Half way there – Mooloolaba Ironman70.3

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My first experience at racing in a World Championship event was definitely an eye opening experience for me. You may find this strange but I was reminded of when I first came to Wellington and started University. I had been doing well in events in my age group here in New Zealand but going to Mooloolaba for the Ironman 70.3 World Champs was next level, much like the transition from High School to University.

When I arrived on Mooloolaba Beach there were so many focused and fit looking people swimming, biking and running their way along the beach. Now I know that some were probably still making that fatal mistake of doing too much right before race day, but it was still intimidating.

Although one of the reasons why I was feeling intimidated was because deep down I wasn’t happy with my build up to this race. I got a chest infection a few weeks before the race which prevented me from training and I also had some personal events to overcome. This left me feeling fragile and under prepared. However, I tried to put that behind me and focus on getting myself into a good mind set before race day. I was actually really looking forward to a bit of summery weather, swimming in the sea, and some nice outdoor biking. I got all of that and some sunburn to boot!

When we arrived in Mooloolaba the heat and humidity took me by surprise. I had been doing a little bit of Hot Yoga to prepare, but the difference in temperature coupled with very high humidity made even a 30min jog a lot harder. That did make the sea very refreshing at least! The day before race day the temperature got up to around 27 degrees and the wind reminded me of back home. I thought that race day would indeed be a true “warm up” event before going to Kona!

Luckily when I woke up on Sunday morning the view from the apartment was like a holiday post card. As the sea was almost dead flat all that practice a body surfing went to waste! I felt relaxed and ready to go out and see what I could do and hopefully come away with some lessons to take into the next race.

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As my age group start wasn’t until 7:55am I had a bit of a wait and got to watch the others go off first. I didn’t feel too nervous and when the time came for my age group to get into the water and swim out to the start line, I was ready along with about 170 others!

The start was a lot more chaotic than I was expecting! I had all the punching and kicking that I would expect with a bigger mass start. I even had to dive under the buoys marking the course as I had no space to get back on the right side of them. Now I really understand why people say that my age group is competitive! But in spite of all of that I was really pleased with my swim. This was only the second time that I had been back in the open ocean since training for the New Zealand Ironman. What I needed more re-training in was getting out of my wetsuit! I felt like I took ages getting out of it and onto my bike.

Once I was out of the water an on the bike I focused back on my race plan and how I was going to keep an even wattage throughout the ride of 170W. After the last Ironman70.3 that I did I think I may have biked a little too hard and burnt out on the run. This time I really wanted to have a good run and, in turn, control things on the bike.

The first 40km or so of the bike course is out and back along the Sunshine Motorway. So to start with it was quite fast, but I was a little disheartened about how soon the later age groups started to pass me – there must have been some very fast swimmers in those groups! Still if I kept up this pace I knew I was going to do a good time. However, at the turn to come back along the motorway I was confronted with quite a strong head wind. I thought this area was meant to have light winds! Still, nothing like the wind in Wellington! But it did bring the speed down a bit.

The second half the course was in the hinterland (the land behind stuff…). I had driven this part of the course a couple of days ago and was prepared for a very steep hill about 55km in. I hadn’t biked up it before but was confident that everything would be ok – I train in Wellington after all. But even in my easiest gear it required my whole body to get up the hill. There were people in front of me who looked like they were going to stop and fall off…so I yelled at them to keep going. If someone have of stopped we would all have to and then we would had to walk the rest of the way. I must admit though, it was quite amusing watching everyone reach the top and SLOWLY start the decent because their legs were buggered!

I really enjoyed the rest of the bike course after that. There were hills but it felt more like what I am used to and I could surge up the hills and use my strength to my advantage. My legs also felt good and I hadn’t tired them out. I was feeling positive and I wasn’t even bothered by the heat. I was ready for the run.

I started out for the first few kms at 5min pace. This was on purpose so that I could build into the race. In past races the middle part of my runs has suffered a bit, so I was hoping that this would be the cure. I was able to hold that pace quite comfortably for about 3km and then I started to pick up the pace, but man it was hot! I started chucking ice on me almost straightaway. There was also a decent wind on the run that made the 5km back to Mooloolaba Beach a bit of a challenge. I got to the end of lap 1 and I hadn’t really been able speed up by as much as I had hoped. Still I thought that if I did under 1:45hrs that would be ok.

