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.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Race Report – Volume 3

Finally off the bike, I headed into the change tent to swap shoes and gear for the run. My first steps out of the tent were through a nasty patch of mud which claimed hold of my right shoe. It sunk entirely into the muck, and as I strode forward the shoe remained. I ran a few steps in one sock, now covered as well in gunky mud, before slowing my momentum and returning to pry my shoe loose from the earth’s grip.

Unfortunately, this was the same side on which my Achilles tendon had been troubling me, and the yanking out of my shoe tweaked it a bit further. I originally hurt my Achilles while running speed intervals on the treadmill several months ago in preparation for a January marathon. It had been bothering me on and off ever since; though mostly off until (of course!) I arrived in Australia. For whatever reason, it was particularly flared up all week. I tried my best to baby it, getting a massage and a chiropractic adjustment and stretching as much as possible. Most of all I tried employing the power of positive thinking by telling myself and everyone else it was feeling better - but in all honesty it was not.

I started out the run feeling strong - a typical Holly run leg where my best-of-three-sports strength comes out and I pass people in droves. The spectators were all commenting on how fresh I looked, and I ran the first of three laps with good energy. But my optimism was subdued by my nagging Achilles, which was really giving me trouble, especially as I ran up the big hill.

Race Report – Volume 2

Heading onto the bike course, I felt simply OK. I didn’t have my usual race-pace spunk and drive, but I was trying to focus on high cadence and small gearing, in order to save my legs for the run. I also wondered if my blah feeling might signal the onset of the bug that forced MJ to withdraw from the race, or if I was simply having an off day. Regardless, my legs never quite seemed to come alive. By the time I reached the third lap and knew that my bike split would hit the seven hour mark – almost 45 minutes slower than I’ve ever ridden in an Ironman – I knew that whatever the reason, I couldn’t possibly be saving THAT much for the run.

While the sun had come out earlier in the day, we were pelted with pissing down rain for much of the first and second bike laps. It was difficult to see through rain-spotted glasses, and the slick streets and sharp turns through town at the lap turnaround required extra caution. The memory of crashing on my bike in my last race passed briefly through my mind, but I quieted my fear with some strange logic. I reasoned that the only honorable way to go down during Ironman Australia would be via kangaroo – for example, if a kangaroo hopped out of the bush and kicked me off my bike. Now that would make for an amazing story! But minus a kangaroo attack, I was determined to ride with confidence and not allow crash flashbacks to haunt me. So I rode past multiple kangaroo crossing road signs, one eye on the road and one eye peeled for the critters who could potentially change my destiny.

The notable Matthew Flinders hill (a steep 10% grade which you ride three times), was too intimidating for many – each time I approached it the athletes in front of me all dismounted their bikes and walked. I cycled up, but on one particularly wet lap I felt my wheel spin out precariously as I rode over a painted-on, and therefore super slippery, cheer sign. The Ironman Australia bike course is classified as very difficult, and by the third of three laps, after rain, wind, chip-sealed road surface and numerous hills, I was beginning to agree.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Race Report - Volume 1

For those of you who’ve peeked at the race results, whether my finish time indicates this or not, I am alive and well. Sunday was an extremely tough day for a number of reasons – much tougher than I would have wished on myself. Yet as always, with Ironman racing, there’s more to learn from the pain than from the pleasure, and certainly some good stories to tell!

I’ve been thinking how best to report my race – because trust me, after spending just shy of 14 hours on course, I have a lot to say. Given that we’re in the midst of some post-race travel with limited internet connectivity, and given that a blog is not conducive to a rambling epic, I’ll break it into several shorter entries. I also have many more fun photos to share, but will save those for the end (and for a faster connection).

In contrast to the lead-up week, race morning hinted at sunshine and clear skies. Sure, it had torrentially dumped the night before and into the wee hours of the morning, but by the time we headed to transition the rain had stopped and the sun teased from behind the cloud. The transition area was a sopping, slogging slush-pit of mud, covering our feet and splashing our legs with every step. But it no longer mattered – the day was on and, as I heard one athlete remark, “It’s an Ironman, not a beauty pageant.”

My first stop in transition was for bodymarking, where a young volunteer marked my calf with the letter indicating the men’s 40-44 year-old age group. Knowing I likely wouldn’t be much competition for the guys, I had another volunteer wipe my calf clean and mark me as a woman.

