Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Ironman Princeton 70.3 - Race Report

I woke up on Monday September 22nd and there was no training schedule in my inbox from Coach Laurie for the week ahead.  Ironman Princeton 70.3 was done.  I did it.

I looked down at my wrist which had two thin, gold, Mantra band bracelets that Mike and the kids gave me for finishing the race.  One read, "You are my sunshine" - the song I sing to my kids in good times and bad (they sing it to me now too in their little delicious cherub voices).  The second reads, "She believed she could, so she did."  My husband is really perfection.  I couldn't ask for a more supportive, inspirational, caring partner who totally knows what to say when I've returned from a hard/great/crappy/easy workout and has dinner waiting after swim practice.  He was more nervous than me the morning of the race, which was one of those moments in life that you realize you need to thank God every day for leading you to the perfect person for you.

I didn't sign up for this race on a whim.  I had done a couple sprints the summer before and really enjoyed them - way more than I expected to.  I had been thinking about the 70.3 distance since the end of the 2013 season, but could I really find the time to do it?  Work, 2 kids, house, family out of state, teaching yoga......  Maybe the first question should have been, how much time is really required to do it?  I even sent an email to one of my best friends in December to see if she would bite.  No luck.

Then, the world shifted.  I got a call on Christmas Day that my 27 year old colleague Jenny Sedney passed away suddenly from a brain aneurysm.  Jenny and I started at Vynamic together in May of 2012.  We 1st met at a party Vynamic sponsored after the Broad Street Run the day before our 1st official day at our new job.  I remember driving home from that party and talking to Mike about how impressed we were with Jenny's confidence and poise; how she was at such an awesome part of life - old enough to know what she was doing at work, young enough to enjoy all the crazy fun that comes with moving to a new city.  I grew more impressed with Jenny over the rest of the time I knew her - she worked hard, was committed to her health, and had fun too.  Her death shook me to the core of me being and made me question my values.  This young, beautiful, vibrant young woman was gone.


I made some changes after Jenny died.  I had to start living NOW.  I made time to visit my friends who lived far way.  I called my family more.  I stopped working long hours and started to think about ways to spend more time with Mike and my kids.  Started thing about why, instead of why not.  I signed up for the Half Ironman.  

There is allot of alone time in the hours training for a long distance event.  I cried some tears on the road, trail, and water thinking about Jenny - how her death seemed so unfair.  She inspired me when I was aching and cranky about doing a workout.  NOW was the time.  I welled up before the race when I pinned a ribbon from Jenny's memorial service to my bike.  This race was for her.  For her family and close friends that miss her every day.

Jenny's cousins created an incredible Foundation in her honor called The Bee Foundation, whose mission is to reduce the number of deaths caused by brain aneurysms through awareness, research and education.  The Saturday before my race in Princeton they held the Inaugural Honeybash in Philadelphia.  I'm sure this is the first of many successes for this organization and I look forward to watching it grow.

Taper week was harder mentally than I expected.  I knew that I had to trust the plan and that my body was resting and rejuvenating in preparation for Sunday, but I just was itching to do more.  I tried to get extra sleep and enjoy the wealth of time I suddenly had.  I got my emails out to friends, family and co-workers with tracking instructions and loved getting all of the "Good luck" responses.   My amazing co-worker and friend Michele had completed Ironman Lake Placid last July and I think I texted her everyday with a new question - Do you pee in your wet suit?  Do you stop at the bike aid stations? How exactly does the wet suit stripper work?  Michele's excitement and positive attitude were contagious and I decided my strategy at that point was to smile during the race, even if I was dying inside.

I kept Mary home from pre-school on Friday.  I like having her around.  She keeps things fresh.  The kids weren't coming to the race so I thought this was a cool way for her to see the venue.  We arrived at Mercer Park in Princeton and went through the Registration process.  She was telling all the athletes in line with us that a triathlon is, "First, a swim.  Then, a bike.  Then, a run.  Then, you're done!"  She picked out a teddy bear for her and Michael and we headed to the athletes briefing. We made it about 30 minutes into the briefing with Mary treating my body as a jungle gym before she declared this to be the, "Most boring thing ever!"  We bailed on the briefing and drove to the swim start and bike transition area.  She grabbed my face with her little hands, looked me in the eyes and said, "Mommy, you will do great."  I knew it was smart to have her around that day.  

