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.

fb_img_1520631677482.jpg

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’.

IMG_20180305_082053_687

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.

IMG_20180303_222624_327

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!).

Photo 5-03-18, 3 30 29 PM (1)

Advertisements




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!

FB_IMG_1520146486269

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.

FB_IMG_1520631800503

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.

FB_IMG_1520631768320

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.

fb_img_1520145226538.jpg

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.

FB_IMG_1520148441091

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.

FB_IMG_1520631756742

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.

FB_IMG_1520145241079

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.





Ironman Race Day: the bike

13 03 2017

One down. Two to go.

As I mentioned in my last post about the swim, the bike leg was probably the one I feared the most. Not because don’t like the bike. I’ve grown to really love cycling since I started playing this game.

The bike is the Ironman element with the most variables. In my mind, it’s the one where there’s a lot more beyond your control.

In the swim and run, essentially it’s you and the elements. As we already know, the Ironman New Zealand swim on this day was one to be reckoned with. But all you’ve got is how you deal with it.

On the bike, there’s so much more that you *potentially* have to deal with.

The weather. The bike. The road. Other vehicles. Other cyclists.

And it’s the biggest portion of your whole day, leaving it wide open to being the section that makes or breaks it.

Not only are there the elements outside your control, there’s a lot within your control that can make or break it too.

Pace. Nutrition. Concentration.

My race plan called for an easy first lap of the two-lap ride. And knowing that I’d face approximately 90kms of headwind, I knew I had to save my legs for the two return sections back towards Taupo.

This meant I had to let myself be overtaken on the long slog out of town at the start of the ride. I had to resist the urge to chase down the riders flying past me. This wasn’t a race against them.

It was a race against me.

My bike leg didn’t get off to a great start. Coming out of T1, other athletes were stopping right on the mount line to get on their bikes, blocking the whole road off to those of us behind. I had to yell “move forward” a few times to get some space to  move through the chaos.

When I clipped in and tried to set off, I somehow managed to ride straight into the barrier on the side of the road. It wasn’t major but it did mean resetting myself and trying not to rush as much.

Then when I was heading down Lake Terrace I could hear a rather loud and obnoxious voice behind me belonging to a male competitor yelling at the girl behind me that she was “rocking the tartan”. As he drew alongside me he started drifting sideways straight towards me, heading for a direct side swipe if he didn’t stop. Loudly I yelled “Oi, watch it mate” which drew no recognition from him as he carried on in his own obnoxious world (Waitakere Tri Club if you’re reading this, you might know which member I’m talking about). His obnoxiousness was confirmed a few minutes later as we headed past the Taupo Hilton and I could once again hear him yelling about it’s meant to hurt.

Not that early on it isn’t mate.

Anyway, I left him to his own devices and focused on my own race.

At the first aid station I’d intended to grab a bottle of Nuun to add to my resources. A combination of the volunteers not being quite with it, and me riding a touch too fast meant that didn’t happen. I didn’t let it phase me though as I had a bottle of Perpetuem and half a bottle of water already on my bike so I knew I’d be fine until the next aid station 15kms away.

I had no idea where anyone else from my squad was so wasn’t sure if or when I’d see them at all. Given it’s an out and back course, there was a good chance I’d get to see some, if not most of them at some point.

The first leg out to Reporoa was a breeze. We had the wind on our tail and it’s mostly downhill. It was pretty uneventful and sped by quickly. I only saw one of my squaddies already heading back so when I reached the turn I wanted to keep a keen eye out for the others.

Immediately after the turn I saw one of them, and then gradually I spotted more going past. Seeing as you’re out there for such a long time, with very little to occupy your mind, you have to force it to do things to prevent boredom and keep alert. Spot the Squaddie was one way I did this.

One of my squad besties hasn’t had the best experiences in open water in the past so I was desperate to see if she’d made it. It wasn’t until she was pretty much level with me going in the other direction that I spotted her and a huge sense of relief came over me. And not only that she did it in a great time. I could tell from how close she was to me.

I saw other squaddies further behind and was a little surprised. I’d expected them to be ahead of me. But then the swim had been a shocker so I was just relieved to see they’d made it out. And anyway, they were all better than me on the bike so I was expecting them to pass me at some point.

The turn itself brought the immediate realisation of the headwind. We knew it was going to be there. But we hadn’t quite realised how much.

On the way out I’d watched the pros heading back in the other direction and thought they looked like they were battling and grinding the gears a little too much for my liking. I wondered if it was an illusion.

It wasn’t. It was real alright.

For 45kms we had to slog back towards Taupo, mostly on an incline, then turn round and do it all again.

It was one of those times that training in “Windy Wellington” paid off. It was just like any other training day this summer. So that’s how I thought of it.

Yes it was hard. But I fought the urge to look at my pace, knowing it would dishearten me and mess with my head.

Eventually the Motorsport Park loomed which signalled the top of the incline, and what I thought would be an easy 6km spin downhill into town.

