Monday, January 28, 2013

Queenstown & Wanaka

When I last left off, I had just gotten to Queenstown on the South Island.  Since then, I have NOT gone bungee jumping, but I have taken about a million-and-a-half pictures, because really, this country is just one big postcard.  I've also been at accommodations where I've had internet, but limits to the megabytes and what not, so I've fallen a little behind on blogging and have quite the backlog of pictures.'s some pictures!

Lake Hayes in Queenstown
Although I worried a little bit that getting back into Ironman training would undermine my enjoyment of travel, that has not been the case.  Travel-training is really the way to go.  The towns I'm visiting are amazing because of their physical beauty, not because they have the greatest museums or restaurants or whatever, so exploring them by bike or foot has really been ideal. 

For several days post-race, I eased back into training and things were a little light while I (unsuccessfully) attempted to feel human again.  We're not quite there yet, but soon (I hope).  So I did a little light running and some riding and some swimming here and there, but I was mostly sightseeing as I did so.  For example, this is Lake Hayes, the clearest, most reflective lake I've ever seen, and also the sight of an average run and an absolutely outstanding open water swim (not words I've ever put in the same sentence before):

Lake Hayes

And since, through Friday, I was still a little bit in celebration/recovery mode and not as much in Crazy Healthy Ironman mode, I figured a super huge burger was in order.  Enter Fergburger, a Queenstown institution.
Hard to tell perspective, but that burger pretty much covered my lap
Some may call it gluttony, but I call it sampling the local fares and topping up my iron stores.  After that burger, I was pretty much sweating iron.  And, just so no one thinks I'm an absolute pig, that was lunch and dinner.  (But, shhh,  there may have also been dessert)

On Saturday, as much as I attempted to ignore the inevitable, it was back to clean eating and back to work.  TrainingPeaks offered up a nice 7+ hour training day.  I decided to do my swim in Lake Hayes (above), and scoped out an "epic" ride for my return to mega cycling mileage -- the road from Queenstown to Glenorchy, which is widely considered one of the most scenic rides in this area -- so as much as one can, I was sort of looking forward to my big day.

Lake Hayes was amazing and the cycling route certainly was scenic.  I had these views to keep me distracted:

It was also, however, extremely hilly.  Problem is, I haven't gotten the Kiwi language with respect to hills down.  When Kiwis say a ride is "undulating" (and they say that a lot), it's hilly.  When they say it's "a little hilly," it's a lot hilly.  And when they say it's "quite hilly," well, just....ouch.  This one fell in the "quite hilly" category, at least compared to what I'm used to.  I should have been prepared when the guy at the bike shop heard I was going to do that ride, and said, "great, so you like hills?"  Not particularly, no, but it's hills I got.  My Garmin measured about double the climbing of any of the long rides I did in Madison last year and that's not exactly a flat course.  So, needless to say, I struggled a bit.  

I found one flat section for about 30 minutes and I could finally take a picture
The struggle wasn't helped much by the fact that I had mechanical issues the whole time.  At first, I noticed a rattling when I was riding in certain gears, but (stupidly), I ignored it because I had no idea how to fix it.  Towards the end, I started dropping my chain repeatedly.  Annoying, but I didn't know what to do about it, so I just kept putting it back on and continuing forward.  Then, six (very hilly) miles from the car, my chain broke altogether. 

So I stood on the side of the road, angry, annoyed, concerned, but maybe just a little happy that my suffering ended 6 miles early.  Cell service was spotty, and who was I going to call for a pick up, anyway?  I started hoofing it back to the car, but six hilly miles in bike shoes?  I took off the shoes, but barefoot was no better.  So, I thought about it a little, and then (Mom, I'm sorry) put a hesitant thumb out and started hitchhiking.

I never, ever would have done that in the States or anywhere else I've been, but there's something about New Zealand.  There are hitchhikers everywhere, mostly young backpackers who come here without a plan or a car, and just hit up random towns along the way.  And everyone is just so flipping nice.  So, I did it.  And it didn't take long before a lovely Kiwi lady named Jody with her three kids in a campervan took pity on me, drove me back into town, and directed me to a good bike shop. Kiwis.  So darn nice.  
Encountered this completely ambiguous sign 75 miles in, when I was running low on water.  Quite the conundrum. 
Turns out, by the way, that I had one of those things wrong with my bike that makes the mechanic say, "how in the world did you do that?" (i.e., the cassette was not attached all the way).  I feel like mechanics say that to me a lot.   That is a problem.  
From there, it was on to Wanaka, which is much like the Boulder of New Zealand in that it's a hot bed for triathlon. 
See the buoys?  Wanaka's always ready for a swim race
It was long run day, but thankfully, the long run was split (roughly half-ish in the morning, half-ish in the evening).  Run #1, on trails, offered up some excellent views, as per usual.  And let's just say that the views were absolutely the highlight of that run, because the actually running itself.....nothing to write home about.
All of the lakes are so clear.  And you can drink the water.

