I am an Ironman – part 3 (and this is it!)

12 Aug

Yes, enough already.  I know that.  This is IT.  After this post, I am an Ironman so relax and know there are no more cliffhangers.  Although – Jeanne McCann – that might be slightly overstating it?

In the past few months, my running has been great.  The workouts that I found really hard were my swims and my bikes (as you well know). Seeing a run in my schedule was always a relief – I might not always hit the required paces, but I always knew I could complete the workout.  On top of that, I had quite a few long runs which were just wonderful.  No other way of putting it.  Slow – much slower than I’ve run for years.  But for the first time in years I was able to run and think I could just run on and on.  Nothing hurt, nothing felt hard.

So finally racking my bike and running into the changing tent in Zurich I felt close to euphoric.  I had succeeded in beating the cutoff (I could hear them announcing that the bike course was closed as I changed out of my cycle shorts) and now I was going to do this thing I enjoyed.  And I had 6 hours and 20 minutes to do it.  For the first time in almost 10 hours, the pressure was off me.  I jogged slowly out of transition and made my way out onto the run course, noting that my legs were stiff and crampy but feeling unconcerned about it.  I knew that this run would be slow and that my legs would hurt, but I just didn’t doubt I would get round it.  The experience was completely different from the bike course.  The bike course had been largely empty, with very few spectators. The marshals looked to be Swiss soldiers, young men doing their compulsory military service, and most of them were clearly supremely bored by their assignment for the day and barely noticed you as you cycled past.  In contrast, the run course, a 10km looping course which had large bits of out and back on it, was lined with spectators cheering you on.

My happiness to have made it to the run coupled with the incredibly supportive people lining the route made the run just wonderful.  I smiled at everyone, thanked them for supporting and, also for the first time in the race, got to interact with other runners.  Every time we passed a place in a small park along the route you were given a coloured sweatband to indicate which of the 4 laps you were on.  So I could see who was ahead of me (most everyone) and who was behind me.  And I cheered everyone on, telling them they were nearly there or had made a good start.  It’s very possible that those who were in a bad place and were walking wanted to murder my beaming little face every time I came past, but I felt completely undeterred.  I made myself walk every aid station and eat and drink (and there was an aid station every 2.5 km) and I just looked forward to seeing my support crew at some point in the race.  And finally – about 8 km into my first loop, right at the turnaround back to the race village, there they were.

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How amazing is it to see everyone cheering you on? I LOVED IT!

And barely 2 kms later I was greeted by my parents who could not have cheered louder or been more enthusiastic.

The whole marathon felt like a dream.  There was so much to distract me from any pain I might feel, so many people to see and interact with (on the 2nd lap Ian filmed me running and the kids ran alongside me for a while which was just an amazing experience).

Photo taken by Ian as he was running alongside me.

Photo taken by Ian as he was running alongside me.

Ian told me that he was posting photos to Facebook and that people were cheering me on remotely, which I was incredibly moved by.  I was so conscious that I was at the end of this massive goal I had been working towards for a whole year, I felt very close to people near and far who wished me well and I could not have felt happier.  On my final lap it was dark and I really, really savoured this lap.  I knew this was it, I was so nearly there and I tried to remember every bit of this lap.  I said goodbye and thank you to the volunteers who had high-fived me 3 times before, I thanked the spectators for staying out there for the stragglers, and I cheered and thanked my parents for the last time before running down the finisher’s chute.  Along the way I high fived Adam and Sophia who were wedged into the spectator area.  I turned to high five the commentator (and yes, I did do a lot of high-fiving that day – it was that kind of day).   And finally I heard those words “Petra Duguid!  You are an Ironman!”.  It was amazing.  It felt wonderful.  I cried with pure happiness as I crossed the line and finally, finally, finally – after 14 hours and 18 minutes and change – stopped moving.

Ugly crying face but WHAT A FEELING!

Ugly crying face but WHAT A FEELING!

It was amazing.  It felt amazing.  I felt amazing.

Posing for a finisher's picture straight after the race. I felt fantastic!

Posing for a finisher’s picture straight after the race. I felt fantastic!

I quickly sought out and found Adam and Sophia and my parents – Ian and Jay and their kids had flown back to London and Felix was in bed – and, in a daze, went to retrieve my bike and gear bags. Suddenly, the whole thing felt unreal.  14 hours, 18 minutes had flown by.  And it was over.  And I had done it.

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This felt entirely surreal. Collecting the bags full of wet and sweaty kit and the bike I had been on for 7 hours and 40 minutes. That’s when it struck me how LONG the day had been.

And then home.  Where I found myself, finally, tired.  Unable to drink the beer I had saved for myself.  I went to bed and slept fitfully.  Woke up to a Facebook page full of love and support and encouragement.  Incredible amounts of it.  I feel very undeserving of the admiration expressed.  I totally think that anyone can do this if they commit to the training.  More than any other event I have ever done, the hard work was doing the training.  The race was the reward, in so many ways.

