Nicola Grace has been a beacon of inspiration for us here at Proactive, as she campaigned her way like a pro through her Ironman training. As the 2016 Ironman NZ Tony Jackson Scholarship recipient, she was sponsored by both Ironman and Proactive to complete the race and she has now achieved what a few years ago she would have thought impossible!
For the last 11 months, my life revolved around preparing for Ironman and I was excited as the countdown went from weeks to days. I had two taper weeks and this meant it was time to wind on down and get some rest, rewrite lists, buy the extra tubes, decide on the saddle (ok, this should have been done earlier), and pack the bags to head off to Taupō. This was it. I spent the taper week before Ironman really focused on keeping well and getting sleep. This resulted in feeling great physically and emotionally (besides a small foot problem but at that point I wasn’t dwelling on it). I had my final massage, and physio session with Vijay at Proactive on the Monday, I ticked off my brick on the Wednesday and I was itching to go. My mindset was good.
I arrived in Taupō on the Wednesday, booked into the Hilton for the night (thanks to the Tony Jackson Ironman Scholarship, Kia ora Ironman NZ), and then headed off to meet up with our IronMāori Toa Whānau. I walked into the house and there were people everywhere (what a buzz!). We had mihimihi (welcome) and then some whānau shared why they were doing Ironman and their journey. It was an emotional evening and I thank those for the stories they shared. This was a great start towards reaching our Ironman dream especially knowing that we would be lining up together and that we would never be alone (especially emotionally and spiritually).
Thursday was a ‘rest day’ from training but a very busy day in prep for our big day. We dipped our wetsuits, registered and weighed in. We ate, attended the ‘First Timers workshop’ run by Verna Jackson, which had us in fits of laughter and provided us with last minute tips and advice to calm our nerves. We then attended the ‘Welcome Ceremony’ (think carbo loading overload – the food was yum!). This was followed by the ‘Official Race Briefing’. What a day!
THE EVE OF IRONMAN
Friday arrived and it was beginning to feel a lot more ‘real’. There was no turning back now. Ironman day eve was upon us. The day started with an early morning small brick session – 10mins lake swim, 15mins cycle, 10mins run with our IronMāori Toa whānau. Everyone was in great spirits. After the brick, we had breakfast and while I was supposed to pack I was too excited and spent the morning messaging my mates who were also supposed to be packing (picture kids in a candy store kind of excitement!). We decided we were mucking around and agreed to meet at 11am to rack our bikes and drop our bags off. My mindset was good.
Once my bags and bike were dropped off I left to go to my accommodation to rest. I managed to have a sleep in the afternoon. Our whānau from Wellington started to arrive on Friday evening and I was excited to get a visit from the Edwin whānau (they brought salmon and broccoli with them – score!). I also took up the offer of a quick massage from my masseuse Tashie who had also arrived in Taupō (with a special friend of mine, Anne). My foot was playing up (remember, I wasn’t dwelling on that) but the calf was tight so although I was worried about getting a massage the day before an event I got it done and my leg felt a lot better. After a few hugs from the whānau they left us to eat and rest. My daughter arrived a bit later with her aunty and cousin and after a few more laughs I headed off to bed. It did take me a while to get to sleep but my mindset was good.
My alarm (one of four set – seriously!) went off at 4am. I ate breakfast, messaged my mates to make sure they were awake, had a shower, checked my gears and headed off to the race start (it didn’t go as smoothly as that but there is a word limit to this story so I’ll keep it short). On my way to transition I bumped into my mate who has been with me from the start, Linda Clay. We walked together to transition and I bumped into Maria Walker from Ironman who was such a huge help to me over the past year so I was glad to see her before I started. Once in transition I pumped my tyres with help from another mate Tristine (my pump decided not to work), put my food and drinks on my bike, had photos with my mates and brother and then headed down to the lake. I was feeling good.
Once at the lake our IronMāori Toa whānau had karakia (prayer). This was followed by last minute hugs from our supporters and then we were good to go. At this point, I was amazed at how I felt. I’d spent the year before in tears watching my brother walk into the water for his first Ironman and I thought I would be a complete mess but I was on a high. Yes, I was nervous but it was an excited nervous, not the scared nervous I thought I’d feel. My mindset was good.
THE SWIM 3.8KM
The swim went well. I started by my friends and we were relaxed and talked while waiting for the canon to go off. My goal was to find some feet and hang on to them (draft) for as long as I could and I managed to do this for a while. The conditions were great and the swim was pretty uneventful. I thought it would take me 1:30 and I came in at 1:28:43 so I was happy with that. I got out and ran up towards the transition thinking ‘that was good fun’.
T1 – transition from swim to bike.
I got my bag (the volunteers were amazing) and ran into the tent. I was lucky enough to have three friends in there helping out so they got my wetsuit off and sent me on my way.
The plan for the cycle was to cruise up to the race course to get my rhythm and then keep it steady for the first three 45km sections and then pick it up for the final 45kms. I wanted to keep at an ‘8/10 effort’ to make sure I didn’t use all my energy up on the bike and then have nothing on the run. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the first 130km’s. I was riding thinking ‘this is cool’ – I hadn’t expected to feel that during any part of the day. I did feel the pinch between the 130km-150km mark but felt better when I knew I only had 30kms to go and energy came from somewhere – maybe from the coke?! My nutrition plan was going well. I thought I would ride between 7-7.30hrs and I came in at 7:08:07hrs. My mindset was good.
T2 – transition from bike to run.
On the bike I felt a sting on my leg and when I checked it I saw I had a hole in my tri pants and I had chaffing. My mates in transition found a bandage, fixed it, sorted my gears and again, sent me on my way. My mindset was good!
THE RUN 42.2KM
The plan for the run was to run from aid station to aid station and to walk through them while taking on the fuel I needed at the time. This worked for the first three stations and then that foot that I’m not dwelling on started to play up. This meant the plan changed to ‘run as much as you can and walk fast when you can’t’. I also planned to do the 3x 14km loops in 2hrs each. The first one I came in under 2hrs and the second and third one was a little over 2hrs. The run was done in 6:25:08.
The enormity of what many of my whānau and friends and I had achieved hit me as I reached the red carpet running towards the finish line. I suddenly thought to myself ‘wow, I did it!’. My overall time was 15:20:14 with a goal of finishing between 15-15.5 hours. I was very happy and I contribute this to ‘my mindset was good!’ I went in with a positive confident attitude and that set the scene for the whole day. I was only able to have that mindset because I believed I had trained hard and had done everything I could for a successful finish.
THANK YOU SO MUCH!
Ehara tāku toa i te toa takitahi, engari, he toa takitini is a well-known proverb that I believe represents my achievement in that I could not have achieved what I did without the help and support of so many people and for that I will be forever grateful. The support allowed me to enjoy such a great year of training and a great race day.
Many thanks to Proactive for their weekly physio sessions and ensuring I understood the importance of their Four Corners of Health philosophy – to sleep well, to eat and hydrate well, to keep a positive and healthy mind, and to look after my physical condition to ensure physical performance and ensure optimal recovery. Thanks also goes to IRONMAN New Zealand, Tony and Verna Jackson, my fantastic coach Ngarama Milner-Olsen, our IronMāori and TriPōneke whānau and my immediate and wider whānau who were with me every step of the way.
What now? I am currently on a four week recovery programme and I am thinking about my goals for the rest of 2016. These goals will definitely include some swimming, some cycling, and some running. Watch this space.