Ironman Wisconsin

Ironman Wisconsin

My first full Ironman.

I started doing triathlon in March of 2016 (also getting my very first road bike ever!), doing my first sprint in June 2016. I had ridden mountain bikes short distances (less than 10 miles), all sort of terrain, and been running since August of 2013. I knew how to swim, what I call “survival” swimming skills, since I was about 6 or 7 years old, but never refined it until about July 2016…yes after my first sprint (I did a lot of back stroke and not freestyle). To put it bluntly, I was a true novice. Most triathletes come from one of the three backgrounds, swimming being a popular one. Mine was running, the last sport in the triathlon, the one that’s hardest to do well at at that point in a race. I did my first few Xterra races that summer of 2016 (equivalent to olympic distance and time, effort is a different story), and succeeded in finishing my first half Ironman in late October 2016 in Los Cabos Mexico, beating the cutoff by 8 minutes (8 hour cutoff). My swim was slow then, finishing in about 58 minutes (granted it was the ocean and no wetsuit), but was wonderful, my bike was VERY slow as I encountered an unexpected bike course change that was NOT on the website (that I had trained according to), and a death run (temperatures were in the upper 90s with high humidity and full sun!), averaging 12:28 mins/mi. In short, I prepared myself the best I could given time and course conditions. I sought out a new PR on the Ironman 70.3 Ohio course this year, end of July. I busted out a solid bike, my swim was ok, and the run…I struggled a lot on (11:42 mins/mi, LOTS of walking), granted it was hot then in the upper 80s, but that wasn’t the issue. In all, I hadn’t had a good longer distance triathlon where I was comfortable on the run until the USAT National Age Group Championships in Omaha, Nebraska.

I had just come off a peak week of Ironman training before the race on August 12th, 2017, and I didn’t feel great on those days and felt like I had a small cold. I pressed on. I had the race of my life. My swim was great, not wetsuit legal, 1 mile swim in 43 minutes, my bike was fast averaging 17.3 mph for the 40k ride, and then busting out an almost 10k PR on the hot steamy pavement at 57:38. The next day however, I felt like I had been hit by the sick bus three times over. From that point on, I did not do any workouts until the week before Ironman in September. Depression got to me, despair, whatever you want to call it…my fear of now being unable to finish Ironman was real. I kept trying smaller workouts, but I would not get better every time I tried. I did everything right, drank fluids, slept, rested, stretched…nothing was making me better. A few days before race day, I finally felt like it had dissipated. Picked up my packet early Thursday. Friday, I went to pick up my mom and sister after the Welcome Banquet, and Ironman weekend began.

At this point, I’m going to go into some smaller prerace details, if you would rather skip to race day, scroll on down!

I wasn’t used to doing such a long race locally, as many of you know, I generally travel for longer races and racecation when possible. So I was a mess with the excess amount of time I had to put everything together into the little gear bags and organize a mess of items I would need for race day. That Friday, I was thankful two items I wanted to wear for the run came in: One from Inknburn (thank you Tani!) and one from a friend to “rent” for the weekend. I also got in a few more spare tubes for my bike. Eventually it all came together. Saturday I dropped off my bike (early!) and walked a lot downtown. Also, handed off the T1/T2 bags, which was well organized I thought. It had been chilly that week, so light jackets were required (at least by someone as cold as I am), but that also brought the Lake Monona temps down to about 67°F. Usually pre-race evening, I eat either asian or mexican food to have something spicy. Every place we went was so busy! So I had some mac’n’cheese…not the greatest pre-race meal but it did ok. Dropped by Culver’s and picked up some frozen lemonaid for my special needs on the bike 🙂 That evening, I knew sleeping would be difficult, but I didn’t know I wouldn’t get more than 3 hours, and those were not all at once. The anxiety was high with me…I thought about time cut offs, I thought about what would happen, plans in case something went wrong. Over and over again, in my head I raced through race day. I was exhausted, so I pulled up the site “how slow can you go in an ironman” and the athlete guide, memorizing numbers and paces.
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Eventually I rose at about 3:30am, getting up to eat some lucky charms and hydrate a little. My mom had gotten me a small pusheen plushie keychain and I put it on my camelback for good luck. I woke everyone else up and we packed up and walked out the door. Got to downtown about 5am, and I dropped off my special needs bags. I headed towards my T1 bag, when I got there, I realized I had forgotten my throw-away jacket I had gotten at goodwill (the temperatures that morning were NOT going to be friendly to me!) and panicked slightly as I thought that also had my salt and gels for the bike in that same bag. It turned out the only thing I was missing was the jacket. My mom let me have her spare fleece jacket ❤

I calmed down. Well kind of. My heart rate was bouncing at about 80-100 bpm the whole morning. I went to my bike and added the nutrition and water bottles. With wetsuit in hand, I went back into the Monona Terrace and waited in the warmth. 51°F start temps were not my friend. The day weighed on me already…I didn’t really see anyone I knew that morning. I didn’t speak to anyone, I just kept focused. Around 6:20am, I got half my wetsuit on and headed down to the swim start.


RACE DAY

This year is the first year in IMWI that they did not have a mass wave start. I did not know how to feel about this considering I never did it before (although I have done a wave start, rolling start, and mass start). There were to be just a few waves, 5 or 6, with the first wave of the day starting at 6:40am (Pro Men) and every subsequent wave 5 minutes after the other. I was in wave two, or as I liked to call it, the test wave. No one really knew how this was going to work with so many people in each wave (~500). I said my goodbyes and got my garmin ready, swim cap on, goggles in place… I looked over the swim start in awe. It was so far. I knew 2.4 miles was going to be long and arduous, but just seeing it laid out was overwhelming. Almost. It was what it was, and I was going to just do it. I was going to make it to the bike.

