Sunday, December 1, 2013

Holy Shep!

Heading to set up my gear in transition.

The swim in the lake was like flailing about in a big cappuccino. As soon as your head was submerged it was lights out and quite confronting. In our practice swim on Saturday, the dark water literally took my breath away. I hadn't swum in anything like it before.

I was considerably calm trending water before the siren went come race day. Knowing what I was in for help somewhat. I really hadn't given this race a whole lot if attention in the lead up. I was still on a high from Noosa. To be honest I would have loved to have stayed focused on getting quicker at the olympic distance. That, as well as organising a charity fun run 'Fancy Footwork for Hope' (a post about this exciting new project is on it's way!) didn’t leave much room to think about doing a half ironman!

Since Noosa my training had been light, easy T2 runs and rides with a tough swim squad session in between. It has taken me a whole year to grasp the concept of T2 ' easy' training session; much to my coach’s dismay. I don't know about you, but in my former years (without a wise, knowledgeable coach that is) I had created the notion that in order to ‘gain’ or ‘improve’ I had to go hard or go home. This is what led to my yo-yoing interest in running over the last 6 years. I’d hit it hard everyday for 2-3 weeks and then crash and burn. I’d then not do anything for a month or so only to start from square one, like a bull at a gate, all over again.

On my flight to Noosa whilst reading Rich Roll’s ‘Finding Ultra’; an amazing tale of a man who had a life changing wake up call in his mid 40’s. In it, he speaks of the importance of T2 training, which is all about ‘building the efficiency of the aerobic, “go all day” system. I was with Rich when he reluctantly said “…if all I do is go slow, how will I ever get fast?” Clinton has told me this several times, but it never really sinking in. As an endurance athlete it is curtail that we really value the T2 session and avoid training in the ‘grey zone.’ The ‘ grey zone’ is where your hard work falls short of the intensity to build speed, yet exceeds the required effort to develop the aerobic system. As Rich Roll found out, it’s the ‘most common mistake made by amateur endurance athletes.’

So having not run anything near 21kms in weeks and really focusing on T2 training in the 2 weeks after Noosa it’s safe to say I had no inkling of how I was going to perform come race day.

The siren went and it was limbs galore as was all took off on the swim; beginning what would end up being a 5:03hr effort. This was something I have never attempted before. I was short of breath as soon as we started. Adrenalin, anxiousness and excitement, combined with being knocked about unintentionally left me unable to get into a rhythm until well into the swim. I stop to yell 'let go of my leg!' as we rounded a buoy, a hand griped my ankle, a phantom swimmer in the dark water pulled me back. Dramatic I know, but it was at that point I thought 'what the hell have I gotten my self into?!' Once I had calmed down and gotten my rhyme I felt a lot more comfortable. Well as comfortable as you can feel in a full-length wetsuit, in a murky brown lake, surrounded by bodies that you accidentally collide with every now and then. I made sure I kept popping my head up to sight the next buoy and that I was constantly passing more people than those passing me. Once I was in the zone, I then got a surprise when the swim exit quickly appeared.

It's such a confidence booster reaching transition, it's like a mini celebration of one leg finishing for only the next to begin. Running up the swim exit shute I was engulfed by the cheering and encouragement from the sea of blue on the side lines. The Trispecify and MPTC supporters were out in fource! I looked at my watch, 36mins and ticking, that’s not too bad. 

A speedy transition saw me out on the bike under 2 mins. Then reality hit, ‘how on earth will I be able to keep race pace up for a whole 90kms?!’ As this was a morning of first, setting out on the bike was an unknown. I have never sat on a bike for 90kms in one straight go, not stopping for lights or cars, and having to keep my mind in a race pace zone. All I know was that I had to get my nutrition and hydration right in order to have a chance of a killer run. Eat on the half hour (I had 3 clif gels and 2 clif bars) and take a drink ever 1km. I had set my Garmin to track the time of every 1km cover. This turned out to be a curtail tool to stay on top of hydration. It is so easy to get caught up in thoughts of racing or working through the pain and forget to drink regularly. 

