Thursday, August 14, 2014

Stripped: Ultraman Canada

July 10.  10:13 pm.
The message from my teammate read:  Team HPBers!  My run pacer for Ultraman just bailed on me.  Anyone want to go to Penticton July 31-Aug 6- all expenses paid?  Let me know if you are interested and I can provide more details.  Would need someone to run with me 2-3 miles, every other 2-3 miles, after mile 20.

July 11.  4:09 am.
I saw the message on the team page.  I sent a quick response:  Let me check my schedule.  This would be awesome.  Not getting my hopes up... but I'll let you know in a couple of hours.

July 11.  7:59 am.
I arrived at work.  My calendar was completely clear.  I had enough PTO to take the two days I needed to make this happen.  The other 5 days were my normal days off during this block.

I texted HPB:  I can get the time off for Ultraman Canada to help Barry.  I would love to go but I'm guessing it's really bad timing for Wisconsin training.  Tell me I have to stay home...

July 11.  8:14 am.
I received a response from HPB:  Haaa!  Honestly you can totally do it.  You have so much work in the bank already that we can afford to do this.  No pressure but if you want to!  ...

She continued:
You would be perfect for it because you can be a hard ass and plus you are a cute girl so he won't be able to wimp out in front of you- all key...  

Blame it on me...  I'm putting it on your training plan. 

By 4:30 that afternoon, the announcement had been made, I was officially crewing and pacing for Ultraman Canada... something I had been secretly dreaming about since Barry first told me about it at our team camp in February.  As an ultrarunner, I have been crew/ pacer for several friends tackling the 100 mile distance.  I know from experience that there is no better way to gain experience than by crewing.  Ultraman is something that I aspire to do one day and this was my chance to go backstage and see how it really plays out.  I didn't know it then, but I was in for the ride of a lifetime.


July 31.  4:20 pm.
After a long flight, and what seemed like forever in the car from the Kelowna airport in British Columbia, I arrived at the Days Inn Penticton hotel and conference center.  The crew meeting was already underway so I found an empty seat near the back until there was a break and I could join my team at their table.  I was so excited to be there!

The race director covered the bike and run course in detail.  Instructing crews on the rules and pointing out specific road hazards that might be encountered.  I had read every ounce of material on the website so there was nothing unfamiliar to me.  As I looked around the room, I saw 29 athletes surrounded by family and friends.  Already, this felt nothing like Ironman.  The air was electric with energy, but not ego.  

After the meeting ended, I had time to squeeze in a quick shake-out run before the team picked me up for dinner.  I got to meet our team captain, Rich Sawiris of fame.  Richie, as he is affectionately known, was the brains of the operation.  He had a spreadsheet outline to keep track of calorie and fluid intake, time and mileage at each checkpoint, as well as predicted and actual calorie (kJ) expenditure based on Barry's power meter.  It was insane to see how close Richie's predictions were to the actual numbers... literally within 20 calories throughout the entire 12 hour stage.  I recognized immediately that Barry was in good hands and began plotting ways to convince Richie that one day he should crew for me at Ultraman.

The final member of our crew was Barry's wife, Johnna, otherwise known as Trophy Wife.  Johnna has enough energy for 10 people.  Johnna and I had hung out and biked together at our team camp in February and I was excited to spend more time with her.  About 2 months before Ultraman she underwent open heart surgery to replace a valve that had been abnormal since birth, but only recently had begun to cause problems.  She said there was never a question as to whether or not they would still go to Ultraman.  As long as she was cleared to travel (which she was) she was ALL IN in support of her husband.  Johnna is pretty bad-ass in her own right, as an athlete and an attorney, but crewing together at Ultraman I was exposed to her nurturing side as she endlessly tried to anticipate Barry's every want and need.  She did an awesome job helping minimize his energy output whenever she could.  

Over dinner we talked and laughed... a LOT.  Aside from being a technical genius, Richie is also very entertaining.  There was never a moment in his presence that I wasn't laughing.  Together the team reviewed the game plan, but also recognized that day 1 would be a lot of trial and error and we would make adjustments along the way.

I sat down with Barry the night before Ultraman to ask him a few questions.  I was scrambling to take notes as he was talking so these are not exact quotes, but I tried to convey responses as closely to his answers as possible.

Barry, when did you decide you wanted to do Ultraman?
I scoped out the race a couple of years ago but wasn't prepared physically.  I started working with (coach) Hillary (Biscay) 2 years ago, and my training level began to increase.  One cocktail too many in November and I submitted my application.

What was Hillary's response? 
I didn't tell her right away as she was getting ready for the Ultraman Hawaii Championships.  I waited a couple of weeks and then told her.  She was psyched.  She's always looking for an excuse to turn up the volume and intensity.

How did your training change after your application was accepted?
It didn't really change until after Oceanside 70.3 (at the end of March).  I signed up for a 200 mile bike ride (double century) in February, and we had the 5 day training camp which was a lot of volume.  After Oceanside I had two-a-day workouts almost every day.  I couldn't come home from work and chill, rest up for the next day.  I was always doing another workout after work.  I had a lot of 10k swims, about one a week.  Lots of band-only (swimming freestyle with a band holding ones ankles together) work in the pool and lots of PBB (pull sets with paddles, buoy and band).  The good part of training in May and June was that I couldn't eat enough.  I was burning so many calories with training I could eat whatever I wanted.

Did you have any tune-up races between Oceanside and Ultraman Canada?
I raced the Whoos in El Moro 50k which had about 6500 feet of climbing.  It was hot.  I ran at a "run all day" pace so I felt good, except for the last 3 miles which were all downhill.  Every rock hurt.  (Note: he finished in a respectable 6:24:16).

And I raced Ironman Coeur d'Alene in June.  I was instructed to swim all out, and ride my hardest IM bike leg ever.  I came off the bike in 8th place in my age group, and I'm never in the top 30.  Then I had to run the marathon at my "run all day" pace.  It was the best I've ever felt after an Ironman.  Except that I got food poisoning 24 hours later after eating a half price yogurt parfait.  (Note to self:  do not buy discounted perishables...)

How did you manage training and recovery? 
The hardest part was managing my work schedule and training schedule.  I found myself a lot sleepier June and July.  Prior to Oceanside I was training 15-16 hours per week, with a typical month being 60-65 hours of training.  In my buildup for Ultraman I was averaging 25 hours a week.  In June I hit 102 hours of training.  July felt like a taper though I had a couple of long weekends.

The key thing with volume is recovery.  I was able to stay healthy through training.  I used the recovery pants about four times per week, got a deep tissue massage every couple of weeks, and tried to go to bed early.  And Hillary is really smart about scheduling the volume.  It made it really bearable because there were not a lot of days when my legs were so trashed.  I never felt like I couldn't get up and do the workout.

Now that Ultraman is here, what are you most excited, and most nervous about?
I am most excited to just get going.  I am most nervous about the length of day two... and what happens past mile 30 of the run.


August 2.  6:00 am.  Stage 1:  10 kilometer swim (6.2 miles) and 90 mile bike.  12 hour time limit.

We were bursting with restless energy waiting for stage 1 to begin.  The swim is point to point in Skaha lake, and on race morning the surface was like glass.  Each athlete was assigned to a paddler to lead them in a kayak for safety reasons (the lake is open to boats).  The kayak would also carry any food/ fluids that the athlete might need during the swim stage.  Barry got really lucky being paired with Wayne, a very experienced kayaker who led the way to his stage victory beautifully.  

