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Ironman Canada 2012 Photobook

March 14, 2013 Family, Favorites, Fitness, Fun No Comments

I created a Shutterfly photobook that chronicled our Ironman Canada adventure as a gift for Greg’s birthday in January. It was supposed to be a Christmas gift because I thought it was a project that would take a few hours to complete. Uhhh, more like a few weeks… Shutterfly has so many (too many?) idea pages, embellishments, and layouts to choose from. My project really came to life as I was building it and I got more excited about it with every page. This required hunting down more pictures, telling more stories, and finding more of their awesome embellishments! It was a little overwhelming, but I am very happy with the results.

Now that training for Wildflower has come into full swing (two-a-day workouts, unlimited laundry, unlimited hunger and fatigue), I have been referring back to the photobook for some race day inspiration. It’s maybe working.

 

NOTE: I have friends at Shutterfly (it’s a Bay Area company), but this project was my own doing. In other words, I’m not being paid to say any of these nice things about the company.

 

Ironman Canada – RECOVERY

October 22, 2012 Fitness, Friends, Fun 2 Comments

It’s been awhile since I posted. My next post will tell you why… In the meantime, here’s where we are for those just joining the program:

Ironman Canada – SWIM
Ironman Canada – BIKE
Ironman Canada – RUN

(Sadly, there are no photos… This is as much for my own recollection and others who want to know about what it’s like.)

After my photo was taken, I was given a space blanket and ushered into the athlete recovery area. I was absently wondering where Greg was, but he’s kind of notorious for missing my finishes and I had more pressing things to worry about anyway. Namely, not passing out.

I luckily saw Kidder sitting there and he motioned to a chair for me. He said he could not stand up to get it for me because he got dizzy every time he tried to stand up. I remember watching for my running buddy Jason to come through, but I didn’t see him. I even remember looking for Caryn, but I think I totally zoned out for long periods of time so I don’t have a true sense of chronology.

The volunteers kept coming by to ask if I wanted anything to eat or drink. I declined each time because I was so nauseous. I had wild temperature swings from being absolutely freezing to sweating so much I had to remove the space blanket and fan myself. Kidder finished the race 25 minutes before me and finally started to come around. He got a bag of chips and said the salt was helping. I still couldn’t imagine eating. Neither of us knew where Greg was.

Low point of my life: resting my head on a public trash can, waiting to vomit.

I finally did vomit, only there was nothing left in my stomach so it was dry heaves. Even better/worse. I was currently experiencing the worst hangover of my entire life. After heaving, I knew I had a short window of feeling well enough to get to the massage tent. The therapist I got was great and he worked on me for a long time. (Note: I have no concept of time at this point.) He said that people were “dropping like flies” and since there was no one waiting, he’d just keep working on me. This was awesome for my body, but my stomach was revolting and I knew the minute I stood up I’d be heaving again. I was right.

But the heaving bought me another window of time for Kidder and me to get to the transition area and retrieve our gear. I saw Melanie and the boys + Miles at this time, which was a welcome sight. They’d had an epic day spectating!

The Kidder guys and I slowly made our way to where The Van was parked. We figured that was as good a place as any to find Greg (and it was where all of our phones were, so the only way we’d have to get in touch with one another). As we walked the many many blocks to where it was supposed to be parked, I looked ahead and saw it was no longer there.

Good news: Greg was alive and had moved the van, probably closer to the race finish. Good intentions, sure. No way of getting in touch with us made it the wrong move. Remember? All of our phones were in the van…

Bad news: I was sicker than sick, laying in someone’s yard trying to hold it together. I needed someone to take me home. Now.

Phones were not an option. Kidder and I didn’t have ours. His boys have an iPod Touch, but its battery was dead. We sent one of the boys back to try to find either Melanie or Greg (I have no idea how this was supposed to work). We even stopped an innocent passerby and asked to borrow his phone, to no avail. All I know is that Greg gallantly appeared on the scene. He was not only alive, he was well enough to be riding his bike. I wanted to kill him. And/or vomit, not necessarily because of how good he felt and how rotten I felt. In his defense, he was very concerned about my well-being, asked about my race, etc… before rushing back to the van to drive it back to me. It was quite clear I was not going to be able to walk back to the finish area.

He returned and we got ourselves loaded into the van — me, Greg, Kidder, and Miles. The boys rode home with Melanie. It’s often the three of us heading to/from an epic race, filling each other in on how our respective days had gone. I was laying on the floor of the van, Miles laying with me. I’m sure he thought I was dying the way he was tending to me.

From the floor, I made a declaration: “I AM NEVER DOING THIS AGAIN! In fact, let’s all agree that WE are never doing this again! Let’s remember how terrible we feel right now! Why would we inflict this upon ourselves? We agree, right? Right?” I was met with silence.

Greg didn’t feel terrible at this juncture. He had spent 3 hours in the medical tent because he was vomiting uncontrollably after his finish. (So uncontrollably that he was almost sent to the hospital.) He received prescription anti-nausea meds and IV fluids that finally had him feeling like a million bucks. He was ready to do it again! All this time in the medical tent does give him an alibi for missing my finish… :) When he finally came-to, he asked what time it was and was shocked to learn he had been out of it for so long.