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My body was not so accommodating to that plan. I started slowing down even more, I tried to eat and drink but that didn’t seem to be the issue. I felt hot, but also cold and started to shiver when in the wind. This feeling was all too familiar and I didn’t want to end up sick and in shock and the end of the race so I decided that the best thing was to ease off and just focus on finishing. Still, I couldn’t help a bit of a sprint finish to make sure that I finished in under 5:30hrs.

A day after the race I was coughing up phlegm and had a nasty cough. So that might explain why I started to feel rubbish during the race. I have now spent another week off training and am desperately trying to get better so I can get back to training for Kona. But the race was a good experience and it gave me a bit more insight to what it might be like when racing in Kona – but that will be on another level yet again!

I do hope that there is a “Chocolate Country” in Hawaii as well – this was the best thing about the hinterland. It made for a good all round recovery. Check out more photos from my race and trip on my FaceBook page.

 

I’m about to drop a bombshell…

I think I am allergic to chocolate!

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Life is over!

I came to this realisation while trying to find out why my hay fever is so bad and affects me all year round. Readers – I warn you, you may find this post a bit gross.

Hay fever is not new to me. I have been plagued by it since I was about 11 years old. I have not so fond memories of wanting to scratch my eyeballs out because the itching was so bad. But because my Mum was quite cheap, and we only went to the Dr when things were really bad, it took me until my mental breaking point before asking her if I could have some medication. The sense of relief when the eye drop hit my eye ball was amazing!

Flash forward to University and my move to Wellington. My itchy eye ball symptoms went away and were replaced by a runny nose. At first I didn’t think this was so bad, after all, it is not that hard to blow one’s nose – just not that great for finding a boyfriend. Plus it was also only during the hay fever season. But it slowly got worse and more constant.

I started taking some medication again and this provided some relief but it never really fixed it. Plus buying over-the-counter drugs was expensive! I then figured out that I could get a prescription from the Dr and this cut costs down a bit and I was happy for a few more years.

I hear you asking “but how does this relate to Kona and triathlon?” Well, the more serious I got into my running, and then into triathlon, the more time I would be spending outside and the worse my symptoms got. I was now symptomatic all year around. It was also a struggle trying to breathe while training and I would have to constantly clear my nose. I suspected that this could also be one of the reasons why I am prone to getting the stitch. But that is a topic for another day.

Still, I soldiered on and kept taking medication to no avail.

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Dreamstime photo – pretty!

The next thing that happened was that I would have blood in my mucus. I was initially quite concerned about this, but my Dr did not share my concern and said that sores don’t really heal in the nose because of the moisture and every time I blow my nose it reopened the sore. I went with this for another year or so.

This was until I started thinking that it might be diet related. After I joined Results Room I would occasionally participate in Real Food Challenges where I stopped eating all chocolate and junk food. One of the unexpected benefits was that there would no longer be any blood in my mucus. Then after the Challenge was over I would go on a bender and the blood would return.

I started thinking about this recently as I was expressing frustration to my personal trainer at how my hay fever seemed like it was getting worse again this winter. My Dr was telling me that it was the colder weather that was making my nose run more, but I didn’t believe this to be the true cause. My trainer asked if I had thought about whether it wasn’t hay fever at all but perhaps an intolerance to a food group, or maybe that certain foods were making it worse? I did some research on this and while there is conflicting evidence on whether food affects hay fever, I was willing to see if my symptoms improved if I cut out the groups of foods that are known to cause allergic reactions:

  • wheat
  • dairy
  • soy
  • eggs
  • fish
  • nuts

The plan was each week to trial cutting out one of the above groups to see if it made any difference to my symptoms. At the same time I would also cut back on the chocolate because, let’s be honest, it is 5 weeks to Mooloolaba Ironman70.3 and I need to start acting like it! I also read on one website that chocolate is a histamine!!!!! This was obviously quite devastating news.

