Are you familiar with this story? I feel like I've written it before. The details change. The characters in the story change. The setting is a little bit different. But the ending is unchanged. Isn't the ending of a good book or movie what keeps you coming back for more? Sometimes it leaves you hanging or it doesn't quite end the way you had hoped. You read it again, or look for the sequel hoping that this time, it will be different. Only when the ending leaves you satisfied, fulfilled, can you put the book down and walk away.
After Ironman Wisconsin I became aware of a few things. I need to get stronger on the bike. I promised a friend of mine that I would not say "I am not a good cyclist". If I was not a good cyclist, my dream would not be within reach and I should just throw my name into the lottery. But, my bike leg is where I can make the most improvement and set myself up for the run I know I have in me.
The other thing I realized is that no one is going to hand me my dream on a silver platter. I have to be willing to go all in every single time. I have to be willing to make small improvements that will one day yield the result I long for. Each time I put myself on the line and take away the "play-it-safe" card I will learn something new, something valuable that I can transfer into progress the next time around.
This version of Finding Kona takes place in my backyard playground. I have raced Ironman Arizona a total of 6 times. No two races are the same, and this year was no exception. In the days leading up to the race the weather turned cool and windy. Very windy. It is rare to not have wind on the beeline, but the caliber of wind on race day exceeded anything we've seen since the race moved to November in 2008.
I knew I had to adjust my vision a little bit, and not try to fight the wind. We all had to find a way to deal with it, or drop out. Since you've read this story before I'll leave out every single detail and thought that crossed my brain during the day... and stick with the good stuff. Since I consider this my diary more than anything, and somewhat of a race journal, I will probably bore you with details that don't matter to you... but next year when I re-read this it will spark the memory of lessons learned and remind me of what I am going to do differently. So grab a bag of popcorn and settle in for the ride.
So, here's the deal. I haven't shared a lot of details about my training this year for 2 reasons. 1. I am paying for a coach to give me workouts. If you want someone to give you a plan, hire your own coach. 2. I feel that her workouts are part of what make Hillary a great coach. They are her trade secrets. I feel it would be disrespectful to spill every detail of her assignments. That said, the swim alone is proof of her awesomeness. I was consistently swimming 1:01. Every race. For over a year. I could swim 1:01 in my sleep. I was convinced, as was everyone else, that I didn't need to swim any faster nor could I. It wouldn't benefit me to swim faster.
But, what I have learned over the last 10 months is that I don't necessarily need to swim more, to swim better. My swim workouts are equal parts torture and recovery. I will have sessions that are 4-6k long that are designed simply to help me recover from a long, hard build. And I can push myself hard in the pool day after day and not have it effect my bike/ run workouts. And by following her magic day after day for months on end, it translated into my best IM swim ever.
|Final kiss before the cannon. It's our version of "good luck, be safe, see you at the finish."|
I lined up as I always do, front right. No matter how much I love swimming, and am comfortable in open water, I will NEVER get used to having the shit beat out of me. I would much rather avoid the chaos, swim my own swim, even if it means I miss the draft for the first half. So at swim buoy number 8, I merged my line with the main pack a couple hundred yards before the first turn. Aside from the first 300 meters or so where I felt trapped between a couple of big guys, I had free space. Once I was able to slide past them, it was smooth sailing. And I cruised.
The best thing about Hillary's swim preparation is that I no longer feel any fatigue coming out of the water. In the past, I was comfortable and swam fine, but by the end my shoulders were tired. Tired shoulders are not how I want to start a bike ride where I spend 100% of my time in the aero bars. This year I've had two swims at 59 minutes and change. For some reason, before Arizona I just felt like I had a 58 in me. Nevertheless, I was shocked to get out of the water and actually see that I had swum a 58!
I have been spoiled the last few years to have a friend of mine volunteer in the change tent. I am used to having her just stand by my side quietly, fend off all other volunteers, say a few words of encouragement and then pack up my shit when I leave. This year she was not able to get into the change tent because the volunteer slots filled up quickly. I love having the change tent volunteers, and in no way do I mean anything negative, but I have had (at other races) volunteers dump my bag out and start going through stuff which slows me down. So as I raced into the tent I declined any offers of help, threw my shoes on as fast as I could, and took off. I think I was about 30 seconds slower than my usual at Arizona but that may have been because some dude threw himself onto the carpet in front of me, tripping me as I was running through the wetsuit stripping area. I might have thrown out a 4-letter word as I struggled to not hit the deck 2.4 miles into my day.