Kidder was approaching the opening of his pain cave and selective memory was kicking in. Fuck them. I should have gone to the medical tent. We got home and I was able to shower (read: find all of the chafing spots) in between dry heaving and dizziness. I showered sitting down. I made my way to the couch and the group gathered in the living room to hash it all out. We all had a story to tell. From our living room, we could hear the race announcer from across the lake and we all gathered on the porch at midnight to hear the final finishers crossing the line. I was so thankful to be done.

I was finally able to take in fluids (first water, then chocolate milk) and keep it down, but I was still very dizzy if I stood up for longer than a couple of minutes. I kept water and a trash can by the bed during the night, knowing I would not sleep as well as I deserved wanted to. I was up several times, drinking a little and thinking I’d vomit. I was glad to be rehydrating, though my sleep was not restful.

I tried eating on Monday morning, but my stomach was still too precarious. I was still very dizzy and moved from chair to couch to chair until afternoon. I didn’t need to pee until around noon that day. Ah, dehydration. We finally hobbled out of the house in search of a late lunch. I had Greg order me a large glass of pickle juice and that helped me turn the corner. It literally was the worst hangover ever. I ate a few bites of my lunch and kept it down. Success!

As for body soreness, all of us were pretty sore on Monday. The house we rented was two stories and it was comical to watch any of us go up and down those stairs. Greg and Kidder both wore compression gear during and after the race and believe it helped them. I believe that the on-site massage I got after the race was critical in helping my stiffness. My legs felt even more stiff on Tuesday but by Wednesday, I was not sore at all. Fatigued? Yes. But not sore.

Bottom line: I did not expect to be as physically sick as I was. In fact, we all had brought fresh clothes to change into so we could watch the finish of the race at midnight. Ha! Several of our long training days left me feeling spent and sick-ish, but nothing like this.

I took a full week off, doing nothing more than light walking during our stops as we made our way home from Penticton. I don’t think I’ve taken 7 FULL DAYS OFF in, oh, five years. It felt good to rest and reflect on what I had just accomplished, honoring my body and taking care of it. And the itch to ride my bike once we got home was a welcome feeling as well.

Ironman Canada – RUN

September 17, 2012 Fear, Fitness, Friends, Fun 1 Comment

Read about my Ironman Canada SWIM and BIKE first!

T2
I rolled into the Bike In area and was able to dismount from my bike without falling. I looked at this as a good sign. The very nice volunteers were there in a flash to take my bike for me. I had my wits about me enough to remember my pill bottle before they whisked it away. I knew I’d need those salt tabs!

A volunteer was ready with my transition bag and I headed to the women’s changing tent, contemplating what was ahead of me. Who am I kidding? I had been contemplating this for all of the last year: running a marathon. I had never run a marathon before. There had never been a desire to and I can honestly say that my sentiments had not changed, even as I was staring it in the face. It was 3 PM. I’d been racing for almost 8 hours already and still had the hardest part to finish.

A very nice volunteer named Heidi was helping me. She got me a cold water. I had lost my Chap-Stik somewhere on Richter Pass and really wanted something to soothe my chapped lips. She brought some Vaseline. As she helped change my shoes, just like a mother does, she said I was doing great. “You are killing this! There haven’t been very many women through here yet!” I looked right at her and started to well up, admitting I was afraid of how bad the marathon would hurt. She said, “You are doing this. You are going to be an Ironman!”

I believed her. I knew I would finish, and probably ahead of my expected time of 14 hours — unless the wheels totally came off during the run. It has happened before. I tend to fall apart on the run. I stood up and bent over into a downward-facing dog pose, stretching out my hamstrings and back. I did a ~30-second pigeon pose on both sides to stretch my glutes and hips. I’d been seeing an ART specialist to help the pain and fatigue I was having and I knew this run would put that work to the test. I took off my extra pair of cycling shorts. I donned my visor and grabbed my handheld water bottle. Heidi hugged me and I exited the tent. I stopped at the bathrooms and made my way out of the transition area onto Lakeshore Drive. Here we go!

Official T2 time = 8:00
Greg’s T2 time = 3:08
Kidder’s T2 time = 7:03

26.2 26.6 MILE RUN
The run course travels on Main Street toward Skaha Lake. The streets were lined with spectators and signs; the sounds of cheering and cow bells filled the air. There’s so much excitement for these first 2.5 miles that you kind of forget you’re running. This is a good thing. The course winds through city streets and back to Lakeshore Drive to add distance, and as a precursor to what is to come at the finish line. It feels like you’re going out of your way and you are.

The mind games begin.

From there, the course is an out-and-back along the lake. Once you get out of this section of town, there are several blocks where it’s pretty quiet. My mind seduced my body into walking “just for 30 seconds” to bring my heart rate down. Walking felt great. I started running again after 30 seconds, but I was like a junkie waiting for the next hit. I couldn’t stop thinking about the next aid station, where I had already planned to walk. I made it there and blissfully squeezed ice cold sponges over my head and wiped my face. I drank a cup of water and convinced myself to start running again, though I already knew I wouldn’t make it a full mile before giving in to walk.

