Sunday, January 5, 2014

A Reflection from the Book of St Pete: 2014 Edition

Well 2014 has started and, as Irongirl is still away in New Zealand, it's about time I added a new chapter to the ever growing blog collection.

Who can remember the very first ½ ironman that Toni entered a few years ago, where the only aim was to finish?  Oh how times have changed.

But before I compare ½ ironman races, let's have a look back at the results of 2013, and where better to start than with me :)

I competed in a number of short distance runs ranging from 5 to 14km events.  One particular event that I ran with our friend Mel, an experience that Mel may remember for a long time to come (enough said).

I also did two half marathons.  The first was with Irongirl in May which we ran together the whole way and for the first time Toni broke the magical 120 minute barrier.

Then in October we both lined up for the second half marathon of the year and, as you would have read in previous blogs, Toni showed again her improved running ability and I set a new PB of 105 minutes.

Interceded with these events I also found the time to compete in two full marathons where I set a PB in the first of the year and stayed within 10 minutes of that PB on the second.  So overall a pleasing 2013…

But there’s more.

Let's summarise Irongirl's exploits over 2013 (just the major ones):
Sydney City to Surf (14km fun run): PB   Check
Sydney Half Marathon: PB                        Check
Blackmores Marathon: PB                         Check
Ironman New Zealand (the A race): PB     Check
Ironman Cairns (the B race): PB                Check*

*This wasn’t supposed to happen as the A race at IMNZ was the focus and IM Cairns was just to complete the distance towards the 12 races needed to get a Kona slot. (yeah right) :)

Not a bad year’s work!!

But now we come to 2014 and as you would have read in Toni’s previous blog, I gave the green light for Tauranga.  As the year progressed from time to time I mentioned that I thought a sub 6 hour race in Tauranga was possible.  However Irongirl brushed this off and just wanted to do a good race. ##

But let's look back a few years to that ½ ironman race in Lake Hood, just out of Ashburton, where Toni’s only focus was to finish inside the 7 hour cutoff, and finish she did, which led on to full Ironman and the rest is history.

The Tauranga half ironman was a different focus, not only to finish, but go out and give it a good crack. Toni and I even had the odd discussion about a top 11 finish, which would have meant qualification for the NZ age group team for the world long course champs in China later in the year.

So as you already know, the target of 6 hours was achieved and 11th place in Toni’s age division means potential NZ team qualification.  Although it wasn't an option for this year, it's nice to know what’s achievable and, who knows, Irongirl may turn up at the Tauranga race again with the aim of qualifying in the not too distant future.  :) 

In the meantime I am at day 21 of the 100 runs in 100 days challenge, currently sitting just outside the top 30 (not that I’m competitive or anything) and Toni is content in the knowledge that another chapter in the ever growing Irongirl legend has been completed.

½ Ironman PB and sub 6 hours:​      Check/Check
Top 11 placing in age group and Tauranga ½:   Check

Overall a pretty awesome start to 2014.

So the 2014 event calendar for Team Irongirl is pretty much set: a couple of fun runs, a ½ marathon, a marathon, and just a couple of Ironman events.  And that’s just Toni’s schedule...

It’s going to be a great year.  Why?

Because St Pete said so…

The end or just a new beginning.

## Have to say it, “I may have been proven right!!!”

Port of Tauranga Half - Race Report

The Port of Tauranga Half has a great history.  It is the longest running half iron distance triathlon in New Zealand, this year celebrating its 25th anniversary.  It was first run on 2 January 1990, its founder inspired by competing in Ironman Hawaii, and has become one of the country's iconic events in the annual triathlon calendar taking over the holiday town of Mt Maunganui every summer.  (The souvenir program provides a great history of the event and is well worth a read.)

And that on its own was a pretty good reason to enter.  The entry came about, however, after a challenge was made by two of my iron pals, Mel and Jacky.  They suggested I come over and do it with them.  But believe it or not I did hesitate.  While it's always good to slot in a half iron distance into the season in the build up to Ironman New Zealand, it would require an additional trip to New Zealand and not just a straightforward flight into Auckland.  There were the additional logistics of bringing the bike over and then driving to Mt Maunganui, around 3 hours out of Auckland.  In other words it would be on a scale, logistically similar to travelling to Ironman NZ but for "just a training day".

Most importantly, however, was the fact that it was down for 4 January which was St Pete's birthday.

On that basis alone I was prepared to flag it, however St Pete thought about it for a few minutes and before I knew it was messaging the two instigators back: "If you both enter then Toni can too". Woohoo, green flag given!

And so that's how Mel and I came to be standing waist deep in Pilot Bay at 6.15am yesterday searching out the turn buoys amongst the moored yachts.  (An operation a few weeks ago had caused Jacky's withdrawal but she would be found on the sidelines cheering everyone on.)