Michellie (MJ) and our cheer squad of Ryan, Belinda, Damien and Whitey helped Pablo (HPP) and I pump our tires, drop off our special needs bags, suit up in our “wetties” and head down to the swim start. It had to be torture for MJ, who so badly wanted to race but had been forced to withdraw due to a bout of the flu, to be down in transition, fielding good luck wishes (from those who did not know she had withdrawn) and expressions of concern and caring (from those who were aware). She stoically switched gears from race contender to race-day Sherpa, making sure our every need was met.

I was thrilled to employ one of the best new tricks I’ve learned while here – covering each foot in a plastic bag before sliding it into my wettie. Trust me, try it and you’ll wonder how you ever pulled on your wetsuit previously without this valuable tidbit.

The swim was relatively smooth and uneventful – no wayward bashing of arms and legs, no chop in the water, not too strong of a current. It did feel extremely long, but no one said that 3.8k is short! I was a bit nauseated by the smell and taste of the muddy water and tried hard to ingest as little as possible, fearing it would haunt me later in the day. Heading toward the turn buoy on the second lap, the tide pulled a group of us off to one side, making it difficult to reach the turn, but all in all I felt it was a consistent, decent effort. I was actually surprised to see my time when I exited the water (1:25), as I felt I was swimming 5-10 minutes faster, but I shrugged that off in deference to my promise to myself to simply race my race and not worry much about the clock.

I made a slow slog through the mud of the transition area, my bike shoes filling with goop, and headed out to start the ride.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Morning Showers

3:15am April 5th, Port Macquarie. Bring it on!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Ready, Set, Almost Time to GO!

The race production crew has been sporting Hello Kitty wellies.

View across the bay - lots of blue sky!

Hard to get the full impact from a photo, but this is the start of the run course hill.

My bike and gear bags are turned in. My race kit is laid out on the bed. My bottles await filling, and there’s not much else to do now but relax, eat a bit more and sleep. And thanks to New South Wales’ daylight savings, we get a bonus hour tonight.

I woke up this morning feeling good. All week my body has been giving me reasons to doubt my race readiness – but finally I feel that it’s all come around. I took a short final jog and felt as though I had to hold my legs back from breaking into a full-bore run. This is exactly how I would hope to feel the day before tacking a marathon onto the end of an epic swim and bike!

The weather forecast has improved significantly – downgraded from severe thunderstorms and an 80% chance of rain to merely showers and a 50% chance of rain. If it turns out anything like today, we’ll be lucky indeed. While there were some fierce showers overnight and earlier in the morning, the sky has cleared beautifully, allowing for magnificent views across the bay. This bike course is touted as one of the most scenic on the Ironman circuit, and if the sky remains clear I’m sure we’ll all be treated to the visual proof.

At the moment I’m icing my ankle one last time for good measure, awaiting a visit from friends Luke McKenzie and Amanda Balding (in town to commentate tomorrow’s action) and gearing up for dinner (kindly cooked for us by Belinda). Then I’ll climb into bed, a mix of nervous anticipation and calm readiness infusing my dreams.

I’ve been reminded today that it’s not the easy things in life that give us a chance to shine – it’s the way we tackle adversity, how we manage in the face of great and sometimes painful challenges, that allow our best selves to come forth. I only hope I can rise to meet the difficulties that tomorrow is sure to sling at me with the same grace and strength as the friend who has given me this reminder. It is, after all, that tenacity that makes us Ironman athletes!

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Transition area swamp.

View from the run turnaround - yes, we run from sea level up to here - 3 times!

A break in the storm.

One of my favorite things about international travel is having a chance to soak in the wonderful quirks of another culture. Of course, they are only quirks to me – here they are perfectly normal. For example, I noticed right off the bat how no one is in anywhere near as much of a hurry as in the States. It’s most obvious at the grocery store. At home, it’s a mad dash to see how fast you can unload your cart, help bag the items and pay for your goods in one flash effort. Here, the clerk gently scans one item at a time, chit-chatting away or humming a slow little tune. The people behind you do not breathe down your neck and huff in a passive aggressive fashion – they just wait patiently for their turn.

In that same regard, everyone is super helpful. Whether at the bike shop, the chemist or simply asking directions on the street, people are more than willing to lend a hand. I’m particularly fond of the chemists here (drugstores in the U.S.), where you can buy items over-the-counter which would likely be prescription-only back home. Not that I’m stockpiling a drug supply – I’ve just discovered a particular anti-inflammatory topical cream which is potent enough to have a real impact on my sore Achilles tendon.

