Blogs tagged with "nutrition"

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.
Despite what seemed like a crap season, this was a highlight,
talking about my flat on camera after IM 70.3 Vegas.

I always like to write a post-triathlon-season review blog, mostly to reflect on the lessons learned and decide where I want to go the next year. But this year, I find myself in a 24/7 crunch time at work as my cohorts and I have been feverishly cramming (seriously, it's like we're college students doing all-nighters) to put the finishing touches (or at least some kind of touches) on my employer's - The Cleveland Museum of Art's - updated website. The reason for the cram is that the museum is launching an iPad application which plugs into our website content management system - in order to launch the iPad app by the deadline, we have to have the new website (my responsibility) done. Why did I tell you that? Because - despite the fact that I have been keeping up with my "Drawing of the Day" blog series - I hope it explains why I've not had much time to write a blog post.

But I HAVE had an enormous amount of time to think about the past year. Every time I run or get on my trainer or (very infrequently) visit the pool, I relive the pain of my 2012 season. And even though it doesn't feel like unfinished business, I still want to put it to rest and not have it float like a specter above everything I do in 2013. I'd like to avoid living next year like I have something to prove.

I've decided to make a quick list of the disappointments and then try to focus on the positives. In the disappointment category:

  • Based on my memories of a great race in 2011, I started my 2012 tri season with very high expectations at Ironman St. George in May. What actually happened was a two-week upper-respiratory infection followed by a second infection that hit Monday of race week. I spent the week in bed with a 102-degree fever, started the race only to be hornswoggled by horrific race conditions (high surf, 40-mph wind), constant bouts of coughing, and a broken shifter cable around mile 70. I managed 16 miles of the marathon with a antibiotic-compromised digestive system, and finally threw in the towel - claiming that I was no longer having fun. (I wasn't.)
  • I tried to make a comeback in early June at Ironman 70.3 Mooseman in New Hampshire only to end up crumpled over in respiratory distress (again), but this time due to a severe allergy-induced asthma attack.
  • Ironman 70.3 Racine proved yet another disaster, this one of my own making - a major mistake in sodium intake found me crumpled on the side of the road (again) with medical personnel. This time the diagnosis was the opposite of my usual nutrition problem of hyponatremia - it was severe dehydration.
  • As the defending age-group champ in the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Vegas, I was the first age-grouper out of transition for the second year, but this time, I ended up on the side of the road (yes. again.) with a blow out at mile 3. After watching everyone go by while changing my tire, I managed to race myself back to a third place finish in very tough (100-degree heat) conditions.
  • And finally, feeling in the best shape of my life, my trip back to Kona turned all wrong when something went terribly awry with my biomechanics. After pushing through severe hip and groin pain for 90 miles of the bike leg, I found myself in the Kona general hospital for x-rays and a potential stress fracture. I was discharged with a cane only to hobble around airports the next day.
There was a point in 2012 when I thought I would never again see an Ironman finish line. But where would I be if I weren't stubborn? There were several experiences in 2012 that lifted me up enough to fight another day:
  • The biggest one was that I finally found the right products to solve my nutrition issues once and for all. I switched to all Gu Energy products - Roctane drink and gel are what I now build my entire Ironman fueling regimen around. And Gu Brew has become the savior of my run special needs bag.
  • On the racing front, I won the overall women's race at the GNC Pittsburgh Triathlon with my fastest time ever on that particular course. The most enjoyment came, however, in passing women on the run who were less than half my age - and knowing they were not happy about it.
  • I set the age group course record (just recently found out) at Ironman Louisville. It was hot, it was hard, I was nursing a shoulder injury, and I went out too fast on the run. But I fought for every second of that race, I made it fun, and it paid off.
  • In Burlington, VT, I raced my way to a spot on Team USA for next year's ITU Age Group World Championship in London, England, one of my favorite cities. I will now have the opportunity to swim in my favorite urban park in the world - Hyde Park - and race in the tracks of Olympians.
  • Oh yeah, and it seems like a long time ago, but also I got a Masters Athlete of the Year Honorable Mention from USA Triathlon.
In retrospect, my year wasn't all failure like I had originally thought. It just wasn't the year I wanted it to be. Especially after a stellar 2011. My biggest races ended in disaster, and I had to regroup mentally several times. Most strikingly, I didn't run any marathons this year. Running marathons always keeps me a little more sane because it puts me in my athletic comfort zone (it's my endurance racing macaroni and cheese).
Although 2012 made me consider it, I guess I'm not ready to throw in the towel on triathlon yet. Amidst the turmoil of work and the frenzy of the holidays, I have found myself thinking about next season. Although I may not be talking about it just yet. Ask me in January.
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 RunTri.com) 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

ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF TEAM PHOTOGRAPHERS JULIE AND JIM

Time to put on my goggles and look at data.

It's that time again - time to go all "mad scientist."

Choosing to do an early-season Ironman when you live in the northern U.S. is a huge commitment. It means many weekends of indoor long rides and runs. Mostly alone. It means if you run outside, you spend most of your time running in the dark. Alone. It means frozen hair after every swim. It means very few opportunities to race before the Ironman (unless you have the budget). And it means difficulty in simulating race conditions during training. But if you tough it out, you stand at that starting line knowing that you have developed not only physical strength, but a new degree of mental strength because of the harsh training conditions.

