From Port Elizabeth to St George

Just to close the circle on IM South Africa, I thought I’d add a few observations from the sidelines. This was the first time I’d spectated at an Ironman since 2006, and whilst I’m a great deal more knowledgable about the sport now (at the time I was 4 years away from my first IM and could barely swim) the sense of excitement and trepidation surrounding this type of event remains with me and it was great to have the opportunity to head out to the “friendly”/”windy” city of Port Elizabeth and enjoy the South African hospitality once again. Having raced IMSA myself a couple of years ago I felt I had a good idea of what to expect from the course and the conditions. Not this time. I have never attempted an Ironman in any of extremely cold conditions, gale force winds or torrential rain (aside from an epic downpour or two in Cozumel), let alone the combination of all three, and I hope I never have to. So big respect to all those who even started the race, let alone those who made it to the end.

It is very easy in Ironman racing to become rather single-minded in terms of focusing on splits, statistics, power numbers and so on. But watching from the sidelines reminded me that racing an Ironman is about much more than that, be it the guys sprinting up the beach to make the swim cutoff after an epically rough sea swim, the spectators who were lining the roads from 7am despite the terrible conditions or the smiles on the faces of those walking through the darkness with their glowsticks on the last lap of the run as midnight approached.
So I left PE suitably inspired by their achievements – just in time to race another Ironman of my own. Which I hope I will approach in the same spirit and finish with a smile on my face. St George will be Ironman #5 for me and following the announcement the event will be cut from the calendar next year, I am excited to have the opportunity to tackle the tough bike course this year. I feel in good shape and whilst I haven’t yet had time to benefit from the increased time available to me for training I feel confident I can race well. This part of Southern Utah is stunningly beautiful and whilst the course is challenging I hope the red cliffs and varied terrain will help the miles tick by. This race also marks the start of my American road trip which will take in at least 9 states (Nevada, Arizona and Utah so far) and 3 races (IM St George, Florida 70.3, Eagleman 70.3) over the next 6 weeks. More to follow during race week!

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IMSA – Andrew Falls Short

Rather than leave the last couple of posts hanging (which is tempting) here’s my last entry before handing the blog back to Laura.

Short version: conditions bad, swim good, bike horrendous, run cut short by cold plus sudden downpour leaving me blue and shaking. DNF.

Longer version: This is a great race that I can’t recommend enough, and I’d still come back and do it again next year even if I knew the conditions would be the same (although I might pack more wet weather gear).

The conditions were mental. We had hammering rain in the run up to the start and the winds were high enough that all the advertising banners on the fences and gantries needed to be removed to avoid the structures blowing away.

My day went a bit like this:

Nervous about combination of mass start (first for over a year) plus choppy salt water so seed far back on beach.
Cannon goes.
Why am I so far back? Run forward, run forward!
Swim over wall of slow moving neoprene in front.
Arrive at first buoy, alongside several hundred burly south Africans who all want to pack in with me. Trade elbows.
Far turn buoy: getting a bit choppy.
Back to shore, feel good.
Bloody hell, I’m a bit further up the field than usual.
Run round beach loop, overtake as many people as possible.
Spot Andy, keep running, must look good for photo.
Not seen Laura yet, keep running, same reason.
God, this sand’s a bit deep. Legs tired now, still no Laura with camera. Must keep running…
Hurray water’s edge! Lie down again. Lovely.

Getting a bit choppier now.
Really quite choppy now.
Wtf?!

Water’s a lot colder today.

Keep swimming.

Are these jellyfish? Can’t be. Don’t be paranoid. Just keep swimming.

That non-jellyfish just stung me.

Keep swimming.

Need gills. Happy with face in water, don’t want to turn head to breathe, getting smashed by white horses from each side.

Can’t see buoys from 20 feet away due to chop.

Just keep swimming.

Too much breaststroke trying to navigate. Swim more. Stop losing places. Pratt.

Make it to beach along with a score of other rather wild eyed and battered swimmers.

1:33

Feck. That’s 20 minutes behind where I would normally want to be. (later learn average men’s swim time was 1:39)

Into transition. Can’t get wetsuit off for several minutes due to uncontrollable shivering.

Finally into cycling kit. Looks like being a long day so opt for full change into bibs, gilet, arm warmers etc. So glad of that later.

Hop on bike. Back hurts . Bloody hell that’s a bit early.

Cycle off. Slowly. Headwind is unlike anything I have ever ridden in. Periodically do involuntary track stands on hill as gusts stop all forward motion.

Get to top of hill. Suffer to turnaround. Start to ride tailwind back. Quite worried about back now.

Get caught by sidewind turning onto coast and nearly lose it. Passing Saffer suggests I stop off in MacDonalds on next lap to get some weight on me.

Back interfering with pedalling. Can’t get get into aero position.

First lap done. Finally stop to stretch back. Consider asking volunteer to count vertebrae as at least one is clearly trying to escape. Push on.

Having stopped once, now needing to stop regularly just to let back unseize. This is not the ride I envisaged.

Make it to turnaround, head back.

Crosswind here, careful now, don’t get blown off bike.

