George Bernard Shaw
Self belief is a funny thing. Have it and you don't know any better, but lack it, and you sometimes feel like you're on the wrong side of a one way mirror. So it was then, that this journey would begin with nothing. Except for the support of people who saw more within me than I could see at that moment.
Running towards the finish line for the Wellington marathon I truly believed at the time that I was experiencing my last event in a long time. Maybe ever. The days that followed left me struggling to walk, and thus self pity would need to wait until I had recovered enough to not have walking require my full attention. In the midst of this, I had a conversation that reminded me of my goal.
Leaning against a table in the foyer at work, I discussed with a colleague my feelings of disappointment. I was gutted. Not just at running a rubbish time for the marathon, (it was a very poor outing), but moreso my feeling that the outings I had planned - all acting as building blocks towards future goals now had me seriously questioning where I was truely at.
"Lets be realistic", I was told. "You struggled with a marathon. Who the hell do you think you are to aim any higher??"
Who the hell are any of us?? Really. Why should anyone attempt what was once thought impossible?? When do we draw the line on what our limits are?? And how do know when all of this ends?? Our life that is. That was given to us.
So it began. No doubts or self pity. Heading off to Taupo once more, and setting out to once again to be near the Great Lake. Thinking of the finish this time, rather than just the start line. But all the while however remembering what the future can bring if I choose to believe in myself.
Before the journey proper began however, I received two emails. Paul Rawlinson and Jacky James took it upon themselves to ask me a simple question. Essentially - "You aren't going to let one bad day derail your goals are you?" These words of support would not go unnoticed - Nor would their sentiments.
It would seem fitting then that in the midst of these thoughts of ultra endurance events I would set out - for the first time in my life - on a journey that included a great deal of speed working my training. To be honest. I relished it. 'Hill repeats', '1km intervals', and 'Zone 3' became phrases I would come to know well. As would getting up at 5:15am. Being in my last year of my university studies and, also working full time, my only opportunity to train during the week was before work. It must be said - I now see that sleeping in is somewhat overrated.
So the day of the Half Ironman arrived, and along with it the irony that I would sleep through not one, but two alarms that I had set. Sleeping, blissfully unaware that 3:45am and then 4:00am had come and gone, I suppose this was my last opportunity to grab any moments of sleep that I hadn't experienced in any kind of abundance over the last few months. So it was then, that I was finally woken. My focus for this event was 'Don't stop'. So looking at my watch I knew there really would be no stopping until the finish line. I was somewhat startled by the relatively late time and announced "4:22am - f***!!". In some ways the race had begun already.
Just about crossed eyed upon exiting the water, the run to T1 was all about thinking ahead.
The drive to the event was the 20kms from Hatepe to Taupo. My eyes widened as we drove past the waters edge, and I witnessed whitecaps on the lake. My view was that the rougher the weather the better, with times not relevant, and only placings counting towards my day. Thus, I was possibly the only entrant to be somewhat disappointed to see that the lake was somewhat calmer at the northern end of the course where we'd race. "Still time to roughen up" I thought.
Arriving at the transition area it was all go. Being very aware of the time left I fitted the gear, and double checked everyone in a quick, but not rushed manner. Forgetting anything now would not be a good look. I did stop however when the drink bottles got placed onto the bike. I looked at the drink bottle holders and simply thought that if they broke off I'd simply carry drinks in my back pocket.
Heading down to the lake I stopped and was asked by a spectator if I was ok. "I forgot to take off my wedding ring" I replied. After losing the last one I wasn't keen to have this one come off during the swim. Tugging at it I finally came to the conclusion that it wasn't coming if anytime soon, so race with it I would - For the first time ever. I warmed up and felt all alone in this world. I some ways I had been rushing everywhere for so many months, and I had these final few moments to reflect on this day. Many thoughts went through my head, but one was certain - I was however ready for the battle.
