Blogs tagged with "heat"

First race in just a swimsuit in 29 years.

Yesterday, I took on the challenge of my first open water swim event. I had decided to start "small" by choosing the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim (GCBS), an event that was "only" 4.4 miles. It is considered one of the top 50 open water swims and is referred to as the "Boston Marathon of open water swimming." It takes place between side-by-side lanes of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge(s) and therefore would supplement my love of bridges with a view from below - even below boat-deck level - rarely experienced by anyone.

There is so much I don't know about open-water swimming strategy. And yesterday, I made mistakes and bad decisions fueled by both ignorance and inexperience. But I'm here to live and learn, and write about it.

My ignorance comes first. Damn my introvertedness! I should have read more. I should have consulted more open-water swimmers. I foolheartedly assumed "I'm a swimmer" and I knew what I was getting into. I assumed I knew how to train for distance. (I swam the mile in competition for crying out loud - who cared if it was 30 years ago?) I assumed I knew how to fuel for a two-hour excursion. (I had the experience of ten years of running marathons for crying out loud - who cared if swimming was a totally different sport?) I also assumed I knew WHEN to fuel. (Who cared if this event started five hours later than my marathons and triathlons?) And finally - I assumed I was completely comfortable in open-water chop. (I had survived some of the worst and most-freakish Ironman swims in history for crying out loud.)

Well, 30 years is a long time - and I've changed a lot since I was "a swimmer." I'm built like a runner now. My arms might be a little more muscular than they were eight months ago, but they're still waif-like compared to real swimmers (or compared to my former swimmer self). I may be a good swimmer compared to my fellow triathletes, but I have a long way to go in the distance-swimming realm. I have a lot (note: TONS) to learn about fueling for long-distance swims. After yesterday, I've confirmed what I hadn't been able to convince myself of yet: that swimming requires way more energy than the same amount of time running or biking. Therefore, I canNOT fuel (and hydrate) the same for swimming as I do for marathoning or triathlon-ing. This would be one of the proverbial lightbulbs I saw go on in the air above my head between the bridges.

On to the race report.

Here's Jim standing (waaay) in front of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge
The swim covers the entire length from left to right.

I was nervous enough beforehand that my old bugaboo - inability to sleep - came back to haunt me the night before. The saving grace was that the GCBS started around noon, so I had time to sleep in. Thankfully, I managed three to four hours of decent sleep. My husband Jim was REALLY happy about the late start. He didn't have to get up at 3:30 AM to go out and find a 24-hour coffee shop.

We were able to grab breakfast at the hotel around 8:30. I had juice, coffee, a bowl of oatmeal and a hard-boiled egg. I grabbed a banana to eat before the start.

Right before start with my trusty
Here's the start showing swimmers headed to the bridge.

The start was on the beach. We ran into the water, and swam out to the very beginning of the bridge, then turned left to go between the bridges. I swam on the left periphery of the mass of swimmers and had a relatively easy time getting to the bridge. I was actually surprised how quickly I made it out to the first pylon of the suspension bridge.

Shot of bridge showing main suspension span/shipping channel

The chop WAS quite bad. It was the worst I had ever experienced in a race - the conditions would surely have resulted in cancelation of a triathlon swim leg. I was mostly alone in the water, and I got a thrill body-surfing the whitecaps, but underneath the suspension bridge (in the shipping channel), we got pounded by surf and spray. It was a bit disorienting at times, and I'm sure it contributed to my eventual fatigue, but I remembered to stay on the left (pretty easy). I even remembered to turn over to look up at the bridges.

The view from there was nothing short of spectacular, and I was thankful I wore my wide-view goggles (the one good decision I made even though they were untested). The sheer size of the bridge pylons, cables, and uprights was magnificent to behold at such close range. It was like heaven for the nerdy engineer in me.

Here's an official shot (from GCBS Facebook page)
taken from one of the boats in 2014

Two miles was on the far side of the suspension bridge, but I never saw the aid station boat - not that I needed it. I felt compelled to check my watch shortly after that, and I misread the figures. I had gone 2.38 miles and my time was 1:22 which surprised and discouraged me. It was actually a 1:22 (/100yd) pace!! (In retrospect, had this been an Ironman swim, it would have been my fastest ever by two minutes.)

Because of the error, I decided I had way-overestimated my abilities as a swimmer and figured I just had to get through the rest of this thing. I kept an eye out for the 3-mile buoy and support boat to stop for water because I was starting to feel a little hot.

I stopped at the boat and drank a couple tiny cups of water and Gatorade, and then checked my watch again. Here's where I realized my earlier blunder (phew!) - and DID notice my pace was still well under 1:30 (my original goal pace).

After this stop, everything started to go downhill. My first mistake: I should have drank more. I was in too big of a hurry to get back to swimming.

Shortly thereafter, I started to overheat in my wetsuit. Somewhere around 3.4 miles, I started to feel a little nauseous - presumably from dehydration and swallowing salt water, although I considered sea-sickness as well. Feeling extremely hot and ill, I began to take intermittent breaks to fill my wetsuit with water to cool off. The greatest feeling was when the water surrounded my arms - it renewed me and I regained the ability to turn over my arms well for about a minute - until I had to stop and cool off again.