The canon sounded for the pro men, and they were off. The sunrise was beautiful that morning, no fog or clouds. Bright orange. As soon as they were off, they opened it up for our wave to get in the water. I got in position, far right, closer to the shore instead of the buoys to avoid being run over, and treaded water for a while. Amazingly I felt like we were all in the water for more than 5 minutes. The water did not feel cold. Confidence rose! Canon was set off at 6:45am (making my specific final cutoff time 11:45pm, not midnight). I got into a rhythm right away. I decided to play two games with myself during the swim to make it feel like it was going faster; one, was to count the people who ran into me, two, being to count each 100 yd that passed as my watch buzzed.

Only had a few bumps in the first few hundred yards, was pretty tame, and my watch was buzzing, looking down, I was impressed with my splits! I was pretty happy. Somewhere along the stretch, the wave behind me caught up and I was rustled around a bit more, but not too bad, was still to the outside where there weren’t too many people. I spent some time watching the Monona Terrace pass, thinking about how bored people must be watching people swim what would take most of these people the same amount of time to run a half marathon! I made it past the first red turn buoy and was still pretty happy, pace was good! Still not too many people. But it was somewhere here, when I noticed my watch was not going off any more. I would pause briefly to look down and see if it was still recording or if I’d managed to hit a button by accident and it had stopped. No, it was still going, but I wasn’t stopping long enough to figure out why it wasn’t buzzing. Whatever, the next wave of people had caught up and was more people running over top of me (mainly men). It got a little messy in the back stretch (the longest). The sun was glaring, making it hard to spot the sight buoys, I swear I couldn’t seen any of them most of the time, so I ended up following people instead (never a good idea). I ended up creeping into the more dense line of swimmers close to the sight buoys this way and felt like a trapped fish in a net full of other fish flopping around aimlessly. I swam back outside but this time there were more people. Finally, my watch ended up buzzing and it read 21:01….what? So it literally lost GPS or something the last 21 minutes? That’s never happened before, not even close! The next split didn’t go off until 15 minutes later. This didn’t bother me too much because it was the time I was worried about. I was sad because I wouldn’t have splits for my longest ever swim (and most important one), but I would still finish! THEN, my watch started buzzing every 10-20 seconds! What in the actual world? Was it catching up on the splits it had missed? After a few minutes, I never felt it buzz again.

I rounded the 3rd turn buoy and my heart jumped for joy…I was almost home free! Well, no. This segment ended up being longer than expected. I probably got pretty far out and off target on this stretch, and the turn heading back to shore for whatever reason…this is probably where my time added up since I was pretty sure my 100 splits weren’t that much worse than where my watch stopped caring. I pushed so hard in the last 800m of the swim… I wanted to be done. I never wanted to swim 2.4 miles again in my life. Then there it was, the exit.

158_m-100781936-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-1952_010954-10994227 I found myself out of the water, legs felt fine. Looked up. Clock reads 2:01:xx, wow that was slow. I was unaware that this time was what I was going to base my bike off of, and that was wrong, I finished in 1:55 (forgetting the pros started five minutes before). Got stripped down by the wetsuit strippers and headed up the Helix to T1. I was running, I was happy to be DONE with the swim. But about half way up, the cold air and COLD COLD concrete hit me like a rock. I froze and had to start walking. Every step became painful and my feet turned numb. I made it into the building at last and it was warm again. I tried running a little more, but it just wasn’t happening. I got my bag and headed into the changing room. I got lots of help! I really wasn’t expecting people to actually to things for me. I gave away my volunteer band here. I was very thankful. I placed a towel around my tri shorts trying to get them more dry. I had a smaller towel for my legs and feet. I wiped them down but I had little to no control over my feet and toes (still frozen). I tried massively to get my socks on, but it wasn’t happening. I had to wait until I thawed out a little. So I ate my fruit cup as planned, and continued to do what I could to get ready for the bike. I finally got myself together and headed out the door with my bike shoes in hand. My feet were still really cold and I tried, again, to run to my bike, but it was just hard on my feet. In the end, I did what was best for them so I could finish the day in one piece. Got my bike and headed out onto the course down the Helix. Transition time was about 19 minutes and some change…that was almost 5 minutes longer than my longest expected time in transition 😦

finisherpix_1952_044113 I chalked up the total time to be starting the bike at 2:20 after my swim start (in my mind, although this was not actually true little to my knowledge). Now, time for 5000 feet of gain on the bike. The VERY first thing I felt when I mounted and biked off were my arms…holy crap I felt like I wouldn’t have the energy to hold myself up! The swim had done a real number on my arms and shoulders. I knew ahead of time the first few miles would be slow, as I was behind people and they were enforcing that people not pass on the bike path out of town. My average speed was really low, about 12 mph at best with the people in front of me. It was frustrating, but I knew it was going to take me about 20 miles to warm up anyway. I convinced myself it was fine, I’d catch up later. The sun was bright and lovely. Winds were light and variable. Not too many people spectating along this portion (the Stick). As predicted, I had a very hard time warming up. My feet were frozen for about 15 miles, and I kept the fleece on for two aid stations (when I had planned to ditch it at the first aid station), even with arm sleeves on underneath. The first few hills were difficult to say the least, I had no momentum and energy was low. I didn’t get discouraged here because I knew before 20 miles hit, I was pretty useless anyway, it has happened on every.single.hard.long.ride. Whalen was terrible, per usually, however it was nice being able to cruise through every stop sign…best day.

Once on the first loop, I made a note on my watch how far it had been since leaving transition and the time. I would check every hour what my average pace was. This kept me very busy mentally. I cruised and paced myself on the lower side on the first loop and stuck with my nutrition plan. I hit the roads outside of Verona and noticed a little wind. Well, wind does seem to find its way into every IMWI race! I sucked it up. On the way up the highway to Mt. Horeb, I ended up getting behind a car. I actually ended up following behind this car for a while (car was afraid to pass the cyclists in front of me heading up the hill!). I just chilled and thought it was funny. I had one of my best rides up to Mt. Horeb. The crowds there were great! I was pumping to the music that was blasting when I could, getting into it and just enjoying the time. I stopped at the aid station to refill my bottles and take a gel. Then I was off. I didn’t like spending as much time as I did at aid stations, but I’m not competent on the bike yet to maneuver around like a pro. Looking back, I would probably just ditch my water bottles and keep replacing them with the ones at the race to save time. Everything was going according to plan, through the Wittie roller coaster (actually did well on this part), up through Garfoot, and then it was onto Observatory. I passed by a barn on the way out, and I thought to myself, “ I’m going to earn that barn and cow.” Temperatures were up in the low 70s, you couldn’t have asked for nicer weather really.

