Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Ironman Race Recap

Im very sorry for the delay...I needed a mental break from Ironman, which is why this race report is a little late (plus I was waiting for my photos). It is also pretty long, but so is the race :)

The week leading up to Ironman was electric. Surprisingly, I was not nervous until dinner on Saturday night (the eve before the race). In true historic fashion, during the week of the race Jack decided to catch a cold, and would wake up off and on during the night for several nights. I also felt, and perhaps this was pre-race angst, a little achy and sore throat… oh no! I scrapped my last open swim and a small run to get rest, which proved to be the best move. By the weekend I was back to feeling 100%.

Wednesday night I packed my gear. As I looked at those 2 bags, I kept thinking this CAN’T be it for the full day of racing!!! Im proud to report I didn’t under or over pack… it was just right. Helpful tip: I made a list before race week containing all that I would need based on what was going in each bag… I was way more focused the weeks leading up to the race! I also sent the list to my brother and coach, just in case I forgot anything. Thursday night, pulled the car into our garage for the first time and packed it up as Jack was fast asleep. Friday morning, was bittersweet. It was SO HARD saying goodbye to John and Jack, I think I cried for about 5 miles. Silly I know, but I wasn’t going to see Jack until Monday afternoon, and that had me so heart broken. He was one of the main reasons why I took the Ironman challenge. I wanted to show him (and prove to myself), you can do anything, if you work hard and put your mind to it. By 8am I arrived at my Mom’s and my Mom, Dave and I put all the gear into one car and we were off to Madison!

We got there and checked into the hotel. We stayed at the Hilton, which is steps away from the finish line, transition and Ironman Village. Special thanks to Dan for offering his reservation to me and to Brian for making our stay there a top notch experience. We checked into registration and within the hour it was official, #537 was checked in and ready to race on Sunday! My Mom signed up to volunteer that afternoon, so Dave and I went to check out Observatory Hill. I wanted to see first-hand just what this hill was all about. Hill? More like 3 hills in one! I remember thinking this will be a beast come Sunday! We walked back and I proceeded to lay out my gear to pack into my transition bags. Dave was kind enough to look over it all and listen to me walk through it all. I read in my friend Ron’s blog that it is a good idea to have someone look over your gear. Great advice, it put my mind at ease that I had all I would need for the entire day. Friday evening was enjoyed at the Great Dane, minus any beer, it was fun and delicious. My brother discovered the Juicy Brewski, needless to say he is hooked!

Saturday am, Dave, Dan (a family friend and fellow Ironman triathlete), and I went for a 15 min swim. There are some who think this was way weird. But I followed Jen’s plan and it proved to be most helpful to get loosened up and plot out where I would start and what I would sight. This minimized my what if’s? and how am I’s? for the swim start. Awesome! We followed that up with a quick 10 min bike, just to make sure all is copasetic with the mechanicals on the bike.  I had strict orders no more than 90 mins on my feet that day. HARD to do, but I gave it my best. One thing I was NOT going to miss was watching my Mom sign up for 2012 Ironman! YEAH GO MOM- you have an amazing journey ahead of you:) SO PROUD OF HER!!!!

Saturday night was super special! Brian and team TFP arranged a dinner in a large suite at the top of the Hilton. It was so nice not to battle the large crowds to try to find a table for a large group the night before the race. One of the best parts about the dinner was the room that overlooked the swim course and bike transition area. Nearly all of my support crew was there which was AWESOME! I was able to chat with them about the race. It was so cool to see everyone’s expression when I told them about the swim, and how many Ironman hopefuls would be in the water starting all at once at 7am. The bike transition is quite a sight all of its own. Rows upon rows of bikes, very cool.

We ate, talked and laughed a PERFECT prerace dinner!  I handed out our ultra-cool support crew shirts and thanked everyone for their support throughout the entire year, and for the sacrifices they made to help me along the way and to be there the day of.  I have said it before and will continue to say it again and again; I am truly blessed with the best family and friends! THANK YOU everyone! After it was over, we wandered back down to our room and I attempted to be in bed before 9pm (ha!)

