Monday, December 3, 2012

Bondi to Bronte Ocean Swim - A real ocean swim

One of the great things about living in Sydney is that there is no shortage of beaches and ocean to swim in if you are so inclined.  The swimming culture here is alive and well with surf lifesaving, surfing and other ocean sports high on the list of many locals' weekend pursuits.  The only downside is the wildlife and it is the nagging concern about unwittingly becoming shark bait that prevents many, including myself, from enjoying the ocean as much as we'd like.

There is one way around it, however, and that is via the multitude of ocean swim events around the region every year.  Earlier this year I did the Cole Classic, out at Manly, and this weekend I ticked another one off the list - the Bondi to Bronte Ocean Swim.  Another iconic event in the Sydney ocean swim calendar.

I had suggested doing the swim with a couple of local friends and work colleagues and each one of them reacted as if I was suggesting we swim the English Channel together.  Sharks, the distance and getting out of the surf break at Bondi seemed to be insurmountable barriers to entry but were all things I hadn't considered as real obstacles.  OK, sharks maybe, but for me that's the whole point of doing an organised event - there's heaps of people around you and, more importantly, plenty of life guards keeping a look out for unwelcome company in the water.

But while I entered with gusto and felt sure I could handle the event, it didn't stop the old butterflies returning - we were out at Bondi the week before with friends and I happened to point out to Sandra and Katarina the route of the swim I'd be doing.  "It's basically just out around that headland and then back into the next bay".  Next thing I know my brain's doing double time - that headland looks like a looong way out.  Bugger.  Stop thinking about it.  There will be buoys ("cans") out there on race day and then I'll be able to get into the normal routine - just get to the next can. 


So Sunday arrived.  Saturday had been stinking hot, muggy, a real pearler.  Race day comes along and it's grey and blah. The temperature, though, isn't too bad.

I wasn't stressing too much - although remembering on the train platform that you've forgotten your swim goggles isn't the most relaxing activity.  A quick sprint home to retrieve them was in order and probably got rid of some excess nerves in the process...

The Bondi to Bronte facebook update that morning reported a 1.5m swell and water temperature of 19.5 degrees, meaning wetsuits were allowed.  We get off the bus at Bondi and I'm trying to remain chilled out and it's blowing.  No nice calm summer's day. 


Immediate thought - at what point to do they decide it's too rough to swim?  By the look of activities down at the registration tents and beach, this didn't warrant giving us the morning off.


Nothing to do but get registered and sausage my way into the wetsuit. The ocean swimming purists would have no doubt scoffed at my attire but for the first time this year the organisers were allowing wetsuits as an option for all age group categories when the water and air temperatures met certain criteria.  It was their way of encouraging greater participation in the event and great for us triathletes who should really be swimming in our wetsuits at any open water swim opportunity.  Thankfully I wasn't the only one.  Around 25% of us were similarly attired, so I was far from being odd one out.

Next thing was to figure out the best starting postion along the beach.  I had been reading about using the rip to carry you out and it looked like the start of the course had been lined up beside the rip (a smoother patch of water amongst the surf).

Finally I couldn't put it off any longer and so said goodbye to St Pete and headed into the coralling area for our wave start.  We were sent off in age group waves, and for some reason my age group was the last wave to be set off.  The oldest age group had been sent off first, behind the elites.

Great, so I've got the joy of being the last one to finish to look forward to.

Race briefing went something like this:
  • There are 10 cans along the course. 
  • Life guards are there to help, don't hesitate to raise your hand if you need any assistance. 
  • Out around the point it's rough (no kidding!). 
  • If you can you might want to breathe just on your right side for that section. 
  • Once you get past the 5th can you turn and you'll see a big pink flag on the headland, to the right of Waverley Cemetery. 
  • Sight off the big pink flag and then you'll see the surf lifesaving club at Bronte Beach. 
  • If you go past Waverley Cemetery you've gone too far!
  • Don't swim towards the lifesaving club - there's a hole in front of it. 
  • You need to swim past the lifesaving club and then come back to the finish line just after it.
No problem.  Yeah right.

Line up on the beach - of course as soon as it's our turn to start the rip seems to disappear and there's surf all the way in front of us.  Typical.  Also not that reassuring was the sight of an IRB returning to the beach with four or five people from the previous wave.  Not a good start to their swim.

The gun goes off and we all head into the surf. 

And promptly get smashed three or four times by waves. 

My body manages to keep heading out while my brain is saying "what the hell are you doing this for?"  Yeah, those first few minutes I was truly questioning my sanity.  One of the only things that kept me going was the fact the St Pete had already headed off and if I chickened out now I'd have to walk all the way around to Bronte in barefeet and my wetsuit. 

Yep, strange as it seemed, it was easier to swim!

Did I mention it was rough?

When you are bobbing around in the middle of the ocean, that supposed 1.5m swell, plus a chop on top of that, suddenly looks enormous.  The visibility in the water was good and the temperature was fine, but there was no way I could get any sort of swim technique or rhythm going.  It was exactly how I would imagine being tossed around in a washing machine would be.  Every so often I'd be stroking and then suddenly get tossed on my side by a wave, or I'd rotate to breathe and a wave would come down on top of me and I'd drink some more of the ocean.

It would be fair to say that a fair bit of long dog and breastroke was utilised and I would watch the "ocean swimmers" ahead of me to see if they were doing anything markedly different.  They were, however, making it look easy and so while I was bobbing away like a cork or getting tossed around like a bag of dirty laundry, they would be cruising along up and down the side of each wave, barely breaking stroke.

About 3/4 of the way along I reassured myself that I never had to do this swim again.  Having said that, at no point did I think I wouldn't be able to finish.  For the most part the cans were only around 150-200m apart, so it was easy to chunk it down and I did seem to tick them off without too much difficulty.

The life guards were amazing.  They were continually cruising around, on surf skis, jet skis and IRBs - at one point I'm sure I was being escorted by Corey of Bondi Rescue on his jet ski.  At that point I concluded there was a definite benefit to being at the tail end of the pack if I was going to get a celebrity as a personal escort!   On a serious note, though, they would be circulating around us all and making sure we were OK.  One time I just gave a thumbs up and that was enough to send them onto the next person.  Another time we'd have a bit of a conversation as I checked to make sure I wasn't on a time limit before confirming that I was fine, just taking my sweet time about it.  At another check-in I confirmed with them that these were actually rough conditions.  They were - I wasn't just being a complete novice!  I even got offered some water at one point - which I didn't feel I needed even though it felt like I had swallowed half the ocean by then.

After what seemed like forever I finally started sighting on the final buoy and had turned in towards Bronte Beach.  It was still rough but definitely improved on what it had been and I was able to put together a decent number of strokes in each effort.  At that point also, I seemed to converge on a whole stack of people - while I had thought I had dropped off the back of the pack all of a sudden I ended up with people around and behind me for the last 100m.  It seems that they were either struggling for that last bit or had swim quite badly off course and so I had caught up to them - for once, and despite the conditions, I had managed to stay close to the cans at each point.

I'm going strong up the beach - looks like someone's struggling just behind
The beach at Bronte is quite steep and so when you get to the water's edge there is a reasonably strong current heading back out after each wave.  The last 10m, then, was quite an experience.  I could see the sand below and it was tantalisingly close but I could also see that I wasn't moving forward.  It was a really good example of being patient and waiting for the next wave to catch me and carry me in.  Which I did and stood up, upon which I had a lifeguard on the beach calling out to me to get out of the way quickly as there was another wave coming up behind.  So no casual walking up the beach, it was straight into a run up the soft sand and across the finish line.

