Sunday, December 14, 2014

Ironman Western Australia 2014 race report

It would be pretty easy to read all the comments and congratulations on my Ironman Western Australia race and misconstrue that I won the darn thing. In truth, I was 4th- 8 minutes from the win, but on so many levels, it was a win for me. First, I must congratulate the superwomen who actually DID make the podium- New Zeland's Britta Martin who set a new course record (8:56), Germany's Mareen Hufe who rode (in a good way) like a man (9:00), and Australia's own ever-solid Liz Blatchford (9:02).

Two minutes behind Liz, in 9 hours and 4 minutes, I crossed the finish line with a fist pump, a smile, and no regrets.. Ok, a few regrets, especially in that swim, but we will get to that later! All-in-all it was a huge day for me. To put things in perspective, 4th place and a 9:04 was not even (if I'm being honest) on my radar.  I was ranked 16th of 31 female professional starters coming into the race with a 'predicted' finish time of 9:47 or something. My personal "best-case-race" secret goal to "prove everyone wrong and that I still got it" was actually around 9:15 and my primary goal (that I was willing to tell people) was to break 9:30. I had no inklings that I'd post a time that would have won the race outright in 3 of the past 4 years. Just when thoughts of "maybe I should hang it up" and "wouldn't it be nice to spend all day with Wynne instead of on bike rides" crept back into my head throughout my race preparation, this had to go and happen and make me believe again, darn it. So, on I'll go into 2015 believing that I can and will one day win an Ironman and sneak onto some podiums along the way.... But first, to close out 2014- my 2nd & final race report of the year - my race year was short and sweet thanks to Wynne McKenzie's arrival 6 months ago, but I ended up accomplishing more this year than I ever thought possible. Okay, okay...THE RACE!

We arrived in Western Australia on the Tuesday prior to Sunday's race. Monday night, we boarded a red-eye in Thailand (oh yeah, forgot about Thailand...will do a post on that soon!) and woke up in Perth, Australia. True to form, Wynne slept the entire flight like a champ, allowing Luke & I to log a few hours of sleep as well. The drive to Busselton takes about 3 hours from Perth, which passed quickly as I played on my phone and Mr. Driver-man Luke soldiered on to our destination. (Quick aside- we rented a Toyota Rav 4- and if you travel with a baby & all the fixins plus two bikes- it will all fit! Definitely will be our go-to rental of choice.) When we arrived in Busselton, we checked into a lovely little studio at the Sebel hotel and went about bike-building, etc. Wednesday through Saturday, I rolled around the Busselton course with Mr. Driver-man-daddy-day-care following behind me with Wynne and kept the swim & run ticking over.
Rolling through the perfect course

This might be the biggest "hill" on the course

Checking out the swim course from above with Wynne- That's a long way around that pier!
Coach Wynne gave me a good race-week swim set at the local Busselton pool. 
The bike fairy got my Cannondale Slice RS ready to race fast. Zipp disc on for a flat fast ride.. WHOMP WHOMP! 
I must say that planning my big race to coincide with Luke's first true week of off-season was brilliant. He was all about taking care of his girls and all I had to do was focus on the race at hand.

All-in-all, race week could not have gone smoother, and I was perfectly healthy and ready to toe the line. (So often, I come down with a cold during race week and am just incredibly thankful each race-eve that I get to go to bed without a sniffle or issue). I'm glad race week was so spot-on because the week prior, well, not sure it was the best race prep as we were in Thailand for Luke's race at Challenge Phuket. I admit to doing a bit too much sightseeing, eating, drinking, and playing and not quite enough specific training. In hindsight though, maybe the "extended taper" works well for me! I did have an unfortunate crash on my bike in Thailand that I didn't tweet, etc about because I didn't want any excuses out loud in the universe. The right side of my body was a bit banged up, but nothing that really ended up impacting me on race day, just a couple scars to add to the lot that already exist. Ok- back to race week.. Summary: it went well!

I did a few pre race interviews including the Toyota Early Edition presented by First off the Bike (you can see it here

Up at 3:30 for a 5:30am start... yes 5:30 am START! It gets light crazy-early in Australian "summer" and they like to take advantage (btw. as a side note, I asked Luke today, "Everyone here goes to bed late but wakes up so early, when do they sleep?" He answered, "Winter." )
Yeah, so I ate breakfast, which my Driver-man-daddy-day-care-slash-chef cooked for me- Pamela's gluten free pancakes with extra maple syrup and lots of coffee. Also add "scavenger" to the list for Luke's roles as he located an electric skillet for me in Busselton to cook said pancakes as we had a limited "kitchenette" in our studio. Closer to race time I also had a Coconut Cashew Bonk Breaker and a bottle of MRM Hydration Factor.