I finally fell asleep around 10pm; my mind was racing a bit, and missing my Jack. One of my very best friends, who did Ironman the previous year, came up to cheer me on. She and her boyfriend hit the Madison nightlife, she became very nostalgic and her sisterly love poured through 6 text messages at about 1am. I was very touched, and just slightly annoyed by the 4th alert – haha! I know her heart was in the right place ;) Thankfully it didn’t take too long for me to fall back asleep. 

Four am felt seconds away, and I did what I always do before each race… question why I chose a sport that requires you to get up at the butt crack of dawn to swim, bike and run! In reality, I LOVE it and know I’ve chosen wisely. I’ve had a wonderful year, and was about to cap it off with the ultimate race.

Another tidbit I got from my friend Ron’s race recap was to know there will be problems throughout the day. He said it is how we handle those problems that will make or break us. He went over all the problems he encountered and what he did to correct the problem… totally helpful to an Ironman Virgin! 

So here is Problem #1 – I woke up with a pulled muscle on the left side of my upper back into my neck. Lovely!  (Hindsight, I would recommend introducing massage much earlier into your overall Ironman training. I had only two sessions, I really could have used more time to get things worked out, instead it just aggravated underlying issues.)
I jumped into the shower and let the hot water beat down on the pull, and then slathered some biofreeze on it, and hoped it was just nerves. Dave, Ana, John and I all went down for breakfast. I had a $14 piece of toast and 4 sips of coffee…. Really, I had my oatmeal, banana and put my piece of toast on John’s plate, but got charged… and due to time and trying to keep calm, I just let go the charge… I didn’t want to mess with it or let it get under my skin.

Dave and I walked over to transition… I can’t tell you enough how HUGE it was to have a 3x IM finisher there, to help me avoid all the first timer mistakes. I didn’t have as much nervous energy knowing that Dave looked over my stuff, and helped me get through the pre-race drop offs and prep. We got body marked and headed back up to our rooms to grab our wetsuits and visit the bathroom one last time before heading down to the water.  Once we got back downstairs our race crew was all there!! A first in what just one of the many huge boosts I would get from them throughout the day! They looked so excited to see us, and some of them who were new to all of this looked in awe of the whole pre-race spectacle outside. We walked over to the helix and got into our wetsuits.

I had a surprise, a special swim suit that I would unveil to the crew – it was a Wonder Woman suit! Both they and I needed the laugh, as my nerves were getting more intense and I could tell they were also doing the same for the crew.  To someone who has never witnessed the dance one does to get into the wetsuit I sure looked funny! 5 mins later, I was in, zipped up and toasting what would be the first of MANY GU for the day with Dave. (GU and Ironman Perform is basically all I would consume the entire day- tasty!)

I went to each person in our crew and thanked them for coming and said goodbye. I was overcome by emotion and teared up when I said goodbye. It was so emotional! Since the day I signed up, the Ironman swim has been a source of worry for me. Not because I couldn’t swim the distance, but because of the crazy mass start. I guess all the work to get to this day and the anxiety over the swim came tumbling out. 

