Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Tips for Ironman Cairns:Travelling from cooler climates

At the present time I am putting together proposals, attempting to find a key partnership with a New Zealand company. So I have been looking back at my results and just how many races I have done. It doesn't feel like I have been in the sport that long, but I now have a huge experience behind me. I have finished 34 iron distance races in just over 7 seasons of racing. Of those finishes I have 13 wins, 9 second places, and two third places (in big German races Roth and Frankfurt). So that is 24 iron distance races out of 34 on the podium. Of the remaining 10 races, 4 have been top 10 finishes at Kona and the other 6 are 4th and 5th places. But most importantly, is just how much I have learnt from this amount of racing in quite a short period of time, in all sorts of conditions, super hot, super windy, super rainy, super cold, super hilly.......get the picture. I have made a huge range of mistakes over my time racing which of course I have learnt a great deal from. I feel now is the time to pass some of this on to others. I always try to incorporate a few tips into my race reports, but really I want to do more than that. I love helping people and passing on advice, I guess that is the teacher in me.

So we are now one month out from Ironman Cairns. I know quite a few will be heading over from NZ and from cooler parts of Aussie, and so I thought I would pass on a few tips for when you are training in an environment quite different to what we will face on race day. The last time I raced in Cairns was 2013 and I headed there from training in Wanaka in the South Island. It was quite shockingly cold. Many days it was down to -6 degrees with a high of only 1 degree. I was able to still grab a second place finish on that day with that preparation. This time the preparation is a great deal easier. Mostly days of 18-20 which isn't bad at all, but still a bit different to race day which will be high 20's or early 30's, hot and humid. Last year I also raced Metaman which was in Indonesia. Anyone who has raced in Asia knows just how hot it can get there. I was training in winter (the race was the end of August) and was only able to arrive to Indonesia a couple of days before the race. I had done several of these below points which helped me to have a good race despite the huge change in temperature.

