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Mel Walker Takes Two Ironman World Championships qualifications in four weeks!

Two Ironman World Championships qualifications in four weeks! Not sure it gets much better than that does it?! I am feeling very lucky and fortunate right now.

I won’t lie for those qualifications to happen I needed the dice to roll in my favour, and they did just that! One big lesson I’ve learned is that in life you’ve just got to take a risk and with risk taking you may just get the reward. I did just that and what an October I’ve got ahead as a result. I might have to sell an organ to pay for it all but you only live once right. Can’t say no to opportunities like these! Utah qualification at Ironman Stafford – 12 June 2022. Qualification one for the 70.3 World Championships in Utah was earned at Ironman Stafford on 12th June. A race I had unfinished business with after crashing in the bike at the same event in 2021. A crash that ended my season as soon as it started. Devastating as I was in pretty good shape post lockdown! Live, learn, move on. Prior to the race the lovely Rob Marshall and I went over and did a course recce. First time I’ve ever done this and am pleased I did as confidence was high on race day. I knew where the gnarly bits were and negotiated them with ease when many others did not (including myself in 2021!). The swim was choppy so I had to hold my nerve as wasn’t used to swimming in non-calm conditions. I typically avoid an open water swim when the weather’s bad, who doesn’t?! Fortunately my time was the same as in 2021. Tick. The bike was just awesome. It’s my strength and I went from 22nd place on the swim down to 11th place coming off the bike. Well pleased considering I didn’t push too hard to make sure I always stayed upright! The run was tough in the heat and with the iconic Stafford castle hill to scale two times there was walking at times. I paced lap one steadily but after a bit of a heads up from my top mate David Hinch about my placing I upped the tempo earlier than planned. I did drop a few places but still finished a respectable 13th overall in my age group with a time of 5 hours 47 mins.

Coach Clark encouraged me to go to the awards ceremony. Other athletes in my AG either declined their World Championship spot, like my inspirational and incredibly strong team mate Natalie Curgenven (to focus on other events), or people simply were not there to accept it. The two spots for the female 40-44 age group rolled down. The second one to me! I was gob smacked and in shock! Ironman 70.3 Utah here I come! Can’t wait to join team mates Shawnie and Sophie there. #girlstrip.

The weekend after Stafford I had a weeks holiday, cycling in the Dolomites in Italy with David. We kind of a holiday! While there I felt strong in the bike and my mindset was in a great place. We all know with long distance events it’s about the mind as much as the body. I message Becky (who entered IM Switzerland many many months ago) to check on the possibility of me joining her and also sounded Steve out to make sure I wasn’t going to enter something that wasn’t sensible. Before I knew it, my entry was in! At that point I was questioning my sanity, more so when Steve confirmed I’m his first athlete to enter a full Ironman within two weeks of race day. Oh dear maybe I am mad but after covid & injury opportunities are not to be missed!

Kona qualification at Ironman Thun, Switzerland – 10 July 2022. Billed as the most beautiful event in the world the race that just kept giving on every leg.

The swim was in a crystal clear lake surrounded by snow topped mountains. Pre-race my swim worried me as I’d only trained for a 70.3 and hadn’t swam IM distance since 2019! After a bit of coaching in Steve’s endless pool pre-flight my pace on the day was the fastest I’ve ever swam! Best tip he gave (aside from some very good technique tips) was to draft and sit on someone’s feet. I was fortunate as managed to do that for over half of the course. I named the guys feet Wilson, like Tom Hanks’s football! I just knew I couldn’t let them get away from me. My bike was strong and one I enjoyed a lot, far too much. 112 miles with over 7k ft. climbing. Dolomites power made sure that I found it comfortable and loved “chicking” quite a lot of guys on the ascents. Views were to die for looking at the snow topped mountains, over a number of wooden bridges, through meadows with cows and their bells chiming. Lots of support on the course from locals shouting “hop hop hop” made it quite possibly my best ever bike leg on a race.

The run took us along lake Thun and through the town past chateaus, down cobbled streets and over bridges. Such a lovely run course. After a cracking swim and bike the run didn’t go to plan. I just couldn’t cope with the 33oC heat! No amount of ice was going to cool me and my body just didn’t want to move. This is where the strong mind set was needed more than ever. As luck would have it Becky and I were together from quite early on for the run. We stayed together encouraging one another and ran, walked, laughed and even cried together. We did laugh about how Steve will be cursing us for walking together when we’re meant to be racing! Sorry coach. That said doing what we did made my race! We both managed to get a second wind for the last 10 miles, Becky before me and it took some encouragement but I made her leave me and crack on. I had a word with myself and started to run continuously again. It wasn’t fast but it was faster than the run/walking pathetic effort! Somehow I got to the finish and it genuinely was the best feeling. I didn’t make the most of the Stafford red carpet as was chasing a time and sprinted down it but at Switzerland I made it count taking my time, high fiving everyone with the biggest smile. I was done! I was disappointed my run didn’t go as planned but with a total time of 12 hours 42 mins in hindsight it’s still a pretty good time so I’m happy!

After the success at Stafford with roll down it was a no brainer to go to the awards presentation. Fortunately for Becky & Thun was a “women for tri” (WFT) event and extra Kona slots were on offer. Three normal spots and three additional WFT slots were up for grabs. The first three spots were snapped up by the athletes that placed 2nd, 3rd & 4th in our AG. Not good news for us. After a bit of a wait it was time for the WFT spots to be announced. The first one was snapped up quite soon but after then names kept getting called and silence. Silence is good, means the person doesn’t want their spot or isn’t there, just want we wanted to hear, or literally not hear athing! Becky got spot 5 and there was an athlete that finished between us both, their name was read out & silence….. YES it meant the 6th and final spot AG spot was mine.

I couldn’t contain the emotion and immediately ran to hug Becky. We were roomies at the very first tri camp in Mallorca in 2019 having never met before, at Lanza tri camp in 2021 and now we’re going to be in Kona together. Becky has become a very close friend and someone I couldn’t be happier to share the experience with. So there we have it, Kona 2022! October has going to be a busy month, two dream locations in the space of three weeks (bad planning there Ironman!). All of the above could not have happened without my own hard work and following Steve’s coaching plan but even in individual sports there is a team around you. The other OTCF girls and guys, you know who you are but your support and encouragement can never be underestimated. My boyfriend Rob who quite frankly puts up with a lot! And finally Tim Kirvan-Rogers, without him ferrying me around in Switzerland and also taking my bike for me I would never have entered in the first place. Thank you all. 😊

So many lessons learned and reflections for me.

  • Don’t let a bad experience stop you in your tracks. Come back stronger physically with an even stronger mind set. Injury gives you time to think!

  • Mindset it as important as fitness preparation. Follow sports based Instagram influencers, read mindset books & talk to others. You’ll realise you’re never alone and many others think and fell the same.

  • Never miss an opportunity. Just go for it, take the risk and roll the dice. It may just drop in your favour. No regrets.

  • Swim when the weather’s crap and run when the weather’s hot.

  • Enjoy the red carpet!

  • Finally, follow the plan! Steve knows what he’s doing. I owe him all this success. Thank you coach!

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