Race Report- Sunshine Coast 70.3. My first half ironman

I don’t even know where to begin with this race report. The lead up to this race started early 2013 when I decided I wanted to give a 70.3 a go, at this stage I hadn’t even completed an Olympic distance tri- but you all probably know by now I am one to dream big! After talking a good friend into signing up with me (who hadn’t ever done a triathlon in his life…still don’t know how I achieved that!), it was time to start training. Last year I did my first sprint distance, first Olympic distance tri and my first 2 half marathons, and as my first planned 70.3 race approached I felt nervous but ready to tackle it. My race, however, did not go ahead after my sister was involved in a very serious accident that resulted to her spending two weeks in hospital. There was no way come race day I was leaving her side, and I made the decision to forgo my race knowing that despite her encouragement I was not mentally strong enough that week to make it through the race. So my 70.3 goal was postponed for 12 months until the next Sunshine Coast race. Many of you know that I spent the start of the year building muscle in the Bodybuilding.com transformation challenge, before concentrating on my triathlon training from late April. Not long after this I found out I had qualified to race for Australia at the ITU World Championships in Edmonton, Canada. This was such exciting news but had be worried about how I would find the balance between training for a sprint distance triathlon in Canada and the 70.3 race only 2 weeks later. To be honest, despite enlisting the help of a wonderful coach, I’m not sure I really got the balance down pat. The majority of my training and preparation was for my race which would be on the world stage, and a series of events meant I did not spend enough consecutive hours on my bike or out on long runs this year. As you will read in my race report about my race in Canada, this race did not go to plan thanks to developing bursitis in my right shoulder 5 weeks before the race. After having to resort to one armed swimming, cycling and running in Canada, my lead up to this race was full of a different kind of anticipation. Despite being determined to start this race, I was absolutely terrified of not even being able to finish the swim leg (and I was almost convinced that that may have well been the case). With my physio’s permission I did a ‘test’ swim on Wednesday. It was only 300m but there was significantly less pain than 1.5 weeks earlier in Edmonton. That was the confidence boost I needed as the weekend and race approached. My physio was also happy with this news (and with the fact he didn’t have to work out how to stop me from racing…which was going to be a tough fight to win!). But I did have STRICT instructions…absolutely NO wetsuit under ANY conditions…the words were I don’t care if its -21’C…you are NOT wearing a wetsuit. The concern was that my wetsuit had pulled my shoulder forward and aggravated my bursitis in Canada, and if this happened again in this race I had no hope of finishing.

I headed up to the Sunshine Coast around Friday lunch time, it was a gorgeous day and I was so excited to arrive and see just perfect ocean conditions for a race! After checking in, Mum and I headed off for a wander down Mooloolaba Esplanade- the site where much of the action would take place on Sunday, including the finish! As we approached where the finish line would be set up come that afternoon, I was so excited when I saw the Ironman and M-dot banners lining what would become the finishing chute- I think I actually squealed! This was the moment it became real, this wasn’t just any other race- on Sunday I would push my body to its limits in my quest to become a half ironman and make this dream a reality! That afternoon was the perfect lead up- I picked up my race pack, did a little bit of shopping at the expo and had a much needed massage for my neck and shoulders by the ocean that afternoon. Everywhere you looked you could see the influx of triathletes in Mooloolaba, the atmosphere was building! We had a quiet night in that morning, and after struggling to sleep that night it was time to get up and head off on my pre-race day easy run. Another perfect morning and it felt great to be out and running alongside the beach. With run and breakfast done, I headed off to the Mantra to watch the race brief video. Armed with the do’s and dont’s for race day it was time to rack my bike. I should mention at this point that since returning from Canada I have struggled to get my bike set up such that I didn’t end up with pain in my hip only a short distance into my training rides. As I didn’t have time to make it to the physio who usually does my bike fit, come racking time I elected to yet again don the flat pedals and ride in my runners sans cleats. I knew this was going to make it a gruelling 90kms on the bike, but I also knew that if my hip played up like it had been I wouldn’t make the 90kms anyway. When the bike was racked, it was time to relax and concentrate on my nutrition (aka carb loading). The afternoon went far too quickly and as the evening approached the nerves really set in.

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I awoke before my alarm race morning and actually couldn’t believe the day was finally here. I went through my normal prerace routine (which I had just told my physio the week earlier that I didn’t have…I quickly realised I do!) and headed to transition to set up my gear. When I arrived at transition, I saw maybe the sight I fear most. Other peoples gear both sides of my bike, this has only happened to me once before (and I still do not understand how it happens!). Luckily I could see a girl setting up a few spots down that had space either side of her bike, so we were able to shift everyone’s gear to the right to give me room. With that little stress over and air in my tyres, transition was closing and it was time to head down to the water for the swim start. It was a cool morning and I was feeling very nervous about how cold the water might be without a wetsuit (especially when there was a sea of athletes in their wetsuits surrounding me!). As the pros set off and my race start less than 10 minutes away, I was completely panicked. My poor family were trying to take prerace photos and all I could manage was a fake smile whilst I tried my hardest to hold back the tears that I could feel brewing. All I wanted to do was run. I had brought all the stress and disappointment of my race in Canada to this start line, and I couldn’t shake the terrible feeling that it was all about to happen again.