Because I spent January through April training for Ironman St. George last year, I already knew I had the physical and mental fortitude to tough it out. What I didn't know was whether I WANTED to do it all again. But I made the commitment before thinking it through because Utah was good to (and for) me. Now there's no turning back and nine weeks separate me and my early-season Ironman.

The difference this year is that I know what to expect from the terrain and the weather in St. George. This can be a blessing or a curse. I know how to race St. George, but now I have expectations for my performance. And despite a decent performance, things did go wrong last year - there's that problematic nutrition thing hovering over my head like a storm cloud.

To give myself the best chance for a good race in St. George, I need to keep my anxieties in check. There are two things that will help me do that: I must define realistic goals and expectations about my race and I must formulate an intelligent race plan. Yesterday, I started digging for my realistic set of expectations.
Expectations should be simple and based in fact: I should know what I'm capable of from experience and by testing my limits in training. Despite this, emotion almost always gets in my way - and it goes BOTH ways: my expectations can become hopes (of good performance), or my expectations can become self-fulfilling prophecies (of poor performance). So I must go back to the egg, to the only way I know to remove the emotion from my racing - data! I needed something concrete - a one-to-one comparison. And I knew exactly how to get it.

On March 4, 2011, nine weeks before Ironman St. George 2011, I rode a loop of the Ironman St. George RacerMate Real Course Video. Saturday was March 3 - exactly nine weeks before Ironman St. George 2012. If I were to ride the Ironman St. George Real Course Video this past weekend, I would HAVE my one-to-one comparison. Same weekend, same course, in training for the same race - this would surely be excellent data to compare and draw conclusions from.

So that's what I did. On Saturday, without looking at last year's performance, I got on the CompuTrainer, warmed up, and pulled up the St. George course. To be totally fair, there were some differences:
  • I rode earlier in the day than I did last year (yep, the stats file was date- and time-stamped).
  • I was not using the same nutrition regimen as last year - I have switched to Gu Roctane drink, and I am still in the process of determining my electrolyte needs with this new fuel.
  • And finally, I was watching different movies. This year, as TV scheduling would have it, I was treated to Goodfellas, and I can't say this didn't affect my ride intensity - although I don't know what I watched last year or even if it was a gangster movie (which, I argue, trumps all film genres for long trainer sessions).
Sunday morning, I plotted points - this year's ride vs. last year's. After Excel threatened to make the data analysis harder than the ride itself, I called in my husband Jim, the Excel-whisperer, to finish up, and here is the result - a set of comparison graphs of speed, power, heart rate, and cadence. The first plot (top) is the St. George bike course profile (the start plus one loop).

I was looking for notable differences. In the case of power and speed, I wanted the blue line (this year's ride) to be higher than the red line (last year's ride). And for heart rate and cadence, I wanted the opposite to be true. Although it wasn't overly notable, I was relatively successful in three of the statistics and horribly unsuccessful in one: heart rate.

The heart rate stat was confusing for more than one reason. While I was riding, my perceived exertion was relatively low but I noticed (and wondered why) my heart rate seemed high. I don't know if sustaining a higher heart rate (even with a lower perceived exertion) is something to worry about. I'm happy I could ride with my heart rate so high for so long and not be seriously affected by it, but I find myself wondering if it's a sign of overtraining - or something worse. What's more confusing is that usually my heart rate and cadence go hand in hand (pedal faster - heart rate goes up). This is the exact opposite of what happened in the two rides. I've also read that dehydration can raise your heart rate, so that's also an avenue to explore. I need to figure out what's going on with my heart rate before race day.

Another confusing stat was the lower average power output and higher speed over the last ten or so downhill miles of the course. Both Jim and I got hung up on that one. If you think about it, in the real world, coasting downhill is speed without power, right? But on the trainer, there must be power to make the wheel move at all and more power = more speed, right. I feel like an idiot here, but it's baffling me. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense - higher speed at same power (= higher gear?) = good, right? Ok, now that I wrote it down.. the more I think about it, the less it makes sense. If anyone has a clue, help me out. I was calibrating the CT every half-hour - so, unless it's broken (eek), that wasn't the problem.

The other thing I learned on this ride was more about my nutrition requirements (and, something that might back-up the theory of elevated heart rate due to dehydration). After the one IMSG loop was finished, I kept riding because I had a longer ride planned. I did no additional electrolyte supplementation because I needed a starting point for the Roctane. Near the end of the ride, I got really nauseous. I took two Thermolytes - it took a few minutes to recover, but I did recover, and then I felt much better. In my upcoming long rides, I will further refine these needs, and, perhaps, warm up the temperature in the room because, on race day in southern Utah, it could be 90 degrees or worse - and the heat seems to be where everything falls apart nutritionally for me.

Now.. about that swimming and running data...

It's been a while since I had a "real" disaster to report on, so I guess this is highly overdue. On Saturday, October 8, I went back to Kailua-Kona for the first time since 2002 to restake my claim on the Ironman World Championship. I had three goals:

  • To do my fastest Ironman ever.
  • To finish before the sun went down.
  • To smile at and remember the finish line.

I cannot say that I accomplished all three goals. I CAN say that in order to accomplish just one of them, I had to once again beat my demons into submission along with some very real and convincing arguments made by some very real and convincing people.

