Thursday, December 26, 2013

Sydney to the Gong Ride Part III: The Ride Home

So, the fundraising had happened, the ride had been done and the costume worn.  Sarah, St Pete, Emily and I were happily lounging around the finish line in Wollongong enjoying the festivities.

But I knew it wasn't over.

My colleagues at work were eagerly awaiting the news of my return ride home and a promise was a promise.

While the entertainment in the park was really enjoyable and the weather picture perfect, I knew I shouldn't hang around too long otherwise I'd get too comfortable, the body would start realising it was tired, and I'd never get going again.  I had a monster climb to negotiate back up to Waterfall and then find my way back across Sydney proper to the Harbour Bridge and home.  And as the minutes passed the temperature was also rising.  Gale force southerlies had been predicted for the afternoon and while this meant a tail wind heading home it also meant hot winds.

An hour after rolling over the finish line, then, I was starting the Garmin again and saying goodbye to St Pete, Sarah and Emily.  They were all making their way back to the train and taking the civilised route home.

I wouldn't be.

Instead I started retracing my route north and slowly warming the legs up again.  I was in no rush.  I had all afternoon to do this - it was just a case of ticking over the kilometres.  The temperature by this stage had topped 30 degrees.  And it would stay between 30-38 degrees for the next 3 hours.  And I was still in a velvet bee costume.

Hmm, who's idea was this again?  Oh, that's right, mine….

As I was heading north there were still streams of cyclists heading towards the finish.  You could tell the heat was getting to them, as well as the distance.  Hills were being walked but the spirits were still high and this Queen Bee got plenty of smiles and cheers as she rode in the opposite direction.  At Thirroul I was definitely feeling the heat, though, and as I approached I saw a mirage in the distance.

Opposite me was the most welcome sight I had ever seen - a Juice Junkie sign.

Bergie's Fish Cafe in Thirroul was roadside and its associated juice bar, Juice Junkie opened in September this year and it's ice cold juice menu looked amazing.  Especially in 32 degrees!!!  It didn't take much self-talk to decide to stop for a break and have a watermelon concoction.

Rehydrated and with a core body temperature a couple of degrees lower I set off again, ready to take on the climb up to Waterfall.  And what a climb.  The first section, up to Stanwell Tops took me to the intersection where the cops had previously helped reattach my wings.  They were still there and it was a great excuse to stop for a couple of minutes and check the traffic management situation.  Heading right would have taken me back through the national park the way we had come down.  However the road was still closed for cyclists coming the other way and so I had no choice but to go left…a much shorter and sharper trip up to the highway…

Off I went then, and started the long grind to the top.  Part way up I spotted this great view of where I had come from and so had to take a photo for the blog….  No, it had nothing to do with needing to find a reason to stop for a couple of minutes…

Did I mention it was hot?

Anyway, I carried onwards and upwards - slowly - and shared greetings with the half dozen or so guys also making their way back.  And yes, I'm saying guys in the masculine sense.  There was a distinct lack of female company along the route and I was getting some "hard core" comments from the blokes.  But come on girls, where were you all?!!!

Finally I made it up to Pacific Highway and found myself up on the highway.  Unfortunately by the time I got there I ran into a couple of problems, the main one being my now empty drink bottle.

No, there was no leak in it - in the heat I had drunk it dry.

Yes - on the way down to Wollongong I had drunk around 3/4 of the bottle (plus the cup of coffee at Loftus Oval) over the full distance.  However the new bottle I had started out with in Wollongong was drained completely and I hadn't even completed 30km.

And by this stage the wind had got up.  This was good and bad.  Good as I was able to put my head down and make a beeline for Waterfall, the first opportunity to stop and replenish fluids.  Bad because it was a hot, dry, (did I mention hot?) wind.

To add to the challenging situation the hot, dry, wind, also decided to a strong, hot, dry, wind.  As a result, the inevitable happened and the wings took to the air and headed off down a bank.  For a split second I thought about trying to retrieve them but at the same time realised I had no way of putting them back on by myself (bit of a design flaw there….) and even less chance of carrying them the remaining 60km home.  At that point I was also far more focused on getting some more cold drink into me than trying to rescue a pair of flyaway wings.  So I put them behind me, put it down to experience (next time, leave the wings with St Pete and ride without them), put my head down and made a beeline for Waterfall.

Waterfall is a suburb on the outskirts of Sydney, known mainly as an access point for the Royal National Park and host to a stop on the train line to Wollongong.  With the exception of the train station there's nothing there (visible from the highway running through it), except a fish and chip shop - Legendary Fish & Chips.  And that's where I stopped next.

This day deserves a Coke
The plan was to buy an ice cold drink there and maybe a Powerade or similar to refill the bottle with.  As I pulled up on the side of the road and got off my bike there was another cyclist already sitting outside at one of the tables having a drink.  After expressing his amazement of me riding back to Sydney in a bee costume he said "take your water bottle inside - they're doing free water refills".


In I went, water bottle in hand and grabbed a 600ml bottle of coke from the fridge to buy.  Sure enough, the guy at the counter not only filled my bottle with water but topped it up with shaved ice as well.  It was such a great thing for them to do - if you are ever passing through Waterfall, make sure you give these guys some love and stop in for some fish and chips at Legendary Fish & Chips.  You can't miss them, they're right opposite the train station on the main highway.

The temperature wasn't getting any cooler and so after I'd downed the coke I jumped on the bike and carried on north along the Princes Highway towards Sydney.  Waterfall is the highest point in the Royal National Park and so it was essentially a downhill run from here to the northern border of the Park and the outskirts of suburban Sydney proper.  I say essentially as it was along this stretch that I had my first argument with the Garmin Edge, which decided I needed to leave the highway and take a left turn for no apparent reason.  I did well at ignoring its entreaties for a while - after all I had a decent bike lane to sit in and I knew I was heading in the right direction.  It finally caught me at a weak moment, though, and I foolishly decided that maybe it knew a route that I didn't know and, after all, why buy the thing if I couldn't trust it's obviously superior route-finding abilities.

Ha, how stupid was I?  One kilometre after taking said left turn I ended up in a dead end street requiring a retracing of route back to the Princes Highway and a vow to stay true to my gut forever more…

Before long I was out of the Park and heading through Gymea, Miranda, Taren Point and over the bridge to Sans Souci.  The temperatures were still incredibly hot and by this time I was dreaming of ice cream and I was sure there was a mobile ice cream van at the car park at Ramsgate Beach.

Unlike the Garmin Edge, my gut didn't lie and I rolled into that carpark determined to sit down for five minutes and devour a soft serve cone.  Which I did.  In the howling wind.  And 38 degrees.  It tasted REALLY great!

Ice cream time!
 The next section of this epic ride was also going to be the most difficult - navigationally.  I now had to find my way across Sydney and navigate my way through the heaviest traffic and this is where I had to put my trust in the Garmin.  This part of the ride is the reason why I take the train to Miranda when I'm riding in the southern suburbs as riding through the centre of the city just isn't bike-friendly when you're on your own.  

Previous hesitations aside I set off and let myself be guided.  Slowly and surely I made my way north and things seemed to be going OK with views of the Sydney Tower providing a reassuring point to "sight" against and ensure I wasn't being led astray by my little maps wizard.  The route took me through Petersham, Liechhardt, Lilyfield and Rozelle, which seemed a bit further out to the west than I had anticipated, however I figured we'd take a turn soon and start going east towards the CBD and harbour bridge.
At Rozelle I came to a T-Intersection and the Garmin confidently says "turn left".  I'm stopped at the lights and look at the intersection and see the helpful bike route signs.  The signs provide two options.  Head left to Parramatta.  Head right to the City.

Hmm.  The Garmin wants me to go to Parramatta?  Who is it kidding?

