Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Race Report: Ironman Coeur d'Alene 2012 Part 3

The Run
My goal was to be on the run by 5:00 p.m. in case I had to walk the whole thing and I actually got going a few minutes earlier than that. Considering that I couldn't even stand up when I got off my bike, I was quite surprised that I was able to start out running. Turns out I was able to run almost the whole first half of the marathon. It wasn't fast but I did the first loop (13.4 miles) in just under three hours. It was hard to go back out for the second loop because the halfway turnaround is a block away from the finish line and I could hear the announcer congratulating people who were finishing. But I wanted to get there, too, so off I went. Near the beginning of my second loop, a spectator said to me, "You've got over four hours to do a half marathon! You've got this!" I realized at that point that I might actually make it. I couldn't run anymore but I could walk pretty fast so it became my plan to just keep that up. At the aid stations I ate chocolate chip cookies, chips and fruit and I started to drink Coke on the second loop. I felt strong and happy. When I got out to the turnaround point, at about the 32K mark, it was dark and they were handing out glow sticks that we put around our necks. The turnaround point is up and over a big hill and as I was coming back up and over that hill, I saw the 21 mile sign. I realized that I had 5 miles to go and over two hours to do it. I was pretty sure then that I was going to make it. I got choked up. I kept on walking as fast as I could. There were still spectators out on the course, especially back in town, cheering and saying I looked strong and amazing, high fiving everyone as we went by, playing music for us. I thanked them for staying up late for the last of us.

Finally, I made the last turn onto Sherman Ave - six blocks to go! With three blocks to go, I started to run again. The crowds were thick at that point and they were cheering like crazy! I entered the finishing chute. I had it all to myself. Time stood still.  Everyone was screaming. They were thumping on the sides of the chute and reaching out their hands. I reached out my arms to touch every hand I could. I saw Dan and Adam. Mike Reilly said, "Sarah Wall, YOU are an Ironman!" I couldn't contain my happiness. And I crossed that finish line at 16:15:10.

My total run time was 6:20, which pleased me, and I was thrilled with my overall finishing time. I thought I'd be right down to the wire. It was an incredible day. The crowd support was amazing. I felt like a rock star all day! And the volunteers were fantastic. They did anything and everything for you that you needed. The day went well for me and I was so impressed with the event. It was a great first experience and I'm so glad I did it.

Race Report: Ironman Coeur d'Alene 2012 Part 2

The Bike
The bike course is also two loops but it's really two out and back arms, which you do twice. The first goes east through town and then out along the lake. Then you return to town and head south along the western edge of the lake on highway 95. The eastern arm is quite a bit shorter (about 16 miles) and it's got some flat sections, although there is a decent hill at the end that you go up and over and then up and over again after the turnaround. The longer section (40 miles return) on highway 95 is very challenging. There are about 2 miles that are fairly flat but the rest of it is relentless climbing. Some of it is just gradual but there are a couple of long tough hills. The Mika Grade is the major climb, a 6% grade for just over 3 kilometres, which you have the privilege of going up and over four times by the time you do the whole course. There is another climb that is 5% for about a mile. On the way out, we had a pretty significant headwind. It was easier going back toward town because the wind was behind us but the hills didn't let up! I found it hard mentally to head out to highway 95 for the second loop but it was good to know that the harder work would be on the way out and that coming back would be better. A lot of people passed me on the uphills but there were some screaming awesome downhills, too, and I passed everyone on those! I am not afraid of going down and working those hills! I leapfrogged the whole way back to town with a guy named Joe - he'd pass me going up and I'd pass him going down. We kept each other company. As I did the last major climb on the way back, another guy pulled up behind me. He said, "Sarah, you are doing great." (Our names were on our bibs.) I said I was getting worried about the time. He told me that I'd be back in town in 20 minutes and have loads of time for the run. He said that that evening, I'd hear Mike Reilly (the announcer) tell me that I was Ironman. I never saw his face. He pulled out and passed me near the top of the hill but so did a couple of other guys so I don't know which one was him. He was a total godsend, though, just in the right place at the right time with the right thing to say. My bike time was 7:55:44. I thought I might be around 7:40 or 7:45 but I was pretty happy with my time considering the course. My speed has picked up quite a bit since I did my one and only half iron in 2009 on a much easier course so I feel good about that.

I was pretty happy to get back to transition. At the dismount line, the volunteers hold on to your bike and help you off. I couldn't even stand up so they held on to me, too! They take your bike for you so you don't even have to worry about it. I waddled over to get my run gear bag and went into the change tent. I did a full change of clothes so I could start over fresh. Again, a fantastic volunteer helped me with my bra and socks and got me organized when I couldn't think straight anymore. On the way out of the tent, another volunteer handed me a bag of pretzels and off I went for my marathon. T2 time was 5:52.

