Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Race Report

I've been avoiding writing a race report because of my mixed feelings regarding the race. Yes, I missed my goal time by an hour...exactly. Yes, I PR'd the course by 40 minutes. Yes, I should be very happy I finished (some didn't)...I should be happy that I did better than last year, especially given the race conditions...I get it.

But when you set out to do something and fail in achieving feel like crap.

This is part of the post-Ironman depression that affects some athletes...I know it will pass and I will refocus very soon on Vineman and attempting to qualifying for Boston at Marine Corps Marathon.

Here is the report:

I arrived in Coeur d'Alene on Wednesday and welcomed the cool weather and even the rain. I just kept thinking, "let it rain now...let it rain all it". I woke early the next day and prepared myself for my first practice swim. The wind was gusty and the water was rough. I pulled on my wetsuit, marched straight over to the start and straight into the water. The water temp was very brisk, but certainly warmer than last year. I took my first couple of strokes and realized just how rough the water really was that morning. Suddenly, I had to make a decision: 1. freak out or 2. make it fun. I went with option 2. I decided that the rolling and pounding of the water was like an amusement park ride...and I like amusement parks. So I took my time and got acquainted with the water...even laughed during the swim because I was getting bounced around like a toy!

I did all of my race "chores" on Thursday - IM store to buy more stuff I don't need; registration to be "official" and TriBikeTransport to get my bike and bag. Most of the team and my room mate also arrived on Thursday; it was good to have everyone there (but I was glad to have had a day to myself). That evening was the official "team dinner" and group pictures. I could sense the energy beginning to build.

Friday morning was another swim practice (not so choppy), this time I swam an entire 1.2 mile loop...just to get my head in the right place...I felt good, very good. I spent the rest of the day with my team mates and trying to stay off my feet. Some of us enjoyed a nice Italian dinner, including Sandra who flew in from Denver (one of my original Ironfans).

Saturday morning I passed up the swim as I wanted to go into the race with the good feelings from the day before. I opted for a short run with Charles instead. I felt like I could run all day! The legs felt fresh and ready! Next up was a short bike ride which also felt good. My legs were ready to GO! After a nap (and allergies that nearly took me out of the game) and dinner with the Riverbend Inn Peeps, it was time to get some rest. Final preparations were made and then it was lights out.


I woke early and ready. I checked my list and made sure I had everything I needed, then we were off. Final check of transition bags and loading of the bike with my nutrition and it was time for a "pit stop" and into the wetsuit. Sandra and Brian were with me; and thank goodness because I couldn't find any of my team mates. I started to stress out as the pros were already on their first lap and I hadn't gotten into my wetsuit yet. I knew I still had time, but I could feel the anxiety creeping into my head and my heart rate began to elevate. I ran into Jesse and it made me feel better because I could tell she was very nervous (it was her first IM) and I felt I needed to be calm so as to not freak her out. I gave Sandra my bag and off I went to the water.

As I stood at the start, I did find some of my mates and that made me feel a bit better. I watched the whitecaps in the water and knew it was going to be a challenge. Again, I had my ear plugs in and didn't hear the countdown...all of a sudden, it was into the churning water we went!

I could feel my heart rate again increasing and I knew I needed to just slow down, focus and concentrate on stroke after stroke and keeping my head's just an amusement park ride, remember? Ok, so an amusement park ride that hits, kicks, pushes, pulls, etc.!! After the first loop I looked at my watch and thought, "cool, right I'll put some more effort". I exited the water and the volunteer shouts, "Great job, 1:27"...WHAT?!?!?

WTF??? That was +10 minutes longer than I had expected. I flipped out! I grabbed my T1 bag and rushed into the tent in tears. TEARS!!! A volunteer was helping me with my things and all the while I kept saying, "what happened? why?" Karen was in the tent as well and I'm not sure what she said, but something about how I needed to pull myself together and get going. Thank you, Karen. But I couldn't stop crying and as I exited the tent to my bike, I ran into Logan who saw me in distress and told me to put it away, put the emotions away. But when I didn't stop crying he said, "Michelle, pull your head out of your ass...we got a long way to go". I got my bike and went on my way. Thanks, Logan.

I had to keep telling myself that I needed to chill and relax because I had at least 6 hours to go on the bike. The first loop went ok. I made up some ground and could tell I wasn't too terribly far behind Joe and James and that made me feel pretty good. The entire ride had me seeing T3 peeps and it kind of felt like a really fast training ride with so many familiar faces. I settled into the windy ride and made sure to keep my nutrition flowing. The cooler temps made me take in more than I had planned. The second loop saw an increase in clouds and wind and a drop in temp...again more nutrition. The legs were starting to feel the effects of the hills and wind, but at least I wasn't walking my bike like some men were...I felt pretty good about that. What I didn't feel good about were the stomach cramps I began to have and the three "pit stops" I had to make. I knew I wasn't going to make my bike goal time, but I kind of knew my race was way I was going to make up 40 minutes on the run.

Off the bike and onto the run. I ditched the cycling jersey but kept the arm move all day (that and buying cycling gloves the day before). I headed out and after a couple of miles saw Esther on a corner and as she cheered me on all I could say was, "I want to quit". I heard myself say that and I realized I was heading down a familiar path...NO WAY! I backed off my pace just a bit and took in some more calories...I was NOT going to succumb to the negativity and self-dout that has plagued me for so long. I decided I was just going to keep running. Then it started to rain. All along I crossed paths with many team mates...some ahead, some I passed, some I no longer saw on the course. I knew my goal time was no longer an option, but I knew I just had to keep moving. I was getting colder by the minute. But I kept thinking that as long as I kept running, I would create heat...had to keep running. Heading back into town for my second loop, having my friends and team mates scattered on the course was incredible. I needed to remind myself how much they had given to me along the way and on that day...and how I needed to show them my appreciation. I'm not much of a waver or smiler when I run...but I tried! I really tried!!

Miles 19-22 were the hardest as my IT band decided to lock up my knee and I had to do the ol' walk/run/hobble combo. At mile 22 I stopped and looked up at the sky and said, "God, I really appreciate you helping me get this far, but how about a few more miles?" Yes, I had the "come to Jesus" talk...

Then I decided that I had only 4 more miles...4 more long miles, but I needed to get done. I needed to run. Suddenly, I started to feel good again. I was RUNNING...not fast, but I felt fast(er). As I wound my way back through the neighborhoods, I felt for those who were going out for their second loop and also for those who were coming in with me on their first loop. Running past the last few aid stations, I began to yell out thanks to all the volunteers and I felt a surge of energy. I was going to finish with a sub-5 hour marathon, something that had eluded me in each of the previous three ironman races.

When I made the final turn onto Sherman for my last 7 blocks, I felt the elation that comes with seeing the finish line. I was taken by surprise by the mass of team mates who had gathered on a corner and were screaming and cheering at the top of their lungs! I felt like a rock star! I smiled and waved at everyone I knew...and everyone I didn't know who yelled out my name! I'm pretty sure that the last 4-5 blocks I ran with my arms in the air and the stupidest smile ever - and I didn't care! The fans who were still out there...bundled and soaked...were amazing! They made you feel like you had just won the whole damn thing!

So, not an IM PR, not a day of met goals; but a day of mental perserverance and a course PR. I'll take it.

Aside from missing my goal time, the only other thing I regret is not going back to see those who came in after the 14 hour mark. I was just too cold...but I did stay up until midnight, online checking for everyone who finished.

Many, many thanks to all my friends, team mates, coaches and family for all the support. What a special, special day!

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