Sunday, November 23, 2014

Ironman Arizona 2014- Redemption

Despite having to really drag myself through several weeks of literal and figurative darkness and fear and all that stuff prior to Ironman Arizona, by the time we arrived in Tempe, I was actually in quite a good state of mind.  I knew (I'm learning!) that in order to have a successful race, I needed to do whatever I could to keep the pre-race anxiety very, very low.  My method of doing that?   I made the trip short and sweet, not flying into Phoenix until Friday morning.  I kept my head down, focused on myself, and tried to stay away from the noise, popping in to Ironman Village only to check in and handle the necessities but hustling out of there and staying away from the buzz as much as I could.  I mostly did my workouts away from the race site, skipping the pre-race practice swim in favor of the local Y and riding/running from my hotel.  And mostly, I surrounded myself with close friends and family and people who could keep me laughing
Spotted on pre-race ride.  I knew it'd be a good day.
My mood the day before the race and the morning of was ridiculously good, almost to a bizarre extent.  The pre-race mishaps, of which there are always some, were significant this time (among other things, I forgot all of my bottles of nutrition, not noticing until we'd already parked, and had to send my dad back to the hotel for quick retrieval) but for whatever reason these things barely raised the stress level.  It was quite strange, really.  The fear I had of this race was so substantial that I had anticipated being near tears with nerves beforehand.  Not so much.  I got my bike set up, I joked around with Karin and Dusty (who had all-access passes as they were handlers for a physically-challenged athlete), I celebrated when my wetsuit, which I hadn't put on in two months, still fit, and most of all, I just felt happy and excited.  Was it my lowered expectations (I truly, truly just wanted to finish)?  Was it excitement of being able to "redeem" myself?  I have no idea, but if I could bottle up that good mood for future races, I would.

Headed out of transition, I found training buddy Kristy, which was good, as we had planned to swim together.  The line to get to the water was huge and I just wanted in, so I pushed and elbowed my way up to the front of the line with Kristy following closely behind and apologizing to everyone for my rudeness. We jumped into the dark and murky water, swam the 300 meters right to the front line, towards the right but not all the way.   And wouldn't you know, with 3,000 starters, I ran into a familiar face treading right in that space-- Jerome Harrison, Jennifer's husband, who made me feel a little better about not having swum a single stroke in my wetsuit in 2 months when he confessed that he hadn't been in his for three years.  The three of us chatted and joked and observed that the race was starting way late.  The nerves never came.

Without much warning, the cannon fired, I put the head down and churned out a good 60 hard strokes, then took the effort down, lifted my head to look around, and practically cheered out loud upon realizing that somehow, I'd managed to find myself almost entirely in open water.
It was about this dark when we got in
I'd heard talk on Slowtwitch, and gotten confirmation from male amateur champ Steve Johnson, that the best line in this swim was not along the buoy line, but farther right,  as the course curves a bit ("it's kinda like a banana," said Steve).  With this knowledge, I aimed myself wide right towards the shore, settling in maybe 10 or 20 feet right of the sea wall, where spectators were walking along.   And then, lo and behold, there were my parents, walking right along with me.  This made me almost giddy.  I kept waving at them as I swam and at one point they waved back.  Three cheers for my extremely "distinctive" (or ugly, whatever) straight-arm swim style that made me recognizable in a sea of black wetsuited competitors!
Love the mass swim starts.  Really
After a little of that, I realized it'd probably be smarter if I stopped waving at my family and smiling like a dork and got to work, so I spotted a couple green caps swimming close by, adjusted my angle, and hopped into their pack, riding the draft as much as I could until the turnaround.

Coming back in, I continued to blindly trust the advice of bunch of strangers on Slowtwitch and stayed far right, way out in no man's land, swimming alone.   I felt good and strong but I was so isolated out there that I feared I was way off course.  Yet eventually, the course curved out to meet me, I celebrated the smart line I'd taken, and enjoyed the easy effort all the way in and out of the water.

