Inaugural Ironman Virginia 70.3 Race Report – AKA When Triathlon Beats the Cocky Right Outta You

Way back when Ironman first announced they had purchased Rev3 Williamsburg, I had this great idea that an early season race would be so much fun to do as a relay. Each of the relay legs could focus on what they do best, training over the spring would be more relaxed, and personally, I’d never had the chance to go as hard as possible during a race (except the Tune Up Tri and that was only because it was so short). I wanted to see what I could do for a longer distance race when I didn’t have to worry about the other 2 legs.

I got Roslynn on board for the bike and we slowly twisted Blair’s arm to be our run leg (pun intended). As Blair is fairly new to tri, not having an opportunity to get comfortable in the water took her out for the swim, and she wanted more time on the roads to get used to the cycling part. Blair has always been a strong athlete, but she has worked very hard on her run over the winter and spring, and man, has she gotten fast. And stronger. Roslynn also worked hard on her bike skills and although she was fast last year, this year she’s smoking the past version of herself. As for me, I decided to swim a lot this winter and spring, and I have stayed committed to that goal. I haven’t noticed myself getting a lot faster in the water, but in swimming, it seems like shaving :02/:03 seconds off your 100 time is a hard thing. My private goal was to do the 1.2 mile swim with an average 1:45/100 pace. I’d had those kinds of times in the past in certain open water conditions, but there is no reliability to OWS times as you never know what you’re going to get on the day of the race, especially when locations are different.

My point is, I had a goal. Roslynn had her own for the bike, and I’m sure Blair had one too, but we were all fairly quiet about it.

This was the first time I’ve signed up for a race where I wasn’t nervous as hell the entire time I trained for it. I was flat-out excited. I couldn’t wait to get in that disgusting muck of a river/creek and show that thing who was boss. I wanted to excel for my team. I knew we didn’t have a chance in hell of placing in an Ironman event, but I wanted to blow all my previous records away.

As it is with all Ironman events, there was mandatory packet pick up and bike check in on Saturday, with the race on Sunday. Saturday in Williamsburg turned out to be oddly hot as hell and humid too for added fun. I got seriously sunburned during the athlete briefing in a very unfortunate place. Still, we wandered around, enjoying seeing the rest of the team (Stefanie, Sarah, Angela, Alberto, and some random other people I knew doing the race). I was particularly excited about Sarah, since it was her first half, and for Blair, who was running her first half marathon, and would have the awesome experience of that Ironman red carpet into the finish line.

The swim portion of the race briefing didn’t concern me much. There was one part of the course that had us swimming between two buoys to keep us away from the shallow sides of the creek, but that was about it.

In horror movies, the director will often play scary music or use close shots of characters when they are foreshadowing something bad to come. In my personal IMVA horror movie, I vaguely heard – but didn’t worry about – the fact that no warm up swim would be allowed on race morning. In fact, there was no pre-swim or practice swim or swim of any kind at all happening there at the race site. I mentally shrugged my shoulders and thought, “Oh well. Not ideal, but it’s not like the water is that cold. I’ll be fine.” When I had done the Olympic version of the race, back when Rev3 still put it on, the swim was no big deal to me. In fact, I had one of my fastest swims ever – with or without a wetsuit. Because I’d done the swim before, I was even more blasé about it. I don’t remember if there was a warm up swim for that race, but I think there was one.

Ironman had made a change to the swim course, in that most of it was taking place in Gordon’s Creek before turning left into the Chickahominy. I’m not a huge fan of creeks to begin with, and I was a little bit scarred from Rev3 when trying to get out of the swim and sinking crotch deep into what can only be described as hot, sticky mucus (aka the bottom of the river.) I was hoping it would be better this time.

The race director moved on to talking about the bike. Roslynn did a good job of keeping her face composed, but the way he was describing the back 2/3 of the loop was no other word than gnarly. It was supposed to storm most of the day on Sunday. Wet road conditions + fast bikes + tiny tires + train tracks + torn up roads and hairpin turns = gnarly. I was relieved I wasn’t doing the bike leg, but I was having second-hand anxiety and PTSD for Roslynn. I knew at that point there would be no relaxing for me on race day until she was in off the bike safely.

The run course was about as straightforward as it had been with Rev3 – two loops including a gross bridge with no shade, and an out and back 6 mile loop. It meant doing the inclines of the bridge 4 times (and yes, that means you get to run down it 4 times too.) Blair was cool as a cucumber about all of it. We spent some money as is required on overpriced Mdot merchandise, picked up our cool IMVA 70.3 dry bags (great idea, Ironman Virginia!) and wandered around the village. Blair fell in love with the Normatech leg sleeves, but not the price, so we walked away after her session was over.

After the race briefing, we packed up and checked into the hotel, then decided we should drive the last 2/3 of the bike course so we could see if it was really as bad as the race director said. With Roslynn’s husband Bill behind the wheel, we took off for the intersection of Brick Bat Road and Route 5, then headed north on Brick Bat for about 15 miles.

The hills described seemed doable – Roslynn is strong as hell on the hills anyway, and we had so many hours and miles on hills last year for IMCHOO training that we all felt confident we knew how to gear for the big ones. Also, it was very easy being confident since I didn’t have to actually ride them myself!

The dicey section the RD had described was definitely . . . dicey. The road was in bad shape, the turns were sharp, the road was littered with debris from previous storms and because it was so shaded, nothing really dries down there . . . etc etc. There were two sections designated as no passing zones due to the narrowness of the roads, and also no being in aero in those sections. We were promised volunteers that would be screaming “SLOW DOWN YOU IDIOTS” in that section. Roslynn just accepted she’d be riding conservatively there and safely. The only thing we all cared about was having fun, staying safe and finishing.

Then it was time for dinner at the delicious Dog Street pub in Colonial Williamsburg. I tasted Scotch Eggs for the first time, drank a ton of water, had fun talking to Sarah and her husband David, and allowed myself to feel relaxed. We were worn out from all the sun and humidity, so we headed back to the hotel for an early bedtime.

Race morning came very, very early. Despite my insistence that I was relaxed going into this race, I didn’t sleep at all – as usual.

We got ready quickly and headed out to Chickahominy Riverfront Park. As we feared, getting into the park was a nightmare. We sat in traffic for a long time. Thankfully we had left ridiculously early after our stressful Rumpus in Bumpass experience, so we were fine, but I can imagine that many people were not. Once in the park, we found parking right away. Roslynn got her bike together and tried to buy tire levers (no luck), and I made a final decision to go with my long sleeved wetsuit even though I thought I was going to get hot. I recall the official water temp was 71.2. Roslynn braided Blair’s and my hair, and we were all ready to go. Roslynn decided to stay near the relay pen instead of walking the ¼ mile up to the swim start, since we thought the swim would be fairly quick and we didn’t want her to have to rush back. Blair went with me.

Seeing nearly 2000 people all gathered at a tiny entrance to a river I couldn’t see made my nerves a little jangly. I saw Sarah, which was great, so we hugged it out. I saw my friend Lizz too, and got another hug.

The swim start was self-seeded, so I put myself in the 37-40 minute estimated finish group. I ended up walking next to a really nice guy from New Jersey. He is the kind of triathlon dude I love. You would never know he was a great athlete with a lot of experience because he downplayed everything – turns out he had done a bunch of fulls and even more halfs, and had a lot of insight to share on everything, once I got him talking.

I miss Derek always, but so painfully at a swim start. Having his calm voice and dry humor at the start of most of the races I’ve done was that last little bit of comfort I needed. It feels like a huge void at the start of the races now, and it makes me sad, and angry, and bitter for a world that would take someone like him away. I pushed those feelings down for the millionth time and tried to refocus.

With less than a minute to go before I went into the water, I still couldn’t see the river. We walked out a longish dock and they were having swimmers jump in one second apart. I wished my new friend well and finally got close enough to see the brown/greenish creek water awaiting me. Then I had a swim start person yelling at me to jump, so I held my goggles and jumped in. I told myself, GO HARD! DO IT!

This was the first time I had ever just jumped into a race swim without a warm up of any kind, and man, did I underestimate how it would impact me.

For the first 100, I tried to argue myself out of my belief that I couldn’t breathe. I was having so much trouble moving air that even breathing with every other stroke, I was gasping by the time my head turned to the side to breathe. I tried to breaststroke for a bit to keep my head up, hoping my breath would even out if I didn’t hold my head under water. That seemed to make it worse, and I started to panic. Once again, I told myself it was mental and to get going. I swam about another 100 and gave up. My heart rate felt like it was in the 170s and although I never thought I was going to die or drown, I was getting incredibly frustrated. It felt like forever since I’d started and all I could think about was how disappointed I was going to be in my swim. Then I started to wonder if I’d be able to complete the swim. 1.2 miles had never seemed so long. If I couldn’t get my breathing under control, there’d be no way I could continue. My wetsuit felt like it was squeezing the will to live out of me. No matter how many times I pulled at the neck to let water in, it returned to the python grip on my lungs and neck.

I saw a kayak near me, so I made the split-second decision to do what I had never done – hang off the side of one. To me, it’s akin to a walk of shame. I didn’t have any other ideas on how to fix my breathing issues, and I was about to give up on the swim entirely, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt at this point. The kayaker threw me a flotation buoy and I grabbed it and tried to breathe slowly. Someone else was hanging off the other side – he looked at me with wide eyes and said, “This is not like the pool.” I was still gasping for air so I just nodded. Then he said, “I don’t like not being able to see the bottom.” As I’ve described, the water was so murky that I couldn’t see feet in front of me until I was touching them so . . . he was definitely not going to be seeing the bottom anytime soon. I said, “Welcome to Virginia”, wished him luck and decided to shove off and start up again.

I felt like I’d blown 10 minutes in the water between breast stroking and hanging on the buoy. I was too scared to look back to see how (not) far I’d gone, so I just decided to swim slowly and see if I could get my breathing to slow down. Somehow in that midst of all that fear and self-doubt and irritation, I finally found my rhythm. As soon as I realized I was no longer gasping, I started playing with my pace, going a little bit faster each time I checked in with myself.

Soon I was through the two buoys where the course narrowed and thankfully everyone had spread out at that point. I was relieved to see the turn into the Chickahominy, as I knew there was supposed to be a current and my swim was going to get better. I feel less panicky when I’m not confined to a murky creek.