Continued in Part 3...

Race Report: Ironman Coeur d'Alene 2012 Part 1

Grab a coffee and a snack and maybe a blankie and pillow - this is gonna be a long one! I had to post it in three parts so the blogger software didn't melt down.

Dan, Adam and I arrived in Coeur d'Alene on the Wednesday before the race so I had several days to obsess over the looming race and try to keep myself off the ledge. I did a few swims in the lake, biked one loop of the run course, and did a couple of short runs, which felt good and helped to blow off a little steam. I checked in for the race on Thursday and got my wristband. The pre-race dinner was on Friday. They showed some videos that were very exciting but you could still feel the anxiety and nerves in the room. On Saturday, I dropped my bike off in transition and left my bike and run gear bags in one of the long rows, ready to use the next day.

I did a pretty good job of holding myself together those few days before the race. I just tried to focus on the excitement of being there to do an Ironman! On Saturday night, we went for dinner and then for a little walk by some of the beautiful waterfront houses near our hotel. I became suddenly overwhelmed and started to cry and Dan had to console me. It didn't last long, though, and that was really the only bad moment I had.

I had a pretty good sleep the night before the race. We got up at 4:00 a.m. and I showered and then we had breakfast. We left the hotel around 5:00 and arrived in transition at 5:15. I put my nutrition on my bike and pumped up my bike tires. Several of us chatted while we got set up. There were lots of first timers in my row. It was a surprisingly relaxed atmosphere. I felt like I had lots of time so I went to make sure my transition bags were still there and then I went in the change tent and put on my bathing suit and pulled my wetsuit up halfway.

At 6:15, I left transition and headed toward the beach. There was an incredible sea of green and pink swim caps! They told us we couldn't do a warm-up swim but a few people got in at the edge of the water anyway, so I did, too. I put my face in and let the water fill my wetsuit. The water was cold. It had been all week but it was reportedly a little colder on race morning (57 degrees F). I swam about 20 strokes. It was enough for me to feel that I had fulfilled my ritual and that I'd be OK getting back in. I found a spot on the beach and waited. I listened to the Star Spangled Banner with my hand on my heart so I could feel the moment. At two minutes to seven, I said to myself, "I am here at Ironman and this is incredible." I closed my eyes and listed the names of the people who had supported me and encouraged me and wished me well, many of whom had done this distance. I felt calm and ready.

The Swim
The cannon went off! I had situated myself about 3/4 of the way to the back of the pack, just right of the buoys. When the gun went, I started walking, didn't wait, just got in and started swimming. I knew the mass start with about 2200 people would be amazing and indeed it was! Bodies everywhere! But I just swam and kept looking for the next space to slide myself into and whenever I found some feet to follow, I stuck with them. The course goes counter-clockwise, 900m out, 100m across, 900m back and then you make a short beach run and get back in for a second loop. The first 900m was fine. It was very crowded but I felt strong and not nervous and kept plugging along. It was congested at the first turn but I expected that. At the second turn, I was just about around the buoy when I was suddenly thrown forward about six feet by a huge wave then went over my head. I thought, "Wow! Where did that come from?" I kept swimming then but noticed that it was a little rougher than the way out. Still, I arrived at the beach at the 45 minute mark, faster than I expected to be so I was pretty happy about that. The second loop, however, was an entirely different story! The waves had really picked up. There were still people everywhere and we were all being thrown around quite a bit in the chop. I found that I would have to lift my head high to breathe and then dive back into the next wave. Sometimes I mistimed it and got a mouthful of water so I swallowed quite a lot of the lake! At the turnaround buoys, we were side-on to the waves so we were thrown around a little bit. I actually did not feel nervous or anxious about the situation, though. I just raised my head when I needed to and got around the second turn. It was hard to sight heading back to the beach because of the height of the waves but I finally found something large on the beach to focus on. I did start to think that it would be nice to get out of the lake but I felt strong all the way to the end of the swim and the waves certainly took my mind off the cold! My swim time was 1:40:24. I expected to be around 1:45 so I was pretty pleased with my time, especially considering the conditions.

The swim to bike transition took me 12:13. The wetsuit strippers got me out of my suit and I ran over to get my bag. In the change tent, I got all my biking stuff on with the help of a wonderful volunteer who helped me pull everything on over my wet body. Outside the tent, more volunteers slathered me with sunscreen (although they missed the back of my shoulders, which I did not realize at all, so I have a pretty fabulous sunburn!). I ran toward my bike and another volunteer unracked it, handed it to me, and pointed me in the direction of the bike out arch. Pretty slick. Pretty amazing volunteers.

Continued in Part 2...

