Ironman Race Day: the run

25 03 2017

It was great to be off the bike.

Whilst I wasn’t feeling too bad in the body, it was still seven hours predominantly in the same position. So the change of posture and muscles being used was welcome relief.

As I headed out of transition, my coach and a couple of supporters were directly ahead of the exit path. As I ran straight towards them I waved to ensure they saw me. Their positivity made me feel great.

They were just as chuffed as I was to see me running.

Well, I say I was running. It was more like jogging. But it was all forward momentum and that’s the only thing you need to achieve when it comes to the Ironman marathon.

It may sound obnoxious or arrogant to say I set off on my first ever marathon knowing it wasn’t if, but when I was going to finish. Even if I had to walk most of it, I was confident I had enough time to do that. As long as the body held out.

Just as I started on that first lap, I saw the women’s pro race winner, Jocelyn McCauley, heading towards the red carpet. I’d made it onto the run course with the pros (although they were several hours ahead of me!). It was a surprise not to see Meredith Kessler out front but great to have a new winner too.

Heading out onto Lake Terrace, I was passing other runners heading back towards the turn or finish point, depending on the number of wristbands they’d collected along the way. I remember feeling a bit dismayed at the sheer number of people who were heading to the finish already. Just like McCauley.

I was only just starting. Was I really that slow?

But I gave myself a bit of a slap. Did it even matter? Of course it bloody well didn’t. I was out on the Ironman run. I was doing it.

I was going to be an Ironman. Of that I was sure.

The sun was strong, even at 4pm, making that first lap pretty warm. My race plan was exactly what I’d practiced in training. At a minimum I’d have walk breaks for 1 minute every 15 minutes. In addition, I’d walk all of the aid stations to eat and drink.

By this stage I was totally over sweet. All that’s available on the bike is sugary in the form of gels, energy bars and even Perpetuem. The most savoury thing were bananas. Which is why my emergency PB sarnie on the bike was the bomb!

But come the first run aid station, I wanted salt. Luckily there’s more choice at this stage and a big bowl of pretzels loomed in front of me. I grabbed a handful and washed them down with a big gob full of water to soften them and make them easier to eat.

Along the entire 14km lap there’s supporters lining the streets cheering your every step. Thousands of people you’ll never know are literally cheering your name and willing you to get ever closer to that red carpet.

It’s like a new brand of nutrition. Their excitement and energy feeds you and you want to do it for them as much as yourself. The crowds are thronging at the far end of the run around the residential Wharewaka area creating a party-like atmosphere. It’s here that you pick up each of your lap wristbands to identify you’ve done each of the three laps.

Heading back towards town I knew I’d pass a bunch of our squad supporters on the waterside walkway where they’d rented a bach. They’d also teased us that they’d created a sign for each of us. I was desperate to see them to see what they’d done.

They hadn’t lied.

It was so easy to spot their house due to the line of home made painted signs lining the path! I was prepared for some piss taking but my sign was one of genuine encouragement.

The cheering squad was also out in force, spurring me on, one step at a time.

I’d deliberately turned off the auto lap function on my Garmin. This function beeps every km to show you how quickly you did it. I didn’t want to look at my watch 42 times. I just wanted to concentrate on getting to the next aid station. I’ve had this function on for the two half ironmans I’ve done and I find it distracts you and can make you stressed as, usually, your pace begins to slow as the race goes on.

I’m quite pleased to say I didn’t obsess about my pace or time at all during the day. I barely looked at my watch. It was truly a day that was ruled by my head and my body. And my heart. And not by any data.

It was truly refreshing.

At each aid station I just took what I feel like. Mostly sticking to crisps (chippies) and water or Nuun, with a Clif Shot Blok thrown in for good measure. Just like on the bike, there’s a special needs bag available as a contingency. All I’d put in here was a Wiggle gel (which I much prefer to the Clif ones on course) , some Panadol (purely preventative) and a No Doz. I’d used these caffeine tablets in training on the bike, and I’d taken one on course on the day. But I’d never used it on a run.

It was potentially a fatal error to try this out on race day, breaking the number one rule.

