Thursday, July 16, 2015

Race Report - Ironman 70.3 Muncie

Five days after I finished my first 50k, I underwent emergency surgery to repair a hole in my small intestine in the early morning hours of January 17th, 2014. Since the hole was caused by dehydration during the race, my surgeon came in to my hospital room later that afternoon told me "you have ran your last ultra, and last long distance triathlon. You will never be able to do anything longer than a sprint triathlon or a 10k for the rest of your life." I did not take this news well, those words immediately caused tears down my cheeks which then turned in to sobbing. Yes, I was grateful to still be alive, but with those words a part of me was killed.

Two day later my surgeon came in to my hospital room again and retracted his statement. He knew I had been doing this for awhile and that this was truly a freak accident. He said if I kept on top of hydration, and understood the risks of what I was doing, that I could return to long distance if the risk verses reward was worth it to me. The next day I left the hospital and started down the long road to recovery back to long distance triathlon.

In the journey back I took everything gradual. In 2014 my longest tri was an olympic where I got a PR for the distance at 2:41. I did a trail 25k which was a lot of fun, and I did a winter hilly half marathon in 1:48. After the half marathon I felt like I was on the right track since that was my average half marathon finishing time pre-surgery. Training over the winter in Kansas was rough. Never ending snow, single digit temperatures. On one short 20 mile ride on the road I got first degree frostbite, it was scary. Winter finally ended, I did well at my few sprints so far this year, and did well at my spring half marathon, but my one question still remained, could I still do a half ironman under 6 hours?

It had been a big question looming over my head for the past year. Up to this point I had done well post surgery at my short course triathlons and half marathons. To train for Muncie I did some 4 hours rides and my body had held up fine like nothing had ever happened. I was feeling good going in to the race, but just had a lot of uncertainty.

In 2011 Muncie 70.3 had been my first half ironman ever. I picked Muncie because my best friend Loraine is from the next town over and her parents are always generous enough to give us a place to stay. I finished the race in 5:48 that year. Being the sentimental, symbolic person I am, this year I decided to go back to the place where it all started. This was to be my 7th half ironman.

For the first time I brought my whole family. Joel, the girls, Loraine, the weenie dogs. This day was going to be huge for me, I wanted everyone there. Joel and Loraine had to watch me struggle for the past year and a half and got me through so much, I knew I would need to see them at the finish.

Race morning I quickly set up transition, and hung out with my family and some friends to get over some race nerves. Water was 73 degrees so it was to be a wetsuit swim. I have owned my wetsuit for four years and have just recently learned how to optimally wear it for my body. I have an odd body, especially for a triathlete. Short legs, big hips, long torso, long arms, and a long neck. I have always had an issue with my wetsuit getting filled with water from the neck, since my neck and torso are so long. My long torso was causing the neck on the wetsuit to be low enough to fill with water. I learned a trick how to fix this. I pull the legs of the suit almost up to my knees, giving me plenty to pull up in the torso, and plenty to have the neck actually go around my neck. I felt confident going in to the swim.

Me and my girls 
I joined the ladies in my swim wave and looked out at the lake. It was a long way to the first turn buoy. I was nervous yes, and I'll admit just a little scared, but looking out at the swim course I couldn't help but to smile. I was so happy to be here, ready and trained, back doing what I love to do. Our starting horn went off and I let all the fishes go in front of me to keep from getting smacked in the face.

I have learned a lot in my five years of racing triathlons. I am not a swimmer, nor will I ever be a swimmer. The best thing I can do in a long course triathlon is a relaxed swim and not gas myself. Muncie is known for being long, as discouraging as this can seem everyone in the race has to do it so we just keep swimming. It felt like it took forever to get across the lake to the first turn buoy, but unlike the last time, I wasn't worn out from it. Kept the same pace throughout the swim. I knew it was taking me a long time but I'm just a slow swimmer and I still felt good and just wanted to get on my bike. For once my sighting was good and I didn't go off course at all. Hit the beach and crossed the timing mat in 46:17. My Garmin had the swim at 2380 yards.

