Monday, October 13, 2008

Hawaii Ironman 
2008 11:11

It felt hard from the start.  I struggled in the swim, I was tired on the bike and I didn't even consider the run until the bike was over.  I guess I knew at the end of the bike that I would need to make a decision if I wasn't going to run.  I guess I also knew that I couldn't really make that decision, so I did it.  I clocked my longest ever Ironman time and I raced home against the sunset.

It was a tough day on the bike and I had to look hard for good moments.  We were being battered by the wind and I was gripping my handle bars trying to think "low thoughts" so as not to be blown over the rainbow.  I decided to mix some happy thoughts amongst my low ones.  I looked along the coastline and out at the blue ocean, I imagined a time when I would have new bikinis and be frolicking in the ocean like any other sensible holiday maker.  Just then I caught up to Belinda Harrison, another female athlete from Australia we swapped stories of pain and suddenly I was laughing.  It would have been nice to battle back to town together but the laws of drafting have the unpleasant side effect of making the event a bit antisocial.  Ah, well, I thought, maybe she'll catch me in the run.

I battled the headwind into town feeling really tired and attaching my focus to one happy thought, sitting down in the transition tent.  All I knew was I was going to get to that chair and I was going to enjoy it.  I didn't think about the marathon, only the chair.

When I finally got there, I spent less than a minute in my chair.  I was happy but overwhelmed.  I'd made it and yet....there was something more to do.  A set of tears started to well, I grabbed my hat, my sunglasses and I left.  I ran or shuffled or somethinged out of transition. 

I didn't run well but I kept going.  The kilometer marks were never really on my side and I realised that's because it's a marathon. It's always going to be longer than you want it to be.  I would walk if I had to but not until the last 8km.  I couldn't imagine walking more than 8km.  It would take forever!  I thought of my favourite placard held up by a specator at Wisconsin Ironman "If it was easy, I would be doing it." 

I needed to generate some positives from this experience.  I started looking for my happy thoughts again.  I thought about some of the lovely people I'd met here in Kona, the positive energies around the friends I have in this sport and how much I like certain things about certain people.  People I look to for inspiration.  Then I thought to myself, "that's all good prue, but you've got to think what's good about you."  It felt strange to be racing badly thinking good things about myself but it seemed to work. I started to feel a little lighter in the legs, a little prouder in my not so fast run andmost importantly, I was kind of amused.

I took the learning with me to the finish line. The cheering was unbelievable. From all directions "good job, well done, you're amazing," smiles, the biggest ever. Americans are such incredibly enthusiastic people.  At first I thought I didn't deserve it, I haven't done this as well as I should but that's not what it's about.  I got to finish and I got my experience and the next day I frolicked in the water in my new non sensible bathers like any other sensible holiday maker.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Training in Yucatan - Mexico
Oct 2008- Chixulub 

After the Cancun Half Ironman we made Chixulub, a small fishing village on the Yucatan Peninsula our home and training base for 10 days.  We had originally planned to base at my sister's house in Merida but an important person at the local 50 metre pool wouldn't let us swim there.  So David, my sister's great friend and professional "problem solver" suggested we relocate to his cousin's beach housed to peddle between the villages, run on the beach and swim in the sea. 

We lived the high life for those ten days in the village.  We hired a scooter and our little house came complete with a dog (or maybe even four), a gardener (he appeared one day and offered to fix the garden for a small fee) and running water (most of the time).  

In between outsmarting mosquitos on the hammock we peddled between farming villages, mangroves, sleepy fishing communities, pink flamingoes and cenotes.  If you ever mention you are travelling to Yucatan to someone who has been there they will tell you about the cenotes, and I can see why.   Temperatures were generally so hot that the  notion of bike riding for fun seemed slightly obsurd.   I reasoned against this by selecting a cenote as the object of every ride.  To be honest I only actually got to the cenote about half the time, as something unexpected would often change the course of the ride. But the strategy worked well and I peddled many miles in those few days.

I want to share these experiences of training on the Yucatan Peninsua because I found very little information on the net about cycling in this area, and after going there I'd highly recommend it to others.

What I loved about cycling in this area on the Yucatan Peninsula.  For starters, I peddled on some of the quietest roads I've ever ridden.  I spent a lot of time pondering how the roads could be so good and yet so little utilised.  Jeff suggested it was because there were no cars on them and that seems quite a plausible answer.    

