Thursday, November 25, 2010

South Island Half Ironman; or - It's Just a Training Day, Part 2

I can't do this.

Yes you can, just put your head down and do steady strokes. Don't think about the distance.

Shit, that looks like a long way over there. I feel sick. I should eat something, but ... Shit, that looks like a long way over there. Shit. Shit. Shit.

It was a grey, chilly Saturday morning at Lake Hood. I was standing at the edge of the lake looking across at the orange buoys and, in particular, the one in the far distance. In just over an hour I would be in the water starting my training day, which also happened to be the South Island Half Ironman.

1.9km of swimming lay ahead of me and the location of the buoys was freaking me out.

I had been a little bit tense that morning because, even though it was just a training day, I had managed to load plenty of expectations onto myself. There was going to be a lot going on and to think about afterwards but ultimately it would be invaluable in testing strategies for ironman.

Because ironman is not the day to be trying out anything new.

The plan for the day, then, was to do a good swim, practice a smooth transition to the bike, a good steady bike leg, practice a smooth transition to the run and then complete one lap (of three) of the run course before pulling out.

The expectations on top of that were plenty. In the swim I wanted to see some improvement in my time from last year, to show for the hours I had spent in the pool over winter. That wasn't going to be so easy, though, when my mind wasn't completely cured of its swim demons. In the bike leg I had also added the expectation of a faster time, especially as my bike was now sporting a pair of Fast Forward F6C carbon fibre deep-rimmed aero wheels. Scotty at Scotty Brown's had very generously agreed to let me trial them for the event and had promised they would be so fast, and I would like them so much, that I would wet myself (and then buy them!). So, obviously I was keen to see exactly how much of a difference they would make.

But before I got onto the bike I had to get through this blasted swim.

Wetsuit on and one of Coach Dave's gems of advice was to get into the water extra early and have a bit of a warm up. It would help settle the nerves and I could check out the best spots to sight off from water level. So I did this and, just as I was getting into the water, a speedboat idles past, heading out into the lake with two huge yellow buoys on the back. Within a couple of minutes the boat had dropped off the buoys, placing them in position on the course - in a spot much, much, closer than the permanent fixed orange buoys I had been freaking out about just 20 minutes earlier.

Duh, what was I worried about? I can do that!

Before you know it the gun's going off and we're away.  I wait a little for a bit of clear space and then start swimming.  All through the swim leg I periodically stop and breaststroke to get my bearings again (definitely need more practice at sighting while swimming!) but the most encouraging thing all the while is that I'm not hyperventilating and I'm not at the back of the field.  There are actually people behind me.

On the outward leg of the second lap we almost have white caps on the lake with a good stiff southerly in our faces, which also results in the odd gobful of water when you least expect it.  After commiserating with a bloke who was breaststroking alongside me and looking much less comfortable I decided I had done enough stuffing around and put my head down and went past him.

Because I'm not competitive at all ... yeah right.

46 minutes 42 seconds after the start I haul myself out of the water and feel good enough to run the short distance into transition and to my waiting bike.  Behind me I can hear Pete call out that I had a PB and, indeed, I had taken 6 minutes off my swim time from last year.  However that was the least of my concerns at that particular time.

Game Face On
The adrenaline was pumping and so my only interest was stripping off my wetsuit, goggles and swim cap, whipping on my helmet, putting on my sunglasses, clipping on my belt, putting on my socks and then bike shoes.  A little more than a minute later I've taken the bike off the rack and am running towards the transition exit.  At the same time another woman pulled her bike off the rack and was also making her way to the exit.  I was feeling so good I ran past her and jumped on the bike and took off like a woman possessed, registering a T1 time of 1 minute 45 seconds.

I'm not competitive at all ... yeah right.

As I'm heading out on the bike I look down at the bike computer and make a surprising discovery.  My heartrate is 174 beats per minute.  Significantly higher than my intended heartrate for the bike, which I had planned to have in the vicinity of 145-147.  Damn, better try and drop it down a bit, at least get it back below 160 which is the top limit of my training zone.  13 minutes later it finally drops sufficiently for my bike computer to stop incessantly beeping at me.