  • If you can, use a sauna. We have one down at our local pool which I go into straight after my swim sessions. I love saunas. I could easily stay there all day going in and out, but all I have time for is 10-15 minutes or so. But just this change in temperature for that short time gives a bit of heat stress, which allows your body to make changes that will help with acclimatisation. Plus for me, it provides about the only 10 minutes or so in my day where I can just relax... really important for mental health too!
  • Put on more layers than you really need. As I said it is 18-20 degrees here most days which is quite comfortable, so go and make yourself a little more uncomfortable. Put on a polyprop or a jacket that you don't really need when running and/or biking.
  • Inside training sessions. At the moment I am only doing my two long bike sessions outside, the rest of the time I am using the trainer. This enables me to control the climate, make it a bit hotter and uncomfortable. I don't have access to a treadmill, but if you do, then you can do this, and try not to use the fan!
  • When it comes to arriving at the race venue you will start to acclimatise. If you are only arriving the week of the race as most people will be including myself, try to avoid training in the hottest parts of the day. This goes against my natural feelings. I really want to just get out there at it's hottest and really test myself, but race week I don't feel is the time to do that. If you are coming for a long period then you can do this. But in race week, train in the cooler parts of the day, and just being around not training will be enough to start acclimatising to the temperature.
  • As soon as you arrive in Cairns, start making hydration your priority. You may have to add electrolytes to your water. Powerbar have these great ones that I use, you just add the tablets to your water.
  • Long sleeve skinsuits. I know this is all the trend at the moment and I have been experimenting with these in certain races. I have used long sleeve skins in Kona the last two years, and found them fine as the aid stations are so close together, and they were long, so it was easy to pick up many bottles of water and still have time to pour a bottle of water over yourself. So I was able to stay wet the entire race, and therefore cool. In other races where the aid stations were much further apart and short, so hard to do everything you need by the last drop station, I found it hard to keep this top wet. In Wanaka it started out very cold and the top was great. By the end of 5 hours it was nearly up to 30 degrees and I wanted to rip that top off my body. For me, I love the feeling of the air on my skin cooling me down, and armpits are great for cooling aren't they? They say these sleeved tops are faster, but this doesn't really take into account the time that you would lose if you overheat and can't keep cool. So if you are planning on trying a sleeved skinsuit for the very first time, I would just bring two options with you, and try both out pre-race and make a call for which you truly feel most comfortable in. The huge pro for sleeved suits in my mind is that you will not have to deal with sunburn which for me is probably the worst thing about racing an Ironman coming from winter.
  • Race cautiously on the bike. Don't get carried away right at the beginning of the bike ride. If someone comes flying past you just focus on your own race and pace. They could be a local, comfortable with the heat, they may know what they are doing, or they may not. I have had many people fly past me on the bike, only to meet them again walking in the first few miles of the run course. In a hot race the run becomes much more of a factor than in a cool race. A great deal of time can be lost on the run if you overdo things on the bike. In Metaman, both times I raced,  I was extremely cautious on the bike. I built into my race in quarters and each year I felt fantastic coming off the bike and onto the run. I focused on my own race and didn't try to change my pace based on others.
  • Hydration. This is key on the bike. Make sure you get exactly what you need each aid station, especially if you are a bigger person. It may be that you want to put on an extra bottle cage if you are on the bigger size, to make sure you don't run out of liquid between stations. You don't have to over drink, but you don't want to be feeling thirsty, let your body dictate. In the last quarter of the bike race you really want to be thinking about hydration. I feel once onto the run, it is very difficult to get enough liquid in, so you don't want to start the run thirsty. And never miss the last aid station. I can not tell you how many times I have come to the last aid station maybe 20k from the end or so, and thought "No I'm sweet I can just go straight through" only to get to 6k or so from the end and have no liquid left. 6k of riding without a sip is a long time, and it is not a good start to your marathon run.
  • You can walk through the aid stations. This is some advice that I give that I just cannot do myself, but it truly is sensible, especially on lapped courses which can get very busy. A good example of this was my race in Frankfurt last year. I was feeling so great on the run, was flying, running everyone down, it was looking like I was going to win the European Championships I could not believe it. It was a 4 loop course and it was 36 degrees. I think there were 2500 to 3000 competitors, it started to get really busy for me through the aid stations those last couple of loops. So instead of slowing down and making sure I got what I needed, I just dropped and missed cups and kept running. Meanwhile Brett told me Corinne Abraham who was leading was being sensible and was walking the aid stations. I was catching her quite easily, and then I faded badly. I had run my way to second spot, and ended up getting moved to 3rd in the last couple of kilometers. Brett who gets to watch a lot of Ironman racing tells me that many of the top athletes do walk aid stations, and it does seem to be the sensible approach. I always feel that if I start walking I may not ever get going again, but one day I will force myself to try it and feel the difference!
  • If we are lucky enough to have ice on the run, then make sure you make the most of it, use it every aid station.
All the best with the last month of training. I hope to see many of you there!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Sunsmart Ironman 70.3 Busselton

In the weekend I was really looking forward to competing at the Sunsmart Ironman 70.3 Busselton. I hadn't been to Busselton, Western Australia since 2009 when I last competed in the full distance event. I have raced the full distance in Busselton on 3 occassions (2007, 2008, 2009). I love Busselton, such a relaxed, laid back town and I have always had a really good time coming to race there. I have wanted to go back on numerous occasions, but have never had the energy to race a full distance in December since my last appearance. So the half distance in May was a tantalising prospect. All the fun of a trip to Busselton, but only over half the distance.

Unfortunately as soon as I landed in Perth I decided to feel rather odd. I made the 2.5 hr drive down to Busselton feeling really strange. I felt like I had arrived in Europe, when really the jetlag was only 4 hours in the good direction. The next morning I woke with a fever, chills, muscle ache and stomach bug. I spent all day on that Thursday in bed. On the Friday, the day before the race I felt better. No more fever and the stomach problems had stopped. Only problem was, my body didn't want me to eat anything. If I hadn't had a race planned for the next day, this would be no problem. It always takes me several days after a tummy bug to start eating again, and I always let my body dictate when this will be. But with a race the next day I was in a no win situation. If I didn't eat I wouldn't have the energy I needed to perform at the pace I needed to, and if I forced myself to eat I would risk feeding the bug and prolong things. I decided to force myself to eat. I opted for high fat, high calorie food, which was a big mistake. From 11pm that night the stomach bug came back and I was up for the rest of the night. This ruled me out for the race. There was no way I could race, having kept no food down for over 2 days, no energy and still having to dive into the toilet every 30 minutes or so. I was gutted (pardon the pun!). So frustrating and upsetting to come so far and then not even attempt a start, but I have learnt the hard way over the years to listen to my body. Most of us ironman athletes are pretty stubborn types, so it was very hard to just not go down to the start and go as hard as my body could go on the day, but ultimately having done that before, I know the hole that I dig myself into, which can tend to lead to a chain of unfortunate events.

