Sunday, May 18, 2014

Half of an Iron Man (woman)

I've put off writing this post because there is so much I want to say about it. There was so much preparation involved in finishing this race! This is kind of a two year (or more) journey. Let me start at the beginning...

In 2005 Jeff and I took an amazing trip to the Cayman islands. The island had been hit by a hurricane the fall before, so most of the resorts were closed, and we had almost a private beach to ourselves the whole week. It was so beautiful. There is a reef that circles the island, and so the water is mostly calm and full of tropical fish to see. We snorkeled like madmen.
We even took a little boat trip out to stingray city -

Where I got up close and personal with the natives (that's me with the yellow snorkel). So fun. I had the time of my life. day we decided to snorkel out to the encircling reef, to see if we could see new cool animals. When we got pretty close, I noticed that I was being pulled sideways and out further by some sort of current. Turns out there was a hole blasted into that part of the reef to allow boats to leave the island. This created a suction out the hole into open sea. We didn't have fins on. I was panicky and asked Jeff to help me get in. He told me later he almost didn't make it either. We kicked hard and luckily found a boulder we could stand and rest on for a bit until we had the strength to fight our way back in the rest of way.

Ever since then I've been terrified of open water and currents. We took a trip to Hawaii in 2007, and I almost had to keep my feet on the sand I was so scared all of the time. Not scared of scuba --weird right? I guess under water was a different thing in my mind. We saw this:

...and other cool stuff. I'll spare you. 

I knew I had to get over this fear. Two years ago I finally asked my friend to teach me to swim. I figured if I knew in my brain that I could swim a mile or half a mile, it would help me think through my ...issues.  The first time we went to the pool she asked me to practice floating, and was surprised to see me sink like a stone. I carry a lot of muscle that doesn't float very well. She laughed at me a bit, but was very patient. Mind you --I'd learned to swim in High School pretty well --it was part of our P.E. to swim laps, but I had to start from scratch. I walked on the bottom of the pool for a month just doing arms and breathing. I used the kickboard. Finally, after almost a year, I could "swim laps" --meaning I could do freestyle for long periods of time. It was a huge victory for me.
I'd been also taking spin classes, and Jeff bought me a really cool road bike.

I started riding on the road on my own and with my friend Sadie, and had some very embarrassing falls where I basically fell over before I could unclip my feet from the pedals. Just dumb. But I got to love biking. You see so much more country than you do running. I was ready to enter my first triathlon and chose the Echo reservoir tri. The tricky thing was open water. The first time I tried to swim in Spanish Fork reservoir to practice, I put my face in the water, and thoughtofdeadbodiescomingtogetme!!
The dark cold water on my face just felt wrong. It felt scary. It was completely different from the pool. So..I made myself go three times a week until I could get past it. My stomach would tie up in knots on the drive over, but eventually I could do it!

This was one of the proudest moments of my life --getting out of the water after the swim at the Echo tri. 
Later that summer, I did the Jordanelle tri --but an Olympic distance. 

This was a big accomplishment too for me. I could swim a mile in open water. But...BUT
That same summer my friends and I watched our husbands finish a half ironman race in St. George. Suddenly, this seemed like the pinnacle of epic baddie-dom for me. 

I signed up for next year.
There followed 8 months of fear (alternating with panic), then 4 months of hard training. 

(running in Moab to train for heat)

Training swim in Sand Hollow reservoir

There were times I wondered if all of the hours were worth it (some Saturdays I'd be gone for four hours on the bike, then change into running shoes and go out for an hour and a half run up and down the canyon. My kids got sick of all the wasted Saturdays!). 
It was also impressive how much stuff you need! We took a weekend trip to St. George to go through the course on a smaller scale, and this was our back seat. Yes we needed ALL of that stuff throughout the day.