Me, Richie, Barry and Johnna.  Our T-shirts read:  You cannot be serious.  :)

Barry comes from a swimming background, and secretly we were hoping to match the swim course record.  He came close with the second fastest time in race history of 2:31:23, and about 27 minutes ahead of the next athlete.  As crew, we had a lot of fun watching the final 2 kilometers of his swim.  We were perched on a dock overlooking the water, and we could just barely make out his kayak in the distance.  When Barry made the final turn to cross the lake, there was not another swimmer in sight.  We were screaming our heads off as he swam the final meters to the swim exit and ran him through transition in 3 minutes 42 seconds.  He was quickly onto the bike course and packed up our stuff and headed to the car to follow.

Swim exit.  Photo credit:  Rick Kent, official ultraman photographer.

The second half of stage one our time was spent leap-frogging Barry on his bike.  Richie had scouted out the course in the days before the race, and had planned where the best feeding spots would be.  We tried to find a good incline to hand off food/ water as we knew Barry's pace would be slowed some, and it would be easier to run alongside his bike to replace bottles and hand off food.  We kept track of how much he was eating and drinking and whenever necessary we would shout at him to "DRINK!"  Barry is pretty quiet, but eventually he began to tell us what he wanted (coke, ice, etc) which reduced the guessing game we had been playing most of the day.
Little mountain shower keeping the athletes cool.

Being first out of the water, he was a hunted man on the bike portion of day 1.  He was passed about half way through by the eventual winner of Ultraman, and we never saw another athlete until we were down to the final 20 miles.  At that point we knew he had a solid lead and would hold onto 2nd place at the end of the stage.

Day 1 Bike Finish.  Photo credit:  Rick Kent

Day 1:  Swim 2:31:23 + Bike 5:10:41 = 7:42:04, 2nd place overall.

August 3.  7:00 am.  Stage 2:  171 mile bike.  12 hour time limit.

Recovery from stage 1 was a little bit hectic.  We wanted to make sure Barry was off his feet, eating and drinking and heading to bed early.  Johnna and I did were able to get out for a bite to eat which was the first real food we'd had all day.  We made plans for the following morning and had everything lined up for the final day as well since we'd be spending the night in Princeton after stage 2.

Day 2 we were a little more prepared for when we needed to stop and how often, though adjustments were still made on the fly.  After leaving the start area, we made a quick stop in town and then headed out to start leap-frogging.  When we passed Barry we took note of where he was on the course relative to the other athletes.  We pulled over in one of the first small towns the course travels through and waited for Barry to come by.  When we noticed several athletes who had been behind Barry come through we knew there was a problem.  We whipped the car around and a mile or so back he was on the side of the road getting ready to change a flat.  Richie jumped out of the car with a spare wheel, swapped wheels lightening fast, and had Barry back on the road in no time.  He lost less than 2 minutes with that flat.  Unfortunately it was his second one of the morning and he felt pressure to catch back up with the lead group.

Stage 2 Bike.  Photo credit:  Rick Kent

By half way through the 171 mile course, we had the logistics down pretty well and Barry had caught back up with the main pack.  We were stopping much more frequently on stage 2 because the road conditions were worse and we didn't want to chance another flat or mechanical issue.  Plus it was getting really warm as the day wore on and we kept him cooled down with ice and water.  We kept a very close eye on him.   Each time we stopped we also got to cheer for the two or three athletes in front and behind him on the road.  It was fun to interact with the other crews and support each other in this venture.  Nothing like 171 miles to make you feel bonded!

Stage 2 Finish.  Photo credit:  Rick Kent

At the end of stage 2, Barry's stomach was not feeling great.  He did a great job of refueling that evening, and tried to take in as much fluids as possible, but after 2 straight days of endurance racing, we were in a big deficit.  Each day he weighed in before and after the stage.  And after both stage 1 and 2, he had lost over 7 pounds of body weight in fluids.  To say he was dehydrated would be an understatement.  I was frantically texting Hillary for suggestions knowing that everything was going to play out on stage 3 and he needed to be in the best possible shape at the start of the day.  

Day 2:   Bike 9:35:32 + Day 1 = 17:17:36, 4th place overall.

August 4.  6:45 am.  Stage 3:  52.4 mile run (or 53 miles as it were...).  12 hour time limit.

The final day.  Gathering around the start line I couldn't help but feel a little anxious.  It's now or never.  The last stage.  It's make or break time.  I was hoping with everything in me that the day would go smoothly, that Barry would have the race that he dreamed of having.  I had the same feeling of melancholy that I get when I am about to start the Tahoe Rim Trail... all that work and it's going to be over in under 12 hours.  You want the pain to end, but the experience to last forever.

Stage 3 Start.  Photo credit:  Rick Kent

Everyone was ready, and the director started the athletes off a few minutes early.  There was no sprinting off the start line, just the steady beat of footsteps heading into the morning.  It took a lot longer for separation among the pack to occur than during the bike ride on stage 2.  This contributed to a bit of congestion along the course as all the cars were in leap-frog mode from mile 1.  We elected to stop on the half mile (1.5/ 2.5/ etc...) to avoid some of the traffic.

Each time we stopped, Johnna and Richie tried to get me to stay in the car.  Get off your feet... you have to run later!  But I had too much nervous energy and simply could NOT stay in the car.  Every mile we handed him Gatorade or water, and every 30 minutes we offered him some calories.  He looked super strong and his pace, though a little slower than he had hoped, was steady and consistent.

Stage 3 Run.  Photo credit:  Rick Kent

Several runners had pacers with them from the start.  Each time they ran by they were chatting and smiling and making it look so easy.  At one point near the half marathon mark I told Barry if he needed any help with the hills to let me know.  But he was still charging along and didn't ask for help until mile 19.5.  We were standing by ready to hand off drinks and he asked if I wanted "the 32 mile option, the 30 mile option, or the 26 mile option."  It was run time!!  I hopped back in the car, layered some more sunscreen on, and at the next exchange at mile 20.5 I jumped in for pacing duties.

Time on the run course went by a lot slower than time in the support car.  Instead of constantly having my mind occupied with what we needed for food/ drink and where the best place to stop was, I had only one focus:  to keep Barry making forward progress.  (And to not annoy him in the process.)  As a pacer, I take on new identities depending on who my athlete is and what they need at the time.  I've been fun run pacer, I've been hard-ass-meanie run pacer, and I've been let's-not-get-lost-in-the-woods-cause-you're-delirious run pacer.

Stage 3 Run.  Photo credit:  Rick Kent

Running along with Barry, I maintained the attitude of "everything us cool, everything is fun", borrowing a quote we overused at team camp.  When everything started to fall apart a few short miles into my pacing duties, I tried my best to pretend like this was normal and to be expected.  At mile 25 Barry took a gel.  An instant later he was vomiting on the side of the road.  Vomiting a LOT.  I put my hand on his back in a gesture of support and glanced back toward the car as Johnna retreated with a look of shock on her face.  It was really difficult for her to watch him suffer, though before the end of the day this episode would look like nothing.

