The Super-Charged Athlete — Kate Strong’s Ironman 70.3 World Championships Race (& Life) Report


by Kate Strong

Sunrise On Race Day

Sunrise On Race Day

 

Where to begin?

It would be easy to start with something positive, such as “you never lose, you only learn” or “your greatest challenges hide your greatest lessons”, but this wouldn’t be just. I doubt that anybody during their ‘greatest challenge’ ever boasts a huge smile and says “I’m so happy to be in the midst of some brilliant future lesson.”

I could also compile a long list of reasons why I poorly performed. It doesn’t help discovering I am allergic to wasps 10 days prior to an event and close to a race, finding myself in hospital overnight after an anaphylactic shock. Or, maybe blame that a few months ago, I moved from Australia to live with a boy in France and only after a few weeks find myself back in Wales in my childhood bedroom questioning what went wrong. There’s also my ‘fiercely independent’ streak that refuses to settle for an average j.o.b. and instead I choose to build a business to help others whilst also maintaining my personal values.

But, instead of blaming other events, people and circumstances, the honest truth is I didn’t put in enough training, I wasn’t prepared enough, I made some critical mistakes with nutrition and race-day was a huge reality check. Competing in Ironman 70.3 World Championships there is nowhere to hide. Only the elite of every age-group enter, so if you’re having a bad day, everyone knows about it!

 

 

Swim Start

Swim Start

 

Starting at 11:54am was a big novelty for me, I’m used to start competing with the sun rising. I was unsure what to do with myself in the morning, so I chose to follow my usual dawn wake-up, sort out nutrition for the bike and grab an additional one-hour power nap. (I had frozen my drinks solid as I knew they’d defrost by afternoon.  I was glad to taste that they were cool when I got on the bike.) I had no time for nerves, there were so many spectators and competitors floating around. It took almost 20 minutes to reach swim-start from transition entrance.

 

Kate Strong: 3-Some team members at swim start

Some Team Members at Swim Start

 

The gun signaled my age-group start and my second of five World Championships for this year. I enjoyed the swim and the up-down swim course was easy to navigate. My age-group was the largest for women boasting about 150 competitors, yet this was a small wave to some races I’ve competed in. The swim was quickly over and I was pulled up a flight of stairs by dozens of volunteers eager to help.

Transition is beyond anything I’ve ever seen. With 2,450 bikes, it took me almost 6 minutes to exit transition, where I am normally out in under 2 minutes. It was as much a memory test to remember where my bags & bike were!

 

Transition

Transition

 

Me At Bike Transition

Me At Bike Transition

 

The cycle crushed me. I am used to seeing boys on fast bikes pass me, yet for females, I’m usually in the mix. This was not the case at World Championships. For the first 20km, I did not pass one bike. Yet, what felt like hundreds of people whizzed past me. At one point, I looked behind to check my brakes weren’t stuck, or if I had a flat tire.  It felt as if I was cycling backwards.

At this point, I reminded myself that I entered this race to be my best and not to compare myself to others. Mustering up as much positive attitude as I could, I said that it was only against me now as there was nobody left to pass me! (This wasn’t the case, but it sure felt like I was trailing far behind.)

 

Cycle Course

Cycle Course

 

The gorgeous Austrian one-loop bicycle route took us across some spectacular scenery. Every corner was postcard worthy, including kilometers 20-35. There was a 15km hill at 14% gradient to climb in no shade at 32oC. I had familiarized myself with part of the climb a few days before (my Dad joined me on his 18 year-old road bike) yet my legs were not prepared for this test of endurance. I was doing OK with the heat and sun constantly burning down on me, but my legs felt heavier and heavier. My quads were lethargic and tired – I imagined lactic acid build-up was shutting down my power-drivers.

Kate Strong: 6-Cycle hill!

Cycle Hill

 

Reaching the top was a glorious feeling, yet this wasn’t even half-way! The decent was over far too quickly, and this is the one place I overtook many competitors. It appears my short-lived time in the French Alps did prove useful for something! Yet, then I was faced with 50km of undulating road under a relenting sun.

Since becoming more interested in sport, my curiosity in nutrition and energy for our bodies has also grown. This ultimately led to where I am today: 100% plant-based and, more crucial for this race, 100% made by me.

 

Nutrition Station

Nutrition Station

 

I question why endurance athletes eat gels and energy drinks then suffer almost ritually with horrific gut-rot and other stomach-related pains and ailments. So, I make my own ‘electrolyte’ drinks and gel/bar equivalents that usually give me ample fuel without the nasty side-affects.

Today was no exception. Prior to leaving the UK earlier that week, I had prepared ample fuel for the competition. What I hadn’t factored in was I would be travelling over 2 days. My food doesn’t contain preservatives, additives, it’s organic, GMO-free and natural. Usually all this is great, but not when your food can’t be refrigerated.

At 60km, I started to feel sick. The nauseous feeling couldn’t be shaken and I was turned off from eating anything, nor drink anything other than water. My energy dropped along with my average speed.

Getting into Transition, I knew the 21.1km was going to be painful. I usually leap off the bike and hop, skip & jump to where my trainers are. This day, I had no power in my legs, my stomach was a tight knot and my feet felt like lead. Not good signs.

I racked my bike, put on my trainers and started the 2-loop run. Again, the course was magical running along the shore of the lake and through town centre. Spectators lined the entire length of the course cheering, offering encouraging words and spraying competitors with water as we ran/jogged/walked/limped past.

