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.

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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’.

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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.

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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!).

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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!

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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.

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The most important rite of passage for me is watching members of the local iwi come in and lay down their challenge in a haka. It’s always spine tingling and no less so this year. But to see the waka calmly lapping the beach instead of being pounded by the waves was bizarrely comforting too.

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A quick change into the wetsuit and photos taken for our coach’s Facebook page, and we were ready. Everyone seemed remarkably calm and while there were butterflies, it was more excitement than nerves.

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Once the pros had got under way it was our turn to shuffle our way into the water with 1200 other crazy people. I started swimming out to the deep water start line with some squad mates but I lost them pretty quickly. No matter. It was time for the countdown.

Three flashing lights on the shore signal the three minute countdown. This time around everybody could see them. As the first light switched off, there was a yell of “two minutes”. The second one went off to a yell of “one minute”. Now it was just time to wait for that cannon.

BOOM!

There is was. And off we went. A sea of flailing legs and arms.

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The swim

I’d set myself in a similar place to last year – inside line. Right in the thick of the action. The idea (hope) was that I’d be able to catch some good drafts to help speed me up. I kept a very tight line to the buoys, sometimes swimming inside them, sometimes outside. But I swam pretty close to them all.

I was surrounded by bodies and got bumped, kicked, punched and had my feet tickled pretty much the whole way. I was boxed out more than once but rather than get upset, you just have to take a moment and reset your line.

The swim out felt like a breeze. The turn buoys arrived quickly, but then the distance in the lake was shorter with the new swim down the river mouth to the exit.

In contrast, the return leg seemed to drag. I counted down the buoys but had no idea how many there were. I just focused on the next red one until I could see the big yellow turn buoy in the distance. I knew then that the end was coming as it signalled the turn into the river mouth.

We swam around that, taking a slight right turn towards the next yellow turn buoy right in the river mouth. This is when things started to get congested. People were wanting to swim the inside line so everyone started swimming on the right hand side.

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As we reached that buoy I thought “great, the next turn buoy will be the start of the boat ramp” which is where we were due to get out. Only I was wrong. There was another one to go. We were simply swimming around some moorings. Here is where spectators had gathered to get a close up of the action. Something they couldn’t do previously. It was weird breathing and sighting and feeling like you were being watched.

Finally the boat ramp loomed. The narrow exit, compared to a broad beach “landing” meant even more congestion. So many people all being corralled into a narrow exit point didn’t make for a fun or fast exit. Some people stood almost as soon as they could view the bottom, way too early. This meant people were standing up right in front of other swimmers, myself included. We’re always taught to swim until your hand touches the bottom twice – otherwise you’re wading through really deep water.

Not only that but the barriers to protect the swimmers from spectators meant a narrow pathway was created. I had men lined up across the whole space just walking along, whereas I wanted to get jogging. It was a frustrating experience!

But then I realised my time. My training and open water races suggested I’d exit the water at about 1 hour 15. I’d been listening for a cannon to signal the start of the 70.3 race at 1 hour 10 but hadn’t heard anything. I was wondering if I’d missed it or if they hadn’t used the cannon and maybe just used a hooter.

Anyway, when I got out my watch said 1 hour 9 minutes. I was rather stunned and wondered whether it had been kicked and paused at some point. But running past the clock on the exit gantry confirmed that I had indeed come out 6 minutes faster than I (or as it turns out, my coach) expected.

And 20 minutes faster than last year.

I was on a high. The look on my face on the run to transition kind of says it all. And is such a contrast to 2017 Annalie’s face.

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Just like last year, my transition bag was still on the floor when I got there rather than being held up by a volunteer. Luckily with my number being 898, I knew I’d be right at the back of the 801-900 line! And my bag decoration made it easy to spot.

I was waved to a chair by a spare volunteer in the tent and she set about tipping the contents of my bag onto the floor and helping me get ready. She helped pull my top on and put my spare inner tube and CO2 cannister into by back pocket.

On my way out to my bike I stopped at the aid station to get some more sun screen – knowing it was going to be a reasonably sunny day I didn’t want to take any risks in that department.

Picked up my bike and off I went. Avoiding riding into the barrier this time.





Getting ready for round 2

14 03 2018

Arriving in Taupo one year on, the same feelings of anticipation and excitement crept up. There were butterflies, but a good kind.

This was familiar territory, one I’d conquered before.