Just like in Rumpus, my calculations were grossly incorrect. Turning the corner meant chop in my face, and if there was a current, it certainly did not feel like it was with me. I felt like I was fighting the wind and waves the entire time. I also thought the portion from the turn to the finish was shorter than the swim in Gordon’s, but for some reason it felt longer. I also started to pass people (finally!) and I was having trouble getting around them. I was also taking in a lot of water because of the angle of the waves. The water was so silty (the color of caramel) that I wasn’t aware I was near or approaching someone until I crawled over them or hit them with my hands. Everyone was doing the same thing, so there was a lot of touching and pulling and elbowing.

I stopped worrying about how many buoys were in front of me at this point. I just decided that I had to make up for all the time I lost in the creek, so I swam harder and faster until I reached the point where my lungs felt like they were going to give out. In all the time I’ve done tri swims, I’ve held back on my kick since I had to use my legs exclusively the rest of the day, and told myself to pull – hard. This time, I eased back on my pull a bit, as my kick is the strongest part of the swim for me. I kicked like hell and tried to leave every bit of energy I had in the river.

I passed the final turn buoy, momentarily confused by the wiggly man at the end of the dock. I thought that was the exit, but the swim exit was closer in to shore. Ironman had given us a dock to help us avoid wading through the snot bottom, but people didn’t realize how bad it was and as they approached the dock, they tried to stand and sank down. I knew better, and used my salamander stroke to belly crawl as close to the dock as I could. With all my arm strength, I grabbed the edge of the dock, hoping the swim exit volunteer would haul me up, but she was clueless. I sort of flopped/fell forward onto the dock, dragged my mucus-covered legs over the edge, and staggered to an upright position. I heard, rather than saw, Bonnie. At that point I was laser focused on getting the ¼ mile or so through transition to Roslynn so we could exchange chips and she could be on her way.

I decided not to waste time with the wetsuit strippers and sprinted – as much as one can sprint in a wetsuit – down the path toward the relay pen. I had gotten the top unzipped and pulled my goggles off.

Around ½ way there, I realized I was crying. I decided to not think about it much, made it the rest of the way to Roslynn, slapped the chip on her leg, and wished her well. She looked excited and Blair said I had a great swim – that I was right on time. I was so confused.

Once Roslynn was safely off on her bike, I had some sort of emotional crash. I was hyperventilating and crying and trying to calm down. Poor Blair was completely confused – all she knew was, I had hit my 38 minute swim target, so why would I be upset?

I’ve had a lot of time to process all of that, and I think the short version of what happened is that Ironman smacked the crap out of my cocky swim mentality. I’ve found that whenever I think I know all there is to know about some specific part of racing, triathlon comes around and smacks me with a dead fish right in the face. Being in the water, unable to calm down, struggling like “those people” who just don’t have enough experience in open water, or who wait until the day of the race to try on their wetsuit, or whatever other judgment I’ve made about those around me panicking while I smugly plow forward – well, I was one of “those people”. I was humiliated that I had to grab the kayak and angry that I couldn’t get my body in line as fast as I wanted it to. I learned a valuable lesson – this girl needs a warm up swim, and if I can’t always rely on a race to give me one, I’d better train for that possibility.

The tears were a combination of relief it was over, anger that I’d blown it, embarrassment that I was crying or upset about it in the first place, and a release of a wave of anxiety I’d rarely felt. I eventually calmed down and got changed and the rest of the day I was fine, but I knew I was going to have to come to a reckoning with myself.

Low and behold, despite my stops, I had my fastest open water swim ever. I timed myself from the entry to the water until my hand hit the dock, as I wanted to know my actual swim time for the 1.2 miles. This was a killer pace for me, yet I find myself unable to really celebrate it. I could have gotten this same pace without stopping and I would have been thrilled, but because I panicked, somehow it feels like a hollow victory. My head is dumb and so is my logic, but there is it.

imva swim

Not a swim to be ashamed of, no matter what.

The rest of IMVA was pretty great. Unfortunately there were very few timing mats on the bike course, so Blair and I anxiously followed the tracker and guessed on how accurate it was. When Roslynn hit the first mat, she was averaging 20 mph and we both yelled and jumped up and down (or maybe just I did; Blair is a lot more composed than I am). She was knocking it out of the park – despite the fact that it was raining hard. I was quietly worrying and stressing over the back half of the course, and I knew I wasn’t going to really be able to exhale until she was off the bike. Her goal had been to break 3:00 and when she rolled in at a cool 2:50, we were all ecstatic! Blair had done her 1 mile warmup and was mentally as prepared to go as one can be, running their first half marathon. Her attitude was great and she was raring to go. Roslynn came in to the pen, panting and obviously wiped out from a massive effort. She got the chip on Blair and the run leg began.

I love racing with Roslynn for so many reasons, but one is that she often suffers anxiety before a race and inevitably is the person you see on the course hooting and hollering and grinning from ear to ear because she’s having so much fun. When she finally caught her breath, she said, “THAT WAS AWESOME! I HAD SO MUCH FUN!” I thought, “Why can’t I be like her???” I hugged her and told her how amazed I was by what she was able to accomplish on a tough, rainy day and on a tough, technical section toward the end of a long ride.

She got changed and ate some food. We had caught up with Bonnie at this point and I heard Fran and Tony were in the area as well, so we grabbed our cheer signs and headed out to the bridge where we would catch Blair on her way back in front the first 6 mile loop, and hopefully catch the rest of the team there as well. By now the sun had come out and it was humid and hot and, I’ll say it – a little bit miserable. I felt bad for all the runners who had suffered a rainy slippery bike course just to start the run in a steam shower. Virginia loves to dish out the pain.

I had made a sign that said “It’s just a 5k . . . with a 10 mile warmup” and people either loved it or hated it. One guy hit it so hard with his fist, he knocked it out of my hand. Thankfully most people laughed. I decided that cheering for other racers is my favorite thing ever. Fran, Tony, Bonnie, Roslynn and I had great seats on the bridge and we loved cheering on our team.

Around the time Blair approached us at the end of her first 10k, I got a message from Cyndi saying that we were in 6th place and if Blair held her pace, we might be able to get to 4th. I was shocked – there were 39 relay teams competing and I couldn’t believe we were that close to the top. I conferred with Roslynn and we decided to tell Blair. I wasn’t sure I would have wanted to know, but we guessed that Blair would, so after she completed the turnaround and ran by us on her 2nd and final loop, Roslynn shouted the news to her. She grimaced a bit and then looked determined and ran right back up that gross, hot bridge.

We stayed a bit longer to see Sarah starting her first loop. She looked fatigued but happy, and we made a lot of noise for her. Then Roslynn and I headed to the finish line to await Blair.

I was hoping for more timing mats, but we got a notification when Blair hit the 9’ish mile mark. She was making great time. Then we just waited in the hot sun at the finish for Blair to come through.

We caught sight of her as she rounded the corner to the finish chute, and Roslynn’s mom pride overflowed. She was crying her eyes out, which of course made me start up all over again! Blair just looked peaceful as always, but very glad to be finishing. She had a huge smile on her face.

She picked up her medal, we figured out how to get ours, and the texts from Cyndi kept coming in. For a little bit, we were in 2nd place, then dropped to 3rd as other results came in. We waited, and prayed. It was beyond my wildest imagination to ever think I’d be on a podium at an Ironman event, but it looked more likely that we had done it – even with my ridiculous freak out in the water.

We got to see the rest of the team finish. Each one of them fought through their fair share of challenges but looked great at the end, and hugging Sarah after she finished was awesome! She worked so hard for the last two years. There is nothing like seeing someone accomplish a huge goal, right in front of your eyes.

We got the disappointing news that due to weather concerns, Ironman wasn’t going to do an age group or relay awards ceremony. We shrugged it off and picked up our award, and pretended that the Ironman backdrop was the same as podium and got some good pictures anyway. Then we loaded up 50,000 pounds of our stuff and muddy selves and headed back to Richmond.

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WE DID IT!

 

So what’s the takeaway from all of this?

I have very strong teammates – that’s first and foremost – and I am so proud of all of them and so grateful to know them, and train with them.

I loved doing a relay – it allowed all of us to laser focus on our areas, and I feel like each of us tried our very best to do our very best.

I miss Derek, and will continue to miss the hell out of him forever. I missed Cyndi’s presence there too, but she texted a lot and it was almost like having her in person at the race.

And finally, I need to work on cold entrances to a swim start 😊

 

 

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Rumpus in Bumpass Race Report – Waves, Wind and Heat, Oh My.

For some reason, I felt like I needed to do an Oly distance tri this year since all I had on the calendar was Barrelman 70.3 in September.  It just seemed like the prudent thing to do.

However, last year’s Rumpus was quite the day – the water temps were sooooo cold that the swim was shortened, and my teammates had a comedy of errors that are now legendary (broken wetsuit zipper, doing the swim anyway in 51 degree temps, broken toe, Garmin dropping on the bike course, etc etc). I guess I thought there was no way the race could go the same the following year, and it fit in my schedule, so I signed up.

I vaguely remembered liking the race, but I also have to temper that by saying that I can’t really remember the race until the run, most likely because my brain and body was still frozen until halfway through the run.

Somehow I talked Roslynn into doing it with me again, even though from the moment she finished the race in 2018 until the day she signed up, she swore she’d never do it again.

The week before the race, we got an email from the race director with the pleasant news that water temps were in the mid-60s. I was in Texas during my taper week, and had the opportunity to swim in Grapevine Lake – water temp mid-60s and perfect for a wetsuit swim. I felt confident my race experience this year would be a very different one from FreezeFest 2018.

Roslynn and I met up at her house early on Saturday morning with Super Sherpa Blair and headed out to Pleasants Landing Marina with plenty of time to spare (or so we thought.) Roslynn had accidentally navigated to Lake Anna Marina, but it wasn’t a huge deal as it was on the way. However, when we got close to Pleasants Landing, we saw traffic backed up for a good mile to even get onto the road LEADING to the parking lot. It was moving very slowly and neither Roslynn nor I likes being late, so we were both a little stressed out as we still had to pick up our packets.

We finally got through the cluster of traffic and parking issues only to find out that we still had a nearly 1/2 mile hike through the woods to get to the main race site. Okay, no big deal. We pulled our stuff out, got our bikes ready, loaded Super Sherpa Mule Blair up with all of our crap, and started walking. Unfortunately, we’d had a crazy night of rain and storms (and even some tornadoes) on Friday, and the trail was already a mud bog. This is the same trail we’d all be running on in few short hours . . .

