Monday, October 19, 2015

Race Recap: Ironman Louisville... an unexpected lesson in mental toughness.

For those keeping track (this one's for you, my negative 3 readers), Ironman number 3 is in the books. What I realized immediately following this last race is that I have now done 3 Ironmans in just over a year. And folks, I have to admit something that I don't really want to admit... I'm tired. I'm spent both mentally and physically and this off-season can't come soon enough.

Anyway. Grab a drink or two (because off-season, yay) and hunker down because this might get long.

I arrived in Louisville after an uneventful ten hour solo road trip to find that our house was unfortunately located in a less-than-awesome area of Lou. Travis and Kim had arrived earlier that afternoon and helped me unpack the car and settle in. Dinner involved BBQ at the Redneck Jew's restaurant (this is a legit establishment). The brisket sandwich wasn't great, but it did the job and we headed home to relax and watch the Maze Runner.

The next morning, I made waffles (breakfast of CHAMPIONS) and James joined us for breakfast so that we could head over to check-in together. Obtained the key for the weekend - the blue wristband - and had the pleasure of seeing both Erin and Meredith at check-in! Reunited! And it feels good! This would be their first IM (along with Travis), while James also had Wisconsin under his belt. It was raining off and on, so we escaped the rain in the Normatech tent and tried that out - Normatech virgin no more, it felt pretty nice. Yea, yea, that's what she said... or something.

Once the rain cleared for a bit, James and I did a quick bike/run on the course and got covered in mud. Poor Rosie went from sparkling clean to looking like she'd face planted in a pigpen. Headed home to spend the next hour cleaning her up and adjusting the speed/cadence sensor that had somehow worked itself loose. While I was outside riding up and down the street, I noticed that it wasn't shifting correctly (it was jumping gears) so I fiddled with that for awhile until it was running relatively smooth again.

We (Travis, Kim, James, Erin and I) headed out to drive the bike course and check out the hills. The loop is only 30 miles, so we ended up driving 80 plus miles but it was good to see the course - especially the "dreaded" out and back on 1694. That part actually looked pretty fun, but I heard stories about people recklessly descending and that made me a little nervous - especially since it was newly paved and pretty.

Dinner was italian beef which was delicious. We came home to pack transition bags and I tried to go to bed early... which ended up being 11pm (or later), but oh well.

The next morning, we nixed the practice swim (why chance the suspect blue-green algae bloom?) and I finished packing transition bags and headed over to meet a few of the SOAS girls. It was awesome. Jo, Andrea, Erin and I were there (Jenn, we missed you!) and Jo and Andrea's husbands and Erin's mom. We had a great time talking and laughing and before we knew it, it was past noon. I do feel like we are a close team, despite being scattered across the globe. The beauty of social media and our facebook group is that we get a glimpse into who each other is and once we meet in person, its not like we are complete strangers. I love that there is this network of women with similar yet different mindsets and goals and we are supportive and encouraging of each other - plus, it gives us a great sense of belonging.

Mom and Laurie arrived shortly after I returned home from brunch. I can't put into words how much it meant for them to be there. My moms - My MOMS! Spectating an Ironman is not for the weak of heart, its a long day and I so appreciated them coming to support us! I really missed Dad, but I knew that he was doing the supportive Dad thing from back home. We rounded up all our gear and headed to bike and gear check. My volunteer, Teri, was amazing. I gave her a hug, she made me cry, it was all very typical Heather behavior for the day before an Ironman.

Stopped at Joe's Crab Shack for a snack (mmm... lobster...) and they dropped me off at the house so I could hunker down and watch Kona all afternoon.

About an hour later, I was thoroughly immersed in my iPad, phone, and Travis's laptop with Kona coverage. Travis nudged me and said, "I think your mom is here". I looked out the window and didn't see the car so I sat back down. "You should answer the door", he said.

With the neighborhood that we were in, I opened the door and slowly peered around the door so I could see who was out there.

It was Dayle and Kevin.

I broke down. I made some noises that didn't sound quite human. I couldn't stop hugging them. It was pure, raw emotion and Travis captured the whole moment on video. I was thoroughly surprised, shocked... overwhelmed. She knows how important this is to me and when they showed up - I finally felt excited to get out there and race!

We Kona'd for the rest of the afternoon. Mom and Laurie came back and brought food so we could eat together for our "last" meal. After they left, Kevin, Dayle and I lounged in the living room and watched Ironminds and another motivational video. It was bedtime and I laid there for awhile, just picturing how the following day was going to go. Before I knew it, 3:45 am arrived and the alarm jolted me awake.

Half a Thomas blueberry bagel with peanut butter at 4am. 2 scrambled eggs at 4:30am. I dressed, packed my waterbottles + osmo and morning clothes bag with swimming gear and we headed to transition. We actually arrived shortly before 5:15 and the line was long. I checked on my bike, inflated the tires and loaded the water bottles. I saw Andrea, Jo, and Erin in transition and we hugged and wished each other safe and good races. Erin and I met up with Meredith and we headed down to swim start to wait in line. At 6:15 when we arrived at the swim start, the line was already more than 1000 people long. We walked and walked and walked to the end and Dayle, Kevin, Mom and Laurie met us down there. 7:30 was the official start and it was obvious that slower swimmers had positioned themselves at the start to give themselves the maximum amount of time to finish the swim/race - we saw them swim by as our line moved toward the start.

