Match report: I am an Ironman

16 12 2015

Well, half of one anyway!

After the months of build up, training, preparation and effort, race day was here. It was time to see if Ironman would beat me. Or if I wouldn’t let him.

I arrived at transition as soon as it opened at 5am as I had to make final preparations to my bike and lay out my transition.

My coach was right behind me and we had a little joke as I was wearing my head torch to help me see in the dark, and he asked to use my head torch to find his head torch! It was a nice icebreaker.

I’d deflated my tyres a little when I’d racked the bike on the Friday as sitting in the sun at full pressure can cause them to blow. So I set about reinflating them. My poofy hand pump wasn’t doing the trick so coach lent me his floor pump. As I unscrewed my dust cap I didn’t realise I was unscrewing the valve at the same time and it flew out in my hand.

I’d never done that before so I thought the worst and thought I’d have to change the whole tube. Having my coach on hand he made it clear I just needed to screw it back in. It was a relief to have a knowledgeable head on hand otherwise I could have completely panicked! Seeing how little air was in my other, pumped up tyre, it made me realise we needed a better pump!

Once out of transition I got in my wetsuit and headed down to the swim start area to find some squad mates. It was fantastic to be surrounded by familiar faces as we did the last minute preparation. I loved being around some calmer heads who had done this before and helped to keep me grounded. But I was also sharing the experience with other newbies.

There were four of us in the same age wave so when we were called forward we kept giving each other support. The wave start meant there wasn’t really any time to warm up. It was a deep water start so the swim out to the start buoys was pretty much your warm up! Not ideal. Especially as I tend to take quite a few lengths in the pool to really get into my stride. But, we had to deal with it and get on with things.

This was it.

My Ironman 70.3 experience was about to begin. With my nemesis up first.

I completely surprised myself by how calm I felt. Sure I had butterflies, but I think I basically talked myself off the ledge by saying “it will be what it will be” knowing the swim isn’t my strongest discipline. And I’d had a cold all week so I knew I wasn’t starting at 100%. This helped ease some pressure.

Most of my swim game plan worked: calm and steady, not pushing it at all and I never felt out of control, panicked or out of breath. I tried to focus on the others around me, my stroke and sighting. Although I may have got carried away early on, just like I did in my first Scorching tri of the season, and got redirected by a nice man in a kayak!

Learning: sight a bit more often.

I managed to keep on a better course the rest of the way. I also think I managed to catch a few drafts. I was certainly looking for them, as per my race plan, and as quicker swimmers from the later waves caught up, there were a few chances of this. But I was also lucky enough to be bunched with some similar paced ladies who I managed to stick with and draft off for a long way.

I was amazed how quickly it felt it went. Mainly because it looked like a damn long way from the shore! In the pool, you never see the whole distance stretched out in front of you. And usually in an open water swim, I feel like I’m going forever!

When I got out of the water and saw the time, I did a quick calculation and was stoked with what I saw. I was banking on 50 mins but knew I’d made it in approx 45 (it was actually 44:20). Imagine what time I could do if I swam straight!? (Garmin says 2114m!).

I could hear my friends and husband cheering from the sidelines as I crossed the timing mat and under the legendary gantry. I could hear my husband’s elation at my time in his voice! I’d planned to celebrate exiting the swim, but I was so focused on the 400m run to transition that I didn’t bother. I just wanted to keep going.

swim

The bike started with a bit of an uphill slog out of Taupo to reach Broadlands Road. It was hard work but I was expecting it, having driven and ridden the course in the previous days.

This was a ride of two halves for me. Even though there were loads of people to say hi to on the course, it’s fleeting and then you’re on your own again. You can’t bunch ride as drafting is illegal and subject to a three-minute penalty, so you really are on your own for a good three hours. And it gets pretty lonely. Especially when things aren’t going well.

And early into the ride, I realised things weren’t going too well. I was feeling fatigued already, my legs were heavy and my speed was slowing. It didn’t bode well for the rest of the race.

This started to mess with my head. And the mental battle started. How was I going to complete the rest of the race if I was feeling this way so early on? I started to think that it was going to simply be about finishing and to banish any time goals I had. Was this my earlier cold finally getting the better of me?

I was willing the turn to come so at least then I knew I was over half way. And I felt lonely.

