#PORTMAC703

After the unpleasantness of my last blog post, it’s nice to be able to share a more encouraging post and remind everyone that I’m still on the winning side of life.

Late last year I decided I needed another challenge to focus on, so I decided to sign up for another half ironman. There were two reasons I chose to race Port Macquarie. First, there was a big group from my club going, and team support makes these events all the more enjoyable and rewarding. Second, I could throw the bike in the car and drive there. I probably didn’t really consider how far the drive was, and the fact I would have to drive home after the race. I have now learnt that it is also a good idea to check out the course profile. It wasn’t until I was well into my training that I discovered there were a few bumps (read: hills. read: one massive hill some people have to get off and walk their bike). To late now…

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Image: Team Pursue via Pursue Club Instagram

A week out from the race I saw my race number was 2444. I joked that it was lucky I wasn’t from China, as 4 is considered an unlucky number, and I had three of them! As it turned out, instead of being ‘unlucky’ I had a good omen: 2444 is the Port Macquarie post code. As the volunteers handed me my race pack, they joked that there would be a lot of locals jealous of my number.

On the day before the race, after doing a practice swim (hands down best swimming conditions I have ever raced), we went to go see what all the fuss was about with Matthew Flinders Drive. It was tough, but doable…and hopefully doable with 80km in the legs.

On race morning, we couldn’t have asked for more perfect conditions. A light breeze, no rain – bliss. Although I was flying solo at this event (my PIC couldn’t make it down), I was thankful for all the Pursue members to settle the nerves. I was one of three doing the 70.3 distance, with 11 doing the full Ironman distance.

There’s no better feeling than starting the race. No more anticipation – just go. I pulled out my best swim time, averaging 1:52/100ms. Steady, consistent and strong (for me). I raced to transition to my rockstar racking position (I was the first bike in transition, as I had to move from my original designated spot due to a green ant mound taking up residence there too).

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Heading out on the bike there are a number of hills for the first 8kms. I was a bit worried I was pushing too hard, as I was overtaking a lot of guys. But I felt I was maintaining a comfortable pace and this continued for the whole bike leg. I didn’t have any moments of thinking “I hate this”, “What the hell are you doing this for?”. I was loving it, so much that I was excited when I saw the sign for the dreaded Matthew Flinders Drive. Words of affirmation were said out loud and there was no way I wasn’t making it up. I watched as numerous people stopped and unclipped, but I was determined I was going to make it. There are a lot of spectators on this hill, and I got the lift I needed by them calling out my name and telling me I was going to make it. And I did…(meanwhile I think my heart rate spiked to about 190 beats). For me, the indication of a good cycle leg is overtaking guys, but not having many girls overtake me (and of course getting in enough nutrition and staying consistent). It’s a confident boost to know you’re holding your own with the girls on course – and of course I love nothing more than saying “On your right” and shooting past a guy.

I was feeing confident I was going to make my sub-3 hour goal on the bike, but my excitement was short-lived when the guy in front me stopped dead in his tracks, causing me to panic stop and unclip. I felt for him as his chain had fallen off, but he stopped on a small rise, and my legs were too fried from the monster hill that I couldn’t get started again. I couldn’t believe I had just made it up Matthew Flinders, and now I was scooting myself along up the tinniest rise. Finally I was back clipped in and heading back to transition, but those few minutes cost me my sub-3 time, and I finished the bike in 3:02.

In the lead up to this race, I was most excited about the run. I had an awful run in Cairns, but this time I had been training using a run/walk strategy. The plan was to run strong between the aid stations, and walk the aid stations. I knew I would be mentally stronger, as walking wasn’t a failure –  it was part of the plan. Sadly, it didn’t turn out that way. I was feeling very ordinary all run with bad reflux and couldn’t take in any nutrition. I pulled out a reasonably good 10km, but then faded. Part of me wanted to throw in the towel with 10km to go, but I knew I had done so well to this point. So I stuck it out. I was encouraged and rewarded with team support each lap, and there is no better feeling than knowing the finish line is only minutes away. My goal was sub 2-hours on the run, and I finished the run leg in a time of 2:02.

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Image: Amanda from Pursue Triathlon Club

My watch was telling me lies and I thought I had finished in 5:44, but the official time was 5:48. It’s a 9-minute improvement from Cairns, but I have to remind myself that every course is different, and this was definitely more challenging. The best thing about the rest of the day was cheering from the sidelines all the Ironman athletes.

 

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Image: With Amanda & Kathy from Pursue (who did a sneaky drive down to support us) cheering on the Ironman athletes

I’ve had a solid 6 days of recovering and being lazy, but I’m ready to get back to training for the next challenge.

Crushin’ goals.

Note: It has taken me way too long to write this post, so much so that it feels almost ‘outdated’.

Continue at will…

….a few years ago I had a crazy idea. I had decided I wanted to represent Australia in triathlon as an ‘Age Grouper’ (age grouper = non professional). And now I can say that just over a month ago my crazy idea came true, except not in triathlon (swim-bike-run) but in duathlon (run-bike-run).

I had no idea this was a thing – representing your country as an ‘Age Grouper’, until I started getting back in the triathlon circle in Ipswich and Brisbane. To explain simply how you can represent your country in such events: do some races, get some points and apply to be on the team. Presto. There are a certain amount of spots for each age group and each event, and if you have enough points then qualify.

Now, I must make it clear that this opportunity to wear Green & Gold is entirely self-funded: race entry, flights, accommodation, uniforms etc. So, as you can image, not everyone that is racing in these events is racing to quality. Which allows for opportunities for people (like myself) to get the golden ticket by only competing in one qualifying race. I call it my Stephen Bradbury moment.