Seeing as I don’t eat a lot of wheat I thought that would be the easiest one to trial first and eliminate that. I noticed the blood did disappear but there was no other real effect on the frequency of my nose blowing. The second week I tried cutting back on dairy. The night before I stared I had some cheese, yoghurt and milk as part of my dinner. Not because I was being rigorous about my testing, just because that was what I wanted to eat. That evening as I was trying to sleep I felt particularly blocked up and I had difficulty sleeping (but the pin had not yet dropped). The next day I had eggs and avocado on toast for breakfast and went to work. It was quite remarkable the difference I felt. That evening I made sure to have no diary in dinner and I was much clearer going to bed.

So it looks like diary and sugar might be the culprits for aggravating my hay fever/intolerance. I will have to keep up the non-diary diet for a little longer to be sure. But this conclusion is bittersweet as I love yoghurt almost as much as I love chocolate. In fact, it is what I turn to when I am trying not to eat chocolate. It is also quite mentally challenging thinking that I can’t have something. I guess that means I have to change my mental mind set – a common theme with anyone that is trying to eat healthy and/or lose weight – from “I can’t have it” to I should eat something different”.

But will this stop me eating chocolate? I think we all know the answer to that question🙂

 

Heart A Cat/Kittiac Arrest

I started out writing this post thinking that it was just going to be a brief recap of my race over the weekend. However, it turns out that there was much more going on just to get to the start line on Sunday.

So, on Sunday I ran in the Wellington Half Marathon. It was my first event/race in some time and, to be honest, I was a little bit excited! I wasn’t sure what time I would be able to do, but that didn’t really matter as I had only entered a couple of weeks ago because my coach thought it would be a good idea to get back into a bit of racing.

So needless to say, while I am about 2 months into Ironman training, I haven’t been doing any specific half marathon training. Hence, this race would just be a good test of where I am at. It would also be a prime opportunity to test how my heart responded under stress.

A few weeks ago I noticed that my heart rate readings were shooting up to 220bpm. Now I normally have quite a high heart rate when racing and doing hard training, but these readings were beyond belief! I was seriously worried that I might be about to have a heart attack! Now I’m not prone to overreacting, I did check my HR monitor, change the batteries and try a different monitor, but I wasn’t able to rule out that it could be something else.

The thing was, during some of my hard runs I would feel like I was going to vomit and that my heart was going to jump out of my chest. This happened to me after a race when I was warming down and almost walking. However, at other times that it occurred I didn’t feel any symptoms.

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“Easy” run – can you tell when I start running downhill?

I decided to go and see a cardiologist and get some accurate testing done to put my mind at ease. Plus, I didn’t want to get to Kona and have the heat make any issue even worse. In some ways the comment that the Dr made about my heart rate monitor generally being reliable made me feel better. At least I wasn’t being paranoid!

The first thing that we did was a treadmill test, but I was too tired from training to stay on it long enough to send my heart into overdrive. Plus they kept ramping up the incline every minute. The good news was that everything appeared normal, but to be sure the next test was to wear a proper holster monitor during a hard run.

So I turned up to the Half Marathon with electrodes stuck to my chest and wires coming out from underneath my t-shirt. Perhaps I should have been wearing a Heart Foundation t-shirt? In spite of all of that I felt relatively confident of doing a good time. As I mentioned in my last post, doing Junk Free June had given me a new sense of motivation and I was feeling the positive effects of eating well for a couple of weeks.

I did have one hick-up – my alarm didn’t go off and I woke up at 7am! No big deal in terms of getting to the start line in time, but would it be enough time for my breakfast to digest? I planned to get up at 6am to ensure I had plenty of time for this. I had a smaller breakfast to compensate and hoped I wouldn’t get the stitch. Things seemed positive as I warmed up, I felt relaxed, and there was no sign of a stitch. I think it also helped that I wasn’t treating this race too seriously.

I planned to go out at 4:45min/km pace and build up after about 3kms. This worked for me last year when I got my PB of 1:32:20. There was a northerly wind, but it wasn’t strong at this stage and I hoped that it would stay that way. I watched everyone passing me at the start, I was secretly judging them all and feeling smug that I would pass them later on. I have to think this way as a deliberate tactic so that I don’t get caught up in the race start.

After about 3km I put my foot down and start to pass all those who had gone out too fast and then set my sights on picking off people one by one. I passed through the 5km mark in 23mins and then half way in 48mins. So I was on track and speeding up. I told myself that now was the time to dig in a bit deeper, get the negative split and get home under 1:35hrs.

