Monday, March 9, 2015

Elephant Eating

Tony always said that doing an Ironman is like eating an elephant.  You just take one bite at a time.

Only problem is he never did tell me how to pick a tender or palatable elephant.  The Kellogg's Nutri-Grain New Zealand Ironman 2015 gave me the toughest, most chewy, jaw breaking, bum clenching metaphorical elephant ever tossed into any Ironman event I’ve ever done.  And I’d done 14 of them by now.

All day Saturday I pondered on the difficulties I was having and realised that no matter what this elephant was tossing at me – it was absolutely nothing in comparison to the one he achieved in 2008 when he was post major brain surgeries, in the midst of radiotherapy and chemotherapy and moving each metre forward in the belief that what the surgeons told him had to be correct – that he had only weeks to live.  He chose to do it that way.  By completing the Ironman he had been training for.

I contemplated this thought constantly on Saturday and drew an enormous amount of energy and self determination to just get over my own situation and jolly well keep hanging in there and I knew that he proved, nothing is impossible to the willing mind.  He had a life taking brain tumour but had set his mind on still completing his final Ironman.  I only had dysentery.  How dare I feel sorry for myself.

Tuesday 3 March              
- to Rotorua on way to Taupo Ironman

-       Everything for Saturday’s Ironman packed in vehicle
-       Aware of last year’s problems (one being I had left my bike shorts back in Auckland), this time packed 2 pairs cycle shorts
-       Realised only thing not packed – hair tie!  Must buy one (but never did, forgot).
-       Visited and stayed night with son, his partner & little Anthony in Rotorua
-       Nice way to spend the first day of the Ironman journey
-       All is well

Wednesday 4 March      - head to Taupo
-          Check in to accommodation
-          Unpack vehicle
-          Catch up with Ironman friends, athletes & management
-          View Sports Expo & merchandising
-          Relaxing day
-          All is well

Thursday 5 March  - in Taupo
-          Wake not feeling too well
-          Short swim in lake, short ride on bike – both OK
-     Concerned that need some medical advice
-          Visit local doctors’ medical surgery
-          All up charge $95, ouch
-          All is not well
-          Delivered First Timers seminar
-     Seems I did it well
-     Meanwhile, all of our team have arrived in town
-          All have registered with event organisers
-          Pre-event formal Pasta Dinner & Race briefing.
-          All may soon be well

Friday 6 March  - in Taupo
-          Wake feeling mildly better, meds must be working
-          Pack all race day gear for run, bike, swim
-          Pack some special needs gear
-          All nutritional requirements made & packed or ready for     morning, including all the drink bottles of Horley’s Replace & H20
-      Transport bike, bags & other to race headquarters/transition
-      Return to accommodation for quiet, restful afternoon & evening
-      3pm mild tummy rumble, must be the morning’s muesli working
-      4pm sever tummy rumble, visits to Whare Paku
-      5pm, visits to THAT room are now in 10 minute intervals & wearisome
-      7pm , worn out by Whare Paku visits
-      8pm, seems to be settling
-      8.30 pm, concerned that had not been able to have pre-race dinner yet – and is this going to go away?  I need food in the system as it's all been flushed out.  Is this just a mild food poisoning? And will it pass by morning?
-      8.35pm, try to consume some bland, microwaved pasta
-      9pm, settled – seems pasta must be a good binding remedy
-      10.30 pm – WHAM!!  BIG TIME!
-      10.30 pm – 3.00 am – daren’t move more than 6 metres from THAT little room.
-      10.30 pm – 3.00 am - Feeling very self indulgently sorry for self – was it something I ate?  Couldn’t be, had hardly eaten.

Saturday – Race Day – 7 March  -  Tony’s & my 10 year wedding anniversary – which was a pertinent reason for my deciding to return to Ironman one more time and to ‘knock the bast__d off’ - on this particular day.   For personal emotive rationalisation, it seemed important.