The heat was getting the best of me. I started started to feel dizzy and depleted. It didn't feel like muscle fatigue - it felt like complete lack of energy. I needed food or water or I wasn't going to finish. I tried to rest doing breaststroke and backstroke but nothing was easy in the waves, and I was being dragged way right. I noticed a guy near me flagging down a kayak. I took the opportunity to rest and get some water (thankfully, kayakers were carrying water). I drank almost a whole bottle of water and hung onto the kayak so long that the kayaker wanted to "take [me] to a boat" - I think my reaction was "NO! I want to finish!"

I thanked him and finally got back to swimming, very slowly, and had to flag down another kayaker shortly after. He had Gatorade - which I hoped would give me energy. At this point, I was very close to the end of the bridge, right around the corner from the finish. I was almost done - but spent.

The water got even warmer as we approached the finish line, and the water-in-my-wetsuit trick no longer provided the slightest bit of cooling. Fortunately, my energy came back (probably from the sugar), and I was able to swim hard while most people around me were standing up in the shallow water and walking.

Jim's view of the bridge from the finish line.


So glad to be done.

It was too little too late, but I got to the finish. As soon as I was on land, I was gripped with a horrible desperation to get out of my wetsuit. I saw Jim and begged him to help me get it off, but he wanted to wait until I was out of the crowd. I was frantic - "no, now!!" I struggled, he struggled, but it was finally off and I could breathe again. I was about to tear it off with my bare hands.

Unlike usual, I was able to drink right away while recovering post-race. Had a random few muscle cramps, the weirdest of which was my ring-finger on my left hand. It locked up, the pain was excruciating, and I couldn't bend it for several minutes. It was so bizarre. Other than that, I didn't feel bad, only tired, and after a short sit-down, I was up and about pretty quickly.

Wait.. what did I just do? All smiles afterward.

I checked my time and place - 2:09, 1:35 pace, 13/35 in my age group - and immediately went into post-race analysis mode, albeit with nice cold beer in hand.

There are many lessons to be learned going forward in this new sport. The most important thing was that the words "never again" we're not uttered. My first thoughts were more like "ok, I have a lot to figure out before my next one," "I love open-water swimming," and "this is a very well-run event with amazing volunteers."

One of my strengths is the most difficult thing about swimming: we must fight an element not part of the natural environment for a human. I love water, I love rough water, and I feel at home in it.

Everything else is a weakness that will need to be addressed and tested during training: not knowing how or how much to eat and drink before and during a swim, not knowing what temperature is my personal wetsuit-cutoff-temp, and not knowing how to pace myself in all conditions.

I've also reviewed my training and preparation for this particular event. The day before the race, Jim mentioned I had gotten "really skinny." I looked at myself in the mirror and realized he was right. I've been suffering some emotional despair lately and had lost my appetite. In two weeks, my weight dropped about four pounds, and I've skipped or abbreviated my training sessions because of low energy and mental fatigue. I suspect that also had an effect on my swim yesterday.

I'm looking forward to many more open-water swims in the future and embracing the learning process. The most encouraging news I got after the race was that conditions yesterday were some of the worst ever experienced at the GCBS, and there were a lot of people forced to abandon the race. It restored a little confidence knowing I was able to tackle it unprepared and push through to the finish.

Here's the official tracking of my Garmin GPS watch.


Taken in Memorial Hall while getting a quick tour of the Naval Academy
with great friends the day before the race.
Out of my element in time, space,
AND temperature.

An old saying goes: "There's a first time for everything." In the world of Ironman - or triathlon in general - this is the oft-spoken response to those who say things like "whoa, I never DNFed before," or "I never peed on my bike before," or "I never flatted in a race before." But on Sunday, just like that, one of those things-that-will-eventually-happen-to-you-if-you-do-this-sport-long-enough finally happened to me.

Yes, I flatted - in the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Las Vegas. In fact, it wasn't your run-of-the-mill flatting. It was an old-fashioned blowout, right at mile 3 of the 56-mile bike leg.
But before I talk about my blowout at mile 3 of the bike leg, something else - much less likely - happened to me this weekend. Something SO unlikely and so downright bizarre that it would NEVER prompt that old response: "There's a first time for everything." It did, however, invoke that expression's not-so-common cousin: "Now THERE'S a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing."
We're calling it the Great Exploding Glass Disaster (GEGD) of 2012. And unlike the Great Smoke Detector Incident of 2012 (in Louisville, KY), the J-Team was the innocent bystander in the GEGD. Freakish events like the GEGD have usually been pinpointed as reasons for my nickname "Disaster Magnet."
GEGD glass carnage: this was only the
immediate area of the end table but the
blast radius reached much further

And so it happened in the wee hours of Saturday morning, without warning, my husband Jim and I were awoken by a loud crashing noise. We lept up and scrambled to turn on the lamp next to the bed. What we found was mystifying. The sheet glass cover on the bedside table in our hotel room had seemingly just "exploded." But infinitely worse was that it sent glass schrapnel everywhere. Several chunks of broken glass resembling a shattered car windshield were still lying on the table. There were tiny shards of glass in the bed, on the floor, in our luggage, and clear across the room. And all the objects from the bedside table (except the lamp) were now on the floor - the telephone, my watch, and my jewelry.

