Well, I did it. I'm now an Ironman.
(Not a registered trademark Ironman, but anyone who says my 2.4 mile swim 112 mile bike and marathon don't count because my medal lacks an M-Dot deserve a swift kick to the groin.)
The first thing I have to say about the experience is, the people who say, "oh I could do the bike and the running, but the swim is what would kill me" are fucking idiots. That marathon was the most excruciating thing I think I've ever done to myself. (Except, perhaps, the previous marathon.) Also, when I started triathlon training three years ago, I hadn't swum laps since age 8 during swim team (where I always got last). My swim split was the most successful of the three despite the fact that I didn't do any drills and just plopped myself in the pool for 85 laps maybe twice a week. Go figure. End point: even if you're a shit swimmer, at worst, it will take you maybe two hours. A marathon after 112 miles of biking and the aforementioned swim, however, is nothing to cough at.
So. Let's talk results.
location:West Hollywood, CA
division place:16 out of 38
gender place:88 out of 208
There were 269 women signed up, according to the participant list (a few probably didn't show, too, but I guess it was something like that. To give you an idea of what a total sausagefest tris are, there were 585 male finishers.) Of these women, 208 finished*. (And it IS enough just to finish.) Of these finishers, though, I was 88th. In my age group, 38 gals competed, and I ranked 16th. Not shabby for a budgety coachless kid like myself. (*it says 208 here, but on the main site said 214, so take your pick, I dunno why the discrepancy's there.)
It was really hard to know what to expect of the race on the whole, given that it was my first time, and since I'd been swimming my 2.4 miles of monotonous pool laps in around 80 minutes, that wound up being the split I predicted on the nose. The others I was off by a half hour... which bummed me out, because, given that I'd decided to hope for sub 13, once I realized that was an unreasonable expectation, I got pretty disheartened, and that's not a good way to feel when you're running your marathon. I had sworn I'd save up on the first bike loop so I'd have energy to spare, and a book I read said to keep my heart rate at Zone 1 for the first THIRTY miles. Of course I was just dying to up my pace when all these people were zipping by me, but thought, "Oh, I will make up for it on the second loop." I did start going nice and fast post mile 56, but by then it had already been four hours, and I thought "well this isn't going to happen in 6:30." Of course, the terrible headwinds didn't help at all either. I kind of wonder if I should have allowed myself to go juuuust a little faster on the first loop of the bike. It was probably best to err on the side of caution, though, even if, while running, I was thinking, "there is nothing about me right now that feels fast... I shoulda just biked harder." My run would also have been better were it not for the extended pottytimes, but those are just the things you must accept. I did eventually readjust to thinking sub 14 would be just fine, since that had been my original guess, and simply aimed to beat the sunset, which I did. It did sort of feel like getting a B+, but that's because I'm a total overachieving d-bag to myself. I did better than a majority of people, yet it's always the fast girls who are better than me that I fixate on... pretty sure those girls aren't brokeass overcommitted actress-writer-comediennes, either. But such is my way. I guess it's good to never feel totally satisfied with yourself. That way you keep getting better, and achieve some humility. ("Have you tried the humble pie? It's delicious.") That said, I do still recognize that there are a million things out of my control that could have kept me from finishing, so I'm very, very grateful. There was a room full of people on stretchers that were not so fortunate... or even just those walking from cramps. While I wish I could have been faster, I did the best I could with my current training, and there's a lot that could have interfered with my best. So... hooray!
Now's the time where, for the very interested, I will take you through the play-by-play of the day. Note: it is often fairly gross, but I hope you'd expect that by now. No copious rectal bleeding, though! And how glad we all are for that. But don't say I didn't warn you. I'm not gonna censor this.
