Arthritis, chin hairs and recipe hoarding

This week marks the official entrance into a new phase of my life. My mid-thirties. Who’d have thought that 33 to 34 would be such a big transition? Obviously, I have a few more wrinkles and perhaps I am a tad more bitter, but up until a couple of weeks ago I didn’t think that this impending birthday was going to be such a big deal. Then I really started thinking about turning 34 and all those little changes that have slowly taken hold of my life. Before I knew it, the first half of 2018 has just been revelation after revelation that being in my mid-thirties is significantly less glamourous than my early-thirties (and don’t even mention my twenties). The more I thought about it, the more I was hit with the undeniable realisation that I am one birthday away from hair rollers, shower caps, ten cats and wearing a nighty until 11am on a Saturday morning. Case in point

1) I don’t recover like I used to. This has spread over several areas of my life. For example;
  • A month ago, I climbed Mount Cooroora with a couple of friends. It was fun, scary and a lot bloody harder than I was anticipating. Half way down I could feel my dodgy left knee starting to grumble. If it wasn’t for the burger and beers we had at the Copperhead Brewery after I would have whinged the whole way home. The next day my knee was so damn sore and by lunch time I had pretty much convinced myself it was time for an MRI and an early knee replacement. Two surgeries on it in my teens has ensured that I will have early onset arthritis. Thankfully the old girl settled down and I am back running with minor twinges here and there, but my King of the Mountain days are over before they even started.

  • Exercising; how the hell did I use to do 2-3 hours every day? Was I deranged? Now, I give myself a pat on the back if I get 30 minutes of exercise done every second day. I need at least 24-48 hours between any physical activity. This old bag needs her beauty sleep, arthritis needs to settle and gone are the days of exercising in the cold, dark or rain.

Tuesday morning 

  Wednesday morning  

  • The prolonged recoveries are most notable however, after a night out. If I can manage to bypass feeling unwell and achieve intoxication, holy hell the hangovers sure ain’t what they used to be! I mean, what is with a four-day hangover? This is probably the sole reason that big nights are limited to approximately three times a year when about 15 years ago it was common for them to happen at least three times each week. 

2) There is now the need for considerable research and a long-term investment in a good beautician. There is a lot to be said for chin and facial waxing now I am approaching mid-thirties. Firstly, I can’t see these damn hairs I wish to pluck, secondly, they seem to be multiplying at a rapid rate and thirdly I really don’t think I will look good with a beard. As my eye sight starts to fail and my neck movement becomes more restricted (more arthritis) I am acutely aware that I can’t even see these fuckers. Whilst on the topic of hair, when did my toes decide to join that party? Thankfully my ankles are still really bendy and I can pluck every last one of those little buggers out. I have also come to the conclusion that I need to stop plucking my own eyebrows. I made a trip to the beautician last week for an ‘eye combo’ (eyebrow wax, lash and brow tint) where I was told that one of my eyebrows is too far away! Since then I have considered leaving the house with an eye patch due to my eyebrow spacing complex. This is also the age where I am now seriously considering botox. I am happy to age gracefully with injectable assistance so any recommendations as to where to go are welcome. 

3) I can no longer deep squat, kneel or even take a t-shirt off without joints cracking/ creaking or involuntarily groaning in pain. I have successfully put my neck out by reading a book in bed. I shudder when I need to put on or take off a sports bra. I’m pretty sure useful days for my hands, thumbs and wrists are numbered thanks to working as a Physiotherapist for the past 13 years. I don’t think it’s ever too early to put in bathroom rails or invest in a toilet/ shower chair. 

4) I now drink Gin and tonics. Funnily enough this is also the drink of choice for psychopaths and narcissists. In saying that; thanks to everyone reading and sending me comments, you are feeding my narcissism. Reader’s digest however, suggests that this makes me sophisticated and the ‘cool’ one in my friend group (HAHAHAHAHA). I have also refined my wine choice to ONLY Pinots (Noir, Grigio or Gris) and the recent addition of Tempranillo. Don’t even mention the ‘C’ word to me….. that’s Chardonnay you filthy animals! I am now the proud owner of a wine-rack which may need to be replaced soon as it only holds 6 bottles at any one time. How did I think this was going to be suitable? (<= subtle hint for a birthday present people 😉) I am currently researching wine clubs which deliver a dozen at any one time, so this wine-rack and I really aren’t going to go the distance together. To complement the wines in the rack and the G&Ts, I am never without blue cheese in my fridge. 

5) I tear recipes out of magazines and screen shot them on my phone. I bought a pretty folder to file these recipes in under specific categories; breakfast, salads, mains, drinks, baking, desserts & cheesecake, which deserves to be a stand-alone category in my opinion. Spending a minimum of four hours of food prepping, baking and cooking on a Sunday is my idea of time well spent. For example, this past Sunday I toiled over a honey, soy chicken salad for my weekly lunches and cooked up a lamb roast with a roast pumpkin, beetroot, orange and goats cheese salad. How am I not a bloody catch? 

6) I hate making plans on Sunday nights and have serious anxiety associated with anything organised at 7pm or after on a school night. I like to be in bed by 9pm and don’t really function on anything less than 7.5 hours of sleep. Gone are the days of pushing through on 5 hours of sleep and responding to late night booty calls. These things need to be scheduled in advance at a decent hour of the day or evening. 

