Kona Part 3: after the race

We were very lucky to have both scraped together enough time away from work to stay in Hawaii for an extra week after the race.  The first couple of days were spent recovering: we were both exhausted.

Two days after racing I was bored with sitting around doing nothing, and tried to go for an easy walk along the seafront in Kona.  To my great irritation, I managed about a mile before my feet had swollen up too badly to continue without inflicting further damage.  It seemed I would be mostly exploring the island from the passenger seat of the car… some highlights are below.

At the visitor information centre on Mauna Kea, an dormant volcano that you can drive up

At the visitor information centre on Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano that you can drive up

Ed inspects the place where lava meets road in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The road used to continue on from here until lava flowed over it!

Ed inspects the place where lava meets road in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The road used to continue on from here until lava flowed over it!

As the lava cools, the outside solidifies first, leaving empty “lava tubes” that you can walk through

As the lava cools, the outside solidifies first, leaving empty “lava tubes” that you can walk through

The excellent Bamboo Restaurant, located at the turnaround point in Hawi.  Delicious food, friendly service and great cocktails, as well as a shop and an art gallery.  We drove up for dinner on our last night in Hawaii

The excellent Bamboo Restaurant, located at the turnaround point in Hawi. Delicious food, friendly service and great cocktails, as well as a shop and an art gallery. We drove up for dinner on our last night in Hawaii

Clambering over the rocks by Rainbow Falls Lookout, just outside Hilo

Clambering over the rocks by Rainbow Falls Lookout, just outside Hilo

Halema'uma'u Crater, on a fairly well-behaved day

Halema’uma’u Crater, on a fairly well-behaved day

Obligatory beach picture: we spent our last day here, before heading to the airport in the early evening

Obligatory beach picture: we spent our last day here, before heading to the airport in the early evening

Thanks are due to everyone who has helped me along the way, but in particular to Ed, holding as he does the roles of chief coach, mechanic, chef, sports psychologist, chauffeur, training partner and most importantly long-suffering boyfriend and provider of hugs.

Onwards and upwards…

You can also see my race report here, and details of the week leading into the race here.

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Kona Part 2: a humbling day out

Despite the gaps in my preparation, I was still reasonably confident that I could pull off a respectable race.  I’d trained hard all year and I’d won my age group by more than 15 minutes to qualify, so surely I deserved to be here?  I was also buoyed by a decent result in Vegas 70.3 Worlds five weeks earlier, even though I’d been training for full iron distance all year and had raced with a cold.

Wristband

I had a slight altercation with the volunteer doing my body marking over the application of sunscreen when she told me not to put any on until T1, which is WTC’s official policy on the matter.  Not getting skin cancer seems a little more important somehow, and the issue of the numbers coming off could be very easily solved by allowing athletes to apply their own transfers the night before, as is done in Ironman UK.

Otherwise, race morning went smoothly, and before I knew it I was in the water, waiting for the gun.  I’d positioned myself 3 rows back from the front and towards the left of the mass of age groupers, hoping for a reasonable start – surely at Kona people would be more focused on their swimming than on punching me in the head?

Happily this proved mostly true.  Even the delightful tactic of grabbing hold of people’s legs to lever oneself past them was more smoothly executed than normal, although to my disappointment this made it more difficult to block by judicious use of kicking!

Dig Me beach (where we enter the swim) – ok, so this wasn’t actually taken on race day. I was a bit busy...

Dig Me beach (where we enter the swim) – ok, so this wasn’t actually taken on race day. I was a bit busy…

The swim went well, and I exited the water in 72 minutes, just over 3 minutes quicker than I’d gone in the practice swim the previous week, and 8 minutes quicker than my only previous non-wetsuit Ironman swim in Texas.  I was relatively slow through T1 but out on the bike soon enough.

To my shock, I was immediately being passed on the bike.  I’m used to having a good but unremarkable swim, and then gradually clawing my way back through the field on the bike.  As it turns out, I was, just more slowly than usual… Oh well, I told myself, you’re racing with the big kids now, best just get on with it!

There’s no way around it: I felt like shit on that bike course. Whether I hadn’t trained hard enough (doubtful), hadn’t acclimatised fully to the heat or the time difference (probable) or was just exhausted at the end of a long season (highly likely), it was not going to be my most stellar performance of all time.  I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was the middle of the night, and resolved just to get round and try to enjoy the race as much as possible in the process.

On my way up to Hawi I was watching for the racers ahead coming back the other way.  I saw the male pros, remember spotting Leanda Cave somewhere near the front of the women’s bike race, and then, to my lasting disappointment, began to see huge drafting packs of age groupers, with maybe up to 40 riders in some of them, coming the other way.  I didn’t see a lot going on to stop it.

As it turned out, I’d been doing OK up until the turnaround.  Around the time I reached Hawi the wind started to pick up, and as I rejoined the Queen K, I was really starting to suffer.  I’d naively worn my lovely Giro Air Attack Shield helmet, which had served me so well in Ironman UK.  But firstly the visor had fogged up and I spent the whole ride squinting; and secondly, it was not very well vented, and was stopping my body from losing heat.

I also wore a Castelli top over my trisuit that was designed to act as a skinsuit, reducing drag and keeping the sun off my shoulders.  Both this and the helmet were excellent kit that in different conditions, and probably even in these conditions on a different athlete, would work extremely well.  However for me, on this particular day, I thought afterwards that I should have chosen different kit to maximise heat loss.

Add to that the fact that, at 168 pounds (76.2 kg) on race morning, I was very much what they politely term a “larger athlete”, and that my one foray into the sauna in an attempt to acclimatise back in the UK had been swiftly aborted when it pushed my infection-ridden body to the point where I had almost fainted, and you’ll see why I was struggling in the hot and humid conditions.

I was up on the base bar by this point: getting into the aero position put just that little bit too much pressure on my stomach and I was trying hard not to be sick.  I certainly wasn’t in a state to take on any nutrition other than water.  For about an hour, the only reason I was still pedalling was to get myself back to T2, some shade and a medical tent as quickly as possible.  I had no intention of finishing the race.

