Sunday, December 8, 2013

Race #8 of the Season: Ironman Arizona - Part 2: Race Day

And we continue our tale on Sunday, November 17 ...

Race Morning:

Waaaaay too early, the alarm went off. Ironman is nice in that you don't necessarily need to get to transition early to snag a good spot on the rack and get set up ... but you DO still need to get there early for a few reasons:

- porta-potty stop. standard for any race.
- get bikes checked out/re-pumped up
- drop off special needs bags
- get everything sorted out and drop off morning clothes bags

So, while transition didn't open until 5am, we were up by 3-something so we could walk to the Starbucks on Mill and get breakfast in us before we had to head to the park. (I seriously had a last call, "Wake up or you miss IRONMAN" alarm set too. No joke.)

We got to Starbucks, ordered coffee, spinach wraps and pastries to go and shuffled back to the hotel to eat them. I sipped at my iced coffee and barely choked down half of my spinach wrap.

Story time: I had practiced swimming on spinach wraps (and veggie sandwiches) at home since I knew I'd probably be eating Starbucks for breakfast race morning. Handled it no problem. HOWEVER. I did this practice at say, 10am, before getting in the pool. Hours after I had already gotten up. My typical am food snarf is a fried egg (or two) and glass of oj. Not much chewing is needed/involved.

The sheer amount of chewing that is needed to eat a spinach wrap was way too much for this poor body at 4:something am. I forced down as much as I could because I KNEW I needed the calories, but ugh.

We gathered our stuff and headed to the park.

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Brandon not happy to be awake.

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"Do I have to go do this?"

We gathered up our assorted bags of crap and headed to Tempe Beach Park. We amusingly saw Carlos among the mass group of spectators and waved hi. We also saw Corie on our way into trans. Once into transition, we dropped off our special needs bags and then got our bikes taken care of. Both of us needed air in our tires (used a tip we got last year and let some air out the day before so as to not have them pop overnight) and I wanted to make sure my bike was okay after I fell on the damn thing.

While in the bike line, Brandon met another one of our MX12 VIP teammates, Francisco, and I got to meet him as well when the techs were working on my bike. Bike okay (figures it's fine and I wasn't) and tires filled, it went back to its spot on the rack. We then got body marked, met up with Ky and Sasha (two other teammates), and talked to Corie along the fence for a while.

At some point, I decided that I wanted to try and hit up a porta-potty one last time, so Brandon and I got in line and started getting into our wetsuits and putting on sunscreen in the process - I also made sure to put on a lot of body glide/Vaseline/TriSlide on the back of my neck so as to not have a repeat of the Peak chafing incident (Spoiler alert: it failed). The line was moving - albeit slowly - and they started making announcements on the overhead about thinking about moving toward the swim start.

As a result, we made the tough decision to get out of the line as we still needed to drop off our morning clothes bags AND pass off phones/camera/dinos to Kris and Mark who were just about at the park. I tried eating a bit of the blueberry muffin I bought that morning - took a small nibble and couldn't do anymore, so back into the bag it went. We met up with Kris and Mark to make the exchange then dropped off morning clothes, re-met back up with everyone and started moving toward the swim start - Corie walking with us on the other side of the fence. Which was good, because I realized I was still wearing my flip-flops. I gave them to Corie and continued on.

Brandon and I got separated from Sasha and Ky in the mass of humanity (only managing to stick together because I basically grabbed him and wouldn't let go), passed under the swim start arch, walked down the ... dock, I guess ... and jumped into the lake.

The Swim:

They tell you to jump and then swim away as fast as you can because more people are jumping in after you. We did just that. Brandon was hooting and hollering and swearing and clearly happy to be there; it was good for me because despite my lungs hating the cold during the requisite adjustment period, it kept me from being nervous since I was yelling at him to stop carrying on and also kind of pretending not to know him.

We made our way up to the start - about ... 200m? - figuring out that we should probably be near the back, but not the way back and maybe off to the side. Brandon got out of the water for a second - I refused for a few reasons:
1.) I get out and I'm probably not going back in
2.) I had pretty much just adjusted to the water temp (63) and was not going to chance needing to readjust again

In the midst of all that, we heard the cannons for the pro men and the pro women starts. Soon enough though, the cannon went off and it was time to race. FINALLY.

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People liken the mass swim start of an Ironman to a washing machine; Run CO buddy Richard likened it to an MMA fight; me? I thought of the movie Titanic and the moment just after the ship goes down and everyone not in a life boat is scrambling to the surface and smacking the water and anything and everything just to stay afloat. It's that chaotic.