Swim: 59:02/ 5th in Age Group

I didn't see a clock getting out of the water and hadn't started my watch, so I had no idea how the swim had gone.  A very helpful spectator shouted "you're under an hour!" which widened my smile as that is always the goal.  T1 has been a weakness of mine this year, I've gotten lost so many times, so when I arrived to the bags and a volunteer already had found my bag amongst the piles and was holding it out for me, I was perhaps overly thankful ("thank you, thank you, so much for not making me find this on my own!").  I got through the transition pretty quickly and then was happy to see All-Access Karin as I exited the tent to find my bike.  "I found my bag!!!"  I yelled to her.  Small victories.  She jogged behind me as I turned down the correct  row for once and ran straight to the volunteer who was holding my bike.  "And I found my bike!!!," I continued to narrate.  Has there ever been anyone so damn happy about getting through transition?  I am not so sure.
Mutual Friendly Feeling Friend Livetweeting My Success
If there's one word to describe my plan for the bike it was:  conservative.  I had power targets, but after the Kona meltdown, my primary goal was to ride as easily and in-control as possible so as to give myself the best chance to digest my nutrition properly and to set myself up to have a good run, which I have never been able to do at the Ironman distance.  This was not, in any way, a day to take anything even remotely resembling a risk.

Once I started rolling, it became immediately apparent that this was going to be a much tougher day than anticipated.  The wind was already gusting strongly, and I knew it would only get worse.  So I hunkered down, prepared myself mentally, and set out at a sustainable pace, repeating over and over "easy, easy, easy."   I settled in, tried to take it all in, had a little Fan Girl moment when I saw World Champ Mirinda Carfrae out doing a training run along the Beeline, laughed at how pretty much every guy that passed me was wearing the same damn race kit, and just had a grand ole' time.
Who wants to help me get aerodynamic before next season???!!  Yikes.
At the turn-around for the 1st of 3 loops, an amazing spectator let me know that I was the third female amateur coming through, about 1:50 down from the lead, which was good news but didn't change anything-- I was still trying to be conservative and do my own thing.  At this point, the course was still quite empty, with only much faster guys flying by me from time to time, so I let it rip on the downhill, staying as aero as I could and trying to get the speed up.  I passed Girl #2 pretty quickly and figured Cathy Yndestad was the leader.  I've never raced Cathy before or even met her, but if you race in the Midwest you know Cathy.  She's been tearing it up for years and by all accounts is a really, really nice person, too, and those are the sorts of individuals who people just know.  She's also a very strong swimmer, it was no surprise that she was leading the race, and as I told someone the day before, "there's a good chance I won't see Cathy all day-- she'll be off the front from the gun."

Making the turn-around to start Lap 2, I was still in an awesome mood, smiling and waving when I saw first my parents, then Katy, Carolyn & Bill, then Jennifer Harrison, then Karin & Dusty, then my parents again, with my dad now yelling out "P-2, P-2" which has become a joke between us ever since Mont-Tremblant.
Grand ole time.  For now
Lap Two was harder, with the wind picking up and things getting a bit more crowded as I caught up with the back-of-packers starting their first loop, but I kept to the plan, still felt decent, and was surprised that it wasn't worse. 

Lap Three was even worse, with the headwind making the gradual 18-ish mile climb feel like one of the mountains I tackled while riding in Spain in 2012 and sucking all of my will to live.  My power dropped, my whole body ached from trying to steady my bike in the winds, and that climb to the top seemed like it would never, ever end.  I started watching the pro race coming back down, just really, really wanting to see people I knew descending back into town because it would mean I was at least getting closer to the top.   I knew Maggie was ahead, racing in her first pro race and wearing a bright pink helmet and at moments, all I wanted to see in the whole world was that damn pink helmet because it'd offer tangible proof that this stretch would, in fact, end at some point and I wouldn't be climbing into that wind for the rest of my life.
I did buy the pictures and will replace this
Close to the turn around, I looked ahead and spied a girl wearing a black Lifetime Fitness kit (with a guy riding just inches of her back wheel).  It was Cathy.  That moment shocked and excited me, as I thought I was going so slow that there was no way I was making ground on anyone.   I took a minute to let the guy that was clinging to her wheel know that it was pretty pathetic to be blatantly drafting off a girl (I'm not usually confrontational like that at all, was pretty pathetic), and passed, knowing that Cathy was a great racer and there was no way she'd just let me go.

We turned around finally and as we got a tailwind combined with a downhill, it's like the whole world shifted.  My will to live immediately returned, but that last climb had taken so much out of me that I decided that I needed to take the last 18 miles nice and easy.   I settled in, taking in nutrition and trying to relax.  Cathy flew by, at which point I reminded myself not to relax too much. I hung a legal distance back from her for a few minutes and then passed again, half expecting that leap frog game to go on for the rest of the ride (it didn't).  By the time we reached town, I thought I'd dropped Cathy, but as I getting off my bike slowly and like a total rookie, she rolled right past with an expert flying dismount, got to the line first, and bolted off to transition.  Game on.

