Tuesday, 11 December 2012

ironman western australia

Now I've had reasonable night’s sleep, talked with  other athletes about their performances and race experiences and a chance to reflect a bit more about my day – rather than answering a dozen emails with details, it's time for the race report!

I rarely write these immediately after a race, though it has to be said that following a good race, I’m far more enthusiastic about sharing the news and my feelings. Unfortunately, that’s not case this time; after finishing Ironman Western Australia in a time of over 10 hours which was well outside of the Pro awards and my own expectations, I was feeling pretty down on myself for the last 36 hours.  But tired in body and mind isn’t a very good state to be sharing these feelings and possibly by the time that I’ve spell-checked (yes, believe it or not, I do!)  and published this report I’ll be feeling more positive and working on plans for my next race :o)

So, as you’ve read in my previous blog post, I’ve had a wonderful month of training in Perth. In retrospect I did not get the timing quite right, and would ideally have arranged a minimum of 6 weeks out here prior to race week to allow for the loss of a week’s training due to jetlag and climate shock during that first week, and a “recovery” week during the training block rather than coming out of a Big Week and then falling straight into my taper.  This slight mis-timing has resulted in my doing more than I would usually do in the last week before the race whilst not being entirely recovered from recent training high loads….possibly….. I can’t say that I have got a particular formula that has been proven to deliver the best results in this regard. Preparing for every race has to be different due to the race schedule, timing of events and where we are in the race season. Anyway, recently I’d been executing training sessions really well and feeling as strong as I ever have in the pool and on the bike, and pretty consistent with my run too. Mindful that it’s been a long season (this race fell on week 56 of my year!) I’d been including more recovery into my plan and less general volume than in preparation for other races. Not that I think I was short –cutting either. I’m not looking for excuses - I really feel that I had everything about right. 

I’m familiar with the friendly town of Busselton from my previous visits, so I know a few of the locals and was very quickly able to orient myself with the race-courses and training locations. My home-stay really looked after me well, though it was not the most stress-free race week due to some mechanical issues with my bike and a bit of high drama with a shot-gun wielding bike gang busting into a house over the road with an axe through the door at 4am the day before the race. Our front yard was filled with cops all morning and Russell spent 5 hours giving witness statements at the police station, and the rest of the day ‘phoning everyone he knew to tell them the story! Apparently that’s unusual activity around here  ;o) But although somewhat unsettling, and more drama and activity than I would choose for the day before an Ironman, I’m loathe to believe that a race performance could be so easily derailed by minor variations in routine – since every race venue and accommodation arrangement is different anyway, I don’t really have a very specific routine (other than getting rather tetchy!).

Oh, but this is supposed to be a race report!  So let me get on with it. The swim course here is very unique – an out and back around the 2km long Bussleton jetty. It is one of the attractive features of this race, but makes it amongst the most challenging of swims as it’s basically a 1.9km swim directly out to the end of the jetty where it’s always quite choppy and can be extremely so.  The conditions here in the bay are very fickle – an extremely rough sea on Friday, glassy calm on Saturday and something between on race –day with an Easterly breeze creating quite a chop on the surface. The Pros have a 15 minutes advance start from the beach (whearas the main field start in water) which is an other aspect to challenge the weaker swimmers in the pro pack as it can be a very solitary swim. So I was determined to retain contact with others today, and knew that there were a couple of girls who, like me, would swim around an hour in normal circumstances. I felt very relaxed on the start line – by 5:30am it was shaping up to be a lovely morning, there was a great buzz around the place with an Air force fly-over and friendly exchanges amongst the other girls on the line – and  was feeling confident in my performance and looking forward to the race. The horn went and we were off, into the waves. Very quickly I realised that I was alone and off to the side a bit.  It was hard to see which direction to try and chase in and as one of the weaker swimmers I only had a split second  to react with an almighty sprint if I were to manage that, and I missed it. So, from the very first minute of the race I was alone and off the back in water conditions that I am the least suited to and experienced at swimming in. Did I mention the sharks?  Luckily I did have the company of a kayaker the whole way – he paddled besides me as I made my slow progress around the course, hoping that I’d pick up another dropped swimmer but knowing that this was unlikely. Although I did stay focused, calm and positive, I was unable to find a rhythm and work hard, and actually began to feel really quite cold which seemed to slow me down more. This was my bad luck on one hand, but then again Britta found herself in the same situation and still swam around 62 minutes (which incidentally was around where I expected to be) and went on to win the race. I was really not surprised to see my own  terrible swim time of 1:09 when I finally made it to the beach.

