Race recap: Wellington Marathon

2 07 2018

“I’m really glad we didn’t have to race yesterday” said nobody at the Wellington Marathon in 2018.

While Saturday 30th June was lovely, with sun, high cloud and little wind – a fresh winters day that can be quite common in the capital – Wellington treated us to the worst of her winter weather on Sunday 1st July.

We all knew the forecast was pants, but we remained ever hopeful that the Met Service modellers had made a small error – as they are occasionally known to do.

The forecast did have me fretting about my outfit though. I knew I needed a jacket but whether to go with long sleeves or a vest? t-shirt with arm warmers or a long sleeved top? Full length tights or capris?

Decisions, decisions.

When my alarm went off at 5.30am and I strained to hear for the wind. I couldn’t hear any. Unusual when it’s a northerly as we’re right in the firing line. But as I got up and started getting ready, the familiar sound of something more than a stiff breeze started to build.

The expected fierce winds and rain turned up bang on time, rather than fashionably late.

I got to the start at the Westpac Stadium in plenty of time to drop my bag off and caught up with other walkers and runners crazy enough to be heading out into the elements with me.

As we walked out to the race briefing at the start line, it appeared the weather might have given us a bit of respite – at least for the early part. As the briefing started the organisers joked about our wait for the starting siren to be “the longest 12 minutes of your life”.

If only he knew.

Start line

With about 10 minutes to go the heavens opened again. Those of us not bothered about maintaining our starting position at the front of the pack ducked under the stadium entrance hoarding for some cover until we were called forward for the start.

It was here I was wondering if I’d end up regretting my wardrobe choice of t-shirt, vest and arm warmers.

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I think the starter took pity on us as his countdown from 10 speeded up towards the end. And that was it. We were off.

With more than a gentle helping hand from the Northerly that had set in for the morning.

The rain was quite heavy at times and I wondered if my sodden gloves would ever dry out, or whether my hands would be reduced to prunes inside them.

The course is generally pancake flat, heading south around the bays before heading west towards Miramar peninsula. Whilst the Northerly continued to build, the meandering coves helped shelter us at times for a little bit of respite.

In one such moment I struck up some chat with a guy who was jogging along at the same pace. He’d worked out that we would be in the worst of it for approximately 4.5kms and have the best of the wind behind us for 4kms. I don’t know how he calculated that but it didn’t seem quite right so I left him to his musings.

Heading up the Eastern side of the peninsula the headwind had its moments but nothing was too brisk. Upon rounding Point Halswell we got a feeling for what faced us on the way back, as the tailwind almost lifted you off your feet.

While it was welcome, those of us who know Wellington figured the way back would not be as fun.

We carried on to Scorching Bay (the scene of many a triathlon I’ve done in the past) where some hardy supporters and volunteers greeted us, gifting us a red wristband to prove we’d been there.

Then started a mini ‘out and back’ to the start of the peninsula and back to Scorching Bay for the final turn.

The expected headwind on approach to a couple of corners on the western side did not disappoint. It wasn’t enough to bring you to a walk, but certainly enough to slow you right down.

Luckily these were relatively short-lived and we were heading back down the eastern edge with the wind behind us again – although you wouldn’t have guessed it. It felt like there was nothing.

A cheeky high five with my buddy who was walking it was a real mood lifter. Anyone committed to being out there for that long and in those conditions was either mentally strong or insane. But it was such a boost to see her with a smile on her face.

After the aid station at Shelly Bay I decided a pit stop was in order. All was fine until I tried restoring my soaking wet running tights to their ‘on’ position. Have you ever tried to put wet lycra on when you’re wet as well? It doesn’t go well.

Especially in a portaloo.

Anyway, back to the game. I hadn’t prepped any particular nutrition plan so had to make sure I had either a gel or Shot Blok at least every 40 mins. I don’t even know if I managed that.

I mostly managed to stick to my usual 9 min run/1 min walk ratio. Apart from leading up to our second turn on the out and back.

Just prior to our turn is the half marathon turn. It was in full swing when we got there. I got swallowed up by a large group who were hanging on to the 1h 45min pacer, when I suddenly heard a familiar voice ask me something (it was along the lines of was I having fun or going well? something like that – but my post-race brain can’t compute exactly).

One of my old squad buddies ran past with ease and I only just had enough time to answer something vaguely positive before he was already out of earshot.

At some point between the half marathon turn and the marathon one, my walk reminder sounded but I didn’t even notice. Consumed by all the other bodies around me I was merely concentrating on reaching the second turn and not taking out any other runner in the turning process.

Second armband acquired. One more to go.

The start of the third leg was still busy, as more half runners swarmed by. But after passing their turn again, it was back to the fairly isolated run back up the western side.

Rain came and went. I think I stopped noticing after a while.

But the wind didn’t stop. In fact it was just increasing – seems those pesky weathermen got it right for once.