Mel and I at race briefing
The conditions were almost perfect.  The water wasn't glass-like as it had been the morning before and there was a light drizzle in the air, but that also meant that there was no rising sun to swim into (so no sunstrike on the water) and the temperatures would be a couple of degrees lower also.  The most difficult thing was finding those buoys amongst the boats.  And this wasn't like Ironmans New Zealand or Cairns - no buoys every 100m or so along the course!  There was one buoy at each corner and we needed to know the course well enough to navigate our way around the smaller 700m loop first, out onto the beach and back into the water again for the longer 1300m loop.  I figured, though, if I couldn't see the buoys immediately I simply needed to follow everyone else - afterall I was under no illusions that I'd be out in front!

My race plan for the day was to pretty much go by feel.  Coach Dave and I had tossed around a couple of ideas but his ultimate feeling was that I should just see how it goes and play it by ear.  I had some new nutrition to try out and so the primary aim also was to come through the run avoiding any gut issues.  To that end I planned to try out a scenario of eliminating gels from the bike leg and switching to them only once I started running.  On the bike leg I would take a supply of home made date and ginger bars and supplement that with electrolytes in the drink bottle and a banana from the two aid stations.  

The plan for the swim was to simply take it steady, try to follow feet where I could and come out of the water fresh enough to put in a good solid bike leg.  The aim for the bike was a sub-3 hour bike split.  Anything aside of that would be go by feel and see how it pans out.  The run was always going to be a tricky proposition.  My ultimate aim for ironman is to succeed in putting together a run leg where I actually run the whole darn distance except for walking through the aid stations.  To date I haven't managed that yet!  The other scenario was to try the plan from my last half marathon where I picked up the pace slightly every 5km.  After doing a practise run around the gravel and undulating base track of the Mount, which we do twice in the race, I wasn't sure that this was going to be a goer, but kept it in the back of my mind as a possible strategy to go for.

Anyway, I was feeling good about the day and ready to get going, and after giving Mel a good luck hug, we both found some space in the water and waited for the start gun.  I would see her again after the finish.

The swim started and we started making our way down the course and between the boats.  The swim itself was pretty comfortable although it was pretty offputting to come out of the water on the first loop and see 20 minutes showing on the race clock.  As I got back in the water for the second loop I couldn't help but be demoralised briefly when I calculated a 60 minute finishing time for the swim, based on the second loop being basically twice the distance of the first.  What I didn't do is actually look at the Garmin strapped to my wrist.


Partway into the second loop I remembered that the clock would have started from when the pros went (around 6 minutes ahead of the female age groupers) and therefore needed to be ignored.  Common sense had returned and while I wasn't sure how much time to deduct from the clock I put it out of my mind and focused instead on getting to the finish of the swim.

Out of the water, into T1 and onto the bike.  As always, this is my favorite part of the race - now the day can begin!  The bike course is essentially flat and there was only the lightest of breeze so I was confident I could put in a good performance.  While there are half a dozen U-turns and a similar number of corners to negotiate, it's generally a great opportunity to hunker down on the aero bars and put in a solid time trial ride.

I wasn't able to watch my speed so pretty much went by feel.  I was passing plenty of people which was a good sign and the only other pace indicator I had was the Garmin which gave me an alert every 5km.  Maintaining a speed of 30km/hr or better would result in 5km being completed in under 10 minutes, so that was what I kept an eye on.

I also used the 5km alerts as a reminder to have a date bar.  Great strategy except for one small problem.  After eating a couple of them I realised that the 9 bars I had in my pockets would only last the first half of the bike leg at that rate.  That's OK, I thought, I'll just spread them out a little bit and it'll be good to have them predominantely in the first half of the bike leg so that my gut will have had time to digest them before I start running.

There is one aid station on the bike course and we pass that twice and so the plan was to pick up a banana and water on the first pass (about 17km in) and then replace the bottle of electrolyte, top up the water and grab another banana on the second pass (at around 62km).  This sort of went to plan except there were no bananas available the first time around and the second time around was a bit of a comedy show.

As we approached the aid station I threw out the empty electrolyte bottle and called out for banana, electrolyte and water.  The first thing I got handed was a banana.  Tried to put it in a pocket to grab later but couldn't do it quickly so stuck it between my teeth.  One second later I get handed the water bottle.  Bugger, can't put it anywhere (this bottle gets used to top up the bladder in the bike and then gets tossed aside) and I still have to pick up the electrolyte - don't have enough hands!  So I hand back the water bottle to the next volunteer, grab the electrolyte bottle from another volunteer, put it in the cage and finally pick up another water bottle from the final volunteer.  Top up the bladder in the bike, toss the bottle away and finally extract the banana from between my teeth and peel it so I can actually eat it!  Whew - a shorter aid station than I'm used to in ironman certainly made life more entertaining for the onlookers, I'm sure.  And not quite sure how I managed to stay upright - I ended up rolling through VERY slowly, and still clipped in.  For a millisecond I thought it would be easier to stop but I only had one hand on the bars and the other picking up and giving back stuff to volunteers so stopping wasn't an option.  Yikes!

