Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Karen writes: Paeroa to Thames run

The Paeroa to Thames run along part of the Hauraki rail trail was on Sunday, 28+km, it was a little unclear on the actual distance.  What a neat run, well worth the 90 minute or so trip to get there from Auckland.

We were meeting up with Kate down there and fellow runner J and myself headed off early in the wee green car. I made the rather silly decision of heading round the coast rather than going into town to hop on the motorway for the longer but apparently faster trip according to Mx Google.  So we ended up on that very pretty drive, but it took a bit more time than anticipated, especially when at Kawakawa Bay horrible grinding noises came from the car innards. We stopped, couldn’t see anything dragging on the ground, started off again, grind grind scree crunch.  Oh the heart drops, feeling sick, to not turn up at a looked forward to start-line is awful, I've never done that before and to let J down as well. Ok, let’s turn around and hope it goes away, then we can divert off to the motorway if it does. Hang on, some ancient memory of a similar noise rose to the surface... slam into reverse and scoot backwards, ah stone in the brakes. WHEW.

So a relatively uneventful the trip after that, arrived at the school in Paeroa where the start was, how refreshing, close parking, free chocolate, and (mark of a quality event) real toilets not portaloos.  I haven’t seen such genuine old-school school toilets since...well...I don’t remember them being like that even in my day.  Wow, a glorious example of working history, I've said before, with running you never know what you will see.

We headed off along the route of the old railway line, glorious morning, and the running surface was gravel so a little attention was needed.  A lot of attention however was needed for the multitude of concrete cattle stops, and of course the flexible swing or suspension type bridges.  Ever tried to run on one of those?  They come up to meet you with every step, and if someone else is also running (or walking), well, I found it was the weirdest of sensations, going from novel to queasy on the longer versions.  Since I’m known for my love of bridges, I’m not complaining though, I got to see all sorts. 

Special memories, having to stop for mother duck and her flotilla of little ducklings crossing the path from one drainage ditch to another, the big pond with so many frogs in it the noise was almost painful, the strange kid who turned up in odd places, and a picture perfect day running a flat if ankle challenging surface through a beautiful landscape with the hills marching alongside.

The finish was at the Thames rugby club. A novel method of making sure everyone stayed for prize-giving was to not have the transport back to the start until after all the formalities had finished.  But hey there was an ice cream truck, a sausage sizzle and more genuine vintage toilets.  Perfect. It was so nice I would really like to look at more of that trail, more info here http://www.haurakirailtrail.co.nz/.  Now the picture isn't mine, I was running for a change and watching my feet not taking photos, I've borrowed it off the council website (call it advertising) and it gives an idea of things.
Picture courtesy of TCDC
So we drove back agreeing it had been a good day, several food and drink stops were made to sort out post event cravings and if that is the only long run before Auckland marathon in four weeks, we are ready, minimum done.

Now swimming...ah...swimming.  Yes.  A swim. Maybe tomorrow.

Karen writes: Swimming

Went for my first swim last week.  Um, sort-of.  I'd psyched myself up and really had to work hard at that even though it’s only 6 weeks until my first triathlon of the season which has a 1500 m swim. I found my wetsuit, a pair of goggles and a cap.  The whole lot had been untouched since it had been stuffed in a bag by the kind volunteers at Ironman back in March, there were still bits of grass attached. 

So, squished into the wetsuit, zip creakily cranked up, yes I can still breathe, and over the road.  Nooo, the contour of the beach has changed, it used to be that three hours on either side of a high tide was ok for swimming, not anymore though. I found myself way out past the wharf in a foot of water feeling a bit silly.  So I gingerly walked out a bit more until there was more water, eyeing the shore which seemed a long way away and trying not to think about the stingrays living out here in the mud, but probably more of a worry, ancient broken bottles and all the other junk that accumulates.

And dip. 
On the count of three...in the... 
I’m going to do this for sure, down I go. 
Yep, I can handle this...
Today...
Before my feet go completely numb
It’s just a tiny bit of cold, been colder 

When I finally did get in the water, I was right, it was COLD.  I swam a few strokes, probably managed a minute all-up and then my hands were going the same way as my feet. I could no longer feel them so I got up and waded back to shore. 

Tonight before she left the office to go home Kate said “you’re going for a swim aren’t you”.  It wasn’t really a question.  Yes, I’m going for a swim.

She is going to ask how the swim went tomorrow, I can say, yes, it was a very nice bike-ride.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Karen writes: Starting again

Triathlon season has arrived, well for many it arrived months ago, but according to my own peculiar calendar 12 weeks out from a half Ironman it is time to...ha ha...get serious again. Again. Kate has been off at Ironman camp, as far as I can see she is triathlon trained already having never dropped swimming in the off season and she has never stopped cycling or spinning. Running, well who cares about the run anyway, you can always walk that bit if you are fit for the other disciplines but I look at the Nike app and there I see Kate, off clocking up those running miles on her side of the country too.

I went to Whangarei for the weekend, Whangarei half marathon is an annual event and this year, falling a few weeks after Adelaide marathon, it was an ideal 'get back into things' effort.

The weather was predicted to be awful, but on the day it turned out to be very pleasant, overcast, not too hot, and I made a steady effort on that very pretty course along the harbour-side, through bush, then back along the heads road.  Senior daughter joined me for the final 2 km and over the finish line, that was lovely but I think she may have developed a new respect for her mother on that one. The drive home, now that was when the weather decided to let loose, rain, hail making for poor visibility on those narrow windy roads so I was tired and grumpy from all the concentration by the time we walked in the door. Fortunately, the girls are old enough now to be able to find themselves some food and get off to bed, just as well, I was past keeping my eyes open by half past seven.

I've grizzled about my running speed, how my pace continues to drop off, and this run I was 20 minutes slower over the relatively flat 21 km than my best time a couple of years ago, that is a big difference and if you use the usual formula of double your half time and add a bit, that gives my likely Auckland marathon as something in the range of 5 hours 15. And there were no excuses this time, I really felt like I was running steadily, no mucking around, felt comfortable throughout and there no unplanned glitches such as stopping to stretch or getting stung by anything, there wasn't even the chance to talk to anyone.  Of course, I am definitely heavier than I was back then, Friday I had run and cycled and then having plenty of time in the car plus lack of attention to nutrition could have contributed to such a poor showing, but it seems that I'm just going to have to accept that I'm continuing to slow down.  Funny thing was though, I still had 40% of the field behind me.  I think they might have mixed the walkers in looking at the times, but hey, I'll take what comfort I can get!

