Saturday, March 2, 2013

IMNZ Race Report

Well, I didn't set any speed records at Ironman New Zealand today, so I think I'm going to go ahead and attempt a speed record in posting an Ironman Race Report.  Part because I want to just get it out, start to process it, and move on as quickly as possible, part because it's fresh in my mind, part because I'm going to be a little busy over the next couple days getting ready to head to Australia for 10 days or so.  Maybe I'll update this with more details later, maybe not. 

Long story short, I didn't have the day I wanted.  Didn't meet my place goals, didn't meet my time goals, didn't meet all my process goal.

But that's a negative, and not entirely complete view of things.  I also had a goal of enjoying the day and soaking in the Ironman experience.  And, for about 130 miles of the 140.6 mile race, I really did enjoy myself.  There was just a really, really bad 10 mile stretch.  In terms of the Ironman experience, hey, I experienced ALL of it.  Very, very high highs and very, very low lows.  So....some goals accomplished?

The results:
Swim: 56:07 (2nd in AG)
Bike: 5:34:02 (3rd in AG)
Run: 4:14:30 (ouch) (10th in AG - double ouch)
Overall:  10:5152 /8th in Age Group

I'm not making excuses, but I am going to be a little more honest here than I have been.  I've been dealing with a pissed off knee/ quad ever since Auckland 70.3 and a bit before.  I've been filling my days in Auckland with lots and lots and lots of trips to physiotherapists and massage therapists, trying to get it under control.  It's been stressful mentally, much more than I've let on to anyone.  I have a history of what appear to be minor knee issues actually being extremely serous, and to say I've flipped out about this knee stuff is an understatement.  My coach thinks she's seem a lot of stressing about my knee, the truth is, she has only been made privvy to a small portion of it.

The knee wasn't an issue today.  At all.  What was an issue was that I have thrown extremely unhealthy amounts of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories into my body for weeks on end.  I knew it was a bad idea, that those rip up your stomach, create issues with fluid and elecrolyte balances, mess with your kidney, and that it was an extra bad idea when getting ready to do an Ironman, which absolutely requires your gut to be functioning perfectly, especially in hot weather.  Add in the stress which I've tried somewhat unsuccessfully to deal with and/or pretend didn't exist, and I was a ticking time bomb.  I was told to get off the pills, and I didn't.  Self-sabotage?  Just straight up stupidity?  I don't know.  But I paid for it today.

Aside from that, the pre-race stuff was uneventful.  I wasn't all that nervous this morning.  I did keep making dumb mistakes.  I screwed up putting on my race tattoo.  I almost forgot my nutrition.  I broke a valve on the tube when pumping my tires up.  But I was pretty chill about the misteps.

I'd heard the swim at Ironman New Zealand wasn't too physical.  Not exactly my experience, at least at the beginning.  I got pummeled more than I ever have, my googles were knocked off, my legs were grabbed.  But it got better quickly.  Lake Taupo is beautiful, perfectly clear, and I enjoyed checking out all the stuff on the bottom.  I can't say I felt amazing in the water, I didn't, and I got a little mentally low.  But just before we got in the water, I heard Mike Reilly say, "the only thing you can control today is your attitude."  I repeated that as a mantra, and just kept telling myself to stay smooth and enjoy the swim, the part of the race that generally causes me the least amount of anxiety.  This was an out-and-back, essentially, so it felt LONG, but I just relaxed, started counting my strokes (counting to 100 strokes repeatedly seems to help me stay mentally engaged in open water) and went with the flow.

I thought I was swimming slow, and when I got out of the water, I saw 1:10 on the clock, and my belief was confirmed.  Turned out, that was actually the clock from the pro swim and my swim was something like 56 minutes, a HUGE PR for me.  So it was a fast day, and that time kept me excited all through the bike.

The first transition at Ironman New Zealand is not fun.  Long (like 400-500 meters to run) with a pretty tricky set of grass covered stairs to climb.  But, it got done without event.