And how good did that feel?  Amazing.

As for doing it again?  Well, despite my darkest thoughts mid-swim, my current motto of "Never say never" was starting to shine through not long after...great event, great volunteers, awesome lifeguards.

Swimming buddies for next year welcome!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sydney Marathon - Best Laid Plans...

...can come together!!

It's a couple of days after the running of the Sydney marathon and I am hobbling on the outside but floating on the inside.

Like the golfer who dreams of that once-in-a-career hole in one - Sunday for me was a rare day where it all came together and gave me a great result.

I ran, I suffered, I focused.

And I crossed the finish line in a time of 4 hours 53 minutes.  29 minutes better than my previous best time.  Chuffed is one way to put it...

So, the race plan.  I had my regular pre-race Skype call to Coach Dave and relayed my intentions for the day.  There were really only two goals (besides getting in before the 5 hr 30min cutoff!).  Firstly I thought if I could maintain a pace of around 6:30-7:00 min/km then that would be the ultimate achievement.  My recent races had me targeting a 6:00 min/km pace and so I figured this should be achievable.  My second goal was to practice the nutrition and get that nailed.  A good supply of gels and then taking on the Powerade on the course.

It was all good in theory but my head was doing double-time silencing the doubts.  There was my perceived lack of running in the build-up. No 25/30/32km runs in training for me. No 4-5 run sessions per week.  I was strictly on a swim/bike/run/bootcamp regime (with two runs per week) and Coach Dave was more than confident that he had it all under control.

And, afterall, in Coach we trust....

My other doubts were over my previous two marathons.  Both completed with the help of significant stretches of walking and much distress.  While I was extremely proud to finish both, they were both definitely a case of triumph over adversity and it would be an outright lie to suggest I actually enjoyed either experience.

And then, of course, there's that nagging voice that continually brings me back down to earth and puts this all into perspective - I'm not a runner.  My legs aren't built for running.  I'm a plodder.  What the hell am I doing running a blasted marathon?

Well, I'm proving that anyone can run a marathon.  Hell, if I can then anyone absolutely can.

So, Sunday.  St Pete and I had had a pretty good build up to it.  A quiet taper week, with the only thing threatening to rain on my parade being a cold that reared its ugly head the weekend before.  I managed to stomp it out, though.  Some great drugs from the pharmacist and lots of fluids and rest, and that pesky virus was out the door by Saturday morning.

Sunday morning dawned fine and we enjoyed the luxury of being able to eat breakfast and then watch the half marathon runners go past our balcony before we made our way down to the start line, just 200m away.  I was feeling good and not too nervous.  St Pete and I wished each other luck and he headed off to his starting group, which would get away just before our group.

I had the plan sorted out in my head.  Start out slow and steady, especially for the first kilometre which would be uphill to the apex of the harbour bridge.  I didn't want my heart rate to get high right at the start as that would put me right on the back foot.  Then walk through the aid stations and think about just getting to the next aid station.

The gun started and the first two groups headed away and then it was our turn (we were the "finish time longer than 4hr 30min" group).  Off we went, starting the climb up the bridge, and I was feeling good.  First km was ticked over in 6:11.  Faster than I had anticipated but, more importantly, my heart rate wasn't through the roof so I was happy with that.  Feeling comfortable and over the other side we went, through our first U-turn and then down the corkscrew onto Cahill Expressway before turning right and starting the climb up to Hyde Park.  Halfway up to Hyde Park we got to the first aid station, at the 5km mark and my km splits had all been sub-6:30.  A good start and I was feeling fine.  Not pushing it, just focusing on staying relaxed and enjoying the moment and the people around me.

At Hyde Park we turned left and headed downhill to Mrs Macquarie's Chair by the botanic gardens.  Again I was feeling relaxed and had gotten into a good rhythm which continued past the U-turn and for the climb back out of the gardens back towards Hyde Park.  This stretch included the short sharp steep bit that I referred to in my previous blog and I remembered this as I chugged my way up this section with no worries.

By this time we were approaching 10km and at this point we left the half marathon course and turned left into Hyde Park and headed south through the park before climbing up Oxford St and continuing onto Centennial Park where we would do several convoluted hairpins and circuits.  This would keep us occupied for a half marathon before we found ourselves back down at the end of Hyde Park to rejoin the half marathon route for the final 10km section.

First of all, though, I had to conquer the middle half marathon!

First on my mind was the grind up Oxford St.  This is a section about 600m long and a steady gradient of 4-5%.  I remembered struggling my way up there when we first moved to Sydney a year ago.  This time I chugged my way up no problems and my split for that kilometre was only about 20 seconds slower than previous splits.  In and around Centennial Park was interesting with hairpins, undulations and the course going in all sorts of directions.  There was plenty of tree cover and lots of people around so not much chance to get too hot or bored.  Rather, I simply focused on maintaining a steady pace and thought only about the next aid station.

While in the park we crossed over the half way point and my time check for the half marathon was 2:19 - a time I was well happy with.  I immediately calculated a 4:40 finish time and then pushed that out of my mind.  That was way too ambitious and I couldn't see how I was going to hold it together as well as I had for the first half.  Even so, all was going well and I had few concerns at that point.

We headed out of Centennial Park and it was easy to think we just had to run back down Oxford St and into Hyde Park.  However before that there was still about 4km of straight running with a couple of U-turns thrown in as we worked our way slowly across to the far side of Anzac parade and finally heading back to Oxford St.  It was during this last section I finally succumbed to the will of my bladder and, at around 26km, took a quick loo stop - and suffered a 2 minute deficit on my split for that kilometre!

Never mind, felt much better with that out of the way, although lesson learnt - always make sure you have a final loo stop before the start...doh!

Heading back towards Oxford St and the downhill to Hyde Park, muscles were starting to make themselves well known and it was time to employ some psychology.
- almost at the downhill, which you love
- along Hyde Park, flat
- then another downhill towards Circular Quay, by which time you'll be into the final 10km

I was mentally focusing on the downhills because they are my favourite.  However by the time I got to the bottom of Oxford St I was well over running downhill and then the second stretch down to Circular Quay was starting to become agony.

At Circular Quay I had to ignore the runners who were heading to the finish line and instead focus on the fact that there was less than 8km to go.  The last section started to get a bit ragged and my focus became not so much the kilometre splits (which were increasing to the 7:00 mark) but on keeping moving and not walking.  By this stage everyone was walking (except me!) and I actually managed to gain mental strength from those that I was able to plod my way past.  (If you were one of those people, sorry!!!!).

The last 8km section is an out and back, towards and past Darling Harbour, a couple of small loops around and then back the way you came, around the waterfront under the harbour bridge, around Circular Quay and the finish line by the Opera House.  There are a couple of good climbs on it, just enough to finish you off if you've hit the 32km wall, but again I was able to maintain momentum and keep going past countless people as they trudged (walked) their way to the finish.

My legs were starting to really complain with about 3km to go but by this point I had come down off the last downhill and knew it was flat all the way to the end - and it was only 3km to go!  I tried to keep it steady and, with 2km to go, looked at my watch and saw I was at 4hr 39min.  At that point I realised I could finish inside 5 hours and so tried to pick up the pace a little with the hope of having a strong finish.

