Ironman World Championship 2018 Race Report

As we handle hard things, we continue to be able to handle hard things – a friend, discussing the term “grit.”

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Ho’ala Training Swim

There is nothing like Kona on race week! Athletes and vendors, buzz and excitement descend on Kona every October.  I knew more about what to expect, though nothing about repeating the race itself was easier; in fact, one of the more difficult things was that it wasn’t my first Kona, and therefore, I had more expectations of myself.  My first time, I almost couldn’t believe I finished the race after some dark moments on the bike course, and this time, I’m feeling disappointment that I was off some of my goals.  But, as my first goal is always to finish healthy and happy, that in itself was accomplished!

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Kona Underpants Run

I spent a week on the Big Island ahead of the race, acclimating and enjoying an easy schedule of workouts, meeting friends and teammates, wandering around the expo and vendor tents, and hanging out in my Air B&B.  It was a different life for a week for this mama.  I also did the Ho’ala Training Swim – a race that happens on the swim course one week before the big event — and had a time I was happy with: 1:00, including a jellyfish sting. By the time race morning rolled around, I felt ready, somewhat relaxed, and with my race plan in my head.  There was nothing left to do but the race. Just the biggest race in the sport of triathlon!

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Pre-race

My pre-race hours included dinner at the Kona Inn with my family, pre-race insomnia, parking of my car in town about 4:00 AM, getting numbered, weighed (in case you end up in the medical tent, they want to know how much fluid you’ve lost), checking over my bike, and lining up early for the swim.

Swim

During the start of the swim, I took more of a risk and lined up with a direct route of the course, right in the middle of the crowd.  There was some chatter among the athletes about being nice to each other when the cannon went off, because usually people get pushed, shoved and clobbered at a mass start like this.  After treading water for about 10-15 minutes, it was go time.  The paddle boarders turned to the side to let us through, and the cannon blasted.  We were off! I settled into a strong swim, pushing just a touch harder than I usually would, but still keeping things smooth. I drafted most of the 1.2 miles out to the turnaround, the jellyfish avoided me, and on the way back, had some open space.  A successful swim!

Swim time: 1:01:41
Swim pace: 1:36
Swim place: 5

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T-1

My friend Dave was working in the bike transition as I came through.  So fun to see him and get a little boost from a friend before I was off to Hawi!

Time:  3:45

Bike

My goal was to get warmed up and through the eight-mile Kuakini out-and-back, get onto the Queen K and get to work. Spectators are cheering, I’ve got lots of energy, and am excited to be off on my ride.  So, with all that, my watts were high, the course was crowded with cyclists, and I was going uphill.  It was so difficult to pull it back!  Soon enough, I was on the highway, and it was time to start my day.  I glanced down at my watts and they’re averaging about ten too high.  Wouldn’t it be great if I could hold it, though?  It’s thirty miles to Kawaihae, so I just tried to keep it steady, but the watts did drop.  About twenty miles in, I had a general sense of not feeling well.  I’d swam hard for an hour, biked through the excitement of town, and now I was staring at a long day on this quiet, windy highway. Unintentional thoughts popped into my head.  For example: “I’m out here all day, for nothing but a sunburn and a sufferfest, only to be wiped out for days afterward!”  A little different than the words I’d written the day before to get me through the hard moments:  relentless (be on the gas all day), trust (trust my fitness, experience and preparation), gift (this is a privilege).

I definitely needed calories.

I’d been drinking, but it was time to get some food in, and fast.  Gas!  Keep the gas pedal on and stay fueled.  That’s what my coach and I had talked about the day before.  Be on the gas all day.  Be relentless, I made myself think.  Between those words, my nutrition and some steady pedaling, I got myself to Kawaihae and started up the climb to Hawi.

At that point, I was in for a mid-ride treat.  It was the male pros, flying back toward me on their way to T-2, with Patrick Lange in the lead in his blue kit!  Shortly after that, the female pros, with Daniela Ryf in the lead, looking solid and amazing.  So, with that inspiration flying by me, I started the climb with renewed energy and it never sank for the rest of the ride.

I got one good gust of wind on the way up to Hawi, which I thought was a sign of something to come. But the turnaround came and went, and I started on the downhill, braced myself, and – nothing.  No wind.  Barely a breeze.  What? What was more, my average speed for the day was well over 19 MPH.  This was crazy for this notorious bike course!  And somehow, I was feeling good.  My heart rate was in the right range, though my power was a little low.  Maybe I could bring it up a few watts…

Mile 70 came, and then mile 80, and I was still feeling good, keeping tension on my chain, trying to hold steady power.  I drank and consumed my gels and salt on a very regular basis, and smeared on some sunscreen once.  There are very few and far between conversations out there on the highway, but one girl mentioned that it looked stormy over in Kona, and sure enough, we were headed into a cloud with some sprinkles.  But, when we rolled into Kona, the sun and humidity was back in full force.  No such luck to have a sprinkle of rain on the run.

Time: 5:44:46
Pace: 19.6
Place:  28

T-2

Quick porta-potty stop, threw on my shoes, an amazing volunteer gave me her ponytail holder because I’d lost mine, and I was off on the run.

Time: 5:04

Run

As soon as I stepped out of the transition and onto Ali’i drive, I held off on making too many judgments about how I was feeling.  Four miles is what it takes for me to warm up to a marathon after a 112-mile ride.  It never feels great to get off a bike and start running in what feels like a sauna. But a quick inventory of myself proved all was well so far.  Stomach, good. Legs, okay.

I remembered that I really enjoyed the run down and back on Ali’i two years ago, and this time I enjoyed it as well, but with a small warning in the back of my mind that I better not blow it.  My heart rate was a little high, but my coach recommended that I not look at my pace because of the gradual rollers.  I didn’t feel snappy, like last time. I was feeling okay, just not fast. Darn.

The down-and-back on Ali’i drive is the part of the race where you get a huge boost from spectators and I was lucky to see several friends out there cheering, along with my support crew of Mom, Dad, and Karen.  Seeing people out along the course really does give me a boost and keeps me smiling and moving forward.

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When I got to the Palani climb, I jogged up and the BASE tent was right at the top.  Matt took a video of me and on it I said I felt “awesome” which wasn’t too far off.  I did feel pretty decent, physically. Mentally, I was discouraged.  I was only eight miles in and my pace was off what I’d thought I could do.  The drier air up on the highway was nice, but it was still baking hot.  I was using ice and cold water every aid station, which helped, and at the stations that were out of ice, the volunteers doused athletes with cold water.  As I was seeing my pace and heart rate, I knew I wouldn’t be able get a four-hour marathon, much less the 3:50 I thought I might be capable of on a good day.  I adjusted my goals.  The highway seemed to go on forever: there was a course change that added more than a mile to the Queen K section and the Energy Lab.  The scary Energy Lab portion (hot, windless, miles 15-18) didn’t seem as bad as before.  I even had cloud cover for a few minutes, and I knew what to expect.  It actually wasn’t the hard moment I was anticipating.  I find it funny in Ironman racing that the different moods can hit when you least expect it.

Again, there was not much talking amid everyone’s mutual but solitary suffering.  At one point, heading out of the Energy Lab, a girl apologized for running right behind me, saying “I hope I’m not being annoying – I’m just doing what I can to get through this.”  Indeed, do what you need to, girl!

My own motivational words really weren’t working that much and instead I was zoning out.  I decided to focus on my second word, trust.  I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other, trusting I would keep going, trusting I wouldn’t cramp, overheat, cry, give up, or worse.  I’m trained, my body would get me there if I just keep moving.

Mile 20 came and went, and then it was a waiting game for me.  Just one more mile, then another.  By 24 I’d have one to go until just a run up Kuakini and down Ali’i to the finish.  Once I made the right turn into town, I knew I was home free.  Afterward, a fellow athlete said, “Those last few miles make you question living!” It is such a challenge when you feel so done but still have a long way to go. But if you can hang on just another mile, then another, the end does come.

I ran down Ali’i Drive, just after sunset, and I got to hear for the fifth time: “You are an Ironman!”

Time:  4:08:06
Pace 9:23

Finish time: 11:03:21
Finish place: 28

Post race was a blur of being escorted to the athlete area, lying down on the grass, medical staff wandering around to see if people are okay, trying to drink some water, and change clothes and meet my family.  I needed to eat, but sitting at a restaurant proved so uncomfortable, and I couldn’t really eat anyway, that I left and went back to my apartment, not really feeling much better until I was able to lie down flat on the bed.  By Tuesday, I seemed to be rehydrated, and by Wednesday I was no longer sore.

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Racing this race really is a gift.  I feel so incredibly fortunate to be able to do this sport, with a family and friends who not only support me, they push and encourage me.  I wouldn’t do this at all if it weren’t for them!

I’m not quite sure yet what next season holds.  Six to eight weeks before an Ironman I usually feel pretty done and desperate for a break.  Once the race is over, I’m tempted to jump right back in to see if I can make improvements or find a new challenge.  So, my first goal is to make myself really take about six weeks off before making any big decisions.  But I do know that the long-course triathlon and I are not at all finished!

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Boston Marathon 2018 Race Report

This is my second time running the Boston Marathon, but 19 years have passed between then and now, and this experience was different in so many ways.  One difference stood out, and it was a big one:  the weather!  After I was packed and in New York the previous week, planning to race in a tank top and arm warmers, we began to receive emails from the Boston Athletic Association.  The emails had a bit of a warning tone to them.  Rain, and lots of it, was predicted, along with wind and cold temperatures.  By the second email and some checking of the forecast, I was rethinking my clothing choices and strategizing how to find gloves and a warmer hat before race day.

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As one meteorologist said, the runners will face a “car wash effect” with cold, drenching rain and stiff winds with gusts up to 40 MPH.  On top of that, a text and some charts from my coach determined that we’d face a headwind for most of the race, with the biggest headwinds in the last 5, and hilliest, miles.

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North End, Boston

I woke up in Boston on race morning to the sound of rain already falling at 6 AM.  The temperature was 38 degrees.  I dressed in my running clothes, topped with old sweatpants and a sweatshirt that I would discard later.  On top of that, I added plastic bags with holes cut out for my arms and legs.  There is nowhere to drop clothes once you get to the start, so runners wear old clothing they can discard.

After coffee and cereal, we left the Air BnB apartment on Commonwealth Avenue and decide to take an uber to Boston Common for bus loading.  Traffic was terrible so the uber driver dropped us a few blocks away, and at the last minute, tossed us his umbrella to have for the day.  It was not unlike a lot of the citizens of Boston going out of their way for all of these runners that come into town the Boston Marathon.

The minute I started walking to the buses from the car, I was soaked.  The sleeves of my old sweatshirt were soaked.  My feet were drenched.  Some runners wore old shoes and carried their running shoes in a plastic bag.  That would have been a good idea, as well as a thrift store raincoat.  Some runners taped their shoes with duct or packing tape, which I tried but my tape didn’t last for the walk to the bus.

