Saturday, 6 February 2016

2016 - Rosie's legacy continues

 The year of 2016 has come with a bang! On the first of January as many will know I became a published actual published author. I would never have imagined I would achieve this in my lifetime - let alone by the age of 24! What is even more surprising is that I managed to even finish it as in true Holliestyle I left the majority of the writing until last minute. As my deadline approached I spent most of the days in my pyjama's day after day waiting each night for my rewarding glass of wine which then turned to another...and then another until I really could no longer claim that the wine was 'creative juice'. It is a wonder that any of it legible considering. There is actually a point however in which drinking was actually useful, particularly when I broached the really difficult pages. The chapters I ended up leaving until last because of this were the fateful day in Wales 2013 and my childhood with Rosie. The latter I still feel I can't do justice to. I have so many memories with Rosie and see so many reminders of her daily, it would be impossible to write all of them down. No amount of words will ever be able to express just how much Rosie means to me. However, I hope I touched on her life and the fantastic young woman she grew up to be. For the book, for those who have it, or intend to read it I hope you enjoy.
 I cannot thank anyone who has purchased my book enough, the support means so much and proceeds of the book will go to SUDEP Action, so for that I am truly grateful. If anyone does want to buy one please click here. Furthermore, after some deliberation, part 2 of my Kona blog will not feature on here. So you will have to buy the book to have my Kona race report and my post race feelings about the most important and emotional race of my life. Now that's suspense for you...go on click on that link....PLEASE :) it is going to a good cause and I really appreciate it.

The first official public copy
 I am also now back in the UK. This was a decision Nathan and I made before Kona. It was becoming increasingly evident in Lanzarote that Kona signified the end of my journey as I knew it and my need to stay in Lanzarote diminished. Nathan had intended to stay having only just accepted a job as Head Chef of an exclusive hotel on the island. However, I was expressing my desire to move. Nathan then managed to get a job via Skype for a Head Chef role within Hilton a mere 20 minutes from my parents. This position was a role he could not refuse so in late October, after attending a dear friends funeral, we left to start our life in the UK together, Nathan said goodbye to the island he had lived on for three years and I said goodbye to my second home and an island that had helped me so much. I had a fantastic time in Lanzarote and have met some lifelong friends. Moving there is something I will never regret. I had left an opportunity within my career at Sky News for the move so risked a lot but in the grand scheme of things I needed that break and it was the best decision I have ever made. I can only thank my parents for making such an opportunity possible through their support.

 Nathan and I moved into my parents house back in England and have been there ever since. However, as of next week we are moving into our own house just down the road from all of my family - something I am so excited about. One of my main reasons to return to the UK was because I missed my family. My sister Emma had been desperate for me to come home so that I can not only support her, but her me, with our grief. What some may not understand is that everyday is still a battle, particularly for Emma. Personally, every time I wake up I am reminded that Rosie is not with us and then I have to carry on with the day as a new normal; a life without Rosie. For all of my family it still feels raw despite nearly 2 and a half years since her passing. Of course there are the days when the new norm really doesn't feel acceptable. Life just doesn't seem fair and these are the days when the all consuming grief physically hurts. This said however on the 'good' days I am learning to appreciate what I do have a lot more.

 The other main reason I returned to the UK was to get a career back. My decision to move to Lanzarote was to not work so much or at least get out of the mentality and feeling that I was living to work. So, whilst in Lanzarote I had the privilege of not working. However, I then missed not working. Go figure. Too much of something can make you resent it and I needed to find a balance. Although I had a reason to be there and a goal to achieve in Kona for Rosie I felt like I needed something else. I had worked hard to get within Sky News and I did miss the atmosphere of work. When I moved back I went straight back to Sky News on a freelance basis, picking up shifts here and there. However, I was striving for something more permanent, ideally closer to home and hopefully less, if not no, night shifts. Yes I was asking for a lot within broadcast journalism however my real dream was not necessarily to stay within media despite my passion for it but to move into a career within sports and eventing. I wanted to become involved in the triathlon events I love so much. My real passion having shifted somewhat. The dream was to work for Ironman but I had no event experience. It is a hard market, like media, to crack. I went for about five interviews with other media companies, only one of which ticked all of my ideal boxes. Opposite Nathan's work, good pay, similar role (if not a slightly different idea) to my one at Sky News and no night shifts. After the interview I prayed for nearly two weeks that I would get the call offering me the job. When I got the call saying I hadn't been successful I cried. I was deeply hurt and honestly was lost as to what to do next. My mum tried to reassure me that it was fate and something would come up but it just felt like words of comfort. At my next interview in London I also cried. I felt useless and a failure. After being rejected from the 'perfect' job I resided myself to the fact I would forever have to travel up to London to work within journalism, a 1 hour 30 minute commute (on a good rush hour free day). I also dislike working freelance. I don't like not having a structure and feeling as if I should take a shift, even if it doesn't work with my life, because I don't know how I'll get paid if I don't. So imagine my elation when Ironman contacted me after going for an intern position that there was a full time position and I was being put forward for an interview! After that initial email I had a conference telephone interview the following day at 3pm and by 6pm I had an email saying I had got the job of Athlete Services Manager of Ironman UK. This means I will be working on site at the UK (and some European) races ensuring the athletes are catered for. I am also on hand daily to answer athlete queries and update websites and much more (I am still learning). Even better it is Mon-Fri, 9-5 and is only a 35 minute drive from home! As always, mum knows best. The following Monday (the beginning of this week) I had started work and next week I'll be training interns, the same interns I could have been competing against. Surreal is the only way to describe it and I cannot help but pinch myself. Everything has finally fallen into place.

 After screaming to my mum and dad "I got the job" last week I looked up and said to Rosie thank you. I can't help but reflect. I would not be in this position without Rosie. Our journey in Kona was just the beginning! There is so much more to add to Rosie's legacy yet!

