Wow – what a day!
I cannot believe I managed to get 4th pro at Challenge Almere. If you’d told me that would be my result that morning, I would have laughed at you, but my mindset has changed a little and to go from leading for nearly half the race, to falling to 3rd (still podium), but then passed with 7km to go, I was actually disappointed I didn’t get a top 3…
BUT in hindsight, looking back at my preparations and execution of the race, I am absolutely thrilled, knowing I couldn’t have done any more! I gave it my all, the field was stacked, and I am the only one of those pros who works full time (if at all!).
After disappointment at the national middle distance champs, I was glad to get a confidence boost at the national 100 mile cycle champs, so in the lead up to the race, I had never been so excited to start. I felt ready, I had so many butterflies, and I was just wanting the week to hurry up!
I thought it was going to be very stressful, the fact I had no holidays left at work (my working holidays run from Oct – Oct, and since 1st Oct 17, I have been on a 3 week honeymoon, 3 week New Zealand trip, and 10 days on the European Continent. Luckily, this trip actually couldn’t have gone smoother (for me!).
Kyle’s parents had agreed to come, as it was his Dad’s birthday the day of the race so was excited to doubly celebrate, and Mum and Keith also booked to come, as Mum hasn’t seen me race this year apart from at the national duathlon championships, and Keith wanted to do a half ironman by the end of the year! They took the Thursday, Friday and Monday off, and Kyle agreed to take my bike box with him, and build it for me arriving on Friday.
That meant I worked Friday morning, drove 30mins to the airport at lunchtime, parked up, caught the 90min flight to Amsterdam, the race director’s father picked me up right at the gate with a big sign, drove me straight to the race briefing at 4pm, where I then registered with ease, and walked the 3 minutes to our air bnb. How smooth is that!
Little did I know, Kyle had some issues on his flight. I think the airport security did not like that he had a bright pink bike box, so made him PAY to weigh it twice until it was EXACTLY 23kgs. He was very angry and stressed out, but meanwhile I was happily sitting at my desk at work without a care in the world!
At the air bnb I quickly unpacked, checked my bike, racked it and off we popped for dinner (pizza and red wine, of course!). Mum wanted to share a bottle of Prosecco with me, totally forgetting I was racing the following morning! She was on holiday mode and wanted a drinking buddy!
A quick hour long call with Scott to get some race day tips (why are you wearing a one piece you idiot, what if you need to use the portapotty, why are you using wheels you’ve never ridden before, etc etc) and off I went to bed. I couldn’t sleep, mainly out of nerves and excitement (and the apartment was quite noisy) but I knew I was in bed most of Thursday and had a great sleep that night, which was most important!
When my alarm went off at 4am I was EXCITED for once! Usually I wake up with a small amount of fear, but not this morning. I had zero pressure (apart from finishing!) because no one knew who I was and I was confident I could break the infamous 10 hour mark if I just relax and enjoy it.
I put my headphones in, made 2 tubs of porridge with banana, 2 shots of Nespresso, and a pint of High 5. I did some light mobilisation exercises to wake up, when Kyle came through as cheerleader! He was so excited for me! My plan was to head over to transition to pump up my tires, hand in my transition bags, then go back to the apartment to keep warm and relax.
By this point, the birthday boy and Kyle’s mum were up and ready to come and support (they got in late from a night out in Amsterdam so I was surprised/excited they were up!) and they are the best at making everything fun and light hearted.
They were laughing at the fact that I definitely can’t keep quiet for 10 hours (proven when I looked round and chatted to the cameraman on the motorbike!), and when I asked them for tips on how to break up the race, they asked me to think of what I would buy with £10million. Each lap on the run I had to tell them what I would buy (this was quite fun!), and just general banter at how long a race it really is!
I headed to transition, met Mum (who was probably more nervous than me!), and we headed to the start with about 10 minutes to spare!
(Best cheerleaders ever!)
My wetsuit was on, I didn’t need to warm up, so we just took some photos, watched the Challenge guy fall out of a helicopter to deliver the flag marking the start of the race (which was AWESOME!) and got a bit teary-eyed leaving Mum and Kyle.