We donned our wetsuits, caps, and goggles and ended up at the start a little after 7:45am.

I jumped in and immediately began swimming past people. The initial 1/3 of the race is an upstream swim in the small channel between an island and the mainland. It didn't feel like we were swimming upstream, thankfully, and I unintentionally made my way toward the island until I hit sand with my hand. I got back on track and tried to swim straight, but it was a little difficult to do while constantly passing people and maneuvering around swimmers. The group thinned out significantly on the way back, though again, I didn't feel the downstream current that people speak so highly about. It was really difficult to spot the buoys, they seemed very spread out - but otherwise the swim was uneventful. I kept a comfortable pace, the water temperature was a glorious 69 degrees and I felt loose and ready to bike. The swim seemed to fly by and before I knew it, I arrived at the stairs to the swim exit.

Swim Time: 58:35

A bit of a jog to T1 from the swim. I had decided to don a sports bra and tri shorts under the wetsuit so that I'd have a dry top to start out with on the bike since it was likely to be chilly after the swim. I immediately regretted this decision when 1. the weather was only slightly chilly, 2. I got stuck taking off the sports bra and 3. I got stuck putting my tri top on. It took awhile to change clothes which made for another slow transition (someday... I will get better). I nixed the bike socks and arm warmers, though I (regrettably) elected to wear the calf sleeves (again, in the name of warmth) - have you tried to put these on with damp legs? Better yet, have you tried to put these on quickly? Fail, fail, fail! Helmet and sunglasses on, bike shoes in hand, nutrition in pockets and I headed out to see Rosie. Some amazing soul left a washcloth on the ground next to my bike - perfect for wiping some of the mud off my feet... I thank you kind soul... and I'm sorry if your washcloth was sacrificed to the transition gods but surely I was not the only one to borrow it...

T1 Time: 7:58 (yikes).

I felt awesome as I rode away from transition. The first flat 10 miles flew by and my average speed was shocking to me since I wasn't putting a lot of effort into the ride. At mile 10.5 was the beginning of some rolling hills and climbs but I kept a good pace throughout. I got really frustrated around mile 20 with the 1694 out and back. People were riding 2 abreast slowwwwwwly on the descents in the center of the lane - i was off the aero bars ready to brake anyway, but this ridiculous situation kept happening and there was no safe way to pass them at the speeds we were reaching on the descents. Once off 1694, a guy rode up next to me and said, "Hey - i really like how you tackle the descents - it shows confidence". Oh tri guy - keep talking dirty to me... I eventually passed him and left him behind, but that comment made me laugh whenever I thought about it later. I started to feel some fatigue after the first loop (mile 60) and rolled into bike special needs in need of some EL Fudge cookies and a swig of dew. They didn't grab the bag the first few times the number was called so that caused a delay and I was antsy as it was. I switched out bottles and grabbed some more food (bonk breaker, GU chomps, and powerbar wafer) and headed out within 2 minutes or so.

I attempted to stick with a couple of salt tabs on the hour and about 250 cals/hour nutrition on the bike. I was not hungry whatsoever, but forced it down nonetheless, knowing my run would suffer greatly if I didn't plan ahead. My stomach held up pretty well, but I was fading on the second half of the bike. I was looking forward to the last 30 miles which appeared to be mainly downhill, but when I approached 80, the headwinds set it and it felt like a continuous uphill climb until the final 10 miles back into town. That part, as you recall, was totally flat, but that headwind was exhausting! I tried to save my legs as much as I could but those 10 miles seemed to stretch into forever and the guys I was trying to chase down disappeared in the distance. The dismount line loomed ahead and it was like a beacon drawing me in. So ready to run - my favorite part!

Bike Time: 5:46:55

Put on socks, shoes, race belt, visor and grabbed the handheld water bottle. I'm really not sure how T2 took so long...

T2 Time: 5:49 (again, yikes)

After a few steps of jogging, I knew something wasn't right. My legs were utterly dead. I had no rhythm and my legs felt disjointed, as if one was longer than the other. My left knee was twingy, but not bad - that had been my biggest fear going into the race itself. The first mile seemed to take forever - I squeezed that out in under 8:40 but it physically felt like I'd just run a sub 5 minute mile (as if I have any concept of that speed). I knew my heart rate was high but I honestly felt too tired to do any sort of excess movement (like hit the one button on my watch to scroll to the next screen to show heart rate). Jo passed me between miles 1 and 2 and she asked how I was doing. "I'm hurting Jo", I replied. She said the same, but she looked good as she ran away from me. I willed myself through the next 2 miles because I knew the cheer squad would be stationed around mile 4 and I just wanted to see my people. From a distance, I could see the green and pink shirts and the posters hanging from the umbrella at a mexican restaurant's outdoor seating area. "I'm dying guys", I admitted as I ambled past. They told me to keep it up and they'd see me at 10. A girl in my age group sped by around that time and I had a gut feeling I would be out of the top 5 in the age group.

