Thursday, 7 March 2013

Karen writes: Part 2: IM on the day

Ironman day, what a day, strangely it was only 5 days ago but I have to look at the pictures to remind myself that it actually happened...to me, well, me and 1400 others.  Saturday the 2nd March, up before the alarm went after less than 5 hours sleep, it was dark.  Breakfasted on rice porridge, milk and fruit, sunscreened and anti-chafed, dressed in bikini bottom, sports bra with warm clothes over the top, ready to go.  Are you ever really ready for something like this though? Kate's friend Rachel took us down to the startline and we saw other Ironpeople being dropped off, they were walking along the footpath, each on their individual mission, carrying their black swim transition bags and wetsuits, all serious.

Into the big tent,  we were signed in under the artificial lights, I had fouled up my transfer tattoo having handled it with wet hands and the bottom number disappeared, someone kindly marked the '3' back on, I obviously wasn't the only person who had done that though, there were lots of indelible ink repairs being done.  Then out into the dark compound where all the bikes were, I parked my water bottles in their cages, put my first frozen milk carton into the on-bike bag and had a last nervous check of the bike.  I then got stuck in a queue for the portaloos, it's a bit like supermarket checkout lanes, I always accidentally choose the one moving the slowest but if I shift to another one it is guaranteed that one will slow down.  There were announcements about closing transition in minutes, that had my heart beating faster by the time I got to the head of the queue, whew, then I squished quickly into my wetsuit but put my finger through a seam on my side making a completely new hole, so I think the poor old second-hand, much repaired wetsuit is on it's way out.  Kate was more organised than me so she was on hand to do the zip thing, then just as the sky started lightening up we walked down the stairs and along the green carpet to the lakeside.  What a beautiful sight, mirror flat lake, the waka standing off shore, all those wetsuited people with different coloured swim caps waiting...waiting for something, lots of spectators too.

Then it was time to start.  We saw the top athletes go off, chased by helicopter, and 15 minutes later it was time for us.  I got in the water, it didn't feel too bad, until I followed the instructions 'to ensure proper fitting of wetsuit', which was get in the water, allow some water in and then get fully out of the water to allow the suit to mould to the body.  Sheesh that was cold!

Then I bobbed about in the water, chatted with Kate and played with my goggles which seemed to want to steam up for the first time since I got them, waited, waited with everyone else.  Waited expectantly.  And still nearly jumped out of my skin when the gun went off!  Then we were swimming, sort of, I'd tried to position myself to the far rear left of the field, I'd read that was the way to stay out of the melee of flailing arms and thrashing feet, and it mostly worked.  I got thumped a few times, kept my head out of the water for a bit when the danger to my nose got too much through being sandwiched between two overly energetic swimmers, but after a little while there was clear space and I could concentrate on enjoying the view of the lake bottom, count the golf balls, wonder about how so many people could have discarded their swim caps on the lake floor, conserve energy, say hello to the little fish, and try to go in a roughly straight line.

1 hour 36 later I was out of the water, right on time!  I felt pretty good, my shoulder didn't hurt, and now it was time to scoot up the carpeted path, up the staircase, and get onto the bike.

At the top of the stairs someone called out my number, and by the time I got to the transition tent someone was calling my name and waving my transition bag.  I grabbed it and shot into the tent, this time not making the mistake of waiting for someone to help me get out of my wetsuit, got that off, and since there weren't any tricky decisions to make about clothes I was out in a marginally quicker time than last time.

Running the bike out of transition, and off riding along the lake front.  Up the hill out of Taupo, the chain didn't fall off this time, yahoo!  By first turnaround I saw Kate, she was about 20 minutes ahead of me and looking very fresh which wasn't a surprise, I'd expected her to be faster in the swim and much faster on the bike given all of her hard work at training.  By second turnaround she was at least 40 minutes ahead.  Boy that was such a LONG ride though, we had done the roughly 160km round Taupo ride for years, but that didn't really prepare me for a whole 180km. The terrain wasn't so bad, it could be described as undulating, but I found the heat a problem, and 8 hours 11 sitting on a small hard seat isn't an easy ask in anyone's book.  So the ride was close to being on my predicted time, I'd thought 8 hours.  I did find that my nutrition needed more attention, I wasn't interested in the sandwiches and had more bananas than planned, the milk at about 50km followed by another I picked up from the drop-bag at about 100km went down pretty well but I was a bit squeamish after the second one. I had decided I couldn't tolerate electrolyte drinks but it was so hot and I had a thick salt rime on my face, plus I wondered if my fantasy at 140km about hot chips was my body telling me I needed salt, I ended up taking in all 8 of my saltstick tablets over the course of the ride. As I rode that last little stretch into town I felt my chest try to close up with emotion and had to calm myself down, I now knew, 10 hours into this that I was actually going to finish. One really cool thing happened on the way back to Taupo on the first lap, I was overtaken by the leaders, I was able to read their labels as they rocketed off on their second laps, normally I dont get to even see the top athletes I am so far behind, this time it worked to my advantage.

