Wednesday, July 28, 2010

It's Just a Training Day...

How innocently those five words were spoken, back in March.

We were sitting outside with Dave, my soon-to-be-ironman coach, talking about my goals for ironman and the sorts of things I could expect in the build-up.  The south island half ironman at Lake Hood, Ashburton, which had been such an achievement for me last year, was now being described by Dave as, "just a training day".  That certainly put some perspective on things.  Something that was such a big deal first time round was now being well and truly put into its place in the overall scheme of things.

However Dave wasn't finished.  Last week he reduced the significance of Lake Hood even more with the comment.....

(wait for it...)

"don't worry about finishing it"


That's right, Dave doesn't care if I finish the half ironman.

After staring gape-mouthed at him for what seemed like an eternity, I returned my jaw to it's correct position and he tried to explain.  And it goes something like this...

The goal is ironman.  Everything else I am doing is only of importance in relation to its ability to prepare me to finish ironman.  The half ironman at Lake Hood is therefore simply an opportunity to practice a race day - do a good swim, practice a smooth transition from swim to bike, do a good bike leg and then another smooth transition from bike to run.  As far as the run is concerned, that is the leg that is really hard on your body and takes the longest to recover from.  It's the discipline that will tip you over the edge, so to speak.  So I can choose to do only one lap (of three) of the run and then pull out if I want.  I could even choose to do only 100m of the run and then stop - Dave wouldn't care.  What is important is that I don't want to be spending too much time recovering from that event as it could compromise the overall training regime in the remaining 15 weeks before Taupo.

Sounds perfectly fine in theory.  But let's just think about that for a little bit, and think about the psyche of a person that is going to complete ironman.

A successful ironman lives by hundreds of mantras that all focus on one premise:  DON'T QUIT.  My physical ability to complete ironman is overshadowed by my mental ability to get to the finish line, no matter the pain or the time it takes to get me there.  It's one of my strengths in climbing my particular ironman mountain.  A favourite saying for many who undertake endurance events like this is "pain is temporary, quitting is forever."  The whole idea of entering an event, then, and NOT finishing it seems like a complete psychological cop-out, at a time when mental toughness is one of the defining characteristics of success.

You might not be surprised, then, that I've been struggling with this suggestion!

Somehow I've got to get my head around the idea of starting the half ironman with the intention of NOT finishing.  I have to refocus my goals for the event.  Instead of aiming to finish in a better time than last year, I should be aiming to produce better splits for the swim and bike legs and achieve trouble-free transitions.  Hmm, again, easier said than done!

Thankfully it appears I'm not alone with this mental dilemma.  I relayed this to one who has many ironman friends and, after he stopped laughing, Stephen confirmed that he has many mates whose coaches go mad at them because, despite their best intentions, they haven't been able to pull out of the half ironman early into the run.

It just goes to show that the force of mind over matter is obviously a strong one, and it's one I'm going to have to do some serious work on over the coming few months...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Spin Those Wheels

Last weekend I got sprung.

Coach Dave finally caught up with the fact that my average cadence on my bike rides hasn't been as high as he wants it to be.  For the uninitiated cadence is all about how fast you're pedalling, a bit like engine revs, and is expressed in revolutions per minute (rpm).

Last year while training for the half ironman my typical cadence would rarely go over 75rpm and some average cadences on a training ride could drop as low as 69rpm.  This year hasn't been much better although the last couple of months have seen some 76s and one ride that averaged 79 rpm.  Still not high enough to keep Dave happy though.

A low cadence isn't a flash idea because it puts too much load on your quads.  It's common for cyclists with strong legs to rely on grinding out the gears and focusing on power, however for an ironman distance it will simply waste too much energy.  What is more efficient is spinning at higher cadence which places less load on the legs.

So Dave really wants me to be achieving an average cadence of 85rpm or higher on our rides, and to give me the necessary practice he set me a couple of hell bike sessions this weekend.  The programmes for Saturday and Sunday came through and I just about died looking at them.  Saturday called for a 2 hr 30min ride with cadence drills including 15 minute splits at 90rpm, 95rpm and 100rpm.  100rpm?!   Insane...  Sunday's ride wouldn't be much better with a 4 hour ride prescribed and 20 minute splits at 90rpm and 95rpm, and 15 minute splits at 100rpm.