Qualifying was one thing, however, getting to the start line was more difficult. It wasn’t smooth sailing and I had to work through a rolled ankle, influenza/man flu, and a month before the race inflammation in the foot. A few weeks before the race I did consider withdrawing – what was the point if I wasn’t prepared properly for the world stage? But I decided that a DNF (did not finish) was better than a DNS (did not start). And it was non-refundable…

Without boring you all with all the other drama of broken bike parts and trips to the physiotherapist, I’ll skip straight to race day…

 

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There’s a common thought process with racing: never try something new on race day. I’ve never been one to follow the rules, and so to throw into the mix the lack of training, I was going to be wearing new shoes for both the 10 km run and 5 km run off-the-bike, I would be wearing the Australian triathlon suit for the first time, and using completely foreign nutrition during the race.

I decided since this was the World Championships, I should put a little effort into warming up before the race. I was still nervous to not do too much, in case the pain starting in my foot before the horn even sounded. I used the knowledge I had from my Wednesday morning speed sessions with Pursue (thanks Andy) and put in a solid warm up. We were called into our waiting pens and the nerves were kicking in. Our wave was 18-39 year olds, so I was going to be taking off with some seriously fast kids. And as usually, once the horn sounds everyone takes off at lightning speed with false expectations of being able to hold the speed.

I looked at my watch and I was running 4:10 m/km. Clearly not an achievable pace for me to hold, as my previous best time for a 10 km was an average 4:40 m/km plus. I slowed my self down and tried to be smart. That was until a group of American girls came behind me. They were working in a group and encouraging another American girl to join them. I know the invitation wasn’t to me, but I decided my best chance to get through this run was to jump on the back of the group. They were pushing a solid pace, but it was comfortable. One girl was constantly encouraging the others, and I was soaking up those words like a sponge – even though they weren’t directed to me. After the first lap they had accepted I was there and was encouraging me too. The final lap of the 2.5 km course I knew I was heading towards a 10 km personal best time. It was my motivation to keep pushing, and I had no foot pain. As I entered transition knowing I had taken about 1.5 mins of my personal best time, I was ecstatic – Thanks Team USA!

The first transition was the calmest and most organised I’ve ever felt. I knew exactly where my bike was – always a good start. Then I saw a Brazillian girl who I knew had her bike racked opposite me. She was running around frantically with a volunteer – she was lost! I decided I should help her, and yelled out for her to follow me. It must have been the good vibes I was feeling from my new 10 km time, but then I had the realisation that she may be in my age group and could now beat me – doh!

As I left transition and mounted my bike I instantly knew something didn’t feel right, especially when I moved down onto my aero bars. I kept looking at my leg and realised I couldn’t get a full extension. I kept looking down at my seat and I knew it was too low. I couldn’t work out why, as I had tested my bike over the previous days. There was nothing I could do, as I didn’t have a tool in my spares kit to adjust it (lesson learnt). It was frustrating seeing girls blitz past me that I had beaten on the run. There was a lot of expletive language mixed with motivational pep talks. I alternated riding on and out of the saddle to give my legs a flush out and stretch. Not only was this going to affect my bike leg, but running after 40km in this position was going to hurt. The bike course was 2 x 20 km laps: head wind out, tail wind back – twice. I’ve never been so happy to part ways with my bike after finishing the 40 km course.

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All that was left was two more laps of the 2.5 km loop. I just wanted to get it done and I was surprised at how well my legs were coping off the bike. I keep pushing hard and came away with a 5 km personal best time off-the-bike. The highlight of the whole event, was running towards the finish line and being handed an Australian flag by the team support crew. I waved that flag as hard as I could and crossed the finish line with the biggest smile on my face.

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Regardless of what happened on the bike, I couldn’t have done anything more. Yes, the bike slowed down my overall time and affected my overall placing, but pulling off two running personal best times, when I didn’t even know if I could run the first 10 km was more than enough to walk away with. And there is always next year…

And after every hard race, one deserves a treat.

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Goal set. Goal achieved.

You would think that after pushing the body and mind to its limits, you would just want to crawl up into a ball and collapse. I thought I did, but that lasted all of 5 minutes. So instead, I am sitting on my balcony watching the Ironman Athletes slug out a 42.2km run. And. I. Am. In. Awe. Not only for what they are achieving, but also the camaraderie I can see from here – pats on the back and words of encouragement to fellow competitors.

But I’ll take a break from that and share my thoughts on today – sorry it’s a long one.

For three long years I have lusted over the idea of competing in a half-ironman event, or an Ironman 70.3, as it is formally known.

I first decided to compete in one after only 6 months of involvement in triathlon. A friend at the time was training for the full iron distance event. At first I thought he was crazy when he would tell me about the distances of the race. But, the more I though about it, the more I started to think differently… I want to do that…I can do that…

In true Rochelle fashion the decision was made. I set about researching different courses and was spoilt with many exotic locations to choose from, as I was living in London. After a few months pondering my options I decided on Mallorca — crystal clear waters and Sangria post race. It wasn’t a hard decision.

As I was a newbie to the sport I was being conservative and giving myself plenty of time to train; it was June 2013 and the race wasn’t until May, 2014. In hindsight, it was lucky the race wasn’t until 11 months later, because it allowed me to hover over the registration button. Next payday I’ll register, I would say to myself, it won’t sell out just yet…

In the end, my procrastination paid off. Before I took the giant step to commit and register, I discovered I had breast cancer.

ButI don’t need to sit here and rehash the whole breast cancer journey — most of you have been there every step of the way, and most of you have known how driven I was to get back to this point of competing in my first 70.3.

There’s been frustration, from having my fitness taken away and having to start from scratch…a few times. But each time I thought of the professional athletes who have had to deal with injuries. Breast cancer was my injury. If they could get back to the start line, so could I.

So here I am. On the other side of that invisible point that never left my sight.