Time: 5:19:07, 1st in Age Group, 2nd off the bike, and about a million (or 10-15) minutes slower than anticipated due to the wind 

Entering transition with Cathy and knowing that we were both 1-2 in the Amateur race and 1-2 in our age group certainly lit a fire under my ass.  We both transitioned in under 90 seconds, no messing around. I'm pretty proud of that one, especially because that included actual tying of shoe laces for me (no speed laces in this race, the first time I've ever done that).  

As Cathy and I headed out for the run right with each other, part of me was excited (this is real racing and it's what I live for), but a bigger part was absolutely terrified.
Photo by Kerry Yndestad.  Right out of T2
With Kona fresh in my mind, and with a history of pretty epic blow ups in Ironman marathons, it's fair to say I was confronting some serious demons during this race and especially this part of it, and I absolutely knew that the only way I was going to successfully fight this battle was to start slow, so very slow, manage my emotions, and put the blinders on.  I knew that's what I needed to do.  But given where we were, running right together in first and second place,  putting the blinders on was way easier said than done.  Honestly, at first, I was just saying over and over in my head, "shit, shit, shit."  I didn't want a race like this, and I was panicking, knowing that starting neck-and-neck with my closest competitor and getting involved in a "race"  with 26 miles still to go, could very, very easily cause me to make huge mistakes that would ruin my day.    
We ran this close for a loooong time
Shortly into the race, we ran past Sonja on the sidelines, who I've raced but never actually met.  I knew her as pretty much one of the top (and certainly most experienced) amateur Ironman racers out there, and she had simple words that really resonated (and I'm paraphrasing because I don't remember the exact quote):  "this is the front of the amateur race here, but just settle in, take it nice and easy."  I started repeating those words in my head.  Just settle in.  Nice and easy.  Stay calm.  Then I saw my parents, who reminded me of the exact same things, "find your own pace.  Just run your own race."

That's what that whole first 4 miles was, as Cathy and I ran step for step -- doing whatever it took to settle into a sustainable pace and stay calm and happy.  At one point I started talking to Cathy, chatting really, telling her she'd killed the swim, commenting on the windy bike.   She wasn't much in the mood for talking, I get that, and after the race I sent her a note to apologize for what may have been perceived as playing head games (I absolutely wasn't, I just was trying to find some way to distract myself from what was really going on).   I gave the thumbs up every time I saw my parents, waved at Liz, Chris, Jennifer and Karin when I passed them at mile 4, I thanked almost everyone who cheered for me, I chatted more with other runners I encountered, and I smiled and smiled and smiled until I could smile no more.   In hindsight, I did overcook the first 10 miles a bit and I could have paced better, but I felt really, really good, and I just went with it, stretching the lead to about 2 minutes or so in that first 10 miles.
Still lovin' life at mile 4
 At mile 13 or so, as I started the second loop, things started to hurt.  It's hard to explain, but suddenly I just felt tired, slow, and like something wasn't right.  My pace slowed, my mood plummeted, and frankly, I freaked out.  This was a very familiar feeling for me, and I just knew it was happening again.  I was melting down.  I was losing it.  AGAIN.  Just like every other Ironman.  I started having those horrible thoughts, wondering if I was going to finish or if I'd have to walk it in.  I could feel myself starting to give up, to give in.   I almost cried.    At mile 14, I ducked into a port-o-pot, took a really long time contemplating life, contemplating Ironman, and trying to convince myself to hang in there and to ride it out.

Once I got going, I saw my parents (they were everywhere), and again, they knew exactly the right thing to say:  hang in there.  Keep moving forward.  Just get to the next aid station.   And so I did, moving slowly, my head filled with cranky thoughts, but moving forward, nonetheless.

Somewhat less happy (Photo by Kerry Yndestad)
My low stretch lasted for several miles, and it was a huge mental battle between the voice saying,"yup, you ALWAYS melt down in Ironman racing and you're doing it again," and the voice saying, "this doesn't have to end badly just because it always has.  Problem solve.  Figure out what you need.  You can do this."  As this battle raged on, I just kept moving forward, at moments feeling cautiously optimistic that I could pull through, but at more moments feeling on the brink of defeat.  When I saw Liz at mile 18, she was cheering loudly and telling me I looked great, and my response was to give a big ole thumbs down.

