Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My First Half Ironman-Lake Stevens 70.3

I was more excited for this race than any other race I’ve done to date. If my count down on Facebook didn’t convince you of my excitement, I am sure my frequent jumping up and down and smiles for the last week would have. I am still a bit in awe of this ability and passion for triathlons that God has given me. Just one year ago I could hardly swim, had never ridden a road bike, and couldn’t run a mile without gasping for air. Now I am racing for 70.3miles! I don’t think I could have been more ready for this race, other than having done one already.

The morning started off EARLY. Not as early as some of my fellow teammates, thankfully my family actually lives in Lake Stevens. I woke up after 7 hours of sleep and ate a mediocre breakfast, a little oatmeal and a few bites of peanut butter and toast. Note to self: I do NOT like peanut butter and toast early in the morning. It is time to ax it from my pre-race menu. Next time I think I’ll stick to my Smart Start-Maple and Brown Sugar cereal and an egg. It has served me well before, why change it up? Around 5:20 I also ate a banana and just prior to the start, a gu.

My dad dropped me off at the transition area around 4:45am. Needless to say it was still dark and a bit chilly. I ended up using my cell phone as a light to see the pressure gauge on my bike pump while I inflated my tires. Next time I am bringing a flashlight. I loved seeing and talking with teammates/friends in transition. I would have loved to have seen more of you, but that transition area was so big (the biggest one I’ve been apart of anyway). Around 5:40 Patty and I went for a short warm-up run and afterwards went looking for a couple of our friends. In doing so we walked right by the time chip area and realized that we had totally forgotten about picking up our chip. Good thing we walked by it. But then again I guess that is why they chose a spot near the swim start. It would be very hard to miss.

The lake was beautiful this morning. The fog was just resting on the top of the water. The only problem with this lovely site is you couldn’t see the buoys through all the fog. The race was delayed 10 minutes in hopes that some of the fog would lift. I am not sure that 10 minutes made much of a difference. What really made the difference in this swim was the crew line (a rope under the water that is used to anchor buoys to it for crew races) that stretched all the way out to the buoys. All you had to do was keep that line in view and swim, not much sighting needed. I’ll get to this more in a minute.

So my wave, 29 and under was the first female age group to start. As we walked down to the dock and the announcer told us to hop in. I totally forgot the warning my teammate, Nikki, gave me about NOT jumping in because it is shallow and you’ll just sink into a bunch of muck and nastiness. Instead, I followed all the other ladies as they jumped in and got to experience the muck for myself. I don’t recommend it.

My swim started out pretty smoothly. I got knocked around a little bit, but held my ground and position near that crew line and just kept swimming. I was getting pulled along rather nicely thanks to a fellow swimmer. About 10 minutes into the swim some girl came up from behind me and completely started whacking me over and over again and pretty hard. She was breathing to her left and I was breathing to my right. She must have seen me and obviously had felt me. I’m not usually one to smack people, but I so wanted to punch her square in the face and say “come on! What are you doing?” I just figured it wouldn’t be a very loving thing to do. Finally after a number of whacks I backed off and moved to the other side of her and found my groove again. It was a pretty congestion free swim until I ran into the guys’ wave (that had gone 3 minutes earlier). I had to dodge all of the breath strokers and power kickers. That was interesting. Anyway, coming in at the end of the swim I STILL felt great! I felt like I was working steadily and by no means using up all of my energy. I felt light on the water and like I was gliding very well. I was hoping for a 40 minute swim and was out in 37:37! Sweetness!

Coming into T1 I located my bike pretty easily. However, it didn’t take long until I started fumbling around. First of all, after I stripped my wetsuit I picked it back up and threw it by my transition bag. Why? No idea. I usually leave it right where it comes off. Next I struggled with clipping my race belt on with cold hands (should have just worn it during the swim…like some people do). Then I grabbed my extra gu packets and salt tablets and stuffed them into the back of my jersey. And that is only the extra steps I made in transition this time around. I felt like I was in there forever. However, turns out it was only 1:47 (still under two minutes).

Felt a little rushed/frazzled when I got to the bike mounting line. Probably because I thought I wasted a ton of time in transition. That and my legs and feet were numb making the process a little more challenging. I paused for a second after struggling to clip my foot in, took a breath and tried again…success. I loved seeing/hearing so many cheers from my family/friends/teammates. I cannot say it enough, but all of you helped pull me through this race. You guys are the best!

Okay, so now I am on the bike, dripping wet, riding up in elevation, and it is only 7:40 in the morning. Brrr! It was cold, some where in the 50’s to low 60’s. Finally, by mile 30ish my goose bumps started to go away and I could feel my hands, feet, and quads again. Despite being cold I felt pretty great on the first loop. Patty passed me somewhere near the start of loop 2 and gave me a shout out “come on Louise, lets go!” Thanks for the encouragement and extra push Patty! My first loop split was 1:32:00ish. My legs were feeling fairly strong once they started to thaw and I continued concentrating on just keeping a nice steady pace. However, close to the same time that I started warming up, my stomach started feeling full and my battle with nutrition began.