Still, the crowds gave me a great cheer on and I was extremely happy to be on solid ground and hopping smoothly onto my bike! I’d suffered awfully out on that flat bike course in 2010, likewise on the flat bike course in Florida last year,  but had been doing a lot of specific work for just this type of relentlessly flat ride and I’m happy to say that not only did I manage to ride a lot better this time around, but enjoyed it too! My power did drop a bit too much  (15%) on the final lap of 3, bringing my overall average power down but the overall average speed was as per my target and enabled me to claim back a few places during the 5hr11 minutes that I was on the bike. As a result of the poor swim, I’d revised my race day goals to sub 10hours, the maths was easy - I had to be out on the run course by midday and that would gave me a very comfortable 3hr30 to run a marathon – I’d expect about 10 minutes margin  with that, and I felt that I had a good chance of a new PB (under 9:43) if I could pull off a “ really good” run. 

This kept me motivated and positive, a fast transition, lots of sunscreen and a special drink in my transition bag for extra energy and salts, I was out there as the day ticked over into the afternoon. Deliberately avoiding running far to fast from the gate to limit overheating, I felt very comfortable at 4:20-30 /km pace. I very quickly caught up to Steven, who’d easily eaten up my 15 minute head-start in the swim and hopped on his bike a good 5 min before I was out of the ocean, but struggled with lack of condition on the bike and I suppose only begun his run a few minutes before me. He looked comfortable and was moving quickly.  Throughout that first lap ( 1 of 4) I ran relaxed and enjoyed the encouragement of those I knew, and many that I did not, out on the course. Told that I was looking string, running well and had a good shot of making up further places, I was absorbing my favorite aspect of the ironman day. I joked with one guy who told me that I was looking good, how was I feeling? – I” feel great but not looking forward to the next 2 hours!” Even when you’re having the race of your life it hurts like hell. Well, it seems that for me at the stage where I am at, I need pretty significant motivation to endure or even increase that pain.  So when, after about 16km my pace dropped from 4:40s to 5’s and 5:10s I didn’t really respond. I’d not made any noticeable gains on the field ahead of me and was unaware that the  Megumi, the Japanese woman that I had passed in the first 5km was creeping back from behind. As it always does, the suffering became worse, the pace dropped and the day got hotter. I slowed significantly by walking through aid stations, throwing drinks down my throat and ice down my bra.

The aid stations here at IMWA are quite remarkable  - local organizations  (yacht club, bike club ect ) take responsibility for a station and it seems that that are competing to be the best station! Both on the bike and run course volunteers really went out of their way , at times sprinting down the road, to ensure that I got what I needed, retrieving my lost hat on one occasion and supplying me with my special needs bag so that I did not have to even break pace. They do this all in fancy dress with loud motivational music pumping, and dancing Santas. Fabulous :o)

 I mentioned the mighty little Megumi? Yes, she passed me again during that 3rd lap, by which time I think I’d calculated that unless I resumed my original 4:30-35 pace I’d not be making 10hrs today. “Great!” I thought , “here’s the motivation that I need to get me moving” , remembering Ironman Wales and how deep I dug there to retain 3rd spot. I did a little digging, caught her back…dropped off again. I don’t know what our positions were, but I figured around 6th or 7th and that would be the difference between a pay day or not, as well as a good few Kona Points.  My legs were not having it. She was running at about the 5 min/km pace that she had been when I first passed her so easily earlier on. From there on it really was a battle to get off that damn hot course, via the finish chute. Which, eventually I did by means of jogging walking and dragging my defeated legs through that last long lap, knowing that I’d blown my target time and not really sure how or why I’d failed so badly on this day, and really quite honestly questioning whether this would be the last time I put myself through it. Not the physical challenge – but the disappointment that I was feeling.

