The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.” ― Molière

There have been obstacles, and I’m feeling every bit of glory right now in my achievement.

I had three goals for this race.

1/ To start.

This might sound obvious, but it is that time of year when sickness is circulating and a cough and sniff from the person next to you can be your undoing. Also, I’m a bit clumsy and in the two weeks leading up to the race I rolled my ankle walking King…anything can happen.

2/ To finish.
I didn’t doubt I had the physical ability to finish, but things happen. Bike malfunctions or crocodile attacks are unforeseeable…

3/ To finish between 5:45-6:00hrs.
When people asked my goal time I always said under 6 hours. I knew 6 hours was “achievable” and allowed for the unknown. Anything else was a dream.

Today I raced to my abilities and accepted the ‘unknowns’, finishing in at time of 5:57.

So here we go… Cairns Ironman 70.3…

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Completely soaked pre race.

 

It wouldn’t be Tropical North Queensland without some tropical weather. And boy did the sky open up and show us the goods. As the rain droplets fell just before 5am, they were put down as “passing showers”, but less than 30mins later the first downpour arrived.

 

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I was lucky to get through my swim and 20 minutes on the bike before the next downpour started. And it continued for most of the ride. For the next 70km I could hardly see 1 meter in front of me, as my glasses don’t have built-in windscreen wipers. Each time the rain stopped I hoped that the lenses would dry out, but then the rain started again. My special Oakley lenses that improve viability and definition on the road were no help to me. It was a wild, windy and wet ride. But I kept pushing and with 30km to go I was overtaking people on the home stretch.

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Thanks Mikey for the snap while on course

All things considered, I had a goal for 3:00-3:15hrs for the bike – it’s not my strength. So to finish in 3hrs 33sec, in those conditions, I was stoked. I knew I was on track when I set off running for my sub-6 time, but how far ‘sub’ could I get.

 

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It was a 2-lap course of just over 10km to make up the 21.1km run. The first lap I managed to keep the pace I wanted but on the second lap my stomach was starting to rumble. Four-plus hours of gels and energy chews were starting to take its toll. I passed one of the supporter tents, which had some inspirational messages pegged into the ground. One said: “Never Trust An Ironman Fart”. I laughed…but I thought it may be good advice. So in the last lap I made four port-a-loo stops. I knew this would affect my run time, but I was willing to sacrifice a few minutes to end the race “fresh”.

With 5km to go I told myself, it’s just a parkrun left. With 3km to go I told myself, it’s just a run to Wednesday morning training. With 1km go, I told myself it’s just a warm up. And then my feet touched the soaked carpet of the finish shoot, and the end was in sight.

Finish line

There’s a saying: “Never do things by halves.” However, when talking about Ironman, I think it is one scenario that doing something by half is still looked upon as being an enormous achievement.

As I get back to watching the Ironman competitors and my fellow Pursue Club members tackle the run, I’ll leave you with a list of “thank yous”.

There’s no Oscars music to drown me out, so this could take a while.

To my partner *gush*:
Thank you for putting up with me while I’ve been Nancy-no-fun as I’ve struggled to stay awake past 8pm for the past three months; for accepting my unenthusiastic attitude towards any entertaining that would affect my 8 hours of sleep; for putting up with my hissy fits on the bike when I’ve doubted my ability; and for all the Tuesday morning River Loops and Sunday long rides. I dedicate my bike leg to you.

To the Pursue Triathlon Club and Coach Andy:
If it wasn’t for the Club and Andy I wouldn’t have competed today. I kept thinking: “Maybe next year I would be ready…” But he encouraged me to believe I was already ready. To everyone in the club for their encouragement while training and company on the long Saturday runs, I dedicate my run to you.

To the Grimsey Brothers – Codie and Trent:
Swimming has been my battle, but thank you for pushing me to stay in the 2-minute lane, even when I wanted to drop back to 2.10. It wasn’t the swim I had hoped for, but I got it done, and all the training you gave me put me in a better position for the rest of the day. S0, I dedicate my swim to you.

To my friends who trained with me each time I had to rebuild after treatment and surgery:
Mark, my running encourager, and Scott, who patiently reminded me how to use gears on a bike after taking 12 months off. Thank you.

To may family:
Last, but not least. For flying up to Cairns to support this big event and everything else from when I was born until now (there’s too much to mention so hopefully that sums things up). It was a tough day spectating. Yes, the weather while racing was hammering me, but they stood watching and cheering in the conditions also. Thank you!

Comfort Zones

For the first time in a long time, I can finally say I have routine in my life. And it’s amazing. But I’ve become a creature of habit; a creature of operating in my comfort zones — especially when it comes to my training.

I’m a morning person. The 4am alarms are my friend. Going to an evening squad session only happens after a lengthy internal dialogue trying to find excuses not to go.

Being a morning person works in my favour when it comes to racing, as most races start in the morning. I have my routine – my comfort zone/safety blanket routine…and it mainly revolves around food. I know what to eat, when to eat and how much to eat to get me through the race. But yesterday, things were thrown in turmoil (slight exaggeration) when I raced the Byron Bay triathlon. It’s a lunchtime start…my wave started at 12:37.