Feck.

Get back on bike.

Having to stop every ten minutes for back now. Decide that best bet is to pull out at end of lap 2.

End of lap 2.

Why am I going round again?

End of bike.

8 hours. 8 whole hours. Terrible, terrible ride even allowing for conditions.

Long transition, partly due to need for full change, but mostly due to taping ankle which if I’d had enough tape I would have wanted to practice before race day.

Head out on run. Back feels awful. Running like Quasimodo.

Still hitting 8 min miles, but real doubts as to how long I’ll be running for. Plan is to run a mile walk 30s plus aid stations.

Catch up with Emily who is already well on her way to power-walking the entire marathon to a strong finish. Decide to walk with Emily as then at least it will be a sociable few hours rather than running the risk of blowing up further down the road and walking the whole thing alone with Emily a few minutes back down the road.

Temperature dropping.

Heavens open, instantly soaked to the skin as if I’d just jumped in the ocean. Immediately start shaking, not just a shiver but whole body convulsions.

Game over.

PE got me in the end – I survived the wind (albeit not with any élan) but was totally blindsided by the rain and cold. I confess I just hadn’t seen that coming.

So now need to get myself up for Roth. Amount of improvement needed is daunting. At least I don’t have to worry about recovery time from SA. And my Physio will be very relieved I did so little running!

Obviously unhappy to have DNF’d but at least the cold took the the decision out of my hands- I’m disappointed but at least not having to do the soul searching over whether I could have pushed on if I’d been mentally a bit tougher- the body just shut down.

I hadn’t planned to race any more IMs after Roth in the summer, but given the IMSA team have scheduled next year’s race for my birthday it seems like a sign I shouldn’t ignore! I really do want to come and race it again next year. I don’t want to come back because of a burning desire to right wrongs or lay ghosts to rest (although that would be welcome) but because the race is simply a hugely enjoyable event to be part of. The way the local community engages with the race is simply fantastic and I’ve enjoyed myself immensely both times I’ve come to PE.

So, until next time…

In contrast to my own dismal performance, massive respect to two people who turned in fantastic performances.

Firstly Emily (who signed up to this when drunk) who succeeded in her first IM in horrendous conditions. A storming bike stands out.

Secondly Craig Twigg, UK pro who was staying in our guesthouse who nailed a top ten finish. And a nicer chap you couldn’t hope to meet. Sickening really ;)

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It’s not about the Bling. Bla-Bling.

 

Still Andrew here.
Following the last post I thought that there was space for an update with a little less introspection and a little more reflection on the wonderful craziness that is so fantastic here in PE.
First up is the fact that I am here with friends Emily and Andy along with Laura which makes for quite a different dynamic to travelling with just myself and Laura.  This being Emily’s first IM (and second proper triathlon) it’s like getting to see all the ironman hoopla with fresh eyes, which is great all by itself. Add to that the great company and Emily’s ability to discuss entirely inappropriate topics in a crowded lift and you are onto a sure fire winner.
An eventful swim practice reminded me that even though my swimming has come a long way, a rough sea swim is still a pretty nerve wracking experience.
Having finally got into a bit of a rhythm down the far side of the swim course I was surprised to find myself violently assaulted about the head and then held under water by a large foam object.  After fighting myself free I looked up to discover I had in fact been run over by one of the jet skis riding alongside as safety patrol.
Concerned that he might not have seen me (in my bright orange swim cap) I shouted out at him, only for him to tell me calmly:
“you were going off course”
Wow.  That’s the way they roll here eh? No messing about, you swim off course I’ll hit you with a jet ski.
It certainly made me more attentive to my sighting.  Although mostly to look out for rogue watercraft.
In other news I have succumbed to the classic need to make up for the lack of training through the purchase of bike bling.  I now have a shiny new aero helmet.  In fairness it was purchased due to an  extraordinary reduction in price for a very small cosmetic defect, but I still can’t shake the feeling that I’m putting the “twat” into “twat hat”.
Sadly I can’t upload photos from here or I could treat you all to a picture of it in all its aero glory.  I bet you all feel like you’re missing out heh?
Emily was so taken with its magnificence that she has since purchased herself a quite striking version of it in orange.  This should help Andy spot her out on the course on Sunday, which given previous spectating difficulties may be just as well.  You can follow Emily’s adventures on twitter at @emilyjtrant
And that I think will do for now.  Time to rest up before final bike prep tomorrow.  Which will consist mostly of removing the disc cover and putting race tyres onto some shallower training wheels.  What larks.

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So, a number of things up front:

1) I’m not Laura. She hasn’t suddenly decided to race IM South Africa.
2) I am in fact Laura’s husband, Andrew. I’m borrowing the blog for a couple of days in the run up to the race this weekend.
3) I am not as fast as Laura, so these reports will have a slightly different flavour to those posted by Laura.
4) If you’re my mother, stop reading now. Everything is fine.

I hadn’t planned to write anything about this race, and I’ve been keeping my entry fairly quiet as I’ve been worrying since entering that it probably wasn’t going to go terribly well. There’s been a bit of an illness issue over the last month or so that’s got in the way of training, and undone a lot of good work that’s gone before. I reckon people don’t need to hear someone getting their excuses in early!

