3 hours.

That was about all the sleep I got the night before the race. Although I went to bed around 9:30, I laid in bed for at least an hour, mentally going over everything I had packed. I had expected to be nervous about the race itself but was more concerned about whether I had forgotten anything or something going awry in the wee hours of the morning. The plan was for me to take Tracy’s car and park it at the convention center, text its location and leave my phone and anything else I didn’t need there so the rest of the group doing the half could get back without walking after their race. Suddenly, I worried about finding parking, wether the garage would even be open, I hope and oh crap, I should probably take cash to pay for the garage.

Silly. Well, except for the money part – that turned out to be smart.

I woke up once in the middle of the night and tried really hard not to look at the time, but I couldn’t help myself – just in case I had overslept somehow. I hadn’t. It was 1:30am, and then I was up for at least another hour.

My alarm went off at 3:45. I have never (nor will I ever again) shot out of bed so quickly at 3:45am.

I checked the weather. I know this is going to sound shocking, but it was still windy.

I put on my tri kit, and a long sleeve shirt and jeans on top. I had actually forgotten to pack extra clothes for the morning of so I just wore my jeans. In my morning clothes bag was my breakfast (a clif bar and a fig bar but I was too nervous to eat yet), water, goggles, wetsuit and swim cap, and I carried this bag and my run special needs bag with me. I threw some extra stuff in the car for my planned “bike again” and drove down to the convention center. There was plenty of parking, and yes the garage was open. From there I walked to the nearby Hilton and as luck would have it, happened to be walking up as Tammie was walking out, so we caught the shuttle together around 4:45.

I am still too nervous to eat. I’m looking around at others on the bus who seem, at least on the surface, pretty calm. I catch a glimpse of someone’s timing chip on his ankle and suddenly am washed with a wave of panic.

My timing chip. I. forgot. my. TIMING. CHIP. I am trying really hard stay calm while I tap Tammie on the shoulder and tell her I realized that not only had I forgotten it, I hadn’t given the damn thing a second thought after throwing it in my bag on Thursday. I thought I had dumped everything out but apparently hadn’t, and was so busy thinking about bike prep, food and supplies that it completely escaped my thought. So I’m mentally wondering if I can get by doing this race without any record of it, but then I realize that anyone trying to track me would likely panic as I had no way to contact anyone to let them know.  Luckily, I was sitting next to a very nice man, and this wasn’t his first rodeo, who calmed me down by saying that they’d have extras at the transition areas.

HOW THE HELL DO YOU FORGET YOUR TIMING CHIP?!?!

So the bus drops us off at T1. I take my hydration over to my bike and then roll it over for an air check and some lube since it had rained the night before. I have to suck up my pride then and find someone to ask if they have any spare timing chips because I’m an idiot, and luckily they have a whole box. I feel temporarily better that a whole box has got to mean that I’m not the only wierdo who forgot hers. Later someone makes an announcement about spare chips so this makes me feel almost normal.

Tammie and I run into Bill and Dena while dropping off my run special needs bag. Dena drove down to spectate and since we still had some time before the last shuttle left, we packed in her car and cranked the heat for a bit.

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I forced myself to eat some of my breakfast and after about 20 minutes we headed back towards the shuttles that would take us to the swim start. We stood in line for a few minutes and then boarded a PARTY BUS!

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This thing was complete with ceiling lights so those of us in the Summerville group danced around while everyone looked at us like we were nuts. The bus drove us to about a quarter mile from the swim start so we had to walk. There was some light wind but it was chilly since the temperature had dropped. All of the full athletes were gathered and changing into wetsuits. I made myself finish my breakfast, drink some water, and then changed myself.

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The walk to the start was chilly, mostly because the sand was cold. 14713727_10207510215500457_6628604959014918790_n

The water temp was about 74 degrees, but since the air temp was 50, the water felt fantastic.

The Swim

Distance: 2.4 miles

Goals: A – under 90 minutes. B – don’t die.

The swim is considered a “mass, rolling” start, so when the cannon went off I hung back for awhile to let all the faster people get head of me. I was nervous prior to crossing the timing mat, but once it did it was game on, and I was surprised to find that the swim was actually enjoyable. Yes, I did kick a few people and yes I got kicked a few times also, but I  never panicked, stayed calm, and tried to stick close to the buoys. The problem with that was that everyone else was trying to do the same thing so the areas near the buoys were much more crowded. I was nervous about the buoys being to my left since I sight to my right, but with so many other swimmers it was really impossible to get too far off course.