The bike course was a 3 lap out and back route of 15km each way.  The advantage of an out and back course is that you generally get hammered and helped by the wind equally each way.  And it certainly was the case this time around.  On the outward leg we fought our way into a strong southerly, which was on our backs for the inward leg.  Throughout the bike I concentrated on keeping my heartrate within the training zone and keeping the cadence relatively high.  On top of this was maximising the time spent on my aero bars and making sure I ate and drank regularly.

There wasn't much time, then, to actually switch off and get into any sort of riding "zone".  I had a steady stream of "stuff" to think about - cadence, position, heartrate, food, drink.  And then there'd be someone up ahead of me to focus on and pass.

Because I'm not competitive at all ... yeah right.

The day was cold and drizzly and so I didn't really warm up properly.  I also started to get the dreaded tingling finger at the start of the third lap.  However 3 hours and 11 minutes later I rolled into transition.  Faster than the previous year by a minute but the improvement would have been greater given the weather conditions and the fact that the course actually measured 91.8km rather than 90km (almost 2km longer than last year's event).  Those wheels seemed to do their job.

I spent a leisurely amount of time in T2, racking the bike, taking off helmet and changing shoes.  However I wasn't worried as my day was now over.  The important stuff was done and now I just had a 7km run do around the lake.

I started running and for about a kilometre all was good.  Then the course headed off the tarmac and started a 4km stretch off road around the back of the lake.  And it was not fun.  My head had finished for the day and a little voice that sounded awfully like Dave's was on my shoulder saying "just do 100m of the run if you want and then stop".

Why on earth did he have to give me that out?!

I plodded on, mostly walking around the back of the lake but not really caring, and thinking about various options.  I could stop, turn around and walk back.  I could finish the lap but skip the extra kilometre down the cul-de-sac just before the end of the lap.  Or I could stop being so pathetic and just do the whole lap as planned.

By the time I got back onto the tarseal I was starting to feel better and ended up completing the full lap, albeit in a very slow time of around 55 minutes.  That was fine, though, and I stopped running and handed in my timing chip.

All in all, then, it was a really successful day and plenty was learnt from it.

I was stoked with my swim.  Still slow but a definite improvement on last year and on target for a 1 hour 30 minute ironman swim (which I'd be really happy to achieve).

The first transition went perfectly and I was feeling really good there.

The bike was great, despite the conditions.  I didn't improve the time hugely but it does seem that the course was almost 2km longer than it should have been.  Also, the winds were stronger than last year and it was colder, so I expended a reasonable amount of energy staying warm and keeping the bike in a straight line.  That, and the fact that I was pushing my cadence pretty hard, contributed to me holding the aerobars in a death grip for a good portion of the ride - something I don't normally do.  As a result I ended up with a numb/tingly finger.  Something to remember for ironman - light hands on the aero bars and remember to move the hands and fingers around more.

Even better though, in my age group I was third fastest in T1 and third fastest in the bike leg.

Not that I'm competitive at all ... yeah right.

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Facing my Swim Demons

Tuesday night was the scene for one of those training sessions that really test your ironman resolve.

It was the night I faced up to my swimming demons.
It was the night that Coach Dave realised he had underestimated the strength of those demons.

It was a learning experience for us both.

Over the weekend I had told him that I felt I had done enough pool swimming.  I felt that what I really need now, with little over 100 days to ironman, is to get stuck into some serious open water swims in the wetsuit.  I needed to do this as the memories of last year's half ironman were still burned into my memory banks, and it wasn't a fun memory.

I guess I had experienced what all novice triathletes experience.  That first 2-300 metres where my breathing wasn't right, I felt constricted in the wetsuit and, as I tried to stop hyperventilating and watched the rest of the field swim away from me, I seriously questioned whether or not I could finish the distance.  I did get there in the end, but it really took all my willpower and self talk to get me through and I knew I had a bit of work to do to get my mind to the end of the swim leg at Taupo.

