Race Day and recovery

It is now three days after the ironman. It is nice to be able to sit here and reflect on a perfect day of racing on the 25 July 2010 and I do not have to train and I can eat whatever I want.

The two days before the race had their dramas. I was very relaxed but I had many small tasks to do to prepare for the race and this included training with my coach. There was a considerable amount of travelling to get from my accommodation to the race venue.  Travelling alone can be tiring and I really needed to rest and avoid expending unnecessary energy.

Over the two days it rained heavily and was cold and Fran, my coach, said no training if it continued like this. He wanted to get in a light run at the least and this could be done the day before the race.  The race organisers were confident the weather would be fine and warm for the day. Locals tell me predicting the weather pattern is easier on the Continent than in London.

I tried to change a tire when I arrived into Zurich and I could not get it back on because it was new and very tight around the rim of the wheel. I broke a lever and punctured an inner tube trying to get it back on. I decided I would take it into the bike mechanic on the race site, ironman city. I was also told by the race organisers that I should have easier gearing than I had on my bike so I decided to also buy a new rear cassette for the wheel, 150 swiss francs. I needed a new watch because the jeweller did not seal my current watch properly when replacing the battery and it flooded and malfunctioned. The new watch cost £150 but I needed to find a timex outlet and buy it. I also had to buy air canisters and a gillet for cold weather.

There is a risk of malfunction in racing when putting anything new on the bike the day before the race. I had mechanical issues with changing of the gears once the new rear cassette was put on the bike. The bike mechanic stripped out the new gear cable I had put on and adjusted the section closer to the gear shifter. I went for a test ride and it was not perfect. This left a seed of doubt in my mind for race day and was not good on the mental energy and positivity.

At 4.30pm on the 24 July 2010, the day before the race, I took my bike into transition. I prepared my plastic box of shoes, clothing, chaffing cream etc and covered the bike with a cover for the night. It was the finality of leaving my bike in transition that started me thinking more about the race. I walked around transition and practiced seeing my bike from the exit from the swim and bike legs so I could find my bike again quickly. All was ready and now time to relax for race day.

We went for pasta for dinner and then I was in bed by 10pm. I listened to my hour of visualisation from my mental trainer, Chris Janzen, before falling to sleep 30 minutes later. I had listened to the same personalised recording each night and morning for the two days prior to race day. My entire race day was visualised in my head before it even started.

The visualisation helped me  on race day as I was excited and calm. I could not wait to get started and enjoy the atmosphere, being in the race and finishing. I woke up at 4am, ate breakfast and headed to the race start.

My support crew of 8 friends and my coach wore distinctive Physical Edge clothing and had made placards to get my attention when racing. They were with me at the start of the swim and it was relaxing to know they were around me. Having friends close by really made the day special.

I got into my wetsuit to pumping dance music and an electric atmosphere. The weather was warm and the skies were clear. The water temperature was 22.8 degrees celcius so wetsuits could be worn.

The swim legs started and 2222 competitors took to the water like ants to food. We headed for the first marker and fought for space. It was horrible in the first 600 meters because I could not see the marker, the lake was murky and I could not get a rhythm with the people swimming around me. I was unsure if I was gong in a straight line and in the right direction and this made me feel uneasy. I decided to draft another swimmer and chose one who was constantly looking for the marker. I felt confident he was heading in the right direction so he was guiding me along the race.

The swimmer I was drafting helped me get into a rhythm and at one stage I was relaxed and swimming easily. I lost him going around the marker as every one converged around the marker. I protected myself from getting kicked in the face and stomach and I kicked to get people off my legs. This happened around each marker so I found new swimmers to draft most times.

My cap started to peel off my head during the race for no reason. Occasionally I stopped to push it back on. Felt like a cone head as it slid back up my head but fortunately my goggles stayed on.

Half way around we had to swim to the back of a small island, get out of the water, run across the island and back in again to continue with the swim. There was a “bottle neck” effect swimming to the back of the island and again another fight for space occurred.  Swimmers were pulling at my legs to pull themselves forward and the extra kicking I did made my hamstrings cramp.

The second leg of the swim was longer than the first. Mentally I new the first leg was hard and I had to focus on getting to the end now as it was so uncomfortable with what was happening. There was so far to go and all I did was focus where I was in the moment. The finish of the swim slowly got closer but at the same time so was fatigue. I could feel my arms had strength in them and that gave me confidence I could make it as long as I kept breathing well.

The final stretch to the island again was long. I sited where I was heading but it just never seemed to get any closer. The last 100 meters could not have come faster. All I wanted to do was get out of the water. I eventually made it to the end and jogged to transition ready for the 180km bike leg. The swim took me 1.17.11.