At 1km to go there was the final aid station and I grabbed a cup of water and decided to see what I had for the finish.  Off I went, as strongly as I could in the conditions and with about 500m left we turned left slightly onto Circular Quay and stacks of supporters lining the course making heaps of noise.  There were some girls just ahead of me and I managed to get around them and ran hard to the end, wondering if they would try and get me and, knowing my luck, pip me on the line.  I stayed strong, though, and didn't see them again, powering to the end and crossing the line with a gun time of 4:56.

Knowing my net time would be less than that, I looked down and stopped my watch - 4:53 - and slowly walked to the recovery area, gasping for breath but absolutely elated with my achievement.

As I got to the recovery area I looked up and the first person I saw was St Pete.  Doubly amazing that we would find each other so quickly!  Turned out he had finished only a couple of minutes earlier and, with net times had beaten me by a mere 30 seconds.   Phew, his day hadn't been so perfect, but his honour was intact!

Lying, exhausted, on the grass in the botanic gardens, my reflections on the day were that it was pretty much the perfect race.  Everything I had anticipated had gone as it should - I had executed my plan perfectly - and I was therefore satisfied that I had received the best result that I could on the day.

Which is all we can ask of ourselves.

Some post-race stats and reflections...

  • I did the first half of the race in 2:19 and the second half in 2:33.  First half faster than I had anticipated but not too bad in terms of trying to maintain an even pace throughout.
  • In the second half of the race I picked up 188 places so, relatively speaking, had a strong second half.
  • My pace for the first half was 6:36/km and 7:17/km for the second half with an overall average pace of 6:56/km (inside my "ideal" race scenario of 7:00/km).
  • If I were to be nit picking, I could have saved almost 2 minutes if I had avoided the loo stop (didn't pay as much attention to this as I should have prior to the start) and probably another minute if I didn't hang around walking while consuming a handful of jellybeans at the 32km aid station (they seemed like a good idea at the time!).
  • I have no doubt that bootcamp has contributed to my hill strength these last couple of months.  While my climbing has improved since our move to Sydney, I was surprised with the way I coped with the climbs over a full marathon distance.
  • Coach Dave rocks.  Once again I slap myself for ever questioning or doubting his plans for me.  Some have asked whether I would change to a Sydney-based coach following our move and my question is always unwavering, "no way".  While it may seem logical to have a coach nearby, when you find one who understands your strengths and weaknesses, understands your motivations and goals, and believes in the Irongirl legend as much as I do, then you need to foster that as well as you can.  Thank goodness for Skype is all I can say!!!
  • St Pete rules.  Enough said :)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Tribute to the Ugliest Shoes Ever Invented

This morning I went for a swim.  It was a pretty normal start to the weekend but, because it also happened to be the first anniversary since our arrival in Sydney, I decided to celebrate the moment by sharing a Facebook status update of my post-swim relaxation routine.

Little did I know what a mini-furore it would start...

The entry was innocent enough - a photo and comment thus:

4km swim, spot in the sun drying off, latte in hand, watching the boats go by.  Seems like a pretty good way to spend our 1st anniversary in Sydney. Only thing missing is Pete - out running somewhere around the harbour.

Facebook post finished we carried on with our day, enjoying the spring weather that Sydney has graced us with.  That evening we got home and logged onto Facebook, where I found the beginnings of a spirited debate about, of all things, my choice of footwear.

Get those things off your feet!
Keep them on Toni!
NO - I say get them off!

Never has a pair of shoes so divided a nation as Crocs (or their imitators).  Boy was I glad those friends of mine live in separate locations around New Zealand - and on the opposite side of the Tasman to me, otherwise I'd be concerned that they'd come and do a night time raid on my shoe collection...or each other!

Such passion, though, has inspired me - and so I dedicate this blog to the passionate followers of my feet: Jacky, Mel and Jacqui.  And likely to the horror of the two J's, I also dedicate this commentary to the ugliest shoes ever invented.

Because they are also the saviour of any athlete - which I found out quite by accident.

I'll call them uglies. And I'm doing this for two reasons. Firstly, they're not Crocs.  Secondly, I'm the first to admit they're no fashion statement. In normal circumstances I would never own a pair and, indeed, admit to being one of the "non-believers" who used to look at Crocs and think, who in their right mind would part with good cash for a pair of them.

However that all changed in 2007 when good friends, the Rurus, decided to do this mad adventure which involved them cycling the length of New Zealand as a fundraiser for the Child Cancer Foundation.  At the beginning of their trip they were given a stack of NothinZ to sell, the proceeds of which would go to their fundraising tally.  NothinZ are like Crocs (but better!) and with the batch the Rurus were selling, you could have any colour you wanted, as long as it was flouro orange.

So being a good friend and supporter of the cause, a pair were dutifully purchased.  And little would I know it but a love affair would begin...

You see they are SO comfy on the soles of your feet.  It's like walking on marshmallows.  And they have LOTS of space around your toes.  And they don't care if they get wet.

So how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways...

Post-marathon or ironman:  When my toenails are mangled and touching them feels like red hot pokers are being stuck in, my uglies will encase my feet and come nowhere near touching my hyper-sensitive nails.  The softness of the soles will gently caress the bottom of my tired, aching, blistered feet as I make my way back home.

Tramping: My uglies will hang off the outside of pack, weighing nothing and serving as a fantastic beacon of colour should I ever get lost in the bush.  Fantastic to put feet into after a long day's tramping and a welcome change from the day's tramping boots.  The colour also makes them easy to spot when they've been dragged away from the tent by a Weka who thought they looked rather fetching...(yes, that really happened!)

Travel: They make great travelling companions - toss them into the bike case where they will be kind to your baggage allowance (weighing approximately 0.01 micrograms) and also act as extra padding for your precious bike cargo.

Swimming: My uglies don't care if they get wet - it's like water off a duck's back.  Wear them poolside to stop you sliding around on the wet tile surfaces.

I'm so attached to my NothinZ that I would be absolutely devastated should they be lost or otherwise rendered unwearable.  To help the unthinkable, then, I've picked up a backup pair of uglies.  The red ones were five bucks, on special online from Rivers.  They're good, but not a patch on the NothinZ and so they are my B pair.  They do the understudy stuff, things like taking me to the pool, or trips down to the basement.

For my events, A-races, it's the A pair I rely on and the orange NothinZ get taken out to do the important work. Next weekend, after the Sydney marathon, it'll be the orange NothinZ that I'll be dreaming of, from about the 30km mark.

Ugly as sin, but proof that you can't judge a book by its cover.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Irongirl's Ultimate Marathon Race Plan

In just over a fortnight St Pete and I will be toeing the start line of the Blackmore's Sydney Marathon.

Three months ago it seemed like a great idea.  Today it seems like one of the stupidest things I've ever cooked up for myself.

Like a good Irongirl, though, I have a plan.

A race plan.

And it goes something like this:

Start -2hrs
Get up, eat some mashed banana on toast and a cup of tea.
Try not to throw up said toast, banana and tea.
Check emails, facebook, twitter, and generally cruise the internet, trying to avoid thinking about the next 8 hours and instead thinking calm blue oceans and sunny skies.
Pin St Pete's race number on his top - adjust it 50 times until it is "just right".
Try not to stab him with a safety pin.

Start -1hr
Go to the bathroom.
Walk around the lounge.
Go to the bathroom again.
Put running shoes on, quadruple-check everything in the gear bags.
Make sure every possible contingency is covered - rain, blizzard, gale-force winds, heatwave.
Toss 90% of what was in the gear bags back on the bed after realising it's a calm sunny day outside and the start line is 50m from our front door.
Check for the 15th time that St Pete has the front door keys.
Leave the house and head to the start line.
Head back to the house and pick up the forgotten sunglasses.
Check for the 16th time that St Pete has the front door keys.
Leave the house and head to the start line.