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Kona 2016 - part 1: "If your dreams don't scare you, they're not bigenough"

 Well it is better late than never. The reason for my extremely late blog about the biggest race of mine and many others lives can only be excused by me writing my book. I did not realise the difficult undertaking writing a book was and in true Hollie style I left it to last minute. I also found it extremely tough mentally as I hadn't even got my head around Kona and what I achieved there. It was an emotional 2 years of my life and it was over. I needed time to reflect. As well as that it is an incredibly raw, honest and emotional book to write so it was emotionally difficult as well. I ended up doing the majority of my writing 2 weeks after Kona, having to extend my deadline by a few days. However, thankfully I managed to get my 80,000 word book handed in so the suspense now begins as to when it will be released but it is due to be early 2016.

 I am also a little in fear here of repeating what is in my book within this blog, although my book will go into a lot more detail. I do however owe the readers of my blog particularly the ones who have been there since the beginning an account of what is the most infamous triathlon race of them all and the one I had personally been leading up to...and what a day it was! Here is part 1...

 I travelled to Kona alone on the 24th September, 16 days before the main event. It was decided that all I was doing was waiting in Lanzarote to go, so it made sense to travel out a further 10 days before in order to acclimatise. This notion was agreed by friend and qualifier Aled and we luckily found a lovely apartment for little money on Ali I' Drive. I had competed in the Ironman Lanzarote 70.3 the weekend before flying to Kona which I am going to run over as it was a truly awful race. Despite a podium it didn't help me mentally as I hoped it would and I struggled on the bike and run. The months off in the summer after my operation had not boded me well. However, I only wanted to finish Kona, there was no pressure and no expectations. I had already proved myself.

 The flights to The Big Island were long, over 20 hours in total, but I was ecstatic to be going. It was only until I could feel the plane prepare to land into Kona that I began to get emotional. As the lights of Kona came into view 'Love you 'Till the End' by 'The Pogues' played through my ears. I cried and wiped away the tears rolling down my face. The reason as to why I was there hit me hard and the journey I had been on flashed though my eyes. Rosie was the only thing on my mind but I had to remain strong - I was there for her.

 Kona airport is tiny and as I walked off the plane into the open airport the heat and humidity even at 9pm took me away. I was sticky and uncomfortable within minutes. Aled had arrived half an hour before me and despite a car hire issue we were on our way. It was a surreal feeling being in Kona and we both kept saying to each other, "I can't believe we're actually here". It was a moment we had dreamt about for so long. Our apartment was perfect and we soon made it home. The 10 days before my other friends arrived, including Nathan, were spent training, sleeping (I was always tired due to jetlag) and exploring downtown Kona. The first breakfast at Lava Java café was so surreal. I had heard so much about this popular spot. I still could not believe I was there and even looking back on it I cannot believe I was. It was a truly magical moment and I had to have a moment where I sat on the wall overlooking Kona Bay. We had really made it Rose, I felt like I was going to wake up from a dream.
First breakfast at Lava Java

The bay from Lava Java
 I visited the famed Digme Beach where the swim starts, running into 2014 Kona winner Sebastian Kienle on one of the days. I managed to finally track down a swim skin that would fit over my thighs, definitely not a generic skinny triathlete and wow did it help. Swimming in the pacific ocean from the pier was amazing. The water was like a bath and seeing the fish swimming beneath in their reefs was incredible. This was paradise!

In my swim skin at Digme Beach
 I was worried about cycling and running, particularly running for a good few days. I felt so inadequate. My body insecurities getting the better of me. There were Greek God looking athletes gliding up and down Ali I' Drive with their tops off and I just felt like a slob. I wasn't confident going out on the bike alone for a while but soon manned up and loved pushing myself along the infamous Queen K. What was evident was what the course can throw at you. I am used to harsh winds from Lanzarote but this was another level. You don't get rewarded as you do in Lanzarote as the wind is temperamental. You can go for 30km out with a headwind, turn and when expecting a tailwind get a headwind instead. This was unknown territory and when recceing the course it was instantly noted that it was a boring course. Out for 56miles on the Queek K and back the same way. The climb to Hawi was undulating and daunting. Despite on paper being the easiest Ironman course I was competing in it worried me.

 Running took a bit longer to gain confidence and I only got out because I decided to go early one morning, 6am early, in the hope of avoiding many athletes. I was surprised by the amount of people out but it didn't deter me and I enjoyed my run and was going quicker than my usual splits, saying hello to everyone I saw. It was however stifling, even at 6am. The humidity actually took my breath away. How was I going to do a marathon in this? I came back absolutely drenched. I went out for longer runs, including 2 hours worth but always going away from town. There was no way I was running past Lava Java, a spot where I knew I would be assessed and in my head judged.

 Exactly a week before the race there was a practice swim of the course. I ended up finishing in 1h17 which I was pretty disappointed with as I was at the halfway mark in 30 minutes. I knew on the way back I was doing some shocking sighting but what was I doing for 47 minutes? However, it was still a non wetsuit swim which is said to add 10 minutes on and the currents were definitely evident. It was however only practice and I could only hope I could improve in a weeks time.

 I greeted my friends from the airport that night and it was amazing to welcome Nathan who I had missed. During my moments of low confidence I knew I could have confided in him and he would've helped me through my feelings with me. He has been a huge support to me when in Lanzarote, more so than anyone can understand. I'm not the confident, loud and happy Hollie everyone sees and his belief and love has helped me through the past year, quickly becoming part of my family. 

Me and Nathan
The gang
Two of my girls
 Soon enough I was in race week. The athlete buzz around Kona had slowly begun to build over the days we were there and it increasingly grew within that time. Lava Java was no longer a restaurant style café and food had to be ordered at the bar due to being Ironman week. The main Ironman expo had arrived and the stalls were beginning to be erected and stock delivered. It was exciting and the atmosphere was electrifying. Ironman finisher t-shirts were seen everywhere - an easy way to see who was competing.

Netball anyone?
Just a start
 I bought near enough the whole Ironman expo out when it opened, my rationale being I wasn't ever going to get another chance to. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. On the Monday Bob Babbitt's 'Breakfast with Bob' began and every morning on race week his show would stream live online as he interviewed the professionals and legends of the sport such as Dave Scott and Mark Allen. I was in 'Irongeek' heaven. Every morning I showed up at 'Huggos' and sat watching overlooking the bay in real life as opposed to through my computer. I loved hearing their race tactics and was great to chat to them personally, get some autographs and obligatory photos. 

