Thursday, 18 December 2014

Karen writes: On sports involving small spherical objects.

Someone has recently tried to convince me that there is something of merit about participating in ball sports.  The opinion was that it is possible with a bit of hard work for anyone, even me, to be taught the art of being cruel to poor defenseless spherical objects. Something I am sorry but I have to dispute.

One reason I do long slow endurance sports is because I don't have to think or act fast, well, most of the time.  Of course there are exceptions, for example when you are about to leave the vertical plane on a bike, or make inconvenient contact with an unexpectedly placed tree branch, fellow athlete or large hole in the ground. Most of the time however, as a sloooow distance athlete you can take a less aggressive approach to decision making.  You can pause, think a bit, pass on instructions in a leisurely fashion from an endorphin stupefied brain to the rest of the body, then like a great and stately ocean liner, gradually come to a halt. As an endurance runner I also don't have to know the difference between left and right, something I have never come to terms with instinctively. I have always had to actually look at whichever hand first to figure out which one it is. I always I thought I would grow out of that with practice but never did. I don't feel so bad about it these days, I found out in the unlikely situation of jumping out of a plane that I wasn't alone when the instructor drew a humiliatingly large black L and R on my hands.

So chasing small round things about requires thought and reflexes and an understanding of which hand is which. Oh.  I might just have to stick to running and leave the ball sports those who do have the necessary attributes.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Karen writes: Rotorua half IM 2014

What an amazing day Saturday was for the Rotorua Half Ironman.  The weather forecast was a bit dodgy, showers and some wind predicted.  It turned out to be perfect conditions however, to the point where sunburn was more of a problem than the wet and cold.

So Kate had said lets do the early start option.  This was an 5.45 am start being offered to those who had a history of taking more than 7 hours to complete the course.  A smart idea to cut down the mop up of stragglers coming through the bush hours after the event has been wound up, but also it was pointed out that it can be lonely on the trail still finishing off your 21 km if nearly everyone else has gone home. I for one did not regret getting going that 45 minutes earlier one bit, in fact it was a fabulous change which I hope they repeat.

So we had a 4 am breakfast, put the bikes in Kate's car, and headed off into what still seemed very much like night.  It was so dark Kate was driving along and she said "I'm sure we missed the turn-off". Sure enough, we had come right to the lakeside, way too far.  Backtracking, no street or other lights, we found the car-park, there was only one other vehicle there in the big paddock which is usually full for this event. Other cars started turning up shortly and then there was a small procession of people wheeling bikes while juggling transition boxes and bags and wetsuits and things, along the dark road.  I had a moment of panic when I couldn't seem to get my bike wheel on with that pesky easy-release. Fumbling around in the dark I was sure I had it wrong and it would fall off going down some big hill somewhere.

Visualise this. Inky black lake, surrounded by trees, spirals of mist coming up off the water, then the music starts.  Old favourites, driving beats, absolutely surreal at that time of the morning in such a beautiful place. Add in a bit of normal pre-event anxiety to get the heart rate up, wow, you couldn't buy a high like that.

Finally ready, into the wetsuits and it was time to get soggy.  The damp grass was freezing underfoot, so the lake felt luke-warm after standing on that.  Gun went, off swimming.  I had an average sort of swim,  laughed to myself when I thought I was at the back of the back of the pack.  No pressure, took it easy, none of the panic attacks that marked previous years forays into that particular body of deep water.  The biggest problem is when the lake is clear, I see the bottom, it looks close enough to touch but I know it is meters deep, the brain goes eek, cant put my feet down if I want to, but it looks like I should be able to.

Second lap, I made the mistake of looking across the loop and saw lots of high speed splashes, the main start was in the water and rapidly catching up, I just barely got to the end when those super fast machines came along finishing their first lap.  I'd had a 45 minute head start, and I was well on the way to being caught!

Through transition, on the bike, grinding up the big hill, the muscles always protest here. I think this is because they are still a bit cold from the water, and by this stage I have done an hour's exercise and breakfast was a long time ago. I always doubt that I can do 90 more km on such tired, sluggish legs, there is a bit of mental game playing to get into enjoying it.  Down the other side I got up to 64 km/hour!  I have never ridden that fast and not been hanging onto the brakes hard enough to hurt, yeehah, must be the new (ish) bike.  Out onto the main road, and past the airport, the fast riders caught up here and what I noticed was how friendly some were.  The lead male, I think for the quarter Ironman, read the name on the tag on my back and called out "going great Karen".  That happened lots, something I noticed round the whole course, no games of mad smiley athlete needed from me to provoke a response, there were plenty of smiles just there for the returning. What an excellent ride. I spent around 3 1/2 hours on wheels, ate up those big hills and a treat was getting to the top of Hell's Gate (takes 12 rounds of Kate's trick of singing '10 green bottles' to myself to get up) and there was Mr Triathlon, Shane Hooks standing there yelling encouragement, wow, endurance royalty!  One of many benefits to that early start.

