Countdown to Ironman: 3 weeks to go

13 02 2017

Ridiculous.

That’s the word one of my training buddies used to describe this past weekend’s training ride.

We can handle 5 hours. We can handle hill reps. But 5 hours of hill reps is just, well, ridiculous.

When I tweeted about the resulting stats – 1700m elevation gained over 102kms – someone wanted to check that our coach knew we weren’t entered for the Tour de France.

I sometimes wonder.

It was another one of those days when the mental game needed to be on point.

And it was a day when training partners were a necessity, not a nice to have. It felt like there was a collective strength as well as individual. Without each other, we acknowledged that we wouldn’t have gone as far, as high, for as long if we’d been alone.

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Ten reps, over three different hills.

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As we reach the pointy end of training, with one big week left in the plan, our bodies seem to be in a state of permanent fatigue, and our minds are impacted too.

One squad mate claims to have a severe case of “Ironman brain” – a general sense of forgetfulness and confusion! When he told me the symptoms I had to admit to displaying some myself – if a little milder.

Another describes herself as an Ironman “zombie” where the sheer volume of exercise and lack of volume of sleep contribute to a sense of auto-pilot. Especially when it comes to those long runs.

It reminded me of this video I saw a couple of years ago

Yep. That pretty much sums it up.

And I know what most of you are thinking.

That’s ridiculous. Right?

 

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Countdown to Ironman: 5 weeks to go

30 01 2017

Ironman is all about training the brain as well as the body.

You’ll often hear people refer to the mental battles on the day, so having a few of those in training is always good practice.

Take the bike ride when we were at training camp. When the wind picked up for lap two, creating a headwind on the way out to the turn at Reporoa, one of my squad mates said she had to give herself a good talking to. And boy did we all relate to that.

This week saw us needing another talking to with the NZ Ocean Swim Series event arriving in Wellington. Most of us were down to do the long course that takes you out to the lighthouse and back to Oriental Bay in a neat 3.3km triangle.

Only the weather Gods had other ideas.

A big northerly was forecast which meant the harbour was going to be choppy. Even by Wellington standards. So the organisers swiftly arranged a move to the south side of the city, hoping for more sheltered waters at Lyall Bay.

I wandered down for a recce on Saturday afternoon – ironically a magic Wellington day with no wind and a gorgeous flat calm harbour. Sod’s law right there.

The buoys were already up and one of the event team gave us a quick brief of the makeshift 2km ‘M’-shaped course. It was different but they figured it was the best they could do in the space they had.

Race morning dawned and the forecast wind didn’t disappoint. But the predicted chop was worse than expected. So the furthest points of the ‘M’ course were a bit too dangerous for more inexperienced swimmers.

So they decided to go to a two-lap loop. They lengthened the course and brought the far buoys in. But they didn’t really know how long it was and were estimating 2.6-2.8kms.

The shallower waters didn’t look so bad, so after swallowing “a cup of hard” (a kiwi phrase for “harden up”), we hit the waters.

The initial swim out to the first buoy wasn’t so bad. The wind was behind us and the buoy was close, meaning sighting wasn’t an issue. Then we made a 90 degree turn and headed parallel to the beach to head towards the airport.

With the wind hitting us side on, and with the tide going out, it was easy to predict that we were going to get pounded from the left a little bit in this direction. The start wasn’t so bad and I was able to get into my rhythm quite quickly – it normally takes me at least a km to get going properly. But the closer we got to the airport end, the worse it seemed to get.

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Even if I breathed away from the direction of the waves, the would frequently break on the back of my head, still giving me a mouthful of saltwater. So breathing was sometimes an issue.

And with the buoys being quite some distance away, and reasonably close together when looking at them from a distance, sighting was tricky. It was too easy to aim for the wrong buoy, sending you off course. I often just followed the crowd of swimmers in front of me in the vain hope that they were vaguely on track!

We’d been promised an “easier” ride back towards the start, and second turnaround. But that was a lie. It got harder as we were further out from shore in bigger chop. The waves were bigger and harder and there was no “tail wind” to speak of.

It took forever.

Or at least it felt like it.

Unlike the regular Splash and Dash series, there were no shorter options. If we pulled out early, that was it. It was a DNF. So that was the choice. Continue battling, or get no result.