The whole plan from the start was to walk Barlow, the fated new hill on the Wisconsin bike course (replacing stagecoach and two of the three sisters Timber and Old Sauk). As I was on the road, I was asked by a few people “is this Barlow?” and the answer was always no. Finally, got to the steeper portion of what IS Barlow, and spun up as far as I could and dismounted. There was crowd support on both sides, but it wasn’t crowded (I am slow at swimming and biking, so I guess I just wasn’t in the most dense part of the people participating), no one was being stupid taking sideways approaches to the hill. About half the people were trying to power up, and half were with me, just walking on the side. Once I hit my starting line (a small filled in crack in the road I knew well), I mounted and continued to spin up passing all those who were still trying to spin up the big hill. Felt pretty good and evil at the same time. Got to Mineral Point road, and there were there photographers! Ok, at the top of hills, alright then. Legs were a little tired, but continued to spin them out. Being able to cruise through the intersection at the bottom of the big hill on Mineral point was awesome. This is where I noticed more wind on course. Sigh. I pushed pretty hard through this section and up until I came on this random hill where my friend Kat was! This was the first person I recognized in or out of the race since before the start. I was delighted! You picked THIS hill? Pretty cool though! I made my way back to the start of the loop but first…

Midtown. My nemesis. Out of all the sisters on the original bike course, midtown was the one I had the most issues with for whatever reason. So I got off my bike and walked it. No shame, although people tried to push me to bike anyway. Just not worth it to me. I never got up it before, today was not going to be any different. NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY LOL. I was looking forward to seeing my bike mechanic Richard in a speedo on the way up, but I guess he had left by the time I got there. There were plenty more people there, and I’d say the most densely crowded part of the bike course. I wish I had had more time to enjoy the spectators and take it all in. I had a mission and my focus had returned.finisherpix_1952_075834

Made my way into Verona through the way of Milky Way by Epic and flew down the nicely paved roads. Smooth like butter. I realized then my little parts down there were suffering a lot…actually no, they plain hurt more so than usual. But I needed to get to downtown Verona where the festival was! So I was happy to make the right turn into the Verona festival area. I was met with slight disappointment. A brief recap, I had volunteered there last year and knew what it was like…they had tents and food and an announcer where they called your name as you went by on your bike, so many people and their lawn chairs just having a good time. What I experienced was about 2/3 of that. There was no announcer for me. There weren’t too many people like there were last year. It looked more empty. I looked around desperately for my family, but I didn’t see them (and apparently didn’t hear them). I left downtown Verona a little sad. My 56 mile split was close to 3 hours 50 minutes. A tad slower than I wanted, but decent, putting me in a good place to beast the 2nd loop and make the cut off. I topped off my now empty camelback with fresh water. I noticed it was very hard to put back on (the slider at the top of the bag)…

Time to start loop two and get to special needs. I was looking forward to my Culver’s beverage and some chamois butter. I thought about my friend Shana, and where she was. I figured she passed me on the swim and I wouldn’t see her again. I arrived at special needs, mile 60 on the bike…this is where everything went to crap on the bike. I couldn’t figure out upon arriving at special needs that my personal bag was WAY down the line near the end (but I couldn’t tell where the end was), so my speed was drastically reduced. Eventually I found my bag and a volunteer brought it to me. I went fast, and took my camelback off and pulled on the slider. I couldn’t get it off. I knew I was weaker now, but I was in a hurry. I put a lot of force into it, so much my wrist bent back far enough to press the “back” button on my garmin…this was VERY BAD. The back button on the garmin during multisport mode will take you to the next sport (Swim, back → T1, back → Bike, back → T2, back → Run, back → end), and there is no way to my knowledge to go back. I fiddled with the watch desperately for I have no idea how long in a panic. I tried everything to make it go back. I finally settled on setting it to “Run” and letting it track that way. Shouldn’t be that different right? I was wrong, and I have no idea why still. I was wasting a lot of time with this at this point. I just got back on my bike and continued on. About a mile or so later, the watched buzzed telling me my “split”, it was 12 minutes. Mine you, I didn’t set the watch to “Run” mode until I was already about to ride. There is no way it took me 12 minutes on a bike to go 1 mile. I was angry at this point and very upset, as the panic laid on thicker. I just gave up. The last time I took mental note of total time was 6 hours and 27 minutes (including swim and transition), mile 60. I was riding, saved the first set of data and started a new multisport “workout”, flipping through Swim and T1, and got it back onto “Bike” mode. Whatever, I will just assume my first loop was slow and now I have a new average to build on. But the pain down below and my sit bones were becoming more apparent and it was hard for me to take the rough roads sitting down. I switched positions on the bike as much as I could, but it was slowing me down and my arms still hurt from the swim. This was awful. I felt awful, although my speeds were better than the first loop, the wind picked up a little making things more frustrating. I was mentally going down. Under this kind of pressure on myself, I do not let myself fail however.175_m-100781936-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-1952_056579-10994244

