Monday, 3 March 2014

Karen writes: 2014 Ironman experience

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Wow, never would have thought when we started this journey that I would have turned up for my 3rd Ironman, taken nearly an hour off my time, and now be talking about a dose of the same again next year.

What can I say about the experience?  I nearly slept in, you know how it is, turn the alarm off instead of hitting the snooze button expecting to get straight out of bed...then not.  But I woke up with a fright ten minutes later, still time for some breakfast, whew.  As for the race, it didn't go as expected, but it was unexpected in a great way.  It just goes to show that you cant always predict based on recent performance. Training was patchy, the only good thing I can say is that it was relatively injury free and I put the lack of damage down to knowing better what works, taking it easier rather than harder, using a roller at the first sign of tightness, some stretching and keeping an eye on muscles known to cause problems in the past. While I cant guarantee the 'science' behind this I swear by the fish-oil, glucosamine and chondroiten, and magnesium as daily rituals. I went into the race a full 6kg heavier than last year, I felt a bit sluggish, my clothes didn't fit as they should, but the 81kg I am at the moment isnt the same as the 81kg I was post baby some 8 years ago, long before I started doing endurance training.  There is something in the muscle weighing more than fat argument, but I'm still carrying too much fat.  Not, you could say, an auspicious beginning.

So the race itself...

Swim - lots of nervous energy around me on a dark, mild morning as everyone waited for the swim to start. I caught up with a few people, sorry B, I had to hurry off as I thought I had mislaid my new goggles, they were actually still in their case in my bag, not lying on the grass somewhere as I had suspected.  Great to see you K, I thought about you during the swim and figured your kids are probably such fabulous athletes because of the example you set them, hope to see you at the start as a competitor in the not too distant future.  Anyway, the swim took me a few minutes longer than last year but once I was in I felt good in the water. After a bit of shall-I-shant-I I wore my neoprene bonnet under the swimcap and didn't regret it as I like my ears warm and water free.  I felt like I was doing well until about 500m from the final buoy when it seemed like as hard as I swam I was barely moving, almost as though I was working against a current, then the feeling went away as I turned towards shore. I'd decided not to take a watch with me, the swim would take as long as it would take and stopping to check was a distraction I didn't need. This worked out fine, a bonus was that I didn't need to worry about taking my watch off to get the wetsuit off then putting it back on. Out of the water and up the beach running felt good, much better than how I felt in training going from the horizontal to the vertical. My plan said walk to transition, I didn't, the slow jog along the carpeted area, walk up the stairs, jog to the transition tent felt just right.

Transition - 10 minutes, probably took more time than other people as I paused to put on arm and leg warmers.  No particular mistakes (have been known to think about putting shoes on before shorts etc).  The people helping were so wonderful, they must be exposed to some sights that dont bear thinking about as the clothes come off in a hurry and extreme contortions are needed to get some items on, then cream is applied to all sorts of places normally not exposed to the light of day. They try to predict what you need and hold things ready, then pick everything wet and dirty up and pack it all away...without complaint.  Fabulous people.  Anyway, I was out the door with nothing forgotten.