Another Mary Poppins-like moment came as we once again rounded Point Halswell and got a little assistance back towards Scorching Bay. Here we picked up our third and final wristband – white this time – at about the 25km mark. It was now time to head for home.

Having had only 7 weeks to properly train, I was a little undercooked going into the race. I’d run no further than 25kms so I knew that I was getting into new territory. It’s also about this point in Ironman that I suffer from major stomach issues, so I’m not normally running as much after this point!

My hamstrings, glutes and, occasionally, my hip flexors, all complained at various times once I’d gone past 26kms. It was like they were telling me off for not doing enough training.

And this was also the point where the crazy wind was blowing either rain or sea spray – I daren’t look up to even check – into your face like a thousand pins per second. I knew that rounding Point Halswell again would only mean temporary respite. We’d have that wind on the way back to the finish line.

Maintaining my 9/1 run/walk meant there was a lot of ‘leap frogging’ as I overtook people on my runs and occasionally they’d overtake me while I walked. I’m sure most people don’t realise that it’s a deliberate strategy but there’s a ton of research that shows how much benefit it has in endurance runs. I live by it now on all my long runs, even in training.

This leap frogging happened with several different groups, and while it was tempting to try and stay with them – like my former, highly competitive self would have tried – I tried to focus on my own race and executing my own plan. I wasn’t racing them after all.

Just me. That’s the only person I was racing.

I let a couple of women go – I’d stayed with them a while but after one walk break they’d just left me so I didn’t try to catch up. It would have probably done more damage than good.

I saw Nikki again after she’d made the second turn and she cheered me on to the finish.

As I neared the end of the peninsula, a couple of brave and hardy supporters were sitting by the roadside and they said some really encouraging things. I love that about doing epic endurance events. Complete strangers get right behind you, knowing that you’re doing something pretty damn hard.

Thank you to all the supporters and volunteers out in the stink weather yesterday.

As I reached the supporters, my walk alarm sounded so I thanked them and then said “break time” to explain my walking. The response was “get ready for that wind round the corner”.

Thanks.

Like I needed reminding.

I turned into Cobham Drive and there it was. A massive crosswind. I dreaded to think what that would feel like when we turned into it. It was bad enough being blown sideways. And I’d only just passed a sign saying 9kms to go. It was going to be a long haul.

I hated those signs counting down the kms to go. With a passion.

As I turned into Evans Bay Parade I faced the wind head on.

The brutal 40+kph winds on that final stretch dampened a few spirits but it also gave those of us left out there something in common. A desire to make sure we won. The weather wasn’t going to stop us.

At various points the wind was so strong I did have to walk, out of necessity rather than planned. I knew that trying to maintain a run would probably soak up more energy than was really necessary.

While I hadn’t tried to set a time goal, I had some wishes. I expected to finish in 4h 20 – 4h 30. I’d been right on target to best this time, but the combo of wind, rain and a little fatigue, especially in those last 9kms, made sure I wasn’t going to.

I didn’t want to dwell on the time too much though. Whatever happened, it was going to be a marathon PB. But then I didn’t bike 180kms beforehand. So I had no excuses.

Not even the weather.

Onwards I plodded. Ticking off each of those damn countdown signs as I went. After Point Jerningham, the wind eased a little. But navigating the twists and turns of the return path around the waterfront, I was more scared of tripping than anything else.

Finally, back out onto the road, the rain set in for the last 1.5kms.

One of the women I’d been leap frogging earlier, but who’d got away from me, now loomed ahead of me again. This time I was determined she wouldn’t get away.

As we neared the ramp that took us up to the finish line (yes that’s right. You have to run UP A RAMP. After 42kms!) I caught her and passed her.

I knew my walk break alarm was about to sound but I also knew the ramp was ahead, so I decided to use that as my break. As I did, another marathoner overtook me. We’d been leap frogging the last 8kms. He decided to walk the second half of the ramp, so I jogged it.

Heading towards the finish I was directed down the middle chute. I heard footsteps gaining and normally I can find a little extra at the finish. I’d found all I had though and the runner I’d just overtaken on the ramp surged home ahead of me. Meh. I didn’t really care.

Soaked to the skin I crossed the line, got my medal and then staggered into the stadium.

I can legit call myself a marathoner now. While I’ve done the distance in Ironman, I didn’t feel it counted until I’d done one on its own. So there we go. Another one ticked off.

Would I do another marathon? Maybe. But I’d aim to do one where the weather was more guaranteed. Like the Gold Coast maybe?!

But I think I’d rather do Ironman

Medal

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Judging a book by its cover

28 06 2018

I was really interested, saddened and concerned about some of the comments Sera Lilly received following a media interview about chasing her dream of being a personal trainer. Sera received a lot of hate and trolling (that was thankfully removed from the accompanying Herald Facebook post) saying that, as a larger lady, she shouldn’t be a personal trainer.

There was no inference, there were blatant statements about how could she inspire and motivate people to train and lose weight if she didn’t “look good” herself.