Security, of course, was tight, so the only other thing we were allowed was just a small, clear bag for our food, and nothing else.

With all of the walking, we got on the bus late and rode one hour to the start.  It was nice to be in the warm, dry bus!  I began to pick my way through the runners’ waiting area.  By the time I was there, what was once grass had given way to nothing but mud and spongy puddles. I stepped carefully around and then finally joined the smart runners who had tied plastic bags around their feet for walking around in this.  I stopped in the porta potty, adjusted all of my now-soaked clothing and plastic bags.  I grabbed a bagel from the crowded, even muddier-floored tent, and started the long walk to the start line.  I wasn’t nervous, as I usually am, because I was too busy managing all of the wet things – my hands, feet, face, bag of food, bottle of water, and I still carried that uber driver’s umbrella which probably saved me from true hypothermic, wet conditions before starting.

As I approached the start corral, this odd assortment of everyone’s old clothes and plastic bags began to pile up everywhere.  There was another section of porta potties nearer the start, so I stopped again and stripped off my first layer of wet sweatpants and threw them in one of the heaps.

Finally, I’m in the corral in Hopkinton!  I hadn’t had time to enjoy all the New England ambience, but it did feel very special to be here at the starting line of the 122nd Boston Marathon with all my soggy, rain-poncho’d fellow runners.  It wasn’t crowded, and I was right near the line.  With ten minutes to go, I stripped off the rest of my sweats and plastic bags.  And, IMMEDIATELY began to shiver.  I grabbed a discarded poncho from a pile and put it on.  When the gun started us off, everyone moved quickly and I was over the start line within seconds.  I ran with the poncho, shivering, and decided I’d keep it on (like many others were obviously doing) until I was legitimately warm and and sweating.

That didn’t happen until almost mile three.

Once I was warmed up, I felt as good as in any long, rainy run.  My jacket was sopping but I loved the last-minute wool gloves I’d bought yesterday!  How had I not thought to wear wool gloves in the rain before?  And a $3.99 knit pink hat I’d bought was also doing the trick.  I’d worn sunglasses to keep myself from squinting into the driving rain.

The course was never too crowded, and when wind gusts came up, I adjusted my position to duck in behind a group of people or at the shoulder of a larger guy.  Wellesley was screaming, as well as Boston College.  I enjoyed people along the course, but crowds were probably thinner than usual due to the rain and wind.  Around mile 12-13 I felt the first bit of fatigue, and started taking gels a little more quickly.  I drank at approximately every other water station, stopped once at a porta potty quickly, and generally kept my rhythm.

Around mile 18, my legs began to hurt, a dull pain.  I shortened my stride and sped up, doing math in my head to see if I had a chance at a PR.  I did, and tried to do my best to stay steady.  I would be close to a PR but wouldn’t make it.

Once the high of crossing the finish line passed, I knew I’d only have minutes to try to get safely warmed up.  It was 40 degrees, still raining, and I was soaked.  After running three hours, your body is going to shut down and cool off quickly, and I could feel it happening, so I hurried through the crowds, walked and walked, and made my way through medals, food, and to the clothes bags, slowly starting to shiver.  Many other people, wrapped in their foil capes, huddled around the clothes tent, I stood there in a shivering line, with images crossing my mind.  We do this by choice, with privilege, with grit and determination.  My image then was of humans who find themselves in these conditions but NOT by choice, the desperation for warmth, food, self-preservation being the same, and still with grit and determination.

I couldn’t handle my phone because my fingers were so wet and cold, but managed a text to meet up with my friend who’d stood in the rain giving me encouragement all day and sending texts to my husband with updates.

Post race, once warmed up, I loved being around Boston with approximately 25K other finishers walking around doing the touristy things and congratulating each other.  Everyone wore their medals around, and we spent the day walking some of the Freedom Trail, were offered a free tour of Sam Adams and enjoyed a visit to Cambridge for dinner.

When I read about the race afterward, a few things stuck out to me:  Pros dropping out due to hypothermia, coldest Boston race in 30 years, 2 inches of rain during the race.  Adding my own observations: local businesses were sold out of gloves, emails from the race organizers warning the runners about the weather and offering advice about what to wear, and certainly the run with the coldest and persistently rainy conditions I’ve ever done, even coming from Seattle.

Regardless, it was an amazing experience to be in Boston, and am so thankful for the opportunity, weather and all.  Someday, maybe in another 19 years or so, I’ll be back!  But hopefully a lot sooner than that.

Ironman 70.3 Canada 2017

Whistler was one of my favorite races last year.  I was looking forward to doing it again – one of the few times I have repeated the same race.  As a somewhat “local” event to Seattle, there are always a lot of friends and teammates racing, the location is beautiful, and it’s easy for me to get to and from quickly.  It’s also near the first in the qualifying series for the 2018 70.3 World Championship, and I was cautiously hoping to place high enough my age group to get a spot to go to South Africa.  If I didn’t, there would still be plenty of time to do a backup race or two later on in the season.

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Pre-race
Again, I did this in a quick weekend.  I arrived on Saturday around 9 AM, parked, checked in, and rode my bike down to Rainbow Park.  Once my transition was set up, I took the shuttle bus back to town, ate a big lunch, and my pre-race day was done.  In the morning I got down to the park early, checked over everything, and then had about three hours to wait while the full Ironman athletes started the swim.

Swim
I lined up in the sub-30 minute group, about 15 athletes back, and when things started right at 8:50 AM, I felt as ready to go as possible.  The swim was very choppy heading out toward the first turn buoy, and it took a lot of concentration to not swallow water with every stroke, but I felt confident that I was moving along toward the top of the group.  My space cleared after about 500 yards and I actively looked for some feet to draft.  I stayed a little behind a group of green caps (men) and stayed on some feet off and on.  The water was calmer on the long stretch between the 2nd and 3rd turns, and then very choppy again coming back into shore.

Swim time:  28:32
Division place: 1

T1:  2:48
… was fast and uneventful.  Volunteers packed up our wetsuit and gear after changing.  Nice and easy for us.

Bike
I had a new fit on my bike that I’d only ridden for a couple of weeks and I was anxious about feeling wobbly or unsteady on the long descents.  But, once we started, I felt solid, though not as relaxed as I could be.  The bike is where I tend to get passed a lot, so I’ve been trying everything possible to find some extra strength and speed on this leg of the race.

The course starts out with a descent from Rainbow Park and then we head south on 99, turning around at Callaghan Road and heading north toward Pemberton.  The lanes were divided with road candlesticks to keep a lane open for traffic, and they had filled in the divots in the middle of the road since last year, making it a little smoother for cycling.  Still, some of the lanes felt narrow and the uphill sections were crowded.
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The descents to Pemberton were as much fun as I remembered and I let loose flying down them.  I hit 53 miles per hour, according to Strava, which is, I think, the fastest in my life!  My new fit was making me fly!  Whee!  Wanting badly to have a strong ride, I feared my effort was too high the whole time with my average HR constantly above what was indicated in my race plan.  This was one of those times that my perceived effort was lower than what my HR seemed to tell me, so I went with it.  I worried that I’d burn all of my matches and pay for it on the run, though, if I didn’t relax it a little bit.

I remembered to stop and look around during the ride.  Snow-capped mountains, sky, aqua water!  It was about as beautiful as it gets on a race course and I felt thankful to be out there among the races and this amazing backdrop.  After the turnaround before Pemberton it would be about an hour back to town, almost all of it climbing, and all of it with a steady headwind.  I climbed steadily, surprised that not too many women were passing me.  It was my first 70.3 in which I came off the bike still leading my AG.

Bike time:  2:50:50
Pace:  18.8 MPH
Division place:  1

T2:  1:54

Run
After handing off my bike to a volunteer I did a quick change to my running shoes and was off.  The first part of the run is climbing or ups and downs, so I remembered to control this part and keep it steady.  I rarely repeat races, but am realizing the benefit of knowing what’s coming up.  Having run this course before, it went by fast and it felt easier to know what was coming.  I kept my pace under 8s and everything felt relatively good until the last two miles.  I’m not traditionally susceptible to “bonking” in races, but this time, when I hit mile 11, my legs decided to turn into lead weights that didn’t seem to want to move!  The hard bike ride was finally catching up with me. The good news is that you can do anything for two miles, so I kept trudging at a “fast” pace, but falling from first place after the bike to third.  I’d definitely given it my all, so though I thought it may not be enough for Worlds, I was satisfied with my race.

Run time:  1:43:44
Pace:  7:57

Final time: 5:07:46
Division place 3

As it turned out, our age group had two slots (!) to the Worlds, and it rolled down one place, giving me the chance to claim it.  I’ve excited, and slightly in disbelief that I’ll be racing in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa, in September 2018!

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As I train over the seasons and do more races, I start to feel that my recovery gets a little bit easier, or maybe I’m just mentally prepared for what the post-race days feel like.  I stayed around Whistler for an extra night and got some good sleep before heading home.  The next few weeks would be busy with travel, so I needed to get recovered and back on my training as soon as possible.  I was tired through Tuesday night, and then finally turned the corner Wednesday, ready to bring the volume slowly back up.

Up next:  70.3 World Championships in Chattanooga, TN!

Wenatchee Marathon – April 15, 2017

Years ago, the marathon was my first experience with an endurance event, and it became one of my favorite things to do until I found triathlon.  All of my marathons were self-coached endeavors, and some went well, and some not so well. I had to experiment with training, nutrition and tapering, the latter of which I almost never got right.  I haven’t had a chance to go back and try it again after spending time on long-distance triathlon.  My last marathon was in 2007 – the Seattle Marathon.  I was excited to try it out again, see if a Boston Qualifying time could be had, and see how the whole thing would feel.

Leading up to the race, I’d taken time off during December after two Ironmans and a service trip to Nepal.  It was a tough few months recovering physically and mentally from all of that, and although I stayed active, I did very little “training.”  I have some big races coming up later in the year, so my coach and I decided that I wouldn’t do too much volume for this marathon, which wasn’t an A-race, therefore making recovery easier.  But, with a good plan I should still be able to reach my goal of qualifying for Boston.

The weeks leading up to the race were stressful and busy on the home front, and although I got my training in, my sleep and nutrition weren’t perfect.  My training had been different than for all other marathons I’d raced before.  This time I only ran up to 15 miles but had several weeks of back-to-back 10 or 12 milers, all with tempo work in them and banking on the fact that I had a big aerobic base from the Ironman races last fall.

The day of the race was about 40 degrees at the start, warming up to the low 60s.  The course is beautiful with the marathon heading out and back along the 10K course, then circling the river twice, crossing two bridges.  The sky was bright blue and the hills around Wenatchee were turning green. Most of the run was on park trails along the river, with slight rollers throughout.  I began conservatively, starting with an 8:15 pace per mile, then bringing my heart rate to a comfortable level. I was so comfortable that I felt like I could have run forever at that pace, but what would it feel like after mile 15, the length of my longest run?