I was getting pretty tired by this stage - the heat and wind (and almost getting run over by a bus) had combined to take it out of me but, despite the fatigue, I still had sufficient common sense on board to realise that I did not want to be heading towards Parramatta.

I therefore decided to part ways with the Garmin (directionally-speaking) and, much to its disgust, I took the right hand turn onto Victoria Road and shortly thereafter over Anzac Bridge.  At this point I also figured out what my little buddy's problem was.  And this is important for any Garmin Edge owners in Sydney….

The route finding on the Garmin navigation maps for Sydney do not know how to direct bikes across the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

That's right.  I had encountered it on my first few rides with the Edge but figured it was something I was doing wrong.  However, no, it doesn't recognise the bike lane that goes across the bridge and so it was going to try and direct me towards Parramatta and cross the river further west and bring me home on the northern side of the river via Lane Cove and North Sydney.  Probably an additional 20km which, in the weather conditions, I wasn't in the least bit interested in entertaining.

All that didn't matter by this stage, though and the sight below was a very welcome one - the steps at the northern end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and my finish point.  As I was taking this photo, St Pete had been tracking my progress, knew I was almost home and was walking down to meet me.  

Another very welcome sight!

So I did it.  The Sydney to Gong ride and back home again and a smidgeon under 180km.  Pretty happy with that.

In the days and months since I've had plenty of time to reflect on the experience and think about anything I'd do differently next time.

  • Would I do the Gong Ride again?  Absolutely.  It was such a fun day out.  Fantastic atmosphere and stunning route, so scenic.  And for anyone outside Sydney, this is definitely worth a trip over for the weekend.
  • Would I do the Gong Ride in a costume again? Absolutely.  It was a great way to add some fun to the day, not only for myself, but for the other riders as well.
  • Would I do the return ride home again?  Yes, although I'd probably be more flexible with my intentions and planning.  It would have been great to have stayed longer in Wollongong and enjoy the park festivities at the finish line.  As it was St Pete came down on the train but only spent about an hour there before I was turning around and heading north again.  Next time it would be good to make his journey down more worthwhile.  Also, if it is that hot again I'd like the flexibility to cancel the ride home and save it for a cooler day.
  • Would I do the return ride home in a costume again?  Probably not.  This is the only thing I'd change next time.  Especially given the conditions, but in any case, there was no real purpose and nothing to be gained from wearing the costume home again.  Being later in the day the wind had got up causing me to lose the wings and the elevated temperatures meant I just ended up overheating for the bulk of the ride, which could have been largely alleviated by not wearing velvet! Next time I'll change back into regular riding gear for the return ride home … unless someone donates a significant sum of money to the cause!

Until next year - Bzzzz :)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sydney to the Gong Ride Part II - The Ride

So the costume was ready and fundraising complete.  All I had to do now was enjoy the day out and do the ride.

Oh, and ride home again.  But that's for the next instalment….

The morning arrived and by 5.00am we were outside our apartment block meeting Sarah and daughter Emily.  Sarah is a bootcamp buddy and tends to respond to my madcap ideas better than most!  We had done the Rebel Run with her the weekend before and she was keen to dust the cobwebs off her bike and join me on the ride.  Try as I might, though, she was less keen to join me on the return trip!

But that's OK, we were out to have some fun, enjoy the atmosphere, and then meet St Pete and Emily at the other end - they would head to Wollongong and hopefully arrive in time to see us finish.

So onto the train, in the dark, and onto St Peters Railway Station.  The start area of the ride was conveniently located at Sydney Park, directly opposite the station, so really well set up for people to take public transport and leave their cars at home.

At the start line
We had been given slightly different start times.  The first start time was 6.00am, however Sarah's was 6.15am and I was 6.30am.  Given the ride was untimed we figured though it wouldn't be a problem if we started together and so the aim was to go with the 6.15am group.  As it happened we turned up at the park, had a brief wander around to get our bearings and then saw people starting to line up in the start chute and so headed over to join them.  What we didn't realise at the time was that we would actually end up going with the first group.

Queen Bee is ready to go … bzzzz...
Being untimed, it really didn't matter.  Plus, despite being told several times during the start line briefing that "this is not a race", all these early guys were looking way too serious, and so this Queen Bee figured they could do with a bit of fun up the front!

Sometime after 6.00am the gun finally went off and we were on our way.  Down Princes Highway, through Tempe and then heading east to Brighton-Le-Sands and Ramsgate Beach.

This part of the route was all about getting warmed up.  The weather was starting out well - no wind and clear skies - it was going to be a stunner of a day.  Despite this not being a race, some groups were already obviously keen to hammer it and we happily let them go.

At Ramsgate Beach we passed the first water stop but didn't bother stopping for it.  It was early in the ride and we were rolling along well.  Over the bridge to Taren Point, through Miranda and Kirrawee and we were finally leaving the metropolis and reaching the start of the Royal National Park, the scenic part of the ride.

At the 30km mark we reached the morning tea stop, at Loftus Oval.  Yes, morning tea!  I told you this was a fun ride…..!

Muffins, tea, coffee and a water station to refill bottles were all laid on for the riders.  A festival atmosphere was around with music playing through outdoor speakers inside big wheelie bins throughout the field.  The muffins were devoured, closely followed by a nice hot cup of coffee, and it was good to provide some entertainment for the volunteers.  They were all in great spirits and loved having a Queen Bee turn up for some food.  I even had a couple of people stop to take my photo.  Bzzz.

Sarah arriving at Otford Lookout
Refuelled, we got back on the bikes and cruised along the highway to Waterfall where we were due to make a left turn off the highway and enter the National Park proper.  This was also the point of our first major descent and we were stopped at the top of the hill to wait for an escort who would drive down ahead of us.

As always, these drops were highlights for me and I'm sure a few people did a double-take at having a bee literally fly past them going down the hill.  I was getting plenty of positive comments from people as they went past or I went past them, although the funniest remark came from one guy who mistook the wings for another creature.  "Hey, I'm pushing too hard, I'm seeing fairies!", he yelled up ahead to his riding partners as he went past me.  Couldn't help thinking that he'd feel a right fairy if he let me pass him later on…bzzzz.

This section of the road through the national park was stunning.  Great road conditions, stunning bush to ride through and we undulated our way out the other end to the Otford Lookout where we had our first amazing views out over the ocean and first glimpse of the Ocean Road Bridge.

This provided another excuse for a brief stop for photos and to check out the views.  Did I mention it was stunning?

Otford Lookout
After leaving Otford Lookout we continued our way south along the coastline to Stanwell Tops and the start of our second major descent where we had to pause again to wait for another escort.  At this point the wind started getting up and, as we headed around the corner to start rollin downhill, a huge gust of wind came up and my wing popped off the back on one side.


I stopped by the side of the road and tried in vain to pop it back on, but my contortionist efforts with my arms wasn't happening.  By this stage Sarah had disappeared down the hill and had no idea that I had stopped.  There was nothing else for it but to run the 50m back up the hill to where the cops were managing the intersection and ask one of them to help this bee in distress.  I headed up the hill but found myself on the opposite side of the road to them.  Inbetween us were thousands of cyclists streaming past and so I had to wait for what seemed like an eternity for a gap to appear so I could get across.  Where did all these riders come from?!!!

Wing finally reattached I got going again and stormed down the hill, on a mission to try and catch Sarah again.  At the bottom of the hill we ride through Coalcliff and then get to ride over the Great Ocean Bridge, a section of the road that is built out over the ocean and appears in many tourist magazine shots.  Just after the bridge I finally caught Sarah - she had no idea what had happened and was starting to get worried as an ambulance had just gone past.  But I wasn't in it and thankfully rolled up just in time for her to not panic completely!

Soon after we came together again we reached Scarborough and a welcome fruit stop.  This time fruit and oranges were on offer, as well as another opportunity to fill water bottles.

