Africa. The sting of sweat in my eyes. The searing heat on my neck and shoulders. Ofori. Disciplinarian, teaching me what was best, with structure. May she rest in peace. Ghenwa. Expecting her first child. Food. Frozen pina coladas covered in cotton candy, pillows filled with the scent of rosemary and strips of moss that stick to the top of your mouth. Imperial. Leaving home and discovering who I am. Dancing. Till the cows come home, drunk on endorphins; on stools and tables in Beirut. Brothers. Their everlasting support, making me laugh and giving me something to worry about. London. For all it has afforded me to do. To exciting new beginnings and happy endings. Cambridge. My first marathon, my closest friends. Fiona. Allowing me to achieve goals I thought were impossible. Diana. Making me realise that everything IS possible. Falling in love with New York and for the hundreds of people who can now wed after riots and tears over the last few decades. Parents. For never doubting me, always encouraging my ideas, no matter how insane they were. Training. Hours of dedication, sacrifices, highs and lows, all for that finish line.

I had the perfect race at Placid; everything came together as planned.

It has been an interesting lead into my A race. A tough and slow 70.3 in St Croix (illness), a 70.3 PB in Pescara (but only marginally). So the last thing I expected was shaving 30 minutes off my Ironman Nice time and coming in at 10:51. The swim was not comparable to Placid (lake versus sea) but the bike was just as hilly and the run was significantly tougher with grueling hills. The eastern heat wave that hit the US also ensure the weather was just as hot.

So what happened? Well, it’s my second season in the sport so experience is the first thing that springs to mind. But this doesn’t just come in the form of “miles under the belt” but also planning.

For the swim, I knew position was key (I had been battered at the start in Nice). For the two-loop course, I decided to stick myself at the front of the pack during the start; all the way to the right of the and away from the buoys. The first length out, I swam as close to fast as was sensible, passing the majority of the field and then settling into pace on the way back. The second lap was a lot more comfortable, sticking close to the buoys and keeping the right momentum, breathing every 3 strokes and sighting when necessary. I shaved 9 minutes off my time at Nice, completing in 1:04.

My first transition was smooth, I ensured I had markers so I knew where to pick my bag and bike. Packing only what was necessary. 3 minutes less than Nice.

The bike was where my goals were focused. It was a two lap course and I was planning for a sub-six hour split. I followed Fi’s instructions to use a positive split, riding the first loop a little faster to build in some buffer for the second. The first lap was around 2:45, giving me 30 minutes more for the second. I was making good progress until I lost my water bottles and nutrition at mile 60. It was tough, both mentally and physically but knowing I had a spare bar in my run bag and that I had carb loaded during the week kept me going. I came in at 5:56, 12 minutes faster than Nice.

T2 was marred with aching glutes and some panic over my nutrition. I could not imagine running a whole marathon. But that is what long distance is all about I guess, things do go wrong and you have to make the most of what you have and act quickly. So I made the decision to stop at the first three aid stations and eat, after I stretched for a bit, of course. 1 minute faster than Nice.

The run. It began completely opposite to plan as I was aiming for a 3:30 split. I walked and jogged for the first 3 miles, taking in pretzels, cola, Perform, bananas, gels and orange segments. Anything I could get my hands on. Then as my legs and my mind settled, so did my pace. I picked up my cadence, looked ahead and took it all in. For the first lap (13 miles), I enjoyed the novelty, my wonderful support team and the crowd. Then I was in countdown mode to the finish line. The toughest part of my Ironman race last year. But this time, I had a plan.

The day before I made a list. A list of the lucky 13 things I had and still have in my life. For the 13th Ironman in Lake Placid. For the 13th age group place I came in for St Croix, a race very comparable to what I was going to endure. I spent two hours in the hotel room, picturing this list, meditating, repeating these set of words that would carry me through the end. I visualized the route which I had trained on before and I made friends with the hills and the challenges I would face, welcoming them as I went along.

During the last 13 miles of the run, I thought of that list of 13 words, counting backwards. I dedicated a mile to each of these milestones, achievements and positive things I had in my life, switching to the next topic as the buzz of my Garmin indicated. And I smiled, to the other athletes, the spectators, my friends and the finish line that I could vividly picture crossing in my mind. And as if by magic, there it was. Sub-eleven hours, as I had secretly hoped and taking 3 minutes off my run time at Nice in a course that was significantly tougher.

I finished strong, sprinting to the end, with a smile on my face.

Most say your second Ironman is your toughest because it doesn’t have the novelty of the first. That’s wrong. I have loved every cold swim, long-haul flight with my bike and celebratory coffee on my long and wet rides. Bring on season three, four, eight and… thirteen.

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