Monday, November 28, 2016

Ironman Florida 2016 Race Report: The Swim

I swam a 1:38:30 at Ironman Florida. It's an unremarkable time that falls right in line with my other two Ironman swims (1:44 and 1:42), especially when you factor in the wetsuit. But guess what? I am SO proud of myself for that swim and even that time! It is one of my biggest personal victories -- ever.

The alarm went off at 4:01 a.m., as it does for every Ironman day. We got up to eat and Matt opened the curtains and revealed the palm leaves rustling on the trees below. "It's windy," he said. I nodded, "Wetsuits." And then, "Waves?" I pulled up the weather and surf forecasts, which showed wind and 4-6 foot swells off the coast of Panama City Beach. A little further down the shore, there was a small craft advisory. Visions of Superfrog danced in my head and I pictured a difficult start getting past high surf. But when we got to the beach, that wasn't the case. The waves were a little higher than the days before, but nothing to write home about. And we were in wetsuits! This was going to be my best swim ever, I just knew it.

Both the day before on the same beach and a few weeks before in Kona, I'd averaged just under or just over 2:00/100 yard without a wetsuit, which in controlled situations would translate into a sub-1:25 time for a 2.4-mile swim.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Hey Ash! Why are you winging an Ironman next week? (Ha!)

Now that Matt's racing season has ended and we're 2/3rds through our Davis Family Month of Ironman (trademark pending 😉), the focus has shifted to my race at Ironman North Carolina next week! It's almost time for me to face the music. 😂

I've had quite a few people raise their eyebrows a bit at this relatively-last-minute bid for my third Ironman. And I can't blame them!!! I've questioned my own sanity more than a few times. And even though I've had a solid past few weeks of training, that word is "weeks" when it should be "months." I honestly have no idea if that will be good enough or if I'll totally fall apart 125 miles into this thing. An Ironman is a different beast and I know full well that you have to respect the 140.6-mile distance! So I thought I'd let you into my brain and explain why on earth I'll be towing the line at IMNC next weekend.
Race #1 of 3!

*My biggest goal for the year 2016 was to PR the Ironman... and go 140.6 miles in less than 12 hours. Stats show I would have been dang close to that time -- and I believe I could have gutted it out and made it happen -- at Ironman Texas in May. But due to the missing miles on the bike course, we'll never know for sure. So I wanted one more shot at it!
IMTX 2016 bike.. all 95 miles of it.

*Yes, I would absolutely go faster (and have a much more sure chance at sub-12) if I did a proper build-up and raced an Ironman next year instead. It pains me that I won't be racing Ironman Texas! But I'll be focusing on the Boston Marathon in the spring and, well... We want another baby after that. :) And once we have baby #3? I don't see myself doing another full Ironman until all of my unborn children are in school. So it's like now or in 7 years! That's a loooong time to wait. And I've always half-jokingly told my mom that patience is a virtue I'm not meant to acquire. Ha!
A little throw-back to being 9 months pregnant with my Summer Girl! Hard to do IM with a baby bump. ;)

*I don't feel like I have a real Ironman PR. That sounds dumb to say out loud and obviously doesn't really matter, but it's the kind of thing that will drive me crazy for 7 years. When people in real life find out that we've done Ironman races, they almost always ask how fast we've done it/how long it takes us. And then it's like, "Well, the first year I did 12:54, but I had just barely learned how to swim and bike, so I was a lot faster the next year and did 11:11, but that's not a real time because we were missing miles on a bike course with a million turns, oh and my listed time isn't even that because we had this lightning delay and the weather was crazy, but anyway, if the course was right, it would have been more like 12 hours, give or take, because..." I mean, can I just lay off the run-on sentence and give a freaking number? 😂 Matt gets to say "9 and a half hours." It's just simpler that way!
That 12:54 -- when I had a normal answer for a normal question. ;)

*More importantly, I want to have that answer for myself. I don't want to spend the next few years wondering how fast or slow I could have gone. I want to *know.* Before signing up for IMNC (when it was selling out during my layover en route to IMTX), I quickly called my non-triathlete best friend for her input. Liz told me to do it, because she knew that question would eat at me... and that I'd try to remedy that with crazy ideas like trying to squeeze in a full Ironman with a two-month-old or something. Haha! Let's just say she knows me well. :) This way is much more sane.

*I already have a pretty rocking endurance base. I know it seems like I'm winging this thing -- and in a way, I totally am. However, I also happen to have about two years of Ironman/marathon training in the bank. And I'm banking on that base coming through on race day! So while it seems like I'm just throwing this together, in reality, I've been training for this race since October 2014... I just had some recovery/other life things to attend to this summer before building up again. :)
After a 3:21 in STG last fall. All that running has to count for something, right??

*Finally, and perhaps most importantly, WHY NOT? Because it's not the "right" way? Well, neither was jumping straight to an Ironman without being able to swim more than one consecutive lap. ;) Because I might not meet my goal? Here's the thing. A sub-12 is obviously a lofty goal for me at this point (when you swim 2.4 miles in 1:40+, there's not a lot of room for error on the bike and run). But if I didn't do this race, I would always wonder what might have happened. How it could have gone. I would regret it! I'd so much rather show up, give it my best shot, and miss my goal -- but know that at least I had the grit and the courage to try. And who knows what will happen on race day anyway, right? I fully believe that I could have a magic day in Wilmington. Either way, I am really anxious and excited to find out!
Tapering in Kona was a party, so I have that in my favor at least! :)

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.)