Wind is my kryptonite. Everyone who knows me, knows this about me. I. hate. wind. Some people hate heat. Some people hate the cold. Some people hate hills. I hate wind. This year I have been working hard to be more comfortable in my aero bars in the wind. My coach has given me great advice on how to deal with it, how to position myself an maintain confidence. I have to say, it worked and I was very comfortable on Sunday. I still hated the wind, but I did not get blown all over the road. I was slower. I felt like I was going backwards at times, but I was perfectly seated square in my saddle, in aero, the entire day.
Usually the fast girls catch me near the start of the 3rd loop of the bike. This year I expected to see them come by me a lot earlier as I suffered a flat near mile 10 and lost 5 minutes. I've never had a flat in a race, and I have to say, it was the perfect race for it to happen. Since I wasn't going to have my fastest bike split anyway (due to wind) I was like, oh, I have a flat. And got to work changing it. As I got my front wheel off the support vehicle pulled up and the guy jumped out, grabbed my wheel and started changing it for me. Rather than fight for the right to change a flat, I took the opportunity to start eating and shoved a few pieces of a bonk breaker into my mouth. Even the girl in the support van remarked on how calm I was. What could I do? Pitch a fit? Cry because I got a flat? Dude, I still had 100 miles to go. There was no time for crying.
Soon enough I was back on the road. Sometime in the 5 minutes I was on the side of the road, DB came by me. He waited to make sure I had everything I needed and then took off up the beeline. I tried to keep him in sight as long as I could. The first loop seemed very lonely on the bike course. The usual packs of cyclists were strangely absent in the wind. Later I learned that I was 77th person out of the water which explains why I felt so alone on the bike course!
|Managing the gusts on the bike.|
I kept my head down, kept shoving food in my face and kept drinking. I have been working on increasing my calorie intake on the bike. I have been racing on 100 calories per hour on the bike which causes me to run out of energy very early on the run course, generally 6-8 miles in. I literally felt like I was eating non-stop during the bike ride but was very happy to report to coach on Monday that I ate 250 calories per hour on the bike! As expected near the start of loop 3, the first fast girl came by me. I waited and waited for more girls and never saw any. I started to think they had passed me when I had my flat. As I came upon the final 4 miles, I rode up next to my good friend and training partner CH. 'Let's get this shit done!', I shouted and we took off.
T2 is a blur. I literally threw off my helmet, threw on my Newtons and carried everything in my hand as I exited the tent, putting on my race number belt and visor as I ran.
I was aiming for sub-4 hours on the marathon. In truth I had trained for a 3:45. Why do I put this out there? A lot of people don't publicize their goals because one-coach-or-another told them not to. Or because they don't want to feel bad if they don't reach their goals. Or for a variety of different reasons. I read once in a magazine why I shouldn't state my goals publicly, but to be honest the reasons never made any sense to me. I've never been afraid of asking for what I want. Obviously I don't always get it on the first try. (Or second. Or third.) But one day, I am convinced I will. And then I want EVERYONE to celebrate with me because they will know how long I have worked for this.
The run was going very smoothly. It wasn't comfortable. It wasn't easy. But I was hitting my goal times. I took the advice of Hillary and literally ran the marathon one mile at a time. Every single mile was a new challenge. Could I hit my time now? OK, how about now? And 8 miles later... now? I was taking in calories on schedule. I was well hydrated. As the miles progressed I hurt more and more.
I caught up with CH around mile 11 and we fell into stride together. We never said a word to each other, except once I think I remarked about how f**king hard this felt. We just ran. It was so nice to have her there as a distraction as we entered the start of the second loop. There were athletes who were finishing the race, and we still had 12 miles to go. We ran and ran, and she was with me when the final podium finisher in my age group passed me. I almost felt sorry for myself for a minute, but then remembered that I still had the opportunity to make this my best run ever.
|Running with my amazing training partner, CH.|
We rounded the north side of the lake and soon passed Hillary near the 202 overpass. She screamed some encouragement at me and it gave me a little boost. Somewhere near the marina on the way back CH picked up the pace and I couldn't stay with her. I chased her up and over Curry and back under the 202. Soon she was out of sight. Hillary was there again and told me I ALWAYS have another gear, even when I don't think I do. I let those words sink in and I picked up the pace. I repeated her words over and over in my head the final 3 miles. I always have another gear. I always have another gear. Step by step by step. As I crossed the bridge at Priest I felt like I was flying by people. It was getting dark and I had a hard time distinguishing who was who on course. What if there was someone in my age group up ahead? It spurred me on to go a little faster.