I was able to put my head down and swim for a few strokes right after the cannon went off, but I soon felt myself running into too many bodies. So, I popped my head out of the water and either did the breaststroke or a modified sidestroke thing to keep my head out of water and see where the hell I was going and to try and navigate myself through the crazy while still propelling myself forward. Eventually, I was able to find some open space and swim.

Early into the swim, I started having issues with my wetsuit zipper string - it didn't stay tucked in as usual and came out, trying to choke me. I'd take a stroke and shove it on the other side of my body, but before long, it would come back the other way and annoy me some more. I, and I say this while shaking my head, "luckily" swam off course and essentially ran into a kayak. I took this fortuitous twist of fate as a sign, stopped, and shoved the string back where it belonged. I also tried to adjust the Velcro of the suit as I sensed possible chafing again.

As I left the kayak, I realized I had failed in that attempt but really didn't want to stop again. Thus I made the decision to keep swimming and try to adjust it again at the turnaround.

I should mention that at some point in the first half-mile or so of the swim, someone (I think male) smacked my foot and knocked loose the gauze/tape wrapping my foot. It didn't come off (thankfully), but I now had a bandage "tail" that I would feel against my foot with every stroke/kick. Vaguely annoying, I tell you.

That all being said, I actually enjoyed the first part of the swim. It was a gorgeous morning - I had Sarah Brightman's "It's a Beautiful Day" stuck in my head - and I was thanking everyone I could think of for the opportunity to be out there, swimming in Tempe Town Lake, doing an Ironman, on such a wonderful day. I don't believe of myself as a spiritual person anymore - lapsed Catholic all the way over here - but the "out" part of that swim made me one again, if only for a little while.

The turnaround came sooner than I was expecting (and shortly after I somehow smacked my hand on one of the bridges we swam under; klutzy, that's me) and just after rounding the final turn buoy, I stopped at another kayak to see what I could do about the chafing situation. Unfortunately, one's body (or at least my body) drifts under a kayak when one is resting on it and that half-inclined position is NOT ideal for attempting to fix a wetsuit one-handed. I didn't want to screw with it too much, so I gave up quickly and went back on my way.

The first bridge (of ... three, I think) came quickly, but those other two? Took FOREVER to get to. I also couldn't sight worth a damn. I'd see a buoy way off to my left; I'd swim in that direction, see it nicely off my left ... and then the next one would be way off to the right. I probably swam way more than the 2.4 miles, honestly. Sometime late on the way back, my right calf also cramped up (I thought my swim kick was crappy enough that this wouldn't happen ...) but seemingly worked itself out quickly. In any case, I finally got to the last buoy of the swim and turned toward shore ...

... and headed straight into the sun. That final little bit took so damn long because I kept having to stop and sight and try to figure out where the hell I needed to get to. Even then, I still ran into one of the red floating buoy-thingys that were diagonally out from the edges of the steps. I got to the steps, managed to flop my ass onto them without a repeat of the day before ... and couldn't stand thanks to the cramp that was back in my calf with a vengeance.

I was trying to stand and the volunteer told me, "Don't worry, you still have plenty of time," ... which really means, "You made the cut, but not by a whole hell of a lot." I looked at my watch while crossing the mat, took a split (or so I thought ...) and saw that I made the cut by a closer call than I would have liked.

Time: 2:02:48 (rate: 3:11/100m; 2553rd overall; 684th gender; 101st division)

T1:

I hauled ass to the wetsuit strippers and got my suit peeled off and then hauled ass to the med tent to get my ankle checked out.

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The staffers tossed a mylar blanket around my shoulders - didn't need it - while I told them my situation - I sliced my ankle open yesterday and got five stitches in it; could you please make sure the water didn't make it nasty and could you please rewrap it? They sat me down, looked at it (no infection!) and rewrapped me and I was on my way. I ran from the med tent, behind the trans tents and almost all the way to my gear bag (I have NEVER had that much energy after a swim - swim training paid off) before I walked. I got my gear bag and headed into the tent.

I've heard wonderful things about the change tent volunteers at Ironman and everything was true - they are FANTASTIC. They don't blink an eye when you drop your tri shorts to add more butt butter. They help you sunscreen and into your shoes. Mine had figured out a trick to get the arm coolers on quickly and she got them on quicker than I've ever been able to do myself. I looked at the Honey Stinger waffle I had tossed in my bag, considered eating it for about 2.5 seconds, said "screw it" and tossed it back in the bag and was on my way.

I ran out of the tent, called for my bike, got it, and was on my way to start the ride.