7) My feet hurt at the sight of high heels. I take two pairs of shoes out to all functions and unless I park directly outside of restaurant I’ll be wearing flats or wedges. I look absolutely ridiculous trying to walk in high heels. I am that girl who looks like she is trying to walk on a slack line, arms flailing, legs akimbo and moving at snail pace. Don’t talk to me whilst I am trying to walk in heels as this task requires 100% of my concentration to ensure I don't snap an ankle. 

8) I love mid-rise jeans. I’m conscious of sporting a muffin top and mid to high-waisted pants tend to hold all my mid-thirties softness in quite effectively. Gone are the days where I risk arse-crack when bending over to pluck out my toe hairs or put on my (flat) shoes. 

9) I don’t listen to the radio any more. I am obsessed with podcasts. True crime gets me every time (see Case File, Trace, The Teacher’s Pet, Dirty John). I indulge my inner nerd with ‘Science vs’, laugh my arse off with ‘My dad wrote a porno’, feel my heart break with ‘Alone; a love story’ and melt at the voice of Richard Vidler on ‘Conversations’. If you have never heard Richard speak you are seriously missing out. My all-time favourite though, is Andrew Denton’s ‘Better off dead’ where he investigates voluntary euthanasia around the world. When it comes to music my taste has regressed to the music my mum listened to when I was a kid and anything from the 90s. Enter; Phil Collins, Crowded House and Billy Joel. Of course, I still absolute love Keith Urban.

10) I now require an exorbitant amount of caffeine just to human. A shot before morning exercise, a double shot before work, sometimes one mid-morning and always one at lunch. I also have a Pepsi max at exactly 3pm which I start thinking about immediately after my coffee at lunch.I love the smell of coffee, the taste, the buzz, everything about it. 

In saying all the above, the most beautiful thing about my mid-thirties is I think I am starting to know who I am, what I want and what I don’t want. So far I have tried to live my life without the intention of pleasing someone else. Mid-thirties are that sensitive age in life where I have seen things start to not work out. Due to the fact that I take my sweet-arse time making life decisions, perhaps I will skip that stage in my life? I love my own company. I'm happy to be alone, travel alone and sleep alone. I think I might even actually like myself as a person. I won’t settle for anything less than I deserve in my friendships, relationships, work and life. At this point in my life I take a lot less shit than I used to. If you don’t value my time or me as a person don’t expect us to be friends for long. If you are passive aggressive or a bully I will call you out. My circle has got a whole lot smaller over the past few years but those who remain in it are truly exceptional people. I have had a pretty decent thirty- four years, aside from a few little challenges. I come from privilege with access to high class education, quality health care and I am lucky to have a stable career that funds my love of travel. So if all I'm now challenged by is a few chin and toe hairs, a little arthritis (mainly from treating my body like a rental car) and deciding what to cook on Sunday night, then I suppose my mid-thirties should be celebrated. And celebrate I will. With cake.


What's wrong with Rachael?

As I settle in for another sad Saturday evening, I have just finished baking banana muffins and am literally sitting in my bra eating eggs on toast. It’s that time of year when it’s not yet completely winter and inside it can still get a little balmy. Tonight, is one of those nights where my jumper is just a bit too hot and I really don’t want to dirty up another t-shirt. Sitting here in my skin-coloured bra, really is a good look when it’s teamed up with my back, pleather skirt and polka-dot ugg boots. It’s all about balance, right?

Speaking of balance, I’m off the red wines and am back on the G&Ts. Yup, I’m officially old. Gin really is an acquired taste as up until two years ago I thought it was like drinking poison, now I think it’s heaven in a hipster, mason jar. It’s the perfect drink for another date-less Saturday night, when the only thing on TV is the royal wedding. Speaking of which, I have just learnt the most distressing and infuriating fact. Meghan Markle’s first name is actually RACHEL! 

What the fuck? How can I not take offence to this?! Aside from the fact that her real first name is missing the second ‘a’, what’s wrong with the name Rachael? I think Princess Rachael has a rather nice ring to it. In saying that, I was never the girl who dreamed of being a princess. I was the ten-year old that told everyone she was going to be a lawyer. Talk about going around it the long way because it looks like I may get there eventually.

Ten-year old Rachael, however, also thought that she would be married with two kids by the time she was 33. Instead I went on a first ‘girl-date’ today. No, I’m not questioning my sexuality, but a new friendship is not dissimilar to a new relationship. You go through that period of conversation over beverages and meals to find out each other’s story, likes, dislikes, common interests, differences, wants, needs and to see whether or not you mesh. But friendship is a funny thing where you never have to ask; ‘what is this?’ It just is. You don’t have to have that conversation where you agree to be friends. It’s just organic. Then you introduce them to your circle, hope they slot in and share them with your established friends. As I get older, making new friends becomes harder. Because I am in my early thirties without a husband and 2.5 children I don’t have much in common with other women around my age. I can count on one hand how many 30-something single friends I have, so if one positive came from my drunken words last weekend it is that I have connected with another normal, single woman in her 30s. Thanks drunk Rachael (Paxton not Markle, just in case you are wondering). When I meet other normal, intelligent, fun, interesting, single woman it gives me hope that there may not be something majorly wrong with me that I cannot identify. Well, aside from the fact that I am extremely picky.