At the race start, I went for my lucky/standard warm-up jog (26.2 miles isn't long enough, eh?) and put on my Zoot Prophet 2.0 (Another quick aside... this suit has changed wetsuit swimming for me. A huge upgrade in my opinion from the 1st Prophet, it is incredibly comfortable and non-restrictive. It makes me love wetsuit swimming which has traditionally been a nemesis of mine). I did a warm-up swim for about 5 minutes and then we were called out of the water.

Calm & clear - ideal race morning conditions

As we lined up to go, I was sickly nervous as usual. The 30 minutes prior to race time in an Ironman are 30 minutes I'm still working on enjoying. I try my best to channel my anxiety into excitement, but it is very difficult for me. I'm never nervous about completing the race, I'm always just nervous about letting others down or being a failure in other people's eyes.. I dread people looking at their online trackers thinking, "oh dear, shocker of a swim!" or "her bike is hopeless!" or other things along the way. I say this because it's real and hopefully one day, I won't think this way, but in case you think this way as well, just wanted to let you know you're not alone.

Anyway, often once the gun goes off, I shake the nerves and just get into it. I lined up behind Liz Lyles (2013 IMWA winner) because on my best day, I believe I can swim with her and come in a couple minutes under an hour. Clearly, that was not the case last Sunday. With 30 women on the start line, the start was actually incredibly aggressive. I got pummeled and kicked and elbowed and am guilty of doing a bit myself to keep my position. I was smack in the middle and thought I got a good start with a big, fast pack. Unfortunately, a few hundred yards in, the feet I had chosen lost the feet ahead of her and I was too late to close the gap. I did try to swim around, but was about 10 meters off of where we wanted to be when I got to the front of our splintered group. The good news was that there were 6 or 7 girls with me. The bad news was that the 6 or 7 girls I wanted to be with were just ahead of us. I know I'm not the only one in our group who thinks we should have swum a bit faster. I think we are all capable of it, but made some critical errors at some point. Anyway, I led the crew all the way to the turnaround point (which is the end of a VERY long 1.2 mile Jetty). After the turnaround, things got washing-machine-esque and I was having trouble spotting the buoys. I have had some navigational issues in the past and even though I was swimming strong, I couldn't see the buoys and honestly didn't trust myself. I breaststroked for a few meters to signal the girls to come around me and then I hopped on the feet of the new leaders (one of whom was my friend Sarah Piampiano, thanks SP! ). To my right I found Michelle Duffield and to my left was Dimity Lee-Duke, both girls who had been swim companions in IM Malaysia.. I knew that we all wanted to swim with the group ahead, but there is consolation in company and I was happy to work with these girls. At some point I also saw Kristy Hallett who always makes me smile, so that was nice too. Michelle had told me that she had never swum over an hour at Busso, so I assumed we'd squeak in there, right? WRONG! Exiting the water in 1:02, I knew I had work to do. Actually, I had no idea of my swim time, but did judge by the (small) number of bikes remaining that our pack definitely had our work cut out. The good news- I was not alone!!

One of the huge advantages of a large women's field is that throughout the day, there are races within the race. In smaller fields, I am often party-of-one for a 112 mile rolling buffet which is a feeling similar to that of poking your eyes out. Instead, today I had company! The bike course at WA is two, flat, 56-mile loops- a perfect course to pace yourself for a personal best if you ride smart. Right away, Dimity and Sarah P. motored their way towards the front of the race, but I stuck to my own race plan.  I settled into my goal watts (about 10 watts higher than IM Malaysia). I found myself "racing" Michelle and Kristy, and we pushed each other for the first lap. Kristy got away at one point, but Michelle and I continued to work to catch her- love racing wit these girls! At one point, I had to stop and take the sticker off of my Zipp disc (We had placed the sticker to cover the valve opening) because the noise was mind boggling every time I took a pedal stroke and I just couldn't stand it anymore. I lost about 30 seconds. After hopping back on, I rode hard until I caught the girls I had previously been riding with.

The most technical part of the ride are the eleven 180 degree U-turns
The second lap got very crowded as we were passed by a lot of age group men. I was pleased that there were no obvious draft packs, but there was definitely undeniable legal-slash-not quite legal pace lines of dudes. When men passed appropriately, it was easy to keep the 12-meter draft zone. However, often, even if I was what I judged to be exactly 12 meters (without pushing it) from the person in front of me, a man would pass and then slot in between us. This was incredibly frustrating because if I am at 12 meters, (per the rules) no one is supposed to come in between us until I have "opened the gap", they are supposed to keep riding and passing ahead. Unfortunately, so many age group men did this illegal slotting in and I'd be forced to sit up or drop back to avoid a penatly. It got to the point that I finally said (nicely) to a few who tried to slot in, " I'm sitting at 12 meters, please continue passing". Anyway, like it or not, there was a lot of company on the bike, but the girls around me all did a nice job of keep it legal, fast, and fun. I hope and believe that they can say the same of me. By the end of lap 2, I was actually dropping most of the age group men and found a 3rd wind... I motored home the last 40k and ended up passing a few pro women I hadn't seen all day who had ridden out a bit too hard. Into T2, I saw that I had ridden 5 hours on the dot and was pleasantly surprised.. My previous personal best was a 5:18 I believe, so that's a good chunk of time. My official ride time for the 112 miles was 5:00:25