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Time: 11:24

The Bike:

The bike starts up a walkway in the park. On that walkway, I saw Scott (a friend of ours from Run Colorado who you may remember did Boulder 70.3 with us; he's also doing Coeur d'Alene next year), Corie, Layla, my parents and Brandon's parents. I popped out on Rio Salado and the course was off.

I should mention that leaving transition I realized that I actually didn't take my split time leaving the swim - I actually stopped my watch. Oops. But, since I knew the bike course had time cuts too, I switched it back over to the clock setting and just kept an eye on the time - I knew I had until 5:30 to finish the bike.

Right away, I did not feel good on the bike. My right calf, my crampy friend from the swim, was being annoying and the adductors were miserable too, just like at Boulder 70.3, and to add more suffering to the pile, my hamstrings decided to hate me too. I knew it might be a long and miserable ride. I also started eating early on the bike since I knew I needed food and quick.

I stopped at the first aid station to pee (and every time I would stop, I'd also reapply both butt butter and sunscreen) and, interestingly enough, stopped at that aid station every loop (by the third loop, the guy asked me if I had ever left).

The sign that I definitely knew it wouldn't be my day? The same stretch we pre-rode on Thursday and rocked? The stretch I was consistently hitting 21, 22 mph on? Yeah, try 15-16 mph. Miserable. Still, I knew that I had a long day ahead of me and if I just kept to a 90-95 cadence, maybe things would work out in my favor.

I saw MX12 teammate Mike ... right before the Beeline, I think, and saw Brandon while climbing the Beeline.

The Beeline, by the way, sucks. It sucks hard. They advertise Arizona as a relatively flat course - let me tell you, it is not. That Beeline climb is soul-sucking and, had I known it was as steady of a climb as it was, I would not have slacked off on hill work in training. But I had heard, oh, flat course, and therefore rode as much flat crap as I could. Big honking mistake.

I still managed to pass a few people, including Ky right before the turnaround.

As awful as the climb was up, the descent was a lot better. I did manage to drop half my nutrition (the bag of Bonk Breaker bars), so it was crack cookies for me until special needs on the next loop.

I stopped - not at every aid station, but quite a few. I also went through a lot more liquid than I did in training, so that was another reason for stopping - water. I also was interspersing the water with my lemon-lime Skratch to keep getting electrolytes in.

Back into town, see friend Mike volunteering at the turnaround, see my parents, keep going.

I smiled whenever I could when I passed groups of spectators - I didn't want to because I was that miserable, but the crowds loved the smile and I enjoyed that energy.

I saw Mike and Brandon again on loop two as well as Kris and Mark on the Beeline, who were taking photos.

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Dinos cheering on the athletes! Extra dino is Craig (he belongs to Kris and Mark).

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Brandon waving on the back half of loop two.

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Me just past the loop two turnaround (why I'm out of aero).

I stopped at special needs to get more Bonk Breaker bars and my other bottle of Skratch - and also to get more powerful sunscreen on me.

The downhill didn't seem as fast on loop two and the wind started kicking up.

Crossing the river right before the turn onto Rio Salado, I saw a guy I didn't recognize in an MX12 kit off his bike, stretching - I asked if he was okay; he said yes.

I got to the turnaround to start loop three and I mentioned how miserable I was to my parents. I don't think they believed me.

The start of loop three was mentally rough. I stopped at my aid station again, where I learned that the MX12'er off his bike that I passed was Derek; we chatted for a bit waiting for the porta-potties. By this point, it was getting harder and harder to swing my leg back over my bike to get back on it.

If I ever wanted to throw in the towel, it was starting the Beeline climb on this loop. I had to look at my RoadID, at my saying on there - The only way out is through - and go in my brain to tough it out. I saw Brandon as he was leaving special needs - he told me that either Ky and/or Sasha were out.

At mile 90, my stomach started to hate me - probably because it wanted protein and/or REAL FOOD. I didn't want to keep eating my nutrition, but I did because I knew there was no way in hell I should stop eating with 22 miles still left to go in the ride. The bananas at the aid stations ended up helping out here.

I kept going back and forth with this one woman - she was bigger than I was and I passed her on the climb. I could tell by her body language that she wasn't happy with me passing her and passed me soon on the loop three descent. However, she'd pass and not pedal; I ALWAYS keep spinning my legs unless I'm stretching them out. I never stop pedaling. As a result, I'd pass her back; she'd then rush to pass me - this went on for a few miles before I think she got fed up with me and passed me for good.