I decided that the best way to simulate the conditions in which I found myself back in the UK would involve a turbo trainer, the central heating and a fleet of hairdryers, installed directly in front of me and blowing relentlessly into my face, into my eyes, into my throat…  So if I am lucky enough to qualify again in 2014, that’s what I’ll have to look forward to!

Around half an hour before T2 my mood lifted slightly.  I’d managed to force down a salt stick, which I think had helped, and figured I might as well get through T2 and out onto the run course and see what happened.  I avoided that medical tent though; I was scared they’d pull me out of the race if they saw the state I was in.

I saw Ed just before I went into T2 and, rather too long later, just after I came out.  He’d been getting very worried!  I had walked round the pier rather than running, sat down and dried my feet carefully, been slathered in sunscreen and generally taken my time to make sure I started the run in as good shape as I could manage.

When I saw him I was delighted: no longer on the bike, I was able to stop for a hug and some encouragement before walking up the hill of Palani Road and then gingerly starting to jog as I reached the flatter Ali’i Drive a couple of hundred metres later.

Given that due to injury it was the first time I’d run in five weeks…. it didn’t go so badly.  I ran / walked the first half of the marathon, with quite a bit of walking to keep my core temperature down.  I saw several people vomiting into the bushes on the run course and I was keen not to join them.

At around the half way point my legs began to seize up.  At this point I had a choice to make.  I could keep running (or, more accurately, stumbling) along and do my best to salvage my time.  Or, bearing in mind my recent injury, and desperately wanting to avoid carrying an injury into the 2014 season, I could ditch my ego and walk the rest of the marathon.

I walked.  I think it was the right decision.  Six weeks later I am uninjured and running faster than I ever have before, but that’s a story for another day.  I don’t know that it would have made much difference to my eventual time if I’d kept trying to run in any case.

It’s dark and lonely out there when night falls, without much street lighting and no spectators allowed beyond mile 13 until you come back into Kona.  I pinned on my lights and grabbed a couple of glow sticks, making sure I was as visible as possible to the few race vehicles that were out, and trudged on through the pain and boredom.  Even my walking was slow by this point.

I chatted to another guy who’d been struggling with the conditions on the way back into town.  He was good company and it helped to pass the time.  When we finally reached Palani he started to run for the finish and I thought I’d better go with him…. he wasn’t able to run for long, but cheerfully waved at me to keep going!

Spotting one of the competitors in front of me pushing a volunteer out of his way quite nastily at an aid station, I saw red and decided that for this his lasting memory of Kona should be being outsprinted to the line…..  I went flying round and down and along and finally to the red carpet, passing him easily, and a couple more people in the process.

Crossing the line, some hours later than I’d hoped! [Photo from the Livestream event broadcast]

Crossing the line, some hours later than I’d hoped! [Photo from the Livestream event broadcast]

Everything became a bit of a blur.  I remember seeing the race clock ticking, pushing into my final sprint for the line, a lei round my neck, finding Ed, who’d been volunteering and hoping to catch me, but had just missed me.  An officious American lady telling him despite the fact he was a volunteer in a volunteer area and I needed support that he couldn’t come with me to pick up my finisher bag.  A lovely German lady letting him go and pick up my bike and transition bags for me, despite the fact he wasn’t supposed to.

We dragged me and my copious amounts of Stuff to the car and headed home, along a back route that Ed had scoped out earlier in the day to avoid the road closures.  The only place still open was a petrol station, so my celebratory dinner involved a ready meal and half a pizza.  Fatigue, disappointment and relief that I’d finished both the race and the season washed over me, and I slept much better than on a normal post-Ironman restless night.

For post-race travels and holiday, see here.  For the week leading into Kona and my preparations (or lack thereof), go here.

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Kona baby! Part 1: How not to prepare for World Championships

Having qualified against all odds at IMUK, I didn’t have long to pick myself back up before Kona.  As well as a perfectly-timed and remarkably persistent chest infection, I’d had a niggling stress response in my foot ever since Bolton and had done no running at all in the lead in to Kona.  I was also 3 weeks into Project: “Learn to Ride the TT Bike”… what could possibly go wrong?

We decided not to worry too much about performance, and to treat the trip as a “fact-finding mission” so I could go back better prepared to race well in future years.  And, of course, as a holiday and end of season break after an eventful year’s racing.

The journey to Hawaii was fairly unpleasant (being in transit for over 24 hours was never going to be fun) but we eventually arrived on Friday 4th October, just over a week before the race.

Ed is defeated by the biggest plate of nachos I’ve ever seen en route in San Francisco

Ed is defeated by the biggest plate of nachos I’ve ever seen en route in San Francisco

Possibly America’s most picturesque airport

Possibly America’s most picturesque airport

At Kona airport an American lady who’d come to watch the race pointed at my t-shirt and asked if I was Canadian, then in response to my puzzled look, quickly corrected herself, “I mean, Australian”.  This was the t-shirt.  Just saying.

GB tshirt

We’d travelled earlier than previously planned so that we could both take part in the Ho’ala practice swim the following day at Dig Me beach, and stayed near Waikoloa, a 40 minute drive away from Kona itself.  Our choice of hotel was determined more by my late qualification than anything else, but it turned out to be a relief to be away from the circus in the lead-up to the race.

Sunrise from Kailua Kona Pier before the practice swim start

Sunrise from Kailua Kona Pier before the practice swim start

The swim was well organised and a reasonable simulation of the real thing, both in terms of the mass start and the course itself.  I came out in just under 74 minutes, having swallowed quite a bit of water and feeling really rather sick.  The key on race day would be making sure I didn’t swallow much or any water, even if that meant sacrificing a bit of immediate speed.

