Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Final Thoughts on IMTX

Its been 5 weeks since the big day - here are some (rambling) thoughts about my experience:
  • My goal for the race was to kick ass on the swim, do well on the bike, and just get through the run.  I made myself promise that, should the heat get to me on the run, that I would slow down and avoid the medical tent and IVs.  I'm just not used to the heat anymore and one day wasn't worth getting a heat-related illness.
  • The swim was great - it was crazy, but what sticks with me was the feeling of being one of the purple caps (women) weaving my way past all the green caps (men).  I remember thinking how INSANE the swim was with all the contact, but laughing and taking it all it. I mean, who does this sort of thing??? This was MY Ironman experience and I was going to enjoy it.  Really, the swim was crazy but I loved it.  That probably makes me crazy, but I'm ok with that.
  • I love the bike course.  When I got to the national forest, I made myself breathe in the pine-scented air and ENJOY the scenery.  Enjoy riding with people.  Enjoy the easy hills and my awesome high-altitude conditioning.  This was the LAST TIME I was going to ride here, one of my favorite places to ride in Houston, and here I was, doing my final ride here - my final ride in Texas - during an Ironman. The whole ride, really, was great.  I stayed within my HR limits but still came in 11 minutes faster than I'd anticipated.
  • Transitions - should I ever do this again, I definitely know what to expect and where to improve.  The changing tents were a bit overwhelming.
  • I will forever make sure that my socks are in my cycling shoes and NOT in my running shoes.
  • I need to figure something else out nutrition-wise for the run when its hot.  My stomach mildly acted up during Lonestar and it most definitely did NOT like my Infinit during IMTX.  I think it has to do with it being concentrated, as I can tolerate it at normal strength without problems. Definitely thinking about trying to live off the course for future races because for long events, I just can't carry enough drink mix in a practical manner.
  • The run.....  I still have VERY mixed feelings about how much walking I did.  I stayed with my plan of avoiding medical assistance.  If I did push and ran more, I'm 90% sure that I would have been in real trouble.  For some reason, I think that walking makes me less of an Ironman, I guess.  Even though I'm pretty sure that walking was actually harder than if I just sucked it up and ran it.  But given that so many people I knew, people who live there and are acclimated to the heat, had issues.  Several puked, needed IVs, and were really hurting.  I was slow, but I was fine.  I executed my plan.  I raced smart and inside my box.  I kept my promise to Will about not pushing too hard.  That right there is a victory.  I just need to be happier about it.  Maybe I will be, in time.
  • The volunteers were spectacular.  The spectators were great.  I loved the yellow signs on the bike (my favorite was "This sounded like a good idea a year ago") and all the funny signs that one family did for a racer on the run (Brent).
  • The race planners did a spectacular job.  I felt safe, which is what matters most when I am racing.  They really planned things well and had nice touches (like portable ice machines for each bike aid station - they used 45,000 lbs of ice on race day!).
  • Still not sure if I'd do another IM distance.  Definitely not a hot race, but maybe (just maybe) CDA.  The race was FUN, but I need to remember how challenging (mentally) the training was and how many lonely, cold hours I had from January - May.  I need to remember how I had no time (zip, zero!) to do anything fun during that time.  I think that moving forward, the HIM distance is best for me.  I feel like I can train for that and still have a life.  Balance is good.
  • I now have life-long bragging rights that I am an Ironman.  :)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Ironman Texas 2011 Race Report - Run