That night I finished packing.  Packing for a triathlon is more stressful than the actual event.  I am not proud of my attitude during the packing process (sorry family).  I have a checklist and after doing it a couple times am confident that I have the right "stuff".
Saturday after my parents arrived and we went to 2 soccer games, Mike and I left for Princeton.  We went to the village to catch the rest of the athletes briefing that I had missed on Friday.  When the voice of Ironman told us about bike support he was joking about the hand pumps for fixing flats - "Who uses those anymore?"  (Um, me.  Cringe.)  Mike was as entertained with the briefing as Mary was.... I was hanging on every word like some morsel of knowledge was going to change my whole race.

We checked out the Village and got some more swag.  I saw the test your speed to fix a flat booth and internally panicked - especially when I saw the record time being under 2 minutes.  This was an area I knew I was not prepared for.  Not only did I have my antiquated mountain bike hand pump, I hadn't done more than attend a fix a flat clinic the spring before.  I figured I would get a flat at some point during training and be forced to fix the flat (using You Tube) on the side of the road.  That training flat never happened and I never practiced at home.  I'll admit it - bike stuff intimidates me.  All the lingo, the expensive components, bike obsessed people.  I had a clearance model REI road bike with aero bars and an extra water bottle cage attached.  I slinked by the booth and resolved that if I got a flat I would start on it and wait for bike support to come around to finish it off.

At this point we needed to get the bike racked.  I headed out for a short workout and then met mike at the Bike transition area.  I got my tires filled by the bike support team and they also fixed my rear brake which he said was essentially not working.  Oops.  I think I convinced the bike kid to re-join the swim team at school so I figure that was my gift to him that he will be grateful for 10 years later (in the short term I gave him a $10 tip).  I lifted my chin and confidently walked my bike into transition (on numerous occasions during training rides I thought my bike needed a name but I never came up with one that felt right).  Wow did I have bike envy.  Cannondale, Cervelo, Specialized, Felt, Fuji, Trek.  It was impressive.  I remembered what my bike fitter told me when I got my bike adjusted last spring - "The machine that powers the bike is more important than any brand name."  That remained to be seen....  I racked my bike and walked out of transition.

Mike and I walked down to the swim start and took in the view.  We talked to a couple young guys who were down there and a bit panicky about the swim.  I told them the best thing you can do in the swim is to stay calm and we were in a nice calm lake for this swim.  Mike had some unhelpful swimming comments that were funny and I think those 2 guys really needed a laugh (he always knows what to say).  It was sunset and a really beautiful time at that lake.  It was starting to feel real at a new level now.

 Mike and I grabbed dinner and then headed to the hotel which was about 20 mins from the course.  I laid everything out exactly as I needed it for the next morning.  Multiple alarms were set and I closed my eyes at 10pm with a 5am wake up call planned.          
Race morning
I woke up at 4:55 and silenced my alarms.  I closed my eyes again and stayed with the stillness of the early morning, warmth of the covers on top of me and soft bed underneath me for a few more minutes.  I did my 20 breaths meditation exercise. I knew once my feet touched the floor the day would unfold powered by a body that was physically prepared and a mind that had walked through this days events more times than I could count.

I have a tough stomach and that morning it was queasy.  I knew it was my body picking up on my nerves and had to calm down.  I had a breakfast of half an avocado, half a bagel, water and a couple sips of coffee.  My start time wasn't until after 8 so I knew I had time to digest.  I got my tri suit and sweats on, packed up and we were off.  I was uplifted by the perfect temps as we walked through the parking lot to our car.  There were dozens of other athletes heading over to the course  with us with a variety of expressions on their faces.  We were all smiles.

As we pulled into the park we joined a line of cars.  We walked over to transition which was abuzz. The energy was pulsing through the crowd.  The lines at the porta potties were long, but Ironman had more than enough setup to accommodate the number of people.  I went into transition and setup my transition.  Every item in my bag had a purpose and place on Mary's lucky pink Tinkerbell towel that reads, "Just Be Yourself".  Bike shoes, with socks in them and a hand towel laid on top of them.  Helmet on aero bars with 3 Gu packs in it and sunglasses on tap.  Sneakers untied with race belt and bib on top.