When he stood back up, I put on my best poker face and announced that it was time to get moving again.  I also reassured him that now we had a clean slate.  The stomach was empty and we could start over.  Over the next few miles, Barry continued to feel like crap.  Finally, I made the call to have him walk at an easy pace for 10 minutes and drink about 8 oz of chicken broth.  He was so dehydrated, and I thought maybe getting some salt in would settle his stomach and allow him to start absorbing things again.  My suggestion was based on experience in endurance racing, not just something that I pulled out of my ass.  It was a gamble whether it would work for Barry or not, but at the time I thought it was worth a shot.  The effect seemed positive and we had a solid 10 miles in the middle where everything went smoothly and he was able to run steady again.

Richie ready to drape the towel on Barry for cooling.

There was a final 10 kilometer climb before reaching the summit and subsequent 8 mile descent into the finish.  During the climb, Richie offered to jump in and pace while I ate a sandwich in the car.  I figured on the climb they would be doing more walking than running, but Barry must have felt good or didn't want to be outdone by a non-runner because he ran quite a bit of that stretch.  Richie and Johnna continued to provide fluids and cold towels every mile.  Barry was wearing a Mission cooling towel and arm cooling sleeves which when kept wet help manage core body temperature.  I was using standard issue hotel towel soaked in ice water.  I wore it for 30-60 seconds on average during beverage exchange and after I handed it back I could still feel the cold on my arms and shoulders for several minutes.

Stage 3 Run.  Photo credit:  Rick Kent

Eventually his stomach woes returned and the vomiting along with it.  By the second, third and 4th episodes his whole body shook as he expelled the unabsorbed fluids and he was left weakened and further dehydrated.  I held onto his hips for support as he leaned over the edge of the road puking, afraid he would fall headfirst down the cliff.  I kept telling him we had plenty of time to get to the finish before the cutoff.  At one point I gave him a predicted finish time if we maintained 15 minutes per mile (which was well over the pace he had been running).  I was happy to see that he was still in the game mentally when he corrected my math... reminding me that it was 52.4 miles, not 50.  (Note to self:  Don't play the numbers game with a CFO... he's better at numbers than you are.)  After each episode of vomiting, I tried to push fluids again knowing that he still had too far to go to NOT try.  Even if he only absorbed a little bit, it might be just enough to get us to the finish line.  I'm sure he was cursing me in his head as nothing sounded palatable this late in the game.

I didn't really start worrying about Barry's physical state until we got down to the last 5 miles.  Now when the urge to vomit came over him, nothing came up.  There were no fluids left in his system and the dry heaves seemed to take more out of him than vomiting.  With 4 miles left, he was too depleted to run so we walked.  Richie jumped out of the car to encourage him, and forever the comedian, ran by us wearing a pair of my runderpants with "Get Used to the View" across the rear.  I had packed them thinking that if Barry needed a little motivation, it might be enough to get him moving.  I imagined them on my own ass, not necessarily on that of Richie though we all got a good laugh and Barry claimed that this was something he couldn't unsee and made Richie get dressed before it made him sick again.  In Richie's defense, he could totally pull off the runderpants look.  I think if he were a triathlete, he could rock a speedo.

When we got to the final mile, and Barry's garmin told him he should already be done he wanted to stop moving.  He says he was joking when he asked to sit down, but there was some truth in the plea.  I kept encouraging him to keep moving, wanting him to get across that line and be done with the suffering.  We could hear Steve King announcing at the finish line for almost a mile.  Finally... finally, we rounded the corner into the parking lot and could SEE the finish banner.  I told Barry this was his moment.  As he ran the final couple of tenths into the finish chute, I dashed through the crowds of spectators to meet him on the other side and give him a big hug of congratulations.  He did it!!

As much as he wanted to go sit down, I made the crew gather for our finish line photo and I'm glad we did because it wasn't long and the finish chute turned into a real mess.  And by the time Barry recovered enough to move again, the finish banner and all evidence that anything had taken place was torn down.

Ultraman Finish!  Crew:  Richie, me, Johnna, and Wayne.   Photo credit:  Rick Kent
Day 3:  Run 11:29:41 + Day 1 + Day 2 = 28:47:17, 10th place overall.

We helped Barry over to the massage table.  I hopped into the ice bath and enjoyed some pizza and a beer while he was getting worked on.  Unfortunately his stomach didn't calm down in the hour after he finished and when he was done with his massage and lying on a towel on the ground we were looking at a very long night, possibly in the ER.  Richie and Johnna tracked down the medical personnel and explained that he had been vomiting for over 6 hours and not able to keep anything down.  They hooked him up with a liter of fluids, and a bit of dextrose to buy him some time until he could eat again.  With some fluids on board, we got him into the car, stopped for Gravol (potent ginger root) at the pharmacy and stocked up on Sprite which was the only thing he consumed for the next 16 hours.  By morning things seemed better and we enjoyed a late breakfast.

Nurse Johnna attending to the patient. 
Over the course of three days Ultraman strips you of everything not vital to survival.  You check your ego at the door prior to race day when you meet the athletes and crews that are joining you in this venture.  It is humbling to learn everyone's backgrounds and stories, and to see the amount of support surrounding each athlete.  There is a lot of love in a room filled with family and friends.  You learn to rely on others for support and help.  As someone who does everything herself, and has a hard time asking for help, I imagine this will be a huge learning experience for me one day.  It's tough to be vulnerable and rely on others for needs so basic as food and water.  Many athletes struggled at one point or another.  Whether it was getting though a nearly 6 hour swim, or dealing with heat and long miles on the bike.  Or gutting out a double marathon when you're puking your insides out.  When all you can do is put one foot in front of the other, minute by minute, you need to hear it's going to be OK and we'll get there.  It's comforting to know that your family is there, no matter what, and they've got your back.  They will make you laugh.  They will share your tears and pain.  And they will cheer the loudest when you finally make it across that line, whether it's under the time cutoff or 6 minutes too late.

As we sat through the awards banquet on Tuesday evening our emotions were on our sleeves.  We listened to story after story of trial and error, misstep and triumph.  Everyone had a different experience, but shared the same story.  The story where you have a dream, and work endlessly month after month (year after year), and eventually come together to make that dream come true.  This is the story I want to tell.  The story of Ultraman Canada 2016.


In the days after Ultraman I messaged each of our team members for a little post race follow up.  In the aftermath, it's important to write down what you would have done differently, or what went really well so that you remember it for next time.  There are no lessons learned from inattention to detail.

Q&A with Rich Sawiris:

Richie, when were you asked to crew and what were you told your job would entail?

RS:  Some time after registering, Barry asked me to crew.  I was told my job would be technical and mechanical support for bike equipment and feed support.  I pretty much did what I expected.  I didn't expect to run, but I couldn't sit in the car anymore.

Would you crew again?  (Please say yes...)

RS:  I'm not sure about crewing again.  You'd have to ask me in a month or more after the pain wears off.

What would you do differently?

RS:  On the bike we got lucky with no mechanicals.  We just didn't have enough tools to repair a (real) mechanical.  Crew needs to be fed during long days when they are in the car.  Make sure there are no personality conflicts (among crew) or you're in for a very long weekend.    

And lastly, on a scale of 1-10, knowing you are missing the last data point, how certain are you that I am a unicorn?  (Please watch this video on YouTube for reference... this became an ongoing joke among our crew.  Seriously laugh-out-loud funny....)