This final section of the ride follows the coastline south, through Wombarra, Coledale, Austinmer and Thirroul before starting to use cycle ways and arriving at the northern outskirts of Wollongong and finish at Stuart Park.

As we started to see various industrial areas we also started to get distance indicators from the volunteers on the side of the road.  At one point we were told we had 15km to go and I looked at the Garmin to find that we had only done 62km.  Hmm.  If we were going to complete 90km then this was going to be a bit short.  But, don't worry, I thought, maybe their distances are a bit out.

On the outskirts of Wollongong and we go past another volunteer on a corner shouting out "only 5km to go".  Another check of the Garmin and it's reading 77km.  Definitely short.  Even more importantly, I was conscious that we might get in too early for St Pete and Emily to see us finish.  A quick stop and phone call to them confirmed that would be the case, but we were given the green light to carry on and not worry about it.  So we did, and soon after rolled over the finish line with high fives and about 3 hours 30min ride time under our belts.

Sydney to the Gong Ride: DONE!
About 20 minutes later St Pete and Emily found us, lounging on the grass eating our lunch, enjoying the atmosphere and the sense of achievement of making it to Wollongong in one piece.

What a great day it was.  Oh wait, it wasn't over.  Did someone say ride home? 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

MS Sydney to the Gong Ride Part I - The Fundraising Virgin...

Well the party is almost over.

It's Sunday evening and tomorrow I officially become a triathlete again ... training begins for the 2014 Ironman season.

It's been a fun off-season. I've done some different things to make training seem worthwhile and successfully managed to not gain any weight....BONUS!

The highlight of the last few months though ended up being the last thing on the agenda, and that was last weekend's MS Sydney to the Gong ride. Before I tell you all about it, though, let me just say: if you are in the Sydney region, or can make it to the Sydney region, and you can ride a bike, then you should add this event to your bucket list (or even your regular schedule of events).  It's a really well organised ride with 10,000 participants, well supported and an amazingly scenic route on good quality roads and bike paths.

It's also a fundraiser for Multiple Sclerosis Australia and this was a new experience for me as an individual.  I had been in teams before that had fundraising targets to achieve, but never tried this sort of thing solo.  It was a ride I was keen to do, however, and the minimum $250 to raise seemed almost achievable for this fundraising virgin.  Given the distance of the ride could be seen as not necessarily a huge challenge for this irongirl, I thought I'd make things interesting by upping the challenge for myself if the donors came to the party and threw sufficient dollars my way (well, MS Australia's way to be exact!)

So I put it out there: If I raised $500 I would double the ride distance, doing the Gong ride and then riding back home.  If I raised $1,000 then I'd do the double distance in a crazy costume.  I figured $500 might be on the cards but anticipated a less than 50% chance of having to do it in a costume.

Ha - how wrong was I?!!!

The fundraising started out well - a shout out on Facebook and an initial email around work saw the total head to $400 and then sit there until a week out from the ride.  I was really happy with that - I had achieved the minimum $250 and figured I might just get to $500 if I was lucky.  But the options were open and I was in two minds about doing the return trip anyway.  If I didn't get the $500, no pressure, I could come home on the train.  And if the weather was bad I could definitely come home on the train and not feel guilty!  Or, if it was a nice day then the return trip would make the day a decent training ride.

I therefore felt really relaxed about either option.

A week out, however, saw a major change.  Suzie and Rodina, two work colleagues, remembered to get together and make a joint donation on the website and then decided to also appoint themselves my personal marketing team.  Great move on their part - I'm just the athlete, after all…!  Anyway, on the Tuesday before the ride they sent out a follow-up email around work on my behalf urging people to sponsor me.  The total by then was $465 and so I did another spruik on Facebook at the same time.

And over the next 24 hours the website went slightly crazy.

Maybe it was the timing, but donations started coming in and by the end of Wednesday my donations were sitting at $860 and I was suddenly contemplating not only the double distance ride, but doing it also in a costume.  Only problem was, I hadn't given a costume any more thought since the first week after registering for the ride, when I first set the challenge.

A quick discussion with St Pete on Wednesday night and I was starting to check out costume websites and consider options.  Thursday morning came around and a decision had to be made.  Would I get to $1,000?  Chances suddenly seemed high.  OK, let's commit to this.

A Queen Bee costume had been found on a site that offered overnight delivery and it looked like it would work well over the top of bike pants.  Costume was duly ordered and just as well - by the end of Thursday my donations had surpassed $1,000….wow.

The comments and support coming in from people was both humbling and exciting.  This was like doing my first ironman all over again and I knew I didn't want to let anyone down now.

All I had to do was get out there and do a good ride and have some fun with it.  Time wasn't important - just look the part and do the distance.  Let's do this!

…to be continued...

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Rebel Run Sydney - In Search of that Elusive Negative Split

A fair bit of time is spent during the year planning various events to do between my ironmans.  For the last couple of years winter has been a time to focus on running and, let's face it, I need all the help I can get in that department!  We've therefore set up a bit of a routine, with the Blackmore's Running Festival providing me with an off-season opportunity to run a marathon and still give plenty of recovery time before summer kicks in properly.

When the Rebel Run Sydney dropped into our inbox last year we made a mental note of it but, at only 10km, it was barely long enough to justify putting the running shoes on, especially given it was held out at Olympic Park.  This year, however, the organisers added a half marathon distance to the event and that was enough for us to sit up and take notice.

Well, for St Pete to take notice.  Given my plans to do the Spring Cycle and Sydney to Gong ride on the weekends either side, I figured I had done my running for the time being and could therefore play cheerleader and go be support crew for him for a change.

The guys in my life, however, had other ideas.  In fact both of them ganged up on me and Coach Dave had no hesitation joining St Pete in deciding that I should enter it as well.  Well, what the hell - I didn't put up too much of a fight, and what's another training day, just with the bonus of a medal at the end of it?!  D, however, had another very good reason for me to add this to the calendar.

The coach's nirvana - I would aim for a negative split.  Oh joy.

My running's been going great this year, but they've all been characterised by the traditional problem of starting strong and fading at the end, whereas the goal of coaches all over is for us to start out slow, build throughout the distance and finish strong.  So you do the second half of the race faster than the first half, hence the negative split terminology.

So finish time today wasn't of any interest.  What I needed to do was run each 5km split faster than the previous 5km, and I was given the following times to aim for:

1st 5km: no faster than 6min 15sec pace
2nd 5km: no faster than 6min 00sec pace
3rd 5km: no faster than 5min 45sec pace
final 6km: own choice (a.k.a. "go like hell!")

We also managed to rope in bootcamp buddy, Sarah, to join us - although I was under no illusion that I'd keep up with either of them!

The conditions on the start line were pretty much perfect.  Clear skies (although later to be clad in smoke from the NSW bush fires), 15 degrees and no wind.  I wasn't feeling any pressure, just keen to get going.

After a bit of a delay the gun goes off and we're running.  Sarah disappears into the distance and within a minute I've lost sight of her.  Pete decides he needs a toilet stop and so he deviates as soon as we cross the start line, however storms past me at the 850m mark - in race mode and not even slowing to acknowledge my existence.  Nice…lol.

I get going, though, and try to focus on finding a pace and slowing it down.

Not very successfully, however.  First km goes by - 5min 48sec.  Oops, a bit fast.  Try and peg it back a bit for the 2nd km.  Nope that didn't work either - 5min 35sec.  Faster than the first kilometre!

I carry on like this for the first 5km, not feeling flash - no real rhythm, feeling like I'm working too hard and way too conscious of the people running past me.

Don't run everyone else's race.