We tried walking around the mud as best as possible and finally got to packet pick up. We were very efficient and got packets, body marking and timing chips quickly, then set up our stuff in transition. It was an absolutely gorgeous day at Lake Anna – scattered clouds, sun, and what looked like a kind of calm lake. There were some big gusts of wind, but on the shore, it didn’t feel like a big deal (foreshadowing). We got into our wetsuits and had approximately five minutes for a pre-swim before they closed the swim course for the race start. We hugged Blair and stood by the water and talked about Derek a little bit. I always feel his presence – and absence – during a race or in our normal meeting places, like West Creek and Cap Trail. It seems so quiet without him and it feels pretty bad. We decided to channel that grief into making Derek proud of us (but he was always proud anyway, even when we did stupid things, just because we tried so hard.)

We got into the water and swam out to the start buoy. It was around then that I began to notice a current whipped up by the wind. It was a little choppy – nothing too major – but I could sense that a few of the women near me were very nervous about it. We made encouraging comments to each other until the gun went off, and then the race was officially on.

It is common for me to spend the first 1/2 mile of every swim at every triathlon I’ve ever done questioning my sanity and desire to do this sport. I’ve learned that this happens to me and that it will pass eventually, so I try not to pay attention to that voice or give it any power. This time, I didn’t have time for thoughts of any kind other than breathing since there was a lot of panicked swimming. I couldn’t find any holes to go through, so I was pinned between two women in particular. I was trying to swim with Roslynn since we are close to the same speed in the water, and neither of us were trying to win this race, but within the first 400 I was trapped behind a group of swimmers and couldn’t get around them. 2 of them stopped dead in the water, and began a sort of strange breast stroke-esque kick that almost knocked the goggles off my face. I popped my head up to tread water and get my bearings, and asked them if they were okay. Both of them looked like deer in the headlights and didn’t really answer me, so I squeezed between them and moved on.

As this was one of my first races without Derek’s insight on water conditions, I wasn’t sure how good I’d be at figuring out what to expect. Turns out I suck at it, because I thought the first leg of the triangular swim course would be the hard part. As I got nearer to the turn buoy, I kept telling myself that this would soon be smooth sailing – the current would be with me, the wind would calm down, and I’d be just fine. Unfortunately, I was completely incorrect and the backside of the course was actually worse.

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A good view of the transition area and swim course – the swim is around the small “peninsula”. Swim start is to the left side, by the dock, finish is in the area on the right that looks blue.

I occasionally would look around for the safety kayaks or jet skis, but this was the only race I can remember where I literally saw none.  I made a mental note of it and was grateful I wasn’t in any distress, but it did strike me as odd.

At around the 1000 meter mark, I realized there was no one around me. At all. I looked up and I was alone in the water. I saw tiny splashes to my left and realized I was way off course. The current was pushing me back into the side of the peninsula, and I had to cut hard back to the left to find the buoys. I don’t know what buoy I was sighting off, but it obviously wasn’t the correct one. The waves at this point were high enough where I was getting water in my mouth every time I took a breath, and they were high enough that I was having trouble sighting anything at all, including the wiggly man at the finish line. I had a number of thoughts in succession at that point, including:

  1. I may die out here
  2. No, I’m not going to die, I’ve got this, I’ve trained for this.
  3. Okay, someone one time taught me how to breathe when chop is in front of your face – how do I do that again?
  4. Oh yeah, that’s how you do it.
  5. This is the longest .9 miles ever
  6. This has got to be my slowest swim ever, I feel like I’ve been in the water for a year.
  7. When will this be over?

Normally, once I find my rhythm in the water, I love the swim and regularly remind myself that it will be the only time during my race I won’t be hot. This swim, though, I couldn’t wait to finish. I now have an understanding of what people who don’t like the swim leg feel like.

Finally, I had a good view of the wiggly man and managed to get myself to the shoreline and to the very nice volunteers helping hoist us all out of the water and onto the steps. I was dizzy and out of it, so as soon as my helper let go of me, I slammed my toe onto the wood of the steps and snapped off a portion of my toenail. I only have a vague recollection of this, which was good at the time.

I found out from Blair later that people were being plucked from the water right and left and many were hanging on to the safety kayaks. This would be why I hadn’t seen any – they were being overwhelmed with swimmers who needed assistance.

I’m going to step away from my regular race report to first give a shout out to my coaches and to Peluso Open Water. I am very fortunate to live in an area where we have access to real OWS training and practice. Without it, I’m not sure where I’d be. I also owe my coaches a real debt as they have drilled into our heads how important the swim leg is and strongly encourage us to get proficient in all water conditions. I would never, ever, ever, enter a race without having tried on/swam in my wetsuit, or going from a pool swim to an open water swim on race day, never having had exposure to open water. It seems strange to me that so many people do this, but maybe I’d have been the same way if I didn’t have the coaches I do.

But – going out unprepared like this, in difficult water conditions, is a really bad idea. I’m not sure people understand how dangerous a swim can be if you’re not a proficient swimmer with proper training. And an Olympic distance is long enough to be problematic. Hell, the Sprint distance in that water would have been challenging.

Someone at a high level made a comment that he hoped USAT would take swim proficiency more seriously and I hope they do as well. While the swim may be the shortest leg in a triathlon, it’s the one where you can die most easily and it’s not to be underestimated.

Off my soap box . . .

Swim: 31:45. While that wasn’t my goal pace, considering the conditions, my crappy sighting and my blocked passage, I was very happy with it.

T1: a whopping and lengthy 4:25. I had trouble getting my wetsuit off, I was dizzy, and I had mud all over my feet so I spent some time trying to get it off before shoving on my bike shoes. I didn’t have time to get my hair braided that morning so my ponytail got stuck in my helmet and I know enough not to ignore those things – it’s impossible to fix once I get on the bike. The run out to the bike mount line is LONG as well, so that was probably a solid minute to a minute and a half of my T1 time.

I love the bike course for Rumpus. It’s hilly enough to be interesting with nothing too major (loop 2, I did end up shifting into granny gear on the big hill just to save my legs). There are plenty of lake views and countryside and farm animals to look at, and I enjoyed all of it.

There was the highest percentage of any race I’ve done of people passing without announcing themselves. I started counting and I think it was around 1 in 12 people who said “on your left” before passing. I don’t get why this is a hard thing to do. In one case, a very aggressive guy decided to pass two other athletes BETWEEN their bikes. At the last minute, he bailed on the idea and went to the left, crossing over the center line in the process while scaring the crap out of one of the cyclists who didn’t hear him. I guess grunting a few words is just too much effort.

I saw the aftermath of one bad accident that involved four cyclists. Right after that, an ambulance came up the road toward them, and I hope that everyone was okay. Blair told us that many people were aggressive into the sharp turn at the start of the bike course and wiped out; I saw plenty of flats and one guy walking his bike back on the road. Once again I felt grateful for a race where I didn’t crash or have mechanical issues.

The first loop of 12 miles was good and my average speed was mid-17 mph. I felt like that was a good pace – my legs were working hard, but still felt like I’d have some juice in them for the run. The second loop, the wind really picked up and the gusts were quite strong. One hit me going up a hill and I thought I was going to tip over. My speed ended up slower than I wanted it to be, averaging 17.1 mph. I was shooting for 17.4 or higher. Oh well.

Still working on my nutrition – although I did drink my Infinit during the bike portion, I had no carbs prior to the race as I’m on a low carb food plan right now. I am never hungry during a race, but I was hungry at the beginning of the bike and for the entire run, so I need to fix that somehow.

I took my time going into the dismount line as I have a new fear of wiping out, so I went wide and slowed down gradually. I had just gotten off my bike and started running down the road toward T2 when another guy came in hot, tipped over, and knocked the guy next to him down. This is why I go slow, folks.

Bike Time: 1:24:16

T2: 3:53. Meh. Again, a long trek from the bike dismount back to the transition area. I did my best to be quick about it.

By this point, I was legitimately warmed up, and wishing I’d worn sunscreen. I could tell I was getting a sunburn on my upper arms where my bike sleeves didn’t cover and I knew it was going to get worse on the run.

This run course is not my favorite, but it’s not my least favorite, either (that would be Raleigh 70.3 hands down). It’s a two loop course, with a long run from T2 through a wooded trail out to the road, a loop that ends at the top of a gross hill, and then you do it again. A big portion of the road isn’t shaded, but it does have a nice view of a beautiful creek and some farmland. My goal for the run was just to consistently run, and only use intervals if my hip started hurting. Thankfully it didn’t, but I was definitely hot, dehydrated, hungry and sort of over the idea of a triathlon at that point. The wind had taken a toll and the swim had sapped a lot of energy from me, which it usually does not. In 2018 I was able to maintain an 11 min mile pace with no walking, so that was my goal, but as soon as I hit the trail I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do that. I readjusted my expectations to “just run, no matter how slow” and got out there.

By now, the mud had spread wide enough where you couldn’t get around it on the trail. I saw a number of people lose their running shoes in it (including Roslynn, but I didn’t know that until later). I started to pick my way through it, then said screw it and just walked into the middle and hoped for the best. I got to spend the next 6 miles smelling swamp socks and swamp shoes and feeling the mud drying on the back of my heel. I learned that I definitely do not want to do a mud run from this experience.

There isn’t much to say about the run other than it was great seeing Roslynn twice on the run course. At this point she was 2 miles ahead of me, so I was happy for her as it meant she had a great bike time. She looked slightly miserable but we both smiled at each other and high-fived and whooped like this was the most fun we’d ever had in our lives.

I let myself walk up the two bigger hills but that was it. I paid no attention to my watch and just got myself to the finish line as fast as I could. I was pretty happy to see it, especially after going through the mud again. I run this race for the finisher’s medals – I’m only partly joking – because it’s a monster and I love it. Right after I finished we found out Roslynn had placed 3rd in her age group. I also placed 4th in mine – no medal, but I’m now at the higher end of mediocre, and that’s exciting for me!

Run time: 1:14:54, an abysmal 12:03/mile pace.

Total time: 3:19:13, a full 5 minutes longer than my fastest Oly (Rev 3 Williamsburg – flat course, but hot as hell when I did it).

We stayed for another hour for the longest awards ceremony I’ve seen (lots of categories), picked up Roslynn’s medal, and headed home for showers. We were all gross.

