The Big Day – Race Report

All smiles

All smiles

Luckily I didn’t leave writing this report until now, because two months down the line I am definitely looking back at the whole experience through rose tinted glasses.

The week following the race I was sitting on the bus and decided to drop my Mum an email about the big day, which I have posted here for anyone who fancies a read:

‘And in terms of the race, the weeks before I was quite tense and stressed because even if I wouldn’t admit it, I was worried about times and beating people. But the closer it came to it, my focus naturally shifted to just focusing on enjoying it as much as possible.

I decided to view it as the reward for all my hard work rather than something to beat myself up over.

Had some dramas before the race even started. You have to pack the transition bags the day before, and have no access to them on race morning. So put my bag in, got home, and saw my cycling top sitting on top of my bag. Fail. But Holly and I crafted a plan to stuff it into a repair kit bag and attach it to my bike which worked a charm.

Was really relaxed before the swim, super chatty, and wasn’t really thinking about what I was just about to do.

The swim had a staggered start, meaning the field was a lot more spread out than NZ. I made sure I just focused on being relaxed, and finding some of my own space to swim in. The course was a bit of a zig zag, so I definitely swam further than I needed to because my goggles steamed up and I was swimming a bit blind until I could sort them. Also had my goggles knocked off my face, and took on a bit of sea water, but nothing to stress overly about.

Got out the swim in 63 mins which was much better than I could have hoped considering I hadn’t done much swimming the weeks before.

All going swimmingly

All going swimmingly

Heading out onto the bike knew it was going to be tough as the course is one of the harder ones anyway, and they had predicted some serious winds. Word on the street is the wind was 30/40km per hour, and gusts up to 80. How true that was I have no idea.

Much like the swim decided to start easy and then build into it. Course was two laps, with a MEAN hill at 80 and 170k that loads of people had to get off and push their bikes up.

I ended up having to push much harder than I wanted to given the wind, which meant I still had a reasonably good bike, but knew full well I would pay for it on the run. Nailed the hill both times.

First time up the infamous Flinders Drive

First time up the infamous Matthew Flinders Drive

Also, with the nutrition, I had planned to do a gel every 30, salt tablet ever hour and some bananas here and there, but the salt went out the window when I took my first one and my stomach started to gurgle at me. Decided to risk cramps over sh*tting myself. I would regret that later.

Got off the bike smiling but knowing that the furthest I had ever run was 26km, and that was ages ago, and that I was pretty tired after smashing myself on the bike.

When I started running my watch was reading 4mins per km, and I felt like I was doing an easy jog, to the extent I thought my watch was broken. Luckily I had been warned that might happen, and I slowed to what was felt like a crawl, but what was a much more respectable pace for an Ironman.

Run was four loops and then a 2km canter to the finishing chute.

First 10km felt great, did it in 55 and felt like I was keeping stuff in reserve. Lots of mates out on the run course all cheering me on.

Before it all went south

Before it all went south

12km is roughly where it started to go wrong. Started with twinges in my calf which caused me to slow fearing cramps and being sensitive post my calf tear. Hadn’t brought any of my salt tablets on the run, so feared the worst.

From that point on my world got increasingly small, to the extent that any outside interference, even if it was someone like Holly cheering, was met with distress as it required additional energy to respond to. I was running about 6mins a km, and would walk the aid stations and then run to the next one.

The loops were mental torture, because you had to keep shuffling past your ultimate destination which was full of people, life and colour, and back to the empty desolate extremes of the course.

At this stage I can’t really recall what happened when, but eventually I cottoned on to the fact that they were doing vegemite on ice cream sticks, which after 8+ hours of sugar not only helped with the cramps (which were bad by now) but also tasted like heaven. Was washing them down with a coke at each aid station.

Lowest point on the run was when I hit a divot and after my stumble my ENTIRE body went into cramp / spasm. I must have looked in distress because a fellow competitor called for medics. I assured him it was just cramp and that I would be fine. Walked for 20/30 meters and then carried on my shuffle.

At that stage thought there was no way I would run the last 10km, but managed to do exactly that. Before the race I wanted to go under 12 (not including the less than ideal weather conditions) but given what I was going through couldn’t even bring myself to push a button on my watch to show the total time. It was totally irrelevant.

Getting the band that signified I had finished my fourth lap was elation like I have never experienced, it was nearly over.