-      Not slept one wink during night as tummy pain & return visits to Ware Paku so frequent.
-      4.05 am, the pre-set alarm rings – ha!  Time to get up.  I'd not got down.
-      4.15 am, begin cooking porridge, maybe the glugginess of the mixture may glue the system up. 
-      4.45 am, another visit to THE room, but less virulent. 
-      4.50 am, now realising situation severe, need for some big decisions.  Body completely devoid of fluids & foods and not functioning well.  Was brain?  Maybe not, as made decision to start event on proviso that will exit event at any time at the slightest urge to seek a loo.  Alternative doesn’t bear thinking about – and wasn’t an alternative.
-      Feel weak.  Feel empty. Feel sorry for self.
-      Had to totally rethink any eating & drinking plan if was going to attempt the day.  Dilute all Horley’s Replace bottle – ditch the Em’s Bars (sorry Em) as far, far too much fibre.  Make a loaf of bread into cheese & marmite sandwiches. Cut into quarters and wrap each quarter segment and figure how was going to stash so many sandwiches in pockets & bike to last the day – if I made the day.
-      Urgently ring son to go collect spare bike shorts and spare run shorts from my gear bag that was elsewhere.
-      Spare bike shorts to be stuffed in bike back pocket in case required on ride – along with spare plastic bags.
-      Spare run shorts put into Run Special Needs, along with more sandwiches
-       Take on board a small amount of porridge – with some diluted Replace in the hope of putting in some nutrition and some replacement electrolytes that would have been drained from body.
-      Son arrives to take me to race start.
-   Support team rush around trying to locate Immodium to help me.
-      First port of call at race check in – a portaloo.
-      Awful but seems to help settle tummy down.
-      On walk from T1 to race start, detoured to roadside loos – damn big queue.  Began to work out the tightening exercises of the sphincter muscles.   Eventually queue shortened.
-      Race start. Most people stand at start seeking the landmarks to sight on for swim – I stood and eyed where I could exit the swim along the lake front should I need to. 

-      Knew this would have to be a very calm, quiet swim on my part – no histrionics or racing the clock on this bad day
-      Amazingly no sudden urges throughout entire swim.
-      Was it the exercising that kept the system tightly held?
-      Exited swim where I was supposed to – at the swim finish, rather than having to exit the entire event somewhere down the lake front.
-   Felt terrible.  Looked terrible.

T1 (Transition 1)  - A very slow, methodical change here – a total re-review of next steps
-      No option but to think slow and methodical. Surprisingly got this far, maybe I can try a little on the bike.
-      Resolved to not be phased if have to pull out of event.
-      Slow exit from transition tent to the portaloos, then the drink and food tables.
-      Methodically water down Replace and sip small amounts, knowing I'll be totally depleted of electrolytes - take note to remember to not eat any foods on offer, but to only consume the myriad of cheese & marmite sandwiches which earlier had been stacked like pyramids under my bike.

Bike, (a very shortened  version of a very long and shitty bike ride)

                          -  Required full concentration on constantly sipping on     minute sips of diluted Replace, then repeated small                                 nibbles of sandwiches.
-       As day wore on the sphincter muscle tightening was becoming more and more difficult to achieve.  But I did have a spare pair of bike shorts in my pocket – so if worse came to worse ….
-       All up – six independent toilet stops at the various aid stations along the course, plus another at the Special Needs station.  Some were longer, duration-wise, due to other competitors daring to occupy portaloos when they were needed.
-       First lap of bike, managed to complete at very slow pace whilst fiercely concentrating on sipping and nipping at food and liquid intake and then seeking out the need portaloo out on course.
-       Second lap of bike – far more difficult.  Due totally to body depleted of nutrition; head wind heading out on the 40 kilometre section to Reporoa did not help the situation.  Oh to have been able to cycle faster.
-   Kept telling myself that the motto I have printed on the back of the bike shirt was what I had to adhere to - that 'Nothing is impossible to the willing mind'.  
-   On this day the body was not willing, but it is amazing what the body can do when the mind is focused.
-   Dare not get off the seat to ride the bike, for fear of what could happen.
-      Cramping, due to loss of electrolytes, badly – and in the weirdest of places – not in the major quad muscles which I had been awaiting.
-      By end of 180 kilometres, knew the body was devoid of any energy.  Had to focus all 2nd lap on ensuring brain was constantly engaged.

Spare pair of bike shorts in back pocket.

Lots of time to ponder why?  Why was I continuing on?  I knew it was a foolhardy thing to do.  But I wanted to give it a chance – give it a shot.  This was my last and no matter if finished or did not finish, it would be my last.  

But on this day, I wanted to actually knock it off entirely.  To never have that loose thread hanging that my last Ironman was a DNF.

The brain was engaged enough to know that ‘what will be will be’.  If it came down to embarrassing self or Ironman event in any medical, or visual way, I would certainly bring the bike to a stop, dismount and seek a return trip via a medical van to Taupo.

