If you want to read pre-race stuff, you can view it here.
Before I dig in, I wanted to send out a big thank you to Susan for being my race photographer extraordinaire, most of these pictures came from her. It meant the world to have her at the race to support us. I only hope I can be half the badass helper she is come Arizona 🙂
The whole lead up to race morning was surreal. When you plan something a year out and work hard day in and day out for 6 months, it’s hard to believe it when the day is here. The day before the race I just tried to allow myself the excitement and to let everything sink in. To take in the experience that Ironman gives you. I was going to become an Ironman and I still had to wrap my head around that. I also spent the better part of the two weeks before the Ironman doing a mental beat-down on myself. I am a competitive person and I know I am capable of A, but given my fitness and race day elements, I had to be okay with the possibility of a B or C outcome and be proud of what I accomplished on that given day.
Before I knew it I was up and awake. I slept pretty well considering it was pre-race night. After eating breakfast and getting my traditional race braid in, we were downstairs and getting ready to caravan over to transition. I saw on Outrival’s facebook page that the swim was non-wetsuit and let everyone I know. It’s much easier to come into transition with the knowledge rather than feeling anxious and waiting.
Once we parked we headed over to transition with our special needs bags and bike prep stuff. We had let the air out of our tires the day prior because of the heat and we were super lucky there was volunteers walking around asking if anyone needed a pump – it made transition super easy!
We walked back over to our T1 bags because we had to turn on our GPS trackers on our race belts. We opted to pay for http://www.myathletelive.com/ tracking for all of our friends and family. It tracked us on the bike and the swim so our friends who were there spectating knew when to expect us and those who were unable to come could still feel like an active part of our day. Honestly some of the best money I spent during this training cycle. It really brought the race closer for a lot of people who got to watch us step by step.
After some quick love back to the mistress, we headed over to the swim start. It’s a nice long walk over but it goes by fast with some race nerves and the chatter of all the athletes. Once we got there we dropped off our special needs bags, got body marked, and got in the potty line.
The line took forever, as it always does. Brian laughed at me taking toilet paper from the hotel for pre-race, until we entered the porta poties and it was already gone (yes I grabbed some for him, too). I also put a ziplock of toilet paper in my run special needs, don’t judge, a clean butt is a happy butt. After the porta poties we ran into Kristi and Katie while I put my skin suit on. I opted for a skin suit because of the way my Soas top sits – I have a bigger chest than most triathletes and it feels like a huge drag on my top when I swim. The swim skin cut all of that off and kept everything tight to my body, I’ll probably always wear one where a wetsuit isn’t legal for a half or a full distance triathlon. A quick talk and before we knew it we were headed to the water!
After hanging on to the dock for a good 7-8 minutes, Brian and I headed to the right side of the start a little off the front. I knew I didn’t want to battle the front and didn’t have the speed, but I also wasn’t going to hang in the back either. I was here to do my race and claim my space. Before I knew it the cannon went off and the washing machine beatdown began!
The swim is an far out, left turn and a short distance, a far back, right turn and up the canal. The lake itself wasn’t bad and didn’t feel overly warm, but there was plenty of weird hot and cold spots. The first section I was expecting to get hit and swam over and grabbed. I now understand why they tell you to safety pin your chip on (and do it) because the entire race my legs were being harassed. Although the swim actually looks spacious, over 2000 of my closest friends and I made the space tight. I tried to keep on feet and find a group that I could sit off of and comfortably swim. The section to the first buoy honestly felt like the longest. Once I made the turn and headed back to the start I really started to stretch out and focus on long strokes. I also made a conscious effort to pee while swimming, which takes a lot of focus! I wanted to make sure I wasn’t carrying extra around and I also didn’t want to have to pee in transition.
I was amazed at how much contact there really was. I’m a total water kid and comfortable in almost anything, but the stress of having to constantly fight for space during the whole swim and lots of contact was a lot higher than I was anticipating. I knew if there were moments that I was anxious, that someone with water anxiety would have a really difficult time. There was also one time during this section that the guy next to me and I breathed at the same time and looked each other in the eye, only for him to try and take me out to get the feet I was on. I was all hell no and made sure he knew they were my feet and he best be moving over. It totally worked. Also? Don’t think because I’m just a woman I’m going to move over, I’ve learned to swim elbows out and fight you right back.
Before I knew it we were turning into the canal. I knew it would be shorter than the out and back legs but that it still had some distance to it. I actually had more room the canal and tried to keep on some feet. Once I realized I was faster without her, I dropped her and worked on keeping my stroke even and long. I had no issues in the canal except under one bridge it was like I was swimming in place! It’s also really weird seeing so many people so close and just staring at you as you are swimming by, ha! I was super happy to head around that last buoy and get out of the water where I had so many friends who were wetsuit stripping!