All smiles out of the swim
Since I didn't wear myself out in the swim I was able to run fairly fast up the ramp to T1. Stopped off at the wetsuit strippers to get the thing off. Since I wear mine so high on my legs it took two of them to get it off. They handed me my suit and I kept running at a decent clip to T1. Put on my helmet, sunglasses and cycling shoes, grabbed my bike and headed out. Stopped at the sunscreen volunteers since I am a pale person and burn easily. I hit the timing mat and got to the mount line and realized I forgot to grab my bike nutrition, whoops! Too late to turn around now, I had already hit to timing mat to start the 56 mile bike. Everyone has a plan until they get hit, this was my first hit of the day, I had to recover from this hit and reassess the situation. Off I went. T1 time was 3:54

About a half mile in to the bike I saw my family cheering from the side of the road. I was so happy to see them. I gave them a smile and a wave. My bike had a 22 oz aero drink filled with water, and a 20 oz bike bottle filled with full strength Gatorade on the down tube. The first aid station was at mile 15, so I had to think of a new nutrition plan on the fly since all mine was still sitting in transition. Since I had swallowed some water in the swim, I did water only for the first 40 minutes of the ride to flush out the lake water. The bike had changed quite a bit from the last time I did this race. It was now a two loop course with a few hills thrown in. Nothing major, but the whole course had about 1100 feet of elevation gain now over the 400 or so feet it had the last time I did the race.

The start of the bike
Its very easy for one to overload themselves on nutrition during the bike on a long course triathlon. Knowing this I was trying to stay conservative especially since I was now depending on the aid stations. Since my surgery I have had issues with maltodextrin so I knew not to grab any GUs. After the 40 minute mark I had started to drink my Gatorade I had on my down tube, which is calorie dense enough that I knew I wouldn't need much more to get me through an hour before I needed more calories. At the first aid station I grabbed a water to top off my aero drink and a half of a banana for an edible.

On the bike
The two loops took place on a highway, it was easy to go fast so I had to force myself to hold back, I still had a half marathon to run after this. I didn't want to have a phenomenal bike just to have to walk a lot of the run. Muncie is an honest course, its a great course to gauge your long course fitness. At mile 30 of the bike I grabbed a bottle of Gatorade, topped off the water in my aero drink, and grabbed 2 mini Clif Bars and put them in my back pocket. After I was a good distance away from the aid station I took out one of the mini Clif Bars and quickly looked at the calories. I saw they were 100 calories each, I did some quick math in my head adding up the Gatorade I had consumed since the new hour started and concluded I needed to eat both mini Clif Bars. I train on the bike at home with Clif Bars so it was nothing new to my system, the minis were a lot easier to eat on the bike than the full sized bars.

Feeling good on the bike
Since I had gastric bypass in 2009, I get the benefit from nutrition fairly quickly. By mile 36 I got a second wind from the nutrition and I was able to increase the pace a bit, but I made sure not burn the matches I had left. I was able to stay in the big ring for most of the ride, and was able to stay in the aerobars as well. Aero is a lot more comfortable, and I feel a lot more in control on my Cannondale than when I was on my Cervelo. Around mile 51 I was starting to feel "bike tired" but was ready for the run, and was ready for my 7th half ironman finish. Made it to the mount line and got off my bike feeling good. Bike time was 2:53:22

Entered T2 and racked my bike and removed my helmet and sunglasses. For the first time ever in a triathlon, I sat down on the ground to put on my socks and running shoes. I wanted to make sure my socks were all the way good, so that was the reason for sitting down. 13.1 miles is a long way when socks aren't 100%. Stood up, put on my running hat and race belt, and remembered to grab my Huma Gels. Went potty before going to the sunscreen volunteers, thought it might take awhile since I was wearing a one piece suit but it really didn't take any longer than when I wear a two piece. Got sunscreened up and headed out to the run course. T2 time was 4:53

The run at this race is a challenging one. Its hilly, roughly 500 feet of elevation gain over the course of this run. Rolling hills, lots of exposed areas with no shade. Its an out and back course. My plan was hopefully to keep a 9 minute/mile pace throughout the run. In the first mile there is a nice downhill. At the bottom of this hill Joel and my friend Daphne were there cheering me on. I needed this at this point in the race and it put the biggest smile on my face. I was trying to slow my pace, but the big downhill and the excitement of the race had me running the first mile in 8:09. At mile 1 I ate my first Huma Gel and waited for the caffeine in the gel to hit my system.

