Thursday, November 15, 2012

I AM AN IRONMAN!!!

It has been 12 days since Ironman Florida.

And I’m still trying to process it all. 

I. AM. AN. IRONMAN. 

Me. The girl who couldn’t put her head underwater for years without having a panic attack. The girl who learned how to swim last year at the age of 28. The girl who...wait for it...wait for it...jumped into the ocean on November 3’rd with 3000 other athletes to swim 2.4 miles, then bike 112 miles, and then run 26.2 miles in 12 hours and 20 minutes!!! 

Whaaaa!?!?! Yeah, that’s what she said. ;)

I wasn’t going to write up a race report, but I figured this is a good way to share with family and friends who have asked me all about the race. It’s also a great way to figure out the things I did wrong and what I can do better next time. ‘Cause yeah...there will be a next time. :))

I warn you: It’s really long. You might want to just scroll through the pics. Or maybe skip to the “race day” part. :)

Pre-Race: 
The week leading up to IMFL was cray cray. Not because of anything in particular, but every little thing just seemed to affect me 100x more than it usually would. I can now contribute this to TAPERING madness, but at the time I was unaware (and had actually convinced myself that the tapering in training hours didn’t bother me). The only way that I can describe tapering is to say that it is like PMS x 1000. Yeah...that bad. Coach told me to avoid making any life changing decisions during tapering. I thought that was funny. Ummm, now I know why. 

Packing was INSANE. Fortunately, I had a good friend and long time Ironman athlete who wrote me out a packing and race list. Without this, I would have been clueless. So THANK YOU, Chuck! 
Everything (plus cold gear just in case), minus nutrition.
I tried to use as little gear as possible. 
Moving on... Adding to the emotionalism was my knee injury. I had hurt my knee a month out from Florida and couldn’t run. This was extremely frustrating to me because not only had I put so much work into my training, but I had made sure to rest and eat right consistently. I didn’t skip “rest days”. EVER. I listened to my coach. I went to bed early. I spent most weekends laying down after my long training rides/run. Yes, as with most people that are training for an Ironman: I was stuck in the tri bubble and void of any social life, but I was so good with my training, nutrition, and rest. Oh Lord, I swear, I was so, so, soooooo good. It was hard to accept the fact that alllllll that rest and eating right hadn’t shielded me from an injury. I realize this is life - sh** happens. But still... 

I hadn’t done a long run in over a month before Florida. I didn’t even attempt to run the week before the race. There was no point. It hurt. So I just stayed off my feet the best I could and kept icing. On the 14’ish hour drive down from Florida, I kept my leg elevated and drowning in biofreeze, while popping the ibuprofen. Some days it hurt to just walk, but I knew come race day, I was going to do the distance anyway. 

On the drive down, legs elevated, and reading
material galore. 
Lunch on the drive down
(kidding, kidding!)
We got to Panama City Beach on Wednesday afternoon and picked up our race packets before checking into our condo. There wasn’t a line of athletes since we were there so early. Even though we didn’t have to stand and wait, I couldn’t help but hang out by the “athlete check-in” sign for a few minutes. Just, ya know, soaking it all in. Then Kevin and I went over to the Skin Strong trailer to see Chandi and pick up my bike (THANK YOU, Chandi, for hauling it down with y’all). 

Always good to see Chandi!!! 
After getting Cujo (my bike), we headed to the condos. It was absolutely gorgeous out, but crazy windy. The plan was to ride a little before meeting the gang for some pizza, but it never happened. I got ready to bike, went outside, and then almost got knocked down from the wind. Realizing that nothing I could do at this point would enhance my fitness for race day, I went back inside and chilled ’til dinner....enjoying the BEAUTIFUL beach view. :) 

Ahhhhh, heaven! 
Thursday....Thursday. What happened Thursday??? 

Oh, yeah... so Thursday I met with the guys for a short swim and bike. On that note, let me just say this: THERE IS NO WAY I  COULD HAVE COMPLETED THIS DISTANCE ALONE. From my tri buddies that I was able to train and race with (Kevin, Richard, Jborn, Jeff, Ron, John) to my ultimate support crew (Kim, Renee, Thomas, Jenna, Toni, Jess, Alicia, Vicente, and the rest of my family & friends), I was surrounded by so much encouragement! 
The most awesome guys on the course! 
After our first ocean swim together...and my first REAL
Ocean swim. Ahhhhhh! 
After our swim/ride brick, we made a “short” trip to Wal-Mart. There were athletes everywhere with the blue “ironman” race wristbands. As I was leaving the store, a stranger walked beside me, asking me what I wanted for dinner. I was so confused because I had never seen this guy before. After a short minute, he looked at me, and said, “Oh!!! You aren’t my wife!!! All you Ironman look the same!!!!”. As he walked away, searching for his wife, I busted out laughing. 

