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.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Why Do I Do This Year After Year?

Last Sunday my friend Bel became an Ironman.

In response to my congratulations, and while still hobbling around with stiff and sore legs, she said:

Thanks Toni! I appreciate all the rides we were able to do together. I don't know how you do this year after year.

Bel and I weren't able to ride together as much as I would have liked - bit of a bugger when you are training for two different ironman events and your training plans don't mesh that well.  But on Sunday, with a full ironman experience (and a pseudo-second one as well!) to draw on, I was mentally with Bel every step of the way and could feel her pain as St Pete and I followed her splits coming through on while she managed an amazing sub-13 hour finish in Ironman Australia.

But how do I do this year after year? Or more importantly, why do I do this year after year?

Bel thinks she is one of those "one and done" Ironmen.  She's ticked it off her bucket list and will now get back to her "normal" life knowing that she has achieved an amazing goal.

She might be right.

Or she might be wrong.

Once the aches and pains have worn off, once the fatigue has disappeared, will she start thinking about the race some more?  Thinking about what she could have done differently on the day?  How she might train differently in order to do a better time next time?

This is what ironman tends to do to you, and this is what it did with me.  It plays with your mind and keeps presenting you with all of these tantalising "what if" scenarios.   It creeps into your subconscious like a virus and before you know it you have full-blown 'flu and you're pressing the "payment" button on that 2013 entry.

Ironman is so big and so complex, that it's almost impossible to have a perfect day.  Most people think of it as a three-discipline sport (swim/bike/run).  Once you get into it, though, you realise that it is actually a six-discipline sport.  Yep - SIX disciplines to master in order to have the perfect day, the holy grail of ironman:
  • swim
  • bike
  • run
  • nutrition (if you don't get your food intake right on the day you will suffer big time or, worse, record a DNF)
  • rest (rest and recovery are vital in allowing your body to build and repair after big sessions - yes, those weekend naps ARE a legitimate part of the training programme!)
  • mind  (in training and on the day your mental preparation is key in getting you through the hard bits - and there will be hard bits.  As Macca once tweeted, you need to embrace the suck.).
So, in some respects, the challenge of mastering the entire sport is what brings me back time after time.  There is a huge sense of satisfaction to be gained from challenging myself and testing my limits.   There are good times and there are bad times and they are all just new ways of learning about your strengths and weaknesses.

And then there are the health benefits.  While people spend squillions of dollars on every diet book under the sun I've spent my adult life rebelling and then coming to terms with what works and what doesn't work in relation to my weight control.  At my worst I weighed 108kg.  I was eating what I wanted and exercising only on a limited basis - the odd mountain bike ride here or there and some dog obedience training were my excuses for an active life.  I finally got my act together and dropped 37kg with the help of Weight Watchers and, while it was just another weight loss program built on commercial interests, I did learn two important things: (1) I had to incorporate exercise back into my life permanently, and (2) that diets don't work - a diet is simply a temporary change to your eating habits.  If you are going to make a permanent change you must change your eating (and exercise) habits forever.

The discovery of ironman, then, has provided me with the perfect balance for my permanently healthy lifestyle.  It comprises three sports, so you never get bored with only training for one of them (and less likely to get injured through overtraining, too).  I adore one sport which also happens to be the biggest component (the bike), I'm OK with swimming (it's definitely something I've become more comfortable with over the last couple of years) and I have a love/hate relationship with running.  The volume of exercise is such that I can eat relatively normally and enjoy the treats without guilt when I've done a decent workout and still maintain a weight that I am usually happy with (man, that could be a whole other blog entry!).  OK, I'm not stick-thin, but I'm more of your front row prop rather than wing, so think solid rather than delicate!  But while I'm not a tiny athlete, I am strong and I can chug away for hours, like a solid, dependable diesel engine!  

I therefore seem to have a natural predisposition for going long and ironman ticks all the boxes and then some.  This sport has become a part of mine (and St Pete's) lives and I wouldn't have it any other way.

If Bel doesn't return to Ironman then I have absolutely no doubt that she will find many other challenging and rewarding goals to aim for.  In the meantime, I am so happy for her and pleased to have played a part, albeit a very, very, small one, in helping her reach her goal.

And that's what life is all about.