Saturday, November 25, 2017

EA Race Report: Ironman Florida 140.6 2017


First thing is first: THANK YOU. Thank you to my husband Joe, to my support crew, to my coach Andy, to my team of incredibly talented medical professionals (Premier Sport and Spine, Summit Orthopedics, Institute for Athletic Medicine, Movement Architect, Podium Sports Therapy Massage), and to all my friends and family. This race in particular has taken an entire village in order to get me to the finish line. I would not have been able to accomplish what I did at Ironman Florida, let alone this year, without this intensely supportive team. Thank you EVERYONE for pushing me to reach my goals, reminding me of why I set out on this journey, and never even mentioning that maybe Ironman a year after surgery might not be the best idea I ever had. Let's face it - it wasn't the worst idea either. You all have made that finish line crossing a possibility, and more importantly instilled in me the unshakable belief that I was capable of racing from the operating table to the finish line.

Ironman Florida 140.6 2017 marked my return to Ironman 140.6 post-surgery. But...if we are going to talk about my return we need to take a brief detour into why there was any kind of exit. Let's spin the clocks back to August 2016. I'll save the entire story for another time...but the gist: a 2 cm (yes cm, not mm this is not a typo) labral tear was apparent and was going to end my 2016 season, result in hip arthroscopy surgery, and light a fire under my rear to get back into triathlon.

Prepping for any Ironman 140.6 tri requires a solid foundation of fitness, mental toughness, and a lack of understanding of "limits". This time around, I felt like I wasn't starting from rock bottom; I was starting far below that: I'd need to dig myself out of the very depths of my own insecurities and demons. The mountain that is Ironman that I was persuaded to face, thanks to my amazing husband and awesome surgeon, seemed to be this towering presence. How was I going to go from labral repair to Ironman Finisher in a year? When I usually would be creating my fitness base, I was relearning how to walk. When I wanted to begin the build in volume for Half Ironman races, I was strapped to an Alter-G treadmill running with only 60% of my body weight. The journey I had embarked on I knew would test my body, mind, and faith. But that is Ironman for you: throwing your limits at you and unfurling what lies beyond them. The intense desire I had to race again far outweighed the year of pain and frustration I knew I was going to face. Many times throughout recovery, hip rehab, and training I felt as though I was being pulled back to the sport outside of my own volition. I hadn't come this far, to only come this far.

So back setting off to Ironman Florida! Joe and I, and my parents set out to Panama City Beach the Wednesday before the race.


Little fun fact: my parents are killer support crew. This isn't even me being biased because they are my parents. They are legitimately the best in terms of unconditional support. They support everything we throw at them, come to every race no matter how far away it is, and know exactly what to do to get the bodies home from races. When Joe qualified for 70.3 World Championships, the only thing they asked was when we were all booking our rooms.


We all checked into our shared condo through Air B&B, threw our bags down, and raced out to the ocean. With this race being the first ocean swim race, I needed to practice somethin' fierce. Particularly dealing with getting through the surf.


Wednesday's swim consisted of my mom standing in the ocean with me convincing me that I could in fact handle this. And whatever just touched my foot probably wouldn't kill me. We practiced dolphin diving, swimming against the surf, swimming outside the surf, and swimming back with the waves. These were some serious waves we were dealing with, but, man, was I happy we had gone swimming immediately. Once we were satisfied with our swims, we went off in search of groceries and tasty Mellow Mushroom Pizza. We piled in the car and road-tripped to Destin, Florida in search of Whole Foods and what is rumored to be the best pizza place in town.



And it did not disappoint! Seriously some of the best pizza ever, and thoroughly worth the road trip. The crust  was perfectly crispy, the cheese delightfully melting, and the veggies perfectly roasted. And that was the vegan pizza! I've been vegan for a few months now for recovery purposes, and the Mellow Mushroom provided such an amazing vegan experience I did not feel like I was missing out on the cheesey goodness. My parents had a non-vegan version and loved every bit of it. If you ever are anywhere near the area, you will be kicking yourself for not shooting over to Destin. Destin has the best-in pizza.

The following days leading up to the race consisted of bike and body prep, quite a bit of R&R,


and meeting some new friends. These little fellas were on this exit door outside our condo door almost every time we came and went from the condo. We met when my mom and I were coming  back from the beach and I saw them out of the corner of my eye. Now, something you should know about me is that I am a total flight risk. I will sit around and try to figure out a situation, I will run. Which I did when we came across these pigeons. My mother knowing this about me ran with me yelling "What are we running from!? What are we running from!?" Once we were back in the condo we peaked our heads out to find out what we were running from. Pigeons. We were running from pigeons.

We spent our few days prior to race time relaxing doing what we love to do in order to get into the right mindset for an important race: marathon of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. What is better for an endurance race capped off by a marathon than a marathon of delicious looking food? Exactly, you can't think of anything. Then it was early to bed to lay there waiting for the alarm to go off to begin the day that celebrates all the hard work, blood, sweat, and tears I'd put into for the year.


Obligatory first day of school picture.

All packed up! One last check, which was really the 8th time I checked for the "last time.

