Monday, April 20, 2009

More Images from OZ

Here's another collage of images from
my trip down under:

Breakky with Pablo and the twins * Fredo's, home of the famous crocodile pie * The beach at Byron Bay * Byron Bay lineup * Surfers and sunworshippers, Byron Bay * Post-race relaxation * Post-race cankles!! * Cronulla, where many of the world's greatest triathletes claim roots. Hard to see why they love it here! * Belinda and Olivia, kicking it in the park * Easter festival in Cronulla * Olivia selecting her duckie.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Photographic Tribute to the Big Banana

Lounging at the Big Banana, Coffs Harbour.

HB & MJ - banana-mania!

The ever-important banana.

What would you do with a ceramic banana?

Friday, April 17, 2009


Yes, I finally saw a kangaroo. A real live one, in the wild, enjoying his breakky in a field. And now you can see him too – if you look very, very hard at this photo. See the blur, just slightly to the left of center? That’s my roo, hopping away while I try to focus the camera.

One of our adventures post-race involved visiting MJ’s sister Gabby on Australia’s Gold Coast. Gabby and MJ are both avid equestrians, and one evening we spent the night at the barn where Gabby boards her horse Jack (not in the actual barn, but in the guest accommodations). Gabby wanted us to meet the barn managers and her good friends Tor and Mel Van Den Berg, two of Australia’s top riders. Our dinner with Tor and Mel was so entertaining that even if we had slept in the barn, it would have been a worthwhile visit.

Knowing that I was slightly kangaroo-obsessed, Tor regaled us all evening with roo stories. Granted, many of these stories involved hunting the animals, as they can be a plague-level nuisance to ranchers, but it was impossible not to laugh at every incident he described, with his colorful story-telling skill.

Apparently there are close to one hundred kangaroos out and about on the ranch every morning, so Tor made it his mission to help me find them. While MJ and Gabby rode Jack, Pablo and I loaded into Tor’s brand new ATV and explored every inch of the ranch – without seeing a single kangaroo. We did find one wallaby, but substituting a wallaby for a kangaroo is akin to swapping a bobcat for a mountain lion – it’s just not the same thing. Tor was in a state of total disbelief, and probably would have driven us around all day if we had been game. We did need to get moving, however, so we finally thanked him profusely for his effort, and assured him that we would probably see a kangaroo as we drove the long road back from the ranch. And sure enough, that’s when we saw this roo, captured so skillfully on film.

The next morning, I received a call from Gabby. She had stayed another night at the ranch, and sure enough, awoke to a huge kangaroo grazing right outside her door.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Images from OZ

I’ve been promising photos, and here is the first round – with more to follow soon. But here's the catch with this particular blog format: It seems near impossible to arrange the photos as I would like, and to appropriately tag them with individual captions. So I've decided to leave them all jumbled together, and list the various captions below. If you're inspired, you can match them up on your own!

Race day fashion * Ryan, Whitey, me, Pablo, Damien * Recipe for disaster - watch out Mr. Pedestrian! * Pablo, racing through the raindrops * MJ and her chalk art * Wait, who's Mary?? * How to make an Ironman smile * Olivia broke out the pom-poms * Pablo running to a Kona-qualifying finish - he redeemed the race for all of us! * At this point I'm still running * Running again (the walking happened in between). Thumbs up because I'm almost done! * Now we're smiling! * The day after - smiling even more * MJ's method of protecting her feet from the mud. These sneakers had already been laundered twice * Can you say Aloha? Congrats Pablo!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Hopes, Dreams, Desires, Goals – Revisited

With a less-than-dreamy race under my belt, I thought it wise to revisit my original list of goals for some post-race perspective. Here’s the original list, along with the results from Ironman OZ:

