Monday, August 1, 2016

4th Time's the Charm: Matt's Going to KONA!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Ironman Texas 2016 Race Recap: The Finish

I wasn't racing for a Kona slot or a place on podium.  I wasn't racing to check a box next to "Ironman."  And on a course shortened by Mother Nature and a clock extended by the same, I wasn't even racing for a PR.  I was just racing for myself.  It was as simple and complex as that.

As time kept ticking and the miles seemed longer, I kept pushing toward that finish line.  The one that symbolized nothing more and nothing less than the culmination of this 30-week-long journey full of literal blood, sweat, and tears.  The finish line that came after not just the dozens and dozens and dozens of miles covered on race day, but the thousands of miles tallied in the months before.  All told, it took 62 hours of swimming, 171 hours of biking, and 118 hours of running to get here -- to this finish line.  To me, that little arch meant so much more than the timing mat underneath.

I fought through those final miles because that's what I came to Texas to do -- my very best.  An Ironman tests the limits of your heart, body, and spirit.  I always intended to pass that test.

The most glorious moment of the day is the one in which you come to the final fork in the road: Veer left for more laps, or veer right toward the finish.  There are only a few random spectators here, and yet it's a defining moment of the race.  Taking that right means you've made it.  After all those long, long roads and this very long day, you've done it!  There's just over a quarter mile left and, frankly, the finisher's chute is the icing on the cake.  I pumped my fist in the air as I followed the arrows marked "Finish."  It felt like this: the winner, Patrick Lange's private celebration as he took this same exit toward the finish -- captured by my father-in-law.

There's a little incline from there toward the finisher's chute, and you're alone for those thirty seconds.  At once, it hit me.  All of those hard months of training, all of the hard miles on this long day -- all for this moment that was about to be realized.  I'd done it.  I'd given this day my everything.  It was enough for me.  It was all worth it.

I started to cry but quickly realized getting choked up doesn't work when you're already breathing so heavily, so I composed myself.  Stay in the moment, I thought as I made my way toward the crowds.  I took it all in -- the lights, the music, the red carpet, the people.  It was as magic as I remembered.

I ran toward the finish line, soaked to the bone, with giant blisters in my sopping wet shoes, and a giant smile on my face.  And I heard those sweet, priceless words:

"Ashley Davis, you are an Ironman!"

Splashing through that wet, beautiful red carpet.
Just about to ugly cry, because did you read about this day?!
Step 1- Run to finish line. 2- Run through finish to Matt. 3- Accept high-five from volunteer. 4- Cry to Matt.

But suddenly it all disappeared -- all I saw was Matt, standing in a sea of volunteers, smiling, waiting for me.  My emotions all came to the surface as I ran to him.  The one who had worked so hard for this race only to have the most heart-wrenching day.  The one who beamed at me with tears in his eyes as he placed my Ironman medal around my neck.  "I am SO proud of you," he said as he wrapped me in his arms.  I buried my head into him and let some tears fall.  "I had to fight for this," I told him.  And he chocked back: "I know."

It was such a bittersweet moment, celebrating the successes of the day while the disappointment loomed in the shadows.  This was not how things were supposed to play out.  The devastation I'd felt for Matt's freak accident taking away his ability to just race to his potential, that I'd had to push aside for the last two hours, finally sunk in.  I knew first-hand how hard he'd worked for this, how much he'd wanted it, and how close he was to realizing his dreams.  The disappointment was heavy.  And yet it was mixed with all the raw, relieved, happy, triumphant emotions surrounding my own race.  And it was vastly overwhelmed by my love and pride for that man who had soldiered on despite everything to finish the race.  We felt it all, all at once as he held me steps past the finish line.  I whispered to him, in a tone much celebratory that I'd hoped for that occasion but equally sincere: "I am SO proud of you, too."

The lessons we learn about ourselves, about the human spirit, and about life are the things that make triathlon so beautiful.  We were blessed to be surrounded by so many wonderful people at Ironman Texas, and we are so lucky to have learned the lessons we did that day.  We're better for it.

Final Time- 11:11:27.  (Listed as 11:13:00 -- I was very impressed by how close they came in estimating how long we were each stopped for the lightning delay!)  Projected time if adjusted for the full bike course would have been about 12:05 for 140.6 on that crazy day.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Ironman Texas 2016 Race Recap: The Run

In the story of this legendary Ironman Texas, no discipline was left untouched.  The swim route had to be altered when the canal water was deemed unsafe less than 48-hours before the cannon went off.  The bike course was an ongoing drama for months leading up to the race.  The run just didn't want to be left out of the party!  Cue Mother Nature.  We went from one extreme of real-feel 100-degree intense heat and humidity to the other extreme of torrential downpour, 30+ degree temperature drop, high winds, hail, and a too-close-for-comfort thunder and lightning storm in a matter of minutes.  During a marathon.  Of an Ironman.  It was crazy!!!  So awesomely crazy.
Going into the race, I'd wanted a 4-4:15ish marathon split.  That sounds like a funny thing to say since I just ran a 3:21 open marathon last fall, but an Ironman marathon is a whole different beast.  And again, I didn't feel like my fitness level was up to par (months of poor sleep and nutrition, extra pounds, etc.) and have felt slow on a lot of runs over the past few months.  So I knew even a 4:15ish split wouldn't come easy after a long day of swimming and biking.