After a successful swim and a fun bike, it was time to get down to business - get through a marathon on my own two feet.  Let me preface this RR by saying a few things:
  1. I really don't like heat (I know - why did I sign up for IMTX in MAY of all things if I don't like heat!),
  2. Since moving from Houston to Denver, I lost any semblance of heat tolerance that I had.  Mainly because I kept getting snowed on, as documented here, here, and in my many cranky snow updates on Facebook.  If fact, we were having a BBQ in Castle Rock a week before IMTX and guess what??? SNOW.  ugh. 
  3. leaving for the run and feeling good!
  4. Taking into account 1 and 2, I promised Will that I was not going to end up in the medical tent with an IV/puking due to heat stress.  If it got hot and I had issues, I was going to be smart and slow down.
I came out of the changing tent started running.  I went out the Run Start chute and saw a few friend faces and was remarking out loud "I can't believe my legs feel this good".  My legs felt AWESOME - too awesome.  I had just biked 112 miles - why were they feeling so good? (because you trained well and your coach kicked your ass - duh!)  So I went a mile, took a drink of my Infinit concentrate, and that's about when the wheels fell off.  Well, maybe the wheels went from round to square.  The heat and nutrition in my stomach was NOT a good combo.  It felt like I had someone taking all their fingers, wrapping them under my left ribcage and pulling with all their might.  Not fun.  I was still determined, though, so I did some run/walk intervals as I saw fit.  The run trail was an 8+ mile loop, 3 loop course.  You went out past Lake Woodlands (swim start), along the lake, then into a wooded path, then through a swanky neighboorhood, then into the canal area (swim exit) where you ran along the south canal, up past the Anadarko building, up and over the canal, then you had a mean out and back along the north side of the canal, up a hill and past transition, then you had a VERY MEAN run past the finish line where you started loops #2 and 3. 

very early on in the run
Somewhere along the south canal stretch, Anne ran past me early on while we were in the woods - looking great as usual.  I ran across my friend David (I still don't know how I was ahead of him) and he was having stomach issues also.  We walked for a bit then did a long run strech, where then after ~5 minutes, I decided I needed to walk again and David kept running.  And that's the last I saw of any other friend-athletes. 

Loop #1 wasn't bad - it was long and hot, but not bad.  I saw Will by transition, told him I was feeling decent.  Then at the start of the second loop things got bad.  With my stomach issues, I really hadn't had much in the way of nutrition - for over 2 hours. Which is BAD when you are 10+ hours into an endurance race.  I started getting dizzy and loopy - a sure sign that I was low on sugar and had to do something STAT.  Also: this sensation made is nearly impossible to run - or even run/walk.  At the first aid station in the second loop, I started hitting the coke, usually 1 or 2 cups per aid station.  I was trying to do a 2 min run/3 min walk, but in the end, it was actually faster to just walk.  (sad but true).  Just to show you how far down in the energy hole I was, it took the coke a full hour to do its thing.  Not good.  

near the end of loop #1.  still felt good enough to smile

By that point, from all the walking, I was starting to get blisters, it was a loooong second loop, and I wanted nothing more in life than to curl up in a ball and fall asleep.  I resolved to just fantisize about napping all while keeping forward progress.  I was just generally unhappy with life.  Unhappy that I was forced into walking.  Unhappy that my "blister-proof" socks - seriously, I've ran in these socks for YEARS without even a single blister - had failed me when I needed them the most.  Unhappy that my shoes also contributed to my blisters.  Unhappy that I had done the second loop pretty much by myself with no one to keep me company.  Unhappy that I was definitely doing my third loop in the dark.  Yep, just really unhappy.

if you look closely, you can see me walking off into the
darkness.  very crabby, indeed.

I found Will again just past transition (Loop #2).  He was there with our friends that were hosting us.  I was one crabby and unhappy camper.  They were all "you're doing great!  you look great!  good job!"  My only response was a very bratty "I have blisters, its hot, my stomach feels horrible, and I have another loop to do IN THE DARK.  I will see you in 3 hours".  And with that, I tossed my hat, sunglasses (who needs sunglasses in the dark!), and worthless hand-held bottle of nutrition at Will and walked off into the darkness.  I wouldn't even let him take a proper photograph of me.  I think I even told him to remind me later on, should I ever want to do another IM of how miserable I was at that moment, so I wouldn't do this again.  I really can't recall a time when I've ever been that crabby!

So after that bratty display, after a few minutes, I felt really, terribly bad.  My friends and husband were out supporting me, and all I could do was be crabby.  As I passed special needs, I decided that it was a good time to get my bag and take 2 Aleve.  I know its not a good idea to take stuff like that while you're racing, since your liver is under enough stress.  But everything was hurting and I thought it would make me feel better.  I'm glad I did. That loop #2 through the finish chute was just really uncool.  People don't know what loop you're on and they're cheering "you're almost done!"  Nope, I've got another 2-3 hours of this, but thanks.  Finally, after the first aid station on the third loop, my spirits were doing better.  They gave us glow necklaces.  I found some walking buddies which helped pass the time.  People were still out cheering. 