The finish arch, on the other side of the pier from race day

The finish arch, on the other side of the pier from race day

Back at our hotel, I did my last strength and conditioning session of the season and had a good stretch, then we stuck our bikes back together in preparation for the next day’s fun and games…

My first time riding on probably the famous triathlon bike course in the world…. I was excited!  We even overtook another competitor in the first few kilometres, giving me some hope that perhaps I wouldn’t be the slowest person there.  My excitement lasted a good 30 minutes until I was very nearly killed by a truck towing a boat (why is it always the ones with boats…?).

We caught up with the gentleman in charge of the vehicle at Kawaihae Harbour, and it quickly became clear that it was fully in accordance with his belief system that moving out of the shoulder to avoid some debris should be punishable by death.  I didn’t know how to argue with that: in his mind he was being perfectly reasonable.  It terrifies me that there are people like this in the world.

We carried on up to Hawi, trying to block out the fear of death by homicidal maniac and concentrate on cycling.  Given the hot weather, the fact I clearly wasn’t going to win the race anyway and the availability of coffee and ice cream, we stopped for a break at the excellent Kohala Coffee Mill at the turnaround point of the course in Hawi.

The turnaround!

The turnaround!

Ice cream sandwich, highly recommended!  Mint & chocolate ice cream between two yummy squidgy cookies (I am writing this up several weeks later while trying to lose weight and this is alternately making me want to cry / go to the fridge and eat ALL THE CHOCOLATES....)

Ice cream sandwich, highly recommended! Mint & chocolate ice cream between two yummy squidgy cookies (I am writing this up several weeks later while trying to lose weight and this is alternately making me want to cry / go to the fridge and eat ALL THE CHOCOLATES….)

The ride back home was less eventful, though more hot, than the way out.  Needless to say I was terrified on the descent from Hawi, which Ed kindly ‘made’ me do on the TT bars, but we made it back in one piece.

During the rest of the week, we did very little: short swims and rides, combined with some excellent eating, a bit (OK, quite a lot) of stash acquisition and an inordinate amount of sleep.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner of champions; if we’d spent any more time there they would probably have started charging us rent!

Breakfast, lunch and dinner of champions; if we’d spent any more time there they would probably have started charging us rent!

Sunset from the Natural Energy Lab, while we were checking out the run course

Sunset from the Natural Energy Lab, while we were checking out the run course

We found a beach near Waikoloa to swim at to avoid the journey into Kona – less crowded, but the tide was brutal the first time we swam there

We found a beach near Waikoloa to swim at to avoid the journey into Kona – less crowded, but the tide was brutal the first time we swam there

I have no excuse for this photo.  I am a terrible poser and should not be allowed to breathe.  Nearly every item of kit I own now says “Kona” on it..

I have no excuse for this photo. I am a terrible poser and should not be allowed to breathe. Nearly every item of kit I own now says “Kona” on it…

Continue to see details of the race itself, or skip to some details of Hawaii Island and post-race downtime here.

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Ironman 70.3 World Championships, Vegas, 8 Sep 2013

Having qualified for Vegas to great excitement a full year earlier, by the time the race rolled round it had become an almost unwelcome distraction from preparing for Kona.  I was exhausted after a long season and was trying to get rid of a persistent foot injury; if we hadn’t already booked for the flights and the accommodation we wouldn’t have travelled.

But we had, and so we did.  We flew with Virgin Atlantic, who have lovely comfy seats, reasonable aeroplane food (all things being relative) and don’t charge you to carry your bike as long as it’s under 23kg, all of which helped to keep stress levels down.  [NB I am not sponsored by and have no connection with Virgin…. I was just impressed by good service and being treated well!]

Arriving in Nevada in what our bodies insisted was the middle of the night, we bundled ourselves and our bikes into an enormous hire car and set off for the condo we’d rented, right by T1 and the swim start.  Having found food and shelter, we finally collapsed for the night.

Up and bouncing due to jetlag at 3am, I unpacked as much as I could without waking Ed and then started wondering how early was too early to wake him up!

Once we were both fully awake and in possession of carefully rebuilt bikes, we set off for a short ride to check out the area, heading straight for the stunning Lake Mead National Park in which the majority of the bike course unfolds.

It was almost painfully hot.  I’d been doing plenty of “sauna time” in an attempt to prepare as best I could from the UK, but I don’t know whether it had any effect.  We were out riding for 75 minutes and I was exhausted.

The next day we set off to cycle TO ANOTHER STATE.  Just because we could.

Arizona

We mixed in some swims, some short runs and plenty of good food: I was introduced to the rather excellent Trader Joe’s, as well as discovering that you could buy guns and ammunition off the shelf in Walmart and marvelling at the quantity and variety of Pop Tarts on offer.  And the fact that all prepacked salad in the US seems to come with copious amounts of cheese on top – why is this?

Unfortunately, despite eating and sleeping well, I was still feeling shattered, and three days before the race I found out why, as the unmistakable symptoms of a cold began.  Over the following days I felt rotten, but decided to race anyway – it was World Championships, we’d travelled thousands of miles at great expense to be here and used up over a week of Ed’s annual leave, so I might as well at least start the race and see what happened.

Shortly after I woke up on race morning my “cold” reached the coughing-up-yellow-stuff stage, but my mind was made up: I had a job to do and I was going to damn well do it to the best of my coughing, spluttering ability.  We went down to transition to check my bike over and discovered that, mercifully, it was raining, and hence much cooler than it had been: some luck at last!

The swim was deeply unpleasant.  A wave start, divided into gender and age group, meant that when each group started, everyone knew their direct opposition was right next to them.  The kicking, punching and clawing that ensued was the most targeted I’ve experienced in any triathlon swim, and I’d been struggling to breathe before I was even in the water…

I came out of the water in just under 37 minutes, normally a time I would have been disappointed with, but under the circumstances I didn’t care.  Rain was still pouring down and I picked my way carefully through T1 as I’d seen several others go flying in the mud.  I wasn’t after a time anyway, I just wanted to make it to the finish line.