The morning of the race I woke up ready to do work. Got race ready with a tasty breakfast,
of Jasmine and white rice, whole wheat toast and almond butter, a banana, and water.

 After breakfast went out to the transition area to make sure my bike was race ready too. I filled up the tires, and put my nutrition in place, then went to help Joe prep his bike as well. Team work makes the dream work. During these moments I like to reflect on how wonderful it is to be able to share these moments with my husband, training partner, and best friend. Once the bikes were race ready, we headed back to the condo to put our wetsuits on and head out to the beach. I was not anticipating starting the race in the dark, but it was one of the more remarkable race starts I've had with everyone doing their practice swims under the massive full moon we were greeted with.


Wading into the ocean for the practice swim to shake off any nerves, I also had to shake off everything I've ever learned from shark week and not swimming in the ocean right before sun up. Dressed as a seal. Once I was done with my practice swim, Joe and I stood with my parents and prepared all of ourselves mentally for the day ahead. My parents expressed how proud they were of us. Even to this day being in my late twenties, it still makes me well up when my parents express their pride in me. As we were lining up for our places in the rolling wave, my parents split between the two of us. My mom came with me, and my dad went with Joe. As we stood their waiting for the gun to go off, we reflected on the journey of the past year. From the operating table and hip rehab 9below) to Ironman start line.


The gun went off, and I did what I was planning on doing the rest of the day: just follow everyone else. As I was heading into the swim I waved to my parents, and heard a voice from the past: my Eastern European gymnastics coach from my childhood "One thing at time. Only focus on the task at hand." So that's exactly what I did: Just swim. I executed as planned - breathe every other stroke until I had gotten through the surf and calmed myself, then rhythmic breathing for efficiency. This swim was sponsored by improved technique thanks to my awesome swim coach, increased volume thanks to my brilliant tri coach, and a healthy fear of not wanting to be the first triathlete on shark week. With this fear I adopted a zebra mentality and aimed to be in the middle of the pack, which of course meant a very combative swim. At one point I was striking my hand into the water and struck a man in his mouth. If that man is reading this, I'm really sorry! But you didn't have to bite me. At another point I took a foot to the face, and a large gulp of salt water with it. I prayed that this gulp of salt water wasn't enough to experience the affects of swallowing salt water - intense GI distress. This swim was interesting with two loops, and a short jog between each loop. I loved this swim because it meant that you were never that far out in the ocean to be shark bait, and you got to grab a quick drink of water between each loop. This was a blessing after swallowing that gulp of salt water; having fresh water to wash out the salt that was burning my throat was a welcomed relief. This swim was the most confident swim I have ever had racing, and led to my fastest swim so far.

Swim goal: 1:20 Swim time: 1:19;30

As I exited the swim I pulled all my gear off, and ran to the nearest wetsuit stripper. Being only 5' 2" my options for efficient wetsuit strippers are endless, and I am on my back with my wetuit whisked off me and pulled back up to my feet within seconds. With a quick thanks for volunteering, I was on my way. Next task at hand: get my bike gear and get on R2D2, my beloved bike. As I ran to the changing room I ran through the the bike bags laid out by number, and snatched my bag up. Every second counts. Ran into the changing room, flipped out my helmet and shoes, and handed my wetsuit to the volunteer that ran over to assist me. I pulled on my socks, shoes, and helmet, and shot out to get sun screened up. Fortunately I have bike shoes with walkable cleats because that was a long run to R2D2. I click-clacked about as quick as I could through the bike racks I swiped R2D2 from it's rack, and headed to Bike Out. Passing through Bike Out I heard my great friend, D2, and his even more amazing wife, Annette, cheering. So of course I waved! Hopping on R2D2, I couldn't help filling with gratitude: for my support crew who never let me give up, and for my health that I can participate in Ironman, and for what some deem maddness for loving every second of Ironman. I was back, doing what I loved most in the world - pushing myself beyond my limits to find out what lies beyond them.

Pedaling out and of T1 and onto the bike course it was time to execute the bike plan. I needed to get out of Panama City Beach and break away from the congestion of bikes to settle into my planned wattage. It took about 40 miles before I could finally break away from the crush of racers, where all we could do was jockey for position and make surges to pull away from the pack. About mile 40-50 I started to experience some stomach cramping. No big deal, I've dealt with this before. I continued to execute my nutrition plan in hopes that the cramps would just go away. When has that ever worked? I've never experienced stomach cramping and nausea due to drinking salt water, would my emergency fix actually be a fix? Or compile the issue? Whenever I have any stomach issues or any type of muscle cramping I always take a shot of BASE salt with a sip of water. No matter the issue, BASE salt has always seemed to work for me. From miles 50-80 it seemed to be tempering the issue, but not completely eliminating the problem. Risky using salt to deal with an excess of salt. I continued to take in my Infinit, GU Chews, Garden of Life protein balls. By mile 80, I was feeling even more queasy and just off my game. Then with just enough time to turn my head away from R2D2, all my nutrition from the entire day made a comeback. Everything just emptied out of me and on to the road. Unfortunately, also on to the guy behind me (I am so sorry!). He passed me with a glance of horror, and continued on his way. Luckily he made the pass when he did, because this complete emptying continued. For the rest of the day. I attempted all of my nutrition to see what I could actually handle. I landed on water, and only small sips. I continued to execute my bike plan for the rest of the bike with only a minor waver in my wattage output. Once I made it back into town it was time to let go of what happened on the bike, and turn my focus to executing my run.

