Monday, February 27, 2012

Ironman #2 - Let's Go!

Tomorrow morning St Pete and I board a plane and fly to Auckland.  On Saturday morning I will be on the start line with 1600 other athletes in Taupo, ready to take on Ironman New Zealand for the second time.

Who would have thought...

Twelve months ago I was getting ready to tackle the event for the first time.  It was the hardest thing I had ever attempted but it was also the best day out ever.  I had such a great time I had no hesitation in jumping in and entering for a second attempt - and St Pete had no qualms either!

Since then our lives have taken an incredible turn and I definitely know what it's like to approach an event saying you haven't had a perfect year.  We've moved country, changed jobs and at times during the last few months I was feeling like I would be happy just to get to the start line, let alone come anywhere near my lofty goal of a 13 hour finish.

Suddenly, five days out, the time no longer matters.  Ironman, after all, is a journey.

It's so much bigger than the time you achieve.

It's more about facing the challenges that life throws your way and dealing with them.  Some way, some how.

And I'd like to feel I've embraced those challenges and have come out stronger as a result.

I've embraced hills, both in my cycling and running - on Saturday I did a 2 hour ride that involved over 1000m of climbing.  Something that would have been unheard of just a year ago.

I've embraced open water swimming (although I haven't embraced swimming regularly with the sharks in Sydney Harbour!).  I took on the chop of Lake Wanaka without any fear and destroyed any remaining qualms once and for all in the 2km Cole Classic a few weeks ago.

Last year Coach Dave wouldn't let me finish a half ironman, 3 months out from Taupo, so as to conserve my legs.  This year not only did I have permission to complete a half ironman as part of my buildup, but I did it just 6 weeks ago.  Who would have thought!

Last year I didn't have a clue how to transport my bike on a plane.  I can now pack and unpack my bike like an expert, and have to admit feeling very cool as I stroll through an airport terminal with the bike case.  I might look like a complete idiot but I feel like Chrissie Wellington (except she probably doesn't have to pack and unpack her own bike!).  Yeah, I've turned into a real tri geek.

Last year I coined a new term: "excitrified".  It's equal parts excited and terrified and I swung between both emotions in the days leading up to Ironman.  This year I'm just excited. 

Excited to be challenging myself.  Excited to see what I can achieve on Saturday.  And excited to share that journey with family and friends.  

St Pete will be there, as he has been since day 1 of this journey, cheering me along from the sidelines.  He won't relax until I cross the finish line - and this year I have to remember that he'll be on the left hand side of the finish chute.  No high fiving of the crowd on the other side!  

My fellow ironman buddy from last year, Jacky (Ironjack), will also be there yelling from the sidelines and I can't wait to see her in Taupo this week.  Coach Dave won't be there this year, but he'll no doubt be following online in the great tradition we have established since our move to Sydney.  Where would we be without Skype, email and the internet?  And this year we'll have mum and dad up from the south island cheering me on as well.  It'll be a long day for them but I hope they enjoy the experience as much as everyone else in Taupo does for that 17 hours of extreme endurance.

Where the ordinary, everyday average person sets out to do the extraordinary.

Bring.  It.  On.   :)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Cole Classic - I'll be an Ocean Swimmer Yet

The morning after I almost killed myself breaking 40 minutes on the Sun Run, Pete and I were on the ferry and heading back to Manly so I could take part in the Cole Classic.

This event is apparently Australia's largest ocean swim and there are a few different options for people.  A 1km, 2km and then the Cole Classic Dee Why to Manly - a 9km event for the ocean swimming long distance elite.

I was content to knock off the 2km event and this was apparently the second best idea I had ever had in Coach Dave's eyes (behind the Sun Run!).  I'd practice some more pack swimming and sighting, all while trying to avoid being shark bait!

Sunday morning of the event arrived fine and sunny in Milson's Point.  My wave start wasn't going until 12.40pm so it was a leisurely start to the day and a rare sleep in.  A quick check of the website pointed out that the weather at Manly was somewhat different.  While fine and sunny, it was apparently windy enough that there was a huge swell at Manly Beach.  This meant that the original course, from Shelly Beach to Manly, had to be changed and the course would instead start and finish at Shelly Beach.