Fortunately there are plenty of cutesy quotes around about being a slow runner, like "running slow isn't a character flaw, quitting is", and I think, yeah, that's me. Plus I still run marginally faster than my sofa so I reassure myself that I'm still ok, but then I think oh I should be able to do better, maybe...just maybe next time I will.

Update: I've just checked results after receiving a message to say the 'results computer had screwed up', I now only have 16% of the field behind me, or 20% of my own group.  Hey, I usually aim to be in the top 90%, it's still a success!


Monday, 31 August 2015

Karen writes: Adelaide marathon

The Adelaide marathon was a whole week ago, another case of the time just disappearing, all that lead up and now it’s ancient history.  So how it went...there was meant to be rain, but it was a cool clear morning, 7 degrees C to start, and it turned out to be a great running day, no wind, not too hot, and pleasantly overcast at times. There was a nice sized field with nearly 500 marathon runners, as well as a lot doing the half and the 10 km who all started later.

There was an early start which is always excellent because you miss the heat of the day and still have some hours left with not going straight from finishing your run to recovering then to bed. And what a lovely course, over bridges, under bridges (my favourite), tunnels, cobbled paths by the river, along roads and gravel track through bush, and winding through the beautifully manicured botanical gardens too.  Some very pretty residential streets made up the only hill, and while it was a two loop course, me being me I had forgotten what I had seen by the time I was on my second time round.  Some of that was due to talking (“headphones strongly discouraged” yeehah!), some of it just me paying too much attention to odd things around me.  Like there was quite a long stretch with golf course on either side and I spent some time trying to figure out the likelihood of being hit by a golf ball. Then I recalled a golfing friend being a bit bemused at me suggesting that any real golfer would whack a ball somewhere it really wasn’t intended to go (I was speculating about windows around a golf course at the time), so presuming only real golfers played there us runners were theoretically safe.  Ditto trains, a train track ran alongside one of the golf courses too, so it was a paradise sort of run for me, beautiful surroundings, people to talk to, interesting things to think about and a regular view of trains going past.

I met some very nice people, and one not so nice. The story on this one, I actually felt embarrassed as a runner when this man, an Ironman it seemed, behaved like an arrogant prat.  What happened was I’d been passing and being passed by this runner wearing Ironman logo’d gear, and at one point when he was overtaking me on a track,  a cyclist came up behind us politely ringing his bell.  Mr Ironman snarled at the cyclist “I heard your bell, but I’ve got the right here because I’ve paid to be part of an event”.  I was a bit shocked, there was no need for that sort of rudeness, especially when it seemed the cyclist was doing us the courtesy of letting us know he was there, I was glad it wasn’t Ironman NZ on his branding.

The most memorable point of this event came 8 km from the end when I saw someone up ahead looking like they were having a bit of trouble and it turned out to be a young woman doing her first marathon.  She had had an injury the week before and had been ok for most of the run, but it was finally catching up with her.  I spent much of the last bit of the run with her, and we talked about everything and anything and nothing to help her ignore the pain.  Every so often I asked her to do a ‘stocktake’ to get her to consciously think about if anything was getting worse.  The stocktake was my compromise when I worried about what damage she was doing to herself, it’s one thing helping someone to tough out pain, it’s something else to encourage them to risk doing themselves permanent harm.  Anyway, it was one of those weird what I call ‘bubble’ times, where you discuss all sorts of things with a complete stranger safe in the knowledge that you will never see them again.  Well that’s usually the case, but a bit of investigation on her part later and she found me and sent a lovely message to say thanks.  For me, I found her courage and determination in the face of such obvious pain absolutely inspiring and the privilege of helping her out made that marathon, which was much like many other marathons before, a very special thing for me to be involved in. She has since said she plans to run another marathon and I am sure she will find it a snap next time. Finishing that marathon also highlighted the importance of support at the finish, thank goodness for the people who miss out on all the fun of the run themselves and are ready to be there with encouragement and help at the end.

So the following week I attended the conference which was the main reason I was in Adelaide for and managed a couple of short runs, ate too much, got some real exercise with the kiwi conference-going contingent showing the locals how to dance it up hard at the conference dinner, and now it’s time to get moving again. As ever I’m thinking ahead to my next big event which is Auckland marathon now only nine weeks away, but it has to be viewed in context of other non-running events just after it, like the Taupo cycle challenge four weeks later, and Rotorua Half Ironman a couple of weeks after that.  I’m stubbornly ignoring Ironman lurking just out of sight in March of next year, that is just too big to think about when I’m feeling over-weight (nutrition changes made a few weeks ago are NOT working), seriously under-trained and that sort of level of fitness just seems impossibly far away.


Monday, 10 August 2015

Karen writes: Vacuum cleaning, puddles and destruction

I met up with a cousin on Saturday, multi-ironman, super-fit person. That day he was off for swim-squad, and cycling, and preparing for proper triathlon events where people actually go with the intention of pulling off personal bests or winning.  He may have been a little bemused when I said I wasn't even thinking about swimming or digging out the bike for months yet. I am inspired by such people, but do tend to see them as something quite apart from me, same vague animal genus, entirely different species.

I do consider these things as I potter along.  But I also reflect on almost everything else which as previously described is the big contributor to why I will never get any better.  Like I was out running the other day and there was a man standing in the thigh deep water out past the wharf with what looked like a vacuum cleaner.  Vacuuming the sea? When I looked more closely I realised he actually had a metal detector, who knows what he was looking for in that spot that looked exactly like every other spot in the bay. Personally though I preferred to think he was vacuuming, I wasted a couple of km dawdling along concentrating on making up a story behind that particular bit of strangeness.

