Friday, November 12, 2010

Ironman Florida - The Race Report

It was quiet. Eerily so. I could see the wind briskly blowing the branches of the palm trees. I could feel its coolness lifting my hair away from my face. People were bustling around, bundled up against the cold, laden with transition bags, porting bike pumps, sipping water and nervously chattering.

Yet I heard nothing.

I had parted ways with my teammates a few moments back just after stepping out of the elevator on our way to transition. I had a couple bottles of water in my car that I wanted to grab to fill my bike bottles and to drink pre-race. They set off on the 5-minute walk to the race start together and I circled back to my rig, alone.

After retrieving the water, I set out on my solo walk to transition. According to my plan, I had enough time to add a few things to my transition bags, get my tires pumped, fill my water bottles, load my nutrition on my bike, drop off my special needs bags then head on down to the water just in time to see the pros take off on the swim.

As I walked steadily towards the body marking line, my mind was clear. Calm. Absent were the pre-race butterflies that send me to the bathroom at least three times before the race. Gone were the questions and re-thinking of clothes selection. Missing was the buildup of anxiety before the gun goes off.

It was just quiet.

I walked right up to an eagerly awaiting body marking volunteer who was excitedly waving his Sharpie in the air. “Body Marking!” I could see his lips say but I couldn’t tell you what his voice sounded like. He began with an exuberant “Good Morning! It’s gonna be a great day to race! What’s your number?” “Twenty-four Sixty One”, I must’ve said as he began writing on me, turning me this way and that to get both arms and both quads. “This is one of the few times it’s okay for me to ask, how old are you?” he mouthed through a toothy smile. “Thirty-nine”, he heard and etched for the last time a pre-masters number on my calf. “Good luck today!” he smiled, turned, thrust his trusty sharpie into the air, “Body Marking!”

I quietly walked on.

I stopped off at the Bike to Run Transition bag area and deposited my Garmin. It was all charged up, display set for just how I like it, distance in the big spot, pace in the bottom left and everything reset to zero. Check.

I passed by the long line at the bike mechanic tent and saw the stress written on faces of those athletes who arrived in transition that morning only to find some sort of technical issue with their bike. A flat or a seat post that mysteriously went all the way down. Behind that line were two bike guys manning the air compressors, servicing other athletes who just wanted to top it off that morning. On the left, a huge line to two porta potties. I didn’t concern me. I walked on.

I arrived at my bike and gave it the once over. Nothing seemed amiss. All black with a hint of red on the race wheels. The Katana looked ready. Stealth. Fast. I loaded my nutrition bottles and gave the cages an extra squeeze so as to not launch anything on the roads that afternoon. I filled the aero-bottle and dropped in a Nuun and watched it fizz and slowly sail and sink its way to the bottom.

I took it off the rack and walked it over to the air compressor line, it was already down to only one person. The person in front of me was nervously checking and rechecking the pressure of her tire. I could see her squeeze it and look at the bike tech, head tilted to the side as if to say, “are you sure it’s good?” He steadily looked back at the Ironman rookie and simply nodded with one eyebrow lifted…I’m sure thinking, “Listen, honey, it’s fine. I know what I’m doing.” She turned her bike around and ran it back to her transition rack. I pulled up the Katana and exchanged side smiles with the bike tech as he slightly shook his head back and forth.

I returned the Katana to the rack and headed out of transition to drop off my special needs bags. The drop off was about another 1-2 minute walk away from transition. Other athletes were hustling down the road to go drop their bags and freaking out as transition was closing shortly, but I just steadily stepped my way in the silence towards the drop off.

As I approached a volunteer taking bags, he turned towards me after having helped someone else and extended his arms to take my bags. “Twenty-four Sixty-One,” he read off the bag number and then his eyes traveled from my bag to me and gave me the once over. He paused and I could see his lips say, “Wow. You are ready.”

I gave him a single nod, turned and headed back towards transition.

As I walked, in my mind’s eye, I could see me walking. It was like those scenes from Top Gun or Apollo 13 or something were the pilots are walking in slow motion, steadily, calmly towards their planes. Some motivational music playing in the score. Arms confidently swinging, eyes piercing, focused, ready.

At that moment, I realized the quiet was my inner competitor getting into the zone. No fear. No anxiety. No Nervousness. Just quietly gearing up to get the job done today. Yes. Yes, I am ready.

The woman freaking out in transition because she couldn’t find her goggles and screaming at her husband for losing them didn’t faze me.