But, as usual, after a few days of being around other athletes – ranging from the winning Professionals, Kona qualifying age groupers, happy first timers, those who have overcome illness, injury, and of course the many others for whom the day did not unfold according to their hopes – to feel inspired and finding the positives and leaning what I can from Sunday.

Even so, it’ll be a week or two before I start planning training for my next event.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

down under diaries - weeks 3&4

Week 3
Big week. Admittedly I’d like to schedule it a bit earlier in my race prep, giving me time for a recovery week, then at one more solid, specific, week before tapering down but all of a sudden it feels like time is very limited. I defiantly underestimated how much the travel, and getting only a small bit sick in the process, would take out of me and lost about 10 days.  But, it’s only by trying new things can I figure out what’s worth worrying about and what’s not.  So after a good massage session on Monday, I had a full -on 32 hour week L uckily the weather was great, I was on top of my coaching work and everything in place to train, eat, sleep, for seven days. It was great - but probably rather dull to write about ;o)

Other than perhaps mentioning my second venture out into the ocean, which was as an official competitor in the next race of the open water series . I made it around all 4 laps of the 5km course  -which I think would be my longest open water swim – in a rather dismaying 96 minutes. I was also one of the few wearing a Wettie. However, a look at the results shows that most people found themselves about 10 minutes behind where they’d expect to be, and I ranked 4th in the +35 age group so not as dismal as my first impressions. I suppose one also has to consider that it was near the end of a huge training week for me….

Week 4
Started pretty good – I couldn’t believe how up for it I was after the 7 hour ride in the hills on Sunday, and added an extra 20k of running into my easy recovery day, which should have been a technique based swim and an easy hour spin on the bike. Not surprising that the next day, I really struggled to get up and felt kinda grumpy on the way to the pool. I survived and even enjoyed the session which involved hanging onto Joel’s toes for some very long reps, but simply couldn’t face the bike set that I had planned for immediately afterwards. I slept a bit instead and later in the day painted the garden furniture at the Rash house, for a bit of a break. 

That night a huge storm broke …and raged for two days. This was frustrating for me as I was well refreshed and ready to get back on with my last week of prep. But the winds were gusting so hard that it really was unsafe to ride. My friend Russ took me for coffee on Wednesday morning, we sat in a tea house over looking the ocean. It was wild  (the ocean, not the lifestyle – that’s the most “out” I have been in a month!). I think that extra enforced rest will have done me some good – I know that I’m prone to overdoing it. The wind died down and sun came out by Friday so I’ve managed a solid 3 days constructed of the important workouts of the week, just a bit shorter. And, pretty much that’s it. 1 week to go. 

down under diaries - week 1&2

Week 1
As, a result of the cold ( which seems to come and go, very odd) and the jet lag,  I'm taking it a bit easy this week, which puts me a little behind where I'd like to be in my training for WA, but this is  a potentially great situation for some solid training over the next 3-4 weeks.  I'm 5 min jog from the water front where I have enjoyed some nice easy running in the sunshine, looking at boats and family's doing Australian leisure activities on the beaches.  It's really a wonderful city with everything connected by a network of well maintained cycle ways and footpaths - i'm finding my way round pretty well - apart from the inevitable choosing the one and only busy highway to ride back into town on, or getting lost in back streets on the verge of a "bonk". 

Having survived my first 3 days without being eaten by a shark, I was feeling a bit bolder this morning and took to the sea. Not entirely bold as it was part of an organized race so not only were there a couple hundred other swimmers, but also full lifeguard support with fin-spotting helicopter overhead. They did not SAY that this was to be watching for predators, but I'm fairly sure that it was high on the agenda - there have been several sightings in the area. Of course it's not stopping people from going in the ocean, even for long swims, but everyone is quite aware and no one goes alone - so I wont be. 

Anyway  - I wasn't eaten AGAIN however i got stung a lot by jellyfish. I had intended to swim 5km race, but got out after halfway ( it was just a training swim for me). Peter, my host, went on to swim 10km in order to qualify for "Rotty" - the Rottness Crossing swim - which is roughly equivalent to swimming the English channel but "easier" in that the distance is a bit shorter, there are less currents to content with and it's a lot warmer, so actually quite a lot of people around here have done it. Most commonly as part of a relay team, whereas Soloists earn a special number plate to display.

