I’ve been what you would call an endurance athlete (aka junkie) for the past seven or eight years. I am always looking for ways to challenge my limits, attain new goals and see what my body is actually capable of if I put it through the rigors of various training programs.
The Ironman 70.3 distance has always been one of my bucket list items. Just the name, Ironman, is somewhat intimidating to someone like myself because, as stated in my NJ Tri Race Report, I spend most of my time doubting myself and feeling like I am not worthy of such a race experience of this caliber. But, I decided to give it a whirl for my 40th birthday – let’s see how this is gonna go.
I am an endurance athlete. I am just not very good at it. My motto has always been “quantity vs. quality” when it comes to races that I “compete” in or register for. I typically do not have a time goal, I typically bonk on race day, and I usually just do the races to stay in shape and enjoy training days and races with friends.
This was not the case with the registration decision for the Timberman. I was going to do this race alone. I knew this signing up. I was ok with it. I did not have a time goal; however, I did want to actually finish the race. I did not want to bonk, so I took my training very seriously. And, it would only be an added perk if my conditioning improved with training for three sports instead of my usual one, running. This training, for me, was “go hard or go home.”
I knew that the training regimen would be challenging because I now had to fit in two workouts a day, before work, with children and a husband. I hesitated before clicking “register” for these reasons, but I knew this was something that I wanted to attempt and I convinced myself that I would do the best I could to train discretely, so that my loss of sense in signing up for this would minimally impact the people around me.
Multiple alarms were set on my phone, ranging from 4:15 am to 5:30am depending on the day, and, generally, I managed to shower and be ready for the day before the rest of the humans in my house were even awake. This, in and of itself, was a challenge, aside from the physical nature of the training plan.
So for 4+ months I trained. I got better at swimming. I improved on the bike. Heck, my run times had never been better – with less running, go figure! I loved waking up each day and seeing what I would have to muscle through. I scrutinized my plan on Sunday evenings to see what the week had in store.
I sent text messages to Maria, questioning this, questioning that, because this was all so foreign to me, this three sport business. Will I ever love swimming? How do I hydrate on the bike? Why does it feel so much better to run off the bike than if I just plain old run? These were all things that I learned over the course of this training journey, and all of these sessions ultimately paid off on the big day.
August 15, Mom and I set off on our journey north. I was all set. Lots of gear, lots of Gu and my trusty bike companion (note: there is 3x as much gear to remember when packing for a tri vs. a marathon – tricky stuff). Our arrival in New Hampshire on Friday afternoon allowed us to sample the expo and grab my race swag. We listened to the athlete briefing and bought some, or a lot, of IM gear. I sampled a fancy helmet that I secretly coveted, but put back. We headed back to the hotel for some much needed sleep.
Saturday morning we planned on driving the bike course. We wanted to scope it out and see what I could expect over these 56 miles of rolling hills, or, quite frankly, small mountains that I would be climbing the next day. When following a course map for a triathlon of this distance in a rural destination, we learned that this can be a challenge. Streets are not easily identified, roads not clearly marked. Let’s just say that our 56 miles turned into closer to 75 when it was all said and done. Lots of mistakes and, “oh sh*t, we missed the turn again!” We eventually bailed on cruising the entire course, but I got a good idea of where I would be riding in the race and what was in store. Those hills looked pretty crazy in car, and indeed they were on the bike.
This was my facebook recap of our day scouting the bike course:
I also wanted to check out the lake the day before, primarily for mental purposes. The state park where the race takes place is right on Lake Winnipesaukee, and this area is obviously very popular for recreation in that region. There were many people there enjoying the beautiful lake and the beach area. I threw on my wetsuit and got in for about 10 minutes. I was so excited about the clear, fresh water that much of my anxiety was a thing of the past. You could literally see the bottom till about eight feet of depth, and even then it was so much better than the murky cedar water I am used to swimming in. Yay!
