Fabulous February

What a month it has been! February you were fantastic!

I’m now back in San Fran after a great few days in Sydney capping off a pretty awesome February. It was so good to back   Down Under catching up with friends, visiting favourite places and diving in that ocean at Bondi Beach. Sydney is still a very special place for me, but I’m now settling back into my life here in the USA, with a new focus, motivation and mindset.

SOAS Podium at Challenge Wanaka (Photo: Challenge Wanaka / Getty Images)

SOAS Podium at Challenge Wanaka (Photo: Challenge Wanaka / Getty Images)

The last month has been a whirlwind of training, racing, travel, as I’ve spent time in Hawaii, New Zealand and Sydney. I’ve made some good progress and highlighted huge areas for improvement. I am going to try and capture, briefly as possible (yes this is me we are talking about here) all that’s gone on for me in the month of Feb!

At the end of January I boarded a flight to Hawaii for my first Purplepatch Kona camp. It was a year ago at this time that I was first making contact with Matt Dixon, asking if he’d consider coaching me. Now my life has moved across the world to San Francisco where under Matt’s coaching and guidance I’m proud and honored to be part of his Purplepatch squad and grateful for this opportunity.

Purplepatch Kona Camp - cycling up to Hawi

Purplepatch Kona Camp – Cycling up to Hawi, with Matt Dixon and Paul Buick on scooters

Kona was fantastic. I love the camp environment and when you have a wicked team and a magic place to train with the best coaches around, how can you not thrive on it. It was personally a bit of a mixed camp, but mixed from a very positive perspective where we discovered a lot about me as an athlete and we were able to unlock and develop some tools and make a few little breakthroughs from things we’d been working on for the past few months. One of the many learnings for me, was to just relax and enjoy training for what it was. Train freely with no inhibitions, no justifications, no pressures. Focus on myself and what I can do. Separate the processes and focus on the can and doing. Try things out, test things, go find myself. Whilst I know this may sound pretty deep for the 4th paragraph of this blog and possibly a bit cryptic, it was all about keeping it simple and loving it. I did!

Purpleptach Kona Camp - evening easy run

Purpleptach Kona Camp – evening easy run with the gang

If you want to know more about camp life, read my Witsup article. http://www.witsup.com/kona-training-camp-the-sorority-house/

After Kona it was on to New Zealand, to prepare for Challenge Wanaka full distance race. I really wasn’t sure I was ready for another full distance race, but what I had, was complete faith in Matt and coming off a great camp, where I was relaxed and had had a lot of fun, I was prepared to give it a crack.

Where do I start? Wanaka…I fell in love! What an amazing place. So stunning, so beautiful. I felt so at ease and relaxed as soon as I arrived and there was something very comforting about being back in the Southern Hemisphere (as well as good coffee :-). Wanaka is only a small town of 6500 residents, in the south island of New Zealand about 50mins north east of Queenstown, over the Crown Range. (Wanaka fact: There are 650 volunteers for the Challenge Wanaka event, that’s 10% of the population! Impressive!)  I had 10 days to explore and train prior to the race and get used to the road conditions and potentially changing weather patterns. I loved it. I was lucky to stay with two amazing homestays whilst there, who made me feel so welcome and relaxed. Both Kate and David Walton, and Jan and Ross Parry went over and above what I would expect from homestay hosts. I can guarantee that their hospitality, generosity and friendliness contributed positively to my race.

Lake Wanaka - Waking up with this view every morning!

Lake Wanaka – Waking up with this view every morning!

It was a new year, and I guess my first real year as a Pro and off the back of learnings and progression at camp I had a very different approach. I think the relaxing environment of New Zealand helped with this. I was calm. I had no expectations and certainly wasn’t thinking about outcomes. I was actually just really excited to try out and test some of the things that we’d been working on in Kona and the last few months. I was willing to give them a try in the race and learn. All I wanted to do was focus on each element as it came, stay present and focused on the process and above all else, enjoy it and have a lot of fun racing!

A bit about the course….

It’s so hard to describe the beauty of this place, and I know my words and pictures will not do it justice. Challenge Wanaka was recently voted the most scenic race in the World, and you can see why. It’s the second oldest race of the Challenge series, behind Roth, and next year in 2016, Challenge Wanaka is 10years in the running. However, don’t let the beauty of this place fool you. Challenge Wanaka is a tough, honest, and at times brutal course. You need to respect the course and the distance and race smart. The swim is two laps in Lake Wanaka and the water temperature can range from 11 to 18 °C. Depending on wind direction too, it can cause a fair bit of chop on the lake. This also can cause issues on the bike. There is always likely to be some degree of wind on the bike course at Wanaka.