Luckily as I lined up at the start with the rest of my waves, some very lovely girls started chatting with me and I started to forget my fears…soon enough we were off and running to the water. It was surprisingly warmer than I was expecting, once past the wave break I was out and swimming and feeling good. I found my rhythm and managed to reach the first buoy without any pain, I finally allowed myself to think that maybe I could do this. As I approached the turn around point I looked at my watch, despite the next wave catching up to me, I was well and truly on track to finish this swim within an hour AND I was enjoying it! The water was warm, clear and I could see the bottom. I was in my groove and I had NO pain in my shoulder. As I ran out of the water and looked at my watch I couldn’t wipe the smile of my face, this race was going to happen and I was going to cross that finish line I had dreamt of for so long.

I think that run to transition may have been the easiest of any triathlon I have done, I was on an absolute high and ready to get out on the bike. Even the awful hill not far out of transition felt ok the first time, and after a few more I was out on the highway for the majority of the first 50km lap. Looking at my speed I was doing much better than expected, I had hoped to maintain around 30km/hr and was sitting well above this for most of the outward journey of the lap. Despite this, as I approached the 15-20km mark my shoulder started to freeze. I had been stuck in one position to long and this combined with the cool wind made for one very unhappy shoulder. Turning around I knew I would be going into a head wind (that I had helped me keep such a good speed for the first 25km), but there was no way my shoulder was going to let me get down onto my drop bars, however somehow I still managed to keep an ok pace on the way back. Unfortunately on this lap my hamstrings started to cause me some grief, was aggravated by the hills into and out of the transition for the second lap. This was when I really started to ‘embrace the suck’ after reading an awesome article shared with me by friend the night before the race about knowing that parts of the race are going to be a struggle but not to let that struggle defeat you physically or mentally. I am so glad I read this article as it absolutely let me keep my head in the game for the next 40kms. I think a combination of factors made that second lap much slower than the first- my hamstrings, nutrition, hydration, and wind- and on reflection this is where my sub-6hr dream was lost. I have never been as glad to get off my bike as I was at the end of that 90kms, and I struggled to even walk into transition with serious pain in my hamstrings. After racking my bike and a quick port-a-loo stop, it was time to give this running thing a try. Only a half marathon ahead of me..right?!

As always the run out of transition felt slow and sluggish, I was surprised to look at my Garmin after a short time and see despite feeling like I was going ridiculously slow I was holding a steady pace. I think I spent a lot of time on the next 21.1kms inside my head, with a lot of motivational self talk happening. At the bottom of ‘the hill’ I saw my mum and sister which gave me the motivation I needed to convince my legs to get up that hill without walking, and as I started I heard more cheering from the other side of the road from both my tri club and friends from Canada- what a boost that was. As I approached the first aid station, which were located approximately every 2kms, I had a plan- I would walk each aid station to make sure I got fluid, electrolytes or energy in, and to give my body and mind that mental break or something to look forward to each 2k. It was HOT out there and I was so grateful for the cups of ice they were handing out that I could shove straight down my tri suit to melt for the following 2kms. Finally after being passed repeatedly on the swim and ride, I was starting to do the passing. The first lap of the run felt ok, but having to turn around so close to the finish line and head out for another 10+kms was a real mental battle. As I headed out for the second time and approached the killer hill I knew I was starting to fatigue. After running past my mum and sister, I started to walk the rest of the hill. Only to shortly be cheered on by my tri club to start running…it was the boost I needed and I managed to make it the rest of the way up. I really hit the wall as I approached the last 6km…it became much harder to run the 2kms in between aid stations and I also realised I wasn’t going to make any of my time goals. So it was time to just do what I could and enjoy the fact that I was going to cross that finish line! That next 5kms I think may have been the hardest of the race, but I had one thing on my mind (apart from trying to keep my stomach contents down) and that was crossing the finish line. As I ran down that hill towards the finish line I was absolutely spent. Usually I would make a sprint down the carpet to the finish, but as I excitedly reached the red ironman carpet I didn’t have a sprint with me, but kept pushing on with my run. As I reach about 10m out from the finish line I raised my arms in celebration, but even they were too tired to stay up and I had to drop them down by my side as before I reached the finish line. I had done it! It wasn’t the time I had hoped for but I was ecstatic! I was a half ironman- something I would have absolutely never dreamed possible just over 2 years earlier. It was official- I can do anything I set my mind to!IMG_9857

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After collecting my finisher medal and towel and refuelling at the aid station, it was time to go see my wonderful cheer squad! The mental boost that everyone out there gave me as they cheered me along, whether they knew me personally, through MBST or only because of my name on my bib, was amazing and the race would have been so much tougher without it- Thank You!! So how has this race changed my plans or goals for the next few years…I will let you all know soon!

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