COVID-19, WHERE DOES IT LEAVE AGE GROUP ENDURANCE ATHLETES?

Over the past week/s we have really started to see and feel the real impact of the Coronavirus in Australia. We first started witnessing it in the supermarkets with many staple items becoming low or out of stock. Something that many of us jeered at when people first started to stockpile (in particular toilet paper!) but now is a real concern for many, including the vulnerable and the elderly.

And now this week the Australian Federal and State Governments have directed that all non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people be suspended from tomorrow along with recommending social distancing. Schools, may be closed for extended periods of time, gyms and play centres could close. Some may not even survive just as we have already seen in the hospitality industry. This is unprecedented and will probably not be seen again in our lifetime. The Government and Health Authorities action is to reduce the SPEED of the spread and the impact that it has – not just on the health of individuals, but on the economy as a whole.

Sporting events are now being impacted too. This week alone we saw the NBA put a hold on their season, the Formula 1 cancel the Australian GrandPrix, and closer to home for us as endurance athletes, Run for the Kids, and the remaining races of the local 2XU Triathlon Series have already been cancelled. Ironman also sent out an email whereby CEO Andrew Messick said:
We expect that there are going to be substantial and widespread event postponements in the coming weeks and months.”  This comes on the back of Ironman already postponing 70.3 events in both Greece and Puerto Rico.

Given the Australian Governments action to date, and the advice coming from the World Health Organisation, there is a real possibility (and reality) that some – if not the majority of endurance races and events in the coming months to be cancelled / postponed.

SO – if this does happen, where does that leave age group endurance athletes? What does that mean for the remainder of the season ?
(NOTE: I haven’t even touched on the impact this has on professional athletes who rely on races / racing for their lively-hood, or the impact on the broader triathlon / endurance community)

Some athletes are already feeling a little ‘lost’ – their A race/s taken away from them, their season abruptly cut short and so now even after just a couple of days are already feeling a little ‘lost’ or unmotivated. And that’s not to mention those athletes who seasons are still up in the air, with uncertainty on whether their upcoming races are even going to go ahead (ie Ironman Port Macquarie and Cairns and Challenge Shepparton to name a few) I see the same / similar feelings emerge after an athlete finishes an A race, a big goal or at the end of a season. When all an athletes training and focus was on one (or more) targeted race/s and the sudden loss / end of of the main purpose on what fueled their daily training has now been and gone – OR taken away in the scenario we are now finding ourselves in.

So – the question is, what now? Where do we go from here? How do we come back from this?

Adjust your training
Firstly, you will need to adjust your training to reflect the changes in your race plans – whether the change was in your control or not, you can control how you react. Remember – you want to be peaking for your races, not for races that are now not to be. So this may mean heading into your recovery phase OR starting / continuing your base preparation phase instead of continuing your current race / competition phase.

Firstly – recovery at the end a season or major race is extremely important and can look and feel different for every athlete but generally should include a reduced load, focus and / or structure. Sessions during this time should be light, with a focus on active recovery, refreshing the body and the mind. Even if you didn’t get to finish off your race season, it is still super important to include this phase in your season. So don’t skip it..

If you have already served out a recovery period after your last A race and feel refreshed, ready and motivated, then get stuck into your base preparation phase. This phase aims to develop your base endurance while developing and correcting technique and refining your skills – it underpins your whole season. So great news is, you now have extra time to spend in their all important training phase!

So if your race season has been shortened, then now is the perfect time you should either kick start your post season recovery or dive straight into your base preparation training phase. This is the PERFECT time to get a head start on both!

If your races are still uncertain….
If you have a race in the next couple of months that have yet to announce a cancellation or postponement, then continue your training / build as normal. It’s all systems go. What may adjust ever so slightly though is the underlying factor and that base endurance is key, and reducing intensity if needed. This can help ensure that your immunity isn’t compromised too much in a time when the virus is at it’s peak, along with continuing to work on the foundations of endurance sport – aerobic strength and conditioning. So work with your coach, ensure you continue towards your goal, and cross the bridge of any announcements when they come to light.

Review your season
Just like at the end of any season or major race of your season, it’s the perfect time to sit down and review your goals for the past / current season. So now is your chance to sit down with your coach and evaluate your year / season. This is important to make certain of your continual development and progression and ensure your next season is even better than the last ! Again, don’t skip this part of your season..

Shift the goal posts
Just because your race day may be shifted, it doesn’t mean your goal has to. You can still have that goal of your first triathlon, your first Ironman, you can still go in search for your next PB, of qualifying for a World Championship – these goals don’t need to change. They can still happen AND if you think about it, may even come about bigger and better than you had planned. Giving yourself more time and more space to really hone in on your goals through further progression in your underlying base endurance, technique and mastering the skills of triathlon / endurance sports.
So even though the race may not happen when you planned, your goal can and still will be achieved regardless of when.

Stay healthy
During a health crisis such as we are experiencing, it is important that we keep ourselves fit and healthy so that if we do get the virus, our immune systems are in a good position to fit it off quickly and/or lesson its impact. So ensure you are doing all the right things such as good wholesome nutrition, sleep and recovery, maintaining our hygiene and exercising (read training).

In saying all of that, we should all be following the advice of the Department of Human Services – Victorian Chief Health Officer, so if you feel unwell, or if you have been in close vicinity of someone who has the virus, you should isolate yourself until you are all clear. More info is available here.

Remind yourself of WHY you train
Of course having races and goals to train towards are a big part of that, BUT remember the underlying factors of WHY you love to train and the value it adds to your life and how it makes you feel. There are so many benefits to training, including the feeling of being fit and healthy, the social interaction, the sense of accomplishment… the list is endless. Enjoying the process of training and learning provides so much more. It’s not just about crossing that finishing line, collecting a medal and posting it on facebook / instagram! 😉

So don’t use the Coronavirus as an excuse to drop the ball on your training, health or fitness. See it as an opportunity for extra time to improve your strengths, work on your weaknesses, hone those skills that need extra refinement and become even stronger and more robust than before – so when we do race again – you will be your strongest and fittest yet!