But as race week has come around there’s a kind of excitement that’s hard to ignore, and putting pen to paper has been kind of helpful in keeping the panic at bay.

As we sat in the race briefing tonight with the tent rattling gently in the wind I was reminded of why I signed up for this race. I knew I was never going to be ready for an April ironman as my deeply ingrained laziness reacts badly to cycling in the wet and cold. Or even the warm if I’m honest, it’s just harder to find an excuse.

So part of the plan in entering was to make me do some training over the winter so as not to thoroughly embarrass myself at Roth in the Summer. Huffing and puffing and crying for your mother on the Solarberg is hardly showing the proper respect for a course where so many records have been set. Also while I accept that getting chicked by Laura is probably inevitable, there is a question of degree!

Plan: rediscover the fear and excitement of that first ironman when I really didn’t know whether I’d be able to complete it or not.

This was a foolish plan in which I have succeeded beyond all expectation.

People have been reminding me since I got here that Port Elizabeth is also known as the windy city. I have smiled smugly to myself in the knowledge that Chicago is in fact the windy city and I therefore have nothing to fear. Then I checked the weather forecast for Sunday.

Sweet Jesus.

The race briefing tonight dispelled the last of my hopes that the BBC were being unduly pessimistic. My favourite part was when the race director explained that the tents were only rated safe in up to 70kmh of wind and that if (as forecast) the gusts on Sunday hit 90kmh the finisher and medical tents would have to be closed. Of course as he pointed out wind doesn’t stop you riding or running (he clearly isn’t aware of my specialised approach to training) and the race would run come what may. Even if the competitors have to play a game of giant dodgeball as the advertising hoardings blow away and barrel across the course.

In my head Sunday’s race is already playing out as a cross between a bad acid trip and a scene from Mary Poppins. Only with more Lycra.

I think I was calmer before my first ironman than this one. And we should remember that my first IM was only my second Tri (Eton Supersprints first FTW). And I couldn’t swim.

So looking ahead to Sunday I can’t help but feel that my lack of run fitness isn’t going to matter as I’m going to detonate my legs on the bike in any event. It’s no longer a question of how fast I can get round, just how do I get round. No more worries about comfort versus quick transitions- just make sure there’s enough kit on to stay warm.

In short, for me at least, it’s shaping up to be a sufferfest rather than a race. A simple test of how long can I keep battering away for. To see which comes first – exhaustion or the finish line.

Awesome.

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So long work… hello world!

As of this morning I can call myself a full time athlete. Having managed training around a fairly high pressure / time consuming / life encompassing job for several years I have been looking for an opportunity to move into a more supportive training environment and am grateful to my employer HSBC for providing one.
So… things are going to be a little different from now on.
- No more getting up at 5am to train, at least not every day.
- No more running 12 miles across London to and from work twice a week.
- No more squeezing 5 sessions into a day having been abroad all week.
- No more wondering whether 5 hours sleep is really enough between sessions, and how forgiving the neighbours really are to the turbo.
You could also say, no more structure – and I’ve certainly put a lot of thought into how my training should evolve now I actually have time to plan and incorporate luxuries such as… naps! recovery! maybe even yoga!!
Best of all I won’t be spending every second working, training and sleeping and may even be home to cook my long suffering (and rather good in the kitchen) husband a meal or two.
So the journey starts tonight with a week in South Africa, returning to Port Elizabeth where I raced my first Ironman in 2010, this time to support Andrew and my good friend Emily on their Ironman journeys. My road trip then moves on to the US where after racing Ironman St George on 5 May I’ll be training in New Mexico (thanks to super AG-er Sarah Crewe who is likely to kick my ass in training) and Boulder for a few weeks before returning to the East Coast to race Eagleman in early June. Then it’s back to Europe for a return to Wimbleball and aiming to break the 10hr Ironman mark on my 30th birthday at Challenge Roth.
After that, who knows. Vegas? Kona? I hope so. Stick around and find out…….

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Abu Dhabi long course race report

A little later than planned, a few thoughts on my race in Abu Dhabi. The short version: decent swim, good start to the bike derailed by 2x punctures, held on for 1st in 25-29 age group and 4th age grouper overall. Now for the long version….

 

Since the Abu Dhabi Triathlon joined the race calendar in 2010 I had been determined to do this race – with its long bike and shorter run it seemed like a course that would suit me and an ideal way to start the season. So I was delighted my schedule worked out this year so I could do the race and it provided great early season motivation in what can otherwise be quite a flat time of year with the dark mornings and poor weather in the UK. I also managed to time this to coincide with a work trip to Dubai the week before which gave me a few extra days to acclimatise and do some training in the heat. The race location was great and whilst it wasn’t really possible to head out onto the more remote parts of the bike course due to traffic there was a long pedestrian area along the Corniche which saw a steady stream of cyclists and runners in the build up to the race.