Then, like any good moron, I decided not to rest between my two runs, but instead to go on an almost 4-hour long hike in Mt. Aspiring National Park.  It destroyed my legs and, because I'm not only the kind of idiot biker that goes out on solo rides without basic mechanical skills, but also the kind of idiot hiker that goes on 4 hour long hikes without food or sufficient water,  resulted in a second run that was one of those runs you'd rather forget ever happened.  Still, totally worth it.  For these views: 
Had to ford a stream (actually ten of them) to get there.  Memories of Oregon Trail.

Quite a detailed run down of the fording process.  I stood for a good 10 minutes deciding whether to go forward

Don't mind me

Animals everywhere.  I'd get within feet, but the sheep always ran away (so sheepish)

One more fun story:  I wrapped up Wanaka with a little swim at the local community pool this morning.  Now, I'm not saying I'm the best swimmer out there, I'm most certainly not, but I swam when I was little and can usually hold my own in my age group in triathlons.  Quite honestly, when I hit up random community or gym pools, and I've gone to quite a lot in the past several months, I'm usually one of the faster ones there.  (I'm still a little bit on a high about the guy at my local XSport in Chicago, who said to me, completely, 100% seriously, "what, were you in the Olympics or something?")  So to go to the Wanaka local pool during normal open swim, and among the 11 people swimming laps, to be the 10th fastest swimmer (I was only faster than the 8-year old girl because I had about a foot of height on her), was...different.

Then I found out the other 9 swimmers there were the members of the New Zealand National Triathlon team.  Like, the ones who were actually "in the Olympics or something."  They are in Wanaka for a training camp, and it was totally coincidental that I visited the pool when they were there.  Such a cool run-in.  Such a cool town. 

So that's Wanaka.  Now I'm in Lake Tekapo, and tomorrow off to Christchurch.  More later!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Onto the South Island

Well, since my last post had quite a whole lot of words and was lacking in pictures, here's a post with lots o' pictures.

But before I go there, I have to say....thanks so much to so many of you for the commments, notes, emails, texts, etc. about my last post and the race in Auckland. I am lucky to have so much support from near and far, and it really is appreciated. I'm all the way on the other side of the world, but still feel so close to so many people at home, and that's a really, really nice feeling.

I'm down in the South Island of New Zealand, what I believe most people will agree is the more beautiful (or at least more mountainous) part of the country. And really, it is absolutely stunning. It reminds me a lot of Colorado, but possibly even more beautiful.
On the road between Queenstown and Te Anau
I flew from Auckland to Queenstown on Tuesday. I'm taking about a week-and-a-half down here, driving from place to place, generally staying a day or two in each town. This is the lovely car that is carrying me and my bike (I really should name that bike at some point) all around:

Cute, huh? It's got about 252,000 kilometers on it. I don't actually know what that means but it sounds like a lot of kilometers, but it runs perfectly fine and was uber cheap. Driving this little machine's brought some new and exciting challenges, though. I was just starting to get comfortable with the whole left-side driving thing, but then the ante was upped. This car is a stick shift, and the gear shift is on the left side. So I'm not only driving a stick shift, I'm doing it left handed. While also trying to remember to yield on right-hand turns and all that jazz. Additionally, the windshield wipers and turn signals are on opposite sides of what I'm used to. I guess this is not standardized in New Zealand as Adam's car, which I've been driving, is not this way. So every time (and I mean every time) I try to use the turn signal, I turn on the windshield wipers instead.

But fortunately, I've got this helpful reminder:

I drove from Queenstown down to Te Anau, a charming little town situated on Lake Te Anau, the second largest lake in New Zealand (behind Lake Taupo, the lake I'll be swimming in for Ironman NZ). Te Anau is a good homebase for visits to Milford Sound, which is not a "sound" but actually a "fjord", but who's really keeping track?

Tuesday evening I did some wandering and a nice bike ride that was pretty much the most enjoyable ride I've had in....well, possibly ever. Nice, flat-ish roads with minimal traffic, breathtaking views, fresh air, perfect temperature, easy effort, and I wanted to just ride and ride and ride forever.

All those little white dots are sheep
But I had to stop eventually, because the next morning it was up and early for a 5:45AM pickup to get to Milford Sound. Lots of people visit Milford Sound on cruise ships, but I generally prefer to see sites in ways that: 1) allow me to actually expend some physical effort; and 2) don't involve massive throngs of camera-wielding tourists (yes, I am aware that I am also a tourist, but you know what I mean). So I decided to see Milford Sound by kayak instead, and found Rosco's Kayak Tours online. Good choice....they were great, and added in transport to and from Milford, saving me another 4+ hours of driving for the day.