Ultimately – the decision is yours…




The added challenges of racing as a triathlete MUM

My return to long course racing…..

I haven’t written a racing blog in a LONG time, so what better time to write one given it’s been a LONG time between races !

It’s been 3 years, and 2 babies since my last long course race. My youngest is nearly 10months old already. Wowee that time has flown, yet at the same time, pre kids seems like a distant memory. I guess now having two little ones keeping us occupied, plus working / running my own biz as well as back into full training – there really isn’t much time to just ‘sit and reflect’. 😉 So much has changed in the past 3 years though and it’s hard to even compare my life now to what it was like 3 years ago. But as all mums / parents would say – we wouldn’t change it for the world!

So making the decision to return to long course racing as a mum of a 2 year old and a 9mth old wasn’t taken with a grain of salt. I knew I wanted to, and my main driver was when I heard the 70.3 world champs were going to be in New Zealand. I have always wanted to visit NZ, and we would have loved to have gone for our honeymoon last year but I was 6mths pregnant at the time so we decided we’d go another time when we could really explore and experience what NZ has to offer. SO what better way as two outdoor loving people to go and race there at the same time! (well hopefully anyway!) So the idea was born to work on qualifying for the Half Ironman World Championships.

This racing blog I’d thought I’d write a little differently though – because, well why not! Instead of writing a normal race blog on how my race panned out, how I felt, where I could have done better… I wanted to share the added challenges of getting to the start line, and racing as a triathlete MUM. Of course there are challenges being a triathlete dad also, but this is my experience as the main care giver at home and there are definitely additional challenges faced being a female.

So whether you are a mum yourself or not, I hope this can give you a little insight into what it takes to get to the start (and finish line) as a triathlete mum and an overview of how my return to racing went.

(you can also read my previous blog ‘The juggle (and real life struggle) of a working triathlete mum’ which covers some of my training and home dynamics.

The added challenges…..

Lack of sleep / broken sleep
This one is REAL. And for anyone who has ever suffered from sleep issues, I FEEL your pain! Sleep is when our body goes to work in repairing and rejuvenating itself. So when sleep is disrupted for what ever reason – and not just the quantity but more importantly the quality, then your recovery is going to be impaired. This is something that really has to be considered in the training of athletes – and in particular mums who have to wake (or are woken) over night.

From the period of 6 – 8 months old, Edie woke just about every night. Sometimes 2-3 times in the night. So for a good 8 weeks solid, I did not have a full nights sleep. I wasn’t getting to bed until around 10/10.30 and waking 5am to train, which is only 6.5-7hours of sleep regardless, but throw in a few wakes during that time and all of a sudden i’m only getting 5-6hours of UNBROKEN sleep. I definitely felt this at the time and I had to modify my training accordingly. I couldn’t do any hard / quality training sessions in the morning, and even in the day/evening I had to be mindful of doing any back to back intensity days knowing that my recovery was going to be impaired. So this limited my training during the week some what. But despite this, I still felt I was able to make the most of the time and energy I had at the time and stayed super consistent and healthy – which was going to get me better results than a few days of hard training, then resulting in having to have a few days off as a result OR getting sick or injured. Next race hopefully I won’t have to contend with this and I’m happy to say that Edie is back sleeping full nights and so am I ! 😉

Balancing training with family life
There is a quote that I remember seeing on social media a little while ago – ‘You have as many hours in a day as Beyonce’ Implying that we should all be able to do as much / be as much as Beyonce’ . Yes – it’s true that everyone has the same 24hrs in a day, but we don’t all have the same help and support. I don’t know any working age group triathlete mums who have a personal chef, a personal trainer, a stylist, makeup artist, a manager…… so go easy on yourself. And remember, you can do ANYTHING you want, just not EVERYTHING. And it is your choice on what you choose to do with your time. If you choose more family time over training time, then go you. If you choose more training time over family time. Then go you too. Just don’t go comparing yourself and your situation to anyone elses. It will serve you no purpose.

For me, gone are the days when I’d happily train all weekend. Before kids, I would happily start training at 6am in the morn and not get home until after lunch and never thought anything of it. But when you have 2 young children at home (one still breast fed) then this wasn’t an option for me, nor did I actually want to. PLUS hubby is a cyclist and trains too, so we had to make compromises on the times we trained, when and for how long.

Did this impact my race? I’d say it probably did to an extent. I certainly wouldn’t have trained the same quality or quantity that some of my fellow competitors would have, but would I change it? Nope. As for now, finding a balance between training enough and still spending quality time with my family was important to me so I am happy to make that compromise for the sake of a slightly faster race time. 🙂

Body changes
A couple of weeks before the race and I actually started to not only feel ‘race fit’ but I felt I looked race fit too. So I decided to try on my race kits from 3 years ago. ‘There’s no way I can wear that!‘ I thought as I glared at the image in front of me in the mirror. In that moment, all I could see were the little things that others would not notice, but through my own eyes was simply seeing what I thought were flaws.
My stomach was firm, but it didn’t quite have the ‘abs’ that it used to have. My butt was strong, yet had this little sag I could’t remember having pre children. My boobs were lopped sided, thanks to two fussy children who only liked one side…
So as I stood there in front of the mirror, being overly critical of myself I suddenly thought of my daughter. As women, we are far too critical of ourselves. We put ourselves down. We wish we could be better, smaller, firmer, stronger, leaner, taller….
And it was that thought that brought me back to reality and instead of being self critical and pointing out any perceived ‘flaws’, I started to be grateful and thanking my body instead;

So I thanked it for two healthy pregnancies.
I thanked my stomach for growing two beautiful children.
I thanked my boobs for being capable of feeding two vulnerable babies.
I thanked my butt for giving me strength on the bike and run.
I thanked my body for staying strong when I felt weak, for being the vessel to my soul and for being exactly who and what it is.
I thanked it for allowing me to continue to train and do what I love.

