Queenstown triathlete Fiona Gallagher’s buzzing after finishing a better-than-expected fifth-fastest female in her pro debut at last Saturday’s Tauranga Half in Mount Maunganui.

In ‘‘stinking hot’’ conditions, the 29-year-old crossed in 4 hours 31 minutes, less than 24 minutes behind the winner, and collected $250 into the bargain.

To race in a field including three of the world’s top-50 female triathletes was ‘‘huge and such an experience’’, she says.

‘‘It was the best experience I’ve ever had, I loved it.’’

Having competed in age-group categories in the past two Tauranga Halfs — finishing fastest female amateur last year — Gallagher says competing in an elite-only field was a whole different experience.

‘‘You’re not drafting off people all day, which definitely happens in age-group racing, especially on that bike course.’’

She’s now motivated to stick with pro racing.

‘‘It’s great, obviously, winning age-group racing, but I think I’m better off coming maybe in the bottom half of some professional races for a year or two, and actually growing and learning as an athlete, and then that’s how I’m going to get better.’’

She’ll still continue her day job as a council lawyer, for now — ‘‘I’m not in that position [to leave]’’.

‘‘If I can pick up some sponsors I’d definitely work less, but that’s a dream.’’

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