Some take-aways from this race:

  •  More practice in difficult OWS conditions. If I’m going to do Greece next year, I need a lot more exposure to ocean swims or swims with a lot of chop. The videos from Greece’s inaugural race this year scared the hell out of me. Serious waves.
  • More practice sighting in difficult conditions. I failed on the back side of that course. Had it not been for that major mistake, I feel strongly I would have broken 30 minutes on my swim.
  • More work on my run. It continues to be my Achilles Heel, pun intended, and unless I can improve my speed for longer distances, I’ll fall back to the bottom of the mediocre category. I do these races because I enjoy them, but I’d like to improve and the run is where there is a lot of room to do so.
  • Work on my transition times. I still find myself staggering around like an idiot and I want to be more smooth, like the cool kids.

That’s about it! All in all, a great race day, with a lot of challenges and a lot of enjoyment. Not sure I’m doing Rumpus again, but I think I said that last year too.

 

 

Tune Up Tri

The Tune Up Tri was both a terrific and frustrating experience, but mostly it was just terrific.

It was Blair’s first official tri, and she destroyed that race and all of her competition in one fell swoop. Blair isn’t my daughter (I’ll claim her anyway), but I like to think of her as a member of my family. I started training with her for the first time last spring when IMCHOO training was starting to get gnarly. She was between jobs so she was able to train with Roslynn (her real life mom) and me a bunch. She had never ridden with clips, she hadn’t been swimming a ton in years, and she “hated” running. Within the first couple of weeks, she was effortlessly keeping up with Ros and me in the pool – and in the summer, we were swimming, long, long, long distances. She bravely confronted open water swims in the less-than-welcoming arms of the James River. She did the best she could on Roslynn’s old road bike that is a bit too small for her, and got herself comfortable with her new pedals. Watching her go from a hesitant newbie rider to someone who is all guts and gusto has been one of the best parts of tri life. Her dislike of running has been replaced by something else – a game of chicken, maybe, where she is constantly pushing her boundaries and seeing what she can do, and celebrating every victory. I haven’t asked her lately, but I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t say she hates running anymore. She’s a strong, consistent, dedicated runner, just like she is strong and dedicated in everything else. All of her hard work and belief in herself paid off big time in Manassas.

Roslynn got up super early Saturday morning to knock out her brick while Blair and I didn’t 🙂 We were tapering, you know? For a Super Sprint . . .

The Tune Up Tri is a reverse super sprint, ending in the pool so you don’t freeze to death in those balmy March temps. It’s a 1.5 mile run, a 4 mile bike and a 250 swim. The distances turned out to be, well, a little off, but you get the general idea.

After Roslynn was done with her brick, we met at her house and headed out together with Blair. Blair’s dad Bill came up separately on his motorcycle later that day. We got our race packets, drove the bike course like good and dutiful athletes, made sure we understood the run course, looked at the transition area, and did a shake out ride in some of the windiest weather I’ve ever ridden in. That was actually terrifying, and Blair and I just kept silently praying the wind would die down.

Blair had done a ton of pre-race strategy and planning, and she’d hunted down some competitive intel on the other women in her age groups. She did the same for me, and I realized that I might have a chance to place if I worked hard on my run time. I’ve been getting a bit faster thanks to dropping 20 lbs as well as a lot of negative associations with running, and I was feeling confident that I could go in and run a sub 11 minute mile (my goals are low) for the 1.5 miles. Blair planned out her race, we practiced some transitions, ate some amazing Greek food in old town Manassas (highly recommend), headed back to the hotel, and tried to sleep.

For those of you who race solidly in the middle of the pack like I do, it’s a weird and not entirely pleasant feeling to have the pressure of knowing if you try really hard, you might actually place. I’m so used to not having a snowball’s chance in hell of placing that I generally relax and enjoy race day. I’m not saying I stroll through race day – I give it my best – but I don’t feel a huge amount of pressure because there’s just little to no chance I’ll ever place. It’s actually quite a relief, but until I experienced this kind of pressure, I didn’t know how good I had it!  I decided I was going to do my absolute best – after all, the distance was short enough – and channel my inner Derek and Blow Up or Throw Up.

Race morning dawned cold and clear after little sleep as usual. Someone was partying all night in the room next to Blair’s and mine, so that was super fun. We packed up the bike, ate some breakfast, and began to nervously pace around the Aquatic Center.

Blair’s been to many triathlons, including some Ironman events, so I think she was surprised at how laid back the race environment was. I like small, locally-run events, and I also don’t like them. I like the inclusiveness and diversity of locally produced events, but I don’t like the lack of security or safety on the course. I’ve done the Tune Up Tri before so I knew what to expect, but it’s always a surprise to see the differences between race companies (for better or worse.) I’m used to some semblance of security in the bike area – at this race, anyone could have walked off with anyone else’s bike no problem. Thankfully, no one did. A bunch of volunteers didn’t show up on race day, so people were doing double and triple duty, and that was problematic at points.

Roslynn was volunteering at the finish line and Bill was volunteering as a course marshall (we got to see him a bunch between the run and bike, so that was a bonus!). They went out to their respective areas and Blair and I braved the freezing cold 30 degree temps to stand at the starting line, which actually wasn’t marked, so it was a lot of people just standing around hoping we were in the right place. The race went off in waves, supposedly by age group (but it sure didn’t look like that in actuality.) I was in the age group right in front of Blair, so I had a three minute head start. Right before we started, I talked to a girl who looked really nervous. She had headphones in, so I told her nicely that USAT rules don’t allow them and I didn’t want her to get penalized. We ended up running together the first half mile. She was really nice and started my race off on a positive note.

The “gun” went off and we took off. My plan was to run a 10:30 mile pace which I felt like I could hold for the entire 1.5 miles. As we rounded the first quarter mile, I looked down at my watch and saw that I was running a 10:15 pace and it felt easy, so I said goodbye to my friend who was recovering from an injury and struggling a bit. I knew I needed to push my limits as much as I could. I dropped to a 9:45 pace for the next 3/4 mile. Although it took everything I had to hold the pace, I knew I could do it and I felt like I still had some gas in the tank for the last half mile. When I hit the 1 mile mark, I dropped to a 9:15 pace and told everything in my brain to shut up and just fought through it. Unfortunately, I looked at my watch, relieved to see it said 1.47 miles – except I couldn’t even see the transition area and the run was supposed to be over in .03. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I had paced myself perfectly and at that point, i didn’t feel like I had enough left in my legs to get me any further. I decided that puking was a better alternative than slowing my pace, so I just buckled down and pushed on. I saw the transition area and cursed the race director and thanked god my legs were still moving.

Run: 1.66 miles, 16:08 minutes, 9:42 avg pace

I was trying not to let my lungs explode in the transition area, so I staggered to my bike. As I finished putting my bike stuff on, Blair rolled in. She grunted at me and tried to smile but she had also thrown down the gauntlet and was feeling the pain after that run. I think I grunted back at her and then I was off on the bike with Blair close on my heels.

T1: 1:31 (was really hoping for something closer to a minute considering, but my hands were so cold they weren’t working)

I headed out on the bike course. It’s an ugly course, lots and lots of turns. I think the longest stretch of straight road you get is .25 miles. Everything else is a u turn or a right turn in an industrial park. It’s nearly impossible to get your speed up, though I did my damndest to do so. Every time I let off the gas, I told myself to go harder – it’s a short race, I wasn’t going to die, there was no reason to save anything. I was pleased to notice that I was not getting passed on the bike, by anyone, male or female, but I was passing plenty of men. I always shouted “Good job” or “Looking good”. Most of them appreciated it. A few did not; there are some men who feel like you’ve castrated them if you pass them on the bike. It’s stupid.

I looked down at my bike computer and I was over 4 miles and still couldn’t see the entrance to T2. Uhhhh . . . another distance off. But I knew I had to be close and my favorite part was coming up!

Bike: 4.50 miles, 15:28 minutes, 17.5 mph average pace

My bike computer had me around 4.31, my Garmin had me about 4.34 but later on, the race director said the course actually measured 4.5. She was aware the distances were off, but for some reason, didn’t correct them prior to the race.

T2 was a disaster. I thought about not wearing a swim cap, but I was afraid my goggles would slip down, so I took the time to put it on. However, my hands still weren’t working, I kept slapping myself in the face with my cap, and I was stuck in my jacket. Everything took way longer than I planned.

T2: 1:30

On to the swim – a 250 yard snake swim. The transition mat to the swim area was at the entrance door to the pool, but then you had to walk the entire length of the building to get to the lane where you started. Thankfully no one was in my way when I got to the entry point (though I did get yelled at my a lifeguard to WALK!). I got myself in the pool as fast as I could and started pushing. The long walk from transition to the swim start throws off your pace per 100 time, too, which drives my OCD brain crazy.

I always say I wish the swim was last, but the two times I’ve done a swim last, I remember why it’s first in the trio. Swim at the end of a tri feels like a recipe for drowning. Everything was cold, tired, achy and screaming for a break. In my usual longer distance tris, it’s a slow burn. This thing was like I had been lit on fire and sent screaming into the wilderness. It was THAT level of effort, so once I got into the pool, I thought I was going to sink to the bottom.

About 100 yards in I encountered a man leisurely breaststroking. My normal non-competitive nature would back off and let him get to the wall before passing him, but this time I decided getting kicked in the face was better than giving up even 10 seconds of this race. (I know breaststroking is legal, but I hate when people do it, especially when others are around. It takes up space and is a perfect recipe for someone getting kicked. If you need to breaststroke to make it through a 250 swim, you need to swim more and build your strength. End soapbox rant.)

I felt like I was swimming through mud but I had mostly clear lanes, passed a few people at the wall and before I knew it I saw the ladder out. I threw myself out like a dead fish, gasping for air and doing my usual Dizzy Dance trying to walk after swimming. I staggered across the finished line where Roslynn handed me my finishers medal that wasn’t a medal – a key chain. Right after that, Blair crossed the line, and it was so great to see her getting her medal and a hug from her mom!

Swim: 5:33, 1:59/100

Total time: 40:09

After high fiving Blair, we headed to the locker rooms to change and get somewhat drier. She was feeling pretty confident that she had at least placed second. I had literally no idea where I was. I was so focused on just going hard that I didn’t notice anyone around me, other than a nice person wearing a Team Zoot kit who definitely beat me and was definitely in my age group. By the time we got out of the locker room, the results had been posted. I felt sick to my stomach, so Blair went up without me to survey them.

This was probably the only time I’ve done a race where I literally could not have gone any harder on any of the legs. I was spent and had nothing left at the end of the race. My transitions could have been improved, but I felt very happy in the knowledge that I had gone as hard as possible and whatever the results were, they were good enough for me.