I saw a sign up ahead that was very clever, and I smiled thinking of how it described me perfectly. And then I realized it was my cheering squad and they had made the sign for me! Kirsten was a good sport and ran with me for a few yards, saying I looked great. There was a lot of energy at that corner and it helped to propel me forward.

There were aid stations at every mile and I walked through them; I tried to keep walking to a minimum (30 seconds or less) in between the aid stations. Around Mile 5, I began to have the sensation of needing to pee every time I was running. If the bathroom at an aid station was open, I went in to go to the bathroom. Nothing would come out. I’d start running again and the sensation would come back. Dehydration.

I was taking salt pills every 3-4 miles, I think. I didn’t have a strict plan. I was eating watermelon at the aid stations. I had a few glasses of Coke and salty chicken broth, just trying to stay hydrated. I even had a cookie at one aid station. It was probably a horrible cookie on any other day, but right then it tasted like the best cookie I’d ever eaten.

Running by Skaha Lake, the crowds dwindle a bit. The scenery is gorgeous, but it’s when those mind games start to really fuck with you. As you can see in this picture below, Greg (and every muscle in his body) is on the threshold of his pain cave.

When I was running, I’d look at my Garmin and see that I was running at an 8:30-8:45 pace. In this situation, that pace just isn’t sustainable. So then I’d have to walk more often. I would give anything to be able to drone out a 10-minute-mile and call it good. I was contemplating this during a walk break as my biking buddy Tory passed me. I acknowledged him and we ran together a bit, discussing the allure of the 10-minute pace. He was rocking it. I was failing. As I shamefully began walking again, Kidder caught me! I ran with him and we chatted awhile, commiserating and questioning our sanity for embarking on this in the first place. I just wanted to be done.

That was Mile 9. Remember Wildflower and me saying, “I want to die” at Mile 12? Well, I was pretty much reliving that scenario now and I still had 17 MILES TO GO.

All the time I’d been running, I was looking for Greg on his return trip. It was here that I saw him and yelled. We met each other on the center divider of the highway and hugged. He was coming into the home stretch! He looked good, though said he was really losing steam now. I could relate…

I don’t really remember getting to the turnaround, other than I’m pretty sure there was a big hill somewhere in there that everyone was walking. Our Special Needs bags were at the halfway mark and I used it as an excuse to walk even more. So pathetic. In my Special Needs bag, I’d packed a lightweight long sleeve top, an extra pair of socks, and a Ziplock full of more salt pills, pain meds, and Band-Aids. I tied the shirt around my waist, refilled my pill bottle, and discarded the rest.

The turnaround point is a mental milestone and I tried to use that to my advantage. I caught up to a guy I saw on the way out and started chatting with him. Jason. Jason is from Kansas City, so we had even more in common than just the craziness of completing our first Ironman. We were working together on our run/walk breaks to keep each other honest in running longer than we were walking. We’d go through several minutes of silence and I’d suggest we focus on the positives. “What are some good things right now, Jason? We have to focus on the good things.”

It isn’t dark yet.
It isn’t raining.
Neither of our nipples are bleeding (like the unfortunate man who just ran past us).

Around Mile 19, I looked at my Timex for my overall race time.  11:35. With ~7 miles to go, could we finish under 13 hours? It would be close. Jason suggested we discuss our chances while running instead of walking. I concurred.

As we passed the 12-hour mark, another athlete looked at me and said, “This is such a long time to be exercising.” Truer words have never been spoken.

When I was walking, it was a fast walk. Somewhere in the 12:30 pace. I’d wait for Jason to start running again and catch up to me. I got a little bit past the Mile 22 aid station and turned around to coax Jason to start running again. He waved me on, “Leave me! You go! I’ll see you at the finish!”

It was very soap opera-like (in my head). At this point, everything was overly dramatic. I was on my own.

I just kept doing the same thing. Running as far as I could, then walking as little as I could before running again. Our race bibs had to be on our fronts for the run, so all of the spectators and aid station volunteers were encouraging me by name. “You’re almost there, Molly!” By this time, it was dusk. The reality of the finish was *right there* and yet so far away. The volunteers at these aid stations were phenomenal. I made a point to thank them as I walked through.

You just keep going because there’s nothing else to do. I didn’t want to be doing this anymore, but the only way to not be doing it was to cross the finish line. It was as simple as that — almost. Remember that dehydration problem? I had several major muscles that were threatening to cramp up on me. Quads, hamstrings, calves. At that point, walking would be the only option and I’d be lucky if I could walk if one or more of those muscle groups seized me. I just kept sipping the water and broth at the aid stations and hoping I could make it 2 more miles. A runner collapsed in front of me, overtaken by a cramp. The volunteers helped him. He kept hobbling on.

By this time, I headed back into the gauntlet of downtown Penticton. When I ran through this at the beginning, I knew it would suck ass on the return trip and I was not wrong. By sucking ass, I mean we all had to go out of our way to get to the fucking finish line. Let me be clear that the spectators were AWESOME. They brought so much energy and enthusiasm, and I’m pretty sure I would have sulked to the finish if it hadn’t been for their belief that I CAN DO IT like they promised me I could.

