Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tricked by the Treaters

Or lack thereof, I should say.

Yes, this year, I am sorry to say that we had ABSOLUTELY NO TRICK OR TREAT'ERS visit our place. Sure, we've moved to a condo that requires not one but two security gate codes to enter (yes - having friends over is a royal pain. Just ask my friends. Or my parents (who got very befuddled on their inaugural visit. Heck, Jen Harrison and hubby Jerome circled the parking lot and ended up YELLING into our unit from the street. And I thought those 2 X 20 min threshold pieces were to better prepare me for CDA. Hhhmmmm) Anyway - difficult for me on the giving-directions-part and for them (friends), figuring out said directions PLUS our complicated gate code system. But I digress).

Or perhaps it was the fact that we've moved to California?

Perhaps people are too health-concious around here to actually eat candy and junk food? Thus making the kids give up all together? I shudder at the thought of giving tooth brushes and floss to little witches and wizards on Halloween Night.

All I know, is that Nathaniel and I ended up with 4 bags of candy - 2 snickers, one butterfinger, and one highly addictive bag of "fun sized" Reces Pieces Peanut Butter Cups - and we all know that I will do just about anything for a PB cup. Even race.

Yes - even three weeks after an Ironman.

Luckily it won't come to that, as we have EVERY single last piece of candy still present and accounted for. Except for the ones that we ate together. And then the additional ones that I ate on my own.

So with all things being equal, we've still got about three or so bags of candy left over.

While waiting, Nathaniel and I amused ourselves greatly: the fireplace was roaring, the lights were on (to make our place look "friendly" and "inviting"), and the House Monsters could just sense something in the air.


To pass time, Nathaniel and I watched a Halloween episode of "Frasier", and then turned to "Friends". And eventually he got bored with old episodes and pulled a book, while I googled "Halloween TV themes" and...low and behold... "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" popped up.

I must say, that its been a good 10 or 12 (maybe longer...?) years since I watched Buffy. It was a cult-classic at my high school, and rarely did I or or my friends miss a week. Yet, never for the life of me, would I have EVER pictures myself - on Halloween night, at aged 28, eating as much candy as I wanted, sitting next to my hubby, watching old episodes of Buffy. Either we are the most boring couple ever, or I have sooo got it made.

You pick, because I don't have the heart to.

Actually the scariest thing about today was our visit to Old Town Temecula, or Southern California's response to Napa Valley. As Nate and I aren't really the window-shopping type unless we have our parental units with us, we made a quick forray through the town and then found ourselves at a local pub.

That wasn't the scary part.

The part that WAS slightly disturbing was - in spite of just finishing my race season and getting over a sinus infection - I earned the respect and admiration of six fellow (and slightly inebriated, if I do say so myself) pub patrons, when I not only ordered, but completely finished the 6 X 5 oz beer sampler in commemoration of Oktoberfest. I could have sworn they gave me a round of applause on my way out. But who knows.

Now...Nathaniel is asleep, the fire is still going, I've got two kitties who are both vying for my attention and trying to ignore each other at the same time. The candy is still out and there's another episode of "Buffy" with my name on it.

Who knew that one could enjoy Halloween so much?

Here's hoping that yours was GREAT (and that you didn't get too sick from 1) chocolate 2) beer 3) chocolate 4) peanut butter cups or 5) chocolate).

Friday, October 30, 2009

We interrupt this race report...

It would be WONDERFUL if I was back in Victoria, BC - enjoying a pint with Nathaniel, my folks, and sister. But I'm not. Instead - below.

Pardon the interruption! I would normally do my BEST to complete and get my race report out - and Lord knows I want to get that 'thingy' over with. However, occasionally life throws a few curve balls.

And not that I could throw a curve ball, let alone catch the darned thing....(due to lack of spacial/time coordination. Did you know that I once dribbled a basketball off my foot in game in 8th grade? I bet you didn't...)


I have ended up with a whopper of a sinus infection. Ah yes - a season of 2 Ironmans... this feeling (ie tired, cranky, sore, etc) is the gift that just keeps on giving. :) Except for the hunger part. I can safely say that I no longer wake up ravenously hungry in the middle of the night and NO Tabbitha does NOT look good.

(And no - that doesn't stop me from eating whatever I want, whenever I want. I must say though, that the novelty has pretty much worn off as I can no longer taste what I'm eating. Except for very very potent stuff like goat cheese and Cheezits. Yeah, I can still taste that. Trust me: I've tried!)

But goat cheese and Cheezits aside (and by the way - don't even ask. It is the weirdest flavor profile EVER. I blame the cold meds. For real), mostly I have switched to Popsicles and chicken noodle soup.

But in all reality, I've been reassured by many people that getting sick is pretty much an end-of-season/post-Ironman rite of passage. *Yea!* Count me in!!! If I'm going to do nearly-everything-IM-related, I might as well get sick as well!

At least now I can think (mostly) coherently, although based on the amount of Nyquil and other over-the-counter cold medications I've taken, it's amazing that I'm able to function at the level that I am. Ha ha - just kidding. Sort of.

Later today I get to see my lovely doc, who will hopefully prescribe some medication that will rid me of my sinus pressure. You know the kind...where your teeth hurt and blowing your nose makes you wince before blowing, because of how impacted everything is.

Yes folks, when I do something, I do it big.

And I realize that sentence could be misconstrued in so many different ways. But I blame the cold meds - and so should you.

With that I'm off. The kleenix is calling and I think there's an apple-flavored popsicle in the freezer with my name on it. At least I think its apple; as the thing is nuclear green and tastes a little tart. But the box says that they're made with 100% fruit juice, so I'm assuming they're healthy - right?

Perhaps its just the cold meds talking. Yeah - I'll blame it on that.

Until then - I hope that wherever YOU are, you're happy, healthy, and doing most wonderfully. Cheers!

PS - I'll leave you with this picture of my lovely kitties who clearly care very much about each other. *snort* Actually - all Anabelle wants to do is touch Tabbitha, but because she can't bend her elbows from the accident, she does funky things - like stand on her hind legs. Tabbitha just sees this Mimi Monster walking towards her and lashes out as best she can. Clearly they love each other; *no one was harmed in the making of this presentation* I don't know what's more disturbing - Tabbitha's glowing eyes or the fact that Anabelle is standing up.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ironman Hawaii Race Report, part 3

In the days leading up to Ironman Hawaii, Nathaniel and I drove most of the bike course, and I had spent 45 minutes on my bike descending from the Hawi turnaround (mile 60) back to the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway. Jen wanted me to experience Hawaii’s legendary trade winds, whereas I just wanted to 1) Ride my bike AWAY from other athletes 2) have fun 3) spend more time descending than climbing (for once) and 4) have fun.

Do you sense a theme?

While driving up (and I DO mean UP!) to the town of Hawi, I couldn’t help but notice the car shifting. The ups seemed endless and for the entire 50-mile drive, I was amazed at how hilly the course seemed.

I even sent an accusatory text to training partner, friend, and podium-finisher Charisa exclaiming, “There are HILLS!”

And yes, living in Southern California, I realize what hilly areas are really like. Remember that I try to ‘find myself’ while climbing Palomar once or twice each month. But the Hawaii course seemed different. The hills seemed longer and more sweeping, and from the vantage point of my air conditioned car, extremely unforgiving.

I had been told to expect anything and everything from false flats to false descents, from headwinds to tailwinds and crosswinds. That the heat would be relentless, the sun would be bright, and the lava rocks would radiate an intensity unlike any other.


But once I got on my bike and actually started riding, things seemed different. With the smooth pavement under my wheels and the wind whipping past my body – honestly – it wasn’t that bad. In practice, I took my time, made sure I was comfortable, and practiced controlling my bike when I felt the wind gusts whip past. Occasionally I would see Nathaniel – in our rented car – drive past or waiting somewhere on the road (making sure that I was okay and didn’t a) crash b) flat c) meltdown).

