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. 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.