But when the turn came, I had no intention of finishing early. While it might not have been the prettiest swim, I certainly wasn’t done. I wasn’t going to let it beat me. I’m way tougher than that.

Despite not being the strongest swimmer in the world, I don’t lack confidence in the water and have a steely determination to succeed. So out for a second lap I went. The second trip down towards the airport seemed even worse. I’m sure the surf lifesaving volunteers had their work cut out for them.

Back out in the chop for the final leg back down towards the start/finish area, I probably took on the most water of any of the legs. And not only that, the current was pushing you further with the tide. So sighting had to be more regular to stay on course – if you could see the buoys in the chop! I felt I’d been pushed out a couple of times so tried to correct my course, only to over-correct and start swimming further in. A quick sight check soon sorted that.

Even though the conditions were far from ideal, I can honestly say I never once felt like jacking it in. I felt strong and like I could keep going, even at the very end. Although swimming into the headwind for the final 75m (or so) stretch was pure hell. No matter how hard you swam, you didn’t feel like you were making any progress. But slowly and surely, the beach got closer.

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I’d made it. And when I stopped my watch to see the time, I was really happy, given the conditions. But in reality, the time didn’t matter. I’d swum just under 3.1kms in 1h 8 minutes. And then the official word came back that they estimated the course was 3kms long, so I’d done pretty well, even in that chop and current.

What mattered was proving I could tough it out in those conditions. After all, you never know what it’s going to be like on race day.

So you need your mind, as well as your body, to be ready.

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Ironman is a selfish sport

27 01 2017

There’s no getting away from it. Doing an Ironman is selfish.

For most people there’s no other reason to do it apart from self-fulfilment and gratification.

There are also some inspirational athletes who are doing it to overcome adversity. Or to stick two fingers up at fate or destiny that have put obstacles in their way at one point.

I’m definitely in the former camp. There’s no real barriers that I’m trying to overcome. Only the mental ones in my own head.

Training for an Ironman you have to be completely selfish because it’s basically all about you and you absolutely NEED to get the training done or risk those fateful letters that no one wants to see.

DNF.

It’s selfish because you spend a lot of money. There’s a constant stream of nutrition, clothing, toys, accommodation, training programmes and camps, accessories, bike repairs and the entry fee itself.

Your training robs you of time with family and friends, it eats into your social life and your sleep.

So I’m trying to make it not so selfish.

I want to make this count.

I want to raise money for a worthy cause.

So I’m fundraising for the Cancer Society.

Everybody knows somebody who’s been affected by cancer. Personally, I lost my dear grandfather to it. One of my best friends from university lost her battle at the grand old age of 42. The wife of another university friend is a survivor. But another friend from school is about to lose hers. Also at 42.

What I’m doing is a small gesture in the grand scheme of things. But as Tesco says, every little helps.

And on the day, when things get tough out there, I can remind myself of who I’m doing it for. And how, all things considered, I haven’t got it that tough at all. I chose to do this. And I can make that choice. Others aren’t so lucky.

To donate to this wonderful cause, please visit my fundraising page.

 

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I was finding it pretty tough during Ironman 70.3 Taupo in December. But I haven’t really got it tough at all

 





Countdown to Ironman: 6 weeks to go

25 01 2017

Practice makes perfect.

Didn’t your mum always tell you that?

Nothing is truer in endurance triathlon.

I liken this sport to a jigsaw puzzle. You’re trying to create a complete picture that is your race. Only there are several different pieces that might fit into a particular space and you have to try a few, or maybe all of them, until you find the one that fits.

Those pieces are things like pacing, nutrition, processes, clothing, gear, and even things like when and where to apply Vaseline (so other members of my training squad told me).

And there’s no other way to figure this lot out than to practice. In a realistic situation.

Bring on Ironman training camp in Taupo.

This weekend saw us basically complete about 80-90% of the course – not on one day – we’ll save that pleasure for race day.

Normally the camp schedule sees you complete one Ironman distance (apart from the full run) on each day. So swim 3.8kms in the Lake on the Saturday, backed up with a shorter bike. Then complete the full 180km bike course on the Sunday, backed up with a short run off the bike to test the legs. Then a 3-hour run completes the torture, erm, I mean training!

But the 2017 NZ summer chucked in a weather bomb on the Sunday making the bike a bit of a gamble.

Not wanting to take that risk, Coach switched things around to have us completing the bike straight after the Saturday swim.

