Rob's note: What follows is Helen's race report from 70.3 Mexico, where she finished 6th in her AG and snagged a slot for the World Champs 70.3 this August. She's a great inspiration and example of someone who has improved massively over 3 years due to super consistent training - she simply does not miss training sessions.
I wouldn't usually start a race report talking about Alzheimer's. But then I wouldn't usually spend 5 days surrounded by half a dozen old Mexican women in the run up to a race.
Welcome to the world of Air BnB!
But staying in the grounds of an old people's home was the perfect preparation for my first race of the season. Unique, of course, but it was a world away from the in-your-face atmosphere that is the razzmatazz associated with the Ironman brand.
These women didn't even know what day of the week it was. Conchita would ask me the same question five times while I ate my porridge, Carolina had the warmest smile and was so touched when I spent half an hour sitting chatting to her. The day before the race she held my hand and said in perfect English "be good." It hammered it home that it was "just a race."
The other reason I felt so relaxed was because I was back in Mexico. I lived there for ten months, ten years ago and this was my fourth return trip. I had forgotten how infectiously friendly and welcoming Mexicans are.
For example, I gatecrashed a swimming session at the local university and when I left even the grumpy coach smiled and wished me luck for my event. The next day my normal fears about building my bike were alleviated when I popped into a local bike shop and asked them to double check it. They did it for free and even sent me to a local park where I could cycle safely and check my bike.
I also felt in full control of pre-race preparations. I could come and go as I pleased, I could eat what I wanted, when I wanted as I had access to the kitchen in the nursing home. I didn't have to worry about a dodgy bit of chicken or a picante salsa putting an end to my race before I got to the start line!
I had given myself four full days to acclimatise to what I expected to be around 25 degrees in Mexico. Thankfully the weather couldn't have been any more British if it tried. With the exception of one day, it was cold and wet. Perfect for a Brit coming from a UK winter!
So race day and the early alarm came. I felt ready and excited.
Transition faff was done in the dark at 6am, then everyone had to walk 1.2 miles along the swim course to the start. Half way through the walk, nerves hit. But my supportive dude, my amazing fiancé Rich, was right there with me to keep me calm. I look around, remembered how lucky I was to be in Mexico and thought of the women I'd spent the past few days with. A great reality check.
The swim in Monterrey is awesome. It's point to point in a man-made river with 100% visibility, essentially a 1.2mile pool, with a rather pleasant temperature of 18 degrees. Tooting Bec lido doesn't even come close!
We'd been able to recce a bit of the course the day before so I knew what to expect and didn't need to fret about not having been in a wetsuit for six months!
After the serious air surrounding the previous waves, my swim start was pure girly comedy. Mexicans are an excitable bunch and at 7.45 the start area was full of screaming, giggling women between the ages of 25-34. It was odd but hilarious and made for a fun start to the race.
Swim complete. Not many purple hats around me at the swim exit. I can't have had a bad swim, I thought to myself.
The bike course is along a highway through monterrey with a section of cobbles in the middle of each lap. The day before the race, the wonderful guys at TransBike Mexico drove me around some of the course, along with British pro Emma-Kate Lidbury. We got lost but we got the idea; flat and fast but not the most inspiring. However full concentration would be required for some shockingly bad road conditions and gigantic potholes.
When I grabbed my bike out of transition on race morning it was raining, the ground was wet and I knew conditions would be treacherous. People were skidding all over the place, especially on the cobbled section which I rode at a snail's pace. On the positive side, I stayed on my bike. On the down side I lost valuable minutes on both laps and the girls I had been riding with up until the cobbles were gone. End of. I tried to pick up my pace on the second lap, imagining a wet time trial at home, to see if I could catch them, but didn't even come close. I got off the bike knowing I had work to do.
I started running and felt good. In fact part way through the first lap I couldn't believe just how good I felt. Things were going nicely. My pace slowed on the second lap but I was still managing to do under 7.30/miles. The last two miles I really focused hard. I kept on telling myself i'd come here for a reason; I was here to race, not holiday. The holiday started at 2pm and not before. So I kept pushing, thinking of previous races where I'd tag along to a faster running guy and see how long I could stick with him for. I tried hard to do the same, I knew there were some girls in my wave who I hadn't seen since losing contact on the bike. With half a mile to go I spotted two girls ahead and put my foot down. I passed one with about four hundred metres to go then sat on the shoulder of another with three hundred to go before thinking it's now or never, you've got to go. So I kicked to the line. They didn't follow. I beat one by 16s and the other by 18s to finish 6th in my age group in a total time of 4.53.47.
I went to the slot allocation ceremony with a slim hope that Mexicans might not want to travel to Austria. Ha! Foolish thinking. This is the world of Ironman triathlon. Even in Mexico it oozes money. Two slots were allocated to my age group and both were taken straight away. We were about to get up and leave but when roll down started it was actually quite fun seeing people's reactions and the compare getting everyone involved to yell "roll" if the person whose name was called wasn't there or couldn't take the place. And as Rich said, "you never know."
After the first round of positions had gone, a third slot was allocated to my age group. And then a nervous wait began, but the slot rolled down to me. What a feeling when I heard the compare starting to say "and from Great Britain....!!!!!" I jumped up, ran over in bare feet to get a high five and grabbed my papers before they could change their mind. I quickly payed my money and I'll be racing at the 2015 Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Austria. It just happens to be a week before I get married...eek!
So Mission Mexico complete and without doubt it's my best executed race yet. I'd hoped I might be able to scrape under five hours but knew everything would have to go perfectly. I thought 5.05 was more realistic, so to go under 4.55 was amazing. I was thrilled with my swim (32.27) and I've never run as quick off the bike (1.37.41). I also pee'd on the fly for the first time...utterly grim, but it probably got me to Austria.
As ever huge thanks to coach Rob Wilby for getting me to the start line in top-notch condition, especially on the back of a UK winter. Not an easy task. And a mention for Tanja Slater who's made me love swimming again.