RS:  I think you might be a unicorn, but mathematically it's impossible to be less than a 4-5 crazy with all the training you do.  This leaves tranny as an unfortunate but highly probably solution to the equation.

Q&A with Johnna Plaga:

Johnna,  first of all, how did you get the nickname Trophy Wife (this is what Barry refers to Johnna as...)?

JBP:  (laughing) OK, remember the story I told you about at dinner where we divorced (briefly, many years ago) and then got back together?  The second wife is always the "trophy wife".  Just so happens that the second wife is the same as the first wife!  (Every couple has a Jerry Springer story, right??)

Ha!  Love it.  How did your responsibility on the crew change after your surgery?

JBP:  My responsibilities changed a lot due to surgery.  First I was less involved in the nutrition and planning of this race than I would normally have been.  I would have planned out all possible needs for food/ hydration, etc and that just didn't happen because I was going to the doctor or resting/ sleeping more than normal.  I also would have run with him on day 3 before surgery, it just wasn't in the cards after surgery.

How did the weekend compare to your expectations?  Was there anything that surprised you (good or bad) about Ultraman? 

JBP:  The weekend far exceeded my expectations.  I knew Barry would have a great swim.  I was worried he didn't believe in his cycling abilities, though he had a great IM CDA bike, so when he hung with the big boys on day 1 and 2 I was so happy for him.  I think it was a much needed mental shift for him-- he does have cycling legs!  Day 3 was harder for me because of the vomiting.  I did not expect this.  I expected walking and cramps, but not vomiting.  It was hard for me to watch, I think I am more emotional since surgery and it was hard to watch him suffer, especially since I helped him after CDA when he vomited for 36 hours.

I was surprised how much prep Richie put into knowing the bike terrain and mapping out where to feed/ water.  It was really helpful.  I don't think anything else (other than how I felt about Barry vomiting) surprised me at Ultraman.  It was good to see that crews were as helpful to each other and the athletes as I had been told they would be.

Having been through this, do you think next time would be easier?  Or more difficult.. knowing how much he's going to suffer?  And what would you do differently?

JBP:  I think the next time Barry does Ultraman it will be much easier.  First I will know not to sweat the small stuff, like missing Barry for the first flat.  After hearing stories from other crews about losing their athletes for hours, running out of food/ water/ ice/ etc.  One crew forgot to buy bottled water so they filled the cooler with water from a hose and the athlete complained it tasted like shit.  (The crew tasted it and confirmed it DID taste like shit.)  And one crew was no longer speaking to each other after the race.  So we batted 1000!  Second, I would be more prepared for nutrition, I like to have all options covered.  I hated possibly running out of chicken broth, which I wouldn't have even had if I hadn't bought it to make the rice!  There were no Tums in the medical bag, no organization in the cooler.  I would have had more than one cooler.  I would have had everything covered, listed, posted and re-organized each night so there is no guessing.  I would include more "real food" on the bike, and I will get Barry to practice it during training!  PB&J, boiled salted potatoes, etc.  Third (it will be easier) because I know the suffering will be temporary.

What things did you bring from California that you were happy you had, and what would you add for next time?  

JBP:   I was happy we brought the rice cooker and Nutri Bullet for protein shakes.  Cold bike clothes --cause you just never know!  (Note:  when it started raining on Day 1, the crew was frozen!!  Thankfully our athlete was kept warm by his effort.)  We had the recovery pants (which got used every night), extra bike shoes- which I originally thought was overkill!.  We had extra run gear and extra wheels, which came in handy.  We discussed bringing an extra bike, but short of the bike being crushed in a fall- which would have rendered Barry unable to ride- we knew Richie would fix any mechanical.  Next time, more tools for the bike (Richie mentioned some he wished he had), more variety for nutrition on the bike and run, and plenty of it.  Oh!  And good food for the crew!!!

Last question... do YOU ever want to do Ultraman?

JBP:  That weekend totally made me want to do Ultraman.  I am so far back in my fitness at the moment that it seems almost absurd, but it's on the list.  I spent 2013 with a torn calf muscle in January, a broken collar bone in March, 2 collar bone surgeries and 6 weeks on crutches in the fall with a tibial stress fracture.  I thought 2014 was going to be great- then heart surgery.  So I will be 55 years old probably before it is possibly a reality, but hey, better late than never.  I hope you saw Hillary's great talk on Mind Body Green- best advice ever- I intend to just keep showing up!

Q&A with Barry Plaga:

Barry!!  Post race recap... How are you feeling physically after Ultraman?  Are you back in the swing of training?

BP:  I am feeling pretty good.  This week my legs feel a little tired.  I think the post race high has worn off, but it did last almost a week.  I ran 20 minutes this morning, and everything still works!  I think Hillary has me pretty easy this week.  She hasn't posted the weekend yet, so we'll see.  

Looking back, was there anything about the race that went better/ easier than you thought?  Or harder than you expected?

BP:  Looking back, everything went close to how I envisioned it.  Having done IM Canada (now Challenge Penticton), I knew the location and the setting so a lot of anxiety was not there.  I spent a lot of time during training and recovery thinking about the race, the day to day, the meals, the prep, etc, and I got pretty organized.  I was more nervous about packing than about racing.  I knew if I had everything I needed at the race, and in the car, Hillary would take care of the rest and I would be able to execute.  I thought everything went perfectly-- you guys allowed me to just stay in the zone, stay in the zone, stay in the zone.  

What would you adjust for next time?  ....There will be a next time, right?!?

BP:  The only thing I would change would be hitting me earlier on day 1 during the bike.  I probably could have drank two more bottles during the first hour.  Other than that, just a better breakfast.  My best morning meal is scrambled eggs, a little toast and some good Greek yogurt.  For next time, I would schedule more days off work to sleep and prep for the week coming up.  I was the walking dead some weeks, especially when run block and bike block collided into Big F'ing Block.  I think our CEO was a little pissed at me, but hey, I showed up on Thursday and hit our earnings call out of the park with wall street.  

In terms of next time... uh, uh, uh, YES I want to do it again.  I kind of wish I was doing Challenge Penticton this weekend.  I feel like I could do well.  Maybe that post race high hasn't worn off yet.  :-) 

All smiles at the finish.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Running on High

On recent back to back weekends I was fortunate to be able to tackle 2 races at altitude, something that I enjoy and is good for pushing my aerobic endurance to its limits.

Mountain Man Sprint Triathlon

Mountain Man Events hosts several triathlons in Flagstaff during the hottest parts of our summer here in the valley of the sun.  It's so nice to escape the heat, even for a day, and race in a cooler, overcast climate.  I have raced the Mountain Man Half every year for the past 5 years, but I've never raced the sprint distance which is held a month earlier.  When I emailed my coach a list of local races, she selected the sprint race and I (though somewhat surprised) was happy to oblige.

Swim start

 Mountain Man Sprint turned out to be a perfect race to blow out the cobwebs of my endurance laden body.  As a sprint distance (750 m swim/ 12 mile bike/ 3-ish mile run) it is all out from the get-go, no pacing involved.  My husband wasn't racing but was there as my one man cheering section.  When the gun went off, I took off as fast as I could sustain in the water.  Swimming at elevation is a little like breathing through a straw, but if you can remind yourself that it's just the thinner air and you are, in fact, not dying, you can still push yourself quite hard.  He told me later that within a short amount of time I had several body lengths lead over the next woman.  By the time I hit the first turn buoy, I glanced back and couldn't see anyone near me.  I swam as fast as I could and was thrilled (shocked!) to come out of the water in just over 12 minutes, about 2 minutes ahead of the next girl.