First challenge, though, was more mundane.  How on earth would I remember all the drills over the course of the ride?  A small amount of ingenuity came into play - I printed out the drills with their time checks and laminated them.  A trusty strip of blu-tac fixed the schedule to the bracket where my aero drink bottle usually sits and so it was right in front of me for easy reference next to the bike computer during the ride.

My view during a ride - oh, sometimes I look up as well.

So I headed out to give it a go.  Saturday was a solo ride while Andi, Anna and Tony joined me for Sunday's "fun".  Surprisingly it wasn't too bad.  Maintained a pretty good pace and I survived both days - even managed a 60 minute Tour de Garage spin on Sunday evening in addition to Sunday's ride.  Getting into a 100rpm rhythm was a bit of a challenge but definitely do-able.

Even more significantly I managed to achieve an average cadence of 89 rpm on both days.  The scale of improvement was perfectly summed by Dave's response when I texted him Saturday night to let him know the news:  "Holy shit", he replied, "Are your legs still attached?".

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

How Many Bags Does an Irongirl Need?

Early this afternoon I was at the pool, doing a 1700m session when, about midway through, I was spoken to by the woman in the next lane.  Her family had joined her but were more interested in splashing around than doing laps, and so she says to me,  "Excuse me, I know you're a really, really good swimmer, but do you mind if I come into your lane with you?".

I'll never know, of course, whether the compliment was paid because I actually did look really good as I headed up and down the lane, or whether there was simply an assumption that I must be a good swimmer due to all the paraphernalia stacked up at the end of the lane...  As an ironman in training,  going for a swim no longer means chucking on a pair of togs, throwing a towel over your shoulder and heading down to the nearest pool.

Oh, no.  A whole stack of gear must be carted around, depending on the training programme for the day.  And today was no exception.  Today I felt distinctly Sherpa-like as I lugged my bag to work, which contained gear for my lunchtime swim and after-work bike on the wind trainer in Tour de Garage.  Anyone looking at today's bag would have thought I was heading out on a week long tramp...

The full list goes something like this:

 Swim Gear:
My Aquasphere Vista Goggles
Pull buoy
Swim fins
swim paddles
  • togs
  • towel
  • goggles
  • cap
  • hair ties
  • pull buoy
  • swim fins
  • swim paddles
  • comb
  • wide rubber band (goes around the ankles when you use the pull buoy to hold your feet together so they don't inadvertently kick)
Bike Gear:
  • bike shorts
  • sports bra
  • singlet/light biking top
  • polypropylene top
  • track pants
  • socks
  • cap
And then into the bag must also go my lunch and snacks (fruit, muesli bars etc) and any additional clothes or shoes that aren't practical to wear on the scooter.

I have two bags that are typically used to take gear to work.  A large one that is used when I go swimming and a smaller one when I don't need to take swim gear.

Is it any wonder, then, that Pete, as a true Dr Who fan, has recognised the immense storage capability of each bag and honoured them with the titles "The Red Tardis" and "The Green Tardis".  Each evening that day's Tardis gets emptied and it never ceases to amaze him how much "stuff" can be found in each - in true Tardis style.

Just as well I'm not a handbag collector!  Oh, and of course I was happy to share my lane :)

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tour de Garage

Today Tour de Garage got its 15 minutes of fame.  Jim emailed The Press and told them what we were doing and so they sent a photographer around last night to photograph us in all our glory.  A record attendance of 8 riders and, of course, a very convivial atmosphere.

The front page of the Press today was a sight to behold.  A huge photo featuring Kate and Andi toasting the photographer, the rest of us off to the right pedalling away watching the action being projected onto the wall.  Great shot.  Next thing the radio stations and TV wanted in on the action and we suddenly found ourselves live on Close Up on Tuesday night and Jim spent most of the day as a media darling doing radio interviews up and down the country with the likes of Newstalk ZB and RDU.

On Close Up Dave and Jim were interviewed by Mark Sainsbury live while we pedalled away in the background, and there were also live 10 second feeds as teasers leading up to the interview.  All up we ended up doing a 90 minute session on the wind trainers that night.

Vive le Tour!   Or should that be Vive le Garage?!!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Hitting the Ton

Another milestone reached this weekend.  Our first 100km bike ride for the year.  After several rides that came tantalisingly close (85km, 93km, 90km), we finally broke the barrier ticking over 101km in a perfect morning for riding.  No wind, traffic mostly considerate (there's always the odd exception!), and a good sized group of 6-8 people.

