IM Austria 2014 – my worst race ever……

IM Austria 2014 was originally meant to be my first attempt at full IM distance but being as I won a  last minute entry to IM UK last year, I had already had my ‘practice race’. Now I knew I could get around one, so this year I had new ambitions of getting a fairly decent PB and a respectable time.

For the last year I have trained hard and been very focused with a massive amount of help from my Coach Musty Salih (https://twitter.com/smart_fit_uk). Not only have I put the hours in but more importantly I have trained Smart making every session count and have purpose. I have also been fortunate enough to have 12months illness free without even a cough or a snivel. Apart from a slight niggle with my glutes in early spring I haven’t been bothered by injuries this season. My race at Majorca proved that my nutrition strategy seems to be working to keep my GI issues at bay. On paper I am in the best health and shape physically and mentally that I have ever been in my life – so what could wrong you may ask?  Well let me begin…….

Leading up to the race last week I was almost too chilled out.  My friends mock me for being ‘OCD’ as I’m very organised and have everything sorted out way in advance, however for this race I didn’t  even look at my nutrition and pacing plans properly until late saturday afternoon. I had a little bit of excitement but no nerves whatsoever until the morning of the event. Being on my own in Austria I almost felt that I was too relaxed and with hindsight I don’t necessarily think that is a good thing. 

Race morning;

I arrived at transition to find my bike had been tampered with overnight and it took me 30mins to find and queue for the bike mech to fix it. The front brake cable had been loosened (the grub screw had been undone).  I know for certain that the grub screw was tight when I racked up the night before as my brakes had just been adjusted on Saturday to make them more responsive, I then rode for 30mins also and it was fine.  They even tested the brakes at check in and they would  have definitely have noticed the brake lever going right back to bars had it have been loose then.  

Having wasted 30mins sorted my bike out, I then raced over to the swim start and wanted to drop my personal needs bags drop off. However, in the rush, I didn’t realise the personal needs vans had already left the bike check in so I was frantically trying to find out how to get my bags onto the truck but no one seemed to be able to help me so I gave up and ditched the bags in the Irondome tent and realised I just wasn’t going to be able to use the contents. Oh well, not the end of the world, just one of those things I told myself. 

Swim;

In the tent getting ready for the swim I managed to drop an ear plug down the holes in the matting, at this point i thought ‘oh well these things come in 3’s so thats the last thing’. Brakes, ear plugs, bags – 3 little mishaps now time for a great race!

I started the swim on the front row, to the middle of the left hand beach.  I got battered about a lot in the swim which doesn’t normally bother me, but I got a full on punch to the side of the face which wedged my goggle right into my socket which was very uncomfortable.  Soon enough however that seemed to sort itself out and I managed to sit on peoples feet for most of the swim at a very comfortable pace. My pace didn’t seem fast but I wanted to stay on feet as much as possible and just waited for faster swimmers to pass so I could latch onto their feet, but there never seemed to be any faster swimmers to latch on to.  I was fairly pleased with my drafting but felt like went way off course at one point. I need to learn not to concentrate so much on drafting that I forget about sighting and holding a better faster pace! 

Bit disappointed with swim time but all in all it was a PB by 4mins and I had been advised not to exert too much energy on the swim, keep the energy for the bike and the run and just get comfortably through the swim.

1:14 30th in Cat (4min PB)

T1

Following a transition training session the week before the race, I had decided to have my first go at a flying mount with shoes on the bike!  This was also first time at running along with bike holding saddle and not the handle bars – sounds really silly but I was pleased with myself at the success of this transition I started the bike with a huge grin on my face.  Being clumsy by nature there was a large possibility this could have pear shaped and left me flat on my face on the floor!

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Bike

For some reason I couldn’t get anywhere near the pace I should have had on the bike.  We all know what we are capable of and I felt the whole time that I wasn’t anywhere near where I should or wanted to be on the bike – either on the flats of the hills. I felt like I couldn’t reach my potential on the bike at all and I cant work out why – thats one for my coach to puzzle over.