Start -30min
Join the portapotty queues.

Start -5min
Make it out of the portapotty just in time to get to the start line and give St Pete a big hug and kiss good luck.

Start Gun
Watch St Pete disappear into the crowd.

Try to ignore the 3/4 of the field going past me while I settle into a warm up pace.  Resist the temptation to yell at everyone "this is a marathon, guys, you're going out too fast!" because they are already settling into their own slow pace.
Start climbing towards the harbour bridge.

Embrace the suck.
DO NOT think about the 35km still left to go.
Instead, know that my heart rate will be stupidly high and I will feel like a big bag of cement.
Might have something to do with "summiting" the harbour bridge...make mental note to find more running events that start with a downhill rather than uphill.

Finally get into a rhythm.
Heart will have stopped trying to escape from my chest and will have settled into a more civilised 140-150bpm.
Legs now feeling like they can plod along at a reasonably sedate pace for the duration.
Get some nutrition in - embrace the aid stations and maintain a civilised walk through each one.
Make mental note to suggest to the race organisers that they install an escalator on the "short sharp steep section" past the Art Gallery carpark.
Try not to swear walk up said short sharp steep section.
Channel the Little Engine That Could and make it up the short sharp steep section.
Enjoy the scenery out by the botanic gardens and then into Hyde Park before the long climb out of the CBD towards Centennial Park.

Focus on steady pace, walking the aid stations and taking in nutrition at each one.
Enjoy the feeling of being a "runner" - it won't last much longer.
Watch out for the horses in Centennial Park.
Watch the horses in Centennial Park.  They will provide a welcome distraction.

Silently celebrate the halfway mark.
Know that while it's not all downhill from here, it is homeward and that must be worth at least a 5% decline for the brain.
Check the time and immediately double it with the delusional idea that you will do, at worst, an even split or, even better, a negative split.
Double the time and add an hour to calculate the more likely scenario.
Forget the time.

Embrace the suck.
Focus only on getting to the next aid station.
Walk the aid station and take in some nutrition.
Become aware of every joint, ligament, tendon, muscle and bone from the waist down.
Block out the awareness knowing that thinking about it will only end badly.

Embrace the suck.
Say hello to the enormous red brick wall looming ahead.
Run into it.
Keep running.

It's all downhill from here!  Well actually it's flat, but that's as good as downhill when you can almost smell the finish line.
Enjoy the crowds who are still hanging out along the sidelines, including all the marathoners who finished ages ago and are now wandering around in a leisurely fashion with their medals around their necks.
Resist the urge to snatch a medal off those smug good-for-nothing natural-born athletes just to save having to run the final 4km.

40km - FINISH
Savour the feeling of all pain and discomfort leaving the body as you see the finish chute.
Run across the line with a huge smile and trying not to look like a Womble - that finish line photo needs to be a good one.
Remember to press the stop button on the Garmin - who needs official results when you've got
Hold back the expletives when you realise you forgot to start the Garmin.
Luckily there's official results.
Find St Pete and compare notes, while sitting in the Botanic Gardens nursing aching feet and toes, enjoying the spring sunshine and knowing that it's been a great day out.

Finish +2hours
Maccas - Grand Angus Burger, Large Fries, Hot Apple Pie.
Lovin' it!

DISCLAIMER:  All events described in this blog post may or may not bear any relation to actual or real events.  As always, life is not to be taken so seriously and so copious pinches of salt should be taken in conjunction with a healthy dose of humour. This blog has been written for your entertainment. Enjoy :)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

These Legs Were Made For Running...

Haha, OK, no they're not.

These legs are the most unsuited appendages for running you could ever hope for.

Look at any half decent runner and you will see long, lean limbs.  My legs?  Built like a front row prop.  Short but strong, these legs are great for power (I was nicknamed "thunder thighs" at school for good reason), but absolutely hopeless for running.  Put me at a run start line and I will plod rather than glide, pound rather than skip.

And when people talk to me about ironman they have this expectation that I must love running and I must be really good at it.  It can actually be quite entertaining to see the look of surprise and disbelief when I correct them of this fallacy and let them know in no uncertain terms that I don't enjoy running and, in fact, have a love-hate relationship with this, the third discipline of ironman.  And it took my fellow NRG club runners a couple of weeks to realise that this irongirl really did belong with the back of the pack group!

But running is good for me and there is plenty of scope for improving this leg of ironman.  Coach Dave was therefore happy to accommodate my suggestion that I get some more running into the legs over winter.  I had a few events in mind and so we set up a schedule of different challenges that would keep things interesting.

First up was the Sutherland 2 Surf.  This was an 11km fun run from (you guessed it) Sutherland out to Cronulla.  It was described as a flat run but, hello, this is Sydney, so who were they kidding?!  Overall the gradient was downhill, however there were plenty of climbs to keep everyone honest.  Another "special" feature was the location of the finish line, completely out of sight just 100m around a downhill hairpin and following a final killer climb along the beachfront just to finish everyone off mentally and physically.

I had a good run, though.  It rained basically the whole way and so the conditions were pretty miserable.  However I took advantage of the downhill start and began strongly.  So strongly (for me), in fact that I was a bit concerned that my pace was too high and was likely to lead to a blow up.  I kept going though, and finally pushed myself over the finish line in 1:04:58.  A great pace for me (5:51/km) and a real boost in confidence.

Next up in my winter running adventures was a real doozey.  An away run with NRG, our running club, running the Coastal Track from Otford to Bundeena in the Sydney National Park.

The trail is the route for a newish event, the Coastal Classic, which is being run in September.  And so it was to be used as a training run for those who had entered the event.  For the rest of us, it was a opportunity for a day out running over new terrain and exploring a different part of the region.

The Back of the Packers on the Coastal Track
It was a stunning day and we had no pressure to finish in a hurry.  The track was 27km of off road terrain - mud, rock, sand and forest trails.  About the only thing missing were leeches, and that was probably only because there hadn't been any rain in the previous few days.

A highlight was seeing a couple of whales just off the coast and we interspersed the whale watching with running along the flats and downhills and walking the climbs - of which there were plenty!  We reached Bundeena in 5 hours 11 minutes, though, not bad for a tough 27km and there were plenty of sore feet and tired bodies on the ferry back to Cronulla and train back to Milsons Point at the end of the day.

The latest in this trio of winter running was the City 2 Surf.  This iconic event is a Sydney classic, attracting its cap of 85,000 entries each year.  The run is 14km and starts in Hyde Park, heads east through Kings Cross, past Rose Bay and out to Vaucluse before turning hard right and running south to Bondi.  A particular highlight is the legendary "Heartbreak Hill", which we had heard plenty about since our arrival in Sydney last year.  Guaranteed to make grown men weep, this course was going to be no walk in the park.
St Pete and I ready to take on the City 2 Surf

The weather forecast wasn't flash.  Strong winds were predicted and low temperatures to go with them so we wrapped up warmly and got ready for a steady trot out to Bondi.  One thing I hadn't experienced before was running with 85,000 people.  Enough to put some people off, but no doubt this was going to be an adventure.

One mitigating factor is that by some miracle I had managed to qualify for the green seeded group.  My stunning performance of a sub 2hr 15min half marathon run earlier this year had allowed this privilege, and allowed us to start just 8 minutes behind the serious guys in the red group.

