After racing the Abu Dhabi World Series race in late March I have been busy training in Wanaka, I also spent a few weeks in Australia to build up for the Gold Coast and then travelled to South Africa for the third round in the world series in Cape Town - here's how it unfolded.
I left NZ 2.5weeks before the Gold Coast race to do a bit of "heat training camp" not just for the GC but for Rio as well. There are a few races in the calendar the year this year that are going to be hot ones and it's important to not only race in the heat and humidity but train there as I know all too well it can impact heavily on your race if it's not accounted for. It was also great to get a little extra stress on my body from the heat in terms of the bigger training effect. The heat has always taken me a while to adjust to and in my training leading into this race I think the heat was really playing a factor noticeable in my paces and times.
The training on the Gold Coast was on the whole pretty good - the swimming is amazing. I'm pretty sure they have more 50m pools on the GC than we have in NZ! Nearly every day I had a lane to myself in a beautiful 50m outdoor pool and along with some good running on the trails not far from where we were staying meant I got some really good sessions in. The biking was good once you got away from the town and traffic lights, however it makes for some extra "chamois time" when you have to add 20 to 30min on to every ride because of all the traffic and lights. Makes you really appreciate the riding in places like Wanaka - out your door and go!
The race itself on the Gold Coast was not far from where we stayed, and I've heard it is going to be the course for the 2018 Commonwealth Games - we could see little signs of the Commonwealth Games popping up everywhere. We swam in the harbour (although I argue it would be much more fun to put the swim on Surfers Paradise beach in the waves!). It was a good course however, with a 1000m lap followed by a 500m lap which is great as it's much nicer to spread the field out a bit more before the sometimes chaotic buoy turns. I really enjoyed it and it was non-wetsuit of course because the water temp was the same as the swimming pools at 27 degrees.
The swim went really well for me, I started on the far right hand side of the pontoon and got some clear water, I knew I was swimming ok in the pool and had a good swim in Abu Dhabi so was keen to have another good crack at it because the swim is so important when getting your race off to a good start - from avoiding the carnage at the buoys and in transition to getting out and into a good group on the bike. I was happy to be sitting comfortably in the front 1-2 people for entire swim and in the first few out of the water.
Onto the bike which was 8 laps of a relatively flat course with a few technical turns and one short hill in it, I was first out onto the bike and had a small group of 4 for the first lap on the bike, the others were of different abilities and the opportunity to get away never really eventuated. Slowly a group of 20 formed at the front and over the course of the race stayed about 45-55 seconds ahead of the main chase pack. Just after the halfway point in the bike 3 people went off the front up the short hill, I was caught near the back when the break happened and by the time I was in a position to do anything they were away off the front (gutted not to be in there) and the gap was too big to bridge across solo and I wasn't about to drag the entire pack up with another kiwi in the breakaway. It certainly makes you sit up and be more attentive about what's going on, but many attempts were made earlier and didn't stick but that's racing ;)!
Onto the run and we had maintained 45 sec on the group behind us I knew my run legs were still not there and the sun at this stage was relentless. I managed the run ok, felt like I was stuck in 4th gear and didn't have the speed that that extra training would give me, I finished 20th and I guess content with another performance which relates to where my current level of training is at - building.
Following the GC race I stayed on as planned for another week, my coach also joined me for the last week as we thought training there would have been easier (and safer) than training in South Africa for a week preparing for the race. I had a couple of easy days but found myself rather fresh so got into it half way through that week.
I think when you end up running at a "steady speed" or not running "fast" the good thing is you don't seem to have the muscle soreness and feel the recovery is much faster. The weather also changed the last week on the Gold Coast and it was considerably cooler (for there!) and I got into some good training sessions and started hitting run times that I was running pre-injury (admittedly with longer rests) but still hitting times with good leg speed. I felt like I was back in the game - finally! Just maybe the next race being a sprint would go a bit more my way...
I went into the race in Cape Town in a really good frame of mind, training had been going well, I knew my swimming and biking was getting close to where it needed to be and I had a couple of good run sessions under my belt I was thinking a top 8 at least was on the cards.