My longest ride was about 190kms. I followed the coast for 75kms through tiny villages until I got to the beautiful fishing village of Dzilm Bravo.  When I turned to the sea I looked out at about 30 little wooden fishing boats, gracefully sleeping in front of the town, then I looked west and must have seen another hundred boats.  In each boat I saw a family and an honest if small income from the sea, but in the whole fleet I saw an industry, quietly providing for the village and the other villages inland of this town.  My camera wasn't with me, but I won't forget the image of the boats at Dzilm Bravo. 

From here I peddled inland to a village called Gonzalas.  There was something happening here. A small bullring was constructed in the main square and festivities were going on.  Ignorant me, with no understanding of Spanish, had to peddle through the town in awe and wonderment about the goings on.  Maybe the festival only lasts a day, but I'll always think of that village as the festive on. 

I suspect that at least one of the roads was an old Mayan one as it was perfectly flat, straight and free of potholes despite being built through a mangrove.  The highlight of this road was the Pink Flamingos. The road went right through their munching ground.  At first they just didn't seem real.   I had heard of a Pink Flamingo but quite honestly I thought it was an alcoholic cocktail. I am better educated now.

A wrong turn at the end of my ride took me through one more village and brought me home in the mozzie hour, just before dark. I'd spent most of the day out there exploring and it was a wonderful feeling to come home with some many images gathered.  I though out there on my ride, that this was how I wanted to see the world, from my bicycle.   
In some ways I blended into the local Yucatan scene better than I did to some parts of America.  In America, me and my bicycle were always drastically outnumber by cars.  In Yucatan we were in the majority.  On some roads I saw more bikes than cars and in the villages the standard family vehicle was  tricycle.  Admittedly there were no other Felt B2's around, and I'm quite sure I didn't see much lycra but because bikes and motos are very common in this, even the cars that were there were extremely curteous in sharing the roads. 
Training in Mexico City and Cancun
Sep-Oct 2008

Fresh, or maybe not so fresh after doing Wisconsin Ironman we headed to Mexico City to see my sister and to continue training for Cancun Half Ironman and Hawaii.  There was not a lot information around about training in Mexico so my sister Verity, who is fluent in Spanish, initiated the investigaitons. 

The Mexican Triathlon Association were extremely helpful in arranging for us to train at SportsCity in Mexico City and Cancun.  The facilities at these gyms were really amazing.  In Mexico City it contained a 25 metre swimming pool and a fully enclosed 400 metre running track.  By using the gyms daily we were able to maintain training whilst exploring the city.  A big thankyou to SportsCity for their assistance.  
Merida Mexico to Kona Hawaii
October 6th

Yesterday morning we woke early and we woke hungry.  We were staying at my sister Verity's house in Merida.  The house contained a king size bed, a hammock and our luggage strewn across antique tiles in the rooms of the old mansion.  No fridge and no food so we lycrad up and peddled into town to have breaky at a traditional Mexican Restaurant.  I ordered the hotcakes.  It did seem strange that the best hotcakes of this trip were had in that little Mexican Restaurant whilst I had my best Mexican meal in  a little town called Lebannon in Portland.

So after breakfast we peddled south to explore the villages.  We found Haciendas, gorgeous little villages and our first road with hills and bends in Yucatan.  The hills must have been less than 5 metres in elevation but it was so fun to peddle up and feel a buzz of speed on the way down.  For two weeks we have only had the wind to play with and this was something different.

We spent about five hours in our last peddlig exploration of the Yucatan penninsula.  Once more we found the roads to be quiet and smooth, giving us freedom to choose our path amongst the tiny villages. We peddled back into Merida and the same traditional Mexican Restaurant.  We ran into David there, a friend of Verity's who runs bird tours.  By this stage I think we were definitely locals.

Our bus left Merida at 11pm, it got us to Cancun by 3am and from there we made it to the airport.  We arrived there at 4am.  It might seem strange to some that in Mexico they request that international traveller's arrive 3 hours before their flights whilst the airline staff (who check you in) arrive two hours before the flight.  We had an hour in an empty airport to consider this.