Finally after 5km had ticked by things started to fall into place.  I felt as though everything was flowing a bit better and I was able to relax into a steady rhythm that wasn't expending too much energy.  There was possibly a good reason why it had taken time to get into it though.  I had run that first 5km faster than I should have, with an average pace of 5min 50.5sec.  Oops.  Sorry Coach :)

The second 5km was much better and I went through that second stage marginally faster (5min 50 pace).  Still faster than had been planned but also sticking to the plan of the second 5km split being faster than the first!

At around the 13km mark I started to become aware of people slowing down around me.  Either that or I was picking things up a bit.  I was feeling pretty good though, and so started occupying my mind with the game of picking off the next person in front of me.  From that point on I started making my way up the field, focusing on passing people and being aware of the fact that no one went past me for that last 8km.

I felt strong, physically and mentally, and was confident enough to back myself and keep the pressure on.  That 3rd 5km split went by in an average 5min 45sec pace - exactly what coach had wanted.  Now I just had 6km to go and could do whatever pace I wanted.  Does that mean I could walk if I wanted????

No way!

There were plenty of people to pass and that's all I was interested in doing.  Hold the pace, keep the form strong and don't stop until you get to the end.

The final 100m is a right hand turn as you head down under the grandstand and then another right hand turn into the ANZ stadium to the finish line and as we headed through the tunnel I passed chicked another guy.  As I went past I mentally prepared myself for a sprint to the finish with him, however he didn't put up a fight and I crossed the line, ahead and on exactly 2 hours.

Great run, and while it was 2 minutes off my PB that didn't matter.  What did matter is that although I started out faster than I was supposed to I still managed to improve my pace for each 5km split.

Coach will be smiling :)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Spring Cycle 2013 - Perfect Way to Spend a Sunday Morning

So this morning I ticked off the Spring Cycle.

Despite living in Sydney for 2 years now it was my first time doing this event.  I first came across it only a few weeks after we moved to Milsons Point.  It was something I thought would be cool to do but for various reasons didn't get around to actually entering until this year.

It's organised by Bicycle NSW and one of its main drawcards is that it's the only event each year where you get to ride on the road over the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  It starts out in North Sydney, heads over the bridge and then winds its way through the city and then west to Olympic Park.  For the kids (and less "able" there is a shorter 15km City Ride which lets you ride over the bridge and then finishes in Pyrmont.  The Classic Ride, which I did, is 50km (well actually it turned out to be 54km according to the Garmin) and then for the first time this year they also offered a 100km Challenge Ride.  This longer distance followed the same route as the Classic Ride but then added 50km of criterium-style laps at Olympic Park, targeted at the elite and club riders.

Spring Cycle Route

Given the size of the event I really wasn't sure what to expect.  In particular, would the crowds make riding a bit of a dodgem game and would that take some of the enjoyment out of it?  Would it be a  bit like the City to Surf (crowds-wise) except on bikes?  In the end, and after a bit of a strategy talk with Coach Dave and St Pete, we decided that I would treat it as simply a bit of fun - go out and have a blast, try and find a bunch or two to hang onto and see what happens.  The important thing would be to get to the end in one piece and have fun doing it.

So being the good irongirl that I am, that's what I did!

We woke to perfect conditions.  The plan would be for St Pete and I to walk up to the start at North Sydney (only about 20min up the road from home).  There were several advertised start options - 6.30am for the 100km riders, 7.00am for experienced riders doing the Classic and 7.30am for the social riders.  I therefore planned for a 7.00am start and then Pete would head out to Olympic Park on the train and meet me at the finish.

A bowl of porridge to start the day and we were out the door just after 6.00am and walking up the road to North Sydney.  As we arrived the first bunch were assembled ready to get started and so we were able to watch them go by as they headed off.  I noticed, though, that there were a number of Classic Ride numbers amongst the Challenge Ride numbers, so it didn't seem that the groups were being policed at all.

Irongirl has ants in her pants...
Furthermore, once the main group went off we realised that other riders were also heading off, rather than reassembling and waiting for a 7.00am gun.  It soon became evident, then, that the start gate was in essence being left open and you could therefore get going whenever you wanted.

Being a non-timed event this was a great way of spreading out the crowds and seeing as I hate waiting around I was soon putting on my bike shoes and saying to St Pete "well I may as well get going"!

By around 6.45am then I was on my way, with probably only around half a dozen people around me and plenty of road space to move.  Soon I was shooting down the hill and into it, up and over the harbour bridge, along Cahill Expressway, up to Hyde Park and down to Mrs Macquarie's Chair.

We then climbed out of the Botanic Gardens and retraced our path to Cahill Expressway, heading down and then through the city and around Darling Harbour before slowly making our way west towards Olympic Park.

What followed, then, was a couple of hours of pedalling fun.  The crowds weren't too bad and the open, "start when you're ready" idea had a lot going for it in terms of thinning the numbers out - although I don't know what it was like further back in the field.  For me it was relatively easy to pick off people.  So I'd pass someone and work towards catching up to the next person, maybe sit behind them for a little bit if I needed a break and then, when they got too slow for me, I'd go around them and hunt out the next guy.

We didn't have closed roads and so there were times when we had to stop for traffic lights and also times that we had to pay attention to the directional signs on the corners.  On most intersections there were Spring Cycle arrows indicating the direction and usually a volunteer also pointing the way.  A couple of times we missed a turn - the first time I hadn't cottoned onto the arrows and followed another couple of riders around a corner only to hear yelling from behind us as the rest of the loose bunch we were in sailed straight through.  I learnt my lesson after that one and paid much closer attention to the arrows for the rest of the ride!  The second time I noticed the left turn arrow but two riders ahead of me didn't and sailed on past.  I doubted myself for a split second before doing a U-Turn to confirm that the arrow did actually point left and not straight ahead.  Thankfully left was the correct way to go - hopefully the others didn't go too far before realising their mistake - they were long gone before I could shout out to them!

Intersections with traffic lights were also mostly manned by police, their most important job being to press the pedestrian crossing button on the signals to change the lights for us.  Well even they deserve an easy day every so often!

Overall it was ride I really enjoyed and one I think will likely go onto our regular schedule.  There were a few short, stiff, climbs to deal with and there was also lots of smooth fast road and cool downhills.  And for the closet mountain biker in me there were also a nice selection of narrow windy (sealed) paths that required nerves of steel to maintain a decent line and hold off the lads behind me!  Even better there was some great scenery and would have also been a great day out for those taking their time further back in the field.

As we got to the end I had some new guys catch up, a couple of them on tri bikes, and so I took the opportunity to jump on behind them to push the final kilometre to the finish, rolling over the finish line 2hr 10min and 54km later.

The finish area at Olympic Park was well set up - plenty of food tents on site for people to grab a bite to eat - and the triple chocolate muffin and coffee that St Pete went to get for me went down a treat afterwards!  We then wandered over to the Bike and Lifestyle Expo and spent a couple of hours there checking out fab bikes, bike tours, meeting my favourite T-Shirt designer, Cycology, and catching up with Em of Em's Power Cookies. Mmmmm.  The bike even got some love - data dot embellished and registered on the national bike register using DataDotDNA, offered free to everyone bringing their bikes to the expo.  Great service!

All up, then, a great day out and a simple train trip back home where I spent the afternoon with feet up reading and getting ready for a certain little 18km training run scheduled for the morning....

... an Irongirl's training never ends :)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Garmin Edge 810 - Testing a New Tool

Another winter/off-season is over and summer is poking its head around the corner.

Before I head into full-on ironman training again, though, there's a few more "fun" events coming up.  In fact they'll be occupying the next three Sundays:  Tomorrow it's the Spring Cycle, next Sunday the Rebel Run Sydney (half marathon with St Pete) and the Sunday after that the big one, The Sydney to the Gong Ride.