The one cool thing that I got to experience that the earlier finishes didn't was this cool/spooky glow-necklace lit forest.  Most of the course was well lit with street lights, except for maybe 2/3 of a mile though the trees.  To keep us on course, the race crew used glow necklaces (only they kept them as sticks) and put them perpendicular to the path.  They were placed every 3-5 feet or so along the whole trail, producing this really cool but also sort of creepy effect.  Either way, it was really neat to experience.  When we got to the swanky neighborhood, I started to out-walk my current company and was walking on my own for a bit.  When I got to the waterway, I met up with a guy from Louisiana and we were well matched for pace.  He was actually maybe a bit faster than I was going when I was by myself, but that was a GOOD thing.  We walked and talked, thanked people for staying out to cheer.  Passed the time and got it done.  Finally we walked up the last hill and into the part that went into the Marketplace, indicating that the finish was near.  He looked at me, and asked me if I was ready to run.  And we both ran to the finish - although he was faster than I was.

The finish line is a bit of a blur.  I remember that it was lined with cheering people.  It was very well lit - not harsh lighting but warm, welcoming lighting.  I ran down that chute towards the finish line, aware of my blisters with each step, but not caring.  I was going to finish strong.  I made the turn into the finish line - focusing on smiling and running strong.  The nice thing about finishing late is that you can hog the finish line photo all to yourself. Well, maybe 100 yards before the finish line there was a guy ahead of me walking. 
I was very irritated because I WAS NOT going to share my finisher photo with someone else.  I had a choice - hang back and wait for him, or sprint ahead.  I chose to sprint, which was fun, but I do not remember Mike Reilley saying that I was an Ironman.  Hmmm. 

I crossed the line, raised my arms, and smiled BIG.  I was an Ironman.  FINALLY.
I was immediately greeted my my finish line handler, who was VERY concerned about me.  Apparently people were dropping like flies.  He put my medal around my neck, handed me a water.  Then a photographer took my photo.  Fortunately I smiled because that was my "finisher medal" photo.  No traditional IM background, which really irritated me!  Anyways, my handler had my finisher hat and shirt and was grilling me on who I was with.  I kept telling him that I was fine (I was!) but he insisted on walking me to the end of the chute to meet Will.  He was nice enough to take a photo of me and Will together, and then that was it.  I was done.  I was an Ironman.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ironman Texas 2011 Race Report - Bike

Leaving Transition.  I really wish I'd learn
howto put my helmet on straight.
Great swim, near crisis averted with me being an idiot and packing my ONLY pair of socks with my run bag, and I'm off for 112 miles on the bike through the forests and pastures of Texas.  I've ridden the course north of 105 many, many times and love it. 

Had no idea what to expect for the southern half of the course, but I figured it couldn't be too bad.  I got off and rolling at a comfortable cadence - heart rate was in the 150's and my focus for the first third of the ride was to find a good cadence, settle into it, and get those calories in.  The course had a few hills in the beginning, but nothing too bad.  I was pedalling right along when all of a sudden I got stopped by a traffic "worker" as we were crossing FM 1488 because traffic had been waiting "20 minutes".  We were all "WTH?  there's a RACE going on".  The worker said, not to worry, they'll make sure the time spent waiting was credited to our race time.  (yeah, sure, because they had someone there documenting EVERYONE's bib numbers).  I was towards the front, and as we sat there waiting, the crowd kept pushing forward, getting more crowded and angry. 
The vibe was (understandably) not good.  Finally after ~3.5 minutes, they let us cross FM1488 and we were on our way.  It was really crazy for the first few minutes with the crowding and cranky people.  Lots of people were unhappy.  Very understandable, but being upset doesn't fix anything.  The day before the race, Will's cousin Jeff (who did IMAZ in 2009) had some great words of advice:  own your space.  Own your physical space.  Own your mental space.  Do not let ANYONE affect your space.  I didn't realize it, but it was great advice.  I resolved to "own my space" which meant that I was going to have a GREAT and FUN bike ride.  That really was the theme of the whole ride.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE the bike course. 