We glanced around the room in disbelief. What just happened? And how? And what should we do about it? Realizing the importance of sleep two nights before my race, Jim immediately started to clean it up to get me back to slumberland. But the cold hard truth was that glass was EVERYWHERE. We were unable to walk around or touch anything in the room without fear.
We called the hotel desk. They said they would send someone up. The bellhop arrived first and we showed him the disaster area. He was equally mystified - and intrigued. His explanation: there must be a ghost in the room. He called maintenance with instructions to bring a vacuum while he moved us to another room. I was almost done gathering up our unaffected belongings when the maintenance guy arrived. He had NEVER seen anything like it, but his technical assessment was a hairline crack in the glass set off a chain reaction. Seriously, though, I thought the ghost explanation was more feasible. Whatever the cause, it was hard to do anything but stand there scratching our heads.

I was eventually sent to the new room with instructions to go back to sleep while Jim and the maintenance guy tried to eliminate glass from my race gear. It just so happened (as it does with most disasters) that my most important race necessities - my transition backpack and bike shoes - were right in the line of fire below the end table. But miraculously, about 1.5 hours after the GEGD, I was able to put the whole thing out of my mind so that I could get up early for a practice swim.

The Hoover Dam: amazing feat of modern engineering.

The next day, although we found little conversation that wasn't directly related to the GEGD, we did some sightseeing. We visited the Hoover Dam in 105-degree heat and then spent the evening with my great friend, fellow athlete, and founder of Punk Rock Racing, Ron Harvey. It was Ron's first time at a World Championship event and hanging out with him and his son Nick was one of the highlights of our trip. I usually like to "get away from it all" the night before I race by finding a restaurant far from triathletes and the hype, and Ron had no problem honoring that wish. He's also a good person for me to be around because of his totally chill attitude (although, I think he's just as jittery as the rest of us and its just an act).

Race morning with Ron (before the flat): note that you
can see Ron's teeth in that smile - this is not his usual
pre-race "I'm cool, mellow, and collected" pose.

And so we had no more (exploding) disasters until race day. At mile 3. When I was struck by the aforementioned exploding tire incident. Thus the question became, and remains, were the two events related? (Was it the ghost?) Or was it a mere coincidence?

The most unfortunate thing about getting a flat in this particular race was that I had decent swim (29:50 for 1.2 miles) and was leading my start wave (and therefore my age group) out of transition that morning. I had no expectations on Sunday because I was looking at no taper and only two weeks of recovery since Ironman Louisville. But leading my age group out of the water was a pretty good start for a race with no expectations.

(Blog Interlude, Jim's photos from the start and T1):

Lake Las Vegas Bike Transition at 3:30 a.m. (from the hotel balcony)

My wave start at Lake Las Vegas
Last year's winner, Craig Alexander
(I have no doubt that Jim took this photo just for me) 
Craig Alexander's custom painted lid
Yes, that's me, all alone in T1 before anyone else got there.
First amateur up the hill, super happy, but not quite as cool as Crowie.

The blowout changed everything. I went from no expectations to high expectations to low expectations in a matter of minutes. It was the worst sound I ever heard while riding my bike. At first, I thought it was a gunshot (coincidentally, there was a police car right there when it happened). It was my front tire. I stopped on the side of the road and hastily went about fixing it. A lone spectator wanted to help me - he talked me through it, and he even called Jim (at my request) to tell him I flatted and would be slow getting to T2. It was a new tire and I struggled a bit with the long valve stem and getting the tube out. Then, by time I had the new tube in, the mobile tire/wheel support guy had arrived (the policeman called race officials). He was ready with another wheel, but I was almost finished with this one, so he helped me get the tire back on the rim, pumped it up, and I was on my way after many thanks.

I think I lost about 11-12 minutes to the flat, but mentally, I lost a lot more. When I got back on my bike, I had to regroup and reassess what I came Vegas to do. It was the Ironman 70.3 World Championship. My body was fried from Ironman Louisville two weeks prior. Upon learning the temperature would reach 100 degrees on race day, Jim's statement on Saturday was: "your goal tomorrow is to survive." I had been given over to Vegas being a training race, but until the blowout, there was that little part of me wondering if I could rise to the occasion despite the fatigue and no taper... that little voice saying: "what if?"

That voice was now saying "ok, raw deal, Jeanne-o, so NOW what are you going to do?"

My answer was, simply, to enjoy myself. I didn't want to chase. I wanted to get experience in the heat for that big race in Kona. I worked on the same fueling regimen from Louisville (Gu Roctane drink and gel and Gu Brew), hydration, and hill riding - because the Vegas bike course is full of long rolling hills. And I prepared myself for a run in 100 degrees. And just when I thought I had everything under control, one more thing went awry - with 10 miles to go, I hit a bump and launched my only remaining water bottle.

Ok, I lied, there was a slight shoe-launching disaster
as I dismounted my bike (note, I had to pick up and carry my bike shoes)

With the flat, the bike leg took me over three hours (last year it took 2:51), and when I pulled into transition, I had no idea where I was in the age group. Jim said he thought I was fifth - and 10 minutes down from the leader - surprisingly, I was in a lot better shape than expected.

Because of the dropped water bottle, I approached the run dehydrated. The 13.1-mile three-loop Vegas run course was challenging enough in 90 degrees last year, but this year it would be much worse. So I focused on getting rehydrated as quickly as possible and fueled properly. My only goal now was to hold a pace that could be termed "running."