A summary of my next three Sundays...
With the purchase of Black Beauty I have had the opportunity to turn the Avanti back into a real road bike - so the clip on aero bars have come off and I have taken her in to see Mark at Jet Cycles for an adjustment to my bike fit, ready for pure road riding rather than hybrid road/tri riding.  And that's left me able to do the Spring Cycle and Gong ride, both huge events on the Sydney riding calendar.

Today was time for another ride, though, and with a slightly different purpose.

Coach Dave had set me a 3 hour easy/steady ride and that was a perfect opportunity to test out the latest toy tool in my training arsenal, the Garmin Edge 810.  The great thing about the 810, and the reason for getting it, is its ability to navigate.  With my plan to ride back from Wollongong in a couple of weeks I was keen to ensure that once I hit the 180km mark, getting lost would be the one thing I wouldn't have to waste precious energy on.

So in preparation for today's ride I mapped a circuit in GarminConnect which would take me across the harbour bridge and out to Olympic Park.  Once there I'd sample a few of the bike trails then head across the Parramatta river and follow the Ermington shared cycle path before carrying on through Lane Cove and back home via St Leonards and North Sydney.

The route was a mixture of roads and bike paths, and would provide a good mix to test out the unit and get used to its operation.  It's also a route I would never have dreamed of trying to do on my own in the past.  It was really exciting, then, to be trying something new and seeing some different scenery.

This is what I would try to follow...
So, bright and early this morning I set out, ready for an adventure or two.  And the morning didn't disappoint!  By the time I returned home I had learnt a lot about the 810 and had a much better understanding of what it does really well and its limitations.  Most importantly, it'll be great for my ride home from Wollongong.  Here's a bit of a summary, though, of what I found with it.

It does great turn by turn instructions when you are following roads.  As with the car GPS units, Garmin on the bike does great navigation.  It doesn't talk to you but it puts up on the screen the next turn instruction.  Once you are a certain distance away it beeps at you and brings up the distance and estimated time away from the turn and counts this down.  You get a couple of beep warnings of this as you approach the turn and then a different beep at the turn.

If you go off course it does another type of beep (I sure learnt that one fast as I heard it plenty of times!) and if you stay off course you'll get the option of recalculating the route or finding your own way back - and you'll get a beep when you're back on course.  At one point, when I ended up on Parramatta Road, I realised that giving it the option of recalculating is probably not the best option to take as it wasn't keeping me away from one of the busiest roads in Sydney.  It might have been one of the other settings I had, but in any case I stopped allowing it to recalculate and that fixed the problem.

While the turn by turn instructions are fab, they stop working when you are on bike paths.  So there was a bit of confusion (for me) while I was on bike paths going across bridges and all the way around Olympic Park as I could see the track I needed to follow on the screen but suddenly stopped getting instructions.  What would happen then is if I didn't look at the screen at the right time I could (and did) miss turns and end up wasting a bit of time trying to get back on track.  And of course I didn't realise immediately that it was simply not recognising the bike track - I spent most of the time thinking I was lost.  It wasn't until later that I figured out that it only wanted to give me turn by turn instructions on actual roads.  It was a bit like playing one of those mystery location games as a kid:  you're getting cold, colder, warm, warmer, got it!

The final lesson, and the most crucial one is pays to charge your unit regularly.  Doh.  OK, this was completely my fault and no reflection on the 810 - I've had it for a fortnight now, used it extensively in that fortnight and not charged it since its first charge when it was unpacked.


Once I got to Olympic Park I stopped to admire the scenery and have a quick bite to eat.  Next thing the unit beeps at me.  I look down and can't believe my eyes:

"Low Battery Warning"

Shoot.  OK, that's not exactly what I said...I was thinking much worse!  Here I was at the furthest point on my loop and I had 11% battery life left in the lifeline that was going to get me home.  Hmm, do I turn around and ride home the way I came?  Do I jump on the ferry and bail, or do I get going and wing it as long as I can?

Turning around seemed a pretty lame option and getting on the ferry even lamer, so I stopped mucking around and got going.  I figured I may as well get as far as I could and if all else fails I had the iPhone in my back pocket that I could bring up maps on.  It meant, though, that I wasn't going to be able to stop and take photos along what would be one of the more pleasant parts of the journey - the shared cycle path between Parramatta and Meadowbank.  Never fear, though, there is a YouTube clip of it and so here it is for you to get a taste of.  Parramatta's Ermington shared cycle path:

11% battery power, however, wasn't too shabby as by the time it finally died I was on the cycle path alongside the M2 stopped at traffic lights taking a look at the first signs pointing towards North Sydney, just 9km from home.
Lane Cove - Chatswood - North Sydney
I'm not lost!!!

All in all, then, it was a great morning's ride and brilliant to try out some different locations.

And while the 810 struggles a bit with providing instructions on bike paths, it's nothing I can't get used to and a huge improvement on having nothing at all.  I can see we're going to have some great adventures together...

That's if I can remember to keep it fully charged.

...Hmm, another job for St Pete I think!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Sydney Marathon - Irongirl Kicks it out of the Park

Well this could be a pretty short blog entry.  Here's the report card from Sunday's Sydney Marathon and a recap of the goals I had set:

So, this non-runner kicked it out of the park with a 25 minute PB on last year's time.

Happy?  You bet!
Sore?   You bet!
Tired?  You bet!
Couldn't care less?  YOU BET!!!

The day was a stunner - clear, no wind and warmed up really nicely during the morning.  As we did last year, we had breakfast and then had time to watch all the half marathon runners go past before wandering down to the start line.  The plan for the day was to find the 4:30 pace setters and try to stick to them for the duration.  So we found the two guys standing with 4:30 flags attached and took the opportunity to make ourselves known and let them know that we hoped to stick close.

They were great to talk to and they explained that one of them would be going for the gun time (gun guy - Matt) and the other the nett time (nett guy) and so we wanted to try and stay between them.  Great plan.  They had sorted out splits down their arms, iPhone GPS data and GPS watches - they were taking no chances here!  And, finally, they were intending to to run even splits throughout the race, although Matt would start out a bit faster to make up the initial 3 minutes he expected we'd lose getting across the start line.

So we positioned ourselves at the start behind nett guy and Matt and eagerly awaited the start.

It was to be a race of three parts.  The first 15km warmup, the second 15km needing a bit of work, and the final 12km where the true character test was held!

The first 15km felt really comfortable, I didn't go out too hard and stayed within myself.  The focus was staying relaxed and, as we headed over the bridge, St Pete edged ahead towards Matt and I trailed behind, happy with the pace and remaining slightly ahead of nett guy.  At around the 5km mark I had caught up to Matt and Pete and stayed with them as we headed down and back out of the Botanic Gardens.  As we headed into the gardens Matt called out to the group that they had made up their time and so was dropping the pace back a little.  Matt and Pete were running side by side and I was still feeling really comfortable and so I edged slightly ahead of them and would remain there, no more than 50m ahead as we headed out of the Gardens, through Hyde Park, up Oxford St and into Centennial Park.

Through Centennial Park and the second 15km was getting a bit tougher. I started having to concentrate more on form and ticking over the kilometres.  I maintained that small gap ahead of the 4:30 pace group and St Pete was doing a brilliant job sticking with Matt - fantastic pacing on his part.  However I was definitely starting to feel it in the legs.  A welcome distraction for part of this section was having a couple of colleagues from work catch up and go past, and having a chat to them enroute.  Russell and Monica were doing their first marathon and would end up finishing in 4:09 - a great effort on their part.

And then we came to the final 12km - and that was pure pain.

At about the 29km mark Matt's pace group came beside me and so I tucked behind them for a little bit thinking that they might have to drag me through the final section.  As we headed towards the top of Oxford St to head back down into the CBD Pete started to run ahead of the group and I followed to try and get a little ahead of them again.  Pete was looking really fresh, though, and I knew there was no way I could stay with him.  He picked up his pace slightly, and disappeared down Oxford St.  Meanwhile I started cursing, for the first time in my life, having to run downhill!  The quads were starting to complain big time.