I was lucky that I had a space next to me on the racks so it wasn't as tight for me.  The women next to me arrived and was very upset that someone had turned her bike.  I assured her that I did not touch her bike but would be happy to help her anyway possible.  Being calm and courteous is contagious. She settled down.  She had a serious bike with all the fixings.

It was time to walk to the swim start.  I grabbed my cap, goggles, wet suit and bag to hand off to Mike.  I started walking out and very deliberately took some deep breaths.  Mike joined up with me and we got a great position to watch the Pros start.  Mike commented on how calm I seemed.  I was surprised myself at how calm I felt.  The announcer told us the water temp was 70 degrees in Mercer Lake.  The sky was overcast and there was a mist on the lake.

The pros went off exactly at 7am and the age groups started every 4 minutes thereafter.  I knew I had awhile so we just watched the athletes start their journey.  This was definitely a highlight of my race.  Husband, wives, daughters, sons, grandfathers, sizes big and small were waving to their families and fans, giving last minute hugs and well wishes.  I knew what each of these people had put into the past months preparing for this moment.  It was emotional.  I welled up a number of times.

Racers were streaming in and out of the warm up area.  My plan was to wait until 7:45 to warm up since my start was scheduled for 8:14.  At 7:25 they announced that all athletes had to clear the warm up area at 7:30.  WHAT?!  I didn't even have my wet suit on.  I was disappointed, but didn't dwell on it since we had an in water start and I knew I could use the swim out to the starting lane.  I also did some different warm up exercises on land instead.  Heck, getting on my wet suit was practically a warm up.  At 7:50 I got glided up and put my wet suit on.  I handed Mike my bag, and he whispered our son Michael's favorite song in my ear, "Don't you worry, don't you worry child.  See heaven's got a plan for you."  (Listen to that link , you won't regret it).  I laughed out loud and responded with, "Dom-i-nation", which is what we say to the kids before soccer.  The tension had been broken and I had my theme song and mantra for the race.      

I got in line with the other 87 yellow capped clad women aged 35-39 and we discussed how much we were looking forward to wet suit stripping.  I smiled allot and made small talk. I wished my fellow racers luck in the race and I meant it.  It was powerful to look at a big group of strong women.  We stepped into the corral and now it was our turn to wave to our families.  I gave Mike one last hug and went down to the water.

We stood for a minute looking out to the water before they released us to get in and head to the starting buoys.  I confirmed to a swimmer next to me that it was a rectangle swim with 10 yellow buoys on the way down, turn left at the red buoy, and left again at the next red buoy before swimming back for 6 orange buoys and then go right at the red buoy to finish the swim.  The swim is my strongest leg so I felt confident.  The woman next to me had some trouble swimming straight and subsequently was pushing me over.  I figured it was a good time to warm up my arms and did some high turnover strokes to get the blood flowing and my wet suit adjusted.  Once we got the start we had a couple minutes to tread.  I got my Suunto watch setup in Tri mode and was ready to hit start a few seconds before the official start.  The mood at the start was positive.  There was a sense of detachment from the crowd we had left behind.

The announcer gave us the one minute warning, told us to take our marks and then the start blasted through the air.  We were off!

The water churned around us and we were negotiating for a clear space.  I got a hard kick to my left rib off the start, but shook it off because I was expecting something.  I quickly pulled away and started to get into a rhythm:  One, two, three, breathe left; one two three, breath right; one, two, three, sight.  I had a partner for awhile to my left for awhile, but she fell off after about the fifth buoy.  I was starting to bump into the more challenged swimmers and needed to navigate around them, which I also expected, but this annoyed me.  I was feeling really strong and also reminding myself to not take it all out here.

I got to the red buoy and turned left.  I was halfway there.  Holy crap I was doing it.  I started to think about the 56+ mile bike that was coming up and then quickly pushed it out of my mind. I rounded the next red buoy and was in the home stretch.  7 buoys left, 6, 5, 4....  My wet suit was now starting to aggravate me.  My arms were feeling heavy.  I wasn't expecting that.  I gave myself a mini pep talk, "You are 3 buoys away from finishing this swim.  No negativity.  No excuses.  Domination."  This race is a mental game.  My body had it, the only thing that would hold me back in this water was my mind.  3 buoys left, 2, 1, red buoy turn.  I saw a yellow cap next to me.  Sorry yellow cap, but you are NOT getting out of this body of water before me.  I turned on my legs and reached the shore before her, but she popped up wet suit free and sprinted out ahead of me.