Over winter, then, I spent a lot of time in the pool, practising drills and working on technique.  As a result I'm now swimming much more freely and smoothly.  However tempered against that is the knowledge that, while a swim session might be up to 2700m in total, it would be broken down into drills which have generally been 200m or 300m at the most and with turns (and extra breaths!) at the end of the pool, at the end of every 25m.

What I needed to do now was get comfortable with longer swims and sighting - and I was only going to get this experience away from the pool.

In the weekend, then, I relayed these concerns to Dave and so we organised a wetsuit swim with Andi out at Pegasus on Tuesday night.  I was particularly glad to be getting this in with half ironman looming as I didn't really want my first wetsuit swim of the season to be in a competitive environment!

Pegasus Lake
It was a great evening, weatherwise.  Temperatures hitting 30 degrees, sunny and calm, and there were plenty of people at the lake enjoying the evening.   The lake itself is about 760m long, perfect for a decent stretch of swimming.  If you look at the photo above, we got into the water just out of picture at the bottom then the plan was to swim under the bridge and then all the way up the photo to one of the two beaches at the far end.

So, wetsuits on and in we get.  Andi bowls into the water and starts swimming and Dave and I follow close behind.  Within a couple of minutes we are steadily stroking our way towards the bridge.

Which, for me, lasts approximately 1 minute.  I stop and look around. Man, I haven't gone far and the bridge is still in front of me.  Oh and look, Andi and Dave are at the bridge already.  OK, better get going again.

30 seconds pass.  I must be at the bridge now.  Nope, keep going.  Another 30 seconds pass - finally, I'm under the bridge and Andi and Dave are about 50m ahead of me.  Damn, they make it look so easy.

And so it continues.  In short, I'm totally pathetic. Andi and Dave cruise along and before long are tiny specks in the distance and I'm hyperventilating in the middle of the lake thinking I'm getting nowhere and I'm never going to get to the end of this blasted stretch of water, and what's my coach doing taking off and leaving me behind like this?!!!!!

So I continue on with my totally irrational thoughts.  Meanwhile Andi and Dave have reached the end and are sitting on the beach waiting for me.  When I finally haul my sorry self out of the water I'm ready to fire the coach (and tell him so) and then burst into tears.  Not feeling much like an ironman now...

So we sit down and talk about what's happened and deduce that the main problem is that I'm not breaking up the swim in my mind.  All I'm seeing is the far end and it's looking like a loooong way to go and so my brain is telling me I can't do it.  The same principle applies to a marathon or a 180km bike.  You don't think about running 42km.  It's just too far.  Instead you break it down into four 10km runs.  The Ironman bike is chunked down to four 45km segments which is much easier for the mind to deal with.

Once we got that issue sorted Dave worked out a strategy for our return swim.  We picked out three spots down the lake and we would swim to each of those spots.  That broke up the swim into much more manageable segments and, with the three of us sticking together it was a much less traumatic (almost enjoyable!) experience. 

Dave also showed me the best way to sight.  Whereas I had been focusing on their ever-reducing heads as they swam down the lake, Dave had me looking for much larger objects which are easy to find with a slight glance while swimming.  Like big trees or buildings, well above water height.

It therefore turned out to be a very successful evening and, while it's going to take more than one session to have me swimming happily for long stretches, the experience has set me on the right trajectory to the ironman swim course.

Oh, and Dave is still coach!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Grand Traverse

So what better way to spend a long weekend than by a bit of a bike ride?  Coach Dave decided that we should have a go at the three passes - Porter's Pass, Arthur's Pass and Lewis Pass, by way of a bike trip over Canterbury's anniversary weekend.  Being intrepid athletes, six of us eagerly signed up and assembled on Friday morning complete with bikes, clothes and stacks of food to keep us well nourished and hydrated throughout our journey.
Andi, Simone, Toni, Dave, Curly, Brendan and Chook - ready to go

The plan was to drive inland to Springfield and then start biking from there.  We would head over the first pass (Porter's) and then continue onto the village of Arthur's Pass for our first night.  Day 2 would see us ride over Arthur's Pass, and then head north to Reefton, via Moana, for our second night.  Our third and final day would involve a climb out of Reefton, over the Rahu saddle to Springs Junction and then over Lewis Pass, stopping at the Engineer's Camp where we would load up the bikes and drive back to Christchurch.

