Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Mental Toughness - It's a Winner

After a four week break (2 weeks pre- and 2 weeks post-ironman) it was back to Bootcamp this morning.

It was great to be back with the old gang again, turning up just before 6.00am under the harbour bridge not knowing what Richie was going to throw at us for the next hour.  I was feeling refreshed, ready to go and, more importantly, ready to push myself.

After our warm up and then the first couple of drill sets of squats, runs and steps ups, J turns to me and says "you make it look so easy".

Heart rate at 162, breathing heavily, sweating like a ... well sweating like a hot thing, and me, the non-athlete - making anything exercise-related look easy seemed like a complete oxymoron.  But, cool as a cucumber, my response was simple.

"It never gets easier.  I think you just get better at pushing yourself harder."

But it got me thinking.  While it certainly wasn't easy, why did it look easy?

I think it came down to mental focus.

Beginner or experienced, improvement only comes by pushing your limits, not only physically but mentally as well.  And I think people underestimate the role your mind plays in helping you succeed or fail in your goals.  This morning I was feeling mentally strong, focusing on good form and pushing myself to do as well as I could with the task we had been given.  As a result I suspect that, rather than portraying distress with pushing myself, I was instead portraying a calm determination and using my inner strength to push through.

You can see another example of this on the latest series of The Biggest Loser which has started in Australia this week.  The contestants are in that beginner stage of having no confidence in their abilities, no experience with pushing their bodies in exercise and the distress they are feeling is out there for all to see.  They are finding the workouts hard and their minds are telling them to stop.  They think they can't do it and, without the trainers there pushing them, they would give up.

Their minds haven't been trained to understand that a workout is supposed to be tough.  That you push through and feed off that difficulty in order to get stronger.

The trainers are pushing them to their limits and over the next few weeks we will see a transformation in these guys, not only in their physical abilities but also in their mental toughness.  The workouts won't get any easier, but those that make it through to the end will have become mentally stronger, more focused and will have been able to push themselves that much harder as a result.

You may not be athletically gifted but it doesn't matter.  Mental toughness could be your biggest asset - and ultimately that's what will get you to the finish line of whatever goal you've set yourself.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

I Would Like to Thank the Academy ...

A week down and recovery is almost over - it's almost time to start looking towards Cairns and my second Ironman of the year.  But before I move on from last weekend's efforts, it's time to put down some thanks and recollections on all the people that were with me, either in person or in spirit, on the day.  So here is my own list of Academy Awards ... each and every one of you are winners in my book.  :)

St Pete:
My co-star and all round good guy, Pete is the reason I can live my passion for this mad sport.  He cooks for me, cleans the house, stays quiet when I need an afternoon nap, and carries all my gear when we troop down to Kurnell for monster training weekends.  Then come race day he's on the sidelines all day, from the time the cannon goes off until I cross that finish line, cheering me on and making sure that any other twits mad enough to come and cheer for me aren't slacking off in a coffee shop or bar midway through the race.

Every irongirl needs one and, sorry girls, he's NOT FOR SALE!  :)

While my ironman effort on the day is a solo effort, getting to the start line isn't and Pete completes the other half of this team like no one else.

And the Oscar goes to ....

Coach Dave:
No team can function without a coach and D is an all-star.  We've been together since the beginning of my ironman journey and it's been a fantastic partnership that's also developed into a valuable friendship.  He understands the limitations that life can put on an age-grouper and is all about getting the best out everyone, loving life and living the dream, whether that's a 14 hour finish or a Kona qualification.

I loved our "night before" dinner where my guys (Pete, Dave, Dad) brought back dinner - rotisserie chicken and salad - and D concocted a special pre-race dessert for me: banana, Zilch vanilla bean ice cream and apple crumble yoghurt.  It was his favourite combination of fruit, fats and sugar, and it was yum!  We had a great evening with lots of laughter shared and the next morning D ensured I hit the start line happy and relaxed.

My 71 year old dad, and "The Shot" coffee maestro, jumped in his Coffee Shot van and drove from Rangiora to Taupo so that he could cheer me on - and provide coffees on demand!

It was fantastic to see him and after a disappointing year last year, where mum and dad only got to experience a half distance race, it was wonderful to give him a "real" ironman spectating experience this time around.

Even more memorable was him turning up with magnetised/ removable custom-designed signs on both sides of the van shouting out "Supporting Irongirl101" which he then left with us to use for my future races.  Dad did an amazing job keeping up with St Pete and Coach Dave all day and it sounds like the "boys' day out" was a blast.

He then proceeded to give me kittens when I heard that he had left super-early on Sunday morning for the trip back to Rangiora, getting home early evening, in time for his regular coffee round on Monday morning.  Legend, or is that madness?  Whichever it was I was so glad you made it home safely!

