"HOW's that even possible?'
That was the reaction of a delighted Peta Cutler after she placed 22nd in her 35-39 years women's age division at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Nice, France.
With less than 12 months of racing behind her after a two-year absence, an intimidating cycle leg and competing against some of the world's best triathletes, Cutler's goal was simply to reach the finish line in Nice.
But the Bathurst Wallabies Triathlon Club talent covered the 1.9 kilometre swim, 90.1km cycle and 21.1km run in a time of five hours, 24 minutes and six seconds to shock herself.
"So 22nd in the world for me in my age group! Whoo hoo. How's that even possible?," Cutler said.
"I was the second Australia home overall in my age group [and] 203rd position overall out of all 1,863 female athletes.
"I feel so lucky to have been able to travel over to France and be a part of such an amazing race.
"This race was spoken all week by the professional athletes being the hardest bike course on the Ironman circuit in the world. It's pretty cool to be able to say I was a part of that race."
Cutler's first assigment for year's world championships, was the swim leg. She covered the 1.9km in a split of 34.05 - the 66th quickest for her division - but admitted her transition was not the best.
"The swim was amazing in the beautiful Mediterranean Sea, however it was quite choppy which made for a hard swim," Cutler said.
"Transitions are my weakness - almost being double everyone's time in both T1 and T2. Slow enough I could set up a picnic, [so] definitely something I need to work on."
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The cycle leg which followed had been what Cutler was most anxious about prior to the race.
The route included a 9km climb at an average of 6.6 percent gradient up the Col de Vence to reach a 962 metres altitude, as well as technically demanding descents - something she was not familiar with.
"Within the first 10 kilometres of the bike, I was averaging just under 36 kilometres per hour and gained 26 positions," she said.
"By the time I reached the 37 kilometre mark, which was getting close to the end of the climbing, I had climbed my way into 21st position.
"I drove the bike course earlier in the week before the race, I knew then that this ride would be the hardest ride I've ever done. I was extremely petrified, as the climbs were huge and they just kept going and going.
"The descents were long and fast with tight, technical turns. The Europeans definitely had the advantage as they knew how to descend and fast."
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Still, Cutler not only managed to get through the cycle leg unscathed but her split of 3:05.24 saw her finish in 21st position. It was effort which gave her confidence heading into the run.
"My goal at the start of the day was to get through the bike ride safely and to make it onto that run course because I knew that once I had safely made it back to transition, I was going to start the run and get to that finish line," she said.
"I experienced some nutritional issues midway on the bike, I was struggling to keep down the fluids. It was very warm, however there was a noticeable change in the weather whilst riding high in the mountains."
The run course was along the Promenade des Anglais and while the mercury nudged 30 degrees, Cutler was not bothered.
"I picked a pace that I was comfortable with, running time of 1:36:33 with pace 4:35 per kilometre. You couldn't wipe the smile off my face, I knew that I was finishing my first ever world champs," she said.