That was warm water I dumped on myself.

The biggest issue in Vegas besides the heat this year was getting ice and cold fluids. People (including me) were asking for ice and when it wasn't available, we took to grabbing it right out of the buckets being used as coolers. At one aid station, kids were handing out (yelling) "warm sponges!" I think it just got worse as the day went on (Ron said he had trouble finding anything cold at the aid stations while he was out there).

There were more people walking and struggling through aid stations than I've ever seen at a race. People even got desperate. At the aid station about a half mile from the finish line, a guy yelling for ice water jumped right in front of the group I was running with. He slipped on a cup (or wrapper), strained his hamstring, grabbed it in pain, and then almost took us all down with him. Obviously the heat was getting to people.

Finish line (finally) - still managing a smile.

By the second loop, I was actually feeling better but not running much faster - my pace was about a minute per mile slower than 2011. I didn't really try to catch anyone, but I know I passed at least three women in my age-group. My keep-running attitude was working - two of them had given up and started walking. The only time I tried to run fast was in the last downhill half-mile to the finish. When I crossed the line, all I wanted was to get out of the heat. I found Jim in the crowd and he told me I did no worse than fourth in my age group. We found out later that I finished third. Not bad for no expectations and a flat.

More photos from Jim's camera:

Men's pro race winner, Sebastian Kienle (again, way cooler than me)
Andy Potts, another one of my favorite pros.
(Do I have to keep stating how cool these guys are?)
Happy but wasted. Ron had enough energy for that pose, then he
"had to go lie down." The medals rocked.

Vegas was a good experience for me to have five weeks before Kona. I know there's no such thing as miracles. I now know I can recover from dehydration to feel good again during a race. I know I need to work on changing a flat faster. And with this race and IM Louisville, I now have a better understanding of how to race in severe heat.

And so... yeah, um... bring on Kona.

Ironman Louisville transition zone

2012 has been a crazy roller coaster of a triathlon season. I have made numerous attitude adjustments, goal assessments (and reassessments) and plan changes. I fought race-ending illnesses, race-ending allergy attacks, and one major injury (still fighting). I've beat myself up and picked myself up - again and again and again. I failed to finish three out of six races I started. I had given up on making it back to Kona for the Ironman World Championship. In fact, I searched my soul for a reason to keep doing this thing - this Ironman thing. I've asked myself that question: "am I still having fun?"

Two weeks ago, the answer was "No."

So, then, what could possibly make me toe the line at Ironman Louisville on Sunday? What could possibly have motivated me to go back one more time knowing this distance would destroy me, knowing I would have to willingly descend into that personal hell we all know as the last six miles of an Ironman race?

I'm calling it commitment. Determination. Refusal to admit defeat. And the J-Team.

The J-Team is my Ironman support crew - they all have names beginning with "J": my husband, rocket scientist, level head, baseball aficionado, and fixer-of-anything-mechanical Jim, and my awesome friend, amazing chef, mom extraordinaire, positive-spinner, and attitude-adjuster Julie. Jim and Julie are the intellectual heart of the J-Team. They never miss a chance to direct me on the right path to the finish line. They document everything in photographs, good and bad. They pick up the pieces of races gone awry, and they revel in my (our) successes. I feel comfortable saying I owe my best Ironman races to their hard work on race day. The J-Team has at-home members also, like my good friend Jean who takes excellent care of our needy cat, Hopper, so that I can focus on racing. On Sunday, we added another at-home honorary member, our friend (cycling partner, rocket-scientist, math-obsessor, and numbers-over-analyzer) Nick. (He's an honorary member because only his middle name begins with "J".) My finish at Ironman Louisville had as much to do with them as it did with me - maybe more.

Here are some ways the J-Team kept me on track over the weekend:

  • While I waited in line for the porta-john on race morning, Julie went to make friends in the swim line-up so that I wouldn't have to start dead-last. (For those who didn't know, Ironman Louisville starts in a time-trial format because of a narrow swim channel.)
  • Jim and Nick were in constant contact on race day to determine my location on the course and what I needed to do. Nick was even checking my splits and the overall standings and letting Julie and Jim know when to expect me.
  • When I saw them on the course, Jim and Julie gave me the overall situation in addition to cheering me on. During most of the race, my anticipation remained high because I looked forward to seeing them at the next check-point.
  • Jim's motivator
  • Jim made sure I would stay on pace. After receiving an early birthday present from me - a personalized bat (photo right) from the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum - he gave me the following speech: "If you take the marathon out in anything faster than an eight-minute mile, I will beat you with my baseball bat like Al Capone did to that guy in the Untouchables." (Ok, so he didn't mean it.. but, point understood.)
  • And finally, Julie took one for the team. Saturday morning, in an attempt to avert race day disasters, Julie set off the fire alarm in our hotel kitchen while making her famous lemon pancakes. I think her plan was to have it serve as the weekend's token disaster for the "disaster magnet." The result of this sacrifice meant even more to me after the race when I learned that two potential disasters had been averted: someone threw tacks on the bike course causing many riders to flat, and last week I had eaten several mangoes from a batch that were recalled due to salmonella.
Back to the race report. Louisville is considered one of the toughest Ironman courses (see benchmarking at and according to Team Endurance Nation's Patrick McCrann (read his report on the TriFuel site), this year's times were much slower than last year due to heat AND wind. High temperatures in August in Louisville can reach into the 90s and 100s - with high humidity. Heat always causes nutrition issues for me, and although I had been training in heat most of the summer, I'd be lying if I said I was confident in my nutrition plan. But I DID spend many training rides and runs this summer working on fueling, hydration, and electrolyte intake to avoid my nemesis, hyponatremia. I put most of my plan together using information gleaned from nutrition guru Brian Shea at Personal Best Nutrition - both from the PBN online forums and his postings on Slowtwitch. And full nutrition plan analysis was another aspect that Jim, the Excel whisperer, helped me out with - he developed a spreadsheet defining my various gels, drinks, and capsules (Gu Energy Roctane products, Gu Brew, Salt Stick, and Ironman Perform) with calories and sodium levels - all I had to do was plug in the amounts, and it would give me the stats. He made me study it, recite my contingency plans (such as, what to do if I don't pick up my bike special needs bag), and commit much of it to memory.
Getting body marked