I saw Mike smiling and waving at me as I moved from horizontal to vertical.  It was as if I was in a movie and the sound was turned off.  I targeted the biggest of the wet suit strippers, zipped my suit halfway down, and flopped on my back so he could get my suit off.  I breathlessly whispered thank you, grabbed my suit and jogged into bike transition.  I looked at my watch - 35 minutes.  Right on target.

I took off my cap as I approached my bike.  There were quite a few bikes still racked around me.  I toweled off quickly, dried off my feet, got on my socks and shoes.  Put my sunglasses on, stored my Gu in my suit, and put my helmet on.  I was a bit dizzy during transition, so took a moment and a big breath.  I grabbed my bike and headed to the bike start with a slow jog to wake up my legs.    

T1: Swim-to-bike00:03:39
Cycling is the newest of the 3 sports to me, so it's not as natural to me as swimming and running.  I got on my bike carefully and clipped in.  I had ridden this course in August so there was a mental boost in the knowledge of what lied ahead.  I knew the course was flat with lots of turns, bumpy at the start and there were a couple hills worth keeping in mind.  I wanted to stay steady on the bike.   This was not where I would win or lose this race - I just had to keep pedaling and stay focused. Domination.

I took a look down at my watch to see my speed and realized that something had screwed up and I wasn't seeing my pace (confirmed later to be User Error - again).  My heart sunk.  I was okay with this on the bike, but it was going to suck on the run.  I trust my body, but really push when I see my pace.  I decided that I would leave it alone and let the clock run.  I could do the pace calculations in my head and that would give me something to keep my mind occupied.        

I knew that I would see Michele at the first bike aid station at mile 18 and that was what the next milestone I was looking forward to.  I didn't expect to see a new friend Schuy and her daughter Avery.  Schuy owns a fantastic store in Chestnut Hill, PA called Indigo Schuy where I bought my Coer Tri suit.  Schuy and Avery are inspirational to me - I dream of racing with my kids someday.  They looked great and I was happy to see them together.

I passed the 10 mile mark and figured my pace was right around 20 MPH.  That is fast for me and I felt excited.  I figured I either had the calculation wrong or was just going out strong.  There were already a couple flats before I got to the first aid station.  I saw Michele and yelled her name.  She saw me and cheered back.  I don't know what it is, but seeing people you know on the course is majorly uplifting.  Seeing Michele put a genuine smile on my face and I felt good about where I was at.

I took in the landscape and noticed how much it had changed in a month,  The corn fields had transitioned and the green fields had turned golden.  I couldn't believe how many flats I was seeing.  I didn't know if this was normal, but I just prayed that my sturdy REI bike would hold up for me.  Being a strong swimmer means that many people passed me on the bike.  I was prepared for that. Since my wave was so late I was able to pass more people that I expected on the bike too.  I smiled at the photographers who were out on the course.  The volunteer and police support were incredibly impressive.  The course was really well marked and staffed.

I got through the few hills on the course and after the last one felt majorly relieved.  I was following my nutrition plan even though I wasn't feeling it.  I took a sip of Skratch to replenish my electrolytes and had 2 Blackberry GUs and a couple Cliff Blocks on the top of each hour.  As we got toward the end of the course I started to think about the run ahead.  I was close to 3 hours which was where I wanted to be.

As I got into the town and crossed the train tracks I felt ever bump to my bone.  Up until that point I felt like I could keep going on the bike.  Turning into the park was awesome.  I switched gears and started to get my legs spinning in the small chain to prepare them for the run.  There was a digital speed sign up and it said 18MPH as I passed.  The bike finish was in the same place as the start and I started to slow down as I got closer.  I was looking scanning the crowd for Mike as I got closer.  I dismounted the bike and started to jog through transition.  Mike was at the transition and I was so excited to see him I flung my hands in the air and dropped my bike. Oops!  It felt good to laugh.