Big thanks to Gretchen, Drum and Julie for unzipping me and taking care of me. Love that I had friends so excited to see me! I ran up transition to grab my bag and before I knew it I was in the changing tent!
While everyone told me if I’m not actually changing to avoid the tent, I still went in and it was the right call. Here’s the thing, the women’s changing tent wasn’t crowded and it was nice to have the help. Triathlon is such a male dominated event that I’ve found so many great perks for being a woman! A nice, clean changing tent just happens to be one of them. Yes, it was hot and there was no airflow, but I got to sit on a chair to put my shoes on. The volunteers were out of this world. The lady sprayed me down with my Neutrogena Wet 50 which is the greatest sunscreen out there. Goes on wet skin, doesn’t feel sticky and doesn’t turn white. Lasted all day as I didn’t get burned, at all. I’m seriously never going to use another sunscreen again. Another thing I did is put all of the small stuff in a quart ziplock bag, things like my nutrition that otherwise I’d have to search around the big transition bag for. It was really smart and time saving. Got my helmet and sunglasses on after my shoes and it was out of the tent I went!
I was so excited to see my bike! I love my bike! I get to ride my bike now! Wo hoo!
I took the bike slow. Like really slow for the first 10 miles. I got passed left and right and kept hearing coach Kristen in my head to slow down and take my time. I got comfortable and just tucked in and started in on my nutrition after about 10-15 minutes. I have 5 bottle cages on my bike. Yes, 5, and I used every damn one of them. I know they add a ton of extra weight but I wouldn’t have changed a thing on the way I handled the bike. The first two forward were filled with Generation UCAN, 4 scoops each with two Nuun tabs. At the first aid station I grabbed a Perform and stuck it on my down seat tube cage and I kept two water bottles behind my seat at all times.
Before I knew it I was through the first aid station and out on the open country roads. It. Was. Fantastic. I knew for the first out section that we had a tail wind, so I tried to keep my heart rate in a reasonable area and just appreciated the view around me. About 30 miles in some guy passes me and actually made a comment about all of my bottles. I was sorta floored because it seemed a little rude, but at the same time he obviously wasn’t in the know about how hot it was going to be and how much we would all need those fluids. I also had 4 picky bars in my bento, several shot bloks, a few powerbar gels (just in case backup), salt tabs and candied ginger in my tank back pockets. My plan was to drink a UCAN bottle in every three hours, eat a picky bar every 1.5 and supplement with perform and shot bloks to keep energy levels up.
The bike course is really fantastic. Rolling hills describes it perfectly. You have to make gear changes and I’d throw it in the little ring and spin but there was nothing that spiked your heart-rate to unreasonable levels. Once you were up the hill the hear-rate came back down quite easily. In fact on some of the early rollers I saw guys getting up and out of their seats. I internally laughed at the idiots because there was no reason for that. The hills weren’t long or particularly high grade, they were just burning matches and I’d see them on the run as I ran by their walking.
We really had pretty good cloud cover for the first few hours on the bike, then it started to burn off as I was going through the state park. This part of the race is particularly beautiful. Big trees that you ride through that protect you from the sun and give you something to look at and appreciate. What’s interesting is the bike hatred signs (no shoulder no bike) in the park. I also particularly loved the guy in a polka dot speedo and a boa cheering you into the park who also popped up a few other places on the bike. He was really a highlight to bring some laughter.
Around mile 30-40 I was realizing that I could go to the bathroom. Now I’ve never peed on the bike before and I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of waiting in line for a hot porta potty, so I wanted to try to pee. Once I worked up the nerve, I sat up and really focused on peeing. Low and behold I did it! I was so proud! I’m an excellent bike pee-er! I also was “watering” myself down at the same time so no one could tell there was extras rolling off, hehehe. But if you are behind me, rolling into an aid station and I’m splashing myself, it’s best to get out of the splash zone, fyi.
At around mile 70 my stomach started giving me some grief. I was working well with taking UCAN on it’s own, drinking water with picky bars or shot bloks and taking my salt tabs with perform, it was a good rotation. But I think the heat was starting to give me issues. I had never tried it before, but ginger always helps my stomach, so I had purchased candied ginger from the bulk section ahead of time (ingredients literally ginger and sugar to keep it very basic) and kept them in a bag on my back. I started nibbling on several pieces and started to feel much better. I knew with the heat though that it wouldn’t be a good idea to push my stomach, so I stopped eating picky bars and pushed through with shot bloks and perform being my main calorie source. I also had to toss my second bottle of UCAN because it was so hot I couldn’t stomach it. I had planned throughout the day to move from solid to liquid, so this wasn’t a surprise. I tend to have a really sensitive stomach for racing and just do whatever needs to be done on race day to keep it happy. And what works for one race doesn’t work for the other, even if it’s similar conditions, so it keeps me on my toes.