I was well psyched up to deal with Heartbreak Hill.  Didn't know what to expect, but I knew I had been coping with hills OK so refused to be scared of it.  In the end it was the very first climb that nearly finished me off!  500m from the start and not even properly warmed up and we start our first climb into the tunnel.

Far out!

Got there though, and we toured our way through Kings Cross and around Rose Bay.  The crowds weren't too bad - the seeding had obviously done its job and the only real problems we had were navigating our way around walkers who were most likely part of the privileged "gold" group, the fundraisers who had been able to start ahead of us because of their fundraiser status.

At around the 6km mark Heartbreak Hill started.  I was well warmed up by then and chugging along quite nicely.  So nicely in fact that I had the energy to belt out a couple of lines of Tina Turner's "Your Simply the Best" which was being played at full noise at the start of the hill.

And then we were climbing.

And climbing.

And still climbing.

Around 1.7km later we finally got to the top.  And boy was I glad to see it.  I had walked for a couple of small stretches up the hill but only for about 50m in total and so I was inwardly really happy with my effort.  I was pretty stuffed though so might have been outwardly a little grumpy... (sorry you know who!)

After conquering the hill we did a hard turn right at Vaucluse and started heading south to Bondi.

And hit a headwind.  The stormy weather had arrived and was blowing hard - although not as hard as we've encountered in Wellington!  So not too bad, and it wasn't raining so that was a bonus.  By that stage it was also pretty much downhill to Bondi where we had a 1km run along the promenade (which felt like 2km) and then a hairpin turn into the final finishing straight - which also looked like it was about 2km away but was probably only about 300m!

Crossing the finish line was a joyous occasion - a smidge under 1hr 30min and a good enough time to keep us in the green seeded group next year.

Oh, and even better?  St Pete and I crossed the finish line together and recorded exactly the same finish time.  But I beat him by 12 places...go figure.  But yahoo - I'll take that victory!

So it's been a good way to spend the winter and my running has been chugging along quite nicely.

But it's not over yet.

I have one event left for this winter, and it's a biggie.  Next month St Pete and I take on the Sydney Marathon.  With a 5:30 cut-off, my number one goal is to finish inside that time and with a PB of 5:22 for that distance I'm going to have to be on top of my game to achieve that.  I'm well on track to get there but, even so, a marathon is a marathon and, like ironman, anything can happen on the day to derail all our best laid plans.

No pressure!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A New Goal

OK, I really am an Ironman junkie.

Or maybe just a sucker for punishment...

Today I entered Ironman Cairns for 2013.  Yep, 2013.  I know, I know - followers of my insane adventures will know that I'm doing Ironman New Zealand in March and now I'll be following that up with Ironman Cairns 12 weeks later...  And I'm excited about it - eek!!!

It became a bit of a no-brainer really.  Yes, really!  Despite the challenging day at Cairns this year I straight away knew I'd love to do it again.

Yes, the swim was tough - but I won't be making the same mistake with my goggles again and it just means I need to do some more ocean swimming and upper body work to improve my strength.

Yes, the bike was tough - but I was tanked from the swim.  More importantly, the course was stunning and my hillwork is slowly improving.

Yes, the run was a disaster - but next time I won't be so stuffed from the swim, and it's a flat run .

And Cairns is a great place to visit.  Our impromptu trip this year meant we didn't spend as much time there as we would like and St Pete and I quickly agreed that a return trip was essential so we could spend a bit more time going out to Great Barrier Reef, visiting crocodiles and generally enjoying the laid-back tropical environment.

Doing two ironman events in a year is no easy task.  But I figure I'm up to it.  Part of the inspiration came from my walking buddy this year - who was completing his third ironman in 12 weeks.  He had done Ironman Melbourne because it was the inaugural event.  He'd then done Ironman Australia (Port Macquarie) and was finishing the trio off with Ironman Cairns, again because it was the inaugural event.  Next year Stephen will be doing Ironman Australia for the 10th time and achieving "Legend" status.

And that's pretty good motivation to be loyal to an Ironman event.  I don't know about the other worldwide Ironmans, but in Australia and New Zealand, when you become a 10 time finisher at a particular Ironman you become a Legend at that event.  Legend status is pretty cool - a personalised race bib in silver (later going to gold as you accumulate more finishes) and the knowledge that you are part of a smaller, dedicated group of hardcore ironmen (aka "nutjobs"!).

For those of us who will never be fast enough to place in our age groups, becoming a Legend is a pretty worthy goal to work towards and it is something I'd love to achieve at Ironman New Zealand.  And who knows, it might also end up being the case for Cairns as well.  There is a certain appeal to the goal of having done every race since its inception and, with Cairns, I've started that journey.

And then there's Kona.  Again, I'll never be fast enough to qualify for that hallowed event by winning or placing in my age group.  However there is now the tantalising carrot of foundation slots - reserved for the hardcore group who have 12 Ironman finishes.  Well, once I've ticked off Cairns next year that will be #5 and almost halfway there. 

And you think I'm mad? 

It seems I'm in good company :)

When I first mentioned the idea of doing two IMs next year to Coach Dave he commented about how two ironman finishes a year will get me to Kona much more quickly.  "Don't worry", I said - "Pete's already done that calculation!"

It will be interesting to see how the body holds up.  Coach Dave has certainly got his work cut out for him, getting me through in one piece.  But two years of working with me means he's got a great understanding of my strengths, weaknesses and my mental approach.  And he's even less likely than me to shy away from a challenge!  So between St Pete and Coach Dave, and the undying support of my family, facebook friends and training buddies, I know I've got a great team around me and I'm up for my 2013 adventure!

Either that or the loony bin :)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Cobras, Crunches and Grunts


I got up yesterday morning and everything hurt.  Muscles in my arms, shoulders and legs were all aching.  Muscles I hadn't been acquainted with in a long time.  It felt like I had just done an ironman. Except I did that almost four weeks ago.  So it was pretty safe to say that ironman wasn't to blame, and I knew the culprit.


On Friday morning I had headed down to Bradfield Park to have a trial run with the team at Ultimate Bootcamp.  They run 60 minute intense sessions designed to improve strength, endurance, fitness and mobility.  With my plans to mix things up a bit over winter, then, it seemed like it could be a good way of doing some core work and getting a good dose of DOMS.

Richie was our softly-spoken trainer with a heart of steel.  There was no yelling, no chiding.  However there was no way any of us were getting off the hook, just because it was dark, wet and cold.  After a light warmup and stretch under the bridge we jogged down the hill to the end of Lavender Bay, and a small grassed area.  It was a lovely spot to watch the sunrise from, with a view across to the CBD.  But of course we weren't going to get a chance for any of that, because the grassed area was in a very special spot.

At the base of a nice grunty hill.

First up, a run up said hill, just to check it out.  Back at the bottom we were on the ground doing 50 crunches, 50 cobras and 50 one armed rows (with a stretch band).  There are various ways of doing cobras - our version involved lying prone, with arms stretched out in front and then swinging them out and back until hands touch the hips.  Great for the upper arms, shoulders and back.

After that little set we got to run up the hill again.  And then it was back into another 50 crunches, 50 cobras, 50 one-armed rows and 50 squats.  By then the cobras were starting to get a bit tougher.  After running up the hill a third time we repeated all the above and added 50 grunts.  Yes, grunts.  Basically a half-burpee.

And my new least favourite exercise.

