Thursday, January 27, 2011

Those Who Inspire

A few days ago a regular email update arrived in my inbox from the Ocean Swim Series.  I've never done the Ocean Swim events (might have something to do with my earlier hatred of open water swimming), but they've always been something that I've thought I should probably do in the future.  Afterall, if I can do the ironman swim then what's a measly 3km ocean swim?

Anyway, I digress.  In the update was a plug for a blog by Geoff and his upcoming attempt to swim across Cook Strait.  He's 60 years old and, if successful, will become the oldest person to make the crossing.  He's only recently started blogging about the attempt and hopes to do the swim by the end of January (determined by tidal flows).

I have no aspirations to swim Cook Strait (although who knows, 10 years ago I would have told you I had no aspirations to run a marathon and I now have two under my belt and a third just 36 days away!).  Reading Geoff's blog, however, is really inspirational.  Here is a normal, everyday person, holding down a job, being active, setting out to do an extraordinary thing and it is that type of person that I really identify with.

My inspiration to do Ironman is the same.  While the Chrissie Wellingtons, Cameron Browns, Terenzo Bozzones, Jo Lawns, Gina Crawfords and Mirinda Carfraes of this world are all amazing Ironman athletes, and deserve our admiration and support, they are not the ones that have inspired me to do ironman and nor do I aspire to be like them.

When the going gets tough in my training (and it frequently does at the moment), I think about the normal, average, everyday people like me, gutsing it out and achieving what many would dismiss as too difficult, too long, or just downright insane.  In this very reflective entry to my blog, then, I'd like to pay tribute to those people who have inspired me along my journey.

Firstly, all there's the people in previous Ironman New Zealand (IMNZ) events who have made it onto the TV News each year as they come in just minutes before the 17 hour deadline.  I have watched those brief news bulletins, usually with tears in my eyes, as I share the emotion and joy of those finishers.  What a day they must have had, and an experience they will never forget.  They've refused to stop believing in themselves and fully deserve the bragging rights they worked so hard to earn.

Then came along Kerry.  I met him in 2004 at a conference and as talk got around to the various fitness activities we get involved with (I was running at the time), his colleague proudly informed me that Kerry had done ironman.  Wow.  Here was a "real" person, with a family and a full time job, that had actually done this event which had, in my mind, been a bit of an abstract television occurrence.  I had never had any personal connection to the event outside watching clips of it on TV and suddenly here was a normal everyday person who also happened to be an ironman.  Suddenly the event seemed more real and the seed of possibility was sown.

As the seed germinated, I met Charmayne.  Charmayne made contact through the GoTRIbal website, an international networking website for women doing triathlon, and we met up one day as she was passing through town on her way back from one of the multitude of womens' triathlon events she was taking part in up and down the country.  She convinced me to go to Taupo to watch the 2010 Ironman event and we met up there as well and talked all things ironman and, in particular, Taupo.  Charmayne had done a lot of short distance tris but was inspired to attempt ironman and was thinking that, before age got in her way, 2011 would be "the year".

By the time I got to Taupo I was pretty certain that I wanted to do ironman, but the weekend proved to be the clincher.  The atmosphere, the crowd, the volunteers, the commentators.  It was an amazing experience and as I heard the familiar refrain from Mike Reilly calling "(name).....YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!" to each person as they came down the finish chute, I knew that I wanted to be on the receiving end of that call in 2011.  (By the way, Mike's 100th time calling ironman races will be at IMNZ 2011.)

As I started training I did what I'm sure most ironman novices do and that is start trawling the web for fellow iron virgins with which to share the journey with.  There are plenty of websites around and I quickly amassed a number of (old) blogs to look at but nothing came up for Ironman New Zealand in 2011.  That was until I came across Ironjack, via the IMNZ page on Facebook.

Jacky (aka Ironjack) describes herself as "...a 35 year old, overweight, self-employed mother of two small boys...".  Her goal?  To complete NZ Ironman in 2011 and " prove that an ordinary, everyday, unfit, overweight working mother can complete Ironman and that you don’t have to be a professional, elite sportsperson.  Along the way, I hope to not only improve my own health and wellbeing and that of my family, but also to inspire other women and mothers like me to get out there and achieve something big."

As if that wasn't enough, Jacky had set up a website for Ironjack to raise awareness of and money for the Silver Ribbon Foundation (for gynaecological cancer research).

Raising two kids and training for a cause as well - she leaves me in the dust, but it was clear she was speaking my language and so I started following her updates, passing on the odd bit of encouragement and generally sharing in her journey.  As the weeks passed our friendship developed and her training updates on Facebook quickly became a source of inspiration and reflection.  How was Jacky's training comparing to mine?  Oh no, I have a saddle sore - how did Jacky deal with it?  Drat, she's had a bad day with the wind on the bike - how did I cope with the same situation that might help her?  And so on.

We haven't met in person yet (watch out when that happens, Taupo, during IM week!) but sharing our training triumphs and challenges as we edge closer to I-Day has definitely made the journey that much more manageable.