Riding back into Mt. Horeb the 2nd time, I realized my cleat was coming apart (again, as it had in my century ride earlier in training and I couldn’t fix it then). I stopped and put it back together. I was MORE frustrated and this kept building. I still stuck with my plan. I kept doing all this mental math. I had no idea what the total time was, although I had a watch with the actual time, I wanted to know my personal time. I reached mile 80 on the bike, and thought, ok, I will make it given the time. Some time after this I realized the bike was 112 miles not 107 miles…I had forgotten about 5 miles in my calculations and panicked for real. I thought…I’m not going to make the cut off. I kept up my speeds, fought with every hills, “burned all my matches”, I didn’t CARE if at this point I had “legs” to do the run. I just wanted to get to the run. I made it back into Verona, and little to no one was still there. Whatever. But I did see my family this time. This made me happy and sad. I didn’t want to let them down. Or my friends who have passed away…I was racing for them too. I pulled from all these emotions and pressed onward. I asked myself continuously how I was supposed to do a marathon after the bike if I made it. I made it back to the stick…15 miles left…checked the watch time. I thought I was going to miss the cut off time by 8 minutes or so. I knew there were very few hills left, one being Whalen. I tackled it, I ate it for breakfast. I busted out 16 mph, 17.5 mph, 19.1 mph, 20 mph… I was going as fast as I could carry myself back to the capitol. There was one last little incline, and at that point, I realized I had no more matches to burn. I had a lot of trouble getting up the hill. I had nothing left for hills. I wanted to cry. I was so close. I reached the Alliant building parking lot and got stuck behind some people on the bike path. Once off the bike path, I pushed as hard as I could still, 19 mph… Mind you my average speed on the first loop was a little over 14 mph to give you and idea of how panicked I was.21733730_1430233327030758_120849633_o

I went up the Helix again, thinking about all those who said “it’s not that bad, it’s not that steep”…it was still hard on me. I ran into T2, asking so many people if I had made it. The volunteers said I was fine and didn’t know why I was so worried. I was crying. I still wasn’t convinced I had made it. I was emotional because I knew the one thing that would stop me from finishing would be the bike if there was something to stop me…the cut off. The cut off was 5:35pm, or somewhere in there. I made it in at 4:45pm. I couldn’t really gather myself in T2. I came out of changing walking. I saw my family standing right there outside the door. I heard them say “it will be ok”. I had my fruit cup in my hand, and began to run…holding back more tears. I felt like a failure. Afterwards I found out my bike was 7:45 total time, average of 14.4 mph…which was around my target goal.

I went up and around the capitol, and my first mile was pretty fast…or maybe it wasn’t. I found out afterwards, my watch GPS was funky and didn’t get the right splits for my run. I stopped at the first aid stations, still wallowing in myself. I took some orange slices and coke. Screw my nutrition plan.

I slogged around in my shoes, reaching the 2.7 mile mark or thereabouts and my right foot started going numb. This stupid condition, whatever it is, is completely random and always happens about 3 miles into runs, no matter WHAT kind of run it is…uphill/downhill, flat, fast, slow, recovery, intervals, marathon, 5k…blah. I kept stopping to relieve pressure every 0.2 miles. This stopped at 4.5 miles. Then I started feeling ok. Took an annoying potty break (which I had to wait in line for). And then the game changed.finisherpix_1952_105479

Mile 5-6, ok, I can run up these hills and nothing bad is happening. I told myself I would just run until I burned out and then do walk-run intervals thereafter. But I wasn’t burning out. I kept taking fruit from aid stations (just grapes and oranges, the safe fruits…I could have a bad reaction to bananas), and coke, every other aid station, and water almost every aid station. I took a few gels throughout the run course, but I probably didn’t take more than 4 the whole marathon…last time I did this, it was in my 50k, and it was hard anyway and things turned out ok then. I got to Observatory (downtown Observatory, not the bike course road), the big “hill” of the run course. I went straight up, no issues, and it was empowering. Oh the strange looks I got every time I kept running up a “hill”. Overall, in retrospect, the course felt fairly flat to me with the exception of Observatory, and only part of that. This was my only “reach” goal for Ironman that I kept to myself mostly. I secretly wanted to do ok on the run, but none of my other half ironman races have I had a decent run where I could keep going, so I didn’t have much hope. I reached mile 8 and 9…still going. It was getting darker and darker. I absolutely LOVE running at night, especially in the city!! Such hype. I passed by several people I knew now, most heading towards the 2nd loop or on the second run loop.

State street was full of drunk college students that were somehow focus and hype on calling out our names on the run, it was interesting to say the least. I made it back up to the turn around, and just wondered again and again “how am I still able to run”, when is the bonk, where is the wall? I always felt I would have to walk because I couldn’t go any further. My watch was saying I was keeping a good pace, but my watch also kept saying that I was getting further and further ahead of the mile markers. When I was at the turn around, I was already 0.6 miles ahead of the mile markers, which at least were every mile, where on the bike course, I’m pretty sure I hardly saw any at all. Regardless, I was unaware at the time if my watch was correct or not, and plus my pace was pretty consistent. At the capitol square, I saw Kat yelling, and my coach was there, my family…didn’t seem them lol. I just missed them each of every first loop of the courses for whatever reason. I went around the turn around and into special needs for the run. I was not asked if I needed it, or yelled at with my number…I wasn’t concerned because I didn’t need anything from it, but it was a bit disappointing. Moving along, my motto after every aid station I walked through (eating the fruit and drinking water) I would tell myself “now back to my regularity scheduled beasting…”. I was ecstatic working my way through the course. I made my way back onto the lake shore path, now covered in completely darkness, no light to be found (which slowed me down a little in pace). I was running along when a random participant started running with me with his flashlight. About 45 seconds later he speaks to me saying, “I thought I would at least run with you until you reach the next lamp post!” So we ran for about 2 minutes, getting close to the light and then he says to me, “Ah you are going so fast I can’t keep up but good luck! The light is pretty close now” and laughs. I appreciate him! Another random stranger I found was when I arrived back at Observatory. She was walking, and we talked a little, and I encouraged her to start running again (another marathon runner! Like me!), we ran together through some of the down hill portion of Observatory, and she wished me luck and I went on my way. It looked like this run was going to be done alone, unlike the last few of my races where I find random people and we work together to finish the run off. I was ok with that. I didn’t even miss the music I usually like to run with. There were a lot of random people on course who had music blasting.

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Around mile 22, I felt tired at last. I yawned, and was fighting sleepiness actually. I encountered a few guys throwing up, but ran into a man who was violently throwing up. I informed the next aid station. I was thankful I felt great. I was feeling so much better than at the end of any other marathon and started to try and push harder. I knew I was about 2 miles away, and knew I had about 20 minutes or less of running left in this extensive race. I was excited, I was going to finish! I sped up, legs hurt, but it was ok.

