Jess Douglas

Ironman Western Australia - finding my WHY

06 December 2017

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It has been a damn long time between blog posts.

After a crash I had in the Cloudride with concussion upon hitting a wombat my purpose for doing ‘epic shit’ kind of wavered.  I felt that I may never ride my bike again in anger, my brain felt like it had changed.
So I got stuck into what I knew. Time to rebuild, hop on the indoor trainer, walk my dog, rest, rebuild and see what came of this without focusing on what I could not do.

This was in April. I spent about 12 weeks moving from indoor trainer to actual road rides, to gravel grinds and to some mtb rides. House sitting for Phil Anderson at Grey River on the Great Ocean Rd gave me some solitude and opportunity to ride my bike every single day rain hail or shine and walk the dogs on the beach or up in the hills.  And funnily enough, I now wanted to race again.

I got clearance from the Doc, signed up for 2 club races.
Boom. In a weekend I won 2 road races with some unexpected form. 
That was late July.

Stephane, head coach of Geelong Performance Coaching was there and got in touch with me after that weekend and asked me if I wanted to race Triathlon.
It had always been something I wondered about but never pursued. Swimming and my lack there of was what stopped me.
We caught up that week, and I signed up to what I was not sure, but Steph promised me I could improve my swimming and that the rest would just happen.

With no crazy goals on the horizon for anything other than riding bikes there was nothing that was scaring me in my life.  It occurred to me that this was my chance to tick the Ironman Triathlon box.

I signed up for the IM Western Australia in Busselton on December 3rd. 

Shit was real now.

My first swim session was on July 27th and I remember being sore and so very exhausted at doing about 600mts of assorted drills in a 25mt pool. So much to learn, and such little time to do it in.  
But, I knew that each time I swam, each time I watched what proficient swimmers did, each time I listened to feedback on my stroke, or watched a youtube vid on awesome swimmers I gleaned a little more and started to have a visual of what it meant to actually swim well.  

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I also started to include more runs in my life.  I had done the Surf Coast trail marathon in May on 4 weeks training too, so it was just a matter of adding these sessions in amongst my swimming and cycling.  Before long my weeks were busy, I had gear, I had a bike now too, good goggles, a wetsuit even in readiness for open water swims. New shoes and just stuff you don’t even consider like Triathlon Aust membership, fuel belt for running, pool bouy fins paddles & snorkel all for swim aids.

Then the non stop washing and transferring gear from car to house to car to change gear over for tomorrows sessions.

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Then the monster Wednesday sessions which included Mega rides on the TT bike for 100+ km with big time trial sets followed by a run and then an open water swim.

About 10 weeks in I hit the wall. Mentally and physically I was needing a break.
So we agreed to rejig my weeks to accommodate for more solo training and some freedom.
This allowed me to remain focused without losing my passion to make it happen.
I really just needed space, time to breathe, do my washing, have a sleep in, ride with friends for the sake of riding bikes.

With 6 weeks to go I officially cracked the shits. Steph and I chatted about the options and I said I didn't plan on quitting and I was going to see this through albeit with a little less intensity and duration invested.

Right about now I was in full swing with open water swimming, out there at least 3 times a week braving the cold in my wetsuit, feeling breathless with my head under the water. This was my most favourite part of training, who would have thought!  

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I had some great training partners who joined me on occasion but often just did solo. 
Sometimes the water was crystal clear and still, and other times choppy and dark and spooky. 

Open water swimming especially in rough water feels like mountain biking to me, that continual problem solving as you go, with no predictable terrain and the focus becomes meditative.

I had a bit of an injury scare one week too.
A big week on the bike, followed by 2 big days running in one week, and 2 big car drives and 2 days sleeping in a tent not doing my normal stretching caused some very tight hips and a whole lot of pain. I couldn't put pressure on my right side and had to get some serious massage and a few days off any running.
It came good and meant I was onto this weakness from that day onwards.

The biggest run week I had was 70km and it was really enjoyable doing 3 x 16km runs in one weekend.

So why was I really signed up to do this IM gig?
Normally I have a head and heart strong reason but not this time, it was opportunistic, a chance had come my way and I thought “why not?” and now I was deep in it, I may as well finish.

This didn’t worry me but I had a hard time getting all worked up and passionate about it.

In the end I agreed with myself that I would turn up, swim, ride and run and see what it was all about and whatever happened on the day would be my IM experience.
As a consequence my race nerves never surfaced, I was never worried about the big swim or the massive ride or the marathon, it was just going to be the event I would start and finish and live to tell the tale.

A week before the IM in Busselton I completed my first proper triathlon, a 500mt swim, a 20k ride and a 5km run. Short sharp and done and dusted in just over an hour. Fun yes, but just felt like a training session with a bit of purpose. Again not entirely nervous, just stoked to get my first group start in a swim done with arms, legs and aerated water and survive quite nicely.