The purple and blue replacement top
On the half marathon, there were plenty of people around, even some who had had much faster swims and cycles and started with the late group, but who were my pace in the running.  It never fails to amaze me however that some good athletes take risks with themselves by not doing their homework.  Cramps when only taking in some lollies and water... um, a guaranteed outcome. Wear a cotton t-shirt and not expect chafing?  Wear untried gear in a race, oh, hang on, that was me. I forgot, would you believe it, among other things, both my cycle top and running top. A trip to a Rotorua op shop and I had a new cycle top in my size, tags still on, and a spandex designer label singlet that the girls insisted would be just right, and it was, after I insisted on removing the sequined pocket at chest level.  The singlet in shades of purple and blue was a perfect match to a great area of purple foxgloves buried deep in the forest by the side of a stunning lake.  Some things you see are too perfect not to stop and have more of a look.  There was also, not so perfect but still something of a break, a little diversion down a narrow path which had at the turnaround a large purple bunny parked in a deck chair.  Um.  Yeah. Didn't see that one coming.

I finished in 7 hours 34 minutes.  Not my best time ever, but way better than that disaster of a race last year.  And I felt great during and after.  Will we do the same next year?  Who can tell what will happen next year, but I definitely didn't come out saying "never again".  Again.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Karen writes: Wellington

Another unexpected trip to Wellington, fortunately, taper week, no worries (well, I'm not worried) about doing very little.  I did get out for a run however, and got pleasantly directionally challenged among all of those back streets. It was raining.  I now see why there are so many pedestrian crossing signals at all the intersections, they are to hang onto in the wind to stop foolish runners getting blown into the traffic.

Over 6 km, I felt a bit odd pounding up and down city streets dodging in and out of the serious-suited-ones.  Perhaps they felt even more odd when confronted with a large self propelling object in fluorescent green ducking and diving in their midst.

Anyway, Rotorua half IM is now just two sleeps away.  Kate has convinced me (well, she has the vehicle), that we need to do the early start which the organisers are kindly offering this year to anyone expecting to do over 7 hours.  The idea is that we don't get lonely out in the bush by ourselves at the back of the pack, and it might have the added bonus that the man on the bike who dared try to turn us around last year because the water stations were closing wont have to brave the wroth of certain determined, but slower athletes.

And, importantly, all the beer might not be gone by the time we get to the finish-line.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Karen writes: Round again Taupo

It is a whole week since we cycled around that big hole in the ground a wee way down country again, that was time number eight.  I remember the first time, we thought a 60 km ride was enough training, that the measly little hills out the back of Whitford were real hills and that hanging onto a convenient powerpole or fencepost was the accepted way to stop to get cleats out of pedals. We did however learn the errors of that sort of thinking with a 10+ hour effort on the road that year, probably the big surprise is that we kept going back every November.

Things have come a long way, some rides are easier than others, well, actually they are all hard, some have just been harder than others.  This one for me was strangely eough a good one, it was windy, cold, and rained on and off, but I didn't have that "oh I wish this was over" feeling starting at the foot of the first hill and keeping going till the end.  Why, who knows?  Why does one event work better than another when you have trained less, weigh more, and still don't pay enough attention to nutrition and equipment?

I managed, to use language I normally avoid, a 'personal best', albeit an accidental one. I could argue that I feel like I always do some version of best, some are just 'bester' than others.  Anyway, I took 7 hours 9 minutes and a tiny bit, last year I took 7 hours 50 minutes. My previous best time was in 2012 and that was 7 hours 13 minutes.  A PB, must be a proper cyclist now.

So now to the tricky situation of going from one big event almost straight into another.  Taper to taper almost, and circumstances have conspired that I have had no chance of training this last week, and next week looks the same. So time to stop worrying about lack of training, and make the best of opportunities.  I can tick the bikeride off, I know I can do 90 km since I managed 160.  I had a swim early this morning before the whanau woke up that was close enough to 2 km, tick. Run, well I have done precious little of that in recent weeks but surely I haven't lost everything since Auckland marathon at the beginning of November, and with 750 m elevation over the 21 k's according to my GPS I think it is more likely to be a walk than a run anyway.  I'm as ready as I can be.

Now, the swim this morning is worth mentioning.  Swimming is never my favourite activity, and knowing that fish are hungriest as the sun comes up...well... there was a degree of anxiety.  But it was lovely, the water was flat, there were a few boats going out and for a change no-one was throwing burley off the wharf or casting fishing lines into my pathway.  I have now found that if my brain is busy I dont have time to think about (jaws theme) what is going to come up from underneath and decide that my fluttering silver toenails are part of an injured fish. This swim I barely noticed what I was doing, I was thinking too hard.  I have lots of things to think about at the moment which had the effect of keeping my brain full enough that I actually wasn't worried even a tiny bit about being eaten.  The side effect of that unfortunately was it also kept me off thinking about technique, but I think I would rather be free of that persistent and irrational anxiety than a fractionally faster swimmer.

So now I need to try to find some clothes suitable for next weekend.  Down at Taupo it was realised that some of my gear hasn't really survived the winter very well after long hard training year, so there were stern instructions from Kate to THROW the stuff out.  Funny how all those worn out favourites got washed again after the ride, and of course you cant possibly throw clean clothes out.  So less than pristine pair of cycle shorts, holey socks,pink compression leg warmers with more chain grease than pink colour are back in the cupboard to be discarded when they next get dirty.  Rotorua half Ironman could never be described as a fashion show so perhaps next weekend?