It was very reassuring, having him there, and before I knew it, I had reached the end of my ride.

So far so good!

I kept thinking positive things about the course – about how I COULD do it, how I was strong, ready, and had gone the distance over and over and OVER again – but I was still nervous. I knew that, come race day, sticking to my heart rate, keeping up with my nutrition, and staying mentally positive would be key.

Running with my bike out of Transition 1, that was my focus. Heart rate heart rate heart rate……


The screaming crowds echoed all around, and the solid walls of spectators on both sides of my person were incredible. There were a few other athletes mounting their bikes and zooming off ahead, and I did my best to not fall over or knock my bottles off as I swung my leg over and clipped in.

I knew the first 10 miles of the course – all within the town of Kailua-Kona – would be packed with athletes and spectators alike. I also knew from my experience at Ironman Coeur d’Alene that my heart rate might be a little bit higher than what I would be typically comfortable with, and that was okay. My goal was to establish a rhythm and get settled as much as possible.

Within a few turns I found myself on the slight uphill stretch of Kuakini Highway and heard my name called out from somewhere near the Palani intersection. It was a male voice that was yelling for me – not Nathaniel. But I distinctly heard my name and thought it weird that, in the thousands of other voices yelling, someone had chosen to cheer for me and that I actually heard them. It was wonderful, and made me feel like I was not alone.

Additionally from my CDA experience, I knew that I would be passed by a million people during the first hour of the bike portion. Okay, not really that many. But I knew enough to expect to be passed over and over and over again. There was nothing I could do about the other riders – some of whom were surely riding above their limits, others who were just plain fast.

This was, after all, the Ironman World Championships – and everyone who got here either had to qualify or was selected. I quickly learned to check my ego at the door as one after another rode past and dropped my sorry butt.

But no matter – I was here, doing my own thing. And so far, my race was going according to plan.

Keeping a wary eye on my heart rate, I made it to the top of Kuakini Highway, and then enjoyed the really fast ride down. Zoom! Before I knew it, I was turning up the ½ mile climb up Palani towards the Queen K Highway. If I could use one image to describe this climb, it would be similar to what I’ve seen in the Tour de France. Both sides of the road were crammed with spectators, wildly cheering and yelling as athletes rode the hill.

I saw some people get out of their saddles and surge ahead, no doubt bolstered by the support of the crowd. In a somewhat more anti-climactic fashion, I was different. I thought about Rob during CDA and just keeping my legs turning up the hill. Switching to my easiest gear I spun up the incline, keeping my heart rate low – which was difficult to do, given the crowd support, flowing adrenaline, and nature of the hill.

Before I knew it though, I was making a left turn and was on the famed Queen K Highway. The black pavement stretched endlessly on ahead, speckled with bicyclists in their bright race gear, as far as the eye could see. I settled into my aero bars, kept a wary eye on my heart rate monitor, and made a quick physical and mental assessment. The heat wasn’t too bad and the winds felt light. I could feel the sun radiating and fervently hoped that my SPF 50 would do its job.

I highly doubted it.

Perhaps it was the nature of the course – black lava flows on both sides of the road, very smooth pavement under my wheels, a wide shoulder with a small section of rumple strips, and an endless expanse of blue out towards the ocean – but time seemed different. Indeed, I was passed by (seemingly) a million riders in the first hour, and another half million in the second. But time DID pass quickly, in spite of how slow I felt. And though I made a few passes of other sorry souls, more often than not I was the one being passed.

And I was okay with that. In all honesty, there was nothing I could do. I was doing the best that I could, watching my heart rate like a hawk, and letting my body do the work that it felt capable of. Hindsight is always 20/20. And while I admit that 1) I could have probably biked faster and 2) I’m not super thrilled with my bike split – given the circumstances, how I was feeling going into the race, and the race conditions, I did the best that I could with what I had. Personally, I couldn’t ask for more.

(And I think we - as athletes - are extremely harsh and unforgiving of ourselves. Racing is HARD. Training is HARD. Heck - life is HARD. But berating ourselves doesn't make it any easier... So do the best that you can with what you have - and go from there. Sometimes it works out SUPERB and other times, not so much. But in the end, you've got the experience and lessons that you can draw from them. And that is priceless!)

Additionally, I knew the dangers of over biking – or biking too fast and beyond my capabilities. I wanted to give my body the chance to absorb all the nutrition that I surely needed in order to run a decent marathon, and I certainly didn’t want to blow up. Could I have gone faster? Sure. But at what cost? It was a risk that – for my first time in Kona and only my second Ironman – I wasn’t willing to take.

Truthfully, I spent more time watching my heart rate and making myself stay upbeat and positive than anything else. The scenery flashed by, endless black rock, blue sky, riders and the occasional gust of wind, interrupted every 7 miles by aid stations.

The aid stations at Kona were unlike any aid station I have ever experienced. By the time I rolled through, the volunteers had their bottle hand offs working like a well-oiled machine. I only dropped one bottle, but quickly got another from a SUEPR excited young lad.

“She GOT IT!” he yelled, as I was pedaling away with my green Gatorade water bottle.

I couldn’t suppress my grin. Who could?

The aid stations themselves stretched on for half a mile, with water bottle hand offs at both ends. Sandwiched in the middle was a smorgasbord of Ironman food: bananas, gels, Gatorade, cups of pretzels, and nearly anything the Kona-finisher-to-be could want. I stuck with only water, trying to grab one or two bottles per station.

I had my nutrition down to a science: Every hour on the :30 minute mark, I took 2 sips of CarboPro 1200 (roughly 200 calories). At the top of each hour, it was a yummy Powergel (110 calories)– usually vanilla, double latte, or (my favorite) strawberry banana. Every 15 minutes, I would take in salt tablets, and I made sure to drink water frequently and often (and did I mention frequently?).

Within the first two hours of the bike, I felt the urge to pee. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any port-o-potties on the side of the road, and while in practice I have the wonderful ability to void my bladder while biking…for some reason, this particular talent eluded me on race day. I tried several times; I would stop pedaling, sit up, coast, realax….but my efforts proved fruitless. I was buoyed by the fact that I needed to pee; at least I was getting enough water. I continued drinking and eating, and was extremely happy that I wasn’t having any stomach upset or discomfort.

Hooray for small miracles!

What I was unhappy with, was my biking. For some reason, the power just wasn’t there. I can’t really explain it. And trust me when I say that I’ve thought a lot about that fact. I stuck to my heart rate, mostly upper zone 2, and low zone 3 – but could tell that my power was far from what I had done during long rides. At one point I wondered if my rear brake was rubbing – so I reached behind me to check.

No dice.

I was just going slow.

Correction: I was doing what my body could do on that day given the circumstances. And I was still on my bike, was still on the course, was still riding and participating. That’s all I could ask for.

And at some point, you just have to smile, have to laugh. So I did both - and thought about the moment where I would write those very words in my race report.

I continued to stay as mentally upbeat as I could, even while making the turn off the Queen K Highway, past Kawaihae and onto 270. I thanked the volunteers and policemen who were working the intersections, and caught a glimpse of the many cameras and even a few TV crews, waiting no doubt, for the professional’s race to unfold.

Before I could react to the frantic, “ON YOUR LEFT!” I was passed by a tandem bike going no less than 40 miles per hour. Sure, we were descending – but that speed and on a bike built for two, none the less. I could feel the breeze as they passed and saw the goose bumps form on my arms. The last think I needed was to have someone else take me out of my misery.

And as soon as I had that thought, I squashed it. It was true: I wasn’t the happiest of campers out there, but I was doing the best to control my own race and stay upbeat. I made each gel seem like a treat, and with every sip of carbopro, I knew that I was one more hour closer to Transition 2, and that much closer to my race finish.