The finishing chute was a bit of a non event. I was so shattered I kinda just shuffled to the finish line, nearly fell over a kink in the red carpet, and mustered a brief hold of my hands above my head.

However as soon as I finished I turned into a big girls blouse. I ended up balling my eyes out on the shoulder of the woman who caught me at the finish to the extent that she gave me a kiss on the forehead.

I then went straight out and found Holly, neglecting to do my health checks and recovery bits. Cried a bit more and called you guys.

Then decided I should go get checked out and went back to medical. On my way saw my training partner of the last eight months who looked worse for wear and needed a drip. Stayed with him till his family came back for him with the car.

Holly and I then went for a Subway and took me home to bed. At least that was the plan. I got out my stuff, had a shower and then went to bed, but was so high on adrenaline I couldn’t sleep so decided to go on an adventure.

The state of me .....

The state of me …..

Put on my finishers tshirt and tracky bottoms and headed back to the finish line to have a beer and cheer some of the last finishers.

Finally got to bed just after 12 and was out like a light.

Next day woke up and was pretty stiff but nothing out of the ordinary. What was out the ordinary was my appetite. I’ve never known anything like it. I think I had about 7 meals plus snacks through the day.

Still can’t quite believe I did it. 100% the hardest thing I have ever done, but I’ve loved the journey, and feel like I have learnt so much about myself in the process.’

Job done!

Job done!

Missing in Action

Ironman

It’s been a very long time since I last did one of these. I won’t bore you with the specifics of why the posts ground to a halt, other then to say that real life got in the way.

The short version of the story is that I finally achieved my goal of doing an Ironman. It just looked absolutely nothing like what I imagined when I started.

My focus had always been New Zealand, to the extent that if you said ‘Ironman’, I would have said ‘Taupo’.

Unfortunately, just three weeks out from the race and on my final long run, I was literally bouncing off the pavements in excitement when I felt my calf tighten up. Thinking nothing of it, I carried on, only to have my calf ping which resulted in me ending up in a bundle on the floor.

Less than ideal.

Straight to the physio for me, who diagnosed a stage 2 tear, meaning that New Zealand was off the cards unless I wanted to walk the marathon (which I definitely didn’t).

Not great news from the body fixer

Not great news from the body fixer

Unfortunately when I was planning for New Zealand, I hadn’t factored in the fact I might not actually make the start line. Instead, I had invited along a mini army of friends and family, booked my flights and secured a sweet house right on the shore of Lake Taupo.

So figuring that cancelling wasn’t really an option, I decided to chalk it all down to experience and do what I could anyway. I also shifted my sights to Port Macquarie in May, which would hopefully give me time to mend the peg leg.

So given that NZ was now a test run for Port Mac, I thought I would share my key lessons learned from the race:

1 – I can swim. Unbelievably, compensating for my injury with extra swimming had taken my weakest leg and made it arguably the strongest of the three. Phelps I am not, but I came out the water in 1.04 which I was over the moon with.

2 – Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Essentially the combination of my better than anticipated swim, a massive overconfidence in my ability and knowing I didn’t have to run meant that I charged off like a madman, only to have the wheels fall off on the last 45km.

3 – You’re born alone, you die alone, and in an Ironman you ride alone. I had spent all of my training having a joyous time with my friends and keeping solo riding to an absolute minimum, meaning that when the going got tough, I wilted. In a big way. Which meant lots more alone time in the lead up to Port Mac.

4 – Find something you actually enjoy eating. I spent so much time stressing about what was ‘optimal’ from a nutritional perspective, I forgot about actually enjoying it. Half way through the bike I had given up on my nutrition plan and was eating whatever took my fancy from the aid stations.

All of which went a long way to helping me reach the finish line in one piece a few months later. More on that to follow ……

Is Pain Tolerance the Key to Performance?

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‘It never gets easier, you just go faster’
Greg LeMond, Tour Cyclist

The above quote perfectly captures the fact that in endurance sport, pain and performance are intrinsically linked. If you want to get better, you have to continually push against your pain barrier.

Logically, if you were to pit two athletes against each other who have similar physical attributes and technical abilities, the one with the higher tolerance will win every time.

