Sunday, April 29, 2012

Upping the Ante - 5 Weeks to IM Cairns

It's starting to feel like a long season.

I knew this time would come - and it has.  That stage where you are just ticking over your workouts, not feeling like there's any improvement, wallowing in a big sandpit of blah.  It happens every year and it happens to everyone.  Which is why it's so important to take time off after ironman - to refresh, replenish, refocus and repay (...your family for all the support they've given you!).

Before ironman, though, is not the time to be taking your foot off the pedal.  And so when I emailed Coach Dave last week and warned him that I needed a change he took notice.  I knew I was just going through a low spot and so my way of getting through it was to map out the final six weeks of training.  Just one more four week block, I told myself, and then a two week taper.

You can do this.

Coach Dave understood immediately and set to work mapping out my next four weeks, starting out with a solid three day training weekend designed to reacquaint myself with some long, solid stuff.  Friday, a 3.5km swim, Saturday a 120km bike and Sunday a 25km run.

You can do this...(eek!)

No, you CAN do this!  One day at a time, tick each one off and don't think about what's ahead.

So, Friday night.  End of the working week, and I'm down at the pool.  The sun has long gone and so have most of the crowds.  It's a great evening to be doing laps - great water temperature, the bridge and Luna Park shining down on us and I'm feeling strong and strangely fresh.  Lots of pull buoy drills and pull buoy/paddle drills and my shoulders are feeling the burn by the time I haul myself out of the water at 8.30pm.
North Sydney Olympic Pool - Perfect night for a swim

But it feels great and I have time for a quick dinner and brief chill out on the couch before heading to bed early.  Swim - nailed!

Early Saturday morning (and I mean early!) - the alarm goes off at 4.00am and I'm up, getting some breakfast down, and by 5.00am I'm riding across the bridge to Town Hall Station to pick up the train down to Caringbah.  Ahead of me is 120km of steady riding at Kurnell.  Focus on 90+ rpm cadence and getting nutrition right.  It's a bit chilly, although still not cold enough for arm warmers, shoe covers or gloves (read that and weep, Christchurch!).

Out at Kurnell I have plenty of company in the form of other triathletes - last weekend and this weekend it's been noticeably busier with tri bikes out in force, and fully kitted up with aero/deep dish and disk wheels.  Given Ironman Australia is now only a week away it seems everyone is out testing their race gear and Kurnell is the destination of choice when you want a decent stretch of time trial riding.

Watching the bike porn, however, didn't end up being the highlight of the day.  No, that came in the form of a scooter pacing two cyclists who obviously weren't out for an early morning cruise.  I first saw them heading in the opposite direction and then a little while later they flew past me like I was standing still.  One of the guys was in Specialized gear and on a Specialized bike and I figured that, with the motor pacing, it was obviously a pro - Macca or Crowie maybe?  I toyed with the idea of getting the phone out to try and get a photo, but they were going so fast I decided it would be a futile exercise.
Post-ride reward - a latte and slice of banana loaf for the train ride home

A quick website search when I got home, though, confirmed it was most likely Macca (triathlon and ironman legend, Chris McCormack).  He had tweeted about his training ride, and being motor paced for 70km at 55kmph with Paul Ambrose.  He also commented "#empty", which I thought was hilarious ... come on, he's a pro and getting to draft off a scooter - should have been a doddle!  Me, in comparison, did 120km solo - none of this wimpy drafting nonsense!!!

The ride went really well - great pace with an average of 29kmph which I was really happy with - with the race wheels on I am hopefully on target to achieve an ironman average of 30kmph and nail that 6 hour target I dream of.

And so dawned this morning.  A 25km run.  You can do it...

St Pete and I were up at 5.00am and in good spirits, ready to do a good steady run, focusing on finding my IM pace.  We had sorted out a good route, starting on the harbour bridge and heading across to the CBD, up to Hyde Park, up Oxford St to Anzac Parade.  Into Centennial Park for a lap before continuing back south along Anzac Parade to the University of New South Wales where we would head up the road to the top of campus and then come back down the middle back to Anzac Parade.  We would then retrace our route back home, excluding the loop around Centennial Park!