So although I was incredibly disappointed, at least I was able to still be a part of this great event. 3000 people take part in the event which I think is pretty extraordinary for our side of the world. The event was really well run, and even with that many competitors was really stress free (illness aside) to be a part of. I was able to get out on the run course later in the day and that was only the second time in my life I have been a spectator. I don't particularly like being a spectator to be honest. It's a very odd feeling! But both the men's and women's fields were fiercely competitive and it was good to watch people's running techniques! On the Sunday I was able to be a part in the Kids Triathlon, which is always one of the highlights for me seeing the next generation staying fit and active, achieving, and seeing the pride in themselves as they reach the finish.

On that Sunday I again felt a lot better, and by the end of the day I even felt hungry and ready to eat, and so I did, only to have the bug come back for a 3rd time. So all in all it was about 5 days where I pretty much kept no food in. I have had to ease back into my training as I really was very weak, and it has taken me until today (Thursday, more than a week after the bug started) to feel completely normal, full of energy and training to the level I was before. So it was clear to me that I had made the right decision not to race.

So for me sadly tummy bugs have been my downfall over the years. It is quite interesting because I used to be called the girl with the iron stomach (this was well before I'd heard the word ironman). I could pretty much eat anything and never get a bug. The first time I ever got a stomach bug was not until I was 24 in 2005. But after the first one I have had them on numerous occasions, I am now prone to them. It can't be my immune function as I very rarely get other sickness. The last time I had a cold was in November, and previous to that it was a good 3 years, and that is with being surrounded by preschoolers a lot of time (known to have a lot of bugs!). You could then say that I must have horrendous hygiene habits, but I also don't think that is the case. The more stomach bugs I get, the more obsessively I wash my hands! So it is just one of those things with me I think. At least I have been fairly fortunate during my career. I had this exact situation happen to me in 2009, when I traveled all the way to Wisconsin from New Zealand, but I guess that is over 5 years ago, and I do race a lot of races, so it really is not a bad record for a pro triathlete.

My tips would be, timing is crucial. If you get a tummy bug 6 days or more before a race, there is no reason you can not still have a great race. This happened to me at Challenge Wanaka 2013. 6 days out from the race terribly sick, I then had a great race, one of the best of my career in fact. Don't rush the eating, when your body wants to eat opt for bananas, soup, lots of fluids, then introduce other food slowly and cautiously and only when your body is calling out for it. Hold back on the dairy and the fat, and add them cautiously after eating other foods normally. Once you are eating normally again you need to really get your glycogen stores back up. I found that I really had trouble eating enough to do this, I felt too full and so I had to opt for what I call poison (fizzy drinks). Really that was the only way I could get enough calories (and really is why inactive people should not drink their calories!). Once you get those calorie stores back in, things seem to be good to go. Also remember to get those electrolytes in as a priority if you are wanting to race. As for getting a tummy bug on the very day of the race. I have found that on 2 occasions (IM France 2012,and Ironman Hawaii 2014) that I was able to get through the race. But I never had a fever on those occasions, so if you do, I wouldn't suggest to race. Without a fever, I think the reason that I was able to get through an ironman, was that my glycogen stores were not depleted as there hadn't been enough time for that. Depending on how bad the bug is, I think it is possible to keep going with your race. I think the hard period is if you get a tummy bug between 2 and 5 days before the race. In my cases, I can't think of any occasion where it would have been possible for me to complete a race. I always utter to myself, "everything happens for a reason" and "it's not meant to be". All very well me saying that, as it will never be too long until my next race, whereas I know for many who train for months with such incredible dedication for one race, that that would simply be devastating. You have to pick yourself up, don't give up, set yourself a new goal, and don't look back.