That helped me quite immensely when I was debating against my demons whether or not to finish. Because even though I said my only goal was to finish, I couldn't help but want to do well too. I wouldn't be a professional triathlete if I didn't feel that way, and it is hard to quiet the killer instinct which always wants to do more than "just finish." But given the options, DNF... or finish without causing more damage to my health, I chose the latter.
So I made a new "just finish" plan. The first priority was to get rid of the headache. If I could get rid of the pain in my head, I knew I could get through the marathon, even if I had to walk and take my sweet time. I don't have many pictures from during this race, so instead you get random cartoons:
I ended up rolling up to the next two aid stations, stopping, and taking my time to figure out a headache remedy. I had only been drinking Gatorade in addition to eating snacks, maybe my hydration was off because I needed some plain water. So I tried some of that and took a bottle for the road. I also asked if any of the volunteers had Tylenol or Advil. I'm usually against medicating myself with pills but desperate times call for desperate measures! Luckily someone had a single tablet of ibuprofen to spare.
As I spun home to T2 in an easy gear, my head started to feel better and my spirits began to lift. I had slowed down quite a bit and my final ride time on the bike computer was 5:32. The official split was 6:08, so that was an extra 36 minutes from ineptly changing out the flat tire and the two leisurely aid station stops for headache management. Not too bad considering all of that! I think before joining teamTBB, 6:08 would still be faster than my previous Ironman bike splits I did as an amateur, so...it's kind of hilarious.
I took my time in T2 and kind of just relished it. There were 2 or 3 other girls in there with me and I was feeling really chatty and chipper. I was psyching myself up for the marathon ahead and wanted to make sure I felt good starting out, and erase the mindset that I was racing so I wouldn't put too much pressure on myself to run fast. It was like pressing the "reset" button.
I had a leisurely porta-potty stop and then I was out on the run. Over 5 minutes, when T2 usually only takes me a minute!
The run has always been my first love and it's still my favorite part of the triathlon. You are going slow enough (and on land, not submerged in water) so you can see and hear all the people cheering for you, and let's face it, I'm an attention whore (Jan Brady middle child syndrome). There were actually a few Wongstar fans that recognized me and yelled for me by name. I beamed, and I was so happy to be out there!
Flashing back to race morning--I had been standing in the porta potty line and randomly talking with the guy behind me, who would be attempting his first iron-distance race today. After learning I was a pro and had raced 20 ironmans before, he wanted to know my best piece of advice for a first-timer...other than "have fun and just finish, don't even try aiming for a specific finish time." (Advice I was taking myself that day!)
So I told him this: "You will experience very low lows and very high highs. Ironman is a complete emotional roller coaster and if you are feeling really bad, have faith that you will feel better." More foreshadowing???
My run was going to be my "very high high"! After the first couple of steps, I knew that my knee was going to be okay. (The injury seems more quad-related--running feels better than biking, which is unusual for most injuries.) Anyone that has ever seen me race before (or heck, seen my race photos) knows I am usually a super smiley face when I am out on the run. I was genuinely really happy to be there, a complete 180 from how I felt during the bike. I was smiling and cheering for my compatriots who were also racing. If I wasn't having a good day, I could at least give my fellow racers some positive energy!
|I need to get my own set of|
smiley face mugs, like Natascha!!
I surprised myself by clocking 8:20's the first couple miles, and then settled into an 8:15/mile pace that entire first loop. (The run course was out-and-back, 3 times, so just under 9 miles each loop.) It felt easy, I felt awesome. Then at the end of the loop I got the stomach gurgles. So I hit a porta potty and took my time. Truth be told, I was already having the stomach gurgles during the last couple days in El Salvador, so I wasn't surprised at all.
Then it was back on course and having a happy long run. I stuck with a group of guys for a little bit. One guy had a FuelBelt full of all kinds of stuff--like pickle juice in case he had cramps! I had never heard of this before...he said if I cramped up later, he would be happy to share some with me! I was super chattery. I would tell guys they were awesome. I would tell girls they had the cutest socks...or top... Not everyone would return my smile or thumbs-up (some people are way too serious!) but many of them did, which pumped me back up. I could tell we were all hurting out there so it was important to keep the positive vibes flowing.
University of Maryland's triathlon club was manning an aid station and they were always happy to see me because I would always yell "woohoo, COLLEGE BOYS!" and they would give me whatever I wanted. On the last lap, my lack of fitness finally caught up and my quads were just screaming. They were so sore--remember, I hadn't run more than 2 hours for the last 3 or 4 months--and I had to take a walking break. I stopped at the UM aid station and told them, "I need something magic to get me going again. What do I want?" and one of the guys was like "um...college boys?" LOL.