Having sprayed my limbs and wetsuit generously with TriSlide before getting in the water, I whipped my wetsuit off in no time.  Grabbed my bike and ran out of transition as if being chased.  (Technically I was being chased...)

Ready to roll.
The bike course is an out and back on relatively flat ground, but with a little bit of a head wind on the way out I was still required to put forth an effort.  After the turn around I calculated that the next woman was at least 2 minutes behind me still.  A good lead, but not one that I was super comfortable with.  I knew I'd have to keep the pressure on.  Rolling back into T2 everyone was excited to shout at me that I was in first.  Yay!  A first for me!  In and out, and back onto the run course in just over a minute.

On the way out my first 2 miles clocked were under 7:30 minutes.  I was happy with this, especially at 7,000 ft of elevation.  I kept running hard, and after I made the turnaround I was checking the faces of all the girls behind me to see if there was anyone who looked like they were running comfortably.  Thankfully I didn't see anyone who seemed to be bombing through the field.

Approaching the finish!

At the awards ceremony an hour or so later I was awarded my (first ever?) 1st overall win!  And I got to take home the BEAR trophy!  There were trophies for 1st male/ female and 1st masters male/ female.  The other 3 trophies were sculptures of human form.  Mine was a bear.  Bear is a nickname I've had since birth so I was beyond excited about my new precious.  

Overall women's win! 

Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Run

After a few more days of work we were off again to Carson City, NV, the staging area for the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs.  I had decided after my disaster at IM Texas that I would drop from the 50 miler to the 55 km run to minimize the recovery time I would need post race.  With IM Wisconsin looming in just a few weeks I didn't want to be out of commission for as long as it would take me to recover from a tough 50 miler.  I was kind of excited about taking on the shorter distance as I wanted to push myself more than I have in the past at this race.

I wasn't nervous at all until race morning.  I think just arriving back at Spooner Lake park I began to realize how much this was going to hurt, even if it was only 34 miles.  Everyone's spirits were high and I was happy to be back on my favorite trails.  My goal was 8 hours, which I thought was very doable as long as I held it together.  If anything went awry, it would be a long walk to the finish.

Checking out Spooner Lake

I knew this course intimately.  I knew when I was going to hurt.  When I was going to be walking more than running.  I knew when I'd need to fill my hydration pack.  I was ready.  I ran more over the 34 miles than I've ever run before on this course which I was so happy about.  In the past, by the time I get back to Tunnel Creek facing the final 15 miles I am so trashed that the climb from TC to Hobart nearly does me in.  I've hallucinated in that stretch.  I've been in so much pain that I literally hobble from one downed tree to the next looking for the next log to sit on for a minute to give my aching legs a break.

I knew that I would have half as many miles on my legs this time that if all went well I could push myself through that stretch and on to the finish.  I started conservatively on the first 5 mile climb of the day, which was basically a mile after starting at Spooner.  I ran as much as I could when the incline was gentle.  There were definitely short stretches that I walked, but I felt like I ran quite a bit of this section.  Reaching the first aid station I was still feeling good but knew I had a lot of climbing ahead of me.  Leaving Hobart there is a good climb for at least a mile or so (maybe 1.5?) and then a nice gradual descent through the boulder fields heading into Tunnel Creek.

I still had plenty of water so I cruised on through and headed down, down, DOWN the hill into the Red House Loop.  For some reason, I don't remember this descent being quite so long or quite so steep, but it was soooo long and soooo steep.  I guess that speaks to the fact that I am in triathlon shape, but not necessarily my best trail running shape.  Once I reached the bottom of the descent which was well over a mile, I settled into a nice cruisy stretch my legs pace.  There was a little bit of climbing mid loop, but mostly a nice steady run pace.  I had hoped to make it back up the climb to Tunnel Creek before filling water but as luck would have it, I was almost out by the time I reached the Red House.  It was quite a bit hotter that day than it's been in the past.  I debated waiting, but thought better of it.  Now I had a full liter and half on my back for the climb out.  Ugh!  On a side note... I love the Red House Loop.  Partly for the insanity of the descent/ ascent and partly for the water crossings!  We had 3 water crossings that were not quite knee deep and I always smile to myself watching people try to pick their steps around them.  I just go charging right through the middle of them.  I have found that the cold water is a nice relief for my feet, and my feet are generally dry again within a mile so no harm done.

I paused at Tunnel Creek long enough to dump rocks out of one shoe from the ascent then it was on to the incline back to Hobart.  It was rough, and I hurt, but mentally I kept my act together and power hiked as fast as I could till I got to the top and the mile-ish run back to the aid station.  I topped off my hydration pack and took off again toward Snow Valley Peak (SVP).  The last climb of the day!

I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the climb felt.  I remember in the past walking the entire 3 miles to SVP.  This time, I was running quite comfortably, wondering when the climb was going to start.  Soon enough I emerged from the woods above the treeline and began the last mile uphill to the aid station.  The Snow Valley Peak aid station is manned by one of the local Boyscout troops.  They do an amazing job and take our safety and comfort very seriously.  They must have binoculars or something, but they know each runner by name before we even get close to the aid station.  And they send one of the boys out to meet each person, offering to fill packs and bottles and retrieve food.  I was set to cruise on through with plenty of water left for the final miles, but tossed back a cup of cold coke for good measure.

Tahoe Rim Trail

My husband, who needed to get his own long run in that day, had run backwards on the course up to SVP.  We started down the hill together with him a few yards behind me.  We ran this way for several miles, with DB dropping off the back a little during any technical bits (he doesn't usually run trails, and does not love the steeper downhills).  When we were down to the last couple of miles, I told him he needed to get moving so he would be at the finish line when I got there.  The last 1.5 miles is flat-ish, so he took off ahead of me and disappeared quickly into the woods.

I could hear the music and the party atmosphere at the finish nearly the entire last 2 miles.  It seemed to take me forever to get there even though it was really only 20 minutes.  Soon, I was across the finish and couldn't wait to sit down.  I always find it ironic how I can feel so good running for 34 miles, but the minute I stop and the blood stops moving through my legs I want to absolutely die.  It's all very dramatic.  I wanted my photo by the finish line banner, but stopping for 20 seconds (after working hard for 7.5 hours) to take the picture, my blood pressure dropped and everything started to go black.  A medical volunteer helped me into the med tent where I sat for a minute and collected myself, drinking a bit of coke and ice water.

Running into the finish:  7:39:01

After a LONG walk back to the car (that mile felt like 50) we loaded up just as the sky began to turn dark with storm clouds.  I wanted to hang out at the finish, but my legs hurt so badly and I was so hungry, so I begged my husband to drive me back to Carson City for some food.

On Sunday, we lazed around for most of the morning.  We drove around the lake, stopping to swim for a bit which felt great on the legs.  We finished driving the loop, and just as we were cruising through South Lake Tahoe the sky opened up and we nearly didn't make it back to Carson City as the roads were beginning to flood.  I couldn't help but think of the 100 milers who were still out there running.  Would I be tough enough to battle through the storms for my buckle?  I hope so.