The folks coming out of the portapotties saying there was no more toilet paper and that you should only go in there if you really, really have to because it wasn’t pretty didn’t faze me.

The volunteers hurriedly rushing athletes out of transition because it was closed didn’t faze me.

It was time to do this thing.

Finally the sounds of the event began creeping in as I heard the announcer start the pros off in the swim. I could hear the waves crashing on the beach, the friends, family, volunteers and supporters all wishing everyone good luck, clapping, cheering, hugging. It was going to be a great race day.

I waded into the water quickly as, oddly enough, the warmest place to be all day would be in the water. Go figure. The air temps that morning were a brisk 41 degrees but the water was in the high 70s. We’d frolicked in the waves the day before so I knew that water felt great. The swells were significantly less than the 4-footers we had experienced in our practice swim, so the little waves we saw on race morning had nothing on me.

I followed my usual starting plan of starting on the far outside – fortunately it was again a counter-clockwise swim and for those of us who breathe only on the left it is PERFECT! I can swim on the outside edge, keep an eye on everyone else and on the buoys. Piece. Of. Cake.

The gun went off and I waited for the crazies to jump out there and start beating each other up, then slipped quietly into the water and started swimming. I felt good in the water. The temp was warm, the waves were minimal and before I knew it, I was quickly into my groove. The salt water/wetsuit combo makes you feel like you are literally just floating on top of the water. It was easy and fast to move through.

The whole drafting thing still escapes me. I tried following some feet that I found, but when I was there I felt like I was going slower than before instead of faster – which is probably true since I came up on their feet, right? Or is that I was actually drafting so the effort felt less – I couldn’t’ figure it out. So, I would pull around them and go on about my merry way.

Touch, pull, roll. Touch, pull, roll. Breathe to the sky. Swim. Swim. Sight the friends. Swim. Swim. Sight the buoy. Passing caps. Stearing clear of the masses. Skirting around the edges. Swim steady. Swim strong.

The water is so clear you can see the bottom a lot of the time. It seems close but when you come up on someone who is stopped and they are treading water, their feet are no where near the bottom. So I was a little bit surprised when I was swimming and during my pull I hit sand! What the? I peek up. Wow. Lap 1, 1.2 miles, done. Nice! I ab crunch my feet under me and stand up. Apparently I was swimming in like two feet of water. I’m sure I looked ridiculous as everyone else was already up walking/running through the water and there I was bodysurfing all the way up the beach. Dork. Oh well. I glance at my watch 0:34 something or nother (my goggles were fogged up already and I really couldn’t see very well). Cool! I jog over the timing mat and head back out to the water and engage my mathlete skills. Ok. So 34 minutes for lap 1. But it will take me another couple of minutes to slog my way through the shallow water and back out for lap number 2 plus the time between when I looked at my watch and actually crossed the mat. So let’s call it 38 minutes. Times two. That’s eight plus eight is sixteen carry the one, three times two is six plus one is seven. That’s seventy-two less sixty equals one twelve. Goal time is one fifteen. I think I’m good here. Let’s get it done!

Back in the water I go. Calm. Confident. Collected.

As the water slid by face stroke after stroke I thought, indigenous marine life? I AM indigenous marine life today. Look at me. Black on black on black. I’m like a seal out here. Gliding effortlessly through the water. Staying on my edge. Being aero…or..hydro..or whatever the heck you should call it. I had plenty of open water and my sighting was on fire. It was SO on target that I literally ran right into the last turn buoy. I bonked my head and air forcefully escaped my lips as I guffawed when I realized I was under a big red floating triangle. I surfaced, breaststroked and giggled my way around the corner wondering how many other athletes saw that. Geez…I try to be so cool sometimes, but really I’m just a dork.

Ok. Back to serious business. Home stretch of the swim now, let’s turn it on a bit. Touch, pull, roll. Glide. Glide. Move aside people. Indigenous Marine Life coming through! Well, ok, maybe I’ll go around you since I really don’t like swimming next to people. But, Eat My Wake! That means you, sir (as I passed a dude) and you sir (as I passed another)…aaaand you sir too! haHA! Swim. A great equalizer between the sexes. YES!

Hopped out of the water, quick glance at the watch – 1:11ish, SCORE! I ran across the mat, was summarily stripped, showered and headed into T1.