So as I'm struggling my way through the last few kilometres of a run, or battling into yet another Canterbury gale-force headwind, my mind visualises Kerry (a real person who's done this), Mike Reilly (yelling out "Toni ...  YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!), Charmayne (age really is no barrier) and Jacky (super iron-mum), as well as the thousands of people who have been there before and proven that a bit of extra effort really can turn the ordinary into extraordinary.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Getting Organised

All of a sudden a lot of what I'm sorting out at the moment are actual details for Taupo - it's not just about training...although there's still a lot of training happening!

First of all there was a clothing malfunction to sort out.  The plastic pull tag on the zip of my purple 2XU trisuit decided to pull away (literally) leaving the whole outfit in no fit state for an ironman event, when everything must be in perfect working order.  At least it didn't happen the day before...  So it was down to The Frontrunner for a replacement.  My entry into the South Island Half Ironman came with a free 2XU tri top so I figured I really only need a new pair of tri pants - so that's what I got.  I've now gone from wearing a "unique" easily recognisable purple one piece suit to a black two piece ensemble that will probably be impossible to pick out in a crowd.  Never mind, comfort is more important and the pants are awesome.

Then my drink bottle holder on the bike started coming loose.  And, no, simply tightening the screws didn't help - in fact the screws weren't loose.  It was the bits embedded in the bike frame, that the screws screw into, that had started to pull out of the frame.  Confused?  Don't worry, St Pete was, too, when I tried to explain it to him!  Never mind, a quick trip down to John Bull soon got that sorted out.  Nothing like refixing the mounts and using bigger screws to fix it.  There's no moving the bottle holder now.  I hope.

Finally, had a rejig of my nutrition - call that a complete change...!  Current top contenders are PowerBar Gels (I know these will be provided on course), PowerBar Gel Blasts (like wine gums but softer and they don't stick to your teeth) and Em's Power Cookies (just all round oaty, chocolatey goodness, and made by Emily Miazga, the effervescent woman and Coast to Coast winner who runs alongside Tour de France riders in nothing but a yellow bikini).  Oh, and the Horley's Hydration drink - that hasn't changed. Yum!!!

Must start looking out for distinctive stickers for my bike helmet....don't want to be getting lost in the crowd now.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Jigsaw is Coming Together

With less than 7 weeks to go now until Ironman New Zealand, reality is starting to hit.  I am actually going to do this and I am now starting to alternate between excitement, anticipation and downright fear.

The fear, of course, is perfectly natural, and to be expected.  Ironman challenges you and will ask you some pretty tough questions on the day.  Are you up to it?

Of course the rational part of me knows that I am.  I started out on this journey knowing that while I'm not a natural athlete, I have demonstrated an ability to go long.  I've done 100km plus bike events (Le Race, Rainbow Rage, Source to Sea).  I've run two marathons (Christchurch and Buller).  I've done the Oxfam Trailwalker, a 32 hour endurance walk covering 100km.  And of course I've done the South Island Half Ironman.

What's missing, though, is the swim. 

I haven't done any long distance swim events and, quite frankly, the swim leg is my achilles heel.  Yes the Half Ironman required a 1.9km swim but all that really did was confirm the swim as my weakest discipline.  I've talked about my swim demons in previous posts so there's nothing new there, but I've been acutely aware of the need to sort my head out if I'm going to get through the first part of the day.

Today's swim, though, really helped.  It was scheduled to be 4km and included a 2km set and a set of 10 x 100m with the pull buoy.  I haven't ever swum 2km non-stop before, so that was a mental challenge in itself, but when I got to the pool I realised I had also not read the programme properly.  Somehow I had missed the fact that I needed the pull buoy, so hadn't brought it with me.  It wasn't a huge problem, though, as many people simply do the pull sets with a kickboard or two between their legs. 

What I needed to knock off, though, was the 2km set.  So I did the 500m warm up and, before my brain had a chance to think about the distance required, got started on the big one.  It had been raining steadily most of the day but it was warm in the outdoor pool and I found myself in a really good rhythm early on.  I focused on slow, controlled breathing, a slow kick and a steady arm action, concentrating on a controlled pull under the water.  The slow breathing is a bit of a deviation from Coach Dave's advice ("don't be afraid to get your heartrate up", he said of the swim), but I'm finding that slow and steady seems to be working better for me, for now anyway.  If I start working hard, and breathing hard, I'm more likely to start hyperventilating and then I stop swimming and start freaking out about how far I've still got to go!

So, slower and steady goes it, feeling the water and staying calm.  Before you know it I've done 17 laps (1700m) and I'm still feeling really comfortable.  My mind started turning to the other 1000m set and I start thinking why don't I just do a 3000m set rather than a 2000m set? 

So I did.

And then I did the 500m warm down and suddenly 4000m is done, in 1 hour 53 minutes.  (The 3000m set took 1 hour 23min.)  Not hugely fast, but I did it! 

So I've been able to prove to myself that I can swim 3.8km and, with that, the Ironman jigsaw is coming together.  And the swim speedwork?   Well that can be revisited for Ironman 2012...!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

You Will Get Tired...

Coach Dave really knows how to deliver an understatement.

"You will get tired", he said.