I'm surrounded with ace swimmers - Australians, i suppose - many of whom are starting their training to swim the Rottness channel so I've come at a great time to get drilled in the pool and some proper open water training - as opposed to my usual bobbing around looking at fish. 

The first swim with the Swimsmooth squad at Claremont was fun. A beautiful 50 m pool and the session was quite a nice easy introduction which suited me in my "condition". Paul's a nice guy, easy-going. Not sure that's exactly what I was hoping for in a coach, but I have yet to have a session with him focused on my swimming technique (twice a week he swims with us and it's purely a fitness session - he doesn't give out too much coaching on those days and that was what was Thursday's swim was) so I might see the Hard side of him next week! 

Week two
The following week I had a 1-2-1 session with Paul which included a video analysis. I’ve had this done before- or thought I had! But really I was so impressed with what Paul offers it is far more than just getting some really good footage of my swimming. In fact he did not go over board with that  -there was no need since he’d already seen me swimming several time prior to the session ( which is the case with many people he works with – most of the swimmers in Perth have had this consultation!) Paul was able to explain very clearly what the main issue with my stroke was  - not just the problems that I have with the rhythm of my stroke, a slight over-extension, failing to “catch” and dropping my elbow as I do so – but highlighted the very small error that is the cause of most of these issues. It’s a really small adjustment that I need to work on …and we did that there and then with the aid of a set of underwater ear phones and mic. that meant he could talk me through the adjustments. This was really exciting for me – nothing that Paul told me contradicted what many other swim coaches have been telling me for years – but he was able to point out the root cause of many of those other stroke symptoms. Of course  I know that I wont be able to make the change easily- but having a high level of confidence in the theory provides me with huge motivation.

 Feeling fully healthy this week and having discovered my way around and settled into a training weekend,  I was able to log  solid week of training and feeling pretty  good. There is very active triathlon and cycling community here – well, it’s a generally active culture, and we are in a sizable city with fabulous climate and variety of training terrain, so you’d expect that. But still – I was amazed at the sheer numbers of hug packs of cyclists that you see out from 5:30-7:30 on any morning but in  particular Saturday! I would have thought there was a large cyclo-sportive or race underway as they charged around one of the city’s favourite loops .Like wise if you go further and into the hills –it’s pretty crowded with weekend warriors blitzing one another on bikes! I love to see this- but prefer to avoid for my own training purposes. Whilst most locals get out and ride early morning before the wind and heat pick up,  I’ve been scheduling my training sessions for the hot windy afternoons , and rarely see a soul! The way that I see it,  I only have 3 weeks here to prepare for race conditions that are about as far removed from those of my last race, and that I have access to at home, as possible.   I’ve been able to balance this unsociable attitude with making contact with some local’s and joining them for an Olympic distance hit-out race in Bunbury, a town a couple of hours down the coast.  The race organizer was generous and comp’ed me an entry,  and kindly local couple Justine and Anthony gave me a ride and a room in the accommodation that they’d booked, so all I had to do was pitch up and race! If I’m honest, I was pretty hard on myself about my performance –  as a “special guest” it seemed appropriate that I raced “Open” category  - not really sure what this meant, but we got the best racking spot in transition,  and fist wave to start. Well, about 20 seconds into the race I figured out that it meant “ elite swimmers” anyway – as I was dropped quicker  than I could believe possible in the swim.  This must have looked pretty funny from the beach, and it didn’t do my mental focus much good. The Age-Group females started 2 minutes after us, and I was even lapped by some of them before the half way point. HUH. Still, I swam as well as I could and raced the long path into T1 as if I really were in contention – well, why not? There was one bike left there besides mine. Probably someone got eaten.   Wet suit off ( not swiftly – need to address that) and onto the 6 lap bike course. I like lapped courses for this distance  it’s really good for keeping pace and focus up, plus you get to see so much of the  other athletes in the race. I was having fun and  was riding  “OK” – for a half ironman distance. About 20bpm below what I know I should be at for 40km, but I just did not have that extra Go and couldn’t see anyone from my race to pace off or chase The run was a 2-lap 10km , flat and at least I had plenty left in my legs to enjoy a decent run. I pushed hard and caught and passed a few other girls – though more than likely they were the age groupers who’d out swum me. So ,I felt a bit miserable about the whole thing – doing an Olympic tri as a pre-race hit out is great when it all goes well  (or there’s not much competition)  but there’s not time to do much about your fitness by  then, and so if it’s not a great day ….then what ? Well , looking at the results online after the fact cheered me up a bit. Yes – my swim was bout 5 minutes off the pace of the Open girls, but my bike and run really were there or thereabouts – in fact I think I had 3rd or 4th fastest run split - and that was all without being “in the race”, and off the back of a 25 hour training week.
It was a really well organized and superbly supported event, with lovely refreshments afterwards and spot prizes from the many local sponsors.  I got to hang out with a really nice bunch of new people, and was looked after like a superstar by Justine and Anthony who I was really hoping would officially adopt me….they and the rest of the Stadium Triathlon club will be down in Bussleton  volunteering on Ironman day before making a huge racket at their support station. I sure look forward to seeing them again :o)