That said, the one part of my training that I've been happiest with in the past few months has been how strong I've been able to run off the bike.  My legs have felt good and I've been able to hit some pretty great-for-me splits on my long brick workouts leading up to the race.  And in my practice half-iron distance race at the beginning of March, I ran a negative split 1:47 half marathon to wrap it up and felt AWESOME.  So I know it's in me to run well off the bike!

The great thing about being a runner-biker-swimmer in that order is that on race day, things just keep getting better and better.  I was obviously super relieved to be done with the swim and onto the bike, and then I was so excited to be hopping off the bike and getting to run!  But it quickly became evident that this run wasn't going to feel awesome.  Normally, there's a jello-but-I-can-still-run feeling and I'm so happy to be on my feet that I actually have to hold myself back a bit.  As I came out of T2, though, my legs felt heavy and slow, and there was no intentional holding back needed.  You figure that an Ironman is a game of attrition, so less-than-great miles early on in the first loop made me nervous about doing that loop three times.  You know, running a full-on marathon.

Thank goodness for my angel friend Syd and that fateful conversation we shared on our bikes that crazy April day in St. George!  Stay in the moment, I reminded myself.  No need to worry about what's ahead.  I started to think about now.  Why was I feeling the way I did?  What could I do about it?

Had I overbiked?  I knew I rode faster than planned, but I still felt like it was in a safe realm of perceived exertion -- I'd biked harder many times at BAM and ran plenty well off the bike afterward.  But maybe it took more effort to get back up to speed -- even ever so slightly, for even just a few seconds -- over nearly 90 turns.  Not to mention all the pushes required to pass clumps of people on the bike early on.  So maybe I didn't over-bike as far as pacing goes, but perhaps it happened anyway, if that makes sense?  Then I thought about how I actually used more energy proportionally on that awful swim than even on the bike (the swim was *that* bad and I was using my legs *that* much).  Nothing I could do to change either of those at this point, though...

I started mentally re-counting all of my nutrition on the bike.  Five full bottles of PhD Nutrition at 240 calories a pop, plus water, plus two Honey Stinger waffles at 160 calories each = 1500+ for a 5-hour ride = practically perfect 300 calories an hour.  I'd had to use the porta potty in T2 so I knew I was hydrated.  And then I remembered the salt tablets I had brought to mix into my drinks... and I realized they were still on the nightstand.  Salt!  I needed salt.  Funnily enough, I'd grabbed a tube of BASE salt at mile 3 and stuck it in my kit just in case.  My brain realized I actually needed to take said salt somewhere near the end of the first loop, so I did.  I was also grabbing oranges and drinking Gatorade to keep the calories coming because I didn't think I could stomach a gu.  Something started working, and I started to actually get my feet under me as I neared the double digit mileage mark on my second loop.

Meanwhile, it was super hot and super humid -- 90-something degrees with real-feel in the triple digits.  The sun was out in full force!  I love warm, sunny weather but definitely acknowledge the affect it can have on running.  I was doing my best to manage the heat -- staying hydrated, sticking ice in my tank, pouring ice water over my shoulders and down my arms (instead of over my head, because I wanted to keep my shoes dry, ironically enough).  At the aid station around mile 10 -- just over the bridge by the lake -- I double-dipped on the ice water dumping and made sure to use the hose shower because it was just SO hot.

Literally one mile later, I was drenched.

The storm came from nowhere, and it was not just "rain" -- it was a torrential downpour.  Suddenly, wind picked up, and the rain seemed like it was coming sideways.  There was thunder... a lot of very loud thunder, coming very quickly.  And the lightning was right there -- by the lake, by the trees, by us.  And then came the hail!

Just before the rain hit, I started running with a nice guy from Korea.  He was about to take his family on a road trip to some national parks, so we were chatting about Utah.  I was finally hitting my stride and we were maintaining a decent pace -- low 9's while running, plus walking purposefully through the aid stations.  I laughed as we got drenched and splashed through the puddles that immediately appeared.

As we turned the corner onto the South side of the lake, I saw them -- Matt and Jorge.  They were supposed to be finished, but there they were, walking.  My heart instantly sank.  I ran over.  Matt told me he didn't feel well and had awful cramps, kissed me, and sent me back on my way.  I hated leaving him there but they were a full lap ahead, and thankfully he had Jorge.  I just had to push my worry and sadness for him aside and keep going for now.  It was right before an aid station so I was able to catch back up to my Korean friend.  "That was my husband," I explained.  Kim responded: "He's handsome."  Yes, yes he is.