Friday dawned sunny and hot in Christchurch.  A stunning spring's day that actually felt more like the middle of summer.  Andi was joining us for her first overnight bike trip with the group while Simone, Curly, Chook and I were becoming old hands at Dave's expeditions.  This time around we were also joined by new boy on the block, Brendan.

The set up was pretty standard and much the same as the Hanmer Springs and Methven weekends.  First up, a van that could take us with bike trailer which could take all our gear.  The back of the trailer had large warning signs so motorists knew cyclists were ahead as well as an orange flashing light sitting on top.  Everyone in the group would take turns driving the van, tailing the peloton and providing the bailout option if anyone ran out of "gas".

I was due to drive the first stretch, from Springfield to Castle Hill, on day 1.  Driving this leg was fantastic in my eyes as it meant I didn't have to bike up Porter's Pass.  Yep, I'm much better at hills than I used to be but still relatively hopeless and this one was the steepest of the three.  Before we started, though, there was the requisite coffee and muffin stop.  In Springfield we called in at the Yelloshack Cafe, located on the main road, right next door to their Springfield donut, right out of the Simpson's movie.  The carrot muffins were divine - a taste treat with raspberry on top and chocolate inside, well worth a separate journey back at a later date!

The donut was hilarious - when the Simpson's movie came out, various towns called Springfield were "honoured" with a huge pink donut erected to celebrate its release.  Springfield in Canterbury was the New Zealand location for this and it was a huge structure which attracted its share of fans and detractors.  In September of 2009, however, the donut was set on fire.  It was left a partially charred mess and most people thought that would be the end of what many considered an eyesore.

But no, on our arrival in Springfield, we discovered that the donut lives a much smaller tractor tyre!!!  Definitely not the imposing structure of old, but painted in the original pink colour and in keeping with the agricultural nature of the region.  I didn't get a shot of it (doh!!), but this photo of it partially completed gives you the idea...

The peloton heads towards the mountains
Anyway, after getting our fill of muffins, coffee and picking up lunch everyone set off.  Six in the peloton and me tailing them for this first leg.  Porter's Pass came up reasonably quickly and before I knew it I was guiding the van up the climb with the speedo registering at 0 km/h.  About three quarters of the way up Simone and Chook decided to climb into the van and so I stopped to help load the bikes and ferry them to the top.

Staying safe with the high viz vest
At Castle Hill it was time to swap drivers and I was really glad to finally get going on two wheels rather than four.  That happiness was moderated, however, by the gale force headwinds that were coming through the mountains.

We continued a gradual rise for the 54km journey from Castle Hill to Arthur's Pass and had no respite from the wind the whole time.  We therefore had a relatively slow average speed of just over 20km/h and it became almost a case of surviving the 2hr 30min ride while at the same time enjoying the stunning scenery.

What a great way to see the country.

We finally rolled into Arthur's Pass and it was great to unpack everything at the house that had been rented for us all.  The fire had been lit and the evening was spent relaxing (and refuelling with such treats as lasagne and tiramisu).  By 9.00pm we had all headed to bed (such party animals!).

Unpacking at Arthur's Pass

The next morning was cool and clear.  We were awake at 6.00am and by 8.00am we were ready for a long day.  Chook, Simone and I headed off 30 minutes before the rest of the group.  We were slow on the hills and there was a decent climb up to Arthurs Pass before a huge descent on the other side to Otira and then Jackson's where we would stop and regroup with the others.

Within about 2km of climbing up to the pass our clear, cool, day had changed to cold pea soup.  We had climbed into the cloud and I reached the summit of the pass barely able to see 2 feet in front of me.  Chook was somewhere ahead of me and Simone behind but none of us were in sight of each other.  I had been looking forward to the descent however it turned into a slow progression, heavy on the brakes and hoping all the way down that a car didn't come along.  About halfway down I passed Chook who was taking it even more carefully.  Thankfully I was wearing a fluorescent yellow vest, however the visibility was so bad it would have been nice, in hindsight, to have had the whole group together with the van right behind us.  We'll know this for next time!