On the road to Milford
I do have to say that I was a little nervous about kayaking. See, I've got a history. This story's a little embarrassing but a great source of laughs among my family members, so I've got to tell it. A few years back, my family did a cruise in the Bahamas, and my sister and I went sea kayaking. The water was rough, and we were given one of those milk jug scooper things to scoop water out of the kayak as waves broke over us. This process (getting the water out of the kayak) is called, as I now know (and everyone else in the world probably knows), is called "bailing." But, I did not know that at the time.

So we shared a kayak, and the sea was rough, and the kayak was quickly filling up with water. My sister, a more experienced kayaker, yelled to me, "we need to bail!" I couldn't hear her, and asked her to repeat herself. "Bail! Bail!" she shouted.

So I jumped out of the boat.

I heard "bail," and my mind went in a weird direction....I thought she was telling me to "bail out." Like....get out of the situation. Save myself. I pictured the boat going down like the Titanic, and I needed to get out before the capsize. So I bailed out, evacuated, ran away from the disaster, when really, all I was supposed to be doing was scooping water out. My sister looked at me incredulously, as I stood in three and half feet of water (yeah, it was clearly a major boat sinkage situation that we were in, good thing I saved myself from such impending peril.) "What are you DOING?" she asked (with maybe an explicitive thrown in). "You told me to bail!" "As in, get the water out of the damn boat, not jump out, altogether."

So that's my kayaking history.

But I had nothing to worry about. I shared a kayak with Nicole, our trip leader. We were a good team. I had the strongs (she did, too) and she had the ability to navigate a kayak, and we flew through that sound, kept having to stop and wait for the others. It got really choppy and Nicole wanted to "surf" some of the waves, which basically entailed paddling really, really hard and letting a wave catch us, so I agreed, and then found myself pretty well entrenched in a nice little interval workout with Nicole yelling out, "go, go, go, go, go, faster, faster, go." I didn't have the heart to tell her that I was still trying to recover from my race, so I went with it even though it hurt. A lot.

Perspectives are weird in the Sound.  That waterfall is apparently 3 times as tall as Niagara Falls
Unfortunately, we got a rainy day, but Milford Sound was still spectacular.

That evening, a bunch of us from the kayak trip met at a bar that had about the most intense and difficult pub trivia game going on. I ended up on a team that was quite the hodge-podge of people from all over the world: me, two native Kiwis, an Irishman, a girl from Wales, two guys from Florida. Long story short, we dominated that pub trivia game and it was a major victory, indeed.

Today, after another ride from Te Anau during which I encountered about a thousand sheep, I made my way to Queenstown, where I am now. Queenstown is a bigger city than Te Anau, which is not to say it's a big city, but bigger. It's the adventure sports hub of New Zealand. Today I did some exploring, some hiking, some luging (kinda lame), some swimming. I'm still thinking about bungee jumping. I'm not so sure. We'll see. Pip mentioned something about hearing about "detached retinas" from bungee jumping and....well, I want to keep my retinas attached. So I've got that to think through.

They actually "baa'd" at me as I rode by
An hour long uphill hike on still quite tired legs was worth it for this view of Queenstown

I throw this picture in only because I took it at 9:15 P.M.  It stays light past 10:00

Posted with BlogsyPosted with Blogsy

Monday, January 21, 2013

Auckland 70.3

A couple days ago, I opened up my 2013 racing season with the Auckland 70.3. I know y'all are busy and have lots of things to do with your time, and some of you aren't even all that interested in triathlon, and I do have an acknowledged tendency to be a little wordy (I had a terribly hypocritical professor back in college who once spoke the actual sentence: "It is incredibly difficult, no, near impossible for me to adequately emphasize the extreme and essential importance of cogency in one's writing and indeed, everyday speech," and I think I have become her).

So with that in mind, here's the Clif's Notes version of the Clif's Notes version of my report: dream day, breakthrough race on several levels, happy ending, and I'm going to Hawaii in October for the Ironman World Championships.

Auckland was ready, see the large billboard advertising the race on the building
And now....the long version.


I got down to Auckland about 11 days before the race, and while I have been enjoying my time thoroughly and am falling more and more in love with this country every day, from a physical/ athletic standpoint, the transition wasn't terribly smooth. The lengthy travel took a lot more out of me than I anticipated, and I felt very fatigued for several days and suffered through a bunch of workouts which, on paper, should have been easy. Moving back into outdoor training after so long on the trainer and in the pool was also a shock to the system. I hadn't done any open water swimming since September, and my first two swims in the rough ocean were, well, rough, and left me feeling quite a few notches below confident. I went out for two rides last week and got two flat tires (on my race wheels, I could only travel with one set of wheels).