Since Mom and I were staying in Healdsburg, we had to wake up at 4:30AM to get over there by 6ish. We had a little scare when we discovered the dome light of the car was on (wouldn't that just be rich to miss my race because of a dead car battery???) but clearly some battery angel was working magic, because the car started without a problem. That's very, VERY lucky, since it was on since the evening before when I put my bike in. (Didn't notice the door was slightly ajar. Woof, that would have been tragic.) We drove the forty minutes through dusty wine country to find the swim start teeming with folks. Mom went to look for parking while I racked my bike and got ready... only then realizing how late it really was. I still hadn't had my prerace BM (it's a pretty essential part... so essential, that my friend Larry who was going to do the race with me requested that, instead of a marathon mile, this special moment be dedicated to him) and was kind of freaking out, since the line to the port-a-potties was, as it always is, huge. I waited for a second, but then realized this wouldn't work out if I timed it wrong and was still without my wetsuit and such. So I got my suit on, and I had a couple things for Mom to take, but then couldn't find her, so I ran back to leave it in transition, and then it was like five minutes before my start, and the line had vanished and the few people let me go ahead, so I got that taken care of right quick, and when I ran down to the swim start, where all the pink capped girls of my group were already swarmed, I finally found Mom, who'd been equally panicked, as she'd had to park far away and then didn't know where to find me. We hugged and I waded off just in time. Yeesh, so much for a calm collected race start. But you do what you can. I later found out that Mom snuck off somewhere and burst into tears from the stress. Poor Mom. Doing an Ironman is hard and all, but for her to be my only support, and this her first triathlon, it's a lot of pressure. Way easier if you have a couple of sherpas than just one. But she did a great job, and happily Mark (friend who introduced me to Dan and Julia, our hosts, to review) wound up coming out and totally saved the day, driving around with Mom and helping her find me on the course. Yay, Mark!
As evidenced by my time, the swim went very smoothly. The water was a mild temperature, though not warm enough to make wetsuits illegal (a yearly concern), and the usual shallow spots with people walking were there around the turn-around. I didn't walk, but scraped along the bottom with my hands like scoops. I figured, if I'm gonna scrape, might as well own it. The men on the swim were friggin a-holes, as they often are... very crawly-pushy-shovy. Bossy swimming. Lots of leg grabbing, or just swimming right into you for no good reason. I overheard a woman later commenting how nice women are on the course and what jerks the men were on the swim. I made up for this by crawl-smacking whomever messed with me. Or by passing them... I did pass a lot of these jerky dudes. In your face!
I had some watch-related irritation throughout the race: I was wearing three different watches, since my Garmin isn't waterproof and only works for 10 hours, which of course is too short for the race (boo.) So I had my Polar heart-rate monitor (good ole Polar) and my Timex waterproof watch, so I could get the full time of the race. Of freaking course, when I put on my Garmin, it somehow pressed the timer button on the Timex, so I lost my time. BOO. I kept it on and just mathed out from 6:42 what my total time was. Made me grumpy. My Garmin also ticked me off by randomly stopping on the bike once I did turn it on, and then didn't start on the run even though I turned it on, so my distance was off by exactly a mile. I know that sounds like whining, but honestly, when you're used to using something, and you're doing a race of this magnitude, those small things effect you. At least it was a pretty precise mile, because if I had to do anything more than add a mile to figure out my marathon status, I would have burst into tears. (They don't really have very good course marking for that... just these every so often multipurpose markers that say 5-13.5-23.5, for example. I don't want to know 13.5, you bastards, I want to know 13! And 14! and all of them!!! See? The little things get you.)
Anyway, the first loop of the bike was spent curbing bike arousal and feeling lame when I got passed a bunch, and the weather was cool and damp, with cloudy skies... perfect IM weather. I got a lot of comments on my epic amount of Gu (I taped them to my bike, where they dangled like Christmas ornaments from the handlebars.) I told one lady that I referred to my bike as Gu-ernesville. Ha, nerd. (Guernesville's where the swim started, in case you were unawares.) I'd taped a recorder to my bike, because I thought it would be an interesting experiment to record some of the race, so every so often I'd turn it on and say stuff. I don't know how successful that was, since it would of course be windy, and a few times I probably didn't turn it on right, but I'm betting there's some fun things to listen to. Most of it, though, is me talking about peeing on my bike. Yes, bike peeing is evidently a time-honored Ironman tradition, and when I went to my first Ironman Q&A, the woman running it even gave advice on how to properly do it. I'm guessing it's more popular with women than men, since dudes can quickly pee on the side of the road, but it makes sense to avoid stopping. Of course, it's totally gross... and you wind up with a shoe full of pee. It's also really awkward... every time I was trying to relax enough to go through with it someone would pass me. You don't want someone to see you pee yourself, regardless of the circumstances. Plus, I knew that lady was down, but was pretty sure most folks would be judgmental. I'm not the fastest biker, so it probably seems silly to go as far to pee on the bike to save time. I just figured, hey, once it's done, you can keep doing it, thereby cutting down on multiple pee stops and avoiding longtime discomfort. Besides, there was never a port-a-potty without a line. You think I'm waiting for a toilet when I've got 112 miles to bike, you are wrong. So yes, I did that off to the right a few times... once there was a turn coming up after where a photographer was. I'm doing the "hah, you're taking a picture of me and I just peed myself like a minute ago" smile-- which I did not know was a smile until yesterday. This is why it's called the Ironman, not the Ironlady. There's nothing ladylike about it. Oh, but men, men are gross. Good thing pee is sterile, because I later had to use my right foot to perform impromptu surgery.