The weather was just getting crazier, and the lightning was just coming closer.  I wondered aloud, "They're not going to call the race... right?"  And we both shrugged and kept running.  I was feeling good and we were running pretty well against the wind, rain, and hail.  I was going to negative split this marathon!  It wasn't long before we hit the timing mat at the half marathon mark.  There was a single volunteer there who told us there was a lightning delay and we were to find shelter at the clubhouse around the corner (about a mile ahead).  She didn't seem to have a lot of information and didn't know what was going on with our times, so while other people started walking to the clubhouse, we continued running to it.  We were still covering part of the course and our watches were still going, at least, so it was still part of the race to me.

When we got to the clubhouse, which was an aid station, there were lots of volunteers and a few more answers.  The race was being paused for an hour, and the clock had already been stopped for about 15 minutes.  They'd take our time from the last mat and figure things out from there.  They said they were told they couldn't stop us from running but that we might get DNF'd if we did.  Clearly not worth the risk.  But oh, how hard it was going to be to stop at mile 14 and then have to get going again -- for 12.2 miles!  The thing that makes an Ironman work is the momentum.  An object in motion stays in motion.  While an object at rest, well...  Let's just say I knew this was going to hurt.

Dozens of athletes were already standing underneath the clubhouse porch, many of them with garbage bags on to stay warm.  I joined them while Kim talked to a volunteer.  More athletes just kept pouring in and I realized I might get to see Matt again, so I kept my eye out for him and Jorge while chatting with the girls around me.  This was one girl's 10th Ironman and she was pretty fast (on her last lap).  She said she's never felt so awful running off the bike and had come to the same conclusion I had -- that coming out of all the turns had probably taken more effort than we'd realized.  I was glad I wasn't crazy, ha.

One volunteer recognized my BAM kit and knew my coach Jen -- and she had her phone.  We looked up our friends that were racing and saw that Jen was on her way to a Kona slot!  So were my BAM sisters Tracy and Syd.  I was SO excited for them!  It was a nice distraction.  As we talked, I started shivering uncontrollably and my teeth were chattering.  I was so cold, which was a crazy thing to process so soon after being so hot.  An ambulance arrived and another volunteer explained that an athlete needed treatment for hypothermia.   This was just a few miles after people were suffering because of the heat.  It was insane.  Luckily for me, my volunteer friend went searching for a garbage bag even though they'd run out long ago -- and she magically found one.  It helped, and I tried moving in place a bit to warm things back up.

Two black BAM shorts in two black garbage bags finally showed up.  They'd previously taken cover with some spectators so I was grateful I got a chance to see them again.  Matt told me about the freak accident in T1 and his foot's injury (details here), although at that point, he didn't know it was infected and therefore the dots weren't all connected yet.  I wanted the boys to run with me, but Jorge (a doctor who is always joking around) got serious and told me they really couldn't.  I believed him.  Finally, nearly 40 minutes after I arrived at the clubhouse, the rain had let up and people started spreading out... and we realized the race was back on!  There was no announcement or anything, ha.  So again, we said our goodbyes, and I set out to force my body through 12 more miles.
And another video of what we were running through:
Lightning gone, rain lifted (for a bit), and race back on!  Matt and I are together on the porch. Thanks to Jon Rasca for the picture!
I was still so cold that I ran the first couple miles with my arms tightly crossed over my chest under my garbage bag.  Such efficient running form, I know.  My muscles were so cold and my body was so tired -- it was well over 100 miles into this, after all -- that my legs and lungs were not happy about this development.  But during that lightning delay, I promised myself that I would push through these 12 miles.  That I would fight for them.  At that point, the race was already not a true 140.6 and now the times were thrown way off and there was no way to know if or how they were going to be fixed, so it seemed like the clock didn't even matter.  I could phone it in and no one would know the difference.  But I would know.  I would know if I gave my everything to this race.  I would live that with that defeat or that triumph.  I chose to fight.

The Ironman Texas run course is the best because of the Waterway -- it's basically like a parade route, lined with hippies, drumlines, frat boys in speedos, and families cheering you on. The people are what make it amazing.  Nearly half of each loop is spent on the parade route while the rest of the course is more quiet as you round the lake.  When we were standing under the clubhouse porch, we wondered how many spectators would still be on the Waterway.  It wasn't long before we found the answer: EVERYONE.  They'd waited out the storm and were cheering louder than ever as we tried to get our feet back under us again.  It was honestly beautiful.

A couple miles back into it, I was finally able to bring my arms out from my garbage bag, and I tossed the bag another mile later.  It was hurting, but I was running -- and I was running well, seeing the number 8 for the first time in a long time.  Now at aid stations, I reached for the chicken broth and took a few sips to get warm.  You know, just the polar opposite of what I'd been doing for the first half marathon haha.  I saw my in-laws right before starting my third loop and told them Matt was on his way, but slowly.  A high-five from my niece made my day!  It was still raining on-and-off, albiet with less intensity, so I was grateful they were still there supporting us.