Mile 15, near the start/finish, with one more 10-mile loop to do, came and went. Around mile 17, as I prepared to cross the bridge, I felt it the first bit of real fatigue.  My pace slowed a bit, and I thought, here it comes.  But, after the downslope on the other side of the bridge, and back on the path shaded by oak trees, I kept my pace going.  The course was fairly empty of runners because it was such a small race, but I did see a few people here and there.  After exchanging positive words with a couple people around me, I ran on, settling into the newer feeling of being tired.  I watched for mile 20, the time I was allowed per my race plan to let my HR go above 155.  And as soon as mile 20 hit, I pushed it.  I saw a girl ahead of my who’d been a quarter mile up the whole race.  I gained on her, and as I got closer, I thought that maybe I could pass.  My pace per mile dropped into the 7s and I wondered if I could hold it for these last few miles.  It crept toward 8’s, but having run this race so many times before I knew all the turns and surfaces and rolls of the last few miles, and that helped me visualize when the finish was going to arrive.

When I got to the final bridge to cross it, my friends were waiting to run across with me and I crossed with a 3:31:39, more than enough to reach my goal of running Boston in 2018!

It still felt tough, but frankly not as tough as I thought it would.  The cool weather helped, as did my large base from last season.  My time was near my stretch goal of 3:30, but faster than my realistic goal of 3:40ish.   A successful day in Wenatchee!

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Ironman World Championship 2016 Race Report

The Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, was truly one of the most memorable of my triathlon adventures, and one that I’m still thinking about months later.  It’s hard to believe that it’s already January, and nearing a completely new season, new goals, and some much needed rest.  But first, here is a recap of the incredible experience that was KONA!

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Sunrise over the swim start.  Photo credit Ryan Terry

After Ironman Coeur D’Alene, I took a week off before starting another training build and taper, and seven weeks later I landed on the Big Island, as ready as I would be.  On our first day in Hawaii we drove down Ali’i to get our bearings and check out the scene.  Waves broke to the left, bungalows and leafy palms glided by on the right.  The town was busy with pop-up vendor tents — and athletes everywhere! People were running and cycling up and down the road in the heat of the day.  All of them looked fit and tough.  These people are serious.  All Ironman races are serious, but this!  Wow …deep breaths.

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My first heat-acclimatizing workout was a ride to Hawi with Rocky, Paul, Lisa and Ben.  The Queen K is surrounded by dark lava, yellow grass and blue ocean; the humidity felt oppressive and the crosswinds blew us around.  Pros were out on the highway being paced by mopeds and photographed with telephoto lenses. It all felt surreal!  We ran a few miles afterward near Kawaihae, and my heart rate, due to the warmth, was through the roof.  I had four days to acclimate to this crazy heat!  Ocean training swims were so enjoyable.  Clear, cool water, fish and turtles, and a view ninety feet down.

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View from the bike course
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Training ride

There was much for me to do in the days leading up to the race:  workouts, check-in, sponsor breakfast, Underpants Run, banquet, and coach meeting.  Brian and the girls had fun swimming and snorkeling while I ran around.  I said to the girls last summer:  I’ll try to get you a trip to Hawaii!  So, although mom was busy, the race-cation still had its benefits.  And drawbacks.  On a snorkeling outing with the family, no sooner had I stepped into the water than a sharp pain shot through my foot.  I’d done what I’d been warned about:  I’d stepped on a sea urchin, and now the needle-like spines were embedded in my toes.

At Kona Urgent Care, the physician told me there was absolutely nothing I could do.  My toes would swell with the spines in there, but they couldn’t be removed.  I’d just have to go with it and hope for the best.

T-1 Day
Friday, during our bike check-in, I really began to feel like a Kona athlete, walking my bike down the red carpet into the transition area.  One of the many new things I learned about this experience is that the athletes’ gear is inventoried at this time, so industry buyers can use this data for the following year.  Once my bike was in, Liz was there to escort me to my rack where I set up my bike and dropped off my run and bike gear bags.  There is never any turning back at this point, but dropping off my gear always makes me feel like the momentum has truly begun.

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Checking in at the Quintana Roo tent

Race morning
On race morning, Brian and the girls woke up early with me and dropped me off on Palani Drive where I walked down to transition, got numbered and weighed and found my bike in the crowded area.  Athletes were a little bit chatty, but everyone was serious. Everyone seemed thoughtful and had a plan of what they were supposed to be doing, and was careful with their and everyone else’s stuff in the tight transition area.

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Run Bags

I was running behind schedule by the time I dropped my morning-clothes bag.  I decided to do a warmup swim even though I was pushing the time and feeling nervous.  After I got out of the small lagoon, I had a moment of true anxiety when I realized that the women were already lining up to get in the bay and I was way in the back of the line in the crowded area.  When it was time get in and swim to the start line, I worked my way to the front, and began to get the sensation of the largeness of the water, the number of people and what I was about to do.  I wasn’t nervous, exactly, but I was focused.

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Swim
I needed to get near the front of the start line but kept finding myself getting pushed behind people as we all bobbed around in the water. The nervous athletes vied for space and didn’t talk to each other.  Stressed about my start position, I decided to move to a clearer area slightly behind a large buoy.  It would work for me if everyone held their spots.  The SUP volunteers paddled back and forth in front of the group to prevent us from drifting forward.  A Hawaiian drum beat played over the crowd.  Five minutes to go.  A helicopter buzzed above.  I looked back at the sea wall, packed with spectators.  Mom and Dad, Brian and the girls were there somewhere.  Camera crews lined up on the pier.  I took it all in for the last few minutes before the day started with a cannon.

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This is the men’s start.  I lined up at the corner of the ROKA buoy.

When the cannon sounded, I simply began to swim.  I never bumped into anyone else, but I did notice that I had a drafter, whose fingernails occasionally scraped the sea urchin injury on my foot.  I swam, looking down deep into the water.  Blue lights of some kind of sea creature flashed on an off below me.  A shadowy scuba diver floated below the turn buoy.  I caught up to the first age group men after 20 minutes, and then more of them by the turn.  I saw that I was under 30 minutes when I rounded the final turn buoy, and then had a clear shot back to the pier.  This was happening!  There were still a lot of pink caps in front of me but I expected that.  I swam to the steps, climbed them, and took a quick left into transition.

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Swim time: 1:02:04
Pace: 1:36/100
Division place: 10

Transition 1
It was too quick and crowded to see anyone from my family.  I put on shoes, grabbed my bike nutrition, sipped water and I ran out of the tent to get my bike.

T1:  4:59

Bike
The course goes through town first with a climb on Kuakini.  I saw my family and waved at them, feeling fantastic to be off on my ride.  It’s a quick loop through town so before I knew it I was on the Queen K, where I’d be for the next few hours.  The first part of the ride felt hot and mostly windless, and I felt fairly strong. Once we approached Hawi, the famous crosswinds began.  I was ready for it, and it was fun, almost, predicting the buffeting from each side.  People passed me like crazy, but I tried to not let it affect my focus, and attemped to keep my heart rate to the rate indicated in my race plan.  About 30 miles in I saw the first pro flying back toward me, descending from Hawi.  When it was my turn to descend, I let loose and flew down, the previous training ride having prepared me for it.

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After the descent, the headwinds began. And then they never ended.  My neck started getting tired, and mentally I began to lose the edge.  The hours ahead of me started to seem insurmountable.  My energy tanked.  I felt zero joy.  The wind kept blowing.  People passed me.  My HR was too low.  My foot started to ache unbearably.  I started to wonder about whether I can even finish this.  Around sixty or seventy miles in, I suddenly felt feverish, and thought, what if I’m getting sick?  What if I can’t finish this race?  I prayed; I remembered why I’m supposed to be here.  I pushed on.

I’m moving right now, I told myself, so I just need to keep moving.  Keep working, keep trusting my preparation and training.  I got it together enough to focus on what I could control, which was attempting to stay on top of hydration and nutrition, something I may not have been doing too well.  The rest of it, the mood, pain and fatigue would have to just be.

I knew that another thing I could do was take a moment to look around me.  The lava fields were black, with yellow grass here and there.  The ocean was bright blue beyond the lava.  It was a view like I’d never seen before in any triathlon.  As I approached the end of the bike, I saw pro runners heading toward the Energy Lab, an unexpected promise and reminder that this, too, will be over with soon and I’ll be onto the run myself.

Finally the end arrived and I wanted nothing more than to get off the bike.  I never wanted to get off the bike so badly at my other two Ironmans, but this time I wanted it gone. I was so ready to run!

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Bike data from Training Peaks

Bike time: 6:09:45
Bike pace: 18.17
Division place: 49

Transition 2
A volunteer took my bike and I headed into the changing tent.  It was packed, and and I could tell half or more or the field had already been in and out of there before me, reminding me that this is indeed the big leagues.  I feared I’d had a very slow ride.  A cold towel was draped over my shoulders while I gulped some water and changed to my shoes quickly.

T2: 5:49

Run
I walked out of transition to slow my HR and cool off, but once I hit the exit chute I began to run.  Ali’i drive was packed!  I felt good and fairly steady, and my heart rate was in the low end of my range, thankfully, as I’d been concerned it could be too high in the heat.   I saw family and teammates through the crowds as I ran along.  I worked on keeping my pace and staying cool, and welcomed the help.  People poured water on me, I ran through sprinklers, and I grabbed ice at every aid station. I felt awesome and thrilled to be on the third leg of this amazing race!  My pace was steady and perceived effort high, but my HR remained in check.

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Run data from Training Peaks

I walked the Palani climb, following my race plan. People encouraged runners up the hill with various words and cheers.  “I love you!” Shouted someone in my ear.  When I turned onto the Queen K again, on foot this time, there was music playing.  I high-fived people at the BASE tent and ran on.  As quickly as that, the highway fell silent, lonely and hot.  There was a breeze, and the air was drier than Ali’i.  It’s only eight miles up and eight miles back, I thought to myself.  Easy.  Steady.  I felt like the entire pack was ahead of me, although I knew that wasn’t true.  When I got to the Energy Lab, three miles of baking hot, windless road, Jim and Judy were there, volunteering.  It was awesome to see them during this difficult stretch of road, and I stopped for a quick pic before heading on.

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At the turnaround, tall, blow-up Clif mascots waved back and forth at the spent runners.  Suddenly I couldn’t look at them!  They were taunting me that I still have 8 miles of this!  But the Clif people themselves were amazing, handing me more nutrition and cheering.  I made it through the turnaround and did my best to get out of the Energy Lab, and started running hard back to town.  At this point “running hard” meant a 9+ pace.  After some mentally challenging math in my head, I realized that if I could keep it to just over 9s I would get a sub-four-hour marathon and somehow that bit of knowledge sparked something.  I could do this.  I hammered my legs and sped up just a little.  As I got closer to town I knew I’d get this done.