For the rest of the bike part of the race I peed several times (I think 5 overall, it almost became a game to see how many times I could pee and I giggled every time, new level of sickness, I know) and just tried to keep on top of nutrition, fluids and just taking it all in. It’s fantastic when you don’t have to stop at intersections or for cars! All of the cars were really respectful and the police officers guiding traffic were awesome! I remember being really, really hot around mile 80 and grabbing my 2 waters at the aid station (and a new perform every other aid station) and grabbing another bottle on my way out. That baby was ice cold and I poured it all over myself. I actually got instant chills and felt my body temp drop a degree or two. Whether it actually did or was just in my head, it was such an instant pick me up that I started riding a little better again.
Towards the end I started passing people. I’d like to think it was all the people who were getting out of their saddles and those that burned all of their matches early. I was amazed at how many people I saw in medical at all of the bike stops and saw a few people sitting in shade on the side of the road as well as an ambulance close to mile 100. So many people were outracing their fitness, while I was doing my best to poke along at a slow, steady pace. Between mile 100 and 112 it felt like forever. While the areas had tons of spectators, it was time to get off the bike. I also hadn’t seen Brian for the entire ride but I didn’t figure I would, either. I knew he’d beat me out of the water and I didn’t think I’d beat him on the bike.
As I rolled closer to transition, I got my feet out of my soaked tri shoes and hit the ground running. Handed off my bike to the fantastic volunteers and ran to pick up my T2 bag. If you take one tip away from this report, make sure it is this: do not take off your bike shoes before the changing tent. I repeat, keep your freaking shoes on through transition. Unless they come up with a better plan for a surface where the bags are, run through with shoes. Those of us who were barefoot burned the hell out of our feet. I was running on the balls of my feet across either black pavement or blacktop where the bags were and you couldn’t jump into the grass for relief. Right then I became instantly worried about my feet for the run. I grabbed my stuff (easily found because of the colored duct tape) and went back into the changing tent.
The tent had gone up a few degrees but it wasn’t overly miserable, either. I took off my helmet and sunglasses, sat down to put on my shoes and socks and had the lady spray my back down with sunscreen again. I grabbed my visor, the volunteer opened up my nutrition bag and started handing me a few things to stuff in my back. Everything was so freaking hot I couldn’t imagine stomaching it, but as ridiculous as this sounds, it would cool slightly against my skin versus the blacktop temps. I also had a small bottle from my nathans fuel belt. The handheld is small enough to fit on my back between my shoulder blades but in my tri top. I keep it full of ice from every aid station and having it on my back helps keep my temps down. I had done this at 2 of my half IM’s and it works like magic. It’s also really nice to have cold water on demand when I need it on the course and between aid stations I’d spray my arms down to keep them cool. Honestly this bottle has become my saving grace, I don’t do fantastic in heat but this trick really makes a huge difference.
I was quickly out of transition with everything I needed and started running. I tried what I thought was a nice, slow pace to try to get my heart rate down, but it just wouldn’t fall. On my walk break it only came down slightly and jumped right back up and out of my ideal range again. It kept this way for the first few miles but I kept on running knowing at some point it had to come down. At the beginning of the run I also got to meet Audra (@RelentlessAudra) and chatted with her briefly. She’s a super fast runner and had some ladies in her AG to chase down. I wished her luck and kept on my pace knowing I’d die even trying briefly to keep up with her!
The one thing that floored me was how many people were already walking. Like I said I was on a run/walk plan, but so many people were just walking. I had read several articles on IM racing beforehand and one of them talked about how most athletes don’t know how to race an IM properly. They burn out on the bike and end up having nothing left for the run, so if it seems you are doing the opposite of most people on the course: you are probably doing it right. And I saw that unfold all day at IM Texas. I kept it low and slow on the bike and came in really well hydrated to the run. I also had reasonable expectations. It was going to be a ridiculously hot run (heard it was over 100 degrees on the heat index) and I just needed to do enough to survive. I also got off the bike knowing that I had enough time to finish even if I had to walk the marathon, which was comforting in a way.
A little over halfway on the first loop I got told by several people that Brian was just up ahead. I had no idea how much time he had on me at one point, but I eventually saw him and kept on my run/walk plan until I caught him. Me being me, I started not-so-gently telling him to buck up and keep moving forward -ie, “start running, let’s go”. I can only imagine how awful I sounded to the spectators yelling at another athlete. I didn’t know it at the time that he was having stomach issues. We ran/walked for a couple of miles and talked about his stomach. All of a sudden he said he had to go and went over to the side, I politely told him I wasn’t going to stop as I wasn’t totally sure if I could handle taking care of him while still trying to race. Yes, it looks like a crappy thing to do and if I really thought he was totally sick I would have stopped in a heartbeat. But he told me to keep going.
