Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Texas Ironman 2012 Race Report

May 19, 2012
The Woodlands, TX
High: 87 Low: 59 Water Temp: 81 Degree (I opted not to wear wetsuit)
Winds: 14mph (around 3pm)
Swim 2:19:21
Bike: 7:51:05
Run: 5:39:47
TOTAL TIME: 16:18:47
My first Ironman

So.  I know. I dropped off the face of the earth from blogging about this Ironman journey. 

A huge project at work dropped in my lap that I knew would mean late nights in the office as well as being out of town for several weeks at a time.  However, leading this project would mean getting the opportunity to grow and experience something that only happens once in a blue moon. 

Problem was…the big day was set to occur 2 days prior to the Ironman.  There was no way I was stepping out down from this big project.  Too much would be at stake with my career.

So the big question loomed.   Should I back out of the Ironman?  Should I focus on one or the other?  I knew I would be handling stress beyond belief.  What would be the smart move?

When I toyed with the thought about backing out of the Ironman, I would feel extreme sadness.  Therefore, my heart was not ready to say no.

Why was I doing this?  I want to prove to myself that I can conquer my fear of swimming. If I could complete an Ironman, that would be the ultimate challenge for me.  I had to show myself that I could conquer that 2.4-mile swim.  Even if it means I would be starting from complete scratch without being able to do a single freestyle stroke.  I wanted to prove to myself that with practice, I could do this.  I had put so much training in already that I had no desire to start all over.  It was time, now or never.

The hardest part of this mentally was to see my triathlete friends put in the hours in the training.  I was putting in the bare minimum in training hours and it was freaking me out.  I was feeling more insecure and inadequate than ever before.  I was definitely falling behind the curve.  It was beating me down to compare myself to my dear friends yet I could not stop doing it to myself.

Meanwhile, the hours at work were increasing and my cup was beginning to overflow.  Ironman was starting to take a back burner and stressing about it was not helping.  So I did what I could and just tried to keep my eyes on the ball.  I could not let one hit the ground by any cost. 

I had a mantra that kept me sane...every time I started to panic...I would ask myself, what if this is easier than you ever expected?  After repeating this to myself several times, I would feel an immediate sense of peace.  This little mental trick was from an online mental training for the Ironman course and it was the biggest instrumental difference in my training for the Ironman...and my life.  I finally had a bag of tricks to deal with my mind, which I learned would sabotage me only if I let it.

Long story short, the project at work ended up going very well and it ended with a beautiful celebratory dinner unfortunately I was running to the bathroom every 15 minutes dealing with a stomach bug.  I woke up Thursday morning feeling weak and lost.  I also tried not to ignore the fact I had only worked out twice in the past 2 weeks. 

I had to brush this off.  I did not make it this far to go down without a fight.  I loaded up all my bags, checked out of the hotel and headed up to meet Jessica, Susan and Denise at Ironman village. 

When I approached the village, I started to feel something in my belly.  However, this time, it was not my food stirring.  I was starting to get excited.  I checked in, got my blue bracelet, my swim cap, timing chip and picked up my super cool backpack.  I may not have had a single thing packed or had any idea what I was eating or bringing but doggone it, I was sure happy to be there.

We are too sexy for these backpacks! 
My gorgeous friend Jessica
That evening we went to an athlete dinner was so beautiful and inspirational.  Mike Reilly hosted the night and I got to see one of my favorite people, Robert Key, share his inspirational story to the masses.  I had goose pimples over and over again.  I was here.  I was going to do this.  It was starting to feel so real.  Three men got on stage who gave testimonies to their weight loss.  One man started his Ironman training at 274 pounds and lost over 80 pounds on his journey. The final man on stage lost a total of 230 pounds.  It was amazing. It was obvious I was not alone in my journey.
My hottie training posse:  Suzie, Valerie, Jessica and Pam

The family (Robert Key is the one in the middle wearing black.)

That night, I laid out all my bags, and did my best to put all the puzzle pieces together.
In the morning, my friend Ben was picking me up to check my bike in. He volunteered to be a kayaker and he was excited to check out the layout. 
Finally, after a combined effort, I was ready to go.  Bike check-in was in the middle of the day and it was 92 degrees already, but thankfully, the humidity was not too bad.  I mentally prepared myself for the possible heat I may endure.