Our route took us on a tour starting at Princess Margaret Hospital, Cashmere Rd, Old Tai Tapu Rd, across to Lincoln and then along the back roads coming out at Old West Coast Rd. Crossed over to MacLeans Island Rd, around the back of the airport, Johns Rd, Chaney's Corner, Brooklands and back to Redwood where we stopped at Coffee Culture for a well-deserved coffee break!

Coach Dave has determined that my cadence is not as high as he would like.  While one of my strengths is my power on the bike, on a 6 hour ironman leg transferring all that power into pedal strokes is going to kill my legs and leave nothing left for the run.  So I need to be able to "spin" more.  That is, pedal with a higher cadence and lighter legs (less power).  Yep, a real challenge for me.  My average cadence for this weekend's ride was 76rpm - I need to get it to about 85rpm and so this week's training will see me doing rides with cadences up to 100rpm - yikes!

Watching Le Tour

As I write this we are about two-thirds of the way through one of the most iconic and well-known bike races in the world, the Tour de France.

I've always enjoyed watching the tour, but this year it's also become a great training tool.  Over winter the wind trainer and my old bike have been set up in the lounge so I can do 60 minutes of spinning on the bike in the evenings.  This is a great example of how ironman takes over your life...!  The lounge is great as I can at least watch some TV while I'm pedalling away - it can get pretty tedious on the wind trainer with no changing scenery and no changing terrain, so the TV at least provides some distraction. 

Anyway, the Tour de France has added another dimension.  Each day the last 2 hours of the Tour are replayed on Sky Sport and Coach Dave has been recording each stage and taking them to Jim's garage where we have set up our wind trainers and bikes for "Le Tour de Garage".  Most evenings between 3 and 8 keen cyclists turn up and we do a 60-90 minute spin session on the wind trainers while watching the coverage of the Tour.

As a bit of fun we have our own points classification system - points for turning up and bonus points for various things, such as wearing tour gear and having particularly exotic beer in your bidon cage.  The Tour de France cap I brought back for Pete last year has had a couple of outings at Tour de Garage and pizza turned up another night which added a new dimension as we tried to imagine the logistics of eating a slice of pizza while biking the ironman leg in the style of Dean Karnazes, who famously eats pizza on his all-night training runs.

An added interest has been watching the teams and I've been following Team Radioshack, Lance Armstrong's team.  Lance is completing his final tour and had some back luck early on in the race meaning he isn't going to be one of the top finishers this year.  However he leaves a real legacy and is taking the opportunity to enjoy the tour and acknowledge the fans along the way.  I really admire what he's done for cancer research, which is something really dear to his heart, and look forward to seeing how he transitions to ironman next year.  Kona 2011 will be interesting!
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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Removing the Albatross

OK, let's get this out in the open right now.  I love cycling, but I hate hills.  Call me a Clydesdale, but set me on a flat (or downhill!) course and I'll settle down onto my aerobars and pedal for hours quite happily.  Put me on a hill and a turtle could beat me up it.

Long Bays, then, is a great hill ride but, at the same time, an albatross around my neck.  It's a circuit from the city, out the main highway towards Akaroa, over Gebbies Pass to Diamond Harbour, to Lyttelton and then back over the hill to Sumner and back into the city.  Gebbies Pass itself is a decent climb and it's pretty much up and down from the pass all the way around to Sumner.

The last time I did this particular ride was a couple of years ago.  I was on my old bike and training for the Source to Sea (a 160km bike race from St Arnaud to Westport).  It wasn't a fun day.  Vivid memories of walking up Gebbies Pass and a couple of hills after that have turned Long Bays into one of those rides that I have since avoided like the plague.

While training for the half ironman last year I was more than content that I could get away with training on the flat only, as the half IM course was flat.  Even with a new, faster, bike I wasn't tempted.  Afterall, how demoralising would it be to be attempting the circuit on a better bike and still not conquer it?!   However the same can't be said for Taupo.  While the IM course is generally flat, there are a few hills to negotiate around the town area and so I'm going to have to suck it up and face my demons head on.