Except it wasn’t. It was one of those times when you had to pedal downhill because the headwind is that strong it might stop you if you didn’t.

Coming down towards the town I was trying to keep positive about going out for lap 2. One of my squaddies shot past me giving me words of encouragement and I silently wished him luck, slightly jealous of his strength and pace at that point. But I was upbeat.

Turning round for lap 2 would mean I’d get around 40kms of “recovery” with the downhill tailwind. It was a great way to think about it.

Although when I saw some of our supporters and them coach at the special needs stop, I did have a little moan about the wind. Both of them gave me a swift kick up the arse that basically can be summarised as “suck it up buttercup”. I couldn’t do anything about it, so it was down to how I dealt with it.

After topping up my Perpetuem and grabbing my emergency peanut butter sandwich (for real!) I carried on my merry way. I knew I was unlikely to beat my goal time of 7 hours but I was happy just to be taking part. It was one of those moments I relished having the ability to be out there. I was determined.

The same games occupied my brain for the outbound leg, but also one of pacing myself. I knew the last leg would be hard again with the headwind, and I was conscious of needing something left for the run.

At one such point I was slowly gaining on another rider. I absent-mindedly strayed into his “draft zone” (you can’t ride within 12 metres of the rider in front of you as you’re deemed to be benefitting from their slipstream). I was debating whether to try and overtake him or whether I should save my legs. I wasn’t sure how hard I’d need to go to get past as he was only marginally slower than I was.

At this point one of the event Technical Officials (TO) rode up alongside me on a motorbike and sternly asked if I was going to overtake or fall back. Forcing me to make a decision I said I would fall back. He told me to make the decision sooner as I only had 25 seconds to overtake once I got into the draft zone. He said I was two seconds away from getting a penalty (of 5 minutes).

It’s one of those things that’s quite marginal. Trying to work out what 12 metres looks like, and how long you’ve been there when time seems to be in some kind of strange continuum, is pretty hard. I wasn’t right on the tail of the guy in front, but I probably was in his draft zone. How long I’d been there is a question I have no concept of. Time just seemed irrelevant.

But the experience forced me to think about my strategy. I decided I would pass anyone I approached on that outbound leg to make the most of the tailwind. When I caught up with the original rider I’d been caught behind, I put the hammer down to overtake. Same with another guy I approached before the turn.

When we got to Reporoa this time I collected my second armband to indicate I’d done the full course. This time around the headwind seemed to have subsided a little. It was still there, but not as strong or as in your face. This buoyed me and I was looking forward to getting the last 45kms done.

I was on the home stretch. Now just to hope there were no mechanicals on the way back.

I’d had a few punctures in training so was desperately hoping I’d used them all up and was owed a puncture-free ride. Every km closer meant another km nearer to having an event-free ride.

My coach’s guide to Ironman, which is very thorough by the way, explained that, if you followed his advice and took it easy early on (i.e. letting yourself be overtaken and not chasing people) then you’d start to pass them all on this leg. And how true it was. I passed quite a few riders who were struggling with the wind and maintaining the stamina the thought they’d still have. Their gas tanks were running low.

But I felt good. My tank still had some gas in it.

As the long 10km climb loomed, the headwind pick up again, but I was still going strong. And before I knew it the Motorsport Park was in sight again. The sense of relief was overwhelming. This really was the home straight.

I turned into the downhill but still needed to pedal more than I would have liked. I tried to make the gears easier than normal to get my legs turning at a higher cadence in readiness for the run.

Along Centennial Highway, a few spectators were dotted around cheering us on and reminding us we were nearly there. Even my supporters had popped up the road to this point and they almost missed me! If I hadn’t spotted them and started waving!

Turning into Spa Road I knew I was home and dry. If something went wrong I could carry the god damn bike to transition! But it didn’t. I escaped the bike unscathed after my early close calls.

As I got off my bike and raced towards transition I spotted my husband among the bike catchers (your bike is taken for you, there’s no need to rack it yourself). He ran down the hill and grabbed my bike, telling me he was so proud of me in the process, as he grabbed it and ran off with it.

I hit the lap button on my Garmin watch to end the bike time. It said 7 hours 10 minutes. Although I hadn’t got my goal time I was still pleased in those conditions. I was still surprised only one of my squaddies had passed me, but I was running my own race and knew they’d be running theirs.

This time the volunteer was waiting with my T2 bag raised. Again, I’d decorated it so I didn’t even need to read the number to check it was mine. I knew which one it was at a distance. Which was handy as a number of bags were held up close together.

wp-1489202462222.jpg

I raced into the tent and called another volunteer to help me. She started sorting my gear out and helping me undress/redress, while another ran up to me with a bottle in either hand, asking me “sun cream or Vaseline?”

I only needed sun cream. I’d regretted not getting any in T1 (not that it was offered) as my hands felt like they’d caught the sun after 7 hours in aero position!