 

In terms of my goals for the race, I had earmarked this race as an opportunity to test a slightly quicker pace on the bike – with a longer 200k bike leg and only a 20k run it seemed like the perfect course to take a few risks without risking a major blow-up on a full marathon. It was also a first test of the swim focus I have had since Christmas and I was keen to see if I could replicate the improvements in a race that I have been seeing in training over the last few weeks. I was hopeful of being in the mix at the front of the age group race and thought top 3 was a realistic objective.

 

Race day dawned bright and relatively cool, for once we were staying within walking distance of transition so it was a relaxed start to the day and I was in transition and ready in plenty of time. Not long before the start we heard there would be a 30 min delay, fortunately I was racked near a couple of friends in my wave so the time passed quickly and soon we were heading to the beach for the pro start and my wave which would be next.

 

A decent start saw me settle into a good rhythm early on in the swim; whilst not a huge fan of wave starts it does mean a much smaller group and even starting at the front there was very little biff to contend with. I’m certainly not quick enough to keep with the faster packs but I found a decent little rhythm somewhere in the middle of the pack and tried to stick with the groups around me. After a short beach run at 1.5k it was into the water for the second lap, most of which was spent avoiding slower age groupers from the wave behind who were on their first lap. The field had thinned out quite a bit by this stage so I was mostly on my own but at least it was very stress-free and a very relaxed swim. I was hoping for under 55mins and to avoid being caught by the fast age groupers in the next wave 15mins behind (that’s you Mr Molloy) and I managed to achieve this just with a 54.57. Much more work to do but some progress at least and certainly far less effort than (slower) IM swims I’ve had in the past.

 

The first lap of the bike course was brilliant fun. The long course is two loops out to the Yas Marina circuit and back, with a loop of the circuit thrown in each time. Each loop is about 47 miles with a shorter loop of around 20 miles to take the distance up to 200km. I felt great in the early stages and unlike in most Ironmans where you have to really hold back I allowed myself to push the pace. I didn’t see many girls out on the course and wasn’t passed by any until Rebecca Slack motored past me on the way out to Yas Marina, I knew better than to push the pace that hard so I kept her in (distant) sight for a while but mostly focused on doing my own thing. I reached the Yas Marina circuit in around 58 mins which meant an average page of over 40km/h and rather ahead of my target time, but with the benefit of a tailwind the effort seemed about right and it was clear that the conditions would make it a fast day. Cycling round the Formula 1 circuit is great fun and worth the entrance fee of the race in itself, although it was a bit more twisty and with tighter turns than I expected which definitely put my “triathlete” bike handling skills to the test! Back into town into a slight but increasing headwind (more on that later) and I hit the turnaround at 47 miles in 2.05, having passed Matt a few minutes before the turn which meant he was around 5mins ahead of me. I was starting to feel a little less like a cycling goddess at this point and with my power to that point around 30W higher than for my 5.15-5.20 IM bike legs in Cozumel and Austria I was pretty certain that this wouldn’t be sustainable for the next 3 hours. But hey, who dares wins, and I was ready to suffer on the second half of the bike. I was also very aware that at least one of my competitors in the age group race was further up the road so I needed to keep pushing the pace to keep in touch.

 

Back out towards the circuit on lap 2 took me through 100k which was a relief as my legs were starting to feel pretty tired and despite feeling like I was pushing harder all the time I was watching my power numbers drift gradually downwards towards IM pace. The field had thinned out dramatically by this stage with most of the short course athletes off the bike, which was a little lonely at times and on occasion I did wonder if I was on the right road as there wasn’t another cyclist in sight. Having anticipated a flat bike course I was a little surprised to find it is actually deceptively rolling as you have to climb up over a number of bridges which offered some respite from the flatter stretches but were also a little harder on the legs. I spent a lot of time focusing on nutrition and was glad that they were handing out Nuun (water + electrolytes) on the course which seemed to keep off the cramps I had suffered from in Coz.

 

Riding round Yas Marina Circuit

 

In the second half of the bike leg I have to admit I began to feel a bit down, my power was dropping off as my legs were cooked, it was hot, there were very few cyclists around me, the headwind back into town was clearly getting up and it was a bit difficult to imagine cycling another 50 miles hard and then running a half marathon. I have never really felt like this in a race before and it was a good reminder that 1) pacing on a bike leg is critical and it is a long old way if you overdo it in the first couple of hours, and 2) if you are feeling rubbish during the bike, usually a good solution is to eat something! Around halfway back to town at the 80 mile point and just as I was telling myself this was the crucial moment where the race gets tough and you have to push on, I heard the dreaded hiss of a puncture and pretty quickly I was bumping along on a flat rear tyre. As the first mechanical I have ever had in a race I had been half expecting this to happen eventually – and after the initial disappointment I felt a little relieved that it had happened here rather than a race where there are Kona slots on the line and you are more conscious that every second counts. A second puncture followed not long after and for the last part of the ride I have to admit I felt fairly glum about how the day was panning out, I found myself surrounded by all the people I had ridden away from earlier and most of all I felt indignant that the extra time had allowed the wind to increase further and I had to slog the last 10 miles or so back into town into a fairly stiff headwind. The headwind was also causing some bunching on the course which made overtaking more difficult and the wind had blown over a number of signs and traffic cones which you had to be careful avoiding.

