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 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).





Countdown to Ironman: 7 weeks to go

16 01 2017

I’m training to go slower.

I know, I know. That sentence seems to go against everything you think is right with preparing for a race.

Usually, you train to go faster. But for Ironman, I’m going to say I’m training to go better.

It’s such a big event that, for your first one especially, there’s no point having a time goal. I can tell you what I think I’m capable of doing it in, but I’m not interested in beating a time.

I want to finish. End of story.

So that means I need to pace myself to leave enough in my legs for the run at the end. After all, I’ve never even run a marathon. Let alone run one after a 3.8km swim and a 180km bike ride.

This week saw the second longest run of our training plan. It’s a great opportunity to practice what you plan to do on race day. Knowing I’m going to be coming into this on tired legs, I’ll be adopting a run/walk strategy. This involves setting certain times to run for, and then walking a little. And no matter how you feel, you walk.

I know that my strategy will be to walk all the aid stations. At about 2.5kms apart, the run in between will take approx. 15 mins, maybe a little more. So in training I’ve set an alarm on my watch to go off every 15 mins, at which point I slow down, take a breather and walk for a minute.

It’s pretty hard for the first walk break when you’re in training because you’re fresher than you will be on the day, even with the fatigue from the rest of your training. So your head tells you that you can keep going. But on race day I won’t be ignoring an aid station, even the first one, so I force myself to walk.

It’s good for the mind, the body, and the soul.

So despite the run being much slower than I’d normally pace myself, I’m probably keeping my form better – a friend said she saw me as I was heading towards home and that I looked strong and in good form still.

This is important as it shows there’s still something left in the tank, and I’m still running efficiently. I won’t be using up more energy than I need to.

Making it happen – no excuses

We have a phrase in our squad – no excuses. It doesn’t matter what the weather, or if you’ve had a bad day at work, the training still has to happen somehow. Or you risk making it hard for yourself on the day.

Fitting in all the training this week ahs been a challenge . I was travelling for two days with work so moved a couple of workouts around to fit that. I knew a bike on Wednesday would be tricky so decided to do it first thing Tuesday morning before I went away.

The weekend’s weather was a bit hit and miss. With a long ride scheduled for Sunday, but with a forecast for a really windy day, some of us switched our days round and went for the big bike on Saturday instead. This did leave tired legs for the bike hill reps on Sunday, but we weren’t out in the rubbish weather for too long. And rubbish it was. I encountered headwinds, crosswinds and tailwinds, all on one rep! Character-building is one way of putting it.

And the day the long run was planned was living up to Windy Wellington standards. But hey, what’s an extra bit of resistance training? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Right?

Getting these sessions done, making them happen, are big achievements, not just physically but mentally. Making those Training Peaks boxes go green are so satisfying. But also completing them in less-than-ideal conditions brings extra pride!

 

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A nice morning for a BRICK (not!)

 

Dealing with mechanicals

It’s fair to say I’ve been pretty lucky with my lack of “mechanicals” during all my time riding over the last 18 months. So I was probably due my share. They just all happened to come in the same week.

As I mentioned, I chose to do my midweek bike on Tuesday morning before setting off on a work trip. As I neared home, I heard a loud metallic “ping”. I had no clue what it was and wondered if it was a loose stone just hitting my wheel.

I continued towards home, knowing that the stiff headwind would be a challenge as I approached the last hill to my house, but as I rounded the corner to face the northerly, it felt like it was harder than it should have been. So I stopped. On inspection, my rear wheel was rubbing against the frame. I couldn’t work out why. I tried to reset the wheel but couldn’t get it straight.

Luckily a group ride was passing and they stopped to offer a hand. It’s kind of law in cycling that if you see someone on the side of the road, you check they’re OK. The first guy couldn’t work out what was wrong either. It wasn’t until another joined the inspection that he spotted the problem.

One of my spokes had snapped. Completely in half. The spokes are installed to such a tension that one snapping easily buckles the wheel. And this is why it was rubbing the frame.

 

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First broken spoke

 

I couldn’t get the wheel booked in to be repaired until after the weekend, so I borrowed a wheel from my husband’s TT bike so I could still train on my own TT. We were 5 hours 10 minutes into our long ride when I pointed out some glass on the road to my fellow riders. Literally two seconds later I got a puncture. On my borrowed wheel.

I’ve had plenty of practice changing tyres in workshops and at home, but this was my first roadside fix. My two companions enjoyed the unintended rest stop while I, quite swiftly I’m proud to say, got the tyre changed. I think I spent more time looking for what caused the puncture than actually changing it!

It was only my second time using a CO2 canister to inflate my tyre, so with some trepidation I set it up, expecting a cartoon-like inflation. In reality it was much more underwhelming but it’s such a great time and energy saver to have those things handy.

About 10 minutes was all it took and we were back on the road!

Records this week

Longest ride (distance): 133.6lms

Longest ride (duration): 5 hours 22 minutes

First roadside tyre change

First broken spoke.

Training stats for the week

Bike: 183kms (plus a Group Ride spin class)

Swim: 7950m

Run: 36.8kms

Total time: 17 hours 38 minutes

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