All of these little mishaps and lousy-feeling workouts combined and led to a nice little freak out the Monday before the race. Suddenly, the mindset was: "I'm not ready, this is not going well, it's way too early in the year, how in the world am I going to race a bunch of girls who've been racing regularly for the past several months when I'm practically having to re-teach myself how to swim, this was a mistake to sign up for, I am just. not. ready." The exact same freak outs I've had before every other big race I've done. Maybe not the same words or same specific worries, but the same sentiment. I felt like I was on a familiar path, one that leads nowhere good.

And then, I got over it. Honestly, from Monday until race morning, I became less nervous every day. It took actual, conscious effort, and a lot of it, to get into the right mental state.

I know I talk a lot about my head and my mental state on here, and maybe it makes me look more than a little crazy or neurotic, but I personally have found my biggest struggles in triathlon to be self-doubt and fear, and I've had to expend just as much effort on dealing with those struggles as I have on the physical improvements. And, I know that I am not entirely alone in my struggles. So, I'm not going to shut up about it.

So what I did this week that got me past my mental struggles: I did a lot of reading. Some "mental toughness"/ sports psychology books and articles. I re-read parts of Chrissie Wellington's book, which speaks to me a lot more than any other sports autobiography I've read. I reviewed some old blogs written by people I trust or find particularly insightful. I did some writing....I spent a while physically writing out every fear I had about the race, no matter how little or stupid, and then I reasoned my way through those fears, writing down reasons why they weren't valid fears, or, if they were valid fears (like flat tires), how I'd handle them. Then I deleted that "worries" file (I will not take credit for that idea, it came straight from Liz). I reviewed my training log, remembering break through workouts and the toughest days (like the five hour ride on the trainer I did right before I came down here) and drawing confidence from them. I read my race plan over and over and over. I drove the course a couple times and I meditated and visualized. It may have been a light week, workout-wise, but it certainly wasn't an easy week. I did a lot of work. Just of a different sort.

As the race approached, I felt more and more confident and less and less scared. I was ready to get the party started and reap the benefits of a whole lot of training and sacrifices. And honestly, I was excited for what was to come after the race....I was ready to no longer be tapering, and start vacationing. I got my South Island trip planned in the days before the race, too. It was strangely comforting to me to be able to say, "hey, whatever happens in this race, I'm still in an amazing place, and heading to another amazing place. In the grand scheme of things, this isn't such a huge deal."


Like I said, I was totally, oddly calm on the day of the race. Adam was an amazing sherpa and got up at an hour that starts with 4 to drive me to the race site. That's a real friend. I got my transition set, we milled around for a little getting a little excited every time we saw a pro we recognized (this was a stacked field), watched the pros start, and then I got myself lined up to be paraded out onto the pontoon where we'd hang out until the start.


Going in, the swim course was a bit of a mystery. The Auckland race is designed to really show off the city, so it's set in the heart of the central business district, with the swim taking place in a major working harbor that is never open for swimming. There was no way to scope out the course before, and just trying to get the lay of the course from the land is near impossible because there's no place that you can actually see it all. The route kind of weaves around the docks, goes in towards land and then back out, is a bit confusing, and only had (white) buoys at the turn around points. I studied the map over and over, but was still a little nervous of getting lost. But, this was an inauguaral event, so we were truly all in the same (blind) situation, so I didn't devote a whole lot of thought to it.

See?  Tricky little swim
We had a deep water start, and once the gun went off (with no warning) I took about 100 strokes hard as per my plan, and found myself going about the same speed as a couple other girls, one of whom was kicking like crazy, and thus, making her easy to follow and providing a very, very nice draft. I saw her lifting her head to sight every few strokes and decided to trust her navigation, so I just put my head down and followed the massive bubbles she was creating.

That lasted for the first 700 meters or so until she seemed to slow down and I kept hitting her feet (accidentally) with my hands. Afraid she was going to turn around and deck me if I kept that up, I just went around her and swam on ahead myself.

The sighting was a lot easier than I expected, I felt really, really smooth and high in the water (salt water + wetsuit will do that, especially when you're used to being in the pool), and just settled into a good rhythm. I expected the swim to feel really long, but actually it flew by and before I knew it, I was climbing out of the water and headed towards transition. Adam told me I was first out of the water but I didn't completely believe him. I knew there was at least one girl who'd really pulled away from all the rest of us early on and I doubted we'd caught her. Turns out I was 2nd out of the water, right with a group of 2 or 3 other girls.

My goal is always to get out of the water in under 30 minutes, and the clock I ran by maybe 50 meters after the swim exit confirmed that I'd finished the swim somewhere around 28 minutes. I was stoked, and somewhat less excited when I saw in the results a swim time of 30:xx....turns out, they put the timing mat for the end of the swim right at the entrance to transition, so the swim times include a lengthy run. Bummer.


After not racing for several months, I worried about my transitions and feeling lost, but I was fine. Except I can never seem to put on my aero helmet without bending my ear in half. It's weird. I don't even have big ears. They're kind of tiny, actually (check it out next time you see me. Tiny ears).