That same day, bit of rain and lots of puddles and coming back along the coast road there is a patch of road that can end up with some deep water over it, cars push through with a great bow wave and much spraying of the wet stuff.  I saw a motorbike coming along the road, heading right towards the big puddle at a decent clip, I automatically did the urgent slow down motion with my hand. Turned out I had just suggested a police officer slow down, I hope he associated my action with the road hazard rather than cheeky runner. Oh well, I was pretty incognito, I think.

This weekend I finally got back up into my lost paradise in the hills behind Maraetai, those wonderful mountain bike trails and tracks that have been out of reach for much of the last year because of logging.  Of course I knew at some level there would be changes, but it was a bit of a shock when I saw the extent of the destruction. I picked my way over the smashed small branches on the through roads and where once acres and acres of tall forest had stood there was dirt, bare dirt.  Is that hill really that small, I remembered it as so much bigger when I couldn't see through the trees.  So I ran carefully through that wrecked landscape, I did notice that there were still some positives, one patch of newly planted trees that had been tiny when I was last there were now taller than me, I admired the healthy flowers on the prolific gorse, and took the opportunity to pause and have a look at small rivers and other features of the land I had never had a chance to see before.  It was funny to see traces of old trails winding around the hillsides and how they related to each other once exposed. Not sure if I want to go back in a hurry though, I suspect it will be hot without the tree coverage, and it all made me feel a bit sad. I spent so many hours spent playing in that forest, the shady pine-needle covered tracks just made for hard-out down hill efforts, the hidden secrets around corners exploring unfamiliar forest trails...all gone.  For now.

Anyway, the next event is just next week.  Down to short runs for now, and I've been a bit silly and I'm trying modifications to my eating (oh again), of course that is exactly what I would do a few weeks out from an event, could I come up with better sabotage? Otherwise I'm getting ready, starting to put aside gear as it is washed and scrabbling around to find the gels and things left over from the last event, there is no excuse to buy more really when I know there is still a pile of my least favourites somewhere. Might as well get rid of all old stuff then I can have a fresh start leading up to oh goodness, another Ironman, it's only 6 months away.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Karen writes: Last long run

Got out for the first...and last decent long run on Sunday, it was a bit of a lackadaisical affair though, at least to start with. Down the road a kilometer, outside a cafe, oh there's another runner having a coffee.  Stop for a chat.  A bit further along the road, text messages, hmm...would love to answer them, but I've only been going for 4 km, can I make 5 then I can stop for a drink, something to eat and check the message? SWITCH the sound to MUTE. Funny, I had pretty much gone cold turkey on Facebook which was turning into a troubling addiction but it turns out that the at-all-hours communication has a way of continuing around logging out of one app. I mean I do love the contact, but it can be ridiculously hard to take advantage of the off switch sometimes. So run, run, running along, ahhhh spring flowers, hey spring flowers, it must be getting near to warmer weather, pause for a look. Run a bit further, LAMBS, newborn lambs, that's so cool, take a picture and send to the kids.  Is that a new calf, oh sheesh, just run why don't you!

Part of the discussion with the runner at the cafe was about how we don't do what we should do, like the recommendation is to only increase your running distance by about 10% at a time.  Well, I laughingly admitted that I was taking my longest distance to date up by about 30% for this particular run. I know I can do that, but I also know I will pay a price. My legs got heavy, my brain was tired, and eventually the road under my shoes was way more interesting to look at than any amount of pretty flowers and frolicking baby animals.  I wasn't inclined to drink because it was raining, I forget that wet weather can be the worst for getting dehydrated, with all that water around you don't seem to feel as thirsty.  I forgot to eat, and had to keep reminding myself to straighten up, stop slumping along. Checking my phone for the time, an email has arrived, so stop and look at it.  This is so NOT good.

And music. The same cyclist managed to surprise me twice by coming up behind me and singing out hello, I think the second time was to see if he could make me repeat the startled shriek and stumble, there is a message in that. And why on earth is this song on my phone, how did I not realise what a complete prat this artist is? Oh the joy of having the lyrics being fed directly into my brain so I have to listen to each and every idiotic word.  Stop, delete.  And this one, goodness, I liked it when I was what 12? Can't for the life of me think why.  Hmmm, battery down to 70%, will it last, what happens if I fall into a ditch and need to call someone to rescue me?

So I turned the phone off properly, ate something, had a big drink and decided to concentrate.  It was not a particularly pleasant run, but the closer I got to home I found myself feeling a bit better, listening to the world around me I reminded myself of why I had shifted heaven and earth to get out the door for a long slow effort today. Why, I was hopefully mimicking race conditions. Doing things like checking that the clothes I was wearing were the right clothes for race-day, were they OK, yes, but a visor needed instead of just the scarf. Feet, got a blister the other day, but today no trouble with chafing or anything else. Checking nutrition, no not OK, that wasn't working at all, mainly because I had screwed it up from the start and you cant catch up once you are behind, better put some thought into it for the day. But yes, I'm ready for the next marathon however it will be a slow one in line with the amount of effort I've put into getting ready for it...not a lot. The heat will be a consideration too, so message to self, go slow, and concentrate on not messing up the details.. also... leave the dratted phone at home.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Karen writes: Running away

I escaped for an unexpected Saturday run today, no preparation or planning, it was straight after a lunch of supermarket sandwiches in town, but the opportunity was there...so gear on and out the door. I headed off along the coast road, pottering along, one eye on the suspicious looking sky. Bit of a dodgy choice to decide to go light on the clothing after we had had a morning of heavy rain and wind, fortunately it all worked out ok. I felt a bit like I was running away though, dashing out of the house, just because I could.

Running along, running along, thinking about everything except running, and oops, foot off the edge of the tarseal and oh drat, over like a tree and rolling into the ditch.  At least...at least I chose a ditch that wasn't currently full of water, and was more grassy than rocky, but still, why do I persist in doing that sort of stupid thing?  You would think I would have learned by now to concentrate, but no, my running remains my thinking time, sometimes to my detriment. But I got up, quick look to see if anyone noticed, dust off, check for holes in my clothing and me, none, so I kept going.