The reason being that no athlete ever achieves 100% of their performance potential. Our brain is hardwired to prevent us doing ourselves any damage, and pain is its defence mechanism. The greater your ability to handle suffering, the closer you will be able to get to your maximum ability.

Or simply put, increased tolerance = being able to push harder = faster times. Simples.

The clever people in white coats stumbled across this relationship, and did some tests to see if it stacks up in the lab.

In one of the studies they pulled together a selection of swimmers of different abilities. They then made each of them make a fist once every second while wearing a highly pressurised cuff around their upper arms, with each clench of the fist progressively more painful than the last.

What they found was that in spite of a near identical onset of pain, the elite swimmers were able to do more fists than the club level swimmers, who in turn were able to do more than your average Joe.

These findings have gone on to be replicated in numerous other studies since, supporting the idea that the higher your tolerance the better your results.

So while the majority of us think that the pros must have some sort of genetic advantage over mere mortals, it may well be that one of the key differences is not the make up of our cells, but the composition of our grey matter.

So what does that mean for you and I?

Well, some of the very same studies found that pain tolerance isn’t fixed. Instead, when the elite swimmers were tested over the course of a season, they had a greater threshold during peak training periods.

So by constantly testing your limits in training and continually pushing your pain barrier, you are exercising your mental muscle and making yourself a better (and faster) athlete.

So, in short, as Chris McCormack once said, ‘embrace the suck’.

Ross

Highlight of the week: This is more the highlight of last week, but spent the first week of January participating in my first ever tri camp, organised by the BRAT crew.

We were based out of Jindabyne, which in the colder months of the year is more famous for snowboards than bikes.

The camp was a perfect opportunity to push my pain barrier, with 17+ hours of training over 3.5 days, nearly 7000 meters of climbing on the bike, and a 19km run to the highest point in Australia in some pretty hectic winds.

It was great fun and I can’t wait to get involved again next year.

Top of 'Straya

Top of ‘Straya

Lowlight of the week: Realising that the Ironman is now only 7 weeks away and there is still so much I feel like I don’t know. Most pressing of which being my nutrition. I have literally not the slightest idea about how I am going to fuel myself through 12 hours of exercise.

Mirror, mirror on the wall …..

snowwhite_2354890b

….. which type of athlete is the fittest of them all?

One of my favourite things about the Ironman story is that it came about as a result of some bravado over a couple of beers.

The argument was over if swimmers, cyclists or runners were the fitter athletes.

To settle the argument, a US Navy Commander by the name of John Collins suggested combining the toughest races on the Island – a 2.4 mile swim, a 115 mile bike and a 26.2 mile run, and that the winner would be crowned the Ironman.

Only 15 people started the race, of which 12 actually made it to the finish line. The guy who came in second, John Dunbar, is my personal hero.

His support crew ran out of water mid race so he ended up fueling himself on beer from that point on. Lad.

Unfortunately for the purposes of the argument, the winner of the first Ironman was not a purist in any sense. Gordon Haller was someone who thought nothing of doing Ironman type distances of all three sports over the course of a weekend. Just for fun.

Gordon 'Ironman' Haller

Gordon ‘Ironman’ Haller

History has since gone to show that, in the world of Ironman, the jack of all trades beats the purist every time.

One of the most often quoted examples of this is of a couple of Kenyans, both of which had gone under 2:15 for the marathon (which is insanely quick), who tried their hand at an Ironman in Wisconsin in 2002.

Both had some training in swimming and biking, and had completed a few short course triathlons, but after subjecting themselves to 7+ hours of suffering before getting onto the run, ended up running over an hour slower than their personal bests, with quicker of the two coming in a less than amazing 442nd place overall.

All of which gives me hope as a fairly average athlete. All I have to do is be less rubbish than everyone else at the majority of the three sports and I will have a reasonably successful race.

Ross

Highlight of the week: Had a week off from work for a road trip up to Byron Bay, where I pretended to be a backpacker for seven days. The rest appears to have done the world of good, as I broke my personal best for a 16km Time Trial by over a minute, averaging over 40km/h for the first time ever. Pow.

Also finally booked my accommodation for the big day, which is now only three months away. It is getting scarily close.

Lowlight of the week: Work has been pretty intense this week, meaning that if I am not training or working, I am invariably sleeping. Rock and roll.

They did it cooler in the 80’s

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A couple of days back, on one of my all too regular facebook browsing sessions, I came across the picture above which was posted on the Ironman page.