As I went to put my shoes on I got a twinge of cramp in my left calf. I mentioned it to the volunteer who was helping and she immediately went to work on it, giving it a rub. It was like she had magic hands as it subsided quickly and I was ready to go.

As I exited the changing tent, volunteer hubby was there again with a cup of Nuun and another hug. He knew exactly what I did.

Now I was off the bike, barring a complete disaster, it wasn’t a case of if I would finish. It was now simply a case of when.

I hadn’t run further than 26kms in training, or in my life.

I was about to complete my first marathon. Ever.





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.

15355597_10153935145971150_6725652779853901013_n

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.

15284903_10155487808054256_6984252725726444305_n

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.

62_3rd-628957-digital_highres-1565_000620-5968571

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?

71_3rd-628957-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-1565_008943-5968580.JPG73_3rd-628957-digital_highres-1565_011062-5968582

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.

74_3rd-628957-digital_highres-1565_012560-596858379_3rd-628957-digital_highres-1565_016981-5968588

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.

85_3rd-628957-digital_highres-1565_021886-5968594

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.

90_3rd-628957-digital_highres-1565_027748-5968599

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.

 





Getting to the start line

22 12 2016

While this is only my second half ironman, it’s amazing how different it was planning this year’s race compared to last year.

I knew I could do it. I’ve done it before. I know what my body is capable of now.

But that also meant it was a bit more of a challenge planning my goals for the event.

I’ve got a time recorded now. I know what I’ve done it in before. But I was a bit loathe to put any time goals in writing.

It’s such a long event, and with three disciplines to complete, so much can happen that’s beyond your control.

The Boss always encourages us to think about what elements of each section will make it a success for us. And not to make it about the time.

A couple of weeks out from the event, as I was starting to think all of this through and write it down, every athlete’s worst nightmare happened.

I picked up an injury.

It was my last long run before the event so it wasn’t a fast one. It was slow and steady with regular walk breaks thrown in.

But a niggle flared up in my right knee.

I felt it last year in a milder form so I knew it was likely to be ITB friction syndrome. It’s a common overuse injury in runners and I knew it could certainly impact that element of my race.

So while not completely ruling me out, my physio ordered me to take a break from running before Taupo 70.3. But it did put my goal-setting into perspective.

Given the amount of training you have to do for any endurance event, getting to the start line has to be goal number one.

Your body undergoes so much stress during those hours of training that injuries are often unavoidable. But the goal is to avoid those that are severe enough to prevent you from taking part altogether.

So goal number one of my race plan was that.

Starting.

Goal number two was finishing.

Anything on top of that is a bonus.

taupo-703





The benefits of training together

7 03 2016

I’m in awe.

I’ve just watched a bunch of people I now call my friends achieve their dreams.

They’re all Iron Men.

In total, 17 of my former training squad mates crossed the Ironman 2016 finish line in Taupo. 11 of them had never done it before. I’m not entirely certain how many will be back!

Most of these people had trained up for one of the half ironman distance events in December or January. Most of them had trained together as part of the group I was involved with. This meant Tuesday night run meetings and long rides as a group on Saturdays.

Before the squad started, I didn’t know any other cyclists. I tried to prep for squad starting by getting out on a few longish rides on my own. And that’s how I felt. On my own.

They were lonely hours. OK, there were only a couple at a time, but I try to think about how I’d have fared if I’d been left to my own devices as the kms ramped up through training.

And not only that, but how much would I have challenged myself?

The answer is that I almost certainly wouldn’t have done as much, as hard. I probably wouldn’t have done as well as I did in the half.

And it definitely wouldn’t have been as much fun.

Motivation on those group rides comes in many forms. Whether it’s someone taking the lead to create the draft for everyone else’s benefit. Or it’s the verbal encouragement to get each other up the latest incline (or hill from hell!) that The Boss pointed us up. Or it may have just been from seeing others manage it that made it seem that much more achievable for you.

But almost as important was the ability to make each other smile throughout. No matter how sore your legs, or how much the mind wanted to give up, a few jokes later and your humour, and determination was restored.

And the lure of a well-earned coffee and cheese scone at the end always helped.

After we got through the half distance events, we all waxed lyrical about what we’d gained from those runs and rides we’d done together. How we’d got each other through the tough training sessions. And even how we’d contributed as a group to the individual successes.

The same conversations were repeated at the weekend as our Iron Men basked in their well-deserved glory. I’m sure they were just trying to make those of us who wimped out feel better.

The journey to Ironman, or even the half, is not for the faint hearted. There is some body-breaking, ball-busting training to get through. But the fact that you’re in it, neck deep in some cases, with like-minded people, who face the same challenges as you – balancing life, work and training – gives you a lift when you need it most.

I wouldn’t set foot on this journey any other way.

*Dedicated to my Amigos. The good friends I made on this journey and who’ll remain friends for the next stage of it

12540564_10153782861782649_4088390979037221307_n

The Amigos

12002792_1109382609089339_7197722678618665476_n