I had finished the bike faster than I hoped.  While it may not be that impressive in the tri world it was good for me and an area I know I can continue to improve in.

I racked my bike.  Ditched my helmet and replaced it with a visor.  I switched my bike shoes for my Altra Ones.  My fingers were completely not working and it took me quite awhile to get my laces tied.  I took one more swig of my drink and then grabbed my belt as I headed toward the run course.
T2: Bike-to-run00:03:41
I hit the  button to transition to the next sport on my watch and it read lap 3, which was odd to me.  I didn't want to exert too much energy trying to figure it out so just took a mental picture of the time and would again calculate my pace - or so I thought.  I hadn't previewed the run course so I didn't have that mental edge.  I knew there were aid stations about every mile on the course so I could asses
s how things were going there.  My legs felt like they do every time I start running after a long bike - like they're slogging through a mud pit.  My initial 1.8 miles were a 7:18 pace and the next 1.8 were a 10:57 pace.

I was amazed by how many people were walking.  I didn't expect that at all.  My strategy was to run and then walk through the aid stations if I needed to, which I did for the most part.  I was really hungry.  I got orange slices at the first three aid stations and then a Bonk Breaker.  It was getting hot so when I could get a cup of ice I dumped it into my top.  Hallelujah.

As I was turning the corner to start the second lap I saw my coach Laurie and then Mike.  Again, it's such a mental boost to see people you know on the course.  I was still smiling, even though it was starting to feel tough.  There was definitely comfort in knowing the end was getting close.  I was at 58 minutes and knew if I kept up what I was doing I was going to be close to reaching my goal of finishing in 6 hours.

During the 2nd lap I was losing some steam.  I was so happy to see an aid station and in hindsight probably walked too slowly though a few of them.  Toward the middle of the 2nd lap I started walking in a small trail section and an older woman next to me encourage me to start running,   She said, "You are strong.  I can tell.  You're almost there.  Get running."  What do you do when someone says that to you?  You start running!  At this point I started looking at my watch allot more.  I had to get serious if I wanted to finish in 6 hours.

I passed through the last aid station and knew this was it.  I was tired, but happy.  Just one foot in front of the other.  Don't you worry, don't you worry child.  I saw Laurie and flashed a smile as she yelled to me.  Then Mike saw me and started running along me encouraging me to speed up and I could break 6.  I was almost out of gas which was good because if I had any left I may have run up and strangled him!  We exchanged some words and he was off to meet me at the Finish Line.  I dug deep and felt a surge of emotion as I heard and saw the crowd at the Finish.  I threw my arms in the air and gladly accepted the medal around my neck.

I thought I had a better sense of my pace, but this proved to me how dependent I was on my watch.  I was all over the place.  So much for trying to calculate my pace!  I expected to do better on the run, but overall am pleased with my time.

It's over!

Mike greeted me at the finish and I saw Michele too.  I felt great.  It was a surreal feeling to be finished.  All the training and time was worth it to achieve such a big goal, test my limits and embrace being alive!  Overall I did well finishing in the top 20 in my age group.

Lessons Learned:
1. I'm not a "crier", but I will cry before, during and after an Ironman.
2. If there is a swim warm up find out what time it will close so I don't miss out.  
3. Put Body Glide on armpits.  Wherever you don't have Glide on will chafe.  I learned this one the hard way.
4. If possible, preview as many legs of the course as possible. My run would have benefited from knowing the course better.
5. I need to figure out what wet suit works best for me.  Maybe go sleeveless or spend more time training in my sleeves.
6. I need to get more experience in open water.  I'm a confident swimmer, but not a very straight one when I'm out of the lane lines!
7. The engine truly is more important than the bike.  But, maybe I want a Tri bike......
8. I hate cowbells and screaming teenagers.  They do not motivate me.
9. Nutrition during training for everyday performance will be part of my focus next season.
10. I need to be 100% confident in how my watch works in Tri mode.  This messed with me, but I didn't let it totally derail me.
11. Having an experienced coach was worth every penny.  I highly doubt I would have been as successful and recovered as quickly without Laurie's guidance.
12. Having a supportive and understanding partner is really important to enjoying the training and race experience.