Monday, March 29, 2010

I am a HALF- ironwoman. Barely.

As I sit down to write this I'm sitting on the 14th floor of the Hale Koa hotel in Waikiki overlooking the gorgeous Pacific on an 80 degree perfect day. After Saturday's race I couldn't think of a better place to be to relax and enjoy the accomplishments of last weekend.

So, yes, I did finish the Oceanside 70.3. A day mixed with multiple emotions, physical and mental challenges, got me to that finish line a mere 3 minutes before the official race cutoff. So when I say 'barely' that's no joke.

Transition opened at 4:45 and being the somewhat paranoid person that I am about being places on time, I arrived at the transition at precisely 4:45. I think I was one of the first 10 to the racks which resulted in a pretty sweet spot for me to set all my stuff up. CAF and Operation Rebound had a few racks reserved right at the front of the transition area which always helps immensely.

My wetsuit was on and I was ready by the 6:40 pro start time. Jill Prichard from CAF had graciously volunteered to help me after the swim and she had crutches in hand and a chair set up for me to sit on once I got out. Our wave was to go off at 6:47 and at 6:45 I was set to get in and head to the in- water start. I put my goggles on before I entered the water and of course, the goggle strap broke. I started to freak out a little and frantically called for Jill. She ran over, attempts to calm me down and ties my strap together saving the day. All was good and I was at the start by the time the horn blows. The swim felt fantastic. I told myself not to go too hard to save myself for the rest of the race and I did just that. I finished the 1.2 mile swim in about 34 minutes when Jill ran down to hand me my crutches when I got out of the water. It is preferable to have the wetsuit off before heading to transition so I sat down in the pre- arranged chair and as Jill helped pull it off she proceeded to pull me and the chair both over and we toppled to the ground. We all got a good laugh about it before I got up and headed to T1.

I tend to take my time in transition. On Sat I wasn't at all in a hurry as I knew I was just doing it to finish and not trying to beat anyone. I think my T1 was somewhere around 6 min. Yes, that is very slow.

I finally get on my bike which is the first time I had actually been on the bike outside since last summer. The day before my front tire randomly popped while my bike was in the back of Jill's car. Other than another slight freak out, that prevented me from getting on the bike the day before the race as I also found out I had the wrong size tube. I used the first few miles to get accustomed to the gears and riding on the road again. By mile 6 I was thinking, these next 50 miles are really going to suck. But as I kept going my legs warmed up and by mile 10 I was chuckling to myself about the post- swim events, talking to people and really just having a great time. The first 28 miles were relatively easy. A few hills here and there, a little wind but I was pumped to get to the halfway in around 2 hours as I initially thought I was going to need all 5 hours to complete the bike. Then at mile 28.5 came the first large hill. I say large but it was huge. Not horribly long but incredibly steep. I tried to get a good head start but got not even 1/6 of the way up when I stopped and had to step off quick to avoid falling. This means I had to walk the rest of the way up the hill as there was no way I'd be able to get back on without falling. It was a little consolation that a large number of other people were walking too. This was no little hill. I got to the top, clicked back in and started off only to get back off the bike a few moments later when I realized my leg was about to come off. So again, I dismounted, re- applied my leg and I was back on. The next 28 miles had a number of other hills and major crosswinds that made me feel unsteady. None of the hills were as steep at the first one, but large gradual hills that weren't that fun. I passed absolutely no one except those that stopped to change their flat tires so I was continually being passed. Not that I minded as I would often get a 'keep it up' or 'good job', which raised my spirits. On one of the hills I was excited as I saw two people walking the hill and I made it all the way up without walking. So I consider that beating them. Well, at least on that hill. At mile 45 things got better again and it was a fast flat finish to T2. At mile 47 I did get stung by a bee on my right thigh. I haven't been stung by a bee in like 20 years so I wasn't sure what to do. I hurt quite a bit but I figured unless my throat started closing up I wasn't allergic. Thankfully it didn't and when I get to T2 I pulled the stinger out and that was that.

