If you had seen me in January 2017 you would’ve never guessed by July 2018 I would finish an Ironman 70.3 race. I was about 20lbs overweight, severely out of shape, eating too much, and drinking too much. Basically the complete opposite of the person I am today. I will probably need to share at a later date the long story that led me to this point, but this blog post is all about the race! So lets get to it!
First and foremost Ironman races are NO JOKE! It doesn’t matter if the distance is 70.3 or 140.6, the races are at a different level of organization, unique courses, volume and caliber of athletes racing. Rule of thumb RESPECT THE IRONMAN!
Comparing the Ironman to any of the local and non-local Olympic and long distance events, Ironman is like leveling up from a 2000 Toyota Prius to a 2018 Tesla… This isn’t the kind of race where you can roll out of bed one day and register on race day. There is a reason they give you a 48 page athlete guide and mandatory check in schedule. There should be no procrastination, no last minute training (unless you have super human tri powers) ….Welcome to life in the fast lane! If you signed on the dotted line for an Ironman race, you’re only a smidge less crazier than Elon Musk.
And crazy was exactly how I felt leading up to race day… Three weeks before the race my husband and I had a series of unfortunate events occur that negatively impacted the final weeks of training and race day preparation. That being said, our family, and close friends really rallied around us for emotional support. My friends, “tri-wives” and my “sole and cycle” sisters let me vent, curse and I may have thrown a couple watery eyed tantrums during some of those final training days. (Big thank yous to Taren, Julie, Claudia, Elizabeth, Cathy, Frankie, Terri, Emily, Katie, Annalisa, Amy, Heidi, Margaret, and the Tri-Wives for hanging in those last couple weeks of training when I was not the most fun to be around)
Despite those conditions I was really grateful we ended up going to Santa Rosa two days before the race. It allowed me to connect with friends, family and fellow athletes who are just as crazy as me. (I think we were all asking ourselves, “why did we sign up for this again?!“)
Admittedly I also felt like a “weiner in a steakhouse”. Seeing Ironman World Championship tatoos, $15,000 bikes, $200 helmets, and athletes with 0% body fat walking around the Ironman Village and our hotel. However instead of letting the insecurity win I attempted to use humor to deflect and channel it into a force for good…Laughter is the best medicine after all.
I definitely got several smiles, chuckles, and high fives from some serious looking athletes while wearing this shirt on Friday….And spoiler alert!… I did not have to walk my bike up Chalk Hill come race day after all. (See the link to our fundraising page) All proceeds for the shirts will benefit Leukemia Lymphoma Society
We had a later start than anticipated, but managed to avoid the bulk of the bay area/101 traffic into Santa Rosa. We immediately checked in, and dropped off our bikes at the hotel before rushing to catch the 3pm athlete briefing and check-in. I was able to meet up with Frankie, L and A (three superstar ladies I was lucky to chase and train with) And they were absolutely amazing come race day too!
However with all the taper crazies and rushing, the hubs needed a well deserved beer. Venturing out of downtown Santa Rosa to an awesome new brewery my husband’s been stalking called Henhouse brewery.
Which we HIGHLY recommend to all our Sloppy Moose running club and beer loving friends, you definitely need to add this one to your beer portfolios….And quoting the hubs…Its better than Russian River…(EGADS I think hell just froze over!)
I got up at my usual 4am, but was lucky enough to fall back asleep till 8am (the excitement and pre race stress must have gotten to me) We had a relaxing breakfast at the hotel, then prepped the drop bags.
Yes that is 5 blocks long of just Run drop bags!!!
Holy cow is that a stressor in itself!
***Helpful Tip, prep the three drop bags and take your “Flat Racer” pics at home first so when you’re given the actual Ironman bags its much easier come race day and you know you didn’t forget anything. Also don’t pack ONLY one pair of running shoes if you have a shake out run/brick before the event…I learned my lesson from that rookie move…Bye bye shoes see you tomorrow at race day
We then drove up to swim in Lake Sonoma, which was gorgeous! The water was clear, perfect temp and conditions perfect. The Mermaid in me was like “game on” and in her happy place. The Sacramento crew was all there too with spouses and family in tow. Fast Frankie, A, L, Coach “Superman” Steve, and Chasing Casey (shhh she has a nickname now as I am always chasing after her) They were so amazing and gave such great advice. It was like having an extended family walking you through the process.
(Not my pic but you can see how beautiful Lake Sonoma can be)
Eric had never seen the bike course so we drove it the whole way back to Ironman Village. Confidence definitely dimmed as we took the steeper descent down from the lake and climbed both Dutcher Creek and Chalk Hill. (I had to walk the last 25 yards of Chalk during our practice ride of the course) Some quotes from hubs during our drive…
“Oh jeez babe this is steep, you’re going to hit 40 mph, just stay safe and just keep braking”
“When’s this hill going to end?”
“Oh this is really pretty, so we’re riding this area together someday right?”
“Whens this crazy hill coming?”
