You have to accept whatever comes and the only important thing is that you meet it with courage and with the best you have to give.
- Eleanor Roosevelt
I usually hate it when people wish me luck going into races. I don’t feel that luck has a lot to do with outcome if you have dedicated yourself to the preparation. Good luck might apply to getting your bike in one piece off the plane ; but it shouldn’t apply to having your bike stay together during the race. If you haven’t done your due diligence with your bike parts, maintenance and assembly and it falls apart during a race, this is not bad luck. This is negligence.
I am openeing with this quote from E. R and with this rant on luck because open mindesness, courage and preperation are the themes of my Ironman race report.
I completed my first Ironman on November 25th. I raced to a 9:53 which was 10 minutes under my goal.
The weather on race day proved to better than I expected. It was 25, sunny with some cloud, 20km/hour winds. Best of all, the water was churning and choppy because the wind was blowing from a different direction than it usually does. In the past the swim had been 5-12% faster than normal due to favorable currents and glass-like water. Not this day.
As I lined up with the over 75 other pros (men and women combined – a huge feild by Ironman standards) I chose a spot at the front, closer to shore. The current would be a little less strong closer to shore.
When the gun went I pushed hard to get away from the weaker swimmers and to try to get onto the feet of the stronger swimmers of the feild. This was easier than I had imagined and by less than 200m I had broken free of the masses and was swimming comfortably fast pace on someone’s feet. The pace was not devastating and so I figured that the super swimmers (Mary Beth Ellis and Tenille Hoogland) were already well ahead. This was good – it meant that these were probably going to remain my feet for the rest of the race. The left side of my neck had been a bit tight during the days prior (from sleeping in a new bed, carrying bags for travel) and the index to middle fingers on my left hand promptly numb at about 300m. This was annoying, but nothing I haven’t dealt with before in open water. I just had to make sure I didn’t just ignore my left side completely; I had to be constantly aware of hand mechanics on the left side. I sighted as infrequently as possible with the faith that my leader wanted to swim as straight a line as possible. I only ended up running into two bouys because she cut them really close. This is a tradeoff I am okay with! As we were swimming I was getting a little mad at myself for being such a bad drafter. I just couldn’t stay off her feet both into and against the current. I kept trying to adjust my arm entry, my kick, everything, but I was running into her feet what seemed to be every stroke. It was only after the race I would realize why.
We made final turn and started heading the 800m towards the swim finish. I had been counting the 200m laps that my Garmin was chiming out. On this final stretch I thought I hadn’t noticed my watch for a couple of laps because it was taking so long between chimes. I also felt a little boredom settle in. The swim seemed to get too easy…So with what I thought was about 300m to go, I pushed past my escort. I honestly just wanted to play a bit. She matched my stroke and hung close to my hip for the final section.
Getting out of the water I felt fresh. Jogging along the ramp my heart rate was low, my shoulders felt relaxed, my Achilles didn’t ache. Sometimes after a long, open water swim my calves and Achilles feel stiff and sore from being in the plantar flexed position for so long (this doesn’t happen in the pool because of all the pushing off the walls). I was told that this is the feeling you should be striving for upon exiting the water in an Ironman. I was looking forward to getting on my bike.
As I jogged towards transition I asked the volunteer if I HAD to go through the change tent. I hadn’t left a T1 bag on the racks and I didn’t need to change and it was shorter just to follow the mats into transition. The volunteer said no and blocked my path, so I went allll thheee wayyy around and through the tent. This was a preparation mistake: I hadn’t needed to do this and I should have looked at the WHOLE T1 setup and asked my questions BEFORE the race. Instead the day before I had sat, waiting at my bike while Mike did the whole T1 run through twice. This is something I normally do. I was cocky and it cost me 30 seconds to 1 minute (This may not seem like much, but it is free time that I threw in the garbage).
At my bike I took the time to put arm coolers on. It is amazing how time slows down and the attention narrows at transition. Every movement seems to take fore-ever. The simple movement of shoving my salt pills in my bra feels like 15 seconds in my memory, when it probably took 3 seconds.
I had my instructions and plan for the bike. I did not get caught up in any drama – particularly because my transition had taken so long and the other girls were gone – in the first 20kms. I did what I trained to do, my only concern was that I felt a little tightness in my VMOs. This tightness went away as my system got into its rhythm. My only deviation was to take an unplanned gel after 10 min on the bike. I had felt hunger pains at 6:35 AM when I had gone to the start to line up, so I figured I may need a few more cals than I had planned. I wasn’t used to such an early start and my stomach wasn’t ready for the breakfast calorie requirements of an Ironman and unfortunately this left me a little hungry. Again, this is something I did have control over; it was a mistake not to practice this. To compensate I grabbed a few extra gels at the aid stations just in case. I did take 1 more that was unplanned and I drank a little bit more gatorade than I had planned.