Race day began after a fitful night with only a couple hours of sleep. Our hotel, the Residence Inn, was so close to the transition at Waterfront Park that we were able to walk there on race morning and avoid parking issues. Air temperature was in the 70s with a predicted high of 93 degrees F. I prepped my bike with nutrition bottles, dropped off my special needs bags, and we headed for the swim start (a mile away). I had no idea what to expect with the time-trial start, but by the time we got there, we understood why people started lining up at 2 a.m. Upon seeing the queue, I realized I would have to settle for a late start. Body marking came first, and then we started our trek to the end of the line.

It was a long walk.

We walked for what seemed like another mile before the crowd thinned out. I waited in the bathroom line while Julie headed to the end of the start line. She located a few Northeast Ohioans who were generous to let me jump in line with them. The plan was for all competitors to be in the water within 40 minutes starting at 7 a.m. We watched the pros swim by followed by early age-groupers. The line moved pretty fast, but its length gave me more than enough time to get into my swimskin (84-degree water meant a non-wetsuit swim), don my cap and goggles, and get hydrated and fueled. I reached the start just after 7:30. We were shuffled along and told to run along the dock and jump in feet first.

After a quick wave to the J-Team, my swim had begun.

descending to start

Right up until the point my feet hit the water, I had been wrestling with doing this Ironman. I was tired. Worn out. 140.6 miles had become such a daunting task. Especially after my all-out race last weekend. I had begun to believe my heart was no longer in it. But on Sunday morning, something happened when I hit that water. Something I hadn't felt in a long, long time.

I enjoyed it.

I was swimming in the Ohio River and I was having fun! I was expecting to hate every second of it, but instead, the water was not disgustingly dirty (as I had been led to believe), and the temperature was not too hot (as I had been led to believe). The time-trial start was more comfortable than the usual mass Ironman start. I didn't get clobbered instantly (don't get me wrong - I got clobbered, but not instantly). I had time to get in a groove while in the channel and there was no need to spot buoys because I could see exactly where I was (island on one side, river bank on other). The swim course rounded the island so that the sun is in your eyes only for a bit until you turn 180 degrees to swim downstream along the far side of the island, under two bridges, and to the finish line.

Out of the water and into T1

I stopped a few moments to gather myself after getting kicked directly in the face near the turn. Then I decided to swim wide for the remainder of the course. With the sun behind us and calm water, the yellow and orange buoys were ridiculously easy to spot - it was smooth swimming the rest of the way and I was very surprised at how fast it went by. I stayed relaxed and stretched out to get the most out of my stroke without further stressing my still-injured right shoulder tendon.

NO ONE on the planet was more surprised than was to look down at my watch and see a time of 1:00 when I climbed out of the water. I had expected 1:05 at best - more likely 1:10 because of the shoulder and lack of swim training. While running to the transition zone, a very uncharacteristic thought went through my mind: "I still got it baby!!" I was elated (and yet baffled by my own response). I decided to go with it - capture the energy - and ran into T1 with a purpose, lacking my usual fears.

See? I wasn't kidding.

I yelled my number, got my gear bag, and outran everyone to the change tent. The volunteers in the change tent were amazing. My shoes, number belt, and helmet were on in an instant. When I got to my bike, I realized there were a LOT of bikes still in transition. Thus, my swim had been very fast comparatively. I felt like jumping up and down screaming. I saw Julie. I saw Jim. I yelled "woohoo" like a 12-year-old, and got on my way. Seriously. Who the heck was I acting like? Certainly not me. This was NOT my usual M.O.

Whatever. My motto had now become... "just go with it."

And so I rode. I rode as I had planned to ride - relaxed, keeping my heart rate low and my cadence even. Navigating the rolling hills required concentration so that I didn't burn out my legs riding too hard on the uphills. A lot of people were getting out of their saddles on the hills. I kept my cool and rode easy.

The Ironman Louisville 112-mile bike course is easy to crush if you're accustomed to rolling hills. But it can also eat you up and spit you out if you don't ride conservatively. I met an athlete on Saturday who referred to the course as a "meat grinder." The shape of the course is a modified loop with a really flat first and last 10 miles and a short out-and-back done once before the loop begins. There are some formidable hills despite (I was told) being only 2000 feet of climbing altogether. I found that "climbing skills" are irrelevant on rolling hills, that being a good shifter and a good capitalizer-on-momentum is more important. And so (at Jim's urging) I tried to channel my effort intelligently into these two things.