I love this picture!
When we got into the National Forest segment (my favorite part), I just made sure that I took the whole experience in.  I was racing an Ironman.  This bike course, when I lived in Houston, used to kick my ass.  Now I live in Colorado and the bike course felt like a really fun training ride. 
Racers and pretty forest

My favorite part of the course is north of 105, when you get into the National Forest.  The prettiest section is FM1791.  Its a fairly narrow road, but you're surrounded by tall pine trees and the air smells so good and everything is so green.  Really, the section of FM149 north of 105 through to Richards is all forest. Love. It.  It was in this section I made it a point to ENJOY the ride.  This I love riding here and this was probably the last time I would ever ride here again.  I just soaked up every minute of the ride.  Loving how easy these hills were now, loving the beautiful green forests and pine scented air.  Loving the
                                                                    Ironman environment I was racing in.

My awesome sign that Scott made for me :)  Its
now hanging in my cubicle at work
Will and I made a plan for him to meet me at the corner of FM1791 and Taliaferro Road.  The key was for him to not have to cross the course (traffic lines) and have an easy in/out by foot to find me.  I turned the corner and looked in the crowd of people.  No Will.  Rode on a few hundred feet and there he was!  I pulled off to the side of the road to stop for a few kisses.  Even though I was only 40 miles into the bike, I was so happy to see him.  I gave him an estimate of each aid station time, based on my expected pace, and I was WAY ahead of pace.  He had only arrived to his waiting spot 15 minutes earlier. 

We chatted for a bit, he showed the sign our friends made for me, I kissed him some more.  A woman racer zoomed past and said "hey - no kissing", but in a nice sort of way.  After probably a few too many minutes, we said goodbye and I was on my way.  I'm glad he came out to find me - definitely made the ride that much better.  
Much needed Will sighting :)

I stopped to use the bathroom at mile 50, which is pretty good for me.  I normally have to stop somewhere after 2-3 hours (30-45 miles).  The volunteers were great - I even had a bike handler when I got to the bathroom line!  While waiting in line, I decided to have some Honey Stinger waffle.  It was all crumbly from being in my back pocket, so I made the decision just to eat the whole thing, rather than eating half now and saving half for later.  Boy was that a mistake - that whole waffle sent me into sugar overload.  For the next 30 minutes, I was dizzy and buzzin from too much sugar.  I stayed calm, though, and stuck to the plan.  Drink fluids, keep my cadence, keep my cool and the sugar will absorb with effort and time and I'll feel better.  I did feel better after 30 minutes, but I sure won't be eating a whole one of those anytime soon!  During the sugar episode, I passed by special needs, and decided that I didn't "need" anything and kept going.  I was doing well hydration and nutriton wise, so there was no need to stop.

The rest of the ride was fairly uneventful.  I kept passing/getting passes by a guy who had a whole stack of saltines in his back jersey pocket.  Finally I just started calling him cracker.  I'd pass him on the uphills, he'd pass me on the flats. 

For the hills, I just focused on keeping my HR and cadence steady.  Now was not the time for power moves by staying in my big ring and burning my legs up.  I think there were maybe ~3 times where I went into my small ring, and only for about 2 minutes a pop.  Normally I'd stay in my big ring and fight, but I really didn't think the effort was worth it.  Bravado sure, but at the time, it was more about keeping my legs fresh.

I got stopped for traffic once more going south at 105, although it wasn't as long of a stop as the first time.  The whole northern part of the course was a big parking lot with the traffic delays.  Some people were pretty pissed (I'm suprised they weren't throwing stuff at us), but some people were actually really cool and cheered us on as they were stuck waiting.  We had a bad patch of fresh rocky chip seal - and to make it worse, there was a line of traffic, so we were crammed on the shoulder with heat and exhaust bouncing off the cars.  It was only for a mile or so - not awful. 

