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.





Ironman Race Day: the swim

10 03 2017

I woke up on race morning to the sound of the wind howling through the trees outside the house.

My heart sank.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t trained in wind.

After all. I live in Wellington. It’s unavoidable.

But you always hope that the training in tough conditions will prepare you for a great race when it’s calm and clear.

No such luck for us.

It was going to be like any other training day over this summer. That meant hard work.

Any time goal dreams I had went out the window.

Coach always says that you shouldn’t set time goals because it’s such a long day and there are so many variables. Weather being a big one. But you can’t help yourself. But anyway, my time was the least of my worries as I got some breakfast and headed down to transition to do the last minute prep on my bike.

Heading down to the lakeside, I met up with most of my training crew who’d gathered in the usual spot by the scenic flights office. From here we could hear the Maori warriors from the Tuwharetoa iwi arriving on their waka to lay down their challenge to us.

A challenge that was like no other Ironman New Zealand event.

The true meaning of their haka was probably lost on most of us, as we watched in horror as the waka they’d just vacated got bashed about by the choppy lake. The waka was soon to be replaced by us.

I decided not to go into the lake for a warm up swim, as I’d have around 30 minutes of standing on the shore wet before my race started, so I chose to use the first part of my race as the warm up. The plan had it down as easy to get into some rhythm and survive the “washing machine” that is the mass start.

Once the pros had been sent on their merry way, it was time to line up with the 1200 other idiots who’d got up to brave the elements. We shuffled slowly towards the beach as we were all filtered inside a narrow barrier. I could see my hubby looking everywhere for me but he was on the other side. When he spotted me he beckoned me over. But with the tight formation of bodies I didn’t think I could get across. He pleaded so I made a few polite “excuse mes” and got across, getting a good luck hug in the process.

Then into the water we went. It looked nothing like the calmness we’d seen the previous two days. Why couldn’t it have been like that? I’m sure I wasn’t the only one asking that. But, it was what it was.

At least it was warm.

And it wasn’t sea water.

Heck we’d done enough training in those conditions in Wellington Harbour. We knew all too well how yucky it is to get bashed left and right by salty waves.

It didn’t look that bad from the shore. But being in it was a completely different ball game.

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I swam out to the deepest start point in line with the course buoys. I was going to try and swim the shortest possible distance I could. But it did mean I put myself in the thick of the washing machine.
I was watching the flashing lights that count down the final three minutes before the start. But the waves were that big I was rolling around a lot and could only see the lights when I was at the top of a wave. When it got down to the last light, I gave up looking. I knew the cannon would go off at any moment and I was just focusing on trying to stop myself being swept into my fellow competitors.

Then it went off. Not as loud as I was expecting, but everyone started swimming.

1200 of us. All at once.

It’s a weird sensation swimming so close to so many people. I’ve done a fair few mass starts at smaller events, but nothing prepares you for that volume of people. Legs, arms and bodies are everywhere.

You get bashed from every direction. It’s really easy to take it personally and strike out at them. But in reality it’s not intentional. And it’s part of Ironman life.

After a few minutes (although it seems like longer) space starts to appear and you can get into a rhythm finally. I was finding a few people to draft off here and there. And the odd person who swam straight across in front of me too. But it started to go pretty well. I counted down the buoys to the turn (they’re numbered) and it felt like I was going at a great pace. The first turn buoy loomed and I felt great.

At that point I should have guessed what was in store for the return leg. In Taupo, the swim course is an out and back, keeping you closer to the shore at first, then heading deeper out into the lake for the return leg. At the first turn buoy you swim about 50m across before turning back towards the finish.

This meant swimming head on into the waves for 50m.

I remember thinking I was barely moving and the buoy wasn’t getting any closer. But I just kept plugging away. And plugging away.

Eventually the second buoy loomed and I thought it was going to get easier once we turned side on to the waves and it would be more like the outbound leg.

How wrong I was. It was just as hard.

Being out in deeper water the chop was twice as bad as the way out. Breathing became tricky because it often didn’t matter which side you were breathing on, you still got a face full of water. It reminded me of the rough Ocean Swim Series race we’d done a few weeks ago.

But at least it was fresh water this time.

Sighting was also an issue because it was difficult to see the buoys if you sighted at the bottom of a rolling wave. Not only were you trying to time your breaths, but you ended up having to feel the water and trying to sight at the top too.