It was a great morning for a run.  We started just after 6.30am and by the time we got to Oxford St I had found my "pace" - slow and steady and hopefully a pace that I could hold for ironman.  Heart rate was good, around 145-155 - again, ideal for race day.  It wasn't all easy-going, though.  By the time we hit the 20km mark everything from the waist down was starting to hurt and so it was a bit of a grovel for the last 5km back over the bridge to the finish.

Grovelling is good practice, though.  Working through, and learning to ignore, the discomfort is part of the "fun"of ironman ... did I say fun?  Man, I'm sure going to curse those words at around 5.00pm Cairns time on June the 3rd!

In any case, as I lay on the floor with legs up on a chair, feeling ever so slightly shattered, I knew I had nailed the run.  And yesterday's bike.  And Friday's swim.

And that felt good.

No, it felt fantastic.

35 days to go and feeling iron-tough.

Dead Irongirl after 25km

Monday, April 9, 2012

Never Underestimate the Break

What a great few weeks.  Ironman is so big that people tend to be scared to take any time out for fear of losing crucial conditioning for their A race.  The fear of not achieving one's goals tends to have people training like their lives depend on it.

Indeed having a two week complete break away from training a little over two months out from Ironman Cairns would probably seem insane to many Type A ironman athletes.  And yet that's exactly what I've done.  And while it's obviously too soon to know what effect it will have on my results come June 2, my mental preparation has definitely improved.

At a time when I am supposed to still be in my off season and focusing on recharging away from the triathlon scene, I am looking forward to another ironman and committing 100% effort into each training session.

The last couple of weeks, then, have been full on - dominated by double workouts (morning/evening) so 5.00am alarms were the norm and epic rides to make things interesting.  What follows then are some of the highlights of the last couple of weeks:

1. Running home from work.  My trip from home to work usually requires a train and bus ride, and takes about 45 minutes, depending on traffic and the number of students who wish to share the journey on a particular day.  I worked out, however, that with a bit of forward planning, I could easily run home from work a day or two a week to add a bit of interest.  It is around 9.5km and involves a slight incline for the stretch along Anzac Parade to the top of Oxford St, followed by a descent down to Circular Quay before climbing up and over the harbour bridge to Milsons Point on the other side.  It's an interesting run, with plenty of scenery changes along the way and the second time I did it I added a 5km loop around Centennial Park turning it into a 14.5km run.

2. Swimming with modified paddles.  One of the hardest things to get used to since moving to Sydney has been the prohibition placed on paddles by all of the pools.  One of the ironman coach's great swim aids is paddles, used to add resistance to your stroke and thus power.  However it seems that people can't be trusted not to clonk each other on the head with them and so, unless you are in a privately hired lane (i.e. in a swim squad) you aren't allowed to use them.  So I've muddled along, quietly ignoring the swim program instructions whenever they mention paddles.  That was, until last week, when I found webbed gloves at the pool shop.  These are a pseudo paddle in that they provide some resistance to your stroke but are made of stretchy fabric so won't do any damage if you hit someone over the head with them.  The worst thing about them - well, have you ever tried to put on wet knickers?  Yep, easy to get on when dry, a nightmare when wet...

3. The Epic Club Run.  Last weekend St Pete and I joined Northside Running Group.  A great bunch with the same culture and philosophy of the club we left behind, the Christchurch Marathon Clinic.  Their open day was down at Balmoral Beach and, because it was too early for the buses, we decided to run there and then bus back.  Of course going anywhere from Milsons Point requires scaling the proverbial mountain and so that's what we did.  Except Balmoral Beach is at the base of another proverbial mountain.  So it was a 6km run up hill and down dale and then we started on the actual club run, another up and down affair.  Such a scenic route, however: around to Chinaman's Beach, up the hill to Mosman, down past Taronga Zoo and down to Bradley's Head where we followed the walking track along the coastline to Chowder Bay before heading back over the hill and dropping back down to Balmoral Beach. All up 19km ... the bus ride home was bliss!

Team Roadworks - the Epic Ride
4. The Epic Ride.  Why do a 3 hour ride when you can do over 6 hours?!!  An opportunity came up to join iron virgin Bel on her 140km big ride and so (with Coach Dave's blessing) I ditched my program and joined her and the gang for an epic day through some roadworks, out to Parramatta, up to Berowa and back.  2200m of climbing (thanks Sydney!), 125km and 6hrs 14min later, and I was ready to do a spot of channel surfing from my favourite couch.