We headed out of transition and got right into a very technical part of the course....lots and lots of turns, right after each other, some speed bumps, some cobblestone roads, some train tracks, and a couple no-pass zones where it got really narrow. Oh, and it'd started raining. With so little outside time on my TT bike since September and a general lack of bike handling skills, I took that first section really, really cautiously.

The first hour or so of the bike course is the most difficult. There's that technical nonsense, then a big climb crossing the Auckland Harbour bridge, then another technical and hilly section through a northern suburb. With all of that stuff to worry about, I was completely unable to get into any sort of rhythm. It was a little frustrating, but I also knew my own plan was to take the first half hour relatively easy, so in a way, it was good that there was all that stuff slowing me down....I knew there was no way I was overworking when I kept having to slow down and stop pedaling going into turns.

That bridge in the distance is the one we climbed
I got passed by probably 4 or 5 girls in my age group in that first hour, but oddly, it didn't bother me. I just kept repeating, "follow the plan, follow the plan," and even though the plan was resulting in me falling farther and farther behind, I had faith that it'd all work out. Plus I could tell that some of the girls passing me were overworking. They were getting up out of their saddles for every climb (even the little ones) and also stood up to accelerate after every turn. I suspected that'd catch up to them later in the race. (I was right, by the way. There was one girl who just annihalated all of us on that course (rumor has it she was once a pro cyclist), but aside from her, by the end of the ride, I did eventually re-catch all the girls who had passed me).

Back up and over the bridge, wind through downtown a little more (the roads were getting slicker and slicker with the rain), and then it was two loops on beautiful Tamaki Drive, which is like a somewhat smaller but equally stunning version of Lakeshore Drive in Chicago. Here, it was flat (albeit windy), and we could hammer, and I was so relieved to finally be able to get into a rhythm that I possibly took it a little too hard. But my breathing was completely under control and my legs felt fine, so I went with it, trying to make up some of the speed I'd lost with all the technical sections.

Towards the end of the bike, I was a little stiff and just ready to get running. You hear that? Ready to get running. Can't say I've had that feeling before in long course racing. For as long as I've been a triathlete, despite my running background, I've dreaded the run and been afraid of it. And I've largely performed just like someone who was afraid of the run. But I've had some running breakthroughs recently, and had a new found confidence in my run. I was actually excited to try to see what I could do.


There was a little traffic jam headed into transition which slowed things up, but no worries. There was nothing I could do. Shoes and socks on (socks were a game time decision and the right one, I believe), and I was off. As I was heading out, Adam gave me the update. 4th place....with 4+ minutes behind 1st, but the others right in range. For once, that didn't scare me or upset me. I knew I had work to do, but I was eager to try to run some people down.


That first stretch of the run, you just never know how it's going to feel. I've had races where I feel absolutely horrible at the start of the run, but finished well. I've had races where I feel absolutely horrible at the start, and continue to feel horrible the whole time. And I've had races where I feel great at the beginning, and usually (for me), those end with me finishing well. But you just never know, and I know that that's the "fun" of long course racing. Things can change, and change quickly.

This time.... I felt great. I set out jogging. My biggest error, in racing and training, is always starting too hard and I had strict instructions. Nose breathing. Go so slow it hurts. And I did. I was truly jogging like on a recovery day, not breathing hard, legs felt good, just warming up. Then I looked down at my watch and saw a pace that started with a 6. For me, that's too fast.

So I just kept trying and trying and trying to slow down. Enjoy this, I told myself, because you're going to have to start working soon. Take these three miles, and enjoy the easy running. And I tried, but I just kept hitting right at 7 minutes or a little below (which was, notably, right about my best Olympic distance pace last year. So happy with the improvement). But I felt amazing, I knew I had a great day up my sleeve, the weather was cooperating (the rain had stopped and it was overcast, a little humid, but temperature-wise, relatively comfortable), my mind was in the right place, and I just was so happy. Still trying to slow down, yeah. But happy. Happy that things were coming together, FINALLY. Happy that I felt in control. Happy that it's January and it's summer and I'm living in an amazing place. Happy that I've found the courage to take charge of my life, to do things that seem unorthodox and risky but will ultimately bring me greater happiness. And happy that that courage is extending into this race, and I'm finding myself in the thick of things, I'm right here, I'm in this, I'm competing for something that I really, really want, and I'm not even a little bit scared.

The plan was to pick up the pace at mile 3 but since I was already at my goal pace, I decided to just settle in, knowing that what did feel easy would soon enough start to feel harder. So I just hung out, staying fairly consistent pace-wise for the next several miles.

