I have now had plenty of time to think through what I wanted to say with my IM Louisville race report, and how to say it. But, writer’s block prevails and I am still somewhat at a loss for words. But if I let any more days pass I won’t write anything at all, and that doesn’t quite seem fair to everyone who has given me support as this goal approached. So, I’ll start this story at the end.
On Monday I sat at the awards banquet at the convention center. Never in a million years would I have ever thought that I’d be sitting at a table with not only Ryan and Mike, but also Hillary Biscay and Amanda Balding. These two women proved to me this weekend that if you don’t keep your heart, you can’t play in this sport. I don’t think that either of them would mind me pointing out that they have had some great successes in triathlon, but also have had their share of rough times. They are two women who have seen and experienced so much happen in the years that they have been racing for their goals, that all it took was to look them in the eyes after my finish for them to know how I was feeling without words.
But before I get to my finish, I should probably tell some more about my race. Ryan and I drove out to Louisville from Baltimore on Thursday. The 10 hour drive was actually really easy. The first few hours were spent in a downpour, but after lunch in Charleston, WV and a quick detour in Lexington, KY, we were shocked to find ourselves already in Louisville. I still had a shakeout run to do so Ryan ran with me and we went to check out transition and the river. Everything looked exactly as I remembered 2 years ago, and I was excited to be back. Mike’s plane came in with only a small delay and we were all tucked in Thursday night far and away from the wrath of Hurricane Irene our friends and family on the east coast would be experiencing shortly.
Friday and Saturday were a bit of a blur but I’ll give things in no particular order:
-Lunch with Hillary!
Note: I wore those sunglasses in most spare minutes leading up to the race as on Wednesday I came down with an eye infection. No, I couldn’t just get a stye like most people who get eye infections would and that seems fairly gross but also fairly normal. Instead, I ended up with Blepharitis. Like, seriously?? That sounds like some sort of disease that geese would get in their webbed feet or something. But apparently it is an eye infection that I managed to get in the days leading up to the race.
-Drove the bike course. Here we found out that despite Mike’s age he is actually quite similar to a small child in that if you put him in the back seat of a car and drive around he will fall asleep within minutes. Psyche, we kept him awake for most of the ride at least. But anyway despite the fact I had raced here before, I managed to remember about 2.5% of the bike ride. That percentage would be summed up in me saying “umm….there are flat miles at the beginning and end.” Doing this was a great idea for those who can’t train on an IM course, and definitely was a good refresher for the ride to come.
-My dad came in town! He had so much fun watching me 2 years ago that he was coming back out to offer familial support again this year. It’s always great to have anyone out on the course and he would be there to cheer all of us on which was cool.
-Went to the 4th Street CVS about 55 times. Not only did I need plenty of Gatorade and snacks, but unfortunately my Blepharitis paled in comparison to the sinus infection that Ryan came down with. On Friday he started feeling crappy and by Saturday it was a full blown infection to the max. We tried everything possible from Claritin to Netti Potting to Saline sprays to Dayquil and only got minimal results. His ability to even start the race was in question, but come race morning he bit the bullet and tried to give it a go.
Before I knew it though the fun was over and race morning arrived. Luckily this year I didn’t enter transition that morning to find a flat tire, so I was somewhat relieved already. We got over to the swim start around 6am and quickly realized that it was probably a little later than we would have liked to have arrived. Now, again, my memory is terrible but I know two years ago I got there around the same time (actually probably later because of my bike issues) and didn’t have to wait in that long a line. That leads me to one conclusion: I must have unknowingly cut in line. Sorry to anyone I cut off in 2009! Alas, we took our spots at the end of the line and waited and waited. The pros went off at 6:50, 10 minutes later the age groupers started hopping in and the line began to move. When we finally hit the pier the line stopped again. We heard murmurs that they were pulling someone out of the water, and sadly they were true. We had really no choice but to watch a man who had suffered a heart attack be wheeled by us on a stretcher. Needless to say, it didn’t look good, and I am sad to say that it was confirmed he passed away. Not quite the way you want to get pumped up for your own day, but the race must go on and they started sending us in again. My goal for the swim was really just to swim faster than the painstaking 1:24 I managed in 2009. All I wanted was to prove to myself that I could swim a non-wetsuit race and swim it quickly. The TT start helps the nerves and I was able to get into my own rhythm early on. It felt like it went on forever and ever, but at one point I caught sight of Ryan passing me which buoyed my confidence a little. Despite the fact he basically flew by me (swimming a super fast sub-60 time!!) I knew that I couldn’t lose too much time given what was left. As I came out of the water and saw 1:05 on my watched I tapped it a couple times to make sure it was still ticking, I almost couldn’t believe it! I jogged through T2 still flying high on that swim time and hopped onto the bike. Ahh, time to relax. A little.