There's one tiny dirt hill to climb early on each loop, and now it was a mud pit.  Thankfully, the awesome volunteers were there to help pull you up!  I started grabbing coke at the aid stations and reminding myself to drive my knees forward to avoid the shuffle.  It was a constant effort, but it was working.  I was smiling and moving along well.  "You make it look easy," a spectator said.  I laughed inside, because I was actually dying.  Smiles can be deceiving.  :)  And yet they deceive ourselves too -- the suffering is a bit easier if you smile through it!

There were giant puddles on the sidewalk around the lake now.  We're talking four feet wide and five feet long with muddy marshes on the sides -- nothing to do but run through them.  Some were so deep that they enveloped your whole shoe as you touched down.  I thought of how careful I was not to get ice water on my shoes earlier and laughed for the hundredth time.  There were some guys who looked miserable as I passed, so I joked about not knowing we were signing up for a steeplechase.  One cracked a smile but the other just stared at me like I was crazy, ha.  I was hurting but having some serious fun out there!  I thought of how much my kids would love this puddle jumping business and tried to enjoy it to the fullest extent.

Last year, my goal was sub-13 and I had a decent cushion to hit that by the time I started my third lap.  I remember constantly calculating in my head -- I could go X slow and walk an extra X at that aid station and still make my goal.  It was my first Ironman, I was tired (duh), and everyone else was slowing down, so I was bargaining my time down, too.  But still under my goal time, so hey!  Clearly not the right train of thought.  I've told myself for months that would not happen this time.  I would keep pushing no matter what the clock said or where I was in relation to my goal.

I thought of that, and I pushed.  I kept going as fast as those legs could maintain.  I was huffing and puffing for basically the entire third lap.  (Yes, while running high 8's, low 9's, ha!)  Breathing hard won't kill you, I reminded myself.  You're fine.  My body did not want to run, let alone run anything even remotely fast.  But I did.  I wanted to make every mile count.  I wanted to cross that finish line and know I'd given my best that day.  It was HARD.  I was fighting.

I made it back on the waterway and took all the high-fives I could get.  I kept running, kept pushing.  I'd planned on running past the last couple aid stations but was still so cold at mile 23.5 that I walked long enough to down an entire cup of chicken broth.  Looking back, I wouldn't have frozen to death so I'm sure I could've skipped that, but your brain isn't working super awesome at the end of an Ironman, and hey, I was cold.  :)  I threw the cup away and took off running, knowing I had less than a 5K left!  I could taste it.

Finish story coming up next!  For now, the stats:
Run split- 4:17:44.  Pace- 9:50.  Negative split.
Position- Passed 477 more people.  Went from 1314 to 837 OA, 275 to 180 female, 32 to 23 AG.  (I had a stacked AG full of Kona alum/hopefuls!  Such rockstars.)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Ironman Texas 2016 Race Recap: The Bike

The whole bike course situation for IMTX 2016 was crazy.  Just 2.5 months before the race, the old course didn't get approved and race officials started scrambling for an alternative.  The race date came closer and closer, and there was still no bike course.  A month before the race, I told Matt we'd better pick back-up races just in case it was canceled and we had to transfer.  We settled on Vineman for Matt and North Carolina for me, but we kept training and planning as if Texas would be a go.  The quotes in the local Texas papers weren't too encouraging: "We'll take whatever course we can get."  Luckily, they got one!  Apparently things went through right before Ironman's do-or-die date for canceling.  Ironman announced that they finally had a course a mere three weeks before the race.  Then a week later, they announced that 18 of those miles had just been washed away in the major Houston flooding, so the bike course would now be 94 miles instead of 112.  And they released the course map -- with 87 crazy-looking turns in very populated areas over those 94 miles.  It was definitely a "whatever we can get" kind of course!

And guess what?  That made it so much FUN!!!  I felt like a kid playing on my bike and was fully entertained for the entire five hours I spent in the saddle.  It was awesome!  We'll get to that. :)

When we arrived in Texas, driving the course was a priority so we could know what to expect and if/where there were any places we needed to be cautious.  Matt's instagram post summed it up perfectly: "Q: How many triathletes does it take to navigate the new IMTX bike course? A: Five. The driver, the navigator, the GPS tracker, the map reader, and the arrow spotter. #westillgotlost #somanyturns."  Haha!  We pictured the course-makers laughing as they put it together, because that's what we would have been doing!  There were just so many random, tiny out-and-backs and funky turns to add tiny bits of extra mileage here and there.  We were pleasantly surprised to see that most of the turns weren't that bad, though!  And I was SUPER grateful for the cornering clinic BAM had just put on the week before.  Thanks to that crash course, I got to be super excited about the crazy ride ahead!