No comments were made about her ability to develop fitness programmes that will help a client achieve their specific goals. Or whether her personality is one that immediately puts people at ease and gets them moving.

The judgements were all about her appearance.

I looked at myself. I’m a group fitness instructor – not a personal trainer – but I’m still expected to inspire people. Motivate them to get stronger, fitter and healthier. Does my physical appearance do that? Or could it hinder it?

Do people want to be coached and inspired by ripped/skinny trainers, or by people who look a lot like they do themselves? Can we inspire people to get fitter/stronger/healthier when we don’t always look like we say “pass” to a packet of chippies?

Take me. I’m not built small. I’m from solid Manchester/Lancashire stock made for tough conditions.

And I love food. During Wellington on a Plate last year I achieved a personal best of eating 23 burgers during a 17-day festival. Yes some days I ate two. And it would have been 24 if Carrello’s hadn’t sold out of their dessert burger on the last day.

This makes losing/maintaining weight tricky.

You may have heard the phrases “abs are 20% made in the gym and 80% in the kitchen”, or “you can’t outrun a bad diet”. I am those phrases personified. I’ve done two Ironmans – surely all of that training (up to 18 hours a week at peak) would automatically mean I shed kgs? Erm, well I weighed in for Ironman this year at 75kgs. Standing at 169cms, my BMI (which BTW I don’t subscribe to as a measure) was 26.3. Firmly in the overweight category. After my long training rides all my body seems to want is a bowl of fries. Nothing else.

So does that impact the way my class participants feel about me? Do I lose credibility because of how I look? Or is HOW I do things enough to motivate people because I’m “real”?

That’s a genuine question!

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Me in the foreground

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In the middle this time

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sera’s experience proves that our society hasn’t moved on from thinking that skinny = healthy or fit. But I’ve been able to compare some of those metrics first hand and being lighter/thinner doesn’t necessarily point to being “better”. But does it cloud perceptions? Would I be a better instructor if I lost some weight?

Obviously not. I’m the same person underneath with the same personality and the same skills. My size has no bearing on my ability to do the job. But do I lose “customers” because of looks alone?

The answer is: I don’t know. Unlike a PT I don’t have consistent measures of how many clients I have. I mean we do record class numbers, but when classes are free (vs paying for a PT) there are more variables at play as to whether someone turns up or not.

For me, if the person knows what they’re doing, and they have the skills to do the job, and if they have the personality to make it fun (or at least a bit less painful!) then does it matter what they look like? For someone who’s on the larger side, just starting out on a fitness journey, maybe they might be more comfortable working with a professional who’s a little more like them? After all, they might find a ripped 20-year-old a little intimidating.

Ultimately it’s horses for courses. Everyone’s fitness destination, and their journey to get there, is going to be different. But no one has the right to judge who helps you along the way.

 

 





So. What’s next?

14 06 2018

This is a question I’ve been asked. A lot.

I mean, most people can’t get their heads around doing an Ironman. Hell I couldn’t two years ago. But when you’ve done one (or two) people seem interested to know what the next goal is. Automatically assuming that you’ll have something else to fixate on and fill up all the available time you’ve got now you’re not training as much.

Or they assume that you’ll be pushing yourself on to something even more crazy.

I remember after my first Ironman someone asked me if I’d do another and thought I was crazy when I said yes. “But you’ve done one now – isn’t that enough?”

It often isn’t.

And that’s not to say that we want to do even more crazy things, but that having a goal is something that motivates us. Even if that goal might be to shave a few seconds off your Parkrun PB. Or maybe it’s to focus on strength training to improve your muscular endurance. Or drop a kg or two.

Without a goal, training becomes as and when. Unstructured and, usually, falls by the wayside. So even if you’re not gunning for another Ironman, having something to focus on becomes a way of life.

So what WAS next for me?

When I *just* used to run, half marathon was my favourite distance. I never dreamed about running a marathon because I thought the training would be too much.

How little did I know!

I’ve never run a marathon without completing a 3.8km swim and 180km bike ride first. But having done that twice – and in quite respectful times too – I’d been contemplating a standalone marathon.

The only marathon in Wellington happens in deepest midwinter. I started to toy with this as a potential goal.

Plus sides:

  • it’s local
  • the course is flat as a pancake
  • most importantly there’s bling. And a chance to win some awesome spot prizes.

Down sides:

  • it’s in the middle of winter
  • it costs $80 to enter (when you can run these roads for free any day of the year).

In the end the decision was made a little easier. A friend won two entries to the race so I said I’d join her.

So that’s what’s next.

Training for one discipline has been easier, and harder. There has obviously been less volume, but there’s also been less variety. Without the cross training of other disciplines, one can be monotonous.

However without the need to train for other disciplines, my running has felt stronger as my legs aren’t as fatigued.

When people learn I’m training for the marathon, the question of time often comes up – what am I aiming for?

A medal.