Whizzing through LaGrange

Despite my concentration, I was still able to enjoy the atmosphere in Louisville during the ride. On one of the bigger hills, there were no less than three costume characters vying for our attention: the Grim Reaper (who came right up to bikers' faces to talk them into "going with him"), Superman, and the Devil (a.k.a. person-with-horns-dressed-in-red-satin). On another hill was a guy in a speedo wearing an American flag as a cape. This is great support and it certainly keeps the levity up. The looping part of the course took us through LaGrange where crowd support was enormous and they even announced our names to the throngs of people lining the street. It was during this stretch on the second loop that I finally saw Julie and Jim in the crowd, and it gave me what I needed - a huge burst of energy to get through the final 30 miles of the ride.

On the bike, I knew my fueling had to be perfect. I paid great attention to not screwing up this time. I drank three bottles of Gu Roctane and took five Gu Roctane gels supplemented by water, Gu Brew, and Ironman Perform to get 24-30 ounces of fluid per hour. I did one salt stick capsule every half hour. Even though air temperature rose as the day went on, I was never thirsty and never dizzy. I think the shade on the Louisville bike course kept the heat from overwhelming me, and the time-trial start forced me to ride my own race and not chase or try to lead anyone in my age group. For many miles, I leap-frogged with a woman in my age group: every time I passed her, she immediately passed me back, sped up to get way out in front of me for a few miles, then I would eventually catch her and start the entire cycle over again. Strangely, it didn't rattle my cage as all I did was make a mental note that it was happening.

With about 15 miles left on the bike, I started to wonder if I had rode too conservatively. It was ok, though, because I had to tax my system a bit on this last stretch which was into the wind. My back and hips had that familiar stiffness from being in the aero position for too long, but overall I felt relaxed and not overly tired. I was actually looking forward to starting the run and encouraged by the fact I had no nausea this time, even with the heat.

Starting the run

As I rounded the corner to the bike finish and T2, I saw Jim and I knew he would have some words of advice and know something about the overall age group situation. When I dismounted, I struggled to get my body to move in an upright position toward the transition bag area and shouted my number. I grabbed my bag and made my way to the change tent. The volunteer, again, was amazing in helping me get my pockets filled and on my way. Water and sunscreen were offered - I took both and was on my way. Going from hobbling to sitting to standing to running was easier than usual this time, but time would tell if I could hold it together. I saw Julie. I saw Jim. I was encouraged.

The first two miles of the Ironman Louisville marathon is out and back on a bridge. As I approached the bridge, I saw a woman in my age-group coming off the bridge. She was running strong and I wondered if I looked anywhere near that good. When I hit mile 1, I looked at my watch to see the split: 7:30. It was an uphill mile. Yikes! I needed to reign this in. I backed off. I hit mile 2 even faster. This was NOT GOOD. Then I saw Jim. Here's what he said: "Nick says you have a 20-minute lead in the age-group! Go easy!" and then he said the four scariest words: "All you have to do is..."

Get. To. The. Finish(Line).

Coming off the bridge near mile 2 - still smiling

Well, yeah. There's the rub. How many finish lines have I NOT seen this year? I had begun to question whether I would EVER see another Ironman finish line. I was two miles into my marathon, and I was already going down that mental path. I had to shake it off. What to do? Focus on getting from point to point. Ironman champ Chrissie Wellington says she focuses on running from aid station to aid station. Yeah. I could do that.

But it was so HOT. I focused on nutrition and getting ice and cold water on my body in as many places as possible. In my hat. Down my tri top. Down my SHORTS. I ran with ice in my hands. I poured ice water on my face. And it worked!

But there was one problem. My right inner thigh had started talking. It was angry. It was threatening to stop working. I paused a few times to stretch. I made sure I was supplementing with electrolytes. I walked only the aid stations and maintained a 8:15-8:30 pace. I saw Jim again at mile 14. He walked with me for a bit. He said that Nick calculated my age group lead at about 30 minutes. Don't worry about pace. And then those four words again.

Just get to the finish.

No nausea yet - only fatigue and that threatening pain in my leg. The special needs bags were waiting around the corner and to my delight, a volunteer was not only holding my bag, but he was holding out my bottle of Gu Brew for me. I almost cried.

With my trusty Gu Brew

I drank some of it and ran with it. By mile 19, I had passed the final woman in my age group (she let me know this - do all age-groupers do this?) and I was now leading out-right. But my race was coming unglued. My pace was falling to near 9-minute miles and my stomach was now angry. It was saying really mean things to me. I started drinking coke to shut it up - the sugar gave me energy for short bursts. With less than five miles to go, things were coming undone, my leg was cramping, and I needed a pick-up. That's when I made a major mistake. I was so sick of Ironman Perform and coke that I listened to THAT guy. You know, the guy who said: "try some chicken broth."

I would pay for that mistake. Coke and chicken broth DO NOT MIX. At an aid station with just over two miles to go, I was vomiting the contents of my stomach into a garbage can. And it wouldn't stop. I was bent over and started getting the shakes. If I stopped moving, things would surely fall apart in a hurry (because that's what they do in Ironman). Seeing me in distress, several athletes stopped to help. They poured cold water on me. They encouraged me. They were angels with running shoes.