For the past week my mind has been occupied with how I was going to adjust to the late start. What would I eat, when would I eat…and how much would I eat? I remember running the Twilight 10 km a few years ago with a start time of 5pm. I was bloated and sluggish from grazing all day — it wasn’t pleasant.

Although this race was going to challenge my comfort zones, I knew I would reap the benefits of racing later in the day as Ironman Cairns 70.3 is only five weeks away, and I’ll be out on the course at similar times.

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Byron Bay was a new course for me; I have only raced Olympic Distance (OD) at Mooloolaba. Byron Bay—like Mooloolaba—is an ocean swim, but has a few more hills on bike course and finishes with flat run (4 x 2.5 km loops). With nearly four months of solid training for Cairns, I was hopeful to shave few minutes off my previous OD time.

I had heard reports that the swim was the one of the best around — clear and calm waters. And it didn’t disappoint — you could see the fishes swimming below. Unseasonably warm weather turned it into a non-wetsuit swim, but I still managed one of the best swims I have ever had in a race, not only because I enjoyed it, but I took a few minutes off my time.

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Out of the swim and onto the bike. During the race briefing the organisers made three points about the bike leg: the Byron Bay Council had recently invested in improving the roads; 17,000 locals and tourists would be inconvenienced today with race road closures; and they had added an extra 3.8 km loop to make it the required 40 km for OD.

The majority of the bike leg involved dodging pot holes and uneven bumps in the road, and white-knuckled gripping of the aero bars to stop myself from being flung off the bike. It was also very short of the proclaimed 40 km; it was only 33 km. For a moment I thought I was supposed to do the extra loop twice and had visions of finishing first and then being disqualified. I had a quick conversation with another competitor coming into transition and he too had the same distance — phew, no disqualification.

All that was left was a 10 km run. Running is my strength, but it wasn’t my day for it. A stitch crept in after the first lap and I had to work through it for another 6 km. It was the first time I had worn a heart-rate monitor during a race, and I think the pressure of it against me exasperated the pain. My mouth was starting to tingle and I was very close to stopping for a mid-race vomit. I decided to ditch the heart-rate monitor, and I finally started to feel good…on the last lap. Stitch aside, I still managed a PB time on the run.

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After 2hrs 25min, I was finished. I would love to gloat about my time, but it’s hard knowing the bike leg was short. I’m a bit of a numbers nerd, so when I got home I worked out how much 7 km would be with my average speed of the day. Taking this into considering, I’ve given myself a time of 2.38 for the day. And that I will proudly gloat about. It’s 9 minutes faster than my last OD, but best of all, the race gave me a little more confidence for Cairns.

Bring. It. On…minus the heart-rate monitor.

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One Year On

When you start out in the sport of triathlon every new event is a first (even if it’s not technically your first race). Because regardless of the outcome – your time or how you perform based on your perceived abilities – the result inevitably becomes the benchmark for that event. Those benchmarks remain until you fast-forward 12 months-or longer-and front up again for another go.

Fronting up again for the same event brings out a new mixed bag of emotions. The standard race day nerves remain, but now there is the added pressure to, presumably, show improvement.

Last year, when I toed the start line at Mooloolaba Triathlon, I only had one thing on my mind: to enjoy every minute of being active, even while it was hurting. There was a good reason for that mindset: two days post race, I was booked in for the final piece of the cancer treatment puzzle – my final reconstruction surgery. And that final surgery would, once again, force me out of action for another six weeks, and I would have to rebuild my fitness and mobility.

Knowing a lot of the fitness I had gained during my five months of training, post-double mastectomy, for Mooloolaba was going to be undone, I wanted to push to set a good benchmark for myself. And I was happy with my result. With a goal of under three hours, I finished in 2:53.

The morning of my final surgery, I was genuinely excited while recapping the race to my surgeon. I was content to go forth with the final stage of treatment, and they were content to put the gas mask on my face to stop me talking.

But I digress…what has all this got to do with Mooloolaba Triathlon 2016?

Since my last surgery on March 15, 2015, I’ve had no required treatment. Nada, zip, zero. And it has been the first year since 2013 that I have been able to train consistently without any breaks for treatment. As exciting as that sounds, it’s also a daunting thought: all my excuses for not getting on the podium are no longer valid. And this year I’ve had eight months to train – three more than last year.

In those past eight months, I also moved to Brisbane and started training with a new coach and club, who have motivated and inspired me every week. For me, the refreshing part was that knowledge of my previous cancer-patient-status was limited; I was encouraged based on my improvements as an individual and athlete.

I have joked previously to friends that there is no ‘previous serious illness’ category in triathlon, you compete in your age group and that’s how you’re qualified. When I train and race I don’t think to myself: you’re doing well considering you had cancer. I think: you’re doing well because you’ve worked your butt off to try and get fitter and faster. Although I must add, that this is my personal outlook. Anyone who has had a serious illness has every right to be proud of their achievements, especially for being brave enough to make it to the start line. For me, I consider myself just another number in the 30-34 age-group category (soon to be 35-39…)

This year there were 72 competitors in the 30-34 age group, and I managed to place 23rd, in a time of 2:47. I’m still a long way off the podium, but each year of being treatment free allows me to continually improve.

And this year, two days post race, I will be chatting excitedly about my race to anyone who will listen at university…and they won’t be able to shut me up with a gas mask (I hope).