“The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.” ― Molière

There have been obstacles, and I’m feeling every bit of glory right now in my achievement.

I had three goals for this race.

1/ To start.

This might sound obvious, but it is that time of year when sickness is circulating and a cough and sniff from the person next to you can be your undoing. Also, I’m a bit clumsy and in the two weeks leading up to the race I rolled my ankle walking King…anything can happen.

2/ To finish.
I didn’t doubt I had the physical ability to finish, but things happen. Bike malfunctions or crocodile attacks are unforeseeable…

3/ To finish between 5:45-6:00hrs.
When people asked my goal time I always said under 6 hours. I knew 6 hours was “achievable” and allowed for the unknown. Anything else was a dream.

Today I raced to my abilities and accepted the ‘unknowns’, finishing in at time of 5:57.

So here we go… Cairns Ironman 70.3…

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Completely soaked pre race.

 

It wouldn’t be Tropical North Queensland without some tropical weather. And boy did the sky open up and show us the goods. As the rain droplets fell just before 5am, they were put down as “passing showers”, but less than 30mins later the first downpour arrived.

 

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I was lucky to get through my swim and 20 minutes on the bike before the next downpour started. And it continued for most of the ride. For the next 70km I could hardly see 1 meter in front of me, as my glasses don’t have built-in windscreen wipers. Each time the rain stopped I hoped that the lenses would dry out, but then the rain started again. My special Oakley lenses that improve viability and definition on the road were no help to me. It was a wild, windy and wet ride. But I kept pushing and with 30km to go I was overtaking people on the home stretch.

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Thanks Mikey for the snap while on course

All things considered, I had a goal for 3:00-3:15hrs for the bike – it’s not my strength. So to finish in 3hrs 33sec, in those conditions, I was stoked. I knew I was on track when I set off running for my sub-6 time, but how far ‘sub’ could I get.

 

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It was a 2-lap course of just over 10km to make up the 21.1km run. The first lap I managed to keep the pace I wanted but on the second lap my stomach was starting to rumble. Four-plus hours of gels and energy chews were starting to take its toll. I passed one of the supporter tents, which had some inspirational messages pegged into the ground. One said: “Never Trust An Ironman Fart”. I laughed…but I thought it may be good advice. So in the last lap I made four port-a-loo stops. I knew this would affect my run time, but I was willing to sacrifice a few minutes to end the race “fresh”.

With 5km to go I told myself, it’s just a parkrun left. With 3km to go I told myself, it’s just a run to Wednesday morning training. With 1km go, I told myself it’s just a warm up. And then my feet touched the soaked carpet of the finish shoot, and the end was in sight.

Finish line

There’s a saying: “Never do things by halves.” However, when talking about Ironman, I think it is one scenario that doing something by half is still looked upon as being an enormous achievement.

As I get back to watching the Ironman competitors and my fellow Pursue Club members tackle the run, I’ll leave you with a list of “thank yous”.

There’s no Oscars music to drown me out, so this could take a while.

To my partner *gush*:
Thank you for putting up with me while I’ve been Nancy-no-fun as I’ve struggled to stay awake past 8pm for the past three months; for accepting my unenthusiastic attitude towards any entertaining that would affect my 8 hours of sleep; for putting up with my hissy fits on the bike when I’ve doubted my ability; and for all the Tuesday morning River Loops and Sunday long rides. I dedicate my bike leg to you.

To the Pursue Triathlon Club and Coach Andy:
If it wasn’t for the Club and Andy I wouldn’t have competed today. I kept thinking: “Maybe next year I would be ready…” But he encouraged me to believe I was already ready. To everyone in the club for their encouragement while training and company on the long Saturday runs, I dedicate my run to you.

To the Grimsey Brothers – Codie and Trent:
Swimming has been my battle, but thank you for pushing me to stay in the 2-minute lane, even when I wanted to drop back to 2.10. It wasn’t the swim I had hoped for, but I got it done, and all the training you gave me put me in a better position for the rest of the day. S0, I dedicate my swim to you.

To my friends who trained with me each time I had to rebuild after treatment and surgery:
Mark, my running encourager, and Scott, who patiently reminded me how to use gears on a bike after taking 12 months off. Thank you.

To may family:
Last, but not least. For flying up to Cairns to support this big event and everything else from when I was born until now (there’s too much to mention so hopefully that sums things up). It was a tough day spectating. Yes, the weather while racing was hammering me, but they stood watching and cheering in the conditions also. Thank you!

Comfort Zones

For the first time in a long time, I can finally say I have routine in my life. And it’s amazing. But I’ve become a creature of habit; a creature of operating in my comfort zones — especially when it comes to my training.

I’m a morning person. The 4am alarms are my friend. Going to an evening squad session only happens after a lengthy internal dialogue trying to find excuses not to go.

Being a morning person works in my favour when it comes to racing, as most races start in the morning. I have my routine – my comfort zone/safety blanket routine…and it mainly revolves around food. I know what to eat, when to eat and how much to eat to get me through the race. But yesterday, things were thrown in turmoil (slight exaggeration) when I raced the Byron Bay triathlon. It’s a lunchtime start…my wave started at 12:37.

For the past week my mind has been occupied with how I was going to adjust to the late start. What would I eat, when would I eat…and how much would I eat? I remember running the Twilight 10 km a few years ago with a start time of 5pm. I was bloated and sluggish from grazing all day — it wasn’t pleasant.

Although this race was going to challenge my comfort zones, I knew I would reap the benefits of racing later in the day as Ironman Cairns 70.3 is only five weeks away, and I’ll be out on the course at similar times.