Not gold, silver or bronze. Just one that shows I’ve completed it. The time isn’t important. To me success is simply crossing the finish line.

Preferably in one piece.

Obviously I would hope that it’s a PB for this distance. After all, the lack of a small swim and short bike beforehand might have some impact on my speed. But the weather in Wellington in July is not known for being kind to runners. So as long as I just get to the end that’s all that counts.

But once the marathon is over, then what?

IM rego





Ironman NZ 2018 – the run

27 03 2018

I knew I’d pushed the bike harder than I’d originally planned, but I’d done so consciously. I knew that once I was off the bike, forward momentum of any kind would be all that was needed.

My coach and some of our squad supporters were in exactly the same place as last year, watching for us coming out of transition. I waved to get their attention and got a few cheers and whoops as I rounded the first corner.

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I could hear the announcers talking about the leading male pro being Terenzo Bozzone – a kiwi who’d been trying to win IMNZ for a few years and not quite making it. He was a crowd favourite so as he came running up Tongariro Street it was no surprise to hear the cheers.

As he passed where my squad were standing they were all about Terenzo. As I approached them I jokingly yelled “don’t forget about me?” which brought a few laughs. Coach then jogged alongside me for a few metres to ask how I was doing.

I replied that the run was going to be tough after the bike effort, but I knew that and it was just about one foot in front of the other. Keep moving forward. He agreed saying another familiar phrase – “your race, your pace”. But he added that I was doing great.

I mustn’t have been doing that bad because my first lap was pretty good pace wise. The legs were tired but they kept moving to my 9/1 run/walk intervals, with added aid station walks.

I got an added break when I spotted hubby on his last lap heading back to the finish. It took him a little while to spot me – I pretty much jumped in front of him before he realised!

We shared a hug and a kiss and then let each other get on with business. I couldn’t work out how he was doing time wise and if he was OK with the cut off times, but I had a feeling he would be alright.

Out at the Rainbow Point aid station (the party station it’s affectionately known) I knew I’d see a few familiar faces. Some of the Wellington Tri Club would be out there volunteering so I knew I would be in for some support there. Little did I know that on the return leg, three of my own squad would be there – including two who’d done IM with me last year. It was great to see such friendly faces and share a bit of banter – even if they were trying to over-hydrate me!

Leaving them it was mostly downhill back to town. Lap one of three done.

The second lap is where things started to go downhill. It wasn’t a rapid progression, just very gradual. As the legs tired even more and the km markers seemed to make it feel like there was an AWFULLY long way left to go.

Who am I kidding? There WAS a long way to go.

This was where the mental game needed to be stepped up. It didn’t matter. I was going forward. That’s all that counted. More walking was needed, especially of the hills. But sometimes you still moved faster than those trying to run them.

I passed the special needs tent but as I hadn’t put a bag in, I didn’t stop and waved them away.

As I headed back towards Taupo town for the second time, a familiar, yet dreaded feeling hit me at exactly the same point as last year.

Cramp.

Not of the muscular type.

“Runners’ cramp” is a well known side effect of endurance sport. The causes are numerous and as individual as each person. I’d talked it over with my coach after last year’s experience and we speculated it could have been caffeine. So this year I avoided it like the plague. No caffeine tablets. No caffeinated gels or nutrition. Just a spot of Coke on the run if I felt like it (and I didn’t feel like it much).

But there it was. Again. No point wondering what had happened or why it had come around again. No point kicking myself. Just deal with it and move on.

It meant it hurt to run at first, so more walks it was.

For nutrition I resorted to water and salty foods like crisps/chips and pretzels. I’d remembered last year someone raved about the oranges and how great they tasted. I’m not usually much of a fan but I thought I’d give it a go. And you know what. It was pretty darn refreshing. And at least it was something to keep me going.

As I approached Tongariro Street for what would be my last turn onto the last lap, I caught up with a friend who was also racing. Toni had passed me on the bike on the way out to Reporoa for the second lap but I knew she’d not had the best run prep due to injuries. She looked weary but was moving forwards. We had a little chat and shared war stories about cramp! Then I jogged off.

I finally saw hubby for the first time after our hug on my first lap. He was wearing a medal so I knew he was all good!

Most of our squad had moved to the lakefront by this point to cheer us on. One of them  jogged alongside me for a short while to give me a pep talk. I told her about the cramp and tired legs but she told me I looked great. I must have put on one hell of an act!

Because the cramp meant I couldn’t keep up the 9/1 run/walk, my walk breaks became even more frequent. Toni and I kept leapfrogging during a couple of those early breaks and talked about how we were both on for a good time. I kind of knew but I wasn’t fixated on it.

When I was up by special needs for the last time I had to have an enforced “rest” in a portaloo as the cramp got the better of me. But this wasn’t a bad thing and I left feeling better. As I came out I saw Toni had just passed me once again so made it my mission to catch her again. It wasn’t long before I caught up and more words of encouragement were shared.