Onto the bike and passing people, I felt more in control, and to my great relief breathing became less of a challenge.  In the cooler conditions I began to enjoy myself, and about 30km in, unexpectedly averaging over 30kph on a very hilly course [WTC’s course profile bore a directional resemblance to reality, but my Garmin clocked around double the advertised elevation!], something clicked and I started racing it.

The turnaround came earlier and with less pain than I’d thought, and I headed back with renewed optimism.  Leaving the National Park, the sun had come out and it was starting to heat up.  The last 20km into T2 included a storming descent and then a seemingly endless climb, on legs that were beginning to feel really quite tired.

I shoved my trainers on and headed out onto the by now baking run course.  It was here that I became immensely grateful for the De Soto cool wings, or “bat wings” as they are nicknamed, that I’d bought earlier in the week.  Their capacity for ice was, I discovered, just enough to get you from one aid station to the next, and I was on the receiving end of a lot of envious looks!

Having had a problem with my foot ever since Ironman UK (which I’d assumed was tendonitis, but turned out, after the race, to be tenosynovitis masking a stress response) I wasn’t sure how the run would go, but my foot seemed fine and the ice was helping me stay cool, not to mention slightly smug as lots of people had seen the rain and left their arm coolers in their T1 bag…

Realising I was on course to get my run a little under 2 hours if I pushed it, I stepped it up as the day went on, wanting to salvage something from the race.  Eventually I crossed the line in a IM 70.3 PB (by a whole minute!) of 5:43, and with a run time of 1:57, which I was pleased with given my lack of run training.

The finish line!  NB the clock shows time elapsed since the pros’ start time, rather than mine

The finish line! NB the clock shows time elapsed since the pros’ start time, rather than mine

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Ironman UK race report, 4 Aug 2013

This was rapidly rebadged as my A race of the 2013 season following a nightmare race in Texas back in May.  I was desperate to see how fast I could go and whether I could get my hands on the Kona slot that had been my motivation throughout the freezing winter!

We stayed at the Reebok Premier Inn in Bolton, I found the stadium (hard to miss!) and a retail centre nearby with Costa and Asda, as well as restaurants and a cinema.

Once in, I unpacked everything, including Ed’s bike and heavier bits of kit – he was finishing a project at work and had to travel up later, eventually arriving exhausted on Friday morning.

The next few days were spent doing last few bits of training (me) and sleeping (Ed) and checking out the race expo…

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the love of my life. Hat, WTC; sunglasses, Oakley; fashion sense, model’s own

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the love of my life. Hat, WTC; sunglasses, Oakley; fashion sense, model’s own

 

…driving the course (highly recommended if you’ve not had time to cycle it, though rumour has it the course will change in 2014 in any case)…

…and of course driving round putting bags and bikes in all the right places, as the start and T1 are at Pennington Flash, T2 is in Rivington and the finish line is in Bolton town centre.  A logistical nightmare (leave plenty of time for traffic…) but I love the feeling that you are going somewhere rather than just racing back to where you start from!

IMUK starts at 6am so it was a 3am alarm call on race day.  The hotel had laid on a buffet breakfast and porridge, so at least there was variety in the carbs I forced down.  I hate eating food that I don’t enjoy (and at 3 o’clock in the morning I don’t enjoy anything much) but it has to be done.

The coach journey down to the start went smoothly and everything was fine in transition – having not mastered the art of riding a TT bike yet I was racing on my bright blue Planet X road bike, which at least meant I would be comfortable!

I left Ed as we got into the water: unsure whether I had too much faith in my own ability, I had nevertheless decided I was fast and should start near the front!  The swim was both murky and dazzling as the early morning drizzle disappeared to leave a blinding sunrise on the way back to shore.

Coming out of the first of two swim loops, I was amazed to see 00:30:10 on the clock….”that’s great, and I’ll definitely go faster on the second lap now I’m warmed up!”  I didn’t though, as the second lap was slightly longer, but was still much quicker than I’d anticipated out of the water, in 1:02:34.

Running into T1 I heard Paul Kaye’s voice over the mic telling the world I was gunning for a Hawaii slot, shouted “Thanks Paul!” before my brain caught up with me and I realised there was no way he could hear me…. oh well.

T1 was quick (for me) and I was out on the bike before I knew it, settling into a rhythm and  getting my heart rate back to target.  Had to dodge some wobbly cyclists and dropped bottles on the access road out of T1, but was soon onto the main road.

This part of the course is slightly uphill but the “tail” up to where the 3 loop circuit starts was still my highest average speed on the bike course – once Sheep House Lane had put a dent in it, it never really recovered!

My beloved road bike! I raced mostly on the drops - no tri bars

My beloved road bike! I raced mostly on the drops – no tri bars

 

The memory of the bike course that stands out the most, however, wasn’t SHL itself but the amazing support, from the cheering and cowbells to the wonderfully dry sense of humour evidenced by some of the signs.  It makes such a difference and I’m very grateful to everyone who came out to support, especially the crew at the top of SHL (you know who you are!).

I also saw Ed walking on the bike course near the end of my second loop – he’d had to pull out of the race having suffered multiple punctures.  Thankfully he was able to let me know he was OK on my way past.

As I came into T2 with around 7 hours total time on the clock, volunteers told me I was in 6th place overall – I was amazed!  A quick change of shoes and I was off, clutching a water bottle and some bags of Jelly Babies that I later accepted I was never going to eat and chucked out at an aid station.

The first hour or so of the run was very pleasant: it starts with a welcome downhill and then takes a scenic route along a canal.  There’s no support, but hopefully you’re still feeling OK at this stage of the game…

The sharp uphill towards the start of the run loops was where everything started to unravel.  Happily this was also where the majority of spectators had gathered and some much-needed encouragement was provided!  Several people also told me I was leading my age group, and by about the 3rd or 4th I was starting to believe them…

I don’t know why, but my digestive system gave up about half way through the run and everything cramped.  I collapsed into a Portaloo at one point and the whole world seemed to be swaying.  I walked the next mile or so, doubled over with agonising stomach cramps.