Shortly thereafter, I passed my friend AJ, who was starting his first loop.  He asked how I was feeling, I either said "bad" or "horrible" or "this totally sucks,"  I can't remember, but he offered me a container of BASE Performance Salts, assuring me that he had plenty.   I know, I know, I know, nothing new on race day, but I was pretty desperate at that time, had dropped my own stash of salt at some point, and had heard good things about this product, so I took the chance and started using it.

Maybe it was the BASE, maybe it was the Coke that I'd just started taking at every aid stations,  maybe it was the short walk breaks I'd started to take as I was drinking that Coke, maybe it was just seeing AJ, but starting at mile 19, everything turned around.  It was like some miracle from the Ironman gods.   For the first time ever for me, I managed to pull myself out of an Ironman run funk.  My pace picked back up, my mood improved, the smile came back, when I saw my parents again they said, "oh, you look so much better."
Drama on the Ironman Blog (which is so cool!)

I spent that last 10K thinking of nothing more than continually moving myself forward and staying smooth.  I'd been cautious all day, to be sure, but after that low, low several mile stretch, I was now downright scared, acutely aware of the little "Black Cloud of Failure" that was hovering over my head.  Even though I felt pretty good, I held back hard, anticipating and expecting another low that could be even worse.  I was getting updates that my lead was extending, but at that point, I really didn't care.   I wasn't racing anyone else anymore, and in a way, I'm not sure I really was, all day.  I was battling myself, my own demons,  my own fears, and my own past, and while I was winning that battle, it just wasn't quite over yet.  
Head down, grinding it out (Photo by Kerry Yndestad)
It wasn't until mile 25 that I truly believed I was going to finish.  I did pick it up at that point. I ran through the last aid station instead of walking, I let myself really work. All day long, I never let myself think about the sub-10 goal that had been the original impetus behind doing this race.  I didn't have a watch with my total time running, I never calculated my splits, I never asked anyone if I was on track....that really wasn't what today was about.   But as I approached the very end, maybe 100 meters from the last turn that would take us to the finish line, I saw Liz on the side of the road, jumping up and down, as excited as I've ever seen her.  "You are so close to ten hours!"  she screamed.  "You can do it but you have to go!  Go now! Go!"

I had a moment of shock but then I took off like a bat out of hell, recalling my days as an 800 meter runner and countless quarter and half mile repeats I'd done on the track this year.  I took that last corner hard, I got up on my toes and pumped my arms, seeing 9:59 on the clock and sprinting, sprinting, sprinting as fast as I could, eyes glued to the clock, watching the seconds tick by, sprinting more, not even pausing long enough to remember to fist bump or raise my arms or jump or do any sort of celebration whatsoever, but just trying to cross that line before it clicked over to 10....

And, nine hours, fifty-nine minutes, and thirty-four seconds after I'd started, I crossed that line, grinning ear to ear, thrilled about the time, thrilled about the win, but so much more than anything, thrilled that I'd defeated my own demons, that I'd hung tough when the fears threatened to defeat me, and that I found the strength to fight and to bounce back from the lowest of lows, not just today, but in all the days before.
Bonus points for both feet off the ground (Photo by Kerry Yndestad)

I don't know who it was (and if you're reading, please tell me) but seconds before I crossed that line, I heard someone yell out, clear as a bell, "redemption!"  And really, that's what this was for me.  Sweet redemption.  I couldn't be happier.

Run:  3:36:20
Total:  9:59:34, 1st in Age Group, 1st Overall Amateur

Too happy to remember to pose

The After
And that, finally, is a wrap on 2014.  As for 2015, I have new ideas almost every day but am leaving a lot of question marks on my calendar for a while.  I'm too busy eating pizza and drinking wine.   With the extent to which I've been gorging on pizza, you'd think it was a food I'd deprived myself of in some way during the season-- not so much.  Pizza was my night-before long ride dinner all season long.  What can I say, I just really like pizza.   Kristy said it best when she wrote that she'd be taking a "fat and happy offseason."   Indeed.
Speaking of Kristy, who has been a great training buddy this year, she won her age group by over an hour, and will be heading to Kona next October.  And.....after a little hemming and hawing (the memories are still a little too real), I decided to take my slot, too.  At least I have one training buddy lined up (with more likely to come)!  So, ALOHA!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Ironman Arizona- The Weeks Before

I am the kind of person who needs instant gratification and for that reason, haven't always been the biggest fan of Ironman Race Reports that are split into parts.  The cliffhangers leave me twitchy....I start enjoying the story and just want to know what happens next!   But, I'm also the kind of person that is apparently unable to write in a cogent or concise manner, and I have so much to say about the time before Ironman Arizona.  So, I'm going to go ahead and write a separate pre-race blog.  It's not the first time I've been a bit of a hypocrite and it certainly won't be the last.  