 

I retook a couple of places later in the bike which I later found out moved me from around 7th in the age group race back into 4th, having spent most of the earlier part of the bike running in 3rd. I eventually finished the bike leg in around 6 hours, although I should point out the course was definitely short and much closer to 190k than 200k, I assume due to roadworks around the race hotel area. Excluding puncture stops I faded by around 15mins on the second leg and a further 10mins on the shorter loop which was less bad than it felt at the time but still more than I would expect in an Ironman bike leg. I ended up averaging around 30W above IM pace on lap 1, around 10W above on lap 2 and below IM pace on the last shorter loop, although in pretty strong winds by that point. Excluding stops I rode around 4.40 for 100 miles and 5.15 for the IM distance which is comparable to previous races although with a very different power profile. I still think a sub 5-hour IM leg is on the cards with more work and better pacing but this certainly wasn’t the day to achieve that.

 

After a reasonably quick T2 it was onto the run. From the start I was fairly dubious as to how this was going to go, partly as I’d ridden much harder than usual on the bike and mostly as I’ve had a foot injury since the start of the year which has really restricted running over the last couple of months. But actually I felt pretty good, it wasn’t too warm, the aid stations were frequent and well stocked and around the first turnaround I could see there were no girls anywhere near me behind and I relaxed, thought less about the girls up the road who were some distance ahead and figured I could hold position and not have wasted the entire day. My legs were less heavy than I feared and having done a lot of biomechanical / technique work recently with my physio Brad at PureSports Medicine and James at Kinetic Revolution I had plenty of things to think about in terms of keeping my form. I picked up the pace on the second lap to low 7min-mile pace to ensure I went under 1.30 for the 20k loop and was happy with a 1.29, albeit again on a short course. Given what I would describe as fairly poor execution and a number of issues I was surprised to find out later I’d won my age group and was 4th female age grouper across the line. This race is also special in the prizes on offer to age groupers and I should give a big shout out to race sponsors Oakley, Polar and Shimano for the great age group prizes on offer, as well as to the organisers IMG for the flights and accommodation for next year’s race!

 

Run finish

Run and done

 

I would certainly recommend this race to any strong bikers or anyone who wants to experience a very different and challenging course; the high quality pro field makes it a fun race to be part of and it is certainly unlike any other race I’ve ever had the opportunity to take part in. I should also say well done to Emily (@emilyjtrant) who raced the short course as her first triathlon and had a good day on a tough course, and especially to our chief supporter and triathlon convert my twin sister Helen who learned a huge amount of new vocabulary (“transition”, “Faris Al-Sultan”, “Freak of Nature”) and provided a lot of fun on the day and in the run-up to the race. And finally thanks to my sponsors Aurelie and the team at TheTriTouch for keeping me in great shape and niggle-free in the run up to the race.

 

So overall an interesting race and a good learning experience for me, plenty of food for thought and lots more work to do as I press on to Ironman St George on 5 May.

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I love swimming. No really, I do!

I have never liked swimming. When I was younger I mostly avoided it - it was cold, usually outdoors, they swam miles just to warm up and besides, I loved the track. Moving on to rowing in my late teens didn’t give me any reason to change this view… and so I came to triathlon years later with no swimming background. None. Zero. I don’t think I had ever swum a length of front crawl. I was one of those people who really are slower than a 7 year old.

 

So not surprisingly this showed up in my results. A 1.24 in my IM debut at South Africa in 2010 was a fairly terrible start. Yes it was in the sea, it was rough, I felt seasick and couldn’t see where I was going, and I was knocked over by a massive wave as I finished, but still, not fast.

 

I'm in there somewhere floundering

 

A 1.20 in Kona put me squarely at the back of the field. In fact I even started at the back as feeling terribly unconfident I’m ashamed to say I wimped out of starting in the mix. Lots more swimming and some lessons with Andrew Potter (t3performance) later, confidence improving I reached the giddy heights of a 1.07 at IM Cozumel. Yes the current helped by maybe a minute or two, but it was still my quickest to date and non-wetsuit to boot.

 

However… I was 2nd in my age group at Cozumel and 19th overall. I biked one of the fastest splits in the field. I ran ok. But I missed the age group win by around 4 minutes to a girl who swam 15 minutes faster. 15 minutes! I’m all for having fun overtaking lots of people on the bike but this was ridiculous - I was out of the race before I even got going. It was time for things to change…

 

Some helpful pointers from Stephen Lord (@lord_lordy) and Tamsin Lewis (@Sportiedoc) confirmed what I really knew already – I needed to swim more. Way more. It is easy to blame swimming slowly on never having learned good technique but the message was clear: “there is no silver bullet”, “in order to swim better you need to swim hard (often)”, “swimmers are always in the pool smacking out the 100s”.

