“The Come Back Train” has arrived at the station!

On Sunday, I completed Busselton 70.3, possibly the most eventful Triathlon I’ve ever come across as a coach and athlete. From shark sightings, to cancelled swims, kangaroos knocking an athlete of their bike, to bush fires shortening the IM course and mega heats of ~34 degrees.

The mixed feelings and emotions in the air were palatable. While many athletes had some heart breaking and challenging days – I am feeling very fortunate to have come away with my finishers medal and to finally say my come back “tour” of the past 3 years has come to a close!

I crossed the line at Busso 70.3 yesterday – and it was a culmination of 3 years hard work and diligence of building myself back up from burn out, hormone imbalance, poor gut health, poor recovery and injury.
Most of the hard work lies in pulling my ego in check. Allowing weight gain, loss of performance and stepping away from racing. I’m a competitive spirit, and at times I lost a sense of identity without competition in my life. But it was 100% what I needed to put a mega fire in my belly that will continue to burn for years, even now with 12 years of Triathlon under my belt.

So here is how my day went down…

One of the greatest benefits of working on fat adaptation as an athlete is not having to worry about pre race breakfast! I never stomached it well anyway. So I started my day off with a Bulletproof coffee, that was all I needed 🙂
As a coach, racing on the same day as athletes, or on an IM day is certainly challenging, and had me a little torn mentally. I have chosen in the past to purposely not race when my athlete key races are, but I made an exception for this race. I’m certainly glad I did, but I won’t make the decision lightly if I complete a 70.3 on the day of an IM again if I have athletes racing.

Pre-Race.

The morning prep went well, we set up transition with my new bike in tow – more about that last min decision later – we did some mobility, and put wetsuits on.
I jumped in for a warm up swim and made my first error for the day (bound to happen). I had put coconut oil on as anti chafe. Which was on my fingers – which then transferred to my goggles lenses. As I was in my wetsuit and we were about to start, I didn’t have anything to wipe them with. I just had to be okay with swimming slightly blind and fogged! I was the lucky winner of an Xterra wetsuit at the Women For Tri Breakfast – one of the many “cardinal rules” I broke during this race in regards to “nothing new on race day”. I think because I had relinquished so many elements of control for this race (unlike me) I was able to roll with the punches like a champ. Racing in a wetsuit I had worn once, for 20min was something I would NEVER do, nor recommend to my athletes! (I had however ripped a big hole in my wetsuit the day prior so this was the best option). I went in with some swim time goal expectations, I haven’t done lots of swim training, however it is my strength of the 3 disciplines, and felt I could achieve a time of 36-38min. In peak condition I would aim for 31-33min. As you will learn through this blog, putting my ego aside for this race was my greatest challenge.

 

The Swim

We started the swim, self seeded according to pace, a rolling start. This was my first rolling start experience – oh my! So cruisey and relaxed. What a dream. So here I am, relaxed, very happy drafting off one of my athletes, when I hear about 50 whistles start to blow. Life savers were ushering all of us out of the water – telling us to swim towards the jetty.

Shark sighting.
Awesome.

The chopper circled above and it was very evident this shark was close by. Somehow, I didn’t get flustered or worried. There were bunches of people treading water waiting to get up the ladder – but everyone seemed quite calm (on the outside anyway). Once we on the jetty everyone was very confused about what next. Some people started running for transition. And others were saying race organisers were going to have us start the swim again. I stayed on the jetty to find my husband (with no luck) – who went off in the first pace group so had covered a lot more ground. While waiting – I saw what all the fuss was about. “Yep – that’s a shark fin – about 300m off shore.”

Good call Ironman.

I was hopeful they would track the shark and he would make his way back out to sea and the Ironman athletes would be clear for their start an hour later. Unfortunately that was not the case, and the IM swim was cancelled too.

What followed was a ~40min wait on the beach as each of the 70.3 athletes were let through to T1, 2 athletes at a time. To say the vibe was weird, is an understatement.
As a strong swimmer, I was certainly devastated not to swim. But I didn’t get flustered or worried about it. I kept my watch on so I knew how far behind my race nutrition plan would be and what I needed to bring forward.
Then as I ran through to T1, it was the most relaxed and cruisey vibe I had ever experienced. Which I LOVED!