Additionally, I need help with dating, lots of help. Clearly, I am rubbish at dating, rubbish at tinder-ing and rubbish at identifying when someone is remotely interested in me. Apparently, I can also be quite stand-offish with potential love-interests. This is why a single girl need single girlfriends. We need our own personal coaches and confidants to help us navigate through the messy, complicated and turbulent world of dating. Yes, my married friends have obviously won at this game, but times have changed, the dating world has upped its game and it is brutal out there. I recently lost my go-to single girlfriend. She quit her job, sold all her belongings and moved to the Northern Territory. So that position is currently open and I am taking applications. Obviously, Rachel (Meghan) Markle won’t be applying.   

Paxton out.  


Is a third life crisis really a thing?

I will be 34 in a month or so. Thirty fucking four. How the hell did that happen? Here I am approaching mid-thirties, doing a job that is taking me no-where and having had a random hook up a few weeks ago with a guy I used to party-pash at uni. Geez I’ve come a long way in the past thirteen years. I mean, I purchased an iron a month back, the first one I’ve owned or had access to the past five years. When did they get so expensive? Over the past few years, I’ve been quite content to walk around in crumpled, creased and crushed clothing which, in part, is possibly a direct representation of my life.

For the past year and a half, I have been living life in this weird, hazy funk. I now know what directionless means. I have achieved exactly that. No direction. I have been asked time and time again, ‘are you really finished with triathlon?’ I feel that I have answered that question by selling off my race wheels, race kits and time-trial bike. Yes, I am done. I happily drive past the pool on a daily basis, with no intention of stopping in for a swim. I relish the fact that when the days get shorter and winter sets in, I don’t have to haul arse out of bed at 4:30am for a couple hours on the bike. What I do miss is purpose. I miss having a goal and a reason to get out of bed. All I have now is this massive, gaping hole that fills with anxiety and discontentment. What do other people do with all this time? Is that why people have kids? To fill some time and remove the painful boredom of a mundane existence? I have since tried to figure out what drives others to get out of bed? The thing that has hit me hard over the past eighteen months is now trying to fill this gaping hole in my life with work. I am trying to fill it with a job that doesn’t really excite me. I don’t hate my job, but I am not passionate about it. I go to work, do my best, walk out and try not to think about it until the next time I step through the door. For so long work was just a means to an end. It was the sponsor to my real love that was triathlon. But when the tables turn and work is now the nucleus of my life some severe re-assessment in warranted. I have reached a professional ceiling in my current place of work and I have no-where to go from where I am unless I open my own clinic. I once heard that if you look at your boss and are not striving to be them in five years-time then you probably need to re-assess and move on. Another thing a patient said to me was, ‘if you don’t like something, fucking change it,’ simple, straight to the point and it triggered a level of embarrassment from me. Time to stop whinging and bloody do something! But then I thought; maybe this is it? This might be all there is to life. Was I living in a fantasy world for the past ten years and now I have opened my eyes to reality? Am I seeing life for what it actually is for the first time in my adult life? The incredible Samuel Johnson once said something that resonated loudly with me;

‘We are chasing constructs like freedom and happiness & I’m not sure that those things, the way they are sold to us, are true at all,’

Yet I have this undeniable gut feeling, there is so much more. I’ve been spending the past year trying to work out what the hell I want to do for the next 40 years. I love writing and need to remind myself to do it more. Just write. I listen to podcasts in the car and on the bike and read at any spare moment and think ‘Yes! I could do this.’ I have fodder constantly flowing through my mind and then nine times out of ten, when I sit down to tap it out on my computer I get stuck after a couple of lines. Or, more than often than not, I think ‘ugh, I’ll write tomorrow,’ and then tomorrow turns into weeks, months and then it’s a year gone and I have written sweet stuff all. I made my first ever new year’s resolution at the beginning of 2017: to write something every day, no matter how short, irrelevant or shit, just write something. It went well for about two weeks and then my journal came to an abrupt halt. So, I did a writing course; Introduction to Creative Writing. A five-week online course through the Australian Writers Centre. It was great. I consumed the content. At first, I thought that the information was common sense, but the more I listened and read I realized that it was exactly what a rookie writer needs to hear. I thought I wanted to write fiction, maybe I still do and perhaps sometime in the future I may just do that, but when I go to write, what I really want to get down onto paper are my thoughts, emotions, struggles, confusions and unease. One of the biggest things I learnt through the course was that the characters your write about are not you. The problem is I know me best, but then again, do I really know myself at all?

I suppose I’ve had bigger things to worry about the past five years than a creased shirt or getting to know myself. On the 27th of June it will be my five-year anniversary of being diagnosed with cancer. In the scheme of cancer this is a big milestone. Five years means you become one of the positive statistics. Most of the time, cancer is so far at the back of my mind until someone asks, ‘how’s your health?’ I have to contain my laughter when I get asked this. It sounds like someone is asking about the black sheep of the family. Don’t get me wrong, I still feel my neck on a regular basis checking for enlarged lymph nodes, swelling or asymmetry. Panic sets in around any persistent chesty cough given I’ve been through cancer and have an indolent metastasis behind my sternum. These days, however, trivial things are the biggest anxiety drivers in my life. Will there be a car park available at work? Can I get those concert tickets before they sell out? Will I get out of work on time for trivia on Wednesday night?  