Personally I found it was incredibly useful to do this as it genuinely simulated race morning. So I got up, had the breakfast I’m thinking of having, and then got to have the first go at my race plan “jigsaw”.

The swim start is 7am in the beautiful lake. So that’s what we did. The plan was to complete the distance and then hop straight on the bike for the full course.

It was a beautiful morning out on Lake Taupo. The sun was just rising and the water was flat calm – conditions we’re hopeful for on the day itself. The swim was a bit trickier than it will be on the day as there were no course markers, making sighting, and therefore swimming straight, a bit harder. It also meant we had no idea when to turn around so we had to keep checking our watches.

As it happened I didn’t do a bad job and when I got back to the finish, I was only about 80m short of the full 3.8kms. And I was stoked with the time. It was at the faster end of my expectations, so with a mass swim start on the day, I should be able to easily replicate that, and possibly go even faster with a good draft.

The “transition” was fairly swift and it was time to hit the road to Reporoa for the first of two loops.

I knew that this needed to be paced well. My legs were fresh and I felt good, but there’s a looooong way to go and I needed some reserves for the second lap. We had some company on course with two other training squads also out for a practice ride so there was some good banter and encouragement. It was great practice for when people pass you on the day and maintaining your own race and pace plan. It’s all too easy to be competitive against others, but they may have a different plan – and strengths – to you. So whether or not you think you shouldn’t let that person beat you, you have to let them go.

I got lots of practice at that.

I’d been hoping for a 7-hour-ish ride time, and at the half way point was bang on track at 3 hours 30 minutes. My husband had travelled up with the squad to provide some support, so when we got back into Taupo at the end of lap one, he was there as an “aid station” and also gave us some practice at thinking about our “special needs”.

During the actual race, at the start of the second lap you get a chance to pick up some additional items, or apply some things you may or may not have needed at the start. It’s kind of a contingency bag. So we had to think about what we might need in that on the day and left it with him.

Then it was back to Reporoa for lap 2.

We knew the wind was going to pick up as the day wore on, and that the direction would be favourable for a tailwind “home”. Which is good because that’s mostly uphill.

But where there’s a tailwind, there’s got to be a headwind too. And boy was there ever.

We’d faced a headwind in the same direction in the half. But you knew that we only had one lap to do. This time we’d already done 90kms and had to save some for the uphill, even with a tailwind, back.

And not only that. If we wanted to truly simulate race day, we had to be thinking that we still had a marathon to do at the end of it. So we still couldn’t (or at least shouldn’t) be putting in too much power and leave something in reserve for that run.

We needed to have some serious words with ourselves to get through it! And the main thing was knowing that the tailwind was yet to come. But that mental toughness is something we need to prepare for the day and have strategies for coming out the other side.

Total bike time ended up at 7 hours 13 minutes. That headwind took its toll as the return leg was pretty much equal to the first time around.

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With the big swim and bike behind us, that left Sunday as a recovery and race planning day. So an early morning relaxed swim and soak in the hot pools afforded us some much needed movement the next day. Although not many of us were enthusiastic about getting back in the bike saddle having spent several hours in it the day before. But Coach ran a short spin session on the indoor trainer to get the blood flowing again.

And then it was massage time. Oh hell, yes please!

With the extra, unanticipated recovery day in the middle, Monday’s long run was always going to be done on fresher legs than on the day. So this added the extra challenge of maintaining a pace that’s achievable when you’re tired, not running how you feel.

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In the two half ironmans I’ve done. I’ve got off the bike and run way faster than planned because I felt alright, which resulted in rapid fade towards the end. So for this run, it was all about slow and steady. I was aiming for a pace between 6:40 and 7:00 per km, using a run/walk strategy. With an alarm set on my watch for every 15 minutes, I inserted walk breaks at that time. In addition to walking the “aid stations” laid out by my husband and Coach.

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The key thing to this strategy is still to walk even when you feel you don’t need to, hence the alarm on the watch. It gives the body some recovery time which results in a better performance overall and delays fatigue.

In the scheduled three hours I completed one full lap and two thirds of the second lap, achieving 26kms at a pace of 6:54 per km. Just like the end of the bike on the Saturday, I didn’t treat the finish to this run as the finish I felt I could do. I maintained the same pace to the end, knowing that I’d have another 16kms to run on the day.

