Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Karen writes: Tapering for Rotorua Marathon

Rotorua marathon is next week.  Not 2 months away or several weeks away, it is now just next week.  Too late to get any fitter or any more ready for that 42 plus km.  Time to make sure the running gear is washed, the pills (fish oil, glucosamine, magnesium) and potions (anti-chafe and anti-flamme, super strength sunscreen) and lucky handkerchiefs and socks have all been found and put aside. 

I have been following the 3 run/week senior marathon programme from Hal Higdon and I feel like I haven't been doing enough, I guess the proof will be in the running on the day.  The thing with plans is you have to have faith that if you follow the instructions (mostly) they will work, and this programme for experienced (+/- older, creakier or more prone to injury) distance runners, seemed to assure me of a comfortable finish while minimising the potential damage to hard working joints.  Eminently suitable for Ironman recovery.

I find myself however being in the unusual position of actually wanting to do more.  Realistically though, I seem to need the breaks between runs, while I might feel back to 100% on a day to day basis after our efforts now 6 weeks ago, when I'm running I'm lacking in energy, it's hard to maintain a good pace, harder to find and hold good posture and the aches are miscellaneous and tenacious. Perhaps there is some residual leftover microscopic repair work going on after all.

Last week was my longest week, I did 60km, this week the plan is for 40km and last night I had to resist the temptation to go further along the now re-opened bush trails at Maraetai. I turned around when I got to the halfway mark, switched on the headlamp and headed home like a good little tapering athlete.  Next week sticking to a maximum of 10km, that will be hard, I strangely enough really want to run.  I also really want to eat, I have read that a Triathlete who is putting on weight thinks "more exercise", while a runner might think "eat less".  I'm just so not thinking like a runner yet. 

Friday, 19 April 2013

Karen writes: Ironman...Ironwoman...Ironwhat?

Ironman...woman...man...woman...Ironwhat? People tend to strike a slight hesitation and they laugh a little when they say 'Ironman' in reference to us. Yes, the title is a bit of a funny fit really.  Sometimes I mutter something about being happy to be an Ironman who is a woman.  Not sure how all of those other women who have become Ironmen over the years handle it.

Our fabulous Caran has found the answer to our descriptive woes though. I was at work when this photo was taken, I didn't want to put my work clothes back on!

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Karen writes: Running in the rain

Kate and myself had planned a 'sorta-long' training session for Tuesday after work, 19km, where I was going to show her one of my favourite runs.  On Monday it was pouring with rain, no problems we agreed, we would still run if the weather was bad on Tuesday, aren't we tough? Actually, it is always good to practice in adverse conditions, we have learned over the years that you can never tell what you will get on race day and unless you have had experience it is tricky choosing the right gear.  Also there is nothing like getting really cold to remind you never to wear cotton or a really nasty chafe to teach you to slather the anti-chafe everywhere before hitting the road in the wet, better to learn that sort of lesson during training.

So Tuesday afternoon, out to Maraetai, the rain was bucketing down, the car windscreen wipers were doing double-time, and obviously Auckland doesn't have a drought problem anymore.

We got dressed in our wet weather running gear of choice.  I wore my favourite zoot tri-shorts, a very firm fitting tri-top to minimise chafing from the movement of loose fabric, a light rain jacket, best wet weather socks which are so thin they are almost like stocking material...but they work, buff visor scarf and clear sunglasses.  I'm a bit paranoid and we had headlamps in case we took a bit longer than planned, and my waist-pack had water, whistle, several bags of sports-beans which are my new absolute favourite fuel, tiny space blanket folded up tight, and phone and a thin merino top in a plastic bag.