Coach Dave has got his work cut out for him, but I thought I'd help him along the way with my bike ride on Sunday.  My plan called for a 3 hour flat ride, cadence 85-95.  I headed out with good intentions and kept to the plan for the first hour.  The day was cold, crisp and fine.  Not a breath of wind, a perfect winter's day for riding.  I was heading out on the main road towards Akaroa and all was well with the world, when I came up to the turnoff to Gebbies Pass.  Suddenly this voice inside my head started suggesting that we give Gebbies Pass a go.  Afterall, I was on my own (so no fellow riders would be having to sit around and wait for me to dawdle my way up) and it would give me a benchmark to see how I'm going and, later on, compare my progress.

Before I know it I'm heading up the road towards Gebbies.

What an experience.  Grovelled my way up the hill, but didn't walk(!), so that was good.  Remember, though, that this is winter and so by the time I got to the top I was negotiating not only the climb but also the grit that had been so considerately put down to stop cars drifting off the side of various cliffs.  It was therefore a pretty slow descent, much slower than I'd usually go as I made sure I didn't do any out of control 2-wheel slides.  The road didn't change much through to Lyttelton - grit on all the shady bits of road making the whole experience more conducive to a spot of mountainbiking.

On leaving Lyttleton behind and starting the climb over to Sumner I discovered that obviously no cars are expected to drive that stretch over winter.  There was no grit to be seen (fantastic) BUT as a result there was plenty of frost and ice.  Bugger.  About 500m from the summit the road was completely white in front of me and when I started to feel the back wheel slide around that was enough for me.  Pedals were unclipped and I very gingerly walked the bike across the approx 200m stretch.

All in all, then, a great ride.  Hard like you wouldn't believe and not particularly fast, but I can at least say the albatross has flown...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

What's in a Name?

What a PC, gender-neutral, world we live in.  The first time I mention to people that I am doing ironman, virtually everyone responds with "ironperson", or "ironwoman".  What is it with this overriding desire to emasculate everything we talk about these days?

Ironman is tough - damn tough.  No matter how you look at it, it's a long day at the office and, whether you come in after 9 or 16 hours, about the only thing that can be guaranteed is that it is going to take every athlete  to their absolute limits.  As I come down that finish chute I'll be happy to hear that famous phrase amongst those familiar with the event:  "[insert name here], you are an IRONMAN!"  Ironman has a certain air of invincibility about it.  You know that, no matter what your gender, you've gutsed it out along with the other 1499 other athletes out there.

So please, no more of this ironwoman, or ironperson palaver.  It's ironman.

OK, OK, so you've noticed a small inconsistency in my argument.  Yes, I know, I've called myself Irongirl. Why not Ironman101?  (The 101, by the way, is all about indicating that I am at beginner level in all of this!).  It's actually based on a personal moniker that goes back several years when I owned a Toyota MR2 and had a personalised number plate "MR2GAL".  The "gal" has morphed into "girl" and fits my not-yet-ready-to-grow-old attitude to life.  Well, that's my story (and this is my blog) and I'm sticking to it!

Happy days.

"You Are Part of History"

Late last month my goal of completing an ironman became one step more real as an email landed in my inbox headed "You are Part of History!". It was from the organisers of New Zealand's Ironman and was their first regular mailing to competitors in the 2011 event.

Yes, I'm a competitor. 

In Ironman. 

On Saturday 5th March 2011.


I'm part of history because, for the first time in its 27 year history, the New Zealand event has sold out. And it did so in 13 days. 


And I'm part of it. 

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So, I've Joined the Blogging World

We all do interesting things in our lives and we also try to make the most of the time we have - and I'm one of the worst offenders!  Always something happening, always going somewhere and, if people are to be believed, always doing interesting stuff.

I've followed various websites, joined various forums and shared my experiences in all sorts of web-based places but if I, or anyone else close to me, wants to reflect on times gone by then I've been increasingly conscious of the fact that my reflections on life are scattered all over the place.

So while I've resisted the idea of joining the mass blogosphere, it does seem like a way to bring together my thoughts and experiences in one place.  Especially now that I've jumped onto the insane bandwagon that is Ironman....!

Yes, me, the athletically-challenged, is going to take on one of the most challenging endurance events out there.  And, like many others before me, I'll use this blog to chart and share my journey.  Along the way I'll bring in some historical stories, and Pete (aka "Team Manager") will no doubt add the view from his side of the pool, bicycle and running route!

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