Around mile 100, I sensed someone on my wheel. It was this old guy - he came up alongside me; we chatted for a second and then he passed me, but stayed at a pace as such that if I were to continue my current pace, I'd be drafting off him. So, I passed him back and then just felt him on my wheel - I think he wanted a pull that late in the bike. However, at that point, I was kind of cranky and there was no way in hell I was going to pull someone (or draft them), so I kicked it up a painful gear and dropped him. Once I knew for sure that he was behind me and not coming back up, I went back into what was comfortably uncomfortable.

I finally neared the end of the course, saw I was still fine on time with my watch and spun out my legs. I got to the dismount line ... and my legs barely wanted to work.

Time: 7:26:02 (rate: 15.06 mph; 2505th overall; 659th gender; 101st division)

T2:

I hobbled to my gear bag and into the tent and began the process of getting myself ready to run. I added more sunscreen, put on my race belt skirt and got my compression socks on. The volunteer was super nice (again), but struggling a bit with the socks; I figured I knew how to wrangle my feet better than anyone, so I got them on myself. I did ask for a slice of pizza - I knew it was for the volunteers and therefore felt a bit bad, but my body neeeeeeded something other than Bonk Breaker bar/crack cookie. Also, from volunteering the year before, I knew you got sick of that Papa John's reeeeealllly fast.

I left the tent, said "no thank you" to the sunscreen volunteers (or tried; they still got my shoulders) and went on my way.

Time: 7:52

The Run:

I think I saw our cheer squad as I started the run, but I honestly don't remember now. I do know that as you start the run, you run past special needs. Corie was working that station and I don't think saw me until I yelled at her. She said hi as did Sasha, who unfortunately didn't make it out of the water. However, she came back out to cheer us on which I give her insane amounts of credit for.

Early on the run, I actually ran into Richard. He was on loop two at that point, but we walked together for a bit and talked - I told him about my ankle; he said he had two flats on the bike. He got more energy before I did and went on to finish his race (in 12:something). Soon after Richard left me, Derek passed me, looking fantastic.

The first couple miles were really slow; I was barely running since my legs did not want to work. The plus side is, I never felt Mr. Crampy Calf on the run - score one for the compression socks. I also kept looking to the other side of the course to see if I would see Brandon - as it was an out-and-back (and down and across and out-and-back and across and back again), I figured I would at some point.

I was alternating (ice) water and (iced) Perform at the stations; I was also taking in grapes (so tasty!) as well as the occasional orange wedge, banana and potato chip.

Around mile four, I checked my time (switched to my Garmin) and realized that I was going about 4.5 miles per hour and if I kept at that pace, I might not cross. From that point on, I started picking it up a lot more.

Back under the bridge and I saw both sets of parents and heard that Brandon was about an hour ahead of me. That also helped me pick up the pace - "Let's see if I can catch him." (Spoiler alert: I didn't.)

Scott was camped out just before the Tempe Center for the Arts so I talked to him briefly before he kicked me back on my way.

I saw Mike shortly before I crossed the Priest Drive bridge - he was getting ready to start loop two.

I didn't see Brandon until he was coming out of the TriSports aid station (so he was just past 10; I was about at 6.5); I yelled at him for a good 30 seconds before he heard me. Kris and Mark were with him; Mark left to say hi and take a few photos.

Miles 6 through 11 were where I was able to pick it up and actually run quite a bit - Garmin has all those miles in the high-11s or low 12s (fastest I got were miles 9 and 11 - 11:47.9 for both).

Going back over Priest, I saw Mike coming the other way; he looked to be struggling a bit, but I knew he'd finish (and he did).

At the split to either the finish or loop two, I picked up a glow necklace from the volunteers. It was annoying. I tried wearing at as a necklace - bounced too much when I ran. I tried putting it onto my visor, which is how Kris and Mark found me with it.

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Just passed under the Mill Ave. bridge.

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Asking Kris if there's a good way to wear the glow ring.

I was also able to kiss the dinos while talking to them ... and ditch my sunglasses with Kris. I asked her about that - she's a certified USAT official - and she said technically ... no, but meh, and took them.

I wasn't going to stop at special needs ... but changed my mind and ditched my arm coolers. I considered putting on arm warmers, but figured I didn't/wouldn't need them (smart move).

Those stops made mile 13 in the 15s, as did a small pause at an aid station to take some Advil for a headache that was popping up.

I saw Brandon right before mile 14 - he asked me if I wanted him to stop/slow and wait for me; I told him it was completely up to him and continued on my way. At the time, it seemed like a good idea, but as I continued plodding on in the dark - and lost speed; walked more and more - I knew that if I managed to catch up with him, I'd tell him to keep going, that he'd had a great race and he needed to have his day without me. I'm ultimately very glad that's what he did.

