Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Ironman Maryland 2015 (My First!)

Pre Race:
So much stuff to pack!

This event was such an emotional roller coaster. First, it was cancelled due to Hurricane Joaquin, then postponed for two weeks... by the time I was finally leaving for Maryland, I had lost all my enthusiasm. So many friends were unable to return, volunteers were in short supply... I was so ready for it to be over with. Greg "Bacon" was driving down with his father and had agreed to give me a lift. We arrived in Cambridge around 10:30am. Greg dropped me off at check-in and went to set up his camp site. I proceeded to bump into Chad Nordby who was working security. We chatted for a bit and then I went to get in the check-in line, which was already at least 50 people deep at 11:30 (check-in opened at noon). Standing in line, I felt my excitement start to build. It was a beautiful morning, crisp and sunny with a slight breeze. By 12:30, I had my
wristband and was directed to the timing chip line... but when I saw how long the line was, I knew something had to be off. It turned out that the internet was down and they couldn't
Checked in!
give out the chips until it was fixed. There went my plan of hitting the 1pm athlete briefing! But while I was waiting, I made friends with Craig from San Diego who was in line in front of me. Turns out he came in 5th in his age group on race day! (Congrats, Craig!) It took about an hour for things to get up and running again. It was great bumping into friends throughout the day. All IMMD merch was 40% off due to the reschedule (collector's items!) so I stocked up on some gear. At the athlete briefing, they warned us about hypothermia and advised us to stay as warm as possible, especially before getting into the water. The warmer you are getting in, the longer it will take for the cold to catch up with you, I guess. I made a mental note to get an extra sweatshirt to toss for the start of the bike. After check-in was complete, I dropped my stuff off at the gorgeous
Sunset on Brannock Neck Road
house Michelle Kiser invited me in to and headed to Snapper's to meet up with the IMS crew.

Friday, I finally got the pleasure of seeing Michelle Kiser in person! As I was wondering how I would get to bike check-in, Maureen Kelpatrick texted. She and Bill offered to pick me up (hooray!!). Bill and I rode our bikes the 7 miles to Long Wharf Park while Maureen drove the pacer car and I got my first taste of Cambridge wind. All I could hope is that the wind would be gone the next day. As we rode down part of the run course, a cobblestone street, I lost a water bottle cage and got a flat. I was glad to get this out of the way before race day. Turns out I had
Bike fixed and checked in!
a couple screws loose (as if anyone needed confirmation of this... I was about to do an Ironman!!!). After Tricycle & Run hooked me up with the needed repairs and my bike was safely tucked into her slot (with a brief cameo by Howard and Diane Uniman) I changed into my wetsuit (and discovered Trislide thanks to fellow racer Avery from NYC! Thanks, Avery!) and headed to the water for a practice swim. The winds had picked up and the water was choppy. I was dreading this swim. Bill and I headed into the water where we bumped into Jaime and Tammy.  The swim was misery and the self-doubt started to build and take hold. (I wrestled with so much self-doubt leading up to this race. I think I need more training buddies. Too much solitary training gets me in my head.) The water was so cold it knocked the wind out of me and with every stroke, it slapped me in the face due to the chop. I started to lose it and concluded that in these conditions, knowing it would be colder the day of the race, I had stretched beyond what I was capable of.  My biggest concern is that the chop and the current would slow me down so much I would never make it out of the water before the cut-off. Thankfully, Bill was there to give me a reality check. With my expected swim time, I would still have a half-hour window to play with.  I also thought back to Jerseyman that Tobias convinced me to follow through with in the beginning of the season... the water was cooler, it was rainy, and I didn't even have a wetsuit back then and I was ok. Once I got over my
Part of  my Prayer List
panic, I relaxed in the water, got into my groove, and got a small practice swim in, but I was more
A little reminder for race day
(used to easily distinguish
my bag from the others)
than ready to get out, get warm, pick up my last remaining needed supplies, and get a warm meal in my belly! (Bill and Maureen marveled as I shoveled in my bunless hangover burger and cheddar bacon fries at Jimmie and Sook's... "Won't that bother your stomach for the race?" NOPE! lol)

After that, it was a matter of dropping off my run and bike bags, taking our CJTC photo, bumping into a few more friends, and heading home to pack my special needs bags, get my prayer requests written on my arm (thanks, Shannon!), and getting to bed. I was beat!