Not a problem.  I can do this.  I'm an ironman.  Yeah right.

Manly Beach - closed for swimming (unless you're in the Cole Classic!)
After a relaxing ferry trip to Manly, we walked over to the other side and got our first glimpse of the ocean.  Sure enough the waves were enough to keep anyone but the most insane surfer out of the water.  However far, far, in the distance, past the break, I saw a buoy.

Oh man, don't say we have to swim out past that sucker.

No point worrying about it now, though, we walked around to Shelly Beach.  Normally this is a really lovely stroll along a footpath following the shore south from Manly for about 1.3km to a little sheltered bay with a marine reserve and park setting that is perfect for a day in the sun with a picnic and a good book.

This morning, however, the path was heaving with people.  People heading in our direction towards Shelly Beach.  People heading in the opposite direction back to Manly, some with medals around their necks, having finished their swims for the day.  The 1km event was just finishing when we got there and there were so many people there it was almost standing room only on the reserve.

I still had a couple of hours to go before my wave, however, so we found a shady square centimetre of grass under a tree and proceeded to chill out and watch the goings on.

By midday it was time to start thinking about getting organised and so I headed down to the water to go for a short swim and get acclimatised.  Wetsuits weren't allowed so it was a case of checking out how cold the water was and cooling my body temperature down to match.

Far out, that's cold...
And it was cold.

So much for middle of summer, sub tropical climes and all that stuff.

I stood waist deep (as per photo) pretending to be scouting out the course but what I was actually doing is waiting for the time when it didn't feel like I was standing in a bucketful of ice.

Thankfully it only lasted about 5 minutes (felt like 15) and then before I knew it, it was time to head to the start with my wave.

Leading up to this the old swim demons started making themselves known.  I started worrying about the choppiness of the water, so much so that St Pete even told me it was OK not to do it and we could just go home.

What did I have to prove?  After all, my focus was Ironman New Zealand, in the calm of Lake Taupo and accompanied by a wetsuit.  If the Cole Classic was just going to make me miserable then what was the point?

The thought of going home, however, appealed less than giving it a go and so after a bit of mental self talk I found myself at the start line and as ready as I could be to get out there, with around 50 other ladies in my wave.

The course was a bit of a rectangle, first of all heading straight out from Shelly Beach and then heading right and swimming parallel to Manly Beach for about 600m, and out to that buoy we had seen when we first arrived at Manly Beach.  We would then turn right again and head towards New Zealand for about 300m before turning right again and heading parallel to Manly Beach towards Shelly Beach.  Finally there was a left hand turn to head straight into Shelley Beach and the finish line.

Heading out to the first buoy, and after the last buoy, was quite calm.  We were still within the shelter of Shelly Beach and so these sections weren't too bad.  The main sections, however, running parallel to Manly Beach were a different story.  There was a swell of 2-3m and so I had the whole experience of arms being whacked by waves, arms coming down and finding air instead of water, and waves coming down when I'm trying to breathe - what an inconvenience!

Another new experience was the placement of the buoys (or cans, as they are known in open water swimming).  In Ironman we have buoys along the course, probably every 100m or so, so you never really have any problems figuring out where to go.  In this course there were 4 cans.


One at each turn.

So on the two long legs, there was about 600m between each turn and, with the swell, you would be lucky to see it.  Which made sighting off the land absolutely critical.  Great practice!

Anyway, almost an hour after I started, I finally found myself heading back into shore and absolutely stoked to have completed it without freaking out or breast stroking for half an hour wondering if I'd ever get to the end.  I even managed a semi-run up the beach to the finish line and think my expression at the end said it all really...

Yep, makes Lake Taupo (and even Lake Wanaka) look like a stroll in the park.  Just call me ocean girl!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sun Run - Short but Sharp

Let's get this straight right at the beginning....