At my third visit to the Wharewaka aid station last year I’d received my glow stick which would see me home. This time there was no such gift – but I was well ahead of last year’s time. Would I make my goal of finishing without one this time?

The last armband was obtained and it was now less than 7 kms to those infamous words.

In the build up to I’d done some time predictions and I’d been conservative and given myself the same time to complete the run – 5 hours. Looking at my watch I wasn’t sure if I was going to beat that time.

But did it matter? Not in the slightest. Finishing was my only goal. Even if I had to crawl.

Apparently at this point the IM app was playing up. A number of friends were following me on it so they received notifications when I went over any timing mats. Around about this time it apparently said I was doing 0.2 kph pace (down from around 8 kph) so some panic messages were being sent to hubby.

He went to investigate with an official who looked me up and could see where I actually was. They estimated I was 30 minutes away.

Relief for everyone!

It hurt to run downhill. More than it hurt to run on the flat. My quads were seizing and my stomach cramp wasn’t saying goodbye either. As I came along the lakefront path I knew where the next aid station was and desperately wanted to keep running to it. But I just couldn’t. I was probably walking twice as much as when I started out.

I knew this would be my last aid station though. So I took whatever I needed or felt like and carried on. I kept telling myself “a couple more ks – that’s all”. I spotted another squad mate as I made my “Ironman shuffle” along the path. I don’t recall her taking a photo but I have this weird half smile/half grimace thing going on! She knew I was running ‘home’.

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Three armbands on my right wrist means I’m headed for the finish chute!

As I hit Tongariro Street for the very last time I still wasn’t in possession of a glow stick. I was going to make it to the end without one! I ran past the last aid station not wanting to break stride on my way to the finish line.

Plenty of supporters were lining the top end, where you either turn right to head out again or go straight on to hit the finish chute. Whether they know you or not, they know your achievement. They know how much it means to be taking that straight on option. They are ecstatic for you.

It’s one of the most amazing feelings to have complete strangers revelling in your glory with you. All of these people you’ll never meet are part of your journey.

Like the couple dressed up as beer cans on Lake Terrace. They were so enthusiastic on every lap and brought a smile to my face even when I didn’t feel like it. If you ever watch an Ironman, go nuts! Tell people they’re awesome/amazing/super stars whatever. You won’t ever know how much it makes their day.

But when it comes to that finish chute, it’s all a blur.

The pain. The aches. The tired body. It’s like a surreal out of body experience that floats you down that chute and over the finish line.

Unlike last year I had the chute all to myself. Mike Reilly gave me a good monologue! He talked about how I’d been there in 2017 but that this was a better weather day! Oh boy wasn’t it! I nodded as I ran past!

And that was it. I was an Ironman once again.

The time on the clock was 12 hours 34 mins. But I hadn’t even registered what that was. I didn’t have a clue about my run time. It was over.

I’d been really fortunate to win VIP finish line tickets from Mercedes Benz Vans which meant hubby could be at the finish line waiting for me to give me my medal and towel. It was a very special moment and it made my whole day. I’d shared the course with him, now I shared the finish line.

And I finally remembered to stop my watch! As it turns out, I beat last year’s run time by 4 and a half mins.

After some big hugs, we headed into the recovery tent where I was weighed out. 3kgs lighter than Thursday, also beating last year’s performance (where I lost 2kgs). The volunteers were obviously a little concerned about me as they asked if I felt OK. I replied yes, I my legs were just tired.

I picked up my gear bag and finisher t-shirt. Toni arrived at this point and we had a hug. It was a PB for both of us. My second, her ninth! It was great to share that victory with her.

I then headed for the massage queue. Hubby was still with me and tried to get me to eat something. Just like last year, I didn’t feel like anything. I drank a cup of chocolate milk but then started to feel sick. I didn’t want to lose my place in the massage queue though so stuck it out!

After my massage and finisher photos I really wanted to try and hang around to watch other people finish and be out there when party hour started. But my body had other ideas. It had done enough that day. Maybe one year I’ll make it past 10pm! We recovered my bike and transition bags and headed home.

Ironically I’d put my Rotorua Half Ironman shirt in my gear bag to put on after the race. It felt appropriate.

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I’d pushed myself. I’d challenged myself. I’d gone out of my comfort zone. And now I was suffering. But in a good way.

This year was all about proving what I could do. Not for anyone else’s benefit.

For mine.

Last year I felt robbed of the performance I was capable of, and this year I sought to put it right. I feel I’ve done that.

I took 1 hour 17 minutes off last year’s time. I felt I did a swim and bike I was capable of. I don’t think I could have done any more on the day.

And I think that’s the sign of a good race.

I’m super happy.

(Now just to figure out what causes those bloody cramps!).

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Ironman NZ 2018 – the bike

27 03 2018

As I powered up the Napier Road hill past the Hilton, a familiar voice gave me some words of encouragement as one of my training buddies cycled past. She made the hill look effortless but I knew she was a stronger rider anyway. I sent her on her way with some equally encouraging words.

