aka the bike and run.
So there I was, freezing cold and finally ran my way into T1. I found a seat and a volunteer promptly proceeded to empty the contents of my bike gear bag on the floor. In my semi-panicked state I accidentally yelled at her to not do that, since I deliberately overpacked to give myself changing options. I guess it’s my own fault I found myself changing without any aid later on :( Sorry volunteer!
Dried off (hotel towel ftw), rolled on my arm warmers, toe socks on, shoes, helmet, sunglasses. I underestimated how dirty my feet would be, they were caked in mud and grass from the run in. I packed a trash bag all the way from California to keep my wetsuit separate from my unused bike clothes. Turned out to be a good idea.
T1 time 12:48. Yikes! Next time I gotta skip the tea and scones. Just kidding, the arm warmers took forever to get on.
Norm was there to greet me on my way out.
I snaked my way out of town, and could feel the breeze blowing in between the buildings. That was all nothing though. As soon as I turned onto Beeline Highway, I was smacked in the face with 20mph sustained winds. Head on. I had a feeling something like this would happen, but was hoping it would happen later in the day and be of a lower intensity. I chuckled to myself and said “So it’s gonna be that kind of day huh?”. Time to focus on sticking to the race plan.
One of the first things coach drilled into me was that you can’t fight headwind, cuz you’ll never win. Being a more petite athlete, I am at quite a disadvantage when it comes to wind. I knew I had to bike smart, and focus on executing my plan. Mid to high zone 2 heart rate, 90+ rpm, 1/3 Picky bar every half an hour, 1 bottle of OSMO and a salt tab every hour. Keep a consistent effort. The pace will be what it will be.
Sadly that turned out to be about 10 mph each time I went up Beeline, but I zoomed back down going almost 30. I almost regretted renting the Zipps when sporadic gusts of crosswind (at 30mph!!) practically blew me over. Definitely did not feel comfortable staying in aero and almost lost control a few times. I kept looking to see if other people were getting physically pushed around but everyone else looked calm and composed. There goes my hope of a 17mph ride!
After the super fast descent, it was just a few turns and we were back at the start again. By now my brain had mapped out the whole bike course so I had my work cut out for me. Knowing it would be a long day, I told Norm to skip catching me on my first lap back so he can take a nap, as I’d need his support more in the later part of the day.
As the day wore on, the wind grew stronger. This is kind of what it felt like the whole time.
By the second time I got out to Beeline, I had to drop to the smaller gear up front but I saw most people were doing this so I didn’t feel so bad. Keep pedaling, keep fueling, keep hydrating. Setting an alarm every 30 min on my Garmin helped a lot with getting in enough calories. I was worried the beeping with drive me nuts but it worked out just fine. I knew the bike was just about being patient, being consistent and setting up for a good run. My nutrition and hydration were spot on and I was rather pleased. Time passed by pretty fast and I didn’t remember really feeling bored. My mind kept recalling two particular workouts and it gave me the mental strength I needed to get through the day. One was my crazy triple brick day, and the other was my 112 mile day in Napa. I just have to repeat those efforts again and I’ll be fine.
Oh God please don’t let me get blown over. There were a lot of accidents out on the course, and about 600 flats according to some reports. Craaaziness! Apparently the strong winds had blown off all these desert thorns and they were causing all sorts of trouble. Somewhere on my second? third? loop, a guy came up from behind and passed me. There was another guy riding behind him but I thought he said to me something like “your rear looks a little flat”. But I wasn’t sure, and when I checked at my next potty stop everything looked fine so I ignored it.
Oh hi Norm, it’s me! No crooked helmet this time!!
By the time I got to the third lap my lips were so incredibly wind and sun burnt. Should have packed chapstick in my special needs bag! Mentally I was getting a little worn out from the incessant wind, the constant white knuckling and the repetitiveness of the course. But I knew that it was just one more slow climb up Beeline, then it’ll take 10 fast minutes for me to roll back down and into town, then it’ll be all over. Be patient. No thinking about the run, just take it one thing at a time.
Somehow I made it back to the top of Beeline. I stopped to pee as I had the last two times, thanked the volunteers, rolled off and changed gears for the fast descent. Then I noticed my bike was riding funny. It felt like the road was bumpy but it definitely looked smooth. Oh no….. My heart sank as I pulled over. My rear tire looked like a snake that had been run over.
A flat at mile 100? Are you kidding me??
I couldn’t believe my luck. Then I thought about what the guy might have said to me earlier and I felt like an idiot. How long had my tire been flat and how much faster could I have gone if I saw it earlier?! Argh!!
