REAL STORIES by REAL PEOPLE
A collection of articles on various POSE and other running related topics written by and/or about Pose Method Certified Coaches and Pose Runners of all levels.
|Gwen Campbell approaching the FINISH line at KONA, HI
November 23, 2006
The rapid road to Kona, October 2006
by Gwen Campbell
How did I find myself - an overweight, 45-year-old, unfit Scotswoman - racing against time and all conventional wisdom to prepare for the ultimate triathlon, the Hawaiian Ironman?
At 5'6, weighing 179lbs and not having competed in anything since leaving school - let alone a triathlon - I received an email in late April (2006) announcing that I had won a lottery place for the race six months later.
I am ashamed to confess that I had only entered the lottery in a moment of post relationship break-up pique, as my ex-husband of 10 years was a fanatical triathlete and ironman with a life-long dream of qualifying for Kona. This was divine retribution indeed for those uncharitable thoughts! But knowing just how much that coveted spot in Kona means to triathletes the world over, how could I turn down without even trying? Maybe all things do happen for a reason.
But after contacting numerous coaches and triathletes for advice on how to prepare, the response was pretty much unanimous: it couldn't be done - there was insufficient time to develop the required technical skills and endurance without risking injury, even before considering the notoriously harsh weather conditions of Hawaii.
I did manage to find one encouraging voice however, and immediately embarked on the prescribed rigorous training program. Yet after less than four weeks it seemed the doomsayers were right in their predictions: I sustained a nasty calf tear. I visited an eminent sports physiotherapist who declared bluntly that middle-aged, obese ladies should not suddenly take up enthusiastic running programs and - as a physician with an interest in sports medicine - I should have known better. He strongly advised against any running whatsoever for a minimum of three months.
Realising that Hawaii was indeed a crazy notion, I abandoned the training; disillusioned and disappointed.
By early June there had been little improvement in my calf. I accidentally came across Posetech website and was immediately engrossed: the concepts of Pose made such perfect sense that I was desperately eager to learn more. By fortuitous coincidence, Dr Romanov was soon scheduled for a clinic in the UK.
On arrival at the clinic on June 17 I was still limping badly and had difficulty bearing weight on that leg. Dr Romanov advised me to stop "protecting the injury" and to start running immediately using the Pose Method®; assuring me the injury would then heal. So I abandoned my "motion control" heavily-padded trainers and replaced them with the incredibly-flimsy Puma H streets. Within a week I was completely free of pain and although my implementation of Pose was a long way from perfect, I managed some low mileage.
My motivation and enthusiasm was instantly restored - along with a glimmer of hope again for Hawaii.
So I plucked up courage to visit a local triathlon shop, just "to look". The sales assistant was brimming with useful advice (not to mention considerable delight) when he realised I would need the entire kit. I emerged from the store hours later - laden with bags, a gleaming new carbon fibre dream machine (which he assured me would get up hills all by itself) and an enormous dent in my bank balance. This significant investment meant I was now committed - fitting the stereotype of a frugal Scot, I would be racing "Come Hell or High Water"! Little did I appreciate the truth behind these words!
To validate the lottery entry, I had to complete in a WTC ranked event (half or full ironman). Due to completely-inflexible work commitments, I discovered that the only European race which would allow me to meet this requirement was just two weeks later. I had no choice but to enter.
How bad could it be? My first-ever race: a half ironman in a foreign country on a brand-new bike, with minimal prior training, no open water swim experience and the first time in a wet suit. Possibly the most stunningly awful pre-race preparation ever known?
I felt so sick, scared, completely intimidated and hopelessly unprepared that I nearly turned around at registration. The only thing keeping me there was that this was the "Marc Herremans Classic" in Antwerp and having read about his incredible achievements, my problems seemed trivial by comparison. It was hardly in the spirit of this race to walk away without even trying.
Predictably, by end of bike section I was at the rear of the field. Not wanting to place too much stress on my leg, I half walked and half ran the 13.1 miles and throughout the ordeal was desperately tempted to duck into one of the many roadside cafés, whip off my race number and avoid prolonging the embarrassment.
I finished (eventually) in last place, with a time of 6.58.40. I was clearly unlikely to set the world of triathlon on fire but the successful finish sealed my trip to Kona and I was still pain free!
My training program then went on hold in July as work commitments had me on-board the Trans-Siberian Express Train in Russia for the next four weeks! Curbing my frustration and impatience, I made the best of the situation, ducking out for an occasional short run when the train stopped. Stretching my imagination and improvisation skills, I worked through various exercises with resistance bands, did step-ups on the train seats and lifted weights with mineral water bottles. It was much amusement for the train attendants and fellow pasosengers, who declared me quite mad!
I returned home in August to a frantic work schedule and a 10-week countdown to Hawaii.
