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)

 

Race Report – Brickman Chattanooga (Part I)

(Note: due to the length of this post, I’ve broken it into three parts for ease of reading)

Holy moly, that was an experience!!!

My coach often tells us that Ironman isn’t about the distance. It’s about adapting to whatever hand the race day deals you. A lot can go wrong over 140.6 miles (or in Chattanooga, 144.6). Many things are different than you planned for, and you can either let it blow your day and possibly years of training or you can change, be flexible, problem solve. The stories that have been shared on the IMCHOO Facebook page are incredible. One guy’s crank came off (how you pedal) and he kept having to stop his bike and hammer the spindle back in using rocks or whatever he could find on the side of the road. Every five miles – until bike support found him and helped him with a hammer. Another person’s aero bars came off their bike and were in danger of getting caught in their front wheel, so they rode many, many miles holding it up in their hand while still steering. I’m sure there are many more. Even on our team, we were adapting to whatever the day handed us. I don’t think it was quite as dramatic as what I shared above, but no one’s day goes perfectly.

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Photo Credit: Rich Reed

I am not a flexible or particularly adaptable person, and part of what has made this sport so near and dear to me is that it challenges me at every basic level. It’s physically demanding, and I have never, ever, been an athlete. Mentally it forces me to spend large amounts of time dealing with the demons in my head (there’s a lot to think about when you have a 7 hour brick). It has forced me to examine what I think an athlete should look like and square that image with who I am. It has thrown me many loops and I have had to take them in stride and decide to keep on truckin’. I’ve never been more challenged by anything in my life. It has changed me, inside and out.

So after telling you that flexibility is not my strong suit, Ironman Chattanooga decided to really get up in my face.

WEDNESDAY

Roslynn and I left Wednesday with Bertha and her Yellow Hornet balanced on the roof of her car. It had been raining like crazy in Chattanooga, but we were relieved that the forecast for Saturday and Sunday (race day) looked relatively dry and relatively cool – for Tennessee. As we got closer to Chattanooga, we realized how much it had been raining. Rivers were swollen, the downpours were incredible, and everything was saturated. It still didn’t sink in how much of an effect the rains were having on everything, including the race. All I could think was how much faster an already fast swim would be – the current would be wicked!

I had an AirBNB condo about 2 miles from Ross’s Landing, and we checked in to it Wednesday night a day early after what felt like a never-ending drive to the Choo. We were in good spirits. A little Advil PM to calm any nerves and we were off to sleepy town.

THURSDAY

Thursday morning, we headed straight to the Ironman Village to athlete check in and the very first Athlete Briefing wherein you find out all the details of the race, most of which you’ll probably forget by race day. They usually discuss course changes, safety rules, course time cut offs. We met up with Tammy, one of our teammates who is an repeat IM finisher, and Rhonda, my teammate who now lives in Chattanooga. Rhonda was a huge part of my training experience last year and I miss her terribly. That enormous hug I got from her was one of my top 10 moments of IM. We took pictures, acted silly, and started to really get into the whole IM experience. Between the volunteers and staff, you feel like a celebrity – it’s very special. I know a lot of people hate on Ironman and think they are out to kill all the local races, but I think there is a place for both in the world, and I am very glad I have done both IM branded and non-branded events.  Different feel, different pay off.

Rhonda looked a little iffy when we talked about the swim. She didn’t say anything directly about it, but when I was joking about the current, she stopped making eye contact. I was too out of it with Ironman fever to pay attention.

The athlete briefing started in a tent in the pouring rain. The director said, “You guys are the first ones to hear this news. I’m so sorry to say that after much deliberation and discussions with TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority – the people who control the dam and flow of the river), we are cancelling the swim portion of the event. We can’t safely put on a swim in these conditions.” It took me a few seconds to process what he was saying. I started crying and didn’t stop for about an hour. I saw some men crying too, and lots of other women, so I didn’t feel alone.

I had made a deal with Edwin that this was “one and done”. At that moment I felt like all the work I had done was for nothing. I was going to do an Ironman that wasn’t a triathlon. It felt like it wouldn’t count. I was devastated. The director then talked about the course cut offs still in play and that the total time to finish the race was now 14 hours and 40 minutes, instead of the normal 16:30 due to the swim being cancelled. We were now going to start in a time trial format, one I’ve never done before. It is hard to explain, but my brain was already on overload from all the things you have to think about and plan for. Having to digest new time cut offs wasn’t even possible for my brain at that time.

We left the athlete briefing in a sort of stunned silence. Rhonda admitted that she knew the day before based on the flooding that was occurring elsewhere. The dam needed to be open fully to prevent more flooding, and there was debris and insane current flow in the river. We found out later that the e.coli levels were also off the charts. A few years ago, there was a problem with e. coli and about 20% of the athletes got sick after the swim. During the bike. Just think about that for a moment – 20% of 2500 athletes having intestinal issues during a 116 mile bike ride. No thank you.

We had a delicious lunch at Blue Plate (I’d kill for those chorizo and egg breakfast tacos right about now) and I decided to adjust my attitude. I was with some of my favorite people on earth, in a beautiful town, about to complete a goal I’d been working toward for two years. There wasn’t much to be disappointed about in the bigger scheme of things.

We spent the rest of Thursday sorting through all the items we would need for race day, doing a little bit of shopping, and then met up with the rest of the team in town on Thursday night for dinner. Graham and Scott told hilarious stories about past Ironman events they’d done and it helped put my mind at ease. It was a fun time, meeting family members of some of the team (loved meeting Heather and Jen’s dad Harry and seeing their mom Tammy again – she ended up being an awesome cheerleader on the course for me as well!). Then we headed back to our respective hotels and went to bed.

That night was a rough one. I called Renee, a teammate back in Richmond, and let it all out. I had done a great job of pushing down my concerns and upset over the swim being cancelled, but at some point during the day, I had started to work out the new 14:40’s math calculations, and it was bad math for me.

Originally my pacing strategy from Cyndi was to hit 7:27 on the bike and shoot for 7 and some change on the run. She allotted 1:15:00 for the swim, but I knew I could break one hour. This would give me some wiggle room and allow me to hit my goal finish time of under 16 hours (just barely). She gave me 10 minutes transitions between T1 and T2. That seems like a lot in a normal race, but Ironman it’s not overly long. You have to get into the tents both time and they aren’t normally close to where you are. The distances between swim in, bike out and bike in, and run out are spaced apart by the enormous space for all those bikes. This picture does a good job of showing just how far you have to run between the ends of the transition area. Bike in is at the far right corner of the picture. The tents are closest to you, but not in the photo. IMG_2208

Once in the tents, you dump out your stuff from the bag you left near the bike in section and start changing and getting ready for the next event. It takes some time. I’ve seen some people go in and out of there in a couple of minutes but it’s hard.

When the swim was cancelled, the race director knocked the total time to finish down from 16:30 to 14:40. The original swim cut off time was 2 hours, 20 minutes, but they decided to knock off 2 hours 10 minutes from the total time we had. I didn’t really process what this meant until much later.

What it meant for most people, especially people with a strong swim, was that the “bank” of time we could build into our race day was now gone. For those of us with strong swims, mediocre bike and crap runs, we were in trouble. That would be me. With previous predictions, I estimated 1 hour on the swim, 10 minutes in T1, 7:30 on the bike (ish), 10 minutes in T2 —giving me plenty of time to finish the run in 16:30. By losing that swim time cushion, I was looking down the barrel of a gun. There wasn’t a way with my current pacing to complete the race in the time allotted.