Of course we weren't finished there.  It was another run up the hill and then back down and a repeat of all the above.  All up, in the space of 60 minutes, I did 200 crunches, 200 cobras, 200 one-armed rows, 150 squats and 100 grunts.   Plus four hill repeats.


But, despite the DOMS, it felt great and I can tell it's going to be a really valuable session to do over the coming three months.  Only one question remains: two times per week or three...

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ironman Cairns - The Off Season

So, Ironman Cairns is done and dusted, what now?  

Now is time to give back to my greatest supporter and fan club leader.  St Pete.  He spent 17 hours manning the phone last Sunday, providing Facebook updates for all my fb friends and it was the most amazing experience to have him read out everyone's messages of support while I was struggling at the 34km mark.  

But that wasn't the end of it.  

All year St Pete has cooked for me, cleaned and run with me.  And he's also put up with my tired, cranky times, when the last thing I've wanted to do is head out yet again for another training session, or when I've come back from a session that hasn't gone to plan.

Ironman is an imposing mistress in your home life and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that anyone who tries to take this on is going to fail miserably if they don't have the wholehearted support of their family.

And the support hasn't stopped there. At a time when we were supposed to be celebrating the end of the season at IM New Zealand, Pete was the one giving me the go-ahead to sign up for my make up race in Cairns, thereby extending my season and his support role for another three months.

So now it's his time.  For the next few weekends there will be no alarm clocks.  Activities will be his choice and we will enjoy some "us" time, fun time.

And we'll make the most of it as well.  

Because soon enough Coach Dave will be tapping the Skype button and suggesting that I might like to start training again.  Ironman #4 in Taupo is not that far away, and I have new goals to reach for!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ironman Cairns - Race Report

What a friggin' day.

But I finished Ironman Cairns, officially Ironman #3, and am therefore a very content camper.

The race plan, however, got shredded up and thrown in the sea when I got out of the water and saw my time.  2 hrs 17 mins !!!!!!!  OK, there is more to that story, which I will come back to.
The day started out fine - the weather was a real pearler.  Clear skies, no wind and it promised to be hot - bugger!  After several days of rain, Cairns had turned it on big time.

We had the usual pre-race routine.  Alarm went off at 4.00am and I was up feeling fresh and ready to go.  A light breakfast and then it was down to T1 to check on the bike and pump up the tyres.  Then wetsuit on and off to the start area where the ironman athletes were corralled before being allowed into the water.

The swim started really well, I was happy and calm and had my breathing sorted out nicely, and then about 300m in got my goggles kicked off my face.  No problem, I emptied them out and carried on, but I would end up being plagued be continual leakages all the way round the course, inevitably slowing me up as I periodically stopped to empty them out and try to find a decent seal.

In hindsight I think I made a major blunder by putting sunscreen lotion on my face before the start. I'm pretty sure that's what caused my goggles to leak.


I checked my time at the end of the first lap, though, and it was 51mins.  Considering the problem with the goggles, I was OK with that and on track for a swim time of 1hr 40min. 
I head out on the second lap then and that's where the fun started.  At about that time the tide started to go out.  I hadn't realised it at the time but I did notice the flotsam that I was starting to swim through heading out on the second loop.  Luckily it consisted of tree branches and not any of the local wildlife!   And so the 860m outward leg was OK but I kept being pushed off course and then the 830m back we were swimming against the tide.  It seemed to take forever to get back into shore and I was still getting pushed off course by the current as well.

I got out of the water, had swollen sore eyes from all the salt water, was feeling mildly sick as well from the salt water and then looked at my watch.

2 hrs 17 min.

What?  OK, so I wasn't dreaming that it was taking forever to get back in but 51 minutes PLUS an extra 35mins to get around that second lap and only 3mins inside the cutoff!  It would be fair to say I was mildly annoyed with myself/ironman/everything.  To add insult to injury the Garmin recorded a swim of 4.3km - 500m further than the course should have been.  I know I kept ending up being wide on the course but I can't imagine I swam that much extra distance to stay on track.

However one of the great secrets to success in ironman is that you must have the ability to roll with the punches.  Don't let adversity get to you, adapt to the situation and you'll make it to the end.  And so I did.  And at that point I threw away the race plan and it simply became a case of getting to the finish.

With the swim behind me I didn't consider the idea of trying to make up time on the bike but, even so, did try and do a solid effort.  However it was hard.  My neck, shoulders and arms were stuffed from the swim and I guess I would have been behind on nutrition and overall energy.  And it got hot - it got to 28 degrees and there was no wind.  In fact it was borderline too hot for the aero helmet and I struggled to keep cool enough. 

I was also chugged down the gels, bananas and electrolyte - I had 10 gels, 4 bananas, 3 bottles of electrolyte and 3 bottles of water. 

The first 90km on the bike was a bit of a grovel but I did improve in the second half and I think I came home strong, managing to maintain a pretty even pace throughout the whole course.  However it was still slower than I would have liked (6:52) - I guess a combination of the heat and additional swim time plus, the course is marginally hillier than Taupo.  The rollers are deceiving and would have slowed me up no doubt.  While Taupo has around 1900m of climbing concentrated at one end of the two lap course, the Cairns course totalled over 2000m of climbing, across a larger number of smaller undulations.

Despite the challenges of the course though, it was absolutely stunning.  The coastal highway up to Port Douglas had been closed down for the event and so we had the road to ourselves, and it was fantastic.  Gorgeous views along the coastline and through the rainforest more than made up for any discomfort being experienced. 

Even so, I was feeling pretty tanked by the time I got to the run and set off with a combo run walk - which lasted about a kilometre!  I kept trying different strategies to get running again (i.e. run to the next aid station; run 2 road cones, walk 1 etc) but my brain wasn't having any of it.  So power walking it was the outcome with some jogging interspersed for the first 10km.  At about that point a bloke who was walking as well teamed up with me and we power walked the next 21km.  He was setting a good pace - I think we managed an 8min km at one point, all the while having a great natter about Ironman.  Thankfully he was happy to talk while I focused on keeping up! 

That got us onto the esplanade where we had 2 1/2 loops to go.  At that point St Pete found us - he had come down to the far end of the Esplanade and proceeded to run ahead and stop in the dark to take photos.  It was hilarious to leave him behind and then suddenly he would pop up out of nowhere to say Hi again.  So much energy - and far more than I had at that time!

About half way through the first loop I was starting to struggle so I told Stephen, my walking companion, to go on.  We were at 14 hours at that point, and had about 10km to go, and he thought he might have a crack at 15 hours while I didn't think I had it in me.  My gut was starting to rebel at the electrolytes I was having at each aid station and for about a kilometre I had to slow my walk right down as I was feeling really close to getting light headed.  It was a real low point and I knew I needed to do something different to get to the finish.  At the next aid station then I changed tactics and went onto coke and lollies and that started to make a difference.

The last 8km loop, then, I was sore but feeling much stronger and overtook 3 blokes on the final 4km back to the finish.  Of course I managed to run the last 500m and had a total blast at the finish chute.  By the time I got to the chute the VIPs were lining the route to provide a cheering guard of honour and it was the most amazing experience to high five all these people cheering me to the finish.

Finish time 16hrs 10min. On the surface you could say it was disappointing, but given the start to the day I am over the moon to have finished.  An ironman finish is a finish, and more than anything, it teaches you something new every time. 