I willed myself to run through this section just so I didn’t look like a total asshole in front of all these people who were out here cheering me on. Of course, I was keeping an eye on my watch to see where I was compared to my 13-hour goal. I got to the T-intersection where I soooooooo wanted to turn RIGHT and go into the finish line… but the course route took us LEFT for another six blocks. We then did a tight U-turn in the middle of the road, so we were looking at finishers on our way out and looking at those behind us as we were on our way into the finish line. I saw Jason there and we high-fived each other. Comrades!

I had passed the 25-mile marker and looked at my watch thinking could easily break 13 hours in 12 minutes if I only had 1.2 miles to go. But my watch said I was at 24.6 miles. It became very clear at this moment that the course runs long. These are probably the worst four words that have ever been uttered. I had been planning on a certain trajectory and I knew I’d have to over-compensate because of this.

Fuck.

The spectators were screaming at me. I wanted to scream back, “I’M DOING THE BEST I CAN!” But at the same time, I knew they had already moved on to the next athlete and I needed to focus on what I was doing. So I focused on running. I looked at that finish line and focused on it. I watched that clock ticking down and mustered every ounce of energy that I had no idea was there. The crowd was tremendous fuel to my fire.

I love this sequence of pictures:

And of course, Jeff’s video:

YouTube Preview Image

MOLLY SWEENEY, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!

Things went downhill from there (see also: dehydration), but crossing that finish line was a glorious moment. I told the people catching me on the other side that I WOULD LIKE TO SIT DOWN NOW, PLEASE. They asked if I wanted to get my photo taken first. Yes. Yes, I would like to document this moment. So I went from bent-over, near-vomiting to this:

I’ve got the trying-too-hard-to-look-happy crazy eyes going. Otherwise, not bad… all things considered. Greg’s finisher photo looks more like a person actually feels: relieved and happy to be done! And why not, with a 10:51:57 time?! I’m so proud of him!

** of note, we both bought all of our (respective) professional photos taken on the course. These are legit! **

Many of you have asked about the recovery. Alas, the recap of the run has been a saga in itself, so I will save that for another post.

Thanks to everyone who came on this journey! I loved knowing that every time I crossed a timing mat that you would know I’d made it to the next level of the game. Since I finished an hour ahead of schedule, I love that my mom was tracking me from Iowa and *happened* to be watching the live finish as they said that “Molly Sweeney — all the way from San Mateo California” was going to be the last finisher under 13 hours.

Official run time = 5:05:43 / 11:41 pace
Greg’s run time = 4:04:21 / 9:20 pace
Kidder’s run time = 4:31:10 / 10:21 pace

Ironman Canada – BIKE

September 16, 2012 Fitness, Friends, Fun No Comments

The day was far from over! If you’re just joining us, my story picks up as I exit Lake Okanagan after finishing my Ironman Canada SWIM.

T1
I entered the Transition Area with a lot of confidence, ready to take on the bike leg. I was already ahead of the game from where I expected to be and that put a little extra spring in my step. I didn’t even have my wetsuit down to my waist when I got to the Wetsuit Strippers (<– great job title). They ripped that sucker off of me as other volunteers were grabbing my stuff from the Sea O’ Bags.

I had my bag waiting for me by the time I was back on my feet. I opted not to go into the tent (not knowing if it would be a madhouse) and completed my transition just outside. I could also see more of what was going on this way and continue to take it all in.

I’m not fast in transition and I don’t necessarily care about it during a long race (70.3+). Especially on this day, I wanted to enjoy what I was doing and make sure I didn’t forget anything critical just for the sake of moving fast. I expected my transitions to be 10 minutes or so, just leaving time to have a minor meltdown. I quickly put on a thick dose of facial sunscreen, my helmet, sunglasses, and gloves. I had also packed and donned a second pair of tri shorts to give that extra padding that I knew I’d want and need. I downed a 5-Hour Energy and ripped open a single-serve packet of Chamois Butt’r, squeezed it into my hand, and did the ladylike thing of jamming that hand down to my pants to apply it liberally. So glad I did!

Official T1 time = 5:04
Greg’s T1 time = 5:21
Kidder’s T1 time = 13:59

112- MILE BIKE
I left the transition area on top of the world. I had a great swim, a great transition, and I knew I had what I needed for a great ride — food, fresh-ish legs, and a good attitude. Just after getting on my bike and pedaling, I heard part of my support crew yelling my name (the other part was busy taking these photos!). I already had a big smile on my face and it was great to see and hear my friends heading into the longest part of the day.

I was on my way! And I love seeing that genuine smile on my face! Looking back now, I can tell you with total honesty that this 112-mile bike ride did not totally suck the life out of me like I thought it would. My training rides were REALLY sucking and I was scared. My shoulders/neck would be so pinched by ~40 miles that I’d involuntarily cry in pain to look over my shoulder for traffic. I was dehydrated, despite stopping at every known water fountain and/or convenience store for refills. You can imagine my anxiety going into this race because of issues like that.

Couple that with the doubt I had going into the taper about not being well-trained, as is often the case with the “taper crazies.” As it turns out, I am very satisfied with the training I did. I came to dread weekends because Greg and I purposely chose long and brutal routes. We’re talking 6500-7000 ft of elevation gain over ~80-90 miles, with a massive headwind for at least half of it. That punishment paid off. As miserable as I was every Sunday leading up to this one, I felt awesome on August 26.