Me with the legend Dave Scott

With the 2014 Ironman World Champion
 I of course took part in the infamous underpants run. This was set up in 1998 and has since become an annual event before Kona's big day. It was only a 3km run along Ali I' Drive and back but it was fun to do it in pants with my best friends.

The Underpants Run
 I also took part in the parade of nations were I stood proudly with the GB members meeting up with friends and walking along downtown Kona with our tshirts on and flag raised high.
The Parade of Nations with good friend Tom Ward and Nathan

Team GB
Bit chilly
 I also explored Mauna Kea with my Ironman groupie Yuliya. This is the largest mountain in the world at 13,796 ft and holds some of the worlds' most important astrological observatories. The 40 degree heat in downtown Kailua-Kona was soon replaced and I had 2 layers of trousers on, 2 jumpers, a huge coat and gloves as we watched the sun go down at the summit. It was breathtaking and the pictures don't do it justice. We then spent nearly 2 hours doing my favourite thing; stargazing. I have a love of stars and could sit and watch them for hours. The tour we went on was so knowledgeable and I felt a sense of peace there. I was the closest I would ever get to Rose on life as I knew it. I made my prayers to keep me safe during the race as I was still fearing this brutal course. Just because I had competed 4 Ironman's previously does not mean it was a given I would complete a 5th. So many things can go wrong during an Ironman. Failure was not an option for me but I prayed that there would be someone looking out for me as well as looking after myself. 
Truly breathtaking
 Having my best friends there that week was truly amazing and I felt very blessed to have so many who cared come and support me. My parents, sister and brother and law arrived on the Wednesday and Thursday and again it was amazing to have them with me. This was an emotional time for us all particularly for my sister who hadn't been to spectate me in an Ironman since that fateful day in Tenby 2013.

My mum and I
We all knew why I was there and one morning in particular the emotions got to me and I had to walk away on my own to have a cry at the top of the hill we were staying on. I had many chats with my friends during that week and the course my life took since that day in Wales was so evident. As I looked back I could categorically say that I would not be there with all my loved ones if we had not lost Rosie. I was so happy reflecting on where I was and who I was with but I could not help but think that I would have taken it all away to have her back.

The girls

 I had registered on the Monday where I received my Ironman World Championship rucksack which is probably the most expensive bag ever but it really is priceless.
Before long it was time to rack my kit in transition which I did with relative ease, made even better that you had a personal escort. I wasn't nervous and everything seemed so calming. Even when I saw the finish line I had dreamt about go up I wasn't nervous. It was as if I was watching everything happen through someone else's eyes. I also wasn't rushed throughout the week and ate fresh food everyday. I have to say I adored the food there and I didn't eat the American influenced fried food, in fact I rarely, if at all, touched it. The fresh fish was delicious and the Thai influence on the island was a fantastic being one of my favourite cuisines. Nathan and I later found out that the influence came from Chinese, Japanese and Korean migrants who came to work in Kona in the 1800 and 1900's.

Soon enough it was the day before the race. I had some homemade pasta and went to bed. I didn't feel nervous as such I just wanted it over. There were so many unknown's; the heat, the terrain, the wind. I honestly couldn't be bothered to race. Although I wasn't nervous of the race as such I was scared of not finishing and letting people down, mainly Rosie. I didn't feel any pressure from others but I felt pressure on myself just to finish. I feared it as much as I did before my first Ironman; just like then (and actually before any Ironman) there were no guarantees I would finish and this consumed me. What if I crashed on the bike and all my hard work was over? I had to stay safe no matter what and not get ahead of myself. All I knew is that I could not fail. I just couldn't. The day I had been waiting for for 2 years was imminent. The blood, sweat and oh so many tears was under 24 hours away...(to be continued).

I had to do my traditional pink streak

Thursday, 10 September 2015

A 2 month catch up...injury, ITU World Champs & Kona in tasting distance

 Wow it has been a LONG time since I last blogged and I have missed out SO much! The only excuse I can give, which I think is a valid one, is that for those who do not know I have a book publisher (yes someone is mad enough to actually print my babble). Therefore, when I have been writing, which I am finding increasingly difficult, I am trying to actually piece my book together. The deadline to finish my book is the end of October, so considering how late I always leave things, now I am getting a little frantic. However, I have taken the time out from freaking out and training to fill you in.

 A HUGE topic and achievement I seemed to have glazed completely over and for some reason not blogged about is my efforts in Sweden where I again proudly competed for GB at the World Long Distance Championships. This event was just 4 weeks after Ironman Lanzarote. Agreeing and paying to go was a big commitment as last year it took me 8 weeks to recover from IM Lanzarote and I even had to pull out of a half Ironman 4 weeks after because of it. I was adamant however that this year would be different. I was much fitter and in a better state. This was a true statement and I was feeling great after the Ironman. I was on a high for a while and although did struggle to get back into training as many do after your main race has ended (commonly referred to as post race depression) I was looking forward to competing again. On my final week before traveling to Sweden however, disaster struck. Bella Bayliss, my coach, had given me 3 x 40km Time Trials (TT) on a favourite flat of mine in Lanzarote with some rest inbetween. I hammered the first 40km with Nathan and Lucy (the pocket rocket and a great friend of mine) getting a beep on my Garmin when I had recorded my 'fastest 40k'. We took our next bit easy before picking the pace up again. During the easy phase however an old knee injury just began to resurface. It was a slow dull ache at first so I pushed through then a mere 5km into the TT it was excruciating. Despite my stubborness I had to pull off and head home. Every revolution on my left leg was horrible and I ended up riding home with my right leg, putting no pressure on my left. I was angry and this caused the tears to form "Please not now" I kept muttering to myself. I didn't get much better throughout my final few days and running was even worse. I decided to change my flight so I came back earlier to the UK so I could get a prolotherapy injection, a course of therapy that had helped my knee before, with a sports surgeon at London Bridge Hospital. This is a dextrose solution that is injected into the area of pain which provokes a regenerative tissue response, in affect the same process as PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma) where they withdraw your blood cultivate it and then inject it back in, this is just a made substitute. This is normally done over a course of 3 weeks with 3 injections so whether one would help I had no idea but it was a quick solution to what could be a serious problem. There were a series of chats with Bella during this time where she questioned why I was adamant on competing as the potential damage I could do may jeopardise Kona. If Bella didn't know by then she soon found out how stubborn and head strong I really am. Although I was promising to be honest with myself I kind of knew I was going to compete regardless, I wanted that medal to add to the collection.
 I traveled out to Motala in Sweden with my good friend Aled (a phenomenal young Kona qualifying athlete) and my Welsh Tenby Aces clan including the lovely Nicola and her husband Carlt. As well as that there was Dave another speedy athlete who was also going to Kona, Heather another speed machine and Dr Hiro who was representing Japan. I was so grateful for them letting me join them. I met Nicola when I first trained for Ironman Wales and stayed in the hotel she manages in Tenby. After Wales 2013 when we lost Rosie Nicola, as a lead role in the Tenby Aces triathlon club, made me an honourary member. It was this support that helped over what was a horrific time. We all stayed in a picturesque cottage in the middle of the Swedish countryside and throughout the week we had a great laugh so much so we almost forgot we were there to race!