 

The Bike Leg.

What came next was my next blunder for the day. My bike mount skills are usually on point, no matter how long it has been between races, it’s not something I need to practise. Well, when you buy a new bike on a Thursday before a race. It’s something you should practise! I got the slight wobbles with a flying bike mount, mainly because I was trying to make way through the mount line traffic jam. I gave spectators something to “oooooooo” about – and managed to right myself. Phew, close call.

My bike plan was to ride to wattage of ~120, and heart rate of ~165 bpm – resulting in a bike time of 3:05 -3:08 in an ideal scenario. But I was also realistic and had my plan B of under 3:15.

How did I establish this plan?

In training I’ve conducted FTP test (Functional Threshold Power) and from that I work out a suitable intensity to race at. For a half Ironman, recommended intensity depends on experience and running ability. My intensity factor (IF) was planned for a 82-85% (.82 – .85).
Further to that, I completed an MET (Metabolic Efficiency Test) to determine my bodies ability to access fat for fuel at intensity, and how many grams of carbohydrates I burn at a given heart rate. This helped formulate my race nutrition and heart rate strategy.
I discussed this in further detail in this blog.

Here comes the next example of why I recommend “nothing new on race day”. With my new bike being somewhat exceptional, I put my power metre peddles on Friday for my first ride. (I can’t believe it either!) I noticed almost straight away that my power output was very different. It was higher, and my heart rate was lower. Obviously a good thing, meaning I was able to express more efficiency on this bike. But it meant that my power / wattage race pace plan went out the window. That data was now obsolete. But I remained confident in my plan utilising cadence, speed and heart rate as other metrics to ensure I ticked the “process” goals along the way.

I enjoyed the ride from the first km through to the 90th km. I was AMAZED, I was able to ride this new bike, in only a tri kit on a saddle I had ridden once, without issues or pain. (Again – seriously – who am I?). I have a bit of chafe, but I only felt it post race and could also be from the run. My pacing was spot on, here is the data excerpt: 

Now, I should point out. This didn’t “just happen”. I fought for this result. I stayed immensely focused the entire 3hours and 6mins. I focused on my deep belly breaths, my peddle stroke and my posture. I could have easily relaxed a little or eased off a little – my brain and legs certainly wanted me to. I was comfortably uncomfortable in my effort. and when it got tough, my trusty mantra from back in the day slipped back to the forefront of my find “I am Strong, Fit, Powerful”.

My power output was sitting 20 watts higher than the plan, particularly into the wind. So that certainly confirmed the old numbers were obsolete.
From there, I just took note of average power each 10km “lap” and used that as my metric to stay focused on. I noticed my heart rate was 5beats higher than I had planned (or wanted it to be).

Because the race excitement / nerves had not been released out in the swim, I noticed riders were really going for it initially, I had to calm myself down and talk myself into letting people pass by, knowing that if I stuck to my plan, it would come back to me later on.
At this point I made a mental note that my fuelling plan would need to be adjusted slightly. I knew that the amount of carbohydrates I burn per hour at 165 bpm vs ~170 bpm was quite different.

This meant I would need to eat my words. I am constantly telling athletes during their pre race planning chats “I don’t care how much you don’t feel like your fuel, because it’s hot or ‘xyz’ – you will need to force it in and suck it up”. I disliked my own advice.

This CHO plan was much higher than I would normally plan for. This was based on my lack of current fitness, comparative to my previous athletic ability, knowing my heart rate would be higher. But also being early in the summer season, I wouldn’t be well heat adapted – which puts the heart rate up higher. Forecast was 34 deg. It definitely hit 34 degrees.

I don’t quite remember when it started, but out of nowhere I started regurgitating my fuel. It wasn’t pretty, but the chicks drafting off the back weren’t there for much longer!
It’s a common story I’ve heard from athelte’s at Busselton. Some speculation to the country water perhaps? Whatever the case, fuel was constantly sitting at the back of my throat threatening to make it’s way back out.