Thankfully the visibility improved as we dropped down the gorge.  By the time we were out of the gorge the sunshine had arrived again and we regrouped at the bottom of the hill and then had a fantastic run down to Jacksons where we waited for the rest of the group.

Regrouping at Jacksons
After Jacksons we took a right turn and rode around Lake Brunner to Moana and, after a quick drink stop there, carried on out to Stillwater, picking up State Highway 7 which would take us up to Reefton.

This part of the trip was a bit flatter - a couple of climbs but predominantly downhill before a slow rise up towards Reefton.  Once we got past Stillwater we also finally found a tailwind and got some great stretches in at a good pace.

Around lunchtime we found a spot to stop on the side of the road and sat down to devour sandwiches and cake.  At this point it was my turn to have another stint at driving and so I followed the group again, managing to get a great shot of them alongside a coal train...

Lunch stop

Encountering a West Coast coal train
About 27km from Reefton we had another quick stop and I got back on the bike for the final run in.  It was a great ride and we rolled into town at about 3.00pm.  My day had been 120km and 4 hours 25min ride time.  Our unpacking finished, we sat down for a quick drink and a feed of nice salty chips (perfect for replenishing salt in the body(!)) and then carried out our standard routine of washing all our gear ready for the next morning.  The courtyard looked like a real chinese laundry with all our gear draped out over plastic chairs in the sunshine...
Day three dawned a little overcast but still warm.  It looked like another perfect day for riding.  At the relatively slothful time of 9.00am we were all packed up and wandered over to the Broadway Tearooms and Bakery for breakfast.  Half an hour later, and with stomachs full of eggs, toast and bacon (and in one case fruit and muesli) we headed off for our last day of riding.

It was a steady climb up the Rahu Saddle and through the beautiful beech forest of Victoria Forest Park.  While we climbed, though, the drizzle started and so the van was stopped so we could add some additional layers of clothing.

It was a group of six very wet and cold riders that rolled into Springs Junction and the weather didn't look like it was going to clear any time soon. 

Andi, me and Curly - ready to leave Reefton

Extra layers added for the rain
With the constant climbing the pack soon spread out a little and I maintained my position at the back - getting dropped at the climbs but catching up again on the descents and flat sections.  Towards the top of the saddle (and the last climb) Dave had hung back to wait for me and in the rain I saw him about 100m ahead raise a hand in the air as he went over a rise and started downhill.  He was celebrating the final climb before Springs Junction and so when I got to the top I let the bike go and went for it.

It was bucketing down with rain by this stage but I still managed to catch up with Dave and, as I went past him, yelled out "Woohoo!!!".  The poor bloke didn't realise I was coming and just about fell off his bike.

After just over 40km of riding and 1 hour 45 minutes ride time, we pulled into Springs Junction.  Everyone was soaked to the skin and pretty cold and the weather didn't look like it was going to clear anytime soon.  As a result the decision was made to call it a day rather than risk hypothermia on Lewis Pass.  Afterall it's not going anywhere!

So we all got changed and sat down for a coffee and round of hot chips before heading out and loading the bikes onto the trailer for the drive home.

All in all a fabulous weekend.  Disappointing that we didn't get to do the third pass, but you can't do much about the weather and there'll always be next time.

All in all, a great way to see the country.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Control, Cadence, Cuisine and Celebration

Last weekend's Sunday morning ride was all about the 4 Cs: control, cadence, cuisine and celebration.

Coach Dave had set me a 3 hour ride to do and the focus is now on simulating and practising actual race conditions.  And this is where the Cs came in...

Control was all about maintaining a steady pace.  I needed to find a pace that I will be able to maintain for 6 hours without trashing my legs or the rest of the body.  I've traditionally focused on maintaining a particular speed and, in particular, look to aim for a pace as close as possible to 30km/hr.  What happens, though, is that if you are on a slight slope, or if you hit a head wind, then you tend to trash yourself while you focus on maintaining your desired speed.  So I have to get out of that habit and ignore my speed. 

