Ironman Regensburg

The best part of my third ironman race was probably the taper. I'd got a call from Catriona Morrison saying, "What you doing before Regensburg? Fancy joining me and Rachel, in Europe somewhere, maybe at altitude?".

And so I spent the three weeks prior, in Morzine, France, along with Catriona Morrison and husband Richard, Rachel Joyce, Emma-Kate Lidbury and Jo Carritt. On the day I arrived, the usual July sunshine turned to the worst spell of weather the area had experienced in some time.

Luckily, the company was as good as the weather was bad. As a back of the pack age grouper, I'm poles apart to these professionals, performance wise, but we all have similar concerns: how can I get the best out of my body? What shall I cook when it's my turn to make dinner? When is it ever going to stop raining?! It was the most relaxed, supportive and positive household I've had the pleasure to be part of in some time.

[caption id="attachment_587" align="alignnone" width="440" caption="Emma-Kate Lidbury, Cat Morrison, Me, Rachel Joyce and sunshine!"][/caption]

So, Regensburg?
In my debriefing the week after Ironman Lanzarote, while bouncing around ideas for doing some shorter races my coach suggested maybe just doing another Ironman, to get a marker of where I am on a more 'normal' course. Regensburg had opened up for some late registrations, so I signed up there and then.

It didn't have the familiarity, stature or emotional connection of Lanzarote. I just wanted to turn up, do my work, and go home.

Aims
I knew my swim time would stay about the same as Lanzarote. I knew I should get a shorter bike time, simply because there is less climbing. As race day approached, I wasn't wildy concerned about these - slightly viewing them as just the stuff I needed to get through to get onto the run. My main aim was to improve my run time. I've worked really hard on my run over the last ten weeks: mainly on functional work to improve my posture and mechanics. I've spent around 2-3 hours a week (and double my grocery bill) on this practice, on top of my regular training runs.

A week before the race, my coach and I were trying to decide what my strategy for pacing the run should be. We went through two versions, starting at a manageable pace (6:40-6:50 min/km) and gradually increasing the pace, if I felt OK. Following either plan, I should make an improved time of around 4:45. (My personal best is 4:57, at Lanzarote, 10 weeks ago.)

The pace specific strategy was bothering me, even though it had been just what I needed at Lanzarote. I kept mulling it over, but couldn't figure out what would be a good combination of pushing myself to achieve a better time (that I think I can do) and not setting myself an unrealistic goal. 'Your call', said my coach. Three days out, I decided: scrap all that, I'll do the run by feel alone.

I didn't tell my coach, in case he didn't approve. I'd apologise later if it turned out to be a bad decision. With that decision made, my mind was free to just relax and follow the final race preparations.

A woman came up to me in the hotel the day before and said, "I just wanted to say, what you're going to do tomorrow, it's amazing, it's... supernatural." I thanked her, but was thinking "nooo! Don't say that, it's totally normal, nothing to get nervous about here".

Swim
I didn't enjoy the swim course, or my own swimming, at all. It was frustrating to try and judge 'What way now?!' with eyes at water level on the eight turn course; to be amongst fellow bad swimmers who were no help to follow; to catch sight of the faster swimmers exiting the water at my half-way point. Just get it done.

Bike

This was the first transition where I had my shoes placed on the bike, and I set off without mishap - so much simpler and smoother - first aim for the day accomplished!

It rained for almost the entire bike course, torrential at times. I say rain, it felt like needles hitting my face on the descents.

Despite the awful weather, some wonderful locals were still out to cheer us on. People shouted "Hoppa! Hoppa! Hoppa!", rang cow bells, banged saucepans. My favourite was a boy, maybe 8 years old, playing the drums outside his house. I imagine his family were delighted, "Hey, you could support the athletes and play outside today!"

Surface water, hard rain, wind chill headache... it was pretty miserable. Taking descents and corners carefully in the wet, I did have a brief moment of wondering that maybe crashing wouldn't be so bad, at least you'd get picked up by a car and driven to the end!