Realising that if Pose running could enable me to remain injury-free for the first-time ever - even with my less-than-perfect technique - then Dr Romanov's approach to riding and swimming might be equally beneficial. I had nothing to lose - conventional training methods were never going to get me to the start line in Hawaii - so I called Dr Romanov and asked him if he would help me. He responded to the challenge and during the next few weeks, we corresponded frequently by internet and telephone.
|Dr.Romanov and Gwen Campbell, Miami, FL November 2006
Trying to learn a new way of movement without visual aids, direct feedback or supervision was a struggle at times and it's a huge credit to Dr Romanov's patience that we progressed.
The principle was to improve my perception of movement, do only the right actions and then try to reproduce them. When my technique or cadence started to fail, it was time to stop rather than practise bad habits. Not only did it mean that I was able to fit the limited volume of training around my work schedules, but I also found the approach so much more interesting and mentally challenging than simply grinding out endless miles.
On September 3 I entered my second-ever race - the ˝ IM Monaco. As the only weekend completely free of work commitments, the race was chosen on pure timing. On registering, I discovered that the bike course has 1600+m vertical climbing over three mountain passes and considered one of toughest bike courses on the circuit. I would never have entered if I'd known! I managed not to go over any precipices or lose control on the hairpin descents and survived with all limbs intact and only my pride and ego a little dented. Having made the bike cut off with only minutes to spare, the half marathon over the famous F1 circuit of Monte Carlo seemed easy by comparison. It was another humiliating last-place finish with only 60 seconds to spare but another invaluable implementation of The Pose Method. And yes, I was still pain free!
With just seven weeks remaining I could not hope to develop any speed. By learning correct technique however, I could greatly reduce muscular effort, prevent injury and conserve vital energy. My untrained body continued to respond to Dr Romanov's approach and I continued to gain fitness and strength, even though the longest run was 14 miles and my longest bike and swim was 63 miles and 1.5 miles respectively. A considerably untraditional approach indeed!
Of course there were many times when Kona seemed so utterly overwhelming, daunting and completely unachievable. Why on earth was I doing this? I often questioned my sanity, as did my friends, family and colleagues. Frequently I had considerable anxieties about fitness, lack of training, fear of failure and humiliation on such a grand scale - in front of the worlds' best triathletes. Trying to mentally "keep it together" became the biggest struggle as the race approached.
Arriving in Hawaii was like a dream. Now finally able to relax and enjoy the wonderful atmosphere of Kona, the town just buzzing and vibrant with energy and anticipation. I felt incredibly privileged just to be there and participate in the most prestigious IM race in world.
I attended all the social events and had a fantastic week making new friends from all over the world. I used the final week to acclimatise to the intense heat and humidity and, on the advice of Dr Romanov, continued with my perception drills throughout. I discovered that even in the final hours before a race, it's never too late to change or improve something.
Race day itself (October 21) didn't quite go to plan; with lots of unexpected problems. A nasty clash with a competitor who was swimming breaststroke in the swim leg resulted in significant delay, ingestion of sea water and disorientation. Unsurprisingly this was followed by headache, vomiting and abdominal cramps for 40 miles on the bike.
Just as things started to come good on the bike, mechanical problems followed with my chain popping off the derailer nine or 10 times. The extremes of weather - those infamous winds, heat and torrential tropical downpours - added to the fun. It seemed that everything was going to be thrown at me and the only thing I could do was hang on in there and just keep going! Although my finish time would be too close to the cut-off for comfort, I knew that if I maintained the focus on my action and didn't panic that I would be okay. I wasn't in this for the time - it was the garland of flowers and the big shiny finisher's medal that I was after!
The support from aid station volunteers, fans and supporters from dawn until midnight was overwhelming.
And as only those who have been to Kona know: nothing will ever compare with the sheer elation and joy of coming down Alii Dr in the final few hundred metres - being so enthusiastically welcomed and cheered on by hundreds in wonderful party atmosphere to the finish line (16.46.42).
Despite being out there for so long, I still felt great at the end with no pain or injuries whatsoever. Other than mild, transient stiffness the following day, no new problems subsequently developed - truly miraculous!
The awards ceremony was a moving, inspiring and motivating affair. The champions and world-class athletes finished in fantastic times, but I also discovered that so many competitors overcome hurdles very much greater than mine (cancers, physical challenges and extremes of age ... you name it, people had battled through it). Their stories very humbling and my journey seemed so easy and insignificant in comparison. There were many others, but in particular people such as Marc Herremans and Sister Madonna Buder (aged 76), were just awe-inspiring.
So the plan from here? To keep improving my implementation of The Pose Method in all three disciplines - I know my technique in all three could be so much better. And the ironman? I find myself wondering what sort of finish time would be possible with another six months of training and race experiences. I intend to find out!
Thank you so much to Nicholas Romanov for his radical and controversial Pose Method, inspiration and unfailing belief.
Anything is indeed possible, if you believe.
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