Our cottage for the week
Not a bad place to be
The GB Tenby Aces gang
 Race day came quick and due to the temperature the 4k swim was reduced to a measly 1500m. This wasn't good news for me, not that I expected to be particularly competitive at the World Championships given the calibre of athletes in my age group anyway especially with my knee injury.
Racking my beauty in transition
My swim time of 27 minutes wasn't anything amazing due to some bad sighting as I was wrongly instructed where to go by a marshal. The bike was 120km split into 3 laps of 40km (you can see why Bella had given me 3 x 40km TT the week before). I absolutely hammered the first lap - hitting an average of 40km an hour - a flat course was completely new to me and I loved racing past my other competitors. I was smiling the whole lap with not too much knee pain even if it was niggling a little. Then on the second lap my knee kept getting worse and worse. I came off the gas and reduced my average speed. I rolled into transition in 3h37 - not too bad at all considering. I knew however that I should pull out - my knee was only going to get worse on the 30km run but while my head told me yes, my heart said no and before I knew it I was out on the HOT run course. This consisted of 3 x 10km's which is a format I normally like but this was a dire affair. The pain was excruciating and I had no idea after 5km how I would complete. After the first lap I knew again I should pull out and even agreed with another competitor I was going to but as they went left to end their race I pulled right to continue onto my second lap...whoops. I wanted my parents so badly, normally gaining some strength from their support in my big races. I had to rely on painkillers the whole way round, not that I felt the benefit. I finished the run in a shocking 3h30 (nearly as long as my bike!). I found Aled had just missed out on a podium so realised we wouldn't be staying for the award ceremony. I just wanted to get my kit and get back. As I picked up my bag I found my phone to contact the others who had long since finished. I then got a text from my Dad saying "Well done on your third place". WHAT?! My immediate thought was there's been a mistake so I called for them to check whether it was right. It sure was and when I caught up with the gang it was clear we were staying for the awards to claim my podium slot. Wow - an unexpected podium at the World Long Distance Championships - is this really my life? How did the kid who avoided the majority of solo sport - particularly running end up here? I felt I didn't deserve it considering my time but you can only race who is there and my bimble was somehow enough. It was a fantastic and surreal feeling being on that stage. The days after consisted of some chill out days in the beautiful calm Sweden with the Tenby gang and my great friend Amy Kilpin, who had a pretty good result herself during the race. We searched for alcohol (something that we found is hard to come by in Sweden with their laws) ate pizza, had a BBQ and pedaloed around the stunning lakes (if I hadn't lost my phone I could've uploaded some pictures of those lovely days). Aside from medals and results this is what racing around the world is really for - to see new places I probably never would and have fun with friends. Before long however, it was time to head back to Lanzarote.
Wow - a bronze in the 20-24 Age group at the Long Distance World Championships
 However, I didn't spend long in Lanzarote. After spending 2 days in the UK talking to various people it was decided I would have 3-4 weeks off for rehab in the UK. It was a hard decision but for the right reasons in the hope that it would help my chances of a pain free race in Kona. The lack of training worried me but I had had a hard couple of years which always involved a race to train for, something that is mentally and physically tiring. This rest could help me more and I had enough endurance training within me for my fitness to come back quickly enough. The time at home with my parents and family was lovely and I got into the way of life in the UK again, even if most of my days were spent watching my favourite show 'Come Dine With Me'. After a month I returned back to Lanzarote where I had left Nathan. I missed him dearly and as you can imagine there was a 'Love Actually' airport greeting upon my arrival. I then spent a further week on holiday with my parents, brother, sister-in-law and niece and nephew down on the other side of the island. It was a lovely trip and so nice to get even closer to my brother and his family.
 Getting back into training after my time off was hard and I doubted whether the time off was actually a hindrance. However, after some words from Bella and others I knew I just had to keep pushing through - it was going to hurt and I couldn't expect to just pick up where I left of. Soon enough I was back on form and had heavy training weeks including half marathons on the treadmill and 5 hour bike rides. Hollie was back and I was loving it! I was nailing my nutrition, losing weight and not drinking (an amazing feat for me).

