Saturday, March 1, 2014
Ironman New Zealand: Giving it everything I've got, and then some!
Be warned! This race report is my full report, and therefore is quite long. Of note, I’d written all of this up to the bike start prior to the race and very little changed for me to edit. I sometimes use my race report preparation for my visualization and preparation for race day. It was a good idea! Went to bed around 9pm the night before the race and got up every 2-3 hours briefly. At 1pm I ate half of a clif bar with a little water. Woke up around 4pm and finished my clif bar and ate most of a yam...got everything out of the refrigerator for my special needs bags and put on my race outfit. I had decided to wear the top of my trisuit under my wetsuit, knowing that in the four minute run to the first transition, it would mostly dry out. Plus, I always have a heck of a time putting the damn thing on in transition, and I just didn’t want to waste that time today. I then applied sunscreen everywhere I could think of...that was going to be a major theme for the day, every chance I would get. Also, put on some chamois butter in the necessary places. Sipped some water...really avoiding any pure sugar, there is no reason for my body to feel the stimulus of sugar at this point, as I’m really believing the concept of focusing on fat burning early in the race. Put on my race chip around my left ankle...I never want to forget that. I had brought warm clothing as it would definitely be cool in the morning...no shivering allowed. Get the clothes on and make sure I have everything I need. By the way, bathroom breaks are typically sprinkled in throughout the morning preparation. Went downstairs for the breakfast at the hotel and got in a few more calories before heading back up to the room to make final preparations.
Took the van to the race site and went right away to check my bike. I had pumped my tires up to about 130psi the day before, so while they might have come down a bit, there was no need to pump them up further. Put my bottle of Tailwind nutrition between my aero bars and filled my Shiv’s “bladder” with water. Then, put my red potatoes in olive oil and salt in my new Fuelcell and in my aero bento box on my top tube. Check, Check and check! Checked to make sure my helmet was still secure and left it just like it was on the bike, since it worked to be there overnight, there was no need to fiddle with it.
Time to get to the changing tent and put on my wetsuit. Thankfully, my coach had given me excellent instructions yesterday to put my wetsuit on in a way that would minimize it being too tight. Body glide and vaseline (organic vaseline, that is) on my ankles first...put on wetsuit from the legs and pull it up, and then pull it up some more. The key is to pull the wetsuit up all the wait to the crotch so that there is no space left, this will let me pull the wetsuit up further on my torso, where the major tightness problems could be. Now, more body glide and vaseline around my neck (never like to have chafing around the neck), and then on my forearms. Then, put the wetsuit on both arms and pull them up. Finally, pull the wetsuit up from the bottom of the torso to make sure that there is plenty of “give” in the shoulder area. Done! Walk towards the beach and take the clothes I’d been wearing and take them to the drop area in my black “drop bag”. I will leave my shoes on at this point...they are to be discarded down by the beach, but why not maintain some warmth and avoid stepping on anything at this point.
Got down to the beach around 6:40, just in time to see the professionals start the race. It’s not quite sunrise, but it is always an impressive site to observe, albeit briefly, the start of an ironman. Once the pros are off, into the water. The plan, suggested to me the day before by Marcus and Muirie’s friend, was to get to deep enough water where I’ll have to tread, the newbies and the poorer swimmers will not be here, but stay left of the best swimmers. The water is a bit chilly, but moving around in it, gets me acclimated. I splash cold water on my face (a lesson I learned long ago), and went under to get a little water in my wetsuit. As the water in the wetsuit warms to body temperature, I’m comfortable and settled in. There’s so much adrenaline, it’s really hard to be too cold at this point. Managed to get in a few strokes and continued to tread water in a way to keep my arms mobile, this will help once the gun sounds. Started feeling a little chilled, but it was almost time for the start.