But the changes weren't quite done.  When the swim course had to change last-minute, Transition 1 moved to the lake shore.  This bought us a whole mile back for the bike!  So now we had a 95-mile course with close to 90 turns.  Woohoo!  Some people were pretty ornery about all the changes, but we decided it was better to be grateful we had a race at all, and just roll with it!  A HUGE thank you to every single person who made it happen.  The volunteers were nothing short of amazing!

Last year, I averaged just over 18 mph on the old 112-mile course.  Leading up to this race, I felt less strong and weighed more (ice cream weight, not muscle)(honesty counts), and since power per pound basically equals speed, that wasn't the best combination, ha.  So I was thinking anything above 17 mph would have to work this time around.

There's a fancy program called Best Bike Split that takes all of your body's data, all of your bike's data, and all of the course's data to estimate your bike split time.  It's really helpful for knowing how to pace yourself and has been pretty accurate for a lot of our triathlete friends.  It thought I'd be able to average 18.4 mph over the old course, and about the same for this new course (apparently pacing for the shorter mileage made up for the slowing around the turns).  That would've meant a 5:10 for me, but I felt like that was pretty ambitious considering my current fitness level and how new I am to cornering.  I can hold decent speed through the turns, but that seemed like I'd need to be holding much more than I probably could.  I felt like 5:30 was a more reasonable goal, and then I'd try to beat it by a little if I was feeling good.  That meant holding 17.3+ mph.  Honestly, I wondered a bit if I could even do that but was willing to try!

Fast-forward to coming out of the water.  I was focused in transition and posted a 3:46 split in T1, which I was super happy with!  IMTX 2015 was my first-ever USAT sanctioned event and, therefore, my first big tri.  (Previously, I'd just done two women-only pool sprints with zero training, and then a small grassroots half in preparation for Texas.)  I spent forever in transition without even realizing it last year (9 minutes in both T1 & T2), so I knew that was one easy place to make up time!  I was very intentional this time around, and felt like that I nailed that T1.  It sounds silly to say that about transition, but it's part of the race, too!

After the disaster that was my swim, I was determined to make this bike split count.  I thought of all the 4 a.m. wake-ups for 3- or 4-hour-long sweatfests at BAM, all of the time spent on the trainer at home, and that hard St. George century ride with the crazy crosswinds.  I was a stronger cyclist, after all.  I could do this!   Game on.
Hi to the fam!
Hi to the BAM fam!
Awesome drone shot of bike start by Dung Le.
As a back-of-pack swimmer but decent cyclist, I knew I'd be doing a lot of passing on the bike -- especially early on.  I assumed the slower cyclists wouldn't be uber-experienced at cornering, and was concerned that would make it more difficult to safely pass on a course that had 30ish turns in the first 15 miles alone.  I was right.  There was a lot of ill-timed braking, funky turning paths, and general messiness around the corners.  I had to stay super-focused to make safe passes as I made my way through twists and turns around clumps of cyclists.  The "clumps" were pretty prevalent early on -- it's always congested in the beginning, the varied speeds around the corners complicated matters, and the course wasn't really accessible for drafting officials at that point.  I didn't want to draft whether there were officials or not, so it took a lot more effort to get around giant groups of people!

Speaking of drafting officials, they talked to me THREE different times during the ride.  The first time, an official called out my number -- to tell me she liked me kit!!!  Haha!  The next time, an official warned a guy not to draft off of me -- and then gave me two thumbs up as they drove past.  And the third time, toward the end of the bike, I got yet another compliment on my BAM kit.  So funny.  Matt said he bets they liked me because most other cyclists probably don't smile and wave at the officials throughout the ride.  Go figure.

And while I'm sharing happy anecdotes from the ride, I have to mention my proudest ninja moments of the day!  I try to thank as many volunteers, police officers, and cheerleaders as I can throughout the race.  On one particularly messy road, I was down in aero but raised by right hand to wave at a cop and say thank you as I was riding past.  Just as the words left my mouth, I hit a bump and my front water bottle went flying... and I caught it with that right hand!  Not going to lie, I was pretty impressed with myself.  My PhD Nutrition was in there, so it mattered!  Then, toward the end of the ride, I had just crested an overpass "hill" and reached down to grab the bottle from my downtube with my right hand.  As I went to take a drink, there was a bumpy seam in the road -- and it launched the plastic water bottle I now had between my aero bars!  And I caught it with my left hand!!!  If there was ever a moment I wished I had something on camera... I was so pleased with my hand-eye coordination.  Haha!  But now I had bottles in both hands and flashed back to that one time I was 10, thought it'd be a good idea to ride my bike hands-free, and then hit a rock and went endo and broke my arm.  So I hurried and tucked the bottles away to get my hands back on the bike as quickly as possible. :)  Guys, these were the first things I told my family about the bike portion before even mentioning my split. #proud 

Back to the actual ride, though.  So there I was, winding through the streets of Harris County, Texas, having a lovely time and passing lots of other cyclists.  There was really only one spot that made me nervous (the pot-hole happy tight-double-U-turn loop bordered by a ditch near the equestrian park), but I felt like I handled that pretty well.  At BAM's cornering clinic the week before, Coach Andrew would stand at the apex of a tight turn and Coach Jeff would stand where we should exit, so the goal was to start wide, "hit" Andrew, and then "hit" Jeff.  Whenever there was a tricky or sharp turn, I just pictured hitting my friends and was therefore able to take a good path and maintain pretty good speed.  I had my watch set to show me my times for each 5-mile lap, and I was liking what I was seeing!  Anytime we got a straightaway, I tried to take advantage of it.  I stayed in aero for most of the ride (including lots of turns), was feeling good, and was kicking my goal time's trash.