Eventually I forced myself to keep running, telling myself through gritted teeth that if I didn’t run now, all those 4-hour turbo sessions over the winter would have been for nothing!

The second half of the marathon was some of the worst pain I’ve ever experienced.  In my former life as a rower I was used to pushing my body through screaming pain for minutes rather than hours.  I ran seemingly forever round those loops, terrified that I would be caught – I’d clocked the girls in 2nd and 3rd place and saw them every time I went past.  My only consolation was that they looked in similar condition to me.

It wasn’t until after the last turnaround, when I’d looked at my watch and measured 8 minutes until I ran past the girl in second as she headed for the turnaround herself, that I really believed I could win.  My brain shifted into “now just don’t screw it up” mode and I kept on running, just concentrating on not tripping over my own feet – my clumsiness means this is far from impossible!

At long, long last I made it to the red carpet, which cruelly bends around away from the line before finally taking you up to the finish arch.  I could hear Joanne’s voice calling me in, though I couldn’t make out what she was saying, and mustered up what passed for a sprint to the line, before collapsing and being unceremoniously dumped into a wheelchair.

I confirmed I’d won my age group and found out I had come 12th overall – not bad for a novice, although obviously I was grumpy that I hadn’t gone faster…

Having scorned the provision of pizza in the finish tent prior to the race on the basis that it wasn’t healthy recovery food, I was obviously not to be found, five minutes later, scoffing as much of the stuff as I could fit into my mouth, while wurbling at Ed alternately between mouthfuls “I won?!?!?” and “Yaaaaaaaay Kona!”, with the occasional “er, can we afford to go to Kona?” that must cross most qualifiers’ minds.

The rest of the day is unsurprisingly a bit of a haze, mostly involving collecting bikes and bags and not being able to finish my dinner.  Ed had taken advantage of his DNF to inform the world how I was doing via social media – I loved the response, but there were more messages than I could possibly reply to in my broken state in one evening.

The next day we went over to the stadium to pick up the Kona slot (and the lei of course) and then back to the hotel to pack up before the awards ceremony, during which copious amounts of coffee and bacon roll were consumed.  Race organisers please note: all awards ceremonies should have coffee and bacon rolls!

Then, this being the UK, we drove 230 miles home in the kind of rain that’s so heavy it washes away cyclists, dogs and small children, gleefully plotting our trip to Kona and stopping every now and again for another celebratory coffee and cake.

It's official!

It’s official!

Excellent trophy.  Totally proportional to the magnitude of the achievement.  TOTALLY.

Excellent trophy. Totally proportional to the magnitude of the achievement. TOTALLY.

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Wimbledon winners and women’s sport, July 2013

The Wimbledon controversy continues but a far more endemic problem was illustrated beautifully this morning by the Metro.

Its sole nod to the existence of women’s sport in today’s paper was an article and photo saying that actually Marion Bartoli did look hot in a dress and heels at the after party, the strong implication being that this of course makes everything OK after all.  I’m sure this is of great comfort to womankind in general and her in particular.

When it could have been reporting on, say, the final on Sunday of the Giro Rosa, the nearest thing women have to the Tour de France, which as far as I can tell has gone completely unnoticed by the UK non-cycling media http://velonews.competitor.com/2013/07/news/mara-abbott-clinches-title-in-2013-giro-rosa_294132

Or a 30-minute women’s course record at the iron distance Outlaw triathlon this weekend http://triathlete-europe.competitor.com/2013/07/08/grant-gill-win-the-outlaw-triathlon

Or, for those who prefer football, the fact that women’s Euro 2013 is about to kick off tomorrow http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/23241448

The “77 years since a Brit won Wimbledon, unless you think women are people too” comment was eerily accurate: we don’t think women are people too.  Or if we do, we certainly don’t show it.

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A weekend of mixed emotions, 23 June 2013

At last I’ve had my first “successful” triathlon experience of the year, where I was racing from the gun to the finish line, rather than being knocked off my bike or trying to work out what the strange rattling noise coming from the vague direction of the bottom bracket might be.

I competed in the Boskman race run by the very lovely people at http://www.racenewforest.co.uk/ whose events I can’t recommend highly enough.  Everything was exceptionally well organised and the atmosphere was friendly and relaxed.

And they do awesome t-shirts!

And they make awesome t-shirts!

The Boskman itself is a sadly underrated race.  It’s an ideal iron distance preparation race, comprising a 2.6k swim, 120k bike and half marathon.  The longer-than-half-iron swim and bike make the race a more accurate simulation of the iron distance than a half iron race.  Keeping the run to an (albeit challenging, off-road and hilly) half marathon, however, limits the damage and prevents recovery time from becoming too much of an issue.

Being able to acquire coffee before a race makes me very happy...

Being able to acquire coffee before a race makes me very happy…

It's a glamorous sport we do

It’s a glamorous sport we do

Just before the swim start

Just before the swim start

The swim was 2 clockwise laps; I managed to draft for some of it and was delighted when I came out of the water in around 41 minutes [NB in the online results, “swim” times are really “swim + T1”].  I wobbled out onto my bike in second place…

…and stayed there, despite having the fastest bike split of the day.  Frustratingly I didn’t quite have the game to catch the leader, but I was disproportionately pleased with my 3:59:28 split, having spent the last few km battling into an ever-increasing head wind to try and sneak under 4 hours.

Starting the run in second place, the only way I was going to go was down, and so it was as I was caught around the half way point.  The girl passing me looked utterly bewildered by my “well done, she’s about ten minutes ahead, go and catch her!” – I was so resigned to the fact I was going to lose time on the run that I saw no harm in a bit of encouragement.  Not a policy I normally operate, admittedly!

Yes, I've forgotten to take my cycling gloves off in T2. Again.

Yes, I’ve forgotten to take my cycling gloves off in T2. Again.