Then the guys showed up...and made me crack up some more. I mean, how can you NOT laugh at this????

Kevin sportin’ a new do
I am SO thankful for friends to help break up the emotions I was feeling on those pre-race days. I was really emotional, y'all. At one point, when we were walking down to the water to do our wet suit swim, I just started crying. My knee was hurting just to walk and I was really down about it. The guys shared some of their mishaps and injuries, then reassured me that we were all going to be ok. It helped me a lot to know that we were all “struggling” and taking on this distance together. It was scary. But I wasn’t alone. And that made a world of a difference. My advice to anyone taking on the Ironman distance for the first time: train and race with friends if possible.

Thursday night, I got to hang out with my sister, brother, and his amazing girlfriend (that helped a lot!), while getting all my gear bags ready...and slightly losing my mind. We are given 5 bags to fill: Dri clothes bag, run gear bag, bike gear bag, run special needs bag, bike special needs bag. Thank goodness for Chuck’s list that helped me survive this part too! 

Getting bags and numbers ready! 

Friday!!! 

Friday I went for a swim/bike early, before we checked in our bikes and handed in our bags. Then I was able to make my rice bars (for nutrition on the bike) and waaaaaaaaait for the rest of my amazing family to arrive. 
Last swim before Florida! 
Pic I took while riding Cujo down the finishing
chute the day before. I couldn’t resist... ha.
Schaller!!! 
Bike all checked in! Eeeeeeeek!!!
Dropping off gear bags
Friday afternoon, after I took a short nap, my brother walked into the condo all sweaty, announcing that he just did his own Ironman. Then he told me to look over the balcony... 

“Kick some butt Kevin N Patty"
Yup. I have the coolest brother ever. :)

Friday night is kind of a blur to me. I got tatted up, saw my other family arrive, and made sure I had all my gear and bags ready. 

I want to take a moment to share that Ironman Florida and all the training I did was to honor our family's “fifth” brother, Pfc. Joshua Jetton, who lost his life in Afghanistan on June 20’th, 2011. I was also raising awareness and support for TAPS (the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors), an organization that helps the families of our Fallen Heroes. Josh and TAPS were my “one thing”, what I focused on when my training hurt the most. I thought of the cause, the families, and of our Fallen Hero. Through the Ironman Foundation, my family and friends were able to raise over $1700 (my goal was $1,406) for TAPS. I can’t even begin to describe how much that means to me -- that Josh’s life and legacy was honored by helping other families. To all those that gave - THANK YOU. Thank you so much. (Fundraising Page). 

Tatted up! Go ARMY!
RACE DAY!!! 

Awwwwww yeeeeeeeah, here we go!!!!  We all woke up roughly around 4:30ish. I had my usual race morning/long training day breakfast of brown rice cereal, banana, and peanut butter. Along with a cup of joe... :) I changed into my rEvolution Multisport kit (so that I would look good, ya know...), grabbed my nutrition bars from the fridge and freezer, and made sure I was good to go. Around 5:30ish (I think?), we all headed down to T1 to drop off our bike and run special needs bags (these are the bags that we get half-way on the bike and run courses so we can put nutrition and other things in them to pick up). I met up with Liz to get my hair braided back (it’s always easier to see when hair isn’t in my face). Then I got to see my family! My little niece hugged me so tight! It was so amazing just to see them all there before heading down to the swim start. I kind of lost track of time just seeing everyone and that was when Kim said, “girl, you gotta go!!!!”. Snap. I hurriedly put on my wetsuit, wrapped and PINNED MY CHIP around my ankle, shoved a piece of bar in my mouth, and then jogged down to the start. I could tell my knee was hurting, but I just pushed it out of mind. The rest of the day, I refused to think about the injury. 

My peeps walking to T1! 
Liz had me all good to go. She is awesome!!!

My Iron Sherpas - Nee, Tom, Bella, Jenna, Tones, and CJ! <3

Just keep swimming....