The question is; how do I get out of this low point and make my dull life more exciting? You can’t blame me for not trying. I put my QTAC in two weeks ago and got an early offer to study a Bachelor of Law through QUT. I have applied for the Virgin Australia Cadet Pilot program. Today I got my motorbike learners licence. I spent two weeks travelling through Vietnam and Cambodia over Easter and I have a two-week trip to Borneo in August to do some scuba diving, hike Mount Kota Kinabalu and see the orangutans. I am currently researching my holiday for 2019. I have forced myself not to delete my tinder account after 48 hours even though it is still uninspiring three weeks on!

Somehow, I don’t think my romantic life is the key to my happiness. The truth is I think I’m happiest on my own riding my push bike, reading my book at a café or sitting at home alone with a glass of red watching ‘The Bachelor’- how do I make room in these places for someone? I recently went on a couple dates with a guy and he couldn’t understand how I don’t get lonely living alone. I felt like a freak and rather offended when he repeatedly asked me this question. I spend ALL DAY with people. Some days I see 18 patients plus the people I work with. Most days I just want to come home, not say a word, sit on my couch and watch trashy TV. Additionally, I am not in a rush as children aren’t really in my plans. There is no awareness of my biological clock ticking as my eggs age and commit suicide each month. It’s like my body knows that it is never going to produce new life. Seriously, I think my ovaries go on holidays for 6-8 weeks at a time and every now and then they wake up and are like; ‘holy shit, we haven’t sent a tribute out for a while now- someone get out there and remind her she's still a woman!’ The beginning of the end was when I started going to the movies alone. Oh my god, the absolute bliss of it! Two hours of my life where I had no guilt in switching off my phone, eating rubbish and occasionally bawling my eyes out with absolutely no shame. Two weeks ago, I went to my first concert solo. Talk about liberating. I knew no-one. I could dance, sing and duck in and out of the crowd without worrying about someone else. I also got to see an amazing artist that most people don’t know. (Halsey- check her out, she is bloody brilliant!)

Just to clarify, I’m not completely asexual. For one, I am very straight. I like men and occasionally, one will knock me for six. Case in point; about three months ago I met this guy and I became a blithering mess, appearing completely incompetent at cognitive function and being a functional human in general. My head takes about ten minutes to catch up with those butterflies certain males can give me and by the time I realize they are making me nervous, I have morphed into a ditzy fool. Shame. He was cute and even seemed half intelligent. On the positive side, at least I can still be attracted to someone.

So here’s to a future of options…. Or not. Who the hell knows?  


A stroke of heat

One more year. Just one more year and I’ll be content and done. Ready to put this chapter behind me and move on to the next. Cancer, can we make that deal? The deal is you try not to kill me or have to have my sternum hacked open by my doctors for just one more year? That would be muchly appreciated, regards Rachael.

I know it doesn’t exactly work like that but that’s what I thought at I completed my 2016/2017 professional athlete registration. So far so good. The mass behind my breast bone and the one that sits to the right side of my trachea seem to be stable. Not changing, not growing, just a dormant unknown within.

The dust has now settled on August. I went into the season guns blazing with back to back weekends racing. I headed north again to Yeppoon Triathlon in early August. It is hard to believe this event is only in its second year with a number of events over the weekend that cater for all abilities and ages. For me it’s also a weekend to spend with my mum as she travels up with me and we stay with our long- time family friend Sharon Kingston. Quite possibly one of the most accommodating, generous, kindhearted people which I am so lucky to have in my life. She does everything above and beyond to make sure we have a comfortable and enjoyable weekend in Yeppoon. 

I had a bash at the 1500m open water swim on the Saturday morning and spent some time with one of Glenn Skinner’s junior athletes. The carb party was a humbling event. Sitting next to the amazing Katie Kelly, the vision impaired triathlete who has just won Gold at the Rio Olympics. An incredibly intelligent, friendly, positive and talented woman who is progressively losing her sight and hearing, he is really someone people should aspire to.

The race itself now seems like years ago. Quite an uneventful race for me really. I swam okay in choppy as heck water, entered transition in 3rd, rode up into 2nd with a minute buffer and got caught at 5km into the run. 

During the run leg I kept in mind that I had a bigger race in six days’ time and knew that I didn’t have run legs in me to regain 2nd so I was content crossing the line in 3rd. A huge big thanks to Glenn and Belinda for having me back again this year. Glenn, himself, comes with a rocky health history and I fear that the stress of the event gave him another brush with death, however, he was ever present during the weekend giving nothing less than 110%.

With a quick turnaround I flew home that night and was back at work the next morning. By Tuesday evening I was packing my bike again and was back at the airport by Wednesday morning. I flew to Singapore and was transferred across the border to Johor in Malaysia. Challenge Iskandar Puteri was a first time race set in the Puteri Harbour. It was hot and humid, but not as oppressive as I remember Malaysia to be. The hotel was pretty schmick with a 25m pool, gym and transition pretty much outside the front door. I rolled around the couple days leading up to the race feeling well recovered from Yeppoon and very ready to see how I was going to perform over the half ironman distance for the first time in over three years. 