And then there’s the support I got in person from so many people. Alex at La Bicicleta who sold me my first tri bike, and then my second tri bike – without which I very much doubt I would have made the cutoff.  And who gave me more great advice and freebies than I ever deserved.  My clients whose belief in my abilities often exceeded my own but who proved to be right.  My friends who emailed, wrote, phoned and in some cases, flew to Zurich to cheer me on.  I love you Blanford family! My parents, who drove to Zurich and spent 14 hours on the course, cheering me on, taking countless photos (most of the photos in the blog are by my dad) and who made me feel so special.  My lovely children, Sophia and Felix who gracefully endured my absences for training rides and runs all year, who were happy about making this holiday “all about me” and whose support means the world to me. And of course my amazing and wonderful Adam, who despite the fact that he would never do this kind of crazy stuff himself, nonetheless encourages me, supports me and believes in me.

More than 2 weeks on from the race and I have done nothing in that time.  My race was the final coaching effort of my wonderful coach – someone whom I have loved having in my life this past 2.5 years and without whom I would not have achieved a fraction of what I have done.  So I am coach-less, schedule-less and goal-less.  And that is good.  I love this phase where I just rest and think and talk to people about what I might do.  I am waiting for that race, for that experience, that will tweak at my mind in a way that makes me think “yes”.  I haven’t found it yet – but send in your suggestions..

I am an Ironman – part 2

10 Aug

I felt a massive sense of relief running out of the water – I had just achieved a goal that I had felt serious doubts over for a year and I was still in one piece, more than 30 minutes off the cutoff (2 hrs 20 mins).  To top that, I saw my first supporters as soon as I stepped on the mat – my lovely friend Ian and his 8 year old daughter who was filming me run out of the water – and I was just beaming as I ran towards transition, grabbed my bike bag and ran into the changing tent.  At Ironman Zurich there were no wetsuit strippers or volunteers in the tent so I wrestled my way out of my wetsuit, into my bike shoes, whacked on my helmet (which proceeded to sit crookedly on my head for the next 112 miles) and ran towards my bike.  One of the few advantages of being in the back of the pack was that it was easy to spot my bike (most of the other bikes had gone) and I felt just happiness clipping into my pedals and getting started with my ride.  This, I thought, is something I can do.  A wave to my mother and friend Jay and her son Ian who saw me within the first 100m and I was off on the longest bikeride of my life.

The first 20 or so miles of the bike course skirt lake Zurich and are more or less flat.  I was cruising along at 17/18 mph, overtaking some, being overtaken by others and feeling incredibly comfortable and happy to be out there.  Maybe, I thought, this would be the occasion where I discovered that I was actually a much better cyclist than I thought I was and I would surprise myself and others with a blistering bike time.  Somewhere, in the far reaches of my mind, I thought about the climbs to come, but I pushed those thoughts away and coasted along in aero, feeling smug and confident. I ate some gels, drank my sports drink, and felt generally entirely in control of myself.  After about 20 miles I reached a roundabout where the first aid station was (and the first real supporters – fans along the bike course were very far and few between) and though it was the beginning of the hills I felt strong and confident heading up the first inclines.  This incline was also where I started seeing others who I would then see for the rest of the bike course and I started cheering others on when I could see their names as I overtook them.  All was well for the first hour or 2.  I climbed, descended, ate, drank and felt positive.  After about 3 hours I reached the biggest climb in the race nicknamed The Beast.  It’s steep, windy, and just goes on and on. I tackled it bit by bit and was only mildly discouraged when someone cheered me on and said “you’re nearly there” and I panted out “how far to go?” and they said “only 2km”.  2kms?  Of this?  My heartrate was off the scale, my pace was dropping to around 5mph and it just didn’t feel like it would ever end.  Once it did, I coasted down some hills.  And this is where I started to worry for the first time.  I was nowhere near halfway through the bike course and was heading towards another nasty, long incline before heading back down to Lake Zurich and tackling another steep climb – and only THEN would I be halfway.  The cutoff for bike and swim combined was 10 hours and I was trying to calculate the average pace I would need to keep to make that cutoff.  By the time I had climbed the next long dragging climb my addled brain was beginning to realise that I might be cutting it very fine with the bikeride.  All these climbs were slowing me down enormously and I was beginning to worry.  I headed down towards lake Zurich and tried to push the pace once I was back on the flat, speeding past the race village and heading towards Heartbreak Hill, a very steep climb which is lined with spectators crowding you up the hill in single file.  This was also where I was due to meet my father as it was the only place where supporters were allowed to give you food and drink and I was running low on everything (special needs was not well-managed at the race so I had opted to get my extra food and drink off my family rather than risk not being able to find my stuff amongs 2500 other bags).  I climbed up the hill hard and was so happy to see my father and then Adam and the kids, Jay and Ian and their kids.  I stopped the bikes and my lovely crew took off the empty bottles, replaced most of my drinks bottles and race food. I could barely speak to them as I was out of breath and beginning to panic, only telling them I was afraid of the cutoff and I needed to go – quickly.