Based on how my training rides had gone, I expected to finish in 7 hours or just over that. That pace is slower than my usual (shorter) race paces, but not slower than my long training rides had been. I had to “shift my paradigm” on the whole matter and get comfortable with a slower pace that would accommodate the situation.

It was ~40 miles until the first climb (Richter Pass), and much of that was on a flat road with a tailwind. What’s not to love? That section travels alongside three beautiful lakes, and then we wound around into the orchards and vineyards. It felt very much like California, and the people certainly made us feel at home as well. I couldn’t believe the number of spectators along the entire bike course.

My average speed going into Richter Pass was 20.6 mph. I knew I’d had the benefit of a tailwind, but I was using it to my advantage. I never let my heart rate get above 145. I was saving my legs. I was enjoying myself.

Everyone had to wear our race bibs on our backs during the bike ride; our names were written on them. I thought it was a good thing because you could let someone specifically know you were coming around them — “John, I’m on your left!“. And you could get to know the people you were riding with most of the way. I was happy to make friends with people, specifically one guy from Colorado named Tory. We’d play cat-and-mouse, chatting when we were riding at the same pace. Having trained largely by myself, it was so great to just converse with someone for a mile at a time. This was his first Ironman also, and we were comparing notes on training and such. On Richter Pass, I talked with a woman named Fiona who had a small sign on the back of her bike indicating she was a Bride-To-Be with a wedding date of August 28. One guy crashed about 100 yards in front of me, rolling over a CO2 cartridge or a water bottle. It was intense in those few seconds to see a bike and cyclist on the ground with 10-15 other cyclists trying to make way for him at the same time.

See that blue mark across Greg’s bib? He got a penalty! Drafting is illegal on the bike and there are several rules about what that means and how to handle it when you are passing someone or being passed. A rider started to pass Greg and was having trouble getting around him. The rules state that Greg had to drop back and allow the other rider to overtake him. He did this, and continued riding at his constant speed. The rider that had just passed him slowed down enough that Greg could easily pass him back. So, he came around the other rider and the officials on a motorcycle monitoring this sort of thing came by and gave him the penalty. You can imagine how pissed he was! He had to sit in a penalty tent for four minutes. No water/food/bathrooms there. Just idle time. His average speed going into the penalty tent was 25 mph and it dropped to less than 24 by the time he was allowed back on his bike. The four minute penalty cost him 8 places in his overall finish. Yeah, pissed.

Let’s talk about bodily functions for a minute. I needed to pee starting around Mile 30 on the bike. I peed twice while swimming with no problem. I tried and tried and tried peeing on the bike, with no success. I need to be able to relax enough (meaning no pedaling) to do it, so I thought I’d be golden (<– see what I did there?) on the descent from Richter Pass, but I couldn’t do it. SO FRUSTRATING.

I saw my new friend Tory again on this stretch of road, who had been successful in peeing on the Richter descent. Bastard! I caught up to Kidder at Mile 65 and it was nice to ride with him for awhile, and that’s where I learned about his less-than-stellar swim experience and the trouble he had in transition. We rode back and forth together (to not get called for drafting/aiding). The Cawston out-and-back was the worst part of the ride for me — other than seeing Greg on his way out and Caryn on my way out. I knew it was the course directors’ way of adding distance. I knew it was where the Special Needs bags were. And I knew it was where I’d have to stop to pee. As in, get off the bike. Along with the Special Needs bags, there were several porta-potties. By this time, my kidneys were aching and my bladder was sloshing so much I was afraid of a UTI or other infection. Time to take care of business. While in the stall, I ate the rest of my sandwich and swallowed a few more salt pills with a full bottle of fresh water so I didn’t feel like it was totally “wasted time.”

Back on the bike, I felt somewhat refreshed and ready to take on the most challenging climb of the day: Yellow Lake Road. Richter Pass is a long, slow climb — about 7 miles all told. You just get in a gear you can handle and grind it out. The road snakes along the outside of a mountain pass, so you can look down at the valley below and marvel at your awesome strength to climb this behemoth.  Yellow Lake is a little different. It’s shorter and steeper, especially at the end. Melanie and the boys were spectating there, and we were going slow enough that they could see us and we could exchange a hello. That was nice! After one steep climb, the road flattens out a bit and then pitches up again for a very steep finish at the top. You just have to remind yourself that it’s all downhill into the finish from there.

Yep, all downhill from there. Except remember that tailwind we all enjoyed for those first 40 miles? That meant a nasty headwind for the last 20 miles. As much as I couldn’t really imagine the idea of running a marathon next, I wanted to be off the bike. My shoulders were pinching. My lower back hurt. This position was not relaxing anymore.

We got back into Penticton and were meeting the runners on their way out of town. The crowds were thick and there was a lot of excitement in the air. This made it easier to forget how tired I was and what lay ahead of me. I was on the lookout for my friends and was thrilled to hear them cheering for me! I was also thrilled as I looked down to see that I was going to finish more than 30 minutes faster than I had intended. Just like in the swim, this gave me tremendous confidence going into the marathon.

Official bike time = 6:26:43
Greg’s bike time = 5:29:07
Mike’s bike time = 6:45:31

Finish this race with the RUN recap.