The swim is a straight shot down the channel, a left turn, another straight shot and then a small turn to the finish. I remember I had a hard time following the buoy colors. I knew yellow was the first few of the full distance and they turned to orange once we hit the half start. I thought red was turning but I swam straight past one. Then after we did turn I remember wondering how I managed to get  SO FAR to the right of the buoys – well it turns out they were angled instead of a 90 degree turn (which shortened the course some) so at least I wasn’t going crazy. Other than some mad wetsuit chafing – I didn’t practice swim with my tri suit on which was a BAD MOVE, and the wind once we made the turn – the swim was….dare I say it? Fun. Who’d have thought?

Swim Time: 1:12:36

T1

Goal: none really – I’m not here to win so I just took my time.

The exit required us to climb up a ladder and onto a dock where volunteers were helping pull us up. I expected my legs to feel jello-y but they weren’t bad. There was what felt like a long run to the transition area, with a stop at the wetsuit strippers. I had to stop and watch for a sec to figure out what I was supposed to do (lay on the ground and its pulled off inside out) but it was still way faster than it would have been had I tried to do it myself. After that I stood in the warm shower for longer than I probably  needed to, before heading to get my bag and into the changing tent.

So, note to self: next time just leave the wet bra on. I was worried about being cold with the wind but the extra effort to put a dry bra on a wet body was – well, comical. I flashed the whole tent for at least 2 minutes while I struggled to pull it down, until a nice volunteer offered to help (thank you!). I completely changed into dry clothes, wolfed down a peppermint patty (this worked wondered for the salt water taste!), dropped my bag off and headed for my bike.

T1 Time: 14:30

The Bike

Distance: 56 miles

Goal: A – 3:15 (but only if I could stay in Z2) B – don’t die. 

The first bit of the bike, though twisty, wasn’t bad. I got on the bike to realize that I had forgotten to eat the sandwich I had packed in my transition bag, so I was already a little behind on the nutrition, but I couldn’t really grab it out of my pocket because of all the turns. There was one section in particular everyone was warned about – at mile 1 and again at the end we had to ride over grates on these bridges. I had thought I might stop and walk but ended up following the crowd and just rode over slow and steady.

The bike course didn’t provide much scenery, but from what I understand, it was the part that was cut out that was supposed to be more country-like and scenic. What we did involved riding on a major highway, over a couple overpasses, down an off ramp and then an out and back on a long 4 lane road.

What ended up being significant about the bike was the wind. THE. WIND. WAS. AWFUL. I knew to expect a tough bike when they predicted wind but just didn’t fully grasp what that meant. We battled 16-18 mph headwinds and cross winds with gusts up to 27 mph. At one point on an overpass, I was seriously scared I was going to get blown over. Battling the wind also made it really difficult to use my salt and my nutrition because I had to try to reach back to grab it during a break in the wind without knowing when another gust was coming. The course was relatively flat save for the overpasses, but with the wind I really struggled to keep my heart rate down. I literally just could not do it. Every time I managed to I had to go up a hill or battle a headwind and it would shoot back up again. At one point on the long stretch of road I actually put my bike gear into the little wheel, hoping that would help. It didn’t. In fact, I looked back after the race to see there were points where I was only going 10mph. TEN. FREAKING. MILES AN HOUR.

The bike course had two aid stations – one at mile 27 and one at mile 43 or something. I rolled through the first, grabbing a gatorade as I rode by (talent!). By the second aid station I really had to pee so I dismounted there and waited in line. There were unfortunately only two porta potties so I was there for almost 10 minutes. However, the ride back was freaking fantastic – all the headwind we battled for 40 miles was now at our backs, and just pedaling easy I was hitting 25mph at some points.

The bike dismount was a cluster fuck. Seriously. Even as my first Ironman it was just bad. We had to dismount on the middle of hill and run with the bike over this poorly covered gravel. I almost twisted an ankle, but was trying to “hurry” because I could tell the guy behind me was wanting to go faster.

Bike Time 3:36:37  (thanks wind)

T2 

I did another full change here, because running with bike shorts would have felt like running with a diaper. I asked for a bandaid for some under arm chafing and that took a few minutes, and again had to stop and use the restroom. Then, the run out of transition was ridiculously long, or at least it felt like it. 