I don't do fast.

I am powered by a diesel engine and this ol' diesel is great at chugging away for the 15-odd hours needed for an ironman.  I am absolutely useless at going fast and will always be the tortoise rather than the hare.  This is why I don't do Olympic distance or sprint distance triathlons.  And this is why I moan like anything when Coach Dave suggests I do a little duathlon.  

So you can imagine Coach Dave's surprise when I emailed him before Christmas asking if he thought it would work training-wise for me to do a little fun run, a mere 6 weeks before ironman.

Well, I imagined his surprise.

Dave, true to form, didn't hesitate to email back hugely enthusiastic about the whole idea.  An opportunity to "sharpen up" in the final few weeks was apparently the best idea I had come up with .... ever.

Which got me worried!

So St Pete and I entered the Sun Run and started mentally preparing for a short, sharp, 6.45km "fun" run from Dee Why to Manly.  I decided I would push my pace and aim to finish in under 40 minutes, which would require an average pace of less than 6 minutes per kilometre.  I had been achieving that for most training runs and it was now time to put it together for an actual race.

No pressure....

What I hadn't figured on was the elevation of the course.  Simple, deluded me somehow figured that going from one beach down the coast to the next one would be essentially flat.  We have been living in Sydney for almost six months now and I still haven't learnt my lesson.  Idiot.  But more on that later.

A 4.00am wake up call on the morning of the race saw us up and out the door, and a short walk up to North Sydney where we picked up the 5.09am bus out to Dee Why.  Within a couple of stops it was standing room only on the bus with fellow runners and party goers heading home from their all night adventures.  Just after 6.00am we piled out at Dee Why and had a short walk down the road to the beach area where a party atmosphere was well underway for the start of the run.

Over 5000 runners had entered and we were split into 3 starting groups - the runners, the joggers and the walkers/recreational entrants, depending on the estimated finish time you put on the entry form.  My  incredible optimism of a sub 40min finish had us seeded into the runners (fastest!) group - yikes, no pressure!!!!!  So we positioned ourselves at the back of the runners' start area and waited for the gun.

It was a great atmosphere, and perfect weather conditions.  It had rained overnight so was a little cooler than usual, but no wind and set to warm up and be a stunning day.

I was feeling mentally prepared for a strong run but had overheard some people talking about "using the downhills for recovery" which started ringing alarm bells in my head.  Never mind, whatever comes I'll deal with it.  Finally the gun went off and we were away.  And within 200m of the start we were climbing our first hill.

Geez, what a way to warm up...

It would be fair to say the course was undulating for the first 5km, finishing with a 1500m flat section at Manly.  We had a couple of decent hills at the start, which I coped with fine and then the rest of the run went in a bit of a blur until a couple of short, sharp hills at around the 4km mark which I ended up walking.

At the end of the final climb we were in Queenscliff and it was a real highlight to come across Balmoral Tri Club member Bel and her workmates from Lululemon cheering everyone on from the sidelines, dressed in pink tutus.  They looked amazing and I managed to give Bel a high five as I went past - so good to have a laugh at a time when I was mentally starting to really struggle.

We headed down the final hill (use the downhill to recover.....) and dropped into the start of Manly beach and the final 1500m to the finish.  It was getting really tough by this stage - I was trying to keep the pace on but my head was also saying "just slow down, this is too hard".  I could see the finish arch in the distance and it seemed too far away to keep the pace up for.

I shut out the give up voice, however, and kept going, visualising as I did so the finish line for Ironman and drawing on all my mental strength to stay strong and finish strong.  About 200m from the finish we could hear the announcer calling people in for the sub 40 minute finish.  He was urging people on, to get them in before the clock ticked over for 40 minutes and all I could think was "that's the gun time, not net time" and "I can't go any faster".

Somehow, however, I did cross the finish line and, get this, it was just before 40 minutes ticked over on the clock.  I ended up with a net time of 38min 29sec - 91 seconds to spare!