But the weather had a different idea and when I came back around Evans Bay I was taken back at how strong the wind was! I tried to catch up to people and run with a group, but every time I drew level the person would sprint away. Then I would catch up again and we would repeat this game. Come people, lets work together and we will all be faster! By the time I came back around past Freyberg Pool I was fading and was just holding on.

On a positive note, I was practicing eating my Clif Shot Bloks at pace and I didn’t get the stitch.

I forced my way up the ramp onto the Westpac Stadium concourse and tried for that sprint finish despite the wind forcing me back.

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Sprint!

1:37hrs later I crossed the line, missing the rain, but it was a much harder run that I had originally thought it would be. My calves are still recovering! However, hopefully I got some good heart rate readings and fingers crossed for when I get the results later this week.

Even on Tuesday, back at the gym my muscles were still feeling the effects of the weekend. I had to shoot a ball into a target during my personal training session at Results Room and for every miss I had to do a sled push length of the gym (my trainer did this because I had been complaining about doing deadlifts every week). Whatever, that’s not that hard – well it is when you miss a few! This drained all the strength out of my legs, but there is no (complete) rest when training for an Ironman! In saying that, I secretly loved it! I’m a big fan of the sweaty gym sessions as they make me feel like I have really worked out.

I was also channeling The Rock at the time. I have downloaded The Rock Clock so I can wake to the docile tones of The Rock signing “Good morning sunshine” to me. He then gives a daily motivational quote and picture – usually a ripped gym-going photo.

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Guns guns guns guns (from The Rock’s Instagram)

Sweet dreams everyone. Less than 8 hours to go before The Rock wants me to get up and train for Kona – what did I tell you, no rest for me!

Getting over chocolate, again

Warning. This post is about chocolate…and then breakfast.

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At the beginning of the month I had to give myself a good talking to. I was about a month into training and I was acting like I wasn’t going to go overseas in a few months and race an Iroman in ridiculous heat, knowing that no matter what I said out loud I would still secretly want to do well.

So why was I then stuffing my face full of chocolate again? I think the answer, as always, was tied up with my mental mind set. Perhaps it was the onset of daylight savings and the cold, dark winter mornings, but I was feeling very unmotivated. I still think that I can eat whatever I want and I will be able to just train it away, then when the weight does not shift I get more and more depressed. Then the vicious cycle begins of hating that I can’t control my addiction and eating more chocolate (and other food) to make myself feel better, and not actually feeling any better because I am failing in my main goal.

I had heard about Junk Free June and knew a few people who were doing it. I didn’t really feel the need to join in. However, on 2 June I bought a chocolate bar and suddenly thought “I don’t need to eat this today. Why don’t I see if I can make it to the end of the month without eating it?” This seemed like an impossible thing to do at the time, but I think what I was looking for was a goal to work towards.

That sounds silly as I am going to Kona and should be working towards that. However, at the time it just seemed too far away and mentally I wasn’t able to commit to it. So I committed to a smaller short term goal instead that I knew I could use as a stepping stone to mentally prepare myself for the hard winter months of training ahead.

What do you know, I’m half way through and it is working! Not only have I regained some control in the way I eat, but I am also enjoying my training again. So what started out as a bit of a joke is now turning into something much more serious. And hopefully I’ll be able to raise a little bit of money for charity in the process! – see https://nz.junkfreejune.org/donate/participants/

I have also been keeping a food diary for the last 6 weeks, which is something that my gym – Results Room – encourages. While doing Junk Free June was a good was to reinvigorate my determination towards competing in Kona, I was also interested to see if there were any patterns in my eating habits that were causing the chocolate binges. I know that this is something that I have talked about before, but I don’t think that I fully understand why I binge the way I do when I’m not focused on a competition goal.

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The answer may lie in my breakfast. Now I’m not knocking what I eat for breakfast as I think that it is actually quite a good breakfast. The problem seems to be that I just don’t eat enough of it, particularly on training days where I don’t adjust my intake for the amount of work I have just done.