At this moment, I signed up for IM Louisville. It was a spur of the moment decision based on the fear that I wouldn’t feel like I had completed a “real” Ironman, even on the outside chance I could finish Chattanooga. It’s in two weeks. I had officially lost my mind.

Later that evening, I talked to Cyndi about it. She was pretty clear that she thought it was an unwise decision (read: terrible). I had never done an Ironman, I had no idea how my body would feel or recover, and if I wanted a shot at completing Louisville, I really needed to think about bagging Chattanooga. That was also devastating. Edwin was coming Friday with both girls and they were here to cheer and support me. In my stubborn mind, I decided, to hell with it – I’m doing both. I really felt hopeless when she sent me updated pacing sheets – I would need to average 16 mph on the bike the entire time and make sure I was staying around 16 min miles on the run. I went back to look at historical data on my longer rides. They all hovered around 15 mph, except Raleigh 70.3, where I was close to 17 mph the entire time. Except at Raleigh, the run blew up probably because of the combination of my aggressive bike and the heat. I didn’t want that to happen again. Cyndi said “You can do this. I believe in you.” She doesn’t generally lie, but I wondered how much of it was her just not wanting to say “Yeah, you’re totally going to DNF, but let’s try anyway.”

Back to the call with Renee – wherein I discussed my impending DNF and the many ways in which I would fail. She told me she knew I could do it. She said there was no doubt in my mind I could meet a pace that would get me across the finish line. She said it with love, but she made it clear that I needed to suck it up and get on with this. I felt a lot better after talking to her and was able to go to bed.

FRIDAY

Friday morning we had originally scheduled a pre-swim and a shake out ride to make sure all of our equipment was working. Obviously the swim was cancelled, so we hustled down to a park near Ross’s Landing to ride for a half hour or so. It was great having the entire team together (minus Rhonda who did her shake out ride near her home). The morning didn’t start out too well – some things were going on that were causing me a large amount of stress and anxiety and I felt like I was having a panic attack on the bike. Also, the roads were shit. I don’t say that lightly. The cement was torn up, big potholes, loose gravel, gaps in the road – I felt like I hit every one of them. My bike started making a rattling noise about 3 miles into it, but I thought it was the water bottle I was carrying (it was the first time I had used it). Graham came up behind me and said, “You have a complete flat on your back wheel. Pull over.” Jen had also been riding around me (because as usual, I psyched myself out and convinced myself I wasn’t fast enough to ride with the team, and was at this point way behind everyone else. Graham pretended he was riding slowly of his own accord, but I know he was riding near me to keep an eye out. That’s the kind of person he is.)

This was the same wheel I’d have two flats on over the prior two weeks. I nearly lost it. I had so much concerning me at the moment that the idea of my bike breaking down during the race sent me over the edge. I was doing my best not to start rage crying right there on the side of an industrial road. I tried getting the tire off and couldn’t, so Graham stepped in and also had a hell of a time getting it done. That made my anxiety go up even higher because I knew if it blew again during the race, I’d DNF. It takes forever to get the tire off. Jen was totally calming as well and just acted like she really wanted to hang out in the industrial section of Chattanooga two days before the biggest race of her life instead of doing her shake out ride. These are the moments when I realize I am truly blessed with the people I have in my life.

We changed the tube after trying to just inflate the old one and I rode back to the park with Graham and Jen where the rest of the team was waiting. I was so upset I wasn’t speaking. I just wanted to get back in Roslynn’s car and go to the village to the bike techs. I cried some more in her car until I got my act together and could pretend I was fine. Graham said he needed to go to the village (again, I know he was coming to support me and make sure the bike techs really and truly understood the problem I was having with my back tire – because that’s the kind of person he is.) I dropped my bike off with them and asked them to check it out to the best of their ability. Then we headed over to Mellow Mushroom for a team lunch. My anxiety was still off the charts and I started to get really, really, really fed up with myself. At this point Rhonda had already talked me off the ledge two or three times, Roslynn had put up with more tears and stressing than any human should have to, Heather and Jen had taken a huge amount of my crap, and Graham had already seen me have a near melt down over a stupid blown tube. The other stuff that was happening that I won’t go into here was also playing a big part in the anxiety and I felt overwhelmed. Primarily I felt that this was not the Ironman experience I had signed up for, and I was bitter about it. I wanted to have the joyous feeling I thought one should have before this race, and I wanted my three sports, not two. And I wanted – needed – my 16:30 time, not 14:40. But this was what Cyndi meant earlier about Ironman. You get what you get, and that’s what Ironman is about.

I started to get it together at this point. I made a conscious decision that this was going to be a great experience no matter what happened. Louisville was my backup plan and Chattanooga was my A race. It was going to happen, and I was going to meet my goals – even if they seemed unattainable at the moment.

When Edwin, Lily and Arden arrived, it was just what I needed. Getting a hug from the kids and seeing Edwin calmed my nerves a lot. We talked a bit about what the issues were for the race, then moved on to more fun things, like the Moon Pie store. We had dinner downtown and went to bed early. I felt much more relaxed by the time I went to bed.

SATURDAY – PREP DAY!

The day before any race is always one where I make sure everything is good to go. For an Iron-distance race, the prep is enormous (or feels like it to me). With the swim being cancelled, I didn’t have to worry about my T1 bag or making sure all of my swim stuff was together, but in a weird way, it messed up my normal routine. I heard this from many other participants so I guess it wasn’t just me. I started the day with a shake out run with Edwin. We were smart and took Rhonda’s advice – we ran about a mile to Niedlov’s Bakery! Delicious. Nothing like running just to pick up a fresh cinnamon roll. I felt like crap – my legs were heavy and uncooperative. Even though many people had warned me that I’d feel off during taper, I had no idea that I’d feel almost sick. I felt like the more I rested, the worse I was performing. By the end of the mile and a half run, I was walking and considering pulling out – again. But only for a second! At 10 am, my friend John came and picked me up. We headed out to bike check in. Ironman requires you to check your bike in the day before. It’s quite a process. You show up with your bike, they take pictures of it, categorize all your components, even write down the kind of running shoes you’re dropping off in your run bag, Fun stuff! It’s fun to find your rack and check out all the fancy bikes – and some that are decidedly NOT fancy. I like those just as much. John is the husband of Lily’s fourth grade teacher Annette – she’s a running nut and we’ve stayed in touch. She was Lily’s favorite teacher and remains so today! Her daughter Audrey is Arden’s age, so we had planned to do some fun family stuff together. After we checked in bikes, John looked mine over and made sure the back tire and wheel looked okay. He knew I was nervous and worried about something happening on the ride. He is a very calm person, and also an incredible athlete, so being with him helped a lot. After check in, we headed to lunch with the families and then the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway, wherein all of us developed new and intense fear of heights together. Bonding!

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Renee’s good night message to me.

