Welcome to the Amusement Park and the Rollercoaster ride of an Ironman!
This is how they should describe the entering and the lead up to an Ironman, even the race.
The last few weeks I’ve gone through so many emotions. From head in the sand and complete denial that I was racing an Ironman, to unbelievable excitement and huge amounts of energy (was that the taper?), back to utter fear of that unknown and shitting it…there were even a few tears (very briefly)…
I know, crazy isn’t it. Why does doing something I love so much cause so much emotion? Why does my drive to be the best I can be, cause such a roller coaster? It’s only a race after all. Just like any other race I have done this year, and in years previously. It’s a race that doesn’t really even have any pressure or expectations attached to it with it being my Pro debut into the iron distance. It’s a long day of training, a day of just exploring my ability and performance.
So what’s the issue? I absolutely have no idea, and as I look back now over the past few weeks and my race in Arizona, I look back with ‘rose tinted’ glasses and I can say I absolutely loved it! What an incredible roller coaster ride that was and I’m queuing up for the next.
My coach Matt Dixon, had planted the seed several months ago. I actually think it was on March 13th, at the end of my week ‘trial/interview’ in San Fran and being told Matt would take me on and coach me. Somewhere in there I think he also mentioned something about Ironman. To be honest I was so excited he’d said he’d coach me, I think I just ignored the Ironman comment and laughed it off. He mentioned it again or a few times perhaps over the next few months, and I’m pretty sure each time I dismissed it as a joke, and then it turned out it wasn’t a joke, and he was serious, and it was going to happen, and happen this year. Well why not, it’s the end of season, I’ve just moved my life from the other side of the world, joined a new group, have a new coach, why not just throw in an Ironman as well. I wasn’t sure I was mentally (or physically) ready for an Ironman, but what I did have was complete faith and trust in Matt and his thoughts, so I went with it.
So with half distance racing finished, and a quick ‘work experience trip’ to Kona over, my attention switched to Arizona. Over the next few weeks, I went through a plethora of emotions, with the extremes becoming more polar as the days disappeared and the race approached. Arriving in Arizona, on the Wednesday prior to the race I was actually pretty calm (possibly still a state of denial). I was hosted by an awesome family, John and Claudia Balden, their 7 year old daughter Olivia, and Maggi, an 8 week old adorable Chocolate Labrador/Rotweiller pup. The latter two, were both great distractions in the days prior, and made sure it was a grounded, fun few days leading up to the race.
I was actually pretty calm on race morning (I think) too. You just go into the routine and focus on the tasks on the list, the things you need to tick off to get you to the start line, the things you can control. Warm up, checking bike, fuelling etc.
The swim was one 3.8km (2.4mile) loop in Tempe Town Lake. The bike, 112miles split over three laps, and the marathon at the end, two loops, along and back both sides of the lake. Very spectator friendly and with conditions normally pretty favourable for Arizona in November, you can see why it’s a popular race. (The 2015 event sold out in record time, in fact before it went public. They run a great scheme where if you volunteer one year you have first dibs in to enter the year after)
“Don’t let what you can’t do, interfere with what you can” – John Wooden
One of the themes of the day. I was never going to be swimming at the front of the race, and therefore there was no point worrying about this. My plan was to focus on my race and what I can do and what I can control. For the swim it was rhythm, tempo, length and swim in a straight line. Simple. I felt for me I executed this pretty well, and was pleased to swim back up to some of the girls ahead of me as we turned the last buoy towards the exit. I think the swim actually went faster than I expected. It was however a lot choppier than I was expecting though for a ‘lake’ swim. Part of this was the boat that kept going up and down, causing a nice little bow wave for us to deal with (thanks), but part was the wind and a sign of things to come.