She came back grinning and whispered that she thought she’d placed first in her age group. I started crying – I was so happy for her! Then she told me she thought I’d placed second in mine, which was unbelievable to me.

We waiting what seemed like forever for awards, and bitched to each other about the distances being off. I always expect a little difference between Garmin and what the race director has but this seemed like a lot for such a short race. From a pride standpoint, seeing official results listing my average pace as over a 10 minute mile when I knew that I had done well below that, stung a bit. Yeah, I know, no one cares, but I wanted it in writing that I had pulled off my pace.

The first place overall female was actually the first place overall winner. I was at first excited to see that, but then as Blair and I talked, we realized that she beat the first place male by over 3 minutes. I’m all about girl power, but her bike speed would have had to have been somewhere in the 24 mph range. If you’d seen the bike course, you’d know something was off.

She collected her medal and promptly ran out of the building. She was pretty unfriendly and decked out in Ironman gear. I mention this only because she was an experienced athlete, and anyone who trains for something like an Ironman knows what their normal race paces are like. If I suddenly pulled off a 24 mph bike split when every other bike split had been 17, well, something is wrong or off. It is my belief that she knew something had happened, but rather than self-report at that time or ask them to look into it, she took her medal and checked out.

The first place person in my AG was Team Zoot lady, and the third place person didn’t stick around, so the two of us stood up front and I had my moment of glory. Blair got to claim her first place win and it was an awesome moment to be part of.

After all was said and done, Ironman Lady disqualified herself, probably when she realized it was going to happen anyway. She did it sometime the next day. She said she missed a turn on her bike, and while maybe that was the case, an experienced athlete would have known the distance was off right away. She was wearing an expensive Garmin. She knew. I was pretty pissed because she took podium moments away from others who rightfully earned them, including Team Zoot who actually placed third overall female. When she got bumped up, I was also bumped up into first place in my age group. This was exciting for a bunch of reasons, including qualifying for USAT AG Nationals in August! I haven’t decided if I’m going yet, but I’m leaning toward it.

I’ve spent some time thinking about everything that happened. I ran with my friend Clair, a multiple Ironman finished herself and an all around great person. I told her I was having major imposter syndrome and finding every reason I could to make my win feel not special, and how stupid that was. Tons of people qualify for AG Nationals in small local races, and I would never think less of them for it. Yet when I do it, and I did have 7 women in my AG that I beat fair and square – somehow it seems stupid and meaningless and I shouldn’t be at Nationals anyway.

At the end of the day, I am so proud of my effort, and no one can take that away from me. Would I have qualified at a 70.3 event run by Ironman? Hell, no, but … I did come in first in my AG and it was one of the best moments of my life, realizing that. I’ve spent 47 years not winning at anything, not being athletic, not feeling powerful or strong. Over the past three years, all of that has started to change. Okay, maybe not the winning part – I still don’t win – but I feel strong a lot more, and all of the work I’ve done physically has translated mentally to make me a stronger and more confident person. I’ll always love triathlon for that gift!

I am so excited to race Ironman Virginia 70.3 with Blair and Roslynn as a relay team. Blair will have the Ironman finish line experience, and I know we are all going to do our best that day. Then I get to see her hopefully go to Nationals, and follow that up with her A race – Barrelman 70.3.  It’s going to be a great year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grief

I have been hesitant to write anything here for the past month or so. Normally in February, I am full of pre-season energy – the runs are shorter, the bike is indoors, and the swims are easy to digest.

This pre-season, however, has been pretty awful.

On January 15th, our coach and friend Derek Dambacher was killed.

I don’t have enough words for how terrible or tragic the loss was and continues to be. Derek was married to our main coach, Cyndi, and she has been devastated by the loss, not to mention the hole it has left behind in their family. They have four children.

It’s been a long time since I was touched so personally by tragedy. When I got the phone call that Derek had died, I thought I was going to pass out. I couldn’t breathe and it felt like the world was ending. I had to pull over and let Lily drive as soon as I could find a safe space to do so. The last time I remember feeling that overwhelming sense of despair and darkness was when my nephew Christopher died suddenly and tragically in 1992. He was 18 years old. I was 20.

It’s been a month and a half since it happened, and I still find myself sad/angry/confused/upset/hopeless at times. When I look at Cyndi, I find myself wishing there was something I could do, even for five minutes, to ease her pain. She has been so strong, but as mothers, we aren’t really allowed to give up. We have kids who need us and we have to put one foot in front of the other.

Much of the advice I’ve gotten over the years from both Cyndi and Derek has been to never stop moving during a race. The only time you stop is if the medical staff makes you, or you are pulled from the course if you miss a cut-off. I wonder if Cyndi feels this advice now in a completely different way. She just keeps going . . . even when life has dealt her the shittiest of blows.

I’ve written some about Derek on Facebook, and for a while, I was able to focus on fundraising for their family and doing other little things that made me feel like I was somehow contributing to something good. Those efforts have slowed down now and we are in the long haul, the slog toward something. Feeling better? Healing? I don’t know.

I do know that when Chris died, there was a lot of activity and support for our family right after. The months that followed though were dark and lonely and isolated. It wasn’t that people weren’t willing to help; it was more just a general sense of discomfort being around us. Many didn’t know what to say or do. I personally didn’t want much said or done anyway – but I did want his absence acknowledged and I didn’t want to feel bad that I felt so terribly sad all the time. I didn’t want to “move on” or “just be happy” about life. I had to sit with the darkness for a long time. Even now, 27 years later, I am still overtaken by sadness when I come across a photo or a memory or I look at my brother and still see how destroyed he is by what has happened to him.

Derek didn’t have a traditional memorial service, but I did go to a gathering with many of their close friends and teammates. It was amazing to see how many lives Derek touched. Many of us had the same experience: we felt like losers, we joined the team, we got great guidance, and Derek’s calm demeanor and goofy sense of humor and willingness to always help us out got us over the finish line. Derek and Cyndi were on the team exactly as they were in their private lives – a team until the end, always supporting each other, making each other laugh, deeply in love, deeply committed to each other, their family, their friends. There was nothing Derek wouldn’t do for anyone who needed help.

One of the weird things about grief is wondering if you have a right to feel the way you do. When I think of my sadness, I often feel guilty. I don’t know how to explain it, other than to say that when I struggle, I know that Cyndi and her family are struggling one million times harder. I know that when Chris died, many of his friends didn’t want our family to see them sad. They felt like they needed to be strong for us. I can’t speak for my brother and sister-in-law, but I know I always felt less alone when I realized others were suffering too and missing him.

I still go to class three times a week, and Derek’s bike is there. In many ways it is comforting to see it. I rode next to him many, many times, both in class and on the roads. Right after Chattanooga when training was starting up again, I was in class next to him and I was feeling super strong. About 15 minutes in, Derek leaned over and quietly said, “Hey, are you in small chain ring on purpose?” We laughed because it was no wonder I was feeling strong! He always made me laugh when I felt like giving up or crying or just whining. Many times I feel like he’s still there in the room, and it’s comforting.

I’m not sure how this season will feel. I imagine it will be a lot of lows or periods of grieving. We have a lot of first to get through. First outdoor ride without him. First team race without him. No Derek as the ultimate SAG for grueling long days at West Creek. Not hearing him laugh during mini bricks. The first race without a hug from him at the finish line.

I hope that having the team around Cyndi will help her through this, though I’m not sure there’s any “through” with grief. Mine never had an end, just a lot of twists and turns and a hole that never seemed quite right. My grief has never been a linear thing, and it doesn’t work on any sort of time table. Wishing it away never worked.

I’ve had a lot of people ask me about Derek, and I have enjoyed talking about him and telling stories from the last few years when I met him and got to know him. I personally think a lot about the time we did my first 70 mile ride together, out on the Capital Trail, in hot as hell weather. On the way back, he had bad leg cramps, so I was able to keep up with him. We talked, even though I knew he was in pain, but I never heard him complain. I asked him if I he thought I could ever do an Ironman and he laughed and looked at me like I was crazy. “Yeah, why not?” he said. “It’s just another 40 miles or so than we’ve done today and then a marathon. You can do this.”

He unfailingly believed in me and many others. I am trying to channel my inner Derek these days, but I’m not even remotely as nice as he was, nor as patient, or as self-sacrificing. But I figure if I can improve even 10%, I’m better for it and maybe I will continue to make him proud.

I have so many “favorite” Derek stories and moments, but the one that stands out to me these days was more in the way it felt to me than probably how it felt to Derek. At the finish line in Chattanooga, I saw my family in the chute and heard them cheering and shouting. But as soon as I crossed the finish line, the first faces I saw were Derek and Cyndi. They were right where you walk out and I was so relieved to see them. I looked at their faces and they both were so proud of me – it was palpable. I hugged them both hard across the fence and asked if I had made it. Having them there was so meaningful and special, and I will never forget the looks on their faces or their dedication to others.

I miss him so much. 18301464_681686422018337_3954371206423027448_n

 

Year End Report

Happy New Year 2019 To Reach Design New Year 2018As I always try to do, I use NYE to take a few moments and look back over the accomplishments and missed opportunities of the last year. I’m constantly trying to find new and fun ways to improve the quality of my life, and I’ve got some goals for 2019 that I’ll be working on.

I took a look back at the last 365 through the lens of my Garmin. This year was a big one for me – in terms of mileage, mental strength, physical goals and accomplishments. IMCHOO was the big cherry on my sundae, but everything else leading up to it was the real struggle and real win of my year.  I can still clearly remember 2+ months of training while sick with a parasite, and I cannot believe I got through it. My race results in CHOO definitely show the toll being sick during the height of training had on me, but at the end of the day, I got a the medal and blisters to prove I could do it. The next time I do an Ironman, I’ll be better.

In 2018, I:

  • Ran 521.39 miles
  • Cycled 2,392 miles
  • Swam 94.76 miles

(While these totals look big to me, I understand that anyone training for an Iron-distance race puts down these kinds of numbers.)