At mile 56, I picked up my special needs foods (pretzels and a giant melted-then-refrozen PB Twix) and went to town, fueling my speed up. The sky cleared up and it was completely gorgeous, biking through those bright green vineyards with the blue sky overhead. I felt pretty strong, and was happy to get a move-on at long last. I also felt really lucky that I didn't have any bike trouble... there were scores of people on the side of the road fixing flats. One woman had commented, "I'm glad I don't have a fancy bike, it looks like they're the ones that keep breaking!" It was kind of true. I did nearly lose my chain at around mile 88 or so (I was a little concerned; it keeps coming off when I put it in the car and came off during a Griffith ride) but then I downshifted and it caught again (phew!) Also, the whole time, there was some weird sound from one of my tires... like there was something causing friction against it, as though I were braking, or there were a piece of paper on it or something. I checked at 56 and didn't find anything wrong, though. Later in the evening, Mark mentioned the front tire didn't come off properly, so it may have been that. Who knows. I figure we can give that a little responsibility for my slow ride. Heh.
The bike ride started getting pretty raw at around 90 miles. The clouds disappeared entirely, so the sun was beating down on us, and it was around 2 PM, when it's hottest. Then, as a special bonus, some insane headwinds kicked up, making my brilliant plan to make up time all the harder. I was dogging it at like 13 mph a few times. Lameo. Of course, there was Chalk Hill, which, the first time around, was okay, but the second time came at mile 100. What the fuck yo! That's some sadistic shit. I turned on my recorder for that one. The motivational posters on the side of the road were pretty necessary at that point... I especially like the one that said "bragging rights for life". Hell yeah. One lady ringing a cowbell asked how I felt, and I said, "you know what I feel like? Running a marathon. I think it'd really help me flush out my legs." Joking helps... but man, was I looking forward to getting the hell off the bike-- my neck was just killing me from holding up my head the whole time. I've never actually done a bike ride that long. And it was LONG.
I got aero and picked up some speed for the last few miles, zipping into T2, where I saw Mom and Mark cheering. That transition took a lot of time too, because I'd decided to change into my compression shorts, and if there's one thing that takes a while, it's pulling on tightass compression shorts onto your pee-wet leg of your wobbly sore body. Plus, I wanted to hand off my shorts to Mom instead of running back to my transition spot and then back out... of course then they fell out of the plastic bag I'd put them in and I had to double back. Annoysville! I tossed them at her and said, "don't touch those, there's pee on them!" and ran away. The glamor of being an ironmother.
I felt, as I was told I would feel, remarkably well on the run start. I kept having to slow myself down from a nine-minute mile, and while my neck hurt, I felt pretty fresh. This of course got pretty old, pretty soon. I started to slow when I got a bit of gastric activity, and stopped for the toilet, which in turn took for EVER... I don't know what was passing through me, but it felt like that, similar to this race, was iron. Needless to say, there was some strain involved, which did not do me well. There are a few things that can happen physically that will make running a marathon exceptionally more difficult, such as cramps and chaffing. Add to that list an inside-out asshole. Extremely uncomfortable. So yeah, I ran with a pretty serious rhoid for at least 6 miles until I literally had to push it back in. BWAH. (I warned you about the TMI, didn't I? If you didn't want to hear terrible butt stories, why on earth would you be reading this blog?) So yeah, the butt issue definitely put a damper on the run, and though I was able to eventually remedy that, there was no getting around the stress the run put on my body. There'd been a stand at the expo with the folks who designed my compression shorts, and since I'd been hesitant to wear them on the bike for fear of chafing, I asked if the guy thought it was worth losing the time in transition to change into them. He said he thought for sure, since they reduce the vibrations of the muscles and this would be an especially stressful run, given that it was hilly and on pavement. This was all I could think about with every footfall that jarred my entire aching body. I can't say for sure that the compression sleeves and shorts help, but I can't imagine how awful it would have been without them. So, I think I made a good call with that one.