The famed climb up to Hawi earned its reputation. Soon after beginning the relentless rollers and uphill grade, the wind picked up. The constant headwind, although unrelenting, really didn’t dampen my spirits too much in the beginning. I knew there was nothing that I could do about it – so I made sure to keep my body as comfortable as I could and followed my heart rate.

Spin, spin, spin…. Sip some water….spin spin spin.

Whenever my heart rate crept too high or went above what I perceived as a comfortable effort, I backed down.

And yet, more and more people continued to pass.

At one point, Kerrie Wlad came roaring by me, with a pack of guys shamelessly drafting off her wheel. She shouted to me and I just told her to stick with it – that she was doing great! And I meant every word that I said. Part of me was a little upset at myself though, but only for a fleeting moment. I had managed to hold her off until mile 8 of the run during IM CDA. Here, she was passing me before the Hawi turnaround. Oh well.

I reminded myself that each race is different, and the fact that I was HERE, that I had stuck with it when it got tough – well, that was good enough. You get out exactly what you put in, and I wouldn’t be honest if I said that my training was as solid leading into Kona as it was CDA. But again, I carry no regrets. I am honored to have done both races, and grateful for the opportunities to learn from each.

The final few miles up until the Hawi turnaround were the most difficult of my entire ride. Hoards of age groupers were whizzing past in the other directions, and the professionals were all but gone. One after another – people were streaming by for what felt like an endless amount of time. I had stopped looking at my bike computer, because I just didn’t want to affirm how slow I felt. Physically I knew that I wasn’t having a stellar ride; but emotionally this was the hardest point.

And then, I thought of all the people who inspired me along the way, throughout my journey. I thought about Nathaniel, carrying a store-bought pair of pilot’s wings in his pocket for two and a half years before being accepted to flight school. He wanted it so badly and he worked his tail end off to become the Marine Aviator he is today. And even when people told him that he couldn’t do it, that it was impossible he never gave up.

I thought about my many friends and training partners – about Donna and Zack riding the Queen K only weeks before, of Shannon climbing Palomar with me even though she was in the middle of earning her PhD, of Meredith talking me through her own IM experiences over lunch at the Beachgrass CafĂ©. And countless others who – even though they weren’t on the island that day – they were with me in spirit.

I remembered seeing my Dad during CDA, recognizing his blue jacket and hearing my Mom’s voice. I knew that there were countless others out there, cheering, rooting, supporting – and they all mattered. When things got really tough during those last few miles – I thought of my friends. And I can’t thank you enough.

Crossing that Hawi timing mat was great: now I had the luxury of downhill and – more importantly – knowing that with each turn of the crank, with each mile passed, I was getting that much closer to Transition 2.

Having not packed anything for Bike Special Needs, I kept tucked in aero and rode right by the incredible volunteers. I could see they were sweaty and looked hot. My heart went out to them: they are one of the MANY reasons why this race is possible, and as an athlete, I was indebted to their support.

I turned my focus back to the road, and staying upright on my descent from Hawi. With a size-able tailwind, I was able to pick up some decent speed (for me), but I kept my focus trained on the riders ahead. I knew that – should I see one or two get blown across the road – I could expect a gust. Additionally, I took a quick peek out towards the ocean.

The great Kona Champion, Michellie Jones once commented that if she could, “see whitecaps on the descent from Hawi, it was going to be a windy day!”

I was relieved: no whitecaps!

But I refused to let my guard down.

I managed to stay aero for a large part of the descent and subsequent rollers, but I was still careful, keeping my eyes peeled on the athletes ahead. I was also keeping a close watch on my heart rate and noticed – to my great surprise and dismay – that I had begun to pass a few people.

Okay, not a lot. And certainly not nearly as many who had passed me in the first hour or two. But after the Hawi turnaround, I slowly began to reel in rider after rider. I made a game out of powering over the rollers, trying to see if I could remain in the same gear while keeping my heart rate down. There were a few times where this worked; while other times I needed to downshift because I just couldn’t keep my cadence high enough.

All too soon the descent was over, and the REAL work began, I thought grimly to myself. Elizabeth had mentioned that the stretch of road from Waioaloa until the Kona Airoport were by far the most difficult. Mentally draining from miles 75-95, more uphill than down, headwind, side wind and more side wind, and plenty of sun radiating off the lava rocks – THIS is where people crack and are either rewarded for their earlier efforts or suffer the overzealous consequences of going out too hard.

As though in slow motion, I would catch up to one rider, slowly pass, and then work my way towards another rider. There were a few groups that I had seen – some women drafting shamelessly off each other (# 1136 was by far the WORST) – but most people were being honest and fair. The wind was relentless, growing seemingly stronger by the minute – but I thought back too all of my long rides and times completing the Henshaw Loop, and knew that I had the strength – mental and physical – to carry on.

In all actuality, it was the sun that had me the most worried. I had made sure to use plenty of sunscreen, even going so far as to have Nathaniel rub SPF 70 Neutrogena into my back and all over the parts of my body that would be exposed the night before (thus allowing the sunscreen to soak into my pores). In transition, I had taken plenty of time and allowed the sunscreen helpers to smear as much on as they possibly could. But no matter their careful efforts – my Nordic skin was having none of it.

Somewhere from Waikoloa until the Airport, I could slowly feel the skin on my arms cooking. Had I been a pig, one could have smelled bacon – I kid you not, it was that bad. If I EVER do this race again – I WILL MOST DEFINITELY use arm coolers. Several days after the race I developed painful blisters and even to this day – nearly two weeks out from the race – my skin is still peeling. I could care less about how it looks; I’m more worried about long-term consequences and sun damage down the line.

During the plentiful aid stations, I made sure to grab two bottles of water, the first meant to drink, and the second to douse my head, arms, neck, back and any other exposed body part with cooling relief. It felt wonderful to have my skin cooled, and I tried to not worry too much as I made my way back towards town.

Slowly the miles ticked off, and as they did, the amount of cross winds increased. I experienced a few FULL gusts, that sent me shooting across the road – luckily I had plenty of time to prepare as I had seen the riders ahead get severely buffeted. But more so than the cross wind, we had to contend with a nasty head wind. If there was EVER a reason to bike FAST and HARD on this course – beating the headwind back into town would be on the top of my list. It is my understanding that it only became worse throughout the day.

But it wasn’t anything that I couldn’t handle, and I put my head down as I passed – and was repassed – by riders.

One by one the miles ticked by. And then…suddenly….there it was: THE AIRPORT.

The sight of a plane taking off seemed surreal, and I commented to the gentleman that I was passing, “Wow, I am SO HAPPY to see the airplanes! It means that we’re almost back to town!”

He just gave me a funny look.

In reality, I’m sure he was wrapped up tightly in his own race. That’s one of the things I noticed most from Waikoloa to the Kona Airport: people seemed more in tune with themselves, quieter, more alone. Undoubtedly the field had spread out. But more importantly, we were coming face to face with what the Hawaii Ironman was really about.

The heat. The sun. The wind. And the desolate expanse of lava rock, black road, and sun making shimmering mirages dance for miles on the unforgiving asphalt. We were as much attune to Mother Nature, Mother Earth, Madame Pele, as we were with ourselves and our race.

I did see some very weird things during this stretch: a few people walking their bikes, two athletes peeing on the side of the road, and one sight – that I won’t soon forget – of JUST a bike laying on its side. There was no one in sight, absolutely nothing. It was just a bike. For a moment I came out of aero and looked around, wondering what had happened to the poor soul belonging to the bike. But I saw no one, and heard nothing, save the spinning of my bike wheels and race number flapping in the breeze.

It was very eerie. And very odd.

Coasting the last ten miles towards Kona, I was able to see the men’s professional race unfold on the run. I was too focused on staying upright and taking in my gels and water to really catch a glimpse of the leaders. But it seemed daunting and wonderful all at the same time to be riding past the spot where – in three or four hours – I would be running, myself. It seemed so surreal that they – the icons of the sport – were running the same roads that I would have the opportunity to run on.