At about 30-40 miles into the bike I had a searing sharp pain in my shoulder blade and twitched my shoulder and back a bit and it went, only to return an inch or so to the left, I tried to reach my back to work out what it was and then it struck again, and again, and then again – all in the same line a small distance apart each time.  I felt something between my shoulders blades and managed to get rid of it – I’m guessing it was either a bee or a wasp and it had got stuck in the bottom of my plaited pony tail and kept me stinging me until i managed to reach it and swat it away.  I had 4 lovely big red stings or bites on my back when I got home after the race! 

Fuelling on the bike went well, I was drinking ATF and using my usual combination of peanut butter balls and shotbloks. In addition to ATF I also had 3 bottles water as I knew I now had no access to my special needs bags where I had my additional ATF.  I started to feel dizzy and sick at around 80-90 miles, It was a bit worrying as I started to take it steadier on both the hills and the descents as a result.  Given the fact I didn’t feel I needed to pee after drinking 5 litres of fluid does make me wonder if this is i sign I had lost too much salt in sweat and this is why I was feeling dizzy and sick.  I had planned on taking salt stick tablets if i needed them but guess where they were – in my specials needs bag back in the Irondome! 

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6:02 27th in cat (45min PB)

T2

Hit the dismount line at 6:01 by my watch (at only 119miles i wasn’t expecting the dismount line so quickly) and was gutted, if I had realised i was that close to sub 6 I would have pushed a bit harder, but again, I was ‘saving myself for a ‘great marathon’.  Part 2 of my transition training paid off, a flawless flying dismount – I was buzzing after this and raring to go on the run, with the adrenalin now coursing through my veins!  Lets smash this marathon I thought…

Run

I really felt awful from the off! My plan is always to come out on the run very slowly, walking if need be and give myself 20mins to lower my HR and get a bottle of ATF into me to start the marathon well fuelled.  As I got a couple mins in and my HR wasn’t coming down, I started to thinking myself, this is harder than it felt at IM UK last year. I hoped I would settle down and be ok after a short while and be able to start picking up the pace but in actual fact I got worse not better.  I started taking salt stick tablets as soon as got them from my run bag but abut 20mins into the run I had to stop on hold onto a fence as I went so dizzy I simply couldn’t stand up.  I started seeing shapes flash in front of my eyes and was worried the medics would come and pick me up so I pretended to be taking my shoes off to adjust my socks.  At this point I contemplated bailing and getting the medics to take me back, then i thought about how much time and effort I had put in this year and I thought I must do this even If it takes me 5 or 6 hours to walk it.  It was a really weird feeling, very woozy and dizzy and for a while after I started to run again and felt like i was in a bit of a dream – I actually cant remember the first time i did the long run out to the turnaround point and when I saw a friend coming the opposite way I was really confused as I didn’t understand how people were coming the other way as I hadn’t turned around at any point!   I think the salt stick tablets start to work as for a while the sickness stopped and I was able to go to bout 9min mile pace and I worked out if I could average 10min miles pace i would come in at 11:45 which would have been not what I originally wanted but still a respectable time. This wasn’t to be though as at around 17miles I hit the wall for the second time and had to start holding onto to railings and fences again to hold myself up.  At this point the stomach cramps started too to add insult to injury.  The rest of the run was a case of run a bit, walk a bit and drink coke, run, toilet stop, jog, run, toilet stop, walk and drink coke etc…. 

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4:49 30th in cat 

I crossed the finish line and went straight to a quiet corner and sat down and had a little cry – actually it was full on blubbing! I was disappointed and felt like my body had cheated me.  All the hours of training and hard work and on the day, my body wouldn’t do what I know it is capable of.  I had feelings of disappointment, embarrassment, and delusion – to think I had dreamt of getting a Kona slot in the next 5 yrs or so and at that exact moment it felt like my dream had never been more unobtainable. 

After my little ‘moment’ though, It suddenly dawned on me that only a few hours before I had actually contemplated quitting and my mind hadn’t let me. At that point I actually felt a sense of achievement – I had become an Ironman for the second time and I actually had got a PB of over 45mins. Despite feeling the worst I have felt in my life, despite wanting to quit, I had the mental strength to carry on and complete a marathon having already been racing for over 7hours…for that I am truly proud. 

Despite my time not being anywhere near I had wanted of this race, I guess this really puts into perspective how hard it is going to be get a Kona slot. However, I’m not ready to give up yet, I’ve got the bit between my teeth and if anything this race has made me even more determined! 

