Thursday, March 16, 2017

Ironman New Zealand Swim: race report

I flew straight to Auckland from Hawaii.
The last few days in Kona were pretty light on the training and the day before I left, I had one of those rides where my legs were bursting to ride hard, let's go let's go let's go already.  But the travel wrecked me pretty good, I jogged a little Monday morning before driving to Taupo & did a quick spin through town that evening and felt like good lord I think I've gained forty pounds in the last twelve hours mainly in the ankles and the ass.  To the delight of all of my people, I divided my time pretty equally in the days leading up to the race between feeling like shit while training and bitching about feeling like shit while training, mixed in with my normal race-week magic trick which allows me to sleep for at least fifteen hours per day.  I did get out out Taupo to explore, hot springs and mountains and lakes and dozens of coffee shops and only a few horrifying wrong-side-of-the-road near misses.
It wasn't until Thursday morning when I met up with some of the SMASH ladies for a quick swim that I felt like my body was starting to come around.  The excitement to race was there, it was covered up a bit dealing with my cranky back and hips after traveling and a minor medical issue that left me off the bike for a few days and a bit of alarm at how much I was sleeping and eating and drinking and not peeing (where is it all going?), but it was there.  A few days before the race, someone reminded me something that she has been telling me for months now.  You have everything that you need, and it finally sank in.  What I wanted out of this race was simply to see where I was, to see if I could execute the plan, and that was all.  I knew I was fit, I've watched what my heart rate and power and pace and speed have been doing over the last few months even though I didn't completely trust it yet; more than a few times I have wanted to climb out of the pool and shake the pace clock, is this thing on?  I didn't feel deeply fit, which is hard to explain but I think it easiest to say that I haven't gone into an ironman in a very long time without six to eight months of solid riding, without a fistful of 3+ hour runs, without months of smashing myself and recovering and smashing myself and recovering.  I felt rusty, out of practice, raw and green and it's been a while since I've done this properly (we're ignoring the ill-advised CdA situation of last summer).
But those things didn't leave me feeling significantly underprepared, either.  I finally realized late in the week, frying-pan-over-the-head-style, that I felt ready to see what would happen.  I didn't need a mantra or mojo or a talisman after all, it didn't matter that I skipped a couple of rides or that I had a glass of wine during race week (gasp!) or that the 20-hour time difference made it frustrating to get in touch with Colorado when I wanted to connect, trying to feel grounded, or that my rental car broke down in a hilarious am-I-on-candid-camera series of events which resulted in borrowing a 16-year-old Camry with 300,000 kilometers on the odometer from the son of a local mechanic.  None of it mattered.  I didn't need any of those things.  I needed to quiet my mind.  And go.
I woke up before my alarm on race morning from a crash.  As I laid in bed and listened to the wind blow, I realized that it had been some of the (heavy, wood) patio furniture blowing over outside of my hotel room.  I laid in bed a few more minutes, thinking about how it reminded me of home and how I'd lay comfortably in bed at night listening to the wind rip around the house, before it sank in that I was listening to the wind blow, and that we were probably in for one hell of a day (this is my face from three inches away hopefully you've missed it).
Morning logistics were easy. I jogged a quiet warm-up with my amazing friend Emma who came up from Wellington to be a rockstar of ironman support all day.  We were let in the water quite late for a swim warm-up, but I was one of the first ones in and swam back and forth in front of the kayakers as long as I could to try and get loose.  I hung off of a kayak to adjust my timing chip and the guy paddling it said to me, You guys sure are gonna get it!  It's crazy out there! and I gave him a stern half-joking lecture about scaring the crap out of people for no reason.  We were able to tell from shore that the lake was pretty choppy, all the while Mike Reilly assuring people, don't worry, the wind will calm down once the sun comes up!  (Because that's how weather works).  But to be perfectly honest, as a stronger swimmer there's nothing I like more than a crazy swim.  If we were back in the US I feel pretty confident that this swim would have been canceled, so I was thanking my lucky stars to be in New Zealand where they don't consider liability lawsuits at every sneeze and that's where my brain was when the cannon went off.