Another mile and a half or so and I got to see my crew for the first time. I immediately told Drum that B was sick and to keep an eye on him. This also gave me some mental relief – I was able to give the responsibility to someone else so I could focus on me. IM’s, especially on race day, are really selfish things to do and on race day your mind should be totally blank anything that does not include getting you across the finish. Again if he was really sick I would have taken more action, but an upset stomach and there is enough medical for him to get help. Shortly after I got that fantastic mental boost of all of my friends B caught back up to me and said he was okay so we kept going together for the next loop.
At the aid stations I had a total plan down: get my handheld filled with ice and water, drink water, drink perform, soak sponges and keep going. Once I got off the bike other than perform I had no other calories going in. I had thought about a powerbar gel a few times, but I never felt an energy low and every time I thought about taking the gel my stomach turned. I think I was going slow enough that I was using mostly fat for energy during the race instead of my glycogen stores so I wasn’t craving the carbs as much as other training or racing times. And honestly? During the entire race I never had a real energy low, I stayed on top of nutrition and kept my pace right so I was really pretty consistent the whole day.
During that second loop with Brian we took turns negotiating a little extra walk time. My stomach would get slushy and I’d need an extra minute or something would be wrong with him and we’d walk a little longer. We stayed pretty consistent with the run/walk and just kept going. It was really great to have some company on the course as I was worried about navigating the second loop mentally.
At the conclusion of the second loop I told Brian that I was going to try to run more on the last loop. I was feeling strong and knew I had more to give. If there is one thing I am good at it’s definitely keeping some reserve back. I have a fear of giving it all and not being able to finish, so I can hang in the area where I know I’ve got a good pace but there is always a little left to ensure I finish. At some point soon I need to face that fear and just push as hard as I can, but that was not the race to challenge that.
During the loop 2 and 3 I also keep close enough to Kristi to have someone else on the course to talk to. I tried to keep a consistent pace for the last lap with minimal walking, but I hit a few rough spots for sure. One of the times that sticks with me is where a police officer was directing some athletes and I just looked and him and smiled, I told him I really appreciated his work but I was really glad I didn’t have to see him again. Both of us had a good laugh and he told me congrats. Around 23 I was just so damn tired. I thought in my head if for some reason I fell, I really could just have been rolled into a ditch so I could take a nap.
I also spent a lot of time looking forward to seeing my group of friends one more time before the finish and they gave a great mental boost! A quick few turns and before I knew it I got to turn to the finish line rather than another lap! Such a fantastic feeling! As I headed towards the section where the course was lined off I noticed there was a guy moving slower than me, but still fairly close. I chicked him – I wanted to make sure I got a good finish line picture, obviously.
The finish is a short downhill, followed but a 180 turn and a run up the hill to cross the finish line. I soared down the downhill and had to work hard to pump my arms on the uphill to keep smiling. But I smiled the whole way. I hadn’t put a ton of thought into my finish, but at the last minute I jumped!
So I finished the day happy, and very, very tired. I am proud of what I put together for my first Ironman. I made good decisions all day and took care of myself to get across the line.
Right after I crossed the line I asked about getting ice for the balls of my feet, I had to get full on checked into the medical tent to get ice. They even had a podiatrist on staff if I wanted him to check my feet! I didn’t have any blood or obvious blisters so I said the ice was good enough. I went back to the finishers area and found Brian. We shared our excitement and went through the food area. All I could think about was a few sodas. That always settles my stomach and gets my sugar levels back up. I was soooooo damn ready to get out of my wet race kit that I changed my shorts in the porta potty and changed my top in public (I did have on a sports bra) and I felt a million times better.
We hobbled over to where our friends were and spent the next half our being surrounded by love. To my support crew out there, I can’t express how much I carried you in my heart out there and how much knowing you were out there carried me on every loop. You gave me something to look forward to and I will forever be grateful for you being there. Thank you.
It was also a time of mixed emotions. Not everyone in our group had a good day. There were 3 of my friends who DNF’ed the race. It broke both Brian and my hearts. Overall the race’s DNF rate was over 15% which seems really high. But no one has had temps like we did on race day to acclimate to and the bike course had aid stations run out of water. I know my friends will come back to another IM and fight another day, because they are all stronger and more determined to become Ironmen and their victory will be that much sweeter.
After our friends called it a night, Brian and I headed back to the finisher area. As long as I am able, every Ironman I do I will come back for the last hour or two.
This is where you see the human spirit fight and this is where you see it triumph. And you see the fight and the joy come through in those last hours like no other. These are the people who have fought their demons all day long to cross that line. They have been moving forward, one foot after the other, for up to 17 hours to get across that line and hear Mike Reilly call them and Ironman.
You see, Ironman to me is about doing something I never thought possible. About pushing beyond the boundaries I thought I had, and peeking just a little farther to see what else I can do. And you know what? I am capable of greatness.