This was a reminder to me that our bodies are far more on the inside than what they just look like on the outside.

These thoughts didn’t effect my race at all, but I wanted to include this. As our bodies do change post pregnancy. Some more than others. So I implore women to try and not to compare themselves to their pre baby body, simply to appreciate your body for what it is and remember how incredible they really are.

Hormonal changes
The female body is INCREDIBLE. Just in case you didn’t know already. 😉 The changes it goes through to grow another little human inside of it still blows my mind. There are so many hormonal changes that happen in a females body during pregnancy to prepare the body for child birth, and even more changes postpartum (post birth) that it’s hard to even get your head around! I feel blessed that my body managed well with these changes and settled back into routine within about 5 months post birth. BUT it’s certainly not fool proof just yet. I track my ‘cycle’ on an app and by it’s calculations I wasn’t due for my period (yes guys I just said period) 😉 for another 2 weeks. But low and behold, I go for a pit stop at the race venue before heading into transition and HELLO female hormones! Argh! I had not prepared for this! Luckily I was there with another female athlete who helped a sister out. (thanks chick!) Otherwise I was going to have to make a quick dash to the medical tent. Lesson learnt – always come prepared, just in case!

Did it impact my race? Possibly. But I don’t feel like it did on the day. But it did weigh on the back of my mind throughout the race. At another race at a different time of the month and it certainly can though. So again, for female athletes this is something that should be discussed with your coach when you are talking about your training and racing planning.

The logistics
Preparation for a race doesn’t just come in the form of training, it comes in the form of logistics. Long gone are the days when you can simply plan, book and organise a race without thinking about others. Given this race was going to be interstate, and I was going to be away for 5 days, this meant even more planning and organising. Hubby had to work the weekend of the race so he wasn’t going to be coming. (and let’s be honest, Penrith isn’t really an exciting holiday destination anyway) 😉 But given I was going to be heading up solo, kids couldn’t come up with me, so the process started in working out where they would be, who would be able to help look after them, what time Hubby could have off work, and then there was the issue of my youngest still being breastfed – being strong-willed (read stubborn) means she refuses a bottle!

So my race planning and logistics included not only myself but my family and the worry of ‘will they be ok without me?!’ (of course they would be but why is it that as mothers we always worry they won’t be?!) Thankfully we have fabulous family who were able to step in and help out Hubby while I was away. And no, my youngest didn’t take a bottle for the 5 days while I was away (bless her stubbornness!) And yes I had to express while I was away – including getting up at 3:15am race morning to do so !

Did this impact my race. No, not at all, but it does make it even more satisfying to reach the finish line knowing what you have had to organise behind the scenes to make it there. 🙂

Making comparisons
As mothers we are told not to compare our children to other children. That every baby develops differently, in their own time and in their own way. Yet as mothers we still find it hard not to compare. I already see myself doing it with #2 child and comparing her to #1. By 9 mths Mr Mills was already well on his way to crawling. Yet at nearly 10mths Miss Edie hasn’t shown much interest at all and will happily sit and play all day long without going anywhere. I found myself going back into my development books to see what I had done ‘wrong’. Had I not given her enough tummy time? Has she had less attention due to being #2? Other mothers told me the second learns so much faster so why hadn’t she?

But then I reminded myself what I was doing. I was trying to compare two totally different individuals. Comparing one child to another – what purpose did that serve? Will it make her crawl faster? No. Will it instead create self doubt in myself as a mother? Yes.

The worst thing one can do is compare – as all that does is create uncertainty, self doubt, a feeling of ‘I am doing this right?‘ ‘Am I doing enough?’ ‘Should I be doing more?’ Instead of trusting in yourself and in the process of development – in this case, the development of our children, but putting it into context of athletes, in the development of their training and putting trust in the process.

So when I was planning out this race, I made sure I didn’t get caught up in comparing my previous training or racing to that of my current training and racing. A lot has happened in 3 years since I last raced, and my body has gone through an incredible experience – not once but twice! So I wanted this to be it’s own unique journey. Of course I knew what my previous training looked like and I previously trained A LOT more than what I did for this prep, but I was ok with that. I was ok swimming twice a week, not 3 or 4 like I used to. I was ok doing the majority of my bike training on the trainer. I was ok missing a session here or there if needed to for my family, or for my health. This was a totally different journey that my body was going on, so it served no purpose to compare.

Someone messaged me post race – congrats on your race, a PB post pregnancy!! And I smiled. I loved that. 🙂

Avoiding (unsuccessfully) bugs and germs
If you have children you will understand the struggle! And this one was the biggest one that impacted me on race day, and my biggest take away from the race. Heading into the race I was feeling amazing, everything had gone to plan, everything was organised, I was feeling strong and ready both physically and mentally and I couldn’t wait to head to Sydney.