SWIM: Dave and I headed down the helix to the swim start. The air was buzzing with anticipation, first time spectators, first time Ironmen and seasoned athletes talking about their goals for the day. I soon forgot about my nerves and just focused on the moment.  Now, I have many “Favorite moments” during my day. But this first moment is something I will hold dear to me, forever. As Dave and I were approaching the timing mat, there was a little last min pep talk, but the thing I remember the most was just as we walked over the mat and put on our goggles we hugged. I’m going to sound corny but I love my brother, and I was never more proud to be his big sister than that moment. With just that hug, I knew we were both going to have a great day. We headed out to the where we were going to start. I was a few rows behind Dave. I rolled on my back and looked up at the clouds. Serene and peaceful, the sound of water bobbling around my ears, and calm came over me. I popped back up in time to hear the canon for the pros go off… it won’t be long now. FUN: a few mins before our gun went off I noticed that Emily and Stacie were in front of me. Super comforting, since it now felt like a normal Friday morning swim, only difference was the extra 2500 people! We chatted for a few and then just like that the gun went off and I was calm as could be. No freaking out... just kept my motto: You can't control what others do to you... but you can control how you react. I kept steady and controlled. My goggles did get knocked off and I rolled over and put them back on... and continued. I had a moment of panic when that happened, but I gained control of the situation and moved on. A few mins, after that I actually told myself that I was proud of how I reacted to that... I felt confident. I stayed wide at the buoys and pretty much about 20 yards off the line for the entire swim. I had open water for most of it... with the turns and the funnel of people heading toward the 1st buoy, being the only spots where I had contact. I did feel the muscle pull in my neck and back, as I kept breathing to my left to keep the buoys in sight. I was hopeful that the swim would loosen up the pull and I’d be okay for the rest of the day. Overall the swim was NOT bad, and my time was about 3 mins faster than I thought I'd do. I was very happy with the swim. This would be the best leg of the whole day! Figures the thing I was most freaked out about was the best part of the race day! I had so much fun getting my wetsuit yanked off by the volunteers, and then running up the helix in my wonder woman suit was just TOO MUCH FUN! I had so many cheers for me and my suit! I saw Kate at the bottom of the helix and gave her a high five, AWESOME to see her!! I knew just where my crew was at and I COULD NOT WAIT to see them! As I rounded the corner I heard the roar!!! I stopped to give everyone a hug and high five- again more tears… as I stopped and told my Mom … I did it, I did it!  I felt like an Ironman already!!! Just beyond my crew was Jen, I was so amped up I stopped and gave her a hug and thanked her for helping me get to the start line!!! I even think I almost kissed her on the cheek as well… I was so overcome with emotion of finishing the swim! :)

T1: Ever have someone BESIDES your mom help you get dressed? I had a super volunteer who helped me with all my things. I brought a towel, but because I was so excited about finishing the swim, I forgot to use it. My volunteer had my shorts held out for me to step into. For those of you who don’t know, you go sans underwear with bike shorts otherwise you face an enormous amount of chaffing.  So there I was still wet, naked from the waist down and getting into my shorts. Which promptly got stuck mid-thigh. My butt was hanging out and the volunteer, bless her heart, was behind me yanking up my shorts. Wow.  The rest was a snap, I had my running bra on under my swim suit already so I threw on my bike jersey, grabbed my helmet, nutrition and bike shoes and off I went. Ironman is so catered that my volunteer put all my stuff back into my bag. Thank you volunteers!

Bike: I got my bike and went down the other helix… I even yelled weeeeee!!!!!  My Mom and John got to see me out and it wouldn’t be until mile 21 until I saw them again. I noticed right away that my pulled muscle never did get any better, but I pressed on. Weather turned out to be quite a bit warmer than anticipated so pacing and nutrition would be key for the rest of the day. On the way out, there was a crash and someone down on the bike path, I couldn’t imagine someone’s day being over before it had a chance to begin. This was a good reminder to me that there were going to be people out there who are reckless, and who didn’t know the course. I had to remember to stay focused and be aware of what was going on around me. This was a little harder as my neck was stiff and turning left to look back was painful. I saw a few friends at the beginning, Karen and Stacie, we chatted for a few and then we were on our way.

I remembered a lot of the advice I got was don’t overcook yourself on the bike. I followed this during my ½ Ironman when the heat index was 115… and it worked so I didn’t want to change anything. I also remember everyone telling me I would will feel like everyone is passing me on the first loop, but I would get them on the second.  My plan was to stay in Zone 2 all day. I tried to stay in low to mid Zone 2 but found I was hovering around top Zone 2 and low zone 3 for the first 25 miles or so. I kept telling myself to stay in control…  I finally settled in and stayed in mid zone 2 until the hills, which it did elevate when climbing. I had fun on those hills. So much, I was looking forward to them the second time around. You see this is where the party is! TONS of people lining the hills Tour de France style, in costumes, with funny signs, music….
Some  funny signs…
  1. Do you believe you actually paid to do this?
  2. Of course it’s F’ing hard, it’s Ironman!
  3. Focused? (this was in front of a guys junk that was wearing only a speedo, so he looked naked!)
  4. Ironmen are honey badgers, Honey badger don’t give a @h!t