This time around I've learnt:

1. That my swim demons have been kicked into touch.  If you read my blogs from the start of my ironman journey you would have read about my first lake swim with Coach Dave.  In the past two years my swimming confidence has improved out of sight.  Despite the conditions, the threatening nausea, stinging eyes, leaking goggles and the experience of getting nowhere fast on Sunday, there were no panic attacks, no hyperventilating and no meltdown.  I just kept emptying my goggles, re-sighting, putting my head down and swimming until finally I was within touching distance of the exit steps.  A huge milestone.

2. Not to put sunscreen on my face before swimming.  I'm pretty sure this is what is what caused my goggles to leak, as when I tried to push them a bit more firmly on they would slide around rather than the more familiar sucking motion onto my face.  Doh would be an understatement, but an important lesson to be learnt.

3. That there is a lot of walking at the tail end of ironman, and there are an amazing number of great stories to hear if you slow down enough to listen to them.  I spent an unforgettable 21km walking with Stephen and listening to his tales of ironman and sharing in his absolute love of the sport (next year he becomes a "legend" at Port Macquarie and this year he not only did Port Mac but also Melbourne and Cairns, in the space of 12 weeks.  The latter two completed because they were inaugural events).  In my eyes he is already a legend.

4. My mental toughness got me through the tough bits and I was adaptable enough to accept throwing away the race plan and then changing the nutrition strategy when it had clearly stopped working.  In the latter half of the marathon, coke and lollies rule!

Recovery post-ironman has also been noticeably better than my maiden effort in 2011.  I have the usual chafing but, in terms of muscle soreness and tiredness, there has been much less suffering.  I guess that also reflects the improved condition my body is in - bonus!

And in the wise words of Coach Dave: 

The irongirl legend continues!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Ironman Cairns - Nothing to do but Rest

Well, it's all done. Bike racked, bags checked in, weighed and practice swim ticked off. There is nothing left to do now except rest and wait for the morning to come.

Yesterday, after getting registered and getting the requisite souvenirs from the ironman store, we went out and drove the bike and run courses. Various reports had raved about how scenic the bike course is and they weren't wrong. The road surface is smooth and you are on a four lane highway out of Cairns before it narrows to two lanes along the coastline up to Port Douglas. Along the coast there are a few rollers and one semi-decent climb, that we will do twice, but the highest part of the course is 58m so it should be just enough to keep things interesting rather than a slog.

Pretty impressive is the fact that the highway is being closed down for the race, so it's looking like it will be a really nice ride.

Once we get to Port Douglas we turn around and retrace our tracks back towards Cairns, do another turnaround and head back to Port Douglas for a second time before heading back South to T2, located about 10km north of Cairns.

Out of T2 we run a loop out to Yorkeys Knob before heading back to Cairns.

Once we get past the airport we will be on the Esplanade in Cairns and we will head towards the finish line. Once we get to the finish line, though, there will be about 16km still to run so there are two more laps to do of the Esplanade and hopefully during those last stages of the race there will be LOTS of crowd support!

The run is flat and looks really scenic as well, except for the middle section between Yorkeys Knob and the Esplanade where we will be running along the highway with only cane fields and resident snakes for company.

The snakes can stay away!

Last night was the Welcome Dinner and race briefing. The USM team did a great job with the evening, with complimentary cans of soft drinks and dishes served at the tables rather than the buffet bun fight we are accustomed to in Taupo.

The dessert, tropical trifle with coconut custard and passion fruit sounded to die for but it hadn't been served by the time the race briefing was over and so I mustered all my resolve and suggested to St Pete that we leave before temptation got put in front of me. Coach Dave would have been so proud ... and I'll make up for it on Monday night!

During the speeches we heard from Macca that he wouldn't be going to the Olympic Games and while it would have been really disappointing for him, I can't help but be excited about the three-way race that is now lining up for Kona this year - Crowie, Macca and Lance. Should be epic.

This morning was the one and only official practice swim we could do on the course. Because of the possibility of crocs (yes, really!) our entry into the water was closely supervised. Before we were allowed in a couple of boats and about four jet skis spent a couple of minutes doing donuts around the course - evidently to scare away any wildlife ... Crocs much prefer still water you see. We were then counted in, in groups, and counted out again and the numbers in the water at any one time were restricted.

The water temperature was really good but the visibility was nil. It was like swimming in green murk and you literally couldn't see your hands in front of you. A couple of times I got knocked while swimming but instinctively realised that it was another swimmer rather something with big jaws. Whew!

The rest of the morning was then taken up with racking the bike and dropping the bags off at each transition area. By lunchtime all of that had been ticked off and I am now happily reclined on the couch and going nowhere anytime soon.

Tomorrow the adventure begins in earnest and I am feeling relaxed, calm and ready. A big change from last year! Whatever happens out on the course I will adapt and deal with it and I am ready to do the best that I can and enjoy the atmosphere that is Ironman.

There's nothing quite like it!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ironman Cairns - Arrival

There's something special about boarding a plane and realizing that every second person on that flight is a fellow Ironman athlete. Even if they weren't wearing their ironman-branded gear, ironman finisher's shirt or lugging around their ironman backpack, you would spot them a mile off. Lean, chiseled looks and shaved legs (well that's particularly obvious on the guys!).

I neither look lean, nor chiseled, but I was sporting my ironman gear and St Pete did have his ironman backpack handy so we were part of "the club", and I did share one final trait with them all. We were all relaxed (outwardly, anyway), and in no hurry. There was a certain calm around, even as half the flight congregated around the oversize luggage area waiting for the seemingly never-ending supply of bike bags and boxes to be extracted from the innards of the plane.

We had had a relaxing flight. I had discovered the major benefit of having short legs - they were the perfect length for resting across St Pete in our double seat configuration on the plane. No swollen ankles for me on this flight!

Then as we arrived into the baggage claim area we were greeted by a balloon arch welcoming all the ironman athletes to Cairns. A nice touch.

We made it to our hotel and after unpacking went out to explore the immediate area. In true tropical fashion the weather is muggy with intermittent rain. Thankfully it isn't too hot and if it rains on Sunday, that will simply be a bonus and help to cool the body down a little.

So, best thing about our accommodation is its proximity to the start/finish area. We've got a one bedroom apartment with cooking facilities so we can self cater as we need. The only downside so far is the promised and eagerly anticipated's cold! I guess in far north Queensland they figure a hot spa wouldn't get much use but I do wonder what the point is of having a spa at the same temperature as the swimming pool...ah well.

This afternoon then we have explored our immediate surrounds, done a light 15min run along the Esplanade and hired a car so that tomorrow we can go up to Port Douglas and check out the bike course, T2 and Yorkey's Knob area where the run will be.

The bike has been assembled and tomorrow morning I'll take it out for a spin and make sure all is working as it should.

So far so good for this Irongirl.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Ironman Cairns - Getting Ready

The days are suddenly rushing by and I am staring down the barrel of my second (third) ironman.  And it's getting exciting!

Three months ago I was dealing with the disappointment of not being able to complete Ironman New Zealand.  Fast forward to today and St Pete and I are now looking forward to heading up to Cairns so that I can put the 2012 season to bed once and for all.