From Cancun we flew to Houston, from Houston we flew to LA, from LA we flew to Honolulu, from Honolulu we flew to Kona.  At Kona we picked up a hire car and drove to this lovely little condominium up the hill and looking over the sea.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Ironman Wisconsin
Walrus Karma

7th Female, 10hrs17mins

I probably should have been concentrating harder on navigating my way around the buoys in Monona Lake and trying to find some other swimmers but at some stage my mind drifted and I started thinking about walruses. If there was a walrus in this lake, it would be laughing at me now and I have no right to complain, I laugh at them. Have you seen a walrus move on land? Flippers flapping, head wobbling, bottom wriggling. They use almost as much energy moving on land, as I do in the water. As I flapped, wobbled and wriggled my bottom through Lake Monona I came to the realisation that when I am laughing at a walrus, I am really laughing am myself.

So that was the start of Ironman Wisconsin for me. It was a bit disappointing as I’d done my swim training and I didn’t feel I did the swim I am capable of but, I have been disappointed coming out of the swim before and I just refuse to do it again. There is too much left of the day at that stage to worry about what has passed and besides the crowds are cheering, the music is blaring and I've finished the swim! What's there to be sad about. As one spectator reminded me at the top of the hardest climb on the course "I like to ride my bicycle." After the swim I got to do the funnest transition ever. We ran up a spiral ramp to the third floor of a multistory carpark and met our bicycles.

I like the Ironman Wisconsin bike course. Someone asked me after the race if it was a hard or easy course. Time wise I really don’t know but mentally it is a good course to get your head around because it changes direction so often that you really can’t get your head around it.

It was a delight to ride amongst so many spectators. Towns, crests, corners – they found all the good sports to cheer from and as expected my favourite American cheer, “good job” was being shouted from all directions.

I think my favourite memory of the race was of coming into transition two. It’s worth remembering because it’s always good to have something to look forward to for the next race. “If you peddle hard Prue, you will get into transition two early and there will be lots of people there to help you.” When I ran in this time there were about fifty women lined up to receive the expected arrivals. Their was a bit of a shortage of arrivals so I got extra special attention and a very warm send off.

That was just the start of it. The marathon course for this race is just how I think a marathon course should be – right through the centre of the town and the important places of the city. A marathon is an inspiring event and it should be thrown out there in front of everyone, so that everyone can see what everyone is actually capable of doing. The main street was lined with people and the university seemed to turn into one big party. We ran through the local football stadium, which was a first for me. It was serene inside and for just a minute we ran on soft green, grass surrounded by a building filled with the essence of sport.

I was hurting in the second half of the run, my feet were really sore and my back was really tight, it was the first race I’ve done where really it was joints and pain that started holding me back rather than muscles and fatigue. The racing element was there and I concentrated hard on making everything move as quickly as possible but I slowed a lot in that second loop. I was happy with how I rode and pleased with what I did during the run given the suffering but maybe next time I would like to go a bit faster. : )

One thing that stands out from that run is that when I first started doing Ironman events I would entertain the idea that I couldn't make it, or I would need to give in. Those thoughts are fading as I do a few more but I think the bigger influence is from looking around me at my fellow competitors. As I was finished most of the people around me were heading out for another lap. They were running, and they were running hard, and they were running for longer than me. I thought it was quite a tough marathon but with the crowds and the huge field, a really inspiring one.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Geocentric Outdoors
June 2008 - 1st Place Solo Female

All I can honestly say is I’m not quite sure what happened or how I did it. My estimate is that I rode 300 kilometres in 22 hours. In the middle of the night I stopped for an hour and a half with an exhausted feeling all over. I didn’t know if I was going to get on the bike again but when I did things were good. So they’re the facts that tie my memorable moments from the race together.

The idea of riding for 24 hours was a little too daunting from me to comprehend. With that in mind, my approach was to ride for as long as I could but….there was a but….a little healthy competition wouldn't go astray. I knew Jeff was only going to be riding for 16 hours, the mathematics suggested if I rode the whole thing, the tally at the end of the day might be in my favour. I decided this was a great joke and started spreading the word.
It was a joke but really I think it was the joke that got me through in the end. It was my first real experience of talking myself up and then being in the unenviable position of having to deliver.
I rode with Anna for the first few laps. She taught me how to enjoy the mud puddles and whilst I new the novelty would wear off, it was a nice reminder of how important it was to enjoy the good parts of the race and the course. I remembered back to relishing the experience of my first Ironman, doing something new, daunting and not quite comprehendible. I was so happy in that race and I attribute much of the good day I had, to that positive mindset.

