Pre-race day. Head to venue for practice swim. Water was announced at 81 degrees and wetsuit optional. They were trying to sell skinsuits at the swim practice like as if all the cool kids had one and I had better get one too…. Funny, considering the one consistent thing you hear about racing is, “nothing new on race day.” I decided to swim in my fullsuit and the water felt good. Daily thunderstorms had not made the water too murky. It wasn’t the clearest water, but you could still see your hand in front of you in the water. I swam 200 meters out to second yellow buoy and back. Felt like I was out there forever. At least I knew what the start would be like – narrow entry into water and then a hard right.
After the swim, we parked near transition and I rode my bike for about 15 minutes along the waterway to ensure that nothing came loose on bike during travel. Pumped my tires up to 10 pounds below normal pressure (per the advice of friends who had tackled this race before). After the ride, I put my gear back in my gear bags, took my bike and two gear bags to transition. I forgot to leave my water bottle in my running gear bag. I should have left it in there with just the powder mix in it – I did not know there would be ice and water in the transition tent during race day. A volunteer carried my bike over the muddy bike racks and racked my bike. I left my elbow pads and computer on my bike. Almost regretted it because the late afternoon brought about 4 hours of thunderstorms.
After dropping my gear off, we headed to the hotel so I could be off my feet the rest of the day. We stopped at Firehouse Subs on the way back to hotel, I ordered an Italian on wheat fully loaded with banana peppers — which ended up being my lunch and dinner. I tried to catch a nap throughout the rest of the day as everyone in my family seemed to pass right out, but I struggled to get any cat nap action. I ended up writing some e-mails for work, downloading an inspirational movie – Seabiscuit, took a shower, prepped my nutrition for bike, and actually stayed off social media. Damn nerves. Snacked on Target popcorn all afternoon – smart sodium decision (I think so, at least). Drank one serving of H24 Hydrate throughout the evening to help with hydration.
Nutrition included: Bike – 2 bottles of Herbalife H30 with H24 Hydrate mixed in, one bottle of water, 6 Bonk Breaker Bars, 1 pack Bonk Breaker chews, and two pieces of gum. (I did not use a Special Needs bag for the bike).
SATURDAY – RACE DAY
Up at 4:00 am, really it was like 3:00 am, just didn’t let myself move until 4:00 am. First task at hand was to hit the bathroom, why must I always diarrhea the day of a race (Ended up visiting the bathroom only 2x before the race, which is actually a huge improvement)? Transition opened at 5:30 am. We got there at 5:30 am and it was a freaking madhouse. Since we couldn’t leave my 4 yr old and 6 yr old in the car, we made them walk the half mile to transition at 5:00 am, they were not happy. Neither were lots of the triathletes in transition. I heard one lady almost rip somebody’s head off because apparently they were in her walking path. Sheesh… hope I am not like that. I quickly placed all my bottles on my soaking wet bike, borrowed a bike pump to double check my tires, and got out of transition. The amount of mud in transition was so gross I was covered up to my knees. They had kiddy pools at the exit to help rinse feet off.
The next step was to walk to the swim start, which was .8 miles away. Knowing that the kids would not want to walk that far, we headed back to the car and tried to find a closer spot, which was right at the Pier 1 Imports parking lot, along with the other 500 spectators who knew about this “secret” parking lot. By the time we walked to the swim start, I had just enough time to get my body marked, and attempt to get my full suit on over my muddy legs. I remembered my BodyGlide, which of course made a huge difference and saved my neck as well. A few other wetsuit wearers spotted my BodyGlide and I was glad to come to their rescue! Never show up without it.
I had tried to eat a Bonk Breaker bar and a banana before the start, but I almost threw up when I was chewing the Bonk Breaker bar. I was able to eat half the banana and take a sip of water.