The gun sounds and we’re off, me and 1750 other athletes, moving forward in the washing machine that is an ironman swim start. I made sure that I was horizontal when the gun went off, that is key, and I took off as hard as I could, bodies flying everywhere, trying to go over me, around me, whatever. But today, I’ll have none of it...I keep my head up and keep my elbows up and I make my way forward without getting hit today. There are people everywhere, but they’re not impeding me. In fact, I’m getting a pretty good draft. It’s my goal to breath every 4th stroke, to better maintain my form and perhaps lessen the chance of sucking water in. However, at the start I’m breathing every 2nd stroke in order to go all out. I’m also trying to increase my arm turnover a bit today to keep my moving forward. Not that I’m really trying anything new on race day, but I did read an article that talked about the fact that when your arms aren’t moving, you’re decelerating. Will have to discuss this with my coach later. I had scoped out the course and it was simple. Site initially to the big hill in the background and then site to the left of it as you get further along. By the halfway point of the leg out I’m about 10 meters from the red buoys, where I stay until the turnaround, when I swim about 5 meters past in order to avoid the scrum that usually occurs at the buoy, except, I see open water at the 2nd turnaround buoy and swim past it. On the way back in, I keep drafting off other swimmers, and also keep a good line from buoy to buoy.
Ironman is all about being in the moment and it starts with the swim. I really don’t care how long the swim takes, I’m there, just trying to do my best and enjoying it. So, that’s what I’m doing. I know I’m having my best swim ever, but I actually try not to dwell on that, I want to enjoy the entire swim and stay in the moment.
As I make my way into shore, I’m prepared to do dolphins as soon as I get to thigh deep water. I’ve practiced and realized that I can do it without blowing up. It’s faster than walking! I really don’t want to walk in the water if I can help it! I actually make it almost all the way to the shore before I stand up.
My time out of the water is 1:08:56, my best ironman swim time by a few minutes. I’m 17th in my age group and 541st overall (out of over 1500 people)
As soon as I emerge from the water, it’s off with the top of my wetsuit and start jogging to the transition...slowly. I don’t want to overexert myself, but I also want to keep moving. I make my way along the green carpet, I feel good, I love doing an ironman! There’s a slight chill in the air, but the excitement and the adrenaline of the day, as well as a solid swim, has warmed my body up. I get to the stairs and walk up them, no need to expend too much energy for no reason at this point of the day. When I reach the top of the stairs I can see the transition tents to my left. Get my bag for transition and into the tent.
I get to a chair in the transition tent, by the way, which was very different from Lake Tahoe...about three times the size, lots of room... and, off with the wetsuit...one thing about my new wetsuit, it comes off quickly! Opening my transition bag, I take out my bike shoes. Off with my goggles and swim cap, on with my headband and sunglasses. Sunscreen on my legs, arms and face. Arm warmers on, which is always more difficult that I plan for...my Castelli arm warmers are great, but they’re a tight fit...I struggle a little with them. Shoes on. Now, put the plastic bags under my tri top...makeshift windbreaker that our bike mechanic, Blair, suggested to me yesterday! I decided during the run that it was warm enough that I didn’t need to put gloves on. My Gabba top is still in the bag...no, don’t need it... That’s it! Time to get out of transition...I had taken a little extra time putting sunscreen on, so my transition was probably a couple of minutes longer than the 8 minutes I’d planned for. I came out of the tent, my bike is to my right, there’s an opening between a couple of bikes in the rack, so I pop underneath, as one of the volunteers had suggested the day before, and get to my bike. Take the visor out of my helmet, put it on my aero bar, take the helmet off the bike, put it on, buckle it, visor on...take my bike off the rack and off to the exit. My transition time is 9:53. Not too bad for this course. After the bike exit I reach the point where I can mount my bike...get on, clip in, and here I go!
My mantra today is to stay relaxed. Already I start thinking about keeping my neck and arms relaxed, and just find a nice cadence and spin on the bike...there’s a bit of wind about, but going out it’s a tailwind. I settle in and start thinking about being in the moment and enjoying the day. I’m flying. I get to the first hill out of Taupo and quickly get into my lowest gear (39/32) and easily spin up it to conserve energy. I’m already using the advice I was given the day before my Marcus and Muirie’s friend, who is a race marshall, to stay about one meter inside the white line, using the track that the car tires run over to get smoother rode on the chip seal that makes this race so iconic.
Once on the road out to Reporoa I discover the challenge of the new 10 meter drafting rule. Historically, one must stay 7 meters behind the bike in front of you. The new rule is 10 meters. Hah! I sometimes felt that I was the only one doing this. I would be passed by a group of riders, some even riding two abreast, and watch them move up the road, definitely not separating. Of course, in the early part of the race, it’s crowded. While my plan was to conserve energy during the first leg of the bike, I realize that if I continue to focus on not drafting, I might be going backwards based on the dynamics that have started to pan out. So, I look for my best opportunities to move into and through these packs, and do so, all the while never allowing my quads to burn or my breathing to go up too much. I’m passed by a bunch of people initially going up the hill, and in fact, up most hills, as they’re ignoring their wattage and I’m not. Of course, on the downhills and flats, I pass them back. I feel like after initially being passed by a bunch of people, I spend the rest of the day passing them back . I really have to pay attention to the drafting situation, but I do so.
