So, I am totally amped about training. And even about racing (kinda). More about training. About running, riding and swimming. And about a whole heck of a lot of running, riding and swimming in Rotorua in 3 (eeeeeek!) months!
As I may have mentioned, P and I have joined a local training squad. Lower key (and more expensive!) than Masters with more emphasis on coaching and development. It's a bit dear for the long term, but we'll do a 20-week session, and now that we've moved back into town, we might go back to Masters again. I definitely think it'll be easier for me if P's going too (if just because I'll have a chauffeur). So far, we're loving it, it's always heaps of fun, and I don't feel like a complete goob if I'm having an off week. Plus, my stroke has improved immeasurably since we started.
We had our first squad time trial on Monday. I was absolutely shattered, and seriously missing the pool. We'd been swimming every day in Thailand and we arrived home on a Monday (squad day), but there was no pool at my course so I hadn't been for nearly two weeks. Plus, I'd just got back from the course, moved house, and was still recovering from a late night/hangover.
Felt a bit blah on the warm up, and hung in the medium lane. Generally, I warm up much faster than the other mediums, but this time I was barely keeping up. Not an auspicious start, and I seriously thought about joining the "drills team" and flagging the TT. But in the end my ego won out!
We did a few 50s, with some pick ups, to get our arms ready, and then we were off, on 5 second intervals. One of the dudes in our lane is a serious speedy. While I celebrate getting my 100s below 1:40, he's aiming to get sub-1:20. So he's really in a league of his own. He was off like a rocket, and the rest of us trailed after him. I started a little fast, and passed yellow cap too early, only to feel her nipping at my heels for the next 100 or so. The first 250 flew by, and I was finally getting a rhythm, though I wasn't exactly looking forward to 3 more sets of the same. I had no idea how my pace or time was, but I was feeling good, if a little spluttery. Had a few donks on the head. It's hard enough to deal with lane sharing and turning around in a TT, let alone adding in Mr Michael Phelps! We'd often end up with 3 or 4 trying to make it around, and it got a bit messy. I also lost count a few times, and ended up basing myself on the people around me. I have a sneaking suspicion that I'm 50m out. Got to the end, spluttering and red-faced, and coach said 17:19. With 15s deducted to reflect my starting position, 17:04. Which means that even if I was 50m out, I'd be safely in at sub-18 (I know my pace at the end, and there's no WAY it'd have taken me 56s for the last 50).
And then, during the cool down, I was asked along with Mr Phelps, and the other speedy dude in our lane, to do some demo lengths so some guy could check out our recoveries.
Where we left off, I'd had my new-old bike fitted, and was looking forward to some real riding. Wet weather, our holiday in Thailand, and a bikeless week in Christchurch put an end to that notion. But last week was bike every day week, and although I only got outside once, I think we can call it a success.
On Saturday, I took the bike (which needs a name.. and I think it's a boy bike) out for a quick jaunt around the bays, and doubled back to meet P at the Lyall Bay Warehouse. My first time riding from our new place, and it wasn't too bad. I had to spend some time reminding myself that I CAN ride through traffic. I can stop. I can brake. I can unclip. I can do roundabouts. Such elementary things, but the thought of riding through certain intersections can fill me with a deep pit of panic. I took it very easy, just focussing on confidence, on getting a feel for the bike and on keeping my technique in check. I kept my cadence at a moderate-high rate, and flicked the gears down whenever I felt my legs slowing (none of this working harder business for me). The bike is carbon-less and I really felt some of the dodgy seals! All in all, I did around 35k, which is pretty pathetic, but I'm feeling better and more confident, and I'm looking forward to a longer ride with P next weekend. (Incidentally, Pip- I believe I may have seen you whooshing past somewhere between Island Bay and Owhiro Bay?)
Oh, and in other biking news, I've just won a swish new Avanti mountain bike (the 2008 Hammer)! It was the major spot prize for the Xterra trail running series- SO glad I entered the whole series now!
