I knew that I wanted to do a half Ironman before ever doing a triathlon. During the course of 2016, I completed 3 Sprint distances and an Olympic one to prepare for the 70.3 in Ballarat. The entries for Ballarat opened on the 18th of March at 11am. At 11.05 I was signed up. I was convinced that I would train all winter and then be ready by the time the 16 week HIM program starts. That was the first fail - training over winter was inconsistent and when the program started I got scared, but there was no way back. During the first couple of weeks I changed my mindset from "I am going to smash it in Ballarat" to "it will be an experience and even if I fail, I will still learn something". That calmed me down and I didn't really stress about the race itself anymore. Almost halfway I did my first Olympic Distance in Noosa and I was pretty happy that by the end of it, there was still a bit left in the tank. It seemed like I was on track for Ballarat. Two weeks after Noosa, Amy, Gemma, Emma, Alex, Pippa, and I went to Ballarat to swim, ride and run the course. Unfortunately, swimming in the lake is only allowed with a permit (which we didn't have...). None of us hesitated for a second of swimming in the lake anyway; I knew I was in this with the right girls :). The weekend was great and I felt I could do the 70.3 then and there.
We had 4 weeks to go and everything was going great. My job was getting more and more demanding and training helped me to get away from work and take my mind off things. Mentally, I felt like I had everything under control - until my body told me otherwise: heart racing, shaking and crying without any apparent reasons... Amy told me to listen to my body and rest properly for a few days. At work, I took it as easy as possible and a week later I was back training. After only 2 days back I was knocked out with a cold... I felt like I was losing all my fitness, was really frustrated and lost my motivation... Gemma and Emma really helped me to get out of this hole. During the last 2 weeks, we talked almost every day and tried to do as many sessions as possible together.
Race week came and we wrote our "Race Plans" - I tried to think about everything that could go wrong, visualize it and have a plan. My biggest fear was getting a flat, because I had 5 flats in the last 4 weeks... The 3 of us went up to Ballarat on Friday for the Athlete Check-In (still hard to believe someone calls me an athlete...). We couldn't believe the weekend was finally there! Saturday we went for a short ride & run and another forbidden swim. JC, Karl and Steph stayed with me the second night. I couldn't have asked for a better support crew!
From the second I got up, I had the biggest grin on my face and just couldn't wait to get out there. The TriChicks support crew arrived just in time and Karita saved my life with Body Glide - I knew I forgot something!
It was a deep-water swim start and just before the gun went off Alex yelled at me: "Helena!! Enjoy!!!!" to which I replied: "Once the swim is over, I will!" was my response. All other girls around us were laughing and agreeing, that made me feel much better. I was in the second row on the very inside because I wanted to make use of the rowing lines under water. You could swim just like in a pool without any sighting. The start was ok. After 150 meters it got a bit crowded, I got an elbow in my face, lost the line under water, felt like someone was choking me, my wet suit is far too tight, I panicked! "There is no way I can do this. I cannot swim like this for 1.9k” I told myself. I even considered putting my hand up to get out of the water. “Just keep on swimming, look around you; so many other girls are doing this." Those were just some of my thoughts, and I managed to keep moving and eventually, I found my rhythm and loved it - until the next panic attack. Overall, I think I had 3 of them, but it's all a bit blurry now. At the first buoy, I was overtaken by a wave of men and one of them hit me pretty hard on the head, he realised that he hurt me, stopped and asked if I was ok. I stayed behind the buoy for a moment to catch my breath and then kept going. I couldn't believe it when I saw the swim exit. I actually made it!
Final Swim Split: 40:18 min
I got on the bike and was so happy; biking is fun. The sun was out and the way out of Ballarat was so fast (I didn't realise how much tailwind I had...). I could feel that someone was overtaking me when I turned my head and saw a guy crashing on his bike and sliding across the street just as he attempted to overtake me. By the time I realised what had happened, I was a few hundred meters away and lots of people stopped and checked up on him. I felt terrible, but knew I couldn't do anything and kept riding. On the way back he was standing under a tree, waiting to be picked up. I kept on thinking about him during my ride and wondered if I might have done something to make him fall. The way back into Ballarat was much harder than expected, with some uphills and headwind. Finally after just over 3 hours I made it through the 90k without a flat tire!!
Final Bike Split: 3:03:27
Finally, the Run! I was looking forward to this so much. I had never done a half marathon before and a few people told me how hard it always gets towards the end. My gut didn't feel too good during the ride, so there went my nutrition plan... instead of having a gel every 30-45min I had electrolytes and water at every second aid station and that was it. I got to km 17 and still felt great, looking around me other athletes were definitely suffering more than I did. It seemed as if I wasn’t pushing myself hard enough... This other female athlete from South Africa, Jules, and I had a similar pace and we kept on overtaking each other. At km 18 she rocked up next to me and suggested that we run the last 3k together as it would make time pass quicker! That was truly amazing, we ran next to each other and didn't stop chatting and laughing. At the same time, she made me run so much faster. My pace so far was between 5.45 and 6k/min and suddenly, I was running @ 5.15-5.30. These last 3k were so intense. When we ran towards the finish line I wanted to let Jules go first but she insisted on me passing the line first.
Final Run Split: 2:02:09
Overall time: 5:50:52
What I was not prepared for was the feeling after passing the finish line. I couldn't get out of the recovery area quick enough to see JC and everyone else. And then the tears just started rolling, it felt like such an achievement and everyone was so proud and happy for us. This was one of the best weekends of my life and doing it with together as a team made it so much more special. I cannot wait for the next one! :)