Time to get to work. I was surprisingly calm (it must have been all the adrenaline). Good thing coach told me to pack 3 spare tubes! Luckily changing the tube on the 404s was just like on regular tires. However I couldn’t unscrew the nut past the valve extender and spent 5 minutes messing with that thing. For a split second I thought “Oh my God this is it. I’m gonna have to take a DNF because I can’t get this FRACKING nut to unscrew and I don’t have another tube!!”. Who the heck was going to have a 650 tube with an 80mm valve handy at the TAIL END of the bike pack? Norm had told me to bring the little tool that came with the valve extender and I hated myself for not listening to him. Then I realized I could just unscrew the extender with my hand. Crisis averted! Roadside assistance showed up just as I was ready to pump back up but I happily handed over my trash. Then I was back on my merry way to make up lost time.
Two other unexpected things happened on the bike:
- I didn’t eat the snickerdoodle cookies I packed in bike special needs. Usually I NEED some sort of pastry or baked good mid-ride to keep my spirits up, but when I got to the stop at mile 63 I just wasn’t feeling it.
- On my way back down Beeline that last lap, I passed the sweepers coming up the other way tailing a cyclist. I’m not fast by any means, but it was the first time I saw sweepers on the course. It was like a close encounter with death, and I knew I had to get a move on.
It was lonely by the time I rode back into T2. I’d been out there so long even the wind was finally starting to die down. There were very few volunteers left on course but a few brave souls stayed out to bring us home. Thank you for waiting for me!
Total bike time was 7:48:19 of which I had 30 whole minutes off the bike. The getting a flat thing didn’t help but I definitely need to work on not stopping so much. I stopped to pee at least 4-5 times so maybe I should practice peeing on the bike!
Into T2, found my run bag on wobbly legs. Total time 6:55.
Changed socks, slathered on more sunblock and FINALLY found some Vaseline for my chapped lips. I asked the volunteer if I should keep my arm warmers on. It crossed my mind for the very first time that it might get cold on the run. The volunteer told me it would drop to 55 that night. My brain only understands Celsius but I thought “Oh that sounds cold! I’ll keep my arm warmers on!”.
Very important tip: Check the weather forecast for ALL hours until midnight on the day of your Ironman.
I’m so used to only looking up the forecast till 4 or 5pm on my longest rides that I completely forgot I’ll be running in the dark. Maybe I thought I’d be warm from all that running (hah!), but either way I packed ZERO warm clothes in my run or special needs bag, and I lived to regret it. Very, very much.
But more on that later. So I got out on the run and it was still light out. Hooray!
I saw Norm a lot on the first loop, he was everywhere! Definitely a great motivator :)
Coach always told me, “When you take your first few steps of the run you’re gonna think HOW on earth will I run 26 miles like this, but that feeling will pass”. Maybe he drilled it down in my head so good that I bypassed that step in my brain. When it was finally time for me to run, I just thought about keeping it steady, one step at a time and I will get there. It felt a lot like doing all those Sunday long runs the day after a killer Saturday bike ride. I’ve done that so many times before, and it was just the same running on fatigued legs feeling.
No big deal. Legs, you’ve got this. Keep shuffling.
Almost immediately, it felt like someone punched me in the stomach. It was fine during the entire bike and I ate and drank with no issues but once I got running my stomach hurt like crazy. Was it the lake water? Was it fatigue? I may never know. But I proceeded cautiously, and continually assessed how things were going. To be honest I wasn’t sure which end I was about to spew out of (it felt more like up top), but nothing ever materialized. I shuffled along, kept assessing my stomach, and walked through every aid station. To be honest I was pretty disappointed in their food offerings – chips, pretzels, bananas, grapes, orange slices. Bonk breakers (ugh), Gu (double ugh). Where are my cookies? Peaches? Maybe a PB&J bite?
Silly girl, this isn’t a century ride..
I passed a tent handing out bacon, but didn’t trust my stomach. We ran to the other side of the lake and I saw Norm again. It was starting to get dark. I knew a lot of the people I saw were on their second loop and that it would get quiet soon. Time to enter the pain cave.
I thought I’d dread having to run an entire marathon after such a long day and to be honest I still have no idea how I pulled that off. I may have just blocked that thought out from my head and refused to comprehend it. In my mind, I broke it down into:
- Lap 1: Yay sunlight! Yay people! Scope out the course for lap two!
- Lap 2: Ok you know exactly what you’re up against. Your legs are tired but it’s just like doing a little 13 mile Sunday run after a rough Saturday. You can do this!