And I turned and kept running. I had to stop several more times with the vomiting. Spectators encouraged me. You're at mile 14. Keep going. Hang in there. I couldn't muster the energy to tell them I was almost done. I stood up, jogged around the next corner only to see the sign: "finish straight ahead... second loop to the right."

Oh my God. WAS THAT THE FINISH LINE??? It was right in front of me!

I had almost given up the Ironman finish line. But Jim and Julie would be waiting for me there. Maybe friends would be watching online. So here's a little video of what happened next (the finish line camera captured by Nick with his Flip camera):

One of those hands was Jim's.

When I crossed the line, I proceeded to get sick one more time (obviously). I had a whole cadre of volunteers helping me move along and they finally put me in a wheelchair. I got all materialistic on them: where was my medal and my shirt and my hat? I must have them. I earned them. I was no longer that person in the medical tent not getting them. I finally finished another Ironman.

Julie and Jim stayed with me while I sat in the wheelchair and fought to overcome the lingering nausea and get some fluids in me. I had my own volunteer, an athletic trainer named Carol (or C.J.). We dubbed her a member of the J-Team - after all, her middle name started with J. While determining whether I should go to medical, it occurred to me that before the race, Julie said she would get a tattoo if I got a Kona slot AND stayed out of medical on Sunday. I was determined to hold her to it. Jim checked the live splits to find out that I had, indeed, won my age group at Ironman Louisville. I looked up at Julie and I said "Guess what!"

She laughed and replied: "We're going to Kona." (I guess she forgot the wager. But I'll hold her to it.)

The W45-49 Podium


I have until next May to come up with an Ironman race nutrition plan that will work for me. I guess it's not the whole Ironman that I have to come up with a plan for. Just the run part. Or maybe just the heat part. Oh heck, I guess I have to rethink the whole race.

In rethinking "the whole race," I have to start by analyzing exactly what went wrong nutritionally during the run at Ironman Lake Placid five weeks ago. All my fueling up UNTIL the run seemed to be working great. Even up until the SECOND HALF of the run. There were no obvious warning signs -- no extreme fatigue, thirst, or lightheadedness -- until it was too late. Even the vomiting I did around mile 15 did not give me the sense there was a larger problem. But in analyzing the data, I've narrowed it down to two causes: hyponatremia and an overly-aggressive run pace. They were probably co-conspirators in my take-down.

I didn't just pull these two things out of thin air. I read. A LOT. I thought about my nutrition issues. A LOT. And I had help. My friend Jo-Lynn is a nurse and an honorary member of the J-Team. She took the scientific approach and explained what was going on with my stomach when it "shut down." I also have a friend who told me where to take a second look -- at my "run splits." After a 100-mile ride in 90-degree temperatures, Julie (J3) is convinced it was "the heat." I took all these things into consideration, looked back at my training and racing nutrition in the recent past and started to draw conclusions.

Starting with when things began to look "not quite right" in Lake Placid -- I guess it was that mile 15 or 16 of the marathon. I think I misdiagnosed my first bout of nausea and vomiting as caused by eating/drinking too much (a.k.a. the dreaded "sloshy stomach"). It was more likely the beginning of my stomach shutting down. Vomiting appeared to solve the problem because I already had enough hydration in me to last several more miles. But everything I drank after that never got into my system. Thus, when I had my seemingly unending "vomit-fest" at mile 20 and when I was diagnosed with "dehydration," the underlying cause was probably hyponatremia. I didn't just need more fluid, I needed more salt to help me absorb the fluid and balance the electrolytes in my system.

I've been aware of this thing called hyponatremia since 2008 when I was training for the Philadelphia Marathon. During that time, I would vomit during most of my runs over 2.5 hours, and I usually vomited at the top of the last hill (after fatiguing my legs the most). I was baffled. I never had this problem when I trained for marathons in the 1990s (in my 30s). I did some reading, learned about the condition, added electrolytes to my training runs and the problem went away. I concluded my body chemistry had changed over time, and I was sweating out more salt now that I was "old."

Of course, the hotter the weather, the more we sweat, the more we need to replace fluids, and therefore the more salt I need. Not everyone will have this problem. Jo-Lynn wrote in her assessment: "All people's body chemistries are different and Ph's slightly different, sweat rate, and sweat composition." It's not my sweat rate I'm worried about, it's the saltiness of my sweat. How do you measure that? You can measure how much fluid you lose in a run by weighing yourself before and after, but how does one determine how much salt is needed? Is it just trial and error? Is there some kind of salt litmus paper?

The kicker came in a half-iron triathlon race I did last weekend. I got off the bike in relatively cool temperatures and then the sun came out and turned the heat index up to about 84 degrees F. I had forgotten my Hammer Endurolytes, so I replaced them with the brand "Salt Stick" which we were told had five times the amount of sodium. I took one near the beginning of the run, but about half way through, I started to feel nauseous again. I slowed my pace, drank only sports drink and took an Endurolyte at an aid station -- that pretty much cleared up the problem.

So, then, why do I also think an overly aggressive run pace added to my problem in Lake Placid? Because in looking at my splits, I was out way faster than I had planned. I was attributing it to the downhills, but near the beginning of the second loop, I did start feeling a little pain in my quads that might suggest I was running too fast. This also messes with your fluid absorption rate -- blood is shunted away from your stomach for use in other muscles. I think it was a contributing factor in the early part of the marathon.

