Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ironman Arizona

Having (nearly) the race of your dreams actually happen is almost unbelievable!  As I look at pictures from the day, I'm so happy to see that the pure joy I felt out there all day long came across.  The shock as I turned the corner on Rio Salado and saw the time on the clock - all I could do was hold back tears and hold my mouth open in awe.  That's what happens when you leave your garmin on your bike and try to do math while in the 10th hour of racing.... it does not work out so well!

This was my 6th Ironman and first time doing the local race.  My first one was in my "home" of Coeur d'alene and while I've yet to nail that race, I'm still partial to it.  So much so I'm going back next year for my 4th time on the starting line.  I've also raced in Canada twice, having an epic day last year.  So, this year was all new to me having home court advantage as well as having the most amazing race day support and cheers.  I had no idea how incredible both could be, and am still in awe of the amazing spectators and the uplift they gave me each time I heard my name and got a high 5.

I spent about 3 weeks prior to the race visualizing a good day.  Most of it was the swim, because while I have worked my ass off in the pool, I've yet to have that show in my results for races in Tempe Town Lake.  My PR IM swim is 1:04 in Canada and I'm far more fit in the water now.  I spent time every day just convincing myself I would have a great swim to start off my day, coming out of the water , 1:05..... but I was also mentally prepared for anything.

Overall my entire year of training went nearly flawless.  Once I recovered from my marathon I started to work a lot on the bike.  It took a while to gain my strength back but sure enough it came around.  My run fitness remained and I focussed on staying healthy and consistent.  In June and July we had a huge swim block to prep for our 10k swim at Kona camp, and once back from that I was ready to put the last few months of really hard work in.

Michelle pushed me.  I nailed nearly all my workouts and just kept on moving.  I took notes on how I was feeling, and did what I needed to make each set count.  Starting a new job in March and working east coast hours took a bit of getting used to, but eventually as I got the hang of my day to day tasks and I was able to find some flexibility and work in my training.

When I signed up for this race a year ago and looked at the results of a near perfect day, I also examined my age group.  I had just come off an 11:02 race finish at IM Canada, a much more difficult course and wondered what COULD I do on this course?  I came up with the idea of getting on the podium, something that for years of doing this I never even thought possible.  Crazy what can happen when you actually start to believe...

Looking at the results over the past few years I decided if I could race a 10:40-1:45, the podium was within reach.  Top 3 (and Kona contention) would require a 10-10:15, and I wasn't crazy enough to dream that BIG!   So there you had it, my goal sent to coach.  I wanted to be on that podium.

Funny, we never actually talked about times, or what it would take after I sent that email.  Each week I looked at my schedule, sometimes in shock, others in excitement.  I did the work, I took care of myself and I just kept plugging away.....

I base what I can do on race day on actual training.  Not on what I WANT or what I believe could possibly happen.  I came up with a very conservative swim split so that I wouldn't get disappointed.  I based my bike split on a couple of training rides on the actual course (1hr up, :50 back).  My run was based on my 20 milers, and even then it was conservative... but I was putting in some time for aid stations and well Ironman fatigue!  This is what I came up with:
I printed that out and put it on the wall in my office.  I looked at it with excitement (and some fear) every single day.  As race day approached I got confident.  I didn't make those numbers up.  I would say the most questionable split was my bike.  My Ironmans have always been hilly and my best bike split was 5:48 at Canada.  Wind is also a huge factor on this course so you just never know what the day can bring.  

All in all I knew the only thing that could mess up my day would be ME.  I was in control of my attitude, my pacing, my nutrition and I was determined to do it all RIGHT.  The days leading up to the race I was confident.  When asked if I was ready, I smiled and said YES.  There was no doubt, no second guessing.  It was something I've never felt before and if anything... that scared me.

I remained calm all week, and didn't have nerves until I dropped off my bike and found a thorn in my tire.  I borrowed a set of race tubulars and well, there is not a quick fix there.  I kept my composure, went to the bike techs where they used a razor blade to dig it out and said I wasn't losing air.  Rather than freak out, I got a backup plan and as soon as I was home I prepped my own race wheels and repair kit and put them in the truck.  If my tire was flat when I got to transition I would simply change out the wheels.

Next up my stove broke while trying to make dinner.  The easy solution would be to get takeout, but I've been gluten free (mostly) since June and it's really helped my allergies and asthma symptoms so I wasn't about to mess with that the day before a race.  We managed to cook two types of pasta, sautee mushrooms, marinara sauce and grilled chicken all on our grill.

Adjust and move on.

Thanks to a glass of wine and an Ambien I had a solid 6 hours of sleep and woke up ready to roll.  Oddly, I woke up SORE.  My neck hurt really bad and my quads were sore.  I took this as a sign I was ready to USE them.