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So the overall takeaways from the weekend were confidence and a few learnings. Confidence I can do the distance. And learnings to help me get there stronger.

Records this week

Longest swim/longest open water swim: 3722m

Longest ride (distance): 178kms

Longest ride (duration): 7 hours 13 minutes

Longest run (distance): 26kms

Longest run (duration): 2 hours 59 minutes

Training stats for the week

Swim: 6597m

Bike: 202km (plus one Group Ride class)

Run: 40.4kms

Total duration: 18 hours 20 minutes

(stats include Monday 23 Jan to cover training camp)





Countdown to Ironman: 7 weeks to go

16 01 2017

I’m training to go slower.

I know, I know. That sentence seems to go against everything you think is right with preparing for a race.

Usually, you train to go faster. But for Ironman, I’m going to say I’m training to go better.

It’s such a big event that, for your first one especially, there’s no point having a time goal. I can tell you what I think I’m capable of doing it in, but I’m not interested in beating a time.

I want to finish. End of story.

So that means I need to pace myself to leave enough in my legs for the run at the end. After all, I’ve never even run a marathon. Let alone run one after a 3.8km swim and a 180km bike ride.

This week saw the second longest run of our training plan. It’s a great opportunity to practice what you plan to do on race day. Knowing I’m going to be coming into this on tired legs, I’ll be adopting a run/walk strategy. This involves setting certain times to run for, and then walking a little. And no matter how you feel, you walk.

I know that my strategy will be to walk all the aid stations. At about 2.5kms apart, the run in between will take approx. 15 mins, maybe a little more. So in training I’ve set an alarm on my watch to go off every 15 mins, at which point I slow down, take a breather and walk for a minute.

It’s pretty hard for the first walk break when you’re in training because you’re fresher than you will be on the day, even with the fatigue from the rest of your training. So your head tells you that you can keep going. But on race day I won’t be ignoring an aid station, even the first one, so I force myself to walk.

It’s good for the mind, the body, and the soul.

So despite the run being much slower than I’d normally pace myself, I’m probably keeping my form better – a friend said she saw me as I was heading towards home and that I looked strong and in good form still.

This is important as it shows there’s still something left in the tank, and I’m still running efficiently. I won’t be using up more energy than I need to.

Making it happen – no excuses

We have a phrase in our squad – no excuses. It doesn’t matter what the weather, or if you’ve had a bad day at work, the training still has to happen somehow. Or you risk making it hard for yourself on the day.

Fitting in all the training this week ahs been a challenge . I was travelling for two days with work so moved a couple of workouts around to fit that. I knew a bike on Wednesday would be tricky so decided to do it first thing Tuesday morning before I went away.

The weekend’s weather was a bit hit and miss. With a long ride scheduled for Sunday, but with a forecast for a really windy day, some of us switched our days round and went for the big bike on Saturday instead. This did leave tired legs for the bike hill reps on Sunday, but we weren’t out in the rubbish weather for too long. And rubbish it was. I encountered headwinds, crosswinds and tailwinds, all on one rep! Character-building is one way of putting it.

And the day the long run was planned was living up to Windy Wellington standards. But hey, what’s an extra bit of resistance training? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Right?

Getting these sessions done, making them happen, are big achievements, not just physically but mentally. Making those Training Peaks boxes go green are so satisfying. But also completing them in less-than-ideal conditions brings extra pride!

 

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A nice morning for a BRICK (not!)

 

Dealing with mechanicals

It’s fair to say I’ve been pretty lucky with my lack of “mechanicals” during all my time riding over the last 18 months. So I was probably due my share. They just all happened to come in the same week.

As I mentioned, I chose to do my midweek bike on Tuesday morning before setting off on a work trip. As I neared home, I heard a loud metallic “ping”. I had no clue what it was and wondered if it was a loose stone just hitting my wheel.

I continued towards home, knowing that the stiff headwind would be a challenge as I approached the last hill to my house, but as I rounded the corner to face the northerly, it felt like it was harder than it should have been. So I stopped. On inspection, my rear wheel was rubbing against the frame. I couldn’t work out why. I tried to reset the wheel but couldn’t get it straight.

Luckily a group ride was passing and they stopped to offer a hand. It’s kind of law in cycling that if you see someone on the side of the road, you check they’re OK. The first guy couldn’t work out what was wrong either. It wasn’t until another joined the inspection that he spotted the problem.

