For some reason, getting motivated to write a blog post has been like pulling teeth lately. I have had countless ideas in the past 6 months of what to write about and even have started posts 6-8 times but never finished. Now here I am almost a month after completing the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. After over a year of anticipation and preparation for what I thought was the biggest race of my life, I realized it was only the end of a chapter in my book of life.
What made preparing for Ironman Hawaii especially grueling was that I qualified for the event over a year before hand. Ironman Wisconsin was the first qualifier for 2011 which proved to be satisfying in the sense of ample time to train yet having to think about this huge event for over 13 months was more difficult than I anticipated.
I started the winter with much enthusiasm and motivation to train hard and prepare to have my best race possible. With the help of tri and cycling Coach Jared Berg, I was really working on my swim and run efficiency. One of my early season events included a great spring weekend race with sponsor Native Eyewear. After completing a few running road races and racing my first handful of bike races, I transitioned to my planned events: The Mile High Duathlon Series and The Boulder Triathlon Series. I was fairly pleased with my results coming in 2nd overall Elite female in the Duathlon series and I believe I was 2nd in my age group in the tri series. Another notable finish was a 4:47 at the Boulder 70.3 in August. This was a tie for my PR in Miami, Florida back in 2007. Not too bad for altitude!
The Boulder 70.3 was my last race before Ironman Hawaii. It was in the original plan to do one more race before the big event; however I was honestly not interested in doing any more races at this point. I felt I could put in just as much effort into a hard training weekend as any race.
Any Ironman athlete or dedicated triathlete can most likely describe a point in their training where they are feeling unmotivated and questioning why they are dedicating 20+ hours a week of their life to training. That moment happened to me during an early morning long trail run in N. Boulder as I was running with fellow triathlete, turned runner, Jenni Keil. I remember not wanting to do my scheduled run and simply tired or perhaps in need of a rest day or two. About an hour into my run, I managed to find the only rock, on a predominately smooth dirt trail, to trip on. After tripping and rolling into horse shit (literally!), I felt a huge pain coming from my knee. As I pulled up my miraculously not ripped knickers and saw blood and bone it was all I needed to get queasy and almost pass out. With the wonderful assistance of Ms. Keil, she picked me up and drove me to the ER where I received 6 stitches right across the knee. Long story short, I was forced to take 2 weeks of recovery (according to the doctor), however I was back in action and swimming and running within a week. I believe this is just what I needed to recharge my motivation 6 weeks before the race!
The Week before the Race
For the individuals that know me well, they know that there is always some sort of drama that occurs the days/day leading up to my race. I sometimes wonder if my full-zip triathlon suit breaking minutes before the gun goes off at the Miami Man 70.3 or the 4-5 bike flats that I got the day before another race, is what gets my blood moving and pushes me to have a better performance. The Ironman World Championships proved to be no exception.
I was very calm and collected the weeks leading up to my race right up to my arrival at the airport. Little did I know until stepping up to bag check-in that my flight had already left due to a change that I was never notified about. I ended up having to leave the next morning which was not the end of the world; however my extended stay in Denver led to me trying a new massage therapist. The massage was so deep that there may have been some slight nerve damage that caused my right shoulder to be in a lot of pain. As if that was not enough, I received a parking ticket while getting the destructive massage due to unknowingly expired plates! I suppose most would think that a series of unfortunate events could happen to anyone, like some sort of domino effect. Well, instead of taking control and letting it not get to me, I became frustrated and let this energy follow to Hawaii….
My arrival in Hawaii was relatively smooth until bike pick-up. I had mechanical issues that caused undue stress and were not resolved until the day before the race which was the last thing I needed. It wasn't until the Friday before the race that I realized what I was letting happen to me mentally. My training was done, the hours logged, nutrition planned and the race was in less than 12 hours. I had chosen to let these negative things bother me rather than letting go, in turn creating the energy for more negativity to occur. At that point though, I decided to let it all go. I have been an endurance athlete for many years and during that time wasted countless amounts of energy being nervous and anxious on things I couldn't control leading up to the race. I had to remind myself about what I already knew; to be present and prepare to reap the benefits of what I have been working towards for the past year (and really even longer)! I knew that the work had been done, the sacrifices had been made, and it was my turn to experience my life long dream to compete in the Ironman World Championships!