The hardest thing for me to write about, though, may very well be the great race I had going until the demons reared their heads. They were the very same demons that sat on my shoulders for most of my first attempt at Ironman Hawaii.


My husband the rocket scientist talks wind tunnels


with Cervelo co-founder

My journey to the Ironman finish line started out in rare form. The J-Team - my husband Jim, my great friend Julie, and I - had three days of relaxation in Kona. We ate like kings, devouring fresh pineapple, mango, and macadamia nuts. We journeyed to the other side of the island. We met some generous folks at the Ironman Expo and beyond - of note, Cervelo reps including co-founder Phil White, the Muscle Milk reps, and the Profile Design reps. We never asked for anything and yet they heaped on us all sorts of goodies: water bottles, t-shirts, socks, etc.

But the biggest surprise of all was that I manages to relax enough to get more than four hours of sleep the night before the race. I can only attribute this to a bizarrely unfamiliar level of confidence gained from a season of smart racing. Or maybe it was just mental oblivion to what would happen the next day.

Race morning started at 3:30 a.m. with my usual breakfast of coffee, orange juice, soy protein, HammerGel and a banana. Jim dropped Julie and me off at the start where I got body marked, prepped my bike and bags with nutrition and then sat around to wait. I had a few moments of panic about the race and the swim start but I managed to calm down by listening to my favorite nerve-calming music - Turin Brakes' Ether Song.

Saying goodbye to Julie for now

The pro race cannon went off at 6:30 and it was finally time to head to the start. I said my tearful goodbyes to Jim and Julie and made my way to the water.

Unlike the last time we were here (in 2002), there is now a floating Ford truck on the starting line, and swimmers line up on one side or the other. From lessons learned in several other races, I line up way off to the left for the counter-clockwise long-rectangle 2.4 mile swim. The extra distance was a small sacrifice to make to avoid the clobbering pack I remember from 2002. Listening to other athletes endorse the region, I knew I made the right choice. I was a little taken aback when one male athlete spoke to me with a very condescending tone: "young lady, what time are you expecting to swim today?" to which I replied "about an hour." Thus he replied "I'm swimming 56 minutes" and positioned himself in front of me. The generous space in our way-left area didn't warrant that behavior, so I just swam to a position further left of him. I didn't realize "one hour" was a second-tier start.

We treaded water for what seemed like hours and then it was announced that we had five minutes to the cannon. There was no countdown - the cannon exploded and we were off.

Let me first say that my 2011 Kona start did not, in any way, shape, or form, resemble the one from 2002. In what seemed like only a few minutes, I was alone and free of usual melee of ironman swims. I think I wound up in the space in front of the floating truck - so swam smooth but fast and braces for the eventual convergence of the two separate packs of swimmers at the turn. The turn buoy in Kona is actually a large sailboat so it is easy to spot. I made a point to look at it this time - even to check out the people hanging out on it, which looked like fun. I never needed the big orange buoys, and the water was weirdly calm on the way out. All week the surf had been rough and athletes were acting very uneasy during swim practices. On the return, the surf did get rough and I ended up in a pack on the inside. I didn't have too much trouble until we were barely within earshot of the finish, and then all hell broke loose. People started grabbing my feet and swimming right on top of me. What had been an awesome swim began to come undone and I stopped several times to let more aggressive swimmers plow right over me. I was never so happy to get out of the water! I looked at my watch to see 1:02 and in light of the last 15 minutes, I was thankful it wasn't much worse.

Starting the bike, still having fun

I ran through the showers, was handed my bag, and prepped for the bike. The transition included a very LONG run around the outside of the pier. I accidentally overshot my bike, but recovered quickly, donned my helmet and was on my way. And I was feeling petty darn relaxed and excited at the bike start. And all was good.

The first two hours of my Kona 112-mile bike leg was fast and relaxed. I fueled exactly as planned, 24 oz of fluids per hour with First Endurance EFS drink and liquid shot (+water). I had no stomach discomfort and kept my heart rate in (what felt exactly like) Zone 2. I had no desire to chase women who passed me and I thought I had a great pace at well over 21 mph average. The only unnerving thing happened around the two-hour mark when I got out of the saddle for a moment and felt a twinge of severe fatigue in my legs. All I could think was that I MUST have imagined it hurt more than it actually did. There was NO way my legs were in that state this early and with so little exertion.

During the ascent to the turnaround at Hawi, the wind kicked up and there were a few moments when I thought I might lose control of the bike. The gusts on the downhill were even more frightening, but I hung onto the handlebars and persevered. The heat didn't feel oppressive, but it was extremely hot (we were told temps reached 135 degrees F on the Queen K that day) and everyone knows there is no shade on the black lava fields.

I doused myself regularly with cold water and continued to drink, but by the four hour mark, I was starting to feel very thirsty and increased my water consumption (and started adding additional electrolytes in the form of Thermolytes at about 4 per hour.) Despite this, at 90 miles, mild nausea hit and I grabbed coke at the next aid station to hopefully settle my stomach.

I started to remember why this bike course was so hard - the rolling hills are not noticeable until it's too late and the damage is done. Catching more wind on the return to Kona, my average pace slowed to under 20 mph, and I started to get discouraged.  I was also feeling tired (sort of like sleepy). And it was NOT a good sign that my increasing leg fatigue made me start to worry about the run - something I had not done in a long time (WORRY about the run, that is).

