I could package you a polished race report tied together with pretty sounding important life lessons and beautiful words. I could simply say that success is measured by what we learn during the journey. I am honored to have made it to the finish line in the hardest conditions I’ve endured at a North American championship race timed to bring out a fiercely stacked field of tough athletes unlike anything I’ve experienced. I feel overwhelming gratitude for being able to finish the race despite the high winds, humidity and heat by carrying the love of my family and support of my incredible friends. I could just lightly touch on how I conquered some nutritional issues and heat exhaustion but I finished the race in 11:54. I’m left with a sprinkle of disappointment for falling short but the race reached me at the core and solidified a deeper love and respect for both the sport and for myself. I could state with out elaboration that I carry a great sense of post race gratitude to all those who were in my corner leading into the event. That’s my race report for those who desire the gloss. It is a smoothed version of a deep and grueling story.
Ok, brave souls still reading lets re-live the fight that was IMTX 2015.
I trained with a diligent and comprehensive effort. I gave myself all that I needed not just physically but emotionally and mentally as well. I had a series of confidence developing success stories blazing my trail to IMTX. This included a strong podium finish at hot FL70.3, and a 90 minute finish and 11 min PR at the Shamrock Half plus an overall 10k win with a small prize purse. There was a no stone unturned attitude in my approach including sauna and heat acclimation trainer rides for 3 weeks prior to the A race. I surrounded myself with positive and genuine supporters. I also applied insight from all kinds of unique and unlikely places including lessons from the equestrian world. I found myself at that start line of IMTX in the best shape of my life and in the most stable and confident position I’ve ever been as an athlete. It was evident that a sub 11 ironman was in my reach.
About a month before the race my “coach,” the multiple personality I jokingly created to coach myself, had put this into training peaks for me to find for race day:
” You’ve been through so much, grown significantly, hit rock bottom and then rose so far beyond anything ever imagined, freed yourself, helped a lot of people, stood up for yourself, saw mega success, had amazing adventures, bonded with great people and dug super deep into your physical and mental wells in training to discover amazing things. Oooooh, You are so ready!!!! You. Are. going. To. Crush. This. Race. It’s been incredible, this season. Swim with skill, bike with intelligence and run with all of your heart.”
I believe this statement reflects not just the training phase but could now equally describe the very race day itself where I was able to complete Texas by drawing upon those training and life experiences.
As a side note, it was also really interesting to force myself to channel that inner advocate from with in and see what “she” would come up with when charged with taking care of me as an athlete and looking at my training as objectively as possible. The self coaching alter ego became a really fun learning outlet and I strongly recommend it, especially for the more creative and imaginative types with some knowledge and experience under you.
The Woodlands is a great community with a fun and quaint main street park like scene by the canal. I forgot to bring my chip the practice swim (no chip no swim) so didn’t get a good recon mission in the canal. Otherwise, the pre-race unfolded easily tackling any hiccups as they came up. My parents arrived and Nick was by my side as well. We also had a former Richmond triathlete who is now a Woodlands resident give us a walking tour of the swim and part of the run course. My parents cooked me the same meal we had at IMMT (traditions!) of pasta, chicken and bread with me skipping the salad. Race morning went well and before I knew it, it was time..
SWIM: I’m accustomed to the thrill of the start canon and an immediate and violent swim start. I thrived in those situations but here, we were just walking like bored zombies entering the water. As soon as my foot triggered the timing chip my adrenaline was exploding and I wanted to just GO swim but the group in front of me had zero sense of urgency even though our seed was one of the faster ones. This was such a frustrating way to begin a race for me but it was only a few seconds in what felt like ages. Swimming was initially tough to get out of that crowd as once these walkers began to move as swimmers they thrashed a lot and I suspect I swallowed some of the canal in my frenzy to break away from this mosh that had almost no forward inertia. I think I am just wired after countless wave start races to go very hard at the swim start then settle. I even simulate this skill in training but holding back was likely smart of those around me since there was no big chase group forming. Luckily, I know to keep the memory of a goldfish in a race and so I quickly moved past my aggravation once I could settle into a swim. I attempted joining a few different groups as I like working through the swim with others around me but my effort was far too low when pacing alongside those nearby so I passed a lot of people and worked alone. Occasionally, I’d be passed and try to latch on but those breaks never lasted long. It was a lonely swim for me with no-wetsuit help in boiling 81 degree murky water. I felt OK but now I think my attempts at following the buoy line wasn’t actually the straightest path. Once I hit the turn into the narrow canal it was really fun as there were crowds of cheering spectators lining the swim. I’ve never had actual crowd support during a swim so that makes this swim a gem in the iron circuit.
I started to feel both thirsty and queasy in the canal though. I exited the boiling water with a frustrating time on the watch. I always peek at the watch and then assume the swim was long and everyone’s times are slow and move on. Wetsuit swims are allegedly 10% faster. I had a Roka Swimskin which I hear saves 2% vs the 10% for wetsuits. At the swim exit I used my “Goldfish memory” for the swim. This really didn’t phase me. 1:19:06. 32nd AG. 7 minutes away from a PR.