down-under diaries intro to Perth

Perth is a great place to be - a small city on an large estuary on the west coast. Sunny and hot, but being surrounded by so much water and a constant stiff breeze, is a very pleasant temperature at this time of year. I'm told that mid summer they have a couple of weeks that are unpleasantly warm, but for now it's perfect.  I'm staying with the president of Triathlon WA, Peter Rash, and his family in East Fremantle. Fantastic location for training :o) though it's been a bit of a slow week getting back into it due to the jet-lag and being slightly sick.  But I'm optimistic that I can get a solid 3 weeks training in addition to the swim coaching from Paul Newsome (Swimsmooth) and be in good shape for Busso. I'm certainly coming into the race less F*cked than I was in 2010!!

Peter is racing Ironman next week too, and despite having made a late entry and his extreme modesty, he’s training solidly and looks to be in great shape.  I hope that the relatively short prep period means that he hits the race without the burn out that is so easy to fall into. Yvonne (the wife) is around a wee bit more – she  is also a pretty competent triathlete in her age group and it turns out she was at boarding school in St Audreys, a place on the north Somerset coast that I regularly cycle past, and has relatives who live in Bishop's Hull which is one of the “suburbs” of Taunton! Small world, eh? There are two teenage girls - the elder is about University entry age and is the only one in the family not a sporty type. She is an artist and perhaps a little unsure of what her ”path” is right now. She understands that an Art degree is generally valued by where it was attained. But I have seen her work  -it's really very impressive. She very generously moved out of the Granny flat which she had been living in and using as her studio so that I could occupy it. It is the size of a large 1 -bed flat in the UK. The younger daughter is 15 and is the "sporty" kid - a swimmer of a very decent standard, and especially enthusiastic aboput open water swimming. They are both really intelligent and sociable (for teenagers) towards a stranger in their home.

I daresay that I didn't make a great impression on them though  - I'm still feeling pretty jet-lagged and our first encounter, he popped down to say Hello on Friday morning at about 9am - I was fast asleep and very groggy having carried over that cold/throat infection on the plane. The flight didn't do it much good and it  has turned my insides bright green and my whole nose into a giant scab -  lovely for first impressions !! 

Have been meaning to write a blog covering everything as there's a lot to tell, but my days are pretty full mostly. but at the same time perfectly simple. sleeping well, getting up early, swim training, head home, have breakfast & catch up on emails and a bit of work that needs doing in response to them, head out for ride or run of varying length - back home by 5, tidy up laundry shopping etc , have early tea, a bit more emailing and work, read a bit and usually in bed by 9:30 and often earlier. It’s now almost the end of my time here, and as always I ‘m wishing that I could stay for longer. I’m also winding down in readiness ot race an Ironman next weekend, and so finally have the time and spare energy to sit and put together a blog. The following entry may seem a bit disjointed since parts have been written at various times over the last month. 

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