After a relatively quick transition aided by an extremely helpful volunteer, I was just about to head out of transition when I heard, “Dionn!” as Holtkamp sat down in the chair next to me. “Hi Lindsay!” Then I thought, oh shit! I said back to her as I quickly began exiting, “Oh crap! I’ve only got a 5-minute head start on the bike from you…GOTTA GO!” Five minutes? FIVE minutes? She will hawk me down before I make the first turn on the bike!

I scampered out of the changing area and through transition where I saw another awesome volunteer already standing with the bike. I swear I could hear the Katana revving up saying, “C’mon! Let’s Go, LET’S GO!!” I’m coming, I’m coming! I willed back to it. I grabbed it up and started click, clacking my way out of transition.

All of a sudden it turned into some sort of Nascar event! People were pulling out into the main walkway with their bikes and cutting people off right and left. Wow..these people are intense today! I thought. And just then a gal goes scittering sideways in her cleats on the concrete and starts careening out of control taking out another cyclist. Arms are flailing, carbon is clanging on the pavement – all that was missing was some smoke. In my ear I heard my pit crew yelling, “Go High, GO HIGH!” I held my breath against the imaginary smoke, squeezed as far left as I could and tippy-toed past the wreckage and came out clear, unscathed and alone on the other side.


And just when I thought I was in the clear….SCREEECH! Full stop at the Mount Line! Really people? You couldn’t walk a little bit more forward past the line to try and get on your bike…which by the way, you are doing a piss poor job at right now. Click, Clack, Tippy-Toe through all these silly folks, I go until I find some open space to hop on. FINALLY – onward to the roads….YO!

After a spirited wave at my cousins, Heather and Heidi at the beginning of the bike course, I knew it was going to be a long, solo ride. Nothing to do but be steady, be aero, eat, drink and be merry. I was ready for the cold – completely bundled up in a fleece head band, full-fingered gloves, arm warmers, short-sleeve T3 bike jersey and the Kevlar-like T3 vest. (I mean nothing gets through this thing…no-thing). I was ready for the wind – hours and hours of pedaling through Austin’s own wind tunnel, Parmer Lane, will get you right where you need to be for this course. I was ready to stay aero. Jack and Drew dialed me in so well on my Katana…even though I’d only had it for a couple of months, we were already melded together. You couldn’t tell where the carbon ended and I began. Just one machine. Working. Driving. All I had to do was fuel it and it would go.

I welcomed the isolation of the single loop course and the demoralizing head wind. Why? Because I had no doubt that I could mentally handle it….others wouldn’t be so fortunate. Mile after mile after mile of limited variations in terrain couple with consistent wind in your face can wear down the unsuspecting. I considered it my advantage.

When the headwinds blew, I streamlined as much as possible with all the little tricks I learned in the wind tunnel testing with Multisports in San Diego. Low, little movement – just the legs going round and round and round…slipping quietly through the wind….imagining the little air streams coming up the front of my bike and arcing smoothly over me…I’m a small profile to you Sir Wind..nothing to see here, nothing to push on, just move a little over me and carry on your way please.

My time goal was 6:15 on the bike and according to my handy dandy tri-calc iPhone App (by Glenda Adams from Maverick Software – if you don’t have it. GET IT.) that meant I needed to average at least 17.92 on the bike. I rounded that to 18 and locked that number in my head. Additionally, even though I was intently focused on my running my own race, I wanted to see how long I could go before a couple people I knew who would be hawking me down, passed me on the bike. So pedal, pedal, pedal. Oval, oval, oval.

A sip of water every mile. A slug of nutrition every 15 minutes. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Rounded mile 56 and the special needs bag aide station. Did a quick inventory. Nope. I’m good here. Mkaythanksbuhbye. Pedal, Pedal, Pedal. Oval, Oval, Oval.

Where the heck is he? I’m not stopping until he passes me, but I’m starting to think I need to hit the restroom. And NO, I’m not peeing on the bike. Yes, I know it is mostly water by now. Yes, I know everyone else does it. I don’t care..unless I’m **this** close to a Kona slot, I’m stopping, getting off this bike and hitting a port-a-pottie. Thank you very much.

Just then I spot him. I see him. He sees me. And even through his shaded glasses, I could tell he was thinking, “Aha! There she is. It’s ON now.” I could see the renewed vigor in each successive pedal stroke. We pointed and nodded at each other as we passed.

Oh shit, I think, now here he really comes. Pedal, Pedal, PEDAL!!