The first leg of bike was  unknown  as I did not know how big the hills were or how long each section of the course would take me. I started the ride with stomach cramps from the intensity of the swim and then coming straight out and drinking electrolyte and eating a piece of power bar.

Fran said to keep the bike in low gear for the first 15 minutes to get comfortable. I also knew the priority on the bike was to keep my legs fresh for the marathon. After 15 minutes I changed gears into the big cogs and started to hit 30km/hour with a cadence of 90. I kept this up until the hills started and ate food and drank every 20 minutes. My watch alarm was set on timer to alert me every 20minutes to keep me on track with hydration and energy.

The hills started and I was still uncomfortable in the stomach. I pushed the bike through the small hills and slowly my bike legs started to kick in. I felt powerful and strong and was overtaking many riders through the hills. I then started the biggest hill called the beast. This took me about 15 to 20 minutes to climb and took a lot of strength from my legs. Immediately after there was a longer, gradual climb lasting another 20 -30 minutes. At the top of this hill I breathed a sigh of relief that it was over.

These two hills would be repeated in the second leg of the bike so I made a decision to coast down the hills and keep a steady speed on the flats in preparation for the hills again. I stuck to this plan and the first leg of the bike took me  3.08.33 and the second leg took me 3.23.25. The second leg was slower because I was saving my legs for the hills and then the marathon. An exciting end to the first leg was heartbreak hill. The spectators lined the street like the Tour de France as I climbed the steep hill. It was exhilarating to feel the passion of the crowd and be a rider.

I got off the bike feeling good and mentally prepared myself for the marathon. I never had run a marathon before and I was not a great runner. This was going to be mentally and physically tough.

I had a plan to walk through every aid station to drink and eat properly to avoid hitting the  wall in the later stages of the race. The first two laps my legs were tired but remained strong with split times of  1.06.35 and 1.21.03. I wanted to run each of the 4 laps in about 1 hour but in truth just wanted to finish and I did not look at my time once during the race.

The 3rd and 4th laps were harder as my quadriceps started to fatigue.  Mentally I aimed for the next aid station or next turning point in the run to keep me focussed. In these two laps I was tired of eating power bars and instead started eating crisps and had half an apricot. My stomach ached through most of the run because I had power bars/gels, crisps, electrolyte, water, apricot, and bullion in my stomach all at once. It was uncomfortable but I did not feel dehydrated and I did not hit the wall.

The finishing straight was long but exciting. I was cheering myself along knowing I was going to finish the race. I tried to run faster but after 50 meters my legs started to hurt too much so eased up again.

The finishing shoot was on a raised platform with finishes clock above and barriers on each side holding the crowd about 10 metres apart. I raised my arms in the air and ran the last 30 meters screaming at the top of my voice and high fiving the crowd. I jumped across the finish line with a 360 degree turn and stopped running. It was foreign to allow myself to stop running and I could not believe I had crossed the line and could walk.

I felt great and it was the end to a perfect race day. I went straight to eat and had rice and chicken goulash. I had a silver blanket wrapped around me with my finisher medal and towel around my neck.

Throughout the race my supporters cheered the loudest of everyone. They went to three points of the run course and cheered each lap. The day would be less meaningful without them and I would recommend taking as many friends to an event like this as possible. They were tired from 12.55.45 hours of cheering but they enjoyed the day as much as I did.

I sit here now 3 days later. It has been a gradual recovery as I have walked with less pain each day. Today it still hurts to walk up and down stairs but much less. I am physically beat-up and more prone to infections. I am resting in this fantastic London weather and reflecting on the experience with you.

The race was important to me because of the people that helped me along the way and all my family and friends who have supported and encouraged me. I have met passionate professionals who coach in the sport of triathlon.  It is a sport filled with positive energy and “can do” attitude. Finishing the race was amazing and sharing it with everyone around created the meaning.

What do I take from this race? I have learnt if I want to achieve something set it as a target with dates even if I do not know how I can make it fit into my life. Get a coach who has done it before and take that coach to the event so he is focussed on your success. Surround yourself and pay professionals with the skills needed to get to where I want to go e.g. massage therapists, nutritionists, bike mechanics, pilates instructors, personal trainers, swim coaches etc. Be flexible along the way but also do what it takes to get the small steps achieved. If I have the right people around me my success rate is higher, I learn from their mistakes and I get the accumulated support of them all. The more well wishes and prayers you get the better.

Where to from here? I am going to rest and then pick up cycling as a sport. I have potential to be a good rider, it is less painful on the joints, and I can ride with friends.  I will be specializing in treating triathletes injuries and work with a team of professionals to help improve performance.

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