Thursday, April 28, 2011

More milestones!

First, a duathlon report. This duathlon was the first event I ever did, the event that started everything. It's a women's event, 3.5k run/walk, 10k bike, 1.5k run/walk. The first time I did it it took me 59 minutes and I was ecstatic to do it under an hour. The second time it took me 57 minutes.

This time I was ambitious and set a goal of 50 minutes. The event had moved to another location a few more kilometres round the waterfront. This meant that the bike course was two loops of a 5k circuit, and that the second run was ever so slightly undulating. I decided I'd push for a sub-5 minute pace on the run, but knew I'd easily average over 24kmph on the bike, which would give me a little additional cushioning. The two transitions would eat up some time due to the fact I needed to change shoes and didn't have Yanks laces on my running shoes.

Of course everything hinged on the weather. Saturday, the day of registration, was completely calm and sunny. Sunday was overcast and by the time we got out on the bike course there was enough of a headwind to be a nuisance. So how did it go?

One of the things I wanted to make sure I did this time was a warm up. I knew I wanted to start out fast and I had to warm up to do that. I got to the start extremely early, parking a short walk away. It was coolish but I decided I could get away with my event t-shirt and arm warmers with my trishorts. I checked on my bike then had a little bit of a jog around. I did some drills and finished up with a few short sprints up the first bit of Rata St. At transition I was set up next to a woman who I knew does the Scorching Triathlons. She's very tall, slender and athletic so I decided if I could I would try to stick with her. Unfortunately when we were lining up the marshalls put her wave behind me.

I entered the race late so was one of the last to start. My number was 411 and we were started in waves of 50 one minute apart. I stood at the front and when the starting gun went I just went for it. Duck had asked me earlier that week if I'd ever gone so hard in an event I just couldn't go any more. Of course I never had so I had it in my head that I should at least try, just for a change. If I failed I'd be the only one who knew.

I maintained a sub-5 pace for most of the first run, which really pleased me. I had to run on the road for most of it to get around everyone I was overtaking, but thankfully the road was closed and no one was out on their bike at that point. About a kilometre into the run my Scorching Tri rabbit went flying past me and, as hard as I planned on going, I knew there was no way I could follow. That woman was fast! However she was the only person to overtake me on the first run.

I lost time in transition undoing my laces but it gave me a little time to catch my breath before the bike. I'd tied my timing chip round my ankle with some ribbon so at least didn't need to worry about that. I wasn't sure whether they'd have timing mats at transition but it turned out that they didn't, so in the end it wouldn't have mattered if I hadn't transferred the chip to my cycling shoes, but it was one less thing to think about.

Before long i was out on the bike. I didn't look to see what my bike average was but it was of course easily over 24kmph. Even with the headwind on the way out to Balaena Bay (which was disappointingly strong) didn't slow me that much, and I was sitting on well over 30 with a tail wind. No one overtook me and I think I would have gone faster if there had been someone to chase. Instead I just got down on the drops and concentrated on my cadence (and not running over the photographer standing in the middle of the road on the corner).

The two lap bike leg was a PITA as it meant three turn arounds and I had to go really slowly to account for all the other cyclists (many of whom were beginners and not very confident). The slow turns really affected my average speed. When I got back to transition the marshalls failed to point us towards the entrance back in. One said to go straight ahead and I thought 'huh, that's odd' but thought perhaps we had to cycle a little bit further and turn around again but when I set out he then yelled out after me so I had to turn around and go back again. I was extremely frustrated and suggested a little brusquely that the marshalls might actually want to marshall. It was nice to get into transition though and to see it still full of bikes! My Scorching Tri rabbit was the only bike nearby which was gone when I got back.

The last 1.5k included the tiniest little bit of a hill, but I really felt it. I just had to keep repeating '1.5k, you can do anything for 1.5k'. The turnaround came very soon but I soon realised that was because we had to run round the back of Cog Park on the gravel path so going back was a lot longer. I tried really hard to keep myself motivated to go hard, but I just couldn't, even as I saw my 50 minute goal ticking by. Mind you, when I looked down at the Garmin I was still not far off target pace so I guess I can't have been that bad.