Race Morning:

On the way to the shuttles, I ate two hard-boiled eggs and a peach chobani as this breakfast served me well at Princeton. When I boarded the shuttle, I started chatting with the guy next to me. I thought this would be a good idea to ease my nerves. Turns out it wasn't. He was a first timer as well and was full or horror stories and anxiety. I put the conversation to bed as soon as I could and tried to focus on what I could control.

39 degrees and breezy, 33 with the windchill factor.

Due to the temps, I had opted for a swimsuit under my wetsuit (sleeveless), tri bra underneath, and a complete wardrobe change. At Thea's advice, I wore two swim caps. I also covered my face and arms with vaseline in an attempt to preserve some heat and protect my skin. While we waited, I wore a hat, gloves, and sweatshirt, plus handwarmers. I also left my socks and shoes on. They first announced that due to 30 mph wind gusts and a small
Deceptively calm sunrise at the swim start
watercraft advisory, the swim would be cut in half (1.2 miles) and moved to a 7:30am start.  Miraculously, as the sun rose and 7am came around, the winds settled down and the swim was lengthened to 3000 meters. At this point, I realized I had lost all enthusiasm for this race. I wasn't my normal cheerful self. The last thing I want to do is put myself in danger. My feet were already numb from the cold. I have Reynaud's and don't tolerate cold well in general. I started getting really nervous. I wanted to walk away. After all, I don't have anything to prove. This wasn't worth the risk anymore. If it weren't for my tri club members, Maureen with her offer of prayer, and Darren with his pep talk encouraging me to just get in line and go, I never would have started. As I shuffled into line and ate my Espresso Love Gu, I prayed for a sign that I was where I was supposed to be... a little sign from the Universe to reassure me I would be ok. That's when a fellow racer started chatting with me. I mentioned that I had dedicated each mile to someone, the first being my Godmother because it was her birthday that day. She nonchalantly mentioned that it was her Godmother's birthday too. Huh. Our conversation continued, I asked her where she was from... New Jersey? What are the odds of all this synchrony? I decided to embrace that and got into the water.

The Swim:
It was so. damn. cold. A word of thanks for my fellow triathletes as I am sure the first thing you all did was pee the moment you got in the water. It made for a lovely hot tub at the first turn buoy and really worked wonders not only to warm me up, but lighten my mood and make me chuckle... with my mouth tightly closed. Luckily, my feet were already numb from the air temp when I got in the water. Once I got over the initial shock, I was on my way.

The Choptank River earned its name that day and I couldn't help but wonder if all the salt water I swallowed (and got my sinuses flushed by) would change my salt/hydration strategy for the day. There were a lot of people swimming over me and diagonally in front of me despite staying far off the buoy line. My goggles were foggy the whole time but I didn't bother to stop to fix them. I just wanted to finish that damn swim. Siting was difficult as we were swimming directly into the rising sun. The water was
incredibly choppy so I just followed the swim caps ahead. I did opt to use earplugs for the first time (breaking the cardinal rule of "nothing new on race day") because I had heard the cold water in the ear canal could mess with my equilibrium and I've noticed minor issues with this before in open water.  There was a bit of confusion at the start of the second loop... were we supposed to do a second loop? I wasn't sure. But I
confirmed with someone on a SUP and started on my second lap. This is also the first race where I not only had multiple people T-boning me on the swim with their heads, but I also got kicked in the sternum. It wasn't enough to hurt, but I was pretty shocked that could even happen. I blame the chop. As I left the water I heard the announcer. "There are 130 swimmers still in the water."

