But it took her some time to realise what she had achieved – until she got chatting to a friendly competitor, she was convinced she had finished third.
Overall, the Ravenscroft-backed Sarnian’s trip to the World Long-Distance Championships ended up being an emotional rollercoaster, which contrasted starkly with the famously flat surroundings in the Netherlands.
Nightingale went in there with one big ambition – to win the women’s 60-plus aqua-bike, with her recent move to the age category leading her to declare: ‘This is my year’.
She did it. But it took 6hrs 43min. 43sec. of hard racing over the 3.9km swim and 180km bike, each on a two-lap course.
It was also a case of racing somewhat ‘blind’, for Covid restrictions meant competitors started in intervals and she could not tell which were in her age group anyway.
The swim went smoothly as she exceeded her expectations with a 1-12 clocking – the start of the bike, not so much.
Nightingale had quite literally found herself locked into first gear, leaving her stunned and with no immediate solution but to pedal on.
Her salvation came around 8km in when she encountered a man she recognised as a mechanic from the bike shop, so she dismounted to get his attention.
Bike fixed up, she tried her best to make up for lost time on the first lap before easing off slightly for a solid second circuit.
She remembers taking about 15 minutes to compose herself after her colossal effort.
Then she saw it – two bikes sitting in the racks for her age group.
‘I was devastated,’ she said, fully believing she had been beaten and not hearing any announcements to tell her otherwise.
‘But I knew a fellow GB athlete and she came over and gave me a massive hug and said “Well done, champ”.’
It turned out that the extra bikes came from one disqualified competitor and one who failed to finish.
She had indeed finished first among three competitors in her age-group, the nearest of whom followed nearly 39min. back.
Given that highly welcome realisation, and the experience of standing up at a big ceremony that evening, she was then left feeling, appropriately, on top of the world.
‘It’s quite surreal,’ she said. ‘I came home and everything’s normal again, and I looked back and was like “Did I really do that?”.
‘It’s moving, I have to say. I would love to inspire other women who are thinking they started really late – I only started competing really when I was 55, and I did this in my 60th year.’
What is next?
Nightingale hopes to complete the aqua-bike at this weekend’s Granite Man before ending her season.
But speaking about her broader career and with some tempting focuses in 2022, she may not be done just yet.
‘I said that if I manage to be world champion, I might just retire at the top,’ she added.
‘It would be a great place to stop, but I just love doing it, love the competition and my body’s still letting me do it, which is great.’