|This was almost my St. George scenario,|
but I managed to avoid the bike mishap.
(these were posted at the banquet)
If you've been following my blog, you know all the prep work I did for Ironman St. George, especially on the bike trainer. I only managed to get my bike outside for a whopping three days before the race. Thus, taking on a hilly bike course with very little outdoor riding and temperatures in the 90s, I knew Ironman St. George would be the challenge of my life. It didn't help that the course is considered the hardest of all Ironman courses and has one of the highest drop-out rates. The statistics were downright scary - I posted the bike and run course profiles previously, and you can read the article from RunTri.com for more stats.
I went to St. George with more than just a little trepidation - in fact, "fear" is a mild description of what I was feeling. To make matters more stressful, I would only have about 30 hours in St. George before race day, May 7, because I needed to be in Cleveland at least through the morning of May 5 for my employer, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, to open a brand new exhibit.
Two labors of love in less than 48 hours would really try my anxiety level - and the second one (my Ironman) certainly looked to be the one to suffer due to lack of sleep and stress. I would be unable to drive the bike course (thank heavens I had seen it on the RacerMate Real Course Video), and I would have to digest what I could of the run course only 16 hours prior to the start. My body would have to shake off five hours on a plane followed by two hours in a car, adjust to a two-hour time zone change, and acclimatize from Cleveland's cold rain to desert conditions - dry with temperatures over 90 degrees F. We were lacking integral support personnel. J-Team member Julie (a.k.a. "J3") could not make the trip because of prior obligations. And the race support double-whammy: my good friend Ron (a.k.a. Punk Rock Tri Guy), who was all set to step in as an honorary J-Team member even though his name didn't fit the rules, had a work emergency and could not make the trip. My husband Jim would be alone this time, and my stress level increased a bit worrying about him having to deal with the potential fallout (i.e., my attitude) if my race went badly.
Indeed, conditions were perfect for a disaster.
Before the race, Jim and I had one conversation many times: my goal in Ironman St. George must be singular: "get to the finish line." I was NOT to worry about time or place. After dropping out of Ironman Lake Placid last year with severe dehydration and spending nine months beating myself up about it, it was more important, mentally, for me cross the finish line than to get a Kona slot. And by crossing the finish line, I mean NOT in an ambulance. Extra credit would be given for staying out of the medical tent. Placing in my age group would take care of itself (or not).
|Still had time for body marking after "emergency check-in."|
After eight hours of traveling and only seven hours of sleep, Jim and I accomplished all of the above, then drove the run course. By 4 p.m., the only things left to do on May 6 would be to eat dinner (preferably Italian) and try to get some sleep. And if you've read my posts, you already know sleeping is a next-to-impossible pre-race task.
We looked for a restaurant off the beaten path to avoid the pre-race jitters that come with being around other athletes. After searching in vain - both digitally and analog - for a mom-and-pop-type Italian restaurant, we gave up and chose a local sports bar/restaurant called St. Helens after reading good reviews on UrbanSpoon. All I wanted was a bowl of spaghetti and a glass of wine (or two) - and they had both. The bonus came in an extremely friendly and funny waiter. He kept trying to convince me to order the "kids portion," and I kept asking him if he understood what an Ironman was (and that the kids portion couldn't possibly be enough). We had a grand time - it was low-key and very relaxing and my mind was at ease.
That night, much to my surprise (even today), I slept. Like a rock. Maybe it was the fatigue of traveling. Maybe it was the two glasses of cheap Cabernet. Maybe it was the fact that Jim finally convinced me that I "trained for" this and that my worries were completely unnecessary. Whatever it was, it worked. I even woke up twice during the night and went BACK to sleep.
WIth a good night's sleep, potential disaster number one - stomach problems and incoherence due to sleep deprivation - was averted.
The alarm went off at 3:40 a.m. I downed my breakfast - banana, orange juice, Starbucks Via, soy protein and Hammergel, took a quick shower, donned my old Tyr two-piece tri suit and put all my swim needs and race nutrition in the morning clothes bag. Jim drove me down to T2 to drop my run special needs bag and take a bus to Sand Hollow State Park for the start. While on the bus, I chilled out to my favorite relaxation album, Ether Song by Turin Brakes.
|Unlike previously thought, the Ironman St. George|
swim course actually DOES have a hill in it.