Headed to the start line and told myself…. no matter how hard it gets, never, ever quit… just keep moving forward no matter how slow it is…
Being in a wetsuit, meant starting last, and I was actually very grateful to be at the back. As we entered the water, there was a strong smell of urine and I imagined the 2,000 other triathletes before me getting into the water and peeing right at the start so I kept my head out of the water for the first several strokes. Nothing feels as good as when you finally get to start… all the stomach churning anxiety is behind and all you have to focus on is moving forward. As we got into the water, I started off slow, after passing the first yellow buoy, the swimmers opened up a little bit and I felt like I was at the very back of the wetsuit swimmers and almost started to panic. This made my stomach fill up with air and I started burping, which felt awful. I concentrated on calming down by reminding myself what my friend Melissa had told me, “everyone out there is going through the same thing you are.” For some reason this was very comforting and I actually enjoyed when other swimmers bumped into me. Before the first turn, I was breathing bilaterally every third stroke and felt pretty decent with siting. Throughout the entire swim I didn’t ever feel like I zig-zagged too much. After rounding the first buoy, you swim perpendicular for about 100 meters before making another left turn to head home. After rounding that buoy I began to truly settle into my swim and concentrated on form. I remember Coach Annie talking about keeping my elbows bent, not starting my pull too early, and to think about my pull through the water. At this time, I actually stopped kicking and really started to focus on form and found myself passing non-wetsuit male and female swimmers and I was a little giddy. I also concentrated on going pee, which proved harder than expected. During the swim I also remembered what my friend Renee said to me, “the swim is the only part that doesn’t hurt, when you are not in the heat, and not burning up the legs. So, enjoy it.” This statement made me enjoy every stroke of the swim because I knew the Texas heat and humidity was waiting for me.
After the third turn, I managed to get kicked in the head pretty good and my goggles were pushed off my eyes. I was able to recover quickly. The last part of the swim bottlenecks into the waterway for about 1000 meters, but it feels longer. The bottle necking caused crowded swimming conditions and I had to keep moving around people, which was a new experience for me. Lots of people line the waterway and it’s fun to spot them as you swim. The canal does create a bit of a washing machine effect and you deal with more chop here than at any other part of the swim. At the exit, volunteers reached for my hand and yanked me out of the water and it is an awesome experience. They said there would be no wetsuit peelers, but that was a LIE. Those amazing volunteer peelers were anxiously waiting for me and ripped my wetsuit off within seconds. I checked my watch and thought it was wrong, surely I could not have done that swim in 1:39:56! I was expecting 2:00:00 finish.
T1 – 11:59
As I ran passed the bags, I called my number out and was given my bag. Once I got to the transition tent, I realized it was not my bag and hurried back out. After getting the right bag, I ran back to transition and got on my cycling gear. I ended up wearing cooling wings, the tri top I swam in, cycling shorts, helmet, gloves, and my favorite glasses (my cycling glasses had broken on the crash a few weeks ago and I still invested in another pair). There was so much mud everywhere that putting my cycling shorts on proved very difficult. I took a few gulps of water while in transition and then carried my socks, cycling shoes, and a towel out with me. I visited the sunblock angels and then found my bike. I put my bike over my shoulder and carried it out of transition because I did not want mud to get stuck on my brakes, which I saw a lot of.
Near the exit there were kiddy pools again. A spectator held my bike while I rinsed my feet off, dried them and got my shoes on. Thank you! I grabbed my bike and headed out of transition to the dismount line. The sheer amount of spectators along the fenced edges yelling and cheering for the athletes is simply awesome. It is impossible not to feel energized from it all.
Watching the weather report and after reading several posts, I prepared myself for a few things: 14-20 mph headwind from mile 50-112, lots of short rolling hills miles 40-80 and 105-110, and no tree cover miles 80-100. Aid stations were located every 10-15 miles. I did not expect the roads to be so rough on the second half of the ride, which required lots of extra effort. I also was thinking about Coach Jeff’s advice, “Don’t worry about your pace on the bike, if it feels good go with it.”
The beginning of the ride is beautiful along the tree lined streets of The Woodlands. I started my ride with a 14 mph pace, as most of my rides begin. I did not drink water for the first 20-30 minutes of the bike as the bottles on my bike had my nutrition mix. 45 minutes into my ride I opened my first Bonk Breaker bar and took a bite. The first aid station came quick, I grabbed a bottle of water, took a few big gulps and doused my sleeves before tossing the bottle.
