November 17, 2013 I completed my first IronMan. There’s a ton of training and preparation for an IronMan but I won’t take you all the way back to when my brother talked me into this crazy endeavor. I’m going to start my race report on the Wednesday evening before the event. My brother drove from Paso Robles Wednesday evening to stay with us, ride with us the next morning and then drive to Tempe. We had an early dinner and then we got settled into last minute preparations. My preparation included practicing taking my rear wheel off and putting it back on and repairing flats. It was quite humorous because my husband, David, and my brother, Tom, kept giving me advice on how to peel the tire off, place the tube, etc. That said, I gained some peace of mind having put the practice in.
I always get anxious about logistics so Friday morning we went down to the event site and checked in. We then met up with several Team FC, OC Tri and Tri La Vie folks for a ride up and back Beeline. David and I had ridden Beeline while we were here in October so everything felt pretty familiar. At this point, I was still feeling relatively calm but it was now time to start preparing my bags for race day. When I packed at home, I had sorted my stuff according to the different bags and I simply double-checked my list, made a few last-minute changes and got everything ready for the drop-off on Saturday. We attended the athlete’s meeting Friday afternoon – nothing too shocking was said and we relaxed with family the rest of the afternoon.
Saturday was drop-off for the bike and gear bags. I didn’t do the IM practice swim in Tempe Town Lake because I had done the Soma ½ IM in October and felt comfortable with the venue and I had also become sick after that race. Believing my stomach bug was related to the vast quantities of water I swallowed during Soma, I decided to not take the chance and took a plunge in my hotel’s clean, heated pool instead. By now, my nerves were starting to kick in, I was beginning to get anxious and had lots of nervous energy. I was having first-timer nerves and was afraid my rear tire had a leak so I went to the mechanic who pretty much told me that my tire was fine and yes – I was having first timer nerves. While the line for bike drop-off was long, it took much less time than waiting for the mechanic to tell me my bike was fine.
We had a Team FC briefing where Jillian and Joby provided advice and answered questions. Kristie Dodge, another IMAZ FC squad member started a tradition with Soma – dinner at the Olive Garden pre-race. I was able to get to bed around 9:00 pm and slept pretty soundly until about 3:45. I got up, had my coffee and yogurt and walked down to the race area. Dropping off the special needs bags and completing the final bike preparation was easy and not nerve-wracking. I was as calm as was possible before the swim.
The Swim (1:15):
I’m a solid swimmer but I was dreading this swim. It was the only part of the race that I was truly nervous about. I had several dreams about the swim in the weeks and days leading to the race. I initially thought that I might try to start on the outside where the crowds were less and work my way towards the buoy line during the swim hoping to find clear water. I really dislike swimming in crowds, I find it claustrophobic. However, in talking with Joby and other swimmers who had done IMAZ, it was recommended that I start towards the front and right in line with the buoys. Exactly where I saw the densest crowds last year when I watched the swim start. As far as the crowds and melee during the swim start, the swim was about what I expected – lots of people, arms, legs flailing everywhere. It was hard to settle into a regular stroke and breathing pattern. I got grabbed a lot. Someone even grabbed my foot and pushed me forward one time. I also got kicked in the left eye/goggle. I wear my goggles under my cap to prevent leaking and to help keep the goggles in place for melees like this and it worked. Despite a direct kick, my goggle stayed in place with no leaking.
What I didn’t expect on the swim were the cramps. I have never cramped swimming so I was shocked when my left calf became a painful knot of immobile muscle. I flipped over on my back and tried to loosen it by flexing but that didn’t help much. I rolled back over and started to swim without any kicking. I had read a Q&A – probably in Triathlete magazine – where a triathlete asked the magazine how to prevent the calf cramps he/she often experienced and the answer had to do with relaxing the ankles and letting them “flutter” rather than forcefully pointing the toes during the kick. I focused on keeping the left calf relaxed and I repeated a mantra “loosey goosey” to myself. The calf relaxed enough to start kicking again. Then about two-thirds of the way it cramped again and my right calf decided to join the party. I once again swam without kicking for a few moments before loosening up enough to kick again. On the up side, this is about when I realized that the muscle in my shoulder that had been bothering me for the last month was perfectly fine. I believe the cramps may have been the result of the tension I had in my body from being grabbed and bumped into by so many other swimmers. Swimming is usually very relaxing for me – I’ve compared it to being my yoga/zen – I think the tension/stress created by the crowds led to the muscle tension that eventually became cramps.
I do a lot of self-talk during the more challenging parts of an event and , despite swimming being a strength, it is my least favorite part of triathlon. I found myself repeating several phrases to myself – “loosey goosey, “ “it’s all cake from here” and “easy peasey lemon squezey (thanks for that Joby!)” and “swim is my zen” all passed through my mind at times.