 Just as my training was going amazingly the anniversary of Rosie's death hit. The Friday before the date I gave up my 10 sober days and had a drink. (Drinking had always shamefully been a comfort thing to me in the UK and with my love of good wine instilled by my Dad I went to it a lot. In the first 8 months of losing Rose I can't think of a night I did not have a drink, unless I was working, and that doesn't just mean a glass of wine). The evening turned from a beautiful one to an absolute meltdown on my behalf. I ended up sobbing on the beach, and by sobbing I mean the type where you can't breathe, almost like a toddlers tantrum. I was hitting things in anger at the injustice I still feel that I will never see Rosie again. Nathan obviously alongside me just held me and let me do what I needed but just trying to stop me from harming myself. When he then followed me into the sea I knew I had the support I needed and knew what I was doing was unfair, it's not nice to see your loved one in so much mental pain and feeling completely useless. However, grief is all consuming, tiring and to some extent extremely selfish. I am lucky however to have the friends around me who, although may not understand, are there for me. It took me the next few days to realise that. Nathan didn't force me to do anything I didn't want to do and Bella said to look after myself first. I didn't want to see anyone and blocked myself off like I used to do, so much so I didn't go out on the group ride on Sunday - preferring to go out on my own. I then watched Nathan play cricket and surrounded myself with the friends I have made there which cheered me up. It made me smile at the life Nathan and I have made for ourselves on this island.
 The day before the 2 year anniversary I was replaying what I would've been doing 2 years previous. On the 8th September, the day we lost Rosie, I wanted to do something, get away and keep myself occupied. Nathan completely understood and we ended up driving the island in search of new vineyards and then exploring parts of the island we didn't know of. We scrambled up a massive volcano where I wrote 'Rose' in stones at the top (it took all my concentration to get back down in one piece fearing I would slip down). We then walked inside a volcano and finished the evening off by wild camping in a remote part of the island. We had a BBQ and a few drinks in Rosie's memory. My Dad instructed me to have a 'smiley day' and remember the memories we have as opposed to the resentment I feel that she is no longer with us. I have an obsession with stars and we couldn't have picked a more perfect spot. The sky was so clear we could see the Milky Way and the amount of stars was truly breathtaking. It was a magical night and Rosie was there with us in my heart and from the pink sky that engulfed us when we arrived made me believe she was watching too.

Our view from the tent
Our home for the night
Chef Nathan doing his duties
Rose was there with us
 Life will never get any easier without Rosie. She has left a mark that can never be removed or replaced and when she left everything changed. She has left a hole no-one can fill. I am reminded everyday she is gone but I can only hope from what I am doing to keep her legacy alive is not only helping myself but making her proud. I also want to say a huge thank you to all the generous donations I have received over the last few weeks, it is so appreciated. I am after all also on this mission to raise money for SUDEP Action to hopefully save lives and spare another family the pain me and my family have been through. It is a pain you would not wish on your worst enemy. I hate asking for money but if you haven't donated and can spare anything please click on my Justgiving link above and donate, I really have pushed so hard to get to where I am now.
 So, I leave for Kona in 13 days now and I am beyond excited. I still can't quite believe I have made it there - it really is the impossible dream and one I am going to live to the fullest. It's my once in a lifetime opportunity and it's been a journey Rosie has taken me on. Expect the tears in Kona! Before I get there however I have another race...the Ironman 70.3 in Lanzarote on the 19th September. I had aimed previously to be competitive in this race and even though I know the course so well as it's my training ground I really have no idea how I will fare here considering my time off and injury. However, one thing that is for sure is that I am a green eyed monster when you put me in race conditions and I have one of the strongest and determined heads there is - so watch out!

Rosie and I as children
Rose and I at school together

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Anything is possible if you want it enough

 I awoke the morning of Ironman Lanzarote to the sound of my 4am alarm. I had unusually slept like a log. I pottered around got my kit on, ate some weetabix and was down in transition for 5.30am. As per usual I felt sick whilst walking around transition the battle with my stomach resumes as I trying to fuel myself with food and water for the huge day ahead. I did all the transition rituals; pump tyres, put nutrition on bike and relieve my bike from the racking as it was zip tied on due to the wind the day before. On that note the wind did seem to have died down but it was only 6am and too early to tell anything. Before long I was going for my final toilet trip and putting my wetsuit on. I managed to see my family one final time through the barriers before walking down to the beach.
 The air of anticipation, nerves and excitement always causes a certain calm around area...the calm before the storm. I felt this a lot more this time as I was nervous for Nathan as well as myself this year. He has come such a long way not being able to swim 8 months ago and after all it was me who told him it was possible for him to achieve. It would be the first time I would share an Ironman course with a boyfriend even if I didn't intend to see him until I was on the run. My swim time gained me 30 minutes on him and with my cycling at the level it is I didn't want to see him on the ride. After bumping into some more friendly faces it was time to part.

 Nathan headed for the back of the swim pen whilst I headed to the front. Last year the swim was a nightmare. I had started around the 60min sign and stayed to the left. This error left me with cuts and bruises as I was pushed into the line of buoys. This time I decided to go to the middle-right to avoid the washing machine as much as possible.
 As I entered the pen I had to fight and squeeze as much as I could just to get to the 75min sign. The narrowness of the pen meant we were crammed in like sardines and I physically could not get any closer to the front which I was already angry and upset about as wanted to be in the 65min gang. A friend, Marc, had noticed me and I explained. He suggested I came further to the right with him with the view to overtake people to get where I wanted to be. It was a better option than mine so he put his hand out and pulled me over. I was annoyed but I had no option so had to stop fretting. I ended up speaking to him and another lady called Vicky who I then called pissy Vicky as she had no qualms in telling me she had pissed twice since standing there. The horn sounded and it was the start of Ironman Lanzarote 2015 - it was time to see if my hard work had paid off...

The Swim
 I had hoped that the 500 less entrants from last year would've eased the congestion. No such luck. Lanzarote really does go down as the most brutal swim for the faster swimmers I feel and I did Wales in what seemed like a real storm last year. My decision to go right did enable me however to overtake the people who I should've been in front of on dry land. However, my tactic must've pissed others off as by 400m I had my wetsuit zip pulled down. Shit. Strangely the only Ironman dream/nightmare I had in the weeks before was this exact scenario. The guy who did it got a loud 'You prick' and a kick in the face. I can give whatever I take. The rest of the first lap was me deciding what to do. Do I stop and ask someone to help me do my wetsuit back up and waste 4 minutes and end up behind the ones I overtook again or just suck it up? I decided to look at my time when I exited and assess it. I thought given how slow I felt I was going, the constant battle with competitors and my streamline having been compromised I was on for a slow 37 minutes. I came out in 35 minutes - not bad I thought. I looked around for help as I ran to my next lap but even if I had seen any I think my mind was made up. I was sucking it up. The second lap seemed to go much quicker even if in reality it didn't. I couldn't wait however for it to be over and that thought got me through. 1 hour 12 minutes later I emerged from the water for the final time. I was and am still disappointed with this as considering all the long sets of training my potential was way better. However, considering my bad positioning and my wetsuit being open for the majority I can't complain too much as that would've added a fair few minutes on. At least my wetsuit was quick to get off! I ran out to my transition bag to see the other girls in my age group were still in the water. I shouted 'YES' which got me some looks but I was so chuffed. I stormed through T1 in 5m16 which considering the run up off the beach and the long transition really isn't bad! Despite my nightmare swim I do owe a huge thank you to my sponsors HUUB as even with an open back I still felt comfortable in my second skin.