Before heading into the water I took some time and stared at the water.  Envisioned my day.  While my swim didn't turned out as planned, It took me absolutely NO time to move past it and continue on what would be an EPIC day.

My swim time was a bit disappointing.  I got my ass handed to me the first half, then swam wide the second half without much of a draft and slowing me down.  Rather than completely beat myself up about it, I'm choosing to, like in the race, move passed it.  I will eventually have to get aggressive in the water and get way out of my comfort zone if I want to be competitive in this water.  The fitness is there, I just need to make it happen.  Swim time 1:10

I had the time of my life on the bike.  I rode steady and controlled.  I took it WAY easy on the first loop, but was almost scared at how fast it was.  The first loop was completely crowded and I saw something I've never witnessed before which was the drafting.  It was insane.  I'd heard the rumors, but thought how could that really happen without people getting in trouble.  I guess my only thought here is how could they bust EVERYONE?  I did my best to ride legally and when I couldn't get out of the back, I worked a little harder to get passed them or sat up out of aero and fell back, focussed on getting in calories.  Loops 2 and 3 thinned out and at times I was by myself just cruising along.

Coming back into town was amazing.  The cheers were unforgettable.  My coach was there giving me splits, but truth be told I new where I was because of the out and backs.  I was ahead of schedule and having an amazing bike ride.  Flip flopping on the second and third loop with girls in my age group, I was smart.  I didn't burn any matches and rode completely within myself.  My number one goal was to get my calories in and be ready to run.  Thankfully I had out biked my expectations and had plenty of time to not "race" the bike.  Bike time 5:18

It took all of a half a mile to get my legs under me.  My plan was to run 8:45's and average 8:55s with aid station times.  My training justified it.  My fitness was there.  Unfortunately (or not) I left my garmin on my bike so I was going to have to do this by feel.  Coming out of transition it's amazing hearing cheers and your adrenaline is just going crazy.  I could tell I was running too fast and I spent the first two miles trying to slow myself down.  I had some competition in front of me and I just had to remember to race MY plan, and that did not involve starting out at an 8:20 pace.  I settled into my rhythm and perceived effort and by mile 4 going past my club tent feeling like a rock star I was told I was in 6th or 7th place.  By mile 6 I had passed 2 girls in my age group putting me in 4th or 5th.  Somewhere else I was told I was in 3rd.  I've never experienced anything like this?  Racing an ironman marathon in 3rd place???  That was the first time KONA entered my mind.  The first time EVER.  It was surreal.

Every time I saw my coach she made feel like the most amazing person in the world.  I could feel and see her joy and how proud she was and it was everything I needed to keep pushing.  My friends jumping up and down every time I saw them fueled my smile, my strength and my energy.

I got passed at about mile 16.5 by someone in my age group.  I tried to stay with her, but I just couldn't hold the pace.  She kept getting further and further away, and eventually I just forgot about her.  I started to focus on math and my finish time, which in my head was going to be like 10:35-10:36.  Clearly... I wasn't calculating right..

Every time I saw a kid's hand out I high fived it.  Every time someone said my name I thanked them, I smiled.  Miles 17-21 were hard.  Really REALLY hard.  I allowed myself to walk every aid station and get in anything I could.  My stomach was bloated and not happy, but my legs were still fine.

At mile 21 a friend came running out to me with her phone telling me I was in 5th place and to GO.  I grabbed some coke and took off.

Just before the last climb up Curry Hill, maybe mile 22 I saw two good friends going CRAZY for me.  They were clearly having a fun day and they made me laugh and think back to all the times I was out there cheering for my friends.  I fed off them.  It was exactly what I needed.

Up the hill, down the hill get to mile 23. That's all I kept repeating in my head.  I can do 2 miles in my sleep.  Somehow, I managed to pick the pace up for the last time miles.  My split was 8:50 from mile 24.5-26.2 including walking the last 2 aid stations.  I was fueled by adrenaline.  FINALLY my legs started hurting (it's amazing was solid base fitness can do for you!), and it was all heart.  About 200 yards before the finish the most incredible cheering squad EVER awaited me.  I felt like I was flying.  My coach was crying and screaming and right then I knew what I had accomplished (well almost).

One quick (painful) turn and the finish line was there... and the shock of seeing the clock minutes ahead of what I thought will last forever.  The pure joy and happiness I felt is unexplainable... Run time 3:56

Shane was waiting for me at the finish line.  He two had an epic day, and managed an hour plus PR even with some training hurdles the past few months.  Household PRs!

It wasn't until about 30 minutes after the race I finally asked a friend to look up my results.....

Setting a goal, doing the work and accomplishing it, it really doesn't get much better than that!  PR and Podium check.... can't wait to set some new goals next year.

I hope each and every one of my friends out there last Sunday and online sending me wishes know how much it all meant to me.  And to my coach who has taught me so much about myself and the sport - I can't wait for our exciting adventures next year!