That was until Tuesday of race week things started to unravel slightly. I started to feel nauseous that evening and all of a sudden I had the urge to rush to the bathroom. Gargh! I had picked up some kind of gastro bug! Bad timing! Ironically a day before competing in the Melbourne Half Marathon I caught the same / similar thing and it impacted that race. But I thought to myself, I’ve been here before and it only lasted a couple of days. I still had 4 days until race day, I should be fine! Little did I know how stubborn this bug was going to be! (and I laughed later as I thought I must have caught it from my youngest given how stubborn she is!) 😉

So from there I did everything I could to get rid of this thing that was turning my stomach inside out and causing everything to go straight through me like an open sieve! (too much information?!) 😉 As race day got closer, I actually started to get a little concerned. I wondered if I was going to be able to make it through the race without needed to stop at every port-a-loo on course. Would there even be enough port-a-loo’s out there for me?! I had pictures in my mind that no one would want to see! Plus I knew my energy levels were declining every day. Any food I ate – which was minimal, was heading straight out the other end, and dehydration was a real concern especially going into a race where it was going to be warm. I can’t believe a gastro bug was going to derail my whole race prep !

A last ditch attempt the afternoon before the race I headed to a local chemist again to see if here was anything else I could take that would stem the ‘flow’! lol ‘You really should be going to a doctor’. The pharmacist warned me. I know. I know. But that won’t help my race tomorrow I pleaded with him. ‘Take 2 of these tablets every 3-4hours, if this doesn’t stop it nothing will’. The pharmacist assured me when he grabbed a packet from behind his counter. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you! I said. And a little hope was restored that I would at least get through the race without needed a toilet stop.

Race morning and I woke early. And immediately I knew I was in trouble when I had to jump out of bed and head straight to the bathroom. Not once. Not twice. But 6 times before I left for the race…. This wasn’t looking good! I was aslso slightly concerned about the toilet lines I was going to be confronted with at the venue and working out what story i’d have to tell the ladies in front of me as I rushed in. God help me.

So I guess you want to know if I survived the race? THANKFULLY I did. I got through nearly 5 hours of not needing to visit a port-a-loo and that was the most satisfying thing ever!! haha.

Did this impact my race though? Yes, I believe quite significantly. I went into the race under nourished and dehydrated and my energy levels were way down. At the start of the race I didn’t notice it at all, but as I had experienced the same thing prior to the Melbourne Half Marathon, I knew it was in the back half of the race that it was going to come and bite me in the bum (literally and figuratively). I knew it was going to be hard to manage my nutrition and my energy levels and I had to adjust my race accordingly. And it hit me at around the 60km mark on the bike. Up until then I felt strong and in control, but around 60km I could start to feel the energy wane, like you get that sugar low if you haven’t had enough nutrition. There was nothing I could do other than to drop my intensity and slow my speed down to counteract it. It took probably the next 15-20km at a lower intensity and continuing to drip feed myself with nutrition to balance this back out again and finish off the bike feeling ok. Not great. But ok.

Onto the run and I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold the pace / intensity that I wanted to. If I tried I knew it would end in disaster. So as I started out I did some calculations in my head and decided on settling into around 5km/pace (by goal was originally 4:40-4:45’s). I felt at this pace my energy levels were conserved enough that I could still finish the race consistently. And I did. And I was super proud of that. As I felt in control for the whole run AND didn’t need a toilet stop once ! ! ! Winning!

Lesson learnt: I’ve joked that I will be putting myself into quarantine before my next race. And that I might just have to ! (sorry family!)


Western Sydney 70.3 Results
Goal Time: 4:45-4:50
Actual Time: 4:58:50

View full results from the race here.

Apart from my goal time for the race, my main goal was firstly just getting back out there and racing and feeling good doing so. Despite the issue with the gastro bug leading in, I felt I executed my race day well, adjusting it through the day as I needed. And this is what I try and teach my athletes to do. It is all good and well to have a well laid out race and nutrition plan, but you need to be able to be flexible with it. If not, things can go pear shaped quickly. If I hadn’t have adjusted my intensity on the bike, my whole race could have finished off completely differently – and not in a good way! So I’m super happy with how I executed my race and I gave it 100% of what I had on that day – and that’s all that anyone can ask for.
I did also have the goal of qualifying for the 70.3 World Championships – which I missed out my one spot, so although disappointing, I had anticipated this as a possibility so had already got my next races lined up. So here’s to a HEALTHY race prep into next race! 🙂

Big thank you’s
Go out to firstly my family – Hubby Aaron especially for supporting me on my journey back to racing. He is the most amazing support person there is and couldn’t have got to the fitness levels I did without his support.

Jano and his team at Giant South Yarra. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Jano for the majority of my racing ‘career’ now and I can’t thank him enough for his support. To head my return to racing on the fastest TT bike I have ever ridden – the LIV AVOW Advanced Pro 1 gives you that added confidence on the bike. And man does it ride like a dream! Seriously you can’t get better value for money in a bike than a LIV / GIANT. So thank you again Jano, one less thing for me to worry about when out there racing!

Jamie Edwards and his support with his coaching JET Coaching. As a fellow coach with similar principles and philosophies, we bounce ideas off each other, support each other at races and he’s been helping me in the pool with my swim. So thanks Jamie, nothing like learning and supporting other coaches for the benefit of the triathlon community and athletes as a whole and has definitely helped me personally as an athlete too.

My athletes – for being amazing yourselves! As well as being supportive in your own ways of my journey alongside your own. I have my own internal drivers for why I love to race and part of that is because of my athletes. It is important to me as a coach to be able to race and continue to share my experiences with my athletes so thanks to each of you for sharing the journey with me as coach and as athlete.

Bucket list race: Escape from Alcatraz

Words: Athlete Ollie McNulty

Like most of us triathletes, I watched the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon and decided this was one for the bucket list! It was a few more years before I decided to have a go and entered the lottery. When I got the email to say I had a slot my first reaction was excitement. The second one was “Oh shit how will I get through that swim!!” (if you haven’t heard about it watch here)

The Race. The Escape from Alcatraz is not a standard triathlon. It is unique with a few new challenges I have not experienced anywhere else before. A 2.5 km swim in the cold waters of San Francisco Bay. Jumping in from a ferry off the shore of Alcatraz Island. (This was pretty cool – literally and figuratively! ) 😉 An amazing but tough 32 km cycle with plenty of hills and climbs. Followed by a 12.5km run with again plenty of hills, soft sand and the sand steps – all keep you honest!