Jacky is the most amazing supporter and friend that I found while building up to Ironman #1 in 2011.  We shared that journey together via Facebook, and we both crossed the Ironman finish line for the first time that year in torrential rain.

Since then Ironjack has been out of this world busy developing her own business that keeps her away from focused IM training but doesn't stop her from cheering everyone else on as they continue towards their goals.

Jacky provided me (and many supporters) free entertainment on Saturday by "running to her car", which appeared to be in a similar direction that I was heading on the run leg and then, 10 seconds later, tripping over a road cone.  Needless to say I didn't stop.

Looking forward to toeing the Ironman line with you again, Jacks, in 2015?!

Mel, triathlon event organiser-extraordinaire, was running a triathlon in Rotorua the morning of ironman and then jumped in the car and drove to Taupo in time to cheer me on during the run course.  After I finished Melz greeted me with a big hug and the loving words that she now hated me ... because I beat her ironman PB.  Oops :)

She was the inspiration behind the silver ferns on Black Beauty and sent me the ferns that went on my helmet and bike box with the reminder that she's "keeping me Kiwi".   In another Kiwi moment, Mel was also responsible for leaving a packet of Choco-ades at our apartment door the morning after - yum!  

Proud to be Kiwi, Melz, and so looking forward to having you in Cairns this year,  as well as on the start line in Taupo with me in 2014, so we can do some damage to our PBs!

Me and my IronBabes: Melz and Jacky

Introduced via Ironjack, Leonie did Ironman Cairns last year and this year was on the sidelines in Taupo cheering me on while I battled my way through the run.

A fount of knowledge, Leonie was the unlikely star when I figured I had nothing to lose by asking if she happened to have any bright ideas for relieving a stitch (I had already tried massaging it out while running, to no avail).  Stopping to bend over and kiss my knees was something I never dreamed I'd be doing on an ironman run but, there you go, it worked and so I'm definitely not complaining!

Lesson to be learnt - always ask, even if you don't expect a sensible answer.  You may just get a gem - thanks Leonie!!!

Supporting Cast: 
Mum, Mel B, Jacqui, Joe, Ra, Budgie, Fran, Mike, Elizabeth, Cate, Annie, Sandy, Kaye, Leigh, Lisa, Sandra, Justine, Rosie, Andi, Ang.

What a team.

You couldn't be with us on the day but thanks to the power of Facebook St Pete kept you all up to date and your messages of support got through to me loud and clear.  Love your work guys, and let's do it all again soon!

The people of Taupo: 
Whether they were volunteering or cheering along the sides the Taupo community were fantastic and are the reason Taupo is such a great place to come back to year after year. 

Even the small touches were noticed and appreciated, such as the pharmacy staff that happily used their body oil samples to remove my number tattoo the day after because they had sold out of baby oil. 

The parties that lined the run course were also a highlight - I was suffering too much on the run to acknowledge everyone but the support that was there for us made a huge difference, not only to our progress toward the finish line, but to our enjoyment as well. 

On Sunday the sign below went up on the main street, and it really says it all.  Taupo, take a bow.  You rock, and we look forward to coming back next year.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Ironman New Zealand 2013 - Race Report

The big day had arrived.

Finally the weather gods were smiling on Taupo and, after two years of meteorological disasters, it looked like we were going to be treated to a fantastic day. Calm lake, great temperatures, I was looking forward to putting in a solid effort.

Get to the start line in the best form you can.

Those were Coach Dave's words to me a few months ago and I had kept that phrase on the fridge as a constant reminder over summer. I was in the best form of my life - let's see what this irongirl can do!

I was feeling happy and calm as I had breakfast and got ready.  Helping to keep me in my happy place was my iPod, loaded with my favourite P!nk tracks that had kept me company on my long bike rides this summer, and I think I managed to amuse St Pete as well as I silently (or maybe not so silently?!) danced my way around our apartment.  Just after 5.00am we made our way down to the Domain, found dad, checked in, and gave the bike a final once-over.  Tyres pumped, water and sports drink loaded, helmet in place, Black Beauty was ready for the day.  Wetsuit on, we wandered down to the lakefront and found Coach Dave before I said farewells to all and went through the swim start chute and into the water.

Dad and I - about to start a long day
I got into the water and started stroking out towards the start line.  The lake was as still as it had ever been, the water crystal clear and I felt an immediate calm wash over me. 

Today would be a great day.

As we waited for the start gun I chatted to the woman next to me.  She was an ironman veteran and excited to get started.  A couple of minutes to go and an announcement comes over the loudspeaker, "An athlete has just torn through his wetsuit - does anyone have a spare?". Oh no, poor bugger, not a good way to start the race!  I don't know if one was found for him but the water was at least warm enough for him to do the swim leg without one if it came to that.