While I was riding the girls were being ably entertained, they got to yell encouragement to the athletes, play cards and swim, and 'hunt' golfballs in the lake, what a day for them.  It was a great relief that they were having such fun, I was so very appreciative of that, my heartfelt thanks to all those who had a hand in making sure they had as good a day as their mum did.

At the end of the second cycle lap you head into Taupo, slow for the tight corners and have to dismount before a line on the road.  I was briefly annoyed by a man who slowed in front of me way out from the stopping line to loosen his shoes so he could leave them on the bike, I couldn't pass him, and had to wobble slowly behind, he would have been quicker to run in his cycle shoes to transition. You stop, someone takes your bike and its a run (or a hobble) back to the transition tent.  Strip, into running clothes, but I struck a problem getting my shoes on.  Every time I tried to straighten my foot enough to get it into the shoe my calf cramped up, but those volunteers, such wonderful volunteers obviously had faced that before and out came the arnica and my calf got a vigorous rub and my foot went into the shoe, same for the second one, then I was out on the road for the final 3 run laps.  I didn't feel much like running on that first lap, my legs didn't get that funny wobbly thing they used to thanks to the off-the-bike runs but they were very heavy, it was my head that was the biggest problem though.  It wanted to walk.  Fortunately there were lots of hills and my run strategy was to walk up the hills so I got plenty of chance to do that.  Lap one - lots of walking, run down hill, other runners weren't much up to talking in the heat, this strange quiet was made up for by the wonderful spectators who lined the main road calling out runner names which were easily readable on race numbers. They were amazingly encouraging, you'd hear  "Karen, you can do it!", "go Karen!" and it would be a complete stranger.  It was so great to see the the whanau each time I went past them, and I have to mention Kate's sister, who demonstrated excellent running skills but wasn't keen to commit to next years Ironman herself.  There was a bit of residential street to run, people had hauled sofas out onto their grass verges, had gazebos and chilly-bins of drink, snacks, music and were there for the duration, got a few tempting offers of a cold beer.  Lap 2, I now had a white and a blue bobbin round my wrist to show how much of the run I had done, it was starting to cool down, a bit more talking went on as runenrs started to wake up. Past the support crew, hello whanau, I walk/ran with a man from an Australian triathlon club, he had a really interesting story about how he had battled obesity and finally became an Ironman.  He told me his wife had told him that if he had to walk he should walk with a woman as they "strode it out" and the men "slouched along with their heads down", he was on his final lap by this point so I said congratulations Ironman and kept going.  At the half way mark, 21km, I had given up on gels, so decided to start on the coke/water mixture earlier than usual.  A handful of salty crisps was too tempting so I had some of those and felt an immediate energy lift.  I did this coke/water/crisps thing at every support station after this.  Lap 3, I caught up with another Australian from the same club as the other runner and I was now feeling good and did lots more running.  If I walked I was overtaking, there were people complaining of gastric problems and some people being sick.  I ran with a lady from Tutukaka and we talked about the problems of having water-tanks (strange things you talk about) but she had nasty blisters and fell behind as I started to feel like I could have kept on going at the same steady pace forever.  Back along the waterfront, it was a beautiful velvety night, and I now had a light stick. I was negotiating a much narrower path in the dark as people spilled over the path and many were more than a bit merry and a gauntlet of young men had to be negotiated, they were sweet but in too close contact and that was a bit worrying, mainly from the point of view of being tripped, then I was nearly back in Taupo.  I got faster and faster the closer I got until I felt like my legs were flying (they probably weren't!), the noise was deafening through the stands on the main road, I went round the final corner and along the carpeted final stretch feeling disbelief.  There was so much yelling and so many people, there were bright lights and so much movement, all I could focus on was the end, I didn't have a hope of picking anyone out in that crowd and I just ran for it!
After 15 hours and 42 minutes, THE voice of Ironman called out "Karen Pickering, you are an Ironman".  Oh my goodness.  That's me!