So many times I just had to blindly follow those in front of me and trust they were heading in the right direction.

Each buoy took an age to arrive. I was counting them down. I knew the last one was 24 and couldn’t believe I was only by 16. I was hoping that they’d taken some buoys out so they weren’t all there in order. But they were.

One by one, I slowly reeled them in. I could feel my shoulders getting fatigued by the extra effort required just to generate some forward propulsion. But every stroke was taking me closer to the finish.

Then I finally passed the 24th buoy. It was just a case of rounding that last turn buoy and I’d be surfing back into the beach with waves.

I had no concept of how long I’d been out there but I guessed it was longer than I’d hoped for. When I finally stood up on the beach I couldn’t believe that my watch said 1 hour 29 minutes. I’d been hoping for more like 1 hour 10 or 15 so I was a bit gutted. But I knew that was behind me now and I had to focus on the next stage. At least I’d finished.

 

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Ignore the time, that’s from the pro start 15 minutes ahead of us!

 My run along the famed green carpet, that 400m jog to transition, took me past my supporters and fellow squad mates. My coach yelled out something like “great work” to which I shook my head. I had no idea who from my squad was already out, nor about the troubles some of them were having behind me. But it’s fair to say none of us had a walk in the park.

All of us made it out though. And none of us took a trip on an IRB, as many others did.

I didn’t know it at the time but close to 100 people got pulled out of the lake by lifeguards. They had to delay the start of the half ironman race by 45 minutes because the lifeguards were so busy with Ironman competitors that there weren’t enough free to ensure the safety of the 70.3 athletes. I imagine that was quite hard to deal with from their perspective.

I ran up to transition and straight to the line where my bag was. I shouted my number three times but the volunteer hadn’t even moved. Luckily I’d put some decoration on my bag to make it easy to spot, so I just grabbed it on my way past and ran to an available volunteer in the changing tent.

As she tipped the contents of my bag onto the ground she told me to put the swim behind me as it was over now. I can only imagine what stories she’d already heard from other competitors! She handed me my towel while she fought with my wetsuit. Piece-by-piece we got me dressed and ready to tackle the bike.
She had the process down like a well oiled machine, helping me with shoes, putting clothes on and placing items in my jersey pocket for me. It felt like ages, but in reality it wasn’t a long transition, and I headed out to find my bike to start the biggest leg, and the one I was probably dreading the most.

 





Countdown to Ironman: Race week

8 03 2017

This is my third Ironman event in Taupo and I love the buzz of arriving.

The swim course buoys are laid out. The lamppost banners are up. Ironman is everywhere.

I remember arriving in Taupo last year when I volunteered at Ironman and looking at those swim buoys. The image daunted me.

“I can never swim that far” I said. In awe of every one of my squad mates who was attempting the event the next day.

How different a year makes. It didn’t daunt me. It excited me!

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I got to Taupo on Wednesday lunchtime. There was a 30 minute run on the plan and I had a massage booked at 3pm. So I got the run out of the way and then headed to my night’s accommodation to check in and get a shower before my massage – which was bliss! Just what I needed after a five-hour car drive.

The following morning called for a short swim and bike. Wanting to get it out of the way before the first-timers seminar that was listed in the athlete guide at 9am, our trusty crew gathered at the yacht club at 7am. Nothing like practicing a race day start.

The lake was perfect. Oh how we hoped for this on race day.

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We got the swim and bike done easily and then all headed into the Great Lake Centre for the seminar. And we waited. And waited. While all the time the regular rolling race briefing played on the screen. We even asked a few people who said it was on. It soon became obvious it wasn’t and the contradicting information on the website, which showed the seminar on the next day, was actually right.

It left us plenty of time to wander round the expo though and my training buddy and I managed to get some twinning done! Buying the same cycle tops (well, they were only $20!).

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We then went different ways as some wanted to register early while I wanted to wait a little longer. I still had to check out of last night’s accommodation and check in to my home for the next few days.

After lunch, and a chat with those who had already checked in, I headed over to the registration tent to get that ticked off. There was still a large queue but I joined it anyway.

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After what seemed like an age and crawling forwards ever-so-slowly, I was finally called forward and asked my name. This was it. I was signing in for Ironman.