I thought back to a friends first IM at Melbourne. Where she vomitted, violently, the ENTIRE 180km and still ran an exceptional marathon. It was that memory that kept me going, I didn’t worry about the vomitting, and kept force fuelling, which I hated but knew it’s what I had to do.
Because after all, If I didn’t do it, how on earth would me athletes ever listen to me? 😛

It didn’t get worse, and it wasn’t a huge amount so I knew I’d be okay.
In the end the result was;


*I spent 61min above my cross over point of 173 bpm increasing CHO needs by 15-20g.

The main difference being additional sodium, electrolytes and a sprinkle of additional CHO for the higher heart rate & delayed start. I also knew that if my heart rate was higher on the bike than planned, the same would be true for the run. So it was important to “back fill” in prep for the run.

I fought hard in the last 20km to bring my average pace bang onto my goal of 29 kph, and a 3:06. A tail wind made it a fun ride home. I think I was doing a little dance in my saddle at this point. There was some out loud talking to myself of “you are actually doing this” – “you are nailing it.” “See, you DID surprise yourself.”

My dismount was much more eloquent than my mount, thank goodness.

The Run. The Great Unknown (for me).

Here was the plan;
A: Be able to run 10km, non stop, niggle free, under a 173 bpm.**
B: Be able to run 7km, non stop, niggle free, under a 173 bpm.**
Thereafter the plan was to switch to a jog/walk strategy of 9min jog, 1min walk. I’ve used this effectively many times before, for myself and with athletes.

**173 is my “Cross Over Point” – where I burn more carbohydrates than fats for fuel.

Even though the plan was in place, the likelihood of having to power walk the 21.1km or DNF was a reality. The story behind why, is a long one, and actually relates to the new bike story. So that’s for another day.

With the minimal run training behind me, (this is a strategy to avoid previous injury issues) my success on the run was going to come down to how bad I wanted it mentally. And to trust my cross training in the gym, bike and hiking to transfer across.

To say I impressed myself is an understatement. My form felt good, I was feeling better than any of my training ROB’s. Unlike on the bike, I avoid looking at my pace out of ‘fear’ that I will see some uber slower figures than I would like. That just didn’t happen.
I consistently sat around 6:30 -6:40 for the first 10km and refused to walk even though I REALLY wanted too. I had 2 x brisk walks of about 15 seconds through aid stations to make sure I got enough water and ICE.

At 10.5 km I gave myself a walk break of about 30seconds. Then I was off again. I was going along quite well, so pushed through to 12km before needing to take extended walk breaks.
Now, when I opt for this strategy, I am still powering through, my posture is tall and it’s a BRISK walk. It makes the transition back to running much easier.

I stuck to nutrition plan even though I still felt ill and there were mini vomits and big burps.
I noticed I was dumping a lot more salt than I am used too (white patches on my suit and legs). So I increased my planned intake of Salt Stix Chewables as a precaution.

At about 12km the knee pain started. It didn’t take hold and I was able to keep my form, focus on toe off, glut activation and hip clearance. At 15km a blister shot an EPIC sharp pain up my foot.
(oh, did I mentioned I also wore brand new socks?!) Again, needed to make sure my gait wasn’t affected which would then make my knee feel worse. Ironically, the knee giving me grief was my “good” knee.

Spectators and volunteers were giving me a lot of energy and cheers as I seemed to be “flying” in comparison to the number of walkers /shufflers around me. It was 34 degree’s and it was a tough day for all involved. There was one move I made that I feel saved my run. After I had finished the Vfuel in a small flask that planned for lap 1, I had planned on disposing at our club tent. But I hung on to it.

At each aid station, I grabbed a cup of ice – put the ice in my flask which gave me cold water through to each aid station and made the world of difference. My cooling strategy also involves pouring water on my head and down my back. Then I also chew on ice. I also store some ice for later down my crop top to chew between aid stations. But mostly, I don’t get caught up in my head about the heat. I don’t give it my attention or worry. This makes the greatest difference.

But by 18km I was in a fair amount of pain and my form was impacted (check out finishing video here – Katee finishing) By then, my mental toughness was in top gear and I wasn’t going to give in.
I kept fighting, I recalled all my reasons “WHY’. At times I had to stop myself from thinking about some of them to hold back the tears. It’s been a tough 2017 for me. And this race was a celebration of putting that all behind me, showing myself that my strength and courage still exist.