The swim start was INSANE. It reminded me of cattle being herded. We all had to filter through the narrow opening and then cram onto the beach. I was nervous about getting trampled so I started waaaaaaaay back in the right corner (as far away from the buoys as possible). I kept thinking I was in the back, but then I’d see more people cram behind me. So I’d go and get back behind them...and the rotation continued. 

Athletes herding in!
On the beach before the swim. My bro must have taken this
pic b/c I found it on my iphone and had to share.
 (Josh’s nickname is Major Rager). 
The swim start is similar to a massive marathon start. When the gun goes off, all you can do is shuffle inches forward until you hit the water. I started my Garmin right when the gun went off and pressed lap when I was able to touch the water. It took almost 3 minutes before I was able to get to the ocean and then another couple of minutes before I actually could get through some of those initial waves to start swimming. It was pretty dang rough at first! 

The first loop of the swim I was really off course...and that’s fine. I think this is because I was trying to stay away from as many people as possible. It didn’t really bother me to be surrounded by bodies. Heck, I even like all the contact kicking and hitting. But I just wanted to be able to actually swim, which is hard to do when you are hitting people instead of water. 

The Florida course is two loops. We swim 1.2 miles then get out of the ocean, run over the mat, get shoved around some more, and then go back in the water for another 1.2 miles. I did my first loop in 40 minutes, which I was happy with considering I swam pretty far off course. 

On the second loop, I tried to stay closer to the buoys because there weren’t as many people as at the beginning. It was hard to sight where the course was because of the waves. I tried to time my breathing so that I could look up and sight when high on the wave. I was kicked a lot (my legs and ribs were bruised up) and my goggles were knocked off the second loop. I had the goggles under my swim cap though so I was able to grab the cap and goggles and didn't lose them in the ocean. 

The main things that bothered me on the swim was the wetsuit rash and my breathing. I alternate breathing when swimming, but I breathe better on my right side. I don’t know why. But I always seemed to get better times on this side in training (and also at the Branson 70.3 this year). When going at race pace, I usually switch from breathing every 3 strokes to every 2...and like to go to that right side. The problem with this at Florida was that my right side was facing away from the buoys/beach. So I was not able to get an idea of where I was (like at Branson) while breathing if I used that right side (doh!). The good news is that I can easily switch to the left side for breathing every 2 strokes at race pace because I practiced this in training. It isn’t as efficient, but it works. The other problem this caused was the wetsuit rash. I don’t know if I was over rotating too much on that left side because I had some crazy burning on my neck while swimming. 

Nasty, I know. But I had raw spots all around my neck and hairline.
This was taken the day after the race. 


When I got out of the ocean, I saw that my time was an hour and 18’ish minutes. I wanted to get to the mat by 1:20 and so I hurried out of the water as fast as I could to hit that mat by 1:20. Well, I made it. But my time didn’t. Apparently, I had lost my chip on the swim and so it didn’t show up. I didn’t realize this yet though. 

I hit the wetsuit strippers and got my wetsuit off in a jiffy! The guys didn’t say anything about my chip being off so I was still unaware of it. I ran up to T1, yelled at my bro and jenna (he said I reached him at exactly 8:22am), grabbed my bike gear bag and ran into the changing area to put on bike shoes, helmet, and stuff my pockets with rice bars. 

Running to find my bike bag...
 And so began the panic attack. 

I sat down on the chair provided to put on my bike shoes and realized my chip was off. Holy hell! I stopped breathing. I had to gasp for air as I started throwing things around my bag to try and figure out where my timing chip could be. I started yelling that I needed a chip, but I didn’t seem to get any volunteer's attention. So I did the only thing I knew to do: I ran my ars back down to the swim start to look for it. Yes, I realize NOW that this is not a rational thing to do. Heck, the chip is probably lost in the ocean. But I was freaking out at the time. I knew I needed a chip to do the race . I was crying, trying to catch my breath, and screaming my race number, “149!!! I need a chip!!! I need a chip!!!”. I went back down to the wetsuit strippers and basically got in everyone’s way. I was frantic while yelling for a chip. I’m sure I looked like a crazy person. Well, okay, I was a crazy person... a crazy AWESOME person that needed a chip. ;) 

Finally, a volunteer ran up to me and told me that he would get me another chip and meet me at the start of the bike. I ran back into the changing area, grabbed my stuff, and headed to find Cujo. I couldn’t wait to get on my bike. I spent approx. 12-14 minutes in transition. Way too long. 