(Truck starts struggling)
“Yeah we found it…Screw this S%$#…This hill isn’t on the Tour de Fox course right?!”
“Oh this looks boring and hot, everything was pretty till here”
“You’re not having to dodge traffic crossing River Road right?”
“I’m tired just driving this course, I need a beer”
By the time everything was done, gas in the truck, and errands run we only had enough energy to walk to IHOP for a really simple dinner of eggs and pancakes.
***Note to future self, don’t meet your 6 mile step goal the day before a race. Try to stay off those feet and don’t forget your recovery shoes.
3am alarm with a 4am wake up call as back up. (We did not want to be like the marathon runner episode of Seinfeld...(“Was it the snooze, it had to be the snooze?”…”No man it was the volume, the volume” ) Visions of waking up at 8am and missing the race kept dancing through my dreams all night…
Breakfast I’ve learned with my unpredictable stomach, no fiber and keep it simple of a hard boiled egg, and gluten free Bobos bar. (I had plenty of nutrition ready for the bike ride, but will get to that miscalculation later)
We had been hearing reports and receiving information from the race organizers that the swim may be shortened or cancelled due to fog and safety conditions. If the swim was to be cancelled then it would just be a time trial bike start and run. We opted for the hubs to just drop me at the shuttle instead of driving up to the lake. Disappointment and nerves were high as the shuttle bus line was enormously long.
Then of all people I spotted Terri A (World Championship finisher at Kona, raised $50,0000 for LLS and played a pivotal role in inspiring me on this journey). We had met for the first time at the TBF/Fleet Feet TRY Women talk for my first triathlon last summer. She was there in support of her fellow athlete and friend who was speaking at the event and battling cancer. We shared a seat and just her calm presence and advice on the ride up to the lake calmed my frayed nerves.
As we exited the bus, the fog was so soupy that I almost missed seeing Sena at the top of T1 (can’t even list how many Ironmans she’s accomplished and races she’s won) She had also been a speaker at the Try Women Talk with Terri A, and gave me a huge hug of encouragement. Now I was starting to think how can this morning get any better? Then Coach “Superman” Steven and Chasing Casey were at my bike, delving out last minute hugs and advice as we waited for final announcements.
The disappointment at a cancelled swim changed my attitude to look at the race as one big Brick training day. The nerves were replaced by a few smiles and at least I got to eat more food. (remember no eating before swimming kids, but eat like a hungry hungry hippo on the bike)
The time trial start was lengthy but Chasing Casey and I danced and joked around till it was our turn at the gate (which makes you feel like a horse at the Kentucky derby)
I saw Fast Frankie speed up and out of the gate and told myself if I can follow her down the hill like our practice ride it will be ok. (I can take a steep descent off a mountain bike with no worry, but those LONG 40mph descents on the road bike are new to me and I have high anxiety) Unfortunately at the bridge my aero water bottle top flew off and I was soaked to the skin with water and freezing. I don’t know how fast I was going, barely feathered the brakes, and just hung on. At the bottom I was surprised I was still upright.
The next task was focus on warming up the cold legs in time for Dutcher Creek hills. I just stayed focused on shifting, and knew if I could keep up with Frankie she’d get me back in enough time and I wouldn’t get hauled off the course due to time constraints. I just wanted to give myself that 4 hr window for a half marathon and transition. The mermaid in me was also really ticked off about the swim cancellation and that my first 70.3 was now a duathlon. Thats all I was focusing on.
At one point I passed Frankie but she immediately caught up with me, then L passed me with words of encouragement and we played leap frog into the vineyards. By then my legs were fully warmed and I just started singing. Keeping the cadence going like Claudia and Coach Julie taught me. Then shifting into the hills like Frankie and Coach Dustyn always said.
I don’t know what happened and it was sort of magical. I had no idea what my speed, cadence, pace or rpms were. Just my watch with the time (because I forgot to turn it on). I was just focused on that 4 hour window. I ended up passing Frankie somewhere and yelled back “You’ll catch me WALKING up Chalk Hill!” (hoping I’d give her a laugh)
Unfortunately during these magical moments I was slowly realizing I was not getting enough salt and potassium. Plenty of water but not enough of those crucial electrolytes. I attempted to get more Tailwind in me, but I was really just focused on getting past Chalk Hill and not remembering to drink it.
Luckily driving the course the day before helped me recall the exact beginning of the climb so I could shift properly. I just hung out in my granny gear, stayed in my seat and muscled. To crest over that hill and descend without having to walk it was PURE JOY!
Finally dropping into the flatter lands of Windsor and Santa Rosa outskirts I just put my head down and kept singing. I tried to get more electrolytes and a couple cliff chews but it was difficult with the bumpier roads and cracks. I almost slid out on a hair pin corner by the airport after hitting a bump. (I’m pretty sure I managed to hit every marked and unmarked pothole in all of Sonoma county, and the “Queen” was miserable)
In the last 5 miles my calves were starting to cramp fiercely, and I so so so wish now that I had worn my usual compression sleeves. Flying into transition though made me forget all of it for a moment.