When I pulled into transition, my time was 5:39 - much slower than I had anticipated or hoped. Although my legs were fatigued, the long run through transition stretched everything out and I was feeling much better by the time I had my running shoes on. In 2002, this transition was accompanied by confusion and a foggy brain from dehydration. This year, I went through the normal motions of getting my gear on and pocketing gel and Thermolytes and I was up and in my way.

My legs felt more fatigued than in other Ironman races, and I had already begun to dismiss a fast marathon time. But I always give myself 20 minutes on the run before making final judgments. And sure enough, trudging through 20 minutes was what it took to begin to feel like a runner. My fueling was Gu Roctane every 30 minutes, water and Perform every aid station and four Thermolytes per hour. I was walking the water stops  in order to dump water on myself and try to settle my stomach, which was already starting to feel bloated and uncomfortable.

Seriously struggling at mile 9

The 26.2 mile run begins as a nine-mile out-and-back on Alii Drive in Kona and then runs up Palani Drive to the Queen K, where it continues to the famed Energy Lab turnaround at about mile 17, and then back to Kona. In 2002, I was unable to hold down food or water on the run course and I pretty much just walked and jogged between vomiting episodes.

This time, however, vomiting wasn't the first problem I literally "ran" into. It was vomiting's evil twin, diarrhea. I saw Jim at the bottom of Palani Road and told him I might have to walk the hill unless I could find a portajohn. He pointed out the aid station halfway up the hill. I became religious: "Please, God, let there be a toilet. And please let it be empty." Both my prayers were answered. And I exited the plastic paradise with only slightly renewed hope.

The next few miles would see the end of my dream of a good race in Kona. I stopped taking splits sometime around Palani Road - anyone who knows me knows that this is the sign - that I was throwing in the towel - surviving to the finish line became my main goal. I'm still not sure exactly what was wrong but I had no desire to eat or drink and every time I tried to consume anything, my gag reflex kicked in. Despite this, I drank water and coke, took Thermolytes, and kept moving - mostly running past people then walking and watching them pass me.

I took another bathroom break and then around mile 15, severe nausea hit me. I stopped at an aid station and a concerned volunteer asked me what I needed. I was feeling like I had reached the end of my rope. I asked for a medical consult.

A few minutes later, I was having my blood pressure taken and then vomiting - although very little actually came up. My blood pressure was deemed "OK" - but my body had started shaking violently and I felt like I was freezing. For crying out loud, it must have been close to 90 degrees out and I was SHIVERING so bad I couldn't hold a cup of water in my hand. The paramedic started talking: "You might have hyponatremia.. You need to seriously think about ending your race."

NO! This can NOT be happening! Not AGAIN!

I asked them if I could call my husband - the woman who had taken my blood pressure dialed the number and walked away to have a conversation with Jim. What I didn't know was that she was telling him to encourage me to pull the plug on my race. She handed me the phone. I was scared. I didn't know what to do but believe me when I say I DESPERATELY wanted to finish. I think I told Jim that. He stood by me and said it was my decision.

I told the paramedic that I wanted to finish. He decided to give me a lecture about how there was no shame in pulling out. How if I collapsed further down, no one might be there to help me. How great athletes know when their race is over and how sometimes it's how we cope with adversity and make smart decisions that really defines us. It was a great speech. I believed him.

But I wanted to finish. I wanted that medal. I had spent so much time, so much hard work, so much money.

I argued with him.

He wasn't buying it.

I begged him for different advice. Tell me how to recover! I was shaking uncontrollably. I stood up and almost fell over. The woman grabbed me and said "That's it, you're done. You need to lie down and let us take you to the finish."

NO! Please! She coaxed me onto the stretcher to take another blood pressure reading. I was terrified that they were going to trick me and close the van door and cart me to the finish. I must have been acting completely delirious because then she started asking me where I was, what day it was, and (shocker!) who was the President. I must have answered all the questions right because even though my blood pressure had gone under 100 (this is the "danger" zone), they didn't lock me in and drive me away.

I focused all my remaining mental energy on trying to stop my body from shaking so at least I looked better and they might be ok with letting me go. I had one more conversation with the doctor.

"I want to try to finish" - it was definitive.

He told me to sit down and try to get some food and fluids in me and see what happens. And then the thing I didn't want to hear but we all know is coming: "you have until midnight." I remember those words spoken by another great athlete I know in Ironman Lake Placid - my friend and teammate Christian Kurilko had stomach shutdown and was walking to the finish line. I felt helpless then because I so wanted to help him. But now it was my turn. If he could swallow his pride and do it, then so could I.

But I wanted to curl up in a ball and cry. Midnight. It would be DARK then. No more goals left. Nothing to fight for. People would feel sorry for me as I walked it in. People would pass me. Just like last time. It would be a disappointing and embarrassing end to my golden season. No smiling finish. Nothing to be proud of. Just a huge mistake. Again. Did I even belong here?!? My answer to myself was a resounding "NO."

So I ate oranges and downed coke, Perform, and (yikes!) chicken soup. I had eleven miles to go and the sun was no longer yellow. It was going down - a big orange ball of fire. I got up and started walking. And I prayed once again: "Please, God, give me strength - and no glowsticks!"

I would reach that finish line while there was still light in the sky or die trying.

And so I ran.