Feeling so good after the swim, and with perfect weather conditions in my favour, I decided to throw caution to the non-existent wind and push the bike a little harder than I intended. I wasn’t focused on a time goal but I wanted my race to unfold naturally and the weather was a big part of that.

It was a conscious decision to kind of throw my planned pacing out of the window. But I weighed up factors like how I felt after the swim, the weather and also some of my coach’s words about not being afraid to challenge myself.

So I decided what the hell.  Let’s see what I can do.

The first lap felt like a breeze. I got passed lots but I put that down to having an amazing swim. It doesn’t mean I wasn’t disappointed with the amount of people who actually passed me, but I was doing the best I could at that time. And that’s all you can ask for.

The lack of wind was refreshing and filled me with confidence.

I spent a lot of the ride back to Taupo looking out for my hubby (as well as other squad mates) who was doing the 70.3. I knew he’d be a fair way behind due to my super fast swim. I was out of the water before he started.

But I was just desperate to see him to know he was safely out of the water himself. Eventually I spotted him and we exchanged hand gestures to say we were both OK. I didn’t know at the time but he was desperate for a pee but didn’t want to stop for one until he’d seen me. He was (rightly) worried that if I didn’t see him I would panic a little and that might affect my own race.

On the fast descent from Taupo Motorsport Park I had a few surprising gusts from the side that picked up my race wheels and pushed me sideways. It made me wonder what was in store for lap two if the wind had picked up any.

Before I knew it I was back in Taupo and turning left for the second lap. At the top of the Napier Road hill was the special needs stop. I knew coach would be there but I was mostly looking forward to my treat – a peanut butter sandwich! Real food!

I swapped my Perpetuem drink bottle for the frozen one I’d put in my bag and off I went. The photo a squad mate captured as I set off shows my complete joy at getting that sandwich!

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As I set off, coach ran alongside briefly and asked how I was doing. I said I was good, and he replied with “you’re playing it really well”. After leaving him I glanced at my watch for the first time I remember during the ride. It said 3 hours 10 mins. I was over half way already. I’d been hoping for around 6 hours 30 in total so I knew I was on track, allowing myself some contingency for fading on that second lap if I’d gone too hard.

Heading back out to Reporoa for the second time the wind I’d experienced on the descent into Taupo was most definitely there. It wasn’t as strong as last year and it was also in the opposite direction. So rather than being an uphill headwind, at least this time we had more gravity on our side! And I took a lot of comfort in the fact that when I turned at Reporoa again, at least I’d have a tailwind home.

I wasn’t sure if I’d see hubby again or if we’d cross at a point where the outbound bike course takes a detour. But as luck would have it, he was on the final uphill stretch to the Motorsport Park as I was whizzing down it. Another exchange of hand gestures plus shouts of “love you”. I was relieved he was nearly there.

After a little bit of battling the wind, the turn loomed, as did that second armband to show I’d done the full course. The ride back felt pretty uneventful and I don’t actually recall most of it.

But I do know I didn’t have a “chat” with a technical official this time!

I was mostly hoping to just get through the ride unscathed and without any mechanical issues. It’s the one thing I’m paranoid about.

This was a fear reinforced as I approached the final climb to the Motorsport Park again and spotted my squad buddy who’d passed me earlier. She was off her bike on the side of the road with a mechanic helping her. As I passed I kept quiet, not wanting to distract her any more than I knew she already would be. It looked like they were just finishing so I expected to see her again very soon.

It wasn’t actually very long before I saw her as she drew up alongside me on that final hill to the Motorsport Park and muttered something I can’t remember. But I could tell from her tone she was pissed off. As she sailed past me I shouted after her “It’s happened now. Forget about it and move on”. They felt like harsh words but I also felt she needed it (afterwards she confirmed she needed a little kick up the arse so she appreciated it).

Heading back towards Taupo I felt relief flooding through me once again as the potential for my own mechanical issues to impact my race were almost gone. And I was close enough for it not to matter any more.

Hitting the intersection with Tongariro Street I swooped right this time to head towards transition for the second and last time. The legs felt a little wobbly as I got off the bike and handed it off to a volunteer. My bag was up this time and I grabbed it and raced to another waiting volunteer in the tent.

I realised I hadn’t stopped my watch on entering T2. I’d looked at my watch once during that last leg back into Taupo, a little before seeing my friend. At the time my watch had said 5 hours 48 mins. I’d tried to estimate how long it would take me to get back to transition and reckoned on about 40 minutes. That was good.

No. It was great. 6 hours 30 was my goal so I was on track for that. Turns out my estimations were a little off. When I lapped my watch finally in T2, it said 6 hours 19 minutes. I was stunned. And equally stoked. I had smashed this goal too. And I’d also beaten my coach’s predictions for the bike as well.

