Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Giant monkeys: Rotorua Half Ironman Race Report
At 6:34 on Saturday morning, I was treading water in Lake Tikitapu, waiting for the sound of the starting whistle. Six hours and twenty six minutes later, I finished my first half-ironman.
There were no fanfares, no tears, and no butterflies of pride and emotion dancing inside me. But there were new bloggy friends (and the Saint, who lived up to his name by delivering a bag of melted nutrition I'd thrown at him -so I wouldn't have bulging hips in my finishing pictures- to my helmet) and cold Heinekens (I went back for seconds). And there was a shiny finishers medal, a fiance bursting with enthusiasm over his own finish and full of pride at mine, a superb support crew, and a cool clear lake to chill out in, beer in hand.
...And then there were another two and a half days of bloody brilliant weekend!
I'm not sure yet how much I have to say about this race. I trained, I raced, I finished, I'm pleased enough with my performance, and I'm ready to look to the future. But once I get typing, we'll see how much I can really prattle on...
After a hellish week at work, we headed to Rotorua on Thursday evening. We left a little later than intended, and arrived around 11, only to find that our late check in hadn't been recorded, and we had to wake the nice lady from the campground up to let us in. D'oh! The upside of the lateish night was that we had a fantastic sleep- I didn't wake up until 7:30 on Friday morning (unheard of) and managed to get back to sleep until 9:30 (more unheard of). We headed out to Rotorua in search of Nuun and Gu Roctane (Phil), coffee (me) and breakfast food (mmm... blueberries, strawberries and yoghurt... Oh my!) and discovered that the Rotorua Pak n Save is the best ever. After a late breakfast at the table outside what later became Kathy and Paul's log cabin, we headed out to the lake for a quick s/b/r brick (water: lovely, bike: lovely, run: lovely), then headed out to drive the course, which didn't seem too scary. The scariest part was not so much the hills, but the Mob convoy hanging around the turn-off!
We went back to the cabin to chill and de-hairify ourselves before heading back to the lake to meet the other bloggers. I thought I recognised Mike's wife, Jo, then looked out to the lake to see his kids, and then spotted Mike himself. Then Phil realised Kathy and Paul had driven in right beside us, making the meetup much more straight forward. It was nice to meet everyone, although we didn't have much time. Next time let's do dinner guys! (we actually did end up eating with Kathy and Paul in the camp kitchen, which was great)
A typically rough pre-race night's sleep. Ialways lie awake stressing about not being able to sleep, and trying to figure out what's worrying me. Logically, finishing slowly doesn't scare me. Been there, done that. Neither does a DNF- if it happens, it's going to be for a reason, and that reason's unlikely to be something I could or should have predicted or prevented. But lying in our log cabin listening to my fiance breathing and my future-brother-in-law shifting in the bottom bunk he's sharing with my sister, I'm nervous and right on edge.
Woke up at 4:00am (plenty early for me- Mike, you're mad!), ate bircher muesli, drank coffee, and made several trips over to the loos, before piling into the car and heading on our merry way. We arrived a little later than anticipated, couldn't see our teammates, so just picked an emptyish spot and started setting up (turns out we were only about a rack away from the team). We were both a bit snippy, and I'm really glad we had J and D with us to calm us down and work as packhorses- getting from the car to transition in one trip was a pleasant change!
An "in the water" start, which was cool but a bit disconcerting. I was worried about seeing the buoy in the distance (900m away!!), and couldn't hear very well through my swim cap. Finally the whistle went and we were off. I had a nice rhythm and felt like I was keeping a good line, and was somewhat surprised to see 16:33 when I got to the 900m turn, as I felt like I was going better. Then it got worse- I struggled to figure out where the 1800m buoy was, and sort of drifted towards it, reaching it in 33:33 or so (I think). The last 200m went on forever, and I think it took me a good 5 minutes. WTF????? I don't know WHY I can't translate my pool gains to race situations. Training or racing in the pool, I can beat P convincingly (except over 25m sprints, when we're about equal). Training in open water it's less convincing, but I still take the lead. Racing in open water? The b*stard beats me!
I felt good up Tarawera Rd. I eased into a good rhythm, and Eric was great to climb with. I passed people on the way up, and was sad to see our friend Shanon on the side of the road with his bike in bits. The passing ended when we hit the downhill, and although I wasn't riding conservatively, people blew past me like I was riding my brakes. It didn't help that there were TONS of cars on the course- it might be worth restricting traffic until the last athletes are off Tarawera Road. Kept feeling good (and passing) along the flats out of town, and felt great when I reached the SH30 turnoff. The course is great along here, and I have one piece of advice for Pip. BUY AEROBARS. With it's two big mother climbs and tough run, Rotorua can look like a climber's course, but it's definitely a power course. I just couldn't keep up with bigger dudes with aerobars on the descents and the flats, and any time I made up on the hills was lost quickly. My average speed stayed around 30kph, and I reached the turnaround in 1:33 or so, with an average HR of 166.
I kept up a decent pace after the turnaround, at first, but I soon drifted into alien territory. First my butt hurt, then my legs. I found myself getting out of the saddle to stretch more and more frequently, and I cursed myself for not building more cycle endurance. I struggled up Hell's Gate, and hoped that it would get better. It didn't- nasty wind and awful road. I tried to remember to HTFU (written on my hand under my cycling glove), but I couldn't. I'm not so much annoyed by my slow speed (it turns out Phil, Paul, Mike and I ALL rode the second half in times roughly equivalent to our times on the much harder contact course), but with the fact that I faded, and completely lost *it*. No more passing men and 20-something chicks. Nope- now I was being passed by women 30 years my senior who must outweigh me by 20kg.