Considering the cramps and the crowds that I never really got clear of, my swim time was exactly what I had expected and I was very happy with the result.
The Bike (6:09):
After having my wetsuit stripped and running into transition, I grabbed my bag and sat on one of the chairs outside the woman’s changing tent. I made the flash decision to stay in my tri-shorts for the ride rather than changing into cycling shorts. I sprayed myself with sunblock, pulled my jersey on (I wanted pockets) grabbed my bike off the rack and ran out of transition. The mount line was not clearly marked or maybe I missed it. I eventually hopped on my bike and rode out of the chute onto the bike course.
I think the bike is the most important part of an IM to have a well thought through plan. I like to ride – it’s my favorite part of a triathlon but an event like this means I have to go easier than I like. Joby sent me my race plan and when I saw the power targets I felt that they were lower than I was capable of, even in the context of an IM. We agreed that I could target the higher end of the range if I felt like it wasn’t stretching me too much. This is kind of funny because the targets he set for Soma seemed challenging/hard and I expressed my concern about this but, in the end, I had no trouble hitting the targets and had a great ride at Soma. So, what I’m saying is “trust the coach and the plan”.
I focused really hard on keeping the first lap “easy” – lots of people passed me in that first lap. David has trouble understanding how I can refrain from trying to keep up with people when they go past. I do this by focusing on the watts and doing my best to keep my watts in the range that I’ve set for myself. I believe having a power meter is a critical tool for properly training and competing in a cycling event. Even with the first lap being “easy” I was at the high end of the power range that Joby and I discussed.
On my way back into town on the first lap I was desperately trying to spot my brother among the riders on the other side. He’s not a strong swimmer and he was very nervous about the swim. I never saw my brother on that first lap which concerned me. I did see a lot of my teammates and friends out on the course and I cheered them on as I spotted them.
During the team meeting on Saturday, Jillian talked about how the different laps of the bike should feel. I set about targeting a similar watt figure for my second lap giving myself the freedom to bump it up by a watt or two if I felt comfortable, which I did. This lap was windier than the first lap but I still felt pretty good. Furthermore, my brother spotted me on the second lap and hollered at me. I had peace of mind that my brother made it out of the water and was well on his way to becoming an IronMan which made me VERY happy.
By the end of the second lap, I really had to go pee but I just couldn’t make myself go on the bike (I tried, I really did!). So, early in the third lap I stopped for a bio-break. I felt like a new woman! I hadn’t felt this good since I got on the bike. My third lap required focus but my watts edged up slightly so that, ultimately, each lap was slightly stronger than the previous.
With this being my first IM, I didn’t know what to expect from the crowds and how easy it would be to spot my family and team in the crowd. It was awesome to roll into town and to see everyone and hear my name being yelled out. It’s a real pick-me-up – especially the third time around.
I’ll be honest; I thought the bike ride was boring. Three loops of the same course can get to you. Needless to say, I was very happy when the ride was over. This, however, was when the doubts started to creep into my mind – had I gone too hard on the bike?
The Run (4:47):
The volunteer in transition was awesome. I ran up with my bag and she helped me with everything. She took everything out of the bag for me, packed my bike gear into the bag, helped me get my compression socks up and handed me what I needed when I needed it. I appreciated the help very much.
Like the bike, the paces that Joby and I discussed for the run sounded slow but I’m not a runner and I’ve never run a full marathon after cycling 112 miles before so I figured I would do my best to follow the plan. My first mile was supposed to be really slow and easy and no heroics in the first six miles. My first mile felt torturously slow and painful but when I looked at my watch I was faster than I should have been. Then, my legs wanted to stop moving and my feet went numb. My first 8-11 miles were torture. My legs just didn’t want to turn over and I couldn’t feel my feet for the first three miles or so. I did a marathon, my first, in June to help me mentally prepare for IMAZ. I’m very glad that I did because I used a strategy in the IMAZ marathon that I used in that marathon. I did walk intervals – I gave myself permission to not just walk through the aid stations but to do 5-minute walk intervals after every 30 minutes of running and I also gave permission to walk up every hill – even the tiny ones.
I had trouble running the 30 minute intervals during the first half of the marathon; I was struggling to complete even 15 minutes of running. I had all kinds of negative thoughts going through my head. I wanted to quit at mile 6. Yes, I really wanted to quit! I find it funny that I could still smile and cheer loudly all the while having an internal debate with myself about the value of finishing IMAZ.
After I got past mile 6 my mental outlook got better – heck I was nearly a quarter of the way done, I can do that three more times. Right? My mantras for that first lap of the run included “one and done” (I’m not attempting this again so I have to finish it today) and “I’ll walk this mother f-er”. Not the most elegant of mantras but they kept me putting one foot in front of the other.