Some looked determined while others looked miserable. I could feel the intensity, as they radiated focus just like the lava rocks radiated heat. Each one's stride was different, yet they were all headed towards the same destination. In short - I was inspired.

It was another reminder of how great the race was, but also of how many miles I had left to cover. Woa… I’m supposed to run a marathon now…??? In THIS heat….???

At some point during an Ironman, you just need to make peace with the work that is yet to be done. I knew that on this day, there would be no easy way. Welcome to Ironman, and most notably, Ironman Hawaii! With the swim completed and bike portion nearly done, I felt my mind shift towards that of the marathon that lay ahead. I had no idea what to expect time-wise.

And in the end, that didn’t really matter.

What mattered was getting to Transition 2, getting in-and-out as quickly as possible, and starting my run.

Cresting the last hill before taking a right turn off the Queen K was bittersweet: I was far away from biking my goal time. But at the same point, I wasn’t disappointed at all. My body had done precisely what I had asked of it, and more importantly, I felt that I was smart about my race. My legs felt surprisingly fresh and according to my bike computer, I had gotten faster throughout the race (which, with the tailwind on the way out and headwind on the way back – should NOT have happened. Indeed after reviewing my splits, I discovered that I held EXACTLY THE SAME miles per hour for my entire foray onto the Queen K and Hwy 270).

So -I rationalized with myself -that because I was feeling stronger and better at the end of my ride, I had set myself up in a brilliant position to have a super run.

Cruising down the Palani Hill past the crowds of cheering spectators, I was determined to do just that. I quickly slipped my feet out of my shoes, came to a complete stop, threw my leg over my saddle and handed my bike off to one of the incredible volunteers. The last thing I did was to yell THANK YOU!!!

I heard the timing mat BEEP as I ran under the BIKE IN sign, into Transition 2….

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ironman Hawaii Race Report, part 2

Warning: LONG!

I really didn’t know what to expect for my Ironman Hawaii swim. Some people had warned that the swim was, “the worst thing EVER”, while others mentioned that it, “wasn’t that bad.”

Going into the race, I wasn’t sure what I expected – or more importantly wanted to believe. I did, however, know that I was NOT interested in a repeat of the Ironman Coeur d’Alene swim. A funnel-like mass beach start, improper placement, and starting off way too slow pretty much ensured that 1) I was pummeled 2) I was surrounded 3) I wanted to quit the race before rounding the first ½ mile buoy.

I was determined to make my Kona swim different.

First thing – I had prepared for the worst. And while I know that sounds pretty awful, if you prepare yourself for the worst and (whatever you had prepared yourself for) wasn’t as bad as you initially thought, well, it seems a heckuva lot easier than doing it the other way (ie: prepping for easy when in reality it is HARD). I knew to expect tons of people, I knew that I would be in contact with other athletes, and I knew that there was little I could do to combat the inevitable.

I did have control over where I decided to line up, and in the end, I think that’s why I survived with (relative) ease. Sure, I was beyond the buoy line on the far, far (did I mention?) far left – but the buoys only progressed for a few hundred meters after the start, and I figured that I would eventually follow the hundreds of feet ahead of me and cut gradually across the course once I neared the 1.2 mile turnaround point.

Those final few minutes of treading water were the longest but, ironically fastest few minutes of my life. Listening to the conch shells and drums, realizing the enormity of what I was about to do, feeling the happiness set in that this was finally here, and then the stillness and silence before that final cannon blast.

And then BOOM!


We were off!

One of the amazing things about the Ironman swim (or any swim for that matter), is the silence. Out of the water, we’re much more aware of our surroundings. We hear other racers, we’re accompanied by cheers and shouts from the crowds – but the swim is different. For all the fury of the mass start, as a racer I experience relative silence in the water. Save the splashing of hands and feet. But half the time my ears are under the water and my eyes are peering into the blue depths, and I’m focusing on the race. And I’m tuned into the silence of just my breath and water rushing past my ears.

In anticipation of the cannon blow, I had raised my feet as far towards the surface as possible, without hitting my neighbor behind. As soon as the KA-POW blast, I kicked out hard and took a few quick strokes to get up to speed. Without too much effort, I was swimming at a comfortable (but not too hard, not too slow) pace and focusing on finding a good (read: non-congested) line.

Within a few seconds I had passed the referees on giant paddle boards that, prior to the start, had been shouting “GET BACK!” and was soon past the end of the buoy line. A quick glance over to my right confirmed my suspicion that the more aggressive swimmers were still dueling it out. So – against my basic instinct to cut the course as short as possible by veering right – I made myself head left. There was much more space, less contact, and people seemed to be generally more relaxed than the frenzied foray I saw to the right.

After a few more minutes of dodging around people and trying to find my rhythm, I looked up and – to my 1) dismay 2) amusement 3) surprise – saw a jet skier in the middle of the course. Correction: they guy had been to the left of the course – but because so many of the athletes had lined up to the left in order to avoid what was undoubtedly a blow-match on the right, he was now in the middle of the course.

And I was heading straight towards him.


I thought briefly about swimming under the contraption – but quickly squashed the idea. I was already breathing every 3 or 4 strokes (mostly to sight), but the thought of holding my breath and diving under a piece of machinery in the middle of an Ironman didn’t seem like a very bright thing to do. Seriously.

But I had to think fast, otherwise I was going to run---



Double shit!

In all my years spent rowing, I can honestly say that I’ve never run into a boat or any piece of mechanical equipment. A tree? Yes. But that thing was moving and I couldn’t get my double out of the way fast enough. And there was a current. And I was traveling backwards, carrying a lot of speed. So humph!

And there I was – in the middle of Kailua Bay, swimming my first Ironman Hawaii, less than 10 minutes into my race – getting too close and personal with the rescue craft. I tried to push the boat out of the way, but you can imagine how successful that was. Luckily I wasn’t the only sorry fool to have run into the thing, so without too much fuss I followed the other sorry fools ahead and eventually made my way around.

But I wasn’t going to complain. For, clinging onto the life-saver raft attached to the boat, were three or four other athletes who decided the mass start was just too much. I knew that I was lucky, as I didn’t need to be rescued.

So I just kept swimming. And swimming. And swimming.

I wish I could say it was life-altering or that I discovered some great thing about myself – but I really didn’t. I enjoyed looking down at the blueness below, seeing the interesting lava formations on the ocean’s floor, and catching the occasional glimpse of brightly-colored fish in the amazingly clear water.

There were a few times on the way out to the turnaround point, where I was hit or made contact with other athletes. But I always had room to move to one side or the other, and I never felt like I was getting intentionally hit (or beat up, like CDA).

Additionally, I wasn’t vying for a prime spot in someone’s draft. I didn’t feel the need to be directly on someone’s feet, so I didn’t fight for position or try to knock anyone else out of the way. I figured that the current from the athletes ahead was plenty of draft, and while there wasn’t someone exactly in front of me – there were plenty of people within a few body lengths just ahead.

Maybe this attitude was more symptomatic of my general mindset going into the race. I knew that it would be a long day, and that (knock on wood), no SINGLE thing/error/mistake/misjudgment would affect my overall race. I had worked so hard in practice, pushed beyond my comfort level for so much of my season that I was just tired of fighting it. Just tired of fighting period. I was tired of the constant proverbial mental tennis match going on in my head, revolving around the sport, workouts, and ultimately this race. And I was tired of being afraid – afraid of failure, fearing a missed workout and the consequences that would undoubtedly come with it, afraid of this race.

