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.

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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.

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The longer version!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Swim

I had a plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that’s not like competitive me…

So onwards I pushed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It had been painful. But it was worth it.

And now for the next challenge.

Ironman.

 





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.

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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

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The Amigos

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Match report: I am an Ironman

16 12 2015

Well, half of one anyway!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was it.

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

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

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

Learning: sight a bit more often.

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

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

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

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

swim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This set me up nicely for the run.

run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finish line

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

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

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

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

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

anything is possible