All of this, plus seeing my crew and coach out there helped make the second loop back to the hills fly by. On the second loop, I kept thinking, where are all these people I’m supposed to be passing?  I started to get concerned that I was going too slow but stuck to my plan. My HR still wanted to climb into the Zone 3 but I held back... I kept up on the nutrition and salt like clockwork, mile 40 I ate a 1/2 cliff bar, mile 80 another 1/2 cliff bar... kept doing body checks to make sure I was aware of what my body needed. Problem #2 hit:  Around mile 83 I began to feel a little full after the second half of cliff, so I put off the next GU until an hour later, and kept sipping perform. After the hills, I had a little reflux where liquid came back up but not full on throw up. I pulled the perform and liquid intake back to just water, and small sips of Perform here and there on the connector back to Madison. This actually didn’t seem like a huge problem to me at the time, I felt I had enough time to correct this before the run, but it would later become where Problem 2 caused Problem 3. I saw my crew several times on the bike. Mile 21, in Verona, where I stopped to say hi, give hugs and kisses and then again on the second loop on south beach hill (the last hill on the loops before heading back).  In Verona, I remember giving John a kiss and him telling me I was kicking arse. So I thought, maybe I’m not too far behind? I stopped at the bike special needs and pulled out the icy hot back patch I put in there just in case my back was bothering me. This was HUGE, since my neck was getting worse, by staying in aero. I put the patch on my neck and got some relief, and was on my way. The second loop felt harder than it should. Yes, it should be more difficult, but my speed cut down, and the wind picked up. (even though there wasn’t supposed to be much wind at all that day- this proved to be a change in the forecast along with the heat index nearing mid 90s) By the time I got back to the hills, the party pretty much moved onto the run course. Disappointing, since I was so looking forward to it… but here is another ‘best moment’ My Mom running alongside of me up the hill. She was so cute, yelling I love you, and then cheering on the crowd, waving her arms up and down yelling come on cheer for Cheryl! I yelled back I love u Mom, and then laughed for about another mile or so… she is so cute! I saw my dear friend Denise and her two little boys who really wanted to see me again, and I heard them cheer for me as I flew by them at the top of the hill. SO cute, and a reminder on how much I missed Jack.

On the connector, my back was hurting, my neck was hurting and I was feeling full and wondering if that would correct itself in time for the run. There is one more big hill that hits around mile 100 – thank you very much. This hill was a beast, I put my head down and powered through it even though I was in pain. Not too much longer and I would be running… a very welcomed thought at that moment. While I felt my bike time was slower than I know I’m capable of, I was proud of how I didn't let the oodles of people passing me get me down, and I stuck to my plan.

T2: I came in off the bike and made it to transition. Now I know for sure that I was further back than I originally thought I would be. There wasn’t much activity in transition so again I had a volunteer all to myself. I changed my top and bottoms and grabbed my race belt, put on my race shoes and took an Imodium, JUST in case, and I was off.

RUN: I saw my crew right out of the run chute. They were so excited as they thought they missed me due to traffic. Someone asked how I felt? All I could say was TIRED, but with a smile! The first 5 miles my legs felt heavy (as I expected) but then I got into my groove. Nutrition wise, I started from the first aide station with 1 water; 1 Perform. I did not want to get behind, since I pulled back on liquid the last part of the bike.  I started looking at my watch thinking ok, the bike time was not what I thought it would be, but I still can make my “worst case scenario” time. By mile 6 I felt pretty darn good.  A little tired, but I still had a lot of pep in the legs. I saw my brother around mile 6.5 and we hugged again and Dave said he was very proud of me, he was almost done, looked tired, and sad. I told him “Go get it!” and we were on our way. I wanted to ask him how he was doing in terms of place, but by the look on his face, I knew he thought his day was over. I said a little prayer and thanked God for my day and asked him to be with Dave… Little did Dave know, he was in 6th place, and on his way to qualifying for Kona! By mile 8 I was on my way to what would be the first of MANY bathroom stops. Not quite the same.  Problem #3: I felt like I had gas and kept thinking this would pass, but the jostling of the stomach and the surplus of calories I took in on the bike proved to be a bad combination. I was pissed. I had the internal hemorrhoid procedure a few weeks prior to the race to take care of this very problem. BUT it was not the hemorrhoid issue, there wasn’t any sign of blood… so it was purely a GI issue. It had me perplexed I followed my plan, and did my body checks every half hour, and when I felt full I pulled back! I felt like screaming WTF!!!!!! Every time I had Perform, it would aggravate it more. So I pulled back on the Perform. From miles 10-13 I worried about my stomach. I walked a little on the way to the turn around to see if it would settle things. By mile 12.5 I felt a little better and picked back up running, not as fast I would have liked, but at least running. Mile 13, the turnaround is VERY cruel, since you are lead right up to the finish line, only head right back out. It was here that I had the very BEST moment of the day… as I came into the turn, I saw my crew to the left, cheering.  I didn’t want them to know I was having issues, so I put on my best face and knew that just beyond them was special needs and I had an emergency stash of stomach medicine in there. I made the turn, and felt better knowing the next time I’m here would be to finish. I turned the corner and there was everyone with HUGE smiles, cheering and there was JACK! My husband arranged to have my sister, brother in law and nephew bring Jack up during my run. I cried like a little girl when I saw him, and I ran up to him and gave him kisses, and kissed John and told him I loved him (husband of the year!) It was then that I also found out my brother realized his dream of qualifying for Kona!!! How awesome… I found another level of energy to get it done- stomach issues or not! I was going to finish!! 