Race morning came around quickly and I was soon diving off the pontoon with 7 other pro girls. I had a great swim coming out in 5th place only a minute down on Renee and Kathryn. I knew Amelia and Radka would be out well ahead but I had set a goal of top 5 for myself. I quickly made up my deficit to Renee and Kathryn within the first 10km and was happy to swap legal turns with them. I struggled a bit during the last lap and lost touch with them around the 75km mark but only lost a minute to them going into T2. 

I set off on the run, slowly. Very, very slowly. It was hot. We were told in briefing that the aid stations would be 2km apart on the run leg. I thought that was a stretch at best but when I ran through 2km without an aid station in sight I really started to worry. The first aid station came at 3.5km. The second at 6km where I picked up a can of god-knows what which when I tried to open it the ring top came off. Why have closed cans on a run course??? At this point I thought there is absolutely no way I could get through this run, it was really getting tough. I somehow kept ticking off the kilometres and could see at 7/8km that 6th was still over 8 minutes behind me and not putting time in at all. Around 10km Belinda and Justin pulled up beside me on a scooter,
“How you going Rach?” Asked Belinda,
“Not good. I’m really struggling,’
She offered me water and I questioned outside assistance.
“Of course you f&#king can, there’s no water out here,” was her response, so I took a bottle from a guy on a scooter riding besides me.

I plugged on, made it back out onto the final stretch and saw that 6th was now over 9 minutes behind me, even though I was running at 5:15 pace! God it was hot. At aids stations I stopped to have the volunteers pour ice into my bra top, take water, take soda, take whatever I could get it. At 6km to go I told myself it was only just over 30minutes to get to the finish line. I remember staggering past the 18km sign and I asked a competitor heading out onto the run if I could have some of their water to which they generously obliged. I also remember the sensation of stopping myself from falling backwards, tripping sideways and suddenly feeling like I was drunk. And then there was just black.

The next thing I remember is sitting up suddenly to projectile vomit. Then nothing. Slowly I began to open my eyes as I could feel sharp pains in the back of my left hand. I had an oxygen mask on, the room was white and the fluorescent lights were blaring above me. I knew I was in a hospital but had no idea why. I didn’t feel like I was in pain so I was confused but couldn’t formulate words to ask what was happening. I looked around at a number of unfamiliar faces before I saw Belinda standing beside me telling me I was going to be okay. She reassured me that they were trying to stabilise me. I was freezing, covered in cold blankets. Bit by bit I began to process the information given to me. I had collapsed on course due to severe dehydration resulting in exertional heatstroke. Apparently I had made it to 19.5km but I have no recollections about how I got there. I had two IVs in, but they had a lot of trouble finding veins as they had all collapsed which explained the pricking sensation in my hands. My resting heart rate was 150! My normal resting heart rate is less than 40 and I can’t even get my heart rate over 120 in the pool. My body temperature was 40, I was tachypneic (breathing rapidly) and my kidneys were in a lot of trouble. The scariest part for me was the aphasia. I was unable to formulate words, sentences or answer questions. I had the words in my head, understood what was being said but I couldn’t get the message out there. I thought, this is it, I’ve had a left sided CVA (stroke) and I will be permanently impaired just because I wanted to do a silly triathlon in Malaysia. Once I became more alert I managed a few slurred words to Belinda and the doctors and when I could finally construct a sentence the first thing I said to Belinda was, ‘I’m dumb,’ she laughed at me and said that it would pass. 

Bit by bit I managed to get my words back, come to grips with what was happening but I was still quite unaware of just how bad things were. I probably didn’t really come to grips with how serious true heatstroke is once I returned home and researched the full extent of the situation. I am lucky I suppose, that I collapsed when I did because if it had of happened out in the far ends of the course I could have been in some serious trouble. I cannot thank Belinda and Justin Granger enough for being there with me. Belinda has since told me that she thought I was going to die. It’s reassuring that I didn’t and I cannot fault the medical treatment that I received at the hospital in Malaysia.

I was moved to a ward to continue aggressive fluid replacement and monitor my kidney function. My creatinine levels were 333 initially!!! (Normal ranges are between 54-88.) Within 22 hours my creatinine levels had lowered to 89 which meant that I could leave hospital and still make my flight home that night. The wonderful Nami Koh picked me up and took me back to the hotel. Justin Granger had packed my bike so meticulously that I think he could seriously do it for a job (Thanks Jusi!). A huge thanks too to my roommate Monica who also packed my bags. I felt horribly weak and still very dizzy due to low blood pressure and dehydration but I was so set on getting on the plane that night. I got back to Brisbane and almost fainted in customs before calling in sick to work (I was supposed to work that afternoon). I made it home and slept for hours. For days all I could stomach was vegemite toast and lemonade. I took a full week off training as directed by the doctors but I honestly didn’t feel like doing anything for 10 days anyway.

My head is still getting back into the game. I am certainly going to do a race or two before the end of the year but no grand plans for next year as this point. My mind is heavily distracted with things outside of doing triathlon. Work is getting busier by the day and is a much easier way for me to earn a living! I am off to Tasmania to visit a friend in December, Adelaide in January for the Tour Down Under with my younger brother and planning a trip to Hawaii for a sports med conference so I’m not quite sure how much racing will fit into my life next year. But that’s okay.

