Friday, October 14, 2016

Ironman World Championships-2016

The Road that never ends leads to a day that's gone in a Flash. 

Training for an Ironman is all encompassing. It isn’t done on the periphery of your life. It is your life. No matter how hard you may try to put it aside for a day or two, it is always with you.  It’s a way of life.  It’s a lifestyle I love but one that I couldn't wait to be over. It’s something that I thrive on, it energizes me, and yet, I longed for October 9th this year with grand illusion. Because  now that October 14th is here, I continue to feel mournful. It is done. It is wonderful and terribly sad to me all in the same breath.  Time will cause this to pass. So I will wait for that.  In the meantime, I continue to process the past 7 years since my first trip to race on the Big Island of Hawaii in 2009.  

The Ironman Wall-- all athletes racing are listed here on a giant wall outside the host hotel next to the pier where the swim starts. 

 Here is my story from the 2016 Ironman World Championships. 

Before I raced Ironman Mont Tremblant in August, we had decided that if I qualified for Kona, it would be a different trip than in 2011 and 2014 when we took our family of five for full vacation. Our boys are now in High School and Middle School and knee deep in academic work + sports teams so despite their disappointment, it wouldn't be fair to take them away from their busy lives.  We were lucky and the kids were lucky that both my parents and Mark's parents were willing and able to come stay with them to help us while we traveled. In addition, my life long friend Mary (since 4-5th grade?) , who is also co-owner of TriMoxie Multisport Coaching and fellow Ironman athlete, was able to fly out with me for several days before Mark joined me!

Mary and I enjoyed our time together on race week. She had just raced and crushed Ironman Maryland on Saturday and grabbed HER Kona spot for 2017,so being on the island got her excited for next year.  As someone who understands this race & also knows me inside and out, she was a calm friend who helped me along all week.  It was really special to have that time with her.  

We swam with the fish off the pier each morning. We had swim instruction and motivational talk by the extraordinary Karlyn Pipes. We ate at Lava Java!  Oh that first giant mug of coffee on Tuesday morning was the best. Look at this food! ( Ok-- this was post race. Note the giant cinnamon roll that mark and I split. ) 

We sat on our lanai and relaxed with this view. Seriously, Hawaii is stunning.  But.... more to say on that soon when I get to the race portion of this. 

 Thursday of race week is the famous annual UPR---Underpants Run.  It's a tradition that started a long time ago mocking the silly way many triathletes don next to nothing and strut about town like it's normal. ( Yes, many still do this! And yes, I laugh at them. ) 

 Here's a view of the 'race' this year. ( 1/2 mile easyyyyyyyyy jog around Ali'i drive. Not really a race. ) Mary and I didn't participate but I DID create little TriMoxie bikinis to wear as if we were participating. ( Instead, we jumped in the water and enjoyed a quiet swim over the corral watching the pretty fish, I mean-- getting race ready :), while the 1000s of others did the UPR.) 

 The back of the suits have our name and TriMoxie written on it.  Not sure these will be worn much in Maine, but whatever. They were fun that day. 

Friday morning, like a light switch, my mood changed. This is normal.  I have to shift into 100%race focus.  The reality of what's to come in 24 hours is a bit daunting.  The race in Kona is different than other Ironman race.  You are racing with the best of the best. All of them.  While there are a few spots handed out via lottery and ebay (what?? I learned this the other day.  5 ebay spots. Ugh.) and via a few other situations I'm not entirely familiar with, the Large majority of the racers there are people who either placed 1st or 2nd and in some age groups with a higher percentage of racers that day, 3rd/ 4th in their age groups at other Ironman races around the world.  The world.  The men and women that show up to toe the line in Kona mean business. I have raced a lot and feel quite secure about my abilities but I'd be lying if I didn't say that it is somewhat intimidating.  I knew I had my work cut out for me.  

I took the obligatory pose-with-bike photo as I walked to rack the bike in Transition Friday afternoon.  This is a big deal in Kona.  You wait in a long line, then you walk down a carpeted stretch lined with photographers and bike/ magazine reps who tally each number of Bikes / helmets/ components and then you'll find this data in Triathlon magazines etc soon.  Then you get your special M-dot sticker to place on the frame. And then you are escorted to the spot you rack your bike and hang the bags.  It's fun and gets your energy up for the race the next morning.  