The first half of the ride was awesome, I tried to stick to eating a bite of my Bonk Breaker bar every 15 minutes, and took sips of my nutrition mix every 10 minutes, grabbed a water bottle from each aid station and took a few gulps and doused my sleeves to keep me cool. I stopped at the third aid station to refill my torpedo bottle: I dumped my powder nutrition mix and then emptied a bottle of water into it. Since I did not shake up the mix, the first few drinks were more concentrated (I think I can attribute this to stomach discomfort on the run). Without an alarm on my watch, and being distracted by the beautiful sea of cyclists on the course, I knew I was not as diligent with my nutrition on the first half of the ride.
The left turn at mile 45 brought on a nasty side wind that almost blew me off the road a few times. This is where the work began. Between mile 55 and 60 was the bike special needs point and the yellow school bus that would be picking up riders that missed the cutoff. I did not check a special needs bag and was glad I didn’t – the previous century rides had prepared me well to cover 100 miles without a special needs bag. When I passed the yellow bus, I checked my watch and I was glad to see that I was more than 80 minutes ahead of the cutoff.
I stopped at the next aid station (mile 60) to refill my bottles and use the restroom. I had not been able to find my small tube of booty butter that morning, this is the point where I would have reapplied. Miles 60-80 were slower, much hotter, were very windy. Somewhere along the way it had rained and the sun came out to bake the pavement and cause steam to rise, which reminded me of the miserable rides I had done in Georgia the previous September.
I stopped at mile 70 to eat a quick banana and stretch my legs. I stopped and talked to a gentleman from St. Louis, who quickly began to upchuck and I took that as a sign to get back in the saddle and on the road. I was pretty diligent about eating a bite of my Bonk Breaker bar every 15 minutes for the remainder of the ride. My liquid nutrition was not as well executed. I added water to my bottle to dilute my mixture, which proved a good idea and refueled again and mile 80 with a fully concentrated (not well mixed), which I would again dilute around mile 100.
Seeing the mile 100 sign was pretty exciting. That was the moment I wished I had a camera, not so much to take a picture of the sign, but to capture my goofy smile. I took a moment at mile 100 to survey how I was feeling, my neck and back were tired of being in aero, but my legs still felt pretty good. It was very hot and sunny and I knew what that meant for the run. I made sure to eat the last of the open Bonk Breaker bar I had and drank more water since I knew the bike was ending. The last 12 miles is full of turns and quiet roads and I only saw a few riders along the way, so it did get a bit lonely. Spectators start to line the streets along the last 5 miles and they yell how much further each time you pass them, this made me smile. I also got a glimpse of the marathon course and the swim course that I had already conquered.
I finished the 112 mile journey, grabbed a bottle from my bike for the run and handed my bike off to a volunteer before walking through 200 yards of mud in cycling shoes to get to my running gear bag.
Total time on bike: 7:08:24
A few things that got me through the bike when things got tough or lonely… All I had to do was think about the swim, the mere fact that I got through my first IM swim made me smile every time. I placed my bike computer at a different spot on my handle bars so it was harder to read, this allowed me to enjoy my ride more and ignore my pace. Tackling Clermont 70.3 in March with the infamous Sugarloaf Mountain made the hills on this course easy to climb and keep my butt in the saddle. The challenging Tour de Tifton Century ride (both hilly and windy) was the best training ride for this course. All the Century rides I did the previous months helped prepare me for those lonely miles that happen somewhere after mile 70.
T2 – 13:58
I had hoped to get full service catering when I got into the tent, but the volunteers were busy helping women in much worse shape than myself. My arms felt a bit weird, probably from spending most of the past 7 hours in aero. It took me longer than expected to peel off my wings and to change into a running skirt and running top. The small container of BodyGlide had come close to melting in my bag and I smeared all over my feet – it felt sooo good. I put on a fresh pair of socks, running shoes, running lights for the when it got dark, hat, race belt, put some ice in my bottle and headed out of the tent. I tried to get out of the tent as fast as possible, the faster I got through transition the longer I would have for the marathon. I visited the sunblock angels at the exit and ventured out for what would be a very long walk.