There really isn’t too much to say about the 5 hours and 42 minutes I spent on the bike other than there was a lot of pedaling, and a lot of GUs. The quasi advantage of starting so late was that there was a seemingly endless stream of riders to pinpoint and catch which makes the ride go quickly. Despite having stayed super on top of getting all my calories and hydration, in the second half of the bike my stomach started to feel a bit questionable. Not even like sick from racing, just sick. It became increasingly more noticeable until the final 12 miles where I actually started throwing up whenever I was taking water or food, and I would just swallow it down. Gross, I know, but I was trying my best to keep all the calories in me. As I hopped off the bike it just wasn’t enough and I threw up as I left T2. I tried to just put it in the back of my mind, but something else wasn’t right: I couldn’t run. This is honestly something I have never experienced before to this degree. I would say that both marathons in previous ironmans were tough. But never, in any race of any distance, have I hopped off the bike to find that I couldn’t even run the entire first mile.
In an attempt to stay calm I did some troubleshooting. Would GU stay down? Nope. The Perform drink? Nope. Grapes? Nope. I did my best to stay positive and be patient and just wait for my legs to come back. I wish I could say that I had even one good mile, but that wasn’t the case. In the times when I wasn’t fighting to keep it from coming out my mouth, I was trying to hurry up and get to a porta potty. This went on for 8 miles until I finally saw Ryan as he was running the other direction. Unfortunately, he was having a similar fate on the run. I hit the turnaround and finally Hillary caught me. I had been sitting for a couple minutes so I managed to gather energy to run about 25 meters with her into the aid station. She had positive words for me and I felt terrible she was seeing my demise while trying to race her race, so I did give her word of my great swim and bike at least! “Just finish the race” she told me. Wait, what??? You want me to finish the next 15 miles on an empty stomach – walking???? Absolutely she said. Just finish.
I would be lying if I said I immediately recognized the lesson and value in what she was saying. I still am somewhat sheltered by my ultra mentality – you can’t tell someone to keep going in an ultra when they aren’t eating and keeping anything in. But, this is an Ironman. We have porta pottys a plenty. Water and food every mile. You’re not being sent into the depths of the wilderness alone. And, more importantly, I was having a bad day, but I was still in control of my mind and body (for the most part). In plain words, I was fine. I just wasn’t going to run very fast.
I had a bit of a breakdown when I saw Ryan waiting for me just before the turnaround. I’m not sure if it was just the outpouring of emotion from the amazing race I felt I had let POOF vanish, or just the fact that I realized there was no one else in the world I’d want to suffer through this with. He asked what I wanted to do and I said that Hillary told me I had to finish. So he nodded and said he doesn’t sign up for these races to not finish either, so we’d do it together. And that we did. It was far from pretty but we made quite a team, and we crossed the line in about 12 hours and 15 minutes. I hope, for both of our sake, that is the only time we ever cross a finish line together at a race.
We gathered ourselves and made it to the restaurant where Mike (who had an amazing race – 9:49 in his second IM!! At least one of us was able to get it done that day), Hillary and Amanda were waiting. This is where I got my hugs and was able to decompress. I felt like I had let the world down and I was just plain embarrassed. I had come off the bike in 3rd place in my AG and just felt like I had let it all go. I also couldn’t explain it and had very little to offer other than I just got plain sick and couldn’t run. It wasn’t like I could point to something tangible and say this is what I’ll do different, this is how I’ll change things. And without that tangible thing, there is always going to be a thought lingering, a worry that I will have to fight, that maybe I’m just not cut out to have the race I want to have.
But, for now, I will continue to lace up my sneakers for my runs, and I’ll continue to get in the pool. I’ll continue to ride my legs off because I am damn proud of that bike split – the 28th fastest time of the day for women! The great thing about this sport is that the training – where you spend 99% of your hours – may be more relentless but it is also more forgiving. Because when you have a bad day no one has to notice. When you don’t hit your intervals you can walk it in, knowing the only price you have to pay is that next week you’ll have to find a new way to try to make it through. Second chances come along constantly in training. Second chances in racing don’t. But if I didn’t race, and I didn’t go all-in when I race, then I wouldn’t be myself. I won’t ever look back and say “maybe I could have biked a 5:55 and done some more damage control to get through the run at least at a jog.” It’s just not me. And so it is okay with me if it is simply going to take some more time to have the race where it all comes together.
In the span of an hour I came across two things that gave me confidence that time and patience is all I’m really in need of. One is Jordan Rapp’s speech he gave after winning IM Canada. As if being a rockstar and super smart human being wasn’t enough, he also has a way with words that can really comfort and inspire . The second, a bit sillier, carries the same message. It’s a cartoon tweeted by @KHESSER (who I raced against last year in Wisconsin and will be racing with at IMAZ coincidentally enough), and the message is simple: sometimes quality takes time.
I didn’t start working with Hillary expecting her to be a miracle worker, although I have to say that 1:05 swim for me is nothing short of an IM miracle! She’s started me on a process and a journey and on Sunday I realized that the best thing I can do is to take this in and learn from it what I can, and use it to better me for races to come. I have a support system that is unmatched and I am confident that in a couple months I will be ready for battle once again 🙂