It’s 5:46PM, Sunday the 22nd of February. We’re between Ormiston Gorge and Ellery Creek on Namatijira Rd an hour west of Alice Springs. I am feeling quite good at the moment. I just finished my Fanta and a peppermint Magnum. The air is on, Mumford and Sons are playing, the truck is filled with bikes, shoes, camping gear and a ton of empty Blocks, Gels, Bottles, and lolli bags. But I’m with the one of the two other people that had decided to give it a go at this years Alice Springs Triathlon Club Training Weekend. AKA Small Town Girl Australia, AKA the girl next door, AKA a badass AKA my best friend and wife, Fiona Coyle. She’s driving obviously, while I write this recap so that you all who weren’t able to get out this weekend can learn from our mistakes, be inspired by the Epic Nature of this week, be mesmerized by what we experienced in the remote Outback, and maybe be that deciding factor for you to push beyond what you think is capable.
Before I can frame the last 36 hours, I must preface the weekend with the 2 weeks that just ended. Well, 2 weeks ago today, Fiona and I were in Geelong, Victoria having just completed the Geelong 70.3 Half Ironman. Please refer to my Geelong Race Recap for all those details! Having planned the 39 week FY14/FY16 season out, we used the first 6 months to truly train for a half ironman. That meant frequency in rides over 3 hours. After the race, we took the week entirely off. Complete rest and recovery. Fast forward one week and we went to church, gave thanks for what we are able to do, and then enjoyed a one hour ride finishing in the dark. Then it was on. The Build phase heading into Ironman Australia began. I had time to think about what I needed to work on which included strength training, bigger volume, and 5-6 hour bike rides.
Over the next week I trained (because that what we do as triathletes). There were 22 workouts with most days taking in 3 – 4+ hours. I cycled to work 4 times, did a run on Tuesday at Anytime Fitness doing 4x8min @ race pace of sub 3hour marathon pace, early morning swim intervals of 4x500meters averaging around 8:45. There was 45KM of running, 412KM of cycling (biggest since April 2014), and 14.6KM of swimming. Now all 23.2 hours of this training would usually be tough in general but Monday night, Fiona and I did a 45min leg strength session including squats and stepups. And, since we hadn’t lifted legs in 20 weeks, we’ve felt it all week long.
So then came Saturday morning. This is where the training weekend began. Fiona and I had some food and then we hit the pool. We did a 5x1KM swim. The first was normal free, the next 3 were all with pull buoy, and the 5th was with paddles. Now I was feeling fatigued after 2.5KM but I kept going and was happy to have the paddles pull me through the last set. I had lifted arms the night before so that certainly played into the fatigue level. Later on, Fiona said it was the best that she had felt in a long time swimming. And that is without realizing how badly burnt she got, at 10AM in the morning!!! But then again, she was on her 3rd day of treatment… Having digestive issues for almost 4 weeks and feeling like crap, she had went to the doctor and later after her interview with the Center for Disease Control she still didn’t know where she had eating poo that gave her a parasite and a bacterial infection! I told her that I wash my hands especially when cooking! Maybe she’s been to liberal in her kisses to our furry daughter Sydney J. So on the timeline that means Fiona did a half ironman with that in her. She later said it was the worst she’d ever felt during a race and just wanted to throw up the whole time…. As if I wasn’t impressed already by my wife. She’s tough, now if I could only translate that to her mindset for race day!
Ok ok, so we headed home, threw the camping gear in the truck and our paddleboards (which we didn’t use) and headed 170KM west to Glen Helen. As soon as we got there the gear went on and we had our first lesson on how to prevent a massive blowout. I had done a quick scan of my rear tire and there was the tube popping through the sidewall of the tire, the size of a pea. So I grabbed a $5 Note from Fiona (of course leaving the one I had in my bike bag). Then I folded the bill over and put it on the inside of the tube, filled it back up, and no more near blowout! We headed west to Tylers Pass. This is the ride that I really wish members of the Alice Springs Triathlon Club and the Alice Springs Cycling Club had come out to partake in. (I know there was a crit on Sunday unfortunately). Regardless, West of Glen Helen along with Sundays ride is without a doubt the best riding anywhere near Alice Springs. We saw only a few cars on the 45KM route out to the Viewpoint of Gosses Bluff (a Meteroite crater of 80 million years?) The last 200 meters being a 10% grade as steep as ANZAC Hill in Alice. We then headed back the 45KM doing the total 91KM ride in 2hr55min. We had gels and bloks every 30minutes and nearly ran out of water, but got through it.
Back at Glen Helen we jumped in the cool pool, had some vegetarian dishes, and a couple beers. So quickly to that point, yes, Fiona and I are vegetarian and have been since 1/1/15. We have been able to handle all of this training on a Whole Foods, Plant Based diet. I have found it, along with better sleep have been my key components to being able to actually wake up and train at 6AM and quickly recover for the next days workouts (or the afternoon). SO dinner at Glen Helen was amazing. The chef is an award winning chef so definitely check that out when you go there! We also saw our friend Sam Post, her husband Nick Post and their 3 kids. Which brings me to the next morning.