Australia also has the world’s best candy. I’m not much of a candy fan, so when MJ talked about the treats that awaited us in the magical land down under I listened with modest enthusiasm. But now I have discovered The Natural Confectionary Co and their range of soft jellie chews, and I may never return to regular food again! Actually, these particular treats are chock-full of real ingredients with a cane sugar base and absolutely no artificial colors or flavors – so they’re certainly not the worst thing I could eat. I’ve also sampled Space Food Sticks (caramel chews developed for astronauts) and a variety of chocolate bunny eggs, but am holding off on the much talked about Tim Tam cookies until after the race.

Another fun feature of Australian culture is the affinity for nicknames. Everyone has one – generally a shortened version of their last name with either a “y” or an “o” added to the end. Thus I would become “Benno,” save for the fact that MJ dubbed me “Hollaroo,” which is even more to my liking.

Yesterday was a glorious day here in Port Mac, due to the long-awaited appearance of the sun. It still poured rain at various intervals, but the sky opened up enough to bring smiles and renewed optimism to everyone involved with the race. It’s muggy as all get out, but that only adds to the tropical feel which I completely enjoy.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for all competitors on race day will be to avoid slipping and falling flat on our bums while navigating the transition area. It’s a normally grassy field which is currently a mud-fest, with several areas full of standing water. We sampled the swim course yesterday and the water is solid brown, with zero visibility and a flavor that inspires you to keep your mouth closed. On the bright side, it’s also fairly protected with no impact from the wild ocean swell that is pounding the coast. Rumors were circulating that the swim might be canceled due to an excess of storm debris and bacteria, but fortunately we received an email last night confirming that the course will remain unchanged. Promptly after my practice swim yesterday I downed a Coke, which is said to help kill and flush any perilous matter from unsanitary water. It seems that with the massive volume of water flowing through the area, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about – but better safe than sorry.

After swimming I went on an adventure with Nicole to a tomato and strawberry farm called Ricardoes. We were drawn there by the promise of a lunch cafĂ© offering farm-fresh produce menu items – and we were not disappointed. Actually, every bit of produce I’ve tasted here has been incredibly flavorful, and our lunch was no exception. We chatted, ate and laughed for a few hours, a significant and delicious distraction from my race week nerves.

MJ’s friends from Sydney – Ryan, Belinda, Damien and baby Olivia – arrived yesterday, with promises of being the best-ever race day cheering squad. We went out on the town for a Thai dinner and a small sampling of beer – just enough to ease us into a sweetly relaxed state. Then it was time for another early sleep in preparation for the final countdown to Sunday.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Pep Talk

One of the locals.

Yesterday, I received some serious pep-talking from a collection of friends – exactly what I needed, since I’ve been struck with nervousness unlike any other I’ve experienced prior to an Ironman race. MJ helped calm my fears about the potential race day weather conditions, reminding me that even if it is dumping down, we’ll have the full width of the road, minus traffic, at our disposal. She also promised me that, when the third round of hills of the bike and run hurt, I can rest assured she’ll be feeling the same pain. HPP encouraged me to relax as much as possible on the bike, even if it is pelting rain. The best way to lose control is to let the fear grip me, and the best way to prevent any trouble is to simply steer smart and keep pedaling through the wet and wind. Nicole encouraged me to embrace the inclement weather, to be a badass chick who digs adversity and appreciates the wind-burn for its simulated suntan effect.

Last night I lay in bed, wondering why on earth I had let the first few days here get me so freaked out. I certainly didn’t come all this way and work this hard to be reduced to wimp status by the weather. I came here to race an Ironman, and an Ironman is never meant to be easy. So does it really matter if the pissy skies add an extra element of challenge? Who’s afraid of a little thunderstorm?

And so I woke this morning feeling a million times better. The storm calmed a bit through the night, and I slept long and soundly. I accompanied Mike to the airport for his departure and to collect my own rental car, which I managed to convince the agent to release to me without a driver’s license. I had left my license in the apartment, but thankfully Aussies are a trusting bunch, as he handed over the key with my promise to phone in my details – something which would never transpire in America. After successfully navigating the left-side driving challenge I felt further buoyed in my I-can-do-anything mode, and promptly executed a rainy ride/run brick workout. Then it was time for MJ and me to retreat to our pre-race massage appointments, followed by shopping for dinner. Now, with a full belly, a relaxed body and a vastly encouraged spirit, I’m simply kicking back until bedtime – and another glorious long sleep – arrives.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Swimming 140.6?

At the Koala Hospital

Waking from a 20-hour nap.

Lunch time!

If the torrential rains continue, it may just come to swimming 140.6! It has been dumping down rain since we arrived in Port Macquarie, mixed with howling winds for good measure. Thank goodness the swim course is in a fairly protected river, because the ocean swell is something to behold! MJ was quite amused when I asked whether this was monsoon season in Australia.