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Byron Bay was a new course for me; I have only raced Olympic Distance (OD) at Mooloolaba. Byron Bay—like Mooloolaba—is an ocean swim, but has a few more hills on bike course and finishes with flat run (4 x 2.5 km loops). With nearly four months of solid training for Cairns, I was hopeful to shave few minutes off my previous OD time.

I had heard reports that the swim was the one of the best around — clear and calm waters. And it didn’t disappoint — you could see the fishes swimming below. Unseasonably warm weather turned it into a non-wetsuit swim, but I still managed one of the best swims I have ever had in a race, not only because I enjoyed it, but I took a few minutes off my time.

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Out of the swim and onto the bike. During the race briefing the organisers made three points about the bike leg: the Byron Bay Council had recently invested in improving the roads; 17,000 locals and tourists would be inconvenienced today with race road closures; and they had added an extra 3.8 km loop to make it the required 40 km for OD.

The majority of the bike leg involved dodging pot holes and uneven bumps in the road, and white-knuckled gripping of the aero bars to stop myself from being flung off the bike. It was also very short of the proclaimed 40 km; it was only 33 km. For a moment I thought I was supposed to do the extra loop twice and had visions of finishing first and then being disqualified. I had a quick conversation with another competitor coming into transition and he too had the same distance — phew, no disqualification.

All that was left was a 10 km run. Running is my strength, but it wasn’t my day for it. A stitch crept in after the first lap and I had to work through it for another 6 km. It was the first time I had worn a heart-rate monitor during a race, and I think the pressure of it against me exasperated the pain. My mouth was starting to tingle and I was very close to stopping for a mid-race vomit. I decided to ditch the heart-rate monitor, and I finally started to feel good…on the last lap. Stitch aside, I still managed a PB time on the run.

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After 2hrs 25min, I was finished. I would love to gloat about my time, but it’s hard knowing the bike leg was short. I’m a bit of a numbers nerd, so when I got home I worked out how much 7 km would be with my average speed of the day. Taking this into considering, I’ve given myself a time of 2.38 for the day. And that I will proudly gloat about. It’s 9 minutes faster than my last OD, but best of all, the race gave me a little more confidence for Cairns.

Bring. It. On…minus the heart-rate monitor.

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One Year On

When you start out in the sport of triathlon every new event is a first (even if it’s not technically your first race). Because regardless of the outcome – your time or how you perform based on your perceived abilities – the result inevitably becomes the benchmark for that event. Those benchmarks remain until you fast-forward 12 months-or longer-and front up again for another go.

Fronting up again for the same event brings out a new mixed bag of emotions. The standard race day nerves remain, but now there is the added pressure to, presumably, show improvement.

Last year, when I toed the start line at Mooloolaba Triathlon, I only had one thing on my mind: to enjoy every minute of being active, even while it was hurting. There was a good reason for that mindset: two days post race, I was booked in for the final piece of the cancer treatment puzzle – my final reconstruction surgery. And that final surgery would, once again, force me out of action for another six weeks, and I would have to rebuild my fitness and mobility.

Knowing a lot of the fitness I had gained during my five months of training, post-double mastectomy, for Mooloolaba was going to be undone, I wanted to push to set a good benchmark for myself. And I was happy with my result. With a goal of under three hours, I finished in 2:53.

The morning of my final surgery, I was genuinely excited while recapping the race to my surgeon. I was content to go forth with the final stage of treatment, and they were content to put the gas mask on my face to stop me talking.

But I digress…what has all this got to do with Mooloolaba Triathlon 2016?

Since my last surgery on March 15, 2015, I’ve had no required treatment. Nada, zip, zero. And it has been the first year since 2013 that I have been able to train consistently without any breaks for treatment. As exciting as that sounds, it’s also a daunting thought: all my excuses for not getting on the podium are no longer valid. And this year I’ve had eight months to train – three more than last year.

In those past eight months, I also moved to Brisbane and started training with a new coach and club, who have motivated and inspired me every week. For me, the refreshing part was that knowledge of my previous cancer-patient-status was limited; I was encouraged based on my improvements as an individual and athlete.

I have joked previously to friends that there is no ‘previous serious illness’ category in triathlon, you compete in your age group and that’s how you’re qualified. When I train and race I don’t think to myself: you’re doing well considering you had cancer. I think: you’re doing well because you’ve worked your butt off to try and get fitter and faster. Although I must add, that this is my personal outlook. Anyone who has had a serious illness has every right to be proud of their achievements, especially for being brave enough to make it to the start line. For me, I consider myself just another number in the 30-34 age-group category (soon to be 35-39…)

This year there were 72 competitors in the 30-34 age group, and I managed to place 23rd, in a time of 2:47. I’m still a long way off the podium, but each year of being treatment free allows me to continually improve.

And this year, two days post race, I will be chatting excitedly about my race to anyone who will listen at university…and they won’t be able to shut me up with a gas mask (I hope).

 

 

 

A little bit about Triathlon. A little bit about Cancer.

Yesterday was Mooloolaba Triathlon, my first Olympic Distance triathlon (1500 swim/40km bike/10km run). I had always planned for it to be my last race of the season before I went under the knife for my final surgery. And as the timing turns out, that final surgery is tomorrow  — the last surgery in my cancer journey *jumps with joy*.

First things first: Mooloolaba.

Now you would think that someone who trains most days, every week, sometimes twice a day, would feel prepared. But for some reason, the past few weeks I have been filled with doubt. Had I done enough? Of course I’d done enough to finish the race…but I’m competitive (with myself), so ‘just’ finishing was never going to be enough. I want to finish with a good time. Had I dreamt all those 5am alarms for training… was I just delirious and sleep deprived, or was I fit and ready?