At about 20km, I came together with a couple of pro women. We worked together and managed to pick up 2 pro men and a 4th pro woman. It was really great to have company over the remainding 160kms. At times one or two of us lost contact, but we were all together by the end. Many people have asked me what I thought about for 5.25 hours on a flat,3 loop course. I don’t remember being bored – I seemed to have a lot to think about in terms of execution and technique. One of the very specific instructions I was given by Coach David Tilbury-Davis was to force my aero position and to minimize coming out of it, even for nutrition, when I hit the windy sections. I had to stay on track of my timing of my nutrition and coordinate with the non windy sections. I had to pay attention to surges and changes in our little group’s dynamics. I had to negotiate feed stations and all the thongs of people in the second and third loops (2700 people were all on a 63km loop by the second loop…if you run the numbers that is over 40 people every kilometer…). I had specific technical things I was working on in terms of aero position and core engagement. The right side of my low back tightened up in the first loop and I was managing that discomfort. I was thinking about cadence, power, speed. On occastion I made comments to myself about how that person I just passed really shouldn’t be sitting up into the wind…and that person really shouldn’t be wearing all black, including compression sleeves in this weather…And things like “Wow. That guy has a clear plastic shopping bag with a sandwich inside of it tied to the underside of his seat”. Honestly, I don’t think I thought about much else. I got the job done, to the best of my ability and according to plan.
T2 went smoothly – I didn’t feel any tightness in the quads or calves getting off the bike. I loved how the volunteers actually put my hat on for me! I felt so ‘taken care of’!
Heading out onto the run, I was nervous. I was about to run a marathon. A full marathon. The longest I had run was 36 kms, let alone a marathon. But I had my pace, nutrition and electrolyte plan and specific instructions not to make any decisions before 30kms.
I felt like I was jogging. And I told myself that this was okay and this is what I should feel like. I struggled to go slower than 4:40/km, when I was told to go no faster than 4:50/km. I told myself to slow down. I lambasted myself for making decisions…and I argued with myself that I wasn’t making decisions, that I couldn’t go any slower, that I felt like I was jogging. This continued for 10kms until I did slow down. My HR was holding were I wanted it to be, so I let the pace drift up. The run was still enjoyable and felt fairly easy until about 24kms. Then it got hard and I had to focus to hold the pace under 5:00/km. I was fortunate to have motivation from pro women behind me, chasing me down, and ahead of me who I was catching. I focused on 1km at a time. I drank at every water station. And then something weird happened around 28kms. Things, I guess were starting to shut down, including mental faculties. I got a thought into my head that I had been drinking too much pure water (even though I had been taking electrolyte pills diligently) and that if I didn’t stop I was going to get hyponitremia. So I stopped taking water. I reverted to Pepsi only at each water station that had it (which wasn’t every one). The secondary thought was that I shouldn’t eat my gels if I am not drinking water. So I also stopped eating my gels. My HR started dropping as did my pace. My HR eventually fell to about 10 beats less than what I had been previously pumping at. Thankfully the Pepsi provided enough hydration and cals to keep me going, although slowly. My quads started to feel like rocks and everything in me wanted to walk. I kept myself going by repeating the words “just keep running”. A bit like Dora the Explorer…”Just keep swimming, just keep swimming”. Every step was painful as my quad contracted agains the pavement. It felt like someone was thumping them with sledgehammers. I did keep running, it seems surreal that I didn’t walk. I thought in the back of my mind that if I walked I may not get started again. This seemed to keep the legs going.
Seeing the crowds at the finish, seeing the finish line, seeing my time…there should have been some divine, spiritual elation. But, sadly, I felt nothing but that I had prepared and executed well.
This brings us back to the quote from E. R.
I accepted that I needed to do an Ironman to understand the training and the race to its core. I did not do this as a lifelong dream to finish or podium. And so, I must accept that I did not have brilliant moments anywhere in the race. I took on this challenge, and with my coach, prepared as meticulously as possible for this specific race. Finally, I commited to doing the best I could on the day. Could I have done better? Perhaps. Do I want to do another one? Not at this point. I took it on, did the best I could do and I am happy with the result.
I will post pictures and more detail regarding the prep, lessons learned and some more reflections in the coming days. Stay tuned.