Sophie’s Race Report – Ironman Vitoria-Gasteiz – 10th July 2022

Recce and Race Morning

Vitoria-Gasteiz is a stunning setting for an Ironman in the basque region of Spain. Rich and I stayed 40 minutes away in the Rioja capital – a quaint little town surrounded by vineyards called Haro. Unfortunately, despite being wine HEAVEN, we wouldn’t really get any chance to partake properly. We enjoyed a partial recce if the stunning, rolling hills of the bike course through Spanish countryside, starting at the beautiful lake. We enjoyed a couple of swims in the lake during race week – including getting a bit lost and ended up wading through weeds and mud to get back to land! I got burnt a couple of times in patches where I had missed with my suncream. The Spanish sun is STRONG.

The night before race day was calm enough. This seemed a race of very few dramas for us. Everything ran surprisingly smooth. Our bikes hadn’t shown up at Madrid airport but thanks to our newly purchased airtags we were able to prove our bikes were still on the plane and we were reunited 2 hours later. Other than that, we had lots of time to get settled, register etc. We even got ideal race numbers – 101 and 102!

It was lovely having my parents there to support and help things run smoothly. They dropped us on race morning with plenty of time to spare setting up transition. The usual nerves kicked in, the toilet queue so long I just peed in my wetsuit, and before we knew it we were lining up on the red carpet to the usual emotional, stirring music…..or in our case “A pirates life for me”.


Rich and I agreed that I would try to draft him the whole way. We had never attempted this before but always seem to finish 30 seconds of each other so we thought we would give it a go. I didn’t hold high hopes and thought I would lose him straight away. I was amazed to find myself right on his feet and stayed there for 3km. I had to fight a little with those around me as every time Rich overtook, people would try to jump on his feet and push me out the way. Little did they know, this was husband and I wasn’t giving up his feet for anyone. We seeded ourselves too far back and found ourselves overtaking the whole way. Eventually as we turned the final buoy back to shore, I lost sight of his feet and was a little tired of battling the crowds. I found myself a nice bit of quiet water and swam solo for the last quarter.

I didn’t wear a watch so I had no idea of my time as I got out the water onto the red carpet into T1. I was massively surprised to later find out I swam in a time of 1 hour 7 mins and a 1.47 mins/100m pace. This is the same pace as my fastest 70.3 swim at half the distance.

So swim was a huge (unexpected) success.


The bike is usually my strong point and training had gone really well in the lead up. We had trained through Dubai summer and lots of 3am get ups to squeeze 6 hour brick sessions in before the thermometer hit crazy temperatures(It was still pretty crazy even at 3am). This meant a LOT of sweat, dedication and early rises.

The bike course was beautiful and the perfect level of rolling with a few hills, great road surface, fast down hills. I was loving life the first half of the bike and flying along, 35 kph average, feeling amazing. I was overtaking again and again and again and felt unstoppable.

I was following the nutrition plan but it was a super hot day so I had to take on more liquid than usual to avoid dehydration. My plan had been to sip the gels from my aero bottle but unfortunately it bounced out of its holder going down a fast descent around 80km in.

Then it all started to go wrong. I had to adapt my nutrition plan due to my gel calories bouncing off into the distance 😭. As a plan B I had Cliff bars in my back pocket but these made me feel sick combined with the sickly sweet Gatorade I was now having to drink at aid stations.

Next thing I know I was starting to feel terrible. I slowed down at an aid station and suddenly started projectile vomiting off the bike. This has never happened before. All the calories I had so carefully been putting in my body were flying right back out again.

The next 3 hours biking were dark times. I saw my parents and it took all my willpower not to pull over and stop. My watts and speed just went down and down and down as I tried to play catch up and keep any food or liquid possible down. The sun was absolutely brutal and I could see my arms getting redder and redder despite sleeping in factor 50, slathering it on race morning and even stopping at an aid station to reapply when the weather became increasingly extreme. I also managed to get a wasp trapped inside my visor, pedalling along at 40kph. I’m so terrified of wasps, I have no idea how I stayed on my bike.

It was a mental game more than anything and I told myself to just keep moving forward somehow. I couldn’t have been more disappointed with my bike time but I also couldn’t be more proud that I didn’t give up and I pushed through to T2.


Having spent the previous 3 hours in a world of pain, vomiting and being burnt to a crisp through my factor 50 suncream by the Spanish sun on the bike, I didn’t hold high hopes for the run.

Then the crowds completely lifted me! I handed my bike to a volunteer and ran down the red carpet shute to T2 with crowds either side roaring and high fiving. It was an incredible adrenaline boost. Reunited with my gels in my T2 bag, I was able to finally get some proper nutrition inside me.

I changed into run clothes for comfort and set out on my first ever marathon. The longest I had run to date was 26km 5 weeks prior – before my run injury had stopped me. So would my leg hold out?

Incredibly, it did! I set off a steady pace and started to tick off the kilometres. To my surprise, I started to feel a million times better. I walked every aid station and followed the nutrition plan to the letter. Lots of water and electrolytes for the heat. The crowd were incredible and I loved the 4 lap course winding through different parts of the city. The spectators were another level and got me right through to the end.

Mum and dad were there to cheer me on and 10km turned to 20km turned to 26km. My plan had been to possibly walk from this point if needed but my legs continued to tick over. The legs started to give way about 36km in so a couple of 500m walks were needed before I ran the last 2km through the crowds and onto that magical red carpet.

I finished in 12 hours 14 minutes and I was an Ironman. The race had not gone to plan at all. I have never suffered or struggled on the bike like it and never expected to find the run such a joyful experience. The crowds made my day, screaming and shouting ‘ANIMO’(a Spanish term of encouragement that Rich later told me he misunderstood and thought they were all calling him an animal!)

It was an epic, unforgettable day and I finally heard the words for the first time “You are an Ironman!”

Leave a Reply