Ironman Canada – SWIM

September 12, 2012 Fitness, Friends, Fun 3 Comments

Let me fill in the details of Ironman Canada, beginning with the swim.

More than 2700 athletes lined up on the shores of Lake Okanagan to begin an epic day. Greg and I got there just as O Canada! was being sung, about 3 minutes before the horn went off at 7 AM. We arrived at the race site later than intended (what else is new?) and were both still in line for the bathroom when the pros started at 6:45 AM. Nothing quells those jitters like being late for the biggest race of your life…

There was no time to get in the water to warm up or test the goggles. This was it! Hug, kiss, “See you in 14 hours!”

I'm the one in the pink cap on the far left...

My swim plan was to stay on Greg’s feet as long as possible. If there’s one thing I can do well (relative to Greg), it’s swim. My swim times have rivaled his, so we’re well-matched in the water. Like every other athlete out there, I wanted the benefit of drafting. We had practiced this just once before race day, during our practice swim on Friday. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, Greg went out like a bullet and I was breathing WAY TOO HARD for a 2.4 mile swim within 100 yards of the shore (as I found out later, so was he). Not exactly the shore — it’s literally a rocky swim start. So everyone kind of hobbles into the water for several yards before it’s deep enough to get down and swim.

I lost Greg and was on my own. Sighting was easy because we were swimming away from the sunrise. The course measures 1800 meters out to the first turn buoy, a short distance to the next turn buoy, and 1800 meters back. I have my Garmin set to beep at me every 10 minutes and every 1 mile. I was thrilled when it trilled at me indicating I’d swum a mile. I checked my Timex watch (tracking overall time) — 26.34!! Faster than my fastest mile EVER! This gave me confidence.

I rounded the first turn buoy, spotting the SCUBA divers below with their GoPro cameras! I waved! It was then that the gravy train pulled into my station.

I happened upon a girl who had a super strong kick and I latched onto her. It was amazing. She was probably just a little bit faster than I would normally be, sighting well, and easy to follow because of all the bubbles. I gladly let her tow me around that lake for the final ~1.5 miles.

Regarding the mass swim start and being “beaten up” because of so many bodies: I was very concerned about this. I anticipated a 1:30 swim because of how my open water swims were going, and knowing it would be worse with all of the jostling. It was not nearly as bad as I expected. There were a few minutes-long sections where I was swimming in a crowd of people and it was uncomfortable, but there were also long sections of clean, open water where I was by myself. No one was overtly rude, kicking to make a point or purposely swimming over the top of me and pushing me under. In fact, the only times I had to get a little aggressive was when someone tried to get in between me and the girl who was pulling me along. Ha!

My Garmin beeped again at 2 miles — 52 minutes. I was holding a steady pace! I held on to my sherpa as long as I could and marveled that I was not totally out of breath (as I had been in many training swims). I wasn’t killing myself to move through the water. I wasn’t sighting straight into the sun. This swim felt effortless and I was truly having fun! Similar to Wildflower, I knew this would be the easiest part of the day and I was glad that I was enjoying it. I thought about Greg, wondering if he was having as much good fortune as I was. I also thought about Kidder, who is a phenomenal swimmer (easily able to swim 2.4 miles in under 1 hour), and wondered if/when I’d be able to catch him on the bike.

I got to the last buoy and saw many people standing up, hobbling over the rocks to the shore. I knew right then I was taking a different approach to the finish. I swam over all those rocks until I reached the sand and stood right up. What the heck was wrong with those people?? I checked my Garmin and was thrilled to see 1:14:16 (though I saw the timing mat was still painfully far away). I also noticed that my total distance swum measured 2.7 miles. What the  ?! I know that Garmin data isn’t *totally* accurate, but it did make me wonder what my swim time would have been if I hadn’t over-shot it by 0.3 miles…

Even so, I was very happy coming out of the water. Completing the swim in 15 fewer minutes than I anticipated gave me confidence. Not feeling exhausted or beaten up gave me such a positive attitude heading into T1 and the bike. The day was off to a great start!

Official swim time = 1:14:29
Greg’s swim time = 1:10:02
Kidder’s swim time = 1:00:15

Turns out, Kidder had a horrible swim. The strap on his goggles BROKE THREE TIMES! Talk about bad luck! He was literally stopped, treading water while fixing them as all the other fish passed him by. Still, he was able to narrowly miss the one-hour mark — good enough for 8th in his division and 102nd overall.

You can read my BIKE recap here!

It Could Go Either Way

September 5, 2012 Fear, Fitness, Fun 2 Comments

We came.
We raced.
We survived. triumphed!

As athletes were milling around the transition area before the race, a guy walked up to me and said, “I feel like this is a cross between Disneyland and The Hunger Games.”  I concurred. In some ways, it was The Happiest Place On Earth ™ because of the positive energy and music and hugging going on. On the other hand, we were all dressed up in our “costumes” and equipped with our “weapons,” ready for battle. There was a calm surrounding us, knowing that we were competing in something that would test our mental and physical strengths to their very limits.

I’ve read enough race reports to know that you can be well-trained, well-rested, well-hydrated, well-everythinged – and STILL have a shitty race. In a 10-17 hour day, there are just so many things that can go wrong. You get to a certain point where all you can do is hope for the best and try to stay positive if something does go wrong.