This section, though, was all about gutsing it out and that's what I did.  With the gun group right behind me I just kept repeating various mantras to myself: relentless forward motion; just keep going.  I'd occasionally check my kilometre splits and saw that they had dropped below my desired 6:23 but I knew we had run the first half ahead of schedule so I had time up my sleeve.  Plus the 4:30 pace group was still tracking just behind so I didn't panic.

At the far end of the course we were at Pyrmont and were heading up the road towards the final climb where we would do the final U-turn and start heading for the finish line.  Behind me I heard Matt say to the group "just one final hill guys, and then we're home".  "Home" was relative - we still had 5km to go, but once we got over that hill and over the other side it was a 3km flat stretch to the finish.  I got up the hill - at that point I was climbing much better than descending - around Darling Harbour and back down the final drop and the second to last aid station.  Paused there for a drink and the pace group came past, grabbed drinks and they kept going.  I tried to follow ... but couldn't.  I needed to take about 10 seconds to get the legs working again and could only watch them disappear into the distance while I got going.  That was OK, though, they were on gun time and I was only concerned with the net time.

So I dug in and got going.  Only 3km to go.  By this stage lots of people around me were suffering big time and, as I did last year, drew strength from those people and used their walking  (and occasional swearing!) as a reason to keep running.

The last aid station is always a welcome sight - only 1200m to go and the nett guy caught up to me here.  I looked at my watch and it was reading 4:22.  Fantastic - 8 minutes to do 1200m.  I would do this!  Ears pinned back I headed for home, eyes only for that finish line in front of the Opera House.

I had no sprint me in for that final stretch but that was OK - my final km split was 6:23 and that was all I could do, but it was plenty.  I crossed the finish line in 4:28 and was so happy to see St Pete standing there waiting for me.  He had paced his race so well and had crossed 4 minutes ahead in 4:24.

A great day for us both and, when asked later on by Coach Dave what I'd do differently next time, I really couldn't give him an answer.

Full marks!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Trying Not to Chew My Arm Off

So this blog entry is all about one thing.

Filling in some time before tomorrow morning's race.

Tomorrow is the Blackmore's Sydney marathon and so today is all about putting my feet up, resting and doing as little as possible.

And I HATE it!

You see, one of the defining characteristics of ironman athletes is that we all seem to be addicted to staying busy.  You really do need to be able to thrive on being busy in order to juggle training, family and work life in a way that gets you to the start and finish line of your A race.  At some point during the season we all moan and complain about it all being too much, and feeling bad about the lack of social life we lead.  However get to a day like today, when I have free rein to sit around doing nothing, ALL DAY, and I'm like a fenced in cougar, pacing around my pen, getting grumpy.

OK, maybe not grumpy.  But you get the idea.

And I don't have St Pete to take my mind off the ticking minutes.  He's gone into work for the day, leaving me to my own devices and it really has been like having ADHD.

It's not like I've got nothing to entertain me.

There are a pile of triathlon magazines on the table waiting for my undivided attention.  The Saturday paper is on the same table, open.  There are recorded programs on the TV to watch.  I can easily fill in the time.  I've tidied up.  I've caught up with printing out finisher's certificates and photos from previous events.  I've had a cup of coffee (and a piece of baklava or three...). I've cruised YouTube and Facebook.  I've bought some songs on iTunes to add to the iPod playlist.  I've stood out on the balcony having a quick chat to Mel S and stood on the footpath briefly catching up with Chrissie.

And now I eagerly watch the clock waiting for midday to come simply so I've got a reason to make lunch!

All this nervous energy is hopefully a good thing.  I've had a tough few weeks training and am confident that Coach Dave has timed my build up perfectly in that, as taper approached, I definitely noticed the fatigue levels starting to creep into my stats.

Heart rate decay during a run - a sure sign of fatigue
My heart rate stats usually show a pretty consistent rate during a run.   However, a check of my profile after a session that felt less than optimal confirmed that I wasn't missing something.  Fatigue had set in and it was time to taper!

So we're there now and all I need to do is hurry up and wait.

And my plan for tomorrow?  There are several - and in a show of how far I've come and how much better I am when it comes to backing myself, here's the rundown before the race!

Number 1 Goal: Finish  
This will always be my number 1 goal!  No matter what happens a finish is a finish and the day will have been a success.

Number 2 Goal: Do better than last year's time of 4:53:06
Should be doable - I'm lighter, faster and stronger and all my run times this year have been ahead of last year's stats.

Number 3 Goal: Achieve Coach Dave's benchmark for me of 4:45:00
OK, just quietly, I think he's being really kind to me :)  Hehe, I think I can do better than that, and so.....

Number 4 Audacious, Kick it out of the Park, Goal: Sub 4:30:00
Yep, that's what I'm going to really go for, just quietly.  But don't worry, I've done my research, analysed my training stats and I don't think it's too unrealistic.  It requires an average pace of 6min 23sec/km and that's what I'll keep an eye on tomorrow. Of course all the stars probably need to align and, much like ironman, it's still a long day out there with plenty that can go wrong.  But I'm backing myself here!

The plan, then, is to find the 4:30 pace setter and try sticking with them for the duration - sticking with a pace group will be a new experience in itself, but hopefully it might make the kilometres tick over a bit easier as it'll give me something else to think about.  A bit like being on a club run.

So, there you have it.  One sleep to go and this irongirl is ready to go and do her best.

Watch this space to hear how it all went!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Training for a Cause - Sydney to Gong Ride for MS Australia

Doing an event for a cause has become the thing to do these days.  No matter what event you do - fun runs, bike events, walks, ocean swims, ironman - there's an opportunity presented to you to raise funds for a charity at the same time.

There are many reasons to do it.  Some will be doing it for very personal reasons, i.e. in memory of a family member or friend who has suffered or passed away.  Others will be using it as motivation for themselves to achieve a particular goal.  For the charities it's a great way of raising much needed funds in these times of constrained budgets and reduced public funding.

At a personal level I've only infrequently got involved with fundraising alongside my own participation in an event.  The last time I did so was in 2007 when I pulled together a team from work to take part in the Oxfam Trailwalker in New Zealand.  We fundraised together and (mostly) trained together, before completing the event together.  It was a great experience but, ultimately, it wasn't the fundraising that was the most rewarding part of it.  Don't get me wrong - Oxfam is an amazing charity and fully deserving of everyone's support.  It's just that the fundraising wasn't a motivating factor for me.  The training and then achieving the goal of completing the event was what got me excited and enthusiastic.  And that's what I look back on fondly.

It's a great example of how people are motivated by different things.

With ironman there are similar opportunities to raise funds for partner charities.  Ironman New Zealand are currently considering a new partner charity, however previously it was Cystic Fibrosis.  And as entrants we were regularly encouraged by IMNZ to set up a fundraising page and jump on the money raising bandwagon. It's not something that's ever got me enthusiastic, however, and again it's got nothing to do with the charity.  It's more about the fact that Ironman is my own personal challenge and that is what motivates me to do it - not some external factor.

However the barren wasteland that is my charitable activity is about to change for a little while!

Yesterday I entered one of Sydney's iconic rides, the MS Gong Ride.  It's a 90km bike ride from Sydney to Wollongong and is a major fundraiser for Multiple Sclerosis Australia.  As an entrant everyone undertakes to raise at least $250 each and, with a cap of 10,000 entrants, it's obviously a pretty popular cause.

It's a ride I've followed since we moved to Sydney and always looked like a great event to do - afterall, what irongirl wouldn't jump at the chance for a 90km training day down to Wollongong on the bike and back home on the train?!   This year I've taken the plunge and entered and I figured that $250 can't be too scary to raise from people?

