Monday, March 25, 2013

Changing course...

After my mini "I hate Ironman" melt-down, I sat down and wrote up a race season schedule that was ambitious and I thought "really cool". My coach said that we needed to talk.

Turns out, it is a bad idea to try to be good at everything and every race and every distance of multiple sports, while racing 2-4x/month for months on end. If I want to taste and attempt everything, I can do all these races. If I want to be good, get results and be fast, I can't DO EVERYTHING. So what do I want?

There was a flat road half marathon and a 100k ultramarathon on the schedule. There were heaps of short triathlons, both on and off road, and mountain marathons and potentially some multi-day multisport events. But... I also wanted to be really good... at everything! I wanted really good results.

What did I want more? As we spoke and as she described my conflicting desires and took examples from her other athletes, I realized a few things:

- I like racing short/hard and I like racing often. Like I said, 2-4x/month for 5-6 months non-stop. I looooove it. I make the races "adventures" too, by either cycling to/from them or something of the sort.
- I want to transition to more off-road racing. I want a mix of on and off-road, and I want to improve my mountain biking abilities
- I want to enter no-pressure endurance events and training days that keep things interesting and have me work on my long-term goal (2015-2016) of entering multi-day events and give me practice for adventure racing.

After I realized all this, I dramatically changed my race goals and became really really excited about the upcoming season. A lot of racing, mostly short (up to half-iron) and a fantastic mix of on and off-road, with plenty of unstructured endurance adventures as well. Time to be fast and race like crazy! Race schedule for 2013/14 will be posted soon. :)

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Ironman Delusion

So... I'll confess... I'm one of those Ironman athletes on the cusp of ditching the sport (to a degree) to venture into the far-more-exciting world of ultra running, of multisport races, of XTERRA, of multi-day races, of Ultraman, of adventure racing... really, anything and everything that seeks to challenge the mind and body.

I feel Ironman has become a serious delusion to many of those that participate in it. For many, they think it is the ultimate endurance event. At just about 12 hours, give or take a couple hrs, it is only the beginning of endurance racing. Ironman itself puts on races around the world that are, to put it lightly, not challenging, not breathtaking, and very often multi-lapped. It becomes more about completing the distance fast, who cares where you go or what you see... than it is about overcoming a challenge, a true challenge: a mountain pass, a challenging loop, an epic trail run. It is a pavement pounder's paradise, and I'm a little over it. There are, of course, exceptions.

I believe Challenge have the right idea for some of their races. Stunning locations, stunning and honest courses -- I dare you to find a more honest course than Challenge Wanaka half-iron!

Nevertheless, my real issue is with the training. Often, I feel I'm not allowed the flexibility in training to cover grounds as I wish: I want to mountain run, trail run, I want to switch it up between my tri bike, my road bike and my mountain bike. I definitely don't want to road run, who on earth would want to run on roads? I want to run/hike the great tracks of the area: Motatapu track, Grandview Range, Isthmus Peak, Routeburn, Hollyford, Greenstone-Caples, etc. New Zealand has a wealth of tracks, and I'm experiencing few, only in the off-season when I'm not in full IM training mode.

Honestly, I want to become a master of the terrain. I want to experience great suffering and pain in races. I want to sign up for a race totally batshit scared again. I also want to do the short races, whatever the discipline, turn off the brain, and go hard!

GODZone began last weekend. It is a non-stop multiday adventure race. The racers only have a day of prep for the course; the start location and disciplines are revealed at the last minute, one day before. I had some friends racing the last 2 years of the race, I followed via live tracking as they went off course, got lost, couldn't find their checkpoint, got frustrated, became sleep deprived and saw sleep monsters. I also saw when they paddled like crazy (despite their fatigue) down the Clutha River to make the dark zone cut off (i.e. no one can paddle on the Clutha river between 8pm and 7am). To say the least, I was inspired. I've written up a two, tentatively three, year plan to get me to that start line.

Well, really, when you're not excited and dreaming of qualifying for the world championships in your own sport (Kona) because you think the course is boring, and the on-road marathon is a joke, then you need to reassess your race choices and your goals. So, I'm reassessing. You'll definitely still see me on the start line of some choice half-iron or 70.3 events... think Boulder 70.3, St George 70.3, Lake Wanaka half, etc...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Ironman New Zealand race report

Ayeee, how are the months flying by so quickly? We're nearing the end of summer in beautiful Wanaka. Soon I'll be doing my Ironman training in chilly autumn, bundled in all the clothes I own. However, summer stuck around long enough and I think Taupo was blessed with the nicest weather on IMNZ weekend in the history of the race: sunny blue skies, light winds, and warm (25-26C). Perrrrfect.

I wasn't sure what to expect, other than I technically had the fitness for 11 hours. I did 11:45:54. I gave my 100% on the day, I hate giving anything less than 100% on race days.