I was tired of the walking we had done and wanted to take Cyndi’s advice to rest on Saturday seriously, so Bad Ass John Bates took my girls with them to do yet another fun hike at Rock City while Edwin took me back to the condo to chill out. I sat in the air conditioning, took a nap, and listened to the Head Space app, working on my meditation and mindfulness skills. We met back up again with them for dinner at Beast + Barrel (good food by the way). That was a perfect evening – John and Annette told us funny stories, we talked about dogs and kids, and my mind was finally at peace with everything. I went back to the condo, filled up my bottles of nutrition, packed my bags for the morning, did last minute stuff. Then it was time to try to sleep! Because the swim was cancelled – we got to sleep in! No 4 am wake up call. I didn’t sleep much, but it was nice knowing the alarm was going to go off later than usual. Then it was up and time for race day!

 

 

Birth

Back in October of 2002, I was pregnant with my first child, Lily. My due date was in November, on Thanksgiving Day. I remember very clearly my feelings around that time. It was a mixture of fear, excitement, anxiety and peace. It was an emotional cornucopia of every feeling I thought I could experience, all at once. I told a friend when I first found out I was pregnant that “I’m on a roller coaster now, and there’s no getting off until the ride stops.” The same feeling of getting on a ride that scares you, approaching the first big drop, being terrified, but there’s no way out of the car at that point.

I was also miserably uncomfortable, as women approaching their ninth month of pregnancy will tell you. Everything felt off, all the time. I couldn’t sleep, sitting hurt, walking hurt – I was just generally uncomfortable. I couldn’t wait to get my body back to myself – evicting my tenant, so to speak, but the idea of actually giving birth was also terrifying.

When someone asked me recently how I was handling the pre-race jitters (we are about 13 days out right now), I could only compare it to how I felt during my first pregnancy. I am very uncomfortable right now (my favorite thing to tell my tri friends is “everything hurts and I’m dying”), I don’t want to race half the time, and the other half I just can’t wait to do it. I am excited to toe the starting line, terrified I’m going to fail, dream of crossing the finish line, get emotional thinking about the entire journey, feel like I’m going to puke when I think about toeing the starting line, and generally worry about every single logical and illogical thing you can think of.

I hurt myself yet again about a week and a half ago, when I hit some loose gravel on my bike and went down on my side. I shot my hand out to break my fall and forced my humeral head into the shoulder socket (or whatever the anatomically correct term is). Within 30 minutes, I stopped focusing on the road rash that I thought was my only issue, because suddenly I couldn’t raise my arm any higher than my chest.

The next day I hustled over to my sports medicine doc and spent about 10 hours between first appointment, x-ray, MRI, and results appointment thinking that I had torn my rotator cuff and my race dreams were over. I did a lot of crying in my car that day. The honest truth is that 98% of me was devastated that I might not be able to race on 9/30. 2% was super relieved I wasn’t going to have to. I’ve been told that’s a fairly normal response.

Thankfully, the MRI showed no tear. Instead I was diagnosed with a bone bruise, a term I’d never heard and that didn’t sound overly scary. I’ve since learned a lot more about it, especially from the PT I see who told me they can take a loooooong time to fully heal. I mean, it’s me – why wouldn’t I find something to keep training interesting?

Since the injury, I have been doing a lot of PT, icing, and massage. I’ve had to adjust my workout schedule since I can’t swim right now. I defied direct orders NOT to swim and tried anyway – I had a great swim experience on the calendar that involved a lot of planning and a boat that would take us up to a bridge for a downriver swim, very closely mimicking the swim in Chattanooga, and I wasn’t willing to not at least try. I made it 1 mile out of 2.4, and shed some tears in my googles. Swimming hurt. I also realized I could swim one-armed, or breast stroke, or hold my arms straight in front of me and just kick. In this way, I realized that no matter what, if the pain didn’t get better, I’d still be able to complete the swim in Choo, but it wouldn’t be pretty or pleasant or fast.

Okay, so no big deal, except that this is where the crazy thinking comes in. I generally enjoy racing, but I do spend a chunk of time at certain points on race day wondering what the hell I was thinking. I allow the doubts to stick around for a few moments, then I work to dispel them. In general, though, the one part of a tri I have always enjoyed and felt zen about is the swim. After the first 200 meters, I generally calm down and really enjoy myself. I always remember to look at the scenery and feel grateful that I’m doing what I am, and I say things to myself like “Take a moment to love this, because it’s the only time today you’re not going to be hot – and it’s the only time your legs aren’t going to be really working.” It’s pretty quiet under the water and I find peace there. The rest of race day is loud – people around talking, cheering, supporting each other, thanking volunteers and police officers, and a lot of focus and concentrating on all the little things you have to do to make sure you get across the finish line. Am I taking in enough nutrition? Have I changed position on the bike to avoid neck pain? Did I remember to put enough anti-chafe on my body? Am I sticking to my run intervals? You get the idea. It’s a noisy day, both externally and inside the brain.

When I realized that my zen portion of the race might not be so zen, and that I may be experiencing a significant level of “discomfort” within the first mile of my 144.6 miles, I was, for lack of better word, wigging out. Mentally I’ve been preparing for the real discomfort to start around mile 80, not 50 meters. I’ve spent the last week and a half trying to retrain my brain to stop thinking like that.

Part of me was, and still is, irritated. I feel like I have more than paid my dues in shitty luck for the last two years. I have hip impingement syndrome, diagnosed in 2017 a month before my first Olympic tri. I was off running for almost a month and doing PT and strength training like crazy to mitigate the ongoing pain that I have from this. Then I crashed during my first half in September 2017. I was off all exercise for a month, then slow to get back to it all, and spent many hours in concussion PT and shoulder PT from where I fell. To this day, I still have issues from the fall. Fast forward to June of this year, when I got sick approximately a week and a half after Raleigh 70.3. I spent much of my summer training through nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. When it got to be too much or I got too dehydrated, I’d have to give up and give in and take a few days off in bed, where I spent those hours stressing about not training. This went on through the beginning of August. The last time I had an issue was the day I attempted my first Century ride in Culpepper. I made it to mile 61 before I gave up.

I was finally feeling better and strong when I fell during class a week ago Tuesday. I want to laugh about it, but sheesh, I really felt like I was being punished for something I’d done in a prior life. Today, I’m a bit better about it all. When you look at how many hours we run, sit on a bike, or spend in a pool, it’s no wonder if feels like some of us are injured all the time. Statistically speaking, we should be.

So . . . how am I doing? Well . . .

7ccefdf2afc2554ee181f4dc734b1657--triathlon-memesI’ve never been a worse runner than I am right now. Between the heat of the summer, the amount of hours, and the training through an intestinal parasite, my running went to absolute shit. At this point I’d call myself more of a speed walker than anything else. I have a runner still inside me, somewhere, down deep – but she only appears at night when the humidity and temps are low. Mentally I am messed up with my running as well, because it’s been so hard and I’ve got myself convinced I “can’t” do it. I hope that on race day I find that I can.

I’m a decent cyclist, but my speed has dropped off this summer too. In some ways I’ve never felt stronger on my bike – in between those moments where I’m terrified to ride it if I think too much about what has happened while on it. In other ways, I feel like a middle-aged Age Grouper wanna be who has no business attempting this race.

I am a strong swimmer – and I LOVE open water – but this injury may take the joy out of the swim for a while now. No one likes to do something that hurts like hell, let alone do it for 2.4 miles. I can get through it, but I’m not stoked about it either.