Race day: 

I was up at 3:30 (without the alarm needing to go off!! ) eating my pre-race meal (not that yummy... strictly for the importance of the calories and nutrients ) & then the 3 of us were out the door by 4:15. After our short drive to town and a quick good-bye hug to Mark and Mary, I was walking to the back of the King K hotel to wait in line for the body marking process.  It was still dark, some are wearing headlights, and for a giant crowd of athletes in one small space, it was  very quiet.  We filed into the secure No-bag area and start the process. 
First, they wiped our shoulders ( rubbing alcohol? ) so the numbers would stick better. Into the next section and we're corralled to the area with our number. Back in 2014, my race number didn't stick to my arm. I had to go to "corrections" to get it redone.   It felt like a bad omen. And on the island of Hawaii, these feelings are real.  You don't mess around with the karma of  Madame Pele. This time however, my number  went on smoothly. (In fact, I still can't get it all off! ) 
I was feeling calm and at ease and I had a big smile on my face. I thanked volunteers, smiled for the giant cameras and just moved through the stages of check in.  Next was the weigh in (in case we end up in Medical at some point.  If our weight is higher than we started it's a sign of hyponatremia, for an example of why they do this ) & after that,  we're on our own. I walked off with my bags, took a deep breath and let out a big  'Time to relax now Ange' sigh to myself,but out loud.  
A woman walking next to me, turned and said, "It'll be ok. The sun will come up and the sun will go down. We just do the best we can do today." 
I smiled and turned my head toward to her. 

It was Natasha Badman. Six time Ironman World Champion. 


Another, even better, good omen for the day!!! 

I chatted with her for a few  moments and told her I loved that she was there again and wished her a great day. She is 49. Total badass. 

Kona swim pier as the sun rises. 

The next hour was spent pumping my tires, standing in line for bathrooms, laying on the hotel floor visualizing the day,  chatting with women I have met over the years from racing around the country, and getting ready for what I had prepared to do for so long. 
It was time to race. 

The feeling during that final hour is exciting and scary and overwhelming and energizing all at once. When we get close to the start time, I stop thinking about the magnitude of it. I focus on the small current moments.  I draw inward. I am not worried about the 140.6 miles. I know that distance very well. I know I can tackle it. Instead, at 6:45 a.m. I am thinking about where to position myself in the water. I think about certain specifics of my swim stroke to remember to focus on. I look for athletes I know, and want to beat.  It's all business now. I dont' think of it as the World Championships....but rather  just my race day. I was prepared as well as anyone and I earned my way to that starting line so I entered the water with full confidence to do my best. No self-doubts allowed.  My game face was on. 

The pro men started at 6:25. The Pro women at 6:30. The Age group men at 6:55. A huge portion of the field started way ahead of us.  This turned out to be more than good space on the swim. It had a true impact for me later.  

First, the swim. 2.4 miles. 

An aerial view of the swim start. The land on the top of the screen is the transition area where our bikes are racked.
Assoon as the age group men started, we were allowed down the stairs to swim out to the start line. It's ~300 yards out and there we wait for 15 minutes. As more and more women enter the water and swim to the line, it gets increasingly crowded and stressful.  We aren't wearing wetsuits, so we need to tread to stay afloat.  But with very limited space ( we are all touching ) it's hard to use your arms and legs to do this. It's not a good time.  It's Better now without the men there too. It used to be very very scary. Now, it's 'ok' but still very uncomfortable and stressful. After tolerating a crowded spot for 10 min, I could see there was open space to my right so I moved. For some reason, there was a clear spot on the front line and I took it.  Perfect. 

Pre-dawn shot of the surfers ready to hit the water to guide and protect us.
 The moment had come. The surf boards cruising back and forth in front of the us to keep our line from sliding too far forward, swiftly turned and faced the sea. They perch on the end of their boards with the board facing out -- that's the sign to us  that it was time. Countdown from 30 sec and suddenly the gun blasted. 

