I'd always said when I did a triathlon again I'd feel back to 'normal'. That was my benchmark. So Sunday 3rd June and Cranbrook Sprint Triathlon was always going to be a major turning point and an indication of my recovery and ultimately my adaptation to life with the 'bag'.
The date of the race represented almost 2 years to the date since I first took ill, and almost a year to the day since I had my permanent stoma so it was fairly poignant.
The last year hasn't been easy though. I foolishly thought I'd have my final surgery (July 2011) and be able to spring back into training and racing - I even thought I'd be able to do the London Marathon back in April! How wrong was I!? It's taken months of physio, rehab and patience, taking 1 step forwards and 2 steps back and has been hugely frustrating. Each one of the operations and subsequent periods of recovery has knocked me down lower and lower and destroyed my fitness, muscle mass and mental strength.
Over the last couple of weeks however, things have started to come together a bit more and whilst I'm a very long way from being fit, I felt that I might just manage to have a go at the race and at least complete it.Lying in bed on race morning at 5.30am listening to the rain lashing the window however, and doing a triathlon was actually the last thing I wanted to do. What was I thinking??! could someone remind me why I was doing this? Rolling over and going back to sleep would have been the sensible option.
I'd packed my kit bag the night before and cleaned 2 inches of dust off my race bike (literally!). I laughed as when I cleaned out my old bag, I found mouldy swimming caps and energy gels nearly 2 years out of date! It had been a long time... and I was pretty nervous. Would the bag stay put? would I fall off my bike? how would I manage the gels and sports drinks with my new fragile stomach? Would the organisers let me compete as a novice again? I certainly felt like one.
Getting to the race though and I felt myself checking out the 'competition' and their bikes! ha! old habits die hard. I gave myself a mental talking to.. 'you're not fit, you haven't raced or trained properly for 2 years and you have had 4 operations and have an ileostomy for goodness sake! don't put any pressure on yourself! don't be stupid.. just finishing this thing will be enough.' But the other bit of my brain was saying 'but it's not an excuse? I just want to see how well I can do? and I want to RACE'! It was pretty confusing.. so all I could do was get on with it and see what happened.
I definitely didn't feel slick through transitions and I was much slower across all 3 disciplines, but considering everything that I've been through and how unfit I feel I am, I was actually really pleased with how it went. Out on the bike things got wobbly for a little while when I realised I'd possibly pushed it a bit too hard (trying - rather foolishly - to chase down the eventual 2nd place lady!), but I slowed down, got my heartrate back down and recovered. The run is usually my strength, but I wasn't able to push it as much as I'd like - mainly due to the fact I haven't really done much running training :-) and it was all off-road through the woods and very muddy. But I finished strongly in 1:24 and felt like I was in control most of the way round. The race itself was lovely and despite the freezing cold conditions and drizzle, was well organised and a nice course.
Without wanting to focus on finish time or position - after all the 'goal' was just to get round :-) - I was thrilled when my husband pointed out I had actually come 6th lady overall and 2nd in my age group. It wasn't a huge race to be fair, but I was still pleased.. and it sounds good anyway :-) I was really touched by his post on Facebook later that day and such lovely supportive comments from my amazing friends and people who've been by my side throughout the last 2 years. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart .. you know who you are.
It was just so awesome being back in the sport, able to compete and feel like I was 'normal' again. It was a crucial turning point and I can't wait to do my next one.. which is Bexhill Lions Triathlon in 2 weeks time. This time it's a 750m sea swim which will involve the added complication of a wetsuit ... but most exciting (and probably my main reason for doing it) is that Graham Norton (who I love!) is handing out the medals! bring it on!
Now.. how about that Ironman!?