Pre-Race: I had been training for about 10 months – first for Ironman Cozumel in November, and then jumping in again to start training for this early March race. My schedule had been such that I was very consistent with my training. I had the time and a low stress job with little travel getting in the way of training. However, the week prior to race day, due to travel and some luggage lost for a period, I only got on the bike for an hour, ran for an hour, and swam for about 20 minutes.
Day Zero: My pre-race fueling started the day before race day. I have heard that you don’t really need to load up the day before, but I still felt that some good solid meals would serve me well, and after not eating enough for my last race I was focused on getting food in me. I ate a good sized breakfast – granola, and lunch – a sandwich, carrot, apple, and cookies; and then ate seconds at dinner even though I wasn’t particularly hungry. I do not have a pre-race dinner routine. This time I chose a hamburger with a gluten free bun, a little bit of spicy peri peri sauce (mayo with a bit of added flavor), and a whole bunch of white potatoes that had been thinly sliced and baked with a little bit of oil and salt. I also was more conscious of staying really hydrated the day before race day, including 3 tablets of nuun throughout the day along with a lot of water.
I didn’t get to bed particularly early. It was too sunny and I was too amped up to calm down until it got dark around 9pm – and then I got ready and got into bed with everything laid out for a pretty quick start in the morning.
My sleep was more disturbed than I recall on a race eve. My nerves got the better of me at times, but I also got some quality sleep mixed in.
4am Race Day: I was up at 4am with a plan to leave the house we were staying in at 5:15am. I started with a nice slow breakfast as I woke up – coffee, granola, and 2 pieces of toast with peanut butter, honey, and ½ banana. I also started drinking lots of water and later switched to a huge bottle with an electrolyte powder that would be on the course (it was a freebie in our race stuff, so I chose it more out of convenience than some idea that I was training my body for the stuff).
Then I got dressed, Quinn put my race number tattoos on, I applied sunscreen, and we were off to transition. Transition was open from 5am-6:40am. I always struggle to decide when to get there because it isn’t just about how long I think it will take me to get my stuff ready – I worry about an unexpected line at any point or some other delay. Plus, if something had happened to my bike overnight, then I would want to ensure considerable time to be able to deal with it. This morning went smoothly and I had my bike ready to go well ahead of the race start.
We walked down the hill to the start of the race and I occupied my time staring blankly into space with a nervous wobble, waiting in line for the porta potty, and finally spending about 20 minutes squeezing into my wetsuit just perfectly. I also ate an RX bar just about 15 minutes before the start time.
I was on the verge of crying all morning. I believe that these are tears of excitement. Probably mixed with the adrenaline running through my body, but mostly because I think this thing I was about to start is just so amazing. Over 1500 people all lined up for a crazy long day ahead. I feel so honored to take part in it, and that really hits me on race day – at the beginning before I get too tired to have emotions other than pain.
The tears really bubbled up when I heard that Mike Reilly was going to be announcing this race. (If you are unsure who he is, stay tuned – I will post a bit more about him in a future blog post. But in short – he is the announcer that started saying “[name] You Are An Ironman” at the finish line. He chooses the races he announces and he’s kind of a big deal). He hadn’t announced any of the races I had done previously and it somehow made me choke up with excitement.
Race Start: The pros started their race at 6:45 (men) and 6:48 (women). Then they opened the water up for us age groupers to start getting past the timing matt and to start lining up in the water. (This race has a mass start – so our start times are all the same – but we all have to cross the matt – probably so the systems knows who is starting the course). I usually make conversation with somebody at the start of a race, but my only conversation this time was a woman asking me if I knew what the swim course was. I laughed and said “well, I hope so” before I realized that she was serious. The course is in a gigantic lake. It follows the side of the lake where there is a road and path – all the way out in a straight line with buoys on your right, then you turn, swim a ways out, and follow the same course back in a straight line with different buoys on your right. If you walk the path or drive the road, you can easily scope the entire main course – and then it takes a little bit more work to scope the very end – where racers go into a river for a ways before coming up a boat ramp. I’m not sure how she missed all of that…and didn’t even scope the swim exit while waiting to start. But who knows, what her own personal circumstances were. I told her just to follow the people, and she oddly wasn’t comforted by that either. Hopefully she made it, and she probably swam faster than me 😊
Swim: I started in water up a little past my waist – I stayed where I could still stand up. I stood about in the middle of the pack – both in terms of right and left and front and back. After the cannon started our race, I was surprised how quickly I was able to start swimming. It was a nice course with nothing too notable. I did get water up my nose a few times with the waves created by all the swimmers. It is amazing how rough the water can feel! For the most part I felt like I could do my own swim, though occasionally I would find myself in a mass of people that I had to navigate. You are allowed to draft in the swim, and it is really a huge help, but I only found someone for a very short section that I stuck with for a little while. I think I was more into just doing my own swim than trying to find someone – maybe a mistake – but with a mass start it is difficult to end up with someone your own pace.