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Norm came with me to Busso and we were lucky to be offered a place to stay by a mountain bike acquaintance. His parents have a house there with a spare room.  This made life very easy.
I joined the crew for a ride, swim and run and did a few of my own as well.
Ready as ever!  Time to rack bike, time to hand in my transition bags and get my nutrition sorted.

And then it was Sunday…race day!

Up at 4:30am, breakfast and coffee and pre race nervous 1’s & 2’s done, we were at the race start to drop off bottles etc…at 5:45am. Then just after 6am, not long after they had started the 70.3 IM athletes, the race organisers announce that we need to stay put in the bike compound for further announcements. WFT!??!

We all started to talk about sharks and that it probably was and that our swim surely wouldn't be cancelled.  Eventually we were given info about “our safety” and the cancelled swim leg and how they would be running the race now.  Still the “S” word wasn't mentioned but we all knew it. Certainly wasn't sewerage or a seagull plague.

After letting off the elites, we were then set off in 5 second intervals - 2 at a time and the race would truly become an Individual Time Trial with no knowledge of how you would be situated until the very end of the race. Your time would not be recorded until you went over the timing mat to start you.

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I was about 10 minutes after the first lot and behind me was probably another 40 minutes of athletes to be let off.  Poor buggers. What a crap way to start, but hey it was hard for everyone and the event organisers had to consider the safety of 2000 odd athletes.  

Starting my first Ironman with a bike leg and no swim was weird and I just went into auto pilot. Probably went out a little too hot and got a massive 2hr 22min time for the first 90km but by the time I went out again, the legs started cramping and fluid intake was optimum as were gels.
It felt slower, it looked slower, it was slower, but I never gave up coming back to finish off 180km in 4hrs 59mins.  180km went so quick. 

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It wasn't what I call ‘hard’ but it was tough, due to the nature of just you, the road ahead and trying to go as fast as you could to get it done.
The course had nothing to look at and go WOW, check out that or look at where I am! But hey its a 180km Time Trial and I guess I shouldn't expect that, so I focused on cadence, speed, hydration, nutrition and carrots to chase down.

I had no words in my head, no songs, nothing, just that processes of cadence, speed, hydration, nutrition. 5hrs of that.

Finally into the last 10km I picked up the pace with a tail wind and did many big punchy out of the saddle efforts aiming for that sub 5hr bike leg I was keen for.

And now onto the run. It was hot, stinking hot. I had been managing leg cramps for 90km on and off and knew that I had salt encrusted all over me from sweating. I wondered how this would transpire on the marathon.

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Instantly I focused on keeping my spine tall, sucking my belly button in, hips in bum under, elbows back, shoulders relaxed and breathing with a relaxed face. Straight into hydration and boom - cramping in the diaphragm instantly.
On and off pain for the next 8km which meant I had to walk a bit and then run, forcing my brain to hone in on running instead of cramping. 
They eventually went and I was able to sustain forward movement with a couple of ‘crack the shits’ walks for 30 seconds just to shut the brain off from the constant work of forcing myself to run, or shuffle as you may call it.  Every 2km were Aid Stations with water, ice, coke, endura, water, ice in that order, I took everything except Endura pretty much every time. Ice in the bra and down my back, water over my head, water & coke in my mouth. Repeat. I reckon a wasted an extra 15 mins in aid stations over the course of the marathon, slowing my average pace down to 6:09 pace.

Yes it was hot, it was so hot, locals said it it was hot, 200+ racers DNF’ed and many were sick on the side of the road even on the bike leg.

Maybe I didn't need as much hydration but maybe if I didn't I might not have finished?
Either way, I said yes to having water thrown on me and at me and run under every hose that was being sprayed along the way. As a consequence my feet were wet and I knew this was going to cause blisters but I can run on sore feet and did run on sore feet. Blisters are manageable - heat is not so.

The run course was 4 laps and it was kind of nice to watch the ocean on the left hand side but the course was pretty dead flat and required a shit load of many many evenly paced steps on the ground. 
I kept a conversation going which was simply run tall, fall forward and push off, elbows back let them swing freely and add to forward momentum. Oh look, next aid station - yay.

The marathon became a series of messages to my brain to keep going, don't stop, don't quit, don't think of quitting, 42.2km will pass if you just keep moving forward.  And it did. 

Each time we had to go through a finish chute and they gave you a wrist band that was a reminder that you had completed 1, then I was excited, for before long I would collect a 2nd, then a 3rd and then I would be done on my 4th! The smallest thing spurred me on and now I wanted to collect them all.
My marathon time was 30 mins slower than I was hoping and more than anything I would be keen to get better at this.