One of my spokes had snapped. Completely in half. The spokes are installed to such a tension that one snapping easily buckles the wheel. And this is why it was rubbing the frame.

 

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First broken spoke

 

I couldn’t get the wheel booked in to be repaired until after the weekend, so I borrowed a wheel from my husband’s TT bike so I could still train on my own TT. We were 5 hours 10 minutes into our long ride when I pointed out some glass on the road to my fellow riders. Literally two seconds later I got a puncture. On my borrowed wheel.

I’ve had plenty of practice changing tyres in workshops and at home, but this was my first roadside fix. My two companions enjoyed the unintended rest stop while I, quite swiftly I’m proud to say, got the tyre changed. I think I spent more time looking for what caused the puncture than actually changing it!

It was only my second time using a CO2 canister to inflate my tyre, so with some trepidation I set it up, expecting a cartoon-like inflation. In reality it was much more underwhelming but it’s such a great time and energy saver to have those things handy.

About 10 minutes was all it took and we were back on the road!

Records this week

Longest ride (distance): 133.6lms

Longest ride (duration): 5 hours 22 minutes

First roadside tyre change

First broken spoke.

Training stats for the week

Bike: 183kms (plus a Group Ride spin class)

Swim: 7950m

Run: 36.8kms

Total time: 17 hours 38 minutes

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Countdown to Ironman: 8 weeks to go

7 01 2017

This week is a recovery week.

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That may sound like bliss with lots of nothing, but I still had a total of 11.5 hours of training in my plan. Not counting the two Group Power classes I was scheduled to teach.

Recovery weeks are vital to reducing the training load a little and allowing your muscles (and mind) some time to get over the fatigue it’s been through, and is about to go through in the coming weeks.

Our plans seem to work on a 3 or 4 week cycle of harder training followed by a recovery week. Given the success Coach seems to have at this game, I’m pretty confident he’s got the recipe right.

In the build up to the half, I wasn’t very good at taking rest days. Sometimes it was hard to fit everything in to the planned days, so I’d often swim on a rest day. I find this is the least stressful activity and is mostly upper body, leaving your legs alone a bit. But there’s always the mental aspect of motivating yourself to go. And I’m sure there is an element of fatigue that is still there.

The week started with New Year. Not so much “new me” as I don’t think I have time for resolutions right now. Except maybe to get more sleep.

Yeah. I’m not very good at that one!

But one thing I am going to resolve to doing better is respecting rest days.

One thing Coach has drummed home is that fatigue is there, whether you can feel it or not. Sometimes it’s deep down making it barely noticeable.

So while you might feel fresh as a daisy and ready for that extra workout (after all, the more you do, the better you’ll perform, right?), in actual fact, you might be doing more harm than good by adding to the fatigue.

It also means you get to sleep in a little later. This morning my alarm was set for 7am.

Yep.

On a weekday.

An alarm starting with 7!!

Aside from the rude awakening from Mother Earth at a little after midnight, that meant I had a good 7.5 hours sleep.

During recovery weeks I also grant myself a bit more leeway with the workouts if I’m not feeling it. Wednesday morning’s swim wasn’t going well. I felt fatigued and that my form was all off. I had 2400m scheduled but managed 1550m before calling it quits.

Something is better than nothing. Even if your Training Peaks goes amber instead of green.

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But it’s also better mentally.

There’s nothing worse than forcing yourself to complete a workout that isn’t going well. It gets the mind playing games with you.

“Am I really up for this?”

“But will I even get out of the swim?”

“How will I manage 3.8kms if I can’t even do 2.4?”

I know I can do it. Just look at Monday when I managed 3.2kms. OK, so I haven’t done the full distance yet, but I know I can do another 600ms. Because I know how to pace myself.

One bad workout doesn’t wreck your whole plan. When the mind plays games, how you fight back is key at times like this.

Time to put up the defensive block and counter attack.

And I will win.





Race recap: Ironman 70.3 Taupo – the sequel

4 01 2017

This race recap is a bit of an epic. So I’ll start with a summary in case you only want the highlights.

I smashed it.

Although it’s never good to set yourself a time goal, I had one in my head. But I made sure I had tiered goals, just in case.