Last year at Kona, Timex put these cool magnets in the race goody bags:

The idea was that you'd rip out the pieces of the magnet to reflect your actual finishing time in the race, and it'd serve as sort of a souvenir of the day.  I, obviously, did it differently.  Instead of punching out the pieces to reflect what I had done, I punched them out to show what I wanted to do, and then I stuck that magnet on the refrigerator where I'd see it multiple times a day.    And THAT, that sub-10, was my loftiest and possibly least realistic goal of the 2014 season.

It obviously didn't happen at Coeur d'Alene because I didn't finish the race (nor would I have been anywhere near 10 hours on that day, even if I had).  Realistically, I didn't think sub-10 was likely at Kona, either.  So at the end of the summer, I put the sub-10 goal aside for 2014 and ignored my little magnet for the rest of my food-consuming days.

Then Mont-Tremblant went down and I spent the next week+ with my head in a cloud of delirious happiness, feeling an intense love of all things triathlon, floating through my workouts, and feeling invincible.  It was while riding that high that I learned that Adam Zucco and Training Bible Coaching had a slot available for the long sold-out Ironman Arizona, and I jumped at the opportunity so quickly I'm not sure I ever had the opportunity to actually think about what I was doing.  The goal, when I signed up, was that sub-10 finish.  The goal was not a Kona slot for 2015-- I had decided that I wanted to go in different directions next year and Kona didn't fit into those plans.
Fast track wheeling and dealing for a IMAZ slot
But then there was the DNF in Kona, and everything changed.  Suddenly Ironman Arizona took on a whole different meaning.   It became about redemption and about finally finishing what I had started.   Sub-10 went out the window.  Goals with respect to place-- out the window.  I wanted, no, needed to just finish the damn thing.     

So I became, in some ways, frantic-- I had only five weeks to solve the mystery of Kona and get ready to try this distance again.  I called in all the troops.  I went to doctors and had lots and lots of tests, not fully committing to Arizona until after I'd gotten the "all clear" that my blood work, kidney function, and heart tests were all OK.  I enlisted the help of Marni Sumbal to help me adjust my pre-race and race-day nutrition and sent email inquiries to all sorts of other people I thought might have insight. My free time was filled with reading studies about fluid-electrolyte balance.   I was a busy bee, trying to find all the answers.

As the race got closer, and the "answers" still weren't totally clear, I just got scared.  Scared of the distance, scared that maybe I just wasn't physiologically made for Ironman, scared that we hadn't had enough time to make the changes that needed to be made, scared for my health, and scared that I'd fail again, for the third time this year.

That fear really weighed on me.  My training block between Kona and Arizona was, without a doubt, the absolute worst I have ever completed.  I was so mentally exhausted and unmotivated.  Usually, I would never skip a workout or cut it even a minute short.  This time around, cutting corners became the norm.  It was so dark, so cold, so windy, and I was so tired of it all.  I found ways to drag myself through the "key" workouts, mostly by enlisting company (thanks to Bob, Kristy, Nick, Andrea, Taylor, and Liz for joining me in workouts at various times and not throwing things at me as I continued to complain about how so, so very tired I was, how much I was running on fumes, and how all I wanted in the whole wide world was just to drink lots and lots of wine), but it was very, very ugly.
At least the post-Kona training allowed for these sorts of scenes

Fortunately, Liz knows me well enough to be able to objectively look at the data and how I was performing in my workouts and to remind me, repeatedly, that although I was clearly emotionally exhausted, my body had recovered nicely from Kona and was doing just fine.  We made adjustments to the training and cut the volume, knowing that the mental stress of too many hours of training would do a number on me at this point, but we never fully shut down the intensity of my workouts because we didn't have to.  My body was working fine.  My head less so. 

One week out from the race, I really had no idea how I was going to do it.  I was so negative, so tired, and so scared.  I worried I hadn't had enough time to test my new nutrition plan, that my complete inability to eat cleanly after Kona  had vaulted me up into a new weight class that was negatively affecting my chances (I did the, "I'll start eating well again tomorrow" thing over and over and over and never really did, whoops), and that I wouldn't have the mental toughness to keep pushing when it got tough.  I'd never been this negative going into a race, at least into a race that went decently.   Things just weren't looking good.  