Norm was there watching me, trying hard to give me something positive but I didn't want anything.
I had to internalise the pain, the heat and the job at hand, I had to let it inside and not fight it and gave it my full attention. 

Norm said I looked emotionless which is pretty much true.  I had a love hate relationship with the pain and had made a decision with myself that I did not want to spend anytime in the recovery tent eating drinking and getting changed but wanted to get straight into the water and cry with relief.  

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That final 2.2km I picked up the pace and did feel like if I was told to do another 42.2km I could. I think the 6 min pace really suited me and got me thinking about finally doing an Ultra marathon in 2018. 
As I got to the final finish chute, and in my head I was sprinting but I think I was really only doing 4:00min pace, as I channeled Usain Bolt into my light feet.

I was done. OMG. I couldn't speak, I was so relieved. Right then I hated it, was so shitty with the IM. I wanted to get out of there and just chalk it up as DONE.

I came 7th in my age group about 30 mins behind the winner. 
It was kind of a relief right then to not qualify for Kona.

I escaped quickly with a cold SOLO in hand and met up with Norm and headed to the beach. Ahhhhhhh…my present to self was finally a reality. 

I stayed in the water for a good half hour before we got some hot chips and a pizza, which I really could only eat half of what I might enjoy normally. We went back to Jill and Tony’s house where I was given a nice deep bath and slept intermittently for 8hrs in the land of leg pain.

The next day Norm and I did some driving down to Augusta and lunched and beached our way back to Busselton. It was nice to take my mind off the race and enjoy being a tourist for a day.  The place was beautiful and we decided we wanted to come back and walk the Cape to Cape trail too.

I went to bed that night still unsure of what the IM experience meant to me and what I would do with this information anyway.

Over the course of today it has become apparent. 

I jumped in the deep end with this 16 week block to IM and now I want to go back and enjoy perfecting and learning the craft of the individual aspects of a triathlon.

Do a few Open Water races, a few trail runs and fun runs and a marathon or two as well as get back into mountain biking and road racing and maybe even a time trial or two. 

Find a few more local triathlons to sign up to and enjoy the learning process.

My daughter pointed out to me that when I become a world champ at 24hr mountain biking it was a process I learnt. I learnt how to race them and how to suffer the best. I learnt over a 3-4 year period by doing other races and pushing my limits and learning the strategy to win.  Back when I completed my first 24hr it was hard to imagine riding through the whole night without stopping and then as I learnt to win, it was about minimising any stopping whatsoever and riding as fast as I could the whole time.

This is a skill I have not yet learnt in triathlon let alone IM distance.

So its back to basics for me and remembering how to embrace the pain, how to enjoy suffering and dig deep when others back off.

I backed off on the weekend, and did not realise it until after my reflection.
I don’t like this fact about myself.

This is my motivation. Not to win, not to qualify for Kona or win my age group.

My motivation is to race as hard as I freaking can and scare shit out of myself with what I am capable of. 
This is why I love to race now. At things that I am good at.
Its about me and my demons and when I am in tune with this I am at my best and I can win. 
I do not possess a natural killer instinct, it comes after I have butted heads with myself and won…thats when warrior Jess comes out to smash more heads.

Today is Tuesday 5th December, 2 days post IM and whilst I know I did not swim, the recovery is certainly better than a 24hr MTB race. I am not hung over, I am not smashed to pieces on every inch of my body. I do not have ‘perma hunger’ and my feet have even recovered today. Quads are a bit sore but totally good for a swim or a bike ride, and have been walking heaps.

An IM hurts, only because you want to make a time cut, to get it done quick, and fast and do a PB.
A 24hr MTB race hurts purely due to the fact you race or ride your bike on bumpy mtb trails for 24hrs and have to stay awake for this time, and keep drinking and eating and staying awake and push through the pain that comes in around 8hrs and know that you are but a 3rd of the way through.  

It is official..the hardest thing I have done to date is win 3 x world and 3 x national 24hr MTB championships..the 2nd hardest thing was the bike packing event this year called Cloudride and the 3rd hardest thing was finish up Sundays 180km bike ride with a stinking hot marathon on bitumen in the afternoon heat!

The rest of the year sees me enjoy a credit card bike packing adventure down the coast, then 2018 starts off with some fun runs and ocean swims, possibly another sprint triathlon, maybe the Geelong 70.3 triathlon, The Otway Odyssey 100km mtb marathon for my 12th time, the Peaks Challenge and then the Indian Pacific Wheel race (a big fat 5000+km Bikepacking race) in mid March. 
I am still not 100% sold on devoting my days to training up for triathlon but like the idea of training for something that just might interest me whether it be a trail run, a mtb race, a marathon, a road race, or even another Ironman! 

No matter what I am enjoying being fit and able for anything, a more well balanced cyclist.

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