• Get to the start = Done!
• Get to the finish = Done!
• Better my own best time = Nowhere near a PR.
• Set a new swim PR = Sorry Nick & Natalie, no cookies this time!
• Smile for the camera = I believe I did manage to smile more than I grimaced.
• Smile more than I wince throughout the day = Same as above; even though it hurt, the overall takeaway was enjoyment.
• Run a kickass marathon = Um, not exactly.
• Remember the words of support, motivation and humor from my friends, family & fellow athletes when I need them most = Heck yeah!
• Have the strength to push beyond my expectations during the high points and to pull myself out of the low points of the guaranteed roller coaster of race day = I did pull out of the lowest lows, though not as seamlessly as I would have liked. I didn’t have much energy to push during the highs – but in retrospect I now know I was getting MJ’s flu.
• Remain coherent enough to continue thanking the volunteers throughout the day, even/especially through the last miles of the run = Done!
• Make the top-five podium in my age group in an Ironman race = Not even close; I was 16th.
• Someday, some way, gain entry into Kona = This was definitely not my someday.
• Forget about all these goals during the race and simply swim, bike and run my heart out, to the best of my ability on that particular day = This one is a bit of a toss-up, but all-in-all I’d have to say I gave it what I had on the day.
• Make MJ proud = Done!

Of course, as I collapsed crying into MJ’s finish-line hug, she said she would have been proud of me regardless of the result – but she was particularly proud to see me keep on truckin’ despite feeling so lousy. Overall, I have to say I accomplished a good deal of what I set out to achieve. It’s easy to feel discouraged when a race goes awry, but it’s also important to keep it in perspective and remember how kickass it is simply to attempt, and complete, an event of this magnitude. It is not exactly normal, nor anywhere near commonplace, in the range of things a person might choose to do on a Sunday.

I’m also certain that my lackluster performance was in no way a reflection of MJ’s coaching. I was in great shape and perfectly prepared for the event – both in terms of my physical fitness and the mental and emotional support she provided – and I would follow her IM training plan again in a heartbeat. My problems stemmed from my Achilles injury and the onset of illness – in fact, I’m writing this one week post-race and almost a full week into my own battle with the flu.

It’s been a long while since I've had a truly good race and a good result. It can be hard to swallow a disappointing race, especially an Ironman, when so much time, energy and expense go into one single day. But “good” can mean many different things, and what I experienced in Australia will certainly provide good learning for my future races – along with a handful of life lessons that are not to be undervalued. While out on the run course, in some of the darkest moments, I decided it was time for me to "retire" - that perhaps I am too old for this, perhaps I no longer have the competitive drive and physical talent of my earlier years in the sport. But anyone who's ever raced an endurance event knows that these feelings are both incredibly common and exceedingly short-lived. All that hoo-hah goes out the window within 24 hours of crossing the finish line. As a matter of fact, I’m opening my calendar right now to look for my next race…

Hearing Voices

Some of the best parts of an Ironman are the voices you hear on course – whether cheers from the spectators or simply within your own head.

My absolute favorite cheer of the day was a tribute to my gender in general. All throughout the race, the locals greeted me with enthusiastic rounds of, “Go the girls! Go the girls!” Even when I was the only girl in sight, it was always a plural “girls”, celebrating our society of female uber-athletes. Only once did I hear the men’s equivalent, “Go the boys!”

There were also numerous young girls and boys lining the course and staffing the aid stations – many more than what I’ve seen in U.S. races. One particularly focused girl looked me dead in the eyes as I ran-limped past, proclaiming, “YOU are my hero. YOU could be the next Ironman champion!” Another gal, running alongside me as I rode up a hill, peppered me with questions, “Is this your first Ironman? Do you like it here? Where are you from? Will you do it again?” I only had enough breath to answer her final question, and of course I said yes, although I sort of wanted to tell her that after the race might be a better time to ask.

I couldn’t help but think back to the question Maureen, MJ’s mom, had asked me repeatedly when I met her earlier in the week. “Sophie,” she would say (somehow convinced that was my name), “You’re doing the WHOLE race?” While struggling through the run, it struck me that perhaps she was right to question my fortitude.

It also crossed my mind several times, as I bordered on tears of frustration and disappointment, that I had no right to complain; I should be thankful for simply being able to race, in contrast to MJ, who had to withdraw from the much-anticipated competition due to illness. She provided stellar race-day support, along with the Yates and White families, cheering loudly, taking fun photos and chalking up the roads. But I know how hard it must have been for her not to pull on her race kit and wetsuit earlier in the morning. She’s a true champ not only for all that she’s accomplished outwardly in the sport, but for how she’s inwardly handled the inevitable setbacks of racing at a professional level.

I mentioned previously my obsession with kangaroos and koalas and watching, in particular, for the roos along the bike course. I also heard several kookaburras, their uncanny calls screaming out like the drunkest of Aussie spectators. I couldn’t help but think how crazy and cool it was to be racing in a place where kangaroos, koalas and kookaburras (whether hidden or seen) inhabited the brush around the race course, as opposed to the usual U.S. fare of squirrels and skunks.

