Gill Fullen, from Bedfordshire, UK, completed her first sprint triathlon in 2009 in her mid forties. She describes her progression in the sport as “swift,” which is somewhat of an understatement. Just a year later, having joined the Bedford Harriers triathlon team, she was already taking on full Ironman distance.
By 2012, Gill was already competing with the best in the world in her age group at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. When the race didn’t go to plan, she considered quitting Iron distance for good, but, with the resolve that has seen her progress so quickly in the sport, she returned to the Big Island in 2014 and achieved a place on the podium, though not the top step.
Gill’s resolve would be tested to even greater levels when, in 2016, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. With the fighting spirit that she had become known for on the tri circuit, Gill was determined to come back stronger. And she has done exactly that.
Fast forward to 2019 and Gill is back on the start line in Kona with one goal. To become the 55-59 age group world champion in Ironman triathlon.
“I was hugely apprehensive but not the normal gibbering wreck I quite often am before races,” Gill recalls. “I had come to an acceptance that I could only do my best and that executing the race to the best of my ability was my goal for the day.
“Last year I was in great form and full of confidence when I broke my foot just before the race, which was insanely frustrating both to me and my coach.
“This year  I went to Hawaii having trained specifically to win my age group so I knew I was in with a good chance, but the nature of Ironman and the conditions in Kona mean that achieving that is never a done deal.”
Gill’s preparations just prior to the race had, however, been less than perfect. Having arrived in Kona to find the apartment she and a friend had booked was not only unsuitable for two people, but unsuitable condition for anyone to stay in, she had to change accommodation at short notice.
Then, Gill also realised her running shoes likely had more miles on them than she would like for the race of her life.
“I had a new pair of Cloudflows for the Frankfurt Ironman in July and intended not to train in them as far as possible and save them for racing, but by October I had clearly put more miles into them than I had wanted.
“When I dropped into the On stand at the expo in Kona, the staff took a look at them and agreed that it would be better if I used a pair of their Cloudflow test shoes in the race.
“I did a quick run in them and although I was making the cardinal sin of using new equipment in a race, I took the gamble that I had been running in On shoes for years and they would be better for me than my own pair.”
Even before those test shoes would be put to the ultimate test, Gill still had to tackle the 3.86 km (2.4 mile) open water swim and and 180.25 km (112 mile) bicycle ride in the notoriously tough Kona conditions.
“The swim is my weakest discipline and I often get very seasick so I was worried about how much the swim would take out of me, but in the end I managed to swim fairly well.” Gill said.
“The bike can be horrendous if the trade winds are out to have fun with you, but they felt pretty reasonable on the day, so the bike was far better than I was expecting. Although I would have liked to have been quicker I was relieved at the end that I wasn’t getting off the bike having had to fight against the wind for the whole time, as I have in the past.”
Then, with a lead to defend, Gill laced up her “new” shoes for a marathon through the lava fields.
“I felt pretty good for the run and didn’t even have a moment of apprehension as I put my borrowed Cloudflows on and set off on the course.” Gill said.
“The first half marathon I managed a decent pace, but the energy lab section slowed me down and finally I started to tire on the return leg. By then I knew I would finish and as I wasn’t chasing anyone, I was in the happy position of not having to push to the max for the whole time.
“It never occurred to me that I was in borrowed shoes while I was racing, and I certainly never had a moment when I thought my feet were in any way hindering my run; it was down to simple fatigue when those moments happened.”
Gill held onto her lead, running 03:40:30 for an age-category title-winning time of 10:45:11.
“When I crossed the finish line this year it was with a mixture of utter joy and sheer relief at having finally achieved the goal I had aimed at for so long.”
So, how do you celebrate an achievement that has been a goal for so long, when you have been through so much to get there? With a beer of course.
“I can never eat straight after a race so later that evening I had my customary glass of beer with chicken and chips. The awards banquet was a great place to celebrate with friends and share the story of all of our achievements.”