I look at this and find it hard to square with how I feel about myself. In some ways, I feel stronger than I ever have (mostly mental, some physical), but in other ways, I still feel like a fraud and someone who doesn’t look the part. I have experienced firsthand the look of incredulity when someone asks me if I’ve done an Ironman, because I don’t look like what they think a triathlete looks like. I agree to some extent. When I changed the way I ate when training first started three years ago, the weight slowly crept back up on me. My body is a black and white beast. I am not good at moderating, so it’s easier for me to have an all or nothing mentality with food. When I stuck to strength training and radically reduced my cardio, I was able to eat high protein/low carb very easily. When my tri training ramped up, I was getting nauseous and sick and had to reintroduce some carbs back into my lifestyle. The key here is the word “some.” Over time, “some” became “many” and the rest is history. In the thick of IM training, I didn’t have the energy to try to lose weight. I’m living proof you can’t exercise yourself thin, at least, not with my age and metabolism. I ended the IM season the heaviest I’ve been since 2015. This has led to my love-hate relationship with running becoming more of a hate-hate, as running when heavy makes an already painful discipline that much more painful. Instead of seeing my swim times improve, I’m seeing the times hold steady or increase, even though I am swimming my butt off right now. Cycling is a crap shoot with me. I’m scared shitless most of the time I’m on the road due to accidents and near-misses, so I’m working through this mentally while wishing I could go faster. The only way for me to accomplish this is to drop some weight.

I’m going back to the way I ate when I lost 40+ pounds. I’m working with a food coach, even though I absolutely know how I’m supposed to eat for my body to work and look the way I want it to. I need help this time around. I have been feeling dejected and disgusted with myself since Chattanooga; I’m officially over feeling sorry for myself and ready to hit a healthier lifestyle hard.

I’ve been repeating “Anything is Possible” to myself a lot these days, because honestly  completing a 140.6 distance seems easier to attain than the motivation to get back on the healthy nutrition horse.

So there’s my cliche 2019 goal: lose weight. I’d like to enter the season at my prior acceptable weight, and I’d like to get to Barrelman in September 2019 in the best shape of my life. I thought that would happen during IM training, but I can’t tell you how many people I’ve known or met that said they gained weight during training. I’ve heard of that happening during marathon training, too. And yes, sure, part of it is muscle which is why I don’t look too hard at the scale. But a pound of muscle is leaner than a pound of fat, so if my jeans are tight, there isn’t any lying to myself. Clothes aren’t tight because I’m super muscular.

I’m also making an effort to say “no” more often this year. I’m very much a yes person. I agree to things I don’t really want to do, I let unhealthy relationships go on way too long, I put my own mental health secondary to others, and although I have a healthy physical lifestyle, I don’t always have a healthy mental one. I remain stressed out and overwhelmed much of the time, which makes me impatient, short tempered, and intolerant. My family gets the brunt of this. So – I’m committing to cutting back on my commitments this year. I’ve cut way back on the training, so my family has me around more. I’m trying to make that time more enjoyable for all of us. The ugly fact is that I miss the level of training I had over the summer, because it beats all the demons into submission, and life is easier for me to handle when I’m too tired to fight about everything. Being at home more is both wonderful and difficult. Blended families hold big challenges (at least for me) and while I am committing to being a more patient person in 2019, I have to get help in this area from those around me. That means we all have to work together better. At this point, I can only work on my part of it, but I’m hopeful my home life becomes less stressful this year. The fact is, I really wanted to do another Ironman in 2019, but I had promised I wouldn’t. I’ve been working on letting go of any resentment or disappointment about that.

Saying no more often also translates to moving away from people or situations that cause me to feel bad about myself. I’ve dumped a ton of energy into those that, for whatever reason, don’t feel the same about me. I’ve always made the mistake of thinking that if I love someone hard enough, they’ll love me back. That just isn’t true. Trying harder doesn’t always yield better results if the project isn’t work the effort, so to speak. There are big parts of my life that used to provide so much joy and contentment to me that no longer do. I’m sure I’ve disappointed, let down, and failed many people in my life, but this year, I’m letting go of those who have done the same to me. Not out of anger, but just out of a lack of time to devote to that crap anymore. I have so little free time that I am consciously choosing to spend it with those I care the most about. I also have a terrible habit of trying to help/fix people who say they want it, even when their actions prove they don’t. Those people and their problems are a big black hole to me. It sucks my energy and leaves me feeling drained and deflated. If you have a problem and want help, I’ll do anything I can to provide support. If you have a problem and just want to complain about it incessantly and do nothing to make it better, call someone else in 2019.

Over the past year, I’ve played a little bit with what distance and detachment feels like. I want to be clear that this isn’t done out of anger, but just a general feeling of exhaustion with trying so damn hard. In a few cases, I’ve just stopped being the one to suggest plans or get togethers. I’ve stopped trying so hard in groups of people and when someone in my life acts in a way that shows I am not important to them, I am listening to those signals. It’s okay. We all have a finite amount of time to devote to others. Not everyone has to love me or like me.

So my resolutions are fairly typical: lose weight, be a better person, a better mom and stepmom, fall in love again with my work, spend time with those who want to spend time with me. Doesn’t see too hard, right? ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE 🙂

A big thank you to all of those who made 2018 such an incredible year. I look back at the best moments of last year, and I was surrounded by so much love and so many truly wonderful people. You all know who you are! I feel exceptionally grateful that I have the friends I do, my husband and my family, and the life we’ve created for ourselves. Happy New Year everyone!

 

 

 

Race Report – Ironman Chattanooga (Part III)

It is not a secret that my dear husband Edwin wasn’t super excited about endurance sports. He is a born and bred runner, but the fact that one year he was crazy enough to run the Richmond 8k and finish just in time to turn around and start the half marathon 5 minutes later escaped him when I first started talking about the 70.3. distance. In all fairness to him, he had seen a few of our friends go through Ironman training and he knew how much time it took and what the physical toll was. When I first joined the team and began to train in earnest, I was already suffering from hip impingement syndrome (but hadn’t been diagnosed yet). I had back issues and I had torn my gastrocnemius muscle a year or so previously. I was no spring chicken. His primary concerns about longer distance triathlons were just concerns about how my body would hold up and what my absence from the house would do to our family dynamic. They were fair worries.

Then during my very first A race – the OBX half – we all know I crashed. The way he found out was traumatic and chaotic and it made him even more anxious and concerned about the sport as a whole and my place in it. He also was there in the days, weeks and months that followed my head injury, and he saw what it did to me and how much I struggled to get back to “normal”. To be honest, my new normal has a different baseline entirely. I am not sure you can ever get back to zero or hit restart when it comes to the brain and the trauma that results from an accident like that.

We had a big sit down meeting when I signed up for Chattanooga. A few of my closest friends and teammates know that Edwin and I sat across from each other at the kitchen table. I was still not even able to fully work out at this point – it was October of last year – and I was wanting to press the “register” button on IMCHOO. He was NOT happy about it. Many of his reasons were solid and based in concern for me. We sat, arms folded, staring at each other. He said, “One of us is going to have to give.” I said, “It’s not going to be me this time.” Obviously, we all know now who won.

A few months later, Edwin was out at West Creek for a Tuesday night class. I don’t remember why, but I’m guessing he was running while I was on my bike. He ended up talking to Cyndi for a bit on the side of the road. He probably said something along the lines of “You all are crazy” to which she probably said something along the lines of “No, triathlon keeps us sane.” They had a longer conversation at that point, and Edwin relayed some of it back to me later. The gist was that triathlon training was a lot more than physical for many of us. It’s also a way to deal with demons, poor habits, trauma, depression, mental health issues, eating disorders . . . the list goes on and on. You will find many Type A personalities in the tri community, but I have also found a large community of kindred spirits in the “finding new and improved ways of keeping the monsters in the closet” camp.

I never had the opportunity to get to know prior teammate Ryan well – she moved right when I was joining the team – but I follow her on social media. She posted this today:

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Ryan does a much more succinct job than I do explaining the “why I tri”, so I’ll just steal her words.

Part III of my race report is really the prequel to Part I. I started out the half training two years ago by feeling numb and dull. I was fighting depression a lot, having issues with body image (I’d lost 40 pounds and felt better, but still was so tired of having the mirror as an enemy). I used to write to deal with my demons, but I couldn’t write anymore. Medication I’d been taking for a mood disorder cleared out my desire to do any meaningful writing. I felt like everything I’d loved and that made me, “me”, was gone. I wanted to do something HARD, something that would make me remember that I was a strong woman who could accomplish what felt impossible.

After year 1, and seeing some of my teammates commit to the training and finish Ironman Mont Tremblant, I really wanted to sign up for the full. This summer, I spent many hours talking myself off the ledge. I have dealt with every version of “I can’t do this” and “you’re stupid for trying” you can imagine. I fought all summer with sickness, physical issues, mental issues because of the physical issues. I had to train through WAYYYYY less than optimal conditions. Toward the end of July, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to do it anymore. Everything hurt, all the time, and I was tired. But when I took a step back and stopped my internal whining, I was immensely grateful for everything tri has given me (except the 10 pounds extra I’ve been carrying with me thanks to wanting to eat ALL the foods). It gave me people that were closer to soulmates than anything else. It gave me a team of people who regularly inspired me (and pushed me) and celebrated every victory like it was their own. It gave me a constant reminder that my brain was so much stronger than I gave it credit for. Tri gave me a strong body that could withstand so much more than I ever thought it could. It positively stripped me of any embarrassment that came from going out in public with my hair undone, no makeup, in bike shorts. It forced me to make peace with myself on so many levels.

Even now, looking back at my summer, I cannot believe that I made it. I cannot believe I got to taste the sweetness of that physical finish line, when so many of my finish lines have been mental. I love the literal line that we cross, designating the change from “not finished” to “finished”. However, I wasn’t expecting the finish line to really be the starting line.

For about 24 hours after the race, I felt so relieved and content that it was over. I had zero desire to ever do an Iron distance again. Bucket list checked. Done. Over. Plus, I had that whole One and Done deal with Edwin…

As the days have gone on and my body has started to heal and recover, I am not so sure about this. I do know that I want to rekindle my love of running, and the best way for me to do that is to not HAVE to run any distance. I want to run when I want to run. I want to spend next summer on our family cruise NOT running circles around the cruise ship like I did when training for the half, or finding places to open water swim while my kids were just splashing in beautiful water . . .instead of just being able to kick back and enjoy. I need a break from the pressure.

That being said, I am having difficulty dealing with the utter LACK of pressure right now. It feels good – and it feels bad. I still am loosely following my training schedule from before – run and swim Monday, bike Tuesday, blow off swim on Wednesday, bike and run Thursday, long swim Friday, brick Saturday. It’s what I’m used to, and I like it. Today I added in strength training which was fun, primarily because my body still does not want to run (not even a little bit) and I felt lazy only doing a swim. I am watching some of my teammates sign up for IMMD and IMLP and I find that I am a weird combination of jealous/wistful/relieved. I have been frantically pouring over the various race sites, trying to figure out what I’m going to do next year. A relay in May? Or should I just do a half myself in spring, then another one in fall? I mean, I literally just said last week I didn’t want to run anything more than a 10k next season – what the hell is wrong with me?