It all gets really real when that athlete wristband gets taped around your arm.

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The lovely volunteer at check in asked where in the UK I was from. When I told, she replied, as many Brits do, with “Manchestoh” in a faux-Manc accent. I had a giggle as it was so unexpected and out of context in NZ.

As I left to go and get weighed (yes, weighed – I’m coming to that), a voice behind was calling “excuse me!” I looked round convinced it wasn’t aimed at me, but a bearded chap was looking right at me and starting to talk.

I walked over and he asked if he’d heard right and that I was from Manchester. Yes, I replied. So of course, he then asked where. “Middleton” I said. “Really? I’m from Oldham!”

If you don’t know it, they are neighbouring towns and I was actually born in Oldham. Not only that, he was from the town that sits between Middleton and Oldham.

Small world.

The weigh in is part of the health and safety process as you also get weighed immediately after the finish line. This is to ensure that you’re not severely dehydrated, which can happen if you get things wrong, and extreme weight loss is a key sign. I hadn’t weighed myself in months, but I knew I wasn’t light. I was still a bit disappointed at the numbers, but I put it to the back of my mind. It was purely a benchmark for Saturday night.

The rest of the day was pretty chilled and we went to the athlete welcome function. A pretty simple affair but helped with the build up.

Friday saw our final “tune up” swim (in another perfect lake)/bike/run and coffee done. Some went off to the first timers seminar. I decided not to. Not being arrogant, but I didn’t think I could learn or know any more about the event. I’d volunteered last year so seen it all. I wasn’t feeling nervous so didn’t need help with that. I was in the zone!

A restful day followed with some hot pools, lunch, hubby arriving and setting up by bike. I wanted to change my tyres from training to race tyres. My carbon race wheels are difficult to get tyres off, and even my male friend couldn’t do it! Eventually I got there though and just prayed for no punctures on race day. I’ve had a couple in training so was wondering if I’d used them all up.

Then it was down to transition to rack the bike. Are house was so close to town that we could walk down. I was given my personal volunteer transition “tour guide” to show me the ropes. But again, because I’d volunteered last year, I knew how it worked. The one thing I wanted to do was walk through the transition entry gantry so I could see which row by bags would be on and work out a “sighting point” to make it easy to aim for.

Bike racked. Transition bags dropped. Timing chip in hand. All that was left to do was have dinner and relax.

And hope for a good night’s sleep.

Tomorrow was game day.





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





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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Countdown to Ironman: 6 weeks to go

25 01 2017

Practice makes perfect.

Didn’t your mum always tell you that?

Nothing is truer in endurance triathlon.

I liken this sport to a jigsaw puzzle. You’re trying to create a complete picture that is your race. Only there are several different pieces that might fit into a particular space and you have to try a few, or maybe all of them, until you find the one that fits.

Those pieces are things like pacing, nutrition, processes, clothing, gear, and even things like when and where to apply Vaseline (so other members of my training squad told me).

And there’s no other way to figure this lot out than to practice. In a realistic situation.

Bring on Ironman training camp in Taupo.

This weekend saw us basically complete about 80-90% of the course – not on one day – we’ll save that pleasure for race day.

Normally the camp schedule sees you complete one Ironman distance (apart from the full run) on each day. So swim 3.8kms in the Lake on the Saturday, backed up with a shorter bike. Then complete the full 180km bike course on the Sunday, backed up with a short run off the bike to test the legs. Then a 3-hour run completes the torture, erm, I mean training!

But the 2017 NZ summer chucked in a weather bomb on the Sunday making the bike a bit of a gamble.

Not wanting to take that risk, Coach switched things around to have us completing the bike straight after the Saturday swim.

Personally I found it was incredibly useful to do this as it genuinely simulated race morning. So I got up, had the breakfast I’m thinking of having, and then got to have the first go at my race plan “jigsaw”.

The swim start is 7am in the beautiful lake. So that’s what we did. The plan was to complete the distance and then hop straight on the bike for the full course.

It was a beautiful morning out on Lake Taupo. The sun was just rising and the water was flat calm – conditions we’re hopeful for on the day itself. The swim was a bit trickier than it will be on the day as there were no course markers, making sighting, and therefore swimming straight, a bit harder. It also meant we had no idea when to turn around so we had to keep checking our watches.