But the training was worth it. Day of I felt maybe not fast, but fully capable of finishing. I was stiff and tired afterwards, but not sore. I was hungry for three days.
But, I climbed Snow Canyon on my bike without walking the bike once. I finished the swim without panicking once (although a lady right next to me freaked out and had to be pulled out by volunteers). I ran those hills in the heat and was fine. It's amazing what the hours of training do to help you prepare.

(Kai and Jeff in the foreground)

When I've read other bloggers' accounts of tri racing I was so interested in the actual prep. There is a lot of gear you need to race for 6-7 hours.
 Ironman gives you three gear bags. One for morning clothes you wear to get to the swim site (see the sweatshirt, pants and flip flops?), one for bike gear, and one for running gear. But, you wear the morning clothes, so the swim stuff actually goes into the gear bag the night before. In front is my "tri suit" --basically shorts and a tank top that you wear under the wet suit for the swim, then continue to wear on the bike, and finally run in.
So --for the swim you have cap, wetsuit,goggles, earplugs (for me at least or I get swimmer's ear)and towel (not pictured)

Bike you have helmet, bike shoes,socks, sunglasses, sunscreen, gloves,water,and a ton of food --lots of bars and gels --this had to be most of my fuel during the day because my stomach can't tolerate much food while running.

Not much gear left while running. I remember being so grateful Ironman had aid stations at every mile during the run. Plenty of ice to put down my shirt to cool off, lots of water, Gatorade, and shot blocks.

That morning we took one pic in the car in the dark before we got on the long bus ride to Sand Hollow. That was it until the end since there were no phones allowed on the course (although I saw a few anyway). We got up like 3:00 am to get there on time, but the sun was up before we started.

The start line was about .2 miles out into the water, and we weren't supposed to get in the water until the previous wave (group of swimmers) started. I was one of the dumb ones to actually follow this rule, and didn't make it to the start line on time. The waves were about 5 minutes apart, and so every 5 minutes I would get pummeled by the swimmers starting after me (told you I wasn't fast). This was a bummer because I don't like fighting for water to swim in, so I'd stop until they were past. This slowed my swim down by quite a bit. No panic though, so that was good. 

The bike was wonderful. Took me a little while to warm up (remember you are getting on the bike in wet clothes at 8:00 am) and so was a little slow starting out, but got better and faster as I went. What was fun was that there were a couple of ladies that were about at my level biking, and we would leapfrog for the whole course, and talk and joke a little. I felt like I made some friends. When Snow Canyon hit, I knew I was almost done. Hardest part of the course, it's near the end (actually about 15 miles from the end, but the last 10 miles is a fast cruise downhill --awesome but you earn it first going up!) but is the most gorgeous scenery. It was already around 90 degrees. I did stop to breathe two times, but I'd vowed not to walk the bike up any of it and I didn't. I pulled up quite a bit in rank during the bike section --made up time from my slow swim and got ahead of more people in my group. That was nice. 

Then the run. When I sat down to change shoes, I had a fleeting thought --how nice it would be not to stand up again... but I have a slow hobbly jog I can do when I have no energy, so I knew I could get going at least doing that. On training days I'd found that my legs loosened up after the first 7 minutes or so, and I would find some energy, and that's what happened this day too. I'd trained going up Hobble Creek canyon, and that was a huge advantage on this course. I could deal with the hills where they seemed to destroy other people. I also had a friend tell me to put a cup of ice into the front of my shirt, and another into the back at every aid station, and I think that was critical in keeping my core temperature down (it got up to 94 that day) I pulled ahead even more during the run section.

 Coming in, I got a huge high. I was so happy --more than I ever remember feeling at the end of a race. I think being able to eat on the bike kept my energy up, and knowing I did better than I thought I would on the bike and run was awesome. I beat my estimated time.

Worth it.


SJ said...

what an accomplishment! And great job facing your fears!

belann said...

So proud of you on many levels. I can't believe all the work and the gear that goes into the race.

Terry Earley said...

We are so proud of you facing your fears. You showed yourself how strong you are.