I was grateful to not be one of the many people who got a puncture. Attempting to make myself feel better, I decided to count the slugs as 'people' I'd overtaken. The mind goes through all kinds of weird and wonderful places!

At around 140km, I was feeling pretty weak and despondant each time I wiped the rain away to see the power reading on my bike computer. Bad voice in my head said, "When are you going to give this up? You do realise you're not actually any good at any of these three sports?!". I tried to think of a counter-argument. All I could muster was "Shuddup!".

Finishing a bike ride like that at home, you'd probably have a hot chocolate, some cake, a warm bubble bath, a duvet and collapse on the couch. I spent six minutes and six seconds hobbling (numb feet) around the bike park to rack my bike (no help here), hobbling towards the run kit bags, putting on run socks and shoes, and taking a deep breath before heading out, to run a marathon.

Run
I was relieved to be off the bike, for the rain to stop and to regain feeling in my feet. I really enjoyed just going by feel, judging what I could sustain for the next hour, or four. It freed me to focus on my body, scanning feet-pelvis-shoulders-lungs-head... feet-pelvis-shoulders-lungs-head, keeping aware of how everything felt and what adjustments were needed.

Although billed as a flat run course, it isn't. There are several sneaky inclines, a few declines that are nasty on the quads towards the end, and substantial stretches of cobblestones. It is an interesting run course though, winding through the cobbled streets of the old town, with brilliant crowds on either side of the barriers cheering us on. Then there's a quieter half of the loop, through some park land and back along a canal path.

A four lap course, so it was easy to view as 'just' four 10kms, plus a bit. First lap I tried to keep very manageable. Second lap, I still felt good and started to really enjoy the feeling of running, but kept a lid on the effort. Third lap, I felt like I could up the pace a little and that felt great. When I'm holding good form and running faster, it feels like I'm... a runner! I was stopping to take on nutrition and walked the hundred metres or so at the aid stations. The volunteers at the aid stations were brilliant, as always.

I felt physically good on the run and mentally strong and happy. I had my little phrases and bits of songs that I repeated to keep myself positive and strong throughout.

On to the final lap and, of course, the pains start to come on. A few foot strikes where sharp pains hit a knee sent me yelping into the air and limping a few strides. I took the ibruprofen I'd stashed in my race belt. Focusing on my posture, I was still able to run at a decent pace, and hobble through the aid stations. I was sure I'd been running so much better than at Lanzarote, I must be on for under 4:45, probably more like under 4:30, maybe even less! Woohoo! Everyone around me now were the shufflers or walkers. I felt like I was still running reasonably well, if through gritted teeth. An American spectator shouted, 'Bring it home girl!' and so I did.

I was elated running through the awesome finish chute crowds and high fiving the organiser to cross the line. Wait, did that clock just read over 14 hours? But that would mean... I tore the tape off my Garmin watch and saw 4:59. Gutted. I could have cried, but I hadn't the energy left.

Done
I hobbled back to my hotel room, to nurse my wounds, of which there were plenty. I vow that my next race will take place somewhere with guaranteed sunshine. I reserve the right to regret that wish.

I wondered at first if I'd made a bad choice, maybe if I'd stuck to the safe plan I would have made the time I wanted. I was slightly consoled by the data my watch gathered:

Time: 04:59:49
Moving Time: 04:25:54
Elapsed Time: 05:05:24
Avg Pace: 07:03 min/km
Avg Moving Pace: 06:15 min/km
Distance: 42.47 km
(Official run split time was 5:09. I started my watch slightly late)</blockquote>

So I did indeed run well (my average moving pace was 6:15, 30 seconds faster than the original plan!). I just also walked quite well, through all those aid stations. That's a good learning experience and confidence boost, of sorts, for me. Plus taking a risk is more exciting! Following your gut at ironman can take you to some smelly places, but I'm happy to have trusted my gut this time. Numbers aside, I got a taste of what it feels like to be running well. I'll have seconds please!