Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Closed the Loop with #10




It simply started as something for me to get out and do 'for myself' from time to time.  My boys were small.  They were 2, 4 and 6 and I was overjoyed to be their Mom.  I still am.  I had left my career to stay home with them and it was all perfect.  I have been happy with that choice ever since.  But through my three pregnancies and the first few years of their lives, I had lost a lot my routine of exercise.  You see, starting when I was very young all the way through college, I raced.  I swam and I ran.  Mixed into those years were lots of other random sports that I also loved but those two certainly were my thing.  It's just who I am. Some people sing, some dance, some grow beautiful flowers or write books, some are business people or artists.  Everyone has something.  This is my thing. So I started running and swimming a little again, I bought a bike and I signed up for the Shipbuilder's Triathlon in Bath. 
About a month later,  I crashed on some RR tracks on my bike and tore my rotator cuff. Doctor 1 said, "sorry, you're probably done swimming." Doctor 2  said, "I got this." and fixed me up.  And I was off........

Ironman day is intense. It's long and grueling.  But it's also festive and cheerful and filled with support and music and yelling sounds of encouragement. You are side by side with other competitors, who feel more like teammates, often for hours at at time, helping each other take every single next step, sometimes without speaking a word to each other.  We have family and friends who are roaming all around the town to squeeze into the best spot to yell words of 'you got this' and to take pictures and videos even if it's just a 10 second sighting when they've waited for 2 hours for us to go by.  It is the party day.  

But before Ironman day arrives, there are months and months and months of training.  And the training can be lonely and tedious and relentless.  There are pre-dawn workouts and post- work runs and often something in between. There are long long lonely bike rides for 4-5-6 hours with not a sole to talk to and cars who seem to think you're not really someone's loved one.  There are lost workouts due to struggling with a flat tire in the ditch that you can't fix and can't reach anyone for a ride home while you also stepped in dog doo that is now clumped into your bike cleat.   There are 17 mile runs the day after a 5 hour ride when you're miles from home and your body just wants to crawl into the woods.  All while juggling 'life.'   It is not easy.  But it's also amazing.  As time ticks on and you log the miles and treat your body with care, you feel strong and powerful and invincible.  And race day draws close, and you do all you can to keep the confidence that you're ready. 

I thought I was done with the 140.6 challenge in October of 2016 when I raced in Kona, Hawaii.  I had a fantastic day in Mont Tremblant in August and qualified at that race for the World Championships again. That race was tough but I finished with a strong run and worked my way from 29th after the bike to 9th at the finish line. I was happy. And done. 

However, last summer I was getting ready to send my big kid to college.  I was also getting ready to turn 49 and then of course, after that, comes 50.  One conversation and one thought led to another and I decided to go back to Lake Placid for the last go around.  What better way to say "take that" to 50 and distract myself from the hole in our home with Cameron away during the year. I decided to do my 10th ironman 10 years after the first.  Game on. 

The year was busy and full of hiccups for me.  Turns out, raising 3 teen boys is busier ( in a different way ) than raising 3 younger boys.  ( Trust me moms of littles, you ARE busy now. But their schedule is in your hands. It changes.)   Throw in a nasty recurrence of Achilles Tendinitis and things didn't go as planned with my training.  In addition, I have some sort of miserable bilateral neuropathy. ( self diagnosed. I have no idea what it is. ) Both feet BURN with so much intensity that I can hardly see straight.  It comes and goes. But wow. It has been bad this year.  I will not go on and on about this and I will not make a single excuse.  My training was in my hands. I did what I could physically and psychologically and logistically.  It was just different than my past.  I was ready to throw in the towel multiple times when I couldn't even trot 3 pain free miles and my left leg was taking on all the work so my Achilles wouldn't rupture. I have no idea if it would have but that was what it felt like might happen. Running was nearly nonexistent.  But, Thanks to a great Physical therapist in town ( thanks Jason!!) and lots of encouragement, I kept going.  I raced a 70.3 in June and instead of gaining confidence, I decided not to do lake placid.  I struggled beyond words at that race. It might have been the worst run of my life. 
A few days went by and once again, I changed my mind. I knew that July 28th would arrive and if I didn't at least try, I would never forgive myself.  Wasn't I doing this to show the boys that hard work pays off? To show them that if we NEVER QUIT you can achieve anything? Wasn't I trying to ring in my 50th Birthday with Pride??? 
Yeah.... back to work. 