I stayed focused on my speed. Every now and then I’d be in a groove into the wind and look down and see a 16 or 17. CRAP! I need 18…GO GO GO! And I’d pick it up. Whenever I felt a tailwind, I’d pick it up. With this crazy course you never know when it’s going to change on you, so following Sisson’s advice that just seems to work well in any event, “Take the gifts that the course gives you”, I would pick up the intensity and the pace when I felt the wind behind me.

I flipped the U-turn at mile 95 and saw Charles again..only about a mile away. Ninety-five, I thought to myself. I’ll take it. In a few short minutes he was spinning up beside me and I was grinning silly. “Damn! You’re having a helluva race today, girl!” “I know!” I responded giddily. We exchanged a few more pleasantries and he pedaled off….doggedly determined not to let me catch back up to him and any point for the remainder of the day. Hey…whatever I can do to motivate my teammates. 

At the very next aide station, I parked my bike and hit the restroom. Wow. I really DID have to go. Good grief! Of course I felt like I was in there forever and everyone was just cruising by on their bikes like I was standing still…because, well, I was…standing still…or at least sitting still. You know what I mean.

I didn’t even let myself think about the next event of the day until I had turned back into town and was about 12 miles out from transition. Mathlete – ENGAGE! Ok…my total goal time for the race was 12:00:00. That was broken down into Swim – 1:15, T1 - :10, Bike 6:15, T2 - :05, Run 4:15. Since I came out of the water around 1:10 and T1 time was right on, that’s less 5, I’m sitting at 11:55. Quick glance at the watch, estimate remaining time on the bike, I think I’m going to roll in at 6:00, that’s less another 15, that’s 11:40. Suhweet! But still A LOT of time for many, many things to go wrong. I could still get a flat between here and home. But I can change that in 15 no problem. Some other sort of mechanical on the bike – yeesh, I dunno..maybe I’d have to run it in. Argh. Silent prayer to the bike gods. Please, please, please – just keep it together for a few more miles. What’s a few more after I’ve already done 100? Right? Hang in there…let’s go.

Arrived at the dismount line to the raucous sounds of none other than Kitty Kat Katy Dooley who was literally one foot from the line. “DIONN! You are F*ing ROCKING THIS RACE!” I mean how can you not crack a smile? The folks around her were cracking up as well. Her enthusiasm and spirit was infectious and spirited me on to T2.

I dumped my vest, changed my shoes, switched gloves, switched race belts, added my Garmin and extra run nutrition and I was outta there…surely it was less than my budgeted 5 minutes. It felt like it. (Results later show that is was in face a 4:42)

More cheers from my cousins and I was off on the run. WOO HOO!

As usual, the first part of the run felt GREAT! You are just so happy to be off the damn bike you feel like could fly! 4:15 marathon meant a 9:43 pace, but I started out by throwing down sub-9’s. I knew I was probably going to pay for that later…but sometimes, you just can’t help yourself.

On tap, not 26.2 miles, not a marathon, but four 6.5ish mile repeats. I never once thought about the total distance I had to run then. Not. Once. The course was two loops of a simple out and back. I broke that down to the four pieces and just focused on one at a time.

Main goal here were to be through the second loop of the park before it got dark. From what I’d heard, it was just really tough, mentally, to be way out there and the far end of the loop, in the park, in the dark. I didn’t want to carry a blinkie things (although I had a great one from Kathleen – thanks Kathleen!!). I didn’t think I would finish in daylight, but I knew I could be headed home when the sun set.

The run was uneventful. Just really getting business done at the end of the day. A few hiccups here and there. Beginning with for some reason being completely UNABLE to swallow a thermolyte pill. Again, I must’ve been a humorous sight. I threw one pill in, chased it with some water and quickly began chocking and spitting everything out when my throat just closed up and refused to allow anything but liquid to pass through.

I’m sputtering into my hand because I can lose the water, but I didn’t want to lose the pill. Yea, I had extras, but I was already starting to cramp up and knew I was going to have to break into my emergency stash of salt before it was all said and done.

So now I’m through the aid station, running, holding a soggy thermolyte capsule in my hand. Great. Now what, D? Think, think, think. Ok, next aid station, I’ll grab some coke. Swallowing pills with carbonated drinks is always easier. No problem. Ok. Here we go.