So that was that. I did the event in just under 52 minutes, and I call that a success, especially given time lost in transition and due to the bike stuff up. Although the results weren't sent out by placing a rough count indicated that I was somewhere around 20th, which I will take. It's probably the highest placing I'll ever get.

Given that my car was parked so close I went back there, dropped off my helmet and shoes and picked up some warm clothes then stood at the finish line cheering people in. I grabbed my bike out of transition before prize giving because it was by far the nicest bike there and no one was checking that the people taking bikes out were actually their owners. The prize giving was thankfully short. There were some great prizes and some slightly dud ones (Powerbands!) but I didn't win any of them. I went home still feeling fresh, like I could have done a longer event. Hamish cooked pancakes and then I spent the rest of the day just keeping warm and hanging out.

That's enough for one post. Coming up next - Pip goes crazy in the Wairarapa, otherwise known as Pip cycles 110k on her own and barely manages to not get lost.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

It's been a big weekend

I haven't been posting much here sorry. The last few months have been full of happenings, but I haven't been able to find the words to describe them. Since the aftermath of the surgery I've been a lot more pragmatic about a lot of things. If something doesn't work out then it just doesn't. If something good happens, then it happens. I'm not so quick to believe in miracles, nor to look for some great purpose in life. I just get on and do what I can. I've learned to choose my battles, or rather to choose what is important to me and not stress myself out about the things I feel I 'should' be doing because everyone else is. This is my life and it's pretty damn good as it is.

Lately, however, the 'what I can' has been increasing in its greatness. I'll recount the last nine days' training as an example. Last weekend we were in Tauranga for a wedding. I woke up early on Saturday to torrential rain, but go up and jogged my way soggily round the estuary, exploring a scenic trail and particularly lovely boardwalk. 12km done.

I had Monday off and fortuitously, back in Wellington, was greeted with a stunning day. I got up, got on my bike, and cycled for 80km. Despite always having been nervous of cycling Makara on my own, I went out there and did it. I didn't get a flat tire, I didn't get stuck out in the middle of nowhere with no cellphone reception, I didn't get lost in Johnsonville, or any of the other horrors of my worst imaginings. Instead I tootled my way through the gorge then back to town via Ngaio Gorge. Still feeling good I kept on going around the Bays, then back up Happy Valley to home. 80km on my own! Believe me, this was momentous.

After that little effort I didn't feel up to a squad run that night. I had a Wild Workouts session the next morning, and Duck warned me we had a hard run on Wednesday night so she didn't want me to do anything else so as to ensure my legs were fresh. It was hard not to do my usual RPM, but I managed it. It was just as well because Wednesday night's run turned out to be a 5k time trial.

I haven't run a timed 5k since my 24.24 PB back at the start of marathon training a few years back. Needless to say I was not in the mood to try again today. I flew out way too fast and was on track to equal that, but I'm heavier and slower these days and faded on the way back, having to employ every possible mental trick to get me to the end. So not sub-25, but at least I have a baseline now and something to work on.

I had another Duck session on Thursday morning and she went easy on my legs, then after work I set off to do the workout I'd missed on Monday night. I jogged up to Drummond St in Berhampore, and there before me stood a flight of steps that looked like some Mayan ruin. The Drummond Street steps are a newly-laid tower that goes straight up before you like a cruel joke. I can't find an image online so you'll just have to take my word for it! Someone said there are around 100 steps, but I didn't take the time to count.

I stopped at the bottom of the steps to get my breath. My instructions were to repeat the steps up to ten times within 23 minutes. I was aiming for seven, as some of our group had only made eight and I figured I'd be slower on my own. However I found I was recovering enough on the way down that I didn't need to take the full one minute break Duck had recommended, and managed ten repeats in 22.30. I triumphed over the stairs of doom!

Unfortunately I also had a full weekend planned, and the aim of ensuring my legs were fresh for it wasn't exactly achieved. After the stair repeats my calves were like rocks. Walking down the Farmers Lane stairs to catch the bus after work on Friday had me wincing. They were still tight when I woke on Saturday morning to meet the squad at Eastbourne for a 70 minute run. Thankfully Duck knew most of us were running Xterra the next day, so she kept it flat. We set out towards Pencarrow. It was cold at the start but running warmed us up and it was so incredibly beautiful that it was an absolute pleasure to be out there. The photo at the start of this blog is from that day. Wellington - cloudless, still, the harbour mirror calm. I love this city.