Preparation. I live and train in Deniliquin – country New South Wales. We have a 50m pool which only opens between November through to March, so makes swim training over winter very tough. You either have to travel an hour to a near by town, or you can brace The Edward River, which is ok if you like the cold! To make it even more challenging to train for this race, we don’t have hills to speak of to train on. So sitting down with Coach Sarah to map out a plan we had to be creative!

I did the training that I could and braved the 11 C Edward River. ZWIFT is great and I managed to at least pretend I was cycling up hills. I don’t run to much so continued to shuffle around the bush her in Deniliquin. When possible, I travelled to Melbourne to get some additional sessions in. All in all I was proud of my efforts leading into the race. I could have always done more, but with a demanding and high stress job, we simply worked with what we had and did what we could, and I was content with that.

Pre Race. I arrived in San Francisco on the Wednesday before the race. First thing Thursday morning I collected my hire bike and went for a spin to get used to it. I had a good look around the city and again stressed a little (a lot) when I realised how small Alcatraz Island looked – so far away from the shore! And how steep some of the hills were – no amount of zwifting compared to these! (If you know San Francisco you will know what i’m talking about!)

The race and preparation of the race from the event organisers is fantastic. You get weekly updates giving you advice about the race which I found highly valuable. They tell you what to expect and how to help prepare, but coming from Deniliquin it was still a bit of a shock. Registration the day before is well coordinated but dragged a bit as they send you from one tent to the next to get all your information, forms, bags, drop off gear. We had an unusually warm day with a lot of people scrambling for shade and water.

Race Day. We had a 4am start to get to transition, as all athletes had to be on shuttle busses to the ferry by 6am . I was glad of the extra time as firstly our taxi driver was given the wrong destination and decided to take us to transition via the airport! (stress that wasn’t needed pre race!) Thankfully he was not to fussed about speed limits. I got to transition at 5am to find my back-wheel flat. Thankfully Coach Sarah and I had previously gone over a pre race mental check list with we went through scenarios of when things go wrong – so mentally I was able to work through this easier and not get too stressed. The bike mechanic on hand was great as my bike had tubeless tyres. Whilst I was a little stressed it stopped me thinking of the swim and made the shuttle with plenty of time to spare.

The journey out on the boat was an amazing atmosphere. So much nervous energy with 2500 packed athletes of all shapes and sizes. I was delighted to meet Jorge a Californian also had thought ahead and had a little extra ‘padding’ like me to accommodate the cold swim. 😉 Everyone like in all races was so positive and so encouraging as we got to the start line. They played the national anthem and then it was go time. We queued and with lots of encouragement we jumped! What a moment!

Once I got in and tried to settle into a steady stroke I was delighted to realise that my time in the Edward River was well spent. San Francisco bay was much warmer and with my extra buoyancy I felt good! I misjudged the current and after 50 minutes I managed to make the shore 400-500m downstream of the exit point. Just what I love an extra run across soft sand! It felt great and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the swim – which is the leg I worry about the most.

Out on the bike. The first 3km are flat and then you hit the hills. They were a lot steeper, longer and tougher than I expected. But I loved every second and managed to pass people going up the hills as well as going back down. Some of the roads were rough but we were well briefed about what to expect. When you are going 8km/hr uphill that does not really matter!! haha.

When I got to transition I knew I had pushed a bit hard and enjoyed the cycle to much. SO at this point, I was not looking forward to the run. The first 3km was flat so I settled into a slow steady shuffle. When I hit the hills there are a lot of narrow tracks, so it was easy to stop and walk as I didn’t want to try and push past people!! My legs were stuffed, and I had not prepared at all for a course like this – pretty hard living in flat country NSW. When you hit the beach and the soft sand it was so somewhat reassuring to see how much we were all suffering and all the support from other competitors and volunteers. Heading back in the sand steps are tough I was so glad to have the rope along the side to help pull yourself up the hill. When I reached the top, I felt faint and walked the next km. I hadn’t come this far to end up passing out and not finish!

With 4km to go the downhill section started to the finish line. I managed to get back into a steady shuffle and continued my way. Like all these races the thrill of finishing, crossing that line and getting that medal make all the training, the self doubt and the hurt all worthwhile!

In summary. This is a tough race. I loved it and would look to go again. The organisation was fantastic and as in every race the volunteers are amazing and looked after us extremely well on the course. Its so good to be able to say I Escaped ! !

IN FOCUS: Ironman Cairns

CPC: Firstly congratulations, Caroline Houston YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!! How does it feel? 

CAROLINE:
Coming down that chute I was so stoked – I forgot to do anything coming over the line, so no special pics there !

I am happy with how I stuck to what I needed to do to prepare, which I don’t think was very sociable sometimes, and gave me some hard decisions, but it really gave me confidence (once I got out there) that I was fully prepared. But I seriously did not believe that until I was on the course, prior to that I was sick with worry (and still not very sociable!)
CPC: It’s a tough game this Ironman business that’s for sure and can bring out deep rooted insecurities and fears. But… for now, let’s take a few steps back, you started your coaching / training with CPC mid 2018 ahead of your preparation for the Standard Distance worlds. You were really looking forward to the experience, but unfortunately race day you had an unfortunate accident and crashed – but even that couldn’t stop you finishing! It did however stop you in your tracks for your attempt at Busselton 2019 with a shoulder injury. Talk us through that.