Deep down, one of my saving graces was taking as much pressure off myself as possible – the will to survive became greater than the will to PUSH, STAY FOCUSED, and FIGHT TO THE END of every workout and session. And I knew that by just finishing the race – given how I was feeling in the weeks leading up – would be a success. That was my mission, my focus, my goal. And be letting go I was finally able to be happy and (relatively) more relaxed.

Call it what you will, think of it what you may – but going into the race, I just wanted to have fun. I just wanted to survive. And if that meant that I didn’t fight for every draft in the swim and ended up swimming a few minutes slower – well I was okay with that. Maybe in the future it will be different. But on this day, at this time – I was done fighting and I wanted to enjoy the day as much as possible.

I did make note of another athlete’s BRIGHT RED LEG COMPRESSION SLEEVES and thought their wardrobe choice was interesting. I wondered briefly if the red would attract more heat on the bike and run at all, but then squashed the idea.

I noted other people’s goggles and masks, and wondered if blue lenses made the ocean look even MORE blue. I could see the Kona coast off to my left, the sun rapidly rising over the steaming mountains and was grateful for my tinted Speedo Vanquishers (a new pair! I use a NEW PAIR of goggles before EVERY open water swim race OR triathlon. Much less fogging to contend with and I enjoy my non-circuitous routes much more. My sighting has become much better and I kind of enjoy swimming straight.) The sun, although bright, was out of my eyes and I could see clearly.

I could tell that it was going to be a hot day, and thought briefly that THIS EXACT MOMENT would be the only time when I wasn’t sweating or getting majorly sun burnt during the day. As contrary as it sounds to mass swim starts (especially Ironman), I figured that this would be the most comfortable moment of my day – this one hour or so swimming in Kailua Bay.

Very quickly the crowd thickened and while sighting I noticed the turnaround was just up ahead. I prepared myself for the inevitable blows that accompany a change in swimming direction, but I did my best to stay near the outside. The water clarity was such that I could catch a clear glimpse of the boat’s underside off to my right, and I focused on holding my line through this section of the swim.

Before I knew it, we were rounding the final buoy and heading another 1.2 miles back towards shore and transition. Taking a quick look forward, I sighted the large antenna near or behind the King Kamehameha Hotel, and moved to the left side of the course (again) to avoid the crowd.

I wasn’t too surprised at the massive amounts of people that were still around my person – this was, after all, the Ironman World Championships – and everyone who qualifies to race here is a stud in their own right (according to the words of Jen). Everyone is fast (again: relative!), everyone has (at least once at either a 70.3 OR full IM distance) put together a good enough race to get them to Kona in the first place. I had prepared myself to be surrounded my massive amounts of people during the swim, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Time-wise, I had no idea where I was. Perhaps my earlier season-self would have balked at this, but now my focus was different. It didn’t matter if I swam 60 minutes, 1:05 or 1:25 – I just needed to DO it.

Nearing the end of the swim, my pace quickened, and I felt stronger in the last 10 or 15 minutes than I did for the previous 50. I moved as far to the left as possible, latched on to someone’s draft, and zoomed past people on my right – one of whom was, incredibly, the red compression sleeve wearing swimmer that I had spied in the beginning.

Chris had warned me that the people that I started swimming with for the first 5 or 10 minutes of the race would be the SAME people that I would finish with. And this just verified his statement.

I watched the bottom grow closer, began to see signs of fish darting in between the coral and rocks, and knew that my swim would be over within a matter of minutes. While sighting I realized that the pier/transition was rapidly approaching and that I would be out of the water shortly. In effort to stave off leg cramps (going from horizontal and not using my legs for 1+ hour to vertical and SPRINTING up the green steps can cause horrible leg cramping), I made sure to flex and point my feet a few times each. My claves felt good, and I was relatively confident that I wouldn’t cramp while exiting the water.

Knowing me, I would invariably end up face planning in front of spectators and the NBC Camera Crew. Perfect! And before you know it, you find yourself on the blooper reel of the televised Ironman broadcast.

Yeah. Sure. Not so much.

The sand seemed within reach, but I was still in relatively deep water when I noticed an underwater cameraman swimming towards the pier. In past races, I’ve never seen rescue divers or cameramen under water, though I’ve been assured that they’re there. So this was a first to me. I just remember seeing him (or her!) swim and thinking about the randomness of the sight.

For some reason, my senses felt dulled – and while during other races this may have seemed out of the ordinary, right now it was just another interesting moment – one of many – for the day.

The final few minutes were a little harried, but I managed to squeeze into a group of people and swim until my fingers scraped the sharp sand at the bottom. The water was murky, churned up by the swarms of athletes who had exited ahead of me.

I quickly found my footing, half-walked, half-ran, half-jumped a few steps and managed to find the strap of my speed suit and get the top off before I hit the green steps. No – for those of you wondering, math was never my favorite subject.

And hit the steps I did: in fact I managed a fantastic face plant on or about the third step from the bottom. Oops! Shit! Shit shit!

Gee, I hope no one noticed.

Luckily no one was behind me, and I only (slightly) scraped my right shin. I didn’t have time to think about how embarrassing it was, because as quickly as it had happened, I was running under the hoses and taking my sweet time to rinse out my mouth and douse myself with fresh water.

Jen had warned me to take FULL USE of the fresh-water hoses before T1, as salt could (potentially) chafe in very unpleasant places. I made sure to rinse out my mouth, aim the nozzle down my shorts, rinse my shoulders, and take one more gulp and spit it out. I looked up briefly for a clock but never saw one. No matter – I would get my time later when I left transition to start my bike.

“NUMBER 1774!” I yelled as I made a be-line to the far left (again) for my red swim-to-bike bag.

The volunteers were so helpful, and before I could search for too long, one girl handed me my bag and directed me towards the change tent.


My senses felt a little overwhelmed initially. I had gone from the relative quiet of the swim, to the chaotic environment of the T1 change tent. Athletes were yelling for gels, sunscreen, water and volunteers were shouting back and forth at each other.

I stood, momentarily dazed at the scene ahead of me in the middle of the entrance, before one lady grabbed my waist and directed me into a chair. Clearly someone warns the volunteers of the stupidity/bumbling-ness of athletes entering the tent. I was just happy that someone else took charge for a moment or two while I took bearings of my surroundings.

In a very business-like matter of fashion, she dumped out my bag and said, “Okay! What do you need?”

Before I could reply, another girl was at my side, helping me sort through the vast array of stuff that I had crammed into my Transition bag.

“Socks! Shoes! And all the gels – I’ll put those in the pocket! And the inhaler – that in the pocket as well….bike gloves – most definitely! Sunglasses – yes! Um…. “

Before I could get any further, a third volunteer asked if I wanted sunscreen and I told her ANYWHERE that I had exposed skin, I would want sunscreen. Immediately I felt my back receive a cold squirt of SPF 50 Banana Boat while someone else started rubbing it on my legs.

Just as I was reaching for my socks – my first volunteer grabbed them and put them on my feet! For those of you that know me…let me just say that I hate feet. I don’t like feet. They are gross. They are smelly. And sometimes they are even hairy. And in many instances, they are all of the above.

Correction: I hate everyone else’s feet and I don’t like it when people touch my feet. Ugh.

So I was greatly bemused with one of my (incredible!) volunteers actually systematically put on my socks and then bike shoes. I almost wanted to tell her that she didn’t need to do that – that my feet were gross and that someone who was willing to volunteer their time for Ironman didn’t need to be subjugated to my icky feet or smelly bike shoes. But I didn’t. Instead I took the time to shove a few gels up my bike shorts (in the legs), and quickly downed a Chocolate Powergel.

“Go! GO! You’re ready – have a GREAT race!” they yelled as I stood up.

I looked around to make sure there was nothing that I was forgetting – it seemed so wrong to be rushed through transition that quickly, on my way to bike 112 miles. Before my long rides (6+ hours), I usually take my time, double check and tripe check to make sure that I’m not forgetting anything. And then still, I look around and mosey out the door.

