my craziest endeavor yet, 70.3 miles part 2

I know, it really wasn’t fair of me to leave y’all hanging yesterday. But, the post was really long and I didn’t want any of you to be bored and stop reading. So, here you go….the good stuff!

my finisher’s medal

After a fitful night of sleep, I finally got up around 5:15. I needed to eat and get ready for the day. I got dressed, grab the last of my stuff to take and made a PB sandwich to take with me. Unfortunately, race nerves had gotten the best of me. I was completely unable to eat. As I drove to the race venue, I tried to choke down the PB sandwich as best I could. I think I managed to eat about half of it. I had a couple of other items with me to eat before the race started but couldn’t stomach the thought of any of them either. Luckily, I was able to drink and did manage to get plenty of liquid into my body.

I arrived at the race venue, parked my car (worried that I wouldn’t find it after the race) and headed over to catch the shuttle.

I can truly say I felt very alone at this moment. This isn’t meant to make anybody feel bad, but I just wanted someone I knew to be there with me. For various reasons, none of my friends or family were able to be there with me on race day. From the moment I woke up I had to mentally convince myself that even if they weren’t with me physically, I had lots of family & friends cheering me on from afar. I just wanted someone to talk to, someone who understood how I panic before a race, someone to calm me down & make me laugh & tell me I could do this. But, I knew I’d have to count on myself to make that happen.

After the short ride to the lake, the shuttle dropped us off at the swim venue. As I stepped off the bus it was the moment of no return for me. Once I was off that bus, this race was going to happen. I went and got body marked (they put your number on your upper arm & age on your calf to help identify each athlete) and headed into the transition area. I needed to check my bike, make any final adjustments and inflate my tires (yes, I had to inflate my own tires–something I rarely do!)

And now, the waiting game began. Transition was scheduled to close at 7:15, the first wave (all the pros) was set to go off at 7:30 and I wasn’t scheduled to start until 8:35. That is a very long time to wait around with nothing to do. Again, I was really wishing I had someone there with me, but I didn’t. I knew I’d have to get through this alone. I decided I should probably try eating again. And again, no luck. I got a few bites of a health bar down but just couldn’t manage to eat more than that. I hoped it wouldn’t effect me later in the race, but there was nothing I could do about my inability to eat.

A little before 8 the pros began exiting the water. I didn’t have much else to do so decided I’d watch these amazing athletes head out of the water. It was the best decision I’d made all morning. For whatever reason, I found this to be very relaxing. Maybe it was the fact that I was focused on something other than myself. Either way I was finally starting to calm down and get focused on the race.

Before I knew it, they were calling my wave to the start. Soon thereafter, we entered the water. The water felt great. I’d started eyeing the markers of the swim course and it didn’t seem so bad. I reminded myself how much I’d swum over the past several months and I was ready for this swim.

The air horn sounded and we were off! As always, I stayed back a bit to avoid the melee at the front of the swim. Within just a few minutes I was getting into a rhythm. The worst part of the swim, for me at least, is making it to the first turn. Once I hit that first turn I knew I was a third of the way through the swim and nothing could stop me. I can honestly say I felt great on my swim. It was one of the best open water swims I’ve ever had! All through the swim I resisted the urge to look at my watch. I didn’t want to worry about my time (or my heart rate), but just focus on having a strong swim. When I finally reached the shore I decided I’d peek at my watch. “Anything under 1 hour and you’ve had a great swim,” I told myself. You can’t begin to imagine the thrill of looking at my watch and seeing “45 minutes.” That put an immediate smile on my face. I knew then it was going to be a good race day!

Once out of the water, I headed up the shore and into the transition area. I was shocked at the number of bikes still in transition near my bike. (Typically, you’re bikes are racked based on your race number & the age group you’re racing in.) This made me smile again; I was in a much better position than I expected to be out of the swim. I took off my wetsuit and began to get ready for the bike. As I glanced up, there was a man who had apparently decided he didn’t need to wear anything under his wet suit and was now changing to get on his bike—yep, right there in the open, with nothing on. I was a bit shocked, but also thought “oh, those crazy triathletes!” And then, I did something I never do in transition–I ate! Usually I’m worried about how quickly I get out of transition, the time does count against your overall time. But today, I decided that I wasn’t worried about my transition times. I took my first (of many) GUs and choked it down with some water. I double checked to ensure my helmet was strapped on, my sunglasses secure and my shoes buckled (with their velcro of course). I stuffed my wetsuit and other swim gear into the bag and was on my way.

The bike has always been the hardest (maybe worst is a better word) part of the triathlon for me. I can ride just fine; I’m just not a very strong nor fast cyclist. It’s the area I always wish I was better at and know, with more work, I could definitely be faster. Well, today I knew I had the secret weapon—a sweet set of Reynolds wheels. Joe, my bike boy at SBR, hooked me up with this great set of Reynolds sixty-six tubular wheels. I knew I couldn’t let those wheels or Joe down. I had to work hard on the bike.

I hadn’t seen the bike course until I started riding it. I didn’t do any recon work the day before and had only glanced at in on map my ride. However, it was turning out to be exactly what I expected. There were some “climbs” but nothing with a serious grade. There were some downhills, but nothing seriously steep. It was a bike course designed with me in mind!