I traveled to the bike tent and grabbed my shoes to carry to my bike to avoid mud sticking in my cleats but not before a quick slip into the muddy grass in the tent- gross. My sunglasses were dirty and too greasy and foggy to wear so I slid them in my awesome Coeur Sports tri top and figured I would handle it on the bike. 4:08
I tucked in aero and was flying down the road right away. The course was very green and rural with no extreme hills but enough to keep things interesting. It was tailwinds out with some wild crosswinds at first and then severe headwinds on the return half. Oddly, I was thirsty in the first mile, which never happens in a race. It concerned me to feel thirsty and I knew I had a big day of work cooking in the sun ahead so I drank a lot. More than I had planned. I took bottles of Gatorade from the course and was chugging it down urgently. I never used Gatorade in training but I had it in FL70.3 with no issues. My stomach became agitated. I was eating my gels right on schedule as I pride myself in fueling enough in all my races at 300cal/hr and in training that way. I had gone through 3 entire bottles by the first hour. I finally decided to go like a pro as I hadn’t done that in my other races but wanted to save time. The tailwind felt great but I was blowing around in crosswinds a lot so I think I was more tense in my upper body as it was extreme wind. I checked my power meter and HR and I was riding in control and as expected. My one pesky issue was not being able to get my sunglasses to clear up enough to wear and thus the wind was drying out my eyes.
By the halfway point as temperatures were steeply rising my stomach was bloating and moving around. It just felt bad even to pedal. Bad as in, it all contents needed to come up. I wound up roughly halfway through the ride off the bike puking out warm liquid. GROSS. I was thinking, “It is too early to fall apart. I just drank too much. I just need to boot and rally and I will be all better.” I thought about Hank Nuwer which was random as he’s an anti hazing speaker from 2002! I guess I realized I was hazing myself out there. I tried deep breathing and stretching my hands like I did to calm myself when I would get super anxious sitting alone in the hot sauna during training and thinking all would be ok. I decided that I just had to move forward and get the calories back.
On the bike I did feel better immediately. However, my mind was panicked. I had worked hard to give myself the right fueling for the day and I had just lost it all. Plus, I lost time stopping. In the face of rising temps, I got to work re-hydrating fast and dropped my power while staying aero. I grabbed extra Gatorade at aid stations to add calories, and took cold water at the aid stations to pour on myself. I love those volunteers as they ran right next to me with open bottles and did the hand off so beautifully and enthusiastically. I loved them ALL! I drank and ate too fast again though and began to feel sick again as the temperatures reading on my Garmin had settled into the low 90s. The wind had picked up as a strong headwind force field and it was tough to move through it. My wattage dropped significantly down to the 70s and 80s for a while (at least 5 miles) vs 120s I had been holding as my stomach was rejecting the rapid fueling again. I still could not fix my eyeglass cloudiness situation enough to wear them so my eyes were still dry and burning. The stomach was a patient but unsettled complainer urging at me to stop and let it go again. I cried on the bike in my aerobars fighting the extreme winds and knowing what was to come. Yet another trip to the side (in a porta potty grateful no line) to hurl (but only a little bit this time) and cry and then quickly re-board the bike still grasping onto race mode.
I had spent 15+ hours many weeks of training plus reviewing and planning my training on top. I had poured and invested so much of my resources and my heart towards the race. That is why you just don’t think, “oh, I puked and it is hot… time to stop.” Your family, friends, colleagues even are subjected to hearing your nonstop passion for the goal as you spend time, money and heart in pursuit of the goal. You know they are all pulling for you. You don’t turn off and just stop.
Yet…This time, I “knew” I was in trouble. I had puked away both time and the will to compete. I gave up a few miles later. I was really scared and concerned. I wasn’t able to hold calories in and I didn’t think I would have the fuel to run. If I couldn’t bike through it, I couldn’t run through it, I thought. So, I hate typing this and I feel sad typing but I gave up in the race here and had decided to make a call and DNF once I got off the bike. I was still struggling to make it to the finish as there wasn’t really another option to quit for another 30 or so miles unless I wanted to stop and bake in the sun. I decided I would save my legs and use the fitness to go do some local half irons. This killed me but I was thinking I was sick and already spent. I continued to drink water and ate all my gels but did so very slowly. I let my HR and power drop. I knew I had once ridden for 7 hours in that range so I told myself I could hold it forever. There was no break in the wind but since I was soft pedaling, stretching and checking out the green fields and riding in zone 1, I started to feel much better. I was able to drink cold gatorade and be OK. Athletes in packs in the wind and solo racers passed me and I let them. I was just riding it in and trying to justify continuing as my stomach was feeling better and maybe trying one lap of the run. I did still think of turning in my chip and being “smart” and “wise” to save my legs. I wasn’t sure what would feel better the next day to walk a marathon and finish or to quit and save the legs. I didn’t like the idea of quitting even though my PR was out the window. I was so confused about what to do.