So why am I writing all this and sharing how much my life sucked from the end of October to mid-November?   For a couple reasons.

First, being able to have a strong race after going through all this possibly taught me the best lesson I have ever learned in triathlon (and frankly, one that I'd learned before but just needed reminding) .... you don't need to feel it, or have everything go perfectly in the lead-in, to have a great day.  I started to turn around, mentally, during the days before the race, and it's because some key people got me to realize that going into a race terrified and without a ton of confidence was perfectly OK and that I should accept those feelings instead of fighting them.   Gloria reminded me that fear and doubt was just part of the process, that it was perfectly normal for me.  Liz had similar insights.  "You have a right to be scared, anxious, and anticipating don't need to have a positive attitude about this race, you just have to set yourself in motion and do it."  She told me to be prepared to feel the fear all day, that it'd be like a little black cloud following me the whole way.  "Expect it.  You don't have to eliminate it.  Just keep up with it."  

Which is exactly what happened and what I did.  And once I accepted that the fear was OK, I felt a million times better.
Racing with my Little Black Cloud of Fear
Second, I need to specially thank the many people who helped me get through the rough patch after Kona and kept me moving forward.  To my family and so many friends who let me talk it through and just listened, whether over glasses of wine, while riding bikes, while running, over text messages or G-Chat, while sitting in the hot tub after swimming...thank you, thank you, thank know who you are.

And finally, to explain a little my secretiveness before this race.  I had told a few people about my plans to do Ironman Arizona before Kona, but afterwards, I was really very quiet about it, telling only a few close friends that I was racing.  I realize this was sort of silly but it was important to me.  A couple people called me on this afterwards ("uh, how secret did you think it would be when your name was on the starting list?" -- OK, fair point) but with the fear of failure looming so strongly, the possibility of having to take to social media, again, to fess up to failure, again, was daunting.   Plus, my goal, truly, was to just finish, if it took 13, 14, 15 hours, whatever.  I wasn't trying to sandbag or play games...I just really wanted to fly under the radar, eliminate all pressure, and quietly do my thing.  So, to the few people that I kind of lied to when they asked why I was still training-- I wasn't just running for the ability to eat more pizza, I was on a super-secret redemption mission, and sorry for the evasiveness:)

Part Two, coming up!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Kona 2014

I didn’t really want to write this blog….which is why, for four-and-a-half weeks, I didn’t.  Why dwell on failures?  Why relive the pain?  

But, there was something in the back of my mind that said that it was important to be honest, to be real, to get it out there, to process it.    And I had enough awkward conversations involving tentative “so…..what happened in Kona?” questions that I figured I might as well get my story out there.  So here we go.

Pre-Race Swmming At Dig Me Beach
I went to Kona with high hopes, fantastic fitness, near flawless preparation, and riding a wave of confidence after having the race of my life in Mont-Tremblant in early September.   And I got there, and…..I failed.   I know that’s a word that tends to make people flinch a bit, to say “oh, but you tried your best, it’s really all about the journey, you didn’t fail, it just wasn’t your day,” etc. etc. etc., but I refuse to back away from the “f” word because it’s accurate.  My day ended with me lying face-down and semi-conscious on the Queen K at around mile 11. 15 miles short of the finish line.   That’s a failure, no other way around it. 

Talking about October 11 isn’t easy because after weeks of re-thinking and recounting every minute of the day, visiting multiple doctors, asking anyone and every one with some semblance of expertise in this area for their opinion, I’m still not entirely sure I know “what went wrong.”  I cannot point to a single decision I made that, doing it again, I would have made differently.  I had a plan for the day and for the week before, I had several very smart people behind me who helped me put that plan together, and I executed it almost flawlessly.  That’s what’s so mind-boggling, so frustrating.  I wish I had over-ridden, or botched my nutrition, or done something stupid, because then I could say that was a dumb mistake, live and learn, do it differently next time.   But I didn’t, and I can’t.  Instead, I’m left with the very same sentiment I had in the med tent, once I’d come back to life and was able to talk:  “But….I did everything right!  How could this happen?

That, I suppose, is the mystery of Ironman. 
Bike Check In

Until mile 8.5 or so of the run, when things spiraled downhill very quickly, my day in Kona was unfolding fairly uneventfully.   I was having a day that definitely was trending more towards mediocre than magical, but I was getting through.  