Reaching the first corner buoy in 17 mins I now knew that a time of 30-35 mins was not realistic. Breathing to my right side was ace, but to the left was rubbish. One week earlier I had finished a short course tri leading by 30 seconds after the swim. However I exited the water after the 2kms on this day absolutely buggered. So much so that I was struggling to focus for the first few moments on the run towards T1. My only thoughts were, "lift the goggles...pull the wetsuit zip down...remove your arms...goggles and cap off...run faster!!". Run I did. I was feeling better as I neared the bikes, with the bike leg having just one thought, "Zone 3".
In the weeks leading up to the Taupo Half Ironman I really struggled to hit the numbers on the bike, with the only exception being during any races I participated in. On the longer training rides I never even reached Zone 3 for my heart rate. My goal for the ride however was to sit in Zone 3 for as long as possible. Without this approach I knew that I'd have a moderate ride out to Reporoa - Which included a very nice tailwind - And I'd then get smashed on the way back. If this day was going to end up in pieces, then it would be due my efforts...not lack of them. Better the wolf than the lamb.
The conditions on the bike were fully expected, and the return leg needed a gameplan.
The time split was 1:20 at Reporoa. Not fantastic, but in terms of my heart rate I was right on target. Around 1:50 now seemed a likely best possible time. I turned around I stayed in the big chain ring…for another 40 minutes.
Cramps started on the way back, but nearing the hill I knew it was two climbs to Taupo. Maintaining a moderate intensity on the climb, and then pushing the pace on the descent I started to pass other riders. More again as I stayed on the bars through Taupo's streets.
All went well at T2, except being told to clip up my cycle helmet. I was running in the transition area - 20 feet from my bike area in the rack, and am still a little puzzled as to what the issue was. Perhaps I'd trip up and knock my head?? Rules are rules though, and I complied, said "No comment!!", and did a super quick changeove, and setoff for the last 21kms of this event.
Cramping was with me now, but frankly I didn't care. I pushed as hard as I could and only thought was of turning around at Rainbow Drive. Being passed by some faster runners (who were on their second lap) I tried to match their pace to ensure I didn't drop off from an honest effort too much. After the Ironman in March the run was an absolute pleasure. Relatively speaking. It was like someone letting us go back towards Taupo early on each lap, with what I consider to be the tough part of the run omitted. At the turnaround point on Lap 1 I commented to someone that all we needed to do now was count off the miles. I knew however that any feelings of comfort would mean a day ending in tears. My goals for the day were crystal clear and there was still work to be done.
Finished - At last I could look back and reflect. This had been quite some outing.
After starting the run with maximum gear I slowly lightened the load. Lap 1 saw me hand off the heart rate monitor, fuel belt, hat, and two drink bottles. The moment of truth coming at the start of Lap 2. Looking towards my right I spotted another participant, knowing that this day's outcome would be measured in part relative to where I finished compared to them. No math needed. I was now on the lake front heading out on Lap 2, and they were yet to finish Lap 1. I knew that all I needed to do was run hard enough that it hurt and I'd be smiling at the finish. Hurt it did. And smiling followed. At the finish.
Several people said that they had never seen me smile at a finish line, but this day was different. Next to the Taupo Enduro and Maxi Enduro I can say that I am truly happy with how the event went.
A lie down on the grass was desperately needed. I was totally wrecked. The lake called for me, and I found myself standing, and shivering, letting the cold help the legs recover as much as possible. This had been an honest effort. Last year's Taupo Half IM saw me enjoy a recovery ride the following day. I averaged 27kms per hour on a 30km ride. This year I hobbled down to the lake, stood waist deep for ten minutes, and then hobbled back to bed for a 30 minute kip. Yeah, I think it was an honest effort out there.
On the Sunday, after my 'post-hobble' dip in the lake, I asked Ruth to look down my throat. I had felt a slightly sore throat since the previous Wednesday, with an ear ache since the Friday. I suspect that the throat infection - which is what I now had - had been there since the day before the Half Ironman. Quote of the week goes to the Doctor who said, "So have you done anything that may have left you tired??". Yeah, could've done…
Looking ahead now. I have a new attitude and feel that the 505km Graperide Ultimate presents an opportunity to train for and compete in a pure endurance event. There exists a clear goal for the Graperide Ultimatethat event. It would be safe to say that I am more determined to reach those junctures in life that I long for, and as a result I am a better athlete than I previously was. I won't proclaim to being a better person.