Dave suggested that a better measure would be maintaining a consistent heart rate range.  If I work out the heart rate range where I'm comfortable at then I'll be able to maintain that consistent effort all day and then come off the bike still in good enough shape to run.  I'm thinking at the moment that the optimal range for me is about 145-147 beats per minute, so the first focus of Sunday's ride was a controlled ride, keeping my heartrate in that "green" zone.

The cadence aspect had a similar goal.  Again, my habit has been to have a low cadence and this just loads up the legs too much.  So, again, the instruction was to forget about what speed I'm doing and focus on maintaining a light, high cadence of around 95 rpm.

Cuisine sounds like some sort of Michelin 3 star meal, but in reality this is simply nutrition on the bike!  (Just trying to keep to the "C" theme!) One of the big mistakes you can make in ironman is not eating enough or eating something that you haven't tried during training.  These long solo bike rides, then, also provide the opportunity to practice your nutrition on the bike.  It's important to trial different foods and make sure they agree with you and to get into the habit of knowing how much and how frequently to eat in order to maintain optimum performance on the bike.

My favourite cuisine on the bike has been One Square Meals (chopped into bite sized cubes), Gu Chomps and cheese and marmite sandwiches.  The One Square Meals are a Christchurch product (bonus to be supporting a local business!) and are easily cut up and eaten on the bike.  The Gu Chomps are like oversized wine gums, but chewier and stickier. 

And the cheese and marmite sandwich?  I came across that idea last year from another blog and while it sounds like an odd thing to have, it provides a great alternative to all the sweet stuff you usually end up having.  It is made with white sandwich bread, crusts cut off and cut into four bite sized squares.  I don't know what it is about it but I always feel noticeably better after I've had a couple of bites of the sandwich.

And then there's the liquid cuisine...  I have two bottles on the bike - a Profile Design aero bottle that sits between the aero bars right in front of me and one below in a cage on the frame.  The aero bottle has a straw sticking out of it so I can slurp up some water without getting off the aero bars.  In the bottom bottle I put some hydration fluid so I get some extra sustenance rather than just water.  The first couple of times I tried it I used Powerade and that seemed to work really well.  What I'm doing now, though, is moving to the isotonic sports mix that will be provided at the support stations in Ironman, and that is Horley's Replace.  Again, the key is to get used to it so that when you get given it on the course it doesn't upset the intestines...!

So I had control, cadence and cuisine all sorted out and headed out early Sunday morning for a solo jaunt around the Sefton block.  It was a gorgeous day - sunny, virtually no wind and not too much traffic.  As I headed back into town the fourth C came into play....celebration.

Andi is due to celebrate a significant birthday soon and so a social coffee ride was organised for the bike crew and I duly met up with them and we all headed out to sumner, via South Brighton, for a social coffee and muffin.

By the time I got back home I was pretty stuffed but very happy with the effort.  My solo ride, focusing on control, cadence and cuisine had produced the following stats:

Time: 2 hours 44 minutes
Distance: 77.4 km
Av cadence: 82 rpm
Av heartrate: 148 bpm
Av speed: 28.3 km/h

The coffee ride was another 55 km so my total distance for the day was 132km.  Fab ride and the lazy-boy nap was well deserved....and enjoyed!

My favourite spot after a big ride!

Round Rarotonga Road Race

So September and October have been a little quieter on the blog front, but there is good reason.  Mid-September saw St Pete and I head to Rarotonga for an extended break - a wedding (ours!) and the Round Rarotonga Road Race.

In line with the fact that our lives seem to revolve around being active, challenging ourselves and leading what we hope is a relatively healthy lifestyle, we picked our wedding date to fit in with the running of the 2010 Round Rarotonga Road Race.  This event has been going for over 30 years and is the main event of Rarotonga's Week of Running, a festival that includes a Hash House fun run, a Cross Island run, a relay and the race itself - a 31.5 km single lap around the island.