 

So I made a plan. I don’t have time to swim during the day and I already run two mornings a week, so the other three mornings were set aside for swimming. The plan was as follows: swim three mornings a week for 4.6km each session (my pool is 23m so this is 200 lengths which seemed a nice round number). Plus a shorter technical swim one evening. For each long swim I would do a 4km main set which I would alternate through a two-week cycle of 40 x 100, 20 x 200, 10 x 400, 8 x 500, 4 x 1k, 2 x 2k (mixing up the order). I also decided to spend at least 50% of this time using paddles / pull buoy as some simple tests confirmed that I was massively lacking in strength. I am waaaaay slower with a pull buoy than without and apparently generate most of my (limited) power from kicking. Joining a swim session once with Paul Newsome and the Swimsmooth crew in Perth, Adam Young (@younggun) asked Andrew if I always got tired on the bike as I kicked so much in the swim. The answer which still makes me chuckle: “No, she’s a monster”. The idea is to follow this schedule for at least the 8 weeks from the start of Jan until Abu Dhabi long course which adds up to four two-week cycles and 15k per week.

 

Just to emphasise how much of a change this is, it is probably worth pointing out that until 3 weeks ago I had never swum 4.6km in a session ever. My longest swim was the Ironman distance and I had only done this a few times in training. In 2010 and 2011 respectively I swam approximately 120km and 70km in total. Over the last 3 weeks I have swum 45k and plan to reach 120k by Abu Dhabi on 3 March, so a bit different!

 

The second part of the plan was a Christmas present from Andrew who was quickly christened Paul (in honour of the aforementioned Mr Newsome) who loves swimming and gets me out of bed and heading to the pool each morning….

 

I love swimming!

 

And so for a progress update: I’m 3 weeks into the plan. The first week I was slower with the paddles than without, I didn’t have the strength to even work particularly hard with the paddles and my arms ached for a week. The second week was better, I was enjoying having a plan, the motions became more familiar, I had plenty of time to think about the technical adjustments I was trying to make as well as feeling more able to focus on swimming hard. I have even experienced short stretches where it all comes together and I feel like I am flying, for a few strokes at least!

 

It’s too early to draw conclusions. But already I am swimming faster and enjoying swimming more. I feel like I can go for longer: finishing 20 x 200m on Friday morning I actually considered doing another 10. (Before remembering I had to be at my desk at 8am.) My average pace across the sets is around 3 secs / 100m faster than 3 weeks ago. There are easy gains to be had here. And while I know the rate of improvement will slow, as it would in any sport where you start from a low base, the confidence I am getting from improving in one sport is already having a knock-on effect in terms of motivation to train harder across the board, which in the winter can be in short supply. It’s going to be an interesting few months!

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Ironman Cozumel race report

A little later than planned… a few thoughts on Ironman Cozumel 2011

 

After a busy first season of IM in 2010 racing 3 Ironmans including Kona, I did think long and hard about whether to race again. Juggling training with working long hours isn’t easy; I’d exceeded my expectations and didn’t really have aspirations to do more. So a short break after Kona extended into 3 months, then 6 months, then 9 months… and working, having fun and rediscovering my social life took over. But these things have a tendency of creeping up on you, and by late summer I was itching to race again. A quick look at which Ironman races were still open / close enough to the UK to be feasible, some hasty planning and a quick call to Ken Glah later and I was signed up for Ironman Cozumel 2011! Only having 14 weeks to train actually made things easier – the goal was always in sight and there was never any prospect of taking it easy as I had so little time before the race! I also had some great technical advice from Andrew Potter at t3 performance (swimming), Richard Melik at Freespeed London (bike fitting) and Mike Antonides at the Running School, all of which contributed to a more professional and efficient setup for the race.

 

I arrived in Cozumel on the Wednesday before the race where I was met by the EnduranceSportsTravel team who looked after me brilliantly throughout my trip. I had expected travelling on my own to Mexico (thanks to entering at the last minute) to be difficult but Ken and team put on a great service for their athletes and take care of everything – anyone who wants to get into a sold out race or have someone just take care of the logistics for them – check out www.endurancesportstravel.com. The usual pre-race preamble passed quickly, this being my 4th Ironman I was noticeably calmer and just went through the motions and was looking forward to getting started. One cool thing I discovered at check-in was that I apparently had the highest number in the race, 2300, thanks to the race organisers assigning numbers based on when you entered the race. Hopefully I wouldn’t be finishing last…

 

Waves

The view for pretty much the entire bike course

 

Tequila stand

Love this island

 

For the first time ever I started the swim right at the front. As a (relatively) weak swimmer I never enjoy the swim much, and am always a little apprehensive about the melee at the start. But the swim in Cozumel is just stunning – beautiful warm clear water and great visibility meant there was no reason not to get stuck in. So I went hard from the gun, staying on the right side where we were told the current was weaker (the course is an anti-clockwise rectangle with the current flowing from right to left – so you start and finish against the current and in the middle section have the current with you). I got into a good rhythm within the first few minutes and was quickly into a nice pack. Waiting for the usual panic to set in… nothing… I had space to swim in and found to my surprise I was enjoying myself! The only slight issue was persistent stinging by “phantom” jellyfish, I did seem to be getting stung every few minutes but never saw a single one! They must be small though as the stings didn’t even show up afterwards and nothing to cause any problems later. I swam close to the front of my group for most of the return leg, still feeling good I bridged up to the next group at the last turn buoy and actually had the bizarre thought in the last hundred metres or so that 1) I was actually behaving like a proper swimmer, and 2) I didn’t really want the swim to end! But a few minutes later I was up the steps and onto the pier, running towards the change tent I heard the announcer call 1.07 which while still not fast is a 5min IM swim PB for me and a massive 13mins quicker than Kona for a non-wetsuit swim. A good start to the day!

