Ironman Race Day: the run

25 03 2017

It was great to be off the bike.

Whilst I wasn’t feeling too bad in the body, it was still seven hours predominantly in the same position. So the change of posture and muscles being used was welcome relief.

As I headed out of transition, my coach and a couple of supporters were directly ahead of the exit path. As I ran straight towards them I waved to ensure they saw me. Their positivity made me feel great.

They were just as chuffed as I was to see me running.

Well, I say I was running. It was more like jogging. But it was all forward momentum and that’s the only thing you need to achieve when it comes to the Ironman marathon.

It may sound obnoxious or arrogant to say I set off on my first ever marathon knowing it wasn’t if, but when I was going to finish. Even if I had to walk most of it, I was confident I had enough time to do that. As long as the body held out.

Just as I started on that first lap, I saw the women’s pro race winner, Jocelyn McCauley, heading towards the red carpet. I’d made it onto the run course with the pros (although they were several hours ahead of me!). It was a surprise not to see Meredith Kessler out front but great to have a new winner too.

Heading out onto Lake Terrace, I was passing other runners heading back towards the turn or finish point, depending on the number of wristbands they’d collected along the way. I remember feeling a bit dismayed at the sheer number of people who were heading to the finish already. Just like McCauley.

I was only just starting. Was I really that slow?

But I gave myself a bit of a slap. Did it even matter? Of course it bloody well didn’t. I was out on the Ironman run. I was doing it.

I was going to be an Ironman. Of that I was sure.

The sun was strong, even at 4pm, making that first lap pretty warm. My race plan was exactly what I’d practiced in training. At a minimum I’d have walk breaks for 1 minute every 15 minutes. In addition, I’d walk all of the aid stations to eat and drink.

By this stage I was totally over sweet. All that’s available on the bike is sugary in the form of gels, energy bars and even Perpetuem. The most savoury thing were bananas. Which is why my emergency PB sarnie on the bike was the bomb!

But come the first run aid station, I wanted salt. Luckily there’s more choice at this stage and a big bowl of pretzels loomed in front of me. I grabbed a handful and washed them down with a big gob full of water to soften them and make them easier to eat.

Along the entire 14km lap there’s supporters lining the streets cheering your every step. Thousands of people you’ll never know are literally cheering your name and willing you to get ever closer to that red carpet.

It’s like a new brand of nutrition. Their excitement and energy feeds you and you want to do it for them as much as yourself. The crowds are thronging at the far end of the run around the residential Wharewaka area creating a party-like atmosphere. It’s here that you pick up each of your lap wristbands to identify you’ve done each of the three laps.

Heading back towards town I knew I’d pass a bunch of our squad supporters on the waterside walkway where they’d rented a bach. They’d also teased us that they’d created a sign for each of us. I was desperate to see them to see what they’d done.

They hadn’t lied.

It was so easy to spot their house due to the line of home made painted signs lining the path! I was prepared for some piss taking but my sign was one of genuine encouragement.

The cheering squad was also out in force, spurring me on, one step at a time.

I’d deliberately turned off the auto lap function on my Garmin. This function beeps every km to show you how quickly you did it. I didn’t want to look at my watch 42 times. I just wanted to concentrate on getting to the next aid station. I’ve had this function on for the two half ironmans I’ve done and I find it distracts you and can make you stressed as, usually, your pace begins to slow as the race goes on.

I’m quite pleased to say I didn’t obsess about my pace or time at all during the day. I barely looked at my watch. It was truly a day that was ruled by my head and my body. And my heart. And not by any data.

It was truly refreshing.

At each aid station I just took what I feel like. Mostly sticking to crisps (chippies) and water or Nuun, with a Clif Shot Blok thrown in for good measure. Just like on the bike, there’s a special needs bag available as a contingency. All I’d put in here was a Wiggle gel (which I much prefer to the Clif ones on course) , some Panadol (purely preventative) and a No Doz. I’d used these caffeine tablets in training on the bike, and I’d taken one on course on the day. But I’d never used it on a run.

It was potentially a fatal error to try this out on race day, breaking the number one rule.

A few kms down the road, just before reaching our supporter house again, a debilitating stabbing cramp stopped me in my tracks. Just like it had at the end of my first half ironman.

At the time I didn’t know what had caused it. But I knew I would have to allow myself time to recover. This meant walking more because it hurt too much to run too much. I knew I’d have to deal with it.

But that’s a big part of what Ironman is.

For most people it’s not always about a time, but it’s about dealing with whatever the day throws at you and moving on.

It’s about finishing.

As I made the turnaround in town to start my last lap, I knew that the next time I’d see that piece of road, I wouldn’t be turning round. I’d be heading for the finish chute.

There was only 14 and a bit kms between me and Mike Reilly saying those famous words.

The last lap is a bit of a blur really. Well, the whole damn run is to be fair!

To cope with the cramp, I stuck to water and very little food. I may have down the odd small glass of Coke to give me some energy to make it round.

There was a super friendly volunteer at Rainbow Point and on the second lap he’d made some encouraging comment about going and getting him the next coloured wristband! He made me smile with his enthusiasm and I felt special for that fleeting moment. The fact that he probably used the same line on virtually every runner was irrelevant to me at that moment.

On this last lap he feigned dismay as he spotted the two wristbands and knew I was heading for my third, and final one. “Oh no, you’re leaving me!” he cried out. Boy did he do an amazing job of making you feel great when you really needed it!