How about: "You will become a walking zombie who will not care if the house burns down around you as long as you can pull the couch or lazy boy out in time so you can have a snooze.  You will cease to find your husband at all amusing when he tries to make a joke.  Your body, while not suffering from aching or sore muscles, will insist on operating at quarter speed while it recharges every single cell which has been systematically depleted over the last two weeks through the schedule of swimming, biking and running that I am about to give you."

That would be a more accurate description.  But no, all I got was "You Will Get Tired". 

And, to make things worse, or to test my dedication to ironman, it all happened over the Christmas/New Year period. 

A time when everyone is drinking and eating up large.  
A time when exercise gets forgotten in favour of socialising and catching up with friends and family.  
A time when everyone is mentally recharging and resting in preparation for the new year.
A time when it is socially acceptable, even expected, to put on a couple of kilos.

Yes, that happens to be the time that training is ramped up and I turn into a walking zombie.

The easiest way of illustrating the time I've had is simply by reproducing the "highlights" of my training log notes.  I send my log to Coach Dave at the end of each week so he can see what I've been up to and there is an option of adding notes if there is anything particularly noteworthy that he should know about.  Throughout the year the notes section has been pretty sparse.  I've done the sessions, ticked off the distances and everything has been pretty straightforward.  

These last couple of weeks, however, my training log has turned into a novella.  Yep, the pressure is on and you'll see the first week I became obsessed with nutrition while in the second week I just got tired (and grumpy) ...  It did finish on a high note though.

Wednesday: (3 hour bike plus 40min run)
Faded on the run – not enough nutrition on bike?  ( ½ one square meal, 1 cheese/marmite sandwich, ½ bottle Horleys replace drink; TOTAL CHO = 81g.  Then had 1 leppin squeezy at end of ride immediately before run; 25g CHO).

Thursday: (90min run)
Awesome run (why couldn’t yesterday’s run have been so good?!!!).  Took 1 Powerbar gel at start then each 30min (3 gels in total – 81g CHO)

Friday: (3 hour bike plus 30min run)
Went out to Blue Duck and then around bottom of Cashmere incl hills so cadence slightly lower.  Had a PowerBar gel every 30min plus one in bike/run transition, plus bottle of Horleys Replace. (6 gels in total plus drink =  200g CHO)

Saturday: (70min swim/2 hour bike/60min run)
Good swim, good bike, excellent run.  Food went well and it seemed to make a difference.  Had Em’s Power Bite in Swim/bike transition then on bike had 2x Em’s Power Bite cookies, 1 PowerBar gel and 1 bottle of Horley’s Replace.  Then had another Em’s cookie in Bike/run transition and had a gel 30min into the run.  166g CHO for the whole session.  Seemed to go really well. 

Sunday: (4 hour bike ... planned)
Awful day – really strong winds blowing me all over the road (barely got onto the aero bars), tired and now the not so proud owner of a saddle sore.  All combined to make biking totally miserable so I called it a day and came home then went and did an hour in the pool.  If yesterday’s session was 8/10 then today was 1/10.

(It makes me feel infinitely better to know that Dave also cancelled his ride that day due to the winds...and he got a flat tyre too!)
Wednesday: (4 hour bike)
Epic Fail.  
Got puncture 4km from home.   
CO2 refill wouldn’t work.   
Walked home and pumped up tyre.   
Rode to John Bull to sort out CO2 system.   
They discovered attachment was faulty and give me a new one.  
Try to buy more CO2 canisters off them.  
None in stock. 
Ride to Scotty Browns and buy spare CO2 canisters.   
Start bike (2 hours later).   
4km down the road it starts bucketing down with rain.   
Throw toys out of the cot and bike home.

Thursday: (4 hour bike plus 2 hour run)
Hard ride – got v windy around Brighton and Sumner but glad I got it done after Wednesday’s disaster.  
Run good but started getting gastro troubles an hour in.  Was taking a gel every 30mins.  Had a toilet stop at 60min and then needed another 12 minutes before the end.  With 5mins to go I bonked.  Got finished but felt crap all evening (and nauseous).  Not sure if it was gel related or dehydration (I was regularly taking in water – we had a water pack with us - but it was stinking hot) or just some random stomach bug.  Most likely dehydration I guess.

Friday: (2 hour bike)
Still feeling v average after previous day’s efforts on the run.  Didn’t feel like a quality workout – just ticking it off. 

Saturday: (80min swim/1 hour bike/30min run)
Much improved swim on previous weeks.  Wind got up on the final leg back to the start and it was quite choppy but that didn’t bother me.  If anything it gave me something else to think about other than how far there was left to go!   
Bike was a grind – biked from Pegasus back home and had a strong headwind the whole way. (Turned into a 1hr 20min bike.)
Sunday: (180km bike plus 40min run)
Really happy with ride (and run).  Slower than I would have liked (6hr 45min for the bike leg) but I was still pretty tired I guess from the last couple of weeks (note my own understatement here...!).  Also concentrated on doing the distance (rather than focusing on speed/time) and keeping the legs in reasonable shape for the run.  Could have easily continued biking, the only thing giving me any grief towards the end was some lower side back pain.
Now shattered!