The pit crew organising my refueling strategy

The pit crew organising my refueling strategy

The next 30 miles or so were the lowest 30 miles of the race. I wasn’t experiencing a mental low due to tiredness or hunger – I was realistically panicking about being pulled of the course and disqualifying.  The wind had picked up by this stage and I only managed about 14/15 mph average along the lake.  People would overtake me and disappear into the distance.  I overtook nobody.  I was mentally composing a Facebook update outlining how I’d been disqualified and taken off the course. I thought about what I’d do with all the expensive Ironman kit I’d bought.  Ebay it?  I couldn’t face having to send it to people who had completed the course.  Burn it, I decided.  I was imagining lighting the barbeque in our rented apartment and throwing all the clothes on it.  And then I finally got a grip of myself.  “Do not give up” I told myself.  I made a very definite decision to turn my attitude around.  I decided to forget about saving my legs for the run, realising that if I don’t hammer it on the bike there would be no run.  I decided to FORCE myself to smile, to push and to be positive.  If I were going to be taken off the course, they would have to pull me.  I wanted to feel I had left NOTHING out there if I disqualified.  So I started pushing.  Up the hills I started to catch people.  And I was relentlessly encouraging. I shouted “Do not give up!” to everyone I overtook.  I was surrounded by people who were in the same dark cave I’d been in for some time, all of us aware that we were balancing on the edge of disqualification.  At this tail end of the race and in the hills miles away from the race village, there were no officials chasing us down to see if we were drafting and so, although we did not cycle side by side we were constantly overtaking each other and chasing each other down and I felt, for the first time in this race, like I was part of a bigger group.  I’d worked out that I needed to maintain a 14mph average (even during the hour of uphill cycling) to stay in the game and once I’d hit the last big climb, I knew I was going to make it.  I didn’t allow myself to think about the possibility of a technical problem but started to hammer it downhill.  A somewhat dangerous strategy – I passed two ambulances dealing with cyclists who had come off their bikes on the steep declines – but I felt I had nothing left to lose.  And then right at the bottom of the hills I saw my parents who were waiting for me. I shouted at them “I’m going to make this!” and hammered it.

Coming down the final hill at Kusnacht, shouting at my parents that I was going to make it.

Coming down the final hill at Kusnacht, shouting at my parents that I was going to make it.

I hammered the flat bit round the lake where I saw Adam, Ian and Jay and all the kids – who went crazy when they saw me – and hammered it past the race village and up Heartbreak Hill.

Hammering it towards Heartbreak Hill

Hammering it towards Heartbreak Hill

I hammered it back on the last bit towards the bike in, where I could see official vehicles coming the other way following the final cyclist still in the race towards Heartbreak Hill.  I didn’t allow myself to feel relief until I had crossed the mat (in about 9:40, so with 20 minutes to spare) and had racked my bike.  Before the race I had felt occasional worry about the marathon, thinking I had given it too little thought, but all I could think now was relief.  This – finally – was something I knew I could do.  After 9:40 hours of balancing on the edge of what I believed I was capable of, I finally started to believe I was going to be able to do this.

Next installment to follow shortly!

I’m an Ironman – part 1

8 Aug

Yeah I know. I hate those 3 or 4 part Ironman posts that people post because I’m all like “I want to read it all – NOW!”.  But trust me.  I’ve already cut this WAY down.  This post has been drafted and redrafted.  And cut and cut and cut.  I’ve spared you the update on the final weeks’ training (no insights there.  Just did the sessions and then jumped into my life).  I’m not posting my Excel spreadsheet with all my race day kit AND which bag it would go into for the race (it’s good though.  Mail me if you want it!).  I’m not going to give you the details on the pre-race family holiday camping our way to Zurich (we had a wonderful time).  I’m not even going to go into the details of the days running up to the race (Zurich is pretty and pricey. Branded Ironman kit is pretty and pricey.  I spent quite a lot of money).

What I will tell you about the days leading up the race is that I was there.  Mentally.  I was ready.  I have been training for this event for a year.  I throw “big hairy-assed goal” out there like it’s some kind of joke, but it was not really, not for me.  For most of this year I have had to “believe” in a way I have never believed in a goal before.  As in – I needed to make myself think I could do this without actually knowing I could do this.  For a year, I have hauled my ass to the pool (because if I don’t do this workout, I might not make my swim cutoff) and planted my ass on my bike (because if I don’t this workout, I might not be able to cycle 112 miles).  My point is – for a year I have been pushed by a very specific and very realistic fear of failure.  Sure.  Some of my workouts went really well and gave me confidence.  Helped me with my “belief”.  But many of the workouts were not amazing, and some were awful.  Some I couldn’t do.  Some I didn’t do.  At times, there was a degree of grim perseverance to the training (“it doesn’t matter whether it feels good or bad.  I just need to DO this”).  And by the time race weekend arrived I was ready.  And done with preparing.  I was no longer scared either.  I had been scared of so many individual workouts and had gone through my fears ( swim cutoff, bike puncture etc. etc.) so many times, to myself and to anyone who would listen, that I wasn’t scared anymore.  I was all out of fear.

So the things that might have thrown me before another race didn’t really throw me this weekend.  For example:

  • I drove the bike course with my father and realised that 1300m of climbing is actually quite a lot of climbing.  And I had not trained on hills.
  • I went out on a training ride with other athletes, most of whom left me for smoke.  On a training ride.
  • Zurich was hot and there was a high likelihood of it not being wetsuit legal.  Wetsuits help those of us who need all the help we can get when swimming long distances without a great deal of skill.
  • It proved impossible to sleep in the hotel I had booked the night before the race (live concert in park next to hotel) so I ended up taking a taxi back to our apartment at 9:30 pm (when I had hoped to be asleep by 8) and sleeping less than I had hoped to.