Heck, before ANY ride, I take my time and look around. Perhaps if I employ people to stand at my door and yell, I’ll grow accustomed to moving my rear a little faster. Oh well.

But with so many people cheering and shouting at you to GO GO GO!, it seemed pointless to dawdle. Besides – after CDA – I did learn that you CAN loose in transition.

Clip clop clip clop clip clop! My feet made a funny noise as I ran out of the tent, past the Men’s tent and all the way around the pier, only to double back for my bike. In the process, I noticed that many other people had clipped their shoes to their bikes, and regretted that I hadn’t made the same decision. Oh well – too late for those thoughts now. Besides, I would probably fall over in front of even more spectators in effort to throw my leg over the seat and jump into my shoes.

I carefully rounded the slippery turn and made a bee line for my bike. I grabbed my helmet, adjusted the back closure and fastened the chin strap. In the process I dropped my gel wrapper on the pier – and for the life of me, I couldn’t just leave it there. Bad Karma, or something of the sort. So I picked up the flippin’ thing and threw it into the trash can a few spaces away.

Quickly as I could, I ran out of transition and headed towards the BIKE OUT banner – noting the time of 1:10 in the process.

Wow, I thought to myself, that’s pretty much exactly like Coeur d’Alene.

Suddenly the man directly ahead of me dropped his timing chip, and without thinking I stopped, paused, picked it up, and handed it to him. It took barely any time away from my race, and in the end didn’t affect anything at all. It was the right thing to do at the time.

Hearing the cheering and yelling from the crowd, I threw my leg – as gracefully as I could – over my bike seat and clipped in. The road twisted beyond the banners and I was eager to see what lay ahead.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ironman Hawaii Race Report, part 1

Warning: LONG!

I thought that with a week’s worth of post-race perspective and thinking, I could produce a better, more thought-out race report. In reality, I don’t think that’s exactly the case. But I’ll try my best! Enjoy!

My lead up into Ironman Hawaii was complete opposite from what I experienced before Ironman Coeur d’Alene. By mid-September, I was tired, mentally fatigued, and just trying to cope with (read: survive!) the daily rigors of training. Before CDA, I questioned whether or not I could physically complete the 140.6 miles of an Ironman. Kona was different; I was confident in my physical ability, but staying mentally plugged in was the real challenge.

I know that Nathaniel was concerned, as he was exposed to my daily mood swings and sometimes-great, sometimes-not-so-great workouts. But I assured him that everything that I was feeling and experiencing was normal, and that this Ironman thing – nay, this 2 Ironmans in my first year of Ironman racing – was new. And that I/we just needed to be as understanding and as patient as possible with the given ups and downs. Through it all, he was great, and I can honestly say that he was as much a part of my success as anything else.

Jen was also extremely supportive through everything, and did her best to alter my workouts a few weeks out when I became increasingly run down (and moody). I think my final 3-hour run – where I spent more time gasping for breath and forcing myself to keep going when I felt awful – was the straw that broke the camel’s back. But I have absolutely no regrets about any of it – even the not-so-great parts. Because I would have never known any of this, would have never figured these things out about myself – had I not tried this in the first place.

It is what it is; it became what it was meant to be. And in the end, I can only take away the experiences and learn my lessons accordingly. This is life, and I feel very fortunate to have these opportunities in the first place. And for that I am grateful, and happy.


I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t nervous. I had set my alarm for 4 am, but woke up at 3:50 with butterflies in my stomach. After my disastrous pre-race breakfast at Coeur d’Alene, I knew that I needed to try something different. Additionally, I wanted what I consumed to be completely portable; so that on the off-chance that my food of choice wasn’t found in Kona, I could still eat what I had been training with.

Crazy at it may seem, I packed 3 bottles of Vanilla Protein Plus Ensure, 5 jars of Gerber Baby Food Bananas (stage 3, for those wondering), a small carton of Quaker Oatmeal, and my trusty ½ cup measuring cup in my checked luggage. Race morning, I downed 2 bottles of ensure, 1 jar of baby food bananas, and slightly more than ½ cup of prepared oatmeal without any problems.


I was so nervous/excited/anxious pre-race, that I forgot to make coffee. Oops. While driving to the race start, I figured I would get my caffeine from a caffeinated gel. Oh well. But I was so wound up already that it didn’t seem to make much of a difference. (Somewhere, Elizabeth just fell off her chair. And yes, later she did call me out).

Nathaniel dropped me off as close to the race sight as possible, and then I walked the final half mile to the King Kamehameha Hotel for body marking and everything else check-in-related.

This time, there were no tears in the car and I felt as calm as I would ever be before a race of this magnitude. I knew that racing Ironman was extremely different from short course: if I wanted to survive the race without blowing up, I needed to stick to my heart rate and race within my own capacity. Sticking to my heart rate zones and paying careful attention to my perceived exertion would be my mantra for the day. It had worked once already at Coeur d’Alene and I was confident that it would work again.

I thanked as many volunteers as possible as I got my arms stamped and was lead to my bike. One amazing volunteer helped me pump up my tires, while another pointed his flash light at the pump. They were great and I was so thankful throughout the day for their incredible support. And I tried to say THANK YOU as many times as I could. These races would not be able to happen were it not for the incredible amount of volunteer support.

After taping 3 Powergels to my top tube and checking to make sure my helmet was lying in the proper position over my aero bars, I scanned my bike area to make sure that everything was in order. There really wasn’t much to be done, as the Friday gear and bike check had taken care of much of the hassle. It was then that a girl racked a few bikes down came up to me an inquired about PSI.

“Do you think 150 will be okay?” she asked.

It seemed really odd, to have a discussion like this the morning of the race. But I was grateful for her conversation, even if it was about tire pressure. In reality, it made my own fears and insecurities seem normal (I too had wondered about tire pressure with the heat and wind that would surely be forthcoming. In the end, I had opted for 120-130 psi on my tubular tires).

“Are you using tubulars? If so…then totally. What are your tires rated for?”

We continued to chit chat, until she looked at my bike and asked, “Are you…Marit…?”

Let me start by saying – there are a lot of things that I had prepared for the morning of the race. I can safely say that this question wasn’t one of them.

“Um…yes.” I replied, not really knowing who she was and feeling a little weird about that. I can’t tell you how many people come up to me and asked about my cats, or said something that makes me pause for thought. I love having a blog and meeting people in the triathlon community, and yes the House Monsters are a part of my life. But it can still be a little weird – but if I didn’t enjoy meeting people or sharing bits of my life – then I wouldn’t have a blog. So there.

“I’m friends with Bri Gaal. My name is Brooke Tvermoes….”

“Holy Cow!” I exclaimed. “You race in the NCTS!?! That’s awesome – I used to live in North Carolina...”

And then we continued to carry on our conversation. I wish for the likes of me I could remember what we discussed, but I was so nervous before the race that the memory escapes me. I can, however, say that I was really happy when – while running out towards the energy lab turnaround – I saw Brooke running back towards Kona. She looked so strong and focused! She ended up having a super race, and earned a podium finish in our age group. I was sorry that I never got a chance to see her after the race, or to wish her congratulations.

After one more final check of my bike, I made my way towards the port-o-potty line and waited…and waited…and waited…but eventually saw a familiar face when Michelle Simmons walked by. I think she could sense the fear in my eyes and quickly agreed to wait for me.

Unfortunately, my trip to the loo wasn’t all that I had hoped it would be, and for the first time this season and in recent racing memory, I didn’t produce my usual pre-race bm. Loveley!

When I told Michelle she said not to worry, and that I would probably go somewhere on the run.

Excellent! Nothing says ‘confident’ like the image of oneself shitting one’s way down the Queen K Highway.