The swim was a counter-clockwise near-rectangle (with a diagonal finish) that started in deep water. The seriously-cold water sucked the breath right out of me when I first got in (it was the coldest water I've ever raced in). Because of the cold, many athletes had barely stepped foot in the reservoir by the time the cannon went off. I had been treading water (or hanging onto volunteers' kayaks and surfboards) for about 10 minutes by that point.
|The swim start.|
I finished the 2.4-mile swim leg in 1:01 and headed into T1. On the way, I stopped to get help from the wetsuit strippers. But with swim socks and no BodyGlide, it became a comedy of errors. The "peelers" dragged me across the ground several times before it was all over. It was so ridiculous, my ordeal managed to get a highlight in the volunteer video shown at the awards banquet.
|First step, before "peeler" ordeal, was getting my wetsuit top off.|
My goal on the bike was to keep my heart rate down, fuel well, and arrive at T2 with strength left in my legs. I didn't know how feasible that was knowing we had to ride up that hill twice. Based on last year's age group winner's 6:17 (17.4 mph average), I predicted a bike time of about 6:30. After a relaxed and easy first loop, I was shocked to notice my average speed was just under 19 mph. I had ridden over 60 miles on nasty hills with absolutely no feeling of spent legs like in the past. Concerned for a moment that I went out too fast, I reminded myself that the 6:30 goal was based on performances in past races. It did not take into account all the hard work I put in on the bike this winter.
|Going into second loop.|
|Bike finish, still feeling good.|
|Heading out on the run. Oh the heat!|
Going into the second loop, Jim reminded me to "take it easy!" - he said I had a 15-minute lead on second place in my age group based on the electronic tracker. I relaxed a bit and breathed a sigh of relief because I was starting to feel a little stomach discomfort and nausea. I had been drinking water and Ironman Perform every mile and taking one Metasalt electrolyte capsule every half-hour (amounting to over 300 mg of sodium per hour, which would prove to be not enough in these conditions). My legs were feeling very good. The only thing I had trouble with at this point was consuming gel (or anything solid) because of stomach issues.
|Heading out on second loop.|
Yeah, but it's a DRY heat!
By mile 17, I found myself slumped over at an aid station vomiting the contents of my stomach. The only positive thing (if there is a positive thing about vomiting) was that not much came up, and therefore fluids MUST HAVE BEEN getting past my stomach. One of the amazing race volunteers helped me to a chair under a tent and talked me through it. Her advice: I was severely dehydrated and needed to get some salt/electrolytes into my system. After vomiting about five more times, I was able to take two capsules and down some water. The med consult came over, took my pulse and told me my skin temperature was good (i.e., cool).
Despite this, I was beginning to panic. The volunteers reassured me I would finish - and I had until midnight to do so. I forgot that I promised Jim I would get to the finish line at all costs and had started imagining an age-group win (and a trip to Kona). For cryin' out loud, I needed to maintain my position. I was nine miles from the finish!!! It was so close! Why was this happening again? I thought I practiced this! How did it all go wrong once more?!? (A rational mind would have realized it was the heat that I was nutritionally unprepared for.)
In times like these, I have always made bad decisions. But with my mental faculties intact (this is a HUGE assumption), I knew I had a cushioned lead, so I forced myself against instinct to stay seated until the nausea passed. And,.... miraculously... it did. After maybe five or six minutes (I think), I was able to shake it off and start running again. I thanked the volunteers for their help and took off. Strangely, my LEGS still felt good.
Disaster number two - averted.
Disaster number three loomed on the horizon.
The fallout from so little carbo intake during the run began around mile 20. I started feeling lightheaded and shaky. I alternately walked and ran - lamenting several ten-plus-minute miles. Realizing what was happening, I managed to choke down a double-caffeinated Powerbar Gel grabbed from my special needs bag at mile 13. My Gu Roctane (my normal gel of choice) was now akin to that one last shot of tequila that puts you over the edge. Just the smell of it would have given me dry heaves.
Heat? What heat?
And so I ran. Hard. I didn't even stop for water at the last aid station.
When I saw the roundabout that sends runners to the finish line, I still hadn't yet seen the 26-mile marker but I was within earshot of Mike Reilly's voice announcing the finishers. When I rounded the last corner, the finish was RIGHT THERE! I could even see the finish line clock. It read "10:59:30." I ran like hell. And I smiled. And then it was over.
I ran a 3:52 marathon to finish in 10:59:50, first in the women's 45-49 age group, fifth amateur (women), and tenth overall (women).
|After slaying the dragon.|
|What happens to your neck if you wear a|
DeSoto T1 wetsuit and forget BodyGlide.
And the demons are at rest. For now.
Thanks to Jim for taking all the photos posted here (except the finish line one).
The podium was sweet!
|The women and men of the Ironman St. George 2011 45-49 Age Group.|
An excuse to wear my Punk Rock Racing tee!