When we drove the course a couple days before, we bowed out around the 42-mile mark.  We'd already covered 2/3rds of the turns at that point, felt like we'd seen enough, and chose to go home and take a nap instead of spending another couple hours in the car.  So once I hit that point in the race, the rest of the course was a mystery!  I thought of Forrest Gump: It's "like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get!"  On such a random, twisty course, this made for a fun game.  I know I said it before, but I honestly felt like a kid for those five hours on the bike.  I was never even remotely close to being bored and just had a blast out there!  (Who knew that was even possible for such a long ride?)  Once we turned into The Woodlands, we were back in familiar territory as the last few miles of the bike were the same as last year.  I actually flatted on that portion that Thursday so I was careful to ride further away from the shoulder as I made my way to the bike finish.  This last stretch was especially great, though, because it was full of spectators cheering you in!

I hopped off my bike and glanced at my watch -- 5:02:28!!!  That crushed my goal time of 5:30 and even my predicted time of 5:10, and equated to an 18.85 mph average.  I'd just nailed that tricky little bike course and earned back the time I'd lost on my rotten swim.  I was so happy with my bike split, and even happier to be off the bike and onto my favorite part: the run!

Bike Time (95 miles) - 5:02:28.  Speed - 18.85 mph.
Position - Went from 1902 overall to 1314 overall, passing 588 cyclists.

Off to the RUN!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Ironman Texas 2016 Race Report: The Swim

Oh, the swim.  Where to even begin?  It was not pretty, and it was far from how I'd hoped to start my day.  But I survived and moved past it!  So we have that going for us.  I also didn't drink the whole lake and therefore didn't have to deal with nausea for the rest of the day (like last year), so that's a win, too.  :)
Told you there were strong wetsuit swimmers. I got out of the water with ROCKY!  Haha.
Last year, I had a bit of a panic attack in the water during the practice swim the day before the race.  But come race morning, I was oddly calm -- probably more like "numb" really, because I'm pretty sure I'd resigned myself to a certain death in that lake. Like, "Well, I'm going to die here so we might as well get to it."  Haha!  This year, I did fine during the practice swim.  I actually swam a great-for-me-in-open-water pace (2:01/100 yards) for those 15 minutes.  And I figured I'd feel even better the next day because I'd have my Iolite to help guide me (and give me something to look at in the dark lake). Well, race morning arrived and I felt just the opposite! This time, I knew I wasn't going to die... so I was terrified.  Here was the giant lake and this giant swim and I was going to have to do it.  A friend asked how I was feeling, and I answered, "Much better in two hours."  It wasn't normal pre-race nerves like what I feel before a marathon, for example, and I wasn't nervous at all about the bike or the run. But my heart was beating out of my chest before that swim!  I knew exactly what was ahead and I was terrified.

In Ironman Texas 2015, I swam 2.7 miles in 1:44:32 with an average actual pace of 2:13/100 yd (my actual pace swimming my zig zag path; the official pace for 2.4 miles over that time was 2:28).  I got out of that water and swore I'd never swim for an hour and forty-four minutes straight again.  I spent 62 hours in the pool over the last 27 weeks in preparation for this year's race.  Each of those swim sessions required a decent amount of sacrifice -- losing sleep early in the morning or late at night, coordinating who stayed home with the kids, driving various distances to different pools, dealing with random pool closures and having to reschedule, and so on.  But it would all be worth it if I could get out of the water faster and with less effort.

I definitely saw improvements in the pool, dropping 13 total seconds off my fastest 100 time -- 1:36 to 1:23, maintaining a 1:45 average for a 1000-yard time trial, and consistently averaging less than 2:00/100 yd throughout entire workouts (something I *never* did before last year's race).  My goal time for IMTX was 1:35 -- 1 hour, 35 minutes (2:15/100 yd if I swam straight, 2:10ish actual on a slightly crooked path), and I felt like I could be capable of something closer to 1:30 on a super-perfect day (2:08 straight, 2:01ish actual/crooked).  Those seemed pretty fair and conservative based on last year's pace in that lake and the improvements I'd made in the pool.  Basically, I was hoping to swim about the same pace as last year/maybe slightly faster and just go straight instead of adding an extra third of a mile.