In talking with a friend about the race, and about when I am going to do my first hundred, I said that I knew I wanted Tahoe Rim Trail to be my first.  I know I could find an easier course, something more beginner friendly, but I also know that for me, TRT is a calling.  It is spiritual.  Being out there, running through the woods in this beautiful place... I know it is meant to be.  One day, I will tackle the 100 miler.  Every day until then, I will dream of being back on the trail, running through my favorite forest, breathing the fresh mountain air.    

To obtain the air that angels breathe, you must (come) to Tahoe.  - Mark Twain  

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Summer Fun

It's crazy sometimes how fast time goes.  I blink and Texas was almost 8 weeks ago!  Texas was the kickoff of my busy season and I've had so much fun over the last couple of months I thought I would share a few highlights.

After Texas we flew home for a long weekend of wedding celebrations!  My cousin tied the knot in a beautiful ceremony and we had a blast dancing the night away at the reception.  My cousin and his girlfriend (now wife!) lived in Arizona when we moved here.  I feel so blessed to have gotten to know her over the last few years and was honored to stand up for both of them during the ceremony.  These two are what make family so special and I look forward to many more good times in the future.  Texas 2015???  :-)

Paul and Desiree
 The weekend went by too quickly as usual.  But I did get to see all of my nephews and my niece, and we spend a little time together on the dance floor!  My sisters and their hubbies have done a wonderful job raising them.  While other kids were running amok, they were well behaved, ate their dinner quietly, and joined us to boogie down on the dance floor.  I think they were ready for another song when I was ready to crawl into bed for the night!  In my defense I haven't worn heels since... well... I cannot even think of the last time!
Me with a couple of my favorite kiddos!

The wedding was only a week after Texas so I was still in recovery mode.  I told my coach I had access to a cruiser-type bike and would be happy to ride it or run while we were in Iowa.  We have a beautiful rails- to- trails path that runs for about 70 miles.  I'm pretty sure I had a giddy-stupid smile on my face the whole time we were biking.  It was a gorgeous day and I don't often get to enjoy the green trees!!
Cruising on the Wabash Trace.

Soon June was upon us and we were settling back into training for the fall.  My team, TriScottsdale, does a "best ball" golf tournament every year and this year we decided to jump in.  In my mind, I was thinking that this would be a fun event.  And we did have fun, but the small problem that I encountered is that you still have to actually be able to hit a golf ball.  Never having played before, this was quite comical as I whiffed tee off more than I actually contacted the ball.  

We were divided into teams of 4, and each player had to tee off.  Then each person plays from the best position for the remainder of the hole.  I was definitely the weak link until we got onto the green and then I could shine.  Don't ask me why, but putting came pretty easy and I was happy to be able to contribute a little to my team.  But it wasn't all serious... We had one hole where we had to tee off blind folded.  Another time it was "fastest" to the hole.  And then we had the triathlon hole.... where we wore swim caps and goggles (barefoot) for tee off, and then changed into bike helmets and running shoes for the rest of the hole.  Made for some good laughs.  

The triathlon hole... 
Duty calls, and the end of June found me in San Francisco for a continuing education meeting.  I have visited the city numerous times for business and pleasure, and I have my favorite running routes all mapped out.  Coach assigned me hill repeats one day--  there is nothing like hill repeats in San Francisco...  and then agreed to let me run my favorite 20 mile route from Union Square where I was staying to the Golden Gate Bridge and back.  I LOVE the Golden Gate Bridge.  I'm not sure why, but it is so intriguing to me.  I am terrified of heights and couldn't actually stop on the bridge to take pictures.  (I tried once and when I looked up at the pillars my world started spinning and thought it best to keep running and not stagger off the bridge into the cold waters below!)  I did capture this beauty when I crossed into Marin on the other side before I headed back.  
Golden Gate Bridge
Back in Phoenix, I got a text message from a Team HPB team mate of mine.  It read, "Have you ever biked to Payson?"  So, for starters, I had biked most of the way to Payson (a town heading into the mountains about 70 miles from where I live).  Last fall, a friend and I hopped on our bikes and headed that way.  A few hours later some more friends got in the car and drove... when they caught us we hopped in and did some hiking, and had a picnic lunch before heading back.  But I have always wanted to finish the ride.  So I took it upon myself to arrange a little bicycle adventure, and over the 4th of July weekend, we started out from Fountain Hills heading toward Payson.  Our little group of 6, quickly became 5 as one of the riders had multiple mechanical issues from the start.  He had arranged his own SAG and so just called it a day after the second or third issue.  

For the first 2 hours I felt so slow as my legs were shaking off the rust, but soon enough they came around and I was climbing comfortably the rest of the way.  The weather was perfect.  Just a little bit overcast, and the temps dropped noticeably as we increased in elevation.  As the morning wore on, 3 more riders suffered multiple flat tires, a saddle that wouldn't stay put, and road debris caught in the rear cassette.  By the time we reached Payson our 5 hours of ride time had taken us 7 hours of actual time.  Since we had only one SAG vehicle and it was late in the day now we made the decision to have part of the group start back as we tried to figure out how we were going to get 5 bikes and 6 people into one little Xterra.  Within 20 minutes, we got the call to pick up one of the riders with another flat.  So we loaded as many bikes as we could into the car, sagged the remaining rider, and drove back to Fountain Hills where we dropped everyone off and then I headed back out the collect the last rider standing.  He made it within 15 miles of Fountain Hills when I picked him up... looking happy as a clam!  

Loving the ride!
We made it to Payson.  
        We decided in the future it would be best to have at least 2 SAG vehicles, one to lead and one to sweep.  That way, when someone suffers a mechanical or a flat everyone else can keep riding and the SAG vehicle can help solve the problem and then drop the rider off down the road with the group.  

I also kept our packing list of items that we had available in the SAG car for my future reference.  

Gear box:
Extra tubes - be prepared for various wheel types!  We had 80 mm tubes and standard 48 mm.  
Extra CO2
Floor pump
Patch kits, chain lube
Spare tire (preferably something bullet proof!)
Towels (these came in handy when we had to stack a couple of bikes for the ride home, and for the sweaty bodies on the seats!)

Ice chest:
diet pepsi
watermelon, grapes

Gatorade cooler (the kind with the screw on lid, and spout...):  filled with ice water!!!

Food bin:
salty snacks- we had pringles, rice crisps, and some other salty snack foods
snickers bars
salt capsules
extra gallons of water to top off the cooler as needed

We also encouraged each rider to bring a small bag of personal nutrition/ hydration needs.  Mine included Osmo hydration, Honey Stinger chews, Bonk Breakers.  

Overall this was an awesome ride and the road was in way better condition than I had expected (despite the flat tires!).  The scenery was beautiful and it was challenging but not so much that you couldn't enjoy what you're doing.  Next time, I want to be able to go there and back- with an earlier start and more support cars!

First to the top!
Along with my epic ride to Payson, I've been spending most of my time it seems on the trails.  It's been wonderful to be able to explore some of my favorite parks that I haven't been to in a while and try to conquer my more familiar trails at a faster pace.  Unfortunately, as one friend reminded me, the trail requires blood sacrifice at times.  And my time came due!  After a particularly speedy 9 miler I was in the final section heading back to my car.  My toe caught the gravel and down I went with a pretty good skid.  Wounds heal and battle scars are badges of honor!