The defining moment this season was possibly during a 'reverse brick session' about six weeks before Half Ironman. Waikanae pool was yet to open, so with the next closest pool opening at 10am an approach was used that saw my swim nearer the end of the workout. The format was bike, run, and swim. The reality ended up being bike, run, swim, run - with the run home from the pool being 2.5kms of gritted teeth, fatigued legs, and the singular thought of reaching home.
On this day the swim was almost done, and for some reason another swimmer decided to swim in the wrong direction in our lane. We bumped into each other and I pointed out that we were meant to swim in a clockwise direction. All very low key. I finished a short time later and was quickly sorting my gear in the changing rooms, when the other swimmer started to explain what had happened. "It's all good", I said. Adding, "Just swim clockwise and we can all get our swims done. It's not a biggie". He took exception to this for reason and pointed his finger at me saying, "Now you listen here!!". "No", I said calmly. My sole thought was that he was now delaying my final leg of the session. "I have been training since 5:30am this morning and it's now almost midday. You stand here debating parts of this day that mean nothing. Get out of my way or f*** off. You decide."
I walked out and started the run home. On the run I started to think about how much these events mean to me. But also I thought about how important the support of those around us is. Our dreams and goals exist to mark out who we want to be one day. Upon reaching those milestones we accept a new self image, and move beyond those boundaries that we once imposed on ourself.
Those same boundaries still exist for others however. Negativity is like a cancer and those goals we have evaporate quickly if we waste our time trying to convince others 'why' we pursue the path we have chosen. If they don't get it now they never will. So a battle it is then. Each day providing the opportunity to redefine who we are. Self belief is a cornerstone of happiness and without it we are living other people's lives.
Picture yourself on that day - after the swim. Standing in a room. One person arguing about things that do not matter. One focused on the journey ahead. Picture who you are. Who you want to be. On this journey there are only two sets of people - those who help me and those who do not. There is no margin for error...and no room for shades of grey.
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Hammer Nutrition - Still the best endurance food on the market. A perfect day of fuelling meant that all I had to contend with was the conditions. Perp rocks!!
On Yer Bike (Paraparaumu) - Ace work guys. Still giving the best service in Kapiti, and I look forward to popping into your store in the near future for more gear.
Lynley Brown - Thanks for keeping it real Lynley. You are a hard task master, and I was gob smacked for several days when you said to do that 3 x 300m swim TT again…because I was 4 seconds outside of the limit for one of the sets. However, I did it again the following week and hit all the numbers. You have shown me what a mind game this sport really is.
Family - Dad ("Granddad") is was great to have you at an event in Taupo, and I hope that Mum ("Granny") enjoyed being at a Taupo event being able to sleep at night!! (Normally overnight support crew for Taupo Challenge events). Alex, Amy, and David - Your time will come and I hope that the Ironman, in some form or another, finds you one day. There is no rush though, and for now it's all meant to be fun.
Ruth - Your ongoing support and encouragement is a blessing. Thank you. xx
Thankyou also to the people around me who were happy to make my days go smoother where they could. Brian Nelson (who's office became a bit of a dumping ground for my gear the evening before cycling in for brick sessions), Tim 'The Weather Man' Borlase (who's daily weather updates were ace leading up to the event - The winds were fully expected), and Lionel Thomas (with once and sometimes twice weekly 'drop offs' of my gear to home). Collectively you all made a big difference.
Finally - Thank you to the Ironman. You entered my life, finding me found already, but leaving me centered in this world of misaligned proities and shallow ambitions. You remain the goal, the process, and the benchmark of what is real and what is truly living. By being larger than life you sometimes seem like life itself. Life will continue with other goals, but even if it seems I am not living for you...I will be living through you.