I'm not the greatest mountain biker. That much should be obvious to anyone who's read about my road biking nerves. But I do love it- when I'm doing the bits I love. So it's great that we'll just be able to pack up and go out. No need to faff around hiring bikes, and no need to scour trademe and the local bike shops for a decent cheapie. The other reason I'd been wanting a mountain bike is that I'm (as mentioned) a nervy rider, and a mountain bike's just so much more stable. So I'll be using the packhorse of my stable for the odd commute/trip to the pool- building up some sneaky miles without having to face the scary road bike.
Really, the run's just the run at the moment. I feel strong, but not particularly fast. I'm relishing the offroad stuff, but if I'm going to go sub-2 after 90k of horrid Rotorua hills, I'm going to need some targeted training. Back to what we were doing earlier this year. Hills, hard hills and more hills. Speedwork. More hills. I was having a ball, so I'm looking forward to moving on from 40-minute sojourns and 70-minute expeditions and back into some real work.
On the upside, I'm strong. My legs are strong, from hills and endless squats at the gym. My climbing's pretty solid, and as I combine weights (a vanity project as much as a strength one), cycling and swimming with my run, I know it can only get better. Knock wood.
Gave the old run legs a bit of a test in the first Xterra trail race of the Wellington season yesterday. The idea was not too go too hard, but to run assertively, not be afraid to work it, and to have fun. I hoped to come in under the suggested "leisurely" time of 1:50. Due to strong winds and slips, the medium course was changed. Instead or running along the ridge, we headed straight up, then straight down, then did a loop in the bush on the other side.
The whole field started together (one of the few "thumbs down" the course gets from me) and as soon as we hit the hill, the walking started. Since this was a "training race" for me, my (starting) goal was to run as much as possible, and not to walk unless I was dying. Sadly, this was not to be the case. The track was narrow to begin with, but not too narrow, and I darted in and out around people. But as we got higher, passing became harder, and more and more people walked. No-one seemed to understand "Excuse me please" or "on the right". So I walked. And ran occasionally. And then walked again. But it's bloody hard to start running again when you're travelling up a vertical slope, when your legs are burning, chest's heaving and your HR's in the 180s! I lost a bit of ground here, as some of the dudes (mostly) who'd been stuck behind early on zapped past. I may have gone out too hard- I think I'd underestimated just how bloody hard a 20-30 minute climb is! Once we'd climbed for a good while, we climbed some more (It'll be depressing, no doubt, to put the data on the garmin and see how truly pathetic the climbs really were). I felt like I pulled ahead a little on the flats, and I was happy to see "skinny headband girl" and "hot pink lady" not too far in front of me. The climb took us up the forestry tracks to the top of the hill, from which we enjoyed around 20 seconds of fantastic panoramic views of Wellington Harbour. Then the pain really started, as we weaved our way down the firebreak, rocks rolling out beneath us with every step. I'm getting stronger downhill, but my butt was well and truly whipped by some of the other ladies out there. The descent seemed neverending. Slipped and staggered and swore. Then it was over, and we were on the bridle path. I breathed a sigh of relief, and took off in front of the two girls who had crushed me downhill (we'll call them Blondie and Turquoise). I caught up to Mr Hash, who I think was keeping a friend company (kept whizzing past, then hanging back). We rounded the corner, and then saw a sign pointing us over a cliff. I swore aloud, and wondered quietly whether this was really some sort of group suicide. I looked down, and crept stealthily over the edge. Below me, Hotpink was going for the bottom/hands/squatting slide, and others were following suit. I decided it was better than tumbling, crouched and skidded. I kept it up, pausing occasionally to wipe my face with my filthy hands, until I became rather more intimate with a sharp rock than I had anticipated. Got up again, staggered a little, made it a few paces, and was back where I started (but this time with a thistle underneath!) Finally, the worst of the downhill was over. I'd passed Hotpink, but Skinny Headband was miles off, and Blondie and Turquoise (and a new friend, White Top) were galloping away ahead of me. The rest was only mildly insane, and no contact between bottom and ground was necessary, though I came pretty close at times to grabbing hold of the gorse bushes along the fire break to keep my balance. When I reached the bottom, ready to head over the ridge I snuck a peak at the ol' Garmin and saw that my average pace was an impressively slow 16.33min/mile! Brillo. Plus, Garmin was telling me I'd been out for around 50 minutes, meaning I had an hour to go.