But there was (literally) nothing that I could do about it, so I spent the rest of my pre-race time in the company of Michelle and her friend Jen. While the professionals were lining up, the three of us made our way behind the finish-line stage and away from the thousands of other anxious athletes. It was quite surreal, actually, pausing to listen to the National Anthem, seeing the professionals treading water on the giant TV screen, watching the Navy SEALS parachute in over the bay, and hearing people from within the crowd wish us good luck.

I felt nervous, but more so like I was in a dream-like sequence as the three of us made our way towards the crowd. It was as though someone else was walking in my place and I felt oddly detached while ambling along towards the famed green steps (leading into the bay) while the professionals started off. Michelle zipped me up into my borrowed Blue Seventy Speed suit (THANK YOU BETH SHUTT – your suit IS magical and has been warmed up for your future race at Kona – whenever that will be), and we slowly s-l-o-w-l-y shuffled our way into the water. At this point I became separated from Michelle and Jen, but in the end figured it was okay. I had already wished them both good luck, and I knew that I needed to get myself ready and lined up in my own way.

I could hear the music in the background and the race announcers whipping the athletes and crowd alike into a frenzy. The tension was palpable, and I noticed that very few racers seemed happy or were smiling. Instead, everyone seemed grim, nervous, tense, and unsure about the adventure that lay ahead. I could relate and knew that the feelings echoing around were written all over my features as well.

But pausing at the edge of the water would do little to get my race started, so with a little bit of maneuvering and weaving through the crowds of people just waiting at the water’s edge, I dove into the bay and started swimming towards the far left.

Immediately I felt better. I was in my own world, looking down at the (slightly) murky water, stirred up by the hundreds of athletes who had already entered. As I swam further away from shore, the visibility increased, and I found myself momentarily distracted by the dozens upon dozens of brightly colored fish and beautiful ocean topography below. My stroke felt easy and light, and I enjoyed the few moments of peace before the frenzy of Ironman swim start.

Slowly but surely I made my way to the far left, past the crowds of other athletes hanging out by the pier. My plan was to start as far left as possible, in order to avoid the chaos of a mass start. I already knew how awful the IM swim start could be after my experience at Coeur d’Alene, and I really didn’t care for a repeat of that debacle. Besides, I had been assured the night before by friend and triathlon coach Bob Mitera that the distance from one end of the swim course to the other was only 50 meters.

Trust me when I say, that I was MORE than willing to sacrifice a minute or two in order to have clear water while swimming.

While treading water, Kevin – one of my occasional long bike-ride-with-Charisa buddies – had called out to me. We chatted briefly, and when he mentioned that he was moving further left, I decided to follow suit. I was amazed at how calm I was; indeed I had already accepted that this thing – this Ironman Hawaii – was about to happen, weather I liked it or not.

And all the stress, emotions, highs, lows, ups, downs, and everything in between was about to be erased the moment that the cannon went off. I knew that with my first race stroke, the pressure would be gone, and all that I would have to do was swim-bike-run. Survive.

Easier said than done, I know. But I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that the final few weeks leading up to the race were hard. In talking with friends and other racers, I realized that I wasn’t the only one struggling. Racing Ironman is HARD, and while some can handle the stress of multiple Ironman races per year and long training session after long training session (after long training session), I realized that (at least for my first year of racing Ironman), I wasn’t one of them.

I never would have known this had I not gone through the experience – and I have absolutely no regrets – but one of the many invaluable lessons that I learned was that I will crack physically LONG before I crack mentally. But when I finally decide that the training is too much or that I’m not having fun, or that I just want to be DONE – well, it gets ugly.

Perhaps this will be different in the future; indeed after having completed Ironman Hawaii, I am fully aware of how incredible the race is, what a special event and wonderful day can be. No doubt, these memories will fuel my fire. One day. And my future training for this race – should I 1) ever qualify again and 2) should I decide to do it – may be different.

In the present, though, I knew that the moment that the cannon fired, I would be released from the anxiety and stress and unhappiness. That the start signaled something far greater than I could have ever imagined: That I had made it. When the training was excruciating, when I had convinced myself that I wasn’t going to race because it just didn’t seem possible (let alone fun), or when my fears and doubts threatened to take over – that I acknowledged those feelings and emotions, but pushed them aside and clawed my way back. When the going got tough, I didn’t quit – and if I could do this race, this year, this time, and do it to the best of my ability – then anything else in comparison would seem easy (knock on wood).

The final few minutes spent treading water in Kailua Bay before the start of Ironman Hawaii is indescribable. I had seeded myself two or three rows back from the front, and everyone around me was very respectful of each other’s space. I could see some athletes hanging off the boats, paddleboards, and Ford IRONMAN raft. But in reality, I’m not sure that their effort was really worth it: the buoyancy of the salt water was such that little effort was required to stay afloat.

The noise from the cheering crowd and voice of Ironman, Mike Reilley, were masked only by the beats of the Hawaiian drums and blowing of conch shells. I could hear the long sounds of the shells being blown, and as the race start neared, the beating of the drums seemed to increase until I could feel the vibrations in my very core. I thought briefly of a scene from “Lord of the Rings” when the people of Rohan go into battle during the third movie.

As the beating drums intensified, I noticed more and more athletes looking around – perhaps awaiting our start. I wasn’t sure how or when it would happen, but I was left with little doubt that it would be soon.

A brief distance away I could see the paddle boarders patrolling the front line of swimmers as people were either pushed from behind or tried to creep forward. “Get BACK!” they yelled in unison, paddling furiously up and down the start line, trying to control thousands of overly eager and anxious triathletes.

The beating drums seemed to grow increasingly louder and I had a feeling that when the music stopped, the race would start. One guy looked at me and rather nervously exclaimed, “I think I know what’s about to happen.”

The drumming crescendoed and was matched by my beating heart. In that moment, in that exact space of time, I knew that this was exactly where I was supposed to be, and that whatever happened during the race, I was grateful to have this experience. I will never forget it as long as I live.

And then suddenly: Silence.

No music.

No Mike Reilley yelling.

No crowds cheering.

Just silence.

If tumbleweed could have blown across the water, I’m sure it would have fit right in and nobody would have batted an eye.

The silence stretched for what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was probably only 15 or 20 seconds. The longest stretch of silence in my life, without a doubt.

And then…


The cannon fired and we were off! An ocean turned white by the frenzied kicks of thousands of feet.

My Ironman Hawaii was finally under way. And I smiled as I started my first strokes…

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A few quick notes from the Other Side...

Well - its done! Its been 'dided', so to speak. And at times it was GREAT, and at times it was SUPERHARD. But I did it, and I'm happy. It's over, its done...and I did the best that I could - which in the end is all you can ask for.

A few quick notes...

- I am done with Ironman. Hello Short Course! I like the idea of being done racing before noon. Ten am for supershort! races.

-Then again, I will NOT make any of the following decisions for the next two, maybe three weeks: financial, race, body (ie piercing/tatoo), pet, car, or anything involving the sport or massive amounts of money.

- Thank God for: Sunscreen, volunteers, ice, sandals, pizza, aloe vera, wonderful support from family and friends, volunteers, not being eaten by a shark, ice cream, and beer. Not in that order. Oh, and compression socks, Motrin, and body glide. Seriously.

- In an effort to get a head start before my ankles, my hands started swelling around mile 15 or 16 of the run. I wasn't too concerned. I think that's concerning.

- I still believe the CDA start is way way way worse than the Kona swim start. At least I had open water and didn't get clobbered - too much.

- Nope - I didn't have a mechanical issue on the bike; I just biked a heckuva lot slower than I thought I would. But in the end, it didn't matter because I finished. AND I stuck to my heart rate and kept my nutrition down. I would happily spend an extra 20 minute on the bike and NOT throw up with every gel/water/carbopro and go faster. Trust me.

- I think Kona and Hawaii is beautiful. And whenever it got tough, I would look at the ocean and think how absolutely lucky I am to be doing something that I love and so few have the opportunity to experience.