I got to T2 and was happy to see at least 10 red run bags still on their hooks... I'm always a little pleased when I'm not dead last, (ok, that is not the remark of a "champion" but well, it's true). Anyway, I threw on my Zoot Ovwa 2.0s (love love love!), Zoot visor and Garmin and ran out of the change tent. There were SO many (possibly drunk, but very fun!) Aussie spectators cheering me on, I'm sure I had a huge smile to be off my bike and was excited to get the lay of the land and the competition on the run course. After the 1st half mile, I saw Luke (& Wynne!) and he told me I was in 12th  (I had come off the bike in 15th but passed a few in transition/the first kilometer) and told me where the girls were up the road. The 4-loop out-and-back run course is IDEAL for course support and also for spotting your competition.
Not a bad place to run a marathon

Within 10 minutes, I knew that I was within 8-ish minutes of at least 5 girls.. I didn't look at my pace as I was running and just tried to run comfortable until I settled in. If I had to guess, I'd have thought I was running about 7:15 pace. When my watched beeped signaling the first mile, I looked down and saw 6:20 for the mile.. Whoooooooops... Hold your horses, Harriett! I tried to slow down, but my legs didn't want to. I checked my heart rate for the first  time and saw that it had already settled to my special "you can run a whole marathon at this heart rate" number so I decided to just go with it. I ran the first 10k in 40min and 20 seconds, so yeah, coming in hot. BUT, I was not overexerting myself. I knew the pace would drop eventually, but I just needed to keep the "easy" feel. Spoiler: Nothing feels easy at mile 20 of an Ironman marathon. I also know that if I start out around 6:30 mi/miles and creep into low to mid 7-minute pace by the end, it balances out to around a 3-hour marathon. The first half of the run was unreal. I felt invincible and had easily moved into the top 10. After that though, the girls became harder to catch and further strung out. It took me a very long time to catch Sarah Piampiano, Dimity Lee Duke, & Asa Lundstrom. After that, I was in 6th, pretty sure that that's where I'd end up. The next girls ahead were Bree Wee, who was moving really well, and Yvonne Van Vlerken who was not moving as fast, but had a significant chunk of time on me. I don't know exactly how much time because I thought they were too far ahead to catch so I didn't take splits. Luke kept telling me I could catch Bree & Yvonne but I honestly didn't believe him. I just kept running and trying to hold my pace, but I started to feel super nauseous and really depleted/low on calories. I wanted to take in gels but I just couldn't face the gels. The thought of them made me want to vomit. So, I ran the marathon on Gatorade, Coke, and fumes. I was dying for something salty, but in Australia they only have Vegemite on toast as a salty option and that is not in my repertoire. Next time I'll pack some chips or pretzels in special needs in case I'm dying for some relief from the sweet. Anyway, the second half of the marathon was pure, painful work. I felt slow, hot, tired, sick and I just wanted to be done. I think that helped me march on to the finish line. At some point, I caught up to Bree and passed her, but that took a very long time. At the last turnaround (less than 2 miles to finish), I could see Yvonne ahead, but was happy with my 5th place. Already proud of myself, I thought I'd just make it to the finish and that was enough. But slowly, Yvonne was getting bigger in my view and then at some point I knew I had to make a move and pass her. With a little over a mile to go, I passed Yvonne, ran into 4th and knew that's where I would finish the race. At 25 miles, I finally looked at the elapsed time on my Garmin and saw 2:51:30 ...holy crap, if I just run, I will go under 3 hours?!? DONE! The last mile flew by & I crossed the line in 9:04 and couldn't believe I was seeing that number on the clock- except it was 9:07 but I knew that was the pro male time as we started 3 minutes later (my previous best is a 9:38! - but all courses I've done prior rate much higher in difficulty).

I got to hug Luke & Wynne just over the line and barely made it to the chairs before vomiting everywhere... whooooops.. But, that got me a quick ticket to medical and an IV. An hour later, good as new, I went to find my people and celebrate! Sure, it wasn't a win, but it was a bunch of little wins in my book and put the "what-ifs" and "maybes" back in my brain. What if I swam with the pack just ahead? What if I improve by 5 watts or 5 minutes on the bike? when you swim a 1:02 or bike 5:00:25 or come in at 9:04, it's hard not to dance around how to get those numbers just down below the round number zone..

Women's top 6 plus Wynne

Thanks to all who have supported me this year & beyond, especially my sponsors...On to 2015!