Goal 1: finish. Simple as that. And be happy with it because it’s still an amazing achievement.

Goal 2: beat last year’s time of 6 hours 18 minutes. A good bet because I’m stronger and better at the swim and bike. But anything can happen on race day so be prepared for things outside your control affecting your time.

Goal 3: go sub-6 hours. If all goes well, I believe this is achievable.

And achieve it I did. With room to spare.

5 hours 52 minutes. That’s a 26 minute PB.

In all honesty, I probably went a little too hard on the bike. This is where the biggest chunk of time is spent and is therefore your biggest chance of shaving minutes. I wanted to go under 3 hours so was gunning for this. I made it in 3 hours and 7 seconds!

That did mean the run was pretty hard and I had to dig deep to keep up the momentum, even as my pace slowed as the run wore on.

While I did take the biggest chunk of time off the bike (18 minutes), I’m happiest with my swim time. I took six minutes off that. While that doesn’t sound a lot, when you’re taking it off 44 minutes, as a percentage, it was the biggest gain.

Not only that, but the swim is much more about you. You can buy minutes on the bike leg. I’d bought a new bike. New race tyres to shave off a few more minutes. But the swim is you and your technique. And how well you handle open water swimming.

You know you did good when your coach yells at you, both at the swim exit AND three hours later on the run course, that you “killed it”. And then at that night’s BBQ, he asks if you cheated! LOL

I honestly don’t know where the speed came from. I’m a rubbish swimmer in the pool. But the wetsuit just streamlines my body position so much more, enabling me to focus on everything else, like my stroke length, head position and breathing. I wasn’t even drafting as I was on my own for long periods. So it was all me!

The run was a bit meh. My legs were pretty shot after the mammoth bike and all I could think about was working out what time I needed to do to finish sub-6h. I was trying to do the maths all the way round the course! Even though I slowed badly on the second lap, I still beat my previous run time with 2 hours 6 minutes, scraping 2 minutes off.

Despite the pain, as soon as the finish chute comes into sight, you get a buzz, you find an extra gear to finish strong. You want to look good for the finish line photo after all!

The medal and finisher towel, and the hug from hubby, makes all the pain worthwhile.

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The longer version!

In the days leading up to the race, even I got sick of hearing myself starting almost every sentence with “Last year…”

Truth is, it was hard not to draw comparisons, or on the experience I’d had in 2015.

I’d been here before. It wasn’t new to me. But I still must have been really annoying.

The 2015 race had gone so well for me I didn’t want to mess with the recipe (nothing new on race day, remember!).

But the only difference was I had the confidence that I’d done this before. This year I knew what my body could do. I knew could do this.

Race day dawned and there was a threat of rain and some wind on the bike course. The good news was the wind would give us a much needed push up the hill back into Taupo – which is unusual as it was the opposite direction to the prevailing wind.

That didn’t bother me. As long as the lake was flat for the swim. Luckily the wind direction was always going to mean calm waters.

After my tried and tested race breakfast of porridge, we set off for transition to do final preparations on the bikes. Mine was racked in a great place, right in line with the transition entry and exit gangways. I didn’t even need to remember which row I was in!

Once that was all sorted, we meandered down to the lakefront to meet with fellow squaddies and share some banter and camaraderie.

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Before we knew it, the squad was dwindling in size as the age wave starts began and people started wandering off to the starting “pen”.

Then it was our turn. As you can see from the photo, there were a few of us in my wave (fluoro green caps) so we had plenty of company. I wasn’t feeling any nerves, probably because I put no pressure on myself in the swim and I just want to finish it. Without putting that pressure on myself, I find I can keep myself pretty calm.

The Swim

I had a plan.

I wanted to swim smoothly, focus on my stroke and head position, and maintain breathing every three strokes. If I felt I needed to breathe more often, I would know I was going too hard and to slow down. I also wanted to catch some drafts if possible as this was something I felt I benefitted from heavily last year.

The first bits went very much to plan. I paced myself well so that I could keep my breathing regular. And my stroke felt long and strong. But I was on my own for so much of the race, I might as well have been the only one in the water.

I occupied my thoughts with working out what time the clock would say if I exited the water in the same time as last year. I was convinced that, without catching any drafts, I wouldn’t have gained much on my 2015 pace.