Towards the end of the bike I knew I had pushed hard and was confident that I would have come in ahead of my 3 hour goal.  It was a happy irongirl who therefore rolled into T2.  As I changed into my running shoes a girl was next to me doing the same thing.  "Just a little run to do now" I said to her.

If only it were ever that simple!

I headed out of T2 and while the legs were feeling like lumps of concrete just kept saying to myself "running is always faster than walking".  I decided in those first couple of kilometres, then, just to keep running, no matter how slowly I was going.  It would be better than walking and I could reassess once I had hit 5km.  At each aid station I walked through and for the first of the two laps I had a gel at a couple of the aid stations and electrolyte at the others.  At one aid station I saw a supply of bananas and because I had failed to have one on the bike decided to try one on the run.  Almost immediately I got a minor reaction in my gut and that was enough to tell me just to stay away from the solid food full stop.

After around 5km I was starting to feel as though I was in a pretty good rhythm.  My pace was sitting around marathon pace which I was happy with and it felt like my heart rate was pretty comfortable.  I had managed to maintain a run all the way around the Mount track where others were walking and so I made a conscious decision not to pick up the pace on the road section.  While I knew I could probably pick it up a bit I was concerned that it might result in me blowing up and walking sections of the Mount track and this could result in a slower overall time.  So I stuck with the conservative strategy and just picked off the kilometres with walks through the aid stations only.

On the second lap I went to take the 3rd of the 4 gels I had with me and, like the banana before, got a minor but immediate reaction to it.  That was enough for me to decide enough with the gels and for the the remainder of the run I just took electrolyte drink at each aid station.

As I approached the Mount track for the final time I saw Mel's friend Elise just past the aid station.  As I walked through it Elise asked if I had seen Mel on course, which I hadn't.  It had been difficult to look out for her on the bike but I had expected we'd cross paths on the run.  Elise was worried as she had seen Mel on the bike but hadn't seen her running.  I had to keep going, though, but it was a worry to know that she might have pulled out.

The final time around the Mount was tough but good - most people around me by that stage were walking up the climbs and I was still running and getting past them.  About 3/4 of the way around the track for the last time the Garmin beeped at me to give me the 19km split.  2km to go and the total time was reading 5 hours 48 minutes.  In a repeat of the Ironman Cairns scenario I was calculating the time remaining.  Could I do a couple of 6 minute kilometres and get to the finish inside 6 hours?

It was a long shot but I decided I had nothing to lose and I may as well give it a shot.  If I had been conservative before this was the time to seek payback and see what I had.  What made it a bit tougher was the first of those final kilometres was still on the undulating unsealed track but I still picked up the pace where I could and very soon I was back out on the road and it was a flat run to the finish line.  Around 1km out was the final aid station and I grabbed a cup of water there and tossed it over my head without stopping (yep, didn't walk through that one!), pinned my ears back and focused on getting to the finish line.

I managed to pass a couple of people in that final stretch and I remember thinking "if anyone sprints past me now, good on them".  I don't think I had much more in me and was pretty elated to cross the finish line, pressing the stop button on the Garmin and seeing 6:00:00.  Officially I stopped the clock at 5:59:58 - talk about cutting it pretty close but that final kilometre was completed in 5 minutes 36 seconds; my fastest split for the whole distance!

Start slow and finish strong - one of Coach Dave's mantras and one I managed to follow :)

After the finish I finally found Mel and was gutted for her - after her second puncture of the day she was forced to pull out having completed around 53km on the bike leg. So disappointing for her but I know she'll be fired up to do another half distance event in the near future.

In the meantime, I savoured my reward of hot chips, gobsmacked that I had achieved 11th place in my age group and a theoretical place in the New Zealand team for the long distance world champs.  

Who would have thought this irongirl would be capable of something like that....
(St Pete certainly thought I was but it was beyond my wildest dreams!)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Port of Tauranga Half: Thelma and Louise do a Road Trip

It's the first day of 2014 and tomorrow is the beginning of a girls' weekend.

Most typical girls' weekends would involve large quantities of wine, chocolates, pedicures, manicures and facials.  Maybe a soppy movie or two, a show, shopping or other fun night out.  Exercise of any sort is a big no-no, unless it involves letting your hair down on the dance floor, and the only marathon these girls would contemplate is one involving vast numbers of shops or several hours of movies.

But this is my blog and this Irongirl doesn't do your typical girls' weekend.

No, my kind of girls' weekend involves Black Beauty, a fellow irongirl as crazy as myself and far more luggage than most airlines think is really necessary.

And that is the plan for this weekend, which is why I find myself back in New Zealand and ready for a road trip to Mt Maunganui tomorrow, with fellow crazy chick and awesome buddy Mel.  

On Saturday we complete the Port of Tauranga Half.

And then we bring out the chocolates and movie!