The swim this year was split by gender, with the age group women starting 10 minutes after the men.  From accounts I’ve read, the other women seemed to mostly appreciate this change.  I wasn’t a huge fan.  I actually don’t mind mass swim starts, and I loved my swim in Hawaii last year, when I just tucked into a pack of men of the same speed and chilled out, barely sighting and just going along for the ride.  This year, I never found that rhythm, I never found a draft, I just felt sluggish, and every time I sighted, I saw lots and lots of pink caps pulling ahead.  The water was choppy, I swallowed a ton of salt water, and I could tell the swell was slowing progress.  But, I told myself to relax, be patient, the first hour of a ten+ hour day means nothing, blah blah blah.   I tried to look around and take in the natural beauty of the Pacific.  I saw a good-sized manta ray swim right beneath us and squealed a bit….there’s truly no place I’ve swum as beautiful as Hawaii and it gets me every time.
Women AG Start
Getting out of the water, I knew it wasn’t good, but I didn’t expect my time to be so far off what I had hoped for -- 1:05, a good 4 minutes slower than I’d ever swum in an Ironman swim.  Running through T1, I did the pep talk: the swim was probably slow for everyone, conditions were bad, it doesn’t matter.  But then I arrived to find the change tent completely packed with women who had out-swum me, so many  that for the first time for me in an Ironman, there were no volunteers left to help me get changed.   That wasn’t a big deal in and of itself, I didn’t need the help, but mentally, I was shaken.  Everyone may have been a little slow, but I was way farther back in the field than I had been last year.  Not good.
On Palani
I wish I could have shaken off the disappointment about the swim and moved on as soon as I got on my bike, but truth is I pouted a bit for the first 20 miles, and then pouted a bit more between miles 20 and 30 when I was passed by a few big pelotons of riders, often with a couple (familiar) females tucked right in nicely. 
Favorite Sign on the Queen K
Then, the wind started picking up…big, huge gusts of wind that scared the crap out of me and forced me to expend all my mental energy on not getting blown over.  Oddly, as the ride got tougher and the winds more daunting, my mood improved.  Eventually, I realized I was enjoying myself.   Unlike last year, this year the island was bringing it.   The winds were relentless, and it was hot.   It was shaping up to be an epic day, one that people would talk about for a long time, and I was bizarrely happy to be experiencing the gnarly conditions I’d always heard so much about.  

I never felt great on the bike, or really even good, but getting off, I was very happy with my effort.  I’d managed the winds.  I’d paced properly and stayed within myself.   After being in a bad mental state for the first section, I’d pulled it together.  I’d followed my fuel plan and done everything I could to keep myself cool.   As I dismounted my bike, I took a quick look at my average power for the ride and found that it fell exactly where we had planned.  “Perfect,”  I said, possibly out-loud.   I really couldn’t have done anything better.
Love this picture

Except….I never pee’d.   I didn’t count precisely, but my educated guess is that I took in 18 to 20 24 oz. bottles of fluid during that bike ride….and never pee'd.   In the back of my head, I knew that was bad news.  But I tried to ignore it. 

It didn’t take long on the run for me to realize where all that fluid I’d drank on the bike went….it was simply sitting and sloshing around in my stomach.   My gut had shut down.  I looked several months pregnant, totally bloated.  This was not good.

I ran OK for about 8 miles.  Not fast, but I was trudging along, trying to problem solve, trying to stay positive.   I stopped at a couple port-o-pots, I took Tums, I walked through aid stations and filled my top and shorts with ice, trying to find the right solution but not succeeding.  My stomach just kept expanding and expanding.
Not feeling good but still running OK
Then, something switched.  Mile 8.5  or so, I started to nod off.  Suddenly, I couldn’t keep my eyes open.   I felt like I was falling asleep.  My mind clearly wasn’t working right and instead of stopping, walking, doing something to fix this, I just kept running, eyes mostly closed, swerving around and bumping into things.  This went on for 2.5 miles…. I have no idea how.   Rational thought had gone out the window, and although I was clearly in a bad, bad place, I just kept running.  I blew through aid stations without taking fuel.  I ran into things and fell a couple times.  At mile 10, I think (just after somehow climbing Palani with my eyes shut), I ran into a mile marker sign, wiped out, and laid on my back for a bit, vaguely hearing some Aussie spectators telling me as they poured water on my face, “just stop, it’s not worth it, you don’t have to run yourself into the ground, wait a bit and then try again, you have until midnight to finish.”  But then I got back up and started running onward.