I crossed the line in 6:47, a time that would have won in every previous year the race has been run…. This year it was good enough for 3rd, which meant that as well as my finisher medal I was given a rather snazzy trophy and prize money in the form of bike shop vouchers!  [I used it to buy inner tubes.  Oh.  So.  Glamorous.  But still, prize money woo!]

Boskman trophy

Back home it was lovely to see Ed, who had been intending to race Ironman Nice that weekend, but was prevented from travelling by yet another work crisis.  My anger at his employer for stopping him from doing the race he’d been so looking forward to vaporised as I started reading reports of a death during the race in Nice, all the more so as the details started coming in.

The reports stated that a 30-year-old British man had crashed on the bike course and hadn’t survived.  Had Ed travelled to the race, I would have been going completely nuts around now, as that description fitted him exactly.

The media seemed to think so too, and I can only describe their behaviour as appalling.  As Ed showed up on the start list and not the finish list, and as the identity of the man hadn’t been released, journalists started to call him – he remarked on the disappointment he heard in their voices when they found out he was alive.

The ones he didn’t call back were even camped outside his family’s house in pursuit of a story, having not been able to find out our address as we’d only recently moved.

All the media nonsense was upsetting enough with Ed sitting next to me alive and well.  For us, all it led to was some extra brake checks, and holding each other a little tighter at night for a few days.

I can’t begin to imagine the effect it had on the family of the poor guy who actually died out there in the race – my heart goes out to them.

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Ironman Texas! My first Ironman, 18th May 2013

Note: This was written as more of a “note to self, or others who are interested in racing Ironman Texas” before I had thought of writing a blog.  It is included here for interest and completeness’ sake.  For now I’ve stuck a few pictures in, and may one day get round to updating the style of the text so that it fits in better with the rest of the blog!

First Ironman – chose Texas as it was early season and flat

Flew BA Sat 11 May, dep LHR 1420 arr IAH 1830 – flight was delayed by just over an hour and US immigration took just over an hour so got through immigration at 2045, i.e. 0245 next day UK time.

Rented pickup truck from Enterprise at airport – needed something big enough for 2 bike boxes plus luggage. NB price quoted for car rental in Texas does not include ANY insurance – you have to buy each of third party, own insurance, medical insurance and breakdown cover separately.  We bought all bar medical insurance (travel insurance covered this) plus 1 tank of petrol prepaid, plus $10 / day for a second driver, and it came to $1,350 for 9 days.

Stayed here http://www.vrbo.com/346118 V nice, would recommend. Not cheap but nice to have own cooking facilities and more space than you’d get in a hotel.

This place does great breakfasts and ok other meals (menu on website, lots of free parking) http://www.blackwalnutcafe.com/woodlands.html

Houston Zoo is not too far away, quite small but good for kids (and big kids)… We particularly enjoyed the sealions!

Ed zoo      sealions

Bought groceries at HEB in the Woodlands on Market Street, reasonable amount of parking though busy at weekends.  Also on Market Street is a shop called Luke’s Locker which sells running kit and nutrition.  Staff were really helpful and answered all sorts of queries like where to swim, where to buy a ridiculous Texan cowboy hat, etc. without batting an eyelid! http://www.lukeslocker.com/company/locations/Woodlands/

The race guide suggests swimming at a pool that is only open 7.30pm-8.30pm in race week – we swam instead at the CISD Natatorium which is open 9-1 Mon-Fri and is amazing – 50m pool, very clean and I think we had a lane to ourselves every time we went swimming.  $6 a swim, lots of free parking. Website down at time of writing but should be back at http://athletics.conroeisd.net/aquatics/

Went to this bike store for CO2s, bento box and other bike supplies http://www.bikelandusa.com/

Silly hat and boots. It was some months after the race before my feet were in good enough condition to wear the boots again...

Silly hat and boots. It was some months after the race before my feet were in good enough condition to wear the boots again…

We couldn’t safely cycle far out of where we were staying – roads were 3 lanes and more akin to a motorway in the UK.  Instead drove out to about mile 20 on the course and rode out from there which was fine – though drivers are still less aware of bikes than in the UK.

Race registration was straightforward and there are plenty of stash opportunities at the expo.  Pre-race briefing on Thursday was very hard to hear and it was only there we found out the race would NOT be closed roads although junctions would be marshalled.  There was quite a bit of traffic on the course on the day, mostly fine, sometimes slightly scary and I heard one instance of cyclists being run off the road…

Practice swim was uneventful – I tried out both my swim skin and my wetsuit as the water temperature on Friday was 76.0 degrees.  Usually it’s higher by this time of year so you can expect to race in a swim skin if you want to be eligible for AG awards and Kona slots.  On Friday you do appear to be able to park at the swim start though you can’t on race day.

Did one last bike ride then went to rack bike and bags – all straightforward so got this done then headed home to rest, stretch and make up nutrition which went in the fridge overnight.

Bikes in transition and the swim exit

Bikes in transition

IMTX swim exit

Swim exit

While in America we’d tried to stay close to UK time, going to bed at 9pm every day, so my usual pre-race inability to sleep til “really late” only had me awake til 11pm.  A 4.15am alarm call on race morning wasn’t tooooo hideous as a result!

Had my usual pre-training breakfast of porridge and bananas then got a lift down to transition where we put nutrition on our bikes, checked the tyres and then headed over to the swim start.  The water temperature was being read out in transition as 77.9 degrees so I left the wetsuit in the car.

Got to the swim start about 6.20.  Body marking was really quick but the loo queue was terrible – 2,500 athletes divided by 30 portaloos = a long wait!  Finally got to the front of the queue at about 6.53, and into the water at 6.56 just in time for the AG start at 7am.  Got myself near but not too near the front and waited…

For the first time ever I actually heard the start gun, loud and clear, and we were off!  Having only done a wave start before I wasn’t sure what to expect from a mass start but it seemed pretty violent.  Chatting to other people later in the day I got the impression others had found it a bit of a punchup too.  Still I seemed to find that whenever people started grabbing my feet I just had to kick hard a couple of times and they stopped bothering me…

I would recommend going quite wide round the first 2 turn buoys – I went close to the first one and lost time as I had to slow down due to sheer number of people in front of me all going at the speed of the slowest.  Did manage to relax for parts of the swim and think about technique and quite enjoyed some of it!  The canal section at the end was busy for some people as it is narrower so there is less space for people to spread out but personally I didn’t find it too bad – I came out of the water in 1:20 which is a fairly average time.