Final results;

12:14:35 (45min PB over last year) 31st in AG

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Step by Step

One small step at a time……

So it appears that most blogs I have read in the past few days are either about the last year or the coming year – thoughts, achievements, aspirations etc. All very thought inspiring stuff and very interesting to read but as way of doing something a little different myself, I thought I would reflect back on the little steps that I’ve taken over the last couple years to get me to where I am today in terms of my triathlon achievements and ambitions.

These are the 10 most important steps that have got me to where I am today (in triathlon terms not all my life) – many, many more small steps are still to be taken, but life is an on ongoing project and you have to the enjoy it one day at a time without trying to jump to complete your goals too quickly

Step 1 – Move 300 miles away from home to start a new life ‘Down South’

Back in 2011 I decided to change jobs and move down south to have a new life away from the NE and to be with my then partner, who was from the London area.  With this move I joined a new gym and I decided it would be a good idea to mix up my usual gym based routine with attempting to swim.  A couple of months of doggy paddle and weird ‘head above the water’ breast stroke later I decided this wasn’t going anywhere fast.

Step 2 – Sink or swim

By way of giving myself a reason to learn to swim, I booked onto a woman’s only triathlon with my good mate Lisa. I booked 3 swim lesson at my local gym, which gave me enough confidence to put my head underwater and start to do something resembling front crawl.  I managed to get around the 400m swim on the triathlon half as FC and half as doggy paddle/ breast stroke.  This was a massive achievement for me, and both Lisa and I were over the moon at completing our first triathlon together.  A day I will never forget, the emotion of crossing the crossing the fish line with our hands held together up high, a personal and joint Triumph for us both.

shockabs 12

Step 3 – Join a Tri club

Immediately after crossing the finish line with my friend – I knew | had to do more of this Triathlon thing!  I got home and started looking up triathlon clubs. That’s when I found out about Shires Triers and joined them for help and advice (http://www.shirestriers.co.uk). Through this club I have met some amazing people and the majority of my friends down in the South of the country I have met through the club – some of which I now class as my closest circle of friends.

Step 4 – Lose weight, get Healthy

Some of my new friends from the triathlon club had been commenting on getting leaner and losing weight by using a nutritionist’s advice.  I wanted to know more about who this ‘Sally’ was and what the plan involved, so I asked about the plan and emailed Sally myself to register.  Sally runs a business called Fitnaturally, the whole ethos of Fitnaturally is built on the foundations of eating delicious, natural foods and using the natural environment for training and exercise (http://www.fitnaturally.co.uk)

Through using Sal’s plans and advice I managed to lose a whopping 2 stone and shave off 9% body fat, I truly believe this weight loss is responsible for a lot of the extra speed I gained in running and cycling over the last 2 years.

The Before and After results from FitNaturally

The Before and After results from FitNaturally

Step 5 – First ‘Races’

In Spring of 2012 I entered the local RAF Halton Sprint triathlon. This was a pool based swim with an open road cycle and mainly off road/trail but flat run around the base of RAF Halton. This was to be the first triathlon I had ‘raced’ because during my first ladies only tri, me and my friend waited for each other after the swim and then cycled and ran together as a pair, back then we we wanted to simply survive a triathlon regardless of time.  Admittedly the Halton event was a very small local event and not a ‘high calibre athlete’ event, but I was over the moon with winning a £50 voucher as 3rd female and being 1st in my AG. In 2012 I also competed in my first Olympic distance races and a road marathon – in all of which I was very proud of my achievements and times.

My first (and only so far) triathlon prize - £50!

My first (and only so far) triathlon prize – £50!

Step 6 – Go Long…..