I told myself that you may not be hungry, you may feel full, but you need this nutrition so keep it up. At mile 50, I forced myself to take my 4th gu and that ended up being my doom. I threw up, while riding, and not just a little but probably an entire 20 oz water bottle full of nutrition (500-700 calories) and hydration…GONE. Thankfully it all happened right before the bridge, the crowd, and the final water station. I grabbed another water bottle, but this time just to rinse my right arm and leg off as I was a sticky mess. (TMI? Sorry) I started thinking about what in the world I was going to do on the run. My stomach was still a bit in turmoil and my throat was burning. I drank some water during the last 6 miles hoping to get rid of the burning acid in my throat. Finally I made it back into town. My bike 3:09:14. I was hoping for under 3:10 which I accomplished, making that the fastest I have ridden that course.

Dismounting my bike was interesting. My legs were a little limp. I remember sort of trotting through transition to my racking spot. It took two attempts to rack my bike. I didn’t lift the seat up high enough the first time around. Apparently, my arms were a little fatigued as well. There was a little less to think about in T2- socks, shoes…run! Again, all of the support and cheering when I ran out of transition was AWESOME! I have the best family, friends, and teammates ever!

Almost immediately out of transition my legs felt fresh and strong. I was actually surprised by that, but I was ready to rock this run course. Only one issue, one BIG issue, how am I going to get more nutrition in to my now, fragile stomach? I had a gu in my pocket, but was completely terrified of throwing up again. I chose to forgo the gu. I didn’t even TRY it because I was afraid of getting sick again. That decision was the wrong one to make. Next time, I AM at least trying the gu! My first loop (6.5ish miles) split was 50ish minutes. No wonder I was passing so many people. That is a 7:45ish/mile pace. I passed two girls in my age group and was on the look out for more. I was feeling great, relaxed, and steady. Someone on the course even made a comment about my pace which was encouraging.

But after that first hill on the start of lap 2, I started to crumble. My run quickly turned into a jog and for the last 3-4 miles, a shuffle. I also had to use the restroom, but every time I got to a water station the honey bucket was in use so I kept going. Finally at mile 9.5 I waited for it to be unoccupied. That endeavor took about 2 minutes of my precious time, but I felt much better afterwards. My legs however, did not feel better. Those last 3.5 miles were the hardest 3.5 miles I have ever run. I wanted to walk so badly at so many different times. My feet were on fire and my legs just felt like dead weight I was struggling to lug along. I did walk at 4 different water stations, but only for 10 steps and only to down the entire cup of water. I still don’t have running and drinking simultaneously figured out yet. Every time I keep running and try to drink while pinching the top of the cup closed I get a little into my mouth but more sloshes up into my nose.

While shuffling my feet up one of the final two hills my head was telling me to stop and walk, but my heart was telling me don’t you dare. I saw a lady slowing tackling this hill and told myself just keep up with her and then “boom” she started walking. After trying to encourage her to keep going, I then told myself, “Okay, time to pass her.” As I was getting to the top of the hill I was thinking about that video clip of the women crawling to the finish line during their ironman race. For a time I thought I was going to end up crawling over the finish line as well. I was not feeling too good. During those final three miles I also spent some time thinking of Jesus and the indescribable pain he endured for me on the cross. I began thanking him for that and for giving me the ability to run and race for Him (not only in this race, but in life as well) and just asked for the strength and perseverance to push through this seemingly small amount of pain and finish this race. After the final water station I got this huge feeling of joy, realizing that I was going to FINISH my first half ironman. I think I managed to smile in that moment. Then with about 0.1-0.2 miles left I suddenly got dizzy and felt close to falling over. I thought to myself, you’ve got to get to that finish line…now! I just tried focusing on keeping my head straight. I think I even put my arms out, for a moment, like chicken wings to help me balance. Okay question? Who makes a finish line up hill? Haven’t we endured enough of them for one day? Regardless, I made it up that hill, that last incline, and finally crossed that finish line, standing up! I wish my face would have matched the joy in my heart.

My finish time was 5:50:15, just 10 minutes short of my 5:40:00 goal.

I learned a lot during this race and am so thankful for this experience. Honestly, at first I was a little disappointed with my finish time and discouraged by how fast the other girls in my age group were. How am I ever going to make it to the top of my age group? Then I was reminded of the bigger picture from my coach. Sometimes I pay too much attention to the numbers when there is so much more to this race. One thing, you cannot race your best without nutrition. The body simply does not work without it. Another thing is to look back and remember how much progress I have made in just this first year. Also, I believe that God has great purpose for me training and competing in this sport. And for that I am going to keep pushing myself, working hard, and having a blast all the while. With all of that in mind, I am proud of finishing my first 70.3 and I'm holding my head up high. Looking back, minus the nutrition battle I had a pretty good race. So believe it or not I am already looking forward to my next half ironman!

And a final THANK YOU to everyone who encouraged me along before the race even started and to all of you who were out on the course. Thanks for cheering me on even when I was struggling to find the energy at the end to even smile, wave, give a shout out, and/or a thumbs up. You all certainly helped push me along. And how about that cheering squad in town! I cannot tell you all how much I looked forward to being able to run, jog, or shuffle through there. Again, You guys are the best!