We had heard about the event from previous trips to Rarotonga and from Leigh and Paul who had travelled to the week of running a couple of years earlier and had returned positively raving about it.

This time around Leigh and Paul were coming over for the wedding, as was another running mate, Ang and her husband Willie.  Leigh, Paul, Pete and I therefore entered for the full 31.5 km event while Ang decided to do the 10 km option.

I'd have to say training for this event, for me, was slightly unorthodox this time around.  Because of my swim/bike/run training schedule I didn't have the run-focused buildup that I would normally have and so I was determined simply to get round the course and enjoy it as much as was possible (given the likely temperatures!).

Pete and I headed over to Rarotonga about 10 days prior to the event, and I'm so glad we did.  While our main reason for going over so early was to relax and get ready for the wedding, it also provided a great opportunity to acclimatise a little to the heat and humidity.  A couple of days after our arrival we went for a 5 km run and then a 15 km run as our final build up and boy was that hot!  It was so nice being able to walk into the lagoon at the end of those sessions and cool down, but I wasn't going to have that luxury on the day of the race.

Cooling off in the lagoon after our last 15 km training run

Race day arrived and at 5.00am we found ourselves down to the Punanga Nui Market waiting for the start.  The gun was due to go off at 5.30am and it was pitch black but still warm, probably mid 20s (celsius).  There were hugs and good wishes passed around our group and then we were away.

I started out the first 5 km nice and slowly - it was really humid and the heat was a bit sapping but I also knew I had a long way to go and the worst thing you can do is go out too fast.  Once we got around the end of the runway and had turned to head through Nikao towards Black Rock we got a bit of a sea breeze and I started to get into a good rhythm.  Which lasted about 3km...

At about the 8km mark my old running enemy made itself painfully known to me - my quads.  The blighters had seized up and that familiar feeling of having hot pokers jabbed into my muscles with every step was back again.  I had first experienced this just after the halfway mark in my first marathon and in the latter stages of my second marathon, but to have it happen so early on in this run was gutting to say the least.

While I nursed my legs through the next few kilometres I searched for a possible explanation, and quickly found it.  During the previous week I had hired a mountain bike so I could do some laps of the island, to maintain some sort of training.  Of course the mountain bikes had standard pedals rather than the toe clips or clipless pedals I have on the road bike.  As a result pedalling becomes a pushing action rather than a circular action and the pushing action requires force from your quads rather than the circular motion which is more balanced.

I had done about 4 1/2 hours of biking around the island and they hadn't been leisurely rides either!  As a result my quads had gotten loaded up and so by the time I got a wee way into the run they made their displeasure well and truly known!

The run, then, became a fantastic experience in the art of mind over matter and an excellent opportunity to live the grit and determination that is going to be needed to get to the ironman finish line.  My legs would be screaming at me and so I would alternate walking and running.  I was able to concentrate on managing my nutrition intake, taking a Gu sachet at every alternate drink station.  And I was able to practice the self talk that is needed when all you want to do is stop and, in this location, jump in the lagoon!

By the time I got to the last kilometre it was stinking hot but I didn't care.  I knew I was almost there and the pain was irrelevant.  I jogged into the market to the sound of the drummers and practised my ironman finish as I crossed the line.  Not that it was an act - I have never been so pleased to see the end of a run!

My finish time wasn't so bad - 4 hours 13 minutes.  It was around my marathon pace so, while I had hoped to go better, it certainly wasn't a disaster compared to previous events and I've taken away some great experience from it. And despite the challenges I look back on the event and remember it as one I definitely want to go back and do again.

I think Pete and I will be adding it to our calendar of annual events!!

The Christchurch Team - Leigh, Paul, Ang, Pete, Toni

Monday, November 1, 2010

Training in a New Swimming Pool

A new city, a new training plan.  This weekend's trip to Auckland necessitated a couple of tweaks to training.