Glendu Bay

Glendu Bay

The bike leg, heads along the west banks of the lake out past Glendu Bay to Hospital Flats (don’t let ‘flats’ con you here). It then returns to town where you then commence the first of two laps, heading out, through Albert Town to Lake Hawea, and return via Hawea Flats (again don’t be fooled), Luggate and a lovely little climb up to the airport before heading back into Wanaka.

Lake Hawea

Lake Hawea #ShareYourKask

Yes it is truly stunning but it’s tough. It’s a constant feed of rolling terrain, with many of these having a little kick or bite to them. What adds to this is the lovely NZ road surface. It’s rough and bumpy and zaps your speed and legs. So combine the hills, wind and road surface and you have one heck of an awesome bike course! The run, is two laps heading out of town along the banks of the lake and picking up the trail that runs alongside the beautiful Clutha River (yes I’m running out of superlatives, this place is so awesome!).

Running along the Clutha River and loving life!

Running along the Clutha River and loving life!

Pulling away from the river you hit Gunn Road, a significant hill for a marathon race, before the drag back down to Wanaka and then repeat. It’s 80% trail and track and much like the bike, has some fairly good rolling terrain. Again it’s makes for a pretty awesome course!

Race Day…

With the race being pushed back by about 4 weeks, compared with previous years, it was hoped that the changeable weather that has challenged the competitors in previous years, would be a little more favorable, and it was. We were lucky that on race day we were greeted with a cool calm morning. The wind and temperatures did pick up through the day, as expected, but we were lucky it was not windy to the extremes previously experienced.

My race plan from Matt…

Go smile from the inside out.  Focus on the swim in the swim portion, riding your bike well in the ride, then running with great form and effort throughout.  This is PURE racing and don’t over complicate it.”

We didn’t talk numbers. We didn’t talk power or HR, all we spoke about was enjoyment, process, focus and smiling. Seriously that was it! Simple!

I stood on the start line, a calmness through my mind and body. I was not focused on the enormity of the day ahead, I was purely living in the moment. I did smile, inside and out. I was about to hit the water in a simply stunning place. I would go with what ever was dealt on the day, whatever the day served me and whatever my body gave me.

Swim start - Pro women and men all off together. Me and my Huub wetstuis on the right. Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Swim start – Pro women and men all off together. Me and my Huub wetstuit on the right.
Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images

The hooter sounded and we hit the water, the pro men and women combined. As typically usual in my race, after the first 20m dash for cash from the beach (I’m ok at this part), most of the field started to pull away from me, but rather than forcing it and scrapping, I remained focused and found the stroke and rhythm we’d been working on. I found that then, after about 500m, I started to gain quickly on a couple of girls who were ahead. This was quite a new experience for me, but I felt strong and so swam past and eyed up the pack ahead. For the rest of the first lap I continued to focus on my stroke and tempo and made up a good distance to the pack in front. I ended up about 20-30m back from this pack, but just couldn’t quite close the gap, so for the rest of the first lap and second I swam on my own, just off the back of this group. At one point in the swim, I remember as I breathed, seeing the amazing sun spin a bright red line across the mountains. It was definitely a cool place to race.

Sunrise Lines

Sunrise over Lake Wanaka

I exited the water, feeling my Huub aXena wetsuit and I had put in a decent performance but mainly that I’d stuck to the plan of staying present and I enjoyed it. Now that was done and behind me, focus went to the bike.  There was one or two of the other females not too far ahead which gave me confidence, although I didn’t know where I was in the field. However after faffing in T1 for too long, I jumped onto my bike with no one to be seen. This was good I guess though as I was again able to just focus on me, and riding my Boardman bike well, over the terrain. At the first turnaround I was able to see I was in 4th. Coming back into town, it was time to reset and focus on the first section of the lap part of the course. In the days prior to the race, I’d been riding and would not see another rider or sometimes even a car for hours, so I was pretty prepared to be out on the course on my own and I was comfortable with this.

Loving the bike course

Loving the bike course

I was getting splits to the women in front, and was surprised at how I was closing the gaps. Had I gone to0 hard too soon? Had I not respected the distance and got caught in the red mist of racing? Who knew and at that point, who cared, I was just riding my bike and enjoying it. Now I know I didn’t get the ride completely right. I tried some things and got some timings wrong, but over all again I felt I gave it a pretty good crack and took away a great deal of learning in the process. By about 130km I’d moved up in to 2nd place, and whilst I think I was closing in on Gina, she put a little time back into me over the last 20km, but I came into T2 with a smile on my face, it had been a good solid day so far. Let’s see what was left.