As it happened I didn’t do a bad job and when I got back to the finish, I was only about 80m short of the full 3.8kms. And I was stoked with the time. It was at the faster end of my expectations, so with a mass swim start on the day, I should be able to easily replicate that, and possibly go even faster with a good draft.

The “transition” was fairly swift and it was time to hit the road to Reporoa for the first of two loops.

I knew that this needed to be paced well. My legs were fresh and I felt good, but there’s a looooong way to go and I needed some reserves for the second lap. We had some company on course with two other training squads also out for a practice ride so there was some good banter and encouragement. It was great practice for when people pass you on the day and maintaining your own race and pace plan. It’s all too easy to be competitive against others, but they may have a different plan – and strengths – to you. So whether or not you think you shouldn’t let that person beat you, you have to let them go.

I got lots of practice at that.

I’d been hoping for a 7-hour-ish ride time, and at the half way point was bang on track at 3 hours 30 minutes. My husband had travelled up with the squad to provide some support, so when we got back into Taupo at the end of lap one, he was there as an “aid station” and also gave us some practice at thinking about our “special needs”.

During the actual race, at the start of the second lap you get a chance to pick up some additional items, or apply some things you may or may not have needed at the start. It’s kind of a contingency bag. So we had to think about what we might need in that on the day and left it with him.

Then it was back to Reporoa for lap 2.

We knew the wind was going to pick up as the day wore on, and that the direction would be favourable for a tailwind “home”. Which is good because that’s mostly uphill.

But where there’s a tailwind, there’s got to be a headwind too. And boy was there ever.

We’d faced a headwind in the same direction in the half. But you knew that we only had one lap to do. This time we’d already done 90kms and had to save some for the uphill, even with a tailwind, back.

And not only that. If we wanted to truly simulate race day, we had to be thinking that we still had a marathon to do at the end of it. So we still couldn’t (or at least shouldn’t) be putting in too much power and leave something in reserve for that run.

We needed to have some serious words with ourselves to get through it! And the main thing was knowing that the tailwind was yet to come. But that mental toughness is something we need to prepare for the day and have strategies for coming out the other side.

Total bike time ended up at 7 hours 13 minutes. That headwind took its toll as the return leg was pretty much equal to the first time around.

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With the big swim and bike behind us, that left Sunday as a recovery and race planning day. So an early morning relaxed swim and soak in the hot pools afforded us some much needed movement the next day. Although not many of us were enthusiastic about getting back in the bike saddle having spent several hours in it the day before. But Coach ran a short spin session on the indoor trainer to get the blood flowing again.

And then it was massage time. Oh hell, yes please!

With the extra, unanticipated recovery day in the middle, Monday’s long run was always going to be done on fresher legs than on the day. So this added the extra challenge of maintaining a pace that’s achievable when you’re tired, not running how you feel.

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In the two half ironmans I’ve done. I’ve got off the bike and run way faster than planned because I felt alright, which resulted in rapid fade towards the end. So for this run, it was all about slow and steady. I was aiming for a pace between 6:40 and 7:00 per km, using a run/walk strategy. With an alarm set on my watch for every 15 minutes, I inserted walk breaks at that time. In addition to walking the “aid stations” laid out by my husband and Coach.

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The key thing to this strategy is still to walk even when you feel you don’t need to, hence the alarm on the watch. It gives the body some recovery time which results in a better performance overall and delays fatigue.

In the scheduled three hours I completed one full lap and two thirds of the second lap, achieving 26kms at a pace of 6:54 per km. Just like the end of the bike on the Saturday, I didn’t treat the finish to this run as the finish I felt I could do. I maintained the same pace to the end, knowing that I’d have another 16kms to run on the day.

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So the overall takeaways from the weekend were confidence and a few learnings. Confidence I can do the distance. And learnings to help me get there stronger.

Records this week

Longest swim/longest open water swim: 3722m

Longest ride (distance): 178kms

Longest ride (duration): 7 hours 13 minutes

Longest run (distance): 26kms

Longest run (duration): 2 hours 59 minutes

Training stats for the week

Swim: 6597m

Bike: 202km (plus one Group Ride class)

Run: 40.4kms

Total duration: 18 hours 20 minutes

(stats include Monday 23 Jan to cover training camp)