Exiting the water and heading out on the bike I found there were more bikes still in transition than I’d expected and got a time check that I was 9mins off the lead. But with the swim behind me it was eyes forwards onto the bike. The plan was to start pretty hard, as we felt this would be what I needed to get my legs going and open up. I’m not sure if I really started hard enough, but I certainly gave it a go. I was racing without power, or heart rate and we’d not discussed speed, it was just go and ride my bike. I set about breaking it down into 6 segments. Well actually 12. Being 3 laps you could break down each lap into the ‘out’ and ‘back’ section. Then within each of these it split again into two. The first zig zag (10km) out to the Beeline, then the 20km straight section to the turnaround. (Then, the same breakdown on the way back). Yes it was windy on the first lap on the way out, but not disastrously so, yet when I headed back out on the 2nd and 3rd lap, it had certainly picked up. The point at where I cycled past a temporary road sign as it was being held by the wind at a 30deg angle to the horizontal (yes I calculated this), with sandbags holding it at the base preventing if from being blown over completely, was a pretty good indication that we were going to have a battle on as we headed out each time to the turnaround. The last lap was hard. The wind was brutal and I could sense the time ticking away as I battled to the turnaround, motivating myself with the fact that it would result in a strong tail wind on the way back.
Overall, whilst the wind was a slog, and I learnt a few good lessons about the aid stations and picking up special needs, the bike was awesome. Getting the tail wind for 20km on the way back was a fab feeling, just trying to drive the bike and loving every minute of it.
“Keep it simple, get shit done” – Matt Dixon (I’m sure it’s been said be many people before but I’ll ref Matt for this time!)
Back in T2 and I probably took a little longer than planned but wanted to make sure I was settled and had everything I needed (my Shotz nutrition) and had applied vaso etc. and I was ready to go. The only pacing instruction Matt had given me for the whole race was “no faster than 7mins (per mile) in the first 4miles of the run”. Funnily enough I found this quite easy to achieve and in fact then sadly didn’t really managed to pick it up for the rest of the marathon to what I believe I can run. I guess this is a good learning, having never really raced a marathon before, let alone at the end of a small swim and bike. I tried to focus and keep steady, thinking about foot speed, form and staying in the moment and relaxed. I had the same line of a song going round my head, as I had had for most of the bike, and it continued on to the run as I also went through different chants and mantras to keep me focused. Unfortunately I could only remember the same line on repeat rather than the rest of the song and now I can’t even remember the song!
Where as on the bike I felt I’d stay in a pretty good head space the marathon is certainly that roller coaster of one mile feeling great and thinking your legs are coming, to the next feeling like you’re just slowing and grinding to a halt.
The volunteers at the aid stations were fantastic though. Different themes and fancy dress and it was a great way to break up the run. As said, having never really raced a marathon I was conscious of keeping my pace in check on the first lap, and then opening up on the second. I was making good time and putting a gap between me the guys behind me, but didn’t seem to be gaining much on women in front. But I stayed focused on my form and pace hoping I could pick it up on the second lap. Whilst I don’t think I went to any truly dark places (maybe the rose tinted glasses have kicked in here), miles 12-14 were pretty low. It was a long empty section of road at the end of the loop, and it was here I started to feel my energy drop and a few demons come in my head. For one, I had another whole lap to run. Seriously! I didn’t feel this bad after running a half, and I was running 15mins slower than I would. At the same point, Brent McMahon ran past me on route to the finish to claim the win. He was finishing and I had another whole lap to go. However it was opportune as heading out on the second lap you run through a big group of spectators and I had my ‘good cop / bad cop’ duo of training buddies Emma-Kate Lidbury telling me to think about chocolate and ice cream and smile, and Sarah Piampiano, passing on words from the coach to “toughen up” and “dig deep”, and “yes it’s going to hurt and everyone’s hurting” but just “get shit done!’” ha ha!
(Seriously it was awesome having EK and Sarah (and others) there as support and have their encouragement and motivation – more on that later.)
For most of the second lap I counted to 100 on repeat. Just taking my mind of the distance and focusing on the next 100 counts, or the next bridge and finally I managed to pass, moving up into 8th with just 2miles to go.
