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!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Ironman Cairns 2013 - The Word from St Pete

Well it had been a big lead up to this day. 

On reflection it had taken the previous four races, lots of meals being cooked, lots of waking up a tired Irongirl from her power naps on the couch and, when necessary, kicking her out the door for another training session, either to the pool, the wind trainer in the garage, or for a run when it was wet, cold or just too hot.

The previous weekend I had taken a trip over the ditch to Christchurch and run a PB marathon, and on the Friday before irongirl's race I had paced our friend Mel (who was working at T2 on race day) over a 5k fun run. Although I don't think that it was much of a fun run for Mel as she had told me her target time was 32 minutes and we made it in 31:10.  In my typical running style I had set the ground rules of what is said on the run stays on the run, but I'm sure that over the last 2km Mel must have hated me.
Yes we smashed the target time and I smashed Mel along the way - I don't think that my attitude of being ready to go for another 5km impressed her, or the fact that after finishing Mel shared her breakfast with the grassed area just after the finish line!!!

But back to race day.

Sunday dawned fine, after a bit of overnight rain, after all it is the tropics, and Toni's biggest worry was that Black Beauty would be wet!!!

Now a seasoned pro at these ironman races, Toni was focused and after breakfast, put on her iPod and started to dance around the room for a few minutes. I frowned at this as it was unnecessary energy best reserved for the race.

At about 6am we headed over to transition to check the bike and add hydration to Black Beauty before soaking in the start area atmosphere. After I did a quick dash back to the hotel, which was all of 2 minutes away, to drop off the bike pump, I then walked Toni to the start area, before watching her head off down the pier to the start of the swim leg.

On heading back to the viewing area, I smiled to myself as other ironman athletes were rushing to the start area and, after hearing later reports that some were still entering the water as the gun had gone off, I wasn't surprised.

What is unique to Cairns is that they have the 70.3 on the same day as the full ironman. Some of these athletes therefore started more than 45 minutes ahead of the the full ironman start time and Transition 1 was soon a hive of activity, even before Irongirl actually started her race.

I positioned myself opposite the first drinks station of the day, just before the athletes enter transition.

At 7.55am Irongirl was underway and the waiting began.  I had signed up for the text alerts which were working well, so I knew when Toni had exited the water some 500 metres further up the course.  The split time was 1:33 so I knew someone would be happy and, less than a minute later, there she was, focused but I got the thumbs up, so I knew all was good.

A quick dash around the transition tent and I again saw Irongirl head across to the bike, then another 500 metre sprint to see her head out on the bike course.  A quick calculation and I knew what time Irongirl would have to be at T2 to make her aim of a sub 6 hour bike split.

As Cairns is an out and back bike course, with a good majority of the roads closed, my next opportunity to see Toni was going to be at T2 so it wasn't long before I was driving out to the transition area with Leigh who, with her husband Paul, was doing the 70.3 as a team.

It took over an hour to get to the transition area, but as Leigh was doing the 21.1km run leg of the 70.3 we were in plenty of time, and I was then busy getting the text bike splits and relaying them to Facebook as well as texting a group of people, on the events of the day.

I briefly caught up with Mel at T2 and then headed off to find a position to see the cyclists arrive.  From my previous trip to Cairns I knew where the best spots would be and I saw most of the pros arrive, and some of the age groupers.  Just after 3:30pm a black bike with a rider dressed in green came into view, the white bike shoes confirmed my suspicions, and I knew then that the main goal of a sub 6 hour bike split had been achieved.  Some 6 minutes later I saw Irongirl exit transition and, I didn't know it at the time, but Toni didn't know what her bike split was.  I again caught up with Mel and got Toni's bike bag from transition and met up with Leigh and Paul again as they had finished their team event and had driven back out.

We all then headed out on the run course and set up camp at a spot just after the 12km mark.  I got a text alert telling me that Irongirl had passed 10km in the marathon, so it wasn't too long before the green machine came into view.  I walked up the course and gave her a greeting, to which Toni asked if I knew what her bike split was.  I said 5:57 (officially it was 5:57:30) to which I got the response "really?" Having confirmed it again, I'm pretty sure I saw a little dance and both arms being raised in the air in celebration as Irongirl ran on. But that was quickly put in check as there was still the little matter of running another 30km.
Team Irongirl roadside.
Now let's remember people that this was irongirl's B race. The whole aim of the day was to smash the bike and, if necessary, walk the marathon.  Afterall Toni had taken about an hour off her previous best time at her A race in Taupo, finishing in 14:08. Although it should be noted that less than a week after Taupo, when I had analyzed the race data, I did mention that a sub 14 hour race was possible.  At the time I remember Irongirl screwing up her face at me, and may have called me a name or three!!!!

