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!