We were announced to the crowd 2 minutes after the professional men, and off I went into the water.
(oh, the fear was kicking in now!)
I made sure I got used to the water and that my wetsuit was ok before a short 50m warm up to the start line.
I knew I would be one of the stronger swimmers, so made my way to the far right hand side of the start line to get clear water. The left side slowly started moving forward, so I followed suit (I wasn’t starting with a disadvantage) but my canoe blocked me. Luckily, I was listening out closely for the canon and had a good reaction to it, sprinting ahead just before the canoe had a chance to go fully in front of me…phew!
My aim was to swim as fast as I could for 100m then hit a solid effort for the remainder, but a girl was right next to me, so I continued to maybe 200m to try and drop her. We were fortunate enough to have a lead boat with a balloon behind him for the lead swimmer to follow, and I was the one following the balloon. So that was a good sign.
I had no idea where anyone was behind me. I certainly felt hands on my feet at the 1st buoy, so I was annoyed I was going to be giving some girls a free ride. At the turn of the 2nd buoy, I put in a surge, and had a quick look behind me a few metres later to see if it worked…
…it did! I had clear water, so kept powering behind my balloon.
The balloon kept my 57 minute swim entertaining (FYI the commentators and a couple coaches reckoned the swim was around 3 minutes long, compared with last year and the swimmers’ usual times at other races; so just over 4km total in the water I reckon). The wind was pretty mental so one second it was up in the air, then it was in the boat, then it was far left etc etc! Also, I think the boat man got distracted and paddled away, forgetting swimmers are slower, so he would stop and wait, then realise he was too slow and would put in a big paddle and I would get a big wave in my face!
I found this hilarious at the time, but it probably slowed me down and would have given the girls a chance to catch up. Ahh who cares, I was leading the race!
Lap 2 was pretty uneventful. The water got pretty choppy, but I am a swimmer who suits that kind of water, so I didn’t mind. I saw camera crew on my left hand side so I tried to breathe more to that side for more coverage! Unfortunately, the commentators had no idea who had the ugly green goggles so I was the unknown speedy swimmer!
(the underdog! Debbie who?)
About 500m from the finish, I overtook a male pro, but was worried it was a girl who had made a surge from my far right, so I started sprinting again. When I passed her/him pretty quickly, I realised it was a male so calmed down a bit. Then I saw 2 more men in the distance, but unfortunately was about 20m short of catching them!
(noone behind for a while – and it wasn’t cause I was last!)
When I exited, I didn’t look back (out of fear!) and hoped to have a quick transition, taking my wetsuit off, getting my helmet on and putting cap/goggles/wetsuit in my bag and out to my bike before the chase group came in.
I grabbed my bike, smiled at the camera, and over the mount line I went.
My leg spasmed and I couldn’t get my leg over the bike. It took me ages to mount, and once on I was frustrated and so powered past the family cheering (with their Scotland flag!). They were really excited/relieved because Kyle knows my swim technique and knew I was winning, but the commentator thought I was a Polish girl (also a good swimmer) so they weren’t sure!
I was on my bike 3 minutes before anyone else.
I had a lead motorbike to follow, so just tried to catch him and judge my cornering based on him.
The 1st 3km of the bike is on a narrow cycle/runner path, and I obviously didn’t have time to recce any of the course, so the plan was to be sensible on all corners just in case (I found out afterwards there were a few crashes due to the tight turns and strong winds!).
We hit a main road and a tailwind which was awesome! It meant I could find my rhythm!
Although I had a problem. I had a camera following me the entire way and I was too scared to take a gel in fear of not looking “pro”! Eventually, about half an hour in I gave up and knew I had to fuel, but I will have to find out how that looked on TV!
And as I said, I also tried to make conversation with the camera crew, given they had been following me for a while and I was feeling pretty awkward…
“Long way isn’t it”
10 minutes later…
“Are you guys finding this windy too?”
Ok I gave up. And continued to power with my tailwind.
Little did I know, I was on a BIG SCREEN at the beer and food festival back at the finish line!