I finished the bike in 4:32 I think which I was still pretty happy about. I again took my sweet time at T2 but was feeling pretty good after the bike and was excited to get the run over with.

I headed out of T2 and started running and immediately thought, 'Uh oh'. It wasn't quite as easy as I was hoping it would be. The run was 2 loops, so 3.25 miles out, 3.25 miles back, times 2. Dick was going to meet me at the halfway point for a new running liner and I assumed I would get to him in 1.5 hours making my total run time about 3 hours. That wasn't the case. I started out and ran the first mile. A solid 17:30 pace. (Yes, you can barf now since that is so slow. Especially for the 1st mile) After the 1st mile I started to run from one point to the next, walk a bit, run some more, etc.. But I really wasn't feeling so hot and exhaustion started to set in. By mile 3 I was at a straight walk and ran a minimal part of the 3 miles back to Dick. As I got closer to the turn- around people would yell out a Congrats that I was almost done. Little did they know I was on my first lap and still had SEVEN miles to go. I hit the turn around, saw Dick and got a towel from him to wipe off my leg. It had taken me 1:50 to do 6.5 miles. I turned around slightly demoralized since I could see the finish line but I still had 6.5 miles to go. I really thought at this point I was going to be the last one on the course. But I turned and kept going. Only walking at this point with a somewhat bouncy pattern when I could get the energy up. Everything ached. My back, my legs, Little Leg and as I tend to do, I wasn't eating or drinking enough to keep me going. But I walked and I walked and I walked. And at the turn around, with 3.2 miles to go, I saw a few others still walking behind me surprising me that I wasn't the very last one. Many of them soon passed me as walking with my running leg is not the easiest thing to do and I don't move too fast. I don't have a knee on my running leg so I was circumducting it to the side step after step. With 3 miles to go I briefly stopped which was an immediate mistake when I started to cramp. So I vowed not to stop again ans kept going and I'm sure I looked horrible and worn out and defeated. With 1.5 miles to go I saw Dick ahead of me who was coming to make sure I was OK. At this point there were so few people on the course, he was able to walk with me. We kept walking in silence, step after step. Then a few minutes later I saw Nico, head of Operation Rebound, with the OR flag and his dog Tally who were coming to walk with me also. So the three of us walked on, Dick on one side, Nico and Tally on the other. At some point a group gathered behind us and started clapping, following us for a few minutes. Even in all the pain, it was incredibly motivating and I wish I could thank them. At a mile to go someone called out that I had 20 min to finish before the course was going to close. I had been averaging 21 mph and knew to make it I was going to have to (gasp) jog a little. I started the little bouncy thing, made it to this bridge and I knew the end was close. Dick told me to run across the bridge. And he ran with me. Across the bridge I could see the finish line and I kept going. As I neared the end, the cheers were incredible. Across the finish line I could see the whole CAF and the Operation Rebound team cheering me on. I crossed that line with my arms raised, 3 min before the official cut off.

I couldn't help but get a little emotional seeing all these people that had waited a full 9 and a half hours to see my finish standing at the finish line. I got my finishers medal from Cody and felt such a sense of relief. I had done it. Never did I think I would be cutting it that close to the official cut off time. And as disappointed as I am with my run time, I can now say I finished a half- ironman. It's even official.:) The victory was that much sweeter having all those people there with me and having Dick right there to hug and thank for his support. If he and Nico wouldn't have come to to meet me, I don't know if I would have finished. I do believe I was the last person to make the time cutoff which puts me in dead last and makes me chuckle a little bit.

The only place to go from here is up and to improve. As I ran the race my respect doubled for those that have completed the full Ironman, especially for a specific one- legged woman. It is an accomplishment that only the strongest can brag about and if I'll ever be one of them is left to be decided. As I finished the run I thought there was no way I would ever do a half again. But given some time, and this awesome Hawaiian vacation to recover, I may be convinced to change my mind..
I do plan on doing a few Olympic distance triathlons for the rest of the year. New York, Chicago, and maybe a few others in there.