Some runs you feel like you could go forever after you get over that almost inevitably miserable initial half hour.  I still have to fight to get through that first bit, no matter how long or how far I run, the first few km are just plain hard, then suddenly I realise things are easier and I feel pretty good. Other runs, well the half hour comes and goes and you might feel a fraction better, then another half hour, each step remains a battle and this run was pretty much like that, the whole inadequate 17 km of it.

Anyway, turning over the likely reasons, well, excuses actually, had busy few days, not a lot of sleep, that dodgy and unsuitable lunch, oh forgetting to bring any nutrition for a run longer than an hour in duration might contribute, or it can be that sometimes you simply just don't have a good day.

The trick is to not let your mind tell you that a tough run is the norm.  It's not.  I've learned to go home early if I don't feel good and not to beat myself up over it.  I remind myself that I can go out the next time, enjoy the good runs, they are by far the most common, and accept the occasional not-so-good as part of being a runner. It will of course mean I will be short on long runs for the next marathon, but hey, there is always walking!

And the best ever recovery treat ever... I now keep a container of peeled, chopped banana in the freezer since discovering this and when I come in after a run, throw some bits of banana with a little milk and a scoop of protein powder in the blender, handful of frozen kale if I'm feeling really healthy, and you have instant banana icecream (or smoothie if you use more milk).  Almost worth going for a run for!

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Karen writes: Forgotten how to just walk

Its a dangerous mentality when the need to 'train' takes away from just being able to go for a walk for the sake of going for a walk, or you have an automatic reaction that says 'it's only 15 minutes, it's not worth getting dressed in running gear for that'.  And it is so easy to get into that habit so you only want to do  'real' training or nothing.

Last night I went for a walk.  I 'should' have gone to spin (last opportunity until who knows when), or I 'should' have gone for a run (marathon in just over 5 weeks for goodness sake), but I took the dog for a walk.  I had to make myself slow down a bit, get the idea of  'getting it over with' out of my head. The dog loved it, she chased birds up the beach, ignored me when she felt she could get away with it, ate suspicious items out of the tide and we wandered round the coast road till it was getting quite dark, then I remembered I wasn't running and it would take me a bit longer to get home so we turned around.

I walked out onto the wharf at Magazine bay and stood at the end of it, just soaking up the fresh air, making myself breathe deeply, emptying my head.  Wow, what a strange and unfamiliar thing to do, walking sure is different from running, what was that feeling... could it be... relaxation?  You also meet different people. A man came up to me and said "you aren't running today".  Ah, who are you was my thought...I worried that it was someone I knew, they seemed to know me, had I forgotten them somehow, perhaps it was early dementia?  "Aren't you worried about your knees and ankles with all that running?"  Ok, not someone I knew, no-one I really know would dare take that line with me.  "I see your neighbour has sold...I remember your house being built".  Ok, getting a little freaky now, but it turned out if I put an imaginary hat on his head to be a guy who lives a bit further up the road and who I ran past regularly on that stretch of road.  But still, I walked home in a thoughtful frame of mind after that, wondering what and who else I have been sleep-running past in recent times.  The dog, dear little thing she is, took advantage of me not concentrating and I eventually noticed she had chased a bird into the sea and was swimming flat out away from the beach.  Great, a wet, cold, salty dog but even that couldn't take away my new found relaxedness.

So my walk was very nice, and it was good to slow down and do something 'just because' rather than 'because I had to'.  Certainly the dog enjoyed it.  But I'm looking forward to a nice real run tonight, Kate is catching me up according to the GPS thingy...no competition between us of course!

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Karen writes: First Sunday winter run

It's been a long time since I got out for a Sunday run, but this morning, the girls were away with their grandparents, and I was a free agent.  And I nearly, nearly rolled over and went back to sleep at 5 am when the first alarm went for early breakfast, oh madness, who wants to get up and go for a run when it's only 3 degrees according to the indoor gauge?  But, breakfast it was, and I was out the door just after 7, enough layers on to feel like a moving washing pile, but oh what a beautiful day.  Yaaaay frost, I could leave the first footprints across the paddock at Te Puru, draw pictures in pristine sparkly surfaces like picnic tables and boardwalks.  Ok, I still haven't figured out how to concentrate on being a serious runner yet, I think I never will.

Not helped by the introduction of music to my runs.  Everyone else seems to do it, Kate does it, I felt like a luddite wandering along taking in the sounds of life, and because it seemed everyone else had their ears full talking was out, so can't win, it's time to join 'em.  Well sort of, I can only cope with one ear having an earphone in at a time, I still can't quite let myself sink into a self contained little world and not know what is going on around me. The tipping point was a friend who claimed not to be ABLE to run without music, apparently returning home for music if it had been forgotten and a run was planned.  So, I've been trying for a few weeks now with varying degrees of success.  Running with music almost works for me if I... have phone charged, remember earphones, the earphones work, and I can figure out the controls without screwing up the GPS. I've also realised that very little of my music is going to promote better running performance, there is some hard out stuff that would kill me if I tried to use it to set a tempo, and plenty of slow wander-along stuff, not a lot between the two extremes it seems.  I'm also finding that I'm listening to the lyrics more closely than I might normally, as a result I've decided that some music is just plain annoying...so pause to delete. I guess while I am trying to join the music movement, I still haven't got the hang of it yet, and as I'm not particularly sold yet I can take or leave the sounds when I run for now.

Today I managed about 25 km, reassuring given that I only have about 5 weeks to my next marathon and training has...as usual in recent times...been a bit patchy.  So 25 km today, if I can fit in 28 sometime next week, then a 30 or two, I might be ready.

The high point today was catching up with an amazing lady from the next door town.  She was heading off, with the support of her husband following along in his car, to run her first 21 km as a celebration of her mum's birthday (mum lives a long way away).  She had lost a huge amount of weight as she had journeyed to become a runner, and she tick ticked along the road at a steady pace, wow.  I asked about what food she was taking for her expected 4 hour effort and as a result her fabulous husband/support crew went up the road for electrolytes and jellybeans.  I ran for a bit with her, went ahead, did a couple of loops off catching up on occasion and finally turned for home and left her for the last time when she had done 15 km out in the countryside somewhere.  She was looking steady and determined, I was so impressed and was a bit of a pest suggesting she should do an event.  It's something like that that reminds you how much you learn over time about making life easier as a distance runner, food, drink, and yes you are allowed to walk up hills and still call yourself a runner. What an amazing couple, made my day, goodness, they made my week.