We set about going through my bag to work out what I needed, at which point I had other volunteers raced up asking me questions like “Sun screen?” “Vaseline” and other things. I was overwhelmed. I jokingly made the point that I wasn’t used to this kind of service and I think they got the hint that I needed a little space and time. Vaseline was left with me. Then I sought sun screen again before leaving the tent.

At a quick pit stop at the loo before hitting the run, I checked my face in the mirror. I knew the sun screen on course has a tendency to just cover you in white and it didn’t ‘disappoint’. I wiped some off then headed out.

There was only 42.2 kms between me and another Ironman finish.

Easy right?





Ironman NZ 2018 – the swim

27 03 2018

My alarm went off at 4.15am on Saturday 3rd March. I strained my ears to listen for the wind.

There was none.

At that point I knew that this year’s race would be a completely different one. There was no need for a sinking heart. This time I’d be able to do things differently.

I went about my usual morning routine of breakfast and final prep before setting off for transition at about 5am. We found a parking space nearby and went to our bikes for final tweaks, nutrition placement and tyre pumping. Even though hubby’s 70.3 race didn’t start until 1 hour and 10 minutes after mine, he was still limited by the same transition opening times.

I also had to drop off my bike special needs bag. I decided I didn’t need one for the run this year as I’d barely had anything in it last year anyway. But my bike one was important.

It contained my peanut butter sandwich.

Bike sorted, it was time to head down to the lakefront to meet the rest of our Ironteam and get swim ready.

The lake looked like a mirror. It was perfect. I can’t describe the relief and joy at seeing the calm waters I was about to enter after last year’s horror. My return to Ironman NZ one year on was justified.

Bring. It. On.

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The most important rite of passage for me is watching members of the local iwi come in and lay down their challenge in a haka. It’s always spine tingling and no less so this year. But to see the waka calmly lapping the beach instead of being pounded by the waves was bizarrely comforting too.

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A quick change into the wetsuit and photos taken for our coach’s Facebook page, and we were ready. Everyone seemed remarkably calm and while there were butterflies, it was more excitement than nerves.

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Once the pros had got under way it was our turn to shuffle our way into the water with 1200 other crazy people. I started swimming out to the deep water start line with some squad mates but I lost them pretty quickly. No matter. It was time for the countdown.

Three flashing lights on the shore signal the three minute countdown. This time around everybody could see them. As the first light switched off, there was a yell of “two minutes”. The second one went off to a yell of “one minute”. Now it was just time to wait for that cannon.

BOOM!

There is was. And off we went. A sea of flailing legs and arms.

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The swim

I’d set myself in a similar place to last year – inside line. Right in the thick of the action. The idea (hope) was that I’d be able to catch some good drafts to help speed me up. I kept a very tight line to the buoys, sometimes swimming inside them, sometimes outside. But I swam pretty close to them all.

I was surrounded by bodies and got bumped, kicked, punched and had my feet tickled pretty much the whole way. I was boxed out more than once but rather than get upset, you just have to take a moment and reset your line.

The swim out felt like a breeze. The turn buoys arrived quickly, but then the distance in the lake was shorter with the new swim down the river mouth to the exit.

In contrast, the return leg seemed to drag. I counted down the buoys but had no idea how many there were. I just focused on the next red one until I could see the big yellow turn buoy in the distance. I knew then that the end was coming as it signalled the turn into the river mouth.

We swam around that, taking a slight right turn towards the next yellow turn buoy right in the river mouth. This is when things started to get congested. People were wanting to swim the inside line so everyone started swimming on the right hand side.

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As we reached that buoy I thought “great, the next turn buoy will be the start of the boat ramp” which is where we were due to get out. Only I was wrong. There was another one to go. We were simply swimming around some moorings. Here is where spectators had gathered to get a close up of the action. Something they couldn’t do previously. It was weird breathing and sighting and feeling like you were being watched.

Finally the boat ramp loomed. The narrow exit, compared to a broad beach “landing” meant even more congestion. So many people all being corralled into a narrow exit point didn’t make for a fun or fast exit. Some people stood almost as soon as they could view the bottom, way too early. This meant people were standing up right in front of other swimmers, myself included. We’re always taught to swim until your hand touches the bottom twice – otherwise you’re wading through really deep water.

Not only that but the barriers to protect the swimmers from spectators meant a narrow pathway was created. I had men lined up across the whole space just walking along, whereas I wanted to get jogging. It was a frustrating experience!

But then I realised my time. My training and open water races suggested I’d exit the water at about 1 hour 15. I’d been listening for a cannon to signal the start of the 70.3 race at 1 hour 10 but hadn’t heard anything. I was wondering if I’d missed it or if they hadn’t used the cannon and maybe just used a hooter.

Anyway, when I got out my watch said 1 hour 9 minutes. I was rather stunned and wondered whether it had been kicked and paused at some point. But running past the clock on the exit gantry confirmed that I had indeed come out 6 minutes faster than I (or as it turns out, my coach) expected.