I just assumed there were a few cameras scattered around the course, following the men’s leader and maybe some others.
But nope, there was a LOT of coverage of my butt, as well as all my rookie errors (cornering, 360 turns, elastic bands still attached between my shoe and bike…!)!!
The course was really pretty! On my left for the first 45km, there was the water, and on my right there was usually a windmill! They were huge! And in full motion as the wind was strong that day!
Just before the turn (into the headwind) halfway through lap 1 of 2, the two Dutch girls passed me. They looked amazing…so tiny and aero!
I was not letting them go that easy! I stayed on the back of them (giving them the required 20m of course!) and managed to stay with them for 2 surges! We ended up back on a cycle path to avoid a cobbled road, where there were a few pace changes, making me really have to think. I don’t like thinking in races!
Yvonne (Van Vlerken) went for it as soon as we hit the road again, dropping Els (Vissner). I reacted and passed Els, but couldn’t stay with Yvonne.
It was just Els and I for another 10km maybe, but then she surged and I had nothing. By this point, it was a very strong side wind which was brutal both physically and mentally. I then rode the rest of lap one solo, with no one around…it was very lonely!
(lonely, but pretty!)
On lap 2, I was trying to hold a steady effort when I looked down and realised MY GARMIN HAD FALLEN OFF! Ugh!!! I was originally annoyed my power meter didn’t calibrate with it (I think due to being surrounded by bikes at transition) BUT now I had nothing to gauge my efforts!
Lewis wanted me to negative split, and I knew I did the 1st half in bang on 2.30, so I just kept trying to maintain the same effort and take a gel every 20 minutes.
About 15km into lap 2, Ewa (Kommander) came flying past me. Ugh!! I must be going so much slower this lap! I don’t feel like I’ve hit a wall though? She was amazing in the tail wind.
Then, again, I was left by myself and lonely. There were a couple of cyclists I lapped, but that was it. Oh, and I think 2 age group males overtook me as well.
At the turn for the final quarter of the cycle (into that headwind!) I wanted to push it a bit. I was praying some of the girls behind me would be hurting a little; when you have cycled around 90 miles and then hit a strong headwind, you are bound to get some negative thoughts! Plus, there were starting to be more people on the course to aim for, overtake, and go for again.
I stayed positive, picked some people off, and at the end of the sidewind stretch (the part I dreaded the most!) I thought I recognised a rider. It was 3rd female, Ewa.
Right, sprint past her – she’ll be too tired to stay with you! Immediately after a right hand turn, I passed as hard as I could until the next left hand turn, and I never looked back the rest of the ride. I was terrified coming into transition that she was right on my wheel.
The remainder of the ride was non-eventful. I continued passing age groupers, the wind was still going strong, I took my fuel like clockwork, and had a lovely tailwind for the 3km back into T2.
I was SO relieved to finally get off my bike! I had no idea what time I posted on the bike (since I was now sans Garmin) BUT turns out I even split!!! 4.59 was my bike split (112 miles), which I am fairly pleased with given my struggle in the wind!!
I got my trainers on with ease (makes a change) and, again, wanted to get out of the changing tent before 4th place rolled in. I was happy I did, because out on the run course I had no idea how far back any of the girls were, but I had a pretty positive mentality at this stage and assumed I had at least a 10 minute gap on everyone bar Ewa.
Running with confidence definitely helped. If I had been running scared, I think I would have bonked and walked a lot out of panic. I also learned a lot from Outlaw last year NOT to try and keep up with the bike, and that he should be trying to stay at your pace.
My “3rd place female” bike was fun for maybe 1 mile. I was passing people who were already on the run course (they were doing the middle distance) who were so positive and cheering me on; moving out of their way so I could have the race line (amazing comradery!). But the bike kept going ahead, looking back, sighing, then slowing down! It must be so boring having to go 7min miles on a bike!
(my bib was really determined not to fall off…also check the yet another camera!)