Bike - wow, there is no question that things have changed here.  The first leg from Taupo out to Reporoa I averaged over 28km/hour, a bit slower on the uphill way back, 26km/hour back to Reporoa again, then still slower on the last leg back to Taupo. I averaged nearly 25km/hour, I never ride that fast!  And I felt good, legs turning, no stress on back or neck, a world away from what I am used to on the bike.  What has changed...well a new bike would be the obvious cause, but it was the same brand of bike and I'm not convinced that technology makes that much of a difference when you are at the bottom end of the performance scale like I am.  Lighter bike...this was well outweighed by my ...ahem...higher racing weight. Two things as far as I could see made the difference, firstly the set-up on the bike, completely different, I could feel that I was using my whole leg on each pedal stroke not just pushing down with the quads.  Secondly, those extra hours doing hard spin sessions had given me a lot more stamina, together I think these things resulted in the amazing 12+% improvement.  I was also able to get off the bike and just run, that isn't what happened last year when I spent the first few km walking trying to get the legs working ok.  Nutrition on the bike didn't (as usual) go to plan. I took one of Em's gluten free bars with me to tide me over until the first support station, I love the taste of these, they have chocolate in them and are of slightly softer consistency than the other versions. At the support station I realised I had a problem, that I was being handed rather hard, dry bits of bar (I suspect from exposure to air), usually from ungloved hands.  Now food hygiene is at the bottom of your list of worries doing something like this, but after trying to choke one of those down I didn't have much of a battle with myself to give up and stick mainly to bananas, a few Roctane gels and more of the Horley's drink. It all seemed to work out ok in the end however, I had plenty of energy for the next stage.

Transition - 7 minutes, again, took my time here, extra sunscreen, anti-chafe, no problems with leg cramps getting my shoes on this time...again I think due to the bike set-up.

Run - off the wheels and hey I was running!  I walked up the hills as planned, the first lap was fairly comfortable but I didn't find the usual suspects who wanted to talk, perhaps because I was further ahead in the field than normal. Second lap I felt less enthusiastic with some abdominal cramping, but it went away by the third lap.  This year I walked less, but when I ran I was slower, and this slow pace has been a pattern through my recent training, I simply don't run as fast as I did a year ago.  On the final leg I met up with an amazing lady who was from Hawaii, she had done multiple Ironman events around the world, we chatted and walk-ran for most of the last lap.  She had a sore knee which was causing her problems and I eventually went on leaving her at the last aid station, I had a suspicion that I would be close to 15 hours if I kept going and the earlier I was home the sooner my tired children could get to bed.  I ran along the last stretch, round the bend with the noise of people yelling almost overwhelming me, down the final stretch and over the finish line.  This time...this time I got to see the whanau, I got to pat the girls hands and yell hi to W and Kate as I ran whereas last year I was so overwhelmed by the noise and lights I didn't even see them as I went past.

At the finish line two women came to give me my medal, they draped a towel round my shoulders and kept up with me as I paced, the usual story, I cant just stop dead after running or I feel unwell but a bit of walking fixes this.  Then they led me to the scales, the woman looks at the display and reads off "81kg", exactly the same as my weight pre-race.  "You've done this before haven't you" she says and smiles.  She can smile, you'd think that I would go down even a tiny bit after 14 hours and 49 minutes and 9 seconds of effort?  A lovely man came to take me through to get my bag, and make sure I had something to eat and drink and didn't fall over.  He kept looking at me suspiciously as though he expected me to do something odd, and I reassured him and sent him away, I felt terrific.


Kate and the whanau were waiting, I snagged watermelon and an icecream from the food table, had a look for the wonderful lady I had run with for that last lap but saw she was in the medical tent getting attention, so I went outside.  Water and a Georgie Pie in the car.  At home, more water, v8 vege juice (magic, if horrible stuff), shower, bed.  Overnight 2 bottles of water.  4am, toast and cheese.  6am, omelette and toast.  10am, I hate to admit it, but on the way home I felt desperate for another pie and the Brumby's bakery in Taupo had just what I needed, Thai curry pie.  Somewhere in that lot there was enough protein, carbohydrate, probably even the occasional  vitamin and other essential nutrient to leave me feeling just fine.

And not quite 2 days later I still feel fine.  No blisters, no sore mouth, no muscle or joint pains.  I have a dry upper lip as I probably chewed off my lip-balm on the bike-ride and got a bit of sun damage. I probably wouldn't feel comfortable on a bike seat today, and I suspect an early night is on the agenda.  I have to say thankyouthankyouthankyou to my fabulous family, Kate, friends and workmates who supported me on this seemingly never-ending journey, without you I couldn't do what I do. The question now is when do the registrations open for next years event?