Admittedly, I didn’t have a lot of confidence going into the race. I had been questioning my training for about six weeks. I didn’t exactly feel rested. I had never swum farther than 1.7 miles in open water, never biked farther than 98 miles in training, and never run farther than 20 miles. There would be a lot of milestones on race day. I knew I would finish, but I didn’t know just how bad it would hurt or just how long it would take.

I estimated I would finish around 14 hours. This was a very realistic goal based on my training times. It was a big number to wrap my head around. Most of my “normal” days were about 15 hours long. I would often think of Race Day on a normal day and consider all of the things I had done that day – worked at my job, completed two workouts, showered, prepared and ate (many) meals, exercised Miles, etc… And all that time, I’d still be out there on the race course. This mental preparation was the most difficult, and probably the most helpful.

I expected a 1:30 swim. I didn’t know how long it would take me to even start actually swimming with that many competitors. I didn’t know how far off-course I’d have to swim to get around the two turn buoys. I hadn’t ever swum that far and didn’t know how slow I would be.

I expected a 7-hour bike. My long rides were averaging 16-17 mph with the wind and climbing; I knew this course would offer up more of the same. I also knew I was not intending to kill myself on the bike, thereby leaving nothing for the marathon that would follow.

I expected a 5-hour marathon. Based on how every other long (70.3) race has gone, I knew I would lose it on the run. I knew I would be walking every aid station and probably more than that.

I expected my transitions to be as long as 10 minutes each. I’m not fast in transition as it is, and this would give me a chance to take in the moment and catch my breath a little if I needed the break.

I saw a homemade sign around Mile 100 of the bike course that said, “May the odds be ever in your favor” – a reference to The Hunger Games. I had to smile. The odds had been in my favor. Unlike so many others, I was having a great race! Many panicked people were hanging onto the kayaks and buoys on the swim. I saw people stopped for flat tires and cramps. Two people crashed their bikes right in front of me because they ran over stray water bottles or CO2 cartridges. I knew the run would bring more carnage, and I hoped that I had hydrated enough to stave it off for myself.

There were several large muscle groups threatening to cramp up in the end of 26.57 miles, but I made it! Every time I crossed a timing mat, I knew that those who were tracking me would be able to see that I was still going strong. I truly did carry your thoughts and well-wishes along with me the whole way.

My finish time was 12:59:58.
Greg finished in an amazing 10:51:57.
Our friend Mike Kidder signed up for the race 8 weeks ago and finished so strong at 12:37:56.

12:59:58

September 3, 2012 Favorites, Fitness, Fun 1 Comment

My gratitude to Jeff Barker for this video. His enthusiasm embodies all of the love and support I felt from everyone that day.

I can’t not cry when I watch this.

YouTube Preview Image

More stories to come, I promise.

Nonstarter (almost)

August 22, 2012 Fear, Freewheeling No Comments

ROAD TRIP!!

Greg and I love a road trip even in a “normal” vehicle so we have been looking forward to the 1000-mile trek to Ironman Canada in The Van, perhaps even more than the race itself. (Why? The driving will take ~19 hours and will be done over two days. My race will take ~14 hours and has to be done all in one shot.)

Greg has worked tirelessly getting The Van ready, and most of the work has been done expressly for this trip. It’s our first long over-the-road trip in it and he wanted things to be as comfortable as possible. He thought of so many details and everything came together. Load ‘er up!

We had the bikes mounted last night, the cabinets and fridge full, and our clothes + race gear packed and ready to be loaded first thing this morning. The plan was to be on the road within 30 minutes of waking. Around 10 PM last night, Greg remembered that he needed to add a power supply for his phone in the new mount system. So, electrical engineer that he is, he went to work to quickly take care of this issue. In order to get to the wiring, he had to have the key in the On position and the transmission in Neutral. He completed the task of wiring power to the phone holster and started putting things back together. Done and done. When he went to turn the key off and lock everything up, the situation took a turn for the worse.

The key wouldn’t move. He couldn’t turn the engine over, he couldn’t turn it off. He frantically went to work searching the Sprinter forums, the owner’s manual, the error code reader he installed on his computer. Nothing turned up. He had to disconnect the battery as not to drain it while he continued troubleshooting. He came to bed defeated.

At this point, Greg was convinced that The Van was a DNF for Ironman Canada. He told me to start loading everything into his car — a Honda Element. Ummmm, there’s no way everything we had packed food-wise, clothes-wise, and gear-wise was going to fit in the Element. Add a big dog and it was a laughable thought.

Or it would have been laughable, if it weren’t so devastating.

I refused to believe we were not going to find a solution and be on our merry way. I tried calling my German car mechanic, but couldn’t get in touch with him. I called my dad, but he didn’t have any other suggestions than the ones Greg had already tried. Greg finally got in touch with the “lead tech” on the Sprinter forum he follows and that guy said that it wasn’t some fancy computer switch or anything, so it was probably the tumbler in the lock cylinder. He suggested we try a locksmith.