The Bike
Racing around El Golfo
 This was the discipline I was looking forward to. I knew the route off by heart. I knew how to push and when, I had done it countless times. The trick with this course is not to push hard too soon, there is a lot of climbing all the way through to 120km. The exit out of Carmen was a little different to last years however. We would be going along the highway with no wind protection for a good 8km - it wouldn't take long to see if the winds had picked up. It didn't even take me to the highway to realise they had. This was going to be a long painful day on the bike. I saw Bella at around 4km and she shouted a mantra I used the whole day "Be patient, be strong". Be patient really played to the brutal wind as that can really mentally get you down and frustrated and be strong just speaks for itself. Along the first 10km the majority of people were diagonal on their bikes as the crosswinds were truly awful. My new 60mm rims were really catching the wind and it was only my confidence and bike ability that kept me up. How people were coping with 80mm, 90mm and discs is completely beyond me.
 I kept to my plan throughout the race really. I pushed hard going downhill and chicked more surpised men than I sought possible when on the highway to El Golfo. I was pushing hard early on but I needed to take my advantages when I had them and as climbing isn't my strongest I had to use the downs. I saw my friend JP on this stretch and played a great game of cat and mouse along that fast section. As I exited El Golfo I saw one girl in my age group just starting the 11km've got this Hollie I thought.
 Timanfaya climb was into the wind which just made me feel like I was going backwards. However with that conquered and not losing the pack I was in I pushed on.
Climbing Timanfaya, fire mountain, and still smiling
 It was around here that every swig of my gels made me wretch and feel like I wasn't actually stomaching it. I pushed it down to La Santa and got some amazing cheers when there. Shortly after I began to feel rough. The road from Famara to Teguise is named 'the oven' as although there was relief from the no wind it heats up funnily enough like an oven. Surprisingly it wasn't the heat that seemed to get me here I just seemed to have run out of steam. I was climbing efficiently and strongly in the TT position during The Volcano triathlon on this stretch but that just seemed impossible. The thought of any fuel was making me feel sick and I had a hell of a lot of climbing to fact I had only just started the hardest part of the day. Once out of the oven I hit the halfway mark and was cheered up by seeing my family even if all I wanted to do was get off, cry and hug my mum. I as always smiled through the pain so not to worry them, it could be a long day for them if the few seconds I see them I say I feel rough. Climbing through Teguise was phenomenal, I had an absolutely amazing amount of support from my friends. Even that nearly made me cry! I can't thank you all enough.
Climbing through Teguise
  The next section was the hardest bit. It was a 17km stretch of climbing into some brutal wind. It was a tough slog all the way to the top of Haria where I also found out you can be sick on a bike! My new plan was to just put my head down and plod - when I got to Mirador I would make my time up. This was were I saw Twitter mate Pete come past me looking too damn fresh! My hopes of a 6h30 bike flew away but I had to get myself back on track mentally. I knew once I had got to Mirador, the last major climb at 120km, I would push as hard as I could with or without fuel to get home. I stuck to water until then and when I felt flushed I had some nutrition and did just that. I flew 89kmph down that hill and stuck and pushed my way back on the TT position along the highway to Tahiche as if I was training on it, hitting a steady 36kmph average. I passed pretty much everyone who had got me climbing including Pete. I was heading home! My mental and physical state stayed up all the way until I made it home. In the final 5km one guy I had been cat and mousing the whole ride stated "Bloody hell girl, Rosie would be so proud"...and that is the only moment I actually cried that day.
 Coming back along the highway and back into transition I was determined to make more time up however after a little wobble decided to come off the TT bars. Thank god I did as 3 lorries in quick succession on the other side of the road coupled with the 40mph crosswind nearly wiped me off in one flick. Again had I not had my bike handling skills or been on the bars that would've been game over for me. It's hardly surprising that around 350 pulled out on the bike leg!
 The smile on my face when that bike was over was huge. 7h09 was not what I wanted but considering at just over halfway I was looking at a 7h30 and managed to claw back 20minutes in the final 60km I was pretty pleased. Furthermore that wind was something else and Bella was estimating 40-45mins ontop of peoples time. The best bit though was that I was still in the lead in my age group and Nathan hadn't passed me. I had a long T2 of 6m19 as my friend in the suncream tent forced me to sit the hell down. In hindsight I think I needed it!