When I sighted, I felt I was also straying quite wide so figured I was going to end up swimming a longer distance too. I would have been happy to come out in an equal time and I knew that meant the clock would say 7.24am.

As I turned towards shore, the clock was illuminated above the exit timing gantry and made for a great sighting target. I followed my plan to the letter to make sure my hands touched the bottom twice before I stood up. I was desperate to see the time, but knew that if I stood up too early I’d be wading through water that was too deep.

When I got up and focused on the time, I was pretty astounded to see 7.18am on the clock and knew straight away what that meant.

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On the 400m trot along the carpet towards transition I encountered my cheering squad (hubby and friends) and then my coach and non-competing squad mates. Coach had said he was going to remind me to celebrate the end of the swim (after I forgot last year!), but just seeing them made me raise my hands and punch the air!

Transition was fairly straight forward and before long I was wheeling my bike out to the mount line to get going on the longest and loneliest portion of the race.

It also turns out I must have swum straighter than last year as I swam less distance!

The Bike

Because Lake Taupo is a beautiful freshwater lake, drinking during the swim is never a problem. The triathlons that take place around Wellington always involve a harbour swim so you don’t want to be swallowing gob fulls of salt! You typically do though, which means you’re desperate for some water when you hit the bike.

So it’s very refreshing to not feel that you desperately need to reach for your water bottle the minute you’re on the bike.

Hitting the lakefront on the way out of town, I could feel the light rain and see the roads were wet. I wondered if we’d get hit with a downpour and have to ride slower, or if we’d get away with it.

There’s always a photographer on this section, so I like to give them a smile and wave, and two thumbs up. After all, if I’m on the bike, that means I survived the swim right?

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Hitting the first hill out towards Reporoa, I was passed by Ange, one of my squad mates in my age wave. The great thing about our squad is we’re totally supportive of each other and want to see everyone do well. So there’s no animosity, only encouragement.

For about the first 20kms, Ange and I played “leap frog” as the varying terrain was a leveller. I even commented on it once as I passed her! But then the awesome Ange found her stride and took off, leaving me in her wake.

The rain didn’t materialise so it was a pretty pleasant ride and we weren’t hampered by the need to slow down for cornering in the wet.

As I mentioned earlier though, I was expecting a bit of a headwind on the way out to Reporoa. It was definitely noticeable. Not by Wellington standards of course! But still enough to lower your kph a little.

Because I wanted a 3 hour bike, I was gunning for Reporoa in 1h 30. Although the course changed from last year and added a little dog leg on the way out, I didn’t know if that meant the town was exactly half way or not.

I got there a little over my hoped for time. So the mind games started playing a little. Would I get any benefit at all from the wind going back? Would that “heartbreak hill” (again, not by Wellington standards) slow me down? What would I have left in my legs at the end?

As it happened, the wind certainly did have an effect. My bike splits between the way out and back showed around 3kph difference. Doesn’t sound a lot does it? But trust me. It’s huge.

I didn’t know this at the time though, and all I could focus on was my total time elapsed and how far I had left to go, working backwards to that desired 3 hour finish.

I hit “heartbreak hill” and just kept the power on. I knew the motorsport park that (sort of) signals the end of the climb, was after a left hand bend. I remember approaching one left hander thinking to myself that this couldn’t be the one as I’d got there so quickly.

But it was. I’d barely noticed the 10kms of climbing.

As I drew closer to town I was flying as much, and as safely as I could down the hills. I knew the course had changed from last year and the turn off the main road was one road later. It’s always your responsibility to know the course.

Only the guy in front of me didn’t as he slowed to take the turn we’d taken previously. And the marshall stood on the junction wasn’t doing a great job at directing him either.

Penned in by cones, I couldn’t easily go past the slowing rider, slamming on the brakes until he almost pulled into the closed road. I yelled “KEEP GOING” as I sailed past him (eventually) and took the turn at the next road.

All the way towards the bike finish I kept telling myself to remember to hit the lap button on my Garmin to make sure I got an accurate bike and transition time. When I got there I noticed I was just under 3 hours – but forgot that I’d started it about 30 seconds late when I set off. I think I can disregard those extra 7 seconds though. To all intents and purposes, I did it in 3 hours.

The Run

The short run with your bike into transition can often help to loosen the legs up for the last phase. The goal of triathlon is to be able to run strongly off the bike, so the faster you can get your running muscles warmed up, the better your run will be.