I saw Toni again about the 17km mark still on the highway, and again she was running.  Actually every time I saw her on the course she was running, maybe out of fear of the barreling I would have given her, as you would have read in Toni's blog there was a little bit of walking going on.

We then headed into town, getting regular run splits as the kms to go kept steadily coming down and I took up position along the esplanade, where Toni would pass five times on the out and back loops.

A lot of walkers passed me but lots of runners as well, one of them being Irongirl, and as Toni passed me going back out of town for the last time I did a quick calculation and worked out that a PB was indeed possible - even a sub 14 hour PB...

Surely I wasn't going to be right after getting a telling off in March.  However as time ticked down, and I got yet another text alert telling me Toni had less than 10km to go I posted on Facebook that a PB was possible and my Facebook followers erupted in positive energy.  That may have been something to do with me telling them all to make some noise...

It was time to move to a better vantage point as it was then just a quick dash to the finishing area and, sure enough, within a few minutes the green machine came into view, running and now smiling, taking the final bend before entering the finishing chute.

A quick dash and I was in a great position to see the finish line, and what a finish it was.  13:53, a PB, yes smashed by 15 minutes, and my prediction in March came true.  That means I'm right, umm I may have to dine out on that one for a little while to come.  :-)

So not a bad "B" race and, after analyzing all the data, IM6 in Taupo is looking like another history making event.  Let's just say Irongirl and I have had a discussion about a possible finishing time, and on this occasion Toni didn't screw up her face and call me a goose.

I think my support crew role may take a small hiatus but not for long, as soon I will be pushing Irongirl out the door, as training starts again soon.

Afterall St Pete is right.... 

Ironman Cairns 2013 - Race Report

Flying into Cairns last week was like returning to an old friend. There was an air of familiarity about it and yet my less than optimal performance last year made it feel like my friend and I had parted on strained terms.  (See last year's race report for all the details I wish I could forget but never will!)

This year was the time to kiss and make up.

The stars were aligned for a happy reunion. St Pete had had a great day at the Christchurch marathon, sneaking in a PB, and so he had returned to Sydney happy and ready to retain his mantle as the best support team ever. Good friends Leigh and Paul had arrived from Christchurch to experience Ironman first hand. They were doing the half ironman as a team and it would give them a taste of things to come when Paul comes to do his first ironman in Taupo next year. And to complete the ground crew, Mel had also flown in from Auckland and would be working the T2 tent on the day - I had already lined her up to be my personal sock changer!

And the athlete herself was feeling as good as she had ever been.

In some respects the pressure was off. Cairns had been set as my "B" race for the season. Ironman New Zealand had been my "A" race and, with a solid PB achieved, there was no expectation of pushing the overall time in order to finish the season off on a high.  As my second race of the season I was in the fortunate position of being able to use Cairns to try new things in preparation for New Zealand in 2014.

In my debrief with Coach Dave after Taupo I outlined my primary goal moving forward.  I was certain that I had a sub 6 hour bike split in me and that is what I wanted to focus on.

In the three months between Taupo and Cairns, then, my training was focused on bike strength and the game plan for Cairns was to do a good "warm up" swim leg and then hammer the bike leg. There would be no traditional pacing and conserving for the run.  Instead I would push the pace hard and see how close to 6 hours I could get. The run could then be expected to be a bit of a grovel but performance on that leg wasn't what we were looking for.

Training, then, had supposedly gone to plan, although this was all new so I had no idea whether (a) I would cope with two ironman finishes in the space of 3 months, and (b) I had actually improved my bike speed in that relatively short amount of time.

However our final few days leading up to race day had at least been trouble-free.

On Tuesday we flew to Cairns and appreciated again the balloon archway welcoming athletes in the luggage collection hall.  This was obviously a benefit of having Cairns Airport as one of the event's major sponsors, but it really added to the vibe and the feeling that you were part of something special for the area. Thursday was the Green Island Reef Swim, a 1.5km or 3km ocean swim which Leigh, Paul and I did and really enjoyed. We did the 1.5km option and I was able to treat it as an easy training swim.
Ready for the Green Island Reef Swim
The rest of the week was equally trouble-free and by Saturday afternoon nails were done, the requisite IM merchandise purchased, bike was racked, bags deposited at the transition areas and I was happily chilling out on the couch, nerves barely to be seen.

Waiting, waiting...
So Sunday morning duly arrives with the regular 4.00am alarm. Breakfast is a bowl of porridge with milk and brown sugar and then it's time for some more chilling out until 6.00am when we would head over the road to race start. During that time I returned to my happy place - my iPod loaded with favourite P!nk tracks, and a few select others, which had the unfortunate effect of "treating" St Pete to the vision of Irongirl dancing around the apartment to music he couldn't hear and then the delights of Irongirl belting out her favourite song, also to a track he couldn't hear.