So for now, I say goodbye. Time for me to shower after my beach side cabana massage and get ready for tonight's Luau. Rough life huh:)

But really, thanks for all the support and believing I can make it to the end. After 70.3 miles and one bee sting, it's official. I am a HALF- Ironman. Thanks CAF and Operation Rebound for getting me to the starting line!

Friday, March 26, 2010

The only way to finish, is to start.

Well, I’m sitting on the plane headed to one of my biggest races yet. The Oceanside 70.3. On Sat I will be a part of a group of 5 disabled athletes, and 1000’s of able-bodied athletes that will attempt this 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run with the goal of making it to the finish line. No time goals are needed here; making it to the finish line will be an accomplishment in itself.

I am representing the Challenged Athletes Foundation and their subset called Operation Rebound. It is a group of athletes that were wounded either in Iraq or Afghanistan or as a police officer of fire fighter. I have done a number of races with them throughout the year, but I am usually part of a relay team, and most often the swimmer. I’ve felt for a while now that I needed to step up and do the entire race, being my own team. Just doing the swim is great, but while I sit around and wait for my teammates to complete the race, I always wish I was doing more. So one day last summer, when I was no doubt in a great mood, wondering what my next big challenge could be, this race came up, and I jumped on it. And here I am, 7 months later, wondering what on earth I was thinking. At the time I wasn’t thinking of the dreaded Chicago winter and that much of my training would be done inside, either on a treadmill or on a stationary bike. Because of that, my training has suffered a bit and I really only have myself to blame. I have this awesome coach, Coach Mike, from Carmichael Training Systems that has been giving me my weekly workout schedules in preparation for the race. I’d be lying if I said I completed them all, and I too often used the excuse of being too tired, or it’s too cold, or really just preferring to sit on the couch with my husband. But whatever the reason, it was pure laziness on my part and I’m sure I will feel it on Sat. I am confident that I have done enough training to finish the race, it just won’t be pretty and I probably won’t look all that happy at mile 10 of the run.

We’ll start with a lovely 1.2 mile ocean swim with the first dip being at 6:45am. From there we start on the 56 mile bike course that I’m told can be a bit hilly. I’m not a huge fan of hills, the only having one leg thing, makes them a little difficult. If I go to slow, I’ll actually start rolling backwards. No joke. But the one thing I have done over the past few months is really step up my bike training. And thanks to my rocking computrainer coach, Stacee, I feel as prepared as I can be at this point. After I get off the bike, I’ll start the 13 mile run course, which is a 2 lap course with periods of sand you have to run through. Again, not too much a fan of the sand especially after the bike. BUT, at the end of it all there will be a glorious finish line where I will run, or crawl, through in my moment of glory of having completed the race. My motto of the race is, The only way to finish it to start, and start I will bright and early on Sat morning. Please pray to the wind gods that they take it easy on us.

There are some cutoffs that have to be made throughout the race that allow you to stay on the course. We have the fortune of being the very first swim wave, which will give us the maximum time available to make those cutoffs. Once I make the bike cutoff I will make it to the finish, even if the finish shoot is torn down by then.

I’m lucky that I’ll have my husband, the awesome CAF peeps and many other athletes and supporters there for the support. I’m a sucker for people cheering for me, and I’m told there’s a crowd at this race with some loud cheers along the way. Plus, my husband is going to meet me halfway on the run with a towel and a fresh liner for my running leg and there’s nothing like a sweaty hug and a kiss to keep me going for 7 more miles. Oh and did I mention that Dick and I will be flying to Hawaii the following day for a week of R&R. So as I become near the point of exhaustion it will be thoughts of hula skirts, and mai tai’s on the beach that will get me through those last miles.

But really, as much as I talk about how long it is and how much it’s going to hurt, the bottom line is, I’m thrilled. Thrilled, really, to have the opportunity to compete in such a race. To have the people behind me who believe I can do it, and to prove to myself that I really can.

So. Wish me luck. I’ll send a race update as soon as I’m able to move my fingers long enough to type it out.

Peace Out.