Monday, June 18, 2012

A New Way of Looking at It

Tomorrow I leave for Coeur d'Alene. I am actually excited and looking forward to it, despite the fact that I am feeling a little bit nervous as it approaches. For me to be excited about it is a big step. When I signed up for the race, almost a year ago, I burst into tears when the website told me that my registration had been accepted. I was terrified, wondering what on earth I'd gotten myself into. I spent the first few months of my training thinking I had bitten off more than I could chew. I couldn't imagine myself doing such a thing as Ironman and I often joked that I'd be standing on the beach on race day, crying into my goggles, still terrified of what I was about to do.

Maybe I will still cry into my goggles on the beach - it will be a big day and I might feel the magnitude of it in that moment. But I am going into this race with a very different attitude than I ever expected. My change in perspective has a lot to do with what the people around me have taught me over this year of training and the things that they have said to me in the last couple of weeks, as I get closer to race day.

A lot of people have expressed their faith in my ability to do it. They are people who know what this race is like and I know they aren't lying to me. It means a lot to me to hear things like:

"You are so ready for this."
"I have no doubt you can and will finish this race."
"Whatever happens on that day, you are better than that."
"I'm very proud of you and I know you will have a great day."

These statements build my confidence and help me to believe.

As well, beyond learning to believe in myself, I have learned that I don't have to go into this race with a fearful attitude. So many people have told me to have fun out there. I never even would have considered that before. Have fun? Won't I be suffering all day? Well, I'm sure there will be some low points in the day, but I have learned that it's also possible to approach it as something enjoyable! One friend told me that she just stood on the beach before the race and focused on how happy she was to be there, to have the means to participate in such a race, to be healthy and fit, to have the opportunity. Another friend said that the race is a celebration of your training. I love that. Yet another said, "Don't be nervous, just don't be nervous." Wow. I don't have to get worked up and be terrified of it.

Today I am excited that my opportunity to become an Ironman is just a few days away. I am visualizing a good race and thinking of all these amazingly positive things that people have said to me. I have learned, with the help of some amazing people, to talk myself off the ledge and for me that is huge. I know there are no guarantees on the day, but faith and a positive attitude will help me a lot and I will be taking that with me when I head off tomorrow.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Making Peace with Open Water

Last Tuesday, I went out to Hubbles Lake to do my first open water swim of the season. Last year, I did only one open water swim; it was in a race and it didn't go well. So, I wondered how this swim would go. It was a nice evening and the lake was comfortable but that panicky feeling swept over me after about 100 metres of swimming and it was hard to shake. I was with a friend and we just ended up bobbing and talking in the middle of the lake and swimming a bit when I felt I could. I managed about 1200 metres. It was actually really fun to just play in the lake and have a chat but it wasn't exactly a stellar swim. I returned to the lake yesterday (Friday) for another shot at it. Between Tuesday and Friday, I tried to visualize a perfect swim and get my mind focused on having a positive experience. When I got in the water, I spent a few minutes just getting used to the water and sticking my face in. The water was easier to get into than the pool is - it was so warm and the evening was lovely. I set out with two other women. I found a perfect groove right off the bat and just settled in! The three of us just glided peacefully across the lake, side by side. It was magical. About half way back, I turned my head to breathe and found myself almost face to face with a loon. He was just floating there about 4 feet from me. I stopped to look at him - he was so beautiful. Then he slowly swam away and I started off again. The trip across the lake and back is 1800 metres. I felt strong and calm and in the zone the whole way and I could have kept on going. It was a huge psychological boost to have such a great swim!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Thoughts From a 7 Hour Bike Ride

This Saturday I did my longest bike ride, which ended up being 7 hours and 39 minutes long (it was supposed to be 7 hrs). That gave me a lot of time to think; my mind has always gone faster than my legs so a lot of thoughts crossed my mind. Here are some of them:
  1. I really like the people in my triathlon club. I spent the first three hours with them, as part of our regular Saturday morning group ride. We had so much fun together and those three hours went quickly.
  2. I am feeling stronger.
  3. I love my bike.
  4. Never unzip your jersey if you're hot on your bike. I did and an insect flew down inside and stung me on my boob.
  5. That Toffee Peanut Buzz Clif Bar tasted like a gourmet meal at the turnaround point.
  6. The wind is my constant companion. I used to hate it but now I take it in stride (although I do have to admit that I did say the f-word at the 7:16:55 mark because I was getting a little tired of the 40 km/hr headwind).
  7. Legs are amazing things.
  8. I was dressed perfectly for the ride.
  9. That hill on Rollyview Road, that everyone on the MS Bike Tour used to freak out about, is no big deal.
  10. There aren't a lot of private places to pee on the Alberta prairies.
  11. I have discovered that a bottle of Starbucks frappuccino tastes like the nectar of the gods when I'm out on the road and I will never go for another long ride without one.
  12. I feel like maybe I can do that Ironman ride.