We ended up back at the expo that day, as well. There were parts of the athlete briefing that I missed the day before and I was “not looking” for some tri shorts that may happen to work at a race that I may do in the future, maybe. 😉 The helmet was also calling me back to its tent. It was so fancy. It was so much more comfortable than my 7 year old Dick’s clearance variety. It was so much SAFER, Mom!!!! I tried to resist the temptation to ride my 56 miles in new helmet glory, but ultimately safety won and I was gifted the new gear from the woman that, I later learned, was more anxious and scared for me about this endeavor than I was. Thanks, Mom!
Sunday. Race day. After much debate about how I was going to get to the start (shuttle from expo area, Mom dropping me off and taking shuttle due to parking sitch, Mom dropping me off and just parking wherever and staying for the whole day, etc.) I ultimately decided to get dropped off at transition and Linda was going to park about a mile up the road and camp out for the day. I was quick to set myself up and made my way down to the swim start area. After sampling the water for a few minutes, I was ready to go. The gun went off, and there I went. The water was amazing, the crowds were manageable and the swim was over before I knew it. Bike, here I come.
My transition was fairly quick, for me, and I was able to see Mom as I headed out on the bike. 3.5 hours were ahead of me and I felt prepared. I knew the course and felt confident in my training. The hills were a reality, but they never got me. (I didn’t have to walk one time, Mom! ;-))
In all honesty, even though they were challenging at times, I felt that the hills helped to make the bike portion fly by. There is a lot to think about when you are flying along at a million miles an hour, downhill, over unfamiliar roads. There is a lot of shifting to think about, unlike where I am used to riding in South Jersey. The time passed quickly, I made sure I ate and drank as instructed by Maria, and felt as prepared as I could be for the run. (Sidenote: I ended up seeing Mom on the last ¼ mile stretch of the bike, on the side of the road, as I whizzed by with a huge shot of water in my mouth. I could only yell to her when I had already passed, but mentally it was a boost to send me off on the run that I was dreading.)
The run. The irony in my trepidation about the run is that, by habit, I am a runner. I run. All the time. Piece of cake.
However, this was an entirely new animal, this “run 13 miles after you have just been doing other BS for 4+ hours.” Also, I had been nursing an injury since the fall of last year, and I knew this would factor in to how my run was going to go. On a positive note, though, my run times had improved drastically over the course of my training, so I was still hanging my hat on some optimism that was left in my soul.
Maybe my hip will cooperate. Maybe the hills will take no prisoners. Maybe the stars will align. Maybe.
Well, folks, all of these maybes got the best of me and at the end of the day the score was Steph 0, Run Course 13. It was pretty awful. It was hot. It was hilly. It was a loop! There were curse words. There were tears. There was walking, jogging, trotting, wobbling and plain old dammit all to hell.
My leg/hip screamed the whole time. I just wanted to jump in the lake and swim back. I was also very disappointed because I felt that this was the one time where my nutrition was on point to carry me through the run, which NEVER happens! The aid on the course was great and if it weren’t for this damn hip……
When I saw Mom for the last time at the halfway point (which, may I point out, is AT THE FINISH LINE CHUTE! – awfully, horrifically, mentally draining), she was a sight for sore eyes, as she often is at the final stretch of the craziness I like to subject myself to in these endurance events. I got a quick pep talk and I headed out for the final 6+ miles of hell. Slogging along, I ended up coming through the finish line in a little over 7 hours, and the Ironman Timberman 2015 was my bitch ;-).
I’ve reflected a lot on my virgin Ironman experience over the past few weeks. I miss it. Strangely. I miss the training. I miss the build up to the event. I miss my crazy schedule fitting it all in. I miss my Training Peaks emails. I miss my sole sisters that ran with me, kayaked with me, talked me off a ledge or two and were just plain old there for me. I miss my coach, Maria: my sounding board, my voice of reason, my Sensei.
When completing an event like this, it’s hard to explain the post-race blues and only some of the people reading this will “get it.” I’ve had post-marathon blues before, but that came with an easy fix: sign up for another race in a few months.
This is not the case with this race. I am injured. I am back to school. We are busy again with post-summer activities. It’s too hard to fit it in. Another triathlon of this distance is not in the cards until hopefully next spring, but until then I will focus on maintaining some of the fitness I gained, looking ahead to next year’s season and trying to nurse my ass cheek and I back into a healthy relationship. 🙂
My Facebook post from race day about sums it up: