Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Lake Tahoe Ironman Race Report

September 22, 2013

Since I achieved the dreaded status of DNF (Did Not Finish) of Ironman Lake Tahoe, I have not exactly been in a rush to put my experience in to words.  It has been a roller coaster of emotions since I have been back, and my saving grace has been to act like a corn ball to make other people smile.  Hearing the laughter and seeing the smiles on others helps me to stop focusing on little things like not finishing Ironman races.

The reason I signed up for this race was to see as much of the beauty of Lake Tahoe up close and personal.  I wanted to swim in water that was crystal clear and actually see the bottom.  I wanted to ride my bike surrounded by the smell of the tall pines and run to the sound of a water rushing around the rocks.  When we arrived, I was so overtaken by the beauty that the actual challenge of the course seemed irrelevant.  Somehow I was going to find a way to make it to the end.

Boy, did I ever underestimate that challenge.

I thought I was as prepared as I could be.  I ran through my list over and over.  I bought booties for the swim for standing in the cold sand.  I bought arm warmers for my sleeveless wet suit so I could have full mobility of my arms.  I borrowed wheels so I could shave a few minutes off my bike to make the cut offs.  I borrowed a climbing cassette to tackle those hills.  I had my running clothing strategy planned out complete with my little headlight for when the sun went down.  We drove the course and I attended a race strategy lecture so I could mentally prepare for any surprises on the course.  I listened to my mental training MP3s over and over so I could focus on how to overcome my nerves.  I laid everything out 2 days prior so I would not forget a single thing.


In Ironman Village

I was set.

My race plan.  I had it in my head, that if I could only get through the swim (I put the least amount of training hours in the swim), I could definitely tackle that bike and make it to the run. 

I HAD to at least get to the run because....

A.) I enjoy running in the cold and…
B.) The run course was supposed to be breathtakingly beautiful. 

I wanted to make it to that run. 

Snowing. Yup it rained and snowed the day before.  We were soggy for bike and gear drop off.  


The unofficial Ironman underwear run was in 40 degree pouring rain.  Those poor brave souls.  The only line in the sand that I had drawn was I was not going to ride if the roads were iced.  We were reassured that the race organizers were never going to let it get to a level where it was unsafe.


 

Yet, I was still uneasy.

My cutie friend Jessica and I are ready to ROLL
Race morning was 27 degrees.  It helped my nerves to focus on my transition and set up.  Luckily, they had an expo center open so we could keep warm.   

For the first time in my three Ironman races, I was not alone at the start. 

This time, my Charlie was able to be with me.  It felt amazing to have him by my side and it was an added bonus to have him help me smoosh my butt into my wet suit.

This was also my first time to be in a rolling start.  This means instead of a mass exodus of us all starting the swim at the same time, we got to seed ourselves in a corral according to pace.  I met a couple of people from Houston in my wave as well as a lone first timer.  We danced in place in the sand to keep warm to the beat of the music by the DJ.

Finally the gun went off and I was looking forward to how the lake was going to “feel like a hot tub” compared to the outside air. 

They lied about the hot tub.  It was COLD.  It took me a long while to get my breathing normal.  I had to flip on my back several times.  My favorite moment (once I could get my rhythm) was to turn my head to the side to breathe and see the snow-capped mountains turned pink with the sunrise.  It more beautiful than my dreams.



Unfortunately, the moment was short lived.  I was cold and uncomfortable and wanted to join the others around me who were grabbing on to jet skis and getting pulled to shore.  But I wanted to get to that run.  I kept swimming and somehow I made the swim cut off again with 45 seconds to spare.

I was so light-headed and numb when I climbed out of the water and into transition.  All I could do was just focus on each step to the changing tent.

I had made it.  And now I was ready for the bike.  The transition volunteers were nothing short of amazing and I was on my way with enough time to pee.  I am on the bike course and I am on cloud nine.

Until, I hit the first famous hill.  Dollar Hill.  It is a 7 percent incline.  Not the worst hill on the course, but it certainly was not "easy" by any means.

No problem, right?  I love to climb hills.  That is, until I need air.  

Yeah, I SUCKED air.  I pulled over to catch my breath.  I recovered quickly and tried again.  I did not make it very far.

The locals that I passed earlier leisurely toting around town were now passing me up the hill like it was a cake walk. 

“Where ya from?” one shouts at me as they pass.  

“Houston” I reply.

“Ah…enough said” the man retorts back.

I am now stopped for a third time gasping for breath.  This time, when I tried to get back on.  I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to balance.  I sat there and waited awhile for the dizziness to go away, and it was at that point I started to doubt I had what it would take to finish just one loop of that bike course. 

My view of Dollar Hill if I would have looked behind me
I had to do that Dollar Hill 3 times to finish the bike.  And I had a hill in front of me called Brockway Summit, which was a 3 mile climb (equivalent to 30 minutes  if I was lucky) to the highest point of the course 7200 feet or something like that.  I was so screwed.  I began to walk my bike and started to feel so defeated.

Of course, there is a camera man at the top of Dollar Hill while I am walking my bike, of course.
With head down and my tail tucked between my legs, I pedaled to Squaw Valley.  It had an aid station and it was also where the final loop turns off to the finish line.  When I tried to talk to the Ironman official.  I could not put sentences together.  My brain was working…but why weren’t the words coming out of my mouth in the way I wanted?  I turned in my chip and climbed inside a van to thaw out.  It was only then when I realized how numb I was.

That is when the tears came. It just hit me that I had lost the battle with Mother Nature.

In the van, a man saw me crying and asked me to roll down my window. He shared with me that he was one of the ones pulled out in the swim.  He told me there was a lesson in this experience and soon I will see it.  I was surrounded by beautiful people with the kindest words to lift my spirits.  

I felt heartbroken but somehow I knew I made the right decision.  Since I am well aware of effects of the lack of oxygen (flight attendants are thoroughly trained on how to identify oxygen deprivation during a decompression), I knew that what I was feeling was only going to get worse.  I spent the rest of that afternoon and evening feeling like I had a horrible hangover.  In retrospect, I wish I asked for oxygen.  It probably would have helped me feel better later.

And there it is. My race in a nutshell.  Really a nutshell.  It reminds me of a quote that used to hang on my friend Danielle’s wall as a kid by T.S. Eliot.

“This is the way the world ends…Not with a bang but a whimper.” 

My Lake Tahoe Ironman was pretty anti-climactic.  It is not at all how I pictured.  Of course, I played Monday morning quarterback and questioned my decision to pull out when I did but the bottom line is...  

I did not train once in altitude over 6000 feet….not on one hill (and what we call hills in Houston does not even come close).  I was not prepared physically to whoop those hills.  I took a full swing at that hill and that hill swung back so hard that it knocked me off my feet like I was a rag doll.

Ouch. Game over. Do not pass "Go" and do not collect $200.

I underestimated the power of Lake Tahoe’s beauty and it definitely put my ego in check.


Squaw Valley, also known as the finish line

But again, in the words that T.S Eliot also wrote:

“If you aren't in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?”

Houston, I think I found my lesson.  Over.

Charlie and I in Squaw Valley before the snow