When I turn on to Ali’I drive the sun has set and I have a grin from ear to ear.  There’s no way I’m going to be able to see my family through the dense, cheering crowds, but I realize that I am going to finally cross the finish line at this Ironman World Championship.  I sprint it out and cross the line – I’m done!

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Run time: 3:56:39
Run pace: 9:01

Finish time:  11:19:15
Division place: 45 (104)

I ran through the finish and was whisked off to the athlete area where I grabbed a water and lay down on the grass.  Athletes were lying or sitting all around me in the dark, waiting to get the energy to go out and greet their family and friends.  I got my finisher picture taken and went to find my family, who were all waiting right by the exit.  Just like that, the season was done!  It would take awhile to let it all sink in.

It’s been a long year, with challenges from a DNF, to a lot of travel, packed schedule, training, racing and recovery while trying to maintain a balance at home.  Even through difficulty, I’m leaning into running the race set before us and trusting the process that brings us to the finish line.  I’m looking forward to what’s next for 2017!  Representing BASE Performance, running a standalone marathon for the first time in years, the IM 70.3 World Champs in Tennessee, and another IM late in the year are all on my list.  Can’t wait to bring it all on and continue the connections with the amazing triathlon community.

Thank you Brian for encouraging me at every step.  Thank you Ben, for coaching me to this ultimate of all triathlons.

*    *    *

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My family at the finish line

Nutrition and weather preparation details:

  • Four 45-minute sauna sessions starting one week before departure, plus indoor heated trainer sessions
  • Four days acclimatization workouts in Hawaii
  • Hydration/elecrolytes on bike:  24-36 oz per hour of plain water, plus BASE salt every five miles
  • Nutrition on bike:  front-loading calories per hour (Gu), approximately:  300/300/250/250/200/100
  • Hydration/nutrition on run:  Two cups water every aid station, plus 150-200 calories every 30 mins.  Added 4 oz Red Bull occasionally during second half of the run.  BASE salt every 30 mins.
  • Maintain wet clothing throughout

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Ironman Coeur d’Alene 2016 Race Report

At 4:30 AM in Coeur d’Alene, hundreds of athletes were already busy with their pre-race tasks under a dark sky, preparing for a long, hot day.  Everyone’s miles and laps were now in the bank, and the day ahead would be filled with joy, pain and everything in between.  From sunrise to sunset today I’d be among this group, giving this race everything I had.

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Swim start at Lake Coeur d’Alene

Pre-race

I had driven over to Coeur d’Alene after swimming early Thursday morning, which gave me two days before the race to get settled and do some shake-out workouts.

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With Mom and Dad

The weather was going to be hot, but it was comforting knowing that all of my competitors would be in the same boat.  We’d be under the same blazing sun together, with lots of water, electrolytes and ice to help us through.

This time around I knew more about what I was in for on race day.  I remembered the feeling of running the marathon off the bike, and I knew some of the mental and physical challenges I’d face.  In some ways, I felt more confident and less nervous leading up to raceday, and in other ways, I was more apprehensive.  The bike was tougher and the weather would be hotter today than last year in Chattanooga.

Brian and the girls camped overnight to give me the hotel room to myself, and I tucked myself in by 10:30, only waking up once before my 3:30 AM alarm.  This was way better than almost an entire sleepless night before CHOO last year.

I jumped out of bed at the first buzz of the alarm.  Though I had absolutely no appetite, I ate my bagel and peanut butter, mixed my bike nutrition and put it into flasks, and drove to the start.  I found parking within a block of the transition area, and I began to run through my morning routine.  Something had made me re-seat my front wheel the day before, and distressingly, the brake was now rubbing.  There always seems to be something extra to deal with on race morning!  I began to figure out how to adjust it, but the girl racked next to me noticed what I was doing and suggested that I try re-seating the wheel again.  I did, and sure enough, the brake was back to normal.  Sigh of relief!  It was a foreshadowing of how encouraging all of these athletes can be to one another as we get through the day.

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A walk by the lake the night before

After that was done, I saw the first of my amazing support crew for the day, Lisa, who had just driven in from Montana that morning.  We exchanged hugs and quickly found the rest of Team Robin – my parents, Brian and the girls, Uncle Johnny, Melissa, Kari, and Solveig.  With the excitement of connecting with everyone, I barely had enough time to do my warmup swim.  It seemed like a short, busy morning and that helped control my nerves.  Now, for the next eleven hours, it would be all forward movement!

Swim

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“Today I can do anything”

The swim is two loops, with an exit and re-entry after the first loop.  All of the athletes lined up along the rock wall separating City Park from Lake Coeur d’Alene according to their projected swim times.  I placed myself near the front of the line and waited for the gun.

When it was go-time, athletes were allowed to funnel through the starting chute one at a time, and I stepped forward to dive into the water about 1-2 minutes after the starting gun.  I felt nothing but pure excitement to start my day.  I was prepared for aggressive swimmers as I’d experienced at Whistler, but I was surprised to find that I never touched anyone here.  My coach, Ben, advised me to swim well and rely on good technique to be fast, but not over-swim, which would only put me behind on energy and hydration later in the race.  I kept my strokes strong but my effort under control, catching as smoothly as possible in the choppy water and letting my thumbs brush my hips to make sure I was completing full strokes.

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Exiting water after first loop.  Photo credit Teresa Webb

I didn’t always get a breath every stroke due to the chop, instead spitting or coughing out water a few times.  I rounded the buoys at the far end and focused on finishing the first lap.  It was fun and sort of exciting to exit the water to all the screaming spectators and then run and dive back in.  On the second lap I caught up to some of the slower swimmers and had a harder time getting around groups.  It was more stressful than the first lap, especially being sandwiched or squeezed between two or more people, but finally, I heard the spectators as I approached the shore again and the first leg of my race day was complete.

Swim time:  58:07
Division Place: 1

Transition 1:  3:14
Lee Ann and Dana, who I knew were volunteering in the changing tent, got me in and out of there in under four minutes.  Thank you, ladies!  I was using a beacon tracker, so I started that and tucked it in my pocket before I left transition.  It would show my support team exactly where I was at every step of the race, with my paces and times listed.

Bike
The bike is a short loop, followed by a long loop and then a repeat of that.  I started the bike quite cold on the first loop out to Higgins point along the lake.  I knew that soon I’d be hotter than I would ever hope to be so I tried to conserve energy early on, keeping my HR to the low end of my prescribed range.  The long climb during the second loop felt fine.  I wasn’t getting too warm and there was a breeze but it wasn’t throwing me around too much.  My food intake and energy felt decent, though I was struggling with a slightly nauseous stomach.  Coming back into transition to begin the second half of the ride I saw that my time was over three hours.  My heart sank.  I’d hoped my total bike time would be well under six hours, and it seemed like a six-hour-plus bike ride would put me out of contention for a top placing.

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Hi, Rocky!  Photo credit Ryan Terry

During the second loop I slowly raised my heart rate into the mid-140s to try to make up some time, but by then the sun was beating down, the wind had picked up, and the climb was quickly becoming brutal.  Around mile 80, time seemed to be at a standstill, and I felt like I was crawling up the endless hot highway.  There seemed to be nothing but hot wind in my face, my bent neck aching, and my speed and power slower than I’d ever wanted to see.  After what seemed like forever, only a few miles had clicked by, and the turnaround was still miles off.  Finally, I reached 85 miles, and then 90, and it felt amazing to turn and fly back down the endless hill and into town.  It may not have been my fastest ride, but one of my goals was to minimize my stops, and at least I’d done that, only jumping off twice: once to get a dropped flask and once for a very quick porta potty break.  I wished I’d known that everyone’s times would end up relatively slower due to the tough conditions during the second half.

Bike time:  6:06:41
Division place: 4

Transition 2:  3:04
Transition 2 was smooth and uneventful.  I put on my shoes and ran off, actually feeling excited to face the next few hours of my day!

Run
The run was three loops from the park out through some neighborhoods, out along the lake and back, and nearly flat the entire course. It was now truly hot, probably 90 degrees.  My plan was to keep my pace slow and controlled for the first 10 minutes, hydrate as much as possible and keep myself as cool as possible.  My stomach hadn’t felt good since the middle of the bike ride and it wasn’t getting better, but it also wasn’t getting worse.

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Running through the park

The first lap was manageable.  Not comfortable, but endurable.  I LOVED seeing my support team, coach and other teammates on and off the course.  I drank water at every aid station, had the volunteers pour water over my shoulders, and carried ice in my palms as much as I could.  There was a nice breeze coming off the lake, so that, combined with my wet clothing and use of ice made the heat bearable.  I throughly enjoyed the spectators through the “hot corner” at the park, and gained energy each time I passed them.  Always keeping wet and cool, I moved along at a steady pace.  I took in calories every 30 minutes no matter what my stomach felt like, and I kept drinking water.  Somewhere around the middle of the run Red Bull started to sound really good, so I grabbed a half-filled cup of that each time I passed the Red Bull tent.  I also used salt every few miles, which tasted good and went down well.  During the last part of the run I felt myself slowing.  Brian ran alongside me and said I was in either 5th or 6th, but also knew that I’d passed at least one of the women in my group who had started walking.  My coach, Ben, and support team helped me with the mental energy necessary to push on.  Seeing other Vo2 athletes on course was an amazing boost to my energy.

I knew that I needed to press and not fade during the last hour, so that’s when I put my head down and worked my absolute hardest.  My right foot and knee began to feel achy and painful, and my calves began to have sharp pains.  I didn’t know if they were cramping or just sore, but I downed more salt just in case.  I thought of nothing but putting one foot in front other as quickly as possible.

Near the end of the race, as I was pushing on and knowing that I needed to do everything I could to keep going, the sky suddenly darkened and the lake reflected a orangey-red light.  It was surreal and even beautiful; a welcome distraction just when I needed it.  Nearby forest fires has caused the reddish light and ash even began to fall from the sky.  I could smell the smoke and feel it in my throat.

When there were a just few miles to go, Ben arrived on his bike and began to talk me through the last part of it.  He told me that I needed to do everything possible to press the pace if I wanted to place in my age group.  I didn’t talk, I just listened, pressed on, didn’t think, and just ran to his encouragement and instructions.

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The final stretch

During the last couple of miles, another race “angel” appeared.  Ben called out for me to catch a runner a few yards ahead and try to follow him.  The runner, an Every Man Jack team member, heard Ben and began to encourage me, too, saying,”You can do it, Robin, match my pace, swing your arms, keep up your cadence.”  This athlete talked me all the way back through the park and into the finish chute.  I never had a chance to tell him how much his words had helped me in the last mile.