I felt like death warmed over - until I took the left on the way to the Energy Lab. I looked up to see the most beautiful sunset I've ever seen in my life. It would, surprisingly, energize me. After the turnaround, I grabbed my bottle of EFS drink from my special foods bag and ran with it, pouring it on ice from the aid station at the exit of the Energy Lab - around 19 miles.

I now believed I would finish. I felt like crap and continued to walk the water stops, use the portajohns, and watch people pass me. But Jim and Julie were waiting and I didn't want them to be there until midnight. Somewhere around mile 24, at an aid station, I heard someone call my name.

It was Julie! She had walked out to find me! She told me Jim was also looking for me further out. She called him and walked with me for a bit - then I started running, and she said, "see you at the finish!"

I ran like I had a purpose. All I could hear in my head was Elton John singing "Don't Let The Sun Go Down on Me" - and I wanted to scream (because, seriously, HOW CORNY IS THAT?!?! And I don't even LIKE that song. But there it was - stuck in my head.)

And I kept running.

And I pleaded before each aid stations: "please, no glowstick!" (None were offered.)

I thought I'd never see it.

Before long, I took the turn onto Alii Drive, and shortly thereafter, there it was in front of me. The finish line. I high-fived every hand I saw. And I crossed it.

And it was still light out (barely).

And I smiled.

And I looked skyward and I said thank you. For giving me two out of three.

I cannot overstate the roles that Jim and Julie played in helping me get to that finish line. Julie was there to cry with me when I exited the finish area. The hug she gave me was one that I will never forget. And when I told Jim on the course that I might have to walk to the finish, the look he gave me was the very definition of unconditional love. And even though on the phone he encouraged me to finish if I could, I knew he would have been ok with pulling the plug. He might just have been the singular motivation I needed to work so hard to recover and finish.

The thing that hurt the most after the race was how disappointed Jim was in not getting to see me enjoy the finish line. He cried about that.

But I promised to make it up to him. When we go back to Kona.

This is the look of relief,
not joy.

I went back to Lake Placid this year to even the score. The score, as you may remember from last year, was:

Ironman Lake Placid 1
Jeanne 0
This year, I vowed it would be a different race. A different me. A different attitude. A different plan. But not a different disaster - in fact, it would NOT be a disaster.
That was my vow.
The vow was the reason I signed up for Ironman St. George in May. I was desperate not to make any mistakes this time. When I toed the line at Ironman Lake Placid, the knowledge of how to complete a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run would still be fresh in my mind.
What I found out on Sunday was that, despite my best plan and my best race-day decision-making,  mistakes can and will be made. Stupid mistakes. Mistakes accompanied by a phrase that has now become part of my husband Jim's vocabulary: "I KNOW what I'm doing!"
Unfortunately (or fortunately), in triathlon, especially Ironman, it's difficult to ever know if you have the perfect race plan until you're in the midst of it. Executing that perfect race is what keeps many of us coming back to this sport. There are always places for improvement (or for things to go wrong): in the swim, on the bike, on the run, AND during transitions. And don't get me started on the weather... or that old Disaster Magnet bugaboo - NUTRITION.
So this year, with the near-disaster at Ironman St. George fresh in mind, I tweaked my nutrition to the point that I now believed beyond a doubt that... I KNEW what I was doing.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's go back.

Julie (J3) and me with my awesome new
Punk Rock Racing jersey

On Wednesday night, July 20, after a nine-hour road trip in the newly-dubbed "J-lopy" (my friend Julie's Ford Expedition), the J-Team -- Jim, Julie and I -- arrived in Lake Placid. Thursday morning, we went to race check-in, took a stroll around the race expo, and did some grocery shopping. Thursday afternoon, Julie and I went for a bike ride so I could remind myself of the hills at the beginning and end of the bike course. I was very relieved to find it wasn't nearly as difficult as I remembered from last year.

Disaster Magnet with Brian Shea of PBN.

That night, we ate at the Lake Placid Pub & Brewery  -- with props to them for letting us watch the Tour de France on their wide-screen TVs! On the way out, I was fortunate to run into Brian Shea -- the nutrition mastermind behind Personal Best Nutrition (PBN). I had always hoped to meet him and we had an opportunity to chat for a while. In addition to being an athlete, Brian is very humble and ridiculously intelligent about all things nutrition-related. And he was kind enough to let Julie take a "look-at-me-I-met-my-idol" photo for me (see photo left).

On Friday, we revisited the expo because, after talking to a Blue Seventy rep the day before, I had my eye on one of their wetsuits to replace my nine-year-old DeSoto T1. While trying it on, a woman walked up with news that the water temperature in Mirror Lake was over 76 degrees, and the race would likely be "wetsuit optional." What this meant was athletes choosing to race with a wetsuit would not be allowed to compete for age group awards or Kona slots. Well, THIS was completely unexpected. For a LOT of people.
My thought process went from considering a new wetsuit to seriously considering a speedsuit. It's not something I wanted to shop for in a hurry, but there we were. AT the Blue Seventy tent. AND they told us their swimskins were being FedEx-ed to their hotel that day. It didn't seem like an everyday coincidence.

Then came the second one. My Bike Authority Fleet Feet teammates happened onto the scene (embarrassingly while I was dripping with sweat trying on a wetsuit in 85+ degrees). After a few questions and a phone call, the Blue Seventy rep had generously agreed to honor our Fleet Feet store discount! With the water-temp news, I suspected they would sell out of speedsuits as soon as they arrived. So I jumped in Mirror Lake for a quick lap on the swim course, and then we sped back to the expo to purchase a newly-un-boxed Blue Seventy swimskin.