The Run
  I was seriously concerned about the run due to my tight calves. I knew they were going to hurt it was just how bad and when would the pain would start and ultimately when the cramps would kick in. The pain started almost instantly which pissed all over my good mood coming off the bike. The support coming down the strip however was mind blowing.
Running down the strip
It really was testament to the friends and supporters I have made on this island and I was truly blessed they were out to see me and my fellow competitors race. I saw my dad at the first aid station who gave me my requested Snickers. I appreciated the effort as this was normally my fail safe but I still couldn't stomach solid food. By 3km I was limping and had Helle a competitor and friend from La Santa wrap her arm around me and ask me what was wrong. At the second aid station I saw Julia and Georgia Abbott and their support throughout the whole day was nothing short of amazing. They had all the volunteers chanting my name every time I passed. The first lap was a half marathon - 10.5km out past the airport and back. I had managed to push the pain to the back of my mind and focus. I wasn't hitting my desired 6min kilometres but I was running. I saw Nathan at around 14km and we stopped for an embrace. The lack of movement then resulted in my most romantic show of affection yet. The piss I had been unable to let go of for hours came streaming out. As Nathan was expressing how proud he was of me I was casually pissing myself. Classy bird me. I have to say however it was one of the most painful experiences I have ever encountered as the chaffing around my arse made it feel like I was pissing razorblades.
 I did the 21km in 2h25 - not ideal but I only had two 10km loops left. It was a great way to mentally break the marathon down. At the 16km mark I had seen one of the girls in my age group - I was 9km ahead of her and the next was 11km behind. I needed this push and when I saw Bella at 17km I shouted "I'm number 1". Her reply, "That's great BUT you still have a way to go, if you start walking it could be over. Stay focused, be patient..." to which I shouted "BE STRONG!". The rest of the run was actually a run and I was only walking through the occasional aid stations to either relieve myself and then throw water over me or to actually get some liquids in. I was in complete tunnel vision. My mind didn't wander and I stayed focused. I didn't let my form falter, in fact I have had many supporters tell me since finishing I looked strong and consistent throughout the marathon which was amazing to hear. The only blip I had was on the last lap when my calves cramped up which caused my legs to buckle and me fall down. After some painful stretches against a lamp post I carried on pushing on. I had a lead of 8km on the number 2 in my age group and on my final 3km shouted to her as she passed the other way "You're going to Kona" whilst I knew I was getting number 1 on the podium.
On the final 2km of my last lap still smiling and somehow running!
 As I neared the finish line the cheers as they were throughout were amazing and I thanked everyone I could. I saw my niece, Amber, and nephew, Tom with my parents ready to run down the finishing chute with me. They went sprinting off as if they were doing Ironkids again and had to reign them back in. Crossing that line with my niece and nephew was just amazing and a poignant moment considering who I race for. I hope Rosie was watching us cross that line together.
Running down the finishing chute with my niece and nephew
I finished in a PB of 13h29 and first in my age group. I was 2 hours 27 minutes quicker than last year - I can finally say I have put my demons to bed in Lanza and had the wind not been so bad I know full well I would've gone sub 13 hours. I was now a four times Ironman at 24. What a day!

 I then ventured back out on the course to see Nathan finish. An hour and 10 minutes later he came running from the distance. I took his hand and we ran in together. Another hugely proud moment for me. What an amazing achievement.

Now an Ironcouple

Some pictures need no words
 We had some dinner and with medals and finishers tshirts on with pride (Aled joined too). My mum said it had been the best one to spectate as I had finished in the light for the first time! I was happy I wore my sunglasses to the end because I needed them not just because I was about to cry or just trying to cover as much face as possible!


 The morning after Nathan and I drove Aled to Club La Santa to see if he would get rolldown for Kona as he came second in his age group in an epic time of 10h54, an incredible talent considering he is only 21! Unfortunately it was not his day. I have to admit I did have great pleasure in hearing my name being called but having to decline as I had already qualified. I made one other girl very happy and it was by far one of the best moments in my Ironman career. Knowing I have qualified as number 1 in my own right really is one of the most amazing feelings ever. Considering some of the comments I have got for going to Kona based on my shape it really was a massive middle finger.  This was further cemented when I got on the no1 spot on the podium and was awarded my age group trophy. Hearing the words "Here is your AG 18-24 female CHAMPION" with my name shortly after was truly spectacular. My dad expressing his pride and hugging me was oh so worth the pain. I thought when I was up there, "What do you do when you have achieved all you set out to?". The answer that night was to celebrate with alcohol and dance the night away. Now I have had time to reflect I believe you will find something else to satisfy your wildest dreams and to challenge and better yourself whether that be as an athlete or as a person. The experiences, the friends, the journey I have been on is truly amazing and that journey is what makes and changes you; "If it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you". I have achieved my wildest dreams but there are always more dreams to be had. My journey to now all started with an 'impossible' dream to one day become an Ironman. To reflect on what I have achieved is almost unbelievable. It is better than a dream. Anything really is possible if you want it bad enough!

This will have pride of place at home
One of my post Ironman celebrations
A celebratory BBQ with Tri Activ friends and my coach Bella

Monday, 1 June 2015

The lead up to Ironman Lanzarote 2015

 So yet again I have seemingly forgotten I have a blog. A fair bit has happened since I wrote my last entry however the biggest event has to be Ironman Lanzarote which shockingly was over a week ago. How time flies! Due to my ability to babble I have put it into two parts. This is the lead up to the race and then the next will be my race report.

The pink decorated hall before the event
 Five weeks before my biggest race of the year, thus far, I returned back to England to see my family. This was to celebrate my youngest nephew and godson being christened and help organise and attend a charity ball for what would have been Rosie's 21st birthday. With my bike in tow meaning I could still get some vital training in I headed back to the UK. I can admit in the 2 weeks I was back my training was hit and miss. I ended up doing so much organising for the charity ball it was impossible to cram much in. This said I did get some worthwhile sessions in when I could and Bella amazingly understood completely. In perspective all I do within triathlon is for Rosie and ensuring the ball was a success by raising as much money as possible was so important to me and my family. We ended up raising £16,000 for SUDEP (Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy) Action which is truly amazing.

My sister and I at the ball

 It was easy to fit back into the UK way of life and be minutes away from my family particularly my sister who yearns for me to move back. Nathan and I found it tough to leave.