Oh, my God.  I loved the bike.  I was nervous about the bike.  It's a two-looper, it has a quick stretch through town, climbs for about the first 10K, then is a long, boring out and back to Reporoa (the turn-around is at 28 miles or so).  The road to Reporoa is quiet (very few spectators out there), rolling, windy (with winds that change direction through the day), and of course has the rough roads I've been so fond of in New Zealand.   I figured it'd be  mental challenge to stay focused.

I took the first 10K extra easy since it's uphill.   Another member of Ken Glah's group told me yesterday that he considered that first 10K to be the most dangerous part of the course.  It's easy to overdo it, with the crowds at the beginning and then the long climb (and of course, feeling awesome getting on the bike).  I agreed, so I backed off of it significantly.

After that, I settled in and started eating and drinking a lot.  It was already getting hot, so I took in a ton of water.  I also took in a ton of salt.  Mentally, I broke the course up into 10Ks.  This might be the cheesiest idea out there, but I've found as a triathlete, and as a person who has had sports of some kind in my life since age 7, I still carry a lot of lessons that I learned from my previous athletic experiences.   So for each 10K, I thought about a specific year in my life.  I thought about things I did, athletically, that year, the highs and the lows, and mostly, what I learned from them or how they made me better.  Of course that lead to thinking about people who've had a significant impact in my life, either through sports or otherwise.  I thought about them, I kept telling myself that even if they weren't watching, I wanted to make them proud, and it gave me strength.  Super cheesy, yeah.  But it worked.   I had one overarching thought during that time, and it was that:  I am the sum total of ALL of my experiences, and all of my interactions, good and bad, athletic and otherwise, and there are a lot of good lessons to keep in mind. 

Of course I also used the time to eat and drink and salt and all that.   I executed my nutrition plan flawlessly.  In hindsight, it may be time to take that nutrition plan right back to the drawing board, but that analysis is for another day.

Cheesy point number two: I cried on the bike.  But, they were tears of joy.  That's not my style and I have no idea where it came from.  ALL day (well, for the most part), I smiled at every spectator out there.  You know, enjoying the experience, all that.  They LOVED it.  I got so many great cheers back, people were so nice, that coming back into Taupo before the second loop, I started bawling with a big ole grin.  Where it came from, I have no idea.  But I think inside me, there are a lot of pent up emotions about this time in New Zealand in general.  I have loved it here.  And I think the Kiwis cheering for me just brought that to the surface.  I was madly, wildly, passionately in love with New Zealand, and I just couldn't stop crying.

Of course that changed when my bike seat got a little more uncomfortable and the winds picked up, but I finished the bike course off in a great place mentally, with a PR split by almost 15 minutes (would have been more if those crazy headwinds hadn't picked up the last hour+), and generally felt like I was just having the perfect day.

Sunblock was order of business #1.   It as getting HOT.

Well, I started out in the nice happy place I was in for the bike.  My legs didn't feel great those first couple miles and I was a little slower than I expected, but I didn't panic at all, mentally kept telling myself that it would come around, and just kept smiling.   It did start coming around, and my pace settled right where I wanted it.   I felt quite good for the first 8+ mile loop, and was very optimistic that I was on track for a dream day.   Stomach felt a bit rough, so I made a little port-o-pot stop at mile 9, felt much better afterwards, and figured it was clear sailing until then.

Until mile 12, and I got hit by a truck.  Not literally.  But it felt like that.  Just like that, in a split second, I went from feeling quite good, to hardly being able to lift my feet off the ground.  I was getting bloated and hot, got tunnel vision quite quickly, and started to feel dizzy.  I'd been drinking a ton and taking in lots of salt, so I couldn't figure out what I had done wrong.