I came up State street for the final time. I really never noticed the hills, and still really didn’t. There were so many people, and I was excited. A 5:12 marathon is wonderful! I crushed that compared to any other thing I did that day or in training. I couldn’t be more proud of that alone. Where did that all come from? I’ll have no idea.

Two corners from the finish, I was starting to choke up really bad, started struggling to breath even. I was holding a lot back. I didn’t even think about posing for the finisher pic, I just wanted that finisher chute. I cruised down holding back even more, and you could see it all over my face. I saw my family and friends! 15:23:37 was my final time. I had just run the marathon (albeit the aid stations).

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I didn’t even heard Mike Reilly call my name I was so emotional. I had worked and fought so hard for this moment, and realized the whole moment was everything that day. I passed through and was greeted by a friendly face of the catcher Lisa who I knew. I was thankful I knew those behind the finish. I got my barn and cow medal! I spoke with my coach briefly, and got my picture taken. I felt fine, just like after a regular marathon. I finally got my shiny metal jacket (so pro!)…I dunno, I always wanted to finish a hard race and have an insulated sheet put over me. I immediately saw my friends Ben and Sean who I thought wouldn’t be back that weekend, and it made me so happy to see them waving back at me! I saw my mom and husband and sister, I saw my friend Kat too! I was surrounded by love.

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It was the most celebrated race finish I’ve ever had. It made it all seem like it was worthwhile. My stomach turned into a hot mess, seeming very angry (although it amounted to nothing), and all I wanted to do was sit down and not be standing. So I left the race early (I really wanted to stay) to take care of myself.

To answer some questions some people have asked…
Are you going to sign up again? No, I would like to volunteer again next year and act all crazy now I know where to go and what to see better. If I ever sign up again, I want to make sure I can obtain a sub 1:40 swim because I’m not spending my PR on a half marathon in the water again. I want to make sure I have more experience on the bike to have the confidence that I will have no issue making the cut off when the time comes. Get stronger, get better!

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Are you going to get a tattoo? Probably not seeing a lot of people would dislike me if I did so. Besides, Ironman is a brand and I do not like the idea of being branded when there is uncertainty that it will last forever unlike a tattoo. There’s a lot of mixed feelings about it.

What’s next? Well I have still have Xterra Worlds in about 1.5 months. Time to get stronger on the bike…right after this recovery period!

I would probably do IMWI again if I decided to do one again unless they decide to create one in the Appalachian mountains 😉 But for now, I move onward. I am an Ironman.

Swim: Coeur Sports Bra, Wattie Ink. Tri shorts, Blue Seventy Helix Wetsuit

Bike: Zoot Wisconsin Tri Top, Inknburn Robot arm sleeves, Compression socks, Specialized carbon bike shoes, LG Helmet

Run: Altra Escalante shoes, Inknburn 6” shorts and singlet

Watch: Garmin 935 (fail..which it didn’t the past few races, but there was an update on Saturday, maybe that had something to do with it?)

Ring: Qalo

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Smith Mountain Lake Dam 50k Ultra Run

Event in Penhook, VA at the Smith Mountain Lake Dam. 50k that was really 32.25 miles…Horton Miles they called it.
This was my first ultra marathon, and well, it was a doozy:

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Well this was more impromptu race than planned. The plan was to use this race as a training run for the Blue Ridge Marathon (coming up April 22nd, Roanoke, VA, ~4000 ft elevation gain), because living in Wisconsin, there was nothing to prepare me enough for my goal marathon. Looking at previous years’ garmin data from three other people, I saw:
1. It was 32ish miles, not 31
2. There were two mountains, the first one less steep at the start, the second one looked like a 90° wall at mile 21
3. No one ran up the second mountain no matter what pace they displayed
4. Roughly 5000 ft elevation gain
5. The “hills” between the two mountains looked rolling
My initial plan was to run-walk up to the 5k mark (where the first mountain ended) until the 21 mile mark (where the 2nd mountain began), get to the top and take it easy until the finish. Let’s say that plan was thrown in the trash after about 8 minutes in of the 7 hours and 40 minutes I was out there.

I had driven to Virginia (home) two days before, and prepped the way I knew best, bringing down my sitting swelling I got while driving for 17 hours, and hydrating the best I could. I had my protein bar before the race, along with some sweet tea. I decided to bring along my hydration pack, as annoying and heavy as it is with 2L of water/nuun inside, along with my honey stingers and phone. So let’s get on with how the race went…

Started off on the bridge in front of the Smith Mountain Lake Dam, a place I never got to visit before as close to it as I lived my whole life (to be fair, I never saw Natural Bridge either…). It was windy, and at a starting temperature of about 57°F, it was chilly. I ditched my jacket at the start, don’t regret doing that, because the first mountain heated me up fast. There were about 30 some people doing the 50k, a very small gathering, but EVERY SINGLE PERSON seemed to be an experienced ultra runner, even by appearance, they just looked like seasoned runners.

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Smith Mountain Lake Dam wedged between two Mountains

Apparently I was the only one who hadn’t done an ultra before, as many had done 50+ miles before. Gun start, no chip time, which isn’t a problem when you are inches away from the starting line. The course went directly upwards from the start up the first mountain. My plan, was run four minutes, walk one. I was successful in two cycles of that before I had to just walk. My calves were already crying and aching. Not a good sign in mile ONE out of 30+. I had done some warm up exercises before starting, but it wasn’t enough. Everyone was walking. Finally reached mile two after 18 minutes. Great start? Reached the top a bit after and started to run again. From what the elevation profile looked like, it would just be rolling hills from there to mile 21. Wrong again. The course soon became pavement by mile 4 or 5 and was paved until mile 20.