The marathon was hot and humid, like a Tallahassee afternoon after a thunderstorm. I had hoped to ease into 1:1 run/walk, 2:1, and eventually 3:1 for the marathon, but that is not what unfolded. As soon as I started the marathon, my stomach started to cramp up. I walked the first few minutes and then ran for a minute. I carried this routine for the first several miles. The heat didn’t bother me much but whenever I did run for a few minutes, I would feel stomach cramping when I resumed my walk sometimes with a hint of nausea and would have to slow my pace before finding my groove. Halfway through the first lap I backed off running and concentrated on what was going on with my body. I realized I had enough time to walk the marathon and the run/walk interval might prove too exhausting for 26.2 miles.
The second lap was the worst. Every step of the first lap is new so the second lap is known territory and you know you still have a whole lap to go. The second lap I was able to resume a little running again. There were a few sections that cut through a path in the trees and it made me feel like I was running on St. Marks trail back home. For some reason this was comforting and I enjoyed running this section. I stopped at every aid station on the first and second lap and got ice and water. I put a few pieces of ice down my shirt, under my hat, and then ate a few pieces. I was still drinking the nutrition in my water bottle at this time. On the second lap I started eating pretzels. I also kept a cold sponge my neck and traded it out at aid stations along the way.
I walked the entire last lap, except for the finish chute. The last lap was pretty lonely as most folks had already finished and it was dark. I stopped at every aid station for coke, ice, and pretzels. I tried some grapes at one point and a little bit of the chicken broth that everyone raves about, but the chicken broth proved to be a bad idea (led to instant stomach discomfort). I started to chat up anyone that I was walking with. Some athletes were open to talking, others were not. While walking over a bridge, I asked a few walkers if they would be back next year and they both replied, “never again. Never again.” It was at this point I realized I was a little crazier than they were since I had spent most of the marathon thinking about what I needed to do for the next one, how do I make sure I don’t have tummy troubles? I had also started to think about the short races in my future and how training would change after today.
Around mile 23 things got tough. I stopped at a port-o-potty and felt like I was on a boat. Pulling my running skirt back up made my skin burn and I wished I had not forgot the booty budder on my ride. I wanted to sit down and take a break but I kept thinking about what my husband said, “just keep moving forward.” There were a few moments where my stomach cramps got pretty bad and I had to slow down to a snail’s pace. I knew the rocking boat feeling was from dehydration and made it a point to get some extra pretzels at the next aid station.
The last half mile is pretty surreal. You know the finish is right there and I did take time to slow down and enjoy it. As I came around the last turn I saw the finish chute and it was lined with spectators cheering. I even saw some guys in suits. I gave hi-fives to everyone that had their hands out and took my time. I looked for my minions and did not see them, I found out later that they were at the last turn behind people and that my oldest daughter got to see me finish.
Total Marathon Time: 6:45:32
Immediately afterward I went looking for my family. As soon as I found them we headed to the car. I did not stop at the post-race food tent. My 4-yr old was completely passed out and my 6 yr-old was hanging on by a thread. After getting to the car, we drove as close to transition as we could and retrieved my bike and gear bags. On the ride back to the hotel, we stopped at the only place open and got some chicken nuggets, not what I was wanting to eat, but I needed to get something in my system. My tummy troubles did not persist long after the event and subsided pretty quickly.
Once we got to the hotel, I took a lukewarm bath, made it to bed and fell asleep just after midnight. I got about 2 hours of sleep and woke up thirsty as can be. I fell back asleep a few hours later and slept until 6:30 a.m. We had breakfast in the hotel and all I could eat was bacon and drink apple juice. We loaded up the car and were on the road by 8:30, I am not sure how we pulled that off or how I was able to move.
I had some nausea on and off on the ride home and was very tired but only managed to nod off for a 30 minute nap. The only thing I craved on the ride home were Slim Jim’s and unsweet tea or water. I did drive for about 3 hrs. It took almost 5 days before I had a decent night of sleep. I also noticed I was super hungry every few hours but I could only eat a few bites of anything when I did eat.
Am I dreaming of another IM….. of course I am.