Being a sprint distance race the run was only 5km and having not built back up my run endurance completely yet this would have been a good thing and I should be able to target the lead group on the run. However this is not how it ended up... I found myself lining up to race on 6 nights of really average sleeping (like between 4-5hrs of broken sleep per night waking up for the day at 2.30am!). It was insane, normally I am ok with jetlag 1-2 days are a bit average and the next few you can get some good sleep and recovery in, this was not to be. I tried almost everything under the sun to get a good night's sleep but it was not to be. I think I ended up burning the candle at both ends too much and couldn't get it back. I headed into the race feeling a bit flat but sometimes it doesn't matter you can still get a good race out of it.
I was hoping that when I hit the 15 degree water I would be into it. Of course the swim was a wetsuit-swim and being a sprint race it levels the playing field slightly for some of the weaker swimmers and meant that it was harder to make an impact on the swim. I started right again and ended up getting pushed wide on the first left hand turn which was only 280m from the pontoon trying to stay in clear water. I came out with the main group, further back that I would normally be having to take all the buoys so wide. My place was fine, but it was a bit rough and tumble in amongst them - the swim exit was more like a sheep run to get us onto the back of the truck. We were pretty much standing in a line single file waiting to get up to transition, one girl had fallen over and others were pushing and pulling trying to get past - it was crazy and well not an ideal swim exit as others were catching up from behind and if you were a few seconds back you just joined the queue!
Out onto the bike which was zig-zagged around the harbour and through a running stadium where T2 was and the run started. There was one girl off the front on the bike going solo, however the main group was working ok to pull her back in. I felt ok on the bike, not spectacular but ok so I decided to keep out of trouble on the tight course (that was hard enough!) and see what I had for the run.
I left T2 onto the run and I felt fine for maybe 800m but then I went flat... running at what felt like a slow jog - I felt sapped and had no energy, I couldn't push like you normally have to and was watching people I would normally run with or ahead of run past me. I knew I was tired as my body wasn't responding, so I had to settle to a very average pace which was VERY frustrating after the first signs in training were pointing to running coming back to where I want it to be - I finished 30th and 1min 40 back from the winner. I think on reflection I still need another few weeks building on training sessions on the Gold Coast and I reckon I will be back there (and some sleep!). It has been a long time of "hurrying slowly" coming out of this injury but I am confident it will come - the good news is that my leg was great throughout and felt good after the race so it's game on when I get back to Wanaka.
As for the travel factor I think we have learnt that (as I have done previously) I have always gone to races as late as possible or immediately after the previous race, so in this case I should have left Australia the day after the race (14 days before) or I would normally do fly out on Wednesday or Thursday and then have a couple of days to try find my feet. This way I maximise my training, recovery & sleep (I was in a really good space in Aussie before leaving) by staying in an environment I am familiar with and getting in key training right up to the day I leave, then when I get there a couple of average night's sleep you can deal with but a week of them was obviously too much.
However we thought of trying something different leading into Cape Town because it was a long way away and in total 27hrs of travel (from leaving one hotel to arriving in the new hotel on the other side of the world!) my coach and I discussed it and thought I would try out going earlier. I left on Monday morning and while the flights weren't so bad for some reason I was the most jet lagged I have ever been. I felt OK in training and managed not to get sick (miracle!) despite being rather run down and it obviously was hard for my body and took its toll.
So all in all a learning curve on the travel front, it's always disappointing not to race well especially after nailing a couple of key sessions and left Australia feeling like I had a shot at a top 8 if not better. Time for some more travel anyway - it's Monday and I've started the journey home but won't arrive back into Wanaka until Wednesday! This year seems to be gathering momentum quickly so I am keen to get into some more training and to get my routine back and of course most importantly sleep in my own bed!
Once I get back to Wanaka I will have a couple of weeks there training before I head off to Yokohama in Japan which will be the final race in the "qualification period" luckily the time change is a lot less from NZ. It's not really much time to lift the fitness up but maybe I can fine tune things a bit. From there I will head off to Europe where I will meet my bike sponsor Deda Elementi. I'll have a look at the bike being made for me for the Olympics and I will do an exhibition race when I'm there as solid days training.
Right now though it's time to board and get back to NZ - watch this space!