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The course rose and fell, but the rises were a LOT steeper than the profile led on. I did my best to run the more level bits and downhills and the starting of every uphill. My feet were bothering me a lot actually with the swelling. I knew it would eventually go away (turns out that was mile 6 when it dissipated), so I fought through and ignored it. I figured out by mile 4 that this would not be my race, not feeling my best. I kept on going. I finally got a few sub 10:30 min/mi splits along the way, but I said I would take this race easy. I really took it as easy as I possibly could, not feeling guilty about my average time constantly displayed on my garmin. I occasionally stopped to check my directions for the course to make sure I wasn’t lost. I had had three nightmares the night before, and one of those was getting lost. The course WAS marked really well, but I can’t help my anxiety about getting lost. My legs actually felt better by mile 9, they actually felt warmed up (my calves weren’t screaming anymore). I hit the half marathon mark by 2:47 and some change. Possibly my slowest half marathon ever. This was 5 minutes SLOWER than my half at Ironman Los Cabos 70.3, and that was at 97°F and 65% humidity! I thought THAT was a struggle! Granite I was taking this much slower on purpose. I still didn’t feel good at this point, just sluggish and not at my potential. No injuries or nagging pains though.

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I honestly don’t remember much after that, I refilled my water at the aid station at mile 16. There was an aid station every 4-5 miles, which I found pretty often from what I’ve heard about ultra marathons/trail races. I was thankful for that. There was tailwind at every other aid station which I was also thankful for. Around mile 19.5, I was passed by two guys a few minutes apart. I figured out later that was first and second place. They looked unphased by the course! Little did I know, that the first place finisher was attacked by 3 dogs about a mile back! These were also the first people I’ve seen since everyone separated by mile 2. I came into the finisher area (the finish of the first loop), I panicked for a hot minute thinking I cut the course. I was assured by the race directors I was fine. I took a quick bathroom break and refilled my water again before making the trek up the second mountain…the death climb. I may not remember much of the first 20 some miles, but I sure remembered everything from that point on.

So I left for the rest of the race. It wasn’t straight up at first, there was some climbing, but it was sloped and steady. There were 8 stream crossings, and no way around them except to go straight through them, too far to jump across, besides jumping at this point was probably not a good idea with the chances of falling pretty high. This was a trail race, and they stuffed it into this section. I was already soaked from the first two stream crossings, so I decided to quickly cross the other. The third one was the one that got me. I’m used to running in the woods, no problem, but not really streams. The 3rd one I sank knee deep into mud, getting all into my shoes and socks. I had to stop to remove from pebbles which would have caused me grief later. At this point, I knew I was doing well at conserving because I could still bend over. But trying to hold my foot up off the ground, I got a sudden charly horse in my foot and thigh. I broke out the emergency salt sticks I had brought with me. Never had another cramp! I went on my way, now dirty and trying to clean myself off while going through the remaining stream crossings. The steeper climb began. I took some pictures of it, but little did I know that was not the true start of the climb…

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Half way up the Death Climb

It started getting too steep to even walk around mile 21.64 (I remember distinctly because I needed to know when the climbing stopped). I was getting out of breath after just one minute of climbing…WALKING! I don’t know if you can call what I did walking even as you could not set your foot full on the ground, the slope was too steep, you were forced on your toes. I’m glad I run on my toes to midfoot, my calves were prepared but burning. When I got too out of breath to continue, I would stop at a larger tree to hold on to and turn my feet sideways so I would not fall. When I caught my breath, I would push myself off the trees to continue on and look for the next tree then the next tree, making small goals. I remember looking down at my garmin and seeing 22.18, I hadn’t gone anywhere. My heart sank, it was so hard. The path was washed out from the heavy rain the day before and loose rocks everywhere. This made footing VERY difficult. I spent the time going up looking at pretty rocks and admiring the geology. This mile climb took me 33 minutes. I can run an easy EASY 5k sub 30 minutes! I could not possibly go any faster here. There was only one effort level: go or not go. What seemed like (and probably was) forever, I reached the top. Stopped for a quick pic and to catch my breath. Had some soda at mile 23. I continued on my way for the rolling hills on washed out gravel roads.

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Mile 24, I passed my first person, she was from Richmond, and was gunning for a 50 miler this summer. After a quick chat, I wished her well, and continued on. I hit the marathon mark (26.2) around six hours and 17 minutes in. Hit the aid station up there. I soon caught up to a nice runner Robin. She seemed very nice and we had some nice chats and I felt like we pushed each other the rest of the way. It was nice having someone to talk to and run beside, especially after the aid station at mile 29 (they told us about the dogs). I felt a LOT better after the marathon mark than I had previously in the race. I have no idea why. I stopped taking nutrition though, it mainly slipped my mind. Despite being told to “go on” by Robin, it was more worthwhile to stick it out with her, and a lot more fun. The course didn’t seem as hard, and the final section was a repeat of the end of the first loop, and I think I ran a lot more in the latter part of the race. I actually was feeling good at this point, with the only hold up the space right under my metatarsals. Turns out the skin was being pushed too much on the death climb after getting my skin soaked by the stream crossings and caused some blistering and a small raw strip of skin that developed on the bottom of my foot. I guess I’m lucky that was my only real injury, if you want to even call it that. It was nice coming into the finish. Although I didn’t come NEAR the finish time interval I was aiming for or predicted, I am happy I even finished and was able to push/not push through certain obstacles.

Post race, my legs are not as bad off as they were after the Mesa-Phoenix Marathon about a month ago (hard to imagine since it feels a lot longer than that). My arms ache the most probably, and probably due to using trees and propelling myself up steep hills. My back and shoulders are sore probably because I’m not used to carrying so much weight on my back (but it was worth it in the long run with the daytime high ending up being 68°F with full sun. Speaking of sun, I am sunburnt, which I wasn’t worried about because I thought there would be enough tree cover to not get burned. However, just because there were a ton of trees, doesn’t mean those trees have leaves yet! Looking back, I don’t think there was anything I could have done differently. My quads ache, but far less sore than they have been and my calves are suspiciously doing ok for the most part. If there was a time and place for calf sleeves, this was it. I attribute my calf wellness to them this time.

17632439_1268585806528845_5903544910115254943_oI found out, as a neat tid-bit, that David Horton, the race director, was the 2nd person to finish the Barkely Marathons. If you haven’t seen the documentary or heard of the Barkley, look it up…it certain is interesting!

