Countdown to Ironman: 5 weeks to go

30 01 2017

Ironman is all about training the brain as well as the body.

You’ll often hear people refer to the mental battles on the day, so having a few of those in training is always good practice.

Take the bike ride when we were at training camp. When the wind picked up for lap two, creating a headwind on the way out to the turn at Reporoa, one of my squad mates said she had to give herself a good talking to. And boy did we all relate to that.

This week saw us needing another talking to with the NZ Ocean Swim Series event arriving in Wellington. Most of us were down to do the long course that takes you out to the lighthouse and back to Oriental Bay in a neat 3.3km triangle.

Only the weather Gods had other ideas.

A big northerly was forecast which meant the harbour was going to be choppy. Even by Wellington standards. So the organisers swiftly arranged a move to the south side of the city, hoping for more sheltered waters at Lyall Bay.

I wandered down for a recce on Saturday afternoon – ironically a magic Wellington day with no wind and a gorgeous flat calm harbour. Sod’s law right there.

The buoys were already up and one of the event team gave us a quick brief of the makeshift 2km ‘M’-shaped course. It was different but they figured it was the best they could do in the space they had.

Race morning dawned and the forecast wind didn’t disappoint. But the predicted chop was worse than expected. So the furthest points of the ‘M’ course were a bit too dangerous for more inexperienced swimmers.

So they decided to go to a two-lap loop. They lengthened the course and brought the far buoys in. But they didn’t really know how long it was and were estimating 2.6-2.8kms.

The shallower waters didn’t look so bad, so after swallowing “a cup of hard” (a kiwi phrase for “harden up”), we hit the waters.

The initial swim out to the first buoy wasn’t so bad. The wind was behind us and the buoy was close, meaning sighting wasn’t an issue. Then we made a 90 degree turn and headed parallel to the beach to head towards the airport.

With the wind hitting us side on, and with the tide going out, it was easy to predict that we were going to get pounded from the left a little bit in this direction. The start wasn’t so bad and I was able to get into my rhythm quite quickly – it normally takes me at least a km to get going properly. But the closer we got to the airport end, the worse it seemed to get.

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Even if I breathed away from the direction of the waves, the would frequently break on the back of my head, still giving me a mouthful of saltwater. So breathing was sometimes an issue.

And with the buoys being quite some distance away, and reasonably close together when looking at them from a distance, sighting was tricky. It was too easy to aim for the wrong buoy, sending you off course. I often just followed the crowd of swimmers in front of me in the vain hope that they were vaguely on track!

We’d been promised an “easier” ride back towards the start, and second turnaround. But that was a lie. It got harder as we were further out from shore in bigger chop. The waves were bigger and harder and there was no “tail wind” to speak of.

It took forever.

Or at least it felt like it.

Unlike the regular Splash and Dash series, there were no shorter options. If we pulled out early, that was it. It was a DNF. So that was the choice. Continue battling, or get no result.

But when the turn came, I had no intention of finishing early. While it might not have been the prettiest swim, I certainly wasn’t done. I wasn’t going to let it beat me. I’m way tougher than that.

Despite not being the strongest swimmer in the world, I don’t lack confidence in the water and have a steely determination to succeed. So out for a second lap I went. The second trip down towards the airport seemed even worse. I’m sure the surf lifesaving volunteers had their work cut out for them.

Back out in the chop for the final leg back down towards the start/finish area, I probably took on the most water of any of the legs. And not only that, the current was pushing you further with the tide. So sighting had to be more regular to stay on course – if you could see the buoys in the chop! I felt I’d been pushed out a couple of times so tried to correct my course, only to over-correct and start swimming further in. A quick sight check soon sorted that.

Even though the conditions were far from ideal, I can honestly say I never once felt like jacking it in. I felt strong and like I could keep going, even at the very end. Although swimming into the headwind for the final 75m (or so) stretch was pure hell. No matter how hard you swam, you didn’t feel like you were making any progress. But slowly and surely, the beach got closer.

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I’d made it. And when I stopped my watch to see the time, I was really happy, given the conditions. But in reality, the time didn’t matter. I’d swum just under 3.1kms in 1h 8 minutes. And then the official word came back that they estimated the course was 3kms long, so I’d done pretty well, even in that chop and current.

What mattered was proving I could tough it out in those conditions. After all, you never know what it’s going to be like on race day.

So you need your mind, as well as your body, to be ready.

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Train hard, race easy

4 12 2015

There’s a saying that springs to mind about training in Wellington:

train hard

The idea being if you train in conditions and on terrain than is harder than you’ll face in your race, you’ll be able to go faster and stronger on the day.

Ah Wellington. Known for it’s mammoth hills. And its delicate spring breezes. The perfect place to execute a tough training regime to make race day feel like a breeze (hopefully!).

Nothing epitomised this as much as the first Splash and Dash race of the season this week. The Boss had a 2km swim in the training plan. It seemed like a big step up in distance in the open water for some of us, so we double checked.

“Have you done the distance in the pool?”

“Yes”

“So you’ve got the fitness to do it then”

Oh. OK then.

The great thing about this series is that, no matter what you sign up for, you can change your mind, even mid-race. So a 2km swim was what I registered for.

On the day, well, let’s just say there was a bit of chop. That may or may not be an understatement. Not knowing any better, the less experienced of us set off taking it one lap at a time (of a three-lap swim). The Boss had given us permission to finish early if, after two laps, we’d really had enough and felt we’d been out there a long time.

The chop made it pretty hard going, but as we knew no different, we battled on. The course takes you round a couple of pontoons and the famed Oriental Bay Fountain, so it’s good practice for navigation, sighting and breaking the race up into chunks. So from that perspective it was great open water experience.

On a few occasions I looked up to sight and could see myself slightly off course. Not wanting to have life guards redirecting me again (like in the last Scorcher!), I kept my eye on my nav points a bit more frequently.

But at times it felt like every stroke took you nowhere. It felt like you weren’t even moving. And it felt like I was out there forever. As I embarked on my second lap towards the fountain, I was thinking that I’d been out there ages and probably wouldn’t make the third lap. But that was OK. The Boss had said as much.

The second lap felt like it took even longer than the first. It probably did in fact. But I was surprised at my determination and motivation to keep going.

As I approached the end of the second lap, I started thinking about what I wanted to do. What was my body saying? And my head?

My body wasn’t done. I wasn’t spent. I felt I had another lap in me.

My head was up for the challenge. I was here. I’d got this far. F*ck it! I’m going for that final lap and I don’t care about the time.

Except the weather gods had other ideas.

The race officials decided the chop had become a safety issue and sent us tail end Charlies back to shore.

I was a tad disappointed having got myself mentally prepared. But I could understand their concern. My disappointment was short-lived once I got out and stopped my watch. According to my Garmin, I’d swum 1444m (I hadn’t swum that far off course compared to my last outing!) in a time of 35 minutes (although my official time was 34:20). It did feel like a lot longer, but who cares! It was the furthest I’d ever swum in the sea.

When the rest of my squad mates starting talking about the conditions being the worst they’d ever swum in, the accomplishment felt even greater. If we’ve swum in the worst and lived to tell the tale, anything from here should be plain sailing (so to speak). Even though we didn’t quite get the distance, the rationale for getting out there was justified. It was a huge confidence boost exactly when we needed it.

Those of us who are new to this triathlon/half ironman game took great heart from our efforts.

Taupo should be a breeze. Right?

PS the photos REALLY don’t do the chop justice!