My main concern was my preparation for my bike leg. I hadn’t had much training on my new fancy-pants TT bike, would I even be able to ride it? Last week, leading up to Mooloolaba, my concerns were only amplified as news of a cyclone forming off the coast surfaced. I was already nervous about my biking abilities on the exposed highway as it was, so how would I manage with the additional extreme weather conditions. News didn’t improve and reports of rain and strong winds Friday night only fuelled my fears. All I could do was eat my bowl of pasta and try not to worry – surely it would pass by Sunday.

Saturday was compulsory bike check-in day. Trevor (MOH) and I made the one-hour drive from Brisbane, and as we approached the coast the trees told me what I already knew: it was windy. And the sea looked angry with waves crashing in all directions. My nerves were not being calmed. It was to be my first race using my fancy-pants TT bike, but with added gusts of wind, all I could picture was me being blown off the bike. Trevor assured me this would not happen…

After a good nights sleep and many carb-loaded meals, I woke up excited. Tri suit on, race number tattoos on…it was time to trek back to Mooloolaba. It wasn’t long until excitement turned to nerves and the conversation in the car started to drop off.

After a few detours due to road closures, we were parked and on our way to transition to get organised for the race.

Trevor, doing such a great job as support crew, found out some vital information for the race: the swim course had been changed due to the conditions! Although the water looked calm and flat (phew), there were strong currents further along the beach. So, to make it safe for the competitors, the 1500-meter swim was now a loop finishing near the start line, with an 800-meter beach run back to transition (instead of a 1500-meter swim along the beach).

I still struggle swimming; I’ve lost a lot of power due to my pectoral muscle being cut to house the expander. And unfortunately things may always be this way, as my implant will also take residence underneath my pectoral muscle. I’m confident, and hopeful that in time, I’ll regain the power required to be a front-of-the-pack swimmer, instead of a mid-pack-please-don’t-be-last swimmer…

 

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I made it out of the water in a surprising time of 28 minutes and jolted along the beach. Just as I approached the stairs to reach transition and to face the music of the bike leg, I heard the commentator over the loud-speaker say, “The winds are starting to pick up for those heading out on the bike.” Are you serious! Did he really have to say that!

Once on the bike all my concerns diminished. I felt like a pro powering along on my aero bars (although I’m nowhere near as fast as pro!). Forty kilometres of straight, flat, fast, smooth highway… and not much wind! Hallelujah. The course was a good test for my fancy-pants bike and the person atop of said bike. Although I may look at investing in a seat that is a bit more forgiving…

 

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Back of the bike and only a 10km run to finish off the day…only… Running, no worries…I got this. I soon found out that too much confidence is never a good thing. One kilometre into the run I was struck with stomach cramps — maybe I took carbo loading too far? Or maybe it was the hot, melted gel that was sitting in the sun during my bike leg that I consumed as I ran out of transition? Who knows. But it was not enjoyable. And the “why am I doing this” thought quickly entered my head.

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I had given myself a “comfortable” goal finish time of 3 hours, and with three kilometres left in the run I knew it was definitely within reach. So I reassessed my goal time. By how much could I get under 3 hours? I crossed the line after 2:53 of racing.

As I crossed the finish line, and finally made my way out of the recovery zone, I was greeted by Trevor, my number #1 support for the day, with additional recovery supplies of water, Gatorade and engery bars. He did well too.

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With my last race for the season over, and the number tattoo scrubbed off my arms and legs (they don’t come off easily!) I am now faced with the task of packing a bag for hospital tomorrow. I am by no means nervous or worried; I know I’m in good hands. Also, why do I need to worry when so many others are taking on that emotion for me.

I’ll be in hospital for up to a week, a little longer than I first thought. So it’s turned into a mini holiday at St Andrew’s. The best thing (for me) is one of my favourite Japanese restaurants is conveniently located around the corner from the hospital. I have already warned The Old’s and Trevor that there may be a few detours required prior to visiting. Seems reasonable?

Time to pack.

A little word beginning with: R

Re… Re… Remission.

There has always been one question that causes me to pause. Not because the question upsets or concerns me, but because I have never known the answer. (Google hasn’t been much help for this one.) The question is:”Are you cancer free?”

It’s a hard one to answer because every cancer patient’s situation is different. Some patients say they are cancer free from their first check-up post treatment. Others mark it from their final round of chemo; radiation; or surgery.

So when am I worthy of the nickname: NED (No Evidence of Disease)?

My theory is this: If I had chemo and double mastectomy for ‘preventative’ purposes, haven’t I been cancer free from when the lump was removed last year? My medical team are yet to mentioned the word ‘remission’, so I’ve always assumed it hasn’t applied to me yet.

To understand my mindset, here’s a recap of the past year (for those who missed the start of the journey).

September 2, 2013. Surgery #1: Lumpectomy and Sentinel Node Biopsy. The cancerous lump was removed, along with three lymph nodes to test and determine if any cells had escaped. (They hadn’t! Phew.)

September 6, 2013. Surgery #2: Re-excision. When they remove a mass there needs to be a clear margin of healthy, cancer-free tissue surrounding the cancerous mass. The pathology report showed the lump was bigger than they thought and they didn’t have a clear margin, so they needed to take out more tissue. The clear margin was achieved after the second surgery.

October 11, 2013. IVF: Extraction of eggs. Sort of a surgery but not. Let’s not count it as an official surgery.

October 16, 2013, First round of chemo: The moment we realised I was allergic to chemotherapy drugs. Oh joy.

January 31, 2014, Last round of chemo: Finally…

July 31, 2014, Surgery #3: Double mastectomy with reconstruction. All tissue removed was clear; no cancer cells identified.

And we’re not at the end yet! In the future I will need a fourth surgery to insert the implants; a fifth surgery to re-create nipples, and tattooing to make them look real.

The next stages of the reconstruction process may not be completed until 2015 or 2016!

So, do I really have to wait another year, or more, to celebrate being in remission, or NED?