CAROLINE: 
Yes, I was happy to finally be on a supported track as I had wafted around trying to do a ‘self program’ & was getting very dissatisfied with lack of progress/direction.

Worlds:  lesson here,
1) this was the only corner I didn’t recon thoroughly prior to racing,
2) plus, I went into it too hard as I was trying to make up ground, braked hard (right hand corner & I am worse that side) & the wheel went from underneath me. I knew I had done damage – I got up & yelled at this guy not to touch me (otherwise I would be disqualified) & he said he was an official, so it was OK but as I could move my arm I figured nothing broken and I should just finish. From here, I then worked out I had no lower gears, only big chain ring and I was a bit concerned with a short sharp hill on 2nd lap, also, being on the drops was a bit painful. Then both running in with the bike and the pull on my shoulder was painful on the run, I was always going to finish (this is the Worlds!) , just maybe not in good shape.

CPC: so post race you actually had to have shoulder surgery, spent approx. 8 weeks off training (incl. 4 weeks in a sling) and 14 weeks out of the pool, but worked diligently on your rehab. How hard was it though coming back to full health after your surgery? How did your coach and physio / medical team help you work through that process?

CAROLINE:
This phase was a very controlled & prescribed section. I was on the bike (WT & Indoor classes) as early as possible (in a sling) as I figured I could monopolise on that period to build up my bike strength. Injuries can be an opportunity!

Honestly, my physio & coach worked hand in hand to both strengthen & control me through this phase (which was quite long). One thing I found was, I needed to communicate avidly  to both of those experts in order to get the best outcome. No comment from me – no comment from them , because there were no details – absolutely, categorically, tell them the smallest changes / concerns (eg. something going on in this calf – which turns out to be a stress on the perineal, easily fixed by some rehab) So having a team around ou is super important and helped me get to the start line of my Ironman that’s for you – I could not have done it without them.

CPC: when did it get to that moment in your training when you thought ‘yes I can really do this’! (Ironman) ? 

CAROLINE: I am forever mindful that it’s a huge ask of the body, and, there are so many things that can get in the way/go wrong. When I reached the taper period I added up the training & prep and thought I should be able to do this, and the confidence in my preparation grew, so I was OK to put myself out there, but I think it was only when I was out on the course & gauging how I was feeling, that I actually finally allowed myself to truly believe. 

CPC: Once you landed in Cairns / Port Douglas and checked out the course, what went through your mind? And how did you manage any self doubt that started to creep in on race week?

CAROLINE: Hah ! Thanks to Geoff for getting me in the water at Palm Cove at least 3 times. The more we went in the water, the more comfortable I felt, but I was mindful that I am not strong in the water and if these were race day conditions, I was not likely to make the cutoff and was not sure how I would manage that heartbreak. But for me, it was about being as prepared as possible to help allieviate those doubts, and that included putting myself in situations and exposing myself to conditions I didn’t feel super comfortable about, because you can get anything come race day.

CPC: Despite that, conditions on race day turned out not too bad, soooo, talk us through your race? We want to know how it unfolded! How were the nerves on race morning? What did you find the toughest? How did you keep focused? 

CAROLINE:
I knew I would be almost unable to talk on race morning & we had made the decision to take the buses so I was not having an apoplexy about being late – good move. Checked the bike, heard the usual explosion of a tyre in transition and glad it wasn’t me ! Frantically looked for Sharon starting in the 70.3 and off she went effortlessly into the froth.

Swim: I had been nervous all week and on the morning, luckily for me the water was calmer. So, I figured I had a chance. I was with my friend Michelle (7 time Ironwoman) going into the water, and she was boldly pushing us forward. Once out there, I think I could even see her in the water near me – good news, I was not completely at the back!  Reaching the yellow buoy I knew this was about ¼ of the way but couldn’t see Michelle & figured she was way ahead, it didn’t feel as strong a current against us as it had on the leadup days, but I was getting nowhere fast. So much so, I checked my watch at the 2nd pink buoy (hoping it was 50 mins, but it was actually more like 60 ). Trying not to feel deflated I plodded on hoping for a bit of current to bring me in. For a while there I looked around & figured that the circling rubber duckies meant that I was the last one out there, couldn’t see anyone either. I got into a bit of rhythm & thought maybe I would try breathing on the left as on my right it was very sunny plus into the chop. Turns out that was a bad move, I became a bit dizzy doing that, and went back to 1in4 on the right. Bit tricky spotting the last buoys as the swell seemed bigger in the last few hundred metres. BUT all in all, I got through for me – what is the toughest leg.

Bike: running (trotting) out of transition after my complete wardrobe change, I was hanging onto all the food I had in my back pockets – reckon I could have fed a few of us ! (I watched a video of me getting on my bike – it’s hilarious, it’s as if I am in slo-mo!)

I spent a lot of time thinking about Sarah’s advice to always be pedalling – make the most of the downhills, so we could hit that 27kph average. I was a bit nervous going hard down hills and concentrated to stay alert, and thanks to Geoff for painstaking going over every metre of the bike course (in the car) prior, to be as best prepared as possible – pot holes, wind etc. The scenery was amazing, and, when you are ‘up the back’ there’s quite a bit of open road with not too many athletes so plenty of space to view.

I had slightly misjudged the last 30k’s by not having enough personal landmarks to help me ‘clock’ where I was, so the last part of the ride was a bit of a slog, especially as my expectations of times kept slipping past, and, by this time, me & the saddle were not friends. So I was happy to pass the bike onto volunteers and start to tackle the last leg.