Finally the sound we were all waiting for - the cannon fired and over 1300 bodies started swimming. I had positioned myself on the right hand side of the course, towards the buoys and around the middle of the pack.  As we got going I got smacked in the teeth with an errant elbow but wasn't overly concerned (what a change in attitude from a couple of years ago!). A couple of minutes later I got caught in the middle of a pincer grip - two swimmers started swimming towards each other with me sandwiched in the middle.  I was happy to hold my own, not budging until I finally got a lungful of water from one of them and had to stop and have a coughing fit for a couple of seconds - at least it was fresh water I was inhaling...  But thanks to my ocean swim experiences that particular incident also failed to induce any sort of panic attack or adrenalin rush.

Lungs returned to an oxygen-carrying state, I carried on stroking, nice and easy, and found myself following the bubble trails of other swimmers. This was something I had been practicing at the pool all summer.  If I caught up with another swimmer in my lane, rather than immediately trying to go past them, I would practice trailing behind, using their draft and thus minimizing my own energy expenditure.  

And so it was with this swim.  The water was so clear that I could follow people's feet and stay in their draft.  In fact I started playing a game with myself and called it "toe tapping" - where I would stay just close enough to the person's feet as they were kicking that I'd be able to just gently tap their toes with my fingers as I stroked.  It probably annoyed the hell out of the person I was trailing and if you were one of them, sorry, but thanks for the ride around the swim course!

I say thanks for the ride as the effect of sticking close like this was huge in terms of my energy output.  Occasionally I'd lose someone's feet and end up on my own and the extra effort required was so noticeable that I'd quickly be looking around for the next pair of feet to latch onto!

It continued like this around the whole course.  I barely needed to sight and just focused on staying in touch (literally) with the feet or bubbles in front of me.  Every so often I'd get toe tapped also and so I knew I was in good company!

As we rounded the last turn buoy and headed for shore I was feeling great - still fresh and even more excited when I stood up and saw the clock in front of me displaying 1:26 ... 4 minutes ahead of my A-race plan.

Pulling the wetsuit down to my waist I started running to transition.  It's a reasonably long jog along the green carpet and about 3/4 of the way to the steps I saw a familiar top ahead of me.  Another Balmoral Tri Club member competing today was up ahead and as I approached from behind I greeted him and we wished each other a fantastic day.

With that I ran to transition and got ready for the bike. I ran into the tent, quickly found a wonderful volunteer who wasn't occupied and she helped me strip off my wetsuit and put on my bike shoes, get out my gel bottles, sunglasses and race belt.  Everything on I left her to clear up the mess (sounds like home!) and jogged out of the tent, paused to be sprayed with sunblock and headed to where Black Beauty was waiting.

Out we headed onto the bike, and a new experience.  Lots of other competitors around me!  That made the bike course infinitely more interesting as I focused on passing whoever I could and trying to avoid being within someone's 10m drafting zone, especially when a technical official was around!  

The first lap of the bike went well.  I felt like I got into a good cadence, felt strong, and was passing many more people than were passing me.  At every second aid station I picked up half a banana to supplement the gels I was taking, was sipping water whenever I felt the need, and generally being at one with the bike.

As we headed into town to start the second lap I was still feeling pretty good. On my training rides I would consume a bottle of water, a bottle of sports drink and 1 gel flask (around 4 gels) on a 3 hour ride, and so I expected to be able to manage by simply refilling all the fluids halfway around. I  was therefore due to top up the water and replace my sports drink bottle around then and, at the halfway aid station, refilled the water and then got a new Horleys bottle and discarded the empty gel flask at the following one.  

Heading out to Reporoa on the second lap the heat started to get noticeable and it felt like there was a bit more wind, although the grasses and trees weren't really moving, so it was difficult to tell.  I tried chugging down a bit more of the fluids to compensate though and, as a result, ran out of water just before the turnaround.  So while the first bottle of water had lasted me 90km, the second bottle lasted less than 45km.  Eek!

I filled up again at the next available aid station coming back to Taupo and tried to just hang tough for the last 45km.  It was definitely getting tougher.  For one part there were fewer people around me - by this stage we had all spread out and so there wasn't so much jockeying for position, which kept the mind occupied.  For another part my head was starting to lightly throb - it felt like the beginning of a migraine, which I can get if I'm dehydrated and this was a bit of a warning sign.  

Finishing the bike leg - and still going for it
At that point I didn't know if it was the wind, the heat, not enough fluids/electrolytes or the aero helmet not giving me enough ventilation, but all I could do was hang in there to the end of the leg.  Luckily we got to the final climb past the racecourse and I knew we were into the final 10km which would be predominantly downhill all the way back into town.  Minor problem, though, was that in that last 10km my water had run out again and there would be no more aid stations to undertake a refill.  However this wasn't a time to hold back and I instead relished the last section where I managed to pick up a few extra places while people were slowing down to take their feet out of their shoes. 