The bike isn’t my strongest leg by far, but I’m working on that. It has developed with the aid of my trusty Speacialized, S-Work, Amira and has improved five fold from 12 months ago when I first began. However being one of the first waves out, leaving 7mins behind the pros, I prepared myself to be overtaken…a lot! I set out with a good pace and my goal was to hold that, I was clicking 1;50min kms and this was a great mind game to keep within this time frame, especially when it got tough. The road was dead flat; the wind was minimal, perfect riding conditions. The back roads of Shepparton aren’t completely seal and on the second lap of the 45km course, I felt every single bump and vibration! 

I was slightly nervous when I approached my first aid station where I need to refuel with a new drink bottle of electrolytes. You first had to though away your empty bottle in to a trailer with a target board on the back; I like the novelty yet I was way off a bulls eye! Then you call out to the fabulous volunteers what it was you wanted, water, electrolytes or coke. As they ran along side you, you whisk the bottle from their hand and away you go. My goal was to get through 4 bottles 2 x water and 2 x electrolytes, which I completed very successfully. 

half way turn around, 45kms to go!
Again I got such a buzz coming back into town to the turn around for the second lap; to hear a roar of cheering and my name being called out from our teams supporters was amazing. I tried to savor it, as I knew from then on I was going to be out on my own for 45kms in a lot of pain. It didn’t take long before girls who looked to be in my age group were passing with what looked like ease. It was then that it became a mind game to stay positive, to stay focused and to stay committed to the cause. In order to not get down about being overtaken on the bike, I focused on the run, noting everyone that passed me and playing a game as to how quickly I thought I could find them on the run! 

Riding back in to transition was a huge relief, there were times out on the ride that my butt was so sore I could have screamed and when my little legs just couldn’t push any harder or faster! I passed my isle only to do a quick u-turn, rack my bike and switched my helmet for my visor. I chose to put socks on for this run, as at the end of the 10km at Noosa, little blisters where starting to form. And with that I took off out onto the run with a huge smile on my dial! Getting a boost once again from our fabulous band of supporters. I was so happy that the hardest part was over; the run is what I can do. I always surprise myself when I first set out on a run after a ride. My first km clocked in round 4:06mins. Not a sustainable pace but an awesome way to kick off the next 20kms. 

Keeping pace, having a clear mind seriously helps.
I had bought a gel race belt the day before at the expo. It was the best thing I could have done. In the little pouch I stored 2 gels and took another one when I first set out. The run course, like the ride course was quite flat. It took us around the lake and then out along a tree lined path. The shade was a great break from the mid-day heat. As coach had suggested, I took 2 cups of water from every aid station one to drink the other to pour on the top of my head. It worked a treat. I stayed fresh on the run and really utilised the good old, ‘passing on the left’ and ‘coming through on the right,’ and I forged my way through the crowd of weary bodies. I new I was making good time when by the last lap of the 7km run course I was holding 4:25min – 4:35mins kms. A 5-hour finish was in my sight but I had to keep up this steady pace. Having this now as a realistic goal to reach enabled me to stay strong, I was starting to hurt now, and was really digging deep to keep my focus. My body and my mind were now starting to fatigue and wander. I find the best way to keep my self-motivated is by motivating other. Yes, I’m that person out on the track encouraging those who are starting to drop off and panting ‘good work’ as I run along side others.

Running back around the lake for the last time, I got my last wind of energy. Across the water I could see the finish line and hear the commentator congratulating each athlete as they crossed the line. I couldn’t get there quick enough! I looked down just as I ran over Michelle’s chalk message on the path, ‘Madeline Lucas #1’ that put a smile on my face. Finally I was running into the finishing shute, our faithful supporters in blue still cheering from the side lines. That 4:30hrs of cheering from when they first boosted my spirits out of the water! 

Inspiring team mates, Bethan and Deb

I crossed the line in 5:03:16. 

What an achievement, I had not only survived, but powered through to the end of my first half Ironman. I couldn’t have been more happy 

Love the sea of blue, awesome support on and off the course :)

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