Then, something amazing happened towards the end of the first lap – my legs started to move on their own. I was finally running and not checking my watch every minute to see how close I was to my next walk interval. I felt strong! I still walked through most of the aid stations. I was so done with my Stinger Gels I opted for cola and bananas in alternating aid stations. I think my mantra for the second half of the marathon would make an interesting marketing slogan “powered by bananas and cola.” I don’t know why some phrases stick in my head but this one was there for a while : )
I hit a wall with about three miles to go. Both of my knees were killing me. I had to slow down; I just couldn’t keep the pace I had been going with my knees hurting so badly. But, I never stopped running – there were only three miles to go, then less than two miles, then only 300 yards. With the finish line in sight, I found new energy and was able to pick up the pace for the finish.
Spectators and volunteers – family, friends, teammates and strangers:
The spectators and volunteers make all the difference in an event like this. The pick-me-up that comes with a cheering crowd all shouting your name and cheering you on is amazing. It was great on the bike to come back into town and pass through the aid stations and small groups of spectators along the bike route. I tried my best to cheer back and have fun along the way and was always rewarded with even louder cheering. The support during the run is even more critical – as an athlete you get energy from the crowd. I was always looking for my family as I passed through the areas I expected them to be and the tents with Team FC and Tri La Vie.
It was so great to have my brother out on the course with me. What a great experience for both of us to finish our first IronMan together! My mom and dad, husband and my brother’s family were all there to support us. I really appreciated having everyone there for this experience. It was wonderful to be able to share the time and experience with all of them.
I can’t thank Joby, Jillian, Caroline, Adrienne and the rest of the team for the cheering support throughout the day and on the marathon and I loved having teammates/friends out on the course to cheer along.
I know that I didn’t show the pain I was in – I had the biggest smile plastered on my face – but having you all out there kept that smile on my face and gave me something to look forward to. It really does make a big difference.
My nutrition plan is pretty simple. For breakfast I had Greek yogurt, honey and pecans all mixed together and I ate half a bagel before the swim. On my bike, I filled my bento box with chopped up bonk breaker bars, a clif bar and a snickers bar. I also had two packages of blocks and a couple of Stinger gels with me. I mixed two bottles of electrolytes (pedialyte) and had them on my bike at the start with the plan to supplement with water from the course aid stations.
I set my Garmin 910 to alert me every 15 minutes and my plan was to eat a couple of small bites and take a couple of gulps of water/electrolyte mix every 15 minutes starting about 30 minutes into the ride. I probably ended up taking in about 200 – 250 calories per hour while on the bike. I didn’t eat anything solid after I started the third loop of the ride, opting for gels instead as I prepared for the run.
I don’t like to eat while I run, I don’t have an appetite while running and feeling heavy isn’t comfortable so I planned minimal intake for the run. I carried several Stinger gels with me but I was only able to eat one early in the run. By then, I was tired of the gel and just couldn’t imagine eating another one. I eventually started accepting cola at aid stations (the first time in years I’ve had full-sugar cola) and I also started to take bananas. I alternated cola, water and bananas at the aid stations. I also carried my own mix of pedialyte in my bottle and refilled it twice.
I had no stomach upset during the event and my energy level was fairly consistent. While I did struggle with the first part of the run, I don’t think that struggle had anything to do with nutrition.
There’s not a lot I would do differently if I were to do an IronMan again in the future. I feel like the swim and bike went as well as could be expected and my nutrition seemed to work well even if I had to make several bio-breaks throughout the event. The key learning s for have to do with the mental aspects of an event like this. Staying calm and focused during the swim. Staying engaged in the bike ride. Not letting the doubts get to you on the run.
The run was the hardest. I found myself worried when I started the run – had I gone too hard on the bike? Did I make that classic mistake sabotaging the quality of my run? Candidly, I might have gone a little too hard on the bike – it really did take me a very long time to find my legs in the marathon. I never found myself doubting my training or my preparedness for the event; instead, I doubted the choice I had made on the bike. I think we will all find a reason to doubt ourselves during an event like this and we have to be prepared to overcome it. I used my mantras and knew that if I pulled out it would affect my brother’s focus as well. These things along with the volunteers, family and teammate helped me persevere to the end. I found strength in cheering on other competitors, thanking the volunteers and the karaoke aid station was great fun too.
Now that I can reflect on the challenges of the event, it was almost all mental. Having the experience of the marathon in June gave me a reference point and mental tools to tap into. For a future IronMan (if I ever decide to do another one); I will have this IMAZ experience to leverage as well. I’m incredibly happy with how the day went.