At the end of the bike I spotted my red/white striped support crew family and yelled to Nick that I would make a call to dnf. I asked where I was in the race too, as I had not entirely wanted to throw in the towel and was still seeing lots of strong age groupers around me. He didn’t know but told me to get on the run. I was in 27th AG position. I didn’t even look at my watch and forgot to press stop so the data shows 11+ hours of riding. Whoops.
Would you believe I had a 5 minute ironman bike split PR despite all of that? 6:00:47. Seriously!
I should be aggravated I narrowly missed the sub 6 hour mark here, but I can’t exactly complain.
T2: I was in and out in under 4 minutes. I had two 10 oz fuel belt bottles full of Osmo Preload and Osmo Active hydration in my bags. I brought both with me to sip on the course to see if it would make me feel better. The Couer kit rear pocket held one no prob and the other I shoved in the front for easy access.
In the three loop structure, I set out to try one lap. Nick told me I was 25th in my AG (27th actually). Normally, I can run a lot of athletes down so in part this was not entirely discouraging. After slurping on my Osmo mix and getting my legs into a rhythm, surprisingly, I felt a reprieve in my gut and my HR was behaving.
Lesson: things can turn around even when all seems lost!
I didn’t feel thirsty but every aid station I drank, poured water over myself and dumped ice in my top. Then, pretty quickly I realized I was running next to a familiar face from RVA…Bob. My familiarity of him reignited my energy levels and commitment to finish the race. Lap 1 I was surprised I felt better considering all I had been through. I was slower than anticipated at the effort I was putting in but the idea of finishing was going strong even with the heat radiating. My pace was slower than I wanted but I was back in the game. I wasn’t passing many athletes nor being passed but at least I was becoming aware of it again. Nobody had age marker left on their legs (sweat) but it didn’t bother me as I figured I was not even breaking into top 10 at this one and I was well off a PR too. This became a battle of sheer will. At lap one I was I was just putting out the miles and re-committing my body and mind to the race. The crowd energy and volunteer passion was outstanding. I let the positive energy permeate and carry me forward.
By lap two it was excruciating. I no longer felt sick to my stomach but I was breaking down in form and an overall deep fatigue pain from the severe heat and the long hours of physical effort set in. I had to dig deep. I’m talking going further into my mental and physical wells than ever before. I race all heart and in this event where I was fighting my biological desire to stop and make the pain subside, I needed every part of my being to propel me to the finish. I cannot express what the conditions felt like for me. It hurt physically more than any other endeavor I’ve ever put myself through. Luckily, I was prepared emotionally and mentally. As I nourished my body at each aid station with ice, pouring water over myself and drinking and eating, I moved myself forward with all of the emotional fuel I had intentionally prepared. Leading into this race, I forced myself to ask what the darkest shadows of my soul would hold and how would I handle it if I dug deep and faced a demon in the race. My mental well was then filled with excessive counter-stories of hope, light, freedom and love. Thanks to my mental toughness prep work… every single reason I had to move forward was at my grasp no matter how far down I had to dig to reach the finish.
By the time I saw my family at Lap 2, Nick yelled for me to hold 9 minute pace. I whined. He said, “you’re 8 minutes back!” I wasn’t sure back from what (he wasn’t either) but it motivated me for a stretch.
By the third lap I worked together with a lot of other athletes. We were walking. And jogging. And cramping. And fighting our own internal battles. My feet seemed to have blisters that hurt worse walking but my body did not want to run. It hurt. A lot. I’ll be grateful to “Kate in black” and “Lori in green” forever for their encouragement when they gave me kind words in my walking shuffling painful staggering third lap but I may never see them again to say thank you. It’s really all a painful haze in my memory by lap 3.
Around mile 22 I noticed I had stopped sweating. I ran by my family and said, “I am hot and not sweating!” Nick ignored the cries and said something like, “10 minute pace lets go. Sub 12.”
I had lost sense of time although I looked at my watch a lot. I trudged ahead and was never so happy to see a finish line. It was true relief and I felt tremendously accomplished in crossing the line.
4:26 run time and 22nd in AG. I would have been16 th in 30-34 so this new field is tough! Although I fell apart I actually gained position through the race so this is yet another lesson for the next big race.
I took a few steps and stumbled and couldn’t hold myself up. I was confused and was walked by volunteers directly the med tent for heat exhaustion after the race. I’m grateful for the care they gave me. Only by the time I got home did I realize how bad my feet were rubbed raw in the run. It got infected a few days later and Dr. Stadler had to put me on an antibiotic.
I make this race sound awful but honestly it truly made me fall in love with triathlon all over again. The fight is part of the journey and although I do not have a sub 11 time on my record, I have walked away from this race with a lot more.
Huge thanks to all the other athletes, everyone who supported me during my training, Coeur Sports for not only kit that was so comfy I never had to think about it but also the mantra of heart and courage, and to my family and Randa for being there to cheer me on all day. Next stop: IMLOU.