 

Swim exit

No idea what is going on with my swim hat...

 

Swim time: 1.07
Target: 1.10, stretch target: 1.07

 

Quick in and out of the change tent, arm coolers on (now known as “cat flaps” thanks to British pro Cat Morrison, and thanks to Matt Molloy for the loan which saved me from a day of sunburn), round the cul-de-sac where the highest-numbered bikes were tucked away and I was soon on my way onto the bike course.

 

The bike course is 3 loops, due to the split transition the first two are 38.5 miles and the last 33 miles as you finish in town. I was aiming for 1.50 for the first two and 1.35ish for the last loop which would bring me in around 5.15. The Atlantic side of the Island is well known for being windy – this is a 12 mile section midway through each lap and typically gets windier as the day goes on. Having had a powermeter for some time now this would be the first IM I had raced to power and I was aiming to average around 180W increasing slightly each lap, below Austria levels but so was my fitness!!

 

The first few miles were the usual melee of passing faster swimmers, the course was pretty congested as is usually the case if you swim around 1.05-1.10, but people were generally keeping it legal and the field thinned out pretty quickly. I hit the first windy section after about 15 miles, as expected it was a pretty strong crosswind and pushed the pace well below the 21mph I needed to average. But I knew there was a tailwind into town and sure enough once we made the left turn into town it was 25mph+ and flying on the home stretch. Lots of cheering crowds in town was great and soon I was heading past Chakanaab Park which marked the end of lap 1 in 1.49, bang on target. I was actually racing slightly below target power at around 170W, but as I was still on target for 5.15 and above all keen to run well I decided not to push my luck and settled to race around this level. Nutrition was going ok, I was carrying a 750ml bottle with 12 powerbar gels mixed with water, plus a speedfill aero bottle with double concentrate infinit, and taking water only at each aid station. Which worked fine apart from the first 20mins where I had only had a small swig of water in T1 and after the salty swim was desperate for water! But overall the plan worked ok – and was much lighter / efficient / more aero than Austria where I was a bit paranoid about nutrition and had carried an amazing total of 3 bottles of infinit, 1 bottle of water and 12 gels. I am still laughing inside about how un-aero I must have looked there…

 

 

Bike shot

Very windy, very pretty

 

The second lap was uneventful, the windy section at 53 to 65 miles got me through halfway and I was just focusing on eating, drinking, power, pace, all the usual stuff. The field had thinned out massively by this stage and I was alternating nicely between overtaking people and sitting in legal pacelines. I saw very little drafting although did get into a debate with one guy who refused to drop back when I passed him, there’s always one… I did hear after the race that there was a massive peloton on the course and lots of the race reports have mentioned this – all I can say is as a slower swimmer they were ahead of me and I guess I biked around the course at a similar pace! I know it caused several accidents not to mention stress to the people who were swept up and had to break out of it, and I’m thankful I never even saw it as I’d have been pretty furious. The guys (and girls) having a ride in it, well we know who you are, and shame the draft busters apparently didn’t do more to break it up.

 

Storm clouds

Storm clouds gathering...

 

Back to the race, through lap 2 in 3.40 and right on target. Around this time I was having a few comedy moments, the road surface is pretty bumpy which had loosened my speedfill bottle, my bar tape was also unravelling so I spent large sections of the race trying to re-wrap my bars one-handed, which passed the time at least. Around half a lap to go I was tired enough to abandon this plan and rode along with bar tape streaming along beside me and my aerobottle rattling around and about to fly off. Nutrition-wise I was doing ok although went through bouts of severe cramp in each leg which was new, my salt levels should have been ok so I wondered if this was down to racing a flat course for the first time. I pushed hard on the last lap through the wind between miles 93 and 105; my power had dropped on the last lap but was still in the 160’s which I was happy to take as the time was good and I wanted to save anything I could for the run. I went through 112 miles in 5.16, I still had a little way to go though and the last few corners through town took me to 5.19 for 113.1 miles. An 6-min Ironman bike PB on a much slower course than Austria, this moved me from 23rd to 4th in my age group and 613th to 249th overall. Funnily enough coming off the bike I was disappointed, I felt my power was well below what I was capable of and I was annoyed I hadn’t raced to my power targets and aimed for a time closer to 5 hours. That said having seen the results I biked faster than 12 (out of 17) of the women’s pro field and had the fastest bike split in my age group by around 5 mins so it was a decent ride and I can go much faster with better preparation.