At the aid station at the far end, I got handed a glow stick. I’d barely noticed the fading light and didn’t realise just how dark it was going to be by the time I finished.

Then I rounded the corner and ran through the lane for my last wristband. I remember feeling ecstatic at getting that furry piece of fabric wrapped around my wrist. I had just over 6kms left. And most of it was downhill.

On my way back towards town, strangers were staring hard in the dark to see how many wristbands I’d collected. You could see they wanted to say the right thing as there’s nothing worse than telling someone they’re nearly done when they’ve got another lap to do.

When they made out I had all three, the elation on their faces, and in their voices, almost matched mine. I will admit to having to choke back a few tears along the way.

Then suddenly, the lights of Taupo beckoned. They were within reach. My watch had shown a “low battery” warning and I wasn’t sure if it would make it to the finish line. You know the phrase…

Garmin data or it didn’t happen.

So I prayed it survived.

My pace quickened as I counted down the kms. I was playing leap frog with another girl who was taking more walk breaks than me but running faster when she did. As we approached the town centre, I seemed to break away from her and create some distance. Without anyone ahead of me, I was hoping to have the finish chute to myself.

Yes, that’s a little bit selfish!

As I headed towards the finish line, I had no idea what my total time was. With the conditions being as challenging as they were, I’d barely looked at my watch all day. It was great because it meant I wasn’t putting pressure on myself, and I also wasn’t playing any mind games.

Before the day, I’d said I’d be happy with anything under 14 hours. I’d tried to work out my timings while I was running, and I had a very rough idea, but it was all about the finish. not the time. So when I entered the finish chute and saw 13:50 up there, I was stoked!

I’d instructed hubby where to stand so I could give him a huge hug before I crossed the line. I wanted to share it with him and the time didn’t matter. He held me longer than I expected as the girl I’d been leap frogging entered the finish chute. He also wanted me to have the finish line to myself.

When she was far enough in front he let go and I headed down that red carpet.

Then she stopped at her supporters for some high fives before pulling out straight in front of me again. So much for having the finish line to myself!

I’d remembered a conversation the previous year about listening out for the song that’s playing as you finish. It was a great reminder to be mindful in those last few moments. Jamiroquai “A Little L” was playing and will now forever be known as my Ironman song.

Then I heard my name being called. One of our bestest squad supporters was right by the finish line.

To show her my appreciation, I ran over and gave her the biggest high five. It was a great moment and was captured perfectly by the event photographers.

Then I heard it. Mike Reilly’s infamous tones. “Annalie Brown. Wellington. You’re an Ironman Annalie. Yes sir.”

There’s no taking that title away from me now.

My official time is 13 hours 51 minutes and 14 seconds. But I don’t really care.

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I’m an Ironman. And that’s all that counts.

(And I’ve got the Garmin data to prove it).

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Looking back to look forward

15 02 2016

 

People often say don’t look back because it anchors you in the past. But sometimes it’s important to reflect on things that have been. Because it’s one key way to learn.

And that’s especially true when it comes to triathlon.

My Taupo 70.3 match report recaps the events of the day. What happened in the race. But as I look ahead to the rest of the year, and future half ironmans, what can I learn by looking back at my race plan and comparing it to the event itself?

The first thing is, I’m so glad I did a race plan. I perform better with lists. They help take the stress out of things because it makes sure you don’t forget that all-important thing like Body Glide. Or charging your Garmin.

It also takes uncertainty out of the race itself. You know what you want to do. There are no decisions to make while you’re out there, unless you have to. And that usually only happens when something hasn’t gone to plan.

A race plan also focuses you on what you can control. You can’t do anything about the weather. So if the lake’s choppy, you have to deal with it. If there’s a headwind on the bike, there’s nothing you can do. So it gets you in the mindset to focus on you. And you alone.

In comparison, following Taupo I went on holiday for three weeks. I did do some training but not tri specific, and then I went and ran a “quarter ironman distance” race in the 100th Scorching Bay triathlon series.

Because I hadn’t trained specifically for this event, I didn’t do a plan. My goal was simply to finish. I wasn’t expecting a lightening quick time as it was a hilly course. And I wasn’t properly trained for it.

But a plan might have helped a little. I didn’t feel that I suffered terribly for not having it, but I really just kept things basic. Like swim steady. Bike steady. Run steady.

OK. It was a little more sophisticated than that. But not by much! I did (just about) execute on plan. And I felt good at the end. But it might have helped to have a little more planning in the bank.

Hubby, on the other hand, didn’t plan anything and he felt flustered and disorganised on the morning of the race. This affected his headspace and he didn’t feel good about it.

He raced again a week later in the Sovereign event and planned meticulously. It definitely got things off on a better foot for him. He raced better and felt more relaxed throughout.

Learning: Always do a race plan.

I could get down into the weeds to dissect the specifics of my Taupo 70.3 plan, but rather than overthink it, I just found I wanted to ask myself one question.

Would I have done anything differently? Maybe I wouldn’t have messed with my eggy rice cake recipe. But other than that, there is absolutely nothing I would have done differently.

Even the fact that I had to adapt my plan when my nutrition wasn’t working also comes into that equation. I wouldn’t do that differently either. Because I’d planned for contingencies, I had a back-up plan. A Plan B. I also didn’t panic. And I’d hope I would do the same thing again under other circumstances.

So, looking back, for my first race, I think I did pretty good. And, looking forward, it sets me up nicely for the future.