Despite all that, I felt incredibly calm as I was choking back my second breakfast by 4am on race morning.  Adam dropped me off at the race start at 5am, and I just started smiling.  This was it.  This day that I had thought about for a year was here.

Turning up at transition with all my stuff in bags

Turning up at transition with all my stuff in bags

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Wet suited up. Bring it on!

At first I felt so clueless in transition that I just copied what others were doing.  I pumped up my tires because others did it (I still don’t really know how hard my tires should be).  I fiddled around with my nutrition and bags.  I went to the toilet 4 times.  And then I took control of myself.  I told myself to stop copying others and just stick to the race plan my coach had given me.  So I put on my wetsuit even though people around me weren’t doing that yet.  And I got to the water and swam around for a bit to remind myself I could do this.  It all felt unreal and still so preparatory.  And then, all of a sudden, it felt like it was happening.  We all got out and lined ourselves up.  I could barely hear the German and English announcements but I suddenly felt the adrenalin rush I knew I needed when the gun went off and I started to run towards the water.

My coach had drilled me that while I was in the water, I was not to think of anything else.  Not to think of the bike ride, not to think of the cutoff.  Just to swim.  The start was much less congested than I had feared and after a few clubs to the head and body I found a groove and started swimming and sighting.  The water was warm and clear and I told myself that all I needed to do was sight the next red buoys (they were every 200m or so) and the yellow turning buoys would be there eventually.  I just did that.  Every time I spotted the next red buoy I would allow myself to only think of that buoy and I would tell myself I would reach it within the next few minutes.  And then I would sight to the next one and only focus on that.  The two lap swim included an exit onto and across an island.  I walked across it calmly and caught my breath and steadied myself for the second (and slightly longer) lap.  Again, I made myself stay “in the moment”.  I could feel my arms and shoulders getting tired and by this stage the wind had picked up, making the water choppier and the sighting harder. I was next to someone who was swimming breast stroke and sighting much better as a result, and I stuck by this person’s side, checking for their presence near me every few strokes.  I could see that the water was emptier than on the first lap but banished any thoughts about what this meant and just kept swimming.  It was a strange, almost meditational time – I was so focused on only looking at the next buoy – that I nearly missed the turn towards the swim exit.  As I ran out of the water, I heard my name announced and a time around 1:44.  I was delighted because for me that is a GREAT swim and I felt such a massive sense of relief as I jogged towards transition to get into my bike kit and onto the bike.

To be continued shortly!

5 weeks to go!

20 Jun

All of a sudden, my great big hairy-assed goal for 2014 is almost here – 5 weeks to go till raceday…

Right now, today, I’ve hit a brief, and possibly my last, pause in training before the big day.  I’ve just completed my 2 hardest training weeks (19 hours and 17 hours, respectively) and this week is an easy week, before it all ramps up again in the next few weeks (before, hopefully, tapering down again as well, coach?).  I was beginning to feel a bit smug about avoiding any illness during this training cycle when I was hit by a wave of exhaustion and a sore throat this week – pride comes before and all that.  I’m babying myself and cutting back on training this week, hoping that I can head off whatever’s brewing and be ready for what next week throws at me.

I can’t quite believe that I’m beginning to see the end goal of what has felt like an enormous personal journey.  When I set my great big hairy-assed goal out there last year and signed up for this Ironman, a number of women around me who had done Ironman themselves told me this would be a transformative experience.  I nodded along, wondering in my head how different this was going to be from marathon training.  Harder, I knew.  Longer, I knew.  But really – training is training, right?

Wrong though.  The harder and the longer make a huge difference.

  • training (and racing) goes in waves.  In marathon training I’ve had hard weeks and easy weeks.  Sometimes it flows, and sometimes it doesn’t.  But when it doesn’t flow, usually my whole workout doesn’t flow.  And when it does, my whole workout does.  In IM training I feel waves in training and in racing.  In the course of a 100 mile bikeride sometimes you feel like death warmed over.  I have cursed all the decisions that have led me to be outside, grinding out the slow miles in the pouring rain.  30 minutes and a coke and snickers bar later, I am singing my heart out, loving the landscape, the birds and life itself.
    A good moment on a long bikeride!

    A good moment on a long bikeride!

    And in racing the same has proved to be the case. I’ve had bad running races but usually they’ve started badly and finished badly – when my heart wasn’t in it, or my body was not co-operating, very little got me out there. 4 weeks ago I raced my only build-up race to the full distance, a nearly half-ironman distance tri.  The weather was shitty, the field was fast.  And I was not.  I felt comfortable and in my rhythm in the swim but as I was slugging along, I slowly became aware of fewer and fewer people around me.  It got quiet.  I sighted badly.  I went off-course, and was nudged back on again by a marshal in a canoe.  In a field of nearly 300 there were only 12 people behind me in the water.  Running the 500m through wet grass to the transition area in the pouring rain I saw that all the spectators had left.  Getting back to my bike I found my bike shoes and socks floating underneath the plastic cover I had put over them to protect them from the rain.  I felt like crying.  And then I pulled myself together.  A bad – a slow – swim does not mean a bad bike or a bad run I told myself.  I had a new bike to try out, food to eat and hey – the leg I dreaded was over.  So I got out there on the bike and just smiled.  I may have been a bit nauseating – I cheered everyone on who passed me, encouraged everyone out there who I passed.  I forced myself to be positive, to smile and to enjoy it and it worked – I was smiling by the time I came off the bike. The run course was no fun – 4 laps up a steep hill, down again and into a muddy field.  Running past the finish 3 times before being allowed through.  But I persevered, encouraging all those around me, just staying in the moment and not thinking about the 13 miles I did not feel like running.  The miles passed and I felt better, and I sprinted through the finish feeling if not strong, victorious.  The urge to quit had come up a few times but I’d ridden it out and come out the other end – something that I’ve never experienced in a running race.