I just felt sick. Whenever I tried to pick up my pace, I fought against the desire to bend over and vomit. At one point, I was very tempted to stop and force me to be ill for the suspense of “will I, won’t I?” was as bad as the physical pain. I chose against this option, lowered my pace and decided to keep it slow for 5km to try to ‘run it out’.

 

Kate Strong: 8-Mummy love!

Mummy Love!

 

It didn’t work. The knot turned into a ball of cement sitting beneath my right ribcage. I wanted to cry, yet couldn’t even manage that!

I saw my parents at 4km and Mum said “last lap darling, see you at the finish!” Oh how wrong she was – I still had 1 1⁄2 more laps to go! Her face dropped in shock as she quickly calculated how slow my pace was. All credit to her, no sooner had she shown her surprise, she regained her composure and cheered me on.

This newfound strength lasted 500m then I dropped back into a ‘not going to be sick’ pace and let my mind wander into negative thoughts about myself: Why do I do this to myself? What do I have to prove? My dreams are too big… the usual negative chitter-chatter that feeds my fears and darkens my spirit.

And then at half-way point, I was given a gift. A lady ran past me and I said my usual cheery “good running pace.” As she passed, she looked back at me and said in a thick Latin American accent (my favorite) “Come with me!” She smiled and continued running. I saw her bobbing ahead of me and suddenly my negative thoughts were pushed to the side as I said my favorite sentence in the world “Why not?”

And so I did. I caught up to her within 1km and we both pulled each other along for the remaining 11km. Sometimes I pulled ahead, sometimes she was in front and other times, we ran side by side. We barely spoke a word to each other; just the occasional glance behind to ensure the other was keeping up.

It was beautiful. Whilst running along a gravel path at 15km, it was here that I finally managed to release my tears.

 

Run Course

Run Course

I remembered a story I share at many seminars I hold. The story is about running: mathematically, our feet only touch the ground for 38% of the time, so in essence when we run, we are more likely flying. Being surrounded by nature and hearing the crunch of gravel under my feet made me realize, for far too many months I’ve been looking down at my feet, not up at the clouds. I’d forgotten how to fly. This sentence doesn’t just apply to my emotional reason for running; it’s also a great way to maintain better running posture too.

By me focusing so much on text-book running, by forcing me to break down every body part – analyze and rebuild me from the feet up to look like all the other triathletes out there, I’d forgotten my uniqueness. I run because it makes me happy. I listen to my body and my body adapts my technique to suit my natural curves and idiosyncrasies.

 

Run Course View

Run Course View

 

Over the past few months, I felt as if someone dragged me out of the clouds, stuck my feet firmly on the ground and asked me how. How do I do what I do? How do I put one foot in front of the other? How do I run, explaining in detail my foot, ankle, knee, hip, shoulder etc. placement? There is too much to think about and the thoughts cluttered my brain, I lost my focus and also my joy for running.

Technique is important, there’s no doubt that good posture, a strong core and well-placed feet can prevent long-term injury. But, if we constantly analyze every small movement to the point where any semblance of personalization is sucked out, there has to come a point in time when we stop asking how, but why. Why are we running in the first place?

 

Kate Strong: 11-Last Stretch

 

Are we running away from the past? Running away from our present situation? Or are we running towards the promise of a brighter future?

I used to be guilty of not running in the present. I started running to run away from my (then) current situation: I was very unhappy and needed to escape. Running was my way of achieving a moment of freedom.

It then morphed into running to recapture the past I had lost: all the wasted years of not looking after my mind & body and settling for a dead-end life. More recently, it was running towards the promise of a brighter future: a future where all my dreams come true…

Back to the race: In that moment, I felt as if I was flying again. I was in the present running for running’s sake. I felt light, at peace in myself, I felt like me. I was ‘in the zone’!

But, all too soon, my fear and regret overwhelmed the moment and I started to beat myself up for not feeling this earlier, for having missed some training sessions… reality started to weight me down again.

 

Finish Line!

Finish Line!

 

Running towards the finish line was a welcome sight. My parents had gone, thinking I had finished earlier, and crossing the line, I felt… relief, pride, regret, intense sadness, immense joy, everything and nothing. I was exhausted.

I was awarded the heaviest medal I have ever had in my life, the usual memorabilia – finishers towel, Tshirt, cap (bonus) and an Austrian bagel(!)

Sitting alone on the steps, I read the medal: Ironman 70.3 World Championships 2015. Putting aside my time (horrific), my physical (shattered), my mental (tortured) and emotional (drained), I competed in and completed a World Championship.

“Please be kind to yourself Kate. Be proud of what you’ve achieved and where you are today.”

And in at that moment, I saw my parents and wandered over for my finisher’s hug.

 

Kate Strong, aka Strong Kate, is a Welsh-born international traveller. Kate has spread her wings far and wide not only geographically but in every aspect of her life. Having graduated with a double Masters in Mechanical Engineering from French and English universities, Kate has had a diverse career path from working with fashion companies such as Gucci, Diesel and Benetton in Italy, at an environmental protection agency in Russia, to working as a Dive-Master in Mexico! Kate is a 2014 World Champion, Women’s Long-distance Triathlete.  Contact Kate with your thoughts and suggestions and follow Kate as she trains for upcoming events.

 

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