THE IRONMAN CHAMPIONSHIPS IN KONA ARE TOMORROW!!!! So exciting. I actually have a friend from college that will be competing- Tripp Hipple - so everyone cross your fingers all Saturday for him- he won his AG at the Ironman Texas and is going out hard at Kona to compete.
In honor of Kona, I'm doing a throwback to my own quick and dirty affair with the Ironman. YES. It will be revisited.. and no, I haven't decided when yet- although there is a SLIGHT possibility it will be next November at Ironman Arizona. (But don't hold me to it.)
So I started running in January of 2012 and in classic form became somewhat aggressive about my goals that year. Shocking, I know. Without owning a bike or having swam laps since I was a kid, I signed up for Ironman Lake Tahoe and Ironman 70.3 Oceanside, dropping over a grand in an afternoon on a sport that I had NO experience in. I stayed busy all 2012 (read: I procrastinated and put off training until the VERYYY last minute). And once 2013 rolled around, I still had yet to ride even ONE time on the brand new Felt bike that I had bought for the race that was in March.
About 6 weeks before the race, I started to panic (for good reason) that I had yet to ride my bike/learn how to clip in and I was supposed to do 56 miles during Ironman 70.3 Oceanside. I planned one afternoon to go riding with a friend in Coronado and go do a 20 miler (this would also incidentally, be my maiden voyage on my Felt and my first time clipping in). We got to the parking lot and I clipped in on one side, tried to balance and popped my foot over to clip in. I fell. OVER. and OVER. and OVER again in the parking lot until both knees were bloody. I wish this was a joke- but I sincerely believed that you clipped in and your body somehow magically balanced and gave you time to clip in on the other side and then you could roll along. No. That's not how it works. I had the friend I was with "spot" me which mostly involved him holding the top half of my body while the bottom half was slowly falling to the ground. After repeatedly falling on asphalt and concrete - and literally worrying about all the scratches my bike and legs were taking, I decided to move the freak show to grass and a softer place to fall.
That day, I realized it was possible to fall on a bike. And so the fear began. I went up to see a friend in LA who suggested we go riding together. We went out on the Pacific Coast Highway on a gorgeous weekend where everyone was out at the beach. I was literally paralyzed with fear and during that 20 mile ride I did not (nor did I know how to) shift the gears at all... going up and down multiple hills. I may or may not have experienced a baby panic attack on the first ten miles of that ride (sweating profusely and my heart literally beating out of my chest) and when I begged my friend to go get the car and pick me up, he exercised tough love and said- no chance in hell. GREAT. I told him I needed a couple minutes on the beach to reflect (on the predicament I PURPOSELY put myself in) and he rode further down the road and came back 15 minutes later to pick me up for the second half of our death ride. After this, I called in emergency help in the form of a family friend, Hans, who wins Ironmans (nbd) and is a bike coach. Literally in 4 weeks he got me from barely able to ride to surviving a 50 mile ride.
A quick note about my swims- I did three total in a pool, and never in the ocean because I wasn't amped to be in the freezing Pacific in March. Shockingly for so little time in the water, I wasn't more concerned about this- until race week when people told me about the panic attacks people have because the water is SO cold. All of this lack of training created a real fear in me that I would DIE on race day. Pretty much everyone with a brain told me to pull from the race and that it wasn't worth my life. My cuzin Erin either believed in me or wanted me dead (still unsure) and encouraged me that she knew I could do it. With one person in my court (and why was I still in my own court), I decided to proceed ahead with the race.
I soldiered on and showed up on race day- walking my bike from the car to the course (everyone else was riding it into the first transition but I was limiting my riding to ONLY times when it was actually mandatory). Right as the race was about to start, I spoke with one of the girls with her bike racked next to mine. She said she had her front tooth kicked out on the swim the year before. AND SHE WAS BACK FOR MORE? What kind of masochism is this? Then I asked her where I was supposed to put my Run Bag- which is when I found out it was supposed to have been at the Transition #2 ... a mile away- and even if I made it, I wouldn't be allowed back into the Swim area. I freaked out- found a volunteer and asked them how I could get it to the Run Transition. He said he didn't know how but he would make a way to get it there. Literally an angel of mercy. I cried two baby tears right there that someone could be so kind to me in my moment of need. He gave me a huge hug and told me not to worry about it and to have a great race.
The swim started. For this race we had to swim to a buoy and tread water until the swim actually started. The best advice I was given was get to the middle side of the pack. If you don't know what fear is yet, try swimming in the water with people attacking you with their arms and legs, while worrying that you may succumb to hypothermia, in a brand new wetsuit that you're completely uncomfortable and awkward in. I managed to get out of the line of fire of the real athletes and just hunkered down for my arctic swim until the men came. The next wave was just a few minutes after we left and it was middle aged men with something to prove. I got hit in the head several times, but managed to stay calm and keep going. The best way to swim in that crazy environment is to swim defensively. I always had one hand reaching forward to block my face from kicks at all times. You literally can't see in that water so you have to go off feel and sounds. I got a little concerned when my calves started cramping up and I had to massage them out while treading water. It was so early in the day to have something acting up that I would need for the next two parts of this race. Luckily they went back to normal and I continued on the longest swim of my life (1.2 miles). Finishing that swim was the best moment... until I realized I still had to complete the cycle.
I got on the bike and hunkered down for the longest ride of my life. I kept my phone on me so that my family and friends could be updated that I was still alive (since I was pretty sure my bike times would leave them thinking I died on the course). Any time I actually had to eat/drink- I had to actually get off the bike because I couldn't move my hands from the bike without freaking out (pretty sure that's how the elites ALSO handle fueling during a race). The big deal with this bike course were the straight up MOUNTAIN RANGES we were crossing. Ok ranges may be an exaggeration, but there were two super steep hills/mountains, that when I turned the corner and saw one of them, it took my breath away (in a bad way, obviously). The hills were so steep that to walk them was as fast as "riding" up them. My legs started cramping on one of the hills and I was already basically going at a negative speed, so I kicked my legs out of my clip-ins right before I would have tipped over. I talked to a guy at the end who actually fell over on the hill because his speed was just too slow. Towards the end of the ride in Pendleton, it comes on this stretch where the road is super uneven and reallyyy windy. That's when you wish you had a Huffy bike instead of a light tri bike. I was literally holding on for dear life praying I wouldn't fall over.
When I made it to the run portion- that was literally one of the happiest moments of my life. 13.1 miles of running after 1.2 mi swim and 56 mi bike seemed like cake. I bounded along the course, just thankful that God had spared my life one more time in spite of my stupidity and lack of preparation. The anxiety I felt before and during this race is enough to make me never "wing" an Ironman in the future. I really don't think I have ever been this happy in a half marathon. I was high fiving everyone on the way and thanking every race official I saw. I got to see my family and friends during the run portion and was basically like- look guys! I didn't die!!!!
I am so thankful that this ended up being a good experience in the end- it could have gone terribly wrong. But the anxiety I felt leading up to it is enough to make me train really hard for the cycle of the next Iron I sign up for. Just a lesson to all you out there- I highly would recommend training before a Half Iron or an Iron. ;-)
Wishing everyone the absolute BEST race this weekend. I will be thinking of you all as I head out to do Ragnar Trail Vail Lake tomorrow afternoon. Luckily it's just going to be in the 90's. Yay.