And it has been a long season.  But I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

Over the last couple of weeks it seemed the extended training was starting to get the better of me.  I was tired, cranky, and the world seemed to be conspiring to make life far more difficult than it needed to be...
  • The chamois in my tri shorts fell to bits and so I felt compelled to point out the design flaw to the manufacturer, while believing I was going to have to resort to my old shorts for race day.  
  • My bike shop decided they wouldn't have time to service my bike because they had a sale on.  
  • And then my aero bottle mount fell to bits on my last ride, the day before I was due to pack the bike ready for the trip
However the stars are aligning and all is calm and good with the world again.  St Pete once again came to my rescue and was my even keel during my short-lived but rough ride... 
  • 2XU happily replaced the shorts (and surprise, surprise, the new shorts have a redesigned chamois!)
  • Big ups to Clarence St Cyclery who immediately relented and arranged to service my bike after I emailed them expressing my disappointment in their priorities.  
  • And they also had replacement aero bottle mounts in stock, so that final problem turned out to be a non-event also.
And I had a great final bike ride on Sunday morning.  I was unusually apprehensive about it as the race wheels were on from the service and I had somehow convinced myself that the tyres would get shredded riding through the CBD to get to Centennial Park.

Yes, just a wee bit of pre-race paranoia going on...

However 5 minutes into the ride I had forgotten all my concerns and was instead enjoying the hum of the wheels.  They just feel fast and they sound like they are cutting through the air with no effort at all.  Even the sound of a gear change is amazing.  A satisfying, no-nonsense clunk as they shift up and you just know you're operating on a different level to the training wheels.

I guess you have to experience them to understand what I'm talking about...

Needless to say, the tyres survived.  And of course if the logical me had been in charge I would have known they would - I've never gotten a puncture riding through the CBD or in Centennial Park, unlike out at Kurnell. 

So all is good.  I'm feeling fit.  I'm feeling rested.  I'm feeling confident.  I don't know what the day will bring but whatever happens I'll deal with it and I'll do the best that I am capable of.

I'm ready to channel Nemo and Just Keep Swimming, and then Embrace the Suck on the run.  Inbetween the two, I'll just be having an all-out good time on the bike.

We fly to Cairns on Thursday morning.  Before then, it's going to be full on, but exciting as well! The next two nights will be spent packing the rest of our gear and ticking off the final two light training sessions - swim tonight and 15min run tomorrow morning.  On top of that is the food - most important!  Because we are travelling domestically, we can take some pre-prepared food with us instead of having to buy everything up there.  So for that I'll be whipping up a dish of lasagne (Thursday night's dinner), a couple of batches of pikelets (pre-race day snacky carbo-loading food) and a bacon and egg pie (race day sustenance for St Pete).

And somewhere amongst all that will be rest, rest and more rest.

Look out Cairns, we're coming.   :)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sydney Half Marathon - Last Big Training Day Before the Taper

On the 6th of June 2004 I ran my first half marathon.

It was a dead flat course, in Christchurch, and at the time it was the hardest thing I had ever done.  I wasn't a runner and I remember well how much everything was hurting by the time I got to the finish line.  The official photo backs that up - I was a picture of pain and misery and I was experiencing the biggest challenge I had ever faced. But I did it and got a net time of 2:13:15.

Despite the difficulty and challenge, over the next 8 years, and with over a dozen half marathons under my belt, I never managed to crack that time.  I came close, with a couple of 2:17s and 2:18s, but more commonly I would come in anywhere between 2:20-2:30.

That was, until today.

Today was the running of the Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon. At only 14 days before my A race, entering was a bit of a question mark, however Coach Dave was confident I could use it as a training day and still have time to recover.

So it was a to be a training day for me and a blowout of the cobwebs for St Pete.  The plan was to go at IM pace, take it easy and make sure I got nutrition and lead up right so I could finish feeling as fresh as possible.  Quietly I was targeting around 2:20 as a goal finish time.  St Pete, meanwhile, was going to take a break from plodding alongside me and go at his own pace for a change and meet me back at the finish.

Yesterday's pre-race rest day went well, albeit including a bit more activity than would normally be undertaken.  I had got home late-ish on Friday night so decided to flag the swim planned for that evening and do it Saturday morning instead.  I had an easy 30 minute spin on the wind trainer scheduled for Saturday so the schedule became light swim in the morning then bike in the afternoon.

The swim ended up turning into a 1km time trial and I was pretty happy with my time of 24:28.  Considering I was supposed to be taking it easy I was pleased to do a negative split and hard last 50m. We did virtually nothing during the rest of the day - went into town and pick up registration packs but that was it.  Did my light spin on the bike at around 4pm and then we had a light dinner (soup and roll) and it was lights out by 10pm.

This morning, then, the alarm went off at 4.45am - I had had a good sleep and we got up and I had mashed banana on toast for breakfast and we headed into town around 6.00am for a 6.45am start.  The weather was good - chilly but not too cold, and no wind.  We found the NRG club tent and dumped our bags and then headed down to the start.

There were wave starts so our group didn't get away until just after 7.00am, so there was a bit of waiting around, but it didn't worry me at all.  Finally we got going and the first 2km was downhill, so that was good for me - a chance to take it easy and allow the body to warm up properly (much better than an uphill start!).

My first km split was 6:06 which I was happy with - given the typical crush at the start which forces you to go good and slow.  The second km split came up  at 5:48 and I was thinking "that's a bit too fast". However I was feeling strong and I knew we had this downhill stretch and then a flat stretch before the first climb so I figured I'd stick with that pace if I could and make the most of the downhill/flat terrain.

That sort of pace continued for the next couple of kilometres and then we started getting some undulating stuff.  I was OK with it, though, continued running all the climbs and picking up water and Gatorade at every drink station.  I checked my time at the 10km mark and it was 1:01 which was stunning for me.  I realised I could do around 2:10 at that pace but did temper that with the thought that the wheels could fall off and so didn't get excited, just kept focusing on maintaining steady progress.  I didn't have any aches or pains but I knew my heart rate was relatively high so it was a real unknown as to whether I could maintain it for the second half.

At the 13km mark there was a Gu aid station so I picked up a Gu there and at that point the uphills were more frequent than the down as we started heading back to the start.  I had stopped tracking the kilometre splits by then, instead going by feel.  On the flats I was running strong, changing to a shorter stride for the climbs and then using the descents for a bit of recovery before picking up the pace again.

At around 17km we were back up by the start line and had one more loop away from the park to do, down into the Botanic gardens and back up again and this was starting to get hard.  There is one little steep climb there and so I told myself I could walk it, seeing as this was just a training run and I wasn't out to kill the legs.  However in the end I only ended up walking about 20m of it (less than a quarter of the climb) which didn't worry me.

I did my final time check at the 20km mark and the Garmin was saying 2:04 and I knew at that point that I was on for a PB.  Not sure how, but I managed to pick up the pace for the last 1100m (went from 6:36 pace at 20km to 6:21 for the final kilometre).  I crossed the line, stopped my watch, looked down, saw 2:11 and burst into tears (with happiness)!!!

Such a woman :)
Nothinz - a runner's best friend post-race

So, post-race, feeling great, considering.  A little bit of tiredness, but could have definitely carried on running.  We came back to Milsons Point, walked down to the pool and had a long soak in the spa.   I've got no major stiffness and feeling easily in the best shape after any half marathon I've done in the past, and especially after my maiden half marathon all those years ago!

All in all, with 14 days to go, I'm feeling in the best shape I've ever been.  No matter what, June 3rd is going to be a long day - even if it goes brilliantly I'll still be out there for 13-odd hours.  And anything can happen to put a dampener on things.  But with St Pete's never-ending support and Coach Dave's expert guidance I'm feeling ready to have a great day, no matter what Ironman decides to throw at me.

Today's events have been summed up quite aptly by St Pete (who, incidentally, had a fab day as well, smoking his race in 1:56:56):

I came, I saw, I kicked its arse

And I plan on doing that in a fortnight as well.