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Freestyling through 2016

Freestyling through 2016

From dolphin dives to beached whales

 

AB2086, ZRH – LPA.

Currently suspended 37’178 ft above terra firma if the drop down screen in front of me is to be believed. The one which alternates every twenty seconds between a little plane hovering over a non-descript satellite image of what could be Europe, and incredibly precise flight information you would rather not know if like me you’re not a happy flyer.

I know full well it’s been -60 degrees outside for the last hour and that the remaining flight time is N–1 minute but can’t take my eyes off it nonetheless. I’m waiting for it to show the distances in km instead of miles, because in its full-time athlete mode my brain doesn’t compute properly anymore. What happened to Tom & Jerry anyway??

 

It seems I’m way overdue for a blog post as the last one is dated June… Now December is just around the corner, Switzerland has turned grey and miserable and the chapter of 2016 has long been drawn to a close. In fact, 2016 ended in a cloud of smoke and shattered hopes back at IM Mallorca in September.

 

Photo © Ingo Kutsche

 

In the months before that race everything had been going absolutely swimmingly. I had been joyfully darting and diving my way through an ocean which clearly contained no sharks or even jellyfish, and was even starting to believe I might be getting over my fear of open water. When I wrote a blog post from a poolside in Gran Canaria a year ago, pretending I wasn’t worried that my knee was strapped in colourful tape and every step hurt, I was light years away from imagining that only a few months later I would have completed three full ironmans, eight halfs, a handful of other races and grinned my way across Europe while raking in a fair few trophies and even some actual cash. Was I finally making a go of this professional triathlon lark? Although I was navigating by the seat of my pants with more of a “let’s see how this works” attitude than any structured plan, I tried to pick my races wisely, worked my backside off in training and avoided flat bike courses if at all possible. At the end of the day I was rewarded for my perseverance and raced around like Nemo out of the fish tank.

 

While I certainly don’t want to go into detailed, self-indulgent retrospectives, 70.3 Barcelona, IM Nice, Embrunman and Triathlon Gerardmer will go down in my personal history book as my most memorable and emotional races to date.

Out of the water at 70.3 Barcelona

 

I suppose it was inevitable that the tide should change and the storm come along; the waves got bigger and meaner and finally I was tossed over head first, roughly dragged over the sea bed a few times and rudely spat out onto the sand, where in true Cabbage style I flailed around like a beached whale for a totally inappropriate length of time.

 

If the metaphorical version is a little vague, I’m talking about my DNF at IM Mallorca – a race which I shouldn’t have started but reckoned I could pull off even with the flu and an upset stomach. It became clear about 50K into the bike ride that that was a little optimistic on my part; it didn’t end well. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only athlete out there who has a major issue with the concept of “DNF”, but now is not the time to go into extensive psychoanalysis.
Suffice to say that in the weeks following Mallorca I got dealt a massive load of shit from Emma (for being such an obviously useless athlete) and a little bit of shit from the coach (for being such a leafy Cabbage). So I stuck my head in the sand and decided that rather than going to race in Asia, a season break wasn’t such a bad idea. I got reacquainted with friends I had abandoned while away training and racing, had a glass of wine or three, wore makeup and heels a few times, dealt with the piles of admin that had been shoved aside all year, spent quite a lot of time running up and down mountains and mostly, avoided swimming at all cost.

 

Photo © Clearskiesahead

 

My vegetative state lasted a good month or so. On some levels I felt almost like a normal human being again, a role which was very easy to get lazily comfortable in. But of course it wasn’t quite enough, and a few weeks ago I thought it would be a good idea to go for a cruisy bike ride down the Rhone Valley: needless to say I dropped every wheel I tried to hang on to. (If I was trying to impress the seriously fit young man who so patiently waited for me to catch up every time, that day was clearly not my finest moment.) Wakey wakey Little Cabbage! 2017 is waiting, and at this rate you ain’t going to make the cut.

 

Hence why I’m heading back to my home away from home – mi segunda casa. If there is one place where I can build my fitness back up in a relaxed atmosphere, it’s Gran Canaria.
I guess we all have our safe, happy places on Earth and without being aware of it, it looks like over the years Gran Canaria has turned out to be one of mine. Despite a healthy dose of tourist-induced gaudiness combined with noticeable areas of industrialised ugliness, somehow the island always calls me back.
I love that nothing ever happens on time, that all the people I know are incredibly warm and friendly, that they talk and laugh all the time and make me feel so welcome. I love that I can buy Dulce de Leche for 3€ in the supermarket, that I don’t have to drive anywhere, that I can turn up at the pool and have lifeguard Eric plop down a cone to reserve a lane for me not because I’m a pro triathlete, but because I bring Swiss chocolate and make them all laugh trying to string three words of Spanish together (probably in the wrong order). And if wifi never seems to work anywhere, who really cares?!
If you look beyond the sea of hotels, the 1960’s tourist trap of Playa del Inglès and the fried shrimps walking up and down the beach with their kit off, you can see the coastline stretching into the distance, the mountains rising above the sea and the canyons – sometimes green and lush, at others brown and barren – delving deep into the island. You can hit the tarmac on two wheels with the wind whistling in your helmet and the sun burning your arms, knowing the road is going to take you up into oblivion. Once in the hills there are so many twists and turns that the hopelessly dizzy tourists in their rental Corsas barely go faster than a man on a bike, and every time I go flying round a corner and lift my head to look around me, I can feel the total exhilaration of Freedom.

 

Looking forwards

 

Luckily the screens are now offering a 3D rotating model of the aircraft floating in a sky-blue void, which is enough to distract me before I get too poetic and lost in Spanish fantasies. We are currently travelling at 787km/h, temperature has increased slightly to -57 C, and I have less than twenty minutes remaining before I set foot in the sun and start splashing my way towards 2017.

 

That means I have a very short time to give the necessary kudos to the people who have been by my side this year – the guys who threw me in at the deep end in February, floated alongside me out at sea and dragged me off the beach in October: my family, my friends, my coach and the team at Trisutto.com, my sponsors Skinfit, Saucony, Keforma, Bike’N Joy and Giant Switzerland.

2017 is setting up to be a hopefully faster version of what has just gone by, with just as much freestyle but minus the near downing. I feel privileged to have your continued support next year and very much look forward to going swimming with you!

 

Bring on 2017!

 

Keep paddling and hasta la proxima!

xxx
Emma

 

emmabilham.

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