We ate pizza at Grimaldi's out on the water, met up with more friends and clowned around in the hotel on our own photo shoot. 

Scott, Susan,Ben, Jessica and Kevin chillin at Grimaldi's

Susan, Jessica, and Yours Truly
Me, Susan, Scott and Jessica
Then I went with Ben to check out the swim start.  The buoys looked so far apart and the nerves started creeping in.  My doubts and fears were still lurking in the shadows and were ready to come back to haunt me as soon as I let my guard down.

Ben dropped me off at Jessica's in-laws for the night.  My plan was to keep my mind occupied with tasks so there was no room for my fears. I tried to keep myself in a mental cocoon.  The others were laughing and sharing stories in the other room and I did my best to quiet down and focus my mind.  Surprisingly, I slept, and slept very well.

Race day.  We woke up and started getting ready. I tried to drink coffee but my tummy was in knots.  I threw my wetsuit in the back of the car but then last minute I left it behind.  I was the only one out of my group of friends who made this choice, but I knew it was the right decision for me.  I had to follow my own game plan.
Morning of the race day
Since I was sans-wetsuit, I was on my own.  I thought that maybe I would see Charlie at the swim start.  I headed toward body markers but did not see the low fence and did a graceful (at least in my head it was) nose-dive into the parking lot. 

Ow.  That hurt like the dickens. However, I had to stay cool. 

But on the inside I am hot mess trying my darndest to keep it together.  I so desperately wanted to see a friendly face.  I scanned the parking lot hoping to see Charlie but at the same time, I had a feeling I would turn into a basket case when I found him.

The calm before the storm
Regardless, I was out of time.  It was time to get in the water.  I was ushered into the water and immediately started to tread water until the gun went off.

Bodies were everywhere as I start swimming.  For the first time ever in my swim, and I mean EVER in any triathlon, I am calm in the water.  This means, I had none of my familiar panic attacks.  No stopping every time I am groped.  No hyperventilating.  Really??? The biggest swim of my life and I am amazingly cool, calm and collected.  I swim until the big mass goes by me and then I am alone and the water is calm. 

The next fear I had worked up in my head was when the wetsuit wave caught up to me. Suprisingly again, I did not freak out. More groping and fondling but I still am not phased by this.  Ok, so who am I and where did the real Jenny go?  I finally stop to adjust my leaky goggles and lucky me spots my friend Ben right in front of me in his Kayak.  I get another burst of energy but nonetheless, it is short lived as I had still a ways to go. 

I start to struggle on the return since the sun is now in my eyes and I am having a difficult time sighting.  I make it to the canal and I am dying to look at my watch.  I know I have been in the water awhile and I start to feel the onset of fatigue.  I fought the urge to look at my time in case it would cause me to panic.  I wanted to stay as calm as possible.  It seemed to be working for me so far.
I turned my head to breathe and I see Charlie, Keith (Jessica's hubby) and Austin (Jessica's son) hiking the shoreline.  I excitedly stopped swimming to say hi.  They started to yell at me to keep going.  I am so tickled to see them and now I am attempting to do my best stroke ever although I am still struggling with my sighting.  Everything in the canal seemed to appear the same and it seemed like forever until the swim exit. I reach the stairs and finally look down at my watch. 

I had 39 seconds to spare.  I had made the swim cut off.  Oh yeah, I was on top of the world.

In transition, you actually go inside a tent and get to change clothes. I apologized to the women who were working with me and warned them that I was going to have to bare my naked bottom.  She assured me not to worry, as they had seen it all already. As she told me this and helping me undress, a small minnow fell out of my top and everyone burst into laughter. Well, they thought they had seen almost everything.
After a quick pit stop, I go to grab my bike.  Charlie yells out to me that the GPS tracking device that I rented from was not working for Jessica.  I wondered if she remembered to turn it on and I silently prayed that it was not really broken. 
The first half of the bike course is one of my favorite routes.  I enjoyed the weather, the forest and the sights.  As I pass mile 13, I begin to sing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall in honor of breaking past the triple digits but I had enough of that song at 96 Bottles.  I decided to sing Vanilla Ice instead.