Knowing my treatment is still ongoing, all preventative, when would be my “end of treatment, I am now cancer-free date be?”

It shouldn’t be after my double mastectomy – that was preventative, nor should it be after I finished chemo – that was preventative too. When was I truly cancer free? When was there no evidence of any cancer cells in my body.

That, my friends, was after my re-excision. That was September 6, 2013. That was a year ago today.

Without wanting to get too carried away and excited about this, I thought I would put the question to my oncologist, Dr Oliveira (I had a follow-up appointment with her last week). After a long-winded explanation about not being labelled ‘cured’ for another 15 years, so said she was happy to say I’m in ‘remission’. I then asked when my remission technically started. I told her my theory, and she agreed with it. I have been in remission for a year!

I’m yet to meet with my surgeon and ask if he agrees with my theory – he probably won’t. I’m sure he’ll have his own theory about my remission date.

So I’m throwing caution to the wind and marking today as my one-year remission anniversary. (Maybe NED should be my nickname instead of Rocky… not sure it has the same ring to it). Only 14 more years until I’m cured (apparently).

So pop some bubbles, grab a beer or go hard with a Whiskey. I’ve got a hot brunch date and a glass of bubbles with my name on it.

Bottoms up. Salud. Prost. Kippis. לחיים. Gesondheid. Salute. Na zdravi. Şerefe. Terviseks.

 

 

 

A WOD for Rocky

As you know, A Rack for Rocky started a few weeks ago. Today was the main day to WOD for Rocky. I know it may sound like a whole lot of CrossFit mumbo-jumbo, but it’s a pretty special gesture.

I’m a little disappointed I didn’t complete the WOD myself, but it was a tough one, and I had the 15 km row looming over my head. The decision was made that I would row instead, and I am thankful to those who talked some sense into me.

The WOD chosen (or created?) for today was ‘Nutter’. Are they trying to tell me something?

10 Handstand Push-ups

15 Deadlifts

20 Pull-ups

25 Box Jumps

50 Pull-ups

100 Wall Balls

200 Double Unders

400 meter run with 20 kg plate (or 15 kg for the girls)

A few comments were made that they would rather do Nutter than row 15 km. I was starting to think the same.

The rower was set. The timer beeped. There was no turning back…

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I positioned my rower so I could watch everyone doing his or her WOD, which made the first 5 km fly by without much thought. Instead of focusing on myself, I was watching the effort everyone else was putting in. It’s quite humbling and inspiring to step back and watch. I was trying not to focus on the clock, but then everyone started to finish… reality set in that I still had a long way to go…

10 km done. Right, just the normal challenge left to go. (If I tell myself it’s that easy, surely it would be…)

As I inched towards the last 5 km I decided to tick off one of the other three challenges – WOD in your undies. So off came the top. There was no way I was going to row with just undies, so taking the top half off seemed a reasonable trade. I am the last person who would normally do such a thing, but hey, the girls only have another few days left. It was my last chance to show them off.

After the WOD three others – Carmen, Darren and Nathan – completed ANOTHER challenge. CFWF breeds some pretty tough cookies. I was exhausted watching them. Mitch also completed his 2oo burpees next to me while I kept rowing. All of this activity around me distracted me from pain that was beginning to surface in my back, neck, groin, heel and thighs…pretty much everywhere.

Also, for those who don’t know (and there is probably a lot of you who wouldn’t), our coach at CrossFit Western Front, Brandon is currently in the USA competing at the CrossFit Games. It’s a pretty big deal! A screen has been set up so we can watch the action live at the box. Unfortunately for me (and those cheering me on), I didn’t time things very well and was still rowing when he took the stage for his heat. I was grinding away on the rower while he was toughing it out with the world’s best CrossFitters. I think I had it easy.

After 1 hr and 20-something minutes of rowing, I was finished.

This fundraiser is quite daunting for me, in a good way. There are a lot of new (and old) CrossFitters at the box that probably don’t know me, or know me well. I find it pretty amazing how much everyone has embraced this challenge.

I’ve been trying to keep track of everyone who has completed a challenge; it could qualify as a full-time job!

There a lot of people to thank (and I will be thanking for a very long time!).

Firstly, a massive thanks to everyone who has been involved in the logistics of this fundraiser! Lizzy, Brandon, Alex and Kate. Without the support of the owners and coaches at CFWF, this wouldn’t have be possible.

Secondly, to everyone who has performed a burpee, rowed or been brave and bared more than normal.

In no particular order, here are the names of the legends who have been involved thus far…

Paige – 2oo burpees, Alyce – 5 km row, Sara – WODed in her undies, Tenaya – 200 burpees,  Olivia – 200 burpees, Russell (and his boys) – 200 burpees, Gavin – WODed in his undies, Alicia – 200 burpees, Bodie – 201 burpees, Jodie – 5 km row, Kelly – 200 burpees, Killah – 5 km row, Angie – 200 burpees, Darren – WODed in his undies (let’s clarify – a G-string and bra!), Tim – WODed in his undies, Gina – 5 km row, Liz and Simon – 200 burpees each, Christina – WODed in her undies, Sam – 5 km row, Kirah – 200 burpees, Brad M – 200 burpees in his undies, undies that matched his shoes I should add! Shaun – 200 burpees, Nathan – 5 km row, Trent – 5 km row, Dan – 200 burpees in his undies, Kate – 5 km row, Dane – 200 burpees in his undies, Gail – 200 burpees, Cheryl – 5 km row, Jake – WODed in his undies, Brett – 200 burpees, Clint – 200 burpees in his undies, Dan M – 200 burpees, Andy – 200 burpees, Kayla – WODed in her undies, Stacey – 5 km row, Steph – 5 km row, Brad H – 5 km row, Tiff – 200 burpees, Louise – 5 km row, Tui – 5 km row, Mavis – 5 km row, Charlie – 200 burpees, Jessica – 200 burpees, Christine – 200 burpees, Kaylene – 200 burpees, Rachael – 5 km row, Wendy – 5 km row, Rachael – 5 km row, Moana – 5 km row, Carmen – 5 km row, Mitch – 2o0 burpees, Brayden – 5 km row, Renea – 5 km row, Ben – 5 km row, Paul – 200 burpees, Wendy – 5 km row, Amy – 200 burpees, Casey 400 burpees, James (El Phantasmo) 5 km row, Karla – 5 km row, Wendy – 5 km row.

