Wednesday, 8 December 2010
6 weeks after racing in Hawaii, with a 4 day cycle race over the 5 major passes of New Zealand's Sourthern Alps and a half marathon during that period, I had mixed feelings about my plans to race in Ironman Western Australia. To complete an active racing summer, extended by our travels around the globe, I was looking forward to a trip to the beautiful location of Bussleton, super-friendly race atmosphere and potential of a PB on the famously flat course. At the same time, memories of the pain of Kona had not yet completely faded, and suspicion that the 'average' race i produced there may simply have been down to late season weariness jabbed at the back of my mind. Recent training has been on and off - 2--3 days of solid training per week but with a lot more emphasis on recovery between these sessions. I found that I was hitting targets and feeling good during my "on" days- but a lot more drained as a result and struggled on the "off" days. However, I told myself that i only needed one more "on" day and that would be it for the year - and it was with high expectations and excitement that I warmed up in the flat calm ocean at 5am on a beautiful race day morning.
There'd be a split start, with the age groupers gun 15 minutes after ours. My experience at Hawaii had taught me that I need to swim like hell off the gun and fight to get in with a good paced group and so i was positioned well in the middle of the field at the start. I'd identified that Kate Bequilava was a 60+ min swimmer also - a bit faster than me and a smart racer, so i'd make an effort to stay with her. Gun went and I was right in there - great! Bubbles all around and i'm feeling ok, head down swimming hard - then suddenly i've swum in too close and am treated to a couple of kicks in the face loosing my goggles. in the time it takes me to compose myself and get my eyes back in their sockets, the group is still in sight but just out of reach. I'm not alone and so swimming hard i the direction of teh receding draft i'm hopeful that the swimmers around me will follow and assist in the chase, but i think that neither of us are quite strong enough - she swims beside but not past me. It's good motivation to keep the pace up though, the water is calm and clear and i'm feeling pretty good aside so that is how we swim all the way to the far buoy. At that point i seem to have chosen a better line and get ahead, notice two sets of arms just ahead and catch up to swimmers who have been dropped from the pack on the way back in with on or two on my toes. As we near the shore i am thinking about whether steven will catch me and the first four age groupers do pass us in the final few hundred meters. Given the open ocean nature of the course and the fact that my swim was entirely unassisted, to be running up the beach in 64 minutes was a decent swim, for me.
T1 was swift and smooth - though unfortunately the same cannot be said for my mount line routine! to start with I tried to get on teh bike to early ...and so had to scoot my way along the exit chute to the mount line...and then it took me several attempts to even get my feet on top of my shoes. I usually hold them in place with rubber bands between the heel of the shoe and the lever on my rear skewer, but my early mounting mistake had broken the band and so both shoes were catching on the ground. Unless I kept my cool, the next thing would be a shoe popping off the pedal altogether, which I avoided, and after what seemed like an age of faff i was on my way up the road.
