Friday, May 31, 2013

The Best Weekend of the Year

Twas the week before ironman, and all through the house
 Irongirl was resting, her legs on the couch
Black Beauty was packed, by the Jet boys with care
In hopes that race day would be completed with flair...

It's Friday morning as I start writing this and I'm about to hit the weekend before Ironman. And I've come to the conclusion that this is the best weekend in the year.  Yes, the weekend before Ironman is even better than Ironman weekend, although that does come a pretty close second.

And for those who are facebook friends, and therefore know I'm home alone this weekend, no, it's not because St Pete has headed back to Christchurch to run the Christchurch marathon on Sunday. Shame on you all for even thinking such a thing!

The weekend before Ironman is particularly special because the training volume is down, I'm starting to feel strong, fit and ready to race, and all the fun packing stuff happens.

What also helps is that I'm no longer in that phase of freaking out about my first ironman event.  You know that feeling - asking eternal questions about whether I've done enough training; whether I'll last the distance; what will go wrong on the day and will I cope.   I've now got enough IM finishes under my belt to know what to expect on the day, understand that it's going to be a long day at the office and that there will be challenges (and pain!) to overcome, but nevertheless will still be looking forward to overcoming it all and coming across the finish line.

And that's what makes this weekend so much fun.

First of all there's not much training on.  The sessions I do have still have some intensity to them but the volume has dropped right away.  Today, nothing.  Saturday, a 1,000m time trial swim and 45min wind trainer session.  Sunday, a set of run drills, 50min tops.  It's hardly going to make a dent in my days.

Melting Marshmallows - Lush
Training-wise, then, it's all about recovery.  As much as possible I need to be putting my feet up and having some serious couch time.  It's a great time to be catching up on those books sitting on the coffee table, movies, or even a long, luxurious bath.  Mmmm, a quick trip to Lush tonight might be in order....

So serious is this recovery business that my good intentions about volunteering on Sunday at the MS Fun Run had cold water poured on it good and proper.  I saw the event come up and the call go out for volunteers a few weeks ago and realised that it was on the same day as St Pete would be running his marathon.  I figured I'll be home alone, not much training on, why not help out?  It'll be an easy way to pass some of the day and give something back to the community.

Well, was I ever wrong on that one.

St Pete thought I had gone insane even thinking about it (and told me so in no uncertain terms) and Coach Dave, normally the optimistic "make anything work" kinda guy, took a long few seconds pondering it over Skype before finally deciding that no, despite my good and honourable intentions, he couldn't make this idea work at all.  And with the final nail in the coffin from Mel who, as a race director herself, assured me that the volunteer coordinator wouldn't consider her day ruined by me pulling out, I did so, and left the day as a blank canvas.

So that brings me back to the fun weekend.

With training just a blip on the radar that leaves the packing and preparation.  Yippee - the fun stuff!  Last night Black Beauty went into Jet Cycles for her pre-Ironman service.  Tomorrow I take the bike box in and she gets packed up (they did such a great job last time I'm letting them do it again!). Wheeling her home in the box on Saturday is always a really cool thing to do - yeah, go on, I know you're thinking it....ironman geek!  It's almost as cool as wheeling her around the airport - I feel like a real athlete...haha.

And then there's the packing.  All the race gear gets assembled and laid out.  Gels get counted.  Battery chargers get put together and coiled into ziplock bags so they don't get tangled.  Spare CO2 canisters, tubes, clothing for all weather eventualities.  The gear gets left out for a day or two so I can check it against the checklist half a dozen times and then just check it visually another half dozen times while I mentally go over the course, through each transition, ensuring I have everything I could possibly need.

Finally it all gets loaded into the suitcase.  Race day gear goes into my carry-on trolley bag - all of our other gear into the suitcase.  I love this process!

IMNZ 2011
Another pre-race weekend tradition is the selection of nail polish for race day.  I'm not normally a nail polish wearer, but my good friend Ironjack started this when we did our first Ironman together in 2011, in Taupo.  She was all about wearing special nail polish on the day and so I joined in and it's carried on from there. My swim exit photo from Ironman NZ 2011 shows a bright flash of pink on my toes and catches my attention every time I look at it!  As a result every ironman now requires a special application of polish on the fingernails and toenails - the bonus being it hides my typically bruised and battered black toenails!  So another fun job this weekend will be securing a special colour to wear next weekend.

Finally there's the mental preparation.  A couple of weeks ago my training volume had peaked, I had been pushing myself hard and was sufficiently run down that I got sick.  It was only a cold, and a relatively minor hit at that.  But it was enough to put me at a low ebb in terms of feeling fit and ready to race.  As we get to this weekend, however, I've fully recovered and I can feel my mental focus enter a state of calm readiness.

Come Tuesday St Pete will have returned from smashing his marathon and we'll be getting on the plane to head to Cairns.

The weekend before Ironman - it's the best weekend of the year.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon - I guess this means I'm now a Runner

When you talk running with people it seems there are certain accepted milestones that define the "real runners".  For a marathon, the golden finish time is always 4 hours, while 2 hours is the goal that people tend to strive for in a half marathon.  And I've always bought into the idea that my inability to break 2 hours, let alone come close in the 14 half marathons I've completed to date has confirmed my status as a "non-runner".