The other girls went out quite hard at the start but I wanted to settle into a long run pace so stuck to six minute kilometres. My legs were still tight but my calves could cope with the flat so I just cruised along in my little happy place. Scores of other runners and cyclists were out enjoying the conditions and the flat, well-graded gravel road. With squad runners ahead of and behind me I focused on enjoying the beautiful scenery as cargo ships and ferries sailed past nearby.

I turned as ordered at 35 minutes and cruised back again, only really starting to tire slightly at the 60 minute mark, but still maintaining my pace and achieving an almost perfect split. We celebrated with coffee at Chocolate Dayz cafe before I headed off home for a big bowl of pasta and cider.

I knew that I was not going to be feeling fresh for the first of this winter's Xterra Trail series. Despite the end of daylight savings giving me an extra hour's sleep I still woke at the old 6.30 and lay there more or less sleeplessly for the next hour. The forecast was for drizzle but our luck seemed to be holding and, even though it was again cold, it was dry. The Northerly had of course risen as predicted. I was at registration not long after 7.30, and scored a park on the road not far from the Makara Park mountainbike park, where the race started. I had my photo taken by the Xterra crowd with other random racers, and eventually we were off.

Here's where I had to take my harden-up pills. The medium course was supposed to be 10-12k, but the organisers weren't happy with the course, so had changed it, meaning we were now to run 14. I didn't know whether I was up to running 14k on my tired legs, but I wanted to run more than 6.5, which is what the short coursers were doing. In the end I decided I'd start with the medium distancers and take the short course turnoff if I didn't great when the time came.

Off we went, and I soon decided that if I didn't blow out and kept my pace comfortable I should be ok for the medium distance. However the short course people were only five minutes behind us so I spent a bit of time dodging out of their faster runners' way. Eventually I found a nice quiet little spot with no other runners around me (which in reality, I think means I was last) and just got on with enjoying the beautiful trail.

The first few kilometres were undulating to slightly uphill, and it was only after four kilometres that we hit a real steep section of the track that I walked a bit of. From there the course went downhill a little, then up again. When we broke out onto a four wheel drive track I could see the Peak way off to my right. It seemed like an incredibly long way away. I took a harden up pill in the form of a gummy lolly and kept going. By this point I was being passed by long coursers, but do you think I cared? I think I have finally given up caring about being slow!

Despite my misgivings it actually didn't take that long to get up to the Peak, via a series of switchbacks which took the sting out of the climb. Up at the top it was really windy. We turned along an extremely exposed ridge, and between the quite technical trail (narrow and lots of rocky downhill surfaces to gingerly lower myself down) and the wind, it was a struggle to keep upright. At one point I nearly did get blown off the side of the hill, but somehow managed to keep my feet.

I was a little bit disappointed that the downhill was so technical, as I had to take it extremely slowly. It's really only on the downhill that the remnants of my vestibular issues come to light, as I find it difficult to accurately judge the depth of the descent, plus everything tends to bounce around in front of my face. However, as I said above, I'd long since given up worrying about being slow. Eventually we came out on an easier trail, and from then it was a fairly fast, undulating-trending downwards four kilometres back to the car park. I was being overtaken by lots of long-course runners, all of whom commented on how great the trail was, and I absolutely had to agree.

Finishing was great as, about 500 metres out, there was a break in the treeline and the squad, waiting at the finishline, spotted me and started cheering. Just before the final turn there was another group of spectators who also knew me, so they were cheering me as well. All I could hear was 'go Pip'! I felt like a rockstar and came over the finishline with the biggest grin ever. All I could say was "that was awesome"!

And indeed it was awesome. A year ago I was walk-running the short course and today, even though I doubted I had it in me to go the distance, I finished a fairly tough medium. So, as I said at the start, what I've been achieving has been, relatively speaking, rising in greatness. I am getting there on my own terms, and at the moment that's exactly the way I like it.