Start of the run
I was mentally able to get a hold of my pace and was able to keep it close to 9 minute miles after that. There was an aid station at every mile, I walked through every aid station to get my fill of water, ice, and Gatorade, and ran to each aid station. I can't look at it as a 13 mile run, I break the race down in my mind to 1 mile at a time. Just get to the next aid station, then the next.

It was heating up, so I was pouring water on myself, putting ice in my sports bra, and putting water in my hat. Of course it all has to go somewhere, so my socks were getting wet. By mile 4 I felt a hot spot on the bottom on my left foot. By mile 5 I knew it was a full blown blister, and it hurt! I had ran a half marathon before in my Newton Fates, but not while pouring water on myself, so I immediately knew that was the culprit. I took another Huma Gel around mile 5. The hills kept coming, up and down, blisters feel horrible nonetheless, but it was such torture on these hills.

Out on the run
Hit the halfway point of the run at an 8:49/mile average pace, but I knew this big blister was going to make it hard to keep that pace. Every step just hurt so bad. I had to push through the pain. I knew if I could just push through this pain, that sub 6 hour finish I wanted so bad was mine. Up the bigger hills I had to take walk breaks since the pain was just too excruciating. Mile 8.5 I took my last gel and hoped the caffeine would kick in to give me the final push I needed. Mile 10 I got a bit of a second wind and was able to run all the way until a big hill where I took another brief walk break. Mile 12.7 was that nice big downhill at the beginning of the run I now had to run up. The pain in my foot even more excruciating now, and my whole body hurt, but I just wanted so badly to be done. I took a deep breath, gritted my teeth, and powered up this last hill. The awesome spectators were cheering and ringing cowbells to get me up this hill. I ended up running the second half of the run at a 9:16/mile pace.

In the chute
At the top of the hill I made the sharp left turn to enter the finishing chute. My first time at one of these chutes in almost two years. It was a beautiful sight for me to see. It represented so much. The pain at the moment, the pain of the struggle to come back, both physically and emotionally. So much had happened in two years time, and I was here, at the finish line of my 7th 70.3. I had done it, I made it. I quickly looked behind me to see I had this moment all to myself. Even through the pain I smiled big at the elation and raised my arms up high as I crossed the finish line. Run time was 2:01:29.

Finishing time was 5:49:55, only 1 minute slower than my 2011 finishing time with an easier bike course. I had met my goal, and proved to myself that even after all that has happened, I can still do a half ironman in under 6 hours.

A medal was put around my neck, I was given a finisher's hat, and a finish line catcher brought me to my family at the chute exit. The catcher kept asking me if I was ok, probably because I looked like I was about to burst in to tears at any moment. Days later I still can't put in to words the emotions I felt at this moment in time.

Right before being reunited with my family
I got a big long hug from Joel, and I somehow managed to fight back the tears. Got my hugs from Loraine and my girls, and told them about the race. Our friends Daphne and Jason were standing with us, Jason did the race and earned himself a PR for the half ironman distance with an impressive 5:20. Many years ago I had encouraged Jason (a fellow veteran along with his wife Daphne) to get in to triathlon and his journey has been so inspirational and impressive. I was proud of him for his great race day. It was at this point one of them told me my finishing time. Even though I was in so much pain I was all smiles when I learned my time was under 6.

Took off my left shoe to find a quarter sized blister, just ouch. So this is what slowed me down. I guess Swiftwick socks aren't as water repellent as I thought. Even with the blister, I was happy I was able to stay close to the 2 hour mark for the run.

Today is the Thursday after the race and I am still on cloud 9 from the feelings and emotions of the race. It was a great day and the huge confidence boost I needed. I'm currently on a two week break with easy workouts and then I will start the big build for Ironman Louisville, 86 days to go until the big race!

Thanks for reading!

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