The main focus for the run was form. Again I had no discussion with Matt on pacing or timing. So I set off trying to ease into it, focus on my form and fast feet and see what happened. Well I can safely say I didn’t feel too hot! Ha ha! For the majority of the run, it was very much survival and a pure focus on one foot in front of the other and to keep moving.

About 26km - smile or grimace…I'm not too sure at this stage.

About 26km – smile or grimace…I’m not too sure at this stage.

I had loved running the course in the days leading up to the race, but now on race day the scenery really did pass me by. The only bits I really remember were on the second lap, running the 3-4km section on the narrow track on the banks of the River Clutha, and seeing a lady so leisurely and blissfully breaststroke swimming in the river. It looked divine and I tried to work out if I could detour to just dive in briefly and then carry on. There were also kids floating down the river on dinghy’s and rafts, whilst still calling out encouragement to us running the track! Again it looked so amazing, I just wanted to collapse into it, yet at the same time I didn’t dare stop in case I couldn’t start moving again.

The Clutha River

The Clutha River – yes the run course!

I was again getting some splits to say that whilst Gina was moving ahead and putting time into me, I was pulling away from 3rd. Yet I never took this for granted and was still fully focused on form, staying strong and one foot in front of the other. Just keep moving forward. Finally I was in touching distance of town, it couldn’t come quick enough! Ha ha! In the last 1km I’d just told myself to get to the traditional Challenge  Family Red Carpet Finish Line and then you can walk. When I got there I was greeted by a group of kids with balloons who escorted me around the to the line! There was no way I could walk, they’d overtake me! (Although I’ve just seen the video and actually it’s more of a stumble and stagger around the red carpet to the finish.)


Red carpets & Balloons (Photo Getty Images)

I think these pictures say it all. Relief. Happiness. Content. Satisfaction. Enjoyment. I’m not really sure, but whatever it was, it was a great feeling.

Photo Getty Images

Photo Getty Images

But the most exciting bit about Challenge Wanaka, is not that I felt I executed pretty well some of the tools and things we’d worked on and made some solid steps forward and progress, but that I identified huge gaps in my race that I can work on and improve. During the race, I couldn’t wait to talk to Matt, telling him all the things I’d identified. I had to keep banking all my thoughts for later, as to bring myself back to the present and focusing on the now. This is what is exciting for me, and this is what will motivate me for 2015 and beyond.

The Challenge Family put on a fantastic race. It was my first Challenge race and I can safely say I’ll be back for more. In fact I’ve already signed up for more Challenge events this year. I was impressed by the whole Challenge team and organization of the event, it was professional and first class. I was looked after throughout by Challenge and the people of Wanaka. Thank you. (Check out this great offer from Challenge Family giving away 5 race entries #MadMarch http://challenge-familyusa.com/its-march-madness/)

SOAS Podium Bubbles (Photo Sleepmonsters)

SOAS Podium & Bubbles
(Photo Sleepmonsters)

It was also great to have a SOAS clean sweep on the podium with Gina Crawford and Michelle Bremmer. I was honoured to stand up their, second to Gina, having taken her 6th Challenge Wanaka title. A fellow Puplepatcher, and SOAS athlete, she’s a pretty impressive legend of the sport. I’m excited to be representing SOAS this year, they are a great brand doing fab things for women in the sport. They are incredibly supportive of their athletes and truly value them. I am very much looking forward to meeting more of the SOAS team and SOAS ambassadors over the year. (Use my discount code GOLAURA2015 for 10% discount – worldwide!)

Pre race with Paul Buick!

Pre race with Paul Buick, our Purplepatch bike guru!

I have to of course say thank you to Matt Dixon and Paul Buick, for the patience with me on the first few days of Kona, and for cracking a small part of the code needed for me to have a complete turnaround on the island and then come to Wanaka to race, unshackled. There is a long way to go, but steps have been made in the right direction. Paul and Francine, thank you for the huge support in Wanaka, from the days leading into the race, to race day itself. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

To Shotz for another well fuelled race, and to Kask and Oakley, thank you for the support this year.
Now let’s get the rest of 2015 underway! There’s a lot of work to be done but  I’m excited!

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