How a Pro can overcome pre-race injury, and podium at Ironman South Africa

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18.04.16 at 2:23 pm

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Should I, shouldn’t I? Should I, shouldn’t I?

That was the question going round and round my head in the few weeks between Ironman New Zealand and South Africa. I’d booked my flights to South Africa back in January when I was injured and thought I wouldn’t be able to race New Zealand. Then I surprised myself with a start and, even better, a good finish out there. And when I flew home I’d kind of decided racing South Africa would be too much too soon.

But the flights were booked. And I love this race. And despite an Achilles that was ballooning each time I ran on it I was finding it hard to throw away my non-refundable flights and a week in the sun in a luxury 5 star hotel. Plus, I figured, if I raced I’d have to stop running and rest my Achilles before the race, which would only be a good thing in the long run. So, with a ‘que sera sera’ kind of attitude I realized that when it came to it, making the decision between a rest week in the sun with a smashfest at the end or a rest week in the UK with a day watching the race unfold on my laptop and no clearly defined imminent race goal on the horizon, was easy. So of course I flew out.

Once again I got lucky. My lovely friend (and brilliant physio) Parys Edwards, happened to be out in Port Elizabeth in race week. When I met her for a coffee, after a trial run on the promenade which had once again caused my Achilles to balloon, she kind of said to me ‘what the hell are you doing here Goss?’ Holiday race was my answer. ‘OK’ she said, ‘how long have we got? 5 days to sort this Achilles. Let’s go’.

So from then on it was a race against the clock. Parys gave me physio every single day. And I knew, regardless of what happened in the race, the care and attention I was getting from her would have made the trip to South Africa worthwhile. Obviously 5 days wasn’t really enough time – I realized this when I did a 20-minute jog the day before the race. But it was better than it had been and I’d learnt in New Zealand that quite often your brain can get your body to do stuff that on paper perhaps it shouldn’t be able to do.

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I don’t like racing not knowing whether I’ll be able to run. I’m used to being behind after the swim and I can deal with that. It’s par for the course that I’ll be chasing on the bike. I always have been and, despite my best efforts, sadly always will be! But since I’ve been racing as a pro my run has always been my weapon. It’s something I’ve been able to count on, and, particularly in Ironman, I’d always back myself to pick off places in the run, particularly in the final 10km. Racing without your ‘weapon’ is mentally challenging. Particularly on a day when your bike legs aren’t quite where you’d hope they’d be. If I’m honest, I started the race not really expecting to be able to finish it. And, particularly when I wasn’t riding quite as well as I’d hoped to, it took some stern words to remind myself that the writing wasn’t on the wall and I might be able to run the marathon.

My head wasn’t in a good place at the start of the run. My Achilles was hurting and I was starting to talk myself out of the race. Even Paul Kaye, the commentator, shouting at me, ‘Lucy ALWAYS finishes on the podium in South Africa’ wasn’t convincing me I could finish the run. But the support in Ironman South Africa is something special, particularly with the new 4-loop run course. I realized that I might be hurting but I was still running. And there wasn’t really anywhere that I felt I could walk – there were too many people shouting and cheering. In fact, despite what my head was telling me, I wasn’t actually running that badly. I saw Parys and she yelled ‘just keep doing what you’re doing’. Sensible words. Just keep ticking along, one mile at a time; just over seven more minutes; just over 700 steps. And suddenly I found I’d finished 2 laps. And ironically, at that point it got easier. It might be hurting but if you’ve run 13 miles you can run another 13.  In fact, of the whole race, I felt strongest, physically and mentally, in the last hour of the run. Of course every step hurt – it always does – but mentally I was so proud of getting myself to that final stage of the race, when I never really believed I would, that finding the will power to keep pushing was relatively easy. When I realized I could run myself onto the podium the hurting became even easier. And do you know what was motivating me in the final stages of the run? Only the top 3 pros get VIP tickets to the awards. And VIP tickets mean free wine and magnums. And that, well that was what kept me running hard enough to hold off Asa and maintain my spot on the podium. It’s crazy when I think about it – financially for me there’s a big difference between 3rd and 4th but that genuinely didn’t cross my mind. The reward that meant the most to me was some glasses of wine, a cheese board and an ice cream! Though as it turns out the cold I’d managed to put on hold before the race reared its head with a vengeance as soon as I finished, so I have to admit I didn’t exactly make the most of the free bar and most definitely lost the after party, ending up in bed by 10pm.

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I think so far in 2016 I’ve got pretty lucky. I feel as though I’ve ‘winged’ 2 ironman races now and punched well above my weight in both of them, certainly in terms of what I’d expect to achieve with very limited running. I’ve learnt a ton. Ironman really is primarily a mental battle – that’s why I love it and that’s why I achieve. And each time I race I feel as though I discover a new level of hurt. But my luck won’t keep holding so my priority now is to get myself healthy again so that next time I race an Ironman I have my ‘weapon’ back and ready to fire. Enormous congratulations to Kaisa (who has to be the happiest and most humble Ironman champ ever) and Susie (who I love and hate racing with). We push each other to great things on race day but blimey can we make each other hurt.

Good-bye South Africa. I’ve left my voice with you but you’ve left a ton of memories with me!