Nga Milner-Olsen fights through her toughest race yet, hampered by injury, illness and and an immense battle to keep her mindset on track. On 5 March 2016, hundreds of athletes raced in the Taupo Ironman competition, read Nga’s first hand account of the race and how she got through the toughest race of her life.
Where to start, my preparation since September 2015 had been going really well, fitting everything in with work, family and spending time with friends. I was feeling good on all Four Corners of Health – Mindset, Nutrition, Sleep and Physical.
Four weeks before Ironman I was shocked by the news that my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer, she is already a lung cancer survivor which she was diagnosed with 4 years ago and has come out on top, so this was like a nightmare replaying over in my mind. On Thursday the 3rd of March she had an operation to remove her breast and the first thing that came to mind was not to take the start line as it was 2 days before my race. When I spoke to her about that decision she was adamant I go and compete and there was no arguing with her. So I tried to continue as best as I could to keep things together – work, training and family became my only priorities as I didn’t have any energy to fit anything else in.
As the weeks went by and the event neared, my taper phase was good as it helped me to relax but the flip side was I started to get sick, so I boosted up on my Vitamins and Viralex but it just didn’t seem to shift, by this stage I was still focusing on the Four Corners of Health, getting more sleep, eating good nutritious food, sticking to my training plan and working through trying to mentally stay focused on my race which proved to be more difficult than I thought. Now that I’m home I realised that my sickness has stemmed from emotional stress and then on top was the stress of having to race. But all that aside, it was reassuring to have my husband and baby there in days leading up to the race to support me through the process.
I arrived in Taupo on Wednesday, four days before race day, this was perfect we arrived checked into our hotel and then I headed out for my short run with a few race efforts and then shortly after met a friend for a 2km lake swim, it was amazing being out in the lake it just took all that stress away so this was definitely my happy place for the day. That night I was in bed at 8pm in need of some good sleep which was great and with Thursday being a full rest day it was nice to spend time with my family. I headed down to registration when it all started to feel real, great seeing familiar faces, people I’ve trained with throughout the year and did training camps with. The atmosphere was electric and that gave me a boost of energy. Friday we had a short brick session to wake our muscles up and I did this with our Ironmāori Toa whanau which is always a magical feeling being around happy people which kept me in a good mind set.
I woke up quite congested but did a natural nasal rinse and said to myself just take 1 hour at a time and the day will be good, control the controllables, and never give up.
What an exhilarating feeling walking into transitioning with 1500 other athletes from around the world, I was racked up next to 5 males who were really friendly, I headed down to the water with my husband and baby to put on my wetsuit had our Ironmāori karakia, before giving them both a kiss, them wishing me well and then I headed out into the water to warm up.
I seeded myself close to the front treading water for about 5mins, the water was warm and I was feeling relaxed and in a good state to race. The canon went off BOOM! I got off to a good start. There were lots of bodies, arms, legs all over the place but I stayed strong and held my line. It took a while for the pack to spread out – at one stage I was swimming on the inside of the buoys as we had been pushed out, so I had to make my way back in line, got around to the turn point which was smooth and then the pack spread out and there were only 6 of us swimming together by this stage. Another guy and I swam a good 1500m back to shore, side by side trying to work off each other, I exited the swim looked at the clock and shocked myself I had swam a sub 1hour!!! Swim Time 59.34sec
I ran up the hill to T1 (transition #1) – where I was greeted by friends who helped me do a quick change and then they sent me off on my bike “have a good day mate” they all said. These words were exactly what I needed to start my bike – Thank you.
I headed off on my bike and I had my splits and numbers I planned to stick to. Heading out to Reporoa was good – I stayed controlled and focused and was ahead of my time by 4-5mins so was feeling good. Heading back to Taupo I started feeling ill, headache, upset stomach I didn’t want anything sweet which was tough because I only had bars and electrolytes, luckily I had my salt and electrolyte tablets which I took every hour but that wasn’t enough to keep me going for the entire bike, so I was forcing myself to eat and then it came – I had to throw up, so from that point onwards I didn’t eat any more bars or electrolytes as they made me feel sick. I picked up a bottle of water and a banana which I ate half of and seemed to be ok. I knew that with my fuel being so low on the bike that my run would suffer but I had to stay in the moment and focus on getting through the bike, so I picked up another banana had a bite and tried to drink a lot more water before getting off the bike and I had 10 Salt/electrolyte tablets throughout my ride.
I met my targets on the bike coming in 5mins faster than my goal – Bike Time 5.35.36
Heading in to T2 – again greeted by my friends who did wonders getting me out of there in 1.43sec.
I started my run out to the main road of Taupo and on the very first turnaround point before you head down the main road I felt my right quad tighten. At first I thought cramp, and I kept running and as I got to the 4k mark and I thought this isn’t cramp – I’ve strained my muscle. I was on target with my times for the first hour and then it all started to go a bit pear shaped, I knew my run wasn’t going to be easy because of the lack of fuel I took on board during my bike. I had to deal with the situation and I tried to drink electrolytes at an aide station. As I was running I had to throw up again it was making me feel ill, so stuck to water for the whole first lap and ice which I ate while running – this was fantastic. Halfway round the second lap I drank some coke. This was fine and I didn’t feel sick so I kept drinking it at every other aide station along with ice and water.
This race was one of my toughest challenges to date, physically and mentally.
My run splits were getting slower, I felt as though I was running at my normal pace but when I looked at my watch I was 1 minute off! I was trying to dig deep but by body just wasn’t responding my quad was screaming so I tipped a cup of ice down my shorts to make an ice pack on it and that felt great. I continued this for the whole last lap which was 14km. Heading home on my last lap all our supporters were amazing they were yelling “you’re on your way home Nga!” man oh man I couldn’t be happier to be heading home. This race was one of my toughest challenges to date, physically and mentally. Then I saw my husband on my last 5km he was yelling out and by this stage I was on autopilot one foot in front of the other. Everyone kept saying to me ‘nice smile!’ and I remember seeing a sign that said – if you’re in pain just smile, so all I was thinking when people would say that to me is, ‘keep smiling Nga – this is a good day’.
REACHING THE END
Running down the red carpet to the finish line was magical, this was my second Ironman but I swear this experience was like no other, totally special going through so much leading into the race and then on the day all these bullets kept flying at me, all I could do is think of ticking 1 hour off at a time. I didn’t meet my Run time goal I was 17mins off and slower than last year but happy to achieve my goal of running the whole marathon and running through aide stations Run Time – 3.57.21
All in all I’m really happy to finish 4th in my age group, I have so much respect for all the other athletes out on course from people completing in 8-9hours through to our athletes coming in just in time for the 17th hour – shows great character to be able to become an Ironman. Over all Time – 10.39.15sec.
Ironman 2016 was absolutely magical, I’ve learnt more about myself in the last 4 weeks and will definitely grow from this experience – I would like to thank everyone who supported me through my campaign and to Proactive I always appreciate your ongoing support to get me to the start line in the best shape possible. Looking forward to the next goal.