Quick tip - 1km out is not the time to be undoing your shoes, guys.  This is a wicked fast section of the course coming into town and you don't want to waste it fiddling with your pedals!  Leave the unclipping until the last 300-400m when you are coming around the back of the Domain.

I made a great stop right at the dismount line and jumped off the bike feeling pretty good, considering.  Black Beauty had been a dream to ride and I came off comfortable and ready to run.  As always the volunteers were ready with our transition bags - my number was called as I ran in and by the time I got to the bags it was being held out in front of me to grab.  Awesome work!

I ran into the tent, took off my bike shoes, changed socks, running shoes and cap on and gels into the back pocket of my pants.  Wearing compression socks on the run slowed me down a bit - they are tight buggers to get on, on damp feet!  Might have to rethink that strategy.  Anyway, while I was getting ready a volunteer was slathering me with more sunscreen - brilliant!

I took a gel, paused for a drink of water to wash it down with and started running out of transition.  Feeling good.  I saw the boys and, still on a high from the swim, paused to give St Pete a happy kiss and called out to Coach Dave, "that was an amazing swim!".  

Coach D could care less.  

"Forget about the swim, get the job done.  Start out slow, finish strong."

Yikes, yep, OK coach....!  Suitably told off I got going, although still buzzing inside.

2km down the road that buzzing had gone and I knew things weren't right.  The wheels were about to fall off and I was about to enter my low point of the day. 

Unable to run to the first aid station as planned, just another 500m away, I walked and tried to do a stocktake of what was going wrong.  My stomach was cramping up and my head was still feeling a bit funny - the migraine feeling had gone but had been replaced by a bit of light headedness.  Apart from that, physically, I was feeling OK.  The legs were feeling fine and I definitely didn't have that overriding feeling of exhaustion that had plagued me in Cairns and forced me to walk virtually all of the marathon.

Nevertheless I knew I had to try and sort this out, otherwise it was going to be yet another walked marathon, and that was not a goal for the day.

In the hurt locker

I got to the first aid station and couldn't face taking a gel so decided to try something different - a cold piece of quartered orange.  Coincidence or not, but 5 minutes later and I got a stitch.   F***k!  OK, no more oranges - even if they weren't the culprit!

My next decision was to try simplifying the nutritional intake and so I went to just taking in flat coke and by the time I got to the far end of the course on the first lap I had decided that I couldn't face taking in any more gels.  At the end of the course was where we had access to our special needs bags so I took the opportunity to grab mine then and dump my gels into the bag so I could retrieve them the next morning.

The first two laps of the run, then were a mixture of running and walking, and trying to deal with a cramping stomach and a stitch, and I tried to relay this to my guys and gals as I saw them in the hopes they'd be able to miraculously whisk away my ailments.  Fat chance!

Well actually that's not completely true.  At one point I saw Leonie (who had done Ironman Cairns last year) and asked her if she had any miracle ways of getting rid of a stitch.  "Bend over if you can and kiss your knees".  What?  OK, I did - must have looked very funny to the spectators lining the streets.  And blow me down, it worked.  The stretching movement was obviously just enough to disperse the accumulated lactic acid and one little problem had just been eliminated.  Wahoo!

By the time I got to the end of the second lap I was getting really frustrated with the stomach cramps still and so stopped at the aid station to ask a medic if they had anything that might settle it.  They didn't but she suggested that, if I could, I should ditch the coke and just keep sipping the Horleys so as to keep getting in some electrolytes.

I was mildly sceptical but did as she suggested and by the time I got to the turnaround point of the last lap was starting to come right.  Perfect timing for a strong finish home, as per Coach's instructions!  I had been amazed to see how many people ahead of me were walking during the run leg, even those on their final lap heading home, and that kept my own confidence up, knowing I wasn't the only one suffering.

Passing the final aid station on the way to the finish is always a highlight - it's on a hill and so it's essentially downhill for the last 2.5km.  With about 1km to go I heard a familiar voice and think it was Mel shouting encouragement but there was no pausing or turning to check.  I had the blinkers on, ears pinned back and the only stopping would be happening after that finish line which, as always, was the most amazing sight to see.

I turned the final corner, ran onto the red carpet and soaked up the atmosphere of the finish line crowd and Mike Reilly calling me over the line as an Ironman (again).  As I approached the end I looked up at the clock.  14:08  What a fantastic sight that was - an hour off my time in 2011 - smashed my PB!

Coach D, me and St Pete - what a team!