I run along, awkwardly holding this quickly disintegrating pill in my hand through the next mile. “Water! Water!” The volunteer yells. I shake my head and move on. “Gatorade! Powerade!” Wait…I thought it was called something else this year…something Ironman branded..what was it again…. “Coke!” breaks through my mental conversation. Oh shit. Coke. Yes, Coke is what I need. I swerve over, grab the little Dixie cup of caffeinated carbonated goodness, throw the pill in my mouth and chase it down with some coke. Choke. Sputter. Squeeze. Get down. GET DOWN THERE DAMN IT! Cough. Ugh…barely got that one done. How the hell am I supposed to get another? My throat clenched at the mere though.

Great. Just great. I’m cramping in mile 2 and can’t even get these damn pills down. NOW WHAT?

Don’t panic. Don’t panic. I grab a Clif Shot Block and start munching on those while running to the next aid station. Ok. Something always goes awry in Ironman. The trick is figuring out how to fix it. So let’s fix it. Ok. Ok. Calming. Regrouping. Think.

Oh snap! I got it! I roll on to the next aid station. I wait until I hear “Gatorade!” Grab a cup. I put the edge of the cup in my teeth to hold the cup while I walk because I need to hands to take the thermolyte capsule, pull it apart and dump it into the drink. Brilliant! Of course that pesky wind was still at it AND I was holding a cup with my teeth, so naturally I was breathing out of my nose and as soon as I popped the capsule apart, powder blew right up my nose.

Great. Now I’m snorting Thermolytes. Well, I guess that’s one way to get them down. And oh, by the way, they don’t really dissolve either. So now I’m half-snorting, half-shooting thermolytes to get them in. And this is mile 4. Yay. No really, yay.

It wasn’t pretty but between the shot blocks, Gatorade/Powerade/Ironman-ade, snorting and shooting thermolytes, I kept the cramps at bay. I finished my full loop, checked the watch…total elapsed time read 9:30. Sweet! I’ve got 13.1 miles to go. I can put together a 2-hour half marathon, right? Sure!! Let’s go!

Um, yea, not so much. It became clear that I was going to be through the park before dark, so that was good, but I really started slowing down. Miles 20-22 were exceptionally slow. I only walked during the aid stations but I certainly took my time doing it.

Checked in with the Mathlete. Ok. We are 4 miles out. The sticker on the car does not say 136.6. It says 140.6. There is still work to be done here, Dionn. Get your head out of your ass and let’s get moving. This is where you find out if you’ve got guts or not. Do you? Well, do you?

Yes, I replied faintly. What? I can’t hear you? YES! Ok! Let’s do this. Here we go. Let’s Gu up and get going. Dig. Deep. Dig. Deep. I chanted over and over with each footfall of the right foot. Dig. Deep. Dig. Deep.

I went from running 11-somethings to 10-somethings and decided to be happy with that as long as I didn’t walk another step. Not one more walking step. NO WALKING IN THE LAST 4 MILES! I could hear myself saying. Ok, we’re moving, we’re moving!

Coming back on those last few miles, I finally allowed myself to reflect on the work that had been done that day. Over 11 hours of hard, dedicated, focused work. I nailed my paces for the most part and basically just got shit done. At this rate, I was actually going to break 12-hours for my Ironman! Yea, I choked up and cried a little, but then I just started smiling. I’m gonna what? Break 12 hours. I’m gonna WHAT? BREAK TWELVE HOURS! WOO HOO!! That’s right. Uh huh. Oh yea!

The last two miles or so have tons of fans and supporters. Everybody was yelling and giving me high fives. Saying I looked strong and had a good pace. It felt good. It felt damn good. It had been a crazy year of training. Intense. Focused. Yet surrounded by so many other obligations that it was hard to believe I’d somehow managed to squeeze it all in. But somehow, I found a way. The hours and hours on the trainer on Fridays. Getting up and running on Saturday mornings before a full day of Pop Warner football. Eating lunches in the car between swim practice and picking up the kids from school. Early mornings. Late nights. Split shifts. All of it…coming together in this very moment.

I rounded the corner where the turnaround was and headed into the finishers chute. I could hear the announcer saying other people’s names and finishing with “You. Are. An. Ironman!” The roar of the crowd coming closer and closer while my smile kept getting bigger and bigger.

I looked up into the stadium and saw my cousins jumping and waving wildly for me. I wave back and mouthed, “I did it! I DID IT!!!”

Finally, under and through the Finish Line, grinning ridiculously. No tears this year…instead a loud “WOO HOO” and a “YES!!”…maybe even a fist pump or two, I don’t quite remember. I was so excited, not to finish, but to set out and do what I needed to do. Like a machine. Just set the dial to the desired number, add fuel and press Go. Boom!


Ironman #2. Check!