I hobbled forward and stopped at the med tent, and when I stood still, the world started spinning.  I wanted the medic to give me advice, to tell me what I needed.  He wouldn't, he just told me to lay down.  I knew if I did that, there was a good chance my day would be over, so I declined, stood for a couple minutes, and then walked on to the aid station, where I tried everything--- pretzels, a Mars bar, Coke, more water.  Probably a mistake, but I was in a bad, bad place.  I think I had a 16 minute mile there.

Perhaps not surprisingly, my stomach then began to revolt.  The dizziness stopped, but my stomach bloated out until I looked like I was pregnant.  Then the stomach started cramping, to the point where I couldn't run more than 20 steps without the pain overwhelming me and making it impossible to breathe.  That lasted for the next 10 miles, plus or minus.   Those were a BAD 10 miles.  There was another lengthy Med Tent visit with a nice 4 minute sit.  There were multiple (mostly unproductive) bathroom visits.  Three or four times, I tried to make myself vomit, tried to get whatever was doing this to my stomach out.  Didn't work.  It felt like a nightmare.

Adam found me at that point, disturbed when he'd spotted me trying to throw up by the side of the road.  I asked him to get his phone and email my coach to ask for advice.  Not a whole lot of diagnostic work one can do from overseas, but she told me to switch to sports drinks.  I tried, but every time I put anything into my body, the excruciating cramps would start again.  But it was hot and I didn't want to stop hydrating or eating, so every aid station (and bathroom break) was followed by several futile attempts to run again. 

The sad thing was, my legs felt GREAT.  When my gut allowed me to run, I was running fast, blowing by people, and not feeling anything like I should have felt (leg and lung-wise) for that point in the race.  But I just couldn't keep it going for more than a couple minutes without the stomach saying no, not gonna happen.

Finally, around mile 21 I had access to my Special Needs bag (three loop course, we could get it at any of 3 points we passed).  I'd packed some Maalox tabs, so I started chomping on those.  It didn't completely solve the issues, but it helped enough that I could run a whole lot more in that last 5 miles than I had been.  Still, legs felt great. Lungs felt great.  In a way, it was heatbreaking.

Those last 5 miles, I put the smile back on.  There were a few tears during that rough 10 mile patch, I admit.  From the pain, from the mental anguish of being so close to a dream day and having it slip away due to nutritional problems, just because, well, I wanted to be better.   But for the last 5 miles, I put back on the brave face, knowing my marathon time and what I thought, two hours ago, was a sure-fire Ironman PR were shot to pieces, and just tried to enjoy the experience again.  I smiled and thanked everyone who cheered for me, and I finished strong.  My last mile was among my fastest.

Even though I was gutted by my time and my place, I was smiling ear to ear when I crossed that finish line.  I truly was happy.  There was so much good to take away from the day....I swam and biked great, I ran lots of miles great.  Taupo was out in full force for this race, it was a beautiful day, and it was a great celebration of New Zealand triathlon.  And this wasn't a mental melt-down-- for me, those hurt more.  This was a physical issue, and it's fixable.   It will be fixed.

Not my day, but still going to smile about it

I was in the med tent within minutes of my finish and of course, the consensus was that I set myself up for failure with the amount of NSAIDs I've been taking.   Add in a hot day, probably insufficient pre-race hydration, and basically I screwed myself over.  Yes, I'm kicking myself.  But Ken Glah (who had a great day out there) made me feel better after the race.  He reminded me that these things happen and you learn from them.  In his words, "it should make you feel better, in a way, when you think forward to Hawaii.  This wasn't fitness.   You're plenty fit and you will be in October.  This is something that can be easily fixed."

Yeah, I'll probably mourn this a little, but not in an unhealthy or overly lengthy way.  These Ironmans, they are beasts, and you cannot make stupid mistakes like I did.  But I'll be back stronger and with more experience.  And with lots of amazing memories. 


  1. ha, you said "gutted." you have been out of the country for a while.

    i have nothing to add on the merits of the post. this sounds like abject hell to me.

    the guy who was definitely going to go to the gym today for the first time in a year but he couldn't find his membership card so he got drunk instead

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