Hmm, probably not the most pleasant of starts to his day!

At 6.00am we picked up Leigh and Paul and headed down to the Esplanade. The place was humming - nervous half and full ironman athletes and their supporters were everywhere. The main task before the start was to check the bike: water in the bladder, bottle of electrolyte in the cage between the aero bars and tyres pumped up. Black Beauty was a bit wet from the overnight tropical downpour but otherwise ready to go.
Wetsuit on and we bid farewell to Paul who headed down for the half ironman start before it was my turn to say goodbye to St Pete and Leigh and also wander down the pier to our start area.

In the starting area we could watch the half ironman athletes already out in the water swimming around the course. They had wave starts and we full distance age groupers had a later start time than normal - 7.55am. We therefore had a bit of waiting around but before long we had access to the pontoon and 15 minutes before our start time I was jumping in the water and finding a spot at the start line - close to the inside of the course.

Finally the gun went off and we were into it. It appeared I had ended up closer to the front of the pack than usual and so the first 25m was spent doing polo freestyle as there were way too many kicking feet in close proximity to put my face under water. Thankfully Coach Dave had prescribed plenty of polo drills these last few months!

Finally the pack thinned out a bit and I was able to get going properly. The swim was, however scoring reasonably high on the contact front compared to my previous experiences, and would so for the duration of the course. The lack of visibility meant it was pretty difficult to follow feet and it also meant that you tended to swim into someone before you saw them. Of course that also meant I got a few limbs knocking me and my goggles - thankfully the goggles didn't leak once, despite the kicks!

Overall I was happy enough with the swim - we had the outward tide to deal with again and it also got a bit choppy coming in off the second lap so that final leg coming back in was a bit of a slog. I did a slightly slower time than in Taupo this year (1:33:25 versus 1:26:19), however I was happy enough given the conditions and I came in feeling 100% better than last year (when I spent 2 hrs 17min fighting the tide and leaking goggles, and had exited the water feeling completely shattered).  A check of my stats from Taupo shows that I swam pretty much the same pace as Taupo (20:29min/km).  However although I succeeded in sticking to the buoys and the inside of the course the Garmin's GPS reading claims I swam 4.49km versus 4.15km in Taupo.  This extra 340m therefore accounts for the slower time.  Interesting, too, that this year's 4.49km was also a longer swim than my nightmare swim in Cairns last year when I covered a "mere" 4.23km!

For the data geeks amongst you, here is a comparison of my three swims:

As always it was great to get out of the water and I couldn't help but look back at the course as I ran up the pontoon to see plenty of people still swimming in behind me.  Yippee!

Onto the bike and I was feeling great.  We had a tailwind heading up to Port Douglas so I went hard as planned and used it as much as I could. It was then a headwind coming back to Wangetti and the turnaround for the shorter return back to Port Douglas. At the 90km mark I was sure I had done sub 3 hours but I also knew the bulk of the second 90km was the long drag in the headwind back to T2, so wasn't sure what I could do. Fatigue, headwind and the rolling hills could all combine to drop a significant amount of time.

Starting the bike leg
The wind was pretty gusty, sideways, as well. I imagined this must be giving me a taste of Kona! I saw a couple of ambulances, sirens going, and one guy lying on the side of the road not looking happy (and a couple of people helping him). (The following day we saw a couple of people with big doses of gravel rash down their sides and at the after party spoke to a guy who had come off his bike after misjudging a bottle handoff at an aid station and hitting the tent!). There were also plenty of punctures being repaired, so there was a bit of carnage out there.

But not for me.

I felt strong and pushed hard the full distance. The plan was for controlled aggression the whole way and that's what I did. On the aeros for all but the odd occasion where I'd stand on the pedals to accelerate over a crest (or out of the turnaround at Port Douglas) or pick up a bottle of water at an aid station.

Port Douglas turnaround
Black Beauty and I moved through the field like a well-aimed cruise missile. At one point I almost had to yell at a technical official who was watching a bunch I had caught up to and wanted to go past. The motorbike he was on was blocking me from moving around the pack and I was just about to yell at him when the rider saw me in the mirror and got out of my way.

I did let one guy go past me (but only one!) - he was on an S-Works and commented "nice bike" as he went past. With such obvious good taste I figured he didn't need to be chicked on the bike by this Irongirl.