I stopped at mile 90 for another bathroom break.  I really didn't "need" the break for the bathroom - I needed it to get up and stretch and re-set my muscles after 6 hours of riding.  Legs were fine, saddle area was fine, forearms where they rest on my aeropads started hurting somewhere around mile 50, feet started hurting around maybe mile 80.  Arms were bearable - no numbness, just sore, probably because for all my training rides I had on no fewer than 3 layers to stay warm.  That extra padding on my arms apparently made a difference in my comfort level.  Nothing that the occasional reach out to my shifters (while still staying areo) didn't fix.  My feet were swelling from the heat and were getting hotspots where my cleats were.  My left big toe was also hurting, something which I experience during the Katy Flatlands Century Ride last July and which gave me my first black toenail.  The pain was tolerable as long as I shifted my weight occasionally and even more occasionally unclipped my foot to stretch.  Also at mile 90 the sun decided to come out and it got HOT.  I dumped a bunch of cold water on my cool wings (special fabric sleeves that help cool you), and continued to dump water on them at each subsequent aid station.

We passed mile marker 100 and I pumped my fist in the air and patted my bike's aerobar.  This was the longest I've ever ridden and I knew that I WAS going to finish the bike.  I felt great.  A bit warm, but otherwise great. I was even passing people! 

The last 12 miles were on completely unfamiliar roads. You could tell you were close to The Woodlands but you never got a clear sense of how far away you actually were to transition.  We turned on Woodlands Parkway and it just seemed that you had to ride forever.  Around every curve, I was hoping to see the familiar transition area but the course just kept going! 

FINALLY the crowds got thicker. I saw people running (holy crap - they looked HOT on the run course).  And then I saw the flags and transition.  I was done - I'd completed my Ironman bike segment and felt great.  Total ride time was 7 hours even, clock time was 7:19.40.  Not really sure how I wasted 20 minutes with traffic stops, a kissing break, and 2 rest stops.  Maybe the traffic stops were longer, because I really didn't waste much time on the rest breaks!

I handed my bike off to a helpful volunteer - remembering to take my garmin with me for the run.  I waved to Will and told him that the bike went fine and I felt great.  Yes, I felt GREAT after a 112 mile bike ride.  How crazy is that?!?!?

I grabbed my bag in the run transition bag zone.  Made a smartass comment about how hot it was.  Another lovely volunteer grabbed a cup of ice, which I promptly tossed down my shirt.  I had a nice but only sort of helpful volunteer for T2. 
Feeling good and ready to run!
Maybe I just wasn't very well organized and didn't know how to work with a volunteer?  I dunno.  I changed shorts, re-sprayed my feet with TriSlide, had the volunteer fill my hand-held with water to make my drink mix, put on more face-stick sunscreen on my face, decided to have the volunteer use the stick on my back.  Somehow that all took 9:29.  I think I must have sat there trying to cool off for a while, or something.  Finally, I put on my running hat and left the changing tent.  I had a job to do - and that job was to go 26.2 miles on my feet before midnight - and I had over 8 hours to get it done.  Today I was going to be an Ironman!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Ironman Texas 2011 Race Report - Swim

So here I am, in the water, surrounded by 2200 other athletes with Black Sabbath's Ironman playing over the loud speakers.  No nerves - I'm just PUMPED.  No matter what, by midnight, I WILL be an Ironman.  The gun goes off and its just chaos. 
Craziness up close
With ~75% of the field comprised of men, it was hard to be a girl.  The men had green caps and the women had purple ones.  As much as I liked the purple and appreciated not having the typical hot pink, purple was kind of a dumb color - it did not stand out at all in the water. I'm swimming, trying not to get swept up in the adrenaline, trying not to get swam over by the men, and trying to keep my spirits high.  The swim was a ~1400 meter swim south, then a ~100 meter turn east, then ~1400 min swim back north to the canal, which was ~0.5 miles to the finish.  My plan was to start wide to the right as the buoys snaked around a bit, with the idea to swim to the ~4th buoy and save myself some yardage.