One of the things I’d struggled with in my training was my nutrition. I knew I had to manage my nutrition or pay the price later in the day. I had salt tablets, GUs, cytomax mixed with CarboPro and some EatDutchWaffles on board. I also knew that every 12 miles along the course were aid stations with water and other items. I only planned to pick up water along the course. I did my first bottle exchange at mile 24….and it went off without a hitch (I was very concerned about grabbing water bottles out of the hands of volunteers on the fly, but no need to worry, I was a pro!) It was about this time that I started to panic. My bike was going great. However, it appeared that I had one less GU than I originally thought. This meant I now had to start rationing, not a good position to be in. I was glad I had initially started with 2 (instead of my usual 1) water bottles of cytomax mixed with CarboPro (about 300 calories in each bottle). After the first bottle exchange, I still had a full bottle of this mixture. I was feeling great and knew that I could get by on just those calories for a few more miles. Luckily, this small glitch had no effect on my nutritional needs. I continued to feel great throughout the bike.

I was watching my bike computer to see how many miles I had left. As I was approaching the 30 mile mark I came to a realization–once I hit 34 miles on the bike I was at the half way point to my goal (1.2 miles on the swim plus the 34 on the bike was 35.2–yes, sometimes I can do math). At this point there was no way I was stopping. I was going to finish all 70.3 miles!

It was also around this point that the wind picked up. Have I mentioned how much I hate the wind? No, well let me mention it now. I hate the wind! Especially on the bike. Especially when riding a deep wheel set (I don’t like being moved sideways across the road). Every time I’d start to gain speed, that wind had a different idea. I’d be riding along at 18 mph and suddenly, my speed would drop to 12 mph. I was still working as hard, just not going as fast. This continued for most of the second half of the bike course. My legs felt great, I just needed that wind to stop!

As great as my legs felt, there were other areas of my body that weren’t so happy with me. I have never wanted to be off of a bike as much as I did at mile 40. I no longer wanted to sit in the saddle. I just wanted to be done with the bike and off on the run. But, they only way that would happen was to ride faster. As much as I wanted to ride faster the wind just wouldn’t let me. I checked my watch and realized that I was on pace (even with the wind slowing me down) to finish the bike portion in under 4 hours. I’d told myself before race day that the bike would likely take me 4 hours and I’d be happy with that. Once again, I surprised myself! My final bike split: 3 hours 37 minutes.

I came into the final transition feeling great. I’d had one of the best bikes in any race and was feeling great. My legs weren’t tired and I was well on my way to finishing this thing. I got on my shoes and socks, stuffed the last 4 of my 8 GUs to be consumed that day into the pockets of my tri-kit and grabbed my visor. I only had a half marathon (13.1 miles) to run and my goal was accomplished. As I exited transition I checked the time–if I ran the half marathon in a couple of minutes under 2 and a half hours, I’d finish the entire race in under 7 hours. It was a crazy thought, but one I allowed myself to think, but only briefly.

As I started out on my first of three loops on the run course I began to realize that my legs just didn’t want to cooperate. No worries, it always takes me some time to get into the run. The entire first loop (just over 4 miles) was not pretty. It was hot, I was tired and I really wanted my day to be finished. My legs continued to rebel against what I was asking of them. At every aid station I poured water & ice into my sports bra to help keep me cool. I began to think that I’d never start my second loop on this course. Again, I really wished that there was someone there just for me; someone cheering me on by name. I knew I’d have to fight through these miles and finish this on my own.

As I finally came around to begin my second loop, the announcer called my name. For the next few feet spectators that I didn’t know were cheering me on by name. I don’t know what it is about having people cheer for you by name, but it is a definite motivator. I was finally able to run at a steady pace. It was slow, but I was making progress and wasn’t feeling as bad as I did on that first loop. I thought I’d finally found my groove! Sadly, this freedom only lasted for about 1.5 miles. But, it was enough. I began to give up on my hope of finishing in under 7 hours, but knew there was no way I wouldn’t finish this thing. I no longer calculated a goal time, I just wanted to finish. I met other people along the way who were struggling through the run just like me. We’d chat for a few minutes until one of us felt the need to start running again. They’d leave me or I’d leave them only to come across the next weary soul. Finally, I was at the turn around for the final lap.

I was relieved! I only had to run this loop one more time before heading into the finish chute. I headed back out with a plan. I told myself I could walk all the uphill portions of the course as long as I ran the downhill portions. I also started drinking Coke at the aid stations…..not just Coke, but warm Coke. Drinking that Coke made me think of my Dad–he’s a lover of the stuff and I can’t stand it, but man during that race I loved it. I wondered if my dad were at the race would he challenge me to a “leg race” once I crossed the finish line. (another story for another time, but yes, he would have challenged me!) I also reminded myself of all the amazing supporters I had in Utah, Texas, Australia and Peru. (I literally had fans around the world–I bet not many other racers could say that!) I couldn’t let any of them down! And, I even mentally dedicated the toughest miles along that run to Wendy–I kept telling myself, “if she can fight cancer, I can easily finish this race!”

As I approached the last half mile I saw a guy who I hadn’t spoken to, but who I’d been playing leap frog with throughout that final lap. As he came up to me, he stopped and started walking alongside me. I told him that he couldn’t walk, he’d been my motivator all afternoon. He told me I’d been the same for him. (It’s always amazing to me the bond that is forged between complete strangers during an endurance event) We walked another 50 yards and then agreed to start running again. He took off and left me, which I was fine with. I wanted to have the finish line all to myself when I got there. With about 200 meters to go, I totally started to tear up–I couldn’t believe I was actually doing this. I made myself stop (as I likely would not have been able to finish had I started to cry). Once I rounded the corner to enter the arena and the finishing chute, it hit me. I was about to finish my first Ironman 70.3. I had a new surge of energy. I ran faster than I had all day toward that finish line and I had the hugest smile on my face!

When I woke up that morning I didn’t know if I’d be able to complete an Ironman 70.3. I finished the race and left everything I had out there on the course; I know I couldn’t ask more of my body than I did that day. That night when I went to bed, I felt like a champion!