Coach Sarah Anne's Story
After popping my Ironman cherry in New Zealand in 2011 my next IM distance race was a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’. The older I get, the happier my body seems to be at longer distance races. Fast forward to 7 December 2015 and I’m standing knee deep in the ocean on the startline of Ironman WA with 1899 other excited athletes staring down a 2km jetty. The view was amazing and helped focus my mind on the job ahead, the destination and finish line were far off in the distance, the road ahead was unpredictable and unknown, and I was going make sure I enjoyed every damn minute of the journey.
The sacrifices required for Ironman racing are purely down to each individual. It often boils down to how much you want the race, how much it scares you, how inspired you feel to give everything you can in training and on race day. Personally, I enter races that motivate me to get out and train, that put fire in my belly, and that scare me just enough! I go out to race not compete, giving everything in each moment both during training and in the event.
Some like to ‘wing it’ in training and just knuckle down on race day, some just want to cross the line happy gaining a massive sense of achievement, other are out to PB, to place, to aim for Kona. This is something I love about Ironman racing, standing toe to toe with others ready for a BIG day in the office. The energy is palpable.
Six months of focused training, balancing running the Karmea fitness hub and community alongside the time required to train, looking after and listening to my body, having a minimal social life and still getting precious time with my husband Warren when I was often tired and just wanted to EAT, were the sacrifices made to stand next to others hoping for the race of a lifetime.
This time round I decided to seek help with my coaching. I have always self coached with the able and experienced guidance of my Ironman veteran husband Warren, but this time I needed to gently end that relationship! Athlete/coach can wear thin between husband and wife. My full time role with Karmea means I talk coaching and live and breathe sport every minute of the waking day, so thinking and planning my own training was something I had to remove from my life. I enlisted the help of friend, pro triathlete, tri coach and Karmea coach Rebecca Hoschke. Thankfully she jumped at the chance to work with me to get me to the start line, after that, the day was up to me.
Bec was a font of amazing knowledge, having had her own success on the course at Bussleton, alongside being a true advocate of practicing what she preaches, something I respect hugely in a coach. If you want success in any sport, I’m a big believer in being guided by someone who has stood on the start line knowing exactly what you are about to go through from a physical, emotional and mental level. As I mentioned before, I’m there to RACE and Bec was someone I knew could get me to the water’s edge with my brain exactly where it needed to be and my body in the best shape it could be come race day.
Having learnt along my sporting journey that you need to balance the working in (mental) alongside the working out (physical), I took bloody good care of myself. Clean eating, massive sleeps (during the day if needed), watching my iron levels which tend to dip during intense blocks of training, resting when needed, seeking my phsyio out if I got the slightest niggle and not ignoring it, massage every 3 weeks, ART – active release technique – when needed, adding in 2 yin yoga classes per week alongside my strength sessions. Yep, the weeks got pretty full and there were some HANGRY moments of complete exhaustion but…. you learn to listen to your body over the years and give it what it needs. Ignore it at your peril.
I focused hugely on my race nutrition, enlisting the help of Kira Sutherland from Uber Health to guide me. Her knowledge of endurance fuelling is extensive and we looked at what worked for my body when training under intensity and what was required for Ironman distance racing.
After coming 2nd in age group at my lead up race Challenge Forster, I was feeling confident in my ability for Bussleton. Forster had gone to plan which was simple… GO HARD OR GO HOME! Give it everything in each moment, assess how I was feeling at any given time and race accordingly, listen to my body, stick to the nutrition plan and let the day take care of itself.
Training went to plan. The usual tiredness the everyone experiences. The usual selective suboptimal sessions that come naturally when you are under the physical and mental load of IM training. Bec’s guidance every step of the journey was faultless and her confidence in me when I doubted my performance in sessions was much needed. Again her experience gave her inside knowledge, she’s felt this all herself during training, and as my coach she could look at the bigger picture and see I was bang on track.
My mum had travelled over from the UK to support me on the race. Dad was watching online through the night back in Blighty. I was excited to race in front of them and make them proud.