Can it?  Well I'm about to find out!

As a way of making it a bit more interesting (I hope), I've upped the stakes and hopefully provided a bit more of an incentive for people to join in the fun with their wallets.  It seemed that you'd probably all think that a 90km ride for me would be a bit of a doddle so I started thinking about being iron-tough and riding home instead of taking the train.  I could round it out to 200km and therefore make it longer than I'd do in an ironman.

But to do that I'll need more than $250.

And then the brain went into about setting a second level, at which point I'll dress in a silly costume?  Think Xena, Warrior Princess, Wonder Woman etc.  (St Pete is keen on The Incredible Hulk....yikes!).  And that's not all - Sarah, my friend from bootcamp, has decided to do the ride with me and when she heard my madcap idea of riding back she decided that she'd join me ... as long as I raised double what I set for my own ride back.

So here it is - MS Australia - a fantastic cause for an horrific disease that we can all only hope we don't get.  And my training day on 3 November will be determined by you, my friends, family, supporters and readers.  This is what I'll do in return for your donations:

$250   Do the ride (and enjoy the train ride home)
$500   Double de Gong (ride down and ride back and make it a 200km journey)
$1000 Double de Gong Madcap ( ride down and back, 200km, in a crazy costume)

So, what are you waiting for?  Get to it!  Check out the Sponsor Me button on the right hand side of the blog, or go to

Love your work guys :)

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Sutherland 2 Surf - Race Recap

Well, well, well.

What a day.

The Sutherland 2 Surf was just a fun run but, still, I had a plan. First and foremost, finish and improve on last year's time of 65 minutes. Based on this year's half marathon I figured I should be able to do 61 minutes, however wasn't 100% confident having had a rubbish few weeks running while recovering from this year's Ironman New Zealand and Ironman Cairns.

But while expectations weren't high I still set myself a little "awesome" goal, that I didn't share so widely, thinking wouldn't it be fantastic if I could shave a minute off that half marathon pace and get in under 60 minutes.

Could I really do it?

St Pete and I had a stress free day on Saturday - easy walks and a nice early night, getting up at 5am Sunday with plenty of time for a bowl of porridge before we headed to the train for the journey down to Sutherland.

Worst thing about the day was getting there and waiting.  We got to the start line in plenty of time but it was only 5 degrees! Yes, I know, soft Sydneysider...
 Eventually we figured out that the local hall right by the start line was open for late entries ... and that was where all the smart people were waiting - inside where it was much warmer!

Eventually, however, we had to make our way to the start line and finally the gun went off and we were into it. The conditions were perfect - no wind, clear skies, this was going to be great.

St Pete and I started out together and immediately had to start dodging and running around walkers.  While they had been given different coloured bibs, for some reason the organisers hadn't coralled them at the rear of the starting area and so they were interspersed throughout the field.  The only upside to having all these walkers to get around was that it slowed me down and ensured I didn't start too fast!  Despite the positive angle, I sincerely hope this approach was just a one-off slip up on the organisers' part - it no doubt frustrated a lot of people.

Anyway, we got going and after the first kilometre St Pete said "adios" and headed off ahead of me.  He didn't know it at the time but I had hatched a second plan.

Hang on behind him for as long as I could.

During the next kilometre I managed to stick to him pretty well - there were still a few walkers around and so that was no doubt holding him up and I made the most of it.  At around the 2km mark we hit the first aid station and I slowed down to pick up a cup of water to have with a gel (I didn't have any water with me before the start so missed taking my gel - so planned on taking it at the first aid station instead).  Although I didn't stop running, I lost touch with Pete as he simply ran through without even slowing down.

I could still see his bright yellow cap ahead, though, and so worked hard to stay in visual touch.  By the time we got to the 4km mark I had almost caught up to him and at this point we hit the first and biggest hill of the course.  It went for about 300m and so I put my head down and focused on staying strong to the top, hoping I would still be in touch with Pete at the top.  Alas, by the time I got to the top he had gone out of sight and I wouldn't see him again until the finish line.

The rest of the run, however, went better than planned.  I kept a bit of an eye on my watch and was amazed to be seeing kilometre splits all sub 5:30 and one split a 4:46!  I knew I was ahead of my target pace, then, and figured I had probably technically gone out too fast.  However as with the half marathon decided I just needed to back myself and hang on until the end, hoping like anything that I wouldn't blow up.

At the 8km mark we reached the crest of a hill and saw the ocean at Cronulla beach for the first time.  It's always a great sight, however I knew that the last kilometre of this run is always tough.  Sure enough, 1500m to go and we turn hard left at Cronulla and head parallel to the shore to the Wanda Surf Lifesaving Club, where the finish line is.

By this stage I was busy checking and rechecking my splits and average pace, which had been consistently sitting around 5:09 - a pace I never hit in training!  But I was also suffering big time and this last section is really tough.  It seems like there are never ending hills and it feels like the longest 1500m ever.  Finally we turn right into the carpark and head around the corner and downhill again to the finish line, at the same time I'm continuing to run past people and chick a few blokes.  That always feels good, but not as good as seeing my time as I crossed the finish.

No, I didn't do last year's time of 65 minutes.

No, I didn't do this year's half marathon pace of 61 minutes.

No, I didn't do my "awesome" time of 60 minutes.

I backed myself, pushed hard, and hung in there for 57 minutes 17 seconds.

Job.  Done.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Sutherland to Surf - A "Fun" Run

This weekend is Sutherland to Surf weekend.

This is a great local fun run held down in the Sutherland Shire which takes you on an 11km journey from Sutherland to Cronulla. Even better, the overall topography shows it as a downhill course - although don't forget, this is Sydney and so there are some climbs to negotiate!

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The reactions of people when I've told them we're doing this run has been interesting, though, and the message has been universal.

At only 11km it must be pretty easy for me and why would I bother doing it?

Haha, easy? I wish!

Yes, I guess it could be relatively easy if I treated it as a bit of fun and just cruised through. However it's not, because I use these runs to practice running under pressure and these upcoming off-season runs will be all about setting better times than I did for the same event last year as a way of trying to build an overall speed increase into my general running. In order to run faster I need to get used to running at a faster pace over a longer distance and this is what these standalone events do.

Training runs don't give you that same mental focus, mainly because there are interruptions such as pedestrians to navigate and traffic lights to wait for along the way. Plus you're not mentally prepared and a training run is scheduled around everything else and so you don't tend to train from a nicely rested state.

So, the plan for Sunday's run is to come in under last year's time of 1:04.59. Despite the gains I've made this year I'm far from confident. My running since returning from Cairns can only be described by one word - rubbish. It can easily be explained and understood - it's taken a good 6 weeks to recover from doing 2 ironman events in the space of 3 months, but that knowledge hasn't made me feel any better prepared to do a good time.

But the logical side of me has emerged and, as usual, the data has been analyzed. What do we know? We know that in May I ran a pretty decent half marathon and came in under the magical 2 hours. In that I ran the first 11km in 61min 13 sec. So I know I should have that in me.

So that's become my main goal - sub 61 minutes. And that will require an average 5:34 pace, something I've not been hitting too well at training these past couple of weeks! But I also need to remember that this course is downhill overall ... and did I mention I'm still recovering?

So, we will see. A day of rest today, a good night's sleep (no trying to watch the Tour de France tonight!) and I'll be ready to do the best that I can.

Because that's all you can ever expect of yourself.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Facing Our Mortality

The last few weeks has been a time of reflecting on the risks we take in the name of living life to the fullest.

I didn't plan it that way.

Rather, it's come about as a result of a number of events that have really focused my mind on how lucky we are to be able to do what we do.