Fiona and I woke up at 4:45AM and tailed Sam and her family to Red Bank Gorge. (this after the worst night of sleep I’ve had in ages). We met at Stage 12 of the Larapinta Trail, trail running shoes on, 3 liter camelpak filled, and head lamp on. Fiona took a picture of Sam and I and then we started running.. up Mt Sonder… the 3rd tallest mountain in the Northern Territory. For Sam, she was the one other person that decided to venture out with us. Not taking in the cycling but certainly the running! Sam is a full on ultra runner and is training for a 155KM run!!! It was so amazing to have her be there even though we didn’t even have running step next to each other. Ultra running is really about yourself, being out there in the elements and experiencing it. I would have loved Fiona to experience it with me, but unfortunately she didn’t also just have a bacterial infection and parasite, but now she had a bum foot. See, a few weeks before Geelong she took out her orthotics thinking she no longer needed them. Her foot started acting up the week after Geelong. So she decided to play it smart after meeting with Chelsea at Alice Springs Podiatry. It would have also been great because I was really using the run as a scouting trip for the 45KM Larapinta Trail Ultra that she and I will both be doing in August 2015. The ultra is the day before I proposed to Fi, the year before, at the top of the mountain.
Having hiked Mt Sonder several times before, I didn’t even know how you would be able to run it. It is so technical over ancient rocks that shift, slide, and will cut through leather boots. But I told Sam I was going to do it, and I didn’t want to let her down. So we ran across the dry river bed and onto the trail and within 5 minutes I was walking up stairs made of rocks. The HR was already through the roof and I was covered in sweat. I ran where I could but knew the route so was just trying to get up the first bit. This was still dark and the path was covered with some quite large spiders and spider webs. Once up the first climb I was able to start running a bit more consistently. Then once at the ride the wind picked up which was very welcoming. I looked back and saw giant storm clouds and a huge fog that looked like a large sand storm coming from the North. It was partly cloudy and I was making good progress. About 10 minutes from the top the rain started to sprinkle and I was thinking about Fi, wishing she could experience this and coming to the pinnacle I was thinking about I had carried up a big bottle of champagne only 18 months earlier and proposed to my favorite person. I made it to the top in 1hr 18min for the 7.5KM trek and didn’t stop. The rocks were slick, I nearly dove head first into a giant spinafex, plenty of ankle rolling, had one fall that nearly had a gagged rock split my groin open but no blood and made it through. I had seen Sam about 15 minutes behind me while on my way back near the top, I also saw her family later on. The rain continued a little bit more, I was covered in sweat, rain, and really enjoying myself quickly footstepping hopping that I had secure ground when planting my foot on the way down. I made it down in 1 hour for 2:18 in total which was pretty good I think. The quads were quite shattered. Fiona and I usually hike Mt Sonder in 3:50. It was amazing, epic, and one of the top experiences I’ve had in Alice Springs in the 4 years year. Really looking forward to another scouting trip with Fi!
After some recovery Endurox R4 drink we headed back to Glen Helen. Then we hopped on the bikes. We started at 9AM and planned on a 6 hour ride because this is Ironman Training and to compete against the top athletes, this is what it takes. Our route was Glen Helen – Ormiston – Larapinta – Glen Helen. We had 100 calories every 30 minutes and drank a ton of water. I was on my road bike, Fi was on her TT as mine is at Smith St Velo Getting worked on. It wasn’t very hot until much later on. It was cloudy and really a great ride. The ride was very consistent even though we worked hard all day long. The ride ended up taking 6hr23min for 188KM. It was our longest ride since April 2014 when we had ridden Glen Helen – ASP – Glen Helen. It was also the longest ride on the road bike since March 2011 when I went solo to Stuarts Well. It made me realize that I must buy an ISM ADAMO Road Bike seat for the bike because the very thin Specialized seat sucks. Fi really worked hard and really made me feel proud of myself when she said “How are you doing this right now?” and “Where is that power coming from?”. Hopefully my positive words towards her made her feel good even though the issues she’s had lately. During the ride we saw a Dingo at Ormiston which was amazing to see, we saw one kangaroo as well. Fiona also had bike issues with her TT bar loosening and her bike cleat tearing and not fitting in the clip. So for my ASTC friends I say, check your bike cleats as they do get old!
We both drafted off each other and really thought it was an epic day. We got back to Glen Helen, had some more Endurox R4 recovery, another jump in the pool, packed up, had that ice cream and soda (as it is very OK to have that at this time). Your body needs Glycogen (Sugar) at this time and for the next hour after the bike), another tip for our friends. But now we’re passing the IGA on Larapinta and 5 minutes away from Woolys. We’re going to make homemade pesto, broccolini, some pasta, and definitely some red wine!
This week was amazing. I wish we could have shared it with more of our friends but hope that this article invites you and welcomes you to our triathlons, camps, and get togethers. I trained almost 8 and a half hours today. Did I expect anyone else to do that? Well only Fiona. But our club is for Everyone of all abilities. So the next time you feel intimidated or unsure about the confidence in your own abilities, know this. You are where we all were at one point or another. What led me through today was not letting Sam down on the run, even though I had actually not wanted to run, doing the total 6 hours on the bike and being there for Fi, even though the whole thing was tough, and for myself reaffirming that I do what I say I’m going to do. Be well. Train hard, stay focused. Go get what you want. And share this please because it just took me over an hour to write this!!!