I discussed this with my trainer and came up with some simple ideas to add more to my breakfasts:

  • add a hard boiled egg (or two);
  • add a smoothie (berries, protein powder and milk);
  • eat a couple of Coconutty Balls straight after training before I get to my main meal;
  • add a scope of protein powder to my porridge.

The next day after my bike/run brick I made and ate my standard porridge and peanut butter mix (with a bit of cinnamon for natural sweetness and anti-inflammatory benefits) but I also ate a hard boiled egg. I had actually prepared two but was too full to eat the second one. Later that morning I was amazed at how full I felt. Usually by about 10am I am ravenous again. As I was going to the gym at lunch I had a further snack anyway. Later in the evening I was still feeling the effects of having a fuller breakfast and wasn’t searching for food after dinner.

What do other people do? I’d be interested to hear about what other people’s training breakfasts look like.

How to not fall over – take your watch off

Today I went for a run, but Strava doesn’t know that. So if its not on Strava then did it happen?

Strava

But the whole point of today’s run was to learn to respond to how my body was feeling and push my comfort zones without relying on technology to tell me how fast I was going and how far I had run.

I haven’t always run with a Garmin watch but once I have always wanted to know how long/far my runs were. This was the main reason why I bought my Garmin in the first place. When I broke it and had to send it away to be fixed before Ironman New Zealand, it was very stressful thinking that my watch/extension of me wouldn’t be back in time. How would I know my running pace and cycling wattage (things that I hear a lot about in other articles and training tip pieces)?!

However, running without it today was very freeing. For once I was able to just enjoy the run and take in the scenery without counting how many kilometers I had done, or putting pressure on myself to do a certain number of kilometers before going home.

During the week, all of my runs had been hard hill runs. So to tell you the truth, I was not looking forward to another hard hill run. Monday’s run was to keep my pace in the hills at 5min/km pace, then on Wednesday I was doing 6min tempo blocks where I was meant to build to 4min/km pace.  I did these work outs successfully but it was hard and I had to constantly check my watch for pace and time.

My coach and I had also decided that it would be better for me to now ride indoors during the week rather than take a chance on the weather being good enough to ride outside. My weekend rides were still meant to be outside and yesterday’s ride was a bit of a test. I did not think it was going to rain that hard and my enthusiasm for training drained away like the water pooling on my floor from my clothing. So the thought, of going outside again the next day was not invoking positive feelings.

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Dreamstime image

But the sun shone today, the wind had dropped down, and I was able to run along one of my favourite tracks – the Highbury Fling. As another bonus, not running with my watch and being distracted by it meant that I could focus more on not slipping over in the mud! As a wise man once said to me – “you can wear any shoe as long as you have good balance”. So even though I was wearing my Altra road shoes, by making sure that my momentum and body weight was always forward and over my body when going downhill, I managed to come away mud free.

Now I’m not going to give up my Garmin totally, but running without it has definitely given me some positive insights into my training and my body.

 

Relax!

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Forrest showing me up

Since starting training again for Kona and Moloolaba, I have noticed that I have been getting really tight muscles. Particularly in my shoulders.

I’m not really sure why this is the case. Perhaps I am more stressed from work and life in general, or perhaps it is because I have been working on my swimming and have been engaging my swimming muscles (and hopefully improving!).

Either way, it has really brought home to me the importance of regular yoga and massage. I’m normally quite pressed for time in the morning after my training so I don’t actually stretch or foam roll after workouts. I have good intentions of doing so in the evening but I rarely do. So going to yoga once a week guarantees that I am at least going to get one good stretching session in. I go to The Yoga Lounge in Wellington as the instructor is fantastic and there is a stretch class on at 7am on Friday mornings – my rest day. As a result of doing yoga regularly I have regained some of the flexibility that running and cycling take away. Plus it is a great way of calming my mind from all of my thoughts – work and training related.

As I said, these last couple of weeks I have noticed my muscles getting even more tighter than normal. I started to find that it was getting harder to do the yoga poses and my flexibility was reducing. I obviously needed to do more than just a once a week stretch.

I guess that is also where massage comes in. I usually get a massage every fortnight and leading into Ironman I start trying to fit in weekly ones (I highly recommend Sporting Hands). However, the other week I had to miss my regular massage because of a work commitment. Boy – did I pay for it over the weekend! My body did not like waiting for its massage – it tightened up and was the worst it has ever been. To make matters worse, I could feel my heels starting to hurt again. This is usually a sign that the chain of muscles running up my legs and back are way too tight (but isn’t it weird how where the pain manifests is not necessarily where the problem is?)