And kablam! Just like that, by day two, our Ironman Lake Placid trip had become a random set of unexpected, and opportune, occurrences. But so far, no disasters. At this point, the only things left to do before race day was to attend the race meeting Friday evening, pack and deliver my transition bags, and rack my bike.
We went back to our hotel (we rented a cottage at Wildwood on the Lake), I did a quick run, and we decided to get out of town for a bit. One of my biggest problems is pre-race anxiety, and the usual prescription is to stay as far away from the race venue and other athletes as possible to avoid getting nervous and unsettled. I felt a little guilty because I didn't socialize more with the rest of my team, but I hoped there would be time for that after the race. After having visiting the Olympic venues in 2010, we decided to visit The Wild Center in Tupper Lake -- it's a beautiful natural history museum of the Adirondacks in a very peaceful setting, perfect for relaxing. That night, we attended the pre-race meeting and then grabbed dinner at a Mexican restaurant near our hotel.

Then came Saturday. The day before. Unlike the rest of the week, time went lightning-fast on Saturday. We finished the day with an early dinner at our cottage (cooked by Julie) - again, to avoid the hype. And we went lights-out around 9:30 p.m. All I really needed was one dream cycle of sleep and after tossing and turning until 12:15 am, I finally dozed off. The alarm went off at 3:30 a.m. and just like that, race day was upon us.

Body marking at 5 a.m.

I ate my usual pre-race breakfast before 4 a.m. (race start was 7 a.m.): a banana, orange juice, coffee and soy protein powder mixed with Hammergel. I would also down a caffeinated PowerBar gel and water within 15 minutes of the start. We drove down to the start, prepped my bike with race nutrition, and dropped off my special needs bags.

Did you say you want to know what I put on my bike and in my special needs bags? Well... it's funny you should ask that question. Because this time, I KNEW what I was doing. Based on experience, I decided to use all

Saying goodbye to Jim before the swim start

With about an hour to the start and my special needs bags in place, the only thing left to do on race morning was relax, stretch, use the portajohns, put on my new swimskin, and get in the water. I was determined to wait as long as possible to avoid getting cold and tight. At 15 minutes, I said my goodbyes to Jim and Julie and made my way to the beach, finally getting in with 7-8 minutes to go. From where I was treading water, it was obvious that more than half the competitors had opted for wetsuits (I have no doubt it had something to do with the fact that over 1300 were Ironman first-timers).

The 2.4 mile swim is a two loop course in Mirror Lake. Because my swim went so well last year, I moved over to the right hand side of the start line and at the front. I met up with one of my teammates, Ed, who I was happy to see had followed my advice about start location. Treading water without a wetsuit was definitely more taxing, but it wasn't long before the cannon went off. And in an instant, we were on our way.

The swim start

To my delight, like last year, I didn't get clobbered right away and found I was swimming mostly out of the melee until the second turn buoy. But on the back leg of the first loop, I got kicked and smacked and decided to move to the outside. At one point of the swim, there was a huge wave that came by - I have no idea where it came from but it caught several of us off-guard and I noticed a few people had to stop and regroup. I was expecting about 35 minutes for each loop because my training yardage has been dismally low (under 3000 yards/workout) since I broke my rib in a bike crash in mid-May. Much to my shock and surprise, I came out of the first loop in about 30 minutes, I hit the split and entered the water for my second loop.

The Mirror Lake swim course is unique in that there is a cable lining the course about five feet under the water surface. If you can swim along the cable, there is no need to spot buoys. That's a BIG if. Last year, I managed to swim right along the cable, but this year it was next-to-impossible. Every time I tried to get near it, I got pushed and kicked. By the time I could hear the announcer at the swim finish, I had already stopped twice to fix my goggles after being kicked in the face.

Out of the water finally, searching for a familiar face in
the crowd.

I exited the water and looked at my watch. It read 31+ minutes. In complete disbelief, I ran toward the transition, stopping for a wetsuit peeler to help me out of my swimskin. On long run into the transition, I helped another athlete who was struggling to get out of HIS swimskin (he probably also bought it in a panic that week). Then I grabbed my bag and ran into the tent. With temperatures in the high 50s, it was chilly enough to don arm-warmers, at least for the first hour of the bike. I took my time to get everything on and adjusted and ran to get my bike -- this Ironman was the first one in which I've witnessed volunteers in the transition zone helping us retrieve our bikes. Being in the rack furthest from the exit, I had to run the furthest with my bike, but it all went by pretty fast.

The beginning of Ironman Lake Placid's 112-mile two-loop bike course is a severe downhill. Last year I launched my water bottles (the first time) at the bottom of the hill. So I rode very conservatively at first while everyone else went blowing by me. After a quick trip through and out of town, the bike course has a rough series of climbs that begin at the Olympic ski jumps. The climbing is followed by what's affectionately known as the "screaming descent into Keane." This all happens before 20 miles. After that, the course is relatively flat -- with two out-and-back sections -- until you get near Whiteface Mountain (the Olympic downhill ski venue). Then it begins to climb again with several significant rollers until you reach "the Three Bears." The bears are a series of three hills - baby bear, mama bear and papa bear. My belief is that papa bear suffers from the "Heartbreak Hill" syndrome. It's mostly difficult because it comes so late in the race when your biking legs are toast.

