Spectacular…no, that’s not the right word…
Brutal…that’s not it either…
Psychotic…okay, maybe a little…
Brilliant…only after crossing the finish line…
It’s hard to find the right word to sum up my first Ironman race, probably because I felt a multitude of different emotions throughout the 11-hour day. When people tell you it’s a journey, they aren’t kidding. You feel like the star in one of those terrible box-office drama hits where you are dragged through the gamut of emotions from happiness to frustration to anger to depression and back up to happiness all in the span of 2 hours. It is exhausting! Stretch that out to 11 hours and compound that with the fact that you are actually doing rigorous physical activity the entire time – it is a surreal feeling. And then we all cross the finish line, cheering and hugging everyone around us elated because it is over, triumphant because we conquered it, and slightly neurotic because we forget the truly raw and tumultuous struggle we just endured over the last 140.6 miles.
An Ironman race consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike, and then a 26.2 mile run where each leg is an entire journey all by itself.
A lot of people talk about the nervous jitters they get in the week leading up to their Ironman race, those of uncertainty when it is your first time or those of anxiety for what is about to come and wondering why you are doing this again. Peter and I had so much going on that I forgot the race was even happening. I even had to rush order a new pair of goggles off Amazon because I didn’t realize it was already race week. I never even looked up the course online. Peter and I did ride part of the bike course a few weekends before but other than that, I tried to count the number of buoys in the swim on race morning and had no idea what to expect from the run. And there was absolutely no nervousness. Not even at the swim start while standing in line waiting for the gun to go off. But don’t get me wrong, there were many stressful tears in the weeks leading up to this race. If you are ever thinking about quitting your job and starting as business at the same time your husband quits his job, selling your house, moving to another state, and training for an Ironman all at the same time – I kind of don’t recommend it.
3am arrived on Sunday morning and I ate my cold leftover pancakes with a banana and bowl of oatmeal as we drove about an hour up to Boulder. Everything went very smoothly that morning, no rushing around. We took the shuttle over to the swim start, put our water bottles on our bikes, put on our wetsuits, swam a few warm-up laps, and then got in line at the swim start. It was really that simple.
This is a long race so nobody was pushing their way up to the front or getting ready to sprint as the gun went off, it was the most casual race start I have ever experienced. With a rolling start everyone slowly entered the water whenever they felt ready to get the day started. I was at the front because I wanted to try to latch onto someone’s feet in the fast group. It was a little bit of a struggle at first as I searched for someone I could stick on. But once I found him, it was pretty enjoyable. He led me on a really straight line, right next to each of the buoys and for the first time in my life, I can actually say the swim was the absolute best part of the race. I exited the water in 1:03:53, the 3rd fastest in my age group and 22nd overall female (excuse me, what?!?!).
I was ecstatic as I ran into the transition area to get on my bike, I cannot tell you how fantastic it feels to be one of the first out of the water after enduring so many races of being way behind. The bike was pretty hilly with about 4,000 feet of climbing which proved to be pretty tough towards the end. I mostly kept working on eating, drinking, and not going out too hard. It can be challenging because you get out of the water with a bunch of adrenaline and jump on the bike feeling like a million bucks. But, I kept reminding myself of the advice from my coaches – don’t go out too hard because you will start to die at mile 80 and then dearly pay for it on the run. The bike is where the happy-everything-is-amazing part of the movie starts to introduce a little drama. Around mile 50 you start realizing you are only half-way there. The hills are making your legs a little tired, your liquid calories are starting to taste yucky, and your butt really doesn’t want to sit on the bike seat anymore. I was also dealing with a bloody nose, which just gets irritating after a while. And then amnesia kicks in and you stop taking in your calories like you should – this catapults you to a strange level of hangry depression. Like those Snickers commercials with Betty White on the football field. Then you turn a corner and there is Sonja Wieck cheering you on, kindly reminding you to eat and drink. Oh yeah, I forgot about that. I downed some calories and a few minutes later I regained consciousness. (Thank you Sonja!)
I found that this battle continued for pretty much the rest of the ride. Until towards the end, when we had a nice long downhill stretch and I decided I would rest my legs…and then my eyes…and then I happened to open them and glance at my garmin…38mph! I think I had a mini-heart attack, which pumped enough adrenaline into my system to remain coherent for the rest of the bike. Okay, that was dumb and dangerous, serious lesson learned.
The bike was finally over and the only thing I could think about was getting off that seat. NO MORE BIKE SEAT PLEASE!! There are only so many ways you can shift around on a tiny little bike seat! But I do have to say that my new Ride Blue bike is pretty amazing and I find myself overflowing with thankfulness the more I get to ride it. I finished in 5:33:05, which was a little slower than I wanted but still pretty good and now I was now 2nd in my age group and 17th female overall.
I got off my bike and stayed in my bike shoes because they made you run almost a mile (seriously), barefoot, part of it on a black rubber track, to get your running shoes. It was definitely uncomfortable but not as bad as burning your feet, which I heard a lot of people did. Once again, the drama movie transitioned back to a happy scene with a positive outlook on life. The start of the run was lined with thousands of people, cheering so loudly I felt like a super star. Amazing. Nothing better.
I started off trying to hit my goal mile pace and then a slow and steady uphill came – and continued – on – and on – and on. It felt like being hit by a car, and at this point my survival mode kicked in. I stopped checking my watch for a pace in fear it would destroy me mentally. All of my focus went towards running within a semi-level of comfort, and taking in calories every three miles. I believe it was at mile 4 they were handing out ice-cold towels. This was the most amazing towel…like my Wilson volleyball. I wrapped that towel around my neck and ran the rest of the race with it. It kept me cool, I wiped by face with it, wiped away my third bloody nose with it, and at very aid station I dumped more ice water on it getting a rejuvenating burst of cool.
The other thing that kept me going was dividing the race into 3-mile chunks. I fueled with EFS gel every 3 miles and never looked ahead farther than that. My only goal was to make it to my next feeding. The support on the race course was absolutely phenomenal. The calming and motivating words from Molly Smith, Katy Blakemore, James Sharpe, Max Bierman and many, many more (you guys were all awesome!!) helped jolt me out of the deepest and darkest parts of the dramatic movie and keep me going forward.
Then all of a sudden, I had finished my last feeding and I had 2 miles to go! And the culmination of the race lies here, at the end of this marathon, that you started in a state of pure exhaustion and end with a totally depleted out-of-body experience. At mile 26 I saw Peter who was cheering for me / yelling at me (having already finished an hour earlier) and I knew I had made it. Of course the movie is a happy ending where you some how muster up all of this hidden energy, that you couldn’t for the life of you find earlier, and sprint down the chute to the finish.
Amazing, it was absolutely amazing. I completed the marathon in 4:10:25, which was much slower than I had planned, but left me finishing 2nd in my age group and 17th female overall with a time of 10:56:18. I was so happy to finish and I definitively expressed that I never wanted to do that ever again, ever. So, naturally, when I found out I qualified for Kona, I decided to take the slot and race at the Ironman World Championships on October 11th…yes that is only 10 weeks away! So now you know the movie will have a sequel, but it will come full circle back to where all of the craziness started – Hawaii. This is an honor and the chance of a lifetime to qualify for this race; I just could not pass that up.
Until then I will be working to develop my business, striving to keep the house immaculately staged as we try to sell it, packing up my life and heading to California, and somehow continuing to train like crazy. I feel like I just recommended not doing all of these things at once…oh well.