Race Report – Volume 4

I was concerned I was hurting my Achilles worse by continuing to run, and was grappling in my mind with whether or not I should walk for a bit. I was also beginning to have tummy trouble. I ate one gel at the start of the run, but when it came time to fuel again I simply couldn't take anything down. I knew I needed to eat, but each time I tried pulling a gel from my pocket I started to feel a nauseous heave. I generally have no trouble with my nutrition and religiously take a gel every 45 minutes, whether I feel hungry or not. I must have been dealing with the after-effects of the swim water, since every time I ran close to the water or the stinky mud I felt I might hurl!

At this point I was heading into the 2nd run lap and I knew I was in trouble. I had to start drinking cola to settle my tummy and carry me through what I assumed, at this point, would be one heck of a long walk. Making the decision to walk in a race is so difficult, because I know myself well enough to know it means I've given up, and the chances of coming back around are slim. It is unbelievably deflating and feels like absolute failure. But between my tummy and my ankle, that’s how I felt - like I simply wanted to quit. I started walking, feeling pretty lousy about my choice except for the fact that my Achilles didn't hurt while walking.

I walked through the next aid station and suddenly rockmelon (aka cantaloupe) became my saving grace. A volunteer offered up a big bowl of melon, and suddenly I wanted that fruit like it was nobody's business. It was quite honestly one of the best things I've ever tasted in my life. I thought of how people often joke about the Ironman marathon being a 42k buffet, so I decided to embrace that for all it was worth and eat as much glorious Aussie fruit as possible. At every aid station I downed melon and orange slices and cola - and amazingly this helped my belly. I figured I was taking in enough carbohydrate and sugar to get me through the final two laps, at least at a walking pace, so I was encouraged to keep moving.

I walked for most of the entire 2nd lap, and when I reached the top of the big hill, my watch read 11:30. This had been my original secret goal time, and I still had one and a quarter laps to go. To make matters worse, the sun was setting and the volunteers pinned two mandatory glow sticks on my race belt. I’ve never been out past dark in an Ironman, so I was forced to suck in a big dose of humility and embrace the experience and eeriness of night running. Normally in an Ironman, there would still be a ton of athletes on course, but it was slimming down quickly in Port Mac. Everyone else seemed crazy fit, and I honestly worried that I might be the last finisher! Obviously, you need a certain amount of fitness to do an Ironman, but in the other races where I’ve competed, there has been a broader range of body types and athletic abilities. These people all just seemed like rock stars. Ben Stiller’s voice from the movie Zoolander kept running through my head – where he talks about being “really, really, ridiculously good-looking” – except I heard him talking about how every athlete from Australia was “really, really, ridiculously fit!” What I learned afterward is that everyone except the international competitors has to qualify to race here - it's one of only two IM's in the country and is basically the equivalent of a national championship – which explained why everyone was so dang fast!

As I came back past the transition area to head onto my 3rd and final lap, MJ and Pablo were there waiting to give me some much needed encouragement. I might have been crying as I told MJ how badly my ankle hurt. She asked me what I wanted to do and I said that I would finish even if it meant walking – despite the discomfort and the desire to be done, there was simply no way I would actually stop. MJ gave me a quick hug and said they'd be waiting for me - exactly the boost I needed to start running again. Even though my Achilles hurt on and off, I ran - at times strong and at times limping - the entire rest of the way, aside from walking through every aid station for my fruit and cola cocktail.

I decided that while I was out there in the dark, I may as well live it up a little on the last lap. I made a point of cheering on every fellow competitor I passed, thanking every volunteer and spectator and especially high-fiving all the exuberant little kids. The last few miles I pushed as hard as I could and was wincing in pain at points, but I wanted to finish strong and feel proud of pulling myself out of a deep dark hole. After the point where I received the glow sticks, I never once looked at my watch until I finished. My time was somewhere around 13:40 - over an hour slower than my previous worst IM time and 2 hours slower than what I know I'm capable of - but it simply didn't matter. What mattered was that I ran down the finish chute full of tears and smiles and such an overwhelming wash of emotion, and there was MJ, flu and all, waiting to put my medal around my neck and give me a massive hug.