And 20 minutes faster than last year.

I was on a high. The look on my face on the run to transition kind of says it all. And is such a contrast to 2017 Annalie’s face.

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Just like last year, my transition bag was still on the floor when I got there rather than being held up by a volunteer. Luckily with my number being 898, I knew I’d be right at the back of the 801-900 line! And my bag decoration made it easy to spot.

I was waved to a chair by a spare volunteer in the tent and she set about tipping the contents of my bag onto the floor and helping me get ready. She helped pull my top on and put my spare inner tube and CO2 cannister into by back pocket.

On my way out to my bike I stopped at the aid station to get some more sun screen – knowing it was going to be a reasonably sunny day I didn’t want to take any risks in that department.

Picked up my bike and off I went. Avoiding riding into the barrier this time.





Getting ready for round 2

14 03 2018

Arriving in Taupo one year on, the same feelings of anticipation and excitement crept up. There were butterflies, but a good kind.

This was familiar territory, one I’d conquered before.

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The swim buoys were out, although not as far into the lake. A revised swim course would see us actually swim into the mouth of the Waikato River, meaning that we’d swim a shortened distance in the lake.

This year I arrived a day later. We’d driven a couple of hours north to stay with a friend before heading to Taupo early on the Thursday morning. I knew there was a bit for me to do on arrival, most importantly I had to check in. But I didn’t feel the need to be up there on the Wednesday. I’d get everything done.

At the registration tent a queue had formed well into Taupo Domain but rather than come back later, I chose to line up with the rest. Get it over and done with then I could relax. We probably waited for an hour before fronting up to the same volunteer who had checked me in last year! I recognised her straight away. She was the one who’d used a faux “Manchestoh” accent on me. Unsurprisingly her recollection of me was not the same.

Wristband applied like a home detention ankle bracelet, I was now committed.

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One thing I was dreading was the weigh in. I don’t weight myself. It’s not a relevant measure to me. I’d much rather benchmark myself against how my clothes feel or how I look in the mirror. But I had to be weighed.

I didn’t feel thinner than last year. But I weighed in 2kgs lighter. Happy days! Less weight to lug around those 180kms on the bike.

I promptly went and ate a bacon butty to celebrate.

We were also asked to show where we came from on a world map. This was to represent to global nature of Ironman New Zealand. More than half the field had come from overseas to take on the challenge. Kiwis were the minority. I decided to show both places I consider home – my Instagram post said “I’m from here and here”. British pro racer Laura Siddall responded saying she’d done the same thing!

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Once we’d settled into our bach I went about checking out the stash in the race pack. There wasn’t much worthy of note. The usual sachet of crap Invisible Zinc sun cream (more to come on that) and a mysterious envelope addressed to “Ironman Athlete”.

Inside I found a letter from Libby, from Taupo Intermediate School who said it must take a lot of grit and courage to do Ironman and gave me some motivational words for my race.

It was a touching thought, invoking more emotions at an already emotionally charged time.

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A bit of prep followed, like packing transition bags and putting race stickers in all the relevant places. And before I knew it, it was time to head out to the Welcome function. It was great to catch up with my fellow squaddies, most of whom were attempting their first IM. Surprisingly the nerves were non-existant. There was a definite buzz around the table.

Plans were made to meet for our final swim before game day. A beautiful morning dawned with a flat calm lake to greet us. Despite having read the (favourable) weather forecasts for race day, part of me couldn’t help be cynical after our experience last year. Perfect conditions the day before and hideous winds on the day.

But that was last year. This was a whole new opportunity. The main thing was just getting the last little bit of training done. It was my first open water swim in fresh water this season. And it was so refreshing after so many Wellington harbour swims!

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I headed back to the bach to complete a short bike and run. While on my ride, my rear gears were playing up. I’d had my bike serviced before I put my race wheels on (rookie error). So while the rear cassette on my race wheel is the same size as my normal wheel, it was obviously a little out.

Hubby and I worked out some logistics of taking my bike to the on site bike mechanics for a quick tune while he checked in for his race – the 70.3. I could then leave it there while we got lunch and went back to the house to get his bike.

Lunch wasn’t exactly what you would call “ideal” pre-race nutrition…but it was damn good (Thanks Pauly’s Diner!). I probably started Ironman the same weight I was last year after the post-weigh in feeds.

We both had to rack our bikes ready for the next day, and I had to drop off my transition bags. I make lists for England. And I followed my lists, ticking all my items off as I packed them. But once I dropped my bags off I started to have panics. I’d only photographed the contents of my run bag so started to panic that I’d forgotten something out of my bike bag. But really I knew it was 99.9% unlikely because of my lists! People (hubby included) laugh at my super organised race plan – but it’s a confidence builder/stress reliever for me.

Back at the house and the final few race pre activities got completed as I ticked more things off my list. Watch on charge. Dinner eaten. Race number tattoos applied.

A million alarms set.

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All that was left to do was get some sleep….