This weekend I completed my seventh Ironman (2x IMWI, IMAZ, IMLou, IMTX, IMWC) since 2007 and the most challenging race I have completed (15.5% of the field would end their day with a DNF).
I had a few good cool days in The Woodlands but as the week progressed, the conditions became progressively hotter with high humidity. I knew by race day we were facing the trifecta of heat, humidity and wind. The conditions were severe enough to change my race plan from attempting a perfect conditions PR assault to reverting (to quote the movie Ironman) to the “clean slate protocol.” Racing smart before racing fast.
Swim: This is the most violent/congested swim in the list of races I have completed and a perfect candidate for the new Ironman swim safety program. The start is very congested and the end in the canal is just as congested. Unfortunately, I attempted to break someone’s foot with my eye socket in the first two minutes of the swim. I got my bell rung and it took a few seconds to clear my head. My eye hurt and I think my neck was snapped back. It was a hard enough hit that I worried I had a concussion.
Fortunately, I had double capped with my goggle strap securely between two caps. Losing my goggles could have ended my day (contacts).
Once I regrouped, I avoided contact to protect my eye. This was challenging when I hit the congestion of the canal and the finish of the swim. I was disappointed with my slightly slower time but happy to be out of the water and relatively fresh.
I found my family in the chute and asked Coach KT if my eye was okay. She yelled that I looked fine as I took off. I ran into a volunteer a few feet later who told me to go to medical. I weighed the decision for all of two seconds and decided to race.
Bike: I was slightly nauseated at the start of the bike and my head/eye throbbed. I was still worried that I had a concussion but knew all would be clear (or literally not clear) in due time! I immediately noticed how hot I felt on the bike. At the first aid station I started grabbing bottles of water and drenching my head and body. I would continue this for the next 9.5 hours.
I stuck to my nutrition plan immediately by consuming 75g of carbohydrates her hour (approximately 300 calories per hour) knowing that it was likely I would need to reduce the calories I was consuming due to the heat. This was the first IM bike where I did not have any very specific wattage goals. I wanted to average 20mph, soft pedal up to 30MPH and avoid prolonged power spikes over 200 watts.
I was very surprised that I was able to maintain my nutrition plan through the whole ride, I averaged 19.66 miles per hour and I pedaled very consistently with minimal power spikes (~9 brief bounces over 200W, VI 1.01).
My head cleared and I finished the ride strong with my highest power output the last two hours of the ride.
Run: As I entered T2, I managed to burn my left foot on the bricks where our run bags were stored. I wasn’t the only one to incur the wrath of the hellish temps on the pavement. Still wondering how the guy in Vibrams managed his 26.2 mile walk?
As I entered the tent I asked a volunteer if my eye looked okay. She responded by telling me she was a nurse, checked out my eye and told me I looked like a badass. She made me laugh and off I went.
I knew I was entering the bowels of hell and stuck with the ‘be smart’ plan. First, I stopped at the sunscreen station and had them put sunscreen on my back and shoulders (I did this all three laps and have no sunburn). I know that sunscreen may prevent sweating however sunburn creates a total body inflammation response. Plus I don’t like the idea of melanoma.
The next thing I did was stop at the aid station. I took on fluids, ice in cap, ice in bra and ice in the back pockets of my tri top. I followed this protocol for the next 25 aid stations. Yes, I walked each and every aid station! I stayed hydrated, fueled (gels, Perform and Coke starting mile 15), drenched and iced.
Despite all of it, it was the most brutal run ever. Reports had the heat index at 106 degrees down in the canal area. I passed a fellow competitor on the run lying down and receiving an IV ON THE RUN COURSE. The only thing that kept me from walking was the thought of being on the course even a minute longer than needed. I spent the whole run questioning my sanity and planning my retirement from the sport!
Despite the conditions, I ended up with the fastest marathon in my age group and the 10th fastest amateur marathon. I went from 9th place to 4th place in my age group.
Overall, I am pleased about my day given the hellish conditions. The competition in my age group was incredible. Four of the women in the top five were previous Kona qualifiers and the winner in my age group was a former pro. Out of the top 24 amateur women, four of us were in the 45-49 age group. I have heard age groupers complain about racing former pros but I felt honored to face such a high level of competition in my age group. The women ahead of me were incredible, gracious and have motivated me to be better and faster.
As I reviewed the results, it is clear I lost my goal to achieve a Kona slot in the swim. I have some ideas on how to improve my swim technically which will be a future focus. I am still one of the weaker (strength) women in my age group and I need to continue to lift weights/improve my body comp. In the process, my cycling and running will continue to get faster.
Finally, a special thanks to David, KT, Bob and Jane. My family’s support was incredible and I know they suffered in the heat and humidity much more than I did. Spectators don’t have aid stations.
Additional thanks to Coach Marilyn Chychota McDonald. She had me totally prepared to take a slot. Thanks to Endurance Corner and my team mates for their support. Special thanks to fellow EC Coach and Resident Pro Justin Daerr. He sent me some pre-race advice to treat every aid station on the run as my last. It worked! Proud of him for fighting through the carnage to finish 4th overall (43% of the pro men’s field DNF’d).
And my retirement? I think it is over already.