Go time. I took off and swam very hard. Typically, I am able to pull away and maybe 1 or 2 other women come with me. This time, I was not alone. I had company. And when I looked back on a breath, I saw a pack. Many fast women were all pushing forward together and even though I knew it would be that way, it was an immediate reminder of just how tough the competition would be.  

pre-race scene--boats/ boarders starting to take their positions

The water stirring with boats and boards before the race began. 

I found a spot and just swam hard. I had decent space and was right on the buoy line. I've had a few overwhelming experience at this swim start with true fear, but there was none of that. I focused on my stroke, tried not to gulp too much sea water and did my job.  
Finally, I made the turn at the half way point-- the Body Glove boat we swim around before turning back for the second half.  We are 1.2 miles out in Kailua bay at this point. It's pretty crazy. The water is glowing blue, a few fish scatter around and if you're lucky you may see dolphins. I checked my watch and was at :30 min. On target.  
The water wasn't too rough this year. But there were occasional large swells that throw off the rhythm and certainly slow the pace as well. I felt strong.  However, I had two issues as I swam the final mile. My goggles were tight, of course, and the left eye piece was Absolutely killing me. I felt like it was digging into my brain. It hurt. This happens to me on the IM swims.  I was totally distracted by it-- swimming with my eye closed and squeezing it to try to alleviate the pain. Finally, without really planning it, I stopped and lifted it up for a quick break. Ugh.  I hate to stop and lose my spot with the women I was pacing with but it happened.  And, of course that loses precious time.  And it didn't help. It was bugging me. I swam hard and caught the girls I'd been pacing with. Secondly, there was a women who was drafting off me, which is totally legal and normal and OK. But, she grabbed my feet EVERY SINGLE STROKE and I was completely agitated by it. I would occasionally kick SUPER hard and try to shake her or I'd swim a little Left  to lose her and I even stopped a couple times to try to get ride of her. To no avail. She drove me nuts. Big time. 
The swim went on forevvvvvvvvvvvver. I grew quite nauseous and thought I might get sick. Maybe I ingested too much sea water? I was desperate to see the pier.  I grew a little cranky and lost some umph. And yet, this is Ironman. Each leg is very very veryyyyy long. I was just starting the day so I just put my head down and kept the faith. The faster I go, the sooner I get there.  

Finally, I could hear the drums. I could hear the announcer. I saw the pier up close, the water grew more shallow and the swimmers around me were all funneling into a small space. Eyes fixed on the stairs out of the water. I swam hard, hoping for a good time.  

1:01.  5th in age group after the swim.  

Not bad.  I hoped for a 60 min swim but this was right in the range.  A few min slower than Ironman Mont Tremblant  which is a lake swim with a wetsuit (faster ) was reasonable and solid.  Especially with the swells and my 2 quick stops. 

I ran up the stairs, slipped & fell a bit ( typical ), turned back and looked at the woman who had been grabbing me for 2.4 miles ( couldn't help it ) and moved on. Through the hoses with a quick rinse on my face and into the tent.  Quickly---- dry face, sunscreen, helmet, glasses, socks, grab gels/ bloks and stuff in shirt,shoes......Go.  

I ran with a very tall and 'big' strong woman into the same bike row as me. Yikes...she was in my age group. Alright.... just do it, Ange. Just race. 

As I said earlier, Hawaii is simply beautiful.  But let me tell you, the bike course in the Hawaii Ironman, is Not beautiful. Sure, there are a few spots when you can look out to the sparkling bright blue water with clean white waves crashing. That is beautiful. However, that only happens a couple times and then it's gone.  
For the most part, it looks like this: 

It's a desert of lava rock. The course is a true beast.  If you see a snapshot of it on TV or in pictures, it's hard to capture the true nature of the roads. Heat, wind and hills are the story of the 112 miles on the Queen K highway in Kona.  

I can hold my own on the bike but it is by no means, my strength in Triathlon. I'm not sure how some women get to be SO FAST on those two wheeled rigs but I much prefer to power myself down the road on my own two feet.  That being said, I trained hard and I trained thoroughly.  I also had a number of last minute challenges to deal with to make sure the bike itself was in good condition and ready to ride fast.  ( See my last blog post ...  ) A mechanical issue is the last thing I want to deal with during an Ironman.  