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The swim buoys were out, although not as far into the lake. A revised swim course would see us actually swim into the mouth of the Waikato River, meaning that we’d swim a shortened distance in the lake.

This year I arrived a day later. We’d driven a couple of hours north to stay with a friend before heading to Taupo early on the Thursday morning. I knew there was a bit for me to do on arrival, most importantly I had to check in. But I didn’t feel the need to be up there on the Wednesday. I’d get everything done.

At the registration tent a queue had formed well into Taupo Domain but rather than come back later, I chose to line up with the rest. Get it over and done with then I could relax. We probably waited for an hour before fronting up to the same volunteer who had checked me in last year! I recognised her straight away. She was the one who’d used a faux “Manchestoh” accent on me. Unsurprisingly her recollection of me was not the same.

Wristband applied like a home detention ankle bracelet, I was now committed.

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One thing I was dreading was the weigh in. I don’t weight myself. It’s not a relevant measure to me. I’d much rather benchmark myself against how my clothes feel or how I look in the mirror. But I had to be weighed.

I didn’t feel thinner than last year. But I weighed in 2kgs lighter. Happy days! Less weight to lug around those 180kms on the bike.

I promptly went and ate a bacon butty to celebrate.

We were also asked to show where we came from on a world map. This was to represent to global nature of Ironman New Zealand. More than half the field had come from overseas to take on the challenge. Kiwis were the minority. I decided to show both places I consider home – my Instagram post said “I’m from here and here”. British pro racer Laura Siddall responded saying she’d done the same thing!

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Once we’d settled into our bach I went about checking out the stash in the race pack. There wasn’t much worthy of note. The usual sachet of crap Invisible Zinc sun cream (more to come on that) and a mysterious envelope addressed to “Ironman Athlete”.

Inside I found a letter from Libby, from Taupo Intermediate School who said it must take a lot of grit and courage to do Ironman and gave me some motivational words for my race.

It was a touching thought, invoking more emotions at an already emotionally charged time.

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A bit of prep followed, like packing transition bags and putting race stickers in all the relevant places. And before I knew it, it was time to head out to the Welcome function. It was great to catch up with my fellow squaddies, most of whom were attempting their first IM. Surprisingly the nerves were non-existant. There was a definite buzz around the table.

Plans were made to meet for our final swim before game day. A beautiful morning dawned with a flat calm lake to greet us. Despite having read the (favourable) weather forecasts for race day, part of me couldn’t help be cynical after our experience last year. Perfect conditions the day before and hideous winds on the day.

But that was last year. This was a whole new opportunity. The main thing was just getting the last little bit of training done. It was my first open water swim in fresh water this season. And it was so refreshing after so many Wellington harbour swims!

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I headed back to the bach to complete a short bike and run. While on my ride, my rear gears were playing up. I’d had my bike serviced before I put my race wheels on (rookie error). So while the rear cassette on my race wheel is the same size as my normal wheel, it was obviously a little out.

Hubby and I worked out some logistics of taking my bike to the on site bike mechanics for a quick tune while he checked in for his race – the 70.3. I could then leave it there while we got lunch and went back to the house to get his bike.

Lunch wasn’t exactly what you would call “ideal” pre-race nutrition…but it was damn good (Thanks Pauly’s Diner!). I probably started Ironman the same weight I was last year after the post-weigh in feeds.

We both had to rack our bikes ready for the next day, and I had to drop off my transition bags. I make lists for England. And I followed my lists, ticking all my items off as I packed them. But once I dropped my bags off I started to have panics. I’d only photographed the contents of my run bag so started to panic that I’d forgotten something out of my bike bag. But really I knew it was 99.9% unlikely because of my lists! People (hubby included) laugh at my super organised race plan – but it’s a confidence builder/stress reliever for me.

Back at the house and the final few race pre activities got completed as I ticked more things off my list. Watch on charge. Dinner eaten. Race number tattoos applied.

A million alarms set.

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All that was left to do was get some sleep….





Ironman Race Day: the rerun

29 04 2017

It’s become a tradition.

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

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

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

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

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





Ironman Race Day: the run

25 03 2017

It was great to be off the bike.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They hadn’t lied.

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

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

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

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

It was truly refreshing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s about finishing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garmin data or it didn’t happen.

So I prayed it survived.

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

Yes, that’s a little bit selfish!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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.