Coach Lewis told me that he reckoned I would naturally run the 1st lap at sub 3 pace. And he was bang on (this is one of the reasons he is a legend!). I started about 6.45, then settled in to 6.50, then a couple of 6.55 before slowing down by 5-10 secs every mile.
The run course was 6 laps of a flat route (mainly paved), going around the lake we swam in.
Lap 1, I felt amazing! The runners were cheering, I was hitting sub-7s and I had loads of energy.
Laps 2 and 3, I was slowing down a lot for each aid station (less than a mile apart which was AMAZING!!) but including the running between them I was still holding 7.30-7.35s. This was my happy place/pace! Mentally it was great, just running to the next station where you can slow down and quench your thirst.
At half way, I could really have been done with being finished! I hit the porta potty for the first time (only to pee – I thought I could hold it in but I was getting desperate!), and it was a struggle getting my speed suit off! That mile was an 8.54, but I was pretty pleased with that!
But unfortunately, that meant I lost some time to girls behind me. I hadn’t actually heard from any of my family where anyone else was, which actually helped me run my own race. I was far too tired at this point to be tactical!
At the end of lap 4, I was thrilled to be 2/3 of the way through, and thoughts of “even walking the next 7 miles would get me a 10ish hour ironman time” were beginning to creep in. That gave me a boost as that was plan B; if I didn’t do well in the pro field, I would aim for time.
But I was still running! I was glad I had my Garmin on (watch this time!) because there were mile beeps where I was scared to look down, thinking it must be a 10, but it was just a high 7. Knowing I wasn’t dying as much as it seemed kept me running.
Oh wait, I need to pee again. Ugh! I made it to the next aid station portapotty, took a bit longer than before (squatting wasn’t an option at this point – my legs would just cramp!), and walked up the bridge right afterwards. My bike man seemed pretty annoyed at me for walking and taking 2 stops – I could tell! But at the top of the bridge, there were spectators shouting on me to refocus, and so I started shuffling/waddling back down the bridge.
(It was a pretty bridge though!)
That mile or so segment was my only bad patch on the run course, and the only other times I walked were through the aid stations. Makes a difference to Kalmar (where my actual moving time was 3.40 but run split was 4.01 due to a number of strange issues!).
Just before the end of lap 5, I was passed. I knew she was a pro female, and I knew my podium dream was over. She (superstar Lina-Kristin Schink!) looked phenomenal and I was in a bad place. At least my bike man was happy to ditch me for a real runner!
I was pretty upset because I was between 1st and 3rd for nearly 9 hours!!!
(ticking people off really kept me going…I was in a bad place here!)
But, like I said earlier, I couldn’t have done any more. I was actually more worried that my Mum (who refused to go shopping because she was glued to the big screen watching me on the bike, and did not move from her perfect spot on the run!) would be disappointed.
I didn’t know this, but apparently she was an emotional wreck! She was so excited to see all the coverage of me leading, that she was in tears for a lot of the race – Kyle, I hope you looked after her!
Anyway, like I said, she hadn’t moved from her spot on the run course for that entire 3hours and 18 minutes of my marathon!! When I saw her the 1st time I passed her, I saw her tear up and I tried to hold it together and just shouted that I loved her (but that was tough because if she gets teary, I do too!), and then every other lap we high fived! She looked so excited to see me!
But at the end of lap 5, when I had just been overtaken and was now in 4th, I just told her I was really sorry when I saw her. She shouted at me not to be silly, and I could tell I had nothing to worry about. Love you, Mum!
Kyle was patiently waiting at the coaches’ corner at this point and tried to force feed me a gel, water and asked if I needed to change shoes (this all sounds lovely, but I told him my feet were sore on lap 1!! Haha oh, Kyle!). Although I was nice to Mum, I took my anger out on Kyle (sorry, husby!) and asked him (in a non-PG way) to leave me alone, then still wanted to know how far back 5th was…
He knew what I needed to hear (“you have loads of time”, and “keep running at this pace [still high 7s] and you have nothing to worry about”! He also said I had the potential to catch Els as I had reduced my gap to her to 2 mins, and 3rd place was also catching her!).