At mile 5, I caught the girls running in second and third place. They were running side-by-side, I don't know if they knew each other, but they were chatting a little (not like, how's the family chatting, but like, "OK that kilometer was sub 4:30" chatting). I figured they were working together. As I caught them, I held back for a little bit, knowing that with them using little team effort tactics, I really needed to make a strong move to pass them decisively. So I rested a bit, and then surged, hoping they'd be surprised or discouraged and just let me go.

No such luck. I passed, they made some comment to each other (I didn't actually hear it and that's probably good), and then they picked up the pace and followed. I tried to accelerate, I tried to break them, but I couldn't. It went on like that for a little more than a mile. I was trying to run faster but not go crazy, and they matched me step for step. I got discouraged, I got nervous, I considered just letting them pass me back and trying again later, but I pushed those thoughts out and focused on my form. I remembered those days when I was back in Ohio, running intervals on the track. I remembered that long run I did when I hit 13.1 miles at a time that, until very recently, would have been an open half marathon PR, but then kept on going for 4 more miles.

And finally, their footsteps got quieter, I couldn't hear their breathing, and at the next turn, I peeked back and they had fallen behind.

The second half, as predicted, got tougher and my pace slowed a bit, but not much at all. Negative thoughts came but I didn't dwell on them. I just kept telling myself to get in a rhythm, to push a little more. When I wanted to back down, when the very familiar little voice said, "there's no way you're going to be able to do this, you're going to crash and burn, someone is going to catch you, this is not going to happen for you, you might as well give up now" I finally had the strength to answer back: "No. Not anymore. This is a new year. This is a new me. I am NOT going to give up. I deserve to have an awesome race."

So I picked it up, and picked it up again (yeah, my pace was slowing, but the effort was increasing), and I just kept picking it up until I looked at my watch and it said 13.1 miles and we were nowhere near the finish line and I wanted to cry. But then I picked it up again. I ran scared that last, bonus .8 miles (yes, my Garmin measured the course as 13.87 miles which is cruel and unusual punishment, and the race director apologized for the mismeasure at the awards ceremony). The last thing I wanted was to have kicked too early and end up getting nipped at the line. It was my fault that the extra distance surprised was a two-loop course, I very well could have looked at my watch at the turn around and seen it was well over 6.55 miles, I should have realized it was going to be long....but I didn't. So I sucked it up, I snorted and gasped my way forward, and I just got it done.

The Aftermath

In the end, I was 2nd in my age group. I knew that as I was running; I just didn't realize that I'd gotten a lot closer than I thought to first. She was about 1:20 ahead of me. The third place girl, one of the girls I'd passed at mile 5, was about a minute back. There really hadn't been any room for error.

Adam and Pip were right at the line, and I think the first thing I said to them was, "this was the perfect day." And no, it wasn't perfect, not at all....but it was so close that it felt like it at the time. When I heard that 1st place (the guaranteed Kona slot, I figured there'd be one slot awarded for our age group) had only finished 1:20 ahead, my response: even if I'd known that, I was NOT going to have been able to catch her. I didn't have any more. I average 7:11 miles for that nice long run, which was faster than I'd ever have dreamed. It was a huge breakthrough for me, and I don't think, at this point or on this day, I could have have done any more.

So I headed home that afternoon feeling thrilled even though there was a very good chance that I'd just missed that Kona slot AGAIN. But, when I said before that Kona wasn't my primary goal, I was serious. I wanted to execute the kind of race I knew I could have, and I did. I could not have been upset with myself if that fell short because someone else was better on that day. I set a bunch of goals for myself for the day, and I met every single one of them (except...I wanted to break 4:50, and I missed it by half a minute. But given that the run was, oh, five minutes long, I'm counting that one as accomplished). No disappointment.

Yet I still had some serious butterflies when I got back to the race site a couple hours later to see how the Kona slots had shaken out. I approached the bulletin board where the allocation of slots was listed, and I saw this, and I shrieked a little:

The 30-34 had the most participants among the female age groups, so two slots were awarded. I got the Kona slot, fair and square, without having to suffer through the roll-down process (I found out later that the 1st place girl did NOT take her slot, so I would have gotten it anyway, but it was so much nicer to have a few glasses of wine by the harbour instead of wringing my hands for the next two hours).

With the Kona sign-up sheet
So that's that. I'm going to Hawaii. I'm also going to Las Vegas, for the 70.3 World Championship. A double whammy (and an expensive one at that). I'm still on a high. I'm still re-living the day in my head. My body hates me a little, though, and it's even less happy that, well, I've still got an Ironman to do in five-and-a-half weeks. Yup, I'm still doing Ironman New Zealand. But I'm doing it with no pressure, with no fear, just looking for experience figuring out how to tackle the Ironman monster. It'll be fun.

And now, back to work. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Study of Kiwi Triathletes

Hello from lovely Auckland. I'm actually typing this from a little cafe, looking over this here harbor, which was also the site of the swim during the Auckland 70.3 which I did this morning....and it went great!