It was only a 40 minute run and only 6.45km but I was really happy to have been able to push it to the max and achieve my goal.

Overall, then, it still wasn't a hugely fast time, but it was a good pace for me, especially with the hills and the unscheduled walk up the last ones.  What I was especially pleased with, though, was winning the mental battle against myself and not letting up when the going got tough.  I'm going to need all that mental strength and more out on the run at Ironman if I'm going to have a shot at a PB.

Bring it on!!!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Lake Wanaka Half: It's Just a Training Day

There are a few YouTube videos doing the rounds at the moment that really strike a chord with me, and probably every other triathlete around.  "Sh*t Triathletes Say" is a compilation of common phrases we are probably guilty of saying and which, to a "normal" person, probably sounds off this planet.  As an example, this video is one of my particular favourites:

As I watched it for the first time I realised that I was sounding exactly like this when discussion turned to me doing the half iron individual event at the Lake Wanaka Half last month.  I would try to lower everyone else's expectations of it (and my own) by qualifying my entry with the comment: "It's just a training day for IMNZ".  

Riiight...(I can now hear people thinking!)

So why would I qualify it at all (and therefore join the realms of triathletes talking sh*t worldwide)?

Quite simply, I didn't know what to expect and didn't want to take on any more pressure than I had already been experiencing over the past year.  

Entering the Lake Wanaka Half was a bit of an evolution.  In April last year it started out as an idea to enter a team in the full distance and I was keen to do the bike leg as a training day for Ironman - I know, another "sh*t triathletes say" moment.  By the time St Pete and I were leaving for Sydney, however, the idea had moved on from a team entry to me entering the half as an individual and using it as part of my build up to Taupo.

It seemed like a fabulous idea at the time - a great excuse to go back and catch up with the Christchurch crew and an opportunity to try out this course that I had heard such good things about.

So I entered.  And there was no turning back. 

And then I entered the most challenging period of my training so far - adjusting to new city, new job, new country, new geography, new climate.  You name it, it had changed and I couldn't even begin to contemplate how it would affect my ultimate goal of ironman, let alone the half at Wanaka.

Coach Dave was a star - if he was worried about all my niggles, concerns and doubts, reports of missed sessions or sessions that weren't going to plan, he didn't let on.  And probably just as well!  

During one particular Skype session he asked me how I thought training was going.  After what seemed like an eternal silence I realised I couldn't answer him.  I had no benchmarks to base this year's training against last year's.  I was running and biking in heat, humidity and hills - three things I hadn't experienced in Christchurch and traditionally didn't deal well with.  I had reached the point where I was going to be just happy to make the start line at Taupo, let alone have any sort of attempt at a 13 hour finish.

There's a bike in there somewhere...
But I kept telling myself that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger and so with St Pete's encouragement (and continued cooking, cleaning and caring!) I found myself packing up the bike and preparing to head back to New Zealand for 

"it's just a training day in preparation for my A race".....

Lake Wanaka Half: Race Report

So, the day had arrived.  This year, just six weeks out from Ironman New Zealand, I was going to take on Lake Wanaka Half, the half iron distance. And, unlike my training program last year, the goal was to complete the whole thing. Last year Coach Dave advised me not to finish the run so as to not trash the legs (and that half iron distance was 5 months before ironman!).  This year I had the green light to do the whole thing, confident that I could recover in time for my "A" race in March.

How times have changed...

The goals for the day were to have a good solid swim, coming out of the water feeling happy (mental disposition is so important!).  Then go hard on the bike (I know no different) before doing a steady run focusing on staying comfortable to the end so as to conserve the legs.  At the same time I'd be practising my nutrition strategy and making sure it was dialled in properly for Ironman.

I was feeling relaxed and calm and, despite the waves on the lake, was feeling no trepidation about the swim.  How different from my first ironman swim a year ago.