3ae7b167b5984e84281cc7d916340ee0--triathlon-humor-triathlon-trainingThe best way I can explain how I’m doing is to say that I feel like I’m about to give birth. I can’t wait to get this race over with, I’m scared as hell, I’m excited as hell too. I’ve never, ever, ever worked this hard for something in my life. It has been without a doubt the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It has pushed me to the far limits of my physical endurance and to the farthest limits of my mental endurance. I have accomplished so much, experienced huge setbacks and failures that were exceptional learning experiences, made friends with deep and lasting connections, experienced the therapeutic effects on a jangling brain of endurance sports, and watched myself grow in ways I never thought possible (for better or worse – I’m not sure my indifference to modesty at this point is a good thing).

Dog Days of Summer (and Training)

I can’ t believe it’s been almost 2 months since I took a moment to write over here. All I can say is, my training schedule ramped up like crazy and I was sick all the way through the beginning of August.

Fingers crossed, I am out of the woods with whatever was happening for June and July. I still believe that I got giardia from the water in Jordan Lake during Raleigh 70.3.  I ingested a large amount of water thanks to an overzealous man swimming frantically next to me, using his hands like giant paddles to slap the water down, creating big jets of water that I promptly inhaled.  I felt like someone had shot a fire hose of dirty lake water down my throat. It was about 10 days after the race that the first symptoms started. Unfortunately I let the ER doc talk me out of getting the test to tell for sure if I had a parasite and by the time I finally got tested, I was nearly 6 weeks out from the first incident. I think by then most everything had already taken care of itself. I did get to have the fun experience of an endoscopy and colonoscopy, all while trying to fit that in and around my training schedule. Super cool.

The last time I was sick was the night before the Culpeper Gran Fondo. This was pretty unfortunate as the GF was my first attempt at a Century. I made it 61 miles and called it quits. Although it was definitely one of the most beautiful rides I’d undertaken, things were bad from the start. I’d been up since 1 am throwing up, wasn’t able to eat much in the morning, and messed up my nutrition on the bike by trying something new (which obviously didn’t work well for me). Cyndi always tells us that making mistakes on training days are always great learning experiences – there’s no such thing as a bad training day. I definitely learned a few things in Culpeper.

I was having a legitimate panic attack for the first 10 miles of the ride, but trying to ignore it. I was feeling awful right out of the gate and I was panicking about feeling awful, and trying to tell myself that I could get through this – I had to make my 100 – and that pain and discomfort is all part of the process. At the first aid station, I tried to eat some peanut butter on bread to see if solid foods would help the large lead ball that settled in my gut, or make the stabbing pains go away. It didn’t help. Culpeper is beautiful, as I said, but climbing isn’t my favorite and this 100 was hill after hill after mountain after hill after climb. My legs felt like shit and I was dehydrated. By the aid station at mile 50, I figured I might as well allow myself to puke since nothing else was helping and I was already way off my nutrition. Ironically the aid station was at a church, so I went behind it for some privacy and realized I was about to vomit onto a tombstone. Ooops. That felt pretty disrespectful, so I tried to find a corner of the church parking lot. A few riders were treated to me hurling. Sorry about that, people.

Unfortunately, that didn’t help either. I found myself unable to finish one of the climbs and did the walk of shame, something I haven’t had to do since my first year of training. I got back on my bike after a stern talking to with myself, and ended up walking again a few miles later. This time I was throwing up over the side of my bike, I was dizzy, and felt like I was going to pass out. My team was awesome and talked some sense into me (it’s not a good idea to ride when dizzy, duh) and waited for me until one of the race organizers could pick me and my bike up.

imagesI will admit to crying some frustrated tears about it. I was so sick of being sick and feeling bad. Training was, and is, very challenging right now. Doing it while feeling like death was almost unbearable. I am, if nothing else, completely stubborn and also very dedicated, so I can say that while I haven’t always been able to keep to my schedule, I have never missed a bike or run workout.

The best part of calling it quits was hanging at the finish line and seeing the rest of my team knock out the rest of the mileage. The course was shortened due to flooding, so they got a nice 91 miles in. I was really proud of all of them. That ride was HARD.

Thankfully since then I have felt much better, and even got some self-confidence back by doing a longer ride with many hills without much difficulty. For some reason, Culpeper got me thinking that I couldn’t do hills, and I was starting to wonder if I should transfer my Chattanooga Ironman registration to Maryland where the course is pancake flat.

My brain is a lot better now. My running went in the crapper along with everything else this summer (double entendre intended), but I have come to a place of peace and acceptance about it. I don’t even try to run straight anymore, and only train doing intervals unless I’m doing short distances (less than 4 miles). Anything over that gets treated to 4:1 intervals – or, when it’s really hot, 2:2.  It works for me, and anything around a 15/16 min mile average will get me across the finish line in Chattanooga if all else goes according to plan. At this point, I don’t have the time or the ability to work on my speed. I am dealing with hip pain and some back pain to boot, and my goal is to finish. I personally don’t care what my finish time is, but I do feel I should warn everyone tracking me on race day that it’s going to be a VERY long day for them and their IM tracker app 🙂

I went through about a month and a half of very dark thoughts.  Not only did I think I wouldn’t be able to finish, but I also felt like I didn’t even want to try. I felt physically sick for the majority of my workouts, and I honestly forgot what working out when feeling good felt like. The thought of doing 144.6 miles feeling like I was dying was totally unappealing, but I was too damn stubborn to give up back then and I’m so glad I didn’t defer my registration. I came very close.

I also found myself whining and complaining a lot to a small group of people (you know who you are, and thanks for sticking with me). My friend Clair, a multiple IMer, said something along the lines of “If this isn’t feeding your soul anymore, you need to reevaluate what your reason for doing all of this is.” Those words really knocked me out of my pity party, because seriously, all of this is supposed to be for fun, to challenge myself, and to be with some of the best people I’ve ever met in my life. If I was dreading every workout and focused on all the pain and suffering I was feeling, what was the point of this anymore?

So I got over myself and changed my inner monologue and thought process. I let go of some of my expectations about my performance (especially running) and focused on what I was knocking out of the park. Because honestly, I’ve gotten a lot stronger on the bike and although my speed for my swim hasn’t gone up measurably, my endurance ability has. I can swim 2.5 miles with no issues (other than being super bored in the pool). While I haven’t been able to solve my neck and shoulder pain on the bike, I have come to terms with it and now spend my energy on tools to distract me instead of focusing on it. A lot of my training this summer has been almost entirely mental: learning to let go of negative or defeatist thoughts, unrealistic goals, and working on accepting that not all of this is going to feel good and that’s okay. Cyndi also talked to us a bunch in Chattanooga about how whatever pain we feel on race day is something that other people are also feeling, some worse, some less so. Everyone’s on the suffer bus to some degree and focusing on the pain just makes it worse. She’s totally right. When I began to accept that I would never be pain-free in aero again, I stopped being upset about it. Now I ride upright unless there is a long flat stretch in front of me. I try to dole out my minutes in aero to just the times it helps me the most, and deal with the fact that my old body is not really meant to ride that way anymore. I don’t know if the accident ruined me mentally or physically, but it doesn’t matter at this point. My shoulders and neck are what they are and it isn’t going to change. At the end of the day, NO ONE, pro, age grouper, young, old, fit or less than fit, has an entirely pain-free 140.6. It’s just not possible.