So I'm feeling pretty on track for the next event, not sure how much use running in the lower than usual temperatures is getting ready for a run in Australia, but as we have learned over the years, take it easy, deal with what you can, the day will take care of itself even if I have to walk.  I'm starting to get a bit excited about it, roll on August!

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Karen writes: Rotorua Marathon 2015

I bought new running shoes on Thursday.  Why do I always notice painful ankles and legs in an abstract sort of way, keep on running, and finally figure out that my shoes are past their best long after I should?  So new shoes, two days before a marathon, the shop only had half a size bigger and an older model, my least favourite, version 19.  I was sure I could go for a quick run on Thursday night, ah no.  Friday Kate and myself hopped in the car to drive to Rotorua, no time for running. Saturday...race day, oops.

So, little training done over the last 8 weeks since Ironman, brand new un-broken in shoes, and I rather insanely decided I wanted to try a totally untested and un-recommended pre-race breakfast of buttered banana bread and coconut yogurt with chi-chocolate almonds.  If you are going to break the rules, you should do a good job of it!

Race day, well it was picture perfect, mild, clear sky, no wind, it actually got quite warm out on the road.  We have been doing this run for the last 5 years, things have changed during that time, the use of music probably the most obvious.  Nearly 1200 people on the road, so many of them had earphones plugged in I struggled to find too many to talk to, at least among those I could catch!  But that was OK, you get to a point where you can get lost in your own thoughts quite nicely and before you know it another kilometer has disappeared under your shoes.

Kilometer 27 was where I had a rude awakening.  I was pottering up a hill, and I became aware that something hurt.  I looked down to see a wasp attached to the underside of my upper arm, being battered as my arm swung back and forth. It took a few moments to flick the poor thing off, by then the damage was done, to me and it.  I haven't had a sting for decades, didn't think I was allergic, but with near on another couple of hours to go I did wonder what effect the injected toxin would have with muscles working hard and blood pumping furiously.  Panic!  No, not quite, but I did get a little paranoid for a bit, am I breathing harder (no, it's a hill), is my airway closing up (ah, open mouth), can I feel that itching crawling up my arm (yes).  I thought about asking an ambulance officer when I ran past, but figured they probably would ask me the same questions... are you allergic... how's your breathing?  So I kept running, arm sticking out to stop the now extremely sore lump rubbing on my side, until the next distraction, the collapse of a fellow runner at kilometer 30. Mercifully he had extremely painful leg cramps rather than something more sinister and I got on my way again after myself and some other runners and bystanders helped stretch some life back into his muscles.  It was really nice how many people stopped to offer practical help, and plenty slowed and asked if we were OK before carrying on.  While I understood completely why some just stepped around us (we were in the middle of the road shoulder where the runners were going through) and kept going I admit to being a bit maliciously pleased when I caught some of them up and overtook them later, perhaps the rest made my legs a bit stronger because the final 12 km didn't seem as hard as it usually is.

Race finished, half an hour slower than my usual time for Rotorua, but still 25% of the field behind me.  Kate finished, she reported that it was a good race for her too.  I walked home via the usual ice-cream shop, oh bliss, 3 scoops of dreamy creamy pleasure in a paper cup, new favourite green tea to go with the black doris plum and fig and honey.

So home again and back to the real world, and I have nothing on my time-table until August. That is a worry, I'm not sure if I can get out of bed to run without something a tiny bit scary hanging over my head as motivation...what next?

Monday, 13 April 2015

Karen writes: Sand to Mud 2015

Sometimes you get out of bed, head off into the unknown and stumble across a gem.  In this case a $15 gem, the Waiuku Lions Sand to Mud run from Kariotahi beach, 8 km of hilly rural roads through that oh-so kiwi farmland to the wilder west coast beaches you all know at some level exist, but tend to forget the gloriousness of when you spend more time in town, particularly on the eastern side of the country.

So Sunday morning, got up, it was early enough that the cat refused to move, he just blinked sleepily at me, so the bed got pulled up underneath him.  I had breakfast and headed off for the hour plus drive to Waiuku.  It was an overcast, still sort of day, perfect for running if the sun didn't burn the cloud off too early. When I got there I found where registration was and there were only a few people around. I had to laugh at the one porta-loo standing to attention in a prominent position in the carpark, you would have to be a bit desperate to use it in such a public spot.  The hall where registration was located was one of those well preserved pieces of history with that particular unidentifiable smell these places have and echoey wooden floors, there I got my number and wrote my name on the piece of paper for participants which seemed to be the only official documentation. When Kate arrived and was all sorted we set off having decided we would run to the start-line 8 km away making it a 16 km run in total which was a bit more in line with the need to get some distance in for our next marathon in 3 weeks.

It was lovely, and walking up the big hills (guaranteed the buses with the other runners would pass us when we were doing that) was the chance to talk and set the world to rights.  The km disappeared quickly, and coming up over the final hill we looked out over that amazing and rather grumpy looking ocean, sent a wave to the sleeping Australians, and ran down a long sweep to the black sands.   We were even early.

Eventually it was go time and we lined up with now quite a crowd by the truck marking the start (the sign in the window said so). Then we were off, chugging through the sand, everyone going hard out and then stopping to a crawling pace when the bottle-neck at the foot of the hill was reached, anything other than walking at this point was impossible here with children dashing back and forth, walkers, slower-than-walking runners and the three abreast chatterers. From the top of the hill with that lovely windy road ahead I sped up, and had a fabulous run at a pace bordering on blistering for me, all the way back to Waiuku where the perfect finish was a sausage in bread with lashings of tomato sauce...bliss!  No idea what the actual time was, as usual I forgot to turn my GPS on for at least the first km, but I did record my average pace at about a minute faster per/km than usual. Whether the good performance was the 8 km 'warm-up' with Kate, the natural adrenaline of being in an event with lots of other people, or just the stars being lined up in the right place, who knows, but that was the most enjoyable run I have had in a very long time. Thanks Waiuku Lions!