Rachie xo


Start the year by ticking boxes

It has now been just over nine weeks since I did my first Ironman. I began to write this immediately after the event as I wanted to get some words down on paper before the pain in my legs subsided.

Two weeks after returning from South America I was badly suffering with the post-holiday comedown and thanks to Virgin’s timely specials email I booked 10 days in New Zealand’s south island. I intentionally booked it for late February over the weekend of Challenge Wanaka, just in case. I have always looked at this race knowing that it was notorious for variable weather conditions, wind but at the same time it is known as one of the world’s most scenic races.

When I got home in November I went through a battery of tests again to see where my cancer was at. It was a huge relief that outside of an elevated TSH level that simply required a medication adjustment, the tumour in my chest and mass in my neck remained relatively stable and unchanged. So I jumped at my chance of competing in an ironman. With minimal fitness after five weeks of eating, drinking, not training and a couple bouts of gastro I entered Challenge Wanaka and started to ramp up my k’s. I was training in fear. Ironman racing has scared the crap out of me for as long as I have known about it. I have been asked numerous times “when will you do an ironman” after I started to race long course triathlons in 2009. I have respected the distance, time, energy and sacrifice that come with training and racing the iron-distance and up until then I really hadn’t been ready to commit to that.

Taper time celebration champagne

Why do people do ironman? Throughout the prep I had to push aside the guilt that was placed upon me for not partaking in certain social events. Thankfully, most of my good friends understood what this meant to me and have had a front seat to the challenges I’ve faced the past two and a half years. I’m still unsure that I will ever do another one again. I’m sure as the memories of the pain, discomfort and shear struggle I went through during the 2nd half of the marathon fade that I will toy with the idea of another. Belinda Granger assures me that I have to do at least one more because the conditions I faced on race day were among the hardest she’s ever seen (note that this lady has done over 50 iron-distance races and has won Challenge Wanaka twice!).

My dad always says, ‘you can’t stop time,’ and before I knew it I was tapering for my first iron-distance race. In all honesty I felt underdone. I had suffered 4 weeks of a left hamstring overuse injury which saw me unable to run for a few weeks around the crucial time of my preparation. I decided not to race the Hell of the West at Goondiwindi as I wasn’t fully recovered and didn’t want to jeopardise my race at Wanaka. I now know this was definitely the right decision as the hamstring didn’t bother me in the slightest on race day. The negative was that I had absolutely no idea what shape I was in when I arrived in New Zealand.

I arrived in Queenstown on the Wednesday afternoon and was picked upped by Haley with Belinda and Justin Granger and taken to Wanaka on a rainy, dreary afternoon. My good friend Charlie now lives in Wanaka and offered a place to stay. He reported that the weather has been perfect in the two weeks leading up to the event however things were taking a turn for the worse. I dumped my bag at his place and we headed into town for some dinner and a long overdue catch up. Thursday morning was dark and gloomy again. I donned on my wetty and joined the organised swim familiarisation that morning. The lake was choppy but surprisingly warm, sitting around 17-18 degrees Celsius. I completed a lap and realised that the swim was going to be the least of my worries. Getting out of the water was bloody freezing (for an Aussie!). I made a decision that I would put on arm warmers and a vest for the bike, regards of what everyone else was doing.

I registered and went to pro briefing which I hated. At that moment I felt 100% underdone, unfit and chubby when I looked around at the other lean and fit pro women that I would be racing in two days- time. I got out of there ASAP and spent the rest of the day horizontal apart from a quick cycle between downpours and hitting the Mexican place for dinner. I let myself sleep in the next morning before all the pre-race rigmarole of touch up training, bike racking, special needs and transition bag drop offs and scoffing as many carbs as possible. The weather still looked ordinary.

The Race:
I woke up due to the howling winds, checked the weather forecast for the millionth time that week and came to grips with the fact that it was going to be windy. Really, really windy. I had a couple slices of toast and a coffee and panicked when my normal emptying ritual failed. Charlie was so helpful on race morning keeping me relaxed, calm and helping me set up my transition. I managed a couple visits to the port-a-loos before I was standing on the beach ready to go with the rest of the pro field.

We were all in our ‘get set’ stances before Vics announced that the swim start was delayed for 15 minutes due to the buoys needing to be re-adjusted as the wind was sweeping them off course. Once we were off I knew that I was probably unable to stay with the front group and staying with Julia Grant was a more realistic goal. I did just that and before the end of the first and very choppy first lap I was leading her and a pro male (who kept tapping my feet for the whole 3.8km!). The second lap was much calmer and I entered T1 in 6th place. I had swum under the hour so I was pretty happy with that. Julia wasn’t far behind me and exited T1 in front of me due to the time I took putting clothes on! Those tough kiwi’s must have thought it warm!