-      Got to the bike finish, seizing with cramp and totally knackered.
-      Dismounted from bike and pondered how things stood.
-      Decided that as I was still mentally able to analyse everything, then my brain was still in motion, even though body wasn’t.
-      As soon as in change tent, asked volunteers to go seek a medical doctor.  It seemed to take them some while to realise I was actually wanting a real doctor – not just someone to help me change, or a nurse, but a real, live doctor.  Had to repeat it 3 times that I wanted a "REAL doctor".
-      Whilst doing complete clothing change doctor arrived.  Long discussion explaining to the doctor the situation, what/why/how I was – what/why/how I considered I would at least start the marathon distance.  Was grateful she listened and appreciated that I had sought her out.  And told me there had been a dysentery bug in the community in recent times.
-       Long discussion on how to approach any thought of completing any part of the marathon, let alone all of it.
-      Was hugely appreciative of her consideration and her advice. 
-      To eat little else but potato chips and very diluted Horley’s Replace.
-      Fully expected to have to pull out of marathon course.
-      Had no doubts whatsoever that would do that if I felt my body could move forward no more.
-      Big consideration was now whether I could actually do the distance in the small hours of time left to complete by midnight.

Marathon -    It cannot be called a run.  It was mostly a walk, with a few little jogs in between.

-   the support.  Huge and fantastic.  From old friends who I see once a year at Taupo, to the tri club fellows, to general public, to warriors of locals who sit out each year, to the D-I-Ls, sons/part sons and full time friends.
-      Being able to eat tiny amounts of potato chips without one flash of guilty conscience. 

 -  the stomach gripes, the gaseousness, the nausea, the toilet stops – the sore bottom!.  The wind.  The rain. The dark. 
-      Daring not to pass wind!
-   Not helped by the cads who put those signs out on the roads for us, that read 'Never trust a fart'!
-      The enduring night.
-      The 42 kilometres

Amusement lights
-   having to ask a campervan owner if I could use the loo in her campervan as the toilets were far too far away.  She was very kind.
-      For the Technical Officials benefit – yes I exited and re-entered the course at exactly the same spot. 
-   Those signs again, about never trusting a fart ...  

-   Those supporters – Kerrie, Kathryn, Barb, Shelley, Jane, Peter – and even Pattie & Michael (who had already completed the event) keeping me company in that terrible period of torrential rain, cold and wind at 11.15 pm at night.  You should all have been somewhere warm and dry with a nice wine or hot toddy in hand.
-   Glenn, Peter, Natasha, Fiona - all having had a very long day, still out there.  
-   The team who stayed for me to come in despite their having done the event themselves - Kath, Pip, Doug - and Gaye and Kim.
-      Think I was warmer and more comfortable than any of them.
-   The poor souls who were taken off the course as they would never have made cut off.  
-   The finish line for me was crossed with less than 30 minutes to go.

Meredith Kessler & Terrenzo Bozzone were out there at 11.30 at night, bringing the final ones in - in the cold and pouring rain.

By far a PW (personal worst time). But do I care?  Not in the slightest.  In fact, I feel quite pleased.  I figure I toughed it out this day – and the toughing out had to be for a reason.  In a way I am rather pleased it was the hardest event I have ever done – to finish these last two Ironman events, last year’s and this one, with all the odds against me has given me rather a lift now that I look back on them. 

Tony always told me he considered I had more ‘bottle’ than anyone he knew (bottle, being a Cockney word for toughing it out).  He complimented me on anything and everything I did –and when he did I would take the compliment with good grace but privately remind myself that I knew he looked at me through rose tinted spectacles so I would not become blinded or big headed by his compliments. 

But I did not give him credit.  Because now I finally believe what he always told me – that I’ve got ‘bottle’.  

And I ate the Elephant Tony!  x

Tony doing Ironman in 1993 - in Auckland. Me as support crew. He had bottle.


  1. A true inspiration Verna! Thank you for sharing and putting a lot into perspective.
    This is the personification of 'bottle'

  2. Ive learnt a new word for the potty! Whare paku. Love it. Sheesh, what a day and that was one hell of an elephant, no wonder you needed the whare paku so much! Gutted I wasn't able to be outside post race to support and see you finish, so glad you did finish and no harm from such harsh physical and weather conditions . You're one tough cookie with a lot of bottle. Toughest woman I know!

  3. I knew you were struggling, but had no idea how much. I had blind faith you would see it through. I knew not what I was expecting of you.

  4. Well worth the read, a rarity for me. one day, one week, one lifetime. LOL