It looks better than it actually was.  I did a pretty good number on myself!

And last but not least, we have added to our clan.  After laying Zorro to rest in March, our house was particularly quiet.  The boys (Gus, Brady and Blue) are all getting up in years with the youngest being 9.  I decided it was a good time to bring in some younger life.  I think as a pet owner, I worry about all my pets aging at the same time.  We don't know the exact ages of Gus and Brady, but we believe they are both 12.  Blue has never been an only cat.  Anyway... you see where this is going...  So a friend of mine had several litters of kittens that she had been fostering.  One litter was ready to be placed in homes so she let me do a trial weekend with two of them.  Needless to say, they never left!  Our little Moo and Blackie have been a fun and loving addition to our home.  They make us laugh every day with their antics.  It's been so long since I've had a kitten I forgot how playful they are!  They will literally play for hours until they collapse from exhaustion.  Then they sleep for 15 minutes and play again!  And the older boys are teaching them the fine art of napping and snuggling.  

Love these faces!
As summer nears it's turning point we are settling into the last 8 weeks before Ironman Wisconsin.  We've got some more summer fun before then with a couple of races in Flagstaff and a 50k in Tahoe.  I've been having so much fun training I almost don't want summer to end.  Then it's time to get into serious race mode and I feel I have so much work yet to be done.  

Happy Training!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Ironman Texas: (Un)lucky Number 13

The Swim

Game plan:  Take it out with the strongest 500 I can manage, get rid of the riffraff and then settle into a strong, steady pace.

What actually happened:
Despite the fact that I am a decent swimmer, I do not love mass swim starts.  I don't like chaos.  I don't like drowning.  I don't like being beaten and punched in the face by men who weigh twice as much as me.  I just don't.  And I'm not going to apologize for that.  I don't think it makes me "less of an Ironman" that I prefer the rolling swim start.

As much as I wanted to get right up front and try to grab some good feet, I knew I would not be comfortable with this.  I lined up to the far right, with a straight shot to the turn buoy.  I thought I was far enough right... until the cannon went off.  Then everyone who had been standing on the shoreline jumped in on top of me.  Within 2 minutes I was in full blown panic mode.  My first thought was "Oh my god! I am the riffraff!"  And my next thought was "Get me the fuck out of here!"  I made a 90 degree turn, swam over the top of everyone who were in full on washing machine mode, and got to the outside.  The real outside this time.  And I resumed my swim.

Once I had free water, I put my head down and went to work.  Strong, steady pace.  When needed, I would pick it up for a few minutes.  Like when I had 2 guys zig-zagging across my space.  Repeatedly.  I needed to put them in my wake cause they were pissing me off.  Mission accomplished.

About half way through the swim I noticed a pain in my stomach.  I thought maybe it was because I was working at a higher effort level than I normally do in the swim.  I hoped it would go away once I got out of the water and into a rhythm on the bike.  I found myself feeling strong throughout the swim.  As I approached the final few buoys, I remember thinking that I wasn't the least bit sore in my shoulders.  All my paddle-buoy-band work in the pool was paying off!
View of the swim exit.  Ironman Texas 2014.

When I stood up out of the water my watch read 59:30.  YES!!! I shouted.  Out loud.  And then I ran as fast as I could through transition because the timing mat is not at the swim exit and I wanted my first sub-hour swim in the record books!

Official swim time:  59:52

The Bike

Game plan:  Ride comfortably uncomfortable in the first half, then take the effort level up in the second half.  (There were several more instructions with regards to nutrition and pacing, but I have no intention to share all my secrets!)  

What actually happened:
I dashed through transition and got out onto the bike course quickly (T1= 3:16).  I didn't take anything in for the first 10 miles or so other than a few sips of water, but I realized pretty quickly that my stabbing gut pain was not going anywhere.  In fact, tucked in my aero position, it was worse.  My legs felt strong, but as the miles added up and my energy level went down, I gradually lost power and speed.

My husband and my TriScottsdale teammate, AF, passed me at about 30 miles into the bike.  Even at that early stage I was in a world of hurt.  Each one cheered me on as they passed me and tried to get me to stay with them (at legal distance), but it was to no avail.  I simply had no ability to respond.

Over the course of 70 miles I tried everything in my bags of tricks, but nothing was absorbing from my stomach.  I tried electrolyte drinks.  I tried plain water.  I tried salt capsules.  I tried gels.  I tried nothing at all.  It didn't matter what I did, the pain didn't budge.  ***TMI ALERT!!***  I was burping and farting so I kept thinking there was potential that this problem would resolve.  No such luck.

Out for a pre-race tour of the run course.

The final 40 miles were the most excruciating hours of my life.  I just wanted to be off my bike.  I really wanted to be lying on the side of the road taking a dirt nap.  I could tell that between the wind and the warm temps, and my inability to absorb anything I was extremely dehydrated and hypoglycemic.  How I was able to hold it together mentally I don't know, but my coach's words continued to run through my head and I tried to do all the things I was supposed to do.  It was almost comical how hard I was working mentally in the game and how slow I was going physically.

I rolled into T2 and handed off my bike to a volunteer, and promptly started crying.  I think the emotional release was a combination of relief to be safely off the bike, the enduring pain in my stomach, and the realization that I had a very long 26.2 miles ahead of me.  I walked through transition, gathered my gear bag and headed into the change tent.

Official bike time:  5:45:54

My friend, MT, was volunteering in T2 and she helped me get all my bike stuff off and run stuff on.  When I was ready to go I didn't stand up.  Instead I began sobbing.  Huge tears rolled down my cheeks as she tried to console me.  She rubbed my legs and encouraged me to get out there and see what happened.  She said that not many people had come through T2 yet, and a lot of people had similar issues.  Another volunteer must have thought there was something physically wrong as she kept interrupting us.  What's your name?  What's wrong?  What is your NAME?  I ignored the inquiry and just kept listening to MT's soothing voice and eventually stood up and made my way out of transition.  (T2= 7:26)

The Run

Game plan:  Get off that bike and run your Ironman pace, one mile at a time.

What actually happened:
I am actually amazed that I held it together for as long as I did on the run.  For some reason, I can handle gut issues better on the run, maybe because I'm in an upright position.  Maybe because I can eat a bean burrito in training and then go out for a long run.  Whatever, the reason, I was happy to be on my feet and off of the damn bike.

I knew I was dehydrated and low on sugar.  At each aid station I walked to make sure I could maximize my intake potential.  I drank cups of Perform and sipped on water and ice.  I was carrying my Honey Stinger gels which were a lifesaver.  Thankfully it was not hot out as I can only imagine the added strain this would have put on my already depleted body.  I managed to run most of the first loop, approximately 9 miles, albeit slowly.

At the start of the second loop I was feeling dizzy and progressively weaker.  I found myself needing to walk more and just not altogether mentally clear.  Just after mile 11, I saw a friend in a TriScottsdale kit lying on the ground and a man was leaning over him.  I walked over, recognized my teammate (AF) and asked him if he wanted to walk with me.  He got up and we walked on.  Relentless forward progress.