A few kms down the road, just before reaching our supporter house again, a debilitating stabbing cramp stopped me in my tracks. Just like it had at the end of my first half ironman.

At the time I didn’t know what had caused it. But I knew I would have to allow myself time to recover. This meant walking more because it hurt too much to run too much. I knew I’d have to deal with it.

But that’s a big part of what Ironman is.

For most people it’s not always about a time, but it’s about dealing with whatever the day throws at you and moving on.

It’s about finishing.

As I made the turnaround in town to start my last lap, I knew that the next time I’d see that piece of road, I wouldn’t be turning round. I’d be heading for the finish chute.

There was only 14 and a bit kms between me and Mike Reilly saying those famous words.

The last lap is a bit of a blur really. Well, the whole damn run is to be fair!

To cope with the cramp, I stuck to water and very little food. I may have down the odd small glass of Coke to give me some energy to make it round.

There was a super friendly volunteer at Rainbow Point and on the second lap he’d made some encouraging comment about going and getting him the next coloured wristband! He made me smile with his enthusiasm and I felt special for that fleeting moment. The fact that he probably used the same line on virtually every runner was irrelevant to me at that moment.

On this last lap he feigned dismay as he spotted the two wristbands and knew I was heading for my third, and final one. “Oh no, you’re leaving me!” he cried out. Boy did he do an amazing job of making you feel great when you really needed it!

At the aid station at the far end, I got handed a glow stick. I’d barely noticed the fading light and didn’t realise just how dark it was going to be by the time I finished.

Then I rounded the corner and ran through the lane for my last wristband. I remember feeling ecstatic at getting that furry piece of fabric wrapped around my wrist. I had just over 6kms left. And most of it was downhill.

On my way back towards town, strangers were staring hard in the dark to see how many wristbands I’d collected. You could see they wanted to say the right thing as there’s nothing worse than telling someone they’re nearly done when they’ve got another lap to do.

When they made out I had all three, the elation on their faces, and in their voices, almost matched mine. I will admit to having to choke back a few tears along the way.

Then suddenly, the lights of Taupo beckoned. They were within reach. My watch had shown a “low battery” warning and I wasn’t sure if it would make it to the finish line. You know the phrase…

Garmin data or it didn’t happen.

So I prayed it survived.

My pace quickened as I counted down the kms. I was playing leap frog with another girl who was taking more walk breaks than me but running faster when she did. As we approached the town centre, I seemed to break away from her and create some distance. Without anyone ahead of me, I was hoping to have the finish chute to myself.

Yes, that’s a little bit selfish!

As I headed towards the finish line, I had no idea what my total time was. With the conditions being as challenging as they were, I’d barely looked at my watch all day. It was great because it meant I wasn’t putting pressure on myself, and I also wasn’t playing any mind games.

Before the day, I’d said I’d be happy with anything under 14 hours. I’d tried to work out my timings while I was running, and I had a very rough idea, but it was all about the finish. not the time. So when I entered the finish chute and saw 13:50 up there, I was stoked!

I’d instructed hubby where to stand so I could give him a huge hug before I crossed the line. I wanted to share it with him and the time didn’t matter. He held me longer than I expected as the girl I’d been leap frogging entered the finish chute. He also wanted me to have the finish line to myself.

When she was far enough in front he let go and I headed down that red carpet.

Then she stopped at her supporters for some high fives before pulling out straight in front of me again. So much for having the finish line to myself!

I’d remembered a conversation the previous year about listening out for the song that’s playing as you finish. It was a great reminder to be mindful in those last few moments. Jamiroquai “A Little L” was playing and will now forever be known as my Ironman song.

Then I heard my name being called. One of our bestest squad supporters was right by the finish line.

To show her my appreciation, I ran over and gave her the biggest high five. It was a great moment and was captured perfectly by the event photographers.

Then I heard it. Mike Reilly’s infamous tones. “Annalie Brown. Wellington. You’re an Ironman Annalie. Yes sir.”

There’s no taking that title away from me now.

My official time is 13 hours 51 minutes and 14 seconds. But I don’t really care.

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I’m an Ironman. And that’s all that counts.

(And I’ve got the Garmin data to prove it).





Countdown to Ironman: 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