I have a new understanding of what tri training has done for me and my life. I am definitely a different person today than the me of two years ago. I am afraid I will lose that if I don’t keep training. When things are stressful or overwhelming, a run will beat the anxiety out of my head. When I feel like the noise in my life is too loud, a long, steady swim is like yoga to me. It is peaceful, Repetitive. Solo. It’s so silent. And when my energy is coiled so tightly that I feel I’m going to go out of my mind, my bike is the only outlet I want. Pushing my legs and leaning into that burn makes everything feel that much more manageable. Seeing my tri family, how my body feels after a good workout, the way I sleep the dark and dreamless sleep of the exhausted – those are all priceless to me, and I don’t want to lose them.

So what’s next for me? I am not sure yet. I signed up for another year with the team. I’m looking at doing a relay for IMVA in May, and then I’d like to do a late fall half on my own (I’d love to do IMAZ 70.3). I saw Roslynn today and also remarked that I’d like to do some fun stuff, like the SwimRVA 10k Relay, or a masters swim meet, or some Gran Fondos “just because”. I am very much a goal-oriented person, so if I don’t have a race looming, I am not sure I would show up reliably.

In the meantime, I remain eternally grateful to all the gifts I’ve gotten over the past couple of years. I may still not look like a stereotypical triathlete on the outside, but I feel stronger and more capable inside than I have ever felt in my life, hands down. I remain amazed at what me and my team were able to accomplish over the summer. There aren’t enough cliches in the world to explain how phenomenal this process was, or what it has shown me.

I will spend this weekend watching Kona and my friend Margy take on her first Olympic distance at Pleasant’s Landing. Then on Sunday, a number of friends and teammates are descending on Louisville for IMLOU! I am so excited to virtually cheer for them, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else is possible next year.

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Choo Choo – Race Day!

After about 3 hours of sleep, I woke Edwin up and threw my clothes on. I grabbed what I thought was everything I needed for the day. Since my bag and T2 bag were already there, it should have been fairly simple 🙂

I had a quick breakfast of oatmeal and a banana and we headed to Ross’s Landing. As I was pulling my bags out of the trunk, I realized I didn’t have my run special needs or bike special needs bag. Those were kind of important, since they contained half of my daily nutrition in them! I apologized profusely to a very tired Edwin, and we drove back to the condo to pick up the bags I’d left sitting in the MIDDLE of the floor. I don’t know how I missed them.  This is also why I arrive early for everything – I know my limits and try to make sure I leave a cushion for the mistakes I’m sure to make.

I looked for John near Special Needs drop off but I couldn’t find him. I dropped my SN bags off, hoping to god that my bike bag would make it to mile 58 so I’d have the rest of my nutrition I’d need. I’ve known some people who had bags misplaced, so I knew it was a crapshoot. I tried not to think about it.

I headed down to the transition area to get my bike set up. I ran into Heather and Jen right away. It was so great to see them and get a hug. And borrow the bike pump, too…

I checked out my back wheel extensively. I decided to carry two tubes on my bike and a third in the back pocket of my bike jersey, along with a bunch of berry Fig Newtons to break up the monotony of Infinit and another banana. I looked like a tire myself – I had so much stuff in my jersey. (note to self: carrying tire tubes and food and bottles in your bike jersey doesn’t make for good photos – oh well.) I had a plan to drink my 3+ hours of liquid nutrition on the way to special needs, then pitch those bottles and pick up new ones already filled with new and hopefully still cold-ish nutrition.

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If the bracelet says anything is possible, then it must be true.

Roslynn showed up soon after and presented me with a bracelet. I of course started crying again, but happy tears. I put it on my wrist with the tag facing up so I could be reminded that I could do this thing. It was next to the orange bracelet Ironman hands out to first timers that says “I WILL BECOME ONE”. I have never believed in affirmations as much as I do now – if you say something enough, chances are it will become a belief and the belief will result in action and accomplishment.

We did a lot of hugging and waving to family and friends. We also visited the bathrooms a bunch! Then it was time to sit down at the back of transition and wait for our age groups to be called to start the time trial start. I got to spend some time with Tammy and Michelle, and they were both calm and ready to get on with the day. Roslynn was giddy, Heather was steady and Jen was her usual sarcastic self. Michelle is the one who really got me thinking last year that I could do an Ironman. In fact, she looked positively confused at my doubt that I could do one. She then pulled a fast one on me by moving to Austin, Texas … bad Michelle.

Luckily, Michelle’s number was one away from mine, which meant we could get in the time trial line together. Talk about stressful. I’ve never done a TT start before. You line up in a large pack, two by two. About 15 yards before the line, volunteers start telling you to clip in on one side and inch forward. All I could think was, I’m going to wipe out before I even get to the starting line. We just kept pushing forward with the unclipped foot, hearing the loud beeping sound going off 5 seconds apart. Then it was go time. I got to the line, heard the beep, gave my bike a big push and clipped in. I hit start on my Garmin. I was officially off. In those couple of seconds, two years of training, hard work and dedication converged. It felt incredible.

It was great to see Edwin and the girls about 2/10ths of a mile down from the starting line. I gave them a big wave and then turned my focus to the traffic around me. My heart rate was through the roof and I knew I needed to simmer down, so I stayed in a nice, easy gear and spun my legs out to get them warmed up. There’s a false flat coming out of the bike start, and I’d ridden it once, so I knew not to get too crazy.

Shortly after starting, I realized my watch was set incorrectly. I had it on a brick setting but I had it set for the run first, bike second. My watch kept beeping at me to tell me to run 2 minutes, walk 2 minutes. It was also giving me my pace in minutes per mile as oppose to miles per hour, so it was basically worthless to me. I considered stopping it to set it properly, but then I’d mess up my overall time that I was tracking, and I just decided to leave it. That was a big mistake. More on that in the run portion (foreshadowing!).

The first 11 miles take you through St Elmo out to the main loop of the course. It was crowded and the roads were in rough condition. As soon as we got away from downtown Chattanooga, I knew it was time to get serious. Since my first bike accident, I have had to fight a lot of fear about my bike and bike handling skills. I have to pay close attention and not get too loose on my aerobars. I tend to wobble when I do that, and I didn’t want to take any chances this time. I also knew that the more time I spent in aero, the sooner my neck and shoulder would start bothering me, so I was very selective about when I was in aero and when I was seated. I got to see Michelle again for a few minutes and Angela briefly as she passed me. It is always comforting to see friendly faces out there.

OCapture-164ne thing I noticed right away is that more than half of the people passing me did not announce themselves. No “on your left” or “get the F out of my way.” Just nothing. Silence. It’s a pet peeve of mine, and because there were so many people bunched up from the time trial start, there was a lot of near misses with people starting to pass and then being passed by yet another person. Sometimes there were three or four people passing me or others at the same time. In one notable pass, a complete turd decided to go between me and the person on my left, a’la shooting the moon. He nearly took out both of us. Right after this, another jackass passed me on my right. I rarely say anything, but I did this time. It’s the second time I’ve been passed on the right during a race and it is incredibly dangerous. Thankfully I heard him coming up behind me right before he passed and was able to make some room for him.

Once we got out on the highway before we split to the right to start the first loop, I realized I was feeling great. I remembered someone telling me “Don’t hang on to the highs as they don’t last. Enjoy them, but don’t be sad when they’re gone. And when the lows come, know that they too will pass.” I knew this was a high and I decided to try to bank some time on my bike while I felt great. I was averaging over 17 miles an hour for most of the first loop and it felt like nothing. I was worried that I had misremembered the course being very do-able in July; by race day, I felt like I was very competent and knew how to gear and handle everything the course threw at me. 40 miles in and I felt like I could go forever. The crowds around me had thinned and I was able to really get in a groove and just go. Rhonda passed me sometime around this point like she’d been shot out of a rocket – apparently I wasn’t the only one having a great ride! Go Rhonda!

Around mile 50, I was coming down a hill with some curves at the bottom. I decided to challenge myself to stay in aero position instead of sitting up with my hands on the brakes as I generally do. As I got toward the bottom of the hill, I saw a photographer up ahead – right at the same time as someone began to pass on my left without much room. It made me nervous so I wobbled a little bit. I started to lose control of my bike and realized I was most likely going to die, as I was going well over 25 mph at that point and it was all gravel and dirt. Thankfully, I managed to get my bike under control. I checked to see if I had soiled myself, but I had not. The adrenaline was rushing and then I realized there’d probably be a picture now of me about to wipe out. Good times.

At this point, I felt like getting off my bike. Even though I felt fine physically, that near miss brought back a lot of anxiety and fear and I really just wanted to never ride my bike again. Thankfully I kept riding, right into Chickamauga and bike Special Needs. I hit the bathroom and grabbed my bag from the volunteer, who was nice enough to help me refill my bottles. When I realized I’d done it wrong and was going to have to throw out one of my Raleigh 70.3 bottles, I shoved it in the back of my jersey. I can’t throw that bottle away! The volunteers at SN were amazing. One held my bike while I went to pee. The other helped hold everything while with shaking hands I put my new nutrition in. They asked if I was okay. They told me I was doing great. And then they helped steady me as I got back on the bike. Special Needs bike volunteers – you were great! THANK YOU! Many of these volunteers were younger, like teens, and they were calm, cool and collected.

I rolled back to the start of the second loop. Up until this point, it had been relatively cool and overcast. But Choo had other plans and the clouds parted, the sun started to beat down on us, and temperatures started to rise. A headwind kicked up. The joy I’d felt the first 60 miles turned to fear. I knew I needed to average 16 mph, and I was dismayed to see that my speed was now hovering around 15.5. I knew I had built some time in on the first loop, but mentally I had to get it together and push it.

One of the most challenging parts of tri is being able to assess how hard you can go on the bike without destroying your run. It’s something I am still learning a lot about. But I knew that I wouldn’t be able to bank much time on the run, and it was do or die time on the bike. I buckled down and got to work.

The second loop was not what I would call fun. My messed up shoulder started to protest loudly, and when I would try to get the weight off it, I’d get a cramp in my forearm (I’ve never experienced this type of cramp before). That would throw my balance off, causing me to have long moments of soul searching about why anyone would allow me to ride a bike. I had to keep my focus on my balance and handling, while trying to push my legs to go harder and faster. I hit the steeper rollers again and managed fine, but I was having to pee about every 90 minutes and it was eating up my time stopping and waiting for a bathroom. I desperately tried to pee on my bike but my body wouldn’t cooperate.