I was encouraged by this, though Greg kept saying there was no way he could fix anything in time. We’d be better off loading up the other car and going, the sooner the better. Undeterred, I called a local locksmith. He said we’d have to call a mechanic. All the while, Greg was still fiddling with the key in the ignition. Confident in knowing it wasn’t a computer issue, he applied a little elbow grease to the key while poking his needle-nose pliers in to create a little more space.

VOILA! The key came out!

With trepidation, he sprayed WD-40 into the key hole and inserted the key again. He was able to turn it over and turn it off repeatedly. We were back in business! By this time, it was 9:15 AM or so. I hustled to get all of the last minute stuff loaded while Greg took care of his few final chores. We pulled out of the house at 10:25.

I think the lesson learned here, which just became my mantra for Sunday, is DON’T STOP BELIEVING. (Plus, it comes with its own theme song… You’re welcome.)

IRONMAN CANADA OR BUST!! 

Sleep Trumps All

August 12, 2012 Fear, Fitness, Fun No Comments

Ironman training is over. We have reached the taper. I made it! Well, I made it to the end of the training period anyway…

I signed up for an Ironman knowing what it would take to train for it and compete to my satisfaction. All of those realizations — and fears — are coming true right now. It’s hard. It requires commitment. I have a training plan and I follow it pretty much to the letter. I’ve dropped a swim workout here and a strength workout there, but I’m 98% compliant.

Here are the things I’ve learned as I move into the final couple of weeks before competing:

The human body is an amazing machine. I ask my body to do really hard things and it does them, even when I don’t want to or think I’m too tired. I have watched and felt my body become stronger and more efficient. While I have not lost or gained any weight along the way, my body does look and feel different. I trust it.

The human mind is stronger than any body will ever be. It will make or break you, so learn to be friends with it. If you tell it nice things, it will respond in kind. “Whether you believe you can or believe you can’t, you’re right.” <– Henry Ford was a smart man.

High-end gear is a nice-to-have. The will to do it and belief that you can do it is a must-have. That said, treat whatever gear you have with respect. Know how to change a flat. Clean your chain every now and again. Wash the spilled sports drink off your bike frame and don’t leave your Garmin out in the rain just because it’s waterproof.

Don’t underestimate your support system. Support comes in a lot of forms: a team you train with, your at-home people, friends and coworkers, online buddies, and yourself (in the form of positive self-talk). Figure out who is supportive of you and be up-front with them about what you need. Some days you’ll need a cheerleader. Other days, you will need someone who will listen to you bitch. You’ll always need people who believe in you and, as crazy as this whole thing is, don’t insist on reminding you of that every time you see them.

Few things are more sacred than a solid 8 hours of sleep, more if you can get it. Don’t skimp on your sleep.

The work has been done. Doing any more at this point is counter-productive. I have to believe in my training and believe in myself. Thanks to everyone who has believed in me along the way!

Here we go!

 

It’s All Relative

August 9, 2012 Fitness No Comments

I can run 20 miles. Yeah, that number kind of shocks me, too. I went out to Sawyer Camp Trail two weeks ago for a long run and let my mind wander as my feet plodded forward. I purposely don’t run with music; it’s a good chance to stay in tune with what my body is telling me. For these long runs, I set my Garmin to a screen that only shows my heart rate and I just keep putting one foot in front of the other. I know that’s how it will be at Ironman, so I’m not getting attached to a pace or a time or anything other than how I feel. “Active meditation,” if you will.

As I got to the 2.5 mile marker, I looked at it and remembered it used to be a milestone for me. It was halfway to five miles. FIVE WHOLE MILES. That *used* to be a long run for me! I remember the sense of accomplishment I felt after running five miles. How hard it was, how good it felt to have done it. And I remember feeling that way after every milestone after that — 6 miles, 7 miles … double digits!

In the scheme of 20 miles, 2.5 is nothing at this stage of the Ironman training game. The stiffness has been worked out and yet things don’t really hurt yet. I don’t need food. It’s long division if I’m doing fractions in my head (“I’m 1/8th of the way done. Just do that same thing 7 more times and it’s over.”). On the one hand, it’s hardly worth noticing. On the other, it is a badge of honor for every mile I have put in since then. For every time I have passed that 2.5 mile marker and kept going.

Further Proof

This relativity has been a fun and interesting thing to contemplate during my training because it’s all relative. Sure, I can swim a couple of miles at one time and ride 100 miles and run 20… But that’s all at a pace meant for long distance.

This past weekend, we had to do a “Tempo Brick” that consisted of a 30 minute run at 5K pace (fast), a 45 minute bike ride at lactate threshold (hard), and finish with a 20 minute run at aerobic threshold (less hard). Considering the prior weekends’ workout plans, this one looked easy! In fact, it looked so easy I didn’t take it seriously. Big mistake.

Oh, I did the workout to the letter. I pushed as hard as I could with the idea that “I can do anything for 30/45/20 minutes.” That statement is true: I can and I did. But it hurt worse than a lot of my long workouts have hurt. I thought that all my sprint interval workouts would make me invincible for short distance events. I know now that that isn’t what they were designed to do. They were designed to make my body work more efficiently over long distances. I stand, quite winded, corrected.

This was a very good and effective training day mentally and physically. I absolutely respect the short workouts more than I did before. Shorter distance doesn’t mean less hard.

Everything is relative.