Swim: I was really happy with it.  It was pretty rough and I was closely surrounded by girls all the way to the first turn but I wasn't concerned about the proximity of others or the occasional touch with hands or feet while swimming.  The wind was such that I went to breathing on my left side only up to the first buoy and so by the time I got to the first turn my right arm and shoulder were feeling a bit tired from the extra work on that side.  It was also pretty gnarly punching through the waves heading out so breathing every stroke was also preferable!

Once we got past the first turn I was able to go back to bilateral breathing and felt a lot more balanced. Heading to the second and third turn buoys were fine but coming back along the beach was tough,  only because I couldn't see a thing.  The sun was in our eyes and I couldn't get any bearings.  It was a case of following the splashing ahead and hoping it was heading in the right direction. At one point I had to ask a girl beside me where the buoy was and she pointed it out - it was only about 50m away but I could barely see it!

What went well: my confidence - no major stressing over the distance or conditions. I've definitely got my psychological demons sorted.

What would I change for next time:probably not a lot. I would have liked to have got a better time, but I guess the conditions played a part in that.  I stopped the clock at 45:50 and 15th (out of 19) in my age group.

All in all came out of the water happy and relaxed.  Goal achieved!

Bike: The conditions were good, with not much wind until the last 20km.  The course is quite hilly and so quite a bit more difficult than the Lake Hood course which was totally flat.  It is also hillier than the Taupo Ironman course and so I was really happy with the way I coped on the climbs.

I passed heaps of people, including lots of people on the climbs - which would have been unheard of 12 months ago.  I got into a good rhythm, pushed the pace and kept cadence high (at least I think I did!).

Nutrition went to plan - I had a gel at the start of the bike and then at the start of each drop zone I had another gel. At each aid station I also took half a banana and at two aid stations I took a pump bottle and topped up my front bottle with water.  All up then I had 6 gels, 3 whole bananas and half a bottle of electrolyte.  I had a 7th gel in T2.

What would I change for next time: again, probably not a lot. The aim was to have a good solid ride and practice my nutrition and I achieved both goals.  I would have liked to have got closer to 3 hours, however given the terrain it was probably a solid effort. 

My bike split was 5th fastest in my age group so I'm a lot more confident that my Sydney training has had a positive spinoff.  Goals achieved!

Stunning day for a bike ride - loving it!

Run: The aim was to not push the run so as to not kill the legs before Taupo.  I started out slowly and the first 5km was pretty hard.  I couldn't get into a rhythm and was just hating it.

After that, though, and especially along the river track I came right and really enjoyed the next 10km.  I found a steady rhythm and maintained that until the hill in Gunn St. I walked up that, as planned, and came to the drink station at the top looking for a gel. It was a water station only, however, and I noticed I started to fade not long after that.  

Best part of the course

The last 5km was a bit of a grind but I also didn't want to push it and kill my legs off.  So I focused on a steady pace, approx 7min kilometres seemed the most achievable IM pace to aim for. I took a gel and water at every aid station (where available!) and that seemed OK.   So I had 6 gels in total on the run, in hindsight possibly a fraction light.

What would I do differently next time: I think I would try and carry a small stash of lollies for emergencies between aid stations. At IM I'll try and push the pace a bit more, especially once I get through the first 5km - aim for 7min kilometres (which would give me a sub 5hr marathon time).

Overall, though, I was happy with the run.  That split was 2:40:52 and 14th in my age group. It was an undulating course and again I think the Sydney training helped.  I've definitely improved.  Goals achieved!

I crossed the finish line feeling pretty stuffed but not completely trashed and feeling very satisfied with what had turned out to be a good solid training day. Preparation leading in was good - three days prior on a low fibre diet meant no GI issues and I weighed the same at start and finish, so fluid balance must have been spot on. 

My transitions went well - I was 5th and 9th fastest in my age group out of T1 and T2 respectively so well in the top half of the field for that aspect which I was also happy with.

Recovery was also good - I went and stood in Lake Wanaka for about 15 mins afterwards and then spent the next 36 hours in my 2XU compression leggings and seem to have bounced back reasonably well.  

Great day out and fantastic confidence boost for Taupo - bring it on!