See this?
This is what a freezing cold triathlete looks
like exiting the water.
T1: SO. DAMN. COLD. Everything was a blur as Kristin and her companion expertly stripped off my wetsuit and helped me up. I ran into the changing tent. The changing tent was crowded and chaotic, I knew they were going to have heaters but it was still cold and drafty... no. WINDY. in the tent. And as far as the heaters went, there only appeared to be one. It was difficult to find an empty chair so I sat on the ground. I opened my handwarmers and tossed them in my shoes (forgot to do this in the am). It was very difficult to get dressed damp. I needed some help from the volunteers. I threw on tri shorts, bike capris, a bike jersey, sleeves, my Bontrager windbreaker (love this thing!), swiftwick socks, surgical gloves under my bike gloves, and I threw a $5 walmart sweatshirt on top for some added warmth. On the way out of the tent, I put my handwarmers in my pants on my quads. (Thanks for the idea, Carrie!) I also put some vaseline on my face to protect from the wind. I think I broke a record for longest transition ever: 20:15

The Bike:
As usual post swim, I had some catching up to do. I started passing people. Relentlessly. One after another. My prayers
Bike Mount
helped me through and by the time I got to mile 15 of the bike, I was crying tears of gratitude for starting, for being physically able to do this race, and for the amazing support I found myself surrounded by. The wind was BRU. TAL. It seemed that when the headwind would let up, the crosswind gusts would take over. I don't know what the max wind speed was (perhaps 35 mph?), but it just seemed to get worse as the day progressed. The drafting was out of control and seemed impossible to avoid at points. We also were not supposed to cross the double yellow line but with people riding two across without passing, and refusing to budge when I called out "on your left" that was also impossible to avoid. And with the unexpected wind gusts, I wanted to give adequate space to pass.
The most fitting meme for the bike course, and perhaps the race as a whole.

But I kept pushing.

You can see the fluff on the top of the grass here.
...And the sheen from the Vaseline.
My concentrated Infinit worked well to keep my nutrition and hydration timed well but in the wind I didn't want to risk refilling my aero bottle on the bike so I stopped at every aid station instead. I can't remember when I ditched my sweatshirt. I kept my focus on my short term goal: to get to my bacon and salted boiled potatoes at the halfway point and aside from my prayers, that was all I focused on. There was a lot of fluff blowing through the air from the grass (what my mom has always called Squirrel Tails due to their resemblance) and it stuck to the Vaseline on my face. Also, every time I leaned forward to take a sip of Infinit, water would pour out of my nose. Not sure if this was from the swim, the cold, or the pollen, but I've never had so much liquid rushing out of my sinuses on a ride before.

I came in to Bike Special needs a half hour ahead of schedule. Unfortunately, the porto potty line was RIDICULOUS. There was no TP. I tried to ask for some and a fellow racer yelled at me that I didn't need it. I couldn't help but wonder what her rush was about... it's not like she was vying for a Kona slot... I was glad I had surgical gloves with me for reapplying my chamois butter, but I will put some TP in Special needs for next time.
(aka Bike Special Needs)

About 20 minutes later, I was on my way again. Despite training with my mid ride snack, it did not sit well. As I fought blowing chunks all over the course, I wondered if it had somehow gone bad. The nausea was awful. I think the fat was just too much to handle with my level of exertion. I slowed down a bit to let my body digest. The wind was getting worse. I just prayed to finish this ride safely. The sun went behind a cloud and it got cold. I stopped at the porto potty again two more times. At mile 90, the girl in front of me in line suggested a massage chain for our aching shoulders. I was 100% down with that idea! Looking back, I probably could have cut 45 minutes to an hour from my time without the bathroom lines. My feet were numb the whole ride. The feeling only came back at bike special needs when I was off my saddle. I kept waiting to hit "the wall" at mile 80 (I've heard so many people mention this!) but it never came. By the time I hit mile 80, all I could think was that I was almost done. All I had to do was keep pedaling and soon, my feet would be safely back on the ground. And I could get my dry, warm, fleece pullover. It was great seeing my cheering crew around mile 100 and Michelle called out that she would call my mom and let her know I was ok. Apparently the tracking software went down (doesn't it always?? lol). And shortly after that, knowing that we only had 8 miles to go, the wind decided to open up a can of whoop ass. I felt like I was riding with a flat tire through sand. But I kept pushing. And kept passing. I was almost there. Total bike time: 6:59:55