Craziness from far away
The first 1400 meters was sheer insanity.  As I was swimming along, I thought that I could either be really freaked out/angry about all the contact or just laugh about how insane this all was.  I chose to laugh - I mean, who does this sort of crazy thing?  It was also really cool to be one of the purple caps sneaking her way through all the (slow) men .  So yeah, the first part of the swim was brutal but fun.  Tons of people grabbing my ankles - if I didn't safety pin my chip together, I would have lost it with all the grabbing.  Tons of people kept putting their hands in the center of my back and pushing down - ON ME  - to take a stroke.  As a result, without my wetsuit to keep me buoyant, I felt like a fishing bobber.  It took a lot of presence of mind to remain calm with the pushing, but somehow, I did it.  I got 4 elbows to the head - only one really hurt.  And my "worst" contact was a solid kick in the breastbone.  Before the race, I looked at my fingernails, thinking they were a bit long but decided they could make good weapons if needed.  Well, after being kicked, I found that guy's ankle and latched on with those nails.  Who knows if he felt anything but it made me feel MUCH better.  During the whole "out" portion of the swim and the turn, I never found clear water.  Instead of getting frustrated, I just tried to find some feet to draft off of.

The second 1400 meter swim back up to the canal was actually really nice.  I had tons of open water and I felt like I could actually get a good rhythm and focus on form.  I felt GOOD.  I enjoyed being able to swim in my own space because I knew once I hit the canal, things would get tight.  Sighting was never a problem as there were crowds or landmarks that made it pretty easy.  Still, I probably sighted too much (just to avoid people).  I forgot to body glide the back of my neck, and my torque was having a fun little snack back there.  Oh well - hopefully it won't be too bad.

Is this a salmon run or a race?
I made the turn into the canal and immediately it got crowded.  People were swimming all sorts of speeds, some were standing up (even though they warned us that the canal was only 4 ft deep and could have rebar and glass at the bottom!).  I just did the best I could and tried to keep my cool.  As I got closer in, the spectators were out in larger numbers and you could hear them cheering.  I must say, as much as swimming in the muddy, crowded canal sucked, swimming with masses of people on either side of the canal was the COOLEST thing.  Then, our salmon run was done, I saw the last turn buoy and made turn to the ladder and climbed out.  I had no idea what my swim time was  (I didn't find out until after the race) but I felt GOOD. 

unflattering but at least I'm smiling
and don't resemble a swamp
I saw some friends spectating as I ran to get my bike bag and then into the changing tent.  I had heard about volunteers helping you in the tent, but when I got there, they were all busy with other athletes.  No problem, I've done this before and can do it again without help.  The nice part about the Torque was that I had my bike kit on underneath it - so I didn't have to change.  I got my Torque off with only a bit of issue clearing my hips.  Then I must have sat there in a stupor because my T1 time was ridiculous. 

I then made sure to get some sunscreen on, lube up, and put on my Cool Wings (which took a bit of effort since I was wet).  I put on my helmet, grabbed my shoes and looked for my socks.  WHERE ARE MY SOCKS.  I dug through my bag some more.  Then emptied everything on the ground.  No socks.  Crap - I bet I packed them with my running shoes.  I grabbed my nutrition and crammed it in my bike shorts back pocket, then grabbed my bike shoes and headed out of the tent.  Very fortunately for me, a IM staff member let me into the run gear bag area to get my socks.  Thank goodness!  I probably could have biked 112 miles sockless, but I wasn't looking forward to it!  Hooray - my socks were packed in my running shoes so all was well.  I sprayed my (now grassy) feet very thoroughly with TriGlide, put on my socks, put on my shoes and trotted out of the run area.  Nearly twisted an ankle on a crack in the pavement - that would have sucked. 

Where's my bike?

Trotted down the grassy path to my bike.  Again,  was hoping for a volunteer to fetch my bike, but it was so crowded that just wasn't going to happen.  I found my row, found my bike.  Will was there waiting for me, cheering and taking pictures.  He asked how the swim went - according to him I said it sucked.  I remember saying that it went well.  I like my version better. 

Hi Will!  Feeling good!

I started up my garmin grabbed my bike and headed out to the bike start to get rolling along on my favorite bike course.....

ready to ride!

Swim time: 1:21:04  My goal was ~1:20 and with the craziness, I'm SUPER happy with my time.
T1 time: 9:56.  Something tells me having to go to a different transition area to find my socks may have something to do with this ridiculously slow time.