Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Ironman New Zealand 2015 - Race Report

Ironman #9 was about to start and I had a plan.  In fact I had two plans.

Plan A?  A finish time starting with a 12.  I am the proud owner of a set of finish times starting with 16, 15, 14 and 13.  Now I want a 12 and this was going to be the race in which to go for it.

Except my body had other ideas.

Ah well, that's why we all have two plans - and for me that involved Ironman Cairns, in June this year.

But for Ironman New Zealand I had the day sorted into splits.  Coach Dave had suggested some good splits for me - 1:21 for the swim, 6:00 for the bike and 5:15 for the run.  Each split would be a PB but they were completely doable and, with transitions added in, still some leeway to make it inside 13 hours.  With just the Garmin 910xt to keep track of things, I had figured out a simple sequence to watch and determine if I was on target (I don't do complicated during an ironman!).  It was simply, start the bike by 1 hour 30min then start the run by 7 hours 30min.

Recognising that a lot can happen on the day I had determined that if I was getting off the bike at around 8 hours then my sub 13 hour day was not going to be on and Plan B would kick into action.

And Plan B?  Button right off on the run and just finish, saving the legs, minimising the DOMS and maximising my recovery so that I can give it another decent shot at Cairns.

Simple.  Now I just had to go out and do it.

I had a good sleep the night before and by 5.30am we were down at transition, special needs bags dropped off and setting up the bike for the day ahead.  Everything in transition was soaked as it had poured with rain overnight but, no problem, I'd be wet coming out of the swim anyway and so that sort of problem was never a worry.

Hmm, that would later come back to bite me...

At 6.00am we started getting our wetsuits on and wandered  down to the start area at the lakefront.  We got to the waterfront in time to hear the last of the haka (always an impressive sound in the stillness of pre-dawn).  There was not a breath of wind and the lake was nice and calm.  The forecast was looking rough for the afternoon/evening but we were starting out in great conditions and it was going to be a great day.

I managed to find virtually everyone before the start to wish them luck and share some of my pre-race calm.  Lisa, Paul, Steve, Greg, Craig and Alicia.  They were all ready to go - calm and nervous all at the same time ... there's nothing like the last few minutes before an ironman start!  I missed finding Andi and Dave had disappeared and so I was hoping that his bike accident the day before hadn't caused him to pull out before the cannon had even fired.

Finally we were in the water and before you know it, "BOOM" - it's all on and we're swimming.  Ironman New Zealand 2015 was underway.  As always with Lake Taupo the water was crystal clear and we had a clear view to the bottom - in fact I would be watching the bottom of the lake all the way around.  I had positioned myself towards the right of the course, nearest the buoys, and around the middle of the pack, so there was the typical jostling around and I didn't have any problems finding feet to latch onto.

It was a pretty uneventful swim up to the turnaround.  I had a bit of contact with others but generally no real issues and it felt pretty good all the way around.  Not too many matches burned and it was a good feeling to again be rounding the final turn buoy and be heading to shore.

As I stood up and looked up at the clock I saw the time of 1:21.  I'm hopeless at remembering my PB splits during a race but I was sure that a 21 was the lowest number I had ever seen coming out of the water and so felt pretty good as I started jogging along the green carpet up to T1.  (It was, by a couple of minutes.)

T1 was chaotic - as I get faster I need to get used to having more people around me in the change tent!  But the amazing volunteers still managed to find me, strip me of my wetsuit and tip my gear out so I could put shoes on, find glasses and clip race belt and number on.  This year was a little different as normally I wouldn't put my race belt and number on during the bike.  However this time around I was helping out Ironman NZ with a GPS tracker trial they were testing out on some of the age groupers.

The GPS tracker is a device about the size of a mobile phone that will allow supporters to know exactly where you are on the course throughout the day.  It is being introduced for the first time at Ironman Melbourne this weekend for all the pros and is apparently going to be also at the other Ironman regional races and Kona this year (on the pros).  It should make watching the event (and commentating) much more interesting with the ability to track everyone on the course rather than just waiting for sometimes unreliable and infrequent split times.  Obviously the plan is to eventually roll it out to all athletes and so a bunch of us volunteered to test it out for them.  

I had elected to carry my tracker in a race belt they provided which had a specific pouch for it.  It also had loops for gels and held your race number and so I put this on at the start of the bike and had it on for the rest of the race.

Onto the bike and I was all set for a strong ride and a good go at a 6 hour split.

Except my legs had other ideas.

Whether it was the chaotic non-restful week, the three ironmans in the past year, or both, I don't know. But my legs weren't on top of their game and I just didn't feel the spark the whole way round.  It wasn't a disastrous ride by any stretch of the imagination - at the Reporoa turnaround on the first lap I was at 90 minutes and around 3 hours 1 minute at the halfway point.  So I was on target but, knowing the second lap tends to be a bit slower, there should have been more of a buffer in those times and I knew I wasn't producing the pace I knew I was capable of and had been returning in my training rides.

And then there was my chain.

Yep, that overnight rain came back to bite me and about 20km into the ride the chain had dried out and with it came the realisation that all the lube had dropped out.  I therefore spent the first lap of the ride trying to ignore the squeaking of the chain and not let it affect the ride.

As I came back into town I saw Leigh on the side of the road cheering us on and as I flashed past saw Coach Dave standing next to her.  Damn.  He was out.  I had no way of knowing if he had even started the day but afterwards found out that he had started but had been forced to withdraw when he came out of the swim, the concussion from the previous day's accident catching up with him.