5. The Solo Epic Ride.  I now know my initiation as a Sydneysider is complete.  On Saturday I successfully negotiated my first solo ride from home to a completely new destination, with only my iPhone and Google maps for guidance.  Woohoo!  I headed north with the aim of reaching Palm Beach, a settlement at the end of a peninsular around 40km north of home.  It was a great day for a ride and once I got out of the main city area (and the traffic volumes lowered considerably), the scenery just got better and better.  Palm Beach is gorgeous and obviously a great spot for surfing.  On my way back, however, I took a wrong turn.  A major fork in the road gave me a choice of heading towards Dee Why or Sydney.  I wanted Sydney and so veered right however soon realised my mistake.  Never mind, I thought, this road is going to Sydney so I may as well see where I end up.  It ended up being a gem of a road - it was the Wakehurst Parkway which wends its way around the northern side of Narrabeen Lakes.  Flat(ish), smooth, forest-covered, and it eventually brought me right back to the Spit Bridge at Manly - familiar territory.  83km ticked off in 27degrees - whew!  A quick text home once I crossed over the Spit Bridge ensured I had an ice-cold home made banana smoothie waiting in the fridge for me when I got home.  St Pete truly is a saint!

6. The Ton.  To complete the weekend I needed to tick off a total of 200km riding.  Saturday's solo epic ticked off 84km, so I just had to do 116km on Sunday and so joined Bel for a drive down to Brighton Le Sands to do a flat ride.  We were joined by Mark, a fellow Ironman NZ 2011 finisher, for a flat-ish ride that included a couple of loops out to Kurnell, a tour of Cronulla and then an expedition across and through Miranda and Gymea.  All up we managed to tick off 100km and managed to take in some great scenery of the coastline at the same time.  And because I'm hardcore (a.k.a. a nut!) I got home and jumped on the wind trainer to finish off the final 16km and seal my 200km goal.

So, that's been the last couple of weeks.  Training has been hardcore, but I have no doubt I've coped better than usual thanks to my 2 weeks off.

Never underestimate the break.


Doing ironman is hardcore.

That was pointed out to me a week ago when a colleague at work found out what I spend my time outside work doing.  "F**k, that's hardcore" were his exact words - not that he was beating about the bush or anything...

I got a similar response (although not so graphic!) when St Pete and I joined local running club, Northside Running Group a couple of weeks ago.  As I settled into the "back of the pack" and casually mentioned my ironman background it immediately became clear that they expected me to run the socks off them and be some sort of elite athlete.  I'd then have to spend the next 5 minutes assuring them that I am a tortoise ironman rather than a hare!

And last week I entered Ironman New Zealand 2013.  Yet again, I got a reality check.  The first time I entered, making that commitment to the first one was a real defining (and excitrifying) moment.  This year the reality check came with the question on the entry form that asked how many ironman events I had done.  As I read the question I realised that 2013 will be my 4th ironman.  4th!!  Hard to believe I have now entered my 4th and when I tick that off I will be a third of the way to an automatic lottery spot at Kona via the Legacy Program.  I might not be the fastest, but an automatic lottery spot in Kona is definitely reserved for the hardcore.

Despite being hardcore, I still enjoyed having two weeks off before getting back into training for Cairns, and that time out seems to have been a real tonic.  I'm feeling stronger, recovering better, and haven't gained any weight since Taupo - bonus!

Not only am I feeling strong, I'm also feeling more determined.  While riding with iron virgin Bel and fellow IMNZ 2011 finisher, Mark, this weekend we ticked off 100km together.  However at the end I was 16km short of my scheduled 200km total (over two days).  It was getting late in the morning and traffic where we were was pretty manic and so rather than play russian roulette with three lanes of vehicles in the Shire, we headed home and I jumped on the wind trainer for half an hour to finish the job off.

So while I am definitely no elite athlete (those hips and thighs aren't going anywhere soon!), I guess I am hardcore, and a bit of an ironman junkie.  Groupies welcome :)

Hardcore solo ride to Palm Beach