So, there I was standing on the start line…. sure I had times in my head to keep my mind occupied, anyone who tells you they don’t is lying, but today was going to be about letting Be whatever would Be… the race excitement builds, the helicopters hover over the ocean, the jet skis zoom about spraying water plumes, people are screaming and yelling from the jettys either side of us, I give my bestie Sheryl a bloody hard hug and wish her luck, high five a few people around me and then stare down that jetty… time to focus.. time to stay calm… time to claim my prize… the gun goes off…. it’s time to RACE!
THE 3.8KM SWIM (1:05:35)
This seriously has to be the best swim course of any race on the planet. We had perfect conditions on the day and the water was sublime. I set myself up in the middle of the pack and about 3 people from the front. The swim start was hectic, 1900 people all off at the same time can be a bit like that, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d made it out in my mind. I found it hard to find a rhythm in the first 2kms so just focused on my stroke and staying relaxed, rather than external factors I couldn’t control.
My goal was to find some good feet and hold on. As we approached the turn around at the end of the jetty I realised we were all too tight so I had to swim out to correct my course. There was lots of chop on the top of the jetty, I just focused on relaxing and working with the water. I felt great coming out of the swim, and ran with confidence into T1, switching my mind to what I need to do in the change tent and staying focussed.
Overall : I was a little disappointed when I looked at my watch out of the swim time as my pool and open water swims have been strong, I expected to be faster on the day but then you just roll with it. This is Ironman and it was to early in the day to let a swim time get inside my head. Expectations can be your downfall if you let them, push on, and get on the bike!
THE 180KM BIKE (5:28:50)
The Busso course is flat and fast. Even the head wind, which the course is well known for, was kinder to us this day. I felt strong and able to push on the bike right from the word go. When I hit the head wind sections of the course I drove into the headwind and trusted my training and ability. I used my nutrition as my timing for the race and didn’t think about my speed or times. Nutrition was bang on, stuck to the plan eating and drinking as timed. I felt mentally switched on and it was amazing to come back into town after the first lap and feel the energy from the crowds.
Out onto the second lap and I caught up with Karmea Athlete Nathan Oliver and switched into coach mode, telling him to eat, drink and ride. Just as I got ready to ride on I felt the bike go ‘weird’ and looked down….front wheel puncture at 110km!! First EVER in a race. Nothing you can do about it, getting angry just clouds your thinking, so I stayed focused, ignored the bloody crazy flies that attacked my sweat/sunscreen/gel drench skin, changed it, got back on the bike and rode hard. Thank you to Tom Lee for the shouts to check I was OK and had all I needed 🙂
I used the energy from the puncture to fuel the rest of the ride. Chased down riders, ticked off lots of people and just about caught back up with some of the bunch that I had been riding with but I probably lost around 8-10mins. I came off the bike feeling bloody amazing! I was having an absolute ball. It was so good to see my Mum leaping and jumping around near the bike dismount! She was more excited than me!! Time to nail T2 and get out on the run.
Overall : I felt strong and capable. Nutrition was bang on plan. Mentally just felt great which is usually something I struggle with in the past. Puncture schmunture, not much I could do about that and I’m still super happy with my bike split.
THE 42.2KM RUN (3:35:28)
I felt strong right off the bike. My legs came good immediately within the first KM which wasn’t something I had ever felt in a race before. Bec and I had worked hard on my pacing off the bike and it paid off. I think the initial part of the run was fuelled by the frustration over the puncture 🙂 I shouted as much to Warren as I passed him coming out of T2. I absolutely loved the run course, breaking it down into 2km markers giving myself small time goals to reach them by.
When you pass through the area near the finish line a friend Conor had likened it to being on Alpe d’Huez in the Tour De France and he wasn’t wrong, it lifted my energy and made me feel like a super hero! I used every aid station and stuck to a liquid diet of water coke water with salt tabs every 30mins as per my plan. Also, I put a cup of ice in my bra so I could reach in and grab some cubes to hold to keep me cool, sorry if anyone got an eyeful during the race!!