I was the epitome of calm and collected leading into the race. I didn't even really realize I was doing an ironman. I ate a lot, I rested, I did those silly taper-week workouts... I avoided the crowds. Other than that little squeal I gave in the Taupo waters with under 1 minute to go 'til race start, I'd say I was at peace.

Swim: 1:02:21, as in... yes! A swim that finally reflected my fitness. Boom! I remember thinking, about 1/3 of the way through, oh snap, I can do sub-1hr if I work a bit harder. I restrained myself, going strictly at what my body told me was ironman pace. There will be next time!
Everyone has crazy eyes coming out of the swim!
 Bike: 6:18:21. Ah yes, cycling. For skinny little me, cycling has always presented a challenge. I was on target with watts for the first 90k, at a couple minutes under 3 hours for the first half. Onto the 2nd lap, and my body just started screaming. I've never been in aero position for that long. Other than one sustained climb at the beginning of each loop, the course is "aerobar party time". I did not enjoy the party!!!!!! All sorts of pains cropped up: right foot, right hip, left knee, lower back. Everything was screaming at me, and my muscles were feeling it too, and so all I had left was "turn the legs over". Those last 2 hours were the worst of the entire race. I had an incredibly sore throat from whatever was in the air out there (very dusty farmland). Blah blah, all this complaining, all to say that I couldn't stick to my race watts. There are a couple solutions to my problem:
- I need to develop actual leg strength/muscle/power. Look at those skinny legs, they're not getting me anywhere!!
- Remove the spacer under my left cleat. It was placed there about 8 months back after I had trouble activating my left glute while cycling, but now I think it's just causing imbalances and pain.

 Yes, my wheels don't match. I had to borrow a friend's front race wheel after the discovery of a huge crack in the rim of my own. Thanks Ailsa for letting me borrow your wheel! 

Run: 4:17:52... as in, I managed the break down far better than I ever have, but still 30' slower than what my current IM marathon fitness is. That's alright... I got onto the run and after the disastrous experience of the last 2 hrs of the bike, I was surprised to feel so good on the run. The first lap (of 3) felt cruisey. I was happy. I snacked on on-course Powerbar gels (green apple, yuuuuum). At the very end of the lap, I developed tummy troubles. I knew that if I tried to hold anything in, for any length of time, I'd really have GI upset. Holding things in does not help! IMKY 2011 taught me that. So I waited in the portaloo queue (this drove me crazy!). Once running again, I felt better but still not 100%. I nursed myself on cola and water, and the moment I felt okay again, I took more gel. As I knew would happen, I also developed mean side stitches. My diaphragm and abdomen, for whatever reason, contract and spasm quite badly when running for any significant length of time on road or on steep downhills, and it hurts like fuck! I don't experience this while trail running, though. If anyone has any clues, please share! Anyway, for the life of me I tried to problem-solve this as quickly as possible. Only when I passed Gina Crawford (2nd pro female, also lives in Wanaka) did I think of changing things. I had been trying to maintain really proper run form, long legs, running out the back, etc etc. She looked like she was doing the classic ironman shuffle: quick feet, barely any knee lift, high high high cadence. She always runs like this, and she moves fast! For some reason, I thought that this might help, and so I shifted to that kind of running style: holy batman, that truly lessened the strain on my core and tummy and I once again was motoring along quite nicely. This took me to the beginning of the 3rd loop, once again I started to develop tummy troubles. I was running with another F25-29 girlie, and it gave me great pain to let her run off from me, but another visit to the portaloo was required. Waiting (again!) for one of them to be free was the most frustrating thing I've ever experienced. Once out, I cajoled myself into running faster and faster, and once I saw the last few turns, I started to tear up a bit. No one makes you suffer out there other than yourself. I could have taken longer for every single discipline and had a much easier time of it, but I really really really wanted to meet my targets and feel a lot of pain. I wanted to put together the best race I could.

I apologize if this race report is really robotic, but that is how I felt. On race day, I don't let emotions affect me much at all, I try to hit targets and if I encounter problems, I try to troubleshoot them. Repeatedly. For 11 hours and 45 minutes, I encountered issues and tried to resolve them. It gives me deep, great satisfaction to say that I did so to the absolute best of my ability on race day.

So, yes, 8th age group in F25-29, 36th amateur female. And there's still a loooong ways to go.
What's that really catchy song my a cheesy young popstar that has the lyrics: "Onto the next one, onto the next one"???
That's how I feel!!!

((As a sidenote, it drives me crazy that most race photography companies don't understand basic microeconomics. They'd do so much better if they simply charged 5-7$ per photo. Rather than limiting your buyers by jacking up the price far higher than what most value it at (100$ for a race photo package!!), they should lower the price and allow more of the market to actually buy it at what they actually value it for: a couple bucks here and there. They'd make shitloads more money. Drives me nuts!))