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!


Maggie Haynes said...

Congrats Melissa! I enjoyed reading your description. Made me feel like I was right there with you. Hope you are getting some true relaxation now!

Anonymous said...

Keri passed your blog on to me. We met at the Ironman viewing party back in December in Chicago. I just wanted to say congrats on the race. You are a very inspirational person. Oceanside is tough for a first 70.3. Congrats again on a great race.


Kim said...

Hi Melissa. I am a Canadian Forces Officer and I lost my leg 4 yrs ago. I do triathlon as well. Congrats on the 70.3. Its a comfort to me to know that I'm not the only female officer competing in triathlon. It gets a little lonely sometimes as I am one of one here in Canada. We do not have any where near the supports you have in the USA. So, I do everything on my own and at my own expense. Mind you, I am still in the CF and I have a day job on top of all my training. Oh well, c'est la vie. Onward and upward, I always say. All the best Melissa. You have done more than just recover from trauma, you have a new mission; to be the best of the best. Cheers.

Anonymous said...

Way to go Melissa! You rock! Wishing you all the best.