I finished the race in 4th place in my age group, running the marathon with a time of 3:46:25.  I bent over, almost collapsing, after the finish line, having given this race everything I could.

 

Run time:  3:46:25

Total time:  10:57:31
Division place:  4
Overall gender place: 7

I had done my best, but I didn’t know whether it was going to be fast enough for Kona.  It didn’t matter at that moment.  I was thankful for my day and grateful for all of the help I’d received.  The experience of emptying myself of every ounce of energy, being present and mindful throughout the experience, and having my friends, family, coach and teammates there made August 21 a day to never forget!

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Kona Qualification

I knew that the top three finishers in my group would take their slots to Kona.  I went to the rolldown ceremony knowing that the only way I’d get a slot is if my group was allocated one more from an age group with no finishers or claimants.  An additional allocation seemed to be a small chance, but a chance nonetheless.

I was, of course, busy chatting when an announcement was made that my group was indeed allocated a fourth spot!  Had I heard correctly?  Unbelievably, I was in!  The feeling was overwhelming and indescribable.  When my name was called, I made my way to the entry table, received my lei and paid my entry in a blur.  In seven weeks, I’d be in Hawaii, doing this all over again at the biggest Ironman race of them all!  It seemed unbelievable, and it would take me awhile to let it sink in.

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40-44 Podium
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Paying my Kona entry fee

Thank you!
Always, Brian White, who never hesitates to encourage me every step of the way, and my girls, who always express pride and grace with all of my training activities.  I love you!!!

Thank you to to my coach, Ben Bigglestone, who knew exactly how to get me prepared for the hills, heat, and a solid run off of the bike.  Without his presence and encouragement on the run, my pace wouldn’t have been what it was, and definitely not what it was during the last few miles.

My support team!  In addition to Brian and the girls, I had Mom, Dad, Lisa, Melissa, Solveig, Kari, and Uncle Johnny there to cheer for me.  The race wouldn’t have been the same without them.  Love you all!

My training buddies!  Liz, Kristin, Maria, Laura, Lee Ann, and Allison.  Thanks for getting me through the long rides, swims and runs throughout the year.  I couldn’t have done it with you guys!

Lee Ann and Dana, Leslie, and other friends who volunteered on raceday.  You’re awesome!  And my team, Vo2 Multisport.  I love how we give each other encouragement and support every step of the way.

“The real reason we race is not so much to beat each other, but to be with each other.”
– Christopher McDougall

2 Timothy 1:7

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Forest fire haze in the sky.  Photo credit Leslie Barber

Nutrition details:
Breakfast:  Bagel, Peanut butter, hard boiled egg, banana, and coffee.  One gel before starting the swim.
On the bike:  About 6-7 bottles of plain water, salt, and 1500 calories of Gu.
On the run:  Water every aid station, salt every few miles, and about 600 calories of Gu, plus 6-8 ounces of Red Bull.

Recovery details:
I had soreness for two to three days as well as insomnia, but began to sleep longer by the second week.  I was able to add some longer bike rides and runs by the end of week two.  Three weeks afterward, I competed in the Lake Stevens Sprint and was able to easily push into my Zone 5, though I could tell some of my sharpness wasn’t quite back and I was really sore afterward.  Knowing that I had another Ironman to do in a few weeks helped me mentally get back into training and maybe even helped me recover a bit more quickly than last time.

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Ironman 70.3 Canada 2016 Race Report

Pre-race

The inaugural IM 70.3 Canada was not on my schedule or even my radar, aside from cheering on some of my teammates and friends.  However, two weeks ago, I had a catastrophic bike failure at Vineman, something that had never happened to me before in my years of racing.  We pour everything into doing our best, and when it’s taken away suddenly, it’s 1) difficult to integrate into our expectations, and 2) forces us look at things in a new way.IMG_8657

I’ll say more about that in my Vineman report, but my experience in Canada confirmed that this situation was somehow working out for the best.  Things don’t always go as planned, or sometimes it takes longer for things to come together again after a failure, but I’m thankful that this one did.

When Ben suggested doing Whistler, it seemed logical.  I’d raced a 70.3 four weeks before Ironman last year, so why not again?  I had concerns that my training had been a mess with a slight taper and all the travel around Vineman.  Then, my DNF left me without the fitness boost of an actual race.  Would I recover quickly enough after Whistler to get back into heavy training?  I trusted my coach on that and signed up!  One of my long time best friends had room in her condo for me, and Brian wasn’t traveling and could get the girls to their camp over the weekend.  I decided on a “quick and light” version of travel, leaving for Canada Saturday morning before the Sunday race.

I liked the simplicity of it:  my bags and gear were organized and ready before I even left my house for Canada.  I didn’t have to bring a ton of extra training gear, clothing or bike parts.  I left at five AM, arrived at nine, checked in, rode my bike to transition, racked it, swam part of the course, and after dropping my run bag in T-1, I was done!  Kari, Michelle and I made dinner in the condo and went to bed by eight-thirty.

(I can’t help contrasting this simple race weekend experience with Boise over three years ago, during which Laura and I had timelines and spreadsheets and discussions about it months in advance.  Seven 70.3s later, a race weekend seems much simpler and way less intimidating.)

Race morning, we were up at four and walking out of the condo by five.  We put our food in our run bags (not allowed the night before due to bears), and the athlete shuttle brought us out to Rainbow Park on Alta Lake.  We had almost three hours to wait in T-1 as the full Ironman racers got started.  The morning was clear and gorgeous.  Mist rose off the lake with mountains in the background.

 

Swim

The swim start was a self-seeded rolling start, the second time I had experienced this.  As with Victoria, it was rough.  The sub-30-minute swimmers were many and aggressive.  Someone even challenged me at the lineup about what kind of time I would swim (27, I said, feeling quite positive, and also because I had just been challenged) and then said he needed to stand in front of me because he’d swim a 26.  Please, go ahead.  I don’t want someone swimming over me.

Well, swam over I was, anyway.  I like to pretend I’m a fish when things get physical, protecting myself but wriggling through the masses gently.  A hand on my back pushed me all the way under, a first for me.  An elbow to my goggles knocked them loose.  But I swam on, thinking “I’m a fish” and not exerting myself and trying to feel calm and smooth.  After about five minutes, my personal space cleared and I was on my way.  I found a guy to draft for most of the way around the single loop, following his bubbles and keeping my strokes calm and smooth.

Time:  27:42
Division Rank:  1

 

Bike

At this race, we receive all the benefits of a full-distance Ironman, because that’s going on at the same time, two hours ahead of us.  We had wetsuit strippers, a changing tent, and handlers.  I grabbed my bike bag, threw on my shoes and helmet in the tent, and was off. 27_m-100728641-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-1321_060020-2603253

I was nervous to start, thinking of my shifting failure two weeks previously.  I shifted gently as I headed south on 99 from Whistler toward Callaghan.  The 70.3 course turns around just after the right turn on Callaghan road, so there’s no real climbing there.  In fact, the first part of the course was a lot of slight downhill grade.  After the turnaround, both bike and car traffic made me very attentive.  We rode in a coned-off section of 99 North, but the road had little manufactured divots to avoid the whole time.  The slight climb back toward Whistler was crowded with cyclists.  After passing Whistler and heading toward Pemberton, I was distracted by the scenery for a few minutes.  The lake to my right was a bright green, and snow-capped mountains rose up behind that.  I watched for people in my AG to pass me, but didn’t see many girls aside from a few twenty- and thirty-somethings.

After the turnaround before Pemberton, the hills began to seem demoralizing.  As I got tired, negative thoughts crept in: that I’m a terrible cyclist, that I’ll never be good on hills, that I’m moving at a crawling pace… it was neverending.  But then suddenly (it seemed, with the metric course being slightly shorter) it did end, and my bike had worked the whole time, and I wasn’t too slow!, it was time for the run.

Time: 2:49:42
Division Rank 2

 

Run

The temperature was climbing into the high seventies, maybe even higher, and the run started with some short, steep ups and downs on the Valley Trail.  This uneven grade continued for most of the run, making it hard to settle into a rhythm anywhere.  But my run felt good during the first part on the gravel of the trail.  Around mile eight, near the turnaround, I began to feel really done, and then a teammate, Samantha, came up behind me.  The run is her strength, so I was so glad to see her and gain a little of her energy for a few minutes as she came up beside me, we chatted for a bit, and then continued on.  I saw a few other friends on the run:  Kari, Karoline, Jennifer and Brad.  I knew others were out there, including some friends and teammates doing the full distance, and knowing that added much to the experience of being out there.  It’s always a joy to be racing with friends, and the camaraderie on the course makes the experience all the more rewarding.  When there was just a two-mile stretch to go, I saw one of my competitors just up ahead of me and when I passed, she called out some encouragement as we ran on toward the finish.  It turned out that it was the first place girl in my age group who would come in ahead of me by 38 seconds, but we weren’t sure at the time how far behind me she’s started the swim.  The last part of the run wound through Whistler Village and into the finish chute on Blackcomb Way. I crossed the line, grateful and elated, and even a little surprised to have completed a race with everything happening the way I hoped it would.  It was a beautiful day in the 70s, with the mountains on which I’d skied all around me, and an awesome feeling to complete my last race before Ironman CdA.

Time:  1:43:49
Rank: 2

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Finished 5:05:15
Div Rank: 2
Overall Female Rank:  9

My finish placing gave me a slot to the 2017 World Championships which will be held in Chattanooga, TN.

Nutrition:  800 calories (gels) on the bike, but no salt because I dropped my salt tube.  Three bottles of water.  400 calories on the run, plus salt and water.

Post race:  An immediate visit to the medical tent.  Sometime during the bike leg I noticed that my eye was cloudy and I really couldn’t see out of it.  I assumed I’d gotten some anti-fog chemicals in it, which worried me enough to go to the med tent after finishing, where they performed a variety of tests and rinses.  The physician finally determined that I had a swollen cornea.  I assume it had to be from the kicked goggles during the swim, but fortunately within 24 hours it was back to normal.

At home, I had a few light workout days, then building to heavier training by Thursday.  I had soreness and a tired feeling through Tuesday, and then turned the corner to feeling more like myself on Wednesday.

Thank you to my husband Brian who is always so supportive of me, me even on a last-minute dash to Canada.  Thanks to my coach Ben Bigglestone, who always has a good backup plan and gets me back on my feet!

Ironman Vineman 70.3 July 10, 2016

Ironman 70.3 Vineman was my eighth IM 70.3 start and my first IM DNF.  This race was a reminder to me that life isn’t certain, and we are definitely never in control of it.  As well as we can plan and prepare, anything can happen.  I’ve been lucky to have had many great races, and just one flat tire ten years ago that resulted in a DNF.

We made this event into a family road trip to Napa Valley, stopping in Bend to see friends, and then spending a couple awesome days in my favorite city of San Francisco before finally ending up at our rental house in Windsor.  It was probably second only to Austria for an enjoyable race-cation!