Legs felt great - as they always do after a nice swim, spinning along at 200W, Hr 170. I've been riding well the last few days and have become well familiar with the 3-lap course so i'm looking forward to doing a little catch-up and am not too concerned about pushing too high a power at this early stage in the race. I also knew that the winds tend to build up through the morning and would potentially become quite strong on the return leg of the later laps, based on the conditions of the previous couple of days. To hit my goal bike split and intended average pace, I figured i'd get ahead of myself whilst the going is good. This is not a strategy that I would recommend to the athletes that i coach, but nonetheless it tends to be how I race
since I do have confidence in my own fitness and tolerance for higher intensity intervals when required. Rhae Shaw who i'd met that morning in transition, came belting past me early in teh first lap and I thought 'great, someone to pace off - i wont be riding on my own today". Not a chance - I lasted about 30 seconds at +200W. i don't yet have confidence in my tolerance for that! She went on to ride the fastest female 180km of the day - though of course i didn't know that at the time and had to focus on staying positive as she disappeared up the road and i saw the gap grow at every turn-around. There were a lot of fast male age groupers also passing me, the road gets a bit congested and it's a bit tricky to maintain a steady pace with the new 12m draft -zone ruling that has been implemented on the course. Its a good move in the name of fairness, but at the same time makes it pretty hard to maintain a constant effort and pace. For fear of the appearance of zone infringement or accusation of blocking there were several occasions where i found either myself slowing or pushing hard to make a short term pass. This effected me for about a lap - by which stage the strongest swim/cyclists had been through. There was a definite head-wind on the way back into town, but i was prepared, felt strong and continued to enjoy the ride for the rest of that lap. By the time we were on the outskirts of town however, i was beginning to feel less strong, however i was able to count the women ahead of me as they came by on the start of their second lap and i made it 6. Regular checks on my power and heart-rate showed that i was still holding a very good intensity and feeling good on it too, which kept me motivated to maintain the effort with 120km still left to see what might happen ahead. I knew it'd be whole lot easier once we began the second lap, with the wind, too and a chance to pick up the average speed again. It was about half way through the next lap that i realized i'd been watching my average heartrate rather than current - and was actually riding at a considerably lower intensity than i'd thought, and a fair way off my target. Those first few miles after transition when i typically record something over 170 had elevated my average....so whilst i'd been thinking i felt reasonably good after 60km of what i knew from training to be a hard effort, and with no real gauge of pace holding back a little, i was actually just doing only just more than a moderate ride. "don't let this throw you, Jo" i told myself "you're on pace for 5hr20 and now you know that you can push harder. You'll probably benefit form a relatively steady start to the day" and got back to the riding. As you'd expect, things started to feel tougher as the km ticked away. The benefit of a course consisting of 3 laps, each with 3 turns is that it breaks the ride into fairly short sections, which was a real help when i found my attention straying harder and harder to focus on holding my power. My heartrate had dropped, and if i failed to concentrate my power very quickly did so too. Believing that I was somehow short on calories, I took on some extra gels at aid stations, despite having no feelings of hunger or the usual signs of low sugar, but the usual 'pick-up' that follows was not forthcoming - i just felt rather sick. I noticed a pro woman not ar behind me at each turnaround and. Knowing that i needed 6th place for a prize, used that as motivation to keep pushing with what little energy i seemed to have in my legs, making the most of the faster sections, and digging in when riding the tough parts into the wind. There was good support along the course and the volunteers at the aid stations were the best i've ever experienced. It helps me a lot if i remove myself form my own experience for a moment and look around the 'scene' - how beautiful a place it is, how cool to be out there doing it, the wonder of everyone's experience, the wonderful positive energy that the volunteers and supporters provide ..and how crazy this whole event is, in the grand scheme of things. i so would have liked one of those cookies that they were handing out on Tuart drive turnaround, and to sit on the side of the road eating it but I wasn't there for that. i could have a cookie when this was all done. I just wanted it done soon, damn it! by the third lap i felt as if i was completely out of steam, and it was a case of continuing the routine of "check power, get shocked at the low numbers, push a bit harder to i achieve target power, ride for a few seconds, focus - no fidgeting for as long as possible ( I think about 20 sconds!) check power about a minute later..." and checking that i'd not lost any of the gap to the woman behind me. At long last it was time to get off the bike, i willed those last km into the headwind by like i have ended so many long training days - looking forward to a change of scene, though i cant say that i was anticipating the run with as much enthusiasm as the thought of a hot shower and cup of tea that i usually get!