Of a more minor nature was the need to take a day off work on Friday so I could do the 4 hour bike ride that was scheduled for Sunday.  More significantly was the need to make sure I could do a couple of swim sessions.  Dave had programmed a 1500m time trial (gulp!) for earlier in the week but when he found out the pool I was planning to use in the city of sails, he immediately said I should do the time trial in Auckland.

And the reason for that?  I had found that the closest pool to where we would be staying was the Olympic Pool in Newmarket, which is 50m in length. Dave was excited about the prospect as the great benefit of a 50m pool are the fewer stops and turns, and therefore less interruption to your swim stroke.

What swimmers will also tell you is that it does take a bit of adjusting to the doubling of distance between turns.  Intentional or not, each turn provides an opportunity for an extra large gulp of breath (my favourite!), an extra push off the end of the pool and the opportunity to mentally "reset" for the next length.

The marathon was on Sunday, so that was set as a rest day for me and I therefore jumped on a bus and headed to the pool on Saturday and also Monday for the time trial. 

I turned up on Saturday and surveyed the new surroundings.  It did indeed look quite a bit longer than I am used to and there was a lane on the far side which was being used by scuba divers.  What I also noticed, but didn't really pay any attention to, was that people in the lanes tended to be congregating at one end.  I didn't pay much attention to it as it's not overly unusual as there tends to a one end of a pool which is favoured as the start/finish point.  However this was significant and I would soon find out why.

So I jump in (at the popular end) and start on my first length.  I had sorted out a programme that used predominantly 50m sets rather than the typical 25m sets I had been following at Jellie Park.  That plan was soon to go out the window though.  The depth of the pool at the start was a friendly 1.1m and it gradually deepened to 1.5m at around 30m. 

At that point, though, it started to feel like I was swimming uphill...  It's amazing how the brain plays tricks on you, and the reason for this is that the bottom of the pool suddenly plummeted away from me, down to a depth of 4.4m.  And down in the depths were the scuba divers.  Of course there was no need to stay within their allocated lane down there, so they proceeded to blow big bubbles across the width of the pool - an interesting experience to swim over, that's for sure. 

Once I got to the end of the first length I found the reason that no one was congregating at that end.  Although the bottom of the pool did come back up at the far wall, it was still 2.7m deep and there was no ledge for resting on.  So there was no option but to push off and head back, and my session that day ended up having to be 100m sets.  Exhausting when you're not used to it!

The pool's website briefly mentions its history.  Apparently it once hosted the British Empire Games (now the Commonwealth Games) and, based on the floor profile, I guessed that diving towers must have been located at the extremely deep end rather than the current practice where a separate diving pool is built.  And indeed it does appear that this was the case.  A couple of photos held by the Auckland War Memorial Museum Library archives, taken in the 1950s, show that it used to be an outdoor pool and, indeed, the diving towers were at the end of the pool.

Back to my swim session, though, and getting used to the 100m sets was great practice. And it does make me look forward to the opening of Jellie Park's outdoor pool for summer, as that is also 50m long.  I'll be making full use of it as soon as it becomes available!

Auckland Marathon - But I'm on the Sidelines

One of my favorite events over the last few years has been the Auckland Marathon.  Well, the half marathon to be precise.  It's a scenic course that starts on the north shore in Devonport, winds its way over rolling terrain through the northern suburbs before providing a unique opportunity to run over the Auckland Harbour Bridge and finish almost in the heart of the CBD, at Victoria Park.

The event is becoming ever more popular and entries sold out in record time this year.  St Pete entered the full marathon and, instead of entering the half marathon for what would have been the fourth time, I was detailed to be support crew.

The reason for that is that, with just over 4 months to go to ironman, Coach Dave decided running a half marathon at this stage in the year would not be a good idea.  The logic behind this was similar to his instruction that I not complete the half ironman at Lake Hood next month. Basically the problem is with the recovery time from running those distances, which could compromise the quality of the rest of training at a time when I am starting to do some big distances on the bike and in the pool.

So I played support crew and Pete had a great day.  And it definitely felt good to see that two of our top ironmen, Jo Lawn and Terenzo Bozzone, were also on the sidelines for the event.  They were probably recovering from Kona but, I didn't mind, I was in good company!