Without realising it, I started to analyse things. My stomach was also cramping, so I started to think my nutrition (eggy rice cakes) wasn’t working for me. I’d changed the recipe, breaking the number one rule of long distance triathlon: don’t try anything new on race day. But I didn’t think it could have that much of an effect.

Learning: definitely don’t mess with the tried and tested on race day.

Anyway, knowing something wasn’t working, I decided to ditch the rice cakes and revert to the gels I’d used in training. I thought that even if it sorted the cramps out that would benefit me. And luckily I’d taped a batch of them to my top tube as a contingency. This is when things started to change.

After the turn I got a major second wind. I felt good and strong. And I started to power my way back towards Taupo. Suddenly I wasn’t feeling so lonely. I was in a totally different mindset. And it made a huge difference.

There’s a “hill” that climbs for approximately 11kms back towards Taupo. It’s not a hill by Wellington standards, but it’s still an incline that you have to tackle. When it started I barely felt it. I honestly couldn’t tell I was going uphill! I was passing people left right and centre and remember thinking to myself “spot the people who train in Wellington” 😉

Once I crested the hill after the motorsport park I was on a major high and in a really positive headspace, saying to myself “I have totally got this. There’s absolutely no reason I can’t do this now”. I even had a teary moment passing some unknown supporters who said something really positive and it made me choke up a little. I’d managed to ride at my expected pace all the way through so came roughly on time for my “optimistic” goal.

This set me up nicely for the run.

run

I always knew this would be pretty straight forward because once you’re there, pretty much the only thing that can stop you is a big injury. Even if you have to walk it, it’s possible.

I made a quick pit stop on the way out of transition and my game plan was to run between aid stations, walk these, and maintain a 6:30 per km pace.

Well, as always, I didn’t really follow that last bit of the plan…

I chunked the run up into aid stations so it just felt like a bunch of 2.5km runs instead of a single 21.1km one. This really helped my visualisation and I don’t remember it feeling like a half marathon at all. Even when I came in after my first lap, I didn’t mind that I had to do it all again.

Planning to walk the aid stations means you don’t feel any pressure to throw water down your front as you try to drink it! And it gives you time to take the nutrition you need. So at one point I felt hungry so I listened to my body and got a banana at the next aid station. It worked a treat.

We had support from current and former squad members all along the course. Most of the supporters were close to town, so the far end of the run course was a bit sparse. So you could tell these guys had been in our shoes previously, knowing where the support would count the most. It made such a difference to have friendly faces out there to motivate and encourage you. If I’m ever up there supporting, this is where you’ll find me.

On the final run down Ferry Road, right after I saw my ecstatic coach (who’d finished, got changed, got his gear bag and was walking back along the course to cheer us on!), I got a mad stabbing pain in my gut. No idea what it was but it stopped me in my tracks. I walked a little through the marina and then upped it to a shuffle to the bottom of the final hill.

I decided to walk up this hill at this point to try and ease the pain and also to make sure I had a good strong finish. I’d seen a lot of people do this because, basically no one can see you here! And you want to look good for the finish line cameras.

This was a good move as I had a little bit left in the tank to power past a couple of people and run well to the end.

There are no words to describe the feeling of crossing that finishing line. I was expecting to feel relieved, but I was just ecstatic! I had my watch displaying my run time, not my total time, and I don’t even remember looking at the clock on the finish line so I had no idea what I’d done until I stopped my watch.

Finish line

Hubby was waiting at the finish line to get a photo and then hug me. He squeezed me so tight I could barely breathe – but in a good way. I was choking up again. He made a comment about my time and I finally looked at my watch.

The training plan I was on was targeting a 7-8 hour finish. Based on my paces in training for the individual disciplines, I’d reckoned I could manage a time starting with a 6, with an optimistic 6h 30 in mind.

I romped home in 6h 18 mins. Now I do confess that the conditions were pretty perfect, and I had no mechanical issues with the bike. But I’d virtually raced to plan so that goal was achieved too. I’d almost had a perfect race.

Now I just have to learn to swim straight and get a bit bike fitter. Looking at my age wave/division stats, I came out of the water in 37th place, finished the bike in 39th place, but a strong and consistent run meant I gained several places. So this shows me where my focus needs to go.

I’ll see you next year Taupo. Only I’ll be better.

anything is possible

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4 responses

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Looking back to look forward | A little old blog, by little old me

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