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    Worn out, and that smile took some doing. Boy was I glad to be done!

     

  • But more than this, the long and the hard of the training has forced me to really confront where I am in life.  This is, in part, because training is taking up a lot of my time – much more time than marathon training ever has. On the days where I cycle 100 miles, I struggle to do much more.  Cook / deal with family life / clean / admin – I basically want to eat, have a bath, and go to bed.  For someone who overcommits herself constantly, this has been a really tough lesson in prioritisation.  Do I want to race well and confidently in 5 weeks time?  If so, I will NOT go out, I will not go to bed late, I will make smart choices with food and I will not commit to social events.  I’ve not completely dropped out of the rest of my life, but have pared back, pulled out, and moved away from a lot.  And I’m surprised by how little I miss it.  The truly transformational aspect of training has come from this – realising that I was slightly sleepwalking into a spending a lot of my time doing things that I did not feel passionately about.  Having to constantly consider my priorities, and, certainly this last month, having to just forget about much social activity, has given me a jolt and woken me up.  My children are growing up and need me in a different way from how they used to.  I feel very much needed by them, but in a very different way.  The model that I have been living for the past 14 years or so is losing its usefulness, and I need to think about how I’m going to fill in the next phase of my life.  I have no firm plans but quite a few avenues to explore.  And of course, I’m open to suggestions and ideas…

Of course, these are the contemplations of a rest week.  Which is about to come to an end.  5 weeks on Sunday I will lining up on the shores of Lake Zurich, ready to start one of the most exciting days of my life. Yes – I am getting nervous.  Despite some really encouraging sessions in the pool, I still worry about making the swim cutoff.  My biking is getting stronger (aided, not in the least, by my fabulous new bike and the endless help and advice of Alex at La Bicicleta) and I’m not usually worried about the bike cutoffs (though trying to avoid thinking about punctures, broken chains and other things that can go wrong).  The run is the run.  I know that it will be hard, but I also know I can slug out a hard run.  I’ve done it before and will do it again.  Right now my brain will only go as far as July 27th.  I’m not sure how I will feel the day after – whether I will be signing up for another Ironman, or will vow never to do it again.  I do know that – from today’s perspective – aiming for and training for this event has been one of the most challenging and most gratifying experiences of my life.  So far..

Boston 2014! Or what it’s like to run the best race of your life.

5 May

I’ve been trying to write this post for nearly 2 weeks now and I just cannot get a handle on the angle I should be taking.  Should I tell you about all the great stuff I did with my mother?  About all the wonderful friends I saw and spent time with?  The superstars I collared for a photo?  Or just the race?

I think I have to start with the race.  Because it was a truly one-off experience for me.

April 21st was a gorgeous day, and, in Shalane Flanagan’s words, an “honest day”.  No massive tailwind, no perfect cool running weather – a race run under fair, even warm,  conditions.  Hanging around in the Athlete’s village with my friends, it had gotten warm enough to throw off my warmup clothes and by the time I made it (just in time, thanks to massive queues for the portapotties) to my starting corral, I was thinking I shouldn’t have worn my arm warmers.   Walking through Hopkinton on my way to the start (it’s a long way from the corral to the start line) I contemplated my coach’s strategy (8:20s for the first 13 miles, 8:30s for miles 13-17, 9 minute miles for 17-21 and then whatever was left in the tank) but I also knew, with real conviction, that this was a race I wanted to experience and remember.  For the past few years I’ve chased PBs in my marathons and while there is enormous satisfaction to achieving a PB you’ve worked so hard for, there’s also a relentless focus required, a constant checking of the watch, blocking out spectators and other runners, concentrating purely on getting to the finish time without the wheels coming off.  I had had a pretty discouraging running training cycle going into this race (a 20 miler which took me about 4 hours and lots of changing of insoles due to really painful plantar fasciitis and a 17 miler which was a 20 miler cut short because I completely ran out of steam) and before the race I remember telling somebody that if anything, my biking was finally turning a corner.  I knew the marathon was NOT my end goal and that took a massive amount of pressure off – I would bear the goal in mind but nothing would stop me from really enjoying the race.