Ran through T1 and a really helpful volunteer helped me get my race belt, helmet , gloves and shoes on, food and drink in.  Volunteers put suncream on you between the change tent and the bike racking but if you burn easily take your own – I burnt badly despite suncream before the race, at T1, T2 and several times during the run.  Grabbed my bike and ran to the mount line, T1 in 4.25.

Got on the bike and headed out of town – I was riding a Planet X road bike which was very unusual – I only saw a very few other road bikes there, and I don’t think any of the others were without aero bars (it’s my first year cycling so haven’t learnt to use them yet).  As expected I was overtaking as soon as I was on the bike and wasn’t too spooked by the traffic.

My ride unfortunately turned into a tale of two halves…. for the first 50 miles I really enjoyed the rolling course, ate and drank to schedule and averaged 36kph without really struggling, right on target.  However at the aid station just after mile 50 another rider ploughed into the back of me – one minute I was reaching out for a water bottle, the next I was lying on the floor screaming…

The volunteers at the aid station were AMAZING – they picked me up, picked my bike up, got the chain back on the bike for me while I got some water down my throat, and saw me back on my way.  My helmet seemed a bit loose and I adjusted it as I rode along, and also noticed some road rash on my elbow and shoulder, but otherwise all seemed OK initially.  I later realised my helmet had been split into two pieces and all that was holding it together was the outer shell and the Velcro lining…

After the crash I felt sick, had a headache and had to dial down the power output to stop myself being sick – I knew if I started throwing up it was game over.  Only managed to eat twice between the crash and T2 as I was feeling increasingly nauseous, and it was a relief when T2 finally came round.  My final bike split was 5.33 – not what I wanted but the best I could do in the circumstances.  With any hope of a Kona slot out the window, I planned to walk the first couple of miles of the marathon and see if my stomach would calm down enough to let me run after that.

I left my shoes on the bike when I handed it to a volunteer and started to run to pick up my run bag.  Big mistake.  Huge.  As I ran from the grass where the bikes were racked onto the ground where the bags were waiting I felt my feet start to burn…

Hopping and swearing, I grabbed my bag and headed into the run tent, changed my shoes and headed out onto the run course, pausing for more suncream and some ice to shove down my top.  The first couple of miles weren’t too bad but I was aching from the crash and the soles of my feet were gradually turning into two massive blisters, so I spent most of the first lap hobbling round with a very odd gait, gritting my teeth and crying.

Eventually I stopped crying and started chatting to other people which helped me get round – every step was agony and the marathon ended up taking me 8 ½ hours – I’m pretty sure it was the slowest marathon of the day.  I considered binning the race several times as I am due to race at ITU LD Worlds on 1st June and wanted to be in a fit state to do that, but I figured the damage had already been done so I may as well press on.  Finally stumbled over the finish line at 10.40pm, finding myself sadly unable to get excited by the whole “YOOOOU AAAAARE AN IRONMAAAAN” thing having fallen so far short of expectations.

IMTX finisher stash

IMTX finisher stash

Went home, took socks and shoes off, felt physically sick at state of feet.  Toenails purple and some distance from toes. Slept.  Got on plane (BA dep IAH 2040 Sun arr LHR 1145 Mon).  Feet swelled to twice normal size.  Got pushed through T5 in wheelchair – cabin crew were lovely and very helpful – glad we flew BA.  When we got to baggage reclaim realised someone had accidentally picked up my blue BBA bike box thinking it was theirs and gone home with it. Went home. Cried some more. Slept for 3 days. Now feeling a bit better and it’s even looking like I might not lose the toenails after some careful lancing, draining and bandaging of blisters [they fell off about 4 weeks later…].  Recommend NOT getting a transatlantic flight 24 hours after a hot humid Ironman…

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Galway Ironman 70.3 triathlon

Galway 70.3, 2nd Sept 2012: My first triathlon, and the most positive sporting experience I had in 2012 by a factor of lots

I entered this race to give me something to pull myself out of the pit of sadness I’d found myself stuck in after my body and mind forced me to take a break from rowing.  The challenge of mastering three new sports certainly took my mind off the situation, and provided an outlet for the stress, anger and misery that I otherwise turned in on myself.

The three months before the race must have been entertaining for the few people who I’d confided in that I had entered.  At first I could barely swim or run, and my handling on a bike would have been funny had it not been so dangerous.  However, I worked hard and arrived in Galway reasonably confident that I could at least get round without drowning, crashing or breaking a leg!

One of the most striking differences between triathlon and rowing was how friendly everyone seemed – Ed and I quickly made friends, whereas at rowing races everyone had stalked around, sizing up the opposition and avoiding eye contact.  In fairness, it may also have helped that we were going from the tiny world of rowing, where I’d been seen by many as a serious threat, to the anonymity of a random race in a sport I’d never done before.

Everything was new, and even going to register was exciting: rowing regattas, even international ones, have at most somewhere to buy coffee and, if you’re lucky, a couple of kit shops for spares.  At the circus that is the Ironman expo I was far worse than any kid in a sweetshop has ever been!

I think Ed was mostly overjoyed that I had stopped randomly bursting into tears and started being ridiculously excited about something!

I think Ed was mostly overjoyed that I had stopped randomly bursting into tears and started being ridiculously excited about something!

 

Irontat – of which I fully availed myself.  You can fit a heroic quantity of tea into one of those mugs!

Irontat – of which I fully availed myself. You can fit a heroic quantity of tea into one of those mugs!