Most of the people in my Tri Club have done, or plan to do Ironman distance races, so it was only a matter of time before this rubbed off on me, so having completed 2 Sprints and 2 Olympic distances in 2012 I decided 2013 would be the year to go long!  I entered Wimbleball Ironman70.3 with a promise to myself that if I got around it relatively unscathed, I would go full distance and book Ironman Austria for 2014.  A few weeks before doing Wimbleball, I won a competition by Sport Pursuit (http://www.sportpursuit.com), where the prize was a place at IMUK!  This kind of threw a spanner in the works as it meant I couldn’t ‘race’ Wimbleball full out, as It wouldn’t give me time to taper enough for IMUK.  So at this point I enlisted the help of a coach and he recommended using Wimbleball as a long training day and practice for IMUK.  I successfully got around Wimbleball – although it hurt and I’ve promised to go back another year as I can say for sure that Wimbleball got the better of me that day; so I owe that race an ass kicking when I’m faster! None the less, I came 12th in AG and was 56th female, which I was quite pleased with for my first long race.  A few weeks later came IMUK; I was really looking forward to this as it gave me a practice at full IM distance before doing Austria next year in 2014. Again, I got around the race, learnt many, many valuable lessons that day and am still very proud of myself when i think about crossing the finish line.

IM UK finish line picture

IM UK finish line picture

I am fortunate enough to have this memory filmed by Sport pursuit so I never forget that crossing the finish line feeling. I again came 12th in my AG and was 44th female so was very pleased with my performance that day.

(http://www.sportpursuit.com/blog/tag/team-sportpursuit-ironman)

Step 7 – Get a coach

So as mentioned in step 6, I decided that if I didn’t have someone structuring my training and looking over me and guiding me, I was en-route to blowing up!  My training ethos had previously just been the more hours, the better! No structure, some hill reps but limited interval work and definitely not enough rest; one of the more experienced guys at my club is a qualified coach and has done many Ironmans himself.  He had previously given me some advice for my first marathon so he was an obvious choice and kindly agreed to be my coach. I trusted him 100% and he helped me get PBs and massive technical improvements in all 3 disciplines. I am very appreciative of the help and support and he gives me and respect him for the knowledge imparts on me.

Step 8 – Race, Rest and Recover

An important part of what my coach (Musty) has taught me is that recovery and rest are crucially important to endurance training. I now have a rest day almost every week and having had some injuries coming out of the 2013 race season, I now know that sometimes you have to bite the bullet and pull out of races if you don’t feel in perfect health. Aiding my rest and recovery now is also a great sports masseuse and physiotherapist – Claire Doherty, MD of back on track physio.  She sponsors me by providing regular spots massage and advice. (http://backontrack-physio.co.uk)

A much needed treatment from Claire

A much needed treatment from Claire

Step 9 – Enjoy the off-season

Like everything in life – ‘all work and no play, makes Allie a very dull girl’.

YES, to get faster you have to work hard, and YES this involves a lot of hours of training, but NO – you don’t have to beast yourself for 12 months of the year, and NO – you don’t have brag about how many hours training you’ve done a week, how hard you ‘smashed yourself today’ and how many miles you ‘thrashed’ out on the turbo….. there is a balance to life and there is enough time to brag about your mileage and how much you can punish yourself once into pre-race season. Why not get some base training in and enjoy the lies in, spending more time with friends and family (or in my case Will and the dogs).  There seem to be too many people afraid to have a drink or a mince pie (or 6) over the festive period because it might affect their performance in 6 months time.  It might, but its very unlikely to, and each to their own, but I actually want to have a life outside of work and triathlon too – at least for a few months of the year ;o)

We all know a 'Jack'

We all know a ‘Jack’

Step 10 – Be thankful

Finally and perhaps most importantly, be thankful; not just for what you have within your triathlon life, but also outside of it.  Within Triathlon, I’ve ben very fortunate to pick up sponsorship this year from the following companies;

Advanced TRI Fuel   http://advancedtrifuel.com

Azione carbon cycles   http://www.azione.cc/

Back on Track Physio   http://backontrack-physio.co.uk

Sports Pursuit   http://www.sportpursuit.com

One more to be announced later in January…

Aside from these companies who are kindly helping me through 2014, I am truly thankful for the friends and family that support me and put up with my moods and tiredness when training and general anti-social nature during race season.  It is your friends and family that are most important in life – if I were to decide to stop Tri tomorrow, they would be still be there for me tomorrow and fill the huge void that would be left if I didn’t train and race.

So here’s to a Happy New Year to one and all – put the negatives behind you, take the positives with you and aim to have the best year that YOU can. It’s your year and your life, aim to be the best person you can be in whatever way is important to you.