Since I had this come to Jesus meeting with myself, I’ve been much happier while training. Yes, I still tell Roslynn or Heather at least once a day that I’m tired or hurting or that I “don’t wanna”. That’s okay. I get it done and most of the time I’m happy about it.

I have a 90 mile ride coming up this weekend and instead of being nervous and uptight about it, I’m actually looking forward to it. The humidity is down, I’m doing it with people I love, and I will make it one way or the other. After 90, I’ll do a 100 and then it’s time for Chattanooga! 5 weeks until Taper Madness starts. I’m almost there. I’m trying to remember to enjoy the last piece of this 2 year journey, because I KNOW I’m going to be sad when it’s over.

So to all the people who have been such positive influences – THANK YOU. I so needed your words and advice, and for the first time since I began this journey, I believe I can do this thing. I am trusting my training. I have done many, many months of hard work. I have sacrificed in ways I didn’t think I could. I have done so many things I never thought I could. While I still don’t look like some bad ass, lean triathlete, my body is the strongest it has ever been and I’m definitely in the best cardiovascular shape of my life.

The most major revelation has happened in the past two weeks. I realized that even if the worst happens and I DNF in Chattanooga, it’s better than a DNS anytime. The real goal of this race has been the thousands and thousands of steps, miles and meters I’ve done. The challenge of balancing my personal life with my training life with my work life, the challenge of getting up every day and getting it done, the challenge of pushing through when fear feels overwhelming. I’m not particularly scared anymore, because I’ve already accomplished the biggest thing I wanted to. I didn’t let an accident, pain, injury, negative thoughts, unsupportive people, or anything else deter me. I won!

Either that or I’m just batshit crazy.  Jury is still out.

 

“No one has fun training for a full!”

A friend used to tell me, “If you’re racing and it doesn’t completely suck, you aren’t trying hard enough.” I often think about what she said when I’m racing, though when she told me that, she was talking about a 10k distance (or maybe even a 5k). It’s hard to feel like you’re sprinting when you’ve still got many, many miles in front of you. However, point taken. Racing isn’t supposed to feel “easy”. The fact of the matter is, nothing this year has felt easy.

I was at track Thursday and I saw one of my teammates there. She’s one of those people who excels at what seems like everything, but she works her ass off to get there. She definitely has some natural ability, but she never takes that for granted, and I am making sure to acknowledge that here. I was talking about how I was feeling overwhelmed by training this year and musing about why I wasn’t having fun like I did last year. She started laughing and said “No one likes training for a full – it’s not fun!” She was being sarcastic, but I’m sure there was a grain of truth in what she said. When training becomes almost as taxing as a full time job, and there becomes no time in your schedule for leisurely bike rides or a swim with friends, well, it’s not really fun. It feels like a fucking grind, because it IS a grind.

A couple of weeks ago I was trying to find a nice way to tell a non-teammate friend who wanted to ride with me that she could come out and ride with me, but that I had a tempo ride on the schedule, and therefore, I was going to have to ride at my tempo pace, which is decidedly not a comfortable chatty pace for catching up on the last 3 months of our lives. I didn’t have an hour in my riding schedule to give up and that’s a hard thing to admit to. It sounds, well, insane. “Hey, I can’t get up with you until October 10th to ride because I don’t have any free time in my schedule to ride for pleasure until then.” That is the truth, however.

After talking to both of my coaches a lot more than either of them probably want to talk to me as of late, I’ve come to understand that what I’m going through is fairly normal and expected and understandable. I do think many of us don’t talk about it a lot, because no one wants to be a whiner, and at the end of the day, complaining gets you nowhere. Personally I find it somewhat barf-inducing to complain about triathlon training. It’s an expensive sport in the first place, and I am privileged to have the mental and physical fortitude to do it, let alone the financial means, and it feels very West End Wendy to sit here and actually whine about how very HARD this all is when this is a choice I make on a daily basis.

The fact is, I chose this because it is hard and if it was easy everyone would do it, and it wouldn’t challenge me, or be meaningful, or change me in any meaningful way, and I wouldn’t bother with it. So suck it up princess and move on.

I AM going to talk for a bit about some of the legitimate things I’ve come to understand from both of my coaches, including one tidbit of advice Cyndi gave me that was very eye-opening to me. I also am tired of waiting to write about how training is going because I’m waiting to feel better, and there’s a high likelihood I’m not going to feel better, and I will either train through this latest discomfort or my training will end based on the outcome of the latest round of doctor’s appointments and my first world problems of doing an Ironman will come to an end as well.

In a strange coincidence of suckitude, the typical mental insecurities and questions like “Why am I doing this to myself” and “There’s no way in hell I can do this” (usually at mile 60 of a 70 mile ride when it’s 90 degrees out and you still have a run after it, in 95 degree heat, and you can feel the skin melting off your face, and you wonder why you do a sport in the summer when you were raised in Michigan and why did you sign up for a race in Tennessee and isn’t it humid there too and you start to blame other people for why you live in Virginia and become irrationally angry for global warming) popped up at the same time as some physical problems.  Part of it was pure heat (see the prior stream of consciousness sentence), but part of it was the beginning of GI issues. I started to struggle with nutritional issues, or so I thought. I thought maybe Infinit wasn’t working for me, or maybe I wasn’t taking in enough on the bike or too much on the bike. I played with adding solid food in, taking it out, diluting my formula, leaving it out entirely, etc etc ad nauseum. About four weeks ago, I had a bout of very severe nausea, vomiting and diarrhea in the middle of a week, on a Tuesday night. I make a note about it being on a Tuesday because Tuesday is a day of the week when I only have a single workout. I thought it was a virus or something I ate. I was wiped out for a couple of days and then was fine. I was good for a week and a half or two weeks and then it happened again, this time on a Wednesday night. Wednesdays are one of the lightest days of the week for me, with usually only a short swim. I was over it by Friday and did my long swim and my brick. Unfortunately I felt bad after that brick and by Sunday I was sick as a dog again. Much as I love to share all the details of my bodily functions, suffice it to say I ended up in the ER on Monday morning dehydrated as hell and in serious discomfort. Mostly I was concerned that this was the third serious bout I’d had with this issue and I had no idea what was causing it.

That was a week ago. I was really weak after it, and spent last week trying to recuperate, cutting my workouts in half, doing what I could, trying to eat again and get my strength up. I was supposed to ride my first 70 miles this year and run 6 on Saturday; my coach said I was allowed to ride 35 and run a whopping 10 minutes. The course we rode Saturday was very hilly. I made it through the first 15 miles and knew that if I was going to get the full 35, I had to cut back on the hills, so I dropped off the course and rode in the office park where it’s mildly hilly. I managed the 35 by sheer force of will but ended up on my back in the parking lot at the end of it rage crying and trying not to throw up. I felt BAD. Like really, really, really bad. I knew I couldn’t run and I was trying not to lose the nutrition I had been able to hold down during the ride. I had very little energy in my legs. My team dropped me almost immediately (and I don’t mean that in a negative way – just that even the people I should be able to keep up with, I couldn’t – I had lost so much energy during the week, it wasn’t possible for me to keep up with them). I was demoralized and dejected and frustrated as hell with my body.