I used other competitors to help me race well and stay strong. Initially any girls in front of me, then I forgot the girls and started focusing on ticking off every boy 🙂 Sorry boys but you gave me so much strength and encouragement without even knowing it! As I hit the last turn, I switched my watch to race time to see a 9:52! This was the first time I had actually looked at the time. I just knew I could push a little harder to the line with only 4kms to go.
I dug deeper than ever before and focussed on nailing 100mtrs at a time. I never doubted and never gave up. I think I might of scared a lot of people I came up behind as I was breathing so hard, red lining massively but not giving a crap as I was going home. As I ran into the part of the course near the finish line where it narrows, I was asking people to ‘excuse me, coming through’ so I could hold my pace. I never knew my final run time until I saw Warren after the race. 3:35:28 I’ll freaking take that!!
Overall : nothing could have prepared me for the surprise at being able to run that time for an IM marathon. I felt amazing and able to apply myself in each moment. I need to learn to run the aid stations for future races! I ran with pro Katy Duffield for a while and she was sublime to watch, didn’t even drop pace she scooped up cups, drank and carried on running. Learning how to hold pace through them is an art form and will save time but race nutrition essentials are a hard trade off.
I told myself on the final return leg of run, “Just 4km to go Sezza! Freaking run! You only have to get to the finish line now, no slacking”. I gave everything and mentally pushed my body to keep the pace up all the way to the line. It’s amazing what the body can achieve when the mind feels strong. When I crossed the line I couldn’t walk another step and asked for a wheelchair, the volunteers thought I was joking but seriously my legs were toast. I needed to be helped to the recovery area by two volunteers, how amazing are the finish line volunteers.
I raced with pure heart on the day and that showed by the emotion across the line, I couldn’t hold it together any longer and cried on the massage table. When I saw Warren and Mum for the first time after crossing the line I balled like a child! Anyone watching would of thought I’d had a shite race! I was ecstatic with the result and the relief on finishing, the sacrifice of 6 months of training and all the fatigue of the day just boiled over. My overall finish time was 10:15:52, 29th female across the line, 11th non professional, 174th overall across the line from 1700 people that completed the race and 3rd in my age group. Placing is just the icing on the cake for me. I went out to give it my all, to leave nothing out there, to race with every ounce of my physical and mental being and most of all to have a bloody great day!
So I hang up my IM boots for a little while but I will be back that is for sure. Now… where are my mountain bike and trail shoes? It’s time to spend some time back in the dirt! 🙂
Behind every endurance athlete is a bunch of supportive and understanding people. I certainly couldn’t do this sport without them all. Here’s the well deserved thanks….
Warren – you are my rock in hard times, the anchor that steadies a sometimes unstable ship and calm waters when everything about me is choppy as hell. Love you darling. Oh and I beat your best IM time so that’s a call to action Mr. Evans xx
Mum and Dad – for being there on race day, virtually and in reality. You gave me strength without even knowing it on the day
Bec – a steady guiding hand, with confidence in me when I doubted myself. Knowing you were watching online on race day was a massive boost. I wanted to thank you for all your dedication to my coaching by giving everything on race day. Thank you.
Kira – nutrition excellence! I flew thanks to you!
Ben W (massage), Ben H (physio), Pete (ART Therapist) – men with magic hands that kept the machine oiled and the joints moving
Carolina – YIN ROCKED MY RUN!!! Thank you for your gentle guidance and helping me find that letting go isn’t a competition. xx
Sheryl – what can I say Shezza, we did it again. Our journeys together are nothing but EPIC! Thank you for sharing these adventures with me and for helping with me build the ‘guns’ 🙂
Tom – training partner extraordinare and a very uber day in the office for you at Busso to my friend. Thanks for letting me chase you up hills
Emma, Sophie, Nathan, Chantal, Marie, Georgie, Mark – our Karmea Athletes at Busso, it was a privilege and honor to race alongside you on the day. I’m so proud of your dedication to training and your achievements on race day and your ability to party post race 🙂
The Karmea Community – YOU GUYS ROCK MY WORLD! Thank you for all your support, words and messages of encouragement and for being YOU. I can’t thank you all enough, there are to many of you to mention by name but you all played a part in the race in one way or another.
Want some help getting your best result for your big day? Talk to us about a Karmea Coaching Program