I climbed the hill out of transition and immediately heard 'a noise.'  What??? Immediate anger filled my head.  I tried to ignore it and settle in. The first 10 miles are chaotic.  We wind our way back and forth through the town. People are jockeying for position ( silly )  and riding without concern for how close they are to others or whether they pass on the R or the L. Spectators are everywhere, which is Awesome, but some cross the street without looking while we are riding at them at 20-25mph. Scary. I thought of Amber and took care.  I rode easy to get my HR settled and found the source of the noise.  It was a small cable getting hit by the crank on EVERY pedal stroke. Harmless yet annoying to prepare to listen to for 112 miles.  

I climbed the last section with support before heading out onto the Queen K for hours and hours, and was happy to spot Mark and Mary!!! I blew them a kiss and took the Left onto the 'real' part of the ride. Deep Breath. Time to get tough.  

I had a plan and I was determined to stay true to it. I wanted to ride strong, but smart. I know this course. It's tough and can eat you alive and spit you out in T2 UNable to run a strong marathon.  My plan was to ride smart  so that I could run.  

Two years ago, the winds of Kona were on full force.  They were intense and unpredictable. They chucked athletes off their bikes and onto the pavement. I was angry and bitter and possibly swore a bit at Madame Pele during that ride. 

Bad idea. 
Very bad. 

You can choose to believe or not to believe in the force of the Hawaiian Islands.  As I began my fourth round on that race course last week,  on Madame Pele's turf, I was a believer.  

Madame Pele is the Goddess of Fire, lightning, dance, Winds and Volcanoes.  According to Hawaiin mythology, she is the creator of the land. She is to be respected.  Trust me. 

I was conducting myself with respect for her and as I rode towards Mauna Kea (a dormant volcano and sacred mountain peak on Hawaii. From base to summit it's 33,000 ft--surpassing Mt Everest in size.)  I kept a smile and thankful thoughts for the creation of these beautiful islands and to be awarded a spot in this legendary race.   Respect. Do not show anything but respect because her power is not a myth. You can chuckle, but when you're race in Kona more than once, you will not chuckle about this ever again. 

As they did in 2014, the headwinds picked up around mile 20-25.  My power wasn't where it should have been and my speed took a downturn as the winds grew.  It's ok. It's ok. I just kept the faith and tried to be smart. 

I'm not entirely sure what happened on my ride. Slowly but surely I am beginning to think about it.  It was not my best day. I have felt some consolation in the fact that many other athletes also appeared to have slower than typical ride times. Most did in fact, and that helps. But that day, I didn't know this. I just had my own computer to stare at. And more than once, I almost turned it off. 

The average temp was 94 according to my computer. The max was 102.  I did a heat acclimatization protocol in the sauna for a few weeks before leaving Maine and I tell you, it worked. The heat was real and I was constantly cooling, but it truly did not bother me. I felt comfortable and 'fine' despite the high temps. 

My legs however, they just didn't have it on that bike.  Was I trying hard enough? Was I just being lazy? I kept doubting my effort.  My head was all over the place.  Or maybe, maybe I wasn't really fully recovered from the Ironman 6 weeks prior. I  had an amazing race back on 8/21 and maybe a repeat for this 46 year old girl, less than 2 months later, was a bit much to ask?  I felt like everyone was passing me. It was discouraging. Everyone else seemed strong and fast and their cadence looked much higher than mine as they rode by. WHY wasn't I moving???  I was not usually that far behind. And I realized later that the spread out start times between the pros, men and then us women so much later, caused the course to seem emtpy to me and then caused my head to think I truly was just far behind most. 

The winds were strong. The hills never ended.  I tried to keep my attitude in check. I tried.  I smiled when I could. I took in the beauty when I found it. I was trying. Keep the faith. Keep the faith.  Just keep going.  

An occasional "cheat pack" rode by.  You know, multiple riders together drafting illegally. Drives me insane.  I was please to ride by penalty tents and see at least a few of the offenders standing in there serving time.  But also, resting before passing me once again. 

I turned in Hawi for the ~60 mile mark and while I smiled, I also felt sad. My pace was way wayyy off.  My power was off. I grabbed my fresh bottles from special needs ( had been frozen so they were still a bit cool when I grabbed them ) and kept the faith that the way back, would be better. 