We hit the road and ran along the coast towards Omana, usually this is a spectacularly beautiful run by the sea, now everything was grey and blurry looking.  We warmed up quickly and the raincoats came off, running in the rain unless it is very cold is much more comfortable without a rustling, sweating coat layer. We talk a lot when we run and we mused on how far we have come in recent years, to the point where 19km in the pouring rain, after a work day in the middle of the week, might still be insane but really isn't such a big thing. We talked about other runs we have been on, and often a run after some memorable event becomes embedded permanently in your memory. Like this time, we will probably always remember running along Omana Esplanade on a rainy evening talking about the day's Boston Marathon tragedy, feeling sad about those who were harmed.  We  also felt sad about the people who would have put their all into getting to that magical start line, an emotionally and physically shattering thing in itself...and who then didn't actually get to finish. How will the big marathon events survive this sort of thing you wonder, because whoever would have thought that having your family there supporting you to achieve your marathon dream wasn't a safe and joyful thing to do. There has been a lot online from the endurance community since, even this email from Ironman pretty much saying 'don't give up and let the bad guys win'.
So we took it easy for the first 14 km, neither of us had much energy, Kate because she had pushed it the day before, me because I had been unwell for a week and hadn't run any sort of distance for days, then we headed into the forestry.  By this time the rain had stopped, but it was getting darker, we still had 5km to go and I realised we weren't going to finish in daylight.  There was no moon, no stars and we switched the headlamps on. It was absolutely silent in the bush except for the occasional Morepork with it's distinctive call, no rustling or creaking from the trees, just our footsteps and breathing.  We didn't do so much talking here, concentrating on watching the uneven track in the small puddles of light from our headlamps, it seemed like we were a very long way from civilisation. For me, I know the area really well but without the usual landmarks it was like running in a different world altogether. I think Kate might have been secretly a bit worried, she knows the limits of my navigation skills, but it was really just a matter of following the track, you couldn't get lost unless you strayed.  Finally we came up the last hill and there were the lights of Maraetai far below us, and in the distance over a no-longer visible sea you could glimpse the glow of the settlements on Waiheke Island.

Hot soup, hot showers, warm clothes and we tick off another run before the Rotorua marathon. Shame after all my raving about how beautiful the trail is that Kate didn't get to even see what she was running through!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Kate writes: Boston marathon

I've not written for a while, busy at work and no internet connections at home. But today I have to say something. I was driving to work this morning to hear that 2 explosions have happened at the Boston marathon. Killing people and serious injuries reported. My brother was in Boston at the weekend and I immediately thought of the family and where are they. They are safely back in Wales, thank goodness for TXT. But I then thought of all those people who were out enjoying the run and the spectators watching, suddenly their lives will change forever. I saw a clip of video, showing people coming in to the finish and the explosion happening. My heart goes out to them, just thinking about you all in Boston.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Karen writes: On being a supporter

Being a supporter is hard work.  Harder I think, than actually doing a race.  A week ago I did the 2.8km State King of the Bays 10th aniversary swim over at the North Shore with Kate, it was a lovely event, very much like others in recent years, you turn up, enjoy your race and go home, if it is a gorgeous day too then that is a bonus. Because it was so far away across Auckland it was a seriously early beginning to the day and the whanau dropped me off  to talk to Kate, watched us start, then they went and entertained themselves for a while. Me and Kate swam, and just over 70 minutes later the whanau were waiting at the finish line for a wet hug, oh just another event for Mum. I did enjoy the swim, in spite of being under-trained and having thought after Ironman that I could hide the wetsuit under the bed for at least 6 months.  The whanau support crew appeared to enjoy the day too, partly I think because successfully completing an event is an excuse for fast food and treats not just for the athlete but the supporters too.

This weekend just gone it was my turn to be supporter.  The girls, age 7 and 10, were doing the Weetbix tryathlon, again on the North Shore, their first and fourth triathlons respectively. This start was even earlier, out of the house just after 6am with bikes and transition boxes in duplicate, warm clothes for the early morning wait around, sunhats, cooler clothes, sunscreen for expected hot sunshine later in the day, food, water, camera, spares of pretty much everything 'just in case'. We drove for about 45 minutes as the sun came up, and it wasn't until we hit the Auckland harbour bridge that more vehicles with bikes on the back started appearing, then it turned into a regular convoy, culminating in the car-packed roads between Takapuna and Devonport.  Over 2200 children participated, each with parents/caregivers/siblings and it sometimes seemed the next door neighbour's neighbour and the friend of a friend of any visiting relative was there as well.  Standing, or wiggling space only.

After successfully negotiating a variety of essential queues, it was time to wait for the start, always a time of anxiety.  I lost the younger one.  Her age-group was about to be called, she had disappeared, I wasn't sure if I was more worried about her being missing and potentially at the mercy of goodness-knows-who in the crowd, or that she was going to miss her start and might be put off events for life by the trauma of it all.  Was she in the crowd, at the lost-kids tent, or had she independently followed all the other little white capped junior athletes into the swim start corral?  With the help of the eagle eyed 10 yo we saw her on the other side of the fence ready at the startline, concentrating hard and with a 'lets get on with it' look on that small face. Oh drat, she might not see us and think she'd been abandoned, what to do...leap up and down and yell with all the other parents leaping up and down and yelling, or find a position she could see us as she ran past.  The latter was the answer, she got a wave and a "go girl" from near the beach as she ran to the water.

