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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Getting to the start line

22 12 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I picked up an injury.

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

But a niggle flared up in my right knee.

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

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

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

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

So goal number one of my race plan was that.

Starting.

Goal number two was finishing.

Anything on top of that is a bonus.

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Looking back to look forward

15 02 2016

 

People often say don’t look back because it anchors you in the past. But sometimes it’s important to reflect on things that have been. Because it’s one key way to learn.

And that’s especially true when it comes to triathlon.

My Taupo 70.3 match report recaps the events of the day. What happened in the race. But as I look ahead to the rest of the year, and future half ironmans, what can I learn by looking back at my race plan and comparing it to the event itself?

The first thing is, I’m so glad I did a race plan. I perform better with lists. They help take the stress out of things because it makes sure you don’t forget that all-important thing like Body Glide. Or charging your Garmin.

It also takes uncertainty out of the race itself. You know what you want to do. There are no decisions to make while you’re out there, unless you have to. And that usually only happens when something hasn’t gone to plan.

A race plan also focuses you on what you can control. You can’t do anything about the weather. So if the lake’s choppy, you have to deal with it. If there’s a headwind on the bike, there’s nothing you can do. So it gets you in the mindset to focus on you. And you alone.

In comparison, following Taupo I went on holiday for three weeks. I did do some training but not tri specific, and then I went and ran a “quarter ironman distance” race in the 100th Scorching Bay triathlon series.

Because I hadn’t trained specifically for this event, I didn’t do a plan. My goal was simply to finish. I wasn’t expecting a lightening quick time as it was a hilly course. And I wasn’t properly trained for it.

But a plan might have helped a little. I didn’t feel that I suffered terribly for not having it, but I really just kept things basic. Like swim steady. Bike steady. Run steady.

OK. It was a little more sophisticated than that. But not by much! I did (just about) execute on plan. And I felt good at the end. But it might have helped to have a little more planning in the bank.

Hubby, on the other hand, didn’t plan anything and he felt flustered and disorganised on the morning of the race. This affected his headspace and he didn’t feel good about it.

He raced again a week later in the Sovereign event and planned meticulously. It definitely got things off on a better foot for him. He raced better and felt more relaxed throughout.

Learning: Always do a race plan.

I could get down into the weeds to dissect the specifics of my Taupo 70.3 plan, but rather than overthink it, I just found I wanted to ask myself one question.

Would I have done anything differently? Maybe I wouldn’t have messed with my eggy rice cake recipe. But other than that, there is absolutely nothing I would have done differently.

Even the fact that I had to adapt my plan when my nutrition wasn’t working also comes into that equation. I wouldn’t do that differently either. Because I’d planned for contingencies, I had a back-up plan. A Plan B. I also didn’t panic. And I’d hope I would do the same thing again under other circumstances.

So, looking back, for my first race, I think I did pretty good. And, looking forward, it sets me up nicely for the future.





Goals that have already been achieved

5 12 2015

I’ve never really thought too long or hard about planning a race before.

The most complicated plan I’ve had in a half marathon was to think of what time I wanted and therefore what pace I needed to run at.

Other plans have been “get round”. I’ve even had a “run with a friend to help them get round”.

But a half ironman is a whole different ball game.

It’s like three races. On the same day. One after the other. I’m going to be on the go for something like seven hours. Not just two. And three different disciplines. How you approach each aspect of the day can have a significant impact on the outcome, so you need to think ahead.

First off, start with your goals. Now, for a first timer there really is no point whatsoever in having a time goal. You’ve never done this before so how can you even have any idea what your body will be going through on the day?

The advice from The Boss is to focus on process goals instead. These are the things that you will do that should mean it’s a good race for you. You could have goals specific to one particular discipline, or maybe an overall achievement, or it could even be about your race build up and your preparation in the week before. But they will be personal to you.

It will come as no surprise that the swim is a particular goal for me. Having a good, relaxed swim is going to set me up for the rest of the event. I know that if I get out of the water having completed that to plan, I’ll gain a lot of confidence entering my two better disciplines. So my goal is simply that – a good swim that is a sustainable effort for me and won’t leave me feeling knackered.

I’ve also got overall goals that I follow my nutrition plan and getting that right. If nutrition goes well, it sets your body up for what you’re putting it through. There’s still no accounting for nerves though and that can still play havoc with your innards! You can’t plan for that. So how you deal with it then becomes your goal.

And my last goal is to have fun! What’s the point in doing it if you don’t enjoy it? I’m not expecting it to all be a barrel of laughs. In fact I expect there will be some pretty lonely and hard moments out on the bike course, so mental strategies to overcome those are vital. But for me, one of the benefits of training with the squad is that I will know heaps of people out on the course and I know that when I see them, we’ll be dishing out support and encouragement to each other. We’re not in competition. We’re a team ourselves.

When it comes to the run course, we’ll have all the supporters cheering us on, and no doubt there’ll be lots of high fives from squad mates. Hell, we have those in training runs! So I know that will help me through the pain.

Of course it’s very hard not to think in terms of time, so if you must, tier it. For me, just to finish will be a monster achievement and one I’ll be very proud of. I’ve come a long way, especially in the swim. So just to get round will be immense.

I’ll be really happy if I can get under 7 and a half hours. That feels achievable right now, but like I say, who knows what will happen on the day. If I get under 7 hours I’ll be ecstatic! Based on my training, it doesn’t feel beyond the realms of possibility, but I’m not getting hung up on it.

Taupo 70.3 isn’t strictly a race to me. I’m not taking on anyone else. Except for Ironman. I’ve heard that one mental strategy to get over the tough times is to tell yourself that Ironman won’t beat you. Ironman becomes your only competition.

But no, Taupo 70.3 is a vehicle for me to look at how far I’ve come, and how much I’m capable of.

That in itself, is a goal that’s already been achieved.

How far Ive come