My plan had been to try and maintain a slow pace at first, building up to steady pace on both laps of the run. Last year I’d gone on feel and run a bit too fast on the first lap, slowing down badly on the second.

A couple of kms in I felt like I was running comfortably but took a glance at my pace. I was running about 20 seconds per km faster than I wanted to. I thought to myself “I must slow down – I won’t be able to keep this up”.

I honestly thought I was slowing myself down but my watch kept saying the same time. Then the hills came. They’re not big, but on tired legs they’re energy sapping. I managed to keep running up the second one to the 5km turn, knowing there was a fair bit of downhill to come.

My focus was just on keeping going. At each aid station I walked (which is always my plan) and took on board water and electrolyte drinks mostly. I grabbed a banana at one point when I felt hungry, and then grabbed a gel for extra energy.

At the end of the lap there’s a big, steep climb into transition and I knew I’d probably have to walk it. My legs were heavy and if I wanted to finish in a decent(ish) time, I knew that walking the hills was going to have to be my survival strategy.

Heading out on the second lap I did not feel the same as last year. Whereas I’d had plenty in the tank in 2015 and was happy to head out for lap 2, this time around I was already feeling sore and wanted it to be over.

As I was heading back to the lakefront, just 11kms in, coach yelled out “what would you say to your gym class?” referring to my part-time job as a group fitness instructor. I tried desperately to think about what I’d say to them – but I’m usually asking them to push towards the finish in a much shorter timeframe! I’m not willing them on for another 10km run when they’ve already done one. On top of the 1.9km swim and 90km bike!

Feeling the need for constant energy boosts, but not wanting gels, I started drinking flat coke at the aid stations. It may sound weird, but it’s a well used drink to give your muscles that extra oomph. I’d never used it before (I know, I know, nothing new on race day! But desperate times and all that). I soon learned that I needed to wash it down with water afterwards as I was left feeling very thirsty if I drank nothing after it.

The hill up to the last turn for home felt like a big old slog this time. I jogged up it as far as I could, but succumbed to the walk pretty quickly. I wasn’t going to be tempted by the Red Bull though!! Even if it is diluted.

At the following aid station there’s a photographer taking photos as you exit. You can see the marked difference in my body language between laps one and two as I struggled to get going after the walk the second time around.

I’m not smiling in any of my run photos to be honest, which I think goes to show how hard it was.

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By the 18km mark I was really starting to struggle but knew I was approaching the last aid station and then it was the home stretch. I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

As every km ticked by, my pace seemed to be slowing further and although I wanted to beat my run time from last year (after all, I’d beaten all my other times) I wasn’t sure I’d have it in me. I was doing the calculations and trying to summon up a bit more from deep down somewhere to just get the job done. After all, if I wanted to get my sub-6h time, I didn’t need to beat my run time. I knew I’d bought enough leeway with the swim and bike to give me a little cushion.

But that’s not like competitive me…

So onwards I pushed.

I passed the crowd of squad mates with about 1km to go and they all cheered and said hugely encouraging things. I can’t even remember what they said but I do remember trying to raise my hands above my head and not having the energy. That’s how the run had sapped energy from my whole body.

That final hill up to transition loomed and I knew I wanted to finish strong. But I honestly didn’t know if I would be able to. My legs were like lead. I had to walk. There was nothing that could have got me up that hill any faster. Then stepping onto the grass, I knew this was it. The last 100m or so. That famed red carpet emblazoned with the MDOT logo beckoned.

It was by no means a sprint, but I managed to pick up the pace and pass a guy in the finish chute. That felt good! It also meant I wouldn’t be sharing my finisher photo with anyone else.

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The cheers from the crowds as I powered down that carpet gave me the final push and I managed to raise my arms this time. I’d done it.

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As I crossed the line a volunteer draped a towel around me, placed my all-important medal around my neck, and walked me off to the side. I wasn’t quite sure how I managed to stay standing, but I did. And I even took off my own timing chip.

Hubby barged his way through the crowds to give me a huge, and very welcome hug, telling me he believed I’d got under 6. I already knew.

I knew what my times were. I’d been calculating and pushing for times all along.

I knew I’d beaten my run time from last year on top of the huge gains in the swim and bike.

It had been painful. But it was worth it.

And now for the next challenge.

Ironman.