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Karen writes: Ironman 2015

After a troubled lead-up and in spite of being drastically under-trained, my 2015 Ironman actually went fine on the day.  15 hours, 16 minutes, this was half an hour slower than last year, but not my slowest, and most important of all, I felt fine afterwards and had no problems the next day.  Most memorable for me though was not the event itself, but the experience of going without the usual support. I learned a few things.  1) Iron people are helpful, I had no trouble finding a lift early on Saturday morning down to the startline.  2) I should always ask if the hotel room has a fridge, I didn't even consider that it might not and had 2 days trying to feed myself out of a small chilly bin. At least the hotel let me refresh my freezer pads, but my nutrition was, shall we say, restricted. 3) Being by yourself, while it has the advantage of not having to look after anyone else, is also not as much fun. Crossing that finish line after all of that effort, with a sea of unknowns yelling your name, doesn't quite have the same impact when there is no-one there who really knows you. There is also the practicality of not having anyone to stand in the over-long queue at McDonalds instead of you when you are wet and cold and tired but desperate for a pie, or help you out if you are a bit incapacitated and trying to get into tight compression leggings afterwards!

So the race itself. Saturday dawned cool, the lake was flat and the swim was uneventful.  I say uneventful, but oh there was that extremely annoying man in the green cap who seemed to aim for my space when he had a whole lake to move about in. He criss-crossed, swum out into the deep, came back (through me), went inshore, came back (again through me) and this went on for most of the return leg. He must have covered an extra kilometer with shooting about like an unguided missile, so I suppose he created his own punishment. I got out of the water feeling good, got through transition and then made the mistake (again) of cutting under the now empty bike racks to get to my bike instead of going round the end of the row where the sunscreen people were. Just as well it wasn't particularly sunny or I would have gotten more sun-burned than I did.  The ride went reasonably well, there was a headwind on the downhill leg to Reporoa, this is usually the fast stretch of the ride but not on this occasion.  For the second trip round I picked up a lacewing moth on my leg-warmer, it stayed there the whole trip, even when the wind picked up on the trip back from Reporoa (headwind in this direction now) and I finally offloaded it back in Taupo where it's trip started, now a well traveled moth.   The run... it rained. I had taken my thermal wrapped around my waist, so my usual paranoia about not getting cold worked out this time. I got to avoid the dreaded rustly plastic ponchos that everyone else was issued to survive the rain which was accompanied by a bitterly cold wind on much of the run course. The rain didn't seem to disrupt the revelers particularly around Rainbow point, there were a couple of road-side parties, they had just moved their activities into gazebos. Other runners were less inclined to talk though, it was head down and concentrate on one foot in front of the other.  The only things that made the run unique were a cheeseburger someone had dropped at the 30 km mark, I'm sure I wasn't the only person fantasizing about that, and a near miss with a car pulling out way too fast from a side road and going into a slide, me and another runner could only watch as the thing slid towards us.  It stopped inches away and then he fish-tailed off up the road leaving us with our hearts beating fast and shaking our heads at how close we had come to disaster.

So 2015 Ironman is done and dusted, got the t-shirt and the medal, but my favourite thing...

Monday, 2 March 2015

Karen writes: 5 days to go to Ironman 2015.

I went for a final run, left while it was still dark on the most beautiful, mild Sunday morning you can imagine to plod out 18 km. That may be the last exercise I do until I get to Taupo.  The sun started to come up, I kept stopping because I thought 'this is it', but then ran a bit more, a bit more, a bit more until suddenly it was there. A run like that reminds you that it isn't just about the events, or the fitness, or the sanity restoration, being outside can be just plain glorious. I had to laugh, it might have been early in the morning but there seemed to be an awful lot of other people out too, taking photos, eating breakfast on various points looking towards the sunrise, or walking.




So there is nothing more to do, no more fitness to be gained, no new equipment or nutrition can be tested. There are just the finishing touches to be made to the packing and organising.  Right now there is what seems like a huge heap of clothing and equipment on the floor of my bedroom, things are on the line hung in places of prominence so I cant miss them and leave them behind, and the bike goes in for a service on Monday morning to make sure than nothing important is going to fall off on that long ride. Am I ready? Mentally yes I am ready, Saturday cant come soon enough now. Physically I am underdone having taken such a minimalist approach to training (average 9.5 hours/week over the last 10 weeks) but I will not be the only person in the field feeling that.  Am I excited? I am getting that way, the joy of Facebook is that pictures come around updating what is happening at the venue, for example there was a series showing the buoys being set up in the swim, that sort of thing absolutely builds up the anticipation.

And Kate has said she is doing Ironman again next year, way to go Kate!

Monday, 26 January 2015

Karen writes: Helping hand

I was reminded recently that you can be as stubborn as you like, be used to figuring out how to do things yourself and build all sorts of structures around yourself so you can achieve your goals but sometimes other people can make you go further than you thought you could. I was reminded everyone needs help occasionally..

I had the chance to climb a small mountain the other day. Unlike my favourite Mt Manaia which meanders up 2000-odd steep steps in a circular sort of  manner, this track was pretty much a straight line and almost vertical, so much so it was necessary to physically haul yourself up on the intermittently present rail.  To top it off, it was pouring with rain at the time, there was a torrent thrashing its way down the track, so strong it was shifting stones and bits of foliage with it.

If I had been by myself I would have given up when I hit the point where I could no longer see the steps carved in the rock through the water, given up when the rail gave out and it was necessary to find other hand-holds.  My biggest fear is not usually what happens when going up something, its the coming down that bothers me and I was thinking ahead to this. I couldn't see how I could possibly (safely?) descend on that track in those conditions. This is where the help comes in. Sometimes the most important thing a climbing companion can do is demonstrate that what you are being asked to do is possible, wait patiently for you to make up your mind then say the right words of encouragement when you finally manage it.