(Don’t tell my brain it’s already done 13 miles before that point)
The rest of the run was a little boring, a little traumatic and I still cringe at the memory of it. I saw Norm pretty regularly and knew where to expect him so it gave me something to look forward to. I stopped at practically every single porta potty like I had nowhere else I needed to be. Nope. I even waited in line for some of them. Just to make sure my stomach wasn’t going to empty itself unexpectedly. The pain kept nagging and I was worried I’d be forced to call it quits. But I’d come this far! All my friends and coworkers were watching (so I told myself) because I posted my bib number before the race. What was I gonna tell them, that I DNF’ed because I had a TUMMY ACHE? The show must go on. I kept forcing myself to eat the chips, the occasional banana and oh that warm chicken broth. The first first servings were amazing and I totally understood why people recommended it.
By the second half of the run I got quite sick of the broth but I was so cold I drank it just to stay warm. It gets cold really fast in the desert and I kicked myself for not packing a sweater in run special needs. Norm saw me and offered to grab my puffy jacket from the car, but I remembered the rule about no outside assistance and said no. It took every ounce of my being to say it, but I knew if I only did this Ironman thing once, I need to know I did it without any cheating whatsoever, however long it takes me.
You know, as long as I don’t collapse or have a stroke first. My stomach kept hurting and I was feeling a bit feverish. I started getting worried that my body was shutting down from fatigue, and trudged along conservatively. If walking didn’t make me feel better, I’d keep fake-running along. “Keep doing this until you figure out what will make you feel less crap”. Easy does it.
By mile 20 I was really stinkin’ cold and thought I wasn’t going to make it. I saw two people going back the other way running with space blankets and contemplated stealing it and running off. Instead I asked where they got it from and they said the aid stations had them. Score!!
Oh man. As flimsy as a space blanket is, it literally saved my life on that run. I wrapped it around me and ran with it like an idiot for the last 6 miles. It kept flapping around in the wind and everyone around me got annoyed but I didn’t care. I saw Norm again and told him I was so over this race, that I was never doing an Ironman again. But through the whole ordeal I didn’t shed a single tear on that course, and I’m pretty happy about that. “Everyone is hurting now”, I told myself when the pain and boredom got to me.
Around mile 23 I saw what I thought was the last of the runners heading out the way I had just come, and I knew I had to hustle. Doing math at this point was futile, but I knew there wasn’t enough buffer for me to walk the last few miles and make it before midnight. Jog-hurt-shuffling it was!
Finally, there it was. Back over the bridge, back on Rio Salado, and there it was the split off for the finish chute. I convinced a spectator to take my space blanket so it wouldn’t ruin the finisher picture, and headed towards Mike Reilly’s booming voice. Norm was right there in the crowd, and I saw him just before I turned and ran towards the nightsun made just for me.
I’d dreamt about this moment for the last 12 months, every time I got bored on a treadmill. Every time I’d choke up and tears would well up. Maybe that’s why by the time I finally ran down the finisher chute, I’d gotten it out of my system. Or maybe it’s because the chute was so short that I didn’t even have enough time to process it all and get emotional. At any rate, it was all over before I knew it. The crowd screamed louder, I felt my legs turn over faster, Mike Reilly called my name. I was an Ironman.
Just my luck, the clock broke before I got there. But maybe I can convince everyone I finished in 5:36:43, yes? :D
Run time 6:07:59 (ouch), of which at least 30 minutes were spent bellyaching. Final time 15:36:51. I’m not gonna lie, it was not the time I had hoped for, and it was not the time coach thought I could pull off. BUT – a lot of people DNF’ed that day; on the swim, on the bike….I didn’t. I made it. For a first Ironman especially on a day as rough as this, it was definitely a win.
I absolutely love the medal, it’s so beautiful!
Hardest I’ve worked for a bottle of water, but it was so worth it!
Norm was the best sherpa ever and in between stalking me on the run, he picked up my bike on my behalf, returned the rental wheels and dropped off my bike at Tri Bike Transport for its return journey to San Francisco. He even picked up my T1 and T2 bags so after I was done, we could head straight back to the hotel. Best boyfriend ever!
And with that, my Ironman journey came to an end. It was definitely not what I expected, I can’t say I loved every moment of it but I will certainly remember it all. And my brain is still trying to comprehend what I just achieved. Still don’t know how I made it happen…
It definitely takes a village to raise an Ironman, and I am so grateful for mine! Thank you so much to my wonderful boyfriend Norm, for tolerating my crazy schedule and madness over the last 12 months; to Coach Paul for getting me here and helping me get through it all; to Coeur for believing in me and saving my butt from a load of hurt with their super awesome tri shorts; to OSMO for keeping me pre- post- and actively hydrated all day since day 1; to Roka for the best 2.4 mile swim of my life; to my friends for their undying love even as I turned into a total flake this year; and to you my dear reader for following along my crazy adventure!