As much as I would love to say I passed her and made podium, sadly this isn’t the case. The last lap weirdly flew by (thankfully!!) and I got to the sign that said 2km to go, and I got a little choked up.
I had no idea the actual time that the canon went off, and I didn’t know my swim OR bike time, but I had my watch set to “time of day” with it flashing every mile, so I knew it was around 4.40pm. If I ran 5 minute kms for the next 2 km I would be around the 9h30 finish time, which I personally consider to be a world class time.
Just run, Debs!
When I got over the final bridge my watch beeped 26 miles. Ugh, this could be close! I had about 400m to go at this point, but it was straight and I could see the crowds!
I also heard Kyle’s mum before I saw her (standard!), sourced her out in the crowd, signalled to her that I wanted her Scotland flag, grabbed it without a word, turned to the final out and back section, smiled at Mum, waved to the crowd, lifted my flag, and galloped through the finish line.
4th place professional female – 9 hours, 20 mins, 39 secs
Wow! I went straight to 3rd to tell her how amazing her run was, then was pulled off for an interview. I managed to hold it together, and told the crowd how proud I was that I worked full time and managed to make a top 5 which surpassed my expectations entirely, given the calibre of the field and just how much training they can do compared to me.
Then Kyle was shouting on me from the sidelines, and I immediately ran over, jumped on him and started crying! He told me he hasn’t been more proud (INCLUDING our wedding day haha), and he followed me the whole day because of all the footage!
His parents then came over, and I told Norman that was his birthday present, and even he started welling up!
Then it was Mum’s turn. I must have held on to her for minutes! I didn’t want to let go. We just couldn’t stop crying!! I gave my everything for her. And I think I made her proud!
A quick massage later, I got a Heineken with the family, and waddled my way to the restaurant we booked for dinner. After ordering drinks and food, Kyle waddled with me back to the apartment, I painfully showered, and was back to the restaurant in only a few minutes. To reiterate, I loved the location of our air bnb!
(Walking was HARD!)
Mum and Keith went back to their apartment (Keith smashed his half distance and so was lagging a little, and Mum was exhausted from such an emotional day!), and us Greigs went to the finish line party (EPIC!) and then out for some more drinks.
(think dancing, beer, sparklers, fireworks, dancing, music, streamers…!)
The next day, Kyle was hungover and I my muscles were all jittery, so I got up first and tried (and failed) to stretch. He told me we were going into Amsterdam for a surprise and we were leaving soon. I had to be back for presentation at 3.30pm.
Our day of fun began with waffles, coffee, and a lovely walk to a little intimate boat. We were going on an all you can drink cruise along the Amsterdam canals!! Please note this is my perfect weekend so far (although a win would have been better!)!
Afterwards, frites, donuts and more coffee at Dam Square (to sober up!), then back to Almere for presentation, and Mexican food and margaritas in the evening.
Apart from having to take the red eye on Monday morning, so I could be back at my desk at work for 9am (the rest of the crew took a later flight), I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend. Family, a race, stunning views, great race organisation, easy travel, culture, FOOD and drinks…it was just perfect!
(I didn’t think my colleagues would be that into following me, but they were amazing! I was cheered when I got in! Special thanks to Sylvia for the exceptional cake!)
Thank you Challenge for a great race, and thanks to Lewis for getting me race ready.
A special thanks again to Jon for giving me bike advice, lending me his wheels (yes, I had never tried them before, but they were 25 as opposed to my usual 23 and had deeper rims so Jon advised I would feel more comfortable but without changing too much about my race set up…they worked!)
Thanks to Speedhub for supporting me, and to Helen for getting me on that start line. The amount of foot and back trouble I have had this summer almost stopped my season completely…! Oh, and I suppose I should mention Scott; without his advice on tackling these ridiculous races, I would have even less idea! (I should also mention that his head has swollen after last weekend, as Ironman Wales was on and he is still the only GB male to win that race…he loves to remind me of this).
And thanks to my family. Without you, I wouldn’t have the drive or support I needed!
And to you guys for reading this far, and following my journey!!
Love you all! ❤