So what were the enjoyable elements of riding for that long? It was a beautiful setting and a fun course. There were people squealing with glee on the descents, one was described as the runway, we let our brakes off at the top of the hill and flew down onto a smooth open grassy field. The climbs were tough but rewarding, there was winding single track and some open fire trail where in the early hours of the night I would greet the full moon. The track took us back through the camping ground twice on each loop. There were bands, people sitting around campfires, tents and coffee. It was a great atmosphere.

The mud holes got bigger through the night. They got on top of some people and they started to get me down. I felt the dread creeping in. I decided that if I kept riding them, I would inevitably be eaten. From then on the method was to walk, leap, squelch and most importantly wheel the bike through the mud. I was much happier.

When tiredness finally got the better of me I pulled into the support area at 1:30 am. In this zone I was treated like the Mud Princess. Karen removed my muddy shoes and cleaned my feet, the rest of me wasn't working, so she put on my dry socks and covered me in sleeping bags, I was handed food and hot coffe and left to rest. An hour and a half later when the determination hadn't fallen asleep Karen I mounted my clean bicycle and set off again.

In the early hours of the morning, Karen told me the good news that I was well ahead of the other solo females…but…”here’s the but, Jeff’s just got on his bike", basically, the bad news was I had to ride to the clock struck 12.

It was morning though and everybody talks about the rejuvenation it provides. It was a really beautiful course and the mud was drying. I could take some longer breaks at the end of each lap, the camp site had awoken and encouragement was flowing.

I quite enjoyed riding the slowest lap ever on my last lap, trying not to come in too far before 12 o-clock, the nice slow pace of my thoughts in the beautiful setting. I was happy with what I did.

Big thanks of course to Karen - the support was just amazing, and the event organisers for this one. They've chosen a truely beautiful location and worked really hard to put on a fantastic event that really brings the Queensland Mountain Bike Community together.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

5 Days of Mountain Biking around Alice Springs
DNS (did not start) Stage 1 - Ok in the others (197th out of just over 200)

For days my imagination had been running wild producing all sorts of dusty red images of “The Alice”. It didn't produce the MacDonnell Ranges however, and it didn't even come close to creating the drama of the scarred landscape that I first saw from the aeroplane window. Alice Springs itself appeared as a fairly insignificant moment in the story of the land. The ridges loomed over it and when we landed the streets and buildings were dominated by the red rocks around. I instantly wanted to explore and to be here with a bicycle was very exciting.

Thank goodness they put a race here. I can’t imagine a better way to experience it. At the outset we had five days of adventuring in front of us: five days of exploring the land, five days of struggles and rewards. For tens of thousands of years people have been experiencing its intensity and just for a moment we were amongst them.

I was totally dependent on the trails for direction and distance in this landscape that I didn’t know. Fortunately the organisers marked them carefully and I followed them through the intricate parts of the land: down amongst the sand, the thorns and the pebbles of old storms; up over the ridges, over the rocky limestone outcrops and finally back to where I was safe – not a moment too soon usually.

The best moment in a ride came after a very tough sandy straight. I was in need of a rest physically and mentally and was steadily climbing up a ridge. When I got to the top everything was revealed, the land unfolded in all directions and still 70 kilometres from Alice, I was exhausted and isolated enough to feel part of it.

Later in that same ride I was tired, we were tired. I needed to stop to go to the toilet and lost the group I'd been riding with. I peddled along a corrugated road as a lone cyclist thinking of home. My pace started to drop. I heard voices and laughter and along came Celia and her crew. You meet the resilient types out there on the long days. Celia seemed to be leading the pack and the conversation, a rare combination really. I joined the group and the festivities. We rolled into the next aid station and two little girls came out with lollies and fruit cake, Celia chatted to the girls and complimented them before going anywhere near the goodies.

My friend Carrie was volunteering all week. She came back each day with stories of riders at the drink stations. Carrie's hero of the race was Celia's mum Coral. Coral was one of the older women doing the race and had cut her kneed quite badly on the first day. Against advice she'd snuck out of the aid station to finish the stage. I met Coral after I'd met Celia. She had the same huge smile, with a few more lines around it and was having an amazing time.

