By Faye Sanders

I joined Ful-on Tri in December 2016 and my first race was the Tooting Bec Aquathlon at the end of April 2017. A lovely sunny day but no amount of sun could have warmed us up following a nipple-shrivelling 11 degree swim! Never have I not felt my feet while running before – a weird sensation to say the least! It took half of the 7km run before I could feel like I was actually running. However, all I felt after finishing was “that was awesome, when’s the next one?!”

The post race high was strong and I jumped head first into entering as many London League races as I could and by the end of the 2017 season I had clocked up 1 aquathlon, 2 duathlons, 2 half marathons, 3 sprint triathlons and 3 olympic triathlons. You could say I was well and truly hooked! I was also very lucky as I had suffered no injuries, no punctures and every race was a successful one and a top 10 in my age group. I was female 25-29 age group winner for the London League and the club had swept the floor of all other London clubs in all categories too! I managed to top off my last race of the season, Thames Turbo Sprint triathlon at the end of August, finishing first in my age group. Not half bad eh?

I was feeling pumped and ready to take on bigger and more challenging races for my 2nd season. I had my sights firmly set on competing in my first half Ironman. Not just one, but two. I quickly signed up to race Staffordshire 70.3 and Jonkoping 70.3, Sweden, just 4 weeks later in the Summer of this year. On top of that, lots of London League races were booked in and primed ready to dominate again this year.

However, it wasn’t mean to be and the first May bank holiday brought that to an aggressive halt. Just 4 weeks before Staffordshire 70.3. I was out riding doing a non-stop to Windsor and back. On our way back the traffic was building and drivers were getting somewhat frustrated. One in particular had decided to overtake dangerously on a corner going through a village just the other side of Staines. He realised his mistake and pulled in quickly causing me to, unfortunately, react on autopilot and slam on both my brakes which unsurprisingly sent me flying over my handlebars and being stopped by head and shoulder on the hard road surface.

No words can describe the shock, the pain and the overwhelming sinking feeling and realisation that this would hugely affect my planned races. My head concerned me the most but, thankfully, I hadn’t lost consciousness at any point so that was a comfort. The overriding pain started to build in my right shoulder and, once I had time to breathe and orientate myself in the situation, I went to touch my collar bone and I could feel a distinct lump. I knew before the X-rays were taken I had broken it. I had my head/jaw X-rayed too as it was incredibly tender and I had hit it hard, but thankfully no concerns there.

Long story short, I came away with a fractured collar bone and some decent road rash on my upper back and a little on my legs. However, I was alive but left without the use of my right arm for a few weeks to come. An interesting and difficult challenge but one I was willing to take on. I won’t go into the stress and anxiety of having to tell my boss that I couldn’t work or train clients (I am currently working as a personal trainer in SIX3NINE in Covent Garden) having only just started there a month previously.

What I will say is I was astounded by the support from my colleagues taking on all my clients for me while I recovered and I was very touched by their words of encouragement. I must also thank the club for all your kind messages and support. The overriding message was you will come back better and stronger. At this point it felt hard to believe and having to do nothing and not being able to train was a huge mental and physical strain. My poor Mum had to wash my hair for me and both my parents took their turns cutting up my food so I could just stab and stuff! Saying that, I became very good at occupying myself with long long walks, reading, podcasts and cooking myself in the sun!

So both my half ironman races were a big no no and I was especially devastated to not be racing Staffordshire as I had signed up with Becca and Amy in the club and we had been planning it for months. Many others in the club were racing too so June 10th was a very emotional day for many reasons. I was so happy for so many of the club who qualified for the World Champs and all their races were strong and inspirational. I, of course, couldn’t help but be very upset to not be racing too. I was also relieved for that day to be over and the race finished so I could move on.

Jonkoping was easier as I could distract myself being chief supporter for Jon and Nick while they aced their races. It was still hard, of course, but I do thoroughly enjoy supporting loved ones in tough races such as these. I had also got back into training and was turbo training hard and had also got to the point of running comfortably and finding my pace again. This was now 9 weeks post my accident. Believe it or not that same week I had got back into the pool and after just 3 swims I was getting glimpses of my normal pace. Being able to train in any shape or form was a huge mental boost and helped in coping with not racing.

My physio at Physio4Life filled me with hope in our first appointment as he was actually encouraging me to get into to the pool just 8 weeks post injury and he even was confident I could race the Club Champs 2 weeks later. To be completely honest, I did give him a little nudge and expressed how much it would mean to me if I could, even though I hadn’t attempted swimming yet. I accepted my swim would be difficult and not a good one. I hadn’t been outside on my bike since the accident and I was worried where my confidence might be.

That week, I hit Richmond Park for 3 laps and managed a 1 lap and a 3 lap PB! HUGE confidence boost :D. The following week, and Club Champs race week, was not so rosy. The traffic was heavier and I had some close encounters with cars overtaking cyclists in the opposite direction and my last lap was spent fighting off a panic attack moment and there were a few tears when pulling up to my car and finishing. My confidence was knocked and I was concerned it would take me a while to feel comfortable sharing the road with cars again.
Race day came and the familiar pre-race nerves were fluttering. I had no idea how my arm/shoulder would feel swimming in a wet suit and had no real idea of where my fitness was with swim, bike and run back-to-back. I decided to go into the race with no pressure, enjoy racing with my friends and just be thrilled to be back no matter what the capacity.
The swim went surprisingly well. I felt no pain at all and made myself be in the moment and enjoy swimming in a lake with glorious sunshine and to be back racing. I ended up finishing my swim only 2 minutes slower to last year. My T1 was shocking as it took me a while with my weak right arm to take off the sodding suit despite oiling myself up to a sickeningly slimy level!

Onto the bike though and out onto the roads. I felt surprisingly strong and confident and race Faye came back. I managed an overall average speed of 31km/h which in itself is a PB in a race so that gave me the boost I needed to just push and get through the run to the best of my ability in the heat. I felt some niggles during the run and with Austria 70.3 in my sights at the end of August I was reluctant to push harder and risk an annoying injury so I settled at about a 4:55 min/km pace and just waited to the last lap to give it my all.

I not only finished the race but pulled off 3rd position in the club for the ladies (narrowly missed out on 2nd, just couldn’t quite catch Nicole!), 3rd in my age group and 15th female out of 71 overall. I have to say, I am pretty chuffed with that performance only 10 weeks after quite a severe accident and it has given me the confidence I needed to know I can at least finish a 70.3 this year.

After a lot of pain, frustration, disappointment, LOTS of stupid mental chatter and stern words to myself, I outdid any expectation I had of myself that morning and the club was right: I came back better and stronger. There is still much progress to be made but I couldn’t have asked for a better first race back: Austria Zell am See 70.3 August Bank Holiday. Watch this space!