T2 time: 10:12

The Run

Distance: 26.2 miles

Goals A: 4 and a half hours. B: don’t die

My plan for the run was the run the first 3 miles and do a 3/1 run/walk for the rest. In retrospect, I had a few issues here. First, I forgot to take an ibproufen before the run started to get ahead of the soreness. I know this isn’t a recommended method but I only use it for marathon races and not in training. Second, for a person from South Carolina who has to drive 45 minutes to get to a hill thats worth a damn, this course was NOT flat. And since it was a double out and back this meant we went up and down the hills 4 times. Third, it was warm. It was 60 something, which to many is not warm, and for SC standards is not warm either, but unfortunately I warm up VERY quickly exercising so anything above 60 is too warm. It also didn’t help that we were now running the marathon mid day instead of evening. But, I thought that since half the bike was cut, I’d have energy left in my legs.

I was wrong.

By mile 1 I was already hot and really wanted to lose my shirt, but had heard rumors Ironman doesn’t allow you to go shirtless so I kept it on. By mile 3 I had passed two women without shirts so I took it off, which helped but I was still warm.

The race course ran through downtown Wilmington and past a street of restaurants where many of the spectators gathered. From there it headed towards and looped through a nicely shaded park before heading back the direction from where you started. So the first half was not shaded but the second half was. The nice things about this double out and back were plenty of well stocked aid stations (1 each mile) and the fact that you’d see other athletes and family members 4 times.

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Kisses for Miles

My first three miles were already slower than I hoped they would be so I knew from the beginning my chances of finishing in 4.5 hours were unlikely. By the time I started run/walking ( I was also walking through aid stations for water so I wouldn’t get dehydrated) my averages were in the high 10’s. Soreness and tightness started to set in at about mile 10 and I was really looking forward my run special needs bag with my ibproufen and chips in it. The first loop literally takes you right by the finish line before having to turn around and go back out, which sucks, but there were enough people cheering that it wasn’t too demoralizing.

I reached the run special needs area and yelled out my bib number, but something happened at some point in the transportation of the bags and mine simply wasn’t there. I glanced around for a minute or so trying to see if it had been misplaced before finally moving on without it, but I was already tight and sore so I knew this second loop was really going to be a challenge.

I managed to run/walk (with some extra walking and a couple bathroom breaks) up to about mile 17. I walked most of mile 17. I remember commenting to myself and others that I couldn’t believe how difficult this marathon still felt even with half the bike course cut. Somewhere around mile 18, Tammie caught up with me. Tammie and I have done many training rides, runs and swim together, and are similarly paced in the run so I was REALLY glad to see her. She walked with me a bit longer while I told her about my special needs bag debacle and it turned out she had two ibproufen on her, so I happily took them. At that point she was also run/walking so we continued on together. Somewhere around mile 20 the ibproufen started at least taking the edge off so the run part of the cycle didn’t feel so awful. At this point in the race I was averaging in the 13’s since we were run/walking and walking through all the aid stations, grabbing as many potato chips as I could manage. I also took a sip of coke and red bull here and there which was risky since I didn’t train with it, but gave me a surprising little jolt of energy for a few minutes.

Tammie ended up being my life saver for those last 8 or so miles – the company helped keep my mind off of my sore muscles and I was able to keep moving faster than I would have if I had been solo. Ironman does not allow any music at their races either which has always been a huge help to me.

After what felt like forever we finally reached the last few miles of the race.I started to worry about wether I’d have the energy to attempt the “bike again” and she reminded me not to worry about that just yet. We shared stories about fearing death on the overpass, riding over the grates, getting kicked in the swim, how much the wind sucked but also how we couldn’t believe it was almost over but OH MY GOD this final downhill HURTS. We debated a bit about how we should finish and ultimately decided that since we had spent so much time training together, we should cross the finish line together.

So we did.

Run Time: 5:08:30

I had this vision of some major fist pumping crossing the finish line, but we ended up slowing down a bit to let a half finisher cross before us (though we still ended up in each others pictures) and honestly? I was pooped. I was still ecstatic, but also pooped. And also very glad to be done….well, almost done.

Total Time: 10:22:25

The Bike Again

Tami and Tracy, who had said from the start that they’d be happy to help me if I wanted to attempt this trainer ride, were there at the finish line to congratulate me….and ask if I felt like getting back on the bike.

I said I needed a few minutes to think about it.

I stuck around and hugged Bryan, the twins and my parents, and thought about whether I really wanted to attempt getting back on the bike with the way my legs felt. I decided it was worth trying, because I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t at least attempt it. So Tami and Tracy went to get and set up my bike trainer while I fetched my bags and bike. This ended up taking a little longer than it should have because I got my bike and walked it back to the finish only to realize that my run bag was in the same area as the bike so I had to walk back again. I pushed the bike to the trainer area, which was a TV station parking lot that overlooked the finishers chute.