Notice how alone I am?  I am at the back of the pack. Hence the singing.
Yeah, you find creative ways to entertain yourself with no music on a bike for over 7 hours.  I had to make it to mile 60 by 1:50pm and I was running right on schedule (GPS was working great too!).

I am slightly annoyed that my brand new bike odometer was not working.  Typically, this is something that is usually checked in advance; however, I did not have the luxury of time.  I looked down and I can see the magnet thingy that communicates to the computer is all-askew and all it needs is a gentle nudge to line it up again. 

Keep in mind I am still moving while these thoughts are going on.  I reach down to move it in place and my ring finger gets clipped in the spokes. 

Wow, talk about feeling stupid. 

Now I am riding with a bloody finger that is starting to swell.  I do not have anything to stop the bleeding so I attempt to stop it with my mouth.  I think I read somewhere that saliva has antiseptic properties right?  At least I know it is true with dogs.

Now I have a horrid realization.  I had made that pit stop in transition at the port-o-potty and there was no washing of the hands.  Oh no. 

What the H-E, double hockey sticks, did I just ingest?
Now my imagination goes wild.  Every little cramp I had from the point on makes me prepare for the end. 

During the entire ride, I made sure to come to a complete stop at every aid station since I do not trust my klutzy tendencies (shocking, right?).  It was such a luxury where at every stop the volunteers came to you and assisted in filling your water bottles.

At the following stop, a volunteer told me of the fate of a rider who had cramps so bad he had to drop out.  It was like she knew I sucked my disgusting finger.  I nodded and sent a little prayer out to the rider with the stomach bug (who after the race I learned was someone I knew).  I felt his pain and wondered if I would be soon in that same boat.

Besides my random thoughts of my stomach paranoia, I am pretty relaxed most the ride.  My legs feel good.  I knew I was cutting it close to the bike cut-off but was not stressing about it. I finally roll up on mile 60 on schedule and I see a station where they have the special needs bags.  I assume that this is the bike cut off but I yell out to ask just to be sure.  The volunteer yells out that it is still 2 miles down the road and to not stop here but to take my bag and keep going. 
What the...?!?  2 miles?!?!  That is mile 62!  I have 2 minutes to do 2 miles? 
My heart sinks because I knew that was just not mathematically possible.  I turn the corner and see another aid station.  In my disbelief, I ask again.  But this time the volunteer tells me that HE is the cut off mark and that I made it with one minute left. 
Now my heart is really going a million miles an hour.  I stop to recoup and take advantage of my special needs bag.  Here is where the toughest stretch of the bike began. 

The first hurdle was the chip-sealed road, which sucks the life out of your legs because the road is so rough.  Then the next challenge was the hills.

Many negative thoughts have entered the mind about now.  So I made a mental list of gratitude.  I am grateful I have my fingertip.  I am thankful I do not have poisoning from sucking my dirty finger (at least not yet).  I am grateful I have strong legs with no cramping.  Yes, it was hot, but at least it is not raining monsoon weather.  I am grateful to have made it this far.  I am grateful for my supportive friends and family.  My list goes on and on until I am happy again.

Finally, the roads smooth out and I get a second wind.  I also have some time to make up to get in by the 5:30PM cut off. It is hot out there and the wind has picked up.

I made it in at 5:23PM.  I am so grateful to see my Kingwood Tri Club friends in transition.  They escort me to the transition tent.  I have no idea how I am going to pull off this marathon.  I barely want to walk. 

I get inside the tent and the lady next to me is bitching and complaining to the volunteer.  Really lady?  Poor volunteer. She did not sign up to get bitched out.

I am dazed and I am running out of time.  My volunteer desperately tries to get me to hurry.  So much for me getting to brush my teeth.  Sigh.  I have 3 minutes to exit the tent or I am disqualified.
Off I go on the run.  My plan is to run until I reach an aid station.  I start running, then walking.  Now more walking than running.  I look down at my watch.  18 minutes and I have only done 1 mile.  Ok.  I am mathematically not going to make the midnight cut off going at this rate.  I am ready to call it quits.  There is no way I am going to pull off a marathon now. It is just too far and my legs refuse to run.

But then I think of everyone cheering me on and what I would say to them.  I did not come this far, narrowly reach all those cut off times just to quit now?  I wanted that medal.  I had to figure out some kind of plan and quickly. 