"Just gotta make it to 10" I told myself. I intermittently glanced at my watch which seemed to take far more energy than I had to give. My pace gradually slowed as the miles crept by. I started walking the aid stations to catch my breath and give my legs a break. I indulged in cola after a single failed attempt at gatorade (WAY TOO SWEET).

Somewhere near the turn around (mile 7ish) I had one of my famous internal chats with myself - Self, sometimes races don't go as planned, and logically, I know you know this, even if your heart does not. If you keep this pace, you'll finish with a 4:15-4:20 marathon and that's nothing to be ashamed of. You can continue to shuffle through this. It's not going to be pretty and it's not going to be fun - but you can do it. If you need to walk, don't be ashamed to walk. Don't just say fuck it and mentally quit, even if every fiber of your being is begging you to. You are not a quitter.
Self and I then shared a mental hug and high five. For a second, I questioned my sanity. But I continued to run.

After that hard-hitting talk with myself, I shuffled through to mile 10 and walked a little past the end of the aid station. A VERY ATTRACTIVE man touched my shoulder and said, "come on, I know you've got this" as he looked back at me. I looked him in the eye and all I could muster was a quiet "thanks". He turned back around and jogged away and I switched into a jog as I approached my people. "How are you doing?" they asked, a concerned look on their faces. I can't even remember what I answered, but I tried to muster a smile as I crept past.

Three more to halfway. Those few passed fairly quickly and I found myself on 4th street staring at the finish line. "Just a couple more hours and that'll be you", I thought to myself as I took the right turn to return back to the beginning of the loop.

As I ran past the now familiar course, I felt a bit of energy creep in. As if afraid to scare it away, I ever so slightly ran a touch faster for that 13th and 14th mile. My gait smoothed out and I started to finally feel more comfortable. It only took a 13 mile warm-up, but I found my legs out there near the finish line. 15 and 16 ticked by as I tried to maintain that pace and before I knew it, I could see the familiar faces. Dayle ran over to my side of the road, "You look so much better!" Oh thank God it wasn't just in my head! I asked them if they were going to the finish line and they said yes, so I bid them good-bye, knowing I wouldn't be seeing them after the turn-around.

I continued to feel better and better. I had my customary GU every 45 minutes and continued to indulge in the icy-delcious-not-quite-flat cola. Once I hit the turn-around, I found a girl with a "32" on her calf and it was on. I passed her, suspicious that she too was on her second loop. My speed continued to increase marginally and I could see my overall pace slowly ticking down. My goal was to be under 9:30/mile (that seems painfully slow) so I increased my turnover a smidge more with each passing mile.

I ran through the final few aid stations (Ain't nobody got time for that!) and realized I had no concept of my overall time. I tried to do triathlon math, I knew what my swim and bike were, knew transitions were slow and my run was slow - I was thinking it was going to be 11:10 or around that time, but I still don't know how to do multisport mode on this watch and I had no idea what time I ended up starting the swim...

Clearly, I utilize the 910 to the fullest extent possible.

Before I knew it, it was mile 25. Time to moveand finish this thing! As I turned onto 4th and could see the finish line and the sign says "left to finish", I felt that familiar creep of emotion and that tingle of tears. I was too mentally drained to have the full out emotional outpouring that I usually feel, but a hint of it was there. As I ran down the chute, I pondered what I would do once I got there. I considered jumping (as per usual) but in the seconds that I had left on the approach to the finish line, I changed my mind thinking that my legs would surely fail me if I attempted a jump.

It was one of those magical instances where you try to say two things at the same time and it becomes a new mangled word. I thought about jumping and my body got ready to do it, but at the exact same, I decided I would just stop at the line. Therefore, I didn't slow down on the approach. Can you see where this is going? At the line, something spectacular happened - I tripped over my own foot and slammed into the ground on my hands and knees. It was excellent! I looked up, volunteers didn't really look concerned (dudes, it looks like I just collapsed at the finish line of an Ironman), so I stood up, took a bow and heard the announcer say, "she's still smiling!". Another stellar finish in the books.

I headed immediately away from the cameras/live feed and I could almost sixth-sense the texts coming through on my phone questioning what just happened.

Run Time: 4:07:40

Overall Time: 11:06:56, 6th AG

Initially, I was super disappointed. In the minutes and hours that followed the finish, I thought logically through the day and gave myself a mental "get-it-together" smack in the face. It was PR, I did great in the swim and I came back from that awful run to put together a decent negative split (something like 2:08 for the first half and 1:59 for the back half) and I should really be proud of that mental toughness.

So, IMLOU - I can't say I came out and crushed you, but I learned a lot out there on the course that I will keep with me in my back pocket for future training and races.

For now... rest. recover. spend happy times with friends and family. next year will be here before we know it and we can do this dance all over again.


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