We had just climbed 18 miles to Hawi and in theory, the decent should be fast. But, the winds are fierce. Crosswinds mixed with headwinds mixed with calm.  On my climb UP to Hawi 30 min ealier, I watched a big strong Guy get WHIPPED off his bike and hit the pavement when a sudden wind gust caught him. Boom. Just like that he was down. Shit. 

At the end of the day, I'm first and foremost still a Mom of three. I have also felt what it's like to HIT the pavement. So, I rode with caution down that grade. Did I lose some speed? Maybe. But I remained intact. Mom first. 

Mile after mile. I drank, I ate, my stomach was fine, my body temp was fine despite the hot air and yet my head was suffering. I am tough and I can fight the mental demons as well as anyone. But on the last 30-40 miles of that race, I was struggling.  I didn't travel half way around the world and leave my boys behind to race poorly. Was I trying?  I felt pretty deflated and sad as I watched the time tick on and the miles Crawl along. The wind was just relentless. Headwinds and hills. Headwinds and hills. Constantly. The wind howled in my ears. You can't hear anything but winds. 

The never ending Queen K highway............ 

I can't sugar coat it. It wasn't a good point of my day. I was low and fighting.  This is Ironman. The ups and downs are massive.  While the day may end well, it's rarely without big struggles before you get there. With 140.6 miles of racing-- there are always stories along the way of what it took to get there. 

I never swore at Madame Pele but I did curse myself a bit. I didn't cry. But I thought about it.  My time was way off. When I pushed to the power I was capable for holding, my body fought back. My heart rate was up but my power was low. And, dare I say it? At times, I stopped caring.  It was too much. The airport never came. The Energy lab... town... all way way too far away.  I felt sad. This wasn't what I dreamt of or trained for. 

Eventually, of course, I made the turn on the road that leads to T2. I wasn't on my aero bars. I was just riding.  I saw people and thought, "Get down... act like you care." 

Woah- BAD Attitude going on Ange! SNAP THE HELL OUT OF IT! 

Good races aren't all flowers and rainbows and tropical fish. 

It takes some serious head talk to make it through some days. 

So I made it in, handed my bike to the nice volunteer and said Thank you VERY sincerely. Then I tried to stand up and "run" into the tent to prep for a marathon. 

Time to turn the day back around. 


Now it gets fun. 

After the long run around transition and into the tent, I got to work. I was chafed EVERYWHERE imaginable. ouch. A woman threw a cold wet towel on my back. Amazing. As quickly as I could, I changed socks and shoes, threw on my hat and glasses, and who knows what else... time to run. I had to wait briefly for the sunscreen from the volunteer and then I ran out ready to change the day. 

Down Ali'i and I felt really good!!!  The crowds uplifted me and I immediately started passing women.  

After a couple good miles, I started to hurt. And feel sad again. And worried. Emotions were overwhelming. There was no time for that, but I was struggling. I saw Mark!!! And Mary!!! Such a relief to see them.  Miles 4 -5-6--- I was ok but not great. I talked to Mark on my 2nd pass by them and told him how upset and disgusted I was about my ride. He gave me a 10 sec pep talk and I was back on my own. 

I stopped in the road and bent over. My foot was in incredible pain. It burned. I couldn't put pressure on it. I squeezed my toes and prayed for it to dissipate. 

And then, like a light switch. It happened. 

"You didn't come here to have a mediocre, give up too soon day. You haven't been busting your butt to fit in mega training with a busy life with 3 sons to give up because your foot hurts or your bike was too slow. Get out of your pity party. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. GO RUN THEM DOWN!!!! "

So I did. My low of that Ironman day was about to end. It had already lasted too long.  No more wallowing or feeling sorry for myself. 

I had No idea what place I was in at that point. But I did continue to pass women. I turned to go up the steep Palani road Hill and I ran. Most were walking. I ran. Every single step. The crowds were huge and they were fired up. They screamed for me as I ran by the walkers and I smiled. Game on. Game was back on. 

Left back on the Queen K and just like on the bike, the Real part of the race was about to begin.  

