Tuesday, November 17, 2015

#BubbaDay at IMAZ and saying goodbye

A few weeks after IMCDA when the fog of racing 11+hours in an inferno lifted, I realized that I had more fire in my belly. With the support of many friends I joined an amazing charity  and signed up for IMAZ.(seriously, if you are EVER thinking of racing for a cause, this foundation is top notch, and the next time I race IMAZ, it will be with them!). This wasn't a quick decision, but because my training for CDA had been less than perfect due to weddings and trips and then both of my dogs being diagnosed with cancer within a couple of weeks, I wanted another shot at Ironman, and pushing my limits to see if I could qualify for Kona. I did my research on the start list, and while there were definitely a few very top athletes in my AG, it wasn't as intimdating as it had been in the past with a dozen plus names in contention.

IMCDA fatigue faded and Michelle and I got to work. I spent a LOT of time climbing hills. On the bike, on the run. I pushed max watts and was convinced my legs were going to fall off and my heart was going to explode. And just as my fitness was starting to really feel great life took some more turns and Baxter started to go downhill. The entire month of September there were signs and I started to get scared leaving him alone. And, just like that one day I came home and there he was sitting on the floor staring into a corner, and I knew the time was coming so soon.

Without going back to all of what happened again, I'll just say that 8 weeks out from Ironman my world was flipped upside down. 

As a coach and athlete I know the affects of stress on our bodies. 6 months of ups and downs caring for my sick dogs, finding out my company lost the account that I work on and I needed to find a new job, my husband working in another state and trying to train harder and stronger than ever to reach a goal.  I wasn't sleeping, my appetite was lacking, and if I'm honest with myself while I was doing 95% of my training, I wasn't all in. 

When we finally had to let go of Baxter I shut my grieving down and got right back into the saddle,  literally < than 24hours later to ride my bike for 5 hours. We packed up our CDA rental and I was home 3 short days later.  I headed for a checkup with my doctor and when I received the results 10 days later after our trip to Mexico to say goodbye to our house and bring Baxter to his beach,  reality set in. 

My body shut down.  I had the flu and a sinus infection, so talking with my doc was perfect timing. She told me that my adrenals and cortisol were absolutely tanked. My doctor (an athlete herself) wasn't sure how I was functioning let alone training. I had 4 weeks to get my shit together and try to turn my health around so I did what I could. I grounded myself to home, only really leaving to train.  I ate well and tried to keep stress as low as possible. I was advised that due to the low cortisol levels, fueling during training was extra important as my body was unable to really process fat for fuel and truly needed the sugar/carbs. I didn't really change much here as I always practice race day fueling, but I did take care to make sure I went into every workout properly fueled, then recover.

Things were looking better and I was feeling better!  In the days leading up to the race my body started to feel READY.  It was SO stress free and relaxing! I had to push any doubts out of my head and just focus on the race, and that is exactly what I did.

The swim and the bike went pretty much right as planned!  I really enjoyed the rolling start.  It was stress free and for at least half of the swim it was smooth sailing (for me). The return stretch was much more aggressive, and I found myself getting a bit frustrated, but just kept swimming! For once I didn't think about my time, I just tried to focus on the next part of the race!

Swim 1:07:20 - 11th AG.  Last year was 1:07:25 and 14th & 2013 1:10:01 and 16th so despite not feeling like my swim training was awesome this summer (just didn't have that speed or confidence) I'm pretty happy with that!

Transition was super quick and I was out on the bike feeling good. Because I had trained all season with power I had something new and solid to pace myself off. I have worked on strength on the bike so much and Michelle and I talked about bumping up my race watts to try to be more competitive on the bike. I stuck to my plan at the top end of my watts the entire race, but as I saw the fast swimmers out ahead of me gaining time I had to just keep pushing, but not go out of what I new my abilities were in order to run. 

When the wind and rain and cold settled in, I was honestly just laughing. Mother nature truly does control the day, and all we can do is keep doing what we know how! I kept pushing the watts, staying aero and trying to get all my fuel in. My stomach was not wanting my typical solid foods, so I started chewing on some pepto to get it settled.  I came off the bike a few 100 calories short, but feeling pretty good. I knew I had passed a few girls in my AG on the bike, but also knew at least 2 were so far out in front it was going to take a small miracle on the run to even get near them.

Bike 5:35:34 - 7th AG.   14' 5:44:55 - 10th AG 13' 5:18:45 - 6th AG. 

As I started running my legs felt pretty good, but my stomach was not.  I sipped on my Osmo and just kept my cadence up, letting the pace settle. 

Running in the rain felt awesome, but at about mile 3 when we had to hit the thick mud it was not so fun. I followed people in front of me and tried to find the best tracks, but really it was more of an obstacle. I started my plan of gel every 4 miles and that's when things started to go bad. My stomach wanted nothing to do with gels. I kept trying to get them down, but pace was slowing as my energy was fading (this is something I haven't experienced in years as I've had a great nutrition plan!). I started going through each aid station to see if anything sounded good, but it didn't.  After my 3rd attempt at a gel, I just gave up and handed my bottle off to a friend. I got through 20 miles of that run on a little cola, sips of water, but more importantly the support and cheers from my friends, team and husband. I teared up almost every time I saw them, but without them I would have been out on that course a much, much longer time.

In the final miles I had a hard time staying focused.  I was so emotionally and physically drained my eyes just wanted to shut. Then, somewhere after mile 21 I looked up and saw a rainbow.  In the days after Baxter passed so many people talked about the magical rainbow bridge where dogs go to wait for their humans. To be honest everything about the story doesn't sit right with me. The idea of Baxter sitting somewhere waiting for me breaks my heart. I don't know what I think or what I believe, but for some reason I couldn't make peace with the whole rainbow bridge thing and put it out of my mind until I saw one running east on the course.  More tears and more emotion took over and the rest of the race is a blur.  As I headed down the final stretch of Rio Salado and all the cheers support overwhelmed me I got to that finish line and couldn't even hold my hands up. 

I had this amazing sense of relief.  It's like all the grieving I needed to do 6 weeks ago happened over the 4:15 of running that marathon.

Run 4:15:52 - 8th AG  14' 4:00:53 - 8th AG  13' 3:56:32 - 5th AG

It was almost surreal looking at my splits from the run.  When I was out there I felt like I was barely moving, yet with all the walking through aids and multiple potty stops my pace only slowed a bit.  My legs had it all to run my planned 3:45 marathon, but my stomach or whatever else was happening with me that day didn't have it. 

I know many people were worried of my disappointment in the day, but I can say without a doubt, while of course I wish my body had cooperated, even on MY best day, the top 3 girls were stronger and faster than me. To make it to the start line that day with everything I had going on was a win in itself and I learned so much about my mental strength, and grit.  I had support that I never dreamed of, and by choosing to do this race under a charity, WE helped 20+ children receive a life changing surgery. 

I don't know what races are next for me, but as I'm sure you all can guess, I'm not done. Right now, I'm going to let my body and my mind heal, rest and recover.  My heart is full and happy and while I'm still so, so sad missing Baxter, I also feel like I can finally breathe.

I have a list full of names and addresses to thank the many people that have helped me and supported me these past few months and I truly hope each of you know how much you and everything you have done has meant to me.