Right now I am busy recovering for my next race next weekend, my first 10k! (Ironic), which I don’t know if I will be truly racing, depending on my recovery this week. After that, I have a week of further recovery to get ready for the Blue Ridge Marathon. I am hoping to break the 5 hour mark on that marathon this year, the 3rd year I’ll be participating in it. Once again, if you have made it to the end of this, CONGRATULATIONS!! Thanks for reading, I’ll eventually get a real blog page up and running, but I’m lazy and busy running (literally). Lastly I’d like to say, if Ironman is easier than this was, I will 1. be surprised, 2. probably cry…I’ll probably be emotional anyways. Big thanks to my mom for making it out and being patient as I mulled through this course. Peace out!

Post race thoughts: Yeah I probably will go back and do this again. It’s addicting.

Ironman Los Cabos 70.3 Triathlon

My first out of country experience and my first half ironman distance. Here is my race report!
Saturday, the day before, I tried to go to the swim practice, but was unable to due to parking being off limits. So instead I spent the day planning my race out and wandering off to another beach area where swimming was allowed. It never occurred to me that it would be too dangerous to swim in any part of the ocean, but it was HIGHLY recommended (along with numerous beach signs with warnings on them) that I not swim where there were no swimming signs or lifeguards. I do not know if the undertow was too much in these areas or not, but I would like to compare it to the Atlantic waters since I never saw you couldn’t swim anywhere along the Atlantic, and I’ve been on beaches from Maine to Southern Florida and the Bahamas. Regardless, the waters WERE NOT like the Atlantic waters, they were clear and warm, and the sand always settled fast. No fish or seaweed to be found, no debris. I’ll never forget it.

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Panic set in on Saturday as I realized I was missing my timing chip strap…no time, no race. Quickly realizing this, I went back and admitted I’d misplaced it and got another. I had already dropped my bike off at transition 1 (T1), which is the only place it may have been misplaced
It was super cool they had little signs with our names on them and our country flags. I let the air out of my tires before leaving. Onto Transition 2 (T2), a few miles away downtown in another village, I dropped off my run bag, just hoping I had everything I needed in there. Then it was back to the hotel to rest up. I managed a pretty good sleep considering daylight savings for Baja California Sur was that night!! Fall back ONE HOUR! I set my alarm for 1:58am, to make sure my cell phone turned back on its own. It did, and I went back to sleep.

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The next morning, waking up at 4:45am, I got dressed and had a honey stinger waffle as planned and a bunch of water. We headed out with just my goggles and swim cap; I felt so unprepared since I’m used to carrying everything for my event with me the day of and setting up. We arrived off the bus for a 0.5 mile walk down the big hill to swim start and T1. It was dark but everyone around me was buzzing with excitment, bringing the darkness into a sort of light. I was wide awake and ready to go, unlike most races since they start so early. I got body marked and put on all the sunscreen I could, knowing I couldn’t put any on later. I set up at my bike T1 area and put air in my tires and went off to the swim corrals. I placed myself in the 45:00-50:00 finish time corral for the 1.2 mile swim. The waters were at 85°F — No wetsuits. Everyone in my corral (self seeding) was happy and very social. I met a woman from Germany, another from Mexico, and another from Canada. It was really a world wide sporting event! The guns went off for the rolling swim start, pros were in the water. Rolling start was pretty easy, although I don’t remember what happened. I entered the warm warm waters openingly, but forgot to start my garmin (I ended up starting it about 40 or so seconds after I crossed the first timing mat). I got into my rhythm super fast and was easing into the swim, my swim. It was so clear and the sun was rising as I reached the 400m mark, revealing deeper waters underneith. Everything was so calming. Rounding the first buoy of the retangle swim, I met with the ocean current. It wasn’t too strong, but it was enough to slow my swim a bit. I could tell when a wave of the current passed by as the waters cooled a few degrees. Along the longer leg of the swim, I was met with a few waves, but it was easy to go with the flow so to speak, and breathe when the wave would drop. Rounding the 2nd buoy, you couldn’t really see the 3rd! The sun was behind us, but there was no middle buoys to follow. I got a little off track, and by doing so was intercepted by a jellyfish. I have been stung before, so the pain was nothing new. It hurt for a good 30-45 minutes afterwards and on the bike, but I just went with it. There were also these tiny little jellyfish (they aren’t jellyfish but they felt like one) that are native to Mexican waters about half the size of a pea and bright blue! I encountered about 4 or 5 of these, one on my face, but the pain would only last about 30 seconds or so. Rounding the 3rd buoy (finally) and heading towards the swim exit, I felt my watch go off for the 3rd time, and I had a faster split, but I was behind in over all time for my finish goal. I sped up as much as I could. About 400m from the swim exit, I spotted the bottom of the ocean floor again. I saw corals and fish deep beneath me it was soooo lovely. It was really one of my favorite parts. If I could do this swim all over again, I would. I dislike swimming the most of the 3 sports but this made me love it that day. The salt water helped a lot too! I had to remember to kick, and I really felt where I was in the water. I started to stand when I thought I could touch the ocean floor, but NOPE. Sank. Swam again and tried at a more shallow depth haha. A few waves near the exit, but I lifted my legs to the side and ran on to T1.

T1 took forever and a day. I finished the swim JUST under 1 hour, the time cutoff for the swim is 1 hour and 10 minutes. I made it. At my bike, I took an extensive amount of time removing sand from my feet with baby powder. Worked like a charm. I knew if I took the time to remove this, my feet would be fine the rest of the day. This turned out to be very true. I didn’t have sand anywhere else, so that was cool. On the body glide went EVERYWHERE ELSE. Drank up some water after taking my first gel. Time to roll out. It was all uphill from there. There was an aid station every 13km, so about every 7-8 miles. Not too bad. The heat wasn’t bad yet, quite nice actually. About 10 miles onto the bike I realized quickly this was NOT the bike course featured on the event page. At mile 17, I realized this REALLY WASN’T THE BIKE COURSE, as it started going up and up, up for 4 miles with no repreve. I was expecting a slightly rolling course with a massive climb at mile 36.5 (which was about 3 miles) and then all downhill from there. So maybe this climb just came earlier? NOPE. I kept with my plan, and kept pedaling. The heat by this point in the day was getting brutal. There was no wind on course. I was thankful I didn’t have to fight anything, but a breeze would have been nice. I’d say the temperatures were well above 93°F at this point, and the humidity was above 70%.