I wasn't sure the exact range of numbers for my age group. 1100---1900?? That's what I Thought Mary said but it sounded ( and was ) Much too large of a range. So, I just decided to chase All women.  

I moved quickly through aid stations walking only for a couple seconds to make sure the fluids got in. I took my gel, cooled with sponges and ice ( though it didn't feel too hot to me) and drank. I passed woman after woman and was having a blast. When I first ran past someone, I'd slide my race belt to the front so they couldn't see my number and know whether or not to chase me. When women were coming toward me, I moved it around to the back. No clue if they were looking, but I was. 

I felt good. I felt stronger the longer I ran. My energy was high. My foot pain wasn't too bad. My legs were ready to run.  After mile 12,  there were no more aid station stops. I grabbed fluids but kept moving and if I spilled, it was ok.  

At mile 17+, we turn at the far end of the Energy lab.  I turned the belt to the back as women were close behind me.  It's ok-- keep moving. You just passed them. Go pass more. 

The last mile up the hill and out of there is the toughest. Mile 18-19 ... it's slow and long. But-- then you turn Back onto the queen K and it's the Final 10K!!!!  

A Huge smile came on my face and I even pumped my arms as I made the turn. I knew I was climbing my way back into a good day. 

Mile by mile.  I held on. I snuck by more women. I knew I wasn't running up to the podium, but I was running my way to a good marathon time and turning my day around. 

My muscles were on fire and I was dreaming of the finish. And yet, I wanted more real estate. I wanted to catch more girls. I was having a blast.
The aid stations were Alive with energy. The volunteers were blasting music and dancing and cheering us with massive energy. 

The reality of what I was doing was growing and I had to control my head to 'not go there' quite yet. I had more miles to run. 

I don't plan to go back at this point. Life has other paths for me now. As I ran down the Queen K and looked over to the ocean, I took time to appreciate how big this was for me. A girl from small town Maine, racing in the World Championships. For the fourth time.  The enormity  of that is not lost on me. I have worked so very hard to be in these positions.  Time and sacrifice and pure determination not to give up has allowed me to experience this race with the best triathletes in the world. One might expect things to ease up & slow down as the age groups get older. I am going to tell you that the 45-49 year old women out there in Hawaii this year were Seriously tough athletes. As low as I felt on that bike, I consciously thought about how honored I was to be part of that group. They mean Business. Wow. There is no slowing down for that group quite yet.  It's very cool.  Age is just a number. I experienced that first hand. 

Only a few miles to go......  I was pushing as HARD as I could. I was recognized by and cheered for by Karen Smyers.  She is also an Ironman World Champion & from New England.  I was engulfed by a gauntlet of volunteers singing Crazy in Love  by Beyonce and did a little dance with them. I had a massive smile on my face as I turned onto Palani to run down that beast of a hill that I had climbed so intensely a few hours before. This was it.  The final mile. I was completely pumped. 

I heard a song blasting that Nick and I call, "our song" and dance to at home. I smiled even more and tried not to cry tears of overwhelming emotion for everything. I passed a girl. I ran with another one who was cruising along with strength. And then when I went in to see Mark and Mary at the bottom of the hill, I was filled with happy energy and passed her too. 

My "THIS IS IT BABE" slap with mark as I headed toward the last 3/4 miles...  SO happy!! 

 I ran down the road and gritted my teeth. The crowds were electric. I turned right onto Hualalai Road, and poured it on. Right on Ali'i Drive. Another sacred part of this course. The finish.  The screams were huge and in my head, they were all for me. But I saw more girls. I dug deep inside to my 'reserve' spot and just raced with every last spec of energy. I had to savor as I pushed. I ran by a few and then had to 'sprint' to catch the last one.  Got her. last mile 7:11. I was fighting for that. 

Up the carpeted ramp-- a slight slow down and with that.............
I was done.  

I felt myself wobble and lose focus but I bent down, grabbed my knees and breathed. 3:37. 3rd fastest run in my age group. 

I did it.  

I ran my way from 26th off that long bike ride into the Top 10. I finished in 9th place in the world my age group and 3rd American woman in my age group, and am feeling very proud of that.  It wasn't my fastest race in Kona but it was absolutely my best that day.  I gave it every ounce I had and since I finished strong, I can walk away with my head high.