Run:  What a relief to get here with no mechanicals & in one piece !  I set out with a renewed energy but brought myself straight back to sticking to the plan and not going out too hard – a long way to go yet. I was at first very deflated as the pace is very slow but I knew I had to do it to get there, also, some ‘empty gut’ issues were starting and I didn’t want to suffer from that again so started sucking on Clif Bloks as a way to get at least something in. I spent a lot of time thinking about the course and how many k’s I was at as I couldn’t really see my watch, and, I don’t think I had turned it on properly as it kept beeping at me. Once 1.5 laps in, I was a bit more settled and just stuck to the pace, sucked on a bit of water melon and the Blocks & it was starting to go OK, I just wanted to finish ! With 2k’s to go I decided to go as fast as I was capable of at that point & storm home. Stoked coming down the chute!  What a wave of emotions!

CPC: Hearing an athletes race story always gives me goosebumbs!  For most athletes doing their first Ironman (well technically your second after the shortened Busso in 2017), I try not to focus too much on the time outcome, but more the experience and having a consistent and well-rounded race. How do you feel you went in this regard? 

CAROLINE: I was certainly so much better prepared for this race than Busso, I had really put in the training, to achieve realistic goals. I was thinking about it when I was on the bike, I felt confident that I had the prep behind me for all disciplines.

CPC: and the bonus – you nailed the race and came away with not only a fantastic experience, but a race result that reflected all you hard work – PLUS A PODIUM FINISH! Full results here

CPC: So  what would you say is a highlight (or highlights!) is/are from your Ironman experience? What will stay with you forever? 

CAROLINE:
My strength at the end – I had energy left for the last 2 kms and I pushed hard to the finish & enjoyed the finishing chute experience ! It really was a little surreal, and awesome, and hard, and incredible all in one!

CPC: any wise words for other mature athletes thinking of taking on the goal of Ironman later in life? 

CAROLINE: 
Don’t think of the end-game if you have a big goal in mind. Break it down, with your coach, and it is all achievable. Be patient and it is possible 😊

CPC: Wise words!
I always finish with this question…. so – what’s next for Caroline Houston? Would there be another Ironman on the cards one day?…. 😁

CAROLINE: 
Oh wow – right now, I feel like all the stars were aligned for me, I did the best I could do on the day, I had all the training under the belt, plus, the weather was good to us, so if I went in search of a better performance time wise I could be in for a tough challenge.  Not sure I need to go there again, I need to sit back for a while, I might do shorter racing for the time being – I just don’t want to assume shorter = easier, because it is not!

CPC: anything else you would like to add / people to thank? 

CAROLINE:
Gosh, this was a team effort !  A huge thanks to this team 😊

Coach Sarah: honest & upfront, & able to gauge me as an individual to probe questions and help me through with a ‘fitted’  program

Hubby Geoff: for putting up with me hardly being around, being with me in the open water no matter how slow I was

Friend & training partner Sharon: constant encouragement, great friend & being that arse for me to chase (she’s a very good rider)

Friend & S&C Coach Kerryn: constant support, strength training & sounding board to unload to

Steve: physio from Lakeside Sports Medicine Centre, who helped me set my expectations, & used needles & painful massage to keep me on track. 🙂

My employer, Mondelez: for being flexible with my hours

IN FOCUS: Nailing your first Ironman!

When an athlete comes to you with the goal of tackling their first Ironman, you know you are in for exciting and rewarding ride. Every race, no matter the distance and no matter the goal are as important as the next, but there is just something about Ironman / endurance racing. Something that lights a fire deep in your belly (of coach and athlete!), it creates a higher learning, a commitment to the work load, a dedication above what an athlete often believes is even possible until they actually complete it.

As a Coach you really start to get a deep understanding of your athlete. Conversations form around family and how important they are to the journey, the significance of such a race, the impact it has emotionally and what is required to undertake such a feat.  And always along the way for the athlete, its about learning. What makes them tick, what their default is when the going gets tough, what they revert to and think about over long lonely rides….

The Ironman journey is far more than swim bike run, it’s a journey that takes on a life of its own, and when an athlete goes through an Ironman journey, they come out the other side not only a stronger and more resilient athlete, but  more appreciative of the human body, understanding of the importance of mindset, of recovery, of becoming in tune with their own physical, emotional and spiritual self. Ironman is not just a race….

Some will never understand why others choose to put their body through such grueling and time consuming training “Why would anyone want to do that?Why put yourself through the hours of training? Why choose to sacrifice sleep or nights out in favour of the lure of a race? Why? No one can ever really answer those questions apart from athletes themselves. Everyone has their own reasons…

So we sat down with athlete Scott Salmon who recently completed his first Ironman at Ironman Australia – Port Macquarie. We find out what his experience was like, what kept him pushing, what he found the toughest, and how he crossed the finishing line feeling like a ‘million bucks’!

CPC: Firstly congratulations, Scott Salmon YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!! How does it feel?

SCOTT: The Ironman race experience was absolutely amazing! Definitely up there with the other highlights of my life. It was far more than I could have ever imagined.  I hope this is not arrogance but I feel more like a sense of accomplishment than being proud. Maybe they are the same…..?…. Either way, I could not be any happier!

CPC: Gives me goosebumps just thinking about it! Now let’s take a few steps back, you came across Coach Sarah & CPC after reading one of her articles in Aus Tri Mag. You had been doing some of your own training, and training alongside members in your local club, so what made you want to look at adding a coach to your arsenal?

SCOTT: The desire to learn more about being a competitive triathlete and making the finish line of an Ironman. I didn’t think I could do it justice on my own, so when I read an article Sarah wrote about Ironman racing, her words really resonated with me so I got in touch. And as they say ‘the rest is history’. 🙂 

CPC: You had what I would call a pretty perfect Ironman race lead in. You nailed your sessions, listened and learned, stayed healthy and injury free. What do you think were the key aspects in your build for an Ironman that helped you train while staying injury free, healthy and happy?