The ride is quite beautiful, through the New Zealand countryside, with the occasional smell of cow pastures, which isn’t bad, since I grew up near similar pastures. The smell is familiar to me. The kilometers and passing quickly, 10, 20, 30, 40, and I’m already at the turnaround of the first loop. I feel like I’m having a solid bike ride. I’m also truly in the moment today, time in some ways is standing still, so no matter what, it doesn’t seem like it’s taking a long time. I work my way back to Taupo against a headwind and keep wondering, where’s the climb before we get back to town? Finally, I reach it and it really slows me down. I’m climbing against a tailwind. Some people are again passing me, but it’s not too bad, and I’m actually continuing to pass others. This part did seem to go on for awhile, far longer than I’d expected, and it’s probably the main area of the bike where I lost most of my time. My legs feel good, although I have an occasional twinge in my hamstrings. Finally, we’re descending back into Taupo, and as we get into town, going through a fenced in section of the course, I’m behind a woman, but choose not to pass her. What did I get for this act of chivalry? She sits up on her bike and pees! Fortunately, I slow down and avoid the stream of urine that is coming my way.
I make my way through town and back up the hill out of Taupo, again, getting into my lowest gear and spinning up the hill. The second trip out is quite uneventful, save the occasional challenge of passing the packs of people who are ignoring the drafting rules. There were a lot of people filling up the penalty tents, however, so the draft marshals were hard at work today. I can safely say the with one technical exception, I didn’t draft today. There was one time that I worked my way through about 8 of 10 people in a tight group, felt a little tired and tried to settle in behind the final two. I was closer than 10 meters, and I didn’t take too before passing them. At first I tried to slow a little to extend the distance, but this is technical illegal, once you get in someones draft zone, you have to pass them. Still, not bad for 112 miles.
A comment about the chip seal. There was a part of the course where they just put in new chip seal. It was bumpy! Still, my Specialized Shiv ate up the bumps and wasn’t all that uncomfortable. Also, there was a moment on the second loop where a van came by me at a high rate of speed and probably came within a foot of me, or at least so it seemed.
Nutrition. Ironman is about nutrition, and I tried something new today. I used a product called Tailwind. I had 800 cal in a bottle between my aero bars and kept putting that in the bladder in my bike. I also had three red potatoes at the start of the bike. I ate them intermittently. I always have trouble with cramping, and today was no exception, except for the fact that it was more manageable than ever. It didn’t slow me down and it wasn’t debilitating. The feeling kept coming and going. When I got to my special needs bag around mile 56, I took out my second bottle of nutrition and a fourth red potatoe, put them on my bike and jumped into the port-a-potty, where I spent about 5 minutes clearing out my colon and bladder (which was quite full by the way...I just can’t pee on my bike). I also took the opportunity, while in the port-a-potty, to reapply sunscreen!
Back on the course, I passed most of the people who passed me while I was in the port-a-potty. Again, the time passed quickly and I really felt like I was in for a fast bike split. However, I could feel the winds changing and the tailwind on the way out seemed to be more of a crosswind. The headwinds on the return trip were definitely greater and I began noticing some fatigue in my quads. Still, I never felt tired or fatigued today. I really felt like I was maintaining my wattage, although I might have taken it down a notch once I reached the climb at mile 100...which again, felt like it went on for awhile. I didn’t want to stand at this point because when I did my quads were talking to me. Again, I was passed by some riders on the hill, but seemed to catch them again on the way into town. Riding back into Taupo, I was feeling pretty good, although I knew by now that my quads were not feeling good. I can’t say that they were cramping or anything, but I had definitely used them on the bike. I only used about 400 calories of my Tailwind nutrition on the ride back into town, as I was probably modulating my GI issues, and I did finish my red potato. So, My caloric intake for the bike was about 1200 cal or Tailwind and about 600 calories with my potato, for about 300 cal/hour. This seemed to work.