There is nothing easy about a 2.4 mile swim for me and while the swim at Ironman Wisconsin was certainly the same distance the waters in Madison seemed a bit friendlier. Positioning is everything in a mass swim start and the starting line in Hawaii is a deep water one. Mentally, this was tough for me because I had a poor start being trapped between a couple thousand of my closest friends. Every athlete has experienced this situation to some degree in the race, but I felt like I could not move forward for the first 10 minutes and the traffic jam continued for at least the first half of the swim. Once I was able to get moving, my spirits improved, the nerves eased up and exiting the first leg of the race was done with a huge sigh of relief.
When people ask me which part of the triathlon is my strong suit, I usually say it's a toss up between my bike and run. Getting on the bike after the first transition was a smooth process and I flew through the first 15 miles with ease and a smile on my face. As I was warned, the Queen K Highway, where the majority of the race took pace, was undoubtedly the most mental part of the race for the bike (along with the run as part of the run segment was here too). The infamous winds started to show up around mile 40 where it was a struggle to even take a hand off my bars to grab some water. I believed that I was greatly prepared for these expected winds after bearing the winter and spring winds and gusts along Route 36 in Boulder where I believed their intensity would be hard to beat. Looking back, I think the winds almost got the best of me and going into the run I knew I had to let it all go before gearing up for the 26.2 ahead. My stance switched again- back to the mindset of being present and taking one step at a time, literally.
Similar to Ironman Wisconsin, getting off the bike proved to be less relief than expected due to the extreme tightness in my quads and gluts. It was so bad I couldn't even sit down for the volunteers to help me get my running shoes on. Instead of panicking though, I started repeating to myself; the longer I kept running, the more my muscles would relax and that good, "zone like" feeling would happen. Looking back, I think I had to repeat that belief to myself for the first 30 minutes before I found my grove and let my race really begin!
Just like the bike course, the run winded its way to the Queen K Highway and at this point, the pain started to set in. I managed to keep going, blocking the pain out, by focusing on the white line in front of me and knowing the ends was near. Mile after mile, aid station after aid station, I got closer to the finish, to my dream, that was a long time in the making. One aspect of the race that is commonly overlooked is nutrition while racing. There are a myriad of options and this can sometimes be confusing as to which which product to use. I have personally tried just about everything on the market. However, I have gone back to what I think of as the original sports nutrition product- PowerBar. During my training and the entire Ironman I used only Ironman Preform, Power Gels, and the original PowerBars. PowerBar keeps up with the latest in Sports Nutrition and uses the best ingredients to keep me fueled for the long haul! When there was about 2 miles left, I was back in town and could hear the roar of the crowds, the announcer and for the first time on the run took a sigh of relief and began to smile. That smile continued until I crossed the finish line of this epic race, completing my dream, and able to say, I AM an Ironman(woman)!!
Boom- Done! Now this era of my life is done and I am ready to move forward....
Just a quick note on the post-race. I had a wonderful vacation- a much needed and deserved week to relax and reflect on all of the hard work that went in to the past year preparing for this race. I also want to thank my boyfriend, Jeff, and Kay Stolsis for being there to support me on this big day. Jeff was there on the bike and run course cheering me on while putting in over 60 miles on a beach cruiser! My dad, brother, aunts, and uncles also were there in spirit cheering me on and I am grateful for their financial support for this expensive trip. Last, I want to thank Jenni and Jeff Keil who are amazing friends and coaches. They have taken this journey many times and provided me with invaluable tips and advice
Even before my race started, thoughts of "now what?" went through my head while I already began to plan the next stage of my life. I certainly don't have it all figured out nor do I expect to. However, I do know that I am ready to put out energy specifically into 2 areas of my life, my career and ultra running. My love of art and cakes is driving me to one day soon open a cupcake bakery. I plan to keep updates on this new adventure. To fill my need for endurance exercise, I am striving to compete in 5-6 ultra trail marathons with the possibility of a 100K foot race in August. I can't wait to see what the year the will bring for me!!