I hit Chickamauga again and got a big boost from the town. So many of them were still out there cheering and screaming and it helped me stop thinking about my discomfort. There is a very long climb out of Chickamauga, and as I started the steepest part of the ascent, I got the same knife-like pain in my right inner thigh as I did during the run in Raleigh. I tried not to panic, but every time I pushed down hard on that leg, I’d feel like I was being stabbed. I tried standing up to work the cramp out while riding, but this made it worse and I nearly tipped over. To make matters more fun, I was stuck behind a huge black pick up truck. Both occupants were chain smoking. The road was blocked and we couldn’t pass them. I was inhaling exhaust and their cigarette smoke, while huffing and puffing and trying to deal with the leg cramp. It was definitely the lowest point of my ride.

After a while, we finished the climb and we were able to get around the truck. I didn’t want to look at my watch but I knew I had to be at around 100 miles at this point, and that I could gut anything out for 16 miles.

Right around then, I saw a guy wearing nothing but a pink speedo on the side of the road, shouting loudly at all of us. It gave me a much needed pick up and I cruised back into town, trying to make sure I didn’t push too hard. Every time I jammed on my pedals, I’d get a cramp. “Nice and easy” was my mantra, but I was started to get nervous about my time. I literally had no idea how my bike split had gone and I couldn’t risk taking my eyes off the road to look at my watch.

Seeing the river again and hearing the crowd was incredible. I knew the dismount line was just ahead and so was my family. I was able to stop my bike without killing a volunteer and even more amazing, I was able to get my leg up and over my bike without falling. The awesome bike catcher volunteer helped steady me until I could walk. I assured her I hadn’t peed on my bike which made her laugh. Then I made a mad dash for my T2/run bag and headed straight for the changing tent.

I also have to give mad props to the volunteers in the changing tent. I can’t think of a worse job, other than possibly the person who has to clean out the portapotties. These women help you get undressed, help you with shoes, bras, chafing cream, or whatever you need. It is a hot, sweaty environment in there with a bunch of out-of-it athletes walking around half naked or fully naked, trying to get their shit together to start running a marathon. At that moment, 116 miles on the bike hits you right in the face as well as the dawning realization that holy crap, I have to run a marathon now. PS WHY IS IT SO HOT.

My handler was so patient. I had written myself notes, like a) take off shirt b.) take off cycling shoes etc. It was very explicit and detailed because I knew my brain was going to be mush. I remembered to put chafing cream on my arms, but completely forget to put it under the band of my sports bra. It’s because I didn’t spell it out for myself. Foreshadowing: this was also a huge mistake. My volunteer helped me tie my shoes as my hands were shaking so badly I couldn’t do it myself. They weren’t even tie laces – just the ones you pull up and they self-tighten. Still couldn’t do it. Finally got myself out of there, hit the bathroom again, and got to see my family holding up signs and screaming at me. It was so nice to see them!

Ahhh, Chattanooga. Thank you so much for putting an enormous bitch of a hill right after exiting T2. I came flying around the flatness near the river just to be hit in the face with a long and steep incline. I decided to slow my roll and walk to the top, then start my intervals. At the top of the hill was a guy wearing hot pants and a crop top, and a pair of 6 inch black stiletto heels. He was dancing to disco music and his sign said, “Think your feet hurt? Try wearing these.” I laughed so hard. It was just what I needed. I told him he had great legs, then looked down at my watch to see when my next run interval would start.

So back to my bone-head move with my Garmin. Because my watch now thought I was on the bike portion of my brick, I was getting my pace in miles per hour instead of minutes per mile. I had very specific pacing goals, and because I couldn’t see my exact pace, I had to guess by feel if I was staying under my pace. Additionally, the interval settings I needed to tell me when to walk or run were not working because my watch thought I was on a bike. There was nothing I could do at this point about it, but I though I had about 7+ hours to do the marathon and that should be fine, right?

I started running and realized within the first 10 minutes that every time I did so, the cramp would come back with a vengeance. I decided to walk, but very briskly. Based on my bad math I was trying to walk a 14 minute mile at this point. I was walking faster than some of the runners.

It was around this time that I realized I was officially on the surface of the sun. We were on this gross highway, broiling in the sun, with no shade to be seen. I reminded myself that we had been training in the heat all summer and this was no big deal. Within the first 10 miles, though, I realized it was a big deal to a lot of people. I saw a number of athletes doubled over, cramping. I handed them salt tabs. I saw a guy who said he was having major GI issues. I handed him Tums out of my run belt. I tried to distract myself by seeing what I could do to help others. I unfortunately saw a lot of people throwing up on the side of the road and worse, a few going back to the village in the back of ATVs or ambulances. I can’t believe how many people I met on the course who were from Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota. They hadn’t been able to train for the heat and they were a mess. I felt very badly for them.

I had seen Heather briefly at the start, but she was killing it and was actually running the marathon as opposed to speed walking with me. I was really proud of her. She’s had to overcome a lot in the past year and to see her putting out a strong effort was remarkable. GO HEATHER!

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This marathon course is STUPID. What kind of run-challenged athlete signs up for an IM with one of the hardest marathon courses? This idiot.

I was in fairly good spirits for the first 11 miles. Getting through the Barton Avenue side – where all the big hills are – I thought I could get through it on my second loop. I knew my pace was okay, and I was running when I felt like I could. By 13.1 when I had to turn right instead of left to the finish line, I looked wistfully at it and thought, “Why aren’t I doing a half right now??? I’d have been done!” The sun was starting to go down and it was just super humid as opposed to hot and humid. I realized I was starting to get blisters on the bottom of both feet and I tried desperately not to think too much about it. I had applied blister shield in the changing tent, but I think I was in such a hurry, I didn’t do a good job. Very bad decision.

As night fell, the chicken broth came out. So did the walking dead. I was rapidly becoming one of them. By mile 15, blisters had started to pop on my feet and my socks were getting wet with blister juice (gag). Every time I pushed back on my foot to move forward, I felt like my feet were on fire. I used every mental trick in my arsenal. I tried to talk to everyone around me to distract myself. I met some nice people, but we were all doing our different paces so I didn’t stay with anyone too long. I told myself it was temporary pain and I was NOT going to let my Ironman dreams be derailed by an effing blister (or 10). Around mile 20, I really thought I wasn’t going to make it. I was peeing all the time, my hands had swollen into sausages (favorite moment from that period: seeing Blair on Barton and saying “What does it mean that my hands are swollen?” and her replying “It means you’re doing great and keep going!”). I broke into the Goody’s powder (Cyndi’s secret weapon) but was so out of it that I poured most of it on my lips and chest, and not my tongue. Then I gagged because it had coated my mouth and nearly vomited. I’m sure it wasn’t supposed to go that way.

Hitting Barton Avenue again when my feet were weeping was a level of hell I’ve never experienced in my life. According to Edwin, my pace dropped to a 20 minute mile and I was in danger of DNF’ing. I saw him again around mile 21 and he told me to get my ass moving. I said not very nice things to him but I did hear what he was saying. I picked up the pace. I couldn’t drink my run formula anymore and relied on broth and coke to get me through the last 4 miles.

I am not exaggerating when I say that was the longest four miles of my life. It was pitch black at this point (around 11 pm), very few people were out around me, crowds had thinned, I was in agony and I started to feel loopy. I’d try to do basic math in my head just to keep myself entertained and actually got concerned when I couldn’t add 4 and 3 without using my fingers. THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED.

I saw Edwin again at the top of Barton and he reiterated I needed to move it, move it. I tried. I felt like there was no human way I could keep going. Someone in the crowd told me “YOU CAN DO THIS!” and I decided to let them be right. I couldn’t figure out the numbers on my watch anymore – I was just hoping I had enough time. I knew it was down to the wire. With everything I had left in me, I pushed myself into a run across the beautiful wooden pedestrian bridge. Everyone kept saying “you’re almost there!” I turned the corner, thinking the finish chute was there, but all I saw was the black hill I had to climb up on the way to start the run. People were yelling at me to go! So I went. I got my legs under me and ran with blind faith that eventually I’d see the chute instead of just hear it. Of course I forgot to turn off my headlamp at this point…

Suddenly I saw the chute and the red carpet. All of my pain went away and I remembered Andrea telling me to enjoy every second of that chute. Slap the hands, throw up your arms, bask in it. It was truly one of the best moments of my life. So many people were still out to watch the midnight finishers. I vaguely heard friends and the girls and Edwin calling my name. I have never smiled so much in my life – you’d know if it I had turned my headlamp off and not ruined all of my finishers pic or the live stream (I’m such a dork). Crossing the finish line and hearing my name and becoming an Ironman – all of the pain and sacrifice faded away into the realization that I HAD ACTUALLY DONE IT.  My watch showed that I was right at the 14:40 mark.

IMG_2212I saw Cyndi and Derek first and gave them both huge hugs and burst into tears. Around this time, someone told me my official time was 14:40:56 or something like that. I asked Cyndi, “Did I DNF??” She said “You’ll have to wait for the official results.” I wasn’t sure how I felt at that time because I started to feel like I was going to pass out. Graham came out from nowhere and helped walk me to the photo area. He made sure I got to where everyone else was and I started slugging Gatorade and shoving food in my face. I hugged my family and everyone on the team. I hadn’t realized how out of it I was until I tried walking, or how bad my feet were. I decided to sit down and wait for our last teammate to come in, Mark! Mark was about to qualify for Kona at 74 years old!

That half hour I spent in the finish line chute area with my teammates, friends and family was one of the best in my life. I knew there was a chance I would DNF, but I felt pretty good that if I hadn’t hit 14:41 they’d let my results stand. And I was so excited for everyone else, I just didn’t care. Seeing Mark and Scott cross the finish line was one of the best moments of the day.

After that, Lily and Arden helped support me since I couldn’t put weight on my feet. We got in the car and headed to the condo. I took a shower immediately and that’s when I realized I had branded myself with my bra band – I have a red welt all the way around my chest. Awesome! Way to go, moron!

All in all, I came away with blistered feet and some chafing. Not too shabby for my first Ironman. The race director set the DNF cut off at 14:48:00 so I was in with no problem.

Did I feel like I did an Ironman, even without the swim???

HELL YES I DID! I am an Ironman!

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(stay tuned for part III)