Nervous laughs with Stef Hanson

I passed Julia again within the first couple of kilometers and Tamsyn passed me before the turnaround at Treble Cone. The other girls were a ways up the road and I was sitting in 7th with Simone monstering through the bike. She passed on a hill just after 40km making me looking like I was standing still. I knew this girl could ride and run. The Wanaka wind was in full force that day. The headwind out to Lake Hawea was nasty, but not as bad as the crosswind that hit us when we went over the bridge once we finally made it there. I was leaning over so far to the left I thought if this wind stops at any moment I’m going to fall for sure. It wasn’t just windy and hard, it was downright scary. It was nice to then have a long stretch with a well-received tail wind. During that stretch (and only this moment) I was telling myself how awesome this is and how much I loved it…. I also told myself to remember this moment when things went to shit which I was anticipating. We then had an out and back section to Sandstone Point that only the full distance had to complete. Riding out with a nice tail wind made me fully aware of what we faced coming back. Alyssa passed me during that section. I was now in 9th. Aside from Yvonne and Laura, the rest of us were all within about 8 minutes of one-another. I was actually pleasantly surprised that I wasn’t totally rubbish. I was riding time into Anna and not losing any time to April. I needed to be patient. Coming back along that section was quite possibly the most frightening cycling experience of my life. The cross wind was unpredictable, sweeping me left and then a huge gust from the opposite direction blowing my bike all over the place. I was too scared to stay on my aero bars and thought it best to stay on top and grip on for dear life. I reached a little crest and could see something in the middle of the road further ahead and knew that someone had come down. As I got closer I realised that it was Alyssa. Cars in each direction had stopped and were flagging down oncoming cars to keep her safe. All I could see was blood. All over her face, her legs and the road. She honestly looked like a horror movie victim and was looking around like she didn’t know where she was or what had happened. I felt guilty in riding past and on but she had plenty of people with her to help. It scared me silly. My thoughts went from aim around 10:30hrs to just finish to don’t get blown off your bike or get hurt.

Smile or grimace? I think I was swearing at this point! Photo credit: Stef Hanson (Witsup)

By the end of the first lap I had caught and passed Anna. The second lap was just as eventful. I passed Tamsyn on the side of the road with mechanics and an obvious flat tyre and then at the Sandstone turn around Simone was on the ground, unconscious with people all around her. Gina was no-where to be seen and I later found out she had pulled out. This had catapulted me into 4th position and I entered T2 with Anna.

I ditched my clothes and picked up all my run gear. I headed up over the bridge onto the run course. Charlie was there extremely excited with the update that I was in 4th. ‘Run for a podium position Rach,’ he yelled…. Which I thought was a little optimistic. He told me 3rd was only 2:40mins ahead and that I was running far better.

My legs actually felt okay and I was running at around 4:50 pace. I ticked off the first 8-9km at that pace before things started to really hurt. Julia ran past me around 8km in chatting, looking comfortable and extremely strong. The rain started falling and the undulating trail became quite slippery. Then I found out about the notorious Gunn Rd. I managed to run up it on the first lap before I felt both my quads cramp up at the 12km mark. I knew the next 30km were going to be tough going. Anna caught me at around the 19km mark. We bonded here. She asked me, ‘how many times have you thought about pulling out today?’ To which my reply even surprised me, ‘I haven’t!’ She said it had crossed her mind at least 20 times. Her tummy was a mess and my legs were failing me. She continued to make toilet stops and I would then run ahead of her, she would catch me up and then stop again for the toilet. It was a lot of cat and mouse. The second lap was so hard. I felt horrid, walking each aid station not believing that my legs would let me run again after each time I walked. Somehow they continued to respond. I made a pact that if I got to Gunn Rd that I would allow myself to walk up it, which I did. The next stretch was the worst. It’s a long section of gravel footpath in the suburbs and it ran straight past where I was staying. My general call at each aid station was ‘coke, water, lollies’ I got to the point where I was picking the green, red and orange lollies out of a bag whilst telling the volunteers that it was quite possibly the silliest thing I’d ever done! At least they were getting a laugh out of me and were so encouraging telling me how fast and how well I was doing. They were amazing. At the 2nd last aid station I knew that the end was only about 4km away. I told myself that I had run 4km off every long bike every weekend for the past few months and this was no different. I really needed to port-a-loo at the final aid station but unfortunately someone beat me to it seconds before I got there. I knew there were toilets at the yacht club carpark and thought I might make it there….. unfortunately it was probably 500m too far away and I made a quick detour into the bush. Sorry Wanaka but I really wanted to cross the finish line with some dignity intact! The final 1500m seemed like another 42km. Running down the main street in Wanaka towards the finish line wasn’t as exhilarating as I expected. The finish line seemed to move further and further away. The red carpet took you on a final ‘U’ shaped run way and when I was on the final straight I slowed to a walk. I was a bit emotional when I finally walked across the finish line in 5th place. I was so happy to see Justin and Belinda there to welcome me home. Belinda cried, I cried, she told me it was a tough and feral day which made me feel a bit better about being around an hour slower than I had hoped for. Anna came across about 3 minutes later. I hit the massage table hoping for some hands on relief for the incredible pain in my quadriceps. I don’t know how I got through the last 10km of the run. 

My right big toe had an enormous blister under the nail and feel off a few weeks later. I had a deep cut across my left ankle where the timing chip rubbed into my leg for over 11 hours which is now a permanent scar. There’s a reason why people have those soft timing chip straps! I was unable to stomach even a slice of Vegemite toast that night and couldn’t venture too far from a toilet. I could barely sleep that night. Amped up on sugar and caffeine made it really hard to wind down. I had to walk downstairs backwards for the first couple of days and low chairs and toilets scared me due to the inability to trust my quads. I also realised I had incredible DOMS in my arms the next day due to hanging onto my bars so tightly for the 6 hours I spent on the bike.