Out on the Queen K, I swerved along, once opening my eyes to find myself about to run right into the press vehicles accompanying third-place pro Rachel Joyce, who was running the opposite direction in the final miles her race.  I was in a weird enough mental state to find that almost amusing, thinking I’d just come pretty close to getting myself an appearance on the NBC broadcast after taking out one of the top pros. 

Shortly thereafter, I swerved into a curb, and went down hard.

That fall was the last one.  I couldn’t get up.  Spectators and volunteers tended to me, trying to get me to sit up, but they had to hold me in the sitting position….I was too weak.  No one really knew what to do, and while I was somewhat conscious, I couldn’t find the energy to communicate.  One person forced me to eat a gel.   Another poured water into my mouth, until I managed to muster the strength to say I’d already had more than 20 bottles and hadn’t peed, at which point they promptly took the water away and wouldn’t let me have any more for the 30+ minutes (!!!) I laid on the ground while waiting for the ambulance.   I curled into the fetal position, then switched to face down, falling in and out of sleep, my cheek resting on the hot Queen K highway. 
 My "nap" spot

Medics finally arrived, and before they’d move me, they forced me to say, out-loud, and three separate times, that I “wanted” to quit the race.   I suppose I understand the reasoning behind this rule, but the cruelness of that exercise….I can’t even begin to start. Of course I “wanted” to finish the race, but there was no way I could.  By making me say it, by making me feel like DNFing was a choice when in reality it was anything but….that haunts me. 

From then it was to the med tent, for a long, long time.  Once I’d stabilized and returned to a human feeling, I was released to my family, who hustled me out of there, got me home, and let me stay curled up in tears in bed for the rest of the evening.   Over the next couple days, I managed to pull myself together enough to enjoy the rest of our trip in Hawaii.  I took comfort in so many messages I received from friends and loved ones, people who are closest to me, people I knew in high school but haven’t seen since, even people I’ve never met in real life.  The outpouring of positive energy held me up, and to each and every one of you who reached out to me over that time….I can’t begin to thank you enough.
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And I’d love to say that since I got home from Hawaii, I quietly moved on with my life and put it behind me.  But that would be a lie.  The disappointment, the anger, the frustration of having poured so much energy, thought, work, and desire into this race, only to fail….those emotions have overwhelmed me at times.   They’ve made it hard to get out of bed on days, I confess. 

Some days, I’ve been great, going about trying to solve the mystery of what happened, consulting doctors and experts, reading anything I can get my hands on that will give me clues, gaining energy from my quest for answers.   But other days, it’s been tougher.  I’ve felt anger, swearing off Ironmans, calling myself a failure, and seriously contemplating selling all of my triathlon gear, closing this chapter, and moving on with my life.   And, maybe more than anything, I’ve felt fear…the fear that comes from not really knowing what went wrong, and thus, not knowing how to avoid it happening again. 

These feelings are extra hard because I’ve never been fully comfortable with just how much triathlon means to me.  I know, rationally, this is a hobby.  I am not getting paid.  I am an amateur, this is not something that should be this big in life….these are the things I tell myself daily.   Move on.   It doesn’t REALLY matter.   It’s almost like I’m mad at myself for feeling.  But to those of you who know me even just a little bit must realize, for me, it is more than just hobby.  It’s so much more, and to me, it does matter.  For better or for worse.
Black Sand Beach

I think I’m rambling a lot here, and this has probably come across as WAY melodramatic and silly.  But, here’s the thing.   It’s not all puppies and rainbows, and I think it’s important for me to go through this process of feeling (and to bring my loyal reader(s) along:)).  I could come on here and say, “Kona was a disappointment, but I was so happy to be there, and I still love Ironman, and you learn more from the tough days and this has just made me stronger and ready to kick some butt!” but that's not me, that would be a big, fat lie and in the end, not dealing with it would make it worse.   Instead, I’m letting myself feel.  

And at the same time, I’m moving forward.   I didn’t jump right into a true off-season the way I did last year after Kona….I kind of feared that if I did, that off-season would never end.  Instead, I’ve kept training, a bit.  My season’s not quite over yet.  Things haven’t been all that pretty, I’ve had my break downs, I’ve quit in the middle of workouts, I can’t say I’ve enjoyed every moment or even the majority of them….but I’ve kept moving because I have to. 

As a wise person reminded me recently:  “You can be a basket case, you can hate life, hate yourself, hate the process, hate failure, hate it all… but as long as you’re still moving forward, you still have a chance to succeed.” 

And that’s what I’m doing.