Bike: 5.19
Target: 5.20, stretch target, 5.15
Normalised power: 166W

 

I headed out onto the run at just after 1.30pm, which meant I had around 4 hours to break my PB from Austria and 3.5 hours to go under the magic 10 hour barrier. I had no idea of my position in the race but knew I would have time on lap 1 to figure this out as the course is 3 out and back loops so you are able to see the field ahead of you. Straight away my stomach felt bad, and I stopped within the first mile to try and ease the cramps – not the best start! I had hoped to run 7m50 per mile which would bring me in around 3.30 for the marathon, but from the first mile onwards I was struggling to hold this and knew early on the 10hr target was probably out of reach today. The course was well stocked with aid stations every mile (possibly every km?) so I tried to get as much down as I could and spent mostly of the next 2 hours repeating “agua agua pepsi pepsi” with the odd “gel gel” thrown in every half hour.

 

Start of run

Before the rain started...

At the mid point of lap 1 I’d seen all the girls ahead of me and thought I was in 19th, although I hadn’t seen Yvonne van Vlerken and assumed she was leading and a full lap ahead of me (which makes no sense when you think about it as I would still have seen her at the turnaround, but at the time I was convinced this was the case). I had no idea about age group position but as there were 17 pros I guessed 3rd at worst. Going into lap 2 I had begun to feel a little better and was still holding around 8.15 per mile pace which I thought would get me in for around 10.10-10.15. Around this point it started to rain, which started as quite pleasant but quickly turned into a monsoon-like downpour which persisted for the remainder of my race. It didn’t take long for the run course to be underwater, in the second half of lap 2 we were all running on the pavement, apart from one point where you had to step off the pavement into several inches of water! Which led to some comedy sloshing as it wasn’t really possible to run through this and you had to do it twice on each lap. A strong smell of sewage at the downtown end of the course also wasn’t great although thankfully I didn’t really connect it at the time with the water we were all running through!

 

At this point I had been passed by 3-4 girls and had passed a similar amount myself, so was fairly sure I was still 19th, having had no sign of Yvonne who I belatedly realised had dropped out. I was mostly passing girls marked with Q, R or S (your age group is marked on your calf) – my age group was P – I only passed one P that I remember and wasn’t passed by any. I was to-ing and fro-ing a lot with a Canadian girl called Richele – she was walking the aid stations and I not, so I would pass her at each aid station, then she’d pass me, then I’d try and stay close to the next aid station and so on… We chatted a bit on lap 2 and both seemed to be suffering a similar amount! I saw a few familiar faces on this stretch including Stu and Conan from the UK who were a little under a lap ahead of me and both toughing it out to go low 9’s. It did cross my mind at the start of lap 3 that at least I hadn’t been lapped by them!
Into the last lap and my cunning plan of picking up the pace subsided into doing everything I could to hold 8.30 pace. I ran/sloshed my way through the deep water sections yet again, eventually I rounded the halfway point and I had 4 miles to go and knew I was going to get through it. By this point I clearly wasn’t going to go under 3.40 but felt 3.45 was on and this would still get me the daylight finish. I ran with Nico from the UK for a bit here who was racing his first IM – we’d cycled together earlier in the week and thought we’d finish reasonably close – he was also struggling on the run but would hang in there to go sub 10.30. I hit the 40k sign which was where I had planned to go all out for the finish, I’d lost track of time slightly but was expecting to come in around 3.42 and talked myself into “sprinting” as hard as I could for the last 10 mins. The faster you run the sooner it will all be over… The last mile I was counting down in segments of 0.1 mile at a time, I went through 26.0… then 26.1… then 26.2… but I wasn’t there yet (long, again!) as there were still a couple of hundred metres to go. Finally I turned into the finish chute, saw 10.19 on the clock and sprinted for the line. I always plan to enjoy the finish chute and then always forget in my eagerness ( / desperation) to cross the line, but this is a race after all and you race to the finish, good thing too when I heard much later that my closest challenger finished only 10 seconds behind me! In the end I ran a disappointing 3.44 but took a lot of places in the field moving from 249th to 159th overall and 4th to 2nd in my age group.

 

Finish line!

Run: 3.44
Target: 3.38, stretch target: 3.30

Overall: 10.20.06, 19th female, 2nd in 25-29 AG

 

 

A quick wrap-up of post race: a bit of confusion around the Kona slots meant it was only confirmed around lunchtime on Monday that my age group had reduced from the provisional 2 slots to 1, which was duly claimed by the AG winner who finished around 4 mins ahead of me. A little frustrating given my poor run but ultimately more opportunities for me to get some great racing in next year! This race was a big learning experience for me – I know I went in rather under-cooked in terms of training but much better prepared on the technical side: despite feeling I executed poorly for large sections of the day (not to mention the terrible weather) I still finished with a PB in each discipline and the knowledge there are huge gains to be made in each, most of all on the run but definitely on swim and bike too. Going under 10 hours has gone from a stretch target to an expectation and I absolutely feel confident I am good enough to go back to Kona and I will be there next year.

 

Next up, Abu Dhabi in March (which as a strong cyclist I am hugely excited about!), a training camp with Andrew in Lanzarote in March and then onto the serious business of Ironman St George in May and Challenge Roth in July.

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