My bike split was 6:17:31, for 21st in my age group and 670th overall. This was my fastest ironman bike split, better than the 2011 Ironman St. George. While this course had only about 3000 feet of climbing, the headwinds definitely made it tougher than it could have been. Also, I kept my focus on the bike the entire time..and the time actually went by fast. So fast, that I was surprised to see the time when I arrived at the bike return. Oh well, everyone had to deal with conditions today.
I arrived in transition and got my bag and made my way into the tent. While a volunteer dumped my stuff out of the bag, I went to the urinal that was set up in the corner of transition, nice touch! I probably spent about 3 minutes there as I peed (clear, by the way, so I clearly had adequately hydrated during the bike). Put vaseline on both feet, pulled up my new compression socks, the left one ripping at the top, not a problem. Put on my shoes, my hat, my race belt and my fuel belt, and out of transition onto the run.
Ah, the run! The challenge of ironman. It was my goal to run under 4 hours today. That said, my main goal was to run the whole time (with the exception of walking breaks at the support stations). I also was planning to maintain a breathing regimen of breathing every 4 steps for the first two loops, and then pick it up the last loop. Let me start by saying that despite my overall run time, I did keep this plan!
The first thing I noticed as I went out on the run was that my quads were tired, but I really didn’t need them, except up hills, so on the steepest short climbs, I did walk. I also intermittently noticed that my mid and low back might spasm...although it never did. I actually intermittently focused on the pilates breathing I’ve been learning, and thing that this may have helped me. I slogged away on the run, again, maintaining the mantra of staying in the moment. From the first support station, I started drinking coke. From the energy perspective, this was useful, from a GI perspective, I’m not quite sure. I had a bit of cramping, but not too bad. I did have some potato chips at one station and some pretzels at another. The run course was beautiful, along the lake, but on the way out was into a headwind, which may have had a impact on my pace. The ups and downs through the neighborhoods at the end of the loop were also not meant for fast times. Around mile 6, I stopped for a short port-a-potty break, and just ended up peeing...at least I was still hydrated. Oh, yes, more sun screen! I made my way back through the first loop and out to the second...staying in the moment yet again. If you start thinking about the time, you shouldn’t do ironman! I reached the half way point with an average pace of 6:10/km, right about 10 minute mile pace, although I didn’t realize it. I was maintaining my breathing and running as fast as I felt comfortable. I’m sure my stride was somewhat affected by my quads and the undulations of the course. Still, I was happily consistent. On the way back I stopped at the same port-a-potty.
Before I knew it, I was on my third lap. I did walk a little bit more up the hills on the first part of this lap...I was breathing more frequently, probably had moved my breathing up to every third step...I was starting to suffer...but I was going to persevere. I knew that I would PR today, and I wasn’t going to given in to the messages that my body was sending me...which were to walk and take it easy! My stomach was very sensitive by now and I reduced my intake of coke, started taking in some water and diluted coke, but knew that I would be all right. I started running about 40-60 steps and walking 10-20 steps, this seemed to work. I tried to match the walking with any small hills, and I realized that I was now breathing every 2nd or third step, even when I was walking up the hills. My breathing was hard, getting the attention of those I was passing. Did I say that was hurting? No matter what, I knew that I was giving this race everything I had.
The finish line was now in sight, I grabbed some water, got my headband wet and wiped the sunscreen off my face. I wanted a good picture at the finish!
My run time was 4:34:26, just a couple minutes slower than my best run at the 2012 Ironman St. George (after an interminably long bike, though).
My final time as I hit the finish line was 12:17:00. I managed to hit the number right on the button! I was 22nd in my age group and 650th overall. This was a personal best by a half an hour over my 2011 Ironman St. George result. I have to say, entering the 55-59 year old age group, I have to be quite happy to have finished in the upper half of the race participants! Of interest, I traded places throughout the race with the winner of the 65-69 year old age group. whom I did beat by about 15 minutes. Can’t say the same about the 60-64 year olds, 10 of whom had better times than I did. Still...not too bad!
As I crossed the finish line, I was done. Honestly, I couldn’t have gone any further. I was more worn out and sore at the finish of this race than I’ve been for any ironman. In fact, I will admit to asking myself, “why do I do this”, as I picked up my drop bag and got my finisher’s shirt. I’m sure that question will fade from my head pretty quickly, and it needs to, as I’m signed up for Ironman Boulder in August!