I finished the swim in about 93 minutes. About 13 minutes more than I would have liked. I was ready to be done by the end, but certainly prepared for that distance. My goggles were just starting to hurt – which I find amazing given that these are cheapo goggles I bought at a race ages ago and have used for all 4 Ironmans. Unfortunately they are scratched enough that it is possible this will be their last.
Transition: The walk/jog to transition involves quite a long distance and a steep hill. Transition was smooth – a volunteer had my bag in a line and held it up for me. The transition tent was crowded, but I found a chair, and a nice volunteer helped me peel out of my wetsuit and put on my bike gear. I was off.
Bike: The bike course is two laps – both out and back. I knew there were hills but had not scoped them out and had been under the impression that there was just one (okay, maybe I shouldn’t wonder so much at he woman asking about the swim course, perhaps we should have taken the time to scope it out!). The course felt very hilly and pretty much kicked my butt. I felt good for the first out section – it felt fast with a bit of a cross wind. Then I turned around and went right into a huge headwind. The way back into town was a slog with hills and the wind. At some point on my way back, I ‘figured out’ that half of my 112 mile ride was 66 miles, and by that token I was not going to have enough time to finish the bike. The night before I had told someone that when out on the course, I lose my desire to really push myself and start to not care if I finish, but it is just stubbornness to keep going forward that gets me to the finish line. Well, I learned that this is incorrect. I found this huge desire to finish. I am not sure that translated to speeding up because I’m not sure I had much umf for speeding up, but if I had it in me I did, and I definitely didn’t stop at aid stations, or spend longer than I needed just to resupply at special needs.
At some point I realized that 56 miles was actually the halfway point, and that I should indeed have time to finish if I stuck with consistent movement.
I said the course kicked my butt – it was hard with the hills and the wind, and I finished with just about 40 minutes to spare. However, I actually felt pretty good for longer in an IM race than I ever have before – meaning that I stayed down in the drop bars for longer, and felt better about keeping my legs spinning. I think I did the race I trained for – I have just been training slowly – very slowly apparently in comparison – something to work on for the future. It was also definitely the most challenging course I have done. The hills were physically challenging, but it was also more technical with the cross wind trying to push me side to side at times; and part of the course was open to traffic which is really difficult to think about when as exhausted as I felt.
For fueling on the bike – I was pretty good about eating every 30 minutes. For some reason the alerts didn’t come through on my watch all day – so I didn’t get my usual 5 mile notifications and 30 minute eat alarms. Occasionally I missed the 30 minute mark, but overall I was pretty consistent. My food consisted of 2 PB & honey sandwiches (beginning and at special needs), with mostly handfuls of nuts and date pieces in between. I had lots of water and electrolyte on course – the electrolyte drink was low on calories, so it was mostly just for the electrolytes (which I like). I also had a banana and a few mini chocolate bars at aid stations, and tried the on-course bar at some point but it was awful and I’m glad that I brought enough not to rely on it.
Fun: The bike took about an hour longer than my fastest Ironman time, but I was thrilled to make it, exhausted, and so happy to be onto the run course! Transition was smooth – with two volunteers this time in a less-crowded changing tent. I was a bit wobbly at first, but eventually able to start jogging consistently. My plan was to walk the aid stations and hills and run or run/walk in between. That’s pretty much what I did, but it was a really hilly course!!! It felt nearly all either up or down. It was a 3 lap course – out and back along the lake. I definitely slowed down as the night went on, but for the most part maintained at least some jogging throughout the night – moving towards only downhills at the end. This was a vast improvement over Cozumel when I walked the entire course after the first couple of miles.
I probably didn’t fuel sufficiently, but took in what I could – small bites of chips and chocolate, I managed one bite of the cliff bar that I said I was going to make myself eat, and then had sips of water, coca cola, and electrolyte drink. My run was about 10-15 minutes slower than my best Ironman time. Hills mean there is downhill as well, but I do think it’s possible that had it been a flat course, I would have had a better time. It took me a little under 6.5 hours, and given that in training I never ran more than 3 hours straight and did about ½ marathon in that amount of time, again, I did the race I trained for and it is still a little amazing that I can do what I trained for after the swim and the bike on race day.
Reflection: My whole race was just over 16 hours 12 minutes. I was initially bummed to be so slow – with 17 hours allowed, I cannot get much slower and keep doing this. But, I felt pretty good, and realize I did what I trained for — and I finished and both got to give Mike Reilly a high-five and hear him say the words that I am an Ironman. And besides some soreness the next day and tiredness since I could not sleep long or well after the race, my body has recovered well and quickly. I still love these races, continue to be honored to be a part of them, and look forward to the next – after some rest, maybe a half to focus on getting quicker, and then planning our next race adventure.