The only time I really had to slow down was at the aid stations. After the experience in Taupo, when I kept running out of water and suffered dehydration as a result, I changed the game plan slightly. At every aid station I picked up a bottle of water and topped up the internal bladder. The bladder wouldn't need the full bottle so what was left over went over my head and down my front and back. If I timed it correctly I was able to pick up the water off the first volunteer in the line, top up the bladder, water myself down, throw the bottle away and have time to pick up a banana off the last volunteer before I hit the end of the aid station zone.  I inevitably lost time for all this but it shouldn't have been more than a couple of minutes overall and probably paid off in the long run.

How close I was to my 6 hour bike split, though, I had no clue.

What I had failed to do was check the time at the start of the bike and the Garmin was only showing total time (not time for the leg). I knew that I had come out of the water at around 1hr 33min but could only guess what my transition time was.

With 30km to go on the bike I had a headwind to deal with, fatigue (surprise, surprise) and a slight overall climb back to T2. I figured that I was at around 5 hours and so if I could maintain an average 30km/hr for the last hour then I could hit 6 hours. But it was all a big guessing game and I was starting to be ready for the leg to be over.  As we came off the coast and inland I started searching out the signs for Yorkey's Knob and the confirmation that the bike was done.

Finally it appeared and I sped into T2, happy and comfortable (love that Specialized Body Geometry Bike Fit from Jet Cycles!) and knowing that I couldn't have done any more in the conditions.  In my heart I knew that, 6 hours or not, the job had been done.

I didn't know it at the time but I had in fact shaved off 27 minutes from my Taupo bike time and a fantastic 59 minutes off last year's Cairns time, breaking 6 hours and coming in at 5 hours 57 minutes.  Even better - this bike split was the 3rd fastest in my age group!  (Pity I'm still a crap runner, lol.)  While I had been hopeful of getting close to 6 hours I really didn't think it was on the cards for Cairns and so this result exceeded all expectations.

It would be fair to say that by the time I started running I was pretty much over it.  However I maintained a positive attitude and focused only on an easy start and thought only about getting to the first aid station.  My first kilometre split was faster than planned (6:14), but once I got past the first aid station I started fading pretty fast and the mental wars began in earnest.

I had achieved my goal for the day and so the pressure was off.  For the first 12km, then, I was playing mental games.  Make it to the next aid station.  Make it to the next 2km distance marker.   And so it went on.  Fatigue was urging me to stop and one half of my head was saying "why not, you left it all out on the bike course, the race plan allowed you to walk" while the  other, more stubborn side, was saying "come on, let's get the job done".

At the first aid station I suffered my only real disaster - if you could call it that.  I stopped at the portaloo and, as I dropped my shorts, forgot about the gels sitting in the back pockets.  Two of them dropped into the toilet and, although they didn't drop down into the bowels of the portaloo, there was no way I was going to retrieve them and try to use them!  Thankfully there were two spare gels sitting in my special needs bag, so it wasn't too much of a crisis.

At around 12km I started feeling slightly better and started thinking maybe it's taken 12km to recover from the bike and now I'll be better.  Between then and 13km I saw St Pete and asked what my bike split was.  He had calculated (correctly as it turns out) it to be 5 hrs 57sec and so after asking if he was serious (and getting an affirmative answer) my spirits went sky high.  I seem to recall pumping my fists in the air and yahooing at the news, which would have no doubt been amusing for the other runners around me...
The news of my sub 6 hour bike split...
The news of my sub-6 hour bike split carried me through to the halfway point.  By that time we had reached the Esplanade where we had to run to the finish chute and then, in a cruel twist, do two full laps of the Esplanade before being allowed to turn onto that coveted red carpet.

In the meantime, though, I had further arguments to have with myself.  More walking and shuffling continued and more arguing with myself about being able to break 14 hours versus it doesn't matter, save it for next time.

I had pretty much accepted that I wasn't going to worry about the PB when I got to the 36km marker.

With 6km to go I looked at the Garmin and see it was just about to tick over to 13 hours.  Suddenly I was calculating the chances of doing 6km in 60 minutes (for sub 14 hours) or 68 minutes (for a PB).  Oh shit, goes my head, I could do this.  So with that I got going .... and did it!  As I reached the last turnaround at the far end of the Esplanade I knew I had a sub 14 hour finish in the bag and, sure enough, as I turned left off the Esplanade and saw Pete at the turn, the huge grin on my face confirmed to him that I knew that my finish time was starting with a 13.

No matter how many ironmans you do, I don't think anyone ever loses the pure joy and elation of hitting the finish chute.  And as I turned the last corner and looked up at the clock, to see that PB looking down at me was truly one of the most exciting things that could happen.  Not only did I exceed my bike expectations by doing a sub 6 hour bike split, I also managed to further drop my PB and break 14 hours at the same time.

And as I crossed the finish line, I recalled my reaction to the Kona video played at the Friday night Welcome Dinner when I uttered: "Man, I love this shit"!