Here comes 2014 – its all about being faster than 2013……..

Patience, patience, patience…….

2 months ago today, I was right in the thick of it on the Ironman UK Bolton course.  The biggest day of my life so far……In 9 months I will be embarking on my second Ironman – Ironman Austria.

After Bolton, I needed a month of rest where I did very little training other than light low intensity stuff during this month I also had the club relays race which was great fun and gave me a PB in the 5km run which was a pleasant and unexpected surprise.  Since the relays I’ve had several issues with a shoulder impingement and a repeatedly locking pelvis – these issues seems to have been resolved now, or at least on the way out so the training is back to plan!

This time around, my ironman has been planned in advance so I actually have 9 months to train properly instead of 8-9 weeks like I had for Bolton.  The first block of this 9 month training plan is the so called ‘patience phase’ and boy, am I going to need patience, let me explain!

My coach uses the lowheartrate training concept.  In a nutshel the theory is that you rarely train at race pace, all your training is either way below your MAHR (max aerobic HR) or way above your FT (functional threshold).  So this means many hours of low heart-rate training (the patience bit) and lots of shorter sessions of absolute pain (Tabbata intervals etc).  This whole concept was practiced and is taught by Ironman legend Mark Allen;

http://www.markallenonline.com/maoArticles.aspx?AID=2

I will write a separate blog on low heart rate training and the published evidence as it really is quite compelling.

Now my coach is very well practiced in these methods and his personal ironman and triathlon results speak for themselves, however, as a scientist, I cant just believe – I need to prove a hypothesis personally to be fully convinced and that is what has changed my mindset this weekend.

Yesterday I had a 2hr low rate run to do and as my low rate levels mean I have to run very slowly to maintain them (at times actually having to walk to keep them low enough), this means I cant run with my club for these sessions – lone running gives you plenty time to think and yesterday that is exactly what I did.

I woke up in a bad frame of mind yesterday, and really didn’t want to do a slow 2hr run, but I dragged myself to the forest where my club runs are based an hour before the meet time so I could get my 2hr run in and at least join the club in the cafe afterwards.  As I set out on the run It became obvious I needed to change my attitude and state of mind very quickly otherwise this was going to be a long run.  I started trying to remember all the peer reviewed journals that I’ve read now on the subject of low heart rate training and how compelling all the evidence is. I also remembered that even though I had done very little speed work, I still managed a 5km PB 3 weeks after completing my ironman so something has made me faster, could it have been the long slow training sessions?  My coach keeps reminding me what an achievement a sub 13hour ironman was after only a short training program leading up to it and I think human nature and my competitive attitude means I am quick to forget this achievement and focus on how much better I want to be rather than how amazing my actual achievement was.

My main goal for the coming years is to qualify for Kona – I’m in no hurry to do this, in fact I would rather it take several years as the stronger I become and the more experienced in racing ironman I get, the higher than chance of then actually do a respectable Kona time will be (by  respectable I simply mean not last in any of the three disciplines – its a very strong field to compete against at Kona so I have no dreams above my ability!). Being as I have a few years to mess about with I have decided that this coming year is my experimental year!

As with everything in life when you want to reap the rewards of something you have to subscribe to it 100%  – this is my plan for the program.  I cant skip sessions or say ‘oh it wont hurt if i go faster today’ or ‘a quick hill session wont affect the program’ if i don’t follow the program it wont work so I will have been wasting not only my time, but more importantly my coaches time.  As a person I have 100% faith and trust in my coach, but as a researcher I cant get my mind around something until I have proven it myself.  The way scientific research works is, you have a hypothesis, you experiment to prove or disprove it, you then challenge those results and further test secondary hypotheses, you then draw your conclusions and publish.  My next year is going to be the same – I will experiment by following the protocol 100%, I will then test the hypothesis by racing and practice races, conclusions can be drawn after Ironman Austria.

If my times haven’t improved, what have I lost? The way I see it – nothing. I will have gained an extra year of endurance training and valuable race experience, and a personal insight into a totally different way of training.

If my times do improve, then this protocol clearly works for me and I will continue onwards and upwards until I can achieve my Kona dream.

So then – tme for a long (and slow) bike session in the sunshine! Happy training all……..

 

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