Race morning was like any other.  I always tend to waste some time worrying about an unrecoverable situation beyond my control, such as a flat, a crash, or an unrideable mechanical, and this time was no different.  I woke up early, ate a bagel and peanut butter, carpooled to the start on the Russian River, set up my bike and then waited around.  We had to drop off clothing bags early, and I actually did my warmup run in the wetsuit.

The swim was uneventful.  I found a strong swimmer to draft, but couldn’t quite pass her, which is the perfect drafting situation.  We swam downriver first, and it was so shallow near the turnaround that my fingers touched the bottom and I had to bend my elbows to keep swimming.  I tried the technique of “dolphining” (pushing off the bottom with my feet), but it seemed to break my rhythm and I wasn’t very skilled at it.

As I approached the beach, I ran through the bike transition sequence in my head, and then it was time to run across the beach and do it in reality.  Again, uneventful.  The bike course started on River Road, then wound around on the curves, through the woods and under a bridge.  My heart rate settled into the low 150s as I biked through the woodsy setting.

As I was preparing to climb near a vineyard around mile 11, I heard a sickening clank of metal on metal.  My pedals locked up and I rolled to a slow stop, almost tipping over, my mind going a million miles ahead of me.  I jumped off my bike and began to yank the chain out from where it was stuck between the rear wheel and the cassette, not believing what I was seeing:  a broken derailleur hanging at a horrifying angle, and something missing from the bent parts poking out everywhere.  In total denial, I kept yanking on the chain, thinking if I could jut get it dislodged I could do something.  My hands turned black from the grease and my watch, which I saw was at 33 minutes, crept to 35, and then 40.  When the chain finally came loose, I saw it had a broken link.

Teammates came by, each of them looking strong and speedy, but clearly feeling awful for me.

After awhile, I began to walk my bike slowly down the road until an Ironman truck pulled up.  The mechanic took one look and said, “I’m sorry, but you’re done.”  I got in his truck and he asked me to hand him my timing chip.  It must have taken me a good hour, plus the handing off of my timing chip to let go of the idea that I’d be finishing this race.

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As with life, we can train and prepare, but nothing is for certain.  One friend said:  Those things that are out of our control are the most frustrating and heartbreaking.  A word that’s been going through my mind lately is “trust,” as in trust the process, and trust the journey.  I’m someone who wants to plan ahead, prepare, think and worry about any foreseeable outcome.  Life can throw us curve balls, and this race was a reminder that all we can do is to do our best, and when things out of our control don’t go the right way (or, when we fail at those things seemingly in our control), we have to honor the disappointed feelings, but then pick up and move on.

The bright side is that there were no injuries to myself or anyone speeding up behind me as I stopped.  And even brighter was getting to do this a few weeks later!

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Follow up:  Some forensics determined that my derailleur may have been bumped out of place due to a minor accident in San Francisco a few days before the race.  The shifting was off just enough that when I shifted to the large ring on the rear cassette the chain slipped between it the rear wheel, causing the lockup and virtual explosion of the parts.  Fortunately it was an easy fix, and Northwest Tri and Bike had me rolling again the next week!

 

Ironman Chattanooga 2015 Race Report

“How do you know you’re going to do something, until you do it?”

-Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye

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Ironman Village

On a long ride with my friend Laura about a year ago, the conversation turned to Ironman.  I always thought I’d race one someday, but suddenly, what had always been my “maybe someday” race, turned into: “We are going to do this in the fall of 2015!”  It look Laura’s forward momentum and enthusiasm to get the ball rolling, but I couldn’t deny that everything was lining up this year.  Various self-imposed “obstacles” (like my kids not being in full time school yet) had vanished.  I’d done all the other distances – quite a few of them.  It was simply time to go for the 140.6.

Choosing CHOO

So, which one to do?  Local races (Canada, Coeur D’Alene) were out – they seemed too early.  I wanted to do most of my riding in the Seattle summer (which to me starts in July).  Chattanooga and Maryland were the right time of year and good courses for me.  I happen to love the south, had raced in the region before, and other team members were signing up.  What could be better?  Friends, atmosphere, and a long lead time.  CHOO it was.  I talked to my coach, got online, paid my entry fee, and just like that, I was signed up for my first Ironman. I had a feeling of total calm and total excitement, if it’s possible to feel those things together.

One crazy, busy year later I was running around Chattanooga with Laura and Lee Ann, picking up swag, checking out the course, and sampling southern restaurants.  As we kept busy with pre-race tasks, I felt a little bit sad.  For the past year, much of my life had revolved around the date of September 27, and after Sunday, my Ironman year would be over, just like that.  It had been different and interesting to distill my life down to just the basics while my training weeks got bigger and bigger.  Of course, I looked forward to having some room in my schedule for other things after raceday, but I was sorry to see this season come to a close.  Ironman training had been a long but awesomely satisfying process, and I’d definitely miss it.

However, there wasn’t much time to ponder potentially missing something when I had a race coming up in 72 hours.

Pre-race

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Race gear bags ready to go

My type-A friends and I had created a detailed spreadsheet for our pre-race plans, preventing anything from being left to chance. We blew into town Wednesday and started checking things off.  Build bikes, swim at the YMCA, go to athlete check-in and briefing, hit the merch-tent, pre-ride and pre-swim parts of the course, and even try out some of Chattanooga’s cool and fun restaurants.

By Saturday, the tasks wound down, and race nerves took their place.  I swam the end of the course with Rocky in the morning, had breakfast alone, as much as I could eat, then met the girls at bike check-in where we dropped off bikes and gear bags.  By lunchtime I was no longer hungry, and dinner was the same as lunch; I couldn’t eat very much but managed a few bites of pasta with my parents and friend Michelle.  I curled up in bed by eight with my companion: my sheer disbelief about what I was going to do in the morning. The entire year of training passed before my eyes and it was almost too much to think about.  I must have slept, because it seemed like the next minute the alarm was ringing me into my long day ahead.

Race Day

I parked and arrived at transition at 4:20 AM.  Laura, Lee Ann and I had already dropped run and bike bags Saturday, so we quickly looked over very wet bikes (lots of rain overnight), pumped tires and dropped special needs bags off.  Once I started moving through things I was supposed to do, my nerves settled down.  About 4:50 AM the loudspeaker crackled with the announcement that it would be a wetsuit-optional swim with a water temperature of 77 degrees, so I handed off my wetsuit to Drew, our Vo2 support person. We wanted to board the swim-start shuttle bus ASAP to try to line up near the front of the rolling start line, and as planned, we were done in transition in 25 minutes and onto the bus. The shuttle dropped us off at a park along the river (which incidentally was part of the run course, too).

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Lee Ann and I waiting for the swim start

We walked along a paved path toward the water until we reached the end of the line of athletes, then spread out a space blanket and some plastic bags, sat down, and prepared to wait.  It was 5:30, so we had two hours to wait in the dark, and I was so glad to have Laura, Lee Ann, and Rocky there to wait with.  Even that early we were still a hundred yards from the front of the line, but within the hour the line grew after us further than we could see and we were actually relatively close to the front.  We took turns going to the porta-potty, and as the time got closer, I used my swim cords to warm up, put on my swim-skin and packed my clothes in the morning-clothes bag. The sky began to lighten about 7:15.

Go time! At 7:20 we hear the cannon for the pro start and things quickly get moving.  All wetsuit wearers must go to the back of the line and are ineligible for awards, but will still officially finish.  Wetsuit wearers in front of us stand aside and we pass them with our swim skins on and morning clothes bags packed.  I see my mom in the crowd of spectators at the start and give her a quick hug. Then, I hand my bag to a volunteer right before the swim-start arch, walk to the dock and jump in!  I am finally racing in an Ironman, and the feeling is incredible.

Swim

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Swim finish

I begin to swim at a “strong aerobic” pace.  The water feels quite cool at first, but my mind moves on and after a minute I don’t notice the temperature.  It’s a bit crowded, and people seem to be angling in different directions.  Some swim straight down the buoy line on swimmer’s left, and others more toward the center of the river. The course is a large C-shape, so technically the fastest current would be closer to the buoys. I end up “straightening” out the course a bit – further away from the buoys in the middle. I’m not sure if this was the best line, or if it matters that much, because the current was not that fast today. I need to pass quite a few people, and I seem to be getting too close to people or having to alter my aim to go around.  Soon, I sense I’m in the clear.  Yellow buoys are easy to see on my left, and a line of kayaks is visible on my right.  I watch for the buoys to change to red – a sign that I’m halfway done.  I sneak a quick glance at my watch as I pass the first red buoy.  25:52.

I’d swum the end of the swim course yesterday, so I know where I’m going once I see three bridges.  I can hear the spectators as I approach the final buoy.  I turn left, swim to the stairs and volunteers pull me up.  I hear Laura’s husband yell from the bridge and I look up and see him and Wyatt, and then I see Michelle and my dad closer to the transition. I’m smiling, so thrilled that I’m finally doing this!

Swim time: 50:10

Division place: 1

Pace 1:17/100 (downriver)

 

Transition 1

I grab my bike gear bag from its place and head to the changing tent.  Only about three athletes are in it and a huge line of volunteers wait to help.  One of them follows me in and takes my swim stuff as I’m getting my bike shoes on.  I reconfirm with myself that I’m not going to wear arm warmers; it’s in the mid-60s or maybe even warmer out and I’m no longer worried about starting the bike cold.  I do forget to place my white arm coolers in my pocket before running out of the tent.  It’s overcast now though, so I should be fine.  I take a second or two at the sunscreen station to get slathered up and them I’m off to grab my bike.

T-1 time: 4:31


Bike

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North Georgia country roads

I hop on my bike at the mount line and roll out.  I’ve ridden the first part of the course, so I’m ready for the several train tracks we have to cross and generally know where I’m going.  I settle in.  It’s going to be a long ride.  I take the few turns through town to the Georgia state line and then ramp up onto the highway.  I start on my plan: Power and HR in check, eat a gel every twenty minutes for the first two hours, then begin to spread them further out. Drink at least a bottle an hour, skipping just the first feed zone because I’m carrying three.  Take salt every five miles.  I’m apparently hydrated enough because I stop in porta-potties three times in the six hours. I’m super quick at it: a volunteer holds my bike, I dash in and out, and one time someone even gives me a push to get going.

The weather is cloudy and humid, but comfortable.  I watch my Garmin, because I know the second I lose focus my HR will be up to 150, past my designated cap. I’ve done too many 70.3s, and it’s psychologically hard to hold back, but I think I do a decent job of keeping it where it’s supposed to be. I think about pedaling smoothly, keeping my upper body relaxed, and not “working” my muscles too hard.