I finally got to see the hubs, Cathy B and Terri V. Cathy B called my average and I could not believe it. I started tearing up cause that meant I gave myself that long 4 hour half marathon window and I would ACTUALLY finish!!! That was my only goal!!! I was going to finish!!!
I motored down through transition (I was at the back end of those 5 blocks), and in the first two miles I realized my calves were so swollen and cramped. I needed salt BAD. I was able to get a couple licks of my Base salts and walk some of the cramps out, but knew the tummy troubles weren’t going to be far behind. It never fails, I run more than 6 miles, therefore the tummy is going to rebel.
Frankie caught up with me and gave me a couple words of encouragement (She always seems to find me at races when I need it the most too, another magical race day moment, even when I felt horrible).
(My one good run pic where I don’t look like like I’m having a “water baby” or hating life 😂)
The water and gatorade were just sloshing around and my belly kept getting more and more distended. I could barely interval small distances and knew now the run was going to be a “nature hike”. Yet I know I can walk a 3 hour half marathon so thats basically what I did.
I saw Frankie again on her out and back, we attempted to high five each other, but instead I managed to hit some poor guy in the face. (Yep just like the pic below)
He was a good sport and gave me a thumbs up when I called out “I owe you a beer!”…And I still owe that random guy a beer.
I saw L and A out there killing it as well. All three of them looked so strong! By mile 6 I was starting to get worried I hadn’t seen my Tri Wife JL in my out and backs, and hoped nothing had happened on the course.
By mile 8 I had a serious case of water belly, and looked like I was pregnant. In a final desperate attempt to drink something with carbonation to relieve the bloating I snagged some coke.
[BACKSTORY: I haven’t had caffeine in over a year due to an inner ear condition that causes vertigo. ]
Therefore that coke went straight to the brain, vertigo kicked in immediately and I literally felt I was “high” those last two miles. I saw my amazingly wonderful Tri-wives cheer squad, B, K, and S. They updated me on JL, that she was on her first loop and still looking strong. They were making such a racket cheering, that the aid station announcer with the amplifier got caught up in the mix and the whole aid crew was yelling my name along with them. (cue first round of happy tears)
In the last mile I was desperate to just finish…and find a bathroom. I managed to run/hobble the final stretch out of pure necessity, (finish line photos were my least concern) All I wanted was my husband, my Tri-wives, my friends and family…And maybe a port-a-potty
Then magically they were all just THERE…I didn’t have to find them in the crowd, they were at the end surrounding me with love and letting me give them sweaty tearful hugs. Pictures were being taken and I couldn’t see a thing.
My eyes were so full of tears and sweat. It was cathartic, seeing my husband there healthy, happy and proud. So so different from that horrible night eight years ago. I just broke down. His shirt immediately became my snot rag.
Finally the body reminded me of how unhappy it was and I politely excused myself from family and friends while I attempted to make it happy again. (As usual I could barely stomach food for several hours later.)
Let the post race Shenanigans begin…
The hubs, Cathy B, Terri V, mom and dad bundled up all my gear and I hobbled back to the car. All I wanted was the pool. Despite all the water I dumped on myself on the run, it still felt blazing hot.
First thing I did back at the hotel was jump in the pool with my tri kit on. I wanted to swim laps and just wash away the chafing and tummy troubles, but kids were playing and parents were wondering who this weirdo was jumping in fully clothed?
The Tri-Wives (B, S and K) met us after for their celebratory cocktails once I showered. Of course I missed out on all their crazy race shenanigans, but at least the tradition of yoga poses on over sized chairs was alive and well.
I love reading other’s race reports, their highs, lows, advice and even some well deserved bragging . Yet the moral of my story is that it takes a village to take on any Ironman race. You don’t get to the finish line alone. I wouldn’t be anywhere without the love and support of my spouse, family, friends, and training buddies getting me to both the start and finish line. Also to everyone who donated to Leukemia Lymphoma Society (Nothing is a better training motivator when people are counting on you to finish) They ALL deserve this finisher medal, not me.
Triathlon can unfortunately turn into a very expensive and self serving endeavor if you let it overtake your life. Training can also be very lonely if you’re so Type A and competitive, that you alienate yourself from amazing training partners and the sports community in your quest to be top dog. (And you’ll see that small 10% strutting around at an Ironman race)
Yet I’ve been so blessed with training buddies, mentors, and coaches who make up the other 90%. Surround yourself with those winners and the sky’s the limit. Then once you reach those big finishing goals, pay it forward to the next group of rookie triathletes. Whether you’re their race sherpa, counselor, coach, or training buddy give them back everything someone gave you. Then scream, and cheer for them like they just won the Superbowl… Because that’s what everyone did for me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, I still have 10 more months of training left until the BIG ONE, but I couldn’t have gotten through the first race without you all. Love, and hugs everyone ~ T