Because the run was so unknown I couldn’t really set a time goal. It was hard, but I had to be okay with the following mental conundrum:
I would run 21km for the first time in 3.5 years which is a massive and fabulous achievement regardless of the time.
I would run my slowest 21km of all time.

I put my lofty A goal out there to run 6:50 pace, which would be a 2:24.
To put some context in place, my previous half marathon times are around 1:47 and HIM run times have been between 1:57 – 2:10 for the majority. Including some damn hilly and hot courses. So as you can see, I had some serious brain re-wiring to do.

My B goal was sub 2:30.

I ended up completing the 21.1km (WIN) in a time of 2:29:24.
Side note: Heart rate goal NOT achieved! 180 bpm average! Ouch.

Run Nutrition Plan vs Actual:
*Not including 3 sips of Coke from 15km onwards.


When I calculate total race ingestion and total time (not including my short swim away from the shark and subsequent wait time) this works out to 42g of CHO per hour.
My average heart rate across both Bike & run was 170 bpm, at this heart rate my actual needs (based on lab testing) are about 28g CHO per hour. In summary, I had enough fuel and this plan worked well for me. I should mention I didn’t have any gastrointestinal upset – thank you Vfuel!

To Wrap Up

I deserved this achievement on a mental level, I earned it. On a physiological level, I didn’t do the training required for an exceptional performance, but my expectations of the race where built abound this and I am still very proud. Proud because I had plenty of reasons to give up this year, but I pushed through and I made it to the start line, which was my main goal.

What’s Next You Ask?
I’m not a fan of this question so soon after a race but what I can tell you is, this is just the beginning. To have finally achieved a HIM without major niggles/ injuries and execute a well thought out plan, lays a very good foundation for the season. Knowing what I achieved on Sunday, with a VERY interrupted year, and minimal training – I look forward to seeing what I can do with a substantial training base behind me.
I will continue my strength training and do what works for me, which is low run volume.

 

Thank you to everyone who has been part of this come back journey. I have an incredible team of people behind me. And wouldn’t have made it to the start or finish line without the help of;

Mick Gray: My husband, best friend, occasional coach and #1 support. You picked me up off the floor in moments of despair too many times this year. But your love and dedication never faulted.

Coach Jackie & Kirsty: Without the support of these ladies behind the scenes of Holistic Endurance – I would not have made it to the start line. There simply isn’t enough gratitude for their support.

Greg Dea, Sports Physiotherapist: From the professional development, to the injury management and to then being “the one” to FINALLY find the fault in my old bike that had been leading to majority of my issues – you are exceptional. A big thanks also goes to Greg for the support and improvements he has provided many HE athletes.

The Virtus team: Lachie, Mitch & Cam. For getting me under the bar, lifting heavy stuff so I could feel strong, fit and powerful again. Despite not being able to run for a long period of time.

Ash Law: Myotherapist. Thank you for putting up with my random niggles and being persistent in helping to put the puzzle pieces together.

Brad Atkinson: Sports Chiropractor. For being so invested in me (since 2007!) Being accepting of all the random patterns and niggles my body throws up on a weekly basis and helping me roll with the punches.

My coaching mentors and other health practitioners: Renae Campbell, Bevan Mckinnon, Kate Troup, Steph Lowe and Jennifer Koch.

Vfuel & Tegyn Angel: I am incredibly stoked to have Vfuel as a Holistic Endurance sponsorship partner. To race without gut issues or energy lags is just phenomenal for me. But also for our athletes.

My family. It’s been an incredibly powerful year for our family, with major highs and devastating blows. We are closer and stronger than ever before. When it got tough, I ran for my Mum, who constantly inspires strength in me. I ran for my baby niece Sequoia, all the way over in California. She is shaping up to be a courageous and adventurous tiny human and I want her to look up to her strong “Aunty Katee”.

My athletes, friends & the HE family. For years I’ve coached you guys to exceptional performances and through challenging times. Your achievements have fuelled me along the way while I wasn’t able to race. You gave me that sense of pride and accomplishment while I was unable to compete myself. Thank you for your support pre, during and post race. I also raced for you guys on Sunday. As your leader and inspiration, I was motivated to do you all proud.

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