We raced one night and from the back of the field I watched a spectacular line of lights stretch out into the night as the leaders climbed up into the hills and we followed. I felt like I was riding fast, to fast and not fast enough. There was dust and lights everywhere, at times the dust replaced the track and I followed the red light of the rider in front. I felt sorry for the man behind me as I blundered through rocks and sand. After a while I came up with my own personal joke to lighten the load on my mind and get me riding smoothly: "style and grace” I repeated to myself, whilst remember walking with a book on my head in high school. It helped I laughed, and I smoothed out the load on my bike. I spoke to a few women who'd got frightened in the night race and a few who loved it. Those who loved it had great lights, namely Ay-ups, those who didn't either had bad lights or were going really fast. I had great lights and I rode just fast enough to feel the adrenalin so I had a great time.

Whilst most of us were enjoying the festivities and the survival element of the race I was very aware that Naomi and Imogen, the leading two females were under enormous pressure. Each day that we went out to survive, they went out to race and survive. With only minutes between them the pressure built throughout the week. Each day they seemed to be working harder and it was great to see the huge smiles on each of their faces when it was all over.

For me and many others I think the Anaconda Mountain Bike Enduro was more of an adventure than a race. It was an amazing week, in an incredible landscape with an enormous group of fantastic people. It will take a long time for the images and experiences to make their way back from the forefront of my mind and it’s unlikely I’ll miss the next one.

Monday, May 12, 2008

First Place Solo Women

I was looking forward to this race. Six hours might sound like a long time but after doing a 12 hour race and attempting a 24, 6 hours seemed like a sensible amount of time to spend on a bike. Break it into three 2 hour blocks, nutritionally, mentally and physically: it all adds up to a nice day in the forest.

Someone asked me how the track was after the first lap, “great," I said. There were some really nice parts to it, some great challenges and it was nice to be riding somewhere new. After three or four laps I wasn’t so sure. The one and a half hour mark felt like the two and a half hour mark, the two and a half hour mark felt like the 4 hour mark. A long day was emerging.

I’m lucky; I’ve inherited the services of Jeff’s support crew for these races. His sister Karen and her husband Ratty had left home when we were still in bed and by the time we had arrived, the tent was up, the esky out, and their faces plastered with smiles and encouragement. They set the benchmark for what support is in these races. As my spirits started to shrink, they picked it up another notch. The most enthusiastic face you can imagine greeted me each lap on a section of course that somehow made my wheels square! For some reason Karen was saying I looked fantastic. It must have been the square wheels. As I came around the next bend, there was ratty, cold drinks, food and best of all something to set me laughing up the hill. “How’s Jeff going?” i said
“oh, he’s going great. Missing you though.” I got some good mileage out of that one. These guys were going to make it really difficult for me to give in.

After three hours I started gaining confidence in a suspicion I’d had earlier, this was a really tough course for endurance. With no rest sections, no easy down hills and lots of rocks, we were working all the time. Jeff passed me every three or four laps. We'd chat for the brief moment it took him to disappear. By the third time I had a confession, “ooh, I’m tired Jeff.”

There were lots of riders doing their first race and with the hills, the rocks and the sand there just wasn’t time for gentle peddling and scenic riding. It took me back to my first race the previous year. It was a lesson in staying positive and looking for the entertainment value in every rock. It was amazing how many people were obviously going through this process, the Matrix and KBR guys were so impressive: without the experience of other races, many of them didn’t have the satisfaction of knowing they were doing a really tough course.

As the day wore on, the crowd gathered around the start finish area. The teams started to gather and for once we got to see them all together in their matching outfits and dusty faces. They’d obvio
usly had an adventure. I rolled in to the finish area. I was looking forward to seeing Jeff knowing he’d had a great race, I was thrilled to see Karen and Ratty still full of enthusiasm and sat down next to Cam who looked how I felt!

I think the race was a bit of an equalizer really. There was no easy way to get around that course consistently. It just demanded and demanded, so more experienced riders and beginners all ended up in survival mode. It’s not always pleasant there but gosh it feels amazing after.

Jeff won the Mens Solo (20 Laps) and 2nd overall including the teams. I won the Women's Solo.