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I forced myself to make up time on the downhill, and returned back to the massive rolling hills I came from at the start. I kept checking my watch from mile 28 on, and I wasn’t on pace. I was struggling, even though I was putting my heart into it. I just wasn’t prepared for all the hills. I hit mile 40 and the next massive climb started. Little did I know it was a 5 mile climb with no repreve. It almost looked like one 4 miles into the climb, but it was just less steep there, and we kept on climbing. I passed many bikers with mechanical issues, a few who didn’t know how to change a tire, and many who just gave up. I reached the top and turned around. I sped as fast as I could going down, maintaining 28+ mph the whole way. Mile 52 came, and I was cutting the time cut off super close I was crying that I wasn’t going to make it. I busted my butt from mile 28 on, basically telling myself “I don’t care how trashed my legs are going to be for the run, if I don’t make the bike cutoff, I won’t be running at all!” I put everything I had into the last half of the bike, leaving nothing behind. A few more rolling hills before T2, and a slight downhill the last 2 miles I took full advantage of. My heart was racing as fast as I was racing the bike hoping I hadn’t missed the time cut off. I didn’t feel like I had wasted any time on the bike, nowhere did I think I could have made up lost time…

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I saw Rich, and yelled, “I don’t think I made it!”, and he told me they hadn’t been cutting people yet. I sparked my hope back and headed into T2, where they took my bike from me and I gathered my run items. A quick restroom break and I was back out there. IT WAS HOT. All pavement except for one trail section for about a mile on loose dirt/sand, NO SHADE whatsoever. One aid station at a time I told myself, one aid station every 1 km. I looked down at my watch. I’d gone 1.5 miles. I was tired and dreaded the run. Whatever. I reached mile 2.5 and went to a dark place in my mind and started questioning where I was as I saw a sign that said “Mile 4”. Did I miss a turn? Did I cut the course, will I be DQed now? After all this work?! The next aid station I got someone who knew english and asked about what distance I was really at, they did no good in helping me. I asked someone I passed on the course on the run too who knew english and they said it was really mile 7 or “something”. This discouraged me more. I kept running, and EVERY aid station was taking an ice shower as the volunteers said “shower?”. If I had not done this, I would have overheated I’m sure. The temperatures on the run were now peaking at 97°F (or 37°C) with 65% humidity, making that a heat index over 115°F!! It was bad enough the temperature without humidity was as high as my own body temperature…meaning I could not cool myself down. My legs kept going, I never cramped up, but my body was saying NO NO NO. Controlling my heart rate was number one priority as my pace on my run ran up to 12:00 min/miles. On the bright side, this was still not as slow as my first marathon average time (14:00 min/mi), but I was also facing death during that race and it was literally one foot in front of the other to move forward mentality. This race was different…My legs were perfectly fine other than normal fatigue from the distance I’d done. I reached “Mile 6” sign, and my watch read 4.5 miles…still in a dark place in my mind. I finally made it to the turn around point for lap two of the course. I looked back down at my garmin, I was around 6.4 miles. I was on track and the signs along the course WERE wrong.

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I was feeling better now physically which was weird in my opinion because I was at mile 7 on the run and that usually doesn’t happen even on just run practice days. I looked at my overall time again. I knew I had to put everything I had into the race now…it was do or DNF. I lost one of my gels I had brought somewhere along the way, the last one I was supposed to take. The next aid station I took one of theirs…never tried the brand and never heard of it. It was molten banana flavored, probably the worst thing I’ve had, but I knew I had to take it or risk slowing down or hitting the wall. The ice showers were becoming less effective and I was drying out faster from them. My shoes sloshed about in water pools. I reached mile 11.5 and I stopped sweating. I took a bunch of drink at the next aid station. I reached mile 12. ONE MORE MILE, I asked myself, when can I NOT do ONE mile?? My last mile ended up being my fastest by almost 90 seconds, at 10:30 pace. All the Vamos vamos from the crowd really helped towards the end. Even though a lot of what was being yelled was in spanish, I somehow knew what it all meant, and it meant a lot people were out in the heat supporting us athletes.

I turned the corner and heard my name and city and state, I saw the giant arch, I almost cried. I beat the time cut off by finishing at 7 hours, 52 minutes, and 57 seconds, just shy of the 8 hour cut off finish. I did not come this far and train so hard to fail here, that was my mantra. Nothing had ever pushed me so hard, nothing had every tested my endurance and mentality than this race. I was prepared, yet unprepared all at the same time. As coach put it, you’ve set yourself up for a great PR in your next race!

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My worst injury was my back sunburn, which wasn’t nearly as severe as I’ve had in the past anyway, but still pretty bad. I had minor chaffing in the back and under the arms, but no blisters on the feet (and I was wearing new shoes that hadn’t been broken in yet, don’t tell anyone!). I was greeted with a nice free massage. The hospitality of the locals was amazing. The food was also amazing. The water was not so amazing but I think I managed to avoid most of it. I’m pretty sure towards the end of the race I saw more ambulances than aid stations. Many dropped out or passed out, and some even cheated by cutting the course I heard. Overall it was amazing experience and I will never forget it. If there’s one thing I’m good at, I’m good at making a good first race story. My first marathon I was without nutrition or gels, my first half is still my fastest and one of my coldest/hilliest race, my first 5k I got 3rd in my age group, my first triathlon I cut my foot right after the swim and didn’t notice until I was finished. I can’t wait to push on and train to be better. My goals do not stop here. Bonus points if you made it this far. I left out a lot, but if you want to know more I can elaborate below