Heading to bike, while getting slathered
with some Skin Strong sunscreen
LIFE IS A HIGHWAY, I WANT TO RIDE IT...

The first thing I did on the bike was drink water. I knew I had taken in a considerable amount of salt water on the swim and I didn't want to have a Galveston repeat and get sick. I just kept drinking water. I felt good. I didn't feel sick to my stomach at all. To make myself go easy for at least the first 20 min on the bike, I kept my gear in the small ring. Maybe that was a little extreme, but I really didn’t want to screw up the bike. I kept hearing Coach Dave’s words, “Don’t kill the bike. Don’t kill the bike”. So for the first part of the bike, I just kept spinning to get my HR down and be smart. A TON of people passed me, but I just tried to focus on my race and not get caught up in the moment of wanting to go faster. I kept reminding myself that I would be passing a lot of these people after mile 40 when they got too tired. 

The bike was heaven. I did EVERYTHING according to plan. I didn’t go hard. I stayed hydrated. I kept eating my rice bars (even when I didn't want too). I just stayed on schedule and told myself to do exactly what I did in training with Coach Dave. The bike actually went by really fast for me. I knew the course pretty well from all the hours I spent riding it on the computrainer. I knew when I needed to expect a little bit of grade and when I'd be getting a teeny decline. I listened to my coach. I didn’t kill the bike and my legs stayed strong. 

I stopped at my bike special needs bag at mile 57-58’ish, put bio-freeze on my knee, took ibuprofen, and switched out my rice bars with some cold ones (I had frozen them the night before and brought extra). I also put on some more skin strong slather (definitely dealing with some chafing on the bike so that helped!) and talked to some of the volunteers. I think I was a little too chatty... 

I was pretty comfy on my bike... :)
The rest of the bike was awesome. I was content and happy. I knew that I could push more, but I didn’t want to kill my legs for the marathon I had to run afterwards. This distance was brand new to me and I wanted to play it safe. I’m glad that I did. I had absolutely no issues with feeling fatigued or hitting a wall on the bike (or the whole race for that matter). The weather was perfect too!

The only thing that frustrated me on the bike was all the people drafting. FREAKIN' INSANE HOW MANY CHEATERS! It was so unfair because I'd have a group of 12-15 riders wheel to wheel try to pass me and I'd have to drop down to like 16mph just to let them go by so I wouldn't get a drafting penalty. It absolutely blew my mind how many people were purposely cheating. I know there are some parts where it is hard to stay away from others with so many cyclists, but it was really out of control with the drafting. Okay, okay, rant done. 

Going back into town, we hit a little bit of a headwind. Again, I didn't push it too much because I didn't want to burn my legs out for the run. I felt good coming off the bike. No....I felt GREAT coming off the bike. I had nailed my nutrition and I had no real fatigue. I did a flying dismount and went to hand my bike to the volunteer. It was then that I heard Kim shout that my chip still wasn't working. 

Helllllooooo panic attack #2!

I found another volunteer, and another volunteer, and another volunteer, and...so on, until someone could help me. I really think I talked to about 6 people. Finally I went and changed into my running shoes, and waited for my new chip that they were bringing. It was at this point, while trying to calm myself down with the words my friend usually says to her 9 month old son after he has a little fall, “it’s okay, you’re okay”, that I realized I had no more nutrition. Ahhhhh, crap. After ALL the many, many months of practicing my nutrition on runs, I had forgotten to bring it to the race in the morning. 

I was a little upset at myself at that moment, but there was nothing I could do to fix it so I got over it fast. I figured I could hit up coke instead since it was offered on the course. I had used coke on training runs before so I knew it would be ok.  I took some ibuprofen and put bio-freeze all over my knee. That helped a lot. I grabbed my brand new 3’rd chip and headed out. 

WITH EVERY STEP YOU TAKE....

Within the first mile of the run, I saw Brad talking to his parents. He was on his second loop on the run, but was really sick. I was so happy to see him so I stopped to talk. I think I was still a little emotional over the chip thing ‘cause all I can remember is crying about my chip and nutrition to him. Poor guy...  I knew he used the EFS liquid shots too so I asked him if he had any that I could use. That worked out good to give me some fuel for the rest of the run. Thank you, Bradley!

Stopping to pose.... I don’t know why I’m leaning on my quads
I think i was running out of poses... 
Brad ran with me for about a mile, to which I am extremely grateful! He told me that it would be really quiet on some parts of the run and that it would be tough mentally, but I think I was actually looking forward to the quietness. I was so used to it in training.