Ironman Texas 2016 again featured a non-wetsuit-legal swim with water temps at a whopping 81.5 degrees -- a whole half degree warmer than last year!  But it wasn't going to be like last year's swim.  Fitting with the rest of the last-minute changes this race experienced, the swim course was changed less than 48 hours before the race.  The swim typically turns up a canal for the last 1000M, which is awesome for spectators and nice for athletes to break up the course and actually hear cheers while swimming!  But the water wasn't safe in the canal, so the swim course was changed to a full 2.4-mile loop in the lake.  This change meant Transition 1 (where all the bikes are racked and waiting) had to move to the lake shore next to the swim start.  And that meant that the swim start was super crowded!

With all the last-minute changes, the signs that helped organize the rolling swim start by pace (line up here to swim under 1 hour, here for 1:00-1:10, and so forth) were missing in action.  For those not trying to start at the front of the pack, the swim corral was kind of a mess!  People were clumped together, bleeding into the lanes of bikes, nowhere near organized by expected pace.  For the record, we were super impressed by and so grateful for how well Ironman and especially the volunteers adapted to all the last-minute changes to make the race still happen for us!  This was just one of those things where it happened to create a little more chaos.  Especially once we hopped in the water!  The mix of swim paces getting in the lake at once made for a whole lot more contact than was already expected.

Oh goodness, this is already a novel and I'm not even in the water yet.  Haha!  Bear with me.  I promise the other recaps will be shorter!

Right before Matt and I said our goodbyes, I went to turn the Iolite on ... and nothing happened.  If I thought I was terrified before, that was nothing compared to the panic I now felt!  Matt fiddled with it for a bit and finally got it to turn on.  Phew.  Or so I thought.  Fast forward to 6:47 a.m. as I was walking underneath the arch to start the swim and my feet were just hitting the water ... and the Iolite died.  We'd plugged it in the day before but apparently it didn't actually charge.  Now I'd be doing this swim old-school style and having to sight a lot more than I'd planned.  That's fine and all, of course, and I didn't have one last year either -- it's just not what I was expecting.  And since I counting on the Iolite, I didn't practice much sighting.  My hips still, therefore, sink like crazy when I sight so it takes a lot more energy to kick back up every time, which adds up over 2.4+ miles.  All my own fault, of course, but a bummer nonetheless.  Nothing to do but shake it off and start swimming!

Surprisingly enough for a weaker swimmer like me, I actually enjoy some bumping in the water.  There's something to be said for the crazy!  It definitely keeps things interesting.  And let's just say there was no shortage of bumping or grabbing at that swim start!  But I was handling it just fine and oddly enjoying the madness.  That said, my worst fear leading up to both last year's race and this one was that I'd get my goggles kicked off in the madness and not be able to put them back on.  In a wetsuit-legal race, this is no big deal.  But take away the wetsuit and it's a different story!  I'm not super efficient at treading water -- and if you take my arms out of that equation (say, to bring them to my face to fix goggles), my head turns into a bobbing apple.  Last year, I actually practiced having to flutter kick like crazy to stay above water while dumping and resealing goggles.  So I knew I could do it at least, and I figured if it wasn't working, I could always find a paddle board to hang onto while I took care of business.  I was very aware of feet during that swim start to make sure my goggles stayed put!

But I was just 10 minutes into the swim when it happened.  Some guy punched me hard on the left side of my face, knocking that left goggle off and dislodging the right.  Noooooo!  I tried to dump and fix but the swim was still so congested that I was a sitting duck getting mauled.  It was not going to work.  A semi-seal and one eye open had to be good enough as I starting swimming left from my position on the right -- across the sea of swimmers to a kayak in the middle.  I hung onto the side of the kayak and talked to the volunteer while I dumped the water and made sure to get a good seal on my goggles.  While I was there, I figured I may as well see if I could get the Iolite to work, but no luck.  When I looked up, we'd floated further away from the course (they're not allowed to paddle at all while you're hanging on) so I hurried and thanked the volunteer then headed back to the fray. I made sure to sight far ahead and gradually make my way over instead of swimming straight back to the pack to make a 90-degree turn. I'm learning!

Meanwhile, my left eye was really bothering me.  I wear contacts and my eyes are extremely sensitive right now, after just dealing with some serious corneal neovascularization from August - February.  I have to be super careful to manage it now, and the gunk from the lake was really irritating my eye.  And now, when my eyes get irritated, my vision gets blurry.  I had a back-up pair of contacts in my T1 bag but ended up not switching them out because I expected it to get better once I was out of the water (wrong choice, obviously).  But it never did, and my left eye ended up being blurry for the rest of the day and not returning to totally normal until Tuesday.  Oh well!