All that remained other than eating, resting and racking our bikes and bags was the practice swim, the day before race day.  I’d been in open water a few times at the excellent Shepperton Lake but that in no way replicated the conditions in the North Atlantic.  The waves were several feet high and left me more than a little nervous about the following morning.

Safely back at the B&B after my first sea swimming experience

Safely back at the B&B after my first sea swimming experience

The only garment in the world less flattering than rowing lycra?

The only garment in the world less flattering than rowing lycra?

Race day finally came; to my surprised I woke up at 4am having had a reasonable sleep!

At this point I can’t praise the B&B we stayed at, Ard Mhuire, highly enough.  Not only had they let us bring bikes into the B&B, which I’d thought would be a problem given the lovely cream carpets you can see in the photos above, but to make it easier for us to do so they’d given us a larger room free of charge and made sure we had a ground floor room.

On race day, as well as leaving out a delicious breakfast for us (the existence of Irish soda bread being perhaps the most important learning from this race), they had left these:

Galway best B&B owner in the world ever

My logic here is that I have given up drinking, partying and many types of really very tasty food in the pursuit of sporting excellence, therefore I will damn well drink as much caffeine as I want.  When I’d had to get up at a time that even in the rowing world still counted as the middle of the night, being able to take coffee down to the start made things seem far more civilised!

Having seen Ed off in an earlier wave, I waited impatiently until it was my turn to get into the water.  I put myself rather ambitiously close to the front of the group for someone of my swimming experience, and waited…

I never heard the start, but suddenly everyone around me was swimming.  As I started the swell didn’t seem to be too bad, but as we went on it became steadily worse.  I discovered that when you’re not in a pool, can’t see any buoys and have no sense of time, the swim seems to last forever.

As we continued I was swallowing more and more water, and started to feel really quite unwell.  Eventually I was sick, almost before I’d realised what was going on, and felt instantly better.  I wondered, fleetingly, what to do next: did I have to stop racing?  How stupid would I feel if I didn’t finish my first race?  I’d heard how important nutrition was for long-distance racing, and was sure throwing up your breakfast before you’d even got onto the bike wasn’t part of a successful day out.

I decided that I might as well keep going and see what happened: unless my body broke down and gave me no choice, I would plough on regardless.  It seemed like an age until I came out onto the beach, pulling off my hat and goggles and stripping my wetsuit to the waist, just like I’d practised.  I found some Shot Bloks in my trisuit pocket that I’d forgotten to eat before the race and stuffed them in – they took the sicky taste away and I didn’t think any more about it until after I’d finished.

0227_06357 - cropped

Out of T1 and onto the out-and-back bike course, I started eating and drinking, sticking exactly to the plan I’d gone through with Ed before the race.  This is the only time I’ve ever fully managed to do so, and is probably one of my better races relative to my fitness and technical ability… draw your own conclusions!

Overtaking on the way out.  It really isn’t about the bike.  Or the wheels.  Or the pointy hat.

Overtaking on the way out. It really isn’t about the bike. Or the wheels. Or the pointy hat.

I don’t remember a huge amount about the bike, except that I was going faster than I’d thought I could before the race: I was hoping to average over 30kph and my bike computer said 32.7kph as I came into T2.

Having already sustained my first running injury, I’d done very little running in the weeks before the race.  I was hoping to run under 2 hours but as my legs stiffened up I wasn’t left with much choice but to slow down.  I did see Ed, out on the 3-lap course, which gave me a boost – I’m always relieved when I know he’s safely off the bike.

I crossed the line in 5 hours 44 minutes, with a frustrating run time of 2:02.  Still, not too bad overall, and I’d hoped to come in the right side of 6 hours so I was as happy with it as I’ve ever been with a time!

Galway finish line

Ed was there waiting for me at the finish line, which was lovely.  We hobbled off to get some food and drink, then back to the B&B to clean up.  A few hours later we dragged ourselves back into town for the awards ceremony and rolldown, just in case there was any chance of me bagging a spot to 70.3 World Championships in Vegas the following September.

We looked at the results board.  I’d come 6th in my age group.  The chance of the one slot rolling down to me was vanishingly small.  We ummed and ahhed over whether it was worth sticking around on the off-chance, keen to go to dinner and celebrate what we had achieved rather than waiting for an indefinite amount of time for something that was almost certain not to happen.

I mentioned this train of thought to a friend we’d made earlier in the week; she looked at me and said sternly, “Frankie, the slot might roll down, or even if it’s taken, one might roll down from another age group.  If you want to go to worlds, always go to rolldown!”  And so we did.

We’d thought the slot in my age group had been taken by the winner.  We’d even seen her holding the envelope with the details in it.  She must have picked it up to have a look, decided not to accept it and given it back.  When Paul Kaye, the announcer, got to the F25-29 age group, I started hearing the magic words “We roll down”.  As it got to third, fourth, fifth place and hadn’t been taken, I could feel my heart thudding through my chest.

I’d met Paul before the race and he’d told me that as a former rower he thought I’d do well, but still nothing can excuse the screaming, the mad dash to the stage, the poor bloke in the aisle who I sent flying in my hurry to accept the slot or the overenthusiastic hugs I gave both to Paul and to the guy handing out the 70.3 casino tokens that function both as proof of qualification and as a keepsake.

So the moral of the story is, indeed: Always Go To Rolldown.

So the moral of the story is, indeed: Always Go To Rolldown.

After registering me for the race, Ed and I went for that celebratory dinner

After registering me for the race, Ed and I went for that celebratory dinner

I attempt to prove that my days of drunkenly stealing random items are not over by begging the owner of a pub to let me keep the race flag from her wall – she was only too happy to oblige!

I attempt to prove that my days of drunkenly stealing random items are not over by begging the owner of a pub to let me keep the race flag from her wall – she was only too happy to oblige!

After another excellent breakfast, we returned home the next day – I can highly recommend not driving from Galway to London the day after a half ironman – with my battered self-esteem finally on the mend and the spark that had so nearly gone out reignited.

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