Time for the older girl to go, but how to see her start...surely necessary since so much effort had been put into seeing the little sister start. At the same time I needed to make sure I didn't lose track of little sister so as to not miss her finish as her's was a shorter race...and it was her first.  Ohhhh...what to do?

Eventually I got to see the little one over the finish line, but in the fight through the mass to find her after the finish I missed the big girl finish 2 minutes later.  The big girl came out after the melee for photographs long before the little one, where was she?  Turned out that the little one had no anxiety about the tryathlon itself, but she didn't want to push forward for the photos, so she stayed in the mix being pushed around, funny what is the biggest worry on the day but personally I can relate to that one.

All done, prizegiving completed, both girls insisted on riding their bikes back to the car, a complicated dance through other wobbling cyclists, walkers and push-chairs.  In the car they jabbered excitedly, relived the race, the horror where other children fell off their bikes, fury at rude boys who blocked the path during the run, glee when said rude boys were told off, and they basked justifiably in weetbix fueled glory.  I asked the little one if she was going to do another, she looked at me with level eyes and thought about it so seriously that I really wasn't sure what she was going to say.

She worked her fingers around her medal and said "yes".  I felt like crying and I put that down to being just plain exhausted from all that hard work being a supporter. Of course it might also just have something to do with being a proud mum watching her girls growing up.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Karen writes: Good and bad

I can see the sea from home, but there are days when I realise that I haven't glimpsed the water at all.  That is because I haven't made the effort to look out of the window. Running is the same, you can go out, and see nothing, you have to look around, look out the window as it were.

Last night I went for an excellent run and saw plenty, some good, some bad.  I saw  a runner in the distance and caught up with and said hello. We ended up running together for a good 4km chattering away, commenting on what was around us and our experiences and goals. Perhaps the pace was a tiny bit faster than my usual but I didn't really notice because it was just so nice to share a moment in time with someone else.  She was doing more training than I do (ever) for her half marathon in August. I said she could do a marathon with that amount of effort, she hadn't thought she could.  She was also mountain biking, why not look at triathlon?  I felt quite sad when we parted at Beachlands, she was finished, I wasn't yet halfway. I kept going pondering that brief but enjoyable interaction and I knew I would probably never see (or recognise) her again. I got to my turn-around point and headed back home.

I first saw the couple as I approached a cross-road intersection, I was running down one road, they were cycling the road perpendicular to mine.  The first thing I noticed was the male not wearing a helmet, that annoys me immensely.  My children have to wear helmets, it is for the protection of their precious heads and I hope it will become a lifelong habit, why do some adults think they shouldn't be setting an example?  The woman was following along, straining to pedal on the oversized bike, she was helmeted, but staring fixedly ahead.  They turned down the same road I was headed for, I followed and eventually caught up with them at the entrance to the park leading to Te Puru.  I only caught up because the man was lifting, yes lifting, her bike over the rail fence. Obviously using the gate or the purpose built fence-style wasn't in the picture of masculine endeavor he wanted to portray.  Ah I thought, a mating dance. I had to stop so I stretched and pretended not to watch this small but entertaining circus, then when their wheels were finally back on the ground where they belonged, I followed them through the style.  As I passed I caught his sweetly patronising explanation regarding changing gears down to go uphill and up to go downhill. I wondered who the audience was meant to be for that meaningless bit of communication, her or the small crowd now gathered.  Then came his falsetto "oh, you want to go that way do you" at a junction which I took to indicate she didn't want to go 'that way', so much as not want to tackle the steeply intimidating downhill which was the other choice. So they pedaled off on a sideloop and I kept running, feeling ever-so-slightly yuck and telling myself off for judging anyone I didn't know, quite so harshly, without knowing the real story.

Beachlands end of track to Te Puru
I had run perhaps a kilometer further down the track when they caught up with me, the man sailed past with the setting sun reflecting delicately off his uncovered head, she creakingly followed, sweat soaking her blouse which was more suited for a work-day, she didn't respond to my "hi". Over a small bridge there are two tracks, one easier for cycling with a wide concrete path and moderate hills, one a narrow and uneven dirt trail with some serious inclines.  He rode up the dirt trail and stopped while she pushed her bike up.  He stood on the clifftop with his hands on his hips. He watched, not her, he watched me, and he had this funny little smile which could have meant all sorts of things, none of them nice. I scowled at him, and took the other path. When I got a little further on I turned off down yet another track, this one I was sure wasn't accessible for cycles, I didn't want to see either of them again.