- Tradewinds really CAN blow you across the entire traffic lane. But it wasn't as bad as I had prepared myself for.

- I was THIS CLOSE to clobbering a little kid for her snow cone. Some gigantic monstrosity that had multiple colors and flavors, and was filled with about 5 pounds of crushed ice. She was lucky. And had there been no one else around - I would have so stolen it.

- Though she could have outsprinted me. I AM taller though, so I just would have held it really really high.

- It doesn't seem to matter the Ironman, I WILL cry while running towards the finish line.

-I think I saw the green flash at sunset from about 2 miles out from the finish while running down the Queen K. Highway. The sinking sun was beautiful, and I could have sworn that there was a briefest green flash just as it dipped below the horizon. Then again, I was 138.6 miles into my race, and probably delusional.

- Nothing can or ever will compare to treading water before the start and listening to the conch shells blow, hearing the Hawaiian drums beating and waiting for the cannon to blow. It is something that I will always and forever remember. And it still gives me chills.

- I heard Mike Reilley say my name after I crossed the finish. This time I was listening.

- I told Nathaniel that I would NEVER sprint to finish and IM...but .... when I entered the chute I saw another girl from my age group and I just felt the urge. So I went...and ended up beating her. Not like it matters after 11 hours and 27 minutes. However. I like to think my short-course instincts are returning. So there.

- I got passed my a million people in the first hour of the bike. And then another 500,000 in the next hour. Oh well. But I didn't get a drafting penalty.

- BUT - I was really really annoyed at #1136. Constant drafting. And every time she would re-pass me, she was on someone elses wheel. I kept my mouth shut, because I didn't want to let her affect my mood (which I tried to keep upbeat as much as possible). But seriously.

- When someone tells you on mile 2 of the run that "You're looking GREAT!", they lie. And I will call you out on your lie. Even if you are my husband.

- I really enjoyed seeing my friends and training partners out on the race - we did it! YEA!

- I have no idea how long my race report will be. There are parts that I want to remember and some things I would rather forget. But that's Ironman.

- It was hot. Humid. Windy. And everything I expected Hawaii to be!

- I thought of my incredible family, friends, and support every time I crossed a timing mat. But I didn't cry. Not until the end. And I even though of you guys during the race. So there. THANKS!

Friday, October 9, 2009 HOLY COW!

Well folks, its just about that time.

Yesterday I was all in favor of voting myself off the island. For real. Luckily there wasn't a button to press, because I surely would have deposited myself back in California. Or Minnesota.

Or Fiji.

Yeah - that sounds nice.

A tropical island with no Ironman.

Just kidding.

(sort of).

I can safely say, that this has been the longest short week and shortest long week of my life. Nathaniel and I arrived late Saturday evening, and after waiting for the next Hawaiian Airlines Flight from Honolulu to touch down, all of our luggage (and bike!) arrived. Intact. Alive.

Now THAT is cause for celebration.

Save for the demolished Carbopro 1200 bottle...that spilled over...nearly everything. Lucky our condo has a washer and dryer, along with a fantastic view. The third floor balcony (ahem - lanai...but being from Minnesota, I can't bring myself to say 'lanai'), is just high enough to provide a fantastic view of the ocean on one side, and mountains on the other.

The cross breeze is pretty neat as well, though it won't do me much good during the race. The HARD part will be passing by our place at 1.5 miles and then 8.5 miles into the run, knowing that comfort, food, shelter, cold beer is only three floors up and on the other side of the tennis courts.

Elizabeth and Chris arrived Tuesday, and though they are both very supportive, I feel that they're secretly delighted to NOT be racing. I keep hearing snippets of conversation when I'm in the other room. Words like 'hot' 'hills' 'wind' 'gross' 'uncomfortable' and - my personal favorite - 'hell', don't inspire much confidence.

However, they are both living testaments that surviving the race IS possible and most likely probable. And in the end, it truly is a life changing experience. Their advice and help has been great, and listening to their stories does much to calm my nerves. I am so happy they are both here.

In the days leading up to the race, I've spent more time exploring Hawaii with Nathaniel than we ever thought we would. Going against the advice of our resident tour book, we completed a whirlwind clockwise tour of The Big Island. My favorites were the sea turtles at Punalu'u, one of the many black sand beaches that line the coast. Nathaniel loved Volcanoes National Park.

I did point out that IF Kilauea blew up, Ironman probably would get canceled. Along with a lot of other things. But I digress.

On a different trip we explored Kealakekkua Bay, where Captain Cook first came ashore and was later killed, had a tour and went coffee tasting at Bayview Farms, visited the Painted Church (dating back to the 1800s. Between 1899-1904, Father John Velge dedicated himself to painting frescoes on the wooden walls. Simply stunning and too beautiful for words), and lastly visted the Pu'uhonua o Honaunau (place of refuge).

Now say it 3X fast!

But I have to say - the history of this island is incredible, and rushing past sights the way we've done doesn't do them true justice.

To top it off, spending time with good friends from Pensacola - Ryan and his wife Melissa and daughter Teegan - has been great. I know Ryan is nervous for the race, probably just as nervous as I am. But it comes across differently. He just makes me laugh, and that is a GREAT thing. I can safely say I NEVER though I would hear a grown man discussing his boogers at the dinner table - but Ryan is a different breed all unto himself.

I'm looking forward to seeing him - dressed ALL IN WHITE - on race day. He will do great and it'll give me a boost (and hopefully a little laugh) just seeing him out there.

Overall I'm trying to hold myself together as much as possible. I AM nervous, and I keep going between excitement to more nerves, to questioning what the hell I'm even doing out there in the first place. True - everyone looks so intense, like they're in great shape, tanned, fit, toned. And then there's me - wearing compression socks NOT to compress my legs or to aid recovery, but to keep my cankles from swelling.

You know - the fat ankles that people get. Well, I get them. And nothing says 'cankles' like walking around in the Hawaiian heat. Post race they should be delightful. No pictures, I promise.

But in all reality, I keep reminding myself that the hard part is done, the work has been put in time and time again, and that tomorrow is purely a celebration. A few months ago I was certain that I wanted to hit X time, or race at Y pace. But now I feel different. I just want to finish, to get through it all, to survive. I can only go as fast or as hard as my body will allow, and if its one thing I've learned - speed is NOT something that I do well anymore. Instead, the focus is 'strong' 'steady' 'solid'.


Later on tonight, I know I'll go through some more panic, and there will most likely be some tears. But in the end I'm here. I GET to do this. I have this incredible opportunity and absolutely no pressure to perform. I get to spend a day swimming, biking, and running - with the support of thousands out here and even more people online. I know it will be hot, hard, uncomfortable. And I'll probably have flash backs to Father Velge's fresco of 'hell'. But no matter what, no matter if it takes me the entire damn 17 hours to finish, rest assured, I'll do the best that I can to keep moving forward

And THAT makes me smile.

Well, that and the promise of a freak volcano eruption. Hey - you never know.

Thank you to everyone for your incredible support, kind words, thoughtful messages, and inspiration. There are so many out there...and I am grateful, and truly lucky.

So - with that, number 1774 signing off.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

A few good activities...

Interested in a few good ideas...? Suggestions or tips on making life more 'liveley'?

Try this:

Tofu stir fry...? Er, perhaps not. Suffice to say, tonight was the LAST time in a LONG TIME that Nathaniel and I will eat the stuff. Promise.

How about this?

Swedish Fish anyone??

Only to be topped by....

THE MOST GIANT BAG of Swedish fish AND Peanut M&Ms. Well - the MOST GIANT BAGS of candy that I've ever seen. YEA! Life. Is. Good. (small sigh).

And with all that candy... we're going to need some exercise.

How about chasing your tail??

And after that - time for sleep!

Or at least some R&R.

Well earned and deserved, especially for a House Monster!