First of all has been the emergence of articles in the media lately about evidence coming to light regarding possible cardiac risks from taking part in endurance events (Over 40? Rethink your next triathlon, Endurance Training is Bad for Your Heart, One Running Shoe in the Grave).  Scientists are coming to the conclusion that the amount of training endurance athletes do can result in micro tears occurring in the heart which, if not allowed to heal properly (with adequate rest and recovery), can result in scarring and thickening of the heart tissue and lead to an elevated risk of cardiac arrest.

Then this morning we woke up to the sad news that 34 year old UK woman Susan Taylor had died while attempting to swim across the English Channel. Even more tragic, she was less than 2km from the finish.  This is similar to another issue that's raised its ugly head in triathlon recently with concerns about the numbers of athletes suffering cardiac arrest in the swim leg of triathlons. While the rates are exceptionally low, it's been enough for WTC to trial wave or rolling swim starts of ironman events in North America in order to, amongst other things, "...reduce athlete anxiety".

But this reflection hasn't been only about the heart.  Yesterday, a question came from a work colleague: Do you feel safe out there riding (...on Sydney's roads amongst Sydney's sometimes maniac traffic)?  Well, yes I do.  The simple fact of the matter is I wouldn't be out there if I didn't feel safe and, on the whole, drivers treat me with the respect that my relative size and exposure dictates.

Rather than quit swimming, ironman or biking, these examples simply reinforce for me that you can't let risk stop you from living life.  There is risk in everything we do.  While some take the risk-taking to an extreme (e.g. BASE jumping, skydiving, free climbing) for most of us the risk is really not much greater than crossing the road or driving to the supermarket.

And, with apologies to event organisers in advance (!) if I were to choose, I'd much rather have a heart attack out on an ironman course, doing something I love, than living out my life surrounded in cotton wool in fear of doing anything a little bit "risky".

When I think about those risks, though, I don't take it for granted.

A comment on Facebook this morning struck a cord and aligns so well with my thinking.  It was in response to a post by Triathlete magazine about a Caroline Steffen story (the 2013 Challenge Roth champ says she is two different people on and off the race course. Can you relate?), and the first response was: 

I sure can. When the race is going well, maybe a PR, I'm focused, nothing affects me. When I'm having a tough day, I joke around, laugh and think how grateful I am to be able to race/compete.

And being grateful is something I try to remember.

I am healthy and that allows me to be fit enough to complete an ironman event (well 5, actually, as Coach Dave reminded me last night...).
I am supported by an amazing husband who allows me to indulge in this passion.
I have a wicked coach who understands who I am and where I want to go, and shares my love of the sport.
I have fantastic parents and friends who, near or far, cheer me along the way and indulge my endless training updates.
I have a great job that gives us the financial security to afford to travel to events and buy the "essential" gear.

What's not to be grateful for?

So as long as I'm able I'll be out there enjoying life and making the most of my ability to live it to the fullest.  We don't have to be the strongest, fastest or most agile, and in fact the cardiac research seems to favour we slower athletes - the pro/elites are the guys likely to do the most damage.  (A "win" for we middle/back of the packers for once!) But that doesn't stop anyone from getting out there and doing whatever it is that brings you joy, happiness and, most importantly, a smile to your face.

Because in the end there will always be an end.  And for some, like Susan Taylor, it will be tragically cut short.  However I do sincerely hope her friends and family can take some shred of comfort from all that she did achieve with her Channel swim, knowing she was fulfilling a dream and had lived her life to the fullest.

Kia kaha.

P.S.  Susan Taylor's swim across the English Channel was being completed in aid of two charities, Diabetes UK and Rainbows Hospice for Children and Young People.  If you would like to contribute to her cause you can do so via her fundraising page.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Childhood Memories

This weekend has been a time of reliving childhood memories.

Winter has arrived in Sydney and, with it, icy cold temperatures and rain.   OK, it's not snowing like it has been in old hometown Christchurch, but it does feel like those antarctic winds have come straight across the Tasman courtesy of Aotearoa.

As a result Coach Dave's suggestion that I do an easy 30 minute run on Saturday and a social 60 minute ride today (plus a swim or two) were set to be more challenging than usual.  I had great plans and when a work colleague mentioned on Friday night that she was running over to our side of the city on Saturday I immediately roped her into the idea of tacking on an additional 30 minutes onto her run.  She could run to our place and then we'd do a social 30 minutes back across the bridge with her.


Until Saturday morning dawned and, with it, an antarctic chill and black skies.  By 7.00am St Pete and I had been unceremoniously dumped as running partners in favour of the warm and dry gym.

Undaunted, we headed out ready to enjoy the fresh air and whatever weather Mother Nature decided to throw at us.

And so I relived a favourite childhood memory - biking home from school in the rain.  Kawerau, the small town in the Bay of Plenty where I grew up, is set in a valley that gives it a sub-tropical climate and tropical-style downpours.  My mode of transport to school, then, was by bike and if it was raining I would always try and get mum or dad to drop me off to school in the car.  Coming home, however, didn't bother me.  Strange though it may sound it was always an immensely fun experience to bike home in a downpour, getting completely drenched, knowing you could then thaw out in a nice hot shower at home.

So while we ran in the wet and cold I just kept thinking of my school experiences and the nice hot shower I was going to get when I got home!

Today provided a similar experience.  Again I had set up a buddy to join me for a social 60 minute ride to Manly for a coffee and was really looking forward to getting out on the bike without the pressure of a training plan.  The weather forecast last night, however, was looking pretty grim and, in fact, worse than what had been predicted for Saturday morning.  And on the bike I admit I am a bit more conservative when it comes to braving the Sydney traffic and slick road surface in the wet.  So a joint decision was made last night to abandon and try another day.

That was all good, until this morning.  I got up, looked out the windows and saw that, while it was wet outside, it wasn't raining....hmm.  The rain radar was consulted while breakfast was being eaten and before you know it this irongirl was hatching a plan.

I would ride to Manly (hopefully dodging the heavy rain that was heading towards us from the west - thanks again NZ!) while St Pete travelled to Manly by ferry with a change of clothes for me.  We would meet up there, I could get changed, and then we could enjoy a leisurely coffee together before taking the ferry back home.

Perfect.  And, even better, St Pete thought it was a pretty good idea too!

So, off I went.

Manly, slightly drenched...
Up to North Sydney, down Military Road and over Spit Bridge.  Up to this point the roads were wet and the sky was black. But, it wasn't raining and I was enjoying the unpressured ride.  Over Spit Bridge, climb up the other side to Seaforth and, as I get to the top, the skies opened up.

Within 10 seconds I was completely drenched.

And I mean drenched.  It rained as it only can in Sydney - it was like riding under a waterfall, and I loved every second of it!  Within seconds I was reliving my childhood memory again of riding home from school and thinking about that hot shower at the end of it all.

By the time I got to Manly it had virtually stopped raining again and within a couple of minutes St Pete had arrived and I was able to put on some dry clothes and get warm.

St Pete brings the coffee
Despite the wintery weather it was a great morning to spend out at Manly.  With coffee in one hand and home baking in the other, we sat by the beach watching the surfers test themselves in the waves.  Hydrated and fed we then took the bike for a walk around to Shelly Beach (for once, completely deserted except for one person laying out dive gear) and up to the lookout where we watched for whales and saw plenty of whale spouts and one breach!

Then it was time for a leisurely walk back to the ferry terminal and home for that hot shower of my childhood memories.
The Avanti on the ferry - ready for her easy trip home.

All up, a great way to spend a Sunday morning in the off-season and a reminder to all...don't let the bad weather put a stop to your activity.  You can't control the weather and, if you're doing an event, you have to be prepared for all conditions.  So you may as well practice in those conditions.

So get out there - dress accordingly and look for the positive in every experience.  It will only make you better!