So I got to the top, with some help.  At some point the rain stopped briefly allowing a glimpse of the spectacular surrounding landscape, wow. Then the downward was quite a bit quicker and involved me spending a lot of time skidding on my back-side and hanging onto the rail with a death-grip.  But it was cool.  Really cool.  One day I would like to go back under other conditions, there will surely be different things to see when water isn't the main feature. I think I also need to remember that lesson on it being OK to be helped.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Karen writes: SRAM Tour de Hunua 2015

I wasn't sure really until the last minute whether I would even get there but I thoroughly enjoyed the SRAM Tour de Hunua ride today.  I waved the children off then with dismantled bike and a hodgepodge of hurriedly thrown together equipment in the car, I drove to Clevedon. The signs were all there that it was going to be a beautiful, clear, and hot day, I wasn't disappointed. I turned up a Clevedon showgrounds, there was a constant flow of cars and bikes all stirring up the dust from the dry paddocks. A tiny space was found for my little car, out with the bits and pieces and time to find out exactly what had I forgotten.  Nothing too much, but I had underestimated the amount of food I needed, no matter, surely it would be fine, you expect such things to happen when you do these things at the last minute.

I got to talking to a few people, as you do while waiting around for a start.  A mature couple told me that Columbia was the best place in the world to cycle, they have spent months there bike trekking. Apparently the Columbian people treat cycling a bit like Kiwi's treat rugby.  It sounded amazing anyway, cycling overseas one day, a nice thing to put on the dream list.

So another chute going to another start-line, I was on the road again. I'd been a little bit worried that I might have lost my confidence on the bike after the little incident a week prior, but apart from an embarrassing tendency to let out a squeak when a big truck went past, or a boat trailer cut too close, I was happy to be on two wheels.

There was the usual bottle-neck at the first hills where speedsters overestimate their hill climbing ability at that early stage of the ride.  A highlight arrived in the form of an ancient Citroen wonderfully hand painted with a sofa strapped to the top.  It didn't seem right to call out the usual cry of  "car behind", perhaps "lounge suite behind"? The answer as to why this was on the road turned up a bit further along in the Hunua township where the sofa, still on the car roof, was being put to good use by supporters.

I have said before, it's the events where something goes wrong, or something stands out that you remember. This was a spectacularly beautiful but uneventful ride in the scheme of things.  The hills are always a challenge, a couple of them stick in your memory and you approach them with trepidation forever after. A couple of unscheduled stops took a little time, someone with a second flat tyre and no good spare, unfortunately a disadvantage of the super-flash wheels with very deep rims is that you cant just use any old spare, and my ancient puncture repair kit was politely declined, I mean who even knows how to use one of those anymore, let alone carries one.

So I rode for 4 hours 43, finishing 4 minutes quicker than last year. What made me happier than last year was that there were a few more people behind me, I didn't feel like I had the rather intimidating personal attention of the SAG wagon this time for the last 10 km.  It was hot, I drank my 2 bottles of electrolytes, 2 bottles of water, ate 2 Ems bars, had one gel and a banana and I got leg cramps, no big surprise there.

So the ride was valuable in that it tells me that I am as bike fit as I was at this time last year in spite of less training.  It also reminds me to pay attention to nutrition, something I can be a bit slack on. Tomorrow I have an early start for a good run, not sure how far I will get, but again it will tell me something about how well I am doing in my preparation for that Ironman which is only 7 weeks away.  As a result of today's ride however, I feel pretty confident that I am back on track.


Saturday, 10 January 2015

Karen writes: Truck

Yesterday I had a bike ride. It was significant for a couple of reasons, firstly it was my first real training ride in the final push for Ironman, secondly, it was very nearly my last ride.

I started off well enough, I managed a steady pace, it was warm but not at the melting tar stage.  The roads were busy but the traffic was relatively well behaved.  I did the bit I liked least first, buzzing around the straights of Takanini, out towards Papakura, doing loops, clocking up the kilometers and had planned on doing my favourite bit last, the stretch out to Kawakawa bay and back. I had done about 50 km when I noticed that the number of trucks was building up, great big units with trailers, showering dust and dirt behind them.  It became clear after a while that they were all converging on a common destination, a piece of land near Alfriston was acting a bit like a beehive, with the trucks being the big ugly bees coming and going in all directions.

If I had known this was happening I would have stayed clear of the area, but it was only when I got stuck in the middle of it all I realised I was in 'truck' zone. It was too late to back out, I had to keep going. Most of the drivers were really good, I would hear the hiss and huff as a truck slowed behind me, they waited till a clear space before overtaking, and gave me plenty of room, I would wave, sometimes get a toot back.  Except for one.  For this one there was no change of engine sound, I realised something was wrong when I felt the buffet of hot air and saw that if I shifted my elbow I would hit the thing.  Then it apparently finished it's overtaking maneuver and was moving onto me, I did the only thing I could, screamed my lungs out and lurched off into the gravel.

Now when you hit the gravel on the side of the road doing nearly 30 km/hour there is only one possible outcome, you will fall off at some point. The question is where, and how fast. I hung on as my bike juddered and danced in the gravel on it's narrow tyres, my biggest fear was that I would fall towards the road and under the trailer which was now going past.  Fortunately I managed to hang on, slow down and get a foot out of the cleat, and from then on the descent was pretty gentle.  I sat on the side of the road shaking and making horrible whooping noises trying to breathe for a bit, the cars going past must have thought I was nuts.  Eventually I got back on the bike, but had to stop every time a truck went past because I got into a minor panic. As soon as I could I headed straight home, and by the time I made my way up the driveway I was exhausted.

So yesterday I was upset, really really upset.  I felt desperately vulnerable, reminded of how fragile you are out on your bike in a world of much tougher, much faster vehicles. I put my poor bike in the shed and thought I never wanted to see it again. Today I'm angry. That idiot could have injured or even killed me, but most importantly, I only got 75 km done of the planned 110 km training ride, what a waste of a good cycling opportunity, it is so HARD to find the time to train!

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Karen writes: Why do events if you dont want to win?

Someone with a nasty habit of winning asked me a question. Why on earth sign up for, pay for, and turn up for an event if you are only planning on finishing? Excellent question, it made me think. Why would I pay money to make myself miserable, why couldn't I just go out and run 42.2 km on a day of my choice, by myself, instead of all the hassle of actually rocking up to an official start-line?