It was a gutting realisation but I put it to one side and carried on ready to head out on the second lap.  Once we were out on Broadlands Rd again I spotted the Shimano mechanic's van and managed to wave him down and get some chain lube to slather all over the chain.  Much better!

While we were on the second lap back out to Reporoa the wind started to come up and it was a pretty good headwind up to the turnaround.  The good thing about that is the thought of a tailwind back to Taupo and while that was certainly the case for a little while, before long it turned into a really annoying crosswind, bringing back memories of Kona except 20 degrees colder!

Finally I reached the final climb, just before the 170km mark and cheered myself up with the knowledge that the upcoming righthand turn would mark a fun downhill stretch back into town and into T2.  Make the turn and WHAM, the wind hits front on.  Yep, that's right, my downhill run had been thwarted by the wind and it was difficult not to feel completely ripped off by the fact that I would have to keep pedalling (hard) the last 10km!  It is what it is though and I kept at it right to the end, got off Black Beauty, handed her over to one of the fantastic volunteers and looked up at the clock.



My immediate reaction was that this was essentially an hour later than I was targeting (7:30).  What a disaster.

Despite knowing my ride hadn't been on form and despite knowing I had a Plan B, all that common sense took a quick holiday as I ran up and collected my T2 bag - the tears were starting to form and I was just glad my sunglasses were down so I could have 10 seconds of feeling sorry for myself on my own.

But it was only 10 seconds.

While I got myself organised for the run I started mentally running through Plan B.  No point stressing about the bike.  It is what it is.  Forget it and go to Plan B.  This is all about conserving the run and just finishing so I can get ready for Cairns.  An easy jog out of T2, the tears were long gone and I was in a good space and ready to take it easy for the next 42.2km.  

As I headed out and down towards the lakefront I saw Coach Dave on the side.  I stopped where he was and gave him a hug, asking if he was OK and saying to him "No legs on the bike - this is Plan B".  "All good", he said, "you take care of yourself".  And with that I was back on course again, ready for three laps of undulations around the lakefront and suburbs.

The run itself was pretty uneventful save for a couple of highlights - 

During the first couple of kilometres I was walking along the waterfront gathering my thoughts (shh, don't tell St Pete I was walking!) when a guy runs past and calls out "I've got a gammy leg, what's your excuse?".  I laughed and let him go ahead before I started running again and soon caught him up.  "OK", I said, "tell me about your excuse".  And with that we managed to chat our way through the next 5km before he finally told me to carry on - my sub-par effort was marginally quicker than his gammy leg was allowing him to go.

The second highlight came towards the far end of the first lap when I came across Jacky (Ironjack) on the sidelines ready to cheer me and everyone else she knows.  As I went past I relayed my sad state, shrugged my shoulders and said "you can't have a fantastic day every time - I'm on Plan B". By this time I'm about 20m past her and hear her shouting at the top of her voice (I'm sure the whole town would have heard her)...


Haha, so true - that chick always knows how to make you feel better!  I carried on giggling to myself and feeling much better about the world.

Taupo being Taupo meant that the weather gods weren't finished with us and so just to throw another challenge into the mix a storm rolled through late afternoon.  Gale force winds and rain added another dimension to the run and by the time I got onto the second lap I was accepting the offer from one of the aid stations of a clear plastic poncho to run in - in fact I'm amazed they weren't made compulsory. The weather really turned feral on us. You're never quite sure how much use the ponchos are but at one point it had stopped raining so I lifted it up to my waist thinking it might be time to take it off.  The resultant wind chill around my legs, however, saw me drop it back down immediately and I happily left my plastic coat on until I reached the final aid station of the run, about 400m from the finish.

"Are you finishing?" one of the aid station volunteers asked me?  "Yes", I replied.  "Take off your poncho for the finish then", she said.  I didn't need a second invitation and so stopped at the side of the road momentarily to take it off and stuff it in the rubbish bin.

As always the final 400m is pure joy.  High fiving everyone along the sidelines, my Angry Bear focus finally relaxed and I took the time to savour the finish chute, crossing the line in 13:47:57.  

Ironman #9 done and dusted and, while it wasn't my best time ever, it wasn't actually that bad in the end.  It was my 2nd best time ever!

Postscript: In hindsight, looking at the cumulative race time on the results page it shows that I was 8:08 coming off the bike, not 8:23 which was showing on the clock at the entrance to T2.  I'm guessing then that they must have had the pro clock showing, which I didn't realise, and I was therefore not as far outside my max split time as I thought I was for Plan A. 

Which raises the question: If I had looked at the Garmin instead of the T2 clock would it have made a difference to my mental approach on the run?  Possibly, although I would still have needed to take 48 minutes off my run time, making it a 4:43 marathon.  In reality that would have still been a very long shot given my fresh marathon PB is 4:28 and we can probably safely assume that I was actually carrying more residual fatigue than was ideal.  (This was, afterall, my 4th ironman in 13 months...)

So Plan B was definitely the right choice, but it has taught me two really important lessons:
- if time is important look at the Garmin not the official clock, and
- always take wet lube for the bike chain (I always travel with dry lube on the chain as it's less messy, but I really need to make sure the wet lube is packed just in case!)

This might have been IM #9 but there was still something to learn.

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