And then the race began.  Bear this in mind, I’ve  run Boston before.  I have run London (twice), NYC, Berlin and Chicago (twice).  I know what big city crowds can be like.  But this – this was something else.  This was personal.  The crowds wanted you to do well, to run strong, to show the world that Boston was indeed Boston strong, that we could claim this race back from those who had tried to destroy it.  Within a mile or so of starting I was convinced that soaking up the race was the purpose of the day.  I made myself, mentally, stay within each mile. Whenever I felt myself flagging, or counting what lay ahead,  I just ran along the side and got some love from the crowd.  I high fived dozens of kids, and even a dog.  I shouted out at people who had great signs, I clapped for the crowds.  At one point a woman running next to me said “What makes you so famous?” because so many people were bellowing my name – I told her it was because I had my name on my shirt. For 26 miles I heard “Petra, you’ve got this!” and “Petra, you make us proud”.  It was utterly humbling and deeply moving.  I saw nuns cheering us on in their habits and ran to the side to wave at them – one started jumping up and down and shouting my name. At Wellesley I stopped and kissed 3 girls – this was the day for it!  I saw my coach – exactly where she said she would be! – and stopped and hugged her.  I saw my mom at mile 21 and stopped and hugged and kissed her.  I loved it.  And as I ran into Boston the crowds just got louder and crazier.  The love, the love, the love was intense and I felt completely and deeply emotional to be allowed to be part of this.  And then I turned onto Boylston street and where I’d worried I’d feel apprehension or sadness this was now impossible.  The noise and the sunshine and the cheering just drove me towards the finish line – I found myself never wanting it to end.  And then it did.  As soon as I crossed the finish line I realised I could now barely walk.

Limping along to the luggage trucks on Boston Common, I was just overwhelmed with what I had just experienced.  Because not only had I immersed myself in this incredibly emotional experience, but I had also run the whole race completely under control, exactly as the coach ordered.  And had come in at 3:44:27 – my 3rd fastest time ever and a (very tight) Boston qualifier. For once, it felt like I had done everything right.  I had walked through the water stations every few miles, drinking plenty of water and pouring some over my head to cool myself down, I had chugged down a gel every 30 minutes and hadn’t even considered whether I wanted to or not.  I had slowed down up Heartbreak Hill but had found it within myself to speed up again as soon as I crested it.  At times I had been conscious of my watch beeping but I hadn’t even registered the mile splits, or the average pace window – had only looked to see if I needed to take another gel.  Where in the past my increasingly addled brain would have been working out potential finish times and how hard I’d need to run to get to my goal, the only calculation I can recall making during this race was that I’d probably be done with the race in an hour and that I needed to really enjoy what was left of it.  So different.  So wonderful.

I’m not sure whether I managed this because it was just one of those days where everything aligned for me.  I think it helps that I am training for a different race and that Boston was never the ultimate goal for me.  I think it helped that this, of all the races I’ve run, was such an emotional race. It helped that I spent so much time with friends before and after the race.  I was so immersed in the atmosphere of this race that for once, my brain was not sitting on top of my body, second-guessing it,  and driving me along and, occasionally, sabotaging the job my body is meant to be doing.  My brain and heart were out there experiencing the race, while my body got on with the job it had to do.  I’m not sure I can ever replicate this feeling or experience but it has made me hungry to race more like this – to really experience the race, to not retreat into a pain cave or an isolation zone.  This might mean accepting slower times – though this result does not suggest that – but I am eager to try this again.

And then there’s all the other stuff.  The stuff that made me never want this week to end.  The people. Here it is – the week in photos.

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Jess – my wonderful hostess upon arrival in Boston. Lovely friend, lovely family, beautiful house – first of many visits to and fro between here and Boston I hope?

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Testing out Heartbreak Hill 3 days before the race. It’s a lot easier when you haven’t run 20 miles beforehand…

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Boom! First brunch outside with my mother and running buddy Ben and who’s at the table next to us – Kara Goucher and Lauren Fleshman, only two of the most awesome women in running today!

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Finally! The lovely and generous Bart Yasso! What an honour!

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Finally – after years of admiring these women and their amazing blogs from afar I met up with Ana Maria and Amanda. Such gorgeous, kind and inspirational women.

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Lizzie Lee and I nearly in tears after meeting up after 7 years of online friendship in a supermarket queue!

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Waiting to get on the buses with my friends Sophie and Jacquie. Sophie was interviewed for the BBC News while we were waiting and I featured briefly in my homeless person’s throwaway clothes. Nice!

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Hanging out in the athlete’s village with Lizzie Lee, Jacquie and Sophie

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The lovely, speedy and beautiful Kristen. Lucky, lucky me that she made the effort to limp here after the race!

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Has a burger ever tasted this good?

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Team GB after the race at the W Hotel

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And last but absolutely most wonderful (in our matching Oiselle scarves) my incredible mom. Thank you for being there lovely mama!

I’m back at it, I’m back out there.  Boston was never the end goal and I’m back on the bike, in the pool and on the road.  But this race will never leave me and will forever be special in my memory – the city, the people and my friends and family.  Thank you Boston – I will never forget it.

Status update

17 Mar

I’ve started so many different versions of this post that it makes my head ache.  You know me – in the past 4 weeks I’ve been through a lifetime of emotions, most of them in the course of a single morning – but I keep starting a post on a particular tangent and then losing it.  I read it back the next day and think “really?  That’s how I want to sum up what’s going on?” and then abandon the post again.

