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.

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Countdown to Ironman: 2 weeks to go

21 02 2017

The hay is in the barn.

That’s it. The last big week of training is in the bag.

Coach emailed us all to tell us that we won’t get any fitter or faster now. It’s all about maintaining what we’ve already got.

And let’s face it, we’ve come such a long way. Literally and metaphorically.

The training plan featured one of our favourites – two runs in a day! The first one is an hour and hilly. I had an early flight to catch so I didn’t quite do the full hour, but I did some good elevation so I was happy with my 46 minutes.

The idea is to fatigue the legs and then get some recovery during the day before heading out for a longer endurance run. I guess the goal is to build stamina by running on fatigued legs. Because let’s face it. That’s gonna be happening on the day!

Summer had arrived in Wellington when I did the morning run, and then I did my evening run in Auckland as I was up there for work. It was sod’s law that when summer arrived in Wellington, I got drenched up north. It was bucketing down! But again. You don’t know what the day will be like, so you’ve got to go out in all weather.

I also used different shoes. I’ve been mostly training in Asics Cumulus, which I used for my morning run. A couple of weeks ago when I’d done the previous 2-run-day, they’d got drenched in the morning so I had to use my trusty pair of Hoka One One Clifton 3. Man, the endurance run felt good in those! Hoka shoes aren’t for everyone, but I love running in them. So I adopted the same approach for the second 2-run-day. And it had the same effect.

The week ended with another 180km ride, an opportunity to test out the nutrition plan again. But it also gave me the chance to try out my new race wheels, ready for the day. I only went out with the back one on as the front can be a bit more fickle in wind. My training buddy described my bike as a mullet – all party at the back! But I like the way the tyres match my bike!

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My main source of nutrition is Perpetuem which has worked really well for me this season.

Given we’re out on course for so long, my preference is to use the nutrition available on course, mainly so I don’t have to carry it all. I’ve been using Clif Bars in training, which are handed out, so that’s another tick. But I don’t really like the Clif gels.

I recently put in an order with Wiggle so decided to get some of their gels. I used them in my first half ironman and the helped me overcome a poor nutrition decision on the day. So I knew they’d be good for me.

My plan was to alternate Perp, bars and gels, saving the gels for the latter part of the ride, and taking it all on my watch alarm every 10 minutes.

With my trusty training buddy, we headed out on a route taking us from Featherston to just beyond Eketahuna and back again. We had no idea what the elevation profile was as we were supposed to try and get similar to Taupo.

Heading out it felt like there was a bit of a headwind, but nothing shocking, just enough to keep us honest!

Our main hope was to achieve the 180kms target in 7 hours. At our recent training camp I’d managed 7 hours 13 and Christina had got just under 7. We knew it could be done.

And we rocked it!

After turning round at 90kms and 3 hours 26 minutes, we were on track. We knew the wind would be a little more behind us, but we weren’t quite sure how much climbing there would be. We’d had some rolling hills so we knew there would be some.

I also took a No Doz for the first time at the turnaround. Caffeine has a proven effect on performance so I wanted to see if it helped. I drink heaps of coffee so it wasn’t like I felt an instant rush or anything, but I felt strong and didn’t fade.

The nutrition plan seemed to be working. We were flying.

Just after we passed through Greytown there was a sign saying Featherston was only another 11kms to go. My husband then appeared. I’d texted earlier to ask him to bring a spare inner tube and CO2 gas as I’d used up mine within an hour of the start after riding over a piece of glass. We were almost done, but I appreciated the effort and it gave me a little more peace of mind.

He mentioned he thought we’d have been pretty much done by then. But I looked at my watch – we were at 6 hours and 2 minutes with 10kms left to go. That was bloody good going!

I finished in 6 hours 21 minutes riding time. Not including a couple of toilet and water stops. On the day there won’t be a need to stop for water as that will all be on course. But I don’t actually intend to pee on the bike! I know some do, but it’s not my thing! Plus stopping for toilet breaks will give me the chance to stretch a little.

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We didn’t quite achieve the same elevation as we will at Ironman, but the terrain wasn’t dissimilar. So it was a pretty good simulation in all.

Even after a hefty week of training, the ride felt great. It was a huge confidence boost as we head into the taper.

Bring it on Ironman. I’m ready for you!

Stats this week

Swim distance: 5903m

Bike distance: 242kms

Run distance: 37.4kms

Total duration: 17 hours 16 minutes