By the time I got home, my body started to revolt again and I spent the rest of the day in bed (and the bathroom). This week I get to have an ultrasound on my gallbladder and an x-ray of my intestines to find out if some things my GI doc thinks are happening really are. I’ve avoided googling anything because Dr. Google is an asshole and I don’t want to read the symptoms or outcomes on anything.

In my ears, I have heard both of my coaches tell me there is time to fix this stuff. I have been training now since November 2016 and I can still get to where I need to be, but I am scared. I am an OCD person and I follow my calendar and schedule and when there is something to be done, I do it. Every day that goes by where I don’t complete a 2400 swim (I do 1600 instead), I feel concerned. I wasn’t running well before this happened. I can’t even tell you the last time I was able to run 6 miles without stopping every 4 minutes to rest. I had a 14 mile run on my schedule a couple of weeks ago – 14 miles or 2 hours 40 minutes, whatever came first. I did 2 hours 20 minutes. I walked the entire thing basically. It ended up being a little over 7 miles. I just couldn’t run. My legs would not turn over. My head goes nuts, my mind shuts down, and I start going over every reason in the universe as to why I can’t complete this thing in September.

To have a very real physical thing happening is not what I want to deal with right now, but I also did just see on the IM Chattanooga Facebook group today that someone got hit by a car on a training ride this weekend. Some jackass was going the wrong way down the road and hit this guy head on. He’s in the hospital, alive, thank god, but injured and out of training for the rest of the season. So you know what? Quit your bitching, woman, and be grateful. You’ve got some heinous diarrhea and stomach pain. Move on.

Back to my comment about Cyndi’s advice I wanted to share. I had told her that I was embarrassed about being upset/depressed about training. I was just so sick and tired of being insecure about my ability to do this thing that I refused to think about it. She said that she had seen me try to muscle through fear a lot since she’s known me, and that often times, muscling through isn’t the way to go. Doing that makes us compartmentalize the fear, which just makes it last longer and pop up in other and more destructive ways. Her point was, it doesn’t matter if I think that being stressed out or worried about tri training is stupid. The fact is, I AM stressed about it, and I need to find a way to deal with that stress that doesn’t involve ignoring it or denying it or squashing it down. This was really kind of shocking to me, because I’m all about getting in touch with feelings and working through them. I guess because I had to sell so many people in my life on letting me do this thing, I don’t feel that I have the right to complain about it or god forbid, be scared of what’s happening. That has basically boxed me into a corner where I feel that I can only be the person who smiles like a crazy person and says “YES SIR EVERYTHING IS A-OKAY! I AM LOVING EVERY MOMENT OF THIS INSANE THING I HAVE SIGNED UP FOR! YES I LOVE BEING BURNED ALIVE IN THIS HEAT INFERNO OF A STATE I LIVE IN! PLEASE SIR CAN I HAVE SOME MORE OF THIS RUNNING ON SATAN’S PAVEMENT IN BARE FEET WHILE BEING POKED WITH A PITCHFORK? BECAUSE THIS IS FUN SIR! YES!”

spy-hunter-with-poop

One of my worst fears – either the guy running or the guy behind him. Both are having really bad days. 

Today, and probably because my stomach isn’t killing me right now and because I got to have an alcoholic beverage and also because my husband said one of his classic weird-ass phrases (“many a slip between cup and lip”) that makes me die laughing, I am in a calm mood with it all and I feel like regardless of what happens, I will go to Chattanooga and I will enjoy the day, even if I crap on myself during the run or DNF. I mean, I will enjoy it more if I don’t poop on myself publicly or if I don’t find out I have Crohn’s disease or a tapeworm or Ischemic Colitis, but either way, I’m going to go out there and try. And I’m going to really try to let myself have my feelings, even if they are annoying and sound like first world problems to everyone, including myself.

So there.

 

I know you’ve been anxiously waiting on this . . .

The inevitable 70.3 race report that’s been 20 months in the making!

But race reports can be sooo boring. With that in mind, I’m going to start mine with a little short list of things I learned in Raleigh.

  • I can hit a dead squirrel in full rigor going 19+ miles per hour on a bike and not lose control.
  • I can have three hours in the morning to clear out the pipes, so to speak, and still almost end up pooping myself on the course.
  • 90% of dudes on bikes will not announce “on the left” when passing.
  • 50% of dudes (in my non-scientific study) will make comments like “We just got chicked!” when a girl passes them on their left (and I announced it, too).
  • Plenty of angels sign up for triathlon just to do the Good Work, I’m convinced. When one in particular whipped out anti-chafing cream, i definitely heard a chorus above my head.
  • However much Glide, Body Butter, Chamois Cream, etc you think you need, multiply by 10 and you’re still going to be sorry.
  • There are people doing triathlon who know less than me, which is shocking, including one guy who was confused as to how he was going to carry food on the bike. This was less than 18 hours before the start of the race. I also met a number of people who had not done any open water swimming prior to this race. Insert scared face emoji here. I very much faked my way through a Sprint, but no way in hell would I do that for a half.
  • There is so much truth in what the race organizers say: just keep moving, no matter what.
  • Hill training works.
  • Open water swimming training, in all conditions, works.
  • Having people there to cheer you on makes a huge difference.
  • I still need to work on my nutrition
  • And finally, I will never like the way I look in a tri suit. (this isn’t new, just bears repeating)

FRIDAY

Edwin and I headed to Raleigh with my newly acquired Kuat bike rack (I LOVE IT – it’s the Sherpa 2.0 – purchased after some douchebag hit my bike rack in the Target parking lot and didn’t bother leaving a note). We got there mid-afternoon and immediately checked into the hotel, only to find out the hotel did not have a refrigerator for us in the room. Sorry, we ran out, lady! We know the website says all rooms have them, but hey, we’re wrong.

(a note on this: I can’t imagine how many ragey and nervous triathletes they had to deal with over this same issue. All of us have our pre-race meals and drinks and food and no one likes to mess with nutrition the day or days before a race – I nearly took off the front desk lady’s head and I’m usually fairly calm)

I tried not to think too much about it and instead we hit the Ironman “Village” – the Raleigh Convention Center – to check in. Ironman’s signage was seriously lacking and we wandered all around the building looking for check in. Once there, we still got lost between the 5 or 6 different check in tables and messed up the order we were supposed to go in. No matter; I got registered, got my long-coveted Raleigh 70.3 backpack, dropped some money at the IM store (but didn’t buy the Ironman Taco Cycling Jersey, even though I was very tempted).

I wanted to scope out T2, so Edwin hailed a rickshaw (a hipster on a bike with a wagon on the back), and he drove us the long way around to see T2. I found my bike space and was a bit overwhelmed with the enormity of the area. I’ve never raced in something this big before, so it was crazy to me to see how many racks were set up. Our hotel 2 blocks from the finish line, so everything around us was all Ironman-bedecked and it actually made me quite nervous.

We had a delicious dinner at Sono – great service, great sushi – and I tried to go to bed early. There was a lot of weirdness with T1 and T2 since T1 is 45+ miles from T2, and there were rules and notes and all sorts of things I had to mentally digest and figure out how to deal with. I’m not going to bother going into it, but suffice to say that getting ready for a tri of this distance is hard enough, and having extra things to mull over didn’t help. Therefore, I spent much of my early bedtime considering what I would forget on race day or mess up. I’m hoping with more experience, these “stay up all night and think about weird things” evenings will go away.

