Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ironwoman...1/2 Ironwoman Anyways

My training was full of sprints, bricks, hill climbing and long runs/rides. At the beginning of September, following a month and a half of intense training, my race day arrived. After heading to bed extremely early, the alarm went off at 4am and I gathered my belongings, husband and Kristen and headed to the race. A cooler morning greeted me as my nerves had my stomach in knots. I racked my bike and walked through the sea of racers through both ends of the transition area so I would know the best way to my bike when entering and exiting. I unwillingly shed the warm layers my sweats provided and headed to the start line. I felt like I was going to puke.

The organizers delayed our start until after the start of the triathlon to make sure everyone was in the water before the duathletes started. I started in the front row and quickly fell into a comfortable rhythm. The only thing that would have made it better would have been being able to have my iPod to listen to. At the end of the first 5k, only 4 men and one woman were infront of me. I ran through the transition area to my bike only to find that my helmet had been knocked off my bike and an inner pad had broken. I tinkered with it for a minute before I unracked my bike, ran out of the transition area, did my triathlon bike mount and was off. My coach (aka husband) had made a great pouch for my bike that held a goo flask and a couple of hammer bars that had been cut up into convenient bite sized pieces along with a stash of hammer jellies. As I pulled away from the transition area with a smooth mount, I heard something fall off my bike. Looking back I saw my goo flask bouncing away from me. As a racer I am well aware of the difference a few seconds can make, and I made the decision to continue on without retrieving my flask, leaving myself short about 600 calories that I was supposed to consume during the race.

I knew going in that the bike was my weak point. And although I had been training intensely, I was still on the slower side of the top racers. I was very surprised and excited when I caught the top woman runner and quickly passed her. I knew though that I had a long race still ahead of me and I tried to get into a good rhythm and ensure that I would have enough energy to get through the 56 mile bike ride and the 1/2 marathon run I still had to complete.

At the first aid station I picked up the Gatorade I had planned on and a goo pack to make up for the flask I had dropped. One big lesson I learned over the summer watching other people race was to never consume anything during a race that you hadn't trained with. (you just never know how your body will respond to it under such strenuous circumstances) but here I was about to break my own unwritten rule. I knew the importance of calorie intake (during the race I burned over 4000 calories). I tore open the citrus flavored goo pack and emptied it into my mouth. It almost came back up. What an awful flavor! I sucked it down and just kept peddaling.

I had ridden the course a couple of times pre-race, so I knew what to expect. Lots of hills, lots of long miles, and the hardest part would be the second half. I focused on eating, on keeping my feet flat. Push, pull, push, pull. A lot of people passed me as the top triathletes were now on the course as well. I admired their top of the line $10000 tri bikes & imagined how much faster I would be with one of those bikes too. Before I knew it I was on the home stretch. The last 13 miles with 5 monstrous hill climbs before a long ascent back to the transition area. On the first hill I started to catch people. As the hills went on, I caught more. Some caught me on the way down the back side, but it felt great to actually be able to pass someone on the bike. Apparently my strength on the bike is climbing. Finally I made it back to the transition area. I had no idea what place I was in but I was so relieved to have the bike behind me. Only 13.1 miles to go. Only.

I drank some water, switched my shoes and stretched for a sec before taking off on the run. Husband met me just outside of the transition area to offer words of encouragement. He ran beside me for about a quarter of a mile asking how I felt and telling me I was doing great. I felt good.

The 1/2 marathon was an out and back course around aurora reservoir. I made my way past the bikers who had passed me so effortlessly just miles before. This was my strength, the run. I got into a group that was running my pace and stayed with them for a couple of miles. A few people talked about why they were doing this event. The guy next to me told me he wanted to improve on his 1/2 & full marathon times. His draw dropped when I told him this was my first half marathon ever. (I mean, don't most people do their first after running a 5k & riding 56 miles?!?) I pulled ahead of the group after that and never saw them again. As I approached the turnaround I was about 5 minutes off my goal pace, and I was very hot and tired but received a super morale boost when I saw a group of my friends screaming and cheering me on. Just after the turn around I ran by them to give them all high fives. I think I smiled for the next mile.

At the mile 8 aid station I needed water.(I later learned that it was 98 degrees during the majority of the race.) I walked through the aid station drinking and shot a goo that I had stashed in my belt to give myself a boost of energy. I think it was too little, too late. My body was hurting from missing the 600 calories my goo flask should have provided. I ran again past the mile 9 and 10 aid stations, then I got a side stitch. Sharp shooting pain engulfed my right side. I told myself to just keep moving forward. I walked for about a quarter of a mile then ran to the next aid station. I walked through it drinking Gatorade and taking warm water into my mouth and spitting it out again.

It was hot. My body was done. I jogged. I could hear the music from the finish from across the water. I could hear people cheering. I could feel every part of my body and every piece was screaming at me to stop. I had read about this and prepared myself for this and all of the personal mantras and positive thinking I had done during training had to kick in now. It took everything I had to keep putting one foot infront of the other. I jogged to the final aid station and walked through it again. I had just over a mile to go. The music was getting louder. The cheering was getting louder. The pain was getting louder. I fought my body to keep moving forward. I got to a hill less than 1/2 mile from the finish line. I couldn't run it. I walked and a guy I had just passed jogged past me. "What hurts?" he asked. "Everything!" I replied.

At the top of the hill I knew I was close. I could hear the announcer call out names as the racers crossed the finish line. I reached down, farther than my heart, farther than my gut, farther than my toes. I reached down farther than I even knew I had, and I ran. I was determined to leave every ounce of energy I had out on that course and I did. I passed four or five people in the last quarter mile and would have collapsed after the finish line if it weren't for the excitement of the slip and slide the race organizers set up to celebrate the finish. I dove onto it, head first, and fast. Halfway down my calves cramped and I writhed in pain, but I kind of didn't care. I was done. I did it.

It wasn't a team sport, it wasn't because I had to, it wasn't for anyone else. It was for me, and it was because I could. My friends greeted me at the finish with cheers and hugs and highfives. I thanked husband for being an amazing coach (I couldn't have done it without him) and everyone who came out to support me. I sat down and tried to drink a celebratory beer. After 2 sips I was done. I couldn't eat, I didn't want to drink. My body was done. As much as it hurt, I was happy to know that I had indeed left it all on the course. I was a few minutes off of my goal time, but I ended up being the 4th woman finisher and 1st place in my age group. In the end I did a 3.1 mile run, 56 mile bike, and a 13.1 mile run in 5 hours 55 minutes. I got to stand on my first legit podium and I got a medal. My first medal.

I did it.