At mile 16, I reached uncharted territory - that had been the longest I'd ever gone in training. It crossed my mind, but briefly.

I said hi to Kris, Mark and both sets of parents one last time as I went back under the Mill Ave. bridge.

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I saw Scott again shortly after and stopped to talked to him for a second, but he wouldn't talk and told me to keep going - I was perfectly fine talking, but eh.

I did see Sasha soon after that and did walk with her for about three-quarters of a mile - it was nice to have someone to chat with. We parted ways as I went back over the Priest Dr. bridge.

On the bridge, I talked to some guys who were on loop one; I felt for them and though I didn't vocalize it, I was very concerned if they'd actually finish. I hope they did, but I have no idea.

Right around mile 20, I started having gastrointestinal issues. I spent most of the next couple miles walking from porta-potty to porta-potty. The mile 19 aid station didn't really have TP so I moved on - the smart choice, as the next two aid stations had lit porta-potties WITH TP.

It's the little things when you race, you know?

I also dropped my glow ring somewhere around mile 21. I had dropped it a few times earlier, but bending down hurt so I told myself next time I dropped it, it was staying down (I kept fiddling with it in my hands).

Climbing up the hill at mile 23ish, I started talking with the woman next to me and we figured out that we were Twitter buddies! Cameron, if you read this, it was nice to meet you and I'm sorry I unceremoniously ditched you at the aid station. :(

The reason for me doing that was because it was the TriSports aid station! I yelled at Seton on the mic - he gave me a hug and told everyone working the station that I had volunteered the year previous, just like them, and that I was going to be an Ironman.

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Brandon about to hug Seton - he stopped there too.

I then peeled off course to find Debbie and asked her advice on the stomach - she said just keep drinking water and broth (OH GOD THE DELICIOUS BROTH ... that I, without fail, always dripped a little down my chin).

That meant I broke one of the rules people told me about - don't stop moving. I stopped moving several times (bathroom stops will do that) and I never had a problem getting back going. Maybe it was all those long morning runs followed by long shifts on my feet at work - maybe I was just used to being on my feet for a ridiculous amount of time.

In any case, I still had a ton of energy in those later miles. I wasn't moving all that fast, relatively speaking, but I looked a lot fresher and "better" than a lot of the other athletes around me.

As I hit the Priest bridge, I could hear the finish line. I had two miles to go and I knew I would make it.

As I hit the other side, I started choking up. I forced myself not to cry because I wanted to start running again and I knew I wouldn't be able to run if I were crying. My Garmin also died at about 25.5 miles, so that was awesome.

At mile 25, I started trying to run as much as I could. I hit the small incline before the curve into the finisher's chute and a volunteer came alongside me, telling me to straighten my bib and that I was going to crack 16 hours. Halfway up that hill I started to run and I didn't stop until I crossed. I was going to do my typical sprint to the finish no matter what.

I did take in the moment, though. As soon as I entered that chute, my arms were raised, I was pumping them up and down. It's true; the pain disappears. All you see is bright, blinding light ahead of you. I vaguely heard my name be called and saw a flash of bright green (friend Mike's shirt). I took note of my crappy finisher's song (Mambo No. 5. shoot me.).

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I got to the line and jumped in glee. I did it.

Time: 6:07:29 (rate: 14:02/mi; 2352nd overall; 611th gender; 97th division)

I got my mylar blanket and medal and declined a bottle of water. I got my hat and shirt and went to find Brandon/friends. I got food - pizza sounded as unappetizing as concrete, but hot, salty fries? Tasty deliciousness. I eventually found Brandon and we got a finisher's photo together and I got my solo ones. I also saw the parents and thanked them for being awesome.

Overall Stats:
Time: 15:55:35
Division Rank: 97/106 (F30-34)
Gender Rank: 611/685 (female)
Overall Rank: 2352/2707 (or 2516; starters/finishers)

I felt good for about the next hour; I had enough energy to go down with Kris and Mark and Corie to get my morning clothes bag and both our gear bags and bikes (Brandon stayed up with Mike). I saw Derek once again down there and congratulated him.

We lugged everything back to where Mike and Brandon were. Kris and Mark went to see the finish line at midnight; Corie hung out with us. I left everyone to use the bathroom; sitting was a bad idea. At that point, I started to stiffen up.

After the race finished, we all went our separate ways. I was also extremely thankful we switched to the host hotel because that half-mile walk? Was harder than the marathon, I swear.

We got to the hotel, showered (or, in my case, sponge bathed due to all my horrible chafing) and fell into bed.

To be continued in part three ...

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