SATURDAY

34258486_872268019626842_322688868702748672_nWe met up with Heather and Renee and some of the other TG/TQ people to do a pre-swim and pre-ride after attending the athlete briefing. The briefing was the usual, except the race director spent a lot of time reminding us all how lucky we are to be able to a.) have the time for this sport; b.) the money for this sport; and c.) the physical ability to do what we do. He is so right. We are so very fortunate, and when you are deep in the pain and struggle of it, it’s easy to lose sight of the gift.

I had done a brief pre-ride on Friday afternoon just to get out and spin my wheels and legs, as I wasn’t sure what Saturday was going to look like. It’s a good thing I did, because Saturday morning as I was loading up my bike, I realized the back tire was completely flat. Okay, great, it’s flat and it’s not race day, so I’m going to change this thing myself and build up my self-confidence. Off goes the back wheel, and I start diving into the tire with my crappy levers and cannot for the life of me get to the tube. At this point I’m sweating and pissed because I feel like such a poser idiot. All of a sudden a super-fit young guy walks up to me holding a very expensive bike. Edwin sees that his race number is 9 (which means he’s a pro). He kindly offers to help me with his much better tire levers, and still has a hard time getting them off. Finally between the two of us – the pro and the ignormaus – we pull the tube and put the new one in, just to find out the tube doesn’t have a valve extender on it and I can’t inflate it. All I can think at this point is “OMG WHAT IF THIS WAS HAPPENING DURING THE RACE!” Edwin runs off to the convention center to get new tubes for me while I try not to get dehydrated from all the sweating I’m doing. Unfortunately the new tubes he brings back have the same short valves, so back I go, with my bike frame in one hand and the wheel in the other. We find a vendor who gets me the tubes with extenders I need, and ignores me saying “I need to put these tubes in myself, let me do it,” and instead mansplains how tubes works while putting my wheel back on my bike. At this point I didn’t even want to argue. I just wanted my bike so I could get to T1 and check it in.

Thankfully I did learn that all of my spare tubes didn’t have the valve I needed, so I was able to fix that issue before it became a bona fide problem on the side of the road if I were to get a flat. So THANK YOU, flat tire gods – for giving me one before the race!

Heather, Renee and I loaded up into the Beetle and Edwin drove us out to Lake Jordan. I was a beautiful day and Lake Jordan was even more beautiful. Heather and I grabbed our gear and prepared to ride for a few minutes before we checked our bikes in. A guy next to our car was looking decidedly confused and started to ask us questions like “Should I blow up my tires now?” and “Where do I carry all my food?” I am not laughing at him, but I was a bit concerned. Roslynn had loaned me her bento box for the race because it’s way bigger than mine, so I decided to loan my smaller one to this guy because he really, really, really needed some help. He’s supposed to mail it back to me – I’m trusting in the goodness of people, but either way, I looked him up and he finished the race, despite seeming very confused about everything.

34158142_872268176293493_1360812696420745216_nHeather and I rode up and down some hills near the lake while Renee and Edwin hung out. Renee was doing a relay, so she didn’t have to deal with any cycling or running (and I was a little bit jealous!). We went back to T1 and checked our bikes in without incident, wrapped up all of our bike stuff in those nice little IM bags they give you, and hoped the rain overnight wouldn’t soak everything.

Unfortunately there was no swimming at Vista Point where the race was being held, so we all piled back in to the car and headed to a different “beach”. After paying $7 to get in, we donned swim caps and goggles and fought our way through a million kids with noodles and beach balls to swim outside of the designated swim area. It was CHOPPY. The waves were enough that you were lifted with every stroke, and it was hard to get into a rhythm or breathe efficiently. The current felt strong too, and I sent my hopes out to the universe and beyond that race morning would be a little more manageable.

After that, it was time to run back to downtown Raleigh to get changed for dinner. We had blown through all of our free time. Heather picked Irregardless and it was terrific! We all had great dinners, then went our separate ways. Edwin and I had to get a cooler and ice since there was no fridge to be had and I always start my mornings with a protein shake. Thankfully I hadn’t forgotten to pack the blender.

All that was left to do was set the alarm for 3:50 am and go to bed.

RACE DAY

Because T1 is so far out of town, everyone gets shuttled from downtown to Lake Jordan in giant buses. We had no trouble meeting up with Renee and Heather at 4:30 AM and got right on a shuttle and were on our way in no time. Unfortunately, the bus driver didn’t seem to know how to get to T1, so we got lost. Thankfully a few of us remembered the way from the prior day and instructed him on how to get where we needed to go.

I was trying very hard to keep my wits about me. I was visualizing positive things, I was deep breathing, I was trying every trick I had to keep my mind calm and focused. I managed, but it was definitely difficult. I made sure my tires were pumped up, laid out my stuff in transition, ate some food, drank some water, and wandered around looking at the beautiful swim start. I also tried doing jumping jacks and sprints to help my body get ready to use the bathroom, but it was in vain. I spent a solid two hours sweating it out thinking about what would happen if I didn’t go to the bathroom before the race started. I’m happy to report that approximately 10 minutes before my swim wave went out, I was successful.

Suddenly it was time to watch a couple of my teammates enter the water, and then, it was just me, standing in the water hip-deep with a bunch of 45+ women looking equally anxious, and then it was an airhorn start and I was swimming.

The water was better than Saturday, but it wasn’t an easy swim by any stretch of the imagination. The first leg of three was the shortest, and it felt long. I was counting the buoys, reminding myself to look at the scenery, and enjoy the fact that this was probably the coolest and most comfortable I was going to be for the next 7+ hours. The 2nd leg was the longest part and by then the 25-30 male age group released after us started to crawl up our asses, literally and figuratively. I started to get punched and kicked and shoved, so I decided to just swim faster and get it over with. After what felt like an eternity in the water, I saw the exit arch and realized it was almost over. A few more hard kicks and I was out of the water.

My goal for the swim was to break 45 minutes, which was a lofty goal. I didn’t, but I got close. Swim time: 46:39.

I took off for T1 as fast as my wobbly legs would take me. I saw Derek and Cyndi and Edwin – Cyndi gave me her usual “MOVE YOUR ASS” gentle encouragement when I couldn’t get my stupid ponytail through the back of my helmet. I really hope one day I learn to braid my own hair. As I was sitting down to put my shoes on, the bike next to me made this huge popping sound. It was my unfortunate rack-mate’s tube blowing. That’s how hot it was already getting – hot enough to blow a tube. I felt really bad, but there wasn’t anything I could do. After throwing the rest of my gear on, I headed for the bike out and was off.

T1: 3:57

Cyndi has been having us work our butts off on hill training. We have ridden a ton in Goochland and we have done hill repeats and all sorts of other fun drills on the hills in West Creek and elsewhere. Because I am constantly pushing myself, nothing ever feels easier, but the one big victory I had in Raleigh was this: I kept asking, where are the hills?

This course is supposed to be hilly, and we chose it as a good training race for IMCHOO. The first half is flatter and faster, the second more challenging especially with headwinds that pick up as you get closer to Raleigh.