There have been breaks in the storm, and during those times I’ve had a chance to view the incredible beauty of this area. It reminds me of a mix of three places I absolutely love: Hawaii, Idaho and the Big Sur coast. It’s truly stunning and the views on the bike course will do wonders to tamper the frustration of the rain, if it does remain.

One very sad note from our crew: Mike has determined that his injury will prevent him from racing, so he’s returning home today. We’ll certainly miss him, but there’s no doubt he’s made the right decision – and there will be many more successful race days in his future once he’s properly healed.

We had the pleasure of visiting the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie yesterday, where we saw a handful of little cuties being nursed back to health from various injuries and illnesses. The animals wind up in the hospital for a variety of reasons and the volunteer caregivers do everything possible to rehab them for release back to the wild.

I’ll have more to report about the Koala Hospital and other features of the town of Port Macquarie in an upcoming article in Triathlete’s print magazine. I’ll also be blogging more throughout race week - but now it’s time to prep for one more training ride. Wish me luck and dry skies!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

No Turning Back

A much better way to say "exit."

Mike in a happy travel haze.

Girls giddy from travel.

HPP & MJ - mmmm, meat pies!

Watch for roos!

5:00 am OZ time and I can’t stay in bed any longer. I am, however, feeling much more rested after a rock-solid sleep following the long day of travel. The flight over was reasonably comfortable, plus I had a chance to catch up with friends Tim and Nicole DeBoom en route. Tim looks phenomenally fit and I’m guessing he’ll have a brilliant race. Nicole is bubbly and kind as ever, and will accompany me later this week to the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie to check out one of the unique local attractions. She’ll also serve as cheerleader extraordinaire for all of us, and her smile will be a welcome sight during the race.

Once in Sydney I connected with MJ, HPP and Mike and spent several hours lugging bags about, sampling yummy food and drink (the airport food is actually good here!) and waiting for our next flight. The tiny plane that took us onward to Port Mac was miraculously able to fit all of our bikes, so sighs of relief were widespread. I was seated in back next to the uber-sweet Chrissie Wellington, so we had a fun chat and I enjoyed getting to know her a bit more. She and MJ met for the first time in the boarding area, and immediately gave each other a warm hug – which I thought was particularly classy and a genuine representation of the soul behind our sport.

Immediately upon exiting the rental car lot (and no, I was not driving, but rather slightly panicking at being on the “wrong” side of the road) I saw my first kangaroo crossing sign. No sight of an actual kanga yet, but I’m keeping my eyes peeled.

Once “home” to our apartment at the Flynns Beach Resort, we went to work taking care of the bare necessities. The guys built up all the bikes (thanks guys!) while MJ and I went shopping for supplies. We also searched in vain for a bike shop that was open on Sunday afternoon, since all four of us neglected to pack a pump. MJ and I drove around town asking anyone we could find for a shop; one gentleman was particularly kind and gave us detailed directions – only problem was that he heard my American “bike shop” as “bait shop” and therefore exuberantly described the best place in town to purchase fish. We didn’t bother correcting him; as MJ put it, he was extremely helpful, just not terribly useful.

Rather than ride on soft tires, we all headed out for a short shake-off-the-travel run. I have to say I’ve never in my life felt worse running. I mean it was pure hell. Immediately my lungs started burning and I was wheezing as though in the grips of an asthma attack. That passed after about five minutes, and after I slowed to a barely moving jog. MJ and HPP trotted on ahead, and poor Mike turned back after just a few steps. He’s dealing with an undetermined injury which hopefully is only a shin splint and won’t prevent him from racing – but his first attempt to run in over a week proved quite discouraging.

I ran (if you can call it that) for 30 minutes, losing confidence with every step. I felt heavy, bloated, sluggish and sore (my Achilles has been nagging me for some time, and it was particularly irritated yesterday). I didn’t expect to feel great, following on the heels of international travel, but I certainly didn’t expect to feel that awful. But on the bright side, it can truly only get better from here!

The rest of the evening was spent in a groggy haze. MJ and I cooked dinner and everyone tried to stay awake long enough to synch into a normal routine, but I was the first to climb into bed at 8:00pm. I feel much improved this morning, and imagine that after our morning swim, afternoon ride and one more thick night’s sleep I’ll be perfectly adjusted to the Aussie clock, and my fitness and confidence will emerge from hiding.

Did I mention that it’s raining? Dumping, pouring rain in fact. The 10-day forecast looks pretty gloomy, and we can only hope that the storms pass prior to Sunday. But ultimately, whatever the day brings, we’ll all be out in it together. What will be, will be!