I changed back into my bike clothes, grabbed my drinks and snacks and got back on the bike. It was 6:45 pm.

By the time I finished the race my watch was almost dead. So I did a mental calculation that had I been on the road (assuming no wind) that I would likely complete the 56 miles in around 3 hours, so that is how long I aimed to ride on the trainer.

Surprisingly the first hour, albeit boring, didn’t feel bad. Tami and Tracy left to get dinner. My parents stuck around for a bit and then eventually left themselves to help Bryan with the twins at the hotel, though they said they’d be back. I chatted with the guy next to me (Dave) awhile, played on my phone, took a selfie, and watched the finish line.

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At about an hour in my parents came back to keep me company, and many of the Summerville Tri group trickled through to say hi (and you’re crazy). A random lady (and Heather) offered me pizza, which I happily took because at that point I was sick of PBJ. Heather’s floating head also stopped by to offer support.

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The Ironman race itself closed at 9pm and all was quiet for a few minutes until someone at the Base salt tent kicked on some music for those of us still pedaling. I’m not sure how many people ended up coming up and completing the distance on the trainer – I think there were about 20 there when I started and I heard about 50 total. Many, if not all, were like me and determined to get the full mileage of our first Ironman. 

My mom also took this gem of a photo:

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Watching an Ironman is tiring

Around 9:15 my legs were shot. But I had spent 2.5 hours on the damn thing and I wasn’t about to stop now. I texted Tami and told them to come pick me up at 9:45.

Around 9:30 I started looking at my watch about every 30 seconds.

Around 9:35 I joked that I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get off the darn bike without falling.

Around 9:40 I was pedaling with nothing but sheer determination.

By 9:43 I had already looked at my watch another dozen times.

At 9:45 over 14 and a half hours after that first step into the water, I was finally done. I was finally an Ironman, both by the race’s standards, and my own. 

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After a short celebration and congratulations, I loaded myself and my stuff into the car with the help of Tami and Tracy. We arrived at the house and I was kind of in a fog and it was like the whole day just hadn’t processed yet. I hugged everyone (because Tami’s friends are awesome), ate, and sat in the Jacuzzi tub before bed.

It turns out I was locally famous – well kinda:

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It honestly took me a couple of days to really process the whole whirlwind of a weekend.

Training Totals (in Miles)

Swim: 91.77

Bike: 2462.26

Run: 550.66

Training (and race) Thoughts: As far as race day plans go I am happy with how it turned out. Of course it didn’t go perfectly but what does? What I did feel like I nailed was what I chose with respect to nutrition (PBJ and fig bars on bike, applesauce and later chips on run and alternating one bottle gatorade and one bottle water on bike and mostly water on run). I didn’t once have any stomach issues or any need for the Immodium or Pepto I packed. What I could likely change is the schedule or frequency of it – i.e. eat more often. Or maybe take salt more often. I nailed staying hydrated as I used the bathroom before and after the swim, once on the bike and 3 times on the run. What I’m unsure about is if the soreness during the run was the result of a nutrition or salt issue or just a I’ve been exercising all day issue. I hit my A goal on the swim and my B goal on the bike and run, and overall my goal was just to finish, so done.

Plan wise – overall I liked the Be Iron Fit plan and would use it again with some minor tweaks. I feel like it emphasized the bike a bit too much and I would take a couple of the 4-5 hour rides (there were like 8 or 9 of them) and make them longer bricks to get some more practice running on tired legs. Otherwise, the plan worked.

A few weeks separated from the event all that went into it now, it really hits home how training for something like this seriously consumes your entire life for over half a year. With that said, it CAN be done with some good planning, support and time management skills, even with small children. The triathlon community is probably one of the most supportive groups of people. I once wondered whether I’d really fit in and now my group feels like my family. Every single one of those people, wether tacking the half or full, trained hard, laughed, cried, swore and supported one another all the way through. By far, this was the most challenging thing (physically) that I have ever done. I had heard people say that training for and completing an Ironman changes you. I am most definitely not the same. An event like this was WAY out of my comfort zone, but I really feel like now that I have conquered that I can figure out almost anything. Also, man my family is awesome, and what the heck do I do with all this free time?!!?

I AM AN IRONMAN!

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear” – Ambrose Redmoon

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