And David – I haven’t forgotten about you. David had to work and wasn’t able to complete his dare within the 48 hour period.

I hope I haven’t left anyone out. More names will be added as the fundraiser continues…

Next on the list for me are 200 burpees. I want to complete all three challenges; it’s a small gesture to show how much I appreciate how involved everyone has been in this challenge and fundraiser.

UPDATED: 27 July. The cost of surgery has been covered.

 

 

 

A Rack For Rocky

This is a special blog for my CrossFit Western Front family.

Some people in the fitness industry have issues with CrossFit. They think it’s a ‘cult’, or it’s not a safe workout environment: amateurs doing Olympic movements. I personally have not seen any of this in my eight months at CFWF. What I have seen, and become part of, is an immense sense of community.

When I joined CFWF I was new to Ipswich. I say new because I hadn’t lived here for 13 years. The people I did know were friends from my younger years, and I was getting to know all over again, as an adult.

I remember my first few sessions at CFWF, I was blown away by how friendly, approachable and helpful everyone was. I tried to hide away at the back each class but it didn’t stop everyone from showing support and ensuring I knew what I had to do. As I became friends with more individuals in this community, my journey, and my blog were exposed. They have been there as I battled through chemo, and listened as I discussed every decision I have had to make since. They have encouraged and celebrated every milestone with me, from my first puffs of hair growth to my first RX’d WOD.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I have already felt blessed by the support and generosity of so many people through this journey: friends, family and strangers. Having to move home for treatment meant I had to pack up my life in London without notice, which was a challenge financially. I am thankful I was able to move back to my family home and be supported by the parents. I’ve never been good at receiving; I prefer to give. Independent Rochelle has been challenged every day to accept support from others.

When I was weighing up the cost of having treatment done privately, a friend suggested I start my own ‘crowdfunding’. People crowdfund for a variety of reasons: from starting their own company to IVF treatment. But how could I ask people to support my cancer treatment? I felt that my friends’ have already given so much, and I’m not good at asking. He suggested I set a goal – the half marathon, perhaps – and fundraise to complete it. But most of my friends know I would do that anyway. I considered fundraising for a Breast Cancer Organisation, but again, I struggled with the thought of asking people to give. I would never do well working for a charity.

This brings me to the purpose of this blog. A secret group was established and members of my CF have been hatching a plan to fundraise some money to support the cost of my surgery. The cat was let out of the bag and I was finally informed of this the other day. Words cannot express how much this has touched me. And especially as I know how much people have already given this year at other fundraising events at our CF.

They have been creative in their approach and have created a month of dares: If you complete the dare, you don’t pay; if you do, the person who has nominated pays $10; and so it continues. The dares are: complete 200 burpees, WOD in your undies or row 5km.

This morning the first victim, Paige, completed 200 burpees. The fact that she completed this dare, while she was sick and after the workout, means just as much as if she had paid $10. The other great thing about this fundraiser is that the dares continue while I am recovering from surgery. I won’t be able to work out, but I will still feel part of the community.

To everyone at the box, I say a big thank you for being gracious in this fundraising event. I think there will be a lot of ‘extra’ fit people by the end of August, or everyone will know each other on a more personal level (with the amount of people excited about working out in their undies.) And hopefully I still have some friends at the end of this…

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Paige completing her 200 burpees.

GCAM14

Well here it is, another running story.

Most of you know I had a light-bulb moment to enter the Gold Coast Airport Marathon, when I found out my surgery would be after the event. My surgery was confirmed for July 31 and I had eight weeks to train. Eight weeks would surely be enough, right? I was already back running, so I just had to run some more, right?

My saving grace came in the form of two people: Mark and Louise. Mark and Louise are training for the Melbourne Marathon and invited me to join them on a morning run. And when I say morning, I mean at ridiculous o’clock! ‘We meet at 5am at the netball courts,’ Mark said. 5AM! If only it was summer and not winter.

The first morning, as I approached the netball courts car park, all I could see were red and white lights flashing. These lights were attached to both Mark and Louise. What have I signed up for? They were both kitted out with drink belts, lights, and Mark was wearing a singlet – I was in compression clothing from neck to toes. I felt like such an amateur.

The first training run was 10km. I put my head down, ran and was very quiet, unlike Mark and Louise who chatted the whole way. At the end they asked how many weeks until the HM. It was about six. Silence. Let’s just say the next week the distance was increased to 16km! Clearly I was a little behind on a normal HM training schedule. The distance had increased and we were now meeting at 4:30 am. No messing around with these two.

Now, most people who train for a race – any distance – usually have one, secret question bubbling inside them: What time will I run? For some people, just to finish is the only goal. But dare I say, the majority of people have a specific time in mind. And everyone – your friends, family and strangers – want to know what that magic number is. For me, taking my training runs into consideration, at an average pace of 5:40-5:50, my goal was 2:00 hrs. I would have to work for it, but it would be achievable.