T2 was nice and smooth (although the tent volunteers did seem a bit disturbed by my refusal to use the ladies change tent). I promised not to get naked and got a laugh before dashing out into what had turned into a nice sunny afternoon after the cool showers we'd had on the ride. It's a great idea to start the run section with a short loop that passes right by the finish chute in town where there is high energy and a lot of crowds - it really gives a big boost. I did make an effort to start the run easy since i usually find myself running the first couple of km unrealistically fast, I really enjoy the feeling of running after a ride and my legs seem to work straight away. having eased into it with a 4:40 split, I picked up the pace a little on west-bound the Geographe Bay stretch towards the second turnaround which happened to be just outside the home of our wonderful hosts, the Haswells. They had gathered quite a party of family, friends and neighbours around the barbie, so i knew i would have something to look forward to on each of the 4 laps. The wind was blowing east, so the next 7 or 8km after that turn-around point were decent splits of 4:20-25. As a result of my desperate feeding on the bike, my stomach was giving me the signs of an urgent requirement for a port-a-loo, but I was reluctant to break this good pace whilst i was passing so many people. Similar to the design of the bike course the run consisted of 4 x10.5km laps, with 3 turnarounds more or less centered on the main transition area - this meant that at no time were we further than 3.5km from the main bulk of support and activity. I must say that the atmosphere provided by the locals was awesome. Houses along the route all had bbq's and stereos fired up, partying and often fancy dress, on their lawns. It really was an enjoyable spectacle. I made my first loo-stop just before the far turnaround and facing the toughest bit of the course - the 4km return into the wind. I thought that this was a smart move, since I'd feel better for the harder work that was ahead. However, it really was a lot harder than i'd anticipated to get back into a decent pace, and it really was all of a sudden like the switch had been flicked off and my pace was barely under 5min/km now. I just had to keep reminding myself that this certainly was pretty tough running - it wasn't as if anyone was really passing me - and would balance out each lap when we had tail winds. As I made a second loo stop I noticed the deep, all over-body throb that I've experienced at the end of very hard long sessions, shortly before crashing out to sleep in cycle kit! I'd lost a couple of minutes now due to stomache issues, and so took on some caffeinated gel and a ProPlus to help get me through this early bad patch. I was only about 1/5 of the way through! But soon, I told myself, you'll be 1/4 through...and then, once you've done 14km..1/3rd...and so on - breaking the race down into tiny sections and goals and just keep the feet moving. Reaching that 14km mark felt like a huge triumph, I'd focused so hard on getting there! I'd been running for 64minutes, and frankly, I was 'over it'. Still, I had managed 3hr15 pace so far with two toilet breaks, and could see that i'd made up ground on Rhae who was ahead of me. I was also aware of Connie, the woman behind and it didn't seem that she was an entirely safe distance off - which, knowing that i was in the position for a prize, was even more motivation to keep plugging away at it. I reckoned that if i could manage a sub 4:40 pace running east, and under 5min/km on the tough westward kilometers, I'd have a respectable run time and possibly catch someone ahead. Easy, in theory, but turning once again into that wind, i suffered big-time and made an executive decision to walk through the aid station, try to get refreshed and well...have a bit of a rest! Well, from there, that seemed to set a pattern for me and that windy 4km from the far turn around to the centre of the lap was just an drill in willpower. With two aid stations dispensing jelly beans, i discovered that by shoving 2 or 3 in my cheek, the sugary sensation was really lifting my spirits (I avoided thinking about tooth rot!) so i was popping a couple in at every opportunity simply in order to keep moving. Walking didn't really strike me as any easier than jogging along, and now that my pace was over 5min/km although it seemed like it'd take an age to get to the finish, it was an extortionate effort to go any faster than this i was holding my position in the womans' race. Although by no interpretation of reality could it be said hat i was having fun, i did appreciate the great atmosphere amongst the competitors, volunteers and crowd support and by means of breaking the laps into distinct sections, keeping an eye on my splits and my distance from Connie behind, and strategic jelly bean consumption i finally found myself with only a km to go....and THAT's when i started to enjoy the day! good race or bad, that short term feeling of satisfaction is always there. A race like that is tough, and can be disappointing, but it certainly gives plenty of targets and new resolve for training and ideas for better race execution.
although there were a few small mishaps, the reality is that i raced under-par simply down to tiredness - probably i was already suffering this in Hawaii. Of course my coach was right - the timing was lousy and it's not a course that played to my strengths even in the best of circumstances, but it was a good experience and a 6th place finish makes teh podium :o) and rounds off the year nicely. Plus, having ridden and run pretty easy for most of the day, I'm feeling much less sore than usual after a race
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