As I ran along I sent my secret thoughts into the beautiful quiet of an evening made for enjoyment. One of my thoughts was that when the woman got off her bike she should perhaps climb into her car and drive home tonight, and the other thought was that I would not want to run into him in a position of power, for example in Inland Revenue.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Karen writes: Part 4 IM and Recovery over - the Lessons

There was a prediction that week 3 after Ironman would be the 'crash' week, experts intoned that this was where tiredness would set in, even if there had been an apparently easy or 'honeymoon' recovery immediately after the event.  Hmmm, 4 weeks down, well into a marathon training programme, still waiting for the crash.  I think, somewhat ruefully, that my first full Ironman is absolutely and completely over, time to stop treating myself like I am a delicate flower, stop eating so much, and get on with things.

So what did I learn...
  1. The training isn't that serious.  Well, it is serious, but only as serious as you make it.  Training has to fit around you and your family and your work life and I didn't quite get that this time round. Because I didn't let training interfere too much with my life I was constantly worried that I was behind according to the programme, Kate was doing different things to me, the books 'said' this or that, I didn't feel as fit as an Ironman should feel (do real Ironmen get puffed going upstairs?), and hearing people say things like "it's really hard to train and work fulltime" didn't help my confidence but probably stirred my determination.  It turns out though that you can be inventive and flexible especially if you've set yourself a reasonable goal (ie, finish in who cares what time).  This means training doesn't need to be a great weight on your shoulders! I finished Ironman 2013 feeling fine, wasn't last, recovered very quickly and did this with most of my training weeks being around 10 hours, a few 14 hours, and a 16 hours.  Having said that...
  2. It would have been better to do more hours wedged on the (mutter mutter) bike seat, and definitely more than the few weeks I had getting used to the aerobars. Everything I have read suggests that the key to a good Ironman experience is coming off the bike with fresh legs, even good runners (not me) apparently make poor triathletes if they don't put the work in on wheels.  I now 'get' that. I didn't have enough quality cycle time, some of this was because it wasn't possible with my busy life and I substituted running instead, part of it was I didn't do well on the bike so didn't enjoy it so avoided it.
    Cycling by it's nature takes HOURS and you are limited by weather, and daylight and unfortunately it is crucial. Sigh. 
  3. Swimming one day a week, a long and gentle wetsuit effort at the beach to protect my injured shoulder worked well. I feel a bit daft about how much I worried about the swim, I had this idea that I should be in the pool with pull-buoy, hand paddles, and flippers doing 1000's of lengths...nope. I came out of the water feeling fresh with a respectable 1 hour 36 time for the 4km, exactly the pace I have done in every other event.
  4. The run, well, my run time of 5 hours 42, that seems so long but...shock... nearly 30% of the field was slower than me. This turns out to be more motivation to work on the bike since only 2% of the cycle field was behind of me on this leg.
  5. A couple of years of building up (though unintentional) and having completed some events like marathons, half Ironman etc helped me to turn up on the day believing that achieving Ironman was completely realistic. It still amazes me today how much I'm still learning about how my body copes with different conditions, stresses, what clothing and food works, etc. The lesson is, experience counts.
  6. Core work and strength training remains anathema to me, in spite of all the gentle encouragement and tactful motivation from those who know better (perhaps don't be so nice next time!). I did have a problem with injuries which limited what I could do, but I would most likely not have had the injuries if I had done the strength work earlier.  I admit it...I've been wrong on this!  Will I change...maybe... 
  7. Speaking of injuries, I had two which could very easily have put me out of action, the shoulder problem (impingement syndrome and bursitis) and the knee problem (cartilage and ITB) both took considerable effort to get sorted, actually they aren't sorted but these days they are managed, the message is prevention is important (stretching/posture/slow buildup), if it hurts stop doing what you are doing that causes the pain until you know what it is, and DONT GIVE UP! 
  8. Like the training, the event on the day isn't that serious, well of course it's serious, but not SERIOUS.  It's like going to do a job, you start at the beginning of your predicted number of hours. You cant see the end and it can seem you have a very long way to go but you have done the preparation so you can unravel the day, putting one foot after another, and you get there.  Hopefully you find some fun, talk to a lot of cool people, laugh at strange sights, feel joy when something works, have a brief adrenaline rush when you have a near miss, glow with pride when something goes wrong and you fix it, and try not to stop breathing when you choke up with the sudden realisation that you are actually going to finish.
