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.

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