What do I do now? Many have suggested I stick with short races (like I'm going to listen to THAT). Jim still has plans to get me a nutritionist. I started by buying a book. It's called Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes by Monique Ryan. It covers so many different aspects of nutrition that I figure, even if I still need help with the actual race nutrition plan, this book can help me work through other nutrition aspects of my life. Like that supplementation issue that I can't quite figure out and often spend entire days on the computer looking for the perfect dietary supplement to get me through a long day at work and two long training sessions that include speedwork. If you know of that drug, and its legal, please contact me... but don't tell everyone else about it. I need SOME kind of edge. But make sure it also contains salt.

Usually around this time of year, I'm either training for a marathon at similar latitudes or looking at rest and downtime going into the winter months. Last year proved that a late November marathon isn't the best choice of a race, as I stood at the Philadelphia Marathon start bundled up to my eyeballs hoping the temperature would climb above 25 degrees F that day. Besides finishing my first marathon in years on a great course in a beautiful city, nothing about that race was what I would call "fun." But, as we like to say, it builds character. (Cold weather seems to be my theme lately.)

This year finds me facing another weather obstacle -- the opposite of last year. My final race of the triathlon season -- a half-Ironman (70.3) -- takes place in Clearwater, Florida. Most northerners might look forward to Florida in November. I'm dreading it. All summer, Cleveland-area temperatures have been downright cool. The past several weeks have seen lots of rain and cold even for fall. In September and October, I've done most of my long rides on the trainer -- another character-builder. (If I could get over my fear of danger on the roads, riding in the rain might produce a similar level of mental toughness.)
Contrary to the past, my biggest fear now is the run. When I train in the heat, I run well in heat, and I've done neither of those this season. Actually, my run leg in triathlons has been the biggest disaster this year. So with only a few weeks of training left, and temperatures in the 30s and 40s, Jim has been on my case to don multiple layers while running to simulate hotter temperatures. I know it works for some, but I just get soaking wet and THEN I get cold. I'll keep toughing it out, though. I've even taken several hard runs inside to the treadmill (more character-building? you bet). The only encouraging thing is I've finally begun to feel strong and fast on my feet again. It almost makes me want to run a winter marathon. But, first, there's a half-Ironman to get through. Maybe I need to approach it differently, like imagining it as a tropical vacation. With a swim. And a 56-mile bike ride. And maybe throw in a half-marathon, just because I love to run.

...don't be a triathlete.

The temperature finally hit 90 degrees in Cleveland -- just as I was beginning to think hot weather training would never happen this year. When I saw the forecast for Sunday -- over 90 and humid -- I did what all crazy triathletes do: planned a brick, a bike-run workout. There are several explanations for why they call it a brick (Google it), but my personal favorite is "Bike-Run-ICK!" For some reason, bricks don't feel quite the same unless my running shoes are making squishy sounds after 10 minutes off the bike.

My training this year has been severely lacking in long brick workouts, which might explain why my legs feel massively fatigued when I start the run leg of my races. But today, I realized why I've not been doing bricks regularly. I JUST don't enjoy running off the bike unless it's ridiculously hot. Call me insane, but it just doesn't FEEL right.

Today's ride was not only hot and humid, but fast. I rode my usual 2-hour loop, starting out fast but not trying to break any records. My goal was to get my cadence up by remaining in my small chain ring for the entire ride. It was very windy, but I felt like I was riding into the wind no matter what direction I was going. With about 45 minutes left in my ride, I got passed by a group of three guys, and I decided to try to hang behind them as long as I could (without drafting). Once I got my legs spinning fast, I was able to hold between 23-25 mph for most of the rest of the ride. The guys -- Joe, Jared (Jerrod?), and Lee -- were great fun to ride with. Joe was heading into a taper for Ironman Louisville in three weeks. At the first red light stop, they encouraged me to hang with them. I had the most fun riding I've had in years (maybe because of the companionship, maybe because of the speed, I don't know).

I finished the 40 mile (very hilly) ride with an average well over 19 mph and feeling very confident in my ability to ride faster without giving up my run speed. That has always been the question: how do I get faster on the bike without building massive leg muscles that will hinder my run?

Unlike the ride, my run today was more like a death march. I asked my husband to crack the whip on me because my motivation has been so low lately. He rode his mountain bike with me to carry water and gatorade during my run. I always feel guilty asking him to do that -- like I'm breaking the runners' code of ethics. I once read that you should never ask your spouse to be your waterboy, or girl (although Jim was born on the exact same day as Adam Sandler, so maybe that's why I do it?). Anyway, I wonder if the triathlete code of ethics allows it? I sure hope so -- I don't think I could get through these hot, humid workouts without him, and it helps me simulate race conditions. Jim is so much more than my water carrier -- he is an integral part of my racing: my bike mechanic, my travel coordinator, my psychologist, my cheering section, and my best friend. And I hate that he sometimes has to pick up the pieces of a wasted me after poor performances.

But today, he was also a slave driver, as he did not let me quit running after 20 minutes ("you said 40 minutes, you'll do 40 minutes"). Thus begins my training for that race in Clearwater in November.

(the photo is the sweat stain I left on my driveway after my workout)

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