Last year's training day at the Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon was a great day out, and a PB. However at 2:11 it still didn't do anything to dissuade me of my non-running abilities.  Today, three weeks out from Ironman Cairns, that all changed and as I sit here typing this it still all feels quite surreal.

Not only did I smash last year's PB of 2:11 but I also broke the 2 hour barrier, coming in at 1:56:57 - 3 minutes to spare!

The race comes at a good time between my two ironman events this year.  It's been a couple of months since Ironman NZ, and so plenty of time for recovery, and it's just three weeks from IM Cairns. While last week was my last big bike ride before Cairns, the finish line of today's race marked the start of my taper proper.

Training overall had gone to plan, although it threatened to be derailed last weekend when I came down with a cold.  I had managed to run myself into the ground sufficiently enough that I was susceptible to every virus floating around.  Sure enough Monday rolled around and my head was thumping like a late night 80s disco, my throat had me coughing like an old smoker and my energy levels had dropped to that of an old sloth.

Careful management, promises on my heart to Coach Dave that I would take it easy at Bootcamp, and some good drugs saw me returning to almost full health by the end of the week.  Needless to say it was still a nervous Irongirl heading out for an "easy" 45 minute run on Thursday night and an "easy" 20 minute run on Saturday.  Neither felt particularly easy and I did not feel at all confident about an outstanding performance today.

Not that I was losing any sleep over it.  This race is, afterall, "just" a training day in my buildup for the main event in Cairns.  And so while Coach Dave and St Pete had decided I had another PB in me they were content for me to aim for 2:10 - hey, a minute faster is still faster!  I did the calculations last night and was semi-confident that I should be able to maintain an average 6:09 pace ... if I was having a good day.

So this morning dawned and we were up, as always, at sparrow's fart.  Porridge for breakfast and we were on the train into the city in good time for a 6.45am start.  It was a bit chilly but the skies were clear and there was no wind to speak of, so conditions were promising.  I was feeling calm and rested and I had Coach Dave's mantra/race plan sitting in my head...

Controlled Aggression.

After what seemed like an eternity in the start area trying to stay warm we were finally set off and it felt great to get going.  One of the best things about this race is that the first couple of kilometres is downhill.  I love this as it allows me to warm up and get going nice and easy with the aid of gravity...!

By the time we got to the bottom of that first descent I was in my groove and focused on the job.  I set a solid pace and had St Pete tracking beside me and we set about dodging and weaving through the slower runners - a first for me!

At the 5km mark I checked the Garmin and we were sub 30 minutes.  Another first.  I then had to decide, am I going out too fast?  Am I going to blow up, should I peg it back a bit?  Thinking about the rest of the course you know the last half is hillier and has more climbing than descending and so it's difficult to follow the negative split philosophy of doing the second half faster than the first.  So while I knew I was running a solid pace for me I decided to back myself and hang in there.

At the 10km mark I was at 55 minutes.  Another first.  Not only had I run the first 5km faster than I ever had in training but it was the first time I had ever run a sub 60 minute 10km.  I was still feeling strong and had the controlled aggression mantra in the back of my mind.  Although also in the back of my mind was the thought that at this rate I'd better make sure I allowed myself some decent recovery before Cairns!

My nutrition had been going to plan - a sip of water at the first aid station and then I took a gel at around 45mins at the second aid station.  At around the 12-13km mark I started struggling a bit and at this point I started to wonder if my first 10km was now coming back to bite me.  If I had gone out too hard this was where I was being kicked and would I now struggle to the end?  I put that thought out of my mind, though, just focused on my form (and dodging people around me).  Soon after we came to another aid station and I checked the time.  We were at 1:08 and I hadn't planned on taking my second gel until 1:30.  However I made a split decision to take it early and was glad I did.

Within a few minutes that gel seemed to have hit the right spot and I was back on form.  We got to the 16km mark and with 5km to go I did another time check.  1:25.   I had 35 minutes to do the final 5km and break 2 hours.  It was at that point I realised I could realistically do it.

The final 5km is pretty tough, however.  You come off the Cahill expressway and then chug up Macquarie St towards Hyde Park and the celebrations at the finish line.  However at Hyde Park you turn left and carry on down towards the Botanic Gardens towards Mrs Macquarie's Chair before returning back out of the park (a reasonable climb) back towards Hyde Park.  It's not over there, however.  There is still a 400m run away from the finish line down College St before you do a hairpin turn and come back the way you  ran, uphill and then finally around the corner to finish in Hyde Park.

The final section can also get a little crowded, with two way traffic and a reasonably narrow road.  So while I was feeling strong and confident, others around me were faltering.  It was therefore a bit of a dodgem course as I kept an eye on the time and tried to get past people.  At 2km to go I had 15 minutes left on the clock and then we got to the 20km mark.


I had 9 minutes to get through the last 1100m and I knew I had it in the bag.  At that point the blinkers went on and I went for it, posting my fastest km split of the distance!

We crossed the line together at 1:56:57 and it was the most amazing feeling ever.  However there was a dawning realisation making itself known in my head.  After I finally caught my breath I turned to St Pete and said...

"I guess this means I'm a runner"

Two very happy runners!