I could do a 5-1 running pattern.  Run for 5 walk for 1.  Hmmm...what if I make it 9-1.  Then I increase my odds of finishing on time.  I set my Garmin to chime every 9 minutes and I start running.  Funny thing happened in this process.  I found my legs. 

They just decided to show up.  And I did not hurt.  What the heck?  I did not take any drugs.  I went back to my plan of walking the aid stations since it was easier than watching my watch. 
Then I reached the canal and the crowd support was incredible. My friends and family were there and some had made me signs.  In all my races, I have never had a sign made for me.  I want to laugh and cry.  I feel like I am floating through all the miles and I cannot stop smiling.  From that moment on, I was running just to make it to the canal side of the loop.  I memorized each location of everyone and just tried to make it to that point.  It was what pulled me through.

Also on the canal, I could hear Mike Reilly's voice yelling out to the finishers.  The end was so close that I could almost taste it.  I started to fight the emotions again. I started to envision the finish and made myself promise not to cry.  No way did I want a pizza face in my finisher photo.  

I had to make the final cut off mile 17 by 9:50.  But this time, I had this one in the bag. 

After I reached that final cut off point with more than 30 minutes to spare, I was just wanted ready to get the stinker over with.  The last mile, a volunteer named Dan asked if he could run with me the last mile.  I did not think that was legal but I did not have the heart to tell him no.  He made the last few minutes fly. 
I finally entered the magical world called the finisher chute. This was way better than Disney World.  The crowd was so loud and I could hear them chanting my name.  I soaked in these moments and high fived everyone I could.  Pain was suspended.  Time was suspended.  My friends Luis and Lillian hugged me at the finish line.  My running buds brought me a cupcake. I was the luckiest girl in the world.  I did it.  And it was worth every second of it. 
My friend Ben made this sign for me at the finish line.  If I would have read it in my final moments, I definitely would have lost it.
My beautiful friend Sarah
Valerie, Jessica and I are first timers!  We did it!
Val bikes, I run, Jess swims
Our running diva friends surprised up with cupcakes at the finish line!  How friggin' awesome is that!?!

Jessica and Susan my new Ironman Sisters!

My amazing friend Luis who "caught" me at the finish line.

I love my Charlie!  Best hubby EVER!

So now as I have had time to reflect on this experience, here are my nuggets of wisdom that I learned in this journey. 

You do not NEED a fancy tri bike to do this.  Will you make the podium on a regular road bike?  That is up to the motor of course.  There are people out there with artificial limbs that will pass me up in a heartbeat.  If there is a will, there is a way. 

It can be intimidating to see all the money spent out there.  Fancy aero helmets, fancy wheels on bikes, bikes that are worth more than cars and a gazillion other fancy accessories with magical powers (or so I am told).  Swim, ride and run your own race.  You do not NEED anything fancy.  I wish someone told me that.  I wanted someone to tell me that my starter road bike would be just fine. 

I also was desperate to hear a story of someone who did not get in all the recommended training hours due to their job and who could still pull this off.  I know now it is possible and I was not the only one. I also had a friend who did not train a single day for 3 weeks and he finished as well.  Now it may not be pretty but it is possible.  The proof is in the pudding.

The next day, there was an Awards/Volunteer banquet.  I was so grateful to attend.  The volunteers out there were top notch and friggin’ amazing.  In addition to all the amazing strangers who were volunteering, my  friends that I saw volunteer on the swim course, transitions, bike course, aid station, run course and finish line were truly my angels.  I also appreciated the cleanup crew that I would never see who I knew still would still be there into the wee hours of the night making everything look pretty again.

The winner of the 2012 Texas Iroman, Jordan Pratt, gave a speech that summed up the glorious past few days perfectly for me.  "I think we do Ironman for the same reasons Icarus flew too close to the sun. We want to see if we can. We want to know what we are capable of. We want to ignore all the warnings and find out for ourselves. And whenever I cross that finish line, I *KNOW* it's what I was meant to do. And when I see everyone else crossing that line - no matter what time the clock says -it's pretty clear that I'm not alone in that belief. There's something remarkably elegant about Mike Reilly's simple statement, "YOU. ARE. AN. IRONMAN."

Yes, and now my life will never be the same.  Thank you for following my journey.