Someone commented on my last post that “it must be time to put all the doubts & measurements away and just get on with it”.  And I guess with all my whingeing and whining and self-doubting I must give the impression that I am not doing that – that I am not getting on with it.  And that would be wrong – I am.  I just whinge, whine and doubt myself as I’m doing it.  So here’s where we are at, in each discipline:

Swimming:

Progress: 7/10.  Given that I am still very much a newbie swimmer I think things are okay.  I permanently hover on the edge of a shoulder injury (both shoulders now).  Some of that has been remedied a bit by changing / improving my swimming stroke with my swimming teacher but overall I think it’s still bad technique and a not very strong upper body that’s holding me back. 2  sessions a week (one, preferably with my swim club but that doesn’t always happen) mean that I’m getting a bit stronger, getting more endurance.  On the upside – I am enjoying it. There is something very zen-like about swimming, about plowing up and down the lanes.  To my surprise I even enjoy hard swimming- it’s very hard to do anything other than live in the moment when you can’t breathe and you can feel yourself on the verge of throwing up by the end of the interval.

Freakouts: 4/10.  Most of the time I think I will make it out of Lake Zurich before the cutoff.  Had a mini freakout when driving through a tunnel recently that was almost as long as the swim course is.  It took me a while to drive through the tunnel.  I don’t swim fast.  So this was a slight downer, but overall I’d describe myself as steadily, doggedly, semi confident.

Biking

Progress: 6/10.  That sounds bad, I don’t think it is but I’ve just got a long way to go.  I’m doing hard work, interval work, tempo work and some endurance work.  I’m constantly learning new stuff (last week’s lesson was about how to go up and come down hills).  I enjoy it sometimes but have to battle myself to get out there when it’s super windy (welcome to Lincolnshire – few hills but MUCH wind).  Cycling with the cycling group has made a difference but I struggle to always make the meetups.

Freakouts: 9/10.  Yeah, I know, I just had a massive one last week.  I’d been kind of spiralling down to thinking I was not making any progress and I was slow as molasses when I burst a tire out on a training ride without repair kit.  The full on drama was followed by angry tears as I replaced my inner tube and had a meltdown to my poor husband.  I do bounce back though – had a gorgeous bikeride in the Lake District last Tuesday where I just forgot about average pace and attacked the hills and really soaked up the beautiful scenery. This was followed by a ride with a friend on Thursday where he helped me to really push the pace for 3 hours, showed me the basic of bike mechanics, helped to work out what I didn’t need in the massive bag of kit I was carrying about (= most of it) and generally built up my confidence.  So ultimately all is back to normal there. I still have occasional panics about the distance (112 miles!) and the cut off (I’m going to have to go hard!) but I’m trying, generally, to keep my head down and just keep training.

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How can you have freakouts on days like this?

 

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Look! Shorts! Knobbly knees!
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Just working up a bit of a glow up these hills…

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No, I didn’t bring my wetsuit so I just cycled past. Another time.

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And another beautiful scene. It all made the freakout go away.

Running

Ah, and then there’s running.
Progress: 6/10.  Yup.  I know.  But note the lack of freakout below.  To my amazement I have suddenly and completely out of the blue managed to develop plantar fasciitis.  I’ve never had it before in over 10 years of running, I’m not sure what’s caused it, but I definitely have it.  I’ve been through the various stages of handling injury (denial / panic / googling endlessly) and for now am managing it by regular treatment from my osteo, stretching my calf, icing the plantar fascia and not running on consecutive days.  This morning I wore my orthotics for the first time in 3 or so years and I think that makes a difference – I am not sure I will run in them but around the house it certainly improves how my foot feels.  Where this leaves me for Boston?  It looks like it really will be a training run for Ironman Zurich. As in, I will have an opportunity to try out how to run a marathon in sub optimal circumstances.  I’m not sandbagging when I say it will be slow, and hard.  I’ve simply not done really specific marathon training so don’t have the speed or the distance in my legs.

Freakouts: 2/10.  I’ll gut it out.  I’m going to Boston with my lovely mother, spending time with my wonderful coach and a whole bunch of other friends, and I am incredibly fortunate to be able to be out there celebrating this amazing, historic marathon with 33,000 other runners in a really meaningful year.  I know when I am lucky and fortunate, and I am.  That it won’t be fast or pretty is fine by me – you don’t get a fast or pretty marathon without putting in specific work, and I haven’t done that.  So I’m okay with it.

So that’s where I am.  4 and 1/2 months away from my Ironman and my average freakout rate is 5/10 over the three disciplines.  I’d say that’s not a bad situation to be in – for me that’s manageable stress. I started on this journey because I wanted a new challenge and I’m getting it – in spades.  So far, I’m still standing.  And swimming, biking and running.  Speaking of which… it’s time to get back to training. Talk soon!

Why bother? Or why it’s harder to follow the advice on your Lululemon bag than you might like to think.

10 Feb

I’ve just returned from an amazing, invigorating, inspirational run camp. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a good get-together with other runners and it was much overdue. It was great to talk to other runners about their races, their training, their experiences – I’ve come away with ideas about how to improve my training, other races to think about racing, and with plenty of inspirational stories ringing through my head.  And with two tough speed sessions on Saturday (including my first ever standalone 5k!) and a very slow and muddy and windy off-road long run on Sunday it’s reminded me of how much I love to run.

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There’s me on the bottom right of the women at the front.