Thomas found me at some point on the run and told me that my chip was working finally. BIG EXHALE! That helped me so much mentally at the time. I don’t know why, but it just gave me relief. Unfortunately, on the ironman site it looks like I still don't have any time (except my bike, I think).

Whatev. Stupid chips. I still got my workout in.


I hit up some coke around mile 7. I also had a half banana at some point. My pace was pretty slow starting out, but I knew it would be. And I also knew that to try to push it at first would kill my legs. I kept telling myself that, "a shuffle is better than a walk"....so that's pretty much what I did. I made sure to drink at every aid station. I made sure to be hydrated. And I just kept moving. I didn’t want to stop. EVER. 

Eventually, I ended up doing a 2.5 mile shuffle followed by a .5 mile walk. Over and over. It gave me a smaller goal to aim for. Sometimes my shuffle would be 11 min miles. Sometimes it would be 9min miles. I didn't let it bother me. I just told myself to keep moving and not stop. My knee hurt, but so did everything else. I just refused to think about it.

What helped me the most on the run was knowing that I could see my family from time to time. They cheered so loud and shouted excitedly every time I saw them. It was amazing! They were all amazing!! They even had a cowbell clanging loud! haha.


I had more ibuprofen and bio freeze in my run special needs bag so I grabbed that at mile 13. I also had a liquid shot of caffeine in there (just in case). I took a sip of that, but not too much. I’m glad I had the caffeine to give me a little boost. I think nutritionally I was pretty depleted. Oh, I also had some peanut butter m&m's in my special needs bag as a treat to look forward to during the race. I can’t tell you how many times I thought of those M&M’s. Ha! 

With my bag of M&M’s at mile 13’ish
As happy as I was to have those M&M’s, I only ate about 4 and then I chucked 'em. They were good, but I didn't want to mess my stomach up and so far it was doing ok. I started taking chicken broth in after mile 13 on the run. Towards the end, I was still feeling good, but a tad delirious. I seriously forgot how long a marathon distance was and had to ask one of the guys next to me how long we were running for. :) Yup. At that point, I was under 2 miles away though so it was good.

With less than a mile to go, I saw Richard. He was just finishing his first loop of the run. He told me that he was going to run with me to the finish. I can’t even tell you how much that helped me too! I was so excited to see him! I was tired. Too tired for whatever pace he was pushing at the time.

But I made it to the finish.

As my brother screamed, “Encore! Encore!!!”, I danced with a big smile on my face. 





I AM AN IRONMAN!!! WOOOOHOOO!!!

After I crossed the finish line, I hugged my family and chugged chocolate almond milk. It was my only request of food/drink and they had brought it along in a cooler with a protein shaker (they know me way too well! ha!).

My reason for happiness: the whole cheer squad! Love you all!
POST RACE:
I inhaled a chicken sandwich, some pizza, a spinach and cheese crepe, potato chips, chocolate milk, and I don’t really remember what else. I also spent a good amount of time in the bathroom and laying in the bushes while waiting for my friends to finish.

It was worth every minute of it. :)

Looking back, I am amazed at the experience and beyond thankful for all those that helped me get to the finish line. Although the distance was crazy and I was extremely nervous about completing an Ironman, never once during those 12+ hours did I doubt my ability to finish. I knew I could do it because I had a great coach who trained me to do it.

When jumping into the ocean for that 2.4 mile swim, I thought of all the 5000-6000 meter swims Coach Dave had me do in preparation for the distance. When running up the beach after inhaling a good amount of salt water, my body was thankful for all the swim/run bricks to get used to the feeling of nausea while training. When riding 112 miles outside in FL, I thought of all hours upon hours of riding on the trainer in AR while staring at the wall or computer screen (and it felt like heaven). I recalled the nonstop practicing of nutrition, the warnings to “be smart and don’t try to be a hero”, and the advice to enjoy the journey (see, coach, I listen!). When shuffling through the 26.2 mile run, my legs got reacquainted with all the times when my only goal was to...just. not. stop. As I recover from Ironman Florida, I can’t help but be excited for the coming months of winter training with the gang from rEvolution Multisport. Thank you, Coach Dave! And Coach Brent, Mary, and Carley! YOU ALL ROCK!!!

Next?? Ironman Texas in May 2013. Yeeeeeeeehaaaaaw!