I restrained myself from going out too hard for the first 24 miles or so. I don’t look at my Garmin anymore (I think that’s what caused the crash in September), so I ride by feel and by my crappy Cat Eye cadence and mileage computer. My very conservative goal was to stay between 15.5/16 mph average, thinking it would save my legs for all of the hills. At mile 30, there is supposed to be a 2 mile climb, before the course becomes less rolling hills and more, well, just hills. I got to mile 32 and wondered where the 2 mile climb was. Turns out I had already done it. It’s not that the hills didn’t challenge me, but they weren’t “hard”. It wasn’t until the last 6 miles of the course where the hills started to bother me, but they didn’t slow me down. I actually had a negative split on the course, which is a very big source of pride for me.

I adored the course. It was beautiful, scenic, and enabled us to spread out. I never felt overly crowded or held back. I did get a reminder that I need to practice with my water bottles more (getting them off the back cages and putting them back in). I lost a bottle going over a bridge. I was in the process of stopping to pick it up when I saw it fly off the side of the road into the water. I also feel guilty about this – littering on a race course is a big no no and one of my pet peeves.

I played a lot of mental games with myself to get through the ride. Although I was enjoying it, in the back of my mind I was thinking about the crash and all the “what ifs”. When I hit the dead squirrel while in aero position, probably within the first 10 miles, I thought “Well isn’t this just great. I’m going to have to tell people I DNF’d and crashed due to effing ROADKILL.” But I didn’t crash, and when I hit mile 53, I will admit I yelled out a triumphant curse word. Riding into T2 and seeing my sister and nephew in from Texas and my mom and Edwin was the cherry on my sundae. I can’t express the joy and relief I felt in knowing that I was done with the bike, I hadn’t crashed, and I felt really good. I wasn’t tired at all, my nutrition seemed to be on point, and although I didn’t know my bike time, it felt like I had blown my goal out of the water.

Goal 3:30
Actual: 3:17:06, avg 17.05 mph

An awesome volunteer showed me to my rack spot in T2 and I started the process of switching from bike to run. As I had ridden into Raleigh, I noticed that I could feel the heat coming off the pavement and I knew I was in for a hellish run. I tried not to get all in my head about it – and at this point, I knew even if I walked the whole 13.1, I was going to finish anyway.

T2: 4:42

Leukotape is my friend. I have had problems with chafing in the past, under my arms where they rub against the side of my run or bike jersey. I had bought the tape and put it under my arms, but ooops, in entirely the wrong spot. And because I was relying on the Leukotape to fix my chafing problems, I didn’t bother to apply Glide or any other type of anti-chafing ointment to my skin. This would be a real problem later on. (foreshadowing)

Edwin cheered me on as I left T2. Within 2/10ths of a mile, I felt like I was being stabbed in the inner quad with knives. I was experiencing the first leg cramps in my running career, and I will tell you, I was petrified. First I tried running through them, but that didn’t work. It made them worse, and I thought I was going to fall down. I started to walk while rubbing them and trying not to scream. I remembered I had put salt tubes into my run belt, so I started popping salt tablets, hoping that dehydration was the reason for the cramps. Within about 20 minutes they had eased up, but then I was buried in the steam shower of Raleigh and every time I tried to run, it was like I was in some sort of smelly soup. Everything felt like lead.

The elation I’d had throughout the day disappeared. Even though we were supposed to treat Raleigh like a training day, it was a race – and I wanted to do well. My run was completely falling apart. While simply finishing was the goal, I really wanted to finish well. Run problems scare me and they are at the core of my worries for IMCHOO, and having these problems within the first few miles of Raleigh freaked me out.

Thankfully I was able to start running some intervals, though I was unable to stick to the 4/1s I had planned on. The longer the race went on, the shorter the amount of time I was able to stick to a run. By the last 4 miles, I was happy to run 1/10th of every mile. It was all I could manage. The heat was blistering and there were very few places with any type of shade.

This meant that I resorted to dumping anything wet over my head. I piled ice into my sports bra and tri shorts (sorry, volunteers, I know this has to be disturbing to watch). My visor was soaked and so were my clothes. My tank began to rub unpleasantly against my inner arms and I realized that the Leukotape was completely useless. After a while, the burning sensation where the chafing was occurring got bad enough where I started running with my arms at 90 degree angles, basically in a sort of crazed Scarecrow stance. This isn’t ideal, by the way.

That is when an angel appeared out of now where, with a small tube of chamois butter. She told me to raise my arms up and she slathered this sweaty stranger’s arms with her magical heavenly cream. She scampered off, never to be seen again. Shortly thereafter, I came upon a super fit looking dude who was sitting in the grass with his shoes off, never a good sign. He was in agony from cramping, so I pulled out the rest of my damp and probably really gross salt tabs and gave them to him. I was trying to pay it forward or something.

The Raleigh run course is a special kind of hell, and something I don’t even want to talk about since this was the last year for the race and bitching about it won’t do any good. It was a “two loop” course, but unfortunately those two loops are made up of a bunch of other loops and back and forth and out and back and on and on into eternity. This meant that you could see your friends quite a bit, but in a way it was demoralizing because I realized that a few of my teammates were already on their second loop as I was just starting the first one. Did I mention the heat?

I had made a decision to not bring my run formula with me and instead rely on the on-course nutrition offerings. Big mistake. The Gatorade Endurance they were handing out made me start to throw up. The water went down, sort of – but it was doing better getting dumped over my head. I sucked on a few oranges, chewed ice, and finally in a last ditch effort to get fluid into my system, tried the Coke. Turns out the Coke saved my life. I don’t know why or what it was about it, but my stomach settled down and I was able to get a few sips down every aid station.

I have GOT to get my run nutrition nailed down. I am a hot mess with it right now and I can’t afford for this to keep happening.

This was the slowest half marathon I’ve ever run, but considering I barely ran at all, I guess it wasn’t too bad. I met some nice people out there, also in various degrees of hell and suffering, and we talked and made it through together. There is a kinship among the very slow, and I always appreciate it when I remember to, after the fact.

I walked the last mile with a guy who has done Raleigh every year for the last however many years. He told me that we were almost there, and sure enough, as I turned the corner, I realized the finish line was a few blocks away. My teammate Jennie was right there too, so I ignored my toenails that were killing me and started running. All the months of training and stressing and the crash and recovery came at me all at once, and I just started smiling and high fiving anyone who would touch me. I saw Renee and I screamed out to her. Crossing the finish line was as good as I thought it was going to be.

Run: 3:14:06

Total: 7:26:30

Cyndi uses a formula for guesstimating Ironman times; You take your half, multiply by two, and add one hour. That means my estimated full time would be right around 16 hours. That is too close for comfort for me with a 16:30 cut off in Chattanooga, so I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about how I can change things between now and then.

Honestly speaking, the half was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I was well-trained for it. The length of time you’re out there working hard is challenging. Trying to head off potential problems is noble, but you never get it exactly right. Sometimes nutrition works and sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve never had a problem with my toenails during a race, but during this one, I did. I am still having trouble walking and I am three days out from it. My arms look like I have some strange rash on them from the chafing, and there was a big part of me that crossed the line and said “OH HELL NO I’M NOT EVER DOING THAT AGAIN – let alone a FULL! What is the refund policy on Chattanooga???”

I’ve also been at this long enough to know that these feelings fade, along with the sore muscles (and hopefully chafed skin). I am keeping the faith and trucking along toward Tennessee. I am already looking forward to my semi-retirement when IMCHOO is over.

But for now, I FINISHED! DONE! And I enjoyed about 80% of that race, so I’ll take it.