It seems there is a fundamental difference in thinking between those who have an idea that they can win something, and those who turn up on the day and are happy enough to just cross a finish-line.  I have never even considered winning, it's not on my radar, its not a physical or mental possibility. Sometimes I might accidentally end up at the top of my age group, but I would never go into something thinking that that is a likely outcome.  I'm not sure however that my approach makes me any less of an athlete though, and looking at the 1000's of people who attend races also knowing they haven't got a show of a podium finish, I'm obviously not the only one.

So where some people want to beat other people, and some people want to beat themselves as the next best option to get a personal best or PB, I just want to turn up, do the distance, and go home. What makes me want to do that as everyone else overtakes me and races off into the distance?  It sounds mad when you look at it dispassionately. I guess the flippant answer is someone has to make up the rest of the field.

Anyway, I couldn't successfully answer the question as asked. Some of my pondering is below:
  • A paid event is motivation - signing up, paying your money means you have impetus to get out the door and exercise.  Otherwise it would be too hard to keep up the momentum.
  • Challenge - taking on something you know will be borderline in terms of your ability to achieve requires being very stubborn, there is a component of curiosity, can you actually do it? You don't know until you try.
  • Pride - ever had someone say you couldn't possibly do it?  Or, this one is a good one, someone in a sports shop looked at you like a silly middle-aged woman when you declined black and wanted something colourful, well let them look 'funny', have they got this years Ironman finisher medal hanging behind their fluffy dressing gown in the wardrobe?
  • Practical support - in an event it's nice to have that lovely luxury of having the support stations there, water etc, and people who can pick you up if you fall down when doing something really challenging.
  • You get access to and a chance to explore amazing places you never normally would go.
  • Bling - nuf said
Those are all factors, but there is something else which I think overrides them all. There is a unique BUZZ, an excitement, a heady mix of terror and anticipation and sheer screaming adrenaline induced high that comes with getting to a start-line of an event, whether you plan on winning or not.  It builds from when you have the idea, then sign up, then plan your training, then get to the venue, and finally turn up at registration with a whole lot of other people, many of whom feel the same as you do. It climbs as you make decisions about food and clothing and what time you will wake up until you stand shaking at the start and wait in the most bizarrely elastic time zone for the gun. The gun goes and the excitement morphs into some sort of weird contentment as you literally work through the four or seven or fifteen hours or whatever it takes until you get to the end. The satisfaction at achieving your goal, getting to the end, how can anyone possibly describe that, it's the best cream cheese icing on the most magnificent carrot cake. And you dine out on it for days, once you can walk, see straight, and sit down without grimacing of course.

So perhaps I turn up because... I'm an event buzz junkie who is afflicted by curiosity, needs motivation to exercise and is too stubborn and proud to admit that there is something I cant do. I cant be bothered carrying enough supplies to do the hard yards independently, like to explore, want an excuse to eat cake and really like the bling?

Nope.  Still haven't answered the question.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Karen writes: Reconsidering

I spent a week in my favourite Northland paradise, going up and down the familiar small mountains, the usual Christmas tradition for me. Otherwise, training has been, shall we say... inadequate.  It seems that 2015 brings with it new challenges, particularly around finding time to train. Conclusion...it may be that there is need for even greater flexibility around getting in the requisite hours in the water and on the road, and some events may ultimately need to be re-considered.  That, unfortunately, or fortunately, is called 'life'.

Reconsideration starts with Ironman which coming up rapidly on the 7th of March. The event has been booked since March 2014, the accommodation is organised, time off work is planned, and as far as training... lots has been done in 2014 but the 'pointy end', the important end, is yet to be reached. The realisation however has hit that it might be a little tricky to fit this much loved event into the current busy life.  Some events you can bluff your way through, this one though, it's far too long and far too demanding on the body to even considering fronting up if really under-prepared.

So I sat down to work on a new and slightly optimistic 9 week programme. How on earth can I fit 10-16 hours of cycling, running and swimming into each week for the next 7 weeks (the last 2 are taper) and keep all my other balls in the air?  First up is spending more time on the dreaded spin bike. It sits in mosquito territory on the deck, but training versus a few bites (and terminal boredom), its a 'no brainer' really. I've got enough annual leave to take 5 days off to go for long bike-rides on the road, that works out ok. I can surely do shorter swims, but perhaps more of them and fit them in at the end of the working day, just picking the children up from after-school care a bit later. Running, that is the one that might have to drop off even if it is the most convenient and the discipline I enjoy the most, especially those super long runs in the forestry. There is however the option of the dreaded hill repeats using that so convenient hill at the end of the driveway, and of course I can always walk the marathon anyway. Truth be told, walking it would probably not be that much slower! Not to forget strength training, I can do that at home, loathe it with a vengeance, it can't hurt.

Next and most importantly is the attitude.  A sort of insidious malaise can creep in when you hit a bump in life's road, it is so tempting to want to curl up and forget about your goals, and just focus on how hard the work is rather than the benefits and the pleasures.  I'm at that point right now, it's three weeks since the Rotorua Half Ironman and I have been feeling like it is all just too much hard work. The thought of getting back out on those hot scary roads on a bike for whole days at a time, or getting in the water for over an hour just stroke stroke stroke, what a DRAG.  Attitude adjustment needed, a sharp talking to, time to get a grip and just GET OVER IT!

So the opportunity arose to go for a swim on Friday morning, just a tiny little half an hour, my brain said 'oh it isn't worth getting your wetsuit on for that', but I snatched it. It was the most stunning start to the day.  Picture perfect sea, so flat you could see the drops fly off your hand and disrupt the surface of the water while swimming. So mild the wetsuit was getting quite warm even after that short time. So gorgeous that the boats going out for a morning fish created their own optical illusions as they appeared to be wavering along above the water.  Saturday I managed a short bike-ride, not the best idea on a busy holiday weekend, but it was lovely to be out racing along on my faithful red Scott. Sunday I went of a run with the idea of getting some distance in, I haven't done that in a long time.  It was beautiful out first thing, the company was fabulous, the run did get harder as it got hotter but I so enjoyed achieving that 20 km goal, first tick on the new training plan. Yes, I now remember why I do this stuff.

So I'm back. I'm determined. Roll on Ironman 2015.