It’s almost Christmas, my favourite time of the year. Time to gorge on food, listen to carols and let go a bit. (But just a bit, because before you know it, the 2012 season hits you). It is also the time to reflect on the year behind and to plan the year ahead.

And what an excellent year it has been.

The 2011 season started with a solid performance in Abu Dhabi where I achieved my main goal: a strong bike split on a flat course. It continued with a pretty brutal race at St Croix 70.3, by far the toughest race I have ever completed. Then, following a PB at Pescara 70.3, the season peaked with the perfect ‘A-race’ and another PB at Ironman Lake Placid.

The season has also ended well. Following last year’s Ironman Blues experience, I was keen to get another race in the diary before year-end. Something to look forward to and train for as a month of post-Ironman recovery and withdrawal set in. So I signed up to the winter BallBuster. Set in the idyllic Surrey Hills, the BallBuster course consists of five 8-mile laps around the scenic Box Hill. It begins with a one lap run, followed by three on the bike, and a final run.

I had been warned by many in advance about how tough the race was: “that final run is brutal”, “it’s the UK’s toughest duathlon”. This was often followed with free advice: “take it easy on the first run, you’ll need the energy for the second”, “make sure you spin your legs out on the climb” and so on. It’s easy to give advice and less so to take it, especially when they are so instructive and have the ability to suppress your natural instinct. (For example, I am a confident runner and very likely to go out fast). The best piece of advice I had was from my coach, “try and run your two laps within 5 minutes of each other”. Clever. Fiona’s simple words provided the right amount of structure and pace judgment that is needed in a race environment. It allowed me to run my first lap at the speed I thought was natural to me, yet it gave me a goal for the finish, allowing me to look down at my watch and tweak my speed on the basis of her instructions.

Crossing the finish line in 3:08 was exhilarating. Given the training runs around the course, I was expecting 3:30. But taking into account Fiona’s advice and the extra rocket fuel injected during a race, I surpassed my assumed abilities.

It’s with this positive note that I end the 2011 season. I’m not going to talk about 2012 yet, even though there are a few exciting races in the horizon, but I am hoping to further build on the strong foundation that my coach and team have instilled upon me. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to copious amounts of mulled wine, turkey and a present or two. Or three.