Obviously this is early because I still
have my arm warmers on.

My goal for the bike leg was to maintain a very easy aerobic state (Zones 1 and 2) for the first loop and then keep it as low as possible on the second loop while still maintaining similar speed. Lake Placid bike course is notorious for deceiving bikers because one of the steepest hills is in the first five miles. Going hard at that point is barely noticeable and it's where everyone should consciously hold back. Last year, I went too hard and paid later on the bike course. This year, I spun up it. I paid no attention to athletes passing me and tried to keep my heart rate down and my legs spinning. By the time I reached Keane and the 20-mile mark, my average was well over 20 mph. From there, I was able to comfortably maintain 20-23 mph until we hit the final hills. Again, I spun up them.

This year, I was determined to enjoy the experience on the bike. And I was fortunate that a large group of triathletes from my local area were competing and spectating on the course. It was a great feeling to be part of this larger group -- their cheering was integral to my day. I heard my name several times shouted not only by my own

Bike finish (note arm warmers gone)

When I got back to town to begin my second bike loop, my bike computer read 2:54. I saw Jim and Julie and I remember telling them I was thinking of pushing to try to go 5:50 on the bike (last year I did a 6:10). I was almost dead on that pace. If I picked it up only a little bit, I might even go sub-5:50. Indeed, I KNEW what I was doing. I took the second loop very similar to the first, determined to save my quads for the hills on the run. Nutrition-wise, throughout the bike, I maintained about 200 calories and 20-24 oz of fluids per hour and felt no stomach or GI distress. And by the time I reached the finish, I had slowed just a little -- I pulled into transition with a time of 5:51.

Climbing off the bike was not nearly as painful as it has been in the past. I actually tried to stretch out my legs as I ran barefoot to grab my bag in transition. As I ran into the tent, one of the volunteers yelled to me that I was carrying my bike bag! So I turned around to go back and grab the RED bag. I don't think I lost a lot of time with that mistake -- in fact, I think I was laughing about it the whole way to the tent. The volunteers in the tent helped me locate everything I needed for the run -- I loaded my pockets with Gu packets and Thermolytes and was on my way. On the way out of transition, I took two Thermolytes and put on my hat. Just as I started to run, the velcro closure on my hat popped open and I had to stop and fix it. The funny part was that the spectators at the run start were with me every step of the way... they quieted down when I stopped running, and as soon as I put my hat back on and started back up, they erupted with cheers. And I was off.

It all starts here, at "run out"

The Ironman Lake Placid 26.2 mile run course is an out-and-back loop done twice -- the loop begins with two miles mostly downhill, and finishes by coming back up those hills followed by a flat out-and-back in town. I saw Jim at the start of the run and he reminded me of my plan: to go out at an 8-minute mile pace. I settled into my marathon shuffle only to realize that I felt very very good. My heart rate was well within an aerobic zone and my legs were not tired.

It's easy to make a big mistake on the first downhill by going out way too fast. I held back on the way down the hill to save my quads from the pounding. Seriously, I held waaaay back and I went through the first mile in 6:59. NO! That was NOT the plan. It felt SO easy, but I backed off anyway. I didn't want to make that mistake. Or worse, I didn't want Jim to yell at me (for making that mistake). I jogged, ingesting water and PowerBar Perform at the first aid station. When I got to mile 2, there was more bad news: 7:05. NO WAY! I backed off even more. Mile 3? 7:07. SLOW DOWN! (but I felt so good and I still wasn't breathing hard at all). Finally, by mile 5, I managed to slow to around 7:20-7:30.

By the time I was well into the run, the temperature was hotter than the predicted high of 74 degrees (it felt like upper 70s or lower 80s). When I got back to town, my pace had slowed a bit on the uphills. And then I saw Jim and Julie. I prepared for the chastising, but all Jim yelled was: "How are you doing?"

My prepared response? "I KNOW what I'm doing!" (Although Julie maintains that I "never actually answered the question.)

Finishing the first loop of the run, feeling good
and still smiling

I grabbed the nutrition from my special needs bag and managed to down the bottle of EFS in the next two miles. By the time I was heading into the second loop, I was back on a 7:10 pace. But by mile 17, I had slowed to 7:45 pace and I was starting to feel fatigue in my legs. All the while, I had run free of nausea and stomach distress. I maintained one Gu Roctane every 30 minutes, sips of water and Perform alternated every aid station and four Thermolytes per hour. It was around mile 18 that I decided to take the Pre-Race/Liquid Shot mix hoping to wake up my system and get me through the final eight miles. Yes, I KNEW what I was doing.

By mile 19, I was doubled over at an aid station vomiting the contents of my stomach. Thanks to my experience in St. George, I knew I could recover from this, so I sat down and waited for it to pass. For assistance, I had two wonderful aid station volunteers -- one of them named Ryan. He helped me with ice water, determining if I was in trouble, and then urged me to get back out there running as soon as I felt better.