Tarawera was hard. My knees screamed, but at least I was passing people again. Only to be passed again on the way down, as I pedalled into the headwind, struggling to get over 20kph. GRR! The ride down seemed much longer than I imagined, and I watched 3:15 and 3:20 come and go. Finally, 3:24 later I was turning into T2, cursing myself. J and D told me that P was about 40 minutes ahead of me, which was something of a relief- I knew he was riding well, and that the second half must have been harder for everyone than I gave it credit for...
I was looking forward to running, as I knew that unless something was very wrong, I'd be passing people. I took off at what felt like a good clip, but my pace slowed in the bush (especially up the big climb, which just went on and on), and when I finally emerged and hit the 4k marker I was stunned to see over 26 minutes. My garmin had me around 10min/mile pace, so I decided to focus on keeping the garmin pace down under 10 and not to worry about much else. I was feeling ok, apart from VERY sore legs, and I wasn't capable of moving fast enough to blow the rest of the run, so I just kept pushing on and trying to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Because the course has lots of bits of out and back, there was a chance to seem some people again. Phil was already too far on for me to see him, but I saw Shanon blasting along on his way back and gave him a quick cheer. Then I noticed Mike hobbling along on the other side of the road. His dodgy calf had "gone", and he was on his way back. I gave him a quick wave, but he seemed OK so I went on my merry way. The gun club out and back was great- I saw that my arch rival (she doesn't know it…) was a decent way ahead, but not impossibly far, and I saw the guy who organises our local races not far in front of me, and knew I could catch him. By the time I got to 9k (in about 51 minutes), my pace was well under 6 minute ks (yes, I just drift between miles and ks as it suits me) and I was feeling good. The view at the lookout was lovely, and I wished I could stop for a proper look.
There was a big climb between the lookout and the gun club on the way back. It hurt. I was leapfrogging with a nice lady named Claire who seemed to be running at about my pace (I ended up losing her on the second loop).
I decided to grab a coke and a water at the gun club station on the way back. The coke was too fizzy and I gave up. Water was great, and I was happy with my decision to pause/walk the aid stations. I usually caught back up with my "friends" afterwards, and it was worth it to stay hydrated (I had a camelbak on the bike, but didn't want to run with it, especially given the several aid stations). I also decided I should eat around here somewhere. I had no idea what to expect in a half-IM- would I want "marathon food" or ironman food? I had a bag of pretzels, some mini snickers and some gummis in my pocket, but everything was melty and gross, and the lollies were revolting. Next time I'm definitely bringing some jelly bellys!
Cruising past the gun club and back to the lake the first time was strange. It was great to have more people around me but disconcerting to know that most of them were on their way to finishing! Also, it's a little depressing looking at the 19k marker when you're at 14k. Despite that, it was great coming past the finish, seeing Phil (who just looked SO happy), Paul, J and D and knowing I only had one loop left. The second loop of the lake was pretty lonely- déjà vu!- but eventually I found some people to catch up to. The lads manning the gun club drink station were very efficient, and took our drink orders as we climbed the stairs to nowhere. Tried to pick it up on the way back, and had fun passing some of the people who still had a loop to go, but couldn't really get the pace below about 9:30s. As I rounded the last corner and ran back along the lake, I saw Kathy and my arch-rival-who-doesn't-know-it. I knew I had enough in the tank to catch the rival, but I slowed down quickly to say hi to Kathy, throw lollies at Paul (I didn't want chipmunk hips in my finish shots again!) and give my supporters a wave, and by the time we got to the finish chute, I realised I didn't have the heart to wreck someone else's picture with an ambush attack, all for a measly 3 seconds. Some killer instinct…
I went straight for the Heinekens when I finished- I'd been holding out since about 10ks- and then walked stiffly down to the lake with my man and my supporters.
I kept pushing my expected time out during the race, and so I found the 6:26 quite disappointing. I'm also quite disappointed with each of the three disciplines- even the run. But looking back at the race, my training and the race-predictor, I'm reminded that I did what I set out to do.
I conquered my bike issues- maybe this wasn't the best ride ever, but given that in September I was too scared to ride change lanes, turn right, climb hills or let go of my brakes, an average speed of 26.something kph is nothing to be sneezed at.
I lost 10 lbs (exactly), and I look better than I did when I ran the Rotorua marathon last year, and smoking hot in the long white dress!
I said I'd be STOKED with sub 6:30, and I finished in sub 6:30. So I should be stoked. So I will be.
I also think I've found my distance, and I think I can get a LOT better. I have improved my pool swimming considerably over the last year, taking a good 2 mins off my 1k time trials, and 10-15 seconds off my 100s. So, I just need to translate those gains into open water. I have improved my cycling immeasurably, and with Eric and some aerobars, it's only going to get better. My running's stayed solid enough- I always pass people on the run- but I need to get back to where I was in 2005 (1:42 half pb, and a 22:04 5k…) So, we're looking for some coaches who can help us do it.... in the Akl/Waikato/BoP area, as we're moving, in Feb/March!