 However, once arriving back on Lanzarote soil it was time to focus again. Whilst in the UK I turned my attention to an ongoing issue that I thought had resurfaced since being in Lanzarote; my asthma. I had previously had this taken off my medical records as I tried hard to beat it and wanted to go into the Army (it has to be off your records for a period of time to get in). With this not being a desire anymore I had to do what was best for me and get an inhaler. I hated the fact I had to do this as begrudged having to rely on them as I used to but I was really starting to suffer. In fact one of the first things my mum said to me was "you sound wheezy" (mum's really do know best). This alone was enough to get my arse down to the doctors. I went back to the rock with the security blanket of my inhaler - no more sleepless nights being unable to breathe! However, I was scared of over using it.
 Two days after landing I had an Olympic triathlon, The Volcano, based at Club La Santa. This was a perfect time to test the waters for 3 weeks time where I would be doing the Ironman. The morning of the race I felt shocking. I had used my inhaler all night and come the morning couldn't even chew a piece of granola without having to stop to breathe. I cried on the balcony to myself. Nathan seeing me struggling mentally and physically told me I just needed to accept that I something was triggering my asthma and I had to get over that and myself. The words were tough and needed and accompanied by a sympathetic hug which made it a little better. Since then the inhaler has not left my side and it's something I am just going to have to get used to.
 The Volcano triathlon was nothing to write home about. I managed a sub 3 hours in 2h49 which I was pleased about but in hindsight was disappointed in my bike split of 1h24. The route although tough (it is Lanzarote!) took in roads I know so well and I felt like I was pushing strong especially by the amount of people I overtook but I knew I could have done better. When I saw that Nathan was 7 minutes quicker than me on that split I was even more disappointed as although he is a strong cyclist I shouldn't have let him have that much. I did have to put things into perspective though as I knew I wasn't on top form before the race but I am not one to make excuses. I put it behind me and continued training to Bella's tough plan which I trusted.

At the finish of The Volcano triathlon with Nathan and friend Barry
 On the 12th May I traveled to Barcelona to work with RaceForce at the 70.3. These are a triathlon bike transport and accommodation organisers. My role as 'race host' meant I was to be the fountain of knowledge to all customers. I would be doing airport transfers, swim and bike recces as well as be on hand for any questions. It was a completely new and exciting experience for me to be that side of an event and the start of me gaining knowledge for my future. The week was busy and great fun even if training, again, was hard to fit in. I loved meeting new people within triathlon and I actually enjoyed being on the other side even if my emotions were on high alert! When spectating the swim I was an emotional wreck imagining what I would be doing in a weeks time.

Watching the sunrise in Barcelona as the triathletes got ready to race
 I was however ready to come home after being away probably because I knew I had something big to conquer. I flew back Monday 18th and was thrown into the excitement of race week - it was a mere 6 days till race day! From this moment on I didn't stop. Nathan and I moved to Puerto Del Carmen as soon as I arrived back. I unpacked my bike which I took to Barcelona and the week just flew by.

 My parents arrived on the Tuesday to support me. On the Wednesday I went over to La Santa with Nathan and Welshman friend Aled to register and get a massage. It was during this hour that I found out I had compartment syndrome in my calves. This basically means there was building of pressure within my muscles which was causing me some pretty horrible pain which I had tried, and failed, to ignore. Dave, an epic cyclist and brutal masseuse, was not surprised when I told him I was in agony when trying to run over the last week. He did the best he could by massaging them and said the only thing I could do to help was not to run until race day and then strap my leg with Kinesio tape and wear compression sleeves (something I have never done but thankfully they came in pink!). Whilst hearing this bad news ProBike were checking my bike over and putting the latest toys put on my bike. These were my 60mm ceramic bearing Fast Forward wheels (a huge thank you to FFWD for your support on my way to Kona). Not only did they look damn sexy (particularly so as my dad spend hours making them pink for me) but they were sure to help me during the race.

My sexy wheels
 I also managed to get some much needed pampering in on Wednesday by having my nails glammed up and as tradition states had my hair dyed pink in memory of Rose.

On Thursday we took some more friends over to La Santa to register and met with some triathlon friends for some much needed banter to chill us out. (Today was finally the day I met Pete who I had been chatting to on Twitter for nearly 2 years).
Some of my great triathlon friends :)
My niece, Amber, and nephew, Tom, also arrived that evening to support me. Before I knew it it was Friday, the day before the race. My nerves weren't as bad as they had been before and I felt pretty calm on the lead up. However, the day before opens completely new emotions. The reason as to why I was racing became all to clear and I spent the whole day fighting tears.
 Amber and Tom were staying with Nathan and I and Friday morning I took them swimming in Puerto Del Carmen in preparation for their IronKids in the afternoon. This was their first time in open water let alone sea and it was a choppy day thanks to the relentless wind which hadn't let up after the scorching 46 degree heat the week before. I was also secretly trying to reassure myself it'll die down by tomorrow.

 The kids seemed to love their time sea swimming, even if it was a bit chilly without a wetsuit! I know they particularly enjoyed how clear the water was and we spent some time looking at the fish which then shocked them as we saw a huge ray casually swimming a mere 2 metres away. An awesome experience for them.
 After some breakfast it was time to sort my kit and as normal this is where my triathlon OCD kicks in as I lay all my kit out on the bed and then triple check I have everything before packing it away. I was amazed how much my kit had developed to having a hint of pink on everything! I also have to make note to how special and significant my race number was. The number 60 was the same number I was when I competed in my first Ironman in Wales in 2013 - the day we lost Rosie. I could only hope this was a good omen.
Triathlon OCD
Ready to go
Time didn't seem to be a luxury we had so once I had checked over everything it was time to head down to transition to rack our stuff. Upon walking into transition Nathan and I were bumping into so many people and doing what we do best...chatting! I just love the pre race excitement/nerves racking brings. The atmosphere was electric! I also loved how much attention my bike was getting!

Walking into transition (no-one was surprised I was one of the first)
Transition pose with Nathan and my great friend Aled
 There was one thing on everyone's minds however and it was the wind. It was truly awful even by Lanzarote standards. People were putting their bikes on the racks as per normal by the saddle and they were being blown around. When I tried to do mine it nearly took flight. I stood there holding it for a while unsure what to do until Nathan got me some zip ties and a truly awful looking professional haha (number 49) fixed my bike to the racking. This massively put my mind at rest. I spoke to one of the girls in my age group who took great delight when I told her I had already qualified for Kona meaning even if she came second Kona was hers for the taking. I still wanted that number one spot though!
 Once we eventually made it back out of transition it was time to watch Amber and Tom do the Ironkids. I had a huge amount of pride watching them compete especially as they also raised £636 for SUDEP Action. Both smashed their runs (the swim was taken out as the sea was just too choppy, the right decision in my eyes). Tom said after he wouldn't do an Ironman but Amber said one day she would like to.
My little champions
I'm a lucky girl with these as my family
 The night before the big day we went for the obligatory Italian carb load with my family and some friends. Then it was off to bed...