Bike goal: 5:40 Bike time: 5:42:05

Getting into Bike In, I popped off R2D2 as quickly as my cramping stomach would let me and handed my bike off to the nearest volunteer. I scuttled off to grab my run bag and click-clacked much like a raptor over to the changing room. I grabbed my shoes out of my bag as I was greeted by the warmest volunteer who convinced me that my soggy socks were not going to be a pleasant addition to a marathon. She helped me into my fresh new socks, handed me the rest of my affects and I was off! I cannot commend these volunteers enough.

Stomach cramping and all was slowing me down from my anticipated 9:30 min/miles to about 10:40 min/miles. As I rounded out of T2 out of the hubbub of the crowd I heard my mom's voice above the crowd cheering and relaying the race plan from my coach. It must be biological, but no matter what is going on around me I can always pick her voice out of the crowd. Even across a lake as I experienced entering the water of a half ironman earlier in the year. I gave a thumbs up to my support crew and set my sights on Mile 1 Run Aid.

Coke, like BASE, has never let me down in the past. I was desperate to end the stomach pains and execute a run I was capable of. As I approached the aid station, I prayed that Coke would be my answer. I sniped the Coke from a volunteer, took as much in as possible, and was rewarded with keeping this nutrition down! For a few steps. From mile 1-4 I was on a quest for nutrition to rid myself of these stomach pains. I tried coke, water, pretzels, chips, fruit, anything and everything that I could get my hands on. Finally, after mile 4 I was able to solve my stomach pain issue in a very unlady-like way that I will not subject to anyone reading this report.

I was free! With the cramping stomach relieved I was able to execute my run plan - 9:30 min/miles for the first 18 miles. I finally felt as I had expected: strong, confident, running down my competition. In the back of my mind I knew, having all my nutrition evacuate my system with nothing but water to replenish it was not physically sustainable. I set my mind on executing my plan until the wheels popped off, but I would be have to be carried off on a stretcher before I would throw in the towel. Racing this distance brings me to a level of elation that I can only compare to a spiritual or religious experience. I feel as though I am really living, really experiencing everything in life possible, all with 2500 of the most similar strangers I've ever ran across.

I floated through the miles until mile 14 where I could feel things starting to unravel. At this crucial point in my race I came across my mom again, and relayed what had happened since mile 80 on the bike. She was in contact with my coach and the rest of my support crew: I needed them to know that my hip was intact and functioning well, the rest of my body was shutting down. I continued to lean into the run pace, pushing it as much as I could as things started to sputter and slow. As the chills set in, and the muscle spasming in my back weighed on my ability to push forward, my nutrition that I was able to sneak in between miles 4-14 came hurling back up. I sincerely apologize to everyone who had to witness my nutrition evacuation for the rest of that race. My focus remained on getting to the finish line, "I didn't come this far to only come this far" my newly adopted internal chant.

This rather sub-optimal situation for me exemplified the camaraderie of endurance triathletes, and one of the main reasons I fell in love with the sport: I was constantly being offered solutions and constantly being provided support. Unfortunately, non of the solutions were fixes, but the support from the runners, the crowd, and the volunteers propelled me forward. Every time I tried to push my body back into continual running I experienced full body spasms. Ok, time to execute a new plan: run 2 minutes, walk 1 minute.  Around mile 15 or so, I ran into D2 again - a doctor who had me quickly explain my symptoms and provided me much appreciated words of encouragement.  Around mile 20 in the dark, I spotted my dad who had seen my slowing run times and ventured out to run with me and ensure there was no collapse. Fortunately for me, my dad is a firefighter and an EMT. He continued to encourage me, and later explained that he was there in case of emergency. We chatted about the day, and he did a marvelous job at keeping my mind off my seizing body and on the task at hand. He ran with me all the way to the finishers shoot, didn't I say I had a killer support crew? He sent me off down the shoot, and the feeling I was chasing all day descended upon me: that finish line feeling. The feeling where all the pain throughout the day disappears, all the training and rehab, all the highs and lows throughout the Ironman journey pay off. Pure elation. It's all worth it. Every time you have to convince yourself that you can handle this, every time you had to explain that no you aren't crazy, that finish line feeling makes it all worth it.

As I ran down the shoot I reflected over the entire journey from injury (2015) to operating table (2016) throughout Ironman Florida 2017. I thought over the entire support team I've accumulated through my amazing family and friends, and the unbelievably talented medical professionals that I was directed to thanks to the incredibly supportive triathlete community. As I crossed the finish line I was overcome with emotion: I'm back. And I can't wait to see where this body takes me next.

Run goal: 4:08 Run time: 5:29:10

Total: 12:40:54
Thank you to all the volunteers, staff, racers, and spectators that made Ironman Florida 2017 possible, you're support and kind words helped propel me forward to accomplish my goal of getting back and finishing the Ironman distance.







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