AF was having his own struggle, but I was thankful to have someone with me, talking to me.  At some point I stopped being able to respond to his conversation.  I was having a hard time coming up with words in my head and what did come out sounded a little bit slurred.  I know that had I not been with AF at that moment, I would have eventually passed out on the course and the medical volunteers would have hauled me off the course with IV's in both arms, I was in that deep of a well physically.  I remember somewhere around mile 13 or so, he very clearly ordered me to take an entire bottle of Perform from the aid station and drink the whole thing.  I followed orders and within a mile my head was a little bit clearer.  I grabbed another bottle of Perform and drank it down.  By now we were nearing the end of loop 2.

The run course at night.  IM Texas has the BEST run course!

We formulated a run/ walk plan for the final loop.  He set the pace running at a decent clip for 5 minutes, and then I set the pace power walking for 10 minutes.  We covered ground quite quickly with this method averaging about 11 minutes per mile.  With about 4 miles to go, AF needed a break from the power walk and I was ready to be done.  I ran, this time at my own much slower running pace.  I continued to walk through aid stations to drink Perform as I was no where near recovered, but moving at about a 10 minute pace I was able to keep running.

I have never been so happy to see a finish line in my life.  At 12 hours, 26 minutes, and 13 seconds I raised my hands over my head in victory.  I finished an amazing 13th in my age group, with a faster time than last year on the same course.

The Aftermath

DNF is not found in my coach's vocabulary.  And after my failure at St. George in 2012, it was not an option for me.  I knew that no matter how long it took me, I was going to get to that finish line.  I was happy to be able to run as much as I did because I HATE walking at Ironman.  (Absolutely no offense to anyone who chooses to walk the marathon, I prefer to run it.)

After finishing I sat down in a chair to wait for AF, who was about a mile behind me, hoping to have a photo taken together.  After sitting for a few minutes I began having trouble catching my breath.  My husband was nearby talking with some friends and they began to notice my distress.  A medical volunteer came over and asked me if I wanted to go to medical.  Initially I declined, but then my breathing worsened and I grabbed her elbow and asked for her help.  I told her that I have had a very rare episode of asthma and I believed that was the problem.  She offered to grab a wheelchair, but I explained that sometimes if I walk it gets better.  She held onto my arm as my husband led the way, parting the sea of finishers and family members.  Once into medical they sent me immediately to the treatment area bypassing dozens of athletes waiting to be evaluated.  Apparently not being able to breathe takes priority over nausea and dehydration!

The medical volunteers were wonderful.  Friendly, attentive, and reassuring.  By the time I got into the medical tent my breathing was improved by my airways still felt tight.  The administered albuterol via nebulizer to open my airways.  After about 15 minutes of breathing the steroid-laced oxygen they released me to resume my post race ritual.

Since finishing a mere 4 days ago and returning to normal life, I've had time to reflect on the race and speak with my coach and another mentor.  I believe I have identified the main source of my nutritional problem on race day and am actively taking measures to ensure that it does not happen again.


Ironman is not a solo endeavor and there is no way I could do what I do without the support and help of a huge team of people.

Huge thank you to my coach, Hillary Biscay.  I am so thankful to be working with you and every single day I am reminded of how brilliant you are.  I see the fruits of your genius daily, even in my recovery process.  Thanks for taking a chance on me!  Thank you to Team HPB for cyber-cheering all day!  You inspire me every day with your hard work!  Special thanks to CH and MR, my local counterparts who push me daily in training and check in with me to make sure I'm alive and thriving!

Thank you to my team, TriScottsdale.  I love training and racing side by side with people who work hard, play hard, and love this sport as much as I do.  Special thanks to AF, without whom my race would have ended at mile 128.2.  I promise you that someday we will #FindKona!  I am proud to wear the colors of TriScottsdale and bask in the tons of on-course support I receive on race day!

Thank you to Paraic McGlynn and his team at Cyclologic.  Thanks to your knowledge and skill I am not only comfortable, but faster and stronger than ever on my bike.  Even though you have entire teams of professional cyclists to look after, I know that you are invested in my success because you were the first one to call and ask the tough question:  "What went wrong?"  Your effort is appreciated!

Thank you to Nate Snell and his team at Endurance Rehab.  Simply put, I would not be biking or running at all if it weren't for you.  Your weekly attention to my musculoskeletal weaknesses has allowed me to continue to do the things that I love.  You guys are the best!

Thank you to my husband.  You have put up with a lot over the years, and even more since my work load increased on January 1.  Your consistent belief in me and love means the world and #findingkona would mean half as much without you by my side.

Hard won medal.  Ironman Texas 2014.

Final thoughts

For those of you who are numbers people.  This was my 13th Ironman.  My bib was 481 (4+8+1= 13).  I finished 13th in my age group.  I'm not really superstitious, but there was no way I was quitting and having to repeat my battle against the number 13 again!!  They say everything's bigger in Texas... including my epic race disaster.  I could not be more proud of gutting it out.  As AF reminded me, to walk away and quit because things get tough is stuck up.  It's like saying "I'm too good for this."  And that is definitely not me.  No matter how bad things got, I knew I would be happy to have that medal and to have learned a great deal in the process.  You can't buy that sort of education.  

I keep reminding myself (and sometimes those around me) that this is a process.  When I signed on with Hillary, I signed on with knowledge that I have the potential to reach my goal and an enormous amount of work ahead to accomplish it.  I am not limiting myself in this process and understand that it may be years of consistency in training to get where I want to go.  In the 5 months since we have been working together I have made huge gains and I am so excited to continue the process.  This will not be an easy task but I am up for the challenge.  The dream is alive and it's time to get back to work!            

Friday, May 16, 2014

Trail Runner Blog Symposium: Is it easier to date a fellow runner or a non-runner?

The answer to the question lies within another.   Is running your lifestyle, or is it your hobby?

For me endurance sports is a lifestyle.  It doesn't pay the bills (aka: a job) but when I'm not locked between 4 walls I can be found,  with little exception,  running,  biking, or swimming. If I had been inclined to date a non-runner we would likely never cross paths.  We would be ships passing in the night.   Rather, I met my husband while running.  He sold me my first pair of custom fit running shoes and invited me to travel with a group of runners from our town all racing the Chicago Marathon.

I admit, we take running to the next level.   Wedding?   Vegas marathon run-through ceremony,  of course.   Honeymoon?   Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.   Vacation?  How 'bout a week in Pebble Beach following the Big Sur Marathon.  Or the Tahoe Rim Trail Ultra with some bonus days in the mountains.  It's our passion.

Without him I'd still be passionate about running, but it's soooo much better to have someone to share it with,  someone who gets it.  We get to laugh over a post race beer about things that happened during the run.  Our favorite spectator's sign running through Wellesley College.   Where on the trail I took a wrong turn.   How I missed a PR by 9 seconds because I had to stop and tie my shoes.

A non-runner would have to listen to my stories,  but just wouldn't get them.  I would feel sorry for him.  I would feel guilty spending all my time on the trails and not with him.   He would start to feel resentment.  We would fight about priorities.  Eventually it would end tragically,  hopefully prior to any legal commitment.   We would both turn to our passions to mend our broken hearts.  I'd run twice as much in an effort to forget the pain I caused and endured.  I'd end up injured and have to take time off from running furthering my mental anguish....

No, no.  It's better I just stay far away from non-runners.  Nothing good can come from that.