Another of them had a bag of "Munchies" which consisted of Cheetos and Doritos and other tasty chips. It was his own personal stash and not part of the aid station offerings, but THAT'S what I wanted. I was tired of all the sugar from Coke and Gatorade and wanted some salty savory goodness. They filled up an entire cup for me and I walked a whole mile just relaxing and eating my Munchies.
Ok! Then I felt better and was ready to run again! My legs were still super sore, but I could now will myself to ignore the soreness and do a hobbling run (the ironman shuffle) through those final miles. There was another leisurely porta potty stop...
...for the stomach gurgles, and when I emerged, a fellow running behind me saw my Bike Boutique shorts and said "were you on teamTBB?" "...yes..." and the inevitable:
"ARE YOU WONGSTAR?!"
He was so excited he said he had to shake my hand. The first thing that popped in my head was "Um, I was just in the porta-potty and my hands are freshly anti-bacterialed" (because the posh porta potties were well stocked--big thumbs-up!) and I think it came off wrong, like I was saying I didn't want to shake his hand if he was all gross and germy. (I meant that I myself wasn't gross and germy so it was ok to shake my hand.) But he replied that he was happy to fist-bump with me! We chatted a bit and ran the next few miles together--turns out he had been in a horrific skydiving accident years ago, breaking his neck, back, and femur (his race report is on ST here) and this would be his first ironman ever! WOW. It was really impressive...it made my car accident seem pretty minor, but I felt I could relate to him even just a little bit.
I had a lot of energy to talk with people and cheer for people...it was more like I was limited by my level of fitness. After kicking the bike demons to the curb, mentally I felt like I could go faster but physically my body was holding me back. And that was okay. I was still able to hold 9-min miles even though my quads felt like they were all locked up. Maybe time for some pickle juice?
Except I had left my pickle juice friend somewhere back in the race. Oh well, only a couple more miles. I stopped stopping at all the aid stations. I wasn't racing with my signature Camelbak this time...I was SO unbelievably unprepared for this race, and just picked up whatever I felt like at the aid stations. Perhaps another contribution to the stomach gurgles.
Anyway, "mind over matter" I kept telling myself. Even if my quads were super duper sore, I would will the legs to keep turning over, turning over until I got to the finish. And there it was! The finish chute! My face lit up extra as I SPRINTED through the last section and Noreen caught it on camera:
My knee has been taped up with the blue argyle Rocktape, a super sticky brand of kinesio-tape that is as stylish as it is functional. It's like having a knee brace on without the bulk!
I was happy to cross the finish under 11:30, which was right on target if you subtract the silly flat tire change. Later I was surprised to learn that my marathon time was 3:56--even with two leisurely potty stops and walking a whole mile. Kind of impressed with myself given the amount I've been (not) training! Another sign that I'm still fitter than my amateur days--my fastest IM run back then was a 4:20. So I haven't lost everything.
I was very happy to see my foster family for the weekend--Sam and Noreen. They were great at being my finish line catchers along with homestay hosts! And it was nice to do a non-WTC race, it wasn't crowded at all and TriColumbia treated us very well. And I mean all of us athletes...not just this lone pro here!
Let me tell you...finishing an ironman is still one of the best feelings in the world. Ok, euphorically if not physically. ;) I still get the heebie jeebies typing this up. This one was #21 for me after having to "re-do" #21 with the bike crash in Korea. Maybe it wasn't the smartest idea in the world, maybe I was too impatient trying to get back onto the racing scene, but it was still worth it to once again experience the awesome "run through the ironman finish line" feeling--which helped erase the bitterness of the "get taken away on an ambulance" feeling.
This 11:28 race is over 90mins slower than my fastest, but it's one I'm extremely proud of--with everything stacked up against me the past few months, the El Salvador week, and how close I came to quitting so many times on the bike; I feel I really conquered some big demons out there.
There's more photos from the awards and I have more thoughts and props to give out, but perhaps I'll end up doing a part #5 with all that. Since right now there's a little race called Ironman Hawaii going on that I'm spectating online.
What I will say though, is that it's been 2 weeks after ChesapeakeMan and I've decided to end my 2011 triathlon season early. I was pretty hell bent on racing IM Cozumel over Thanksgiving and start chasing Kona points for 2012, but Project Kona is officially on hold for the time being. I took a few steps back and decided to prioritize getting my knee completely healthy before attempting to race again.
I now know that I can finish an ironman on very limited fitness--and it's soooo, soooo painful--but in order to race at the professional caliber, I must have a fit and healthy body...and mind. To anyone reading this, thanks so much for all your support this year and for continuing to follow me through the ups and downs!!! xox