I took this as a sign that I needed to try to do more stretching and foam rolling work myself. I rolled and rolled, I used golf balls and a cricket ball to try to get into my shoulders. I also have a smaller stick roller and I use the ends of that to get into my shoulders and the muscles around my collar bone. It was very painful at times but the trick is to actually relax into the pain rather than to fight it. The muscles won’t let go if you are trying to tense them at the same time. I thought I had done well, but the next day the pain in my shoulders was back. I kept trying to massage the tension out but it wasn’t working.

I finally got to see my massage therapist and she managed to fix the issues. But it was quite obvious that I was holding a lot of tension in my back and shoulders. As we were discussing this on the massage table I had a revelation that maybe it was a result of an improvement in my swimming technique – new muscles being worked that were not used to it.

I did feel much better after my massage but it did make it clear to me the importance of stretching and massage. Ideally I would have a massage every week. However, I am restricted by time so this means that I need to do more myself as by the time that my shoulders start hurting it is too late to fix it myself.

One other thing that I am going to try to see if it helps is to do a one-on-one yoga session to get some help with the poses so that I can do them properly at home.

So while it is great that my training is going well and I am seeing improvement, I can’t forget about the recovery part of training.

Namaste

I’m back!

I haven’t had much to say or update you all with in the last month. Mainly I have just been eating chocolate. That would make a very short post!

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For those of you who like me to talk more about my actual training and less about chocolate you will also be disappointed.

This time after the New Zealand Ironman I forced myself to have a decent rest. Now normally “rest” to me simply means that I don’t have a programme and I’m not training for a specific event. I instead start to do all the things that I was missing out on while training and competing in Ironman – such as fitting in a couple of 5km Waterfront Races (hopefully in sub-20mins) before they ended and then launching straight into the Harriers winter running season.

This year I actually took a few weeks off running. Two weeks after Ironman I went for a run but I was still just so exhausted. As it turned out this year it was much easier to take about a month off of doing exercise. I must have actually put all I had into the race because even getting through a day at the office was leaving me drained. I didn’t have the energy to do anything else. One person likened it to draining a river completely dry and then waiting for it to full back up again – any time I did something it would drain the river before it was full.

I also had my commuting bike stolen on my first day back at work. I was planning on going for a cruise around the bays after work before fate intervened. So I then spent two weeks trying to sort out a new bike.

On top of that I was also trying to organise my trip to Kona and then a holiday in Hawaii afterwards. I found this quite overwhelming as there was so much to think about and organise – flights, flights times, how much time should I take off of work, insurance, RACING insurance, accommodation…then finding cheaper accommodation! Luckily there were plenty of people that I could ask for help.

Oh, and I did manage to fit some painting in. We freshened up both the inside and outside of our bach near Taupo. I tried to get some landscaping done at home, the gardens get a bit neglected when doing Ironman training, but manual labour is tiring! Chopping out tree stumps is a good cross training exercise though.

But time to now put down the chocolate and seriously thinking about training for the Kona Ironman.

This will be the first time that I have properly trained for an Ironman, or any triathlon, over winter. Since day light savings hit I have become all too well aware of the later sunrises and the shortening days. When I have gone out for a ride before work  it has also been much colder now that I am leaving home before the sun is up. However, one positive is that on fine calm days I am greeted with a beautiful sunrise – as long as I am in a place to see it of course!

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Doesn’t get any better than this!

I’m sure I will be doing plenty of indoor bike sessions soon enough, so for now I’m making the most of being able to still ride outside while I can. Particularly as this week my programme is wanting me to “get used to hills” again.

As for the other disciplines, my focus for the swim is to improve my technique and times as the swim in Kona will be without a wetsuit. I don’t think I will be able to have quicker biking and running times in the Kona heat but it would be great to improve on my swimming.

So there we go, I was able to find something to write about after all!

As an aside, it has been suggested that I should change #sierra4kona to something more like #sierraiskona or #sierraisgoingtokona. What do you think? The first sets some high expectations!