The next bit was over the grassy campground and through the river. I ploughed through the river (ankle deep? Bah!) and came out close to White Top. I may have passed her here, but if I did, she passed me back. My pace was better now, in the 9:00-10:00/mile area, though as we went into the bush the garmin readings got screwy and I went back to running by HR. I made a couple of goals at this point- first, not to walk again for the rest of the race and secondly, to pass that White Top. Running through the bush was great- I'm sure every trail runner knows it- when you can bound over roots, and fly down the leafy, muddy paths. When you can reach the top of a rolling hill, feeling your legs just start to burn, and roll down the other side, resisting the temptation to scream "WHHHHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!" I kept a decent pace behind White Top, and before we knew it, we were emerging into a clearing, across from the starting area. I waved in the general direction of the carpark, hoping that P (poor boy- injured and couldn't run) would be in the vicinity and would glimpse me. Then I looked ahead, to where P was sitting. Laughing at the idiot waving at the cars. Fair cop. White Top was still ahead, and I wasn't sure what would happen, but I'd figured out I was probably the stronger on the hills. I saw that we'd covered 4.2-ish miles, and groaned at the thought that we were barely halfway through.
The second half of an offroad race is always weird, at least in my experience. With no real idea of where you are, how long the race will take or when you'll finish, you don't know whether to go hard, or whether to store energy for the big finish. Every turn could be your last, but then you see another teasing green marker, and you know you're not done yet. Before too long, White Top and I had caught up with Turquoise, who had lost Blondie, and also with Hash's friend (who he'd deserted by this point) Both were walking, which was fair enough, given that we were still doing 1-2 minute long steep climbs. White Top edged ahead of me as we crossed a boardwalk and some bridges, but I caught her when she stopped for a walk on the next set of hills. I had a new target- Blondie. I met Blondie again as we puzzled over the signs pointing home. And also not home. A bunch of medium runners emerged from "not home" and told us we lucky medium-ers got to run a special little extra out and back. As you can imagine, I was chuffed. Home was one way, and there I was going the other way. And the other way was UP! The good thing about the extra out and back is it gave us an idea of where we were in the pack. Headband, Hotpink and P's fit friend weren't as far in front of me as I might have imagined, and the gap between Blondie and me wasn't growing any bigger. Every turn I'd wonder whether it was the last, and I'd be disappointed. Finally the returning runners started saying "not long to go", and there we were, with one last excruciating climb before the turn around. Blondie outran me on the downhills (which were a blast) and I was concerned to see White Top getting perilously close again (I know, not a race, not a race, but once I've set myself a little goal….) I knew we weren't far to go now, and hoped that the 1.5k to carpark (and then the 800m to car park) weren't too wrong. Then at last, we were coming out back onto the Orongorongo track (a nice, well kept gravel track) which led us back to the finish area. I hoofed it down the track, enjoying watching Garmin move back into more familiar race territory (7.02.. 6.59.. Yes! That's more like it!), with Blondie in front of me. As we neared the finish line, Blondie maintained her pace. I had no real desire to pip her pointlessly at the post, but if she wasn't going to finish strong I was darned if that was going to stop me. Plus, I was famous (the spot prize was announced at Registration, and I'd had people asking about the bike all day) and people were telling me to "run for the biiiiiiiike!!" So run I did. I hoofed it past Blondie and over the finish line, and stopped my watch. 1:43, for an average pace of 14:13.
Results aren't up yet, so I have no idea what that means. But I know I ran well for the second half, and that my climbing legs were not the worst. The gaps between the fasties and me were smaller by the end than they were when I passed P, and that's good enough for me, for now.