The next day was the awards brunch. After sitting there for over two hours I thought I might need a crane to get me up from my chair. Charlie, April and I spent a lovely afternoon at Rippon winery before venturing back to town for the after party. I didn’t really last long. We had a couple of drinks and went for dinner and then all I wanted to do was go to bed so we called it a night. I spent the next 5 days in the beautiful town of Queenstown where I licked my wounds, went sky diving, read two books, drank wine, ate a lot of food, saw two movies, went canyoning and just chilled out.

Just for future references I would recommend waiting at least 5 days post your first ironman before sky diving. One of the important instructions is that you need to lift your legs up with knees extended for landing and never put your feet on the ground. Three days after Wanaka my quads still felt like they were torn to pieces and on landing my feet weren’t far off hitting the ground! I was more panicked about the landing than actually jumping out of the plane! Canyoning should also be held off on for at least a week. I was quickly aware that scrambling up slippery rocks, abseiling and jumping off ledges requires very powerful quads contractions which I think lead to more micro-tearing of my muscles.

Unfortunately a few days after my race I was informed that Challenge Wanaka pays in regards to overall gender position and not where you place in the professional category. Definitely a downer on a great achievement as two age groupers posted faster times than me I therefore received 7th place prize money. I respect that this is Challenge Wanka’s rule but have a few issues with this rule:
  • The pro race is completely different to the age group race. I didn’t get pulled along in the swim or the bike by other athletes. I spent the whole bike leg out there on my own. The swim was a lot calmer for our second lap which meant that the age group athletes likely had a much calmer 3.8km than we did.
  • Why bother having a professional category if prize money is awarded by overall gender position? It might as well be an open age race so at least the top age groupers can still partake in the prize pool.
  • That you may have no idea that an age grouper is actually in front of you time wise when they start 15 minutes behind you. If you knew where each of your gender specific competitors were positioned then it may have changed the way top athletes have raced. Eg. 3rd and 4th were less than 5minutes apart. 3rd was an age grouper and 4th a pro. The Pro crossed the line in 3rd (with a minimal chance of ever catching 2nd but had done a lot to move up to 3rd when coming off the bike in 6th) but once the times came in she ended up 4th female. Who’s not to say she would have pushed a bit harder having known what the time difference/ overall placing was? This also means that the the 9th placing pro male gets zero as he was pushed outside of the top ten by age group racers. 
  • There was no mention of this rule at the pro briefing.
  • I apologise if I am wrong, but I am not aware of any age groupers being subjected to drug testing at Challenge Wanaka.

This rule is another realisation that at no point to I regret going back to full time work. These types of rules devalue being a professional triathlete and make it ten times harder for anyone to want to be a ‘full-time pro’. I will be the first to say that I do choose races that are likely to be profitable for me because as much as I still love the sport I also need to pay my rent, bills and costs of living (and training and racing). I chose to race pro as I’m still (kind of) competitive. This was my first real international pro race post cancer diagnosis but I have won and podiumed in a number of races (that have paid me well) since finding out I was unwell.

Once home I had to pull myself together quickly as I had entered Mooloolaba Triathlon about 10 months prior. So on account of poor planning I raced an Olympic distance triathlon 3 weeks after Wanaka. It wasn’t pretty. I felt shocking from the get go, had a terrible swim, felt good on the bike for about 30km and ran one of my slowest 10kms ever. I did the slowest time I have ever posted on that course since I started racing. I took another full week off after that.

I ventured to Melbourne for Easter with a couple of my school friends to celebrate our friend Susie’s wedding. It was a fantastic weekend with three days of wedding celebrations, shopping and I was also able to see my best friend from college.

The following weekend mum and I headed out to my home town of Roma. I became friendly with Wayne Bryant when he was a TO at the Hell of the West after a technical altercation (many of you will know that story). He is very involved in the Maranoa Triathlon and Multi-sports club out there and I was honoured when they decided to name their annual event after me. I grew up in Roma and hadn’t been back for almost three years. It was a lovely weekend with my mum, running park run with her on Saturday morning, catching up with old friends, being able to race and win a triathlon in my home town and raise valuable money for my charity of choice; CanTeen Australia.  

After weeks of very causal exercise and sleeping in it was also the motivation I needed to get back into the swing of things. I will race Byron Bay triathlon next weekend and then spend the next couple of months planning the second half of the year. Who knows what will be on the cards, but right now it’s still unlikely to be an Ironman!

Finally a huge shout out to all my sponsors and supporters. Thanks to Ryders Eyewear Australia and Mizuno Running Australia who continue to back me. To my colleagues Adam and Therese who keep my cervicogenic headaches, neck scarring and running injuries under control. Meg Franklin, the best masseur on the Sunshine Coast. Belinda and Justin Granger for an accelerated 6 week iron-distance program. Jason Cheshire from Infinit Nutrition not only the supply of some great nutrition but also getting me through my long bike sessions. Vanessa for bottles/ cages and Bel for the loan of an aero helmet. Cyclezone Mooloolaba for putting up with my weekly bike issues and Allez Sport Mooloolaba for all those consumables. 

Rachie xox