The course is a lollipop-shape, with approximately 11 miles to reach the start of a 47-mile loop, which you then do twice. The two-lane roads are very clean, and the few bumps are marked with spray paint.  The course is mostly rollers, mostly gentle, but some hills are bigger than others. There’s a nice downhill in the second part of the loop. I keep seeing some of the same guys, though many other athletes, including some fast girls, fly past me.  I’m okay with that.  Being passed a lot early on is part of my plan.  On the second part of the loop is the town of Chickamauga, Georgia.  A shuttle takes spectators out there and the energy is amazing. It’s bannered up and spectators line both sides, cheering at the top of their lungs.  It’s quite a boost in the middle of the ride. It’s also the location of the bike special needs bags, but I don’t need to stop for mine, which contains only a spare tube and an extra clothing layer.

I see Drew on the course a couple times, giving updates and encouragement.  Rocky passes me, looking strong.

The second loop is as good as the first. I’m beginning to feel my legs.  My quads feel crampy and I double up on the salt.  I realize I’m about a bottle behind and begin to drink a little faster.  I look at my watch and wonder if I’ll get under six hours.  When I hit the 11-mile point back to town, I know it will be close.

Bike time (116 miles):  6:01:24

Bike pace:  19.26

Division place:  8

 

Transition 2:

So quick!  Someone takes my bike, I grab my run bag and head back to the tent.  A volunteer packs up my bike helmet and shoes while I get my running shoes on.

T-2:  4:37

 

Run

Here it is. This is the part of the race about which I have had the most fear and respect. As I hand off my bike to a volunteer, I have a sense of entering into the unknown. I don’t want to screw it up and I know that controlling the bike was part of it.  Have I done enough?  Now to run SLOW!  No faster than nines.  I head out of the tent and spectators are cheering loudly.  I see not only my parents, but Michelle, Dennis, Wyatt…. I try to take it easy and get the legs working.  I feel good, very good.  I glance down and my pace is 7:50.  Not good.  8:20.  Still way too fast.  But now it’s a slight downhill.  I consciously relax and slow it down and finally hit close to a nine-minute pace.  My HR is right where it should be so I let my pace hover by 8:55.

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On the run along the Tennessee River

We leave the spectator area and head north along a highway.  It’s warm and humid, but cloudy.  I’m so happy for the cloud cover.  We head down the path where we waited at the swim start and then the run is along the river.  It feels relatively pleasant so far.  Some of the pro women are on their second lap and they fly by.  Aid stations are every mile and they come quickly. It’s a routine: first you see the mile marker for the second lap, then for the first, then the aid station appears in the distance.  I eat my gels every thirty minutes and drink one cup of water at aid stations.  I take my Base salt.  My skin is drenched from the sweat and humidity.  I think about doing this whole loop again and fear strikes me for a minute when I’m around mile 9 and I see the mile 18 marker for the second loop runners.  How will I feel then?  Will I still be okay?  I run on, bringing my focus back to the first loop.

Across the river the course becomes hilly. Up and down, through residential areas, through a beautiful country-club neighborhood.  I don’t walk, though lots of people are.  I am afraid that if I walk it will be too hard to start running again.   I’d rather run than start and stop.  I’m feeling it now.  I have 13 miles to go.  I see Kristie, a friend from Huntsville, as I cross the bridge near transition and I’m super excited to see her and find I still do have some energy as I wave and exchange a few words.  On the second loop, I see Rocky and we chat. I see Ann on the river path. It’s awesome to see familiar faces racing, and Drew is out on the run course, too, offering encouragement.

Soon, I notice that my pace is dropping.  The clouds disappear and the sun blazes out, and a few times I suddenly don’t feel right.  A weird dizziness passes through me.  I think I might faint or throw up but not sure which.  The feeling goes away but I can’t face another gel so I drink coke instead at the next aid station. Despite this, I am still connected to the feeling I had from the very start of the swim: incredible joy and amazement that I’m out here, racing in an Ironman. It even makes me smile at times through the effort.

I jog through the stations while I drink my water, again not letting myself walk.  I start noticing a strange pain in the lower front of one of my shins and I try to alter my gait a bit to make it go away. I try to think about my core and my posture.  In fact, not only my shin hurts, I realize, but my legs hurt.  So strange!  I continue on around the loop, dreading the hills on the back side.  I notice my HR hovering below 140 at times.  I try to move faster but I cannot make myself move faster.  For the first time in the race I feel a note of discouragement overtaking my happiness of racing.  I have to be willing to be uncomfortable.  I must realize that everyone is fading and slowing. I need to fade and slow the least of my peers!  I down a gel, even though I’m worried my stomach will revolt, but it doesn’t, and ten minutes later I sense that it’s picked me up a bit.   I don’t let my head drop heading up the hills because somehow keeping my chin up keeps me going.  I continue to press on and somehow make it up and down those hills again. It’s the lowest point of the race for me, yet at the same time, I start to sense the finish, and start to fully know and understand that I’ll make it.  Here is mile 24, then 25!  I cross the bridge over the Tennessee River again to cheering spectators, and I can hear the announcer in the distance telling racers, You Are an Ironman.  Soon it will be my turn to hear those words.  I head to the finish, and it’s a half mile, all downhill, then the chute is in front of me.  Emotions overtake me at this point, but when I run across the red carpet and under the black arch, I’m too excited and thrilled to do anything but smile.  Robin White, You Are An Ironman!

Run:  4:00:53

Pace: 9:11     

 

Final Time:  11:00:05

Divison Place:  5

Post race

I see my parents first and give them a hug right after my “catcher” helps me through the process of getting my medal, photo and finisher shirt and hat.  My legs ache; there’s no other way to describe it.  It’s just a dull ache.  A Normatec booth is right by the finish and I hop into a chair and they tip me back and I get ten minutes in the inflatable boots. It feels awesome. Food is the last thing I want.  I see teammates and others and share congrats, the whole time feeling faint.  Finally back at the hotel I force myself to eat some cold pizza from my fridge, the only thing that sounds halfway palatable, and then I have a milkshake with Laura and Lee Ann.  I slowly begin to feel better, but that night I can’t sleep until at least 1 AM.

The next day, I feel somewhat sore, but not too bad.  I’ve been in more pain after hilly 70.3s. My stomach still feels queasy. I’m hungry but food makes my stomach feel worse.  My awesome husband had sent a beautiful congratulatory fruit platter to my room and I nibble on some some pineapple and watermelon, which tastes very refreshing but still hard to swallow.

After I get home, I finally start sleeping – eight, nine, ten hours. By Thursday evening I am turning the corner, my stomach feels better, and I even go for a nice bike ride on Friday morning. I run Saturday morning but feel flat and pace is slow, but otherwise I am starting to feel back to normal.  All week I’m on a high that I’ve finished an Ironman.

Thank you!

There are really no words to describe the feeling after doing an Ironman for the first time.  It truly taught me about what I can handle and manage, but also what a community-oriented sport triathlon is, especially Ironman.  I would not have wanted to do all of this alone, and could not have.  Brian never hesitated in giving me that push to sign up as soon as I mentioned it, always jumped in to do more around the house when I was out training early and late.  My girls calmly handled my erratic schedule and cheered me on every day.  On the coaching side, Ben Bigglestone set up my IM year with knowledge, experience and precision.  If he posted a certain pace or distance on my training log, I knew I was ready for it!  And my training buddies!  Seventy, eighty and hundred-mile rides, not to mention chilly early swims, track workouts and long runs, were a breeze with awesome friends and Vo2 Multisport teammates alongside me.  It was awesome to have my parents in Chattanooga to support me!  Thanks, Mom and Dad!  Loved the camaraderie of racing with Laura, Lee Ann, Rocky and Ann.  My parents, Michelle, Kristie, Laura’s family, and Drew out there on course kept me going a little faster at all points in the race.  And, everyone at home who cheered for me – knowing that you were tracking me put a spring in my step!  During the race, I thought a lot about my good friend Stephanie, who is fighting breast cancer.  Thinking about her challenges inspired me to keep it going when it got tough, and this one was definitely for her.

Somehow, after this race, triathlon (and maybe even life!) will never be quite the same.  I don’t doubt that another 140.6 is on the radar in the near future, and knowing a little about what’s in store will make it both more exciting and more challenging the next time around.

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The finish line
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Top five in the 40-44 age group

Ironman 70.3 World Championship 2015 – Zell am See

Zell am See, Austria – August 30, 2015

Race Report

The 70.3 World Championship has been on my calendar since racing at Ironman 70.3 Augusta last year. I qualified with a 3rd place in my age group, and then had a slight panic attack about signing up for such a huge thing as a championship race in Austria.  Brian practically had to push me up to the stage to get my spot, with me saying, “We can’t go to Austria!”  But, yes, we could and would go, and somehow I got up on the stage and took the spot. I also owe a thanks to the winner of my age group, who convinced me that I had to take it, that I’d absolutely love it.  Now that it’s done, I am so incredibly grateful and thankful for everyone who supported me in making that decision, training for it, and cheering for me as it took place.  It was so much fun!

Note:  It’s the first time that the 70.3 Worlds has been held outside of North America.  (Clearwater, FL, Henderson, NV, Mt. Tremblant, Quebec, and now Zell am See, Austria.)  Next year it will be in Brisbane. (“I can’t go to Brisbane!”)

Pre-race
This is probably be the most drawn out pre-race portion of any race report I’ve done.  It involves such things at getting lost in dead-end calles in Venice while running, near-whiplash from looking at the stunning scenery everywhere, and also trying to maintain a kind-of high volume training schedule due to Ironman Chattanooga four weeks later.

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Last beer before race day

Our journey started a week before the race when Brian, the girls, and I flew to Munich.  I ran on the neat and pretty running trails there after an evening at the famous public drinking hall, the Hofbrauhaus (where I drank a pint, if not a liter, and ate sausages and apfelstrudel).

After obligatory pics at Marienplatz and the Glockenspiel, we hopped in our rental minivan and drove to Venice, stopping to look at amazing alpine scenery on the way. The drive took all day, and we arrived in Venice at sundown, parked our car in the huge garage where everyone parks before walking into the historic city of Venice, and then rolled our suitcases over bridges and cobblestones until we found our little apartment on a canal.  (We left my bike in the car, packed in its box under the rear screen, and hoped it would be there when we returned.)

Venice is a story for another post, but the race-report highlight is an incredible hour-long run through the Fondaments, Calles and Ponts of the old city.  I was supposed keep my effort at Z2, which was easy to do with all the turns and obligatory stops for pictures.  I jogged along through the ornate brick buildings, narrow alleyways, open squares and cobblestone streets, just trying to keep heading the same general direction.  You can’t just follow a canal because sometimes the walkway ends and the canal backs straight up to the buildings.  I would turn and try a different way, and sometimes run into a dead end or back at the same place.  It was a perfect way to explore Venice for the first time, and then when we walked around later I felt like I knew a little of the layout.  It was one of the coolest runs I’ve ever done.