And I will write a little race report soon, but here are the highlights--- I had the best overall long course race of my life (of course there are always places for improvement but this is as close as I have ever come to a perfect long course race), swim was lovely and in salt water with wetsuits so I floated like a little bobber and felt so. very. buoyant; bike was technical and rainy and scary and windy and I was a big fat baby with all the wet turns; run was great except for the fact that it was long by almost a mile and that was mean but who's counting, and.....I got a flipping Kona slot, and I am so very excited.

But more on that later.

For now, I've been being a little anthropologist during my time here and observing the innate and learned differences between American triathletes and Kiwi (and Australian, lots of them here) triathletes. And here are my findings.

  • Triathlon is a national interest in New Zealand. People, normal people, like not triathlete people, actually know the names of the big triathletes. I watched the news last night, and they devoted FIVE MINUTES to triathlon coverage. I am not joking. This was the normal newscast, not some specialized sports channel. They covered the Challenge Wankaka, which happened yesterday, and the Auckland 70.3, which happened today, had interviews with Gina Crawford and Macca, and pronounced everyone's name right. And, they have triathletes pictured on cereal boxes.
  • That said, Kiwis don't seem to really give a hoot about the Ironman brand. They are not M-Dot aficionados. The Challenge series is a bigger deal. The Ironman Auckland 70.3 was very competitive (the pointy end represented, as they say here) but that's because (I think) the WTC made it the Asia-Pacific Championship and gave Kona slots, but the numbers overall weren't huge. And unlike in America, where the line to buy all the M-Dot gear and Finisher's Gear is usually longer than the registration line, here was the crowd looking to buy Ironman gear when I checked into this race:
That one girl standing there was an employee
  • You have to wear your helmet (with the strap buckled) as you enter the transition area. Even if it's just when you're checking your bike in the day before. Safety check or something, I don't know, but it feels pretty dorky. And they scrutinize bikes much closer. As I went to check in, an official took my bike, inspected it, tested the brakes, spun the crank a couple times, and then handed it back to me. 

  • Bathrooms....are hard to come by at Kiwi triathlons (or this one, anyway). No lines of 30 port-o-potties. Just a random onesie bathroom here or there. Better take care of your business at home (and thank goodness I did). Actually I saw this in Lanzarote, too. Maybe we Americans are just a little more bathroom-obsessed/ needy than the rest of the world? 

  • In terms of the cycle leg of the triathlon, rules are different in New Zealand. Or....just not followed. The drafting I saw on the bike was ridiculous, and very, very frustrating. Admittedly, New Zealand has a smaller draft zone (7 meters), but it still seemed like everyone was riding on each other's wheel. I saw packs of men (including, and actually mostly, the pros) riding in what appeared to be pelotons that were ESCORTED by course marshals. And I saw girls in my age group drafting off each other, which also got my blood boiling, but hey, I can only control my race, and I'm NOT going to draft. Maybe that was the 1min 30sec that kept me from winning my age group?? 

  • That said, I can criticize the race officials, but I will say, I escaped a (non-drafting) penalty, and I have their leniency to thank. You know that whole driving on the left side of the road I've complained about in New Zealand? Applies to cycling, too. And there was a stretch of the bike where I spaced out, and didn't get as far left as I should have. Getting left to ride just doesn't feel natural, and I screwed up. I didn't actually block anyone, there was no one around, and that was probably the thing that saved me. The officials were nice enough to pull up next to me and remind me to stay left instead of giving me a penalty, and this American girl appreciates it because really, I was just being a ditz (no excuses). But the "lecture"/ warning did get my heart rate up a little. 

  • There's no "back of the pack" in New Zealand. Sure, there are people who finished in the bottom 25%....that's just a mathematical fact. But it's not like America, where most races have a large contingent of "just trying to finish" or "bucket list" participants (and I am, in NO WAY WHATSOEVER, downplaying the accomplishments of those participants). Here, everyone seemed extremely well-trained, fit, experienced, and competitive. It was expected that you knew the rules of the sport....the pre-race meeting was a short video, shown every 30 minutes or so that basically said: "this is a technical course, be very, very careful, don't draft, thank the volunteers, don't forget to check out how awesome Auckland is after your race." It could be because this race was significantly more expensive than the many other races in the area, and thus drew a more experienced crowd with different goals. Just what I observed. 

  • Triathlon in New Zealand is ridiculously expensive. It's a little like an island nation, New Zealand is shipping in a lot of stuff. That stuff includes triathlon gear. At the expo, GUs were being sold for....$8.00. EIGHT DOLLARS FOR A GU. That's not far off of what I've seen in the shops I've stopped in as I had my typical pre-race flat tire paranoia (hey, you, Bike Tire Expert, please look at my tire and just tell me that it looks OK or I'm going to freak out until the race start and even if you tell me it's OK I'm probably going to go to the shop across the street for their opinion anyway). When I was getting ready to come to New Zealand, I asked my host/friend Adam if he needed anything from the States. His request? Asics running shoes. They're more than $200 here. (Sunscreen was his second request, also ridiculously expensive). How one could be a triathlete in New Zealand without serious sponsorship, I don't know. And I'm actually starting to stress about my own stock of training and race nutrition....I brought a lot, but not enough, and buying more here might break the bank. 

