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.

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Ironman Race Day: the rerun

29 04 2017

It’s become a tradition.

The Ironteam supporters from our training squad – those sane enough not to be doing that crazy Ironman thing – gather photos and video footage from the day to be compiled into a video memento.

In 2016 I volunteered at Ironman NZ and helped gather footage from within transition for that year’s epic.

At the time of that unveiling I felt rather inspired. But at the time I still said nope. Uh uh. No way. Not me.

Fast forward a year and I’m one of the many stars in our squad’s 2017 edition. And I’m so glad I changed my mind.

I’ll be back again one day. To hopefully feature in another edition.





Ironman Race Day: the swim

10 03 2017

I woke up on race morning to the sound of the wind howling through the trees outside the house.

My heart sank.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t trained in wind.

After all. I live in Wellington. It’s unavoidable.

But you always hope that the training in tough conditions will prepare you for a great race when it’s calm and clear.

No such luck for us.

It was going to be like any other training day over this summer. That meant hard work.

Any time goal dreams I had went out the window.

Coach always says that you shouldn’t set time goals because it’s such a long day and there are so many variables. Weather being a big one. But you can’t help yourself. But anyway, my time was the least of my worries as I got some breakfast and headed down to transition to do the last minute prep on my bike.

Heading down to the lakeside, I met up with most of my training crew who’d gathered in the usual spot by the scenic flights office. From here we could hear the Maori warriors from the Tuwharetoa iwi arriving on their waka to lay down their challenge to us.

A challenge that was like no other Ironman New Zealand event.

The true meaning of their haka was probably lost on most of us, as we watched in horror as the waka they’d just vacated got bashed about by the choppy lake. The waka was soon to be replaced by us.

I decided not to go into the lake for a warm up swim, as I’d have around 30 minutes of standing on the shore wet before my race started, so I chose to use the first part of my race as the warm up. The plan had it down as easy to get into some rhythm and survive the “washing machine” that is the mass start.

Once the pros had been sent on their merry way, it was time to line up with the 1200 other idiots who’d got up to brave the elements. We shuffled slowly towards the beach as we were all filtered inside a narrow barrier. I could see my hubby looking everywhere for me but he was on the other side. When he spotted me he beckoned me over. But with the tight formation of bodies I didn’t think I could get across. He pleaded so I made a few polite “excuse mes” and got across, getting a good luck hug in the process.

Then into the water we went. It looked nothing like the calmness we’d seen the previous two days. Why couldn’t it have been like that? I’m sure I wasn’t the only one asking that. But, it was what it was.

At least it was warm.

And it wasn’t sea water.

Heck we’d done enough training in those conditions in Wellington Harbour. We knew all too well how yucky it is to get bashed left and right by salty waves.

It didn’t look that bad from the shore. But being in it was a completely different ball game.

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I swam out to the deepest start point in line with the course buoys. I was going to try and swim the shortest possible distance I could. But it did mean I put myself in the thick of the washing machine.
I was watching the flashing lights that count down the final three minutes before the start. But the waves were that big I was rolling around a lot and could only see the lights when I was at the top of a wave. When it got down to the last light, I gave up looking. I knew the cannon would go off at any moment and I was just focusing on trying to stop myself being swept into my fellow competitors.

Then it went off. Not as loud as I was expecting, but everyone started swimming.

1200 of us. All at once.

It’s a weird sensation swimming so close to so many people. I’ve done a fair few mass starts at smaller events, but nothing prepares you for that volume of people. Legs, arms and bodies are everywhere.

You get bashed from every direction. It’s really easy to take it personally and strike out at them. But in reality it’s not intentional. And it’s part of Ironman life.

After a few minutes (although it seems like longer) space starts to appear and you can get into a rhythm finally. I was finding a few people to draft off here and there. And the odd person who swam straight across in front of me too. But it started to go pretty well. I counted down the buoys to the turn (they’re numbered) and it felt like I was going at a great pace. The first turn buoy loomed and I felt great.

At that point I should have guessed what was in store for the return leg. In Taupo, the swim course is an out and back, keeping you closer to the shore at first, then heading deeper out into the lake for the return leg. At the first turn buoy you swim about 50m across before turning back towards the finish.

This meant swimming head on into the waves for 50m.

I remember thinking I was barely moving and the buoy wasn’t getting any closer. But I just kept plugging away. And plugging away.

Eventually the second buoy loomed and I thought it was going to get easier once we turned side on to the waves and it would be more like the outbound leg.

How wrong I was. It was just as hard.

Being out in deeper water the chop was twice as bad as the way out. Breathing became tricky because it often didn’t matter which side you were breathing on, you still got a face full of water. It reminded me of the rough Ocean Swim Series race we’d done a few weeks ago.

But at least it was fresh water this time.

Sighting was also an issue because it was difficult to see the buoys if you sighted at the bottom of a rolling wave. Not only were you trying to time your breaths, but you ended up having to feel the water and trying to sight at the top too.

So many times I just had to blindly follow those in front of me and trust they were heading in the right direction.

Each buoy took an age to arrive. I was counting them down. I knew the last one was 24 and couldn’t believe I was only by 16. I was hoping that they’d taken some buoys out so they weren’t all there in order. But they were.

One by one, I slowly reeled them in. I could feel my shoulders getting fatigued by the extra effort required just to generate some forward propulsion. But every stroke was taking me closer to the finish.

Then I finally passed the 24th buoy. It was just a case of rounding that last turn buoy and I’d be surfing back into the beach with waves.

I had no concept of how long I’d been out there but I guessed it was longer than I’d hoped for. When I finally stood up on the beach I couldn’t believe that my watch said 1 hour 29 minutes. I’d been hoping for more like 1 hour 10 or 15 so I was a bit gutted. But I knew that was behind me now and I had to focus on the next stage. At least I’d finished.

 

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Ignore the time, that’s from the pro start 15 minutes ahead of us!

 My run along the famed green carpet, that 400m jog to transition, took me past my supporters and fellow squad mates. My coach yelled out something like “great work” to which I shook my head. I had no idea who from my squad was already out, nor about the troubles some of them were having behind me. But it’s fair to say none of us had a walk in the park.

All of us made it out though. And none of us took a trip on an IRB, as many others did.

I didn’t know it at the time but close to 100 people got pulled out of the lake by lifeguards. They had to delay the start of the half ironman race by 45 minutes because the lifeguards were so busy with Ironman competitors that there weren’t enough free to ensure the safety of the 70.3 athletes. I imagine that was quite hard to deal with from their perspective.

I ran up to transition and straight to the line where my bag was. I shouted my number three times but the volunteer hadn’t even moved. Luckily I’d put some decoration on my bag to make it easy to spot, so I just grabbed it on my way past and ran to an available volunteer in the changing tent.

As she tipped the contents of my bag onto the ground she told me to put the swim behind me as it was over now. I can only imagine what stories she’d already heard from other competitors! She handed me my towel while she fought with my wetsuit. Piece-by-piece we got me dressed and ready to tackle the bike.
She had the process down like a well oiled machine, helping me with shoes, putting clothes on and placing items in my jersey pocket for me. It felt like ages, but in reality it wasn’t a long transition, and I headed out to find my bike to start the biggest leg, and the one I was probably dreading the most.

 





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: 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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