After about 7 or 8 minutes, I got back up and started jogging (my two-mile split was 22 minutes). My stomach distress was gone and I settled into an 8-8:30 mile pace. At mile 20, my watch read a total time of 9:39 and I started doing some calculations. I almost couldn't believe it... but if I ran an 8-minute pace, I might be able to finish before 10:30. But on the final hills, my pace dropped to near the nine-minute zone. The final out-and-back to the finish was the longest 1.5 miles of my life. I kept looking for mile 25 (where was it?!?!!), and even after I passed it, I had NO energy to pick up the pace. On the downhill homestretch, I looked at my watch to see 10:30, and I didn't even care.

Coming into the finish - still smiling.

I heard Mike Reilly's voice announcing finishers as I rounded the last corner to the finish on the Olympic speed-skating oval. I took a deep breath and smiled. Ironman Lake Placid was over. I crossed the finish line in 10:32:46 -- my Ironman PR -- and finally laid to rest the demons of Lake Placid.

Shortly after I crossed the finish line, I was struck with nausea and volunteers insisted I take a break in the medical tent. I didn't want to, I just wanted to go celebrate with Julie and Jim, but I was feeling very ill and at least I could get medical help if necessary. After a bout with vomiting and chills, I was up and out of the medical tent in record time. It was my second PR of the day.

No explanation here

By the time I found Jim, he already had the news -- I won the women's 45-49 age group. Jim knew because he and Julie were getting text updates from our friend Ron in California who had quicker access to the internet tracker (our iPhone reception in Lake Placid was sketchy at best). What we didn't know until Monday night was that I also broke the age group course record (after comparing the results from the past 13 years).

Although I reached my goal of finishing Ironman Lake Placid and did it in my best time ever, I still had to learn the hard way one of the cardinal rules of endurance events. Never EVER do anything on race day that has not been proven in training. I THOUGHT I knew what I was doing. I had executed a great race right up until I got stupid. I thought any caffeine-containing substance would be the same but it was a mistake that could have cost me much more than 7-8 minutes. Despite being the Disaster Magnet, I got lucky this time. Next time it may be a disaster. And if I attempt to do anything stupid again, I'm sure Jim will remind me of the time I said, "I KNOW what I'm doing," when in reality, I was being an idiot. Jim and Julie have a knack of keeping accurate historical records of these things (and documenting it in photographs), such as the arm-warmer vs. hypothermia incident of Ironman Coeur d'Alene 2009 that they will never let me forget.

All I have to say about that is: what is a support team for anyway if they can't keep score?

There are a few more things I want to write before wrapping up this race report (sorry it's so long). At my age, I never thought I would be capable of finishing an Ironman in a time even close to 10:30. In my mind, the best-case scenario was 10:40 -- and not on a course as difficult as Ironman Lake Placid. And certainly not 1.5 months after fracturing a rib in a bike crash and two weeks after racing a hard 70.3.

Happy Birthday J3

My race at Lake Placid would never have been possible without the support of Jim and Julie. They do so much more than just cheer for me on the course. They keep me sane and healthy during race week. They try their best to help me avoid making mistakes (especially when I KNOW what I'm doing). They look out for me (even though they can only laugh when I punch myself in the face while trying on a wetsuit). Julie even came to Lake Placid despite it being her birthday on race day when she should be home celebrating with her family (I hope our custom chocolate raspberry whipped cream cake was a good enough substitute).

In addition to the J-Team, there were a few more people involved in making Sunday's race as successful it was. My good friend Ron (Punk Rock Tri Guy) has been an integral long distance member of the J-Team. With his positive attitude and enthusiasm, he has kept me motivated through some of the toughest moments of the past year, and he's been very generous with his time and Punk Rock Racing gear. My fondest hope is that I am as good a friend to him as he's been to me. I also want to thank my incredible orthopedic doctor, Sam Patterson, and my massage therapist, Mike Hale, who have gone above and beyond the call to keep my body healthy and intact. Speaking of healthy, I also want to thank Olly Knights (that's right, Olly of Turin Brakes) for reaching out with some of the best nutrition advice I've received this year. Finally, I'm thankful for my new BAFF Multisport teammates, our sponsors, especially Muscle Milk, Bike Authority's Sherman McKee and Bill Dieter at Second Sole for the type of support that makes racing these triathlons even possible.

(All photos courtesy of Julie and Jim)

Next weekend I'm going back to Lake Placid to "make it right." The quote comes from our landlord of the house we rented last year during the Ironman - when we were leaving, I told him about what happened (having to drop out with major nutrition problems) and he said "you'll have to come back next year and make it right."

And that was the plan in 2011 - to do Ironman Lake Placid as my goal race and Ironman St. George as my "learning" race. The nutrition kinks would be worked out in St. George, and I would "go for it" in Lake Placid. Who knew I would get my Kona slot in St. George? But that's exactly what happened, leaving Lake Placid only as the race for me me to "make right."

I thought about not doing it at all, but with lodging reservations made and the J-Team all set to go, there was no reason not to. Besides, we all need a break from the daily grind and I still have major nutrition issues to work on after St. George. And most importantly, I bought merchandise before IMLP last year that I've not been able to wear because I never finished the race. (Isn't that the rule?)

But seriously, on July 24, I will once again take on Ironman Lake Placid with two things to accomplish before Kona: (1) to finish and (2) to get my run nutrition problems figured out. My taper has been almost non-existent because it will force me to treat this Ironman like a training race, and I have another important (short) race coming up in August. I will taper just a bit this week to give myself a little freshness on race day.

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