And I went off with it, straight off the front, just like I was told, just like I was taught, just like I had been practicing in so many swim workouts all these winter months.  It felt fucking fantastic.  It was a little messy getting going in the right direction, I kept finding men to swim next to but no real feet to hang onto, and my yeah-pretty-sure-I-broke-it-nose got a good eye-watering whack in there, but once we all got sorted out and headed the right way it was fine.  The chop was coming from the right so after a few lungfuls of water, I was breathing only to the left and watching the shore line.  I had hoped for a pack or even some good feet to draft off but it felt like the chop blew the field pretty wide at the front or maybe I am simply terminal failure at drafting.  It took me a few minutes to work my way over to the buoy line after starting wide left, but once I was there I settled in and the effort felt exactly right.
The chop got worse as we got further out; we turned right at the halfway point and it felt like it took ten minutes to swim the 200 meters to the second turn.  It was crazy and I loved it.  A few times when I paused to try and find a buoy, I actually stopped and just laughed at the conditions.  Huge waves, deep chop, there were times when I couldn't see a single other swimmer or buoy or kayaker or anything except the lake pounding on me, and it was awesome.  I knew that swim times would be slow because I have a fairly decent sense of time in the water and could tell that I would be well over an hour, but I felt like I was moving confidently forward and it wasn't until I was almost back to shore when it occurred to me that if the swim was this bad, the bike was going to be a real treat.  

I blew a bit wide of the exit, not too much, maybe about 50 meters.  Swung back, swam until I was nearly dragging my face in  the sand and then got up to run out.  Three days before the race, I swam the entire course in a perfectly calm lake.  I swam early in the morning, I didn't see a single other swimmer until after I got out, the water was flat and smooth.  From the beach to the far buoys, through the angled turn and then home on the back buoy line, swimming fairly lazily with a few stops to orient myself and some 50-stroke efforts on the way back, took me 62 minutes.  Swimming it that quickly based on my effort made me uncertain that I had actually covered the entire course, but I trust my wetsuit and I feel great in it and I was ready for a strong swim.  When I race ironman, I never look at my time on the swim, I don't wear a watch, I don't want to know, it's never helpful information in the moment.  But when I ran up the beach, I couldn't miss seeing the huge clock over the exit, and it said 1:23 on it and my brain nearly exploded.  How long was I just in that fucking lake?!
Swim: 2.4 miles, 1:08, 3rd AG (27th woman including pros, I'll take that).

The run to transition is long, it goes up a hill and some stairs and around things and it just takes a while.  Emma captured a great video jogging next to me, she says, Katie how was the swim? and I reply with big wide eyes, holy fuck!  When I finally got into T1, I saw that there were a LOT of bags still waiting to be picked up, so that helped, and by the time I got to the bike rack and saw how many bikes were still there, I realized that the clock hadn't yet been reset from the pro start (fifteen minutes back) and that really, in the big picture, the swim time never actually matters but I'm going to have to race another one of these fucking races if I want that sub-60 swim I've been chasing for so long.  (TBD).

When I was a graduate student, I remember one of my professors lecturing about how to handle mistakes in performance.  He taught me that three things will always go wrong in a recital.  So instead of freaking out when you crack your first note, calmly just recognize it - oh, it's you! - and move on.  That's one.  I've learned since that this concept is quite popular and it's something that I've passed on to my own students and athletes for years.  When I was in transition, the zipper on my kit sprang open but the actual zipper was still at the top.  I ran over to a volunteer, dropping half my nutrition along the way, and asked her to unzip and re-zip it while I held it together.  She reached to pull the zipper down...and the entire zipper broke off in her hand.  Her mouth dropped open, as did mine, and we looked at each other like startled goldfish for a few seconds before I said, oh, crap, never mind, thanks, no, it's fine, don't worry about it, thanks! and headed out of transition.  And in my head, I said, okay, well, that's one.

T1: 6:08