I stopped got my extra Imodium, pepto, and Rolaids. NONE of which seemed to help. My stomach was MAD…. Miles 13-15 were walk and run. I sipped on ice water for most of it until 18 when I switched to coke and water (I wish I would have tried this earlier). I started to feel much better and did mostly coke and ice for the remainder of the run. I did speed walk/run the back half on the bike trail. It was dark and you couldn’t see much. The port-a-potties were spaced out a little further than I was comfortable with. There were times when all I could do is just stand there and hope the moment passes until I could get to another bathroom. I would NOT crap my pants! I saw Dave and a bunch of our crew around mile 19… and that was a huge help. He was soo excited I couldn’t stop to tell him how I was struggling. I pressed on… running for as long as I could and then walking when the stomach felt like it was going to blow up. I recall the sinking feeling looking down at my watch realizing I wouldn’t make my goal time, and then again when I wouldn’t make it before 9pm. About mile 24 I felt good enough to run the rest of the way in without stopping. I felt awesome… my legs were strong. Damn it stomach!!!  I am disappointed that my run wasn't what I hoped it would be, but I am proud that I didn't give up and that I kept working through it. As I came onto the back side of the capital I heard Mike Riley shouting “You are an Ironman!” and then it hit me, I was going to be an Ironman. After the long day, and the few problems I had, I was going to do it… I was going to make it. I turned onto the last street before the chute with prob. one of the biggest smiles I’ve ever had glued to my face. I shook my fists and said FU stomach, I did it. I saw my family and stopped to give them all kisses they were SOOO excited and then they were like, what are you doing – GO and FINISH!!! I took my time and ran down the chute, high fiving everyone… and waited for the guy in front of me to have his moment… but he took too damn long, so I crossed just behind him at 14:11:34. Out of 2,449 people I finished at 1530, in my age group I was 72/118. Interesting fact: it was 9/11/11 and I crossed at 9:11pm. Weird.

While I missed my goal time by 40 mins… I learned a lot about myself through the journey leading up to Ironman. I gained even greater understanding and respect for the distance, and what can happen on race day. I fully respect  those who take on the challenge with great conviction and push themselves beyond  what they thought possible. Ironman is a tough distance, and takes great dedication, personal and family commitment and support. This race report would be remiss without a HUGE THANK YOU to all of you who followed along via the blog, or the GPS tracker on race day. Thank you to Troy for the awesome videos and to John for his stellar photography! Thank you to my family and friends for the love, encouragement and support. Thank you to my coaches for giving me the skills needed. Thank you mostly to my husband who supported me on my dream to become an Ironman, I know it wasn’t easy for you or Jack.

We are missing a bunch of people - Thank you to the ENTIRE 2011IM CREW!!!
You guys ROCK!

We stayed to watch the final people come in, and sadly one woman missed it by 50 seconds. I was told finish the first and race the rest, and I will do just that. I will return to Ironman one day. It will not be in the near future as I need time to focus on my family and perhaps add to the Atkins clan?
Good luck to you all in wherever life takes you. Feel free to drop me a line about your journey!

When one journey ends, another begins, it starts with the first step.