  • Triathletes in New Zealand have cooler accents. I love it. As do the spectators....and they say charming things like "good on ya," all that time. That brought a smile to my face every time I heard it. 

  • Triathletes in New Zealand go to the awards ceremony even when they're not receiving awards. Packed house, there.
So there you go. My anthropological comparison. Coming up, a race report. And then, I am going on VACATION (holiday) to the South Island of New Zealand and there will, without a doubt, be amazing pictures. I might even go bungee jumping. Just kidding, Mom. (Actually, not kidding at all).

South Island, here I come

Friday, January 11, 2013

Just Stay Left

I've got a little bike ride to do and I am, of course, procrastinating (the official party line:  I'm waiting a little longer until it's midday so I can get some heat training, which sounds so much better than procrastinating, right?).  In the mean time, here's a quickie post on the latest and greatest from New Zealand.
Picnic overlooking Auckland
  • Driving All Backwards-Like
Yesterday I learned how to drive a car. 

Yes, I actually learned how to drive in 1995, but switch the directions of travel (Kiwis drive on the left), and it was like I'd never been in a damn car before.  Hosts Adam and Pip are very, very, very generously allowing me use of a car, and Adam accompanied me on my first voyage, a 5 minute drive to the pool, yesterday morning.  Remember those days in drivers' ed when your instructor was clearly more than a little frightened of your lack of driving ability, but was trying to be patient and provide helpful tips that wouldn't scare you too much?  It was just like that.  ("You might want to get into the car on the side in which the steering wheel sits."  "OK, try to drive a little more to the center of the road, you're about six inches from the curb."  "You probably want to speed up a little; my grandma drives faster." "Why don't you pull over and let this string of cars behind us pass?"

Fortunately, once you get your brain switched around a little, driving is still just driving, and I got the hang of left-side driving pretty quick.  Good thing, too, because once I got back from my swim and realized that I'd locked myself out of the house, I had to drive about a half-hour to Adam's work to retrieve a key.  Baptism by fire!

  • Swimming All Backwards-Like
 Kiwis don't just drive on the wrong side of the road, they swim on the wrong side of the lane.  I hit up the local pool for the first time yesterday.  It's nice.  Heated, outdoors, can't complain.  But, they circle swim counter-clockwise.  Doesn't sound like a big deal, but having to switch the direction in which you twist off of a flipturn when you've been flipturning pretty regularly since age 7 (minus about a 14 year complete swimming hiatus but who's counting?) ....not as easy as you'd think.

And, the pool is 33.333333 meters long.  So, there's math.  Yuck.

  • Damn CFCs
CFCs, for those of you that were asleep during the 80s and early 90s, are chlorofluorocarbons, aka destroyers of the ozone layer.  And that hole in the ozone layer?  Right above New Zealand and Australia, so the sun is extra intense.  I was warned to always wear sunscreen, in fact, it was suggested that I bring a good stash from the States as sunscreen is really, really expensive here.   I've worn SPF 50 anytime I've been in the sun between the hours of 9 AM and 7 PM...might as well be wearing armor, right?  Nope.  My albino skin is already several shades darker in just a couple days.

Mission Bay
  • Middle Earth
Here's a confession....I have never seen the Lord of the Rings movies.  Or the Hobbit.  Just no interest; none whatsoever.  What I'm finding is this sort of makes me unqualified to be in New Zealand (where the movies were filmed).  I'm lucky I even got through customs.  They are crazy about the Lord of the Rings movies down here.  Air New Zealand is "the official airline of Middle Earth" and the safety presentation video starred a bunch of hobbits or something.  There are tours and all that stuff.   Every evening, I intend to sit down, download one of the movies, and watch it, but I never do.   I'm a disgrace as a New Zealand visitor.

But, I have seen a lot of Flight of the Conchords, so I think that counts.

  • General Happiness
It's warm here, it's beautiful, it stays light until 9.  There are hardly any bugs.  People aren't big on wearing shoes....anywhere.  And they're remarkably friendly.  I do fun things like going to the beach, kayaking, exploring.  I'm still taking things a little slow and easing in (travel takes a lot out of me), but I'm content.  New Zealand feels a lot more like home than anywhere I've been and while it's always good to go places that are different, some familiarity is remarkably comforting.   Life is good.

Me "kayaking" near the Harbor Bridge (mostly just going round and round in a circle as I have no kayaking aptitude)    
Found the Mother Ship, what else do I need?