The last mile seemed to go forever. Just 4 laps of the track I kept saying, and then finally I could take the right hand split in the route to the finish and could see the blue barriers of the chute, and before I knew it there was the arch…talk about after 26miles not giving you much warning from the start of the barriers to the arch! Ha ha! I have no idea what was going through my head. I don’t think I dared stop as for the whole second lap of the run I wasn’t sure whether my quads, glutes or hips were going to cease up first. I managed to high five some people before swerving across as I spotted the girls in the crowd before suddenly being across the line. I don’t even remember if I heard Mike Riley call me out as an Ironman! Ha ha! I am still such a Rookie!
It’s honestly worse when you stop. Suddenly your body realizes what you’ve just put it through. You are suddenly hobbling around with legs not really working in unison with the rest of your body or mind. What just happened?
I never feel like I want anything to eat in the recovery area after a half distance race so after the full it was no different. But I had my awesome ‘bad cop’ buddy Sarah Piampiano, ensuring that I took food and went about the right way of recovering, even though I tried to refuse everything she said/gave me! Again thank you!
My attention soon turned to the rest of the team out there racing and so we headed out to find some good spectator spots on the course to cheer home the team. I truly love the Ironman event, well the spectator part. (ha ha!) It’s all very well finishing in 8hrs or 9hrs 32mins as I did, but the people that are truly inspiring are the guys out there, still with a marathon to go. It’s dark as the sun sets early in Arizona. These guys are still going to finish in decent times, yet they are now running in blackness. Then the guys that will come in at 17hours. 17hours on your feet! Now that is a pretty amazing achievement in my book.
I think my rose tinted glassed came pretty quickly. I’m not sure the day had really sunk in. I think I was almost in a neutral (perhaps zombie or sugar filled) state. As an athlete I’m not sure you ever really give yourself a chance for it to sink in. You automatically go into analysis of what you could have done better and what you can improve on? What did you learn and what you can do better next time? I think I was guilty of this for sure. It’s really hard to describe the feelings that you go through. (I should probably read my own recent post about the letter P, and add in “Perspective” as well as remembering the other valuable words. http://www.witsup.com/the-siddall-project-the-letter-p/)
Looking back now (rose tinted glasses for sure). I loved it. It was awesome. For a first hit out over the distance, and as a Pro, I have to be pretty pleased. It was a solid performance across all three legs. I took away a lot of learning and experience and I know I have so much more to give and I ‘m hungry for it. I was lucky that the course set up was fantastic for spectators so for 90% (not measured) of it, there were people around cheering, supporting and encouraging. I was lucky that there was a fantastic group of the Purplepatch community also racing or supporting on the day.
Whilst I know there were my family and a lot of friends in the UK and Australia tracking me from afar, through the night and time zones, for which I am very grateful for, I can’t thank enough the way the US and in particularly the Purplepatch family has welcomed and adopted me in such a short amount of time since moving here. The sport of Triathlon is special, but the Purplepatch community is truly amazing and I’m so grateful for being taken under the wing and to have the support of so many people and friends who I’ve only known only for a few months. Thank you.
Now I am struggling to recover from the race. Not particularly from my body, I’m actually feeling reasonably good, but from the fact I have no training plan to work from and have no idea what I’m doing from one day to the next! Talk about being a routine person! I’m hating it! Ha ha! But I know I have to be patient (there’s that P again) and let my body recover and take some time before jumping into Pre Season for 2015
A few more:
To my coach, Matt Dixon and the Purplepatch team, thanks for the belief and convincing me this was a good idea. For the words and support. The past 8months have been brilliant, I’ve loved it, am loving it and learning so much with so much more to come. I can’t wait to get started for 2015! (Just please let me get back to training soon, I’m not good with this ‘no plan’ break thing!)
To Nick from SAG Monkey. What incredible service. Bike dropped off Monday, and delivered to my home stay door Wednesday, pretty much as I stepped off the plane. To the awesome support you gave me and everyone over the race week and then for the speedy return ensuring we had our bikes back with us only 2days after the race back in San Fran! Thank you to you and Jack!
To Darryl from Shotz Nutrition, for being patient with all my last minute questions but for working out a great nutrition plan! No GI issues, no stomach problems. Very very grateful as ever.
Don’t Die Wondering!