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Heading out for a run
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Some of the morning sights
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GPS of my run

After two nights, much marveling at the history and scenery, and celebrating our 14th anniversary, we headed north into the Alps to our rented chalet high up on a hillside near Zell am See (thank you Kelly Larson!), and I began to mentally get into race mode.  First up after check-in was a ride of the full course because I needed the volume for Ironman CHOO.  I headed out with Paul and Molly for a ride that I couldn’t believe.  We weren’t the only ones riding the course:  a pack of at least twenty other people of various nationalities joined us as we cruised out of town and headed for the hills.  Highway 311 heading out of Zell am See was crowded with cars and cyclists, but it seemed that the Austrian drivers knew what to do, and I never really felt unsafe even with the speedy traffic.  We soon left the highway to begin our climb up the Hochkönig road.  (According to Wikipedia, Hochkönig is the highest mountain in the Berchtesgaden Alps and also refers to the area of three small ski towns surrounding it.)  We ascended a hill nine miles to reach the ski town of Dienten (Dienten am Hochkönig).  When we crested the hill, in front of us was the mountain itself, an enormous, broad limestone peak, and in front of it, a white church and steeple sitting on a green meadow.  It was stunning.  How could anything be so picturesque?

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View from Dienten

Paul and Molly only had part of the ride on their schedule, so after much picture-taking and many “OMGs,” I continued on, down the switchback descent and back around the course, stopping to refuel with a Bavarian pretzel in the town of Maria Alm.

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A data roaming glitch captured my feelings perfectly. This text to Brian kept repeating itself.

Over the next two days I swam the course and ran and we even managed a tourist day in amazing Salzburg.  I was feeling prepared, aside from dealing with the time change and trying to eat healthily and drink a lot (of water).  Over this last season, my pre-race nerves have stayed more under control than they have in the past.  I think I know some of the reasons for this, but that’s something for another post too.  One of my main goals for today was to be able to execute my race plan without errors.  When I raced Worlds last time, in Lake Las Vegas, my race didn’t go all that well.  My nerves were too much and my body didn’t seem to respond the way it needed to.  This time I was feeling better prepared and less nervous.

Race Morning

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Run bags ready to go

My race started at 11:46 AM, so the morning felt relaxed.  I woke up around 8 AM, had toast, peanut butter, coffee and a lot of water.  The day was already hot!  The forecast was for 32C/89F.  I reminded myself that it had been hot back home and I do have some heat training in me.  Hope it works!  Mat drove Molly, Jeremy and I into the transition area and dropped us off.  I checked my bike over, put on some sunscreen and then lounged in the shade by myself to go over my race plan one more time.

Swim
The swim course, in the cold and clear Lake Zell, was a narrow rectangle shape.  For the swim, I was supposed to be a little more conservative today, so I decided that it would help to start to the side, rather than front and center.  When I did Las Vegas Worlds, the swimmers in the front and center were so incredibly aggressive that I expended a lot of energy at the start to try to get into a rhythm and break away.  There was another woman starting beside me who said “I’m over here too because I’m staying away from that,” pointing to the center of the lineup.  Staying away from that worked today.  I sailed off the start line nice and smoothly and not too fast.  Nobody was in my way as I angled toward the first buoy, keeping my strokes smooth and regular.  I found some feet to draft here and there, and was so glad I’d swum the course the day before – it all felt familiar.  The sun was in my eyes on the way back, but the buoys were placed every fifty feet, so it wasn’t a problem to see them.

Swim time: 27:27
Division place:  4

T-1
Swim over, I jogged and jogged and jogged to the bike bags, grabbed mine from its hook, and dumped everything out by a bench, sat down and threw on my shoes and helmet, and then jogged and jogged and jogged to my bike.  Whew, long transition.

T1: 5:30

Bike
I was also supposed to be conservative on the bike.  I had the opportunity to start the bike right behind Rocky at Victoria and observe how he started so smoothly.  I’m of course temped to just take off as fast as possible, even though I’ve been told not to, and it has taken me a long time to learn how to make myself not do this.  So I started as gently (a relative term!) as possible.  We started on a paved bike path before hitting the highway, and it was a bit crowded, but not bad.  I looked down to grab my first gel and realize that it’s not there!  I still have some in my zip-bag on the top tube, but the ones in the front cup are gone.  Not taking the time to speculate what had happened to them, I counted in my head what I’d put in the bag and I probably still had enough.  Soon after that, something else distracted me.  I noticed that everyone had their number bib on.  Everyone!  To back up:  This morning, I’d heard you’d be disqualified if you don’t have your bib on the bike.  Mine was tucked away in my run bag and checked into run transition, but I’d asked an official if I should try to get it before the start.  He told me it’s recommended, but OK if you don’t.  So I didn’t.  And now everyone else has theirs.  What if he was wrong and I really do get DQ’ed?  Would they yank me off the course at the run start or let me finish it anyway??  I stewed over that while I pedaled along and finally realized it had been thirty minutes since I’ve eaten or had any water.  Ugh, what’s wrong with me? I need to focus!  I got back on the food schedule and slowly stopped worrying about the bike bib thing.  I rode down the highway – now closed to traffic – into a tunnel, then exited the highway, down a hill, over a bridge and then The Climb was in front of me.1135_017984

I climbed the first part of the Hochkönig without pressuring my pedals too much.  Slow, slow slow, smooth smooth.  Gotta get through a hot run.  I was so glad I’d biked the course before, it felt familiar and I was ready (kind of) for that descent.  Then after the alpine town of Dienten, I dumped my full lower water bottle to get rid of some weight and began to climb the last two steep kilometers.  I stood up a few times to change up the muscle work and got myself to the top while trying not to get my HR above its cap.  Then, the summit and tons of people cheering:  Super Super Robin, Huppa!  Brava!  I felt like I was in the Tour de France!  The descent came quickly:  it got steep and steeper, like going over a bowling ball, and then began to wind to the left then right, back and forth.  I wish I’d had a little more practice, but I did the best I could with a new bike and wheels and a hill I’d descended only one time before.  They’d installed huge padded crash walls on the bike course to prevent you, if you lost control, from going over the side and down to the next part of the road.  Scary!  I would have needed a few more times on the hill to really open it up, but I tried not to ride my brakes too much and enjoyed it as much as possible.  The view was as incredible as during the pre-ride, and so glad I’d gotten to take pics then.

My arms felt shaky from descending but I leaned on my aero bars and relaxed as the road finally straightened out and I could let it fly.  Whooshed past the adorable town of Maria Alm where I’d had the pretzel, and back down to the valley.  I knew the rest of the ride would be flat and fast – and hot.  It was now approaching 3 PM and the sun was really beating down on us.  I drank and drank, ate salt and the rest of my Gu’s.  So far so good.  I cruised into transition wrapping my head about the hot run to come.

Bike time: 2:52:28
Bike pace: 19.5 MPH
Division place: 13

T-2
T-2 is always quick.   I dropped the bike on the rack, stopped in the porta-potty – exactly 15 seconds!! – grabbed my run bag and dumped it by a bench.  Shoes off, shoes on, finally have my bib! and I take off running, but not too fast.

T-2: 4:55

Run
Uh oh, tummy.  Sloshing and feeling a little nauseous.  Okay, this has happened before, especially Augusta.  It will go away.  I keep running, keeping my HR in the 150s, steady and smooth.  I pass Brian and the girls – awesome!  Norah squirts me with a water bottle and it feels good and cold!  Then we head into the town of Zell am See.  Spectators are unbelievable, lining the streets three and four deep, yelling for us and calling us by name.  Super, super Robin!  Huppa!  Brava!  The course is crowded with runners, too.  I head through the cobblestones and cute buildings.  Now I come to a three-way chute.  Ooh, quick, which way do I go?  Not to the finish, not the middle, but to the far right.  First loop.  A volunteer slaps a green wrist band on me and I take off to the north on the paved lake trail.  I drink water and take salt at each of the aid stations.  I cruise along, the blue lake and mountains to my right.  I’m supposed to cap my HR at 160 but I can’t get above 155.  That’s weird! I’m working so hard.  And it’s hot!  Why am I not fighting to stay away from 170?  (Later Ben informs me that this is the result of the Ironman training – ah, that makes sense!)  I grab handfuls of ice and throw it down my top and shorts but then I realize that I just put wayyy to much ice in my pants.  BRRRR!  Too cold.  But other than that, I’m feeling good, which is a relative term because I’m hot and starting to fatigue and still have nine miles to go.  But I don’t feel sick and not cramping and all these spectators! And I’m in Europe on a beautiful lake, and there’s Jeremy, and Todd, and Alycia zooming by.IMG_8070

Second loop, get a red wristband, and I know I’ll be able to maintain.  I see Heidi on the out-and-back, and we wave, but too far away for high-fives.  I look for Brian and the girls but they must have missed me.  There’s Annie – Jeremy’s mom – and then Mat and the Larsons cheering.  Love it!  That gives me another boost as I run through the cobblestone streets of town to the second loop along the lake.

I keep eating and drinking and round the turnaround at the top part of the loop and it’s only three miles back to town.  I’m going to make it!  My calf begins to cramp with a mile to go.  What??  I am not usually prone to cramps; this feels really strange.  I don’t even know if it’s a cramp or something else, but I seem to be able to keep running.  I keep going with a slight limp and finally run through the finish chute, so happy to complete another race, especially this amazing one in Zell am See!

Run time: 1:47:37
Run pace: 8:13

Total time: 5:17:57
Division place: 19

Nutrition details
Pre-race dinner: pasta and salad
Breakfast:
toast, peanut butter, coffee
Bike nutrition
6 gels, banana, 5ish bottles of water (maybe 4.5), salt every 5-10 miles
Run nutrition
5 gels (!), water every stop, one cup of coke, salt 4 times

Post race
Because of the IM training, most likely, this was the easiest race recovery I’ve had so far, with no soreness, just some tightness in my quads.  The girls and I caught a plane home the next morning, and spent the rest of the week trying to recover from jet lag and sleep through the night.  I’m the least tired I’ve been after a half-ironman distance race, which is good because it’s back to training and 3 weeks to CHOO!1135_049755

Huge thanks to Brian and the girls for coming all the way to Austria, as well as putting up with all of my training time at home and my neglect of some of my regular mom-duties. 🙂

Enormous thanks to Ben.  His coaching has allowed me to sail through all of this training, reaching volume and pace goals that I was anxious about a year ago, as well as manage an Ironman buildup, travel, and a 70.3 just a few weeks before Ironman.

Much appreciation to Sam and Quintana Roo.  When I unpacked my bike in Austria, I discovered I was missing a tiny but very important piece of my bike seat post assembly. They found one for me just in time.

And last but definitely not least, thanks to my running and biking buddies – couldn’t have done all this without you awesome ladies!!