In my desire and need to become a better cyclist and swimmer by this summer, running has very much come in third place.  I’ve got a place in this year’s Boston marathon (and am going!) but will not be racing it.  And that’s not me sandbagging – I’m not doing enough running to race it, and I don’t want to give myself the recovery time afterwards.  I want to get back to training as soon as I get off the plane in the UK, and so Boston for me will be many many things – a get together with friends and my mother, a celebration of running, a desire to be part of the response to last year’s terrorism – to show that terrorism will not diminish us, or scare us. But it will not be a race, and I’m good with that.

Inevitably, while talking to people at the weekend, we’d talk about races, about times, about PBs, and about goals.  Some of the people on the weekend were very fast (Liz Yelling was there, who has a 2:28 and change marathon PB, and Louise Damen who is representing Great Britain with a 2:30 PB) and some were not so fast.  And one woman  in particular brought up a topic that has been swirling round in my head for the past weeks.  She told me of a moment that had occurred when she was working out with other runners where she had felt so much slower than the others that she had burst into tears.  The person leading the workout had gently pointed out to her that, while she was slower, she was working at least as hard as the others in her intervals and that all he, as the coach, was interested in was effort.  She rallied and her running (and confidence) has gone from strength to strength.  In simple terms, she came to believe that she was a runner regardless of how fast she was.  And once she had that self-belief in place, she could tackle all sorts of challenges.

I’ve recently had this conversation with Adam who’s started crossfit (I stopped after one session but more on that another time).  There was a point where he felt he was the weakest, the slowest, and the oldest person in the “box” (I just can’t deal with that word, but anyway).  He asked me whether he was just being an idiot but I said no – he was not.  But he was dealing with a tough situation – it can be hard to appreciate your own efforts when you feel they fall so short of what those around you are doing.   And of course – coming round to me – you knew I was going to get there – this is something I struggle with a lot.  I am working hard, really hard, but am still painfully slow in the pool and on the bike.  I feel like I’m surrounded by talented, fast, people, and to nobody’s surprise, I am not one of them.   I regularly have to fight my desire to give up.  Not because a workout is too hard, but because I think “why bother? Who am I kidding?”.  Right now, I would dearly like to see some progress but all I can see is that I’m running slower than I have in a long time.  My head knows that this is how it’s going to go – that the progress will come, but it will be slow, and that my running speed will suffer.  And my head is okay with it.  But my heart struggles.  So many well intentioned friends ask me about my training and share their well intentioned views “you should be cycling much further by now”, “you should be cycling must faster by now”, “you should be swimming much further by now”, “you should be swimming much faster by now”.  Honestly, the tears often brim behind my eyes.  Thank god for my coach, who’s on the receiving end of many a panicky email.  Thank god for my other training friends, who know how it feels to be so out of your depth.  Your Lululemon bag may exhort you to “do something that scares you” but I tell you – when you’re doing something that scares you it’s an extremely frightening experience.

So here I sit, with legs that are battered from this weekend’s running and a mixed-result long bikeride today. And I am going to tell you why, despite all the above, I am doing something I’m not very good at:

  • because being good is relative.  To others.  Remember when I won my age group in a marathon last year?  That was amazing.  And I could and did focus on that.  But I could also focus on the fact that it was a small race.  That there weren’t many in my age group.  And I could tell you that the woman who came in just behind me told me that she thought she would have beaten me if she hadn’t been breastfeeding.  But that day, she didn’t beat me.  This year she probably will beat me.  So all you’ve ever got – right up until Olympic level – is where you are on the day, and where the others are relative to you on that day.  I’ve said before that I want to stop comparing myself to others, because, apart from anything else, it’s such a pointless exercise.   There ARE faster people out there.  And I’ve just go to deal with that, and put it one side.  And focus on myself.
  • And related to that – why does it matter that I’m not very good at it? I’m not making a living from this.  This is my hobby.  I keep bringing myself back to this.  Pushing myself beyond my personal limits is what I like to do – what makes life interesting to me. This is what takes me on journeys, mentally and physically.  What leads me to meeting all the people – new friends – I met this weekend.  That’s why I do all of this.  To experience life to the full.
  • And the final reason I can think of why I am doing something I’m not very good at is because I’m a mother.  My kids are constantly being made to do stuff they’re not necessarily good at.  Academic work they may struggle with, social situations they have never faced before, sports they find difficult or not enjoyable.  Little of this is a choice as a child – you just have to get on with it.  As you get older, you get to choose more.  The subjects you study, the sports you do, and more and more, the social situations you are happy with.  And that’s a really good thing.  But it can also mean that you get my age – 42 – and you forget a) what it’s really like for your kids and b) just how much you are settled into your comfort zone.  Learning something new when you’re older is really hard and often precisely because you’ll find yourself surrounded by people who have been doing it for a long time and / or are very good at it (lord do I wish I had been a swimmer in my teens).  But I want to show my kids that you are not “done” at 42 – that my character and interests and limits have not been finalised yet – in the hope that they will always realise that they too have far more options available to them than might sometimes be apparent.  Especially if they can get over the part where they’re not very good at it…

So I’m back at it.  Back in the game.  I do this because I want to do it, and I do it because I love it.  The running weekend reminded me of that and for that I am truly grateful.

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Cotter Crunch

pro triathlete's wife, nutrition manager & fitness consultant, kombucha lover, and wannabe wino who has a joyous passion for gluten free cooking!

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