  9. Food is a make or break thing.  I put a lot of thought into what I was going to eat on the day, and then changed my mind at the last minute, I was so lucky I didn't pay heavily for that.  Milk drinks in tetrapacks worked well, both frozen, one on the bike, one in the bike drop bag at 100km. 
     It was a really hot day and water supplemented by a saltstick electrolyte capsule an hour worked fine instead of electrolyte drinks (these make me feel ill), gels worked but they are hideous hour after hour and I still have no idea of how much caffeine is too much over all those hours, bananas on the bike were good, and the coke/water/chips combination in the last half of the run were a miracle fuel. I definitely need to fine-tune the cycle nutrition, there is a lesson somewhere in the fact that like the kids at primary school, I chucked my vegemite sandwiches in the bin uneaten.
  10. Clothing worked well, bikini bottom/shock-absorber bra combination under the wetsuit, cycle top/cycle pants/arm covers/compression calf sleeves for the bike, and singlet/tri-shorts for the run. I also wore a buff scarf on the bike but positioned it so I could yank it off without removing my helmet when the day heated up, worked fine. Changing pants, top and socks at each transition might have added moments onto the overall time but the feeling of fresh clothes was priceless.  The elastic laces in my shoes nearly caused a glitch by reducing the space to get my foot in...ow...when I straightened my ankle I got major calf cramp, but now I know what to expect and will have the laces loosened right off and a bit of calf massage worked a treat.
  11. My dear old Scott bike went like a dream, reinforcing the fact that you don't need flash new equipment...but yay for maintenance and a good mechanic.
  12. On coaching.  I had a coaching arrangement for the buildup to 2012 for about 6 months.  This was a good experience, and I missed it this time round, it is great having someone trying to keep you relatively safe with expert advice, and who can tell you that you are doing ok even when you feel you aren't.  I was simply unable to sort out a workable replacement to suit my particular brand of sorta-experienced-low-performance-hypothyroid endurance athlete.  I'm not sure I recommend going it alone first time round, at the very least it is a lonely experience, at worst you have the opportunity to make lots of mistakes which may be hard to get over by yourself, or you may not know they are mistakes until the big day. Having a chronic health condition does make getting a coach a tricky decision however, you tend to know yourself best, and saying "no" to a coach who is encouraging you to go harder when you know you need to rest more is a tough one.  Hear that hypothyroid athletes, it's ok (essential) to ignore your coach and rest more if you need to!
  13. I'm starting to understand that I am allowed to be a slow athlete.  I am SLOW, I have a pace that suits me, I also have observed a pattern of gradually running out of energy like a clock spring unwinding over a prolonged period of time.  I get gently slower and slower but still have just enough to keep going on and on...and that is just me. My recovery is super-quick though, with that in mind, I would probably be a fool to try and change too much of what is currently working.
  14. Having the whanau there and borrowing Kate's fabulous support crew helped make the event.  I counted 8 opportunities to pass the bit of the road they had claimed as their own (complete with tent, chairs, cards), and each one of those opportunities was eagerly
    Senior daughter one girl cheer squad
    anticipated, stomach pulled in, shoulders back, a reminder to self to look like I was enjoying it and I found that I actually was. It was also really great that friends and family could follow online, even if it did cause a few to nearly have a heart attack when I apparently disappeared in the run section.
  15. A quiet house with space and a good kitchen (especially a big fridge) was bliss, I hate to think what it might have been like trying to manage in a hotel room.
  16. What to do next?  Well we have the 2.8km harbour swim next weekend, and the Rotorua marathon in 5 weeks, but I'm struggling to get worked up over those, I feel pretty ready but it will be interesting to see how the body actually copes, the books...yes...those books again, say to expect a slow performance. There will be another marathon or two over the year, hopefully some exciting venue will present itself for those.  But what can you do after Ironman except another one? I'm a bit at a loss on this I have to say, I think it is the 'again' word. This time I'm not so much interested in a better time, but I do have things I want to test out, like will an easier time on the ride make the run more of a run than a walk.  Ironman 2013 I loved you, I don't really want to wish yet another year away but roll on 2014!