Back to the swim, with a LONG way to go.  Before, the course just went about 2/3 of the way down the lake before turning around.  This time, you just kept going... and going... and going... as the lake bends in a subtle S-shape. I was pretty apprehensive about having another goggle mishap and was having a hard time getting back into a rhythm.  I usually breathe bilaterally -- every three strokes -- but was breathing every other stroke instead to see more daylight/the shore/the other swimmers and it just never felt good.  My stroke felt choppy and frantic, which is a pretty stark contrast to the smooth over-gliding I usually do.  The crowds started to thin out more as I got closer to the other end of the lake.  There were still plenty of swimmers around, but it was mostly cordial as I made that first turn, headed East, and then turned to head back up the lake.  I was sighting a lot and swimming pretty straight, at least, but my LEGS were getting tired.  During the SWIM.  Of an IRONMAN.  (Insert burying-hands-in-face emoji here.)  I told myself I had to trust myself and sight less often so I could get into a groove and give my legs a break!

Just then, the wetsuits arrived.  When water temps are between 76.2 and 83 degrees, wetsuits are optional, but if you wear one, you're ineligible for ranking, run the risk of overheating, etc.  Generally not advisable unless you really need it.  Since they are more buoyant in the water, wetsuit swimmers tend to swim right over the top of non-wetsuit swimmers whether they try to or not.  For the slower non-wetsuit swimmers, when they wetsuits catch up, it's like entering a boxing ring after you've already been swimming for an hour -- and the other guys have the advantage.  There was one point in which two strong wetsuit-wearing men were sandwiching me repeatedly and I kept struggling to get a breath. I finally had to pull up, tread water, and go way right to get away from them... all the while making a mental note to disinvite said neoprene-wearing souls (who clearly didn't need wetsuits) from my hypothetical party, ha.

By now, the fog had rolled in. It was pretty cool-looking, actually -- a thick layer of mist over the water.  But it made sighting buoys a lot harder!  There were no more bends in the lake, though, so sighting was thankfully less of a concern.  At this point, I figured I still had probably 20-30 minutes left and needed to just finally find my rhythm.  I started breathing bilaterally (um, like I should have done all along) and singing in my head.  I'd spent the majority of the swim to that point switching between thinking tactically, going through to-do lists for buying the house that we'd just signed a contract on 12 hours earlier (ha!), and promising myself I'd never put myself through a 2.4 mile swim ever again (famous last words!).

Now that I was settling into the swim (at last), a song I sing to my babies was the first to pop into my head, called I am a Child of God.  "Lead me, guide me, walk beside me, help me find the way..."  This song was special to my grandparents who passed away a couple years ago, and my heart smiled as I thought of them.  And then a quote from Jeffrey R. Holland popped into my mind: "Keep trying... keep growing... Heaven is cheering you on."  I pictured my sweet grandparents thinking I was crazy but cheering for me anyway, and my heart smiled even bigger.  I was finally in a good place -- swimming smooth and feeling calm.  And then the fog started to lift and I saw the bridge through the mist!  Hallelujah!  That meant the third red buoy was coming up and I'd be on land soon!

I took the final turn and headed to the shore. Putting my feet down and stepping on the ground was such a relief. I was SO happy to be DONE!!!

Then I glanced at my watch to lap it into Transition 1.  That was one of the most disappointing moments of my life (maybe hyperbole, maybe not).  My watch read 2.51 miles and my official swim time was 1:41:55.  I knew it was bad, but I didn't know it was THAT bad.  I instantly realized that 2.51 miles just 2 minutes faster than my 2.69-mile time meant I actually swam a slower pace this year.  In that split second, it all came back -- all of those hours spent in the pool.  All of those sacrifices to even get there.  All of that hard work to make sure THIS didn't happen.  But it happened anyway.  I had just let myself down in the biggest way.

At least it's over, I thought as I quickly hopped onto the ground to get my swim skin ripped off by a volunteer "stripper."  And in the sweetest stroke of luck, my nice volunteer recognized me from Instagram and snapped me out of that bummer train of thought!  (If you are reading this, THANK YOU!)  I ran to grab my T1 bag and ran into the changing tent, ready to rock this thing again!  Seven minutes is easy to make up on the bike, I told myself.  Helmet, sunglasses, socks, shoes, and GO!

I ran to my bike, grabbed it off the rack, and jogged it to the mounting line.  Let's do this!  Time to have some fun.  I was about to play a big game of catch-up!  I was the 1902nd person out of the water and ended up passing 588 people on the bike and another 477 on the run.
2015 zig zags vs. a much-straighter path this year. One improvement, at least!

In the end, I swam a 2:18 actual pace over my slightly crooked path of 2.5 miles, which translated to a 2:25 pace when calculating from the 2.4-mile distance.  So although the overall time/pace looks faster, my actual swimming pace was 5 seconds slower.  All of that is ultra disappointing, until I remember that I had a decent little detour and stop, and then I feel a tiny bit better.  Watch shows about a 2-minute break to fix the goggles, plus I had the extra swimming to/from the kayak and fiddling with the goggles before.  So it's pretty safe to say I would've at least been under 1:40 if not for that.  And I can at least be happy that I swam so much straighter.  But STILL... this one hurts. The reality is that I'll never be a decent triathlete if I can't at least *improve* my speed in the water.  Time to practice some open water swimming, eh?