T2: LORD HAVE MERCY I HAVE REACHED THE PROMISED LAND!!! I was so happy to be off that damn bike. I barely noticed the half mile jog through transition (for the second time that day... limited volunteers meant no bike handlers at IMMD 2015). I was convinced the wind would be so much more tolerable on the run. (I was wrong. More on that later.) One more trip to the porto potty (glad to see my hydration was on point). I stripped off my bike capris (and left on my tri shorts underneath) and changed out of my sweaty bike jersey. I also ditched the windbreaker. It was great to get dry clothes on again. I opened some handwarmers and carried my gloves for now. Ditched my sunnies and switched to my lucky Devils hat. Total time: a luxurious, meandering 19:41

The Run: (I wrote this once already but it got deleted. Lame. Here we go again.)
I thought the wind would be better once I was off the bike. I was wrong. The gusts knocked the wind out of me and threatened repeatedly to steal my hat. (HANDS OFF, MOTHER NATURE! I'VE HAD ENOUGH OF YOU TODAY!)  It was the kind of wind that jumps out of nowhere and chases your own breath down your throat. I offered up my extra bottle of eye drops to a fellow racer in the changing tent who was struggling with her contacts. I gave some Immodium to a guy I met at the start of the run whose bowels wanted to run more than his legs.

And overall, I felt pretty good.

Once I got moving, I wasn't cold. And as long as I stayed moving, I seemed to be ok. I tried to chat with people along the way... one was a guy with a medical needs bag who I jokingly accused of toting a power drill with him on the course (he good-naturedly shot back that he didn't know if anyone might need some home improvements that day and wanted to be prepared). I also snagged a bear hug from a couple of kids dressed in bear onesies (SO WARM AND SNUGGLY!).

I stopped by Run Special Needs at my ?third? pass because the sun was going down and I didn't want to get cold. I think this was around mile 10. My left hip flexor started to seize when I paused at RSN and I realized that stopping was not a good idea. I also realized that Run Special Needs was placed in, by far, the windiest, coldest location on the entire course... I'm pretty sure I spotted Dorothy's house flying by... and perhaps a dairy cow... I grabbed my fleece and headlamp and got moving after a brief struggle trying to convince the volunteer to use my extra handwarmers.

I was really happy to have the headlamp. There were spots on the course where I couldn't even see my own feet and the flood lights made it worse, bleaching out my rods and cones running into them. The headlamp really helped. I took advantage of the hot and lukewarm chicken broth and by the last 7 miles, I had a newfound enthusiasm for Watermelon Gu Chews. When the cramping returned in my hip flexor and started in my low back, my new running friend, Kelly, suggested I may need more salt, so I took some base salts and gatorade endurance. I think she was onto something because it seemed to help. And if it was just placebo? Well Thank you, Brain! Kelly and I found each other around mile 12 and she was a Godsend. We were about the same pace and she encouraged me to move when my legs protested. I definitely owe my run time partially to her. And I think Ironman needs to officially subtract 30 seconds off her run time, as she let me go first and promised to trip anyone who tried to steal my moment in the shoot or screw up my Finisher's photo. Favorite signs spotted were "Chafing the Dream" and "This puts the FU in fun!" Run Time: 6:07:30