Once I'd figured out on the bike that doing the race in under 13 hours seemed impossible, I'd gotten a little sad, and then once I'd wasted all that time with my poop issue, it seemed like even less likely, so I became somewhat resigned to my fate of a mediocre finish. I was, of course, supposed to go easier on the first loops and then really work the last one, but my muscles hurt so much, and my feet were killing me, even though my heart rate was relatively low. Every time I walked through an aid station, it would take so much effort to get started again, and there were about three pain in the ass hills (since it was out and back, I guess that'd be like five, since the last one didn't go back down?) that kept draining my resolve. So I did walk quite a bit, and found my running pace getting slower and slower... the idea of a negative split felt very far away. I stuck to my promise and tried to keep positive, thinking of those I dedicated the miles to, and it did actually help... I just wish I'd had a little bit more of a plan. For example, if I was not going to walk the hills, or what pace to aim for and when. But I did have the plan for the last six, which was not to walk at all, and thereby finish the way I'd hoped to, which is for real. Negative thoughts be gone: this was my ironman, and it's just one day, and you can't go back and do it better once you're done. So even if I didn't make my goal, I was going to finish well.
I started to kick it up a notch, totally ignoring the incredible burning chafing under my arms (damn LA Tri Club singlet!!) and ran through the aid stations, just getting water, having eaten my last Gu. (There is very little that compares to the sickening feeling of force-feeding yourself sugary energy gel for the 13th hour of a race because you know you must to avoid bonking. Happily, if my appetite did not agree, my body certainly did, and my digestive tract never gave up on me, and processed the sugar right well.) I thought of the people on my list, Jack and the doggy, my sister and her cross-country runs, and finally, with 2.2 miles left, I got to my Dad's mile. The visualization of my sister had helped-- to keep pace, I was chanting things in my head with my pace about not stopping and keeping running for her, and it bizarrely all started to rhyme without me thinking about it, go fig. I thought of my Dad and was chanting stuff for him (I run this mile for my father/so that I can bring him honor) and then I thought of the verse he'd written in the letter he wrote me for graduation, which epitomized the way he lived and therefore was what we put on his grave-- Ecclesiastes 9:10: whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might. This has also been my personal motto, but for some reason I didn't think of using it as a mantra until this moment. So I just started chanting, over and over, "whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might," and all that feeling of lethargy and pain just left me, and my pace went up, and up, and the last 2.2 miles, I was running faster than I had the entire time. I came to my mother's mile, and started running for her, but kept repeating the verse, and just pushed and pushed as hard as I could, and when I rounded the corner as the sun was setting and dusk started to settle in, I sped up more, and started repeating "do it with all your might, do it with all your might" and then "with all your might, with all your might" over and over. And then I saw Dan and Mark, and I was at the chute, and I ran as fast as I could, which was well faster than I ever could have imagined, and I ran through the Vineman banner, and they gave me my medal and took off my chip, and I came over to Mom and we both cried and cried. Which was perfect.
I later saw on my Garmin that my final sprint reached a 5:42 minute mile... of course, not for long, but still. That's kind of rad. I did it... with all my might. Just the way I wanted to.
Afterwards, Mom, Mark, Dan and I took pictures, I got a little food and did a 15-minute massage, and then we got all my stuff out of transition and headed home for my horrific ice bath and a champagne toast. I somehow managed to stay up past midnight (I know, what the hell?) and then woke up this morning at 5, and got up by 7 to write this (double what the hell!) Probably because I kept thinking up things I wanted to write here. I'm feeling sore, of course, but pretty great. To be fair, I also popped a painkiller when I first woke at 5ish, hoping it would sedate me back to sleep, so I'm not so sure how I really feel, but after that kind of work, I deserve a little soreness, and a little rest.
As I was sitting with Mom on the bench as she helped me take off my sneakers after the race, I realized: I really did that. I did it? I just did an Ironman? And I frankly still can't fully grasp it. Back in the apartment, as I sat on the floor half comatose, I realized: I just did two half Ironman races, back to back. I did a full Ironman. Half of that is a big race. I did a race for over 13 hours without stopping. What?! So yes, as much as it's insane to you, it's just as crazy to me. I guess really I didn't do an Ironman, I did it one mile at a time. During the bike and the run, that's all I kept thinking: just keep going, and eventually, you'll be done. And that was true. It was the same with the training: just get up and do it, one day at a time, and eventually, you'll be there.
Today we're going to go to visit Julia at Moshin and do a real bonafide wine tasting, when I won't have to worry about my hydration. And I can think about what my next race will be. But the Ironman is now a fait accomplit.