To have a goal, you need a plan of attack. My plan was to run as close as possible to the 2:00hr pacer. The main reason was to ensure I didn’t go out too fast. And if I felt good near the end, I could sprint to the finish. (Who sprints after running 20 km? Honestly…)

Fast-forward to Sunday: The big day. The alarm sounded at 4:00am – just like every other Wednesday. Lucky for me my sister lives 10 minutes from the start line. Unlucky for her as she was my designated support crew. We arrived at the venue at 4:45 and they were still inflating the starting line funnel. Hmmm… maybe we could have slept in a little longer…

A lot of friends were running in this event, but you never expect to find them in the crowd. With sheer luck, we found one of the girls from the tri club, bonus. It was great to surrounded by familiar faces.  It was still early and my stomach was telling me the banana I had eaten earlier was not enough. I debated whether I should eat another. There’s a fine line between eating and drinking too much, or not enough. I still had 30 mins before the start… another banana wouldn’t hurt.

The voice over the speaker informed us it was time to get into position. In other words: time for one last toilet stop. With five minutes spare, we raced over to see the runners tightly packed together. We should have known better. It wasn’t a problem squeezing into the crowd; the problem was I was nowhere near the 2:00hr pacer, I was behind the 1:50 pacer. I laughed. No more pacer security blanket, I would have to rely on shiny, new Garmin, and my own intuition.

The roar of the crowd signaled that the race had officially started. We were off! And then we weren’t… and then we were … and then we weren’t. Finally, after two minuets of doing the pre-start shuffle, we were actually running. As the spectators cheered, I was overwhelmed with a wave of emotion. I had to hold back tears. Most people cry at the end of a race – I was on the verge of crying at the start. Just crossing the start, I already felt I had won. I thought back to only a few months ago (22 weeks, actually), to the bald woman struggling to run 5km. A half marathon seems like a far-fetched goal. But here I was.

Ok. Enough of the soppy, emotional stuff and back to the race… I started to think about the advice given by seasoned half marathon runners: Don’t start out too fast. Ok Rochelle, heed the advice. I looked down and checked my pace, 5:20. Wow! Easy tiger! I told myself to slow down – 5:40 was my comfortable pace. I happily let the runners go past and the 1:50 balloon bounced and fluttered further into the distance. I was going to be smart: I was going to listen to everyone’s advice.

The crowd beeped in unison. Or should I say, the Garmin’s beeped in unison – 1km done. I continued to monitor my watch only to see I was moving faster – 5:15. No! I was trying to go slower. Beep – 2km done.

The second piece of advice I was given was to have fun. At that moment I looked to my right and we were running past the Broadwater. The rising sun framed the runners’ silhouettes. It was stunning. The image is captured in my mind forever.

Beep. Beep. Beep – 4, 5, 6km done. I keep looking at my Garmin, and my Garmin kept telling me I was going too fast. It seemed 5:15 was my new ‘normal’. I felt good and didn’t feel I was pushing myself beyond my limits. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep – 7, 8, 9 and 10km. There was another strange beep, which I ignored (at the end of the race I realised it was my Garmin telling me I had set a new 10km record). I was still running a 5:15 pace. Ok Rochelle, just run with it (pardon the pun). I gave out some high-fives and yelled to anyone I recognised. I was actually enjoying this.

Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep – 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15km passed and I was going faster! I was now running a 5:08 pace. Yikes. It was either going to end in victory, or very badly.

Keeping in mind I have never run past 16km, I was nearing the ‘unknown’. I approached the 16km mark and was still running faster. Faster than the first 10km. Surely the last 5km would be a breeze, even if I had to slow down a little. 5km isn’t foreign to me. It’s just a parkrun, right? Everyone warned me the last 5km were the hardest. Ok. Let’s see…

Beep. Beep – 16, and 17km done.

I still felt good and was maintaining the same pace.

Beep. 18km done. I looked down at my watch and saw the pace had dropped to 5:20. Come on Rochelle, you’re nearly there. 18km – 19km was definitely a challenge. I won’t lie. Do you remember Loony Tunes? Road Runner and Wild E Coyote? I was no longer Road Runner, I had become Wile E Coyote – legs flapping around, not getting anywhere.

Beep. 19km. The crowds lined the path, I could hear music in the distance and I finally found the final gear I had been searching for.

By this stage I knew I was going to finish well under my 2:00hr target. So what do you do when you already know you’ve beaten your goal? Sprint! If you’re going to beat it by a little, why not beat it by a bit more…

Beep. 20km. Yes, I was one of those people sprinting after running 20km!

Beep. 21km. Beep. First HM.

It was done. I didn’t experience an overwhelming flood of emotions, just satisfaction (and shock) with the time I ran. I guzzled down a banana, orange and two bottles of water, and collected my medal and t-shirt.

And what do you do after running 21km? Eat everything and anything you can get your hands on. Well, that was my theory. Surely I was allowed. When asked by a friend what I ate to refuel, I replied, ‘A Yatala pie and a PowerAde.’ That was after the coffee and cookie.

So what next? A marathon? Absolutely! But not in the near future. Surgery is in a few weeks so I’ll be out of action again. I’ll have to squeeze in a few more long runs before then, maybe another half marathon.

And…special thanks to:

  • My sister, Andrew and Laura for supporting me with carb loading the night before. (Apparently you’re supposed to carb load 48 hours prior to the race – clearly I didn’t get the memo.)
  • My sister (again) for waking up at 4am, walking around in the cold and dark, and cheering me across the finish line. (There is a debate over why she didn’t get a photo of me finishing: she seems to think I came through with a group of people, I think it was because I was too fast.)
  • The Ipswich Tri Club: for always waiting for me to catch up when running.
  • All my friends and family who have given me constant support and encouragement.

And most importantly, to my Wednesday morning running partners – Mark and Louise. There is no doubt in my mind that those 16km runs set me up for success.

Gold Coast Airport Marathon

For the runners out there, here are the juicy details:

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