Total time: 15:01:44

Post Race:
I felt great coming down the shoot, but the moment I stopped, the cold and my worked muscles caught up to me. I felt like I could barely move. I was so grateful that Chad was there and offered to immediately drive me home. All I wanted was a hot shower after being so cold for so many hours.
When we got to the house, my muscles just didn't want to work anymore and I needed a little help getting out of the car. The shivering began and didn't stop until I was inside. I felt like my body temp was all over the map. When I finally got out of that glorious shower (NO CHAFING! IT'S an ironman MIRACLE!!), I was fine for about a half hour... and then I couldn't stop shivering. I ended up wrapping myself in the mylar blanket under the covers and in about 30 minutes, I was warm and sleeping. I thought I'd be hungry when I was done, but I had no appetite either. I had two reese's cups as a post race treat with some water and gatorade and went to sleep. The next morning, I was afraid to move, but as soon as I got moving, the stiffness started to recede. I felt mildly hung over and walked like a toy soldier, but I was surprised how mild the after affects were! I also only slept 4 hours and woke up at 5am like someone just flipped my power button on. My appetite and my fatigue were unpredictable all day Sunday but each day they got better and better. I took an ice bath Sunday afternoon which worked wonders, took my swim class (with hot tub time) Monday night, got a massage, adjustment, and hot bath Tuesday, and felt back to normal by Wednesday with the exception of getting winded easily. Overall, a much better recovery than I expected! Dare I say, with the proper training, this was actually somewhat... easy? *ducks for cover*
The medal

(Almost) A million thanks: (some of these seem to have disappeared so I'm sorry if I left anyone out. :( )

I'm so overwhelmed with gratitude:

To my coach Thea, for training me well and handling my self-doubt with such a cool hand.

My dad made this sign! #adorbs

To the cheerleaders: my parents and brothers and their families, the bears, Banana Girl, the Base Salts crab, Doug and Becky, CJTC, all those along the course, and, especially, those who tracked, cheered, and followed from home. When I turned my phone on at the end of the day, I was blown away with how many of you sent messages congratulating me. I had no idea so many of you were with me during that race but it warmed my heart and made my eyes get all leaky. ;) You have no idea how much that meant to me.

A warm welcome home
To the one who put the idea in my head: Bill Markunas, you are one of the most inspiring, motivational people I know. Without you and your gentle push, this distance might have never been brought into the realm of something I might be capable of.

To my Team of Body and Mind mechanics that keep me mobile and sane: Patrick Lerouge, Gwen Stanton, Dr. Alan Foster, Dr. Dennis Mariano, Dr. Nancy Erb, Dr. Lou Gregory, and Dr. Laura Brayton.

To Nori, for the support, a place to stay during training weekends, and for cheering. Ironbaby in the house!!

To my friend I met on the marathon portion: Kelly, I can't thank you enough for keeping me going. I'm so glad we found each other out there!

To my training buddies! Especially Greg, Howard, Gappy, Carrie, Joe, Gilberth, and the Rays of Sunshine.

To Craig at High Gear for tolerating my neurotic pre-race panicked needs and the one-on-one tire-changing lessons.

To my assistant, Valerie: Thank you for working so hard, taking such good care of our patients, and tolerating my erratic training schedule and taper crazies, especially once the dreaded reschedule hit!

To Darren for the peptalk that saved the day.

To Mike Reilly: Your promise of a post-race phone call kept me moving at so many moments!

To the Volunteers: Kristin who gets the award for best wetsuit stripper ever, the mystery girl who had to touch my bare ass in the changing tent, and especially Michelle who put my mom at ease when the tracking software went haywire, cheered at seemingly every aid station, invited me into a beautiful house,

To Shannon: Thanks for being such a selfless roomie, for taking time to write on my arm (lol), and for not losing it with the sound of my crinkling mylar blankie.

To Maureen & Bill: I'm so grateful God brought us together. Thank you for helping in so many ways. As I prayed for Patrick during the bike, I thought about his attitude towards life and was overcome with gratitude with how God takes the worst situations and makes them beautiful.

To my friends for being so understanding of my absence this past summer and so tolerant of all my tri-talk.

Extra special thanks to my transportation crew: Greg, Gappy, Maureen, Bill, Chad, Kristin, and Keith!!

To God for keeping my friends and I safe during this intense and brutal day and for giving us the ability to compete and complete such an event.

And just in case you want to see a graph of the wind speeds that day...


  1. You, my friend, are now a Ironman!!!!! Woop woop !!!!!! Krusher. I love the read. I thought I was the only one who got up the next morning at 4:30am.... I went walking to fix the kinks...and....yes... it was windy!!!!

    Very cool to meet you!! God Bless you!!

  2. Thanks, Craig! Congrats on your win!!

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