SCOTT: The whole holistic approach of my coach Sarah, learning, trusting and putting things into practise. As well as my Wife/nutritionist for supporting me. A few key things that I started implementing that were instrumental was mindfulness – nearly daily, allowing time post session to rest and recover and not just rushing off to whatever is next, along with prioritising sleep.  Oh and listening not only to the Coach, but to my body – as Sarah would say, each of us know our own bodies better than anyone else, so really looking and listening for cues if something isn’t right or doesn’t feel right, and having a Coach can then help you break that down and action whatever is needed.

CPC: When did it get to that moment in your training when you thought ‘yes I can really do this’! (Ironman) ?

SCOTT: A third of the way through my IM training block I felt I could finish an IM , but it wasn’t until about halfway into the run leg on race day that I was confident I could race an IM. SO as long as you have a goal and be prepared for the  commitment and the work, trust that the process will get you there.

CPC: Soooo, talk us through your race? We want to know how it unfolded! How were the nerves? What did you find the toughest? How did you keep focused?

SCOTT: I found I was relatively calm leading up to the start, we were so blessed with ideal conditions, so that definitely helped. But as I said above, I was confident I could finish with the training, with the race plan and the tools in my toolkit, so I was confident on the start line – albeit a little nervous.

The swim leg went really well , I felt my strength was my controlled pacing for my relevant swim fitness. Exiting the water was my first experience of crowd support and wow what a picked me up!

The bike was a great time to reflect on my IM journey with a few moments of tears and joy along the way. I had a feeling towards the turn around point of the first lap that I might of went out a bit hard, but I settled into the rest of the race really well.

The highlight of the bike ride was climbing Matthew Flinders hill the first time, riding through a fantastic crowd of friends and spectators was surreal which I can only imagine what the pro cyclists feel climbing the Pyrenees in the tour! Making my way back into town for the end of the first lap was also another highlight with acknowledgement from the Race commentator towards me personally with reference also to our Maitland Tri Club really hit home of the importance of community. With that lift I started heading back out for another lap and my mental energy was very high which made the trip south seem quicker than the first time.

After the turn around it was back into being in and out of the saddle which I found was a blessing for my backside. Coming into the section of the race which was flat, I found myself concentrating and reassessing to stay focused. Coach Sarah gave me lots of tools for this, so I started concentrating more on form, breathing and positive thoughts. It worked a treat , as for the first time along the flats no one passed me (LOL) maybe they were tired.

Back into the outskirts of town and the thought of climbing the Matthew Flinders Hill again felt daunting and it was. A fitting moment towards the end of the bike leg was to ride down the main street (draft legal of course) with a true legend of the IM circuit and our club Sensei Pete Hodgson. (Maitland Tri Club)

Setting out on the run and the hardest thing was to slow down to a Marathon sustainable pace. Coach Sarah warned me of this, so I was diligent. Further in and the mind starts to want to take control and once again from the things I learnt from the coach about feeding off the crowd,  acknowledging volunteers, soaking up the atmosphere and trusting in my training really helped me to stay focused on the present moment. I was expecting the run to get tough though and it did. But the support I received from my fellow club persons young and old and the desire to finish so I could see my family was a very determining factor with staying focused and positive towards the back end of the race.

CPC: for most athletes doing their first Ironman, I try not to focus too much on the time outcome, but more the experience and having a consistent and well rounded race. How do you feel you went in this regard?

SCOTT: I’m hesitant to say without sounding cocky, but  I think I had the perfect race. Everything went exceptionally well, right down to (with your help Sarah) nailing the key points like nutrition, having no equipment troubles and no injury’s. So in regards to reflect on how I felt when i finished, I felt like a million bucks!

CPC: and the bonus – you nailed the race and came away with not only a fantastic experience, but a race result that reflected all you hard work. Awesome work!

Swim: 1:01.13
Bike: 5:57.26
Run: 4:08.40
Overall: 11:16.58

Check out full race results online:  Ironman – IRONMAN Australia

CPC: And what would you say is a highlight/s from your Ironman experience? What will stay with you forever?

SCOTT: Most definitely the community spirit within Triathlon at a local and national level. The unselfishness and kind acts of the volunteers sharing their time for my enjoyment too. And mostly sharing all the emotions at the finish line with my Wife Sharon and Daughter Lauren. That will stay with each of us forever.

CPC: Oh for sure! And do you have any wise words for other athletes thinking of taking on the goal of Ironman later in life? 

SCOTT: Like everyone with a bit of age on their side, we often reflect on things we have done whilst maturing. These experiences make us who we are, some we are not proud of, but taking on the challenge of the IM has helped me personally draw back on the all my years and filter the experiences to leave the positives and from that I’m confident in saying I am a better person for it.

CPC: Love that – a great way to utilise your life experiences. 🙂
And I always finish with this question…. so – what’s next for Scott Salmon? Would there be another Ironman on the cards one day maybe?…. 😁

SCOTT: I would love to keep learning about the sport under the guidance of Sarah at Complete Per4mance Coaching as well as staying involved with the Maitland Triathlon Club community which my family and I feel apart of and is something I hope does not end soon. Knowing that gang  I’m certain I will be attending or competing with them on that first Sunday in May at Port Macquarie Ironman……

CPC: anything else you would like to add / people to thank?

SCOTT: My wife Sharon who keeps me grounded and is by far my number one supporter.

Coach Sarah  for her above and beyond commitment to all her athletes and preparing this old bloke to a high level of fitness to take on an endurance event.

Pete Hodgson for inspiring me with the love and dedication he has for Triathlon and the whole City of Maitland.

And for everyone else who I trained with and competed against to learn the skills especially, Aaron Hughes an honest true friend.

CPC: So honest, humble and a true gentleman, truly deserved Scott, well done again!