You can’t help but look at the photos from back then and get the feeling that they had the right idea. Endurance sport without the frills. No compression tights, power meters or wetsuits, just epic mustaches, high cut running shorts and speedos.

To highlight just how much more awesome they were, I decided to pull together the following montage for your veiwing pleasure.

Cycling now:

2011-11-20-ironman-bike-pros-122121

Cycling then:

image_jpeg

Running now:

ironman-canada-run

Running then:

Molinas

Swimming now:

swim%20photo

Swimming then:

Mark3E-1

Fair to say that while modern technology may have made us faster, it definitely hasn’t made us cooler.

And for anyone still doubting just how badass the 80’s were, I would like to point you in the direction of solo man.

Ross

Highlights of the week: Really starting to see the benefits of the training. Broke my PB for a sprint distance tri with an epic hangover, and also set a new PB for the BRAT’s monthly 16km time trial on a seriously windy day.

Lowlights of the week: Got ahead of myself in the injury rehab (which was always going to happen). Was feeling good so got a serious case of the too’s. Too fast, too far, too soon. Back to the drawing board.

Are we addicts in disguise?

ad_SPORTS_ADDICT

Typically when you think of addiction your mind immediately takes you to negative connotations of smoking, drug and alcohol abuse.

Given that I live a pretty clean cut life (most of the time), I have therefore always put myself firmly in the non-addict box.

But recently a couple of my friends have playfully suggested that they think I have an addictive personality, their logic being that when I get into something, I get really into it.

When one person suggests something to you it doesn’t register, but when a few more tease you about it you begin to take notice.

So to start my amateur self-assessment I went to the answer machine and did a Google search of ‘sport addiction’.

The search throws up loads of articles, lots of which are written by people with names like ‘Dr Phil’, but the best one I found on the subject was this one – http://www.active.com/articles/know-the-signs-of-unhealthy-exercise-addiction

The article describes exercise addition as ‘a chronic loss of perspective of the role of exercise in a full life’,

It then goes on to say that ‘the exercise addict has lost his balance: Exercise has become overvalued compared to elements widely recognized as giving meaning in a full life — work, friends, family, community involvement — in short, the fruits of our humanity.’

Given that I have a pretty active social life, am enjoying my work and do the occasional bit of volunteering, I immediately reached the conclusion that I am not one of the aforementioned addicts.

But a little further down the page, the article has the following checklist:

• I have missed important social obligations and family events in order to exercise – affirmative
• I have given up other interests, including time with friends, in order to make more time to work out – affirmative
• Missing a workout makes me irritable and depressed – negative
• I only feel content when I am exercising or within the hour after exercising – negative
• I like exercise better than sex, good food, or a movie — in fact there’s almost nothing I’d rather do – negative
• I work out even if I’m sick, injured, or exhausted. I’ll feel better when I get moving anyway – negative
• In addition to my regular schedule, I’ll exercise more if I find extra time – negative
• Family and friends have told me I’m too involved in exercise – not explicitly, but isn’t a joke just a polite way of drawing your attention to something!?
• I have a history (or a family history) of anxiety or depression – negative

So while I haven’t displayed all the signs of exercise addition, I have ticked enough of the checklist for Sharon (designer of said check list) to suggest that I potentially need to seek further help.

But that is where the difficult bit comes in. When I signed up to the Ironman, part of the deal was that sacrifices would need to be made in other areas of my life – it is 100% impossible to train for an Ironman without missing the occasional social event.

But I think the article has a very valid point, and one that I will make sure I am mindful of – life is all about balance.

Too much of anything, even if it is a good thing, is bad for you. And if variety is the spice of life, I have met some athletes who are about as spicey as a potato. I don’t want to be one of them.

Ross

He wins all the races

He wins all the races

Highlight of the week: Recapturing my love of running. It wasn’t that I didn’t like running, far from it. But getting faster became all-consuming for a bit, and very rarely was I running just for the fun of it. Since having the ITB issues I have had to do a lot of running that doesn’t involve going particularly fast, or particularly far, meaning that I have spent my time enjoying my surroundings rather than recording my splits.

Lowlight of the week: Saying that, while it is getting better, my ITB is still a limiting factor and one that doesn’t appear likely to shift anytime soon. LAME.