Rounding the final 2 corners to the finish line were surreal. I could hear the crowds cheering. A couple friends jumped into the road to spur me on and in my delirium I staggered a little bit. I heard Mike Reilly call my name, 'you are an ironman!' And when I didn't respond, he called me out again. I said, 'you are an ironman!!!' I raised my hands over head as relief crossed my face and I crossed the line. A PR by 1 minute. But my best Ironman marathon by 14 minutes!
|The finish!! No matter how the day goes, the finish is meant to be a celebration.|
Total time: 10:53:01
The volunteers caught me (literally) and quickly delivered me into the arms of my teammates. Hillary was there and gave me a huge hug. I was not on the podium, but this was a big step in the right direction and I was very happy with the progress.
|Hug from the boss at the finish.|
We camped out at the finish line and waited for DB to finish. I had passed him around mile 14 of the run and he finished about 30 minutes behind me. A few seconds behind him was another friend and training partner MT who, despite the wind, had a PR of over an hour!! Seeing her achieve this goal was definitely the highlight of my day. I know how hard she has worked over the last 2 years to achieve this.
|Celebrating a PR with MT!!|
DB curled into his usual fetal position at the finish, and with the sun down I was getting cold. A friend KM helped me gather our bikes and gear bags and bring them back to the finish line. We said our goodbyes and hobbled back to the hotel a half mile away.
Monday morning was chaos. I generally don't sleep after Ironman because my body is too sore and I can't get comfortable. This race was no exception. We headed out to breakfast early and then over to Tempe Beach Park to talk to some friends in line for 2015 registration. We perused the gear tent and then headed back to the hotel to pack up. We made it back to Tempe Beach Park for the awards ceremony and Kona allocation. Many of my TriScottsdale teammates were on the podium receiving awards and several of them are heading to Kona next fall.
My age group was awarded 3 slots. The final slot rolled to 4th place. I finished 6th. I would be lying if I said this didn't sting a little. But I do not have any regrets about my race. I know that my day will come and when it does it will be all the sweeter for the effort I have put in. Next stop: Texas.
It takes a village to compete in Ironman. And mine is no exception. Thank you, Hillary Biscay, for taking a chance on me and for teaching me so much in the last 10 months. I am looking forward to 2015 and getting stronger, faster, better. The day that I stand on the podium and take my certificate to race on the Big Island will be the proudest day of my life. I can literally taste the salty sea air, and it motivates me to work hard every day.
Thank you to my husband, DB. Your endless support and encouragement keep me going. Thank you for tolerating my mood swings, the grouchiness, and my 7 pm bedtime.
Thank you to Nate and Brandon at Endurance Rehab. I was not made to be a runner, but with your help I am.
Thank you to my Team HPB teammates. Knowing that there are others who experience similar feelings of fear, doubt, elation, and joy makes this sport that much more enjoyable. I love sharing this journey with all of you. Many of you I got to know at the team camp last spring, and it has been so much fun watching each of you achieve goals over the year. Can't wait for March!!
Thank you TriScottsdale! Best. Support crew. EVER! Running past your tents on the run course gave me the boost I needed to PR my run by 14 minutes. Thank you for your support and cheerleading!! I cannot wait to represent one day at the big dance. I will make you proud!
Thank you to Paraic and his team at Cyclologic. Paraic suggested some things after Ironman Texas and when I implemented them in training, and racing, they have made all the difference in the world! He continues to amaze me with his knowledge and I am grateful to have them on my team.
And last but not least, thank you thank you THANK YOU to the BEST training partner ever!! MP swam with me nearly every single workout since January. She woke up extra early when I needed to swim at 4 am (and never complained once!). She pushed me through every interval workout. Many times I told her the splits and let her set the pace. I knew if I could just keep up, I would hit the target. She watches me and makes subtle suggestions- improving everything from my flip turn to my back stroke, and everything in between. She is a brilliant swimmer and helped me improve my swim beyond what I could do alone. You are the BEST!!!