I started to feel better through July and just knew I could fight through. Experience in racing and years of work in me,  I knew I could get through. But I'd be lying if I didn't say I wasn't scared. I was scared.  What if I truly couldn't run? 
I can try to say I didn't have expectations. I didn't Want to have expectations.  But how do they go away? I tried to squash them. I didn't want to care what place I was or what times I put down, but of course deep down, it's was there.   

We took a selfie after dinner to torture the kids. :) We were mocking all the rainbow selfies happening that evening. I know, we're bad. :) 
Race day finally arrived. Things were a little different than normal.  I was in our condo with Cameron while Mark and the other two were home.  Tommy and Nick needed to head to their soccer camp where T works and N plays that day so Mark brought them home.  Mark left early Sunday a.m. to head back to Lake Placid so he was back in town by the beginning of the bike. I was lucky to have Cam, my parents, Mary and Jordan there all day to cheer!!! Mary and I have been in this together.  She's totally my partner in this journey and I have been so lucky to have her friendship. Which, by the way, actually started in elementary school. :) 

Here's how the day went down.

The swim was the relatively new ( well, new to me) rolling start. I've only ever done mass starts and I was admittedly fine with this change. I'm happy I've experienced and survived the scary and overwhelming 3000 people at once swim start.  But it's scary. Even for swimmers. I self- seeded in the sub 60 group since I've done that a bunch of times.  I assumed everyone starting there would be swimming similarly.  The gun went off and that group ran into the water and unfortunately, it was still chaotic and scary. I could tell that a number of folks weren't supposed to be in that group. It's dangerous. I wish people would just go where they should.  There were kicks in the head and an elbow to my nose. My goggles got hit and filled with water. I had several swim up on top of me and shove me under and there's no water space to escape to. I had about 5 minutes of, " I'm outta here...... this isn't worth it." And then just in time, I found some water and zipped off alone.  

I just swam and swam and swam and felt pretty good.  My pool times have been terrible lately so I didn't know what to hope for.  I kept pulling hard and kicking enough & got the job done.  As I ran down the long carpet to the T1 tent I checked my watch to see I was sub 60 min and was Psyched with that.  Perfect Start. 
59:34. 2nd in the swim in my age group. 11th woman and 81st out of the whole group. 

I did what I needed to do in T1 and headed off for the long long long ride.  
I'm going to zip through this 112 miles pretty fast.  I prayed for a safe bike with no mechanical issues. (nightmare-- have had a few but thankfully no flat tires in all my races.)  I got that.  My brake was rubbing on the race wheel ( THE WHOLE TIME ) but the mechanic in the pre-race expo said it was as good as it was going to get because there was some 'gunk' in the depths of it and it really needed overhauling. Bummer.  I had to just KNOW it wasn't costing me any real time and make peace with the very aggravating noise of it.

I felt fine for most of this. I ate. I drank what I thought was enough.  I got in a solid 24 oz per hour along with a few big gulps of water at the aid stations.  I cooled with those waters too. I didn't push my power more than I should. I kept my attitude positive, mostly.  As usual for me, I was mostly with the guys or alone.  Because of my swimming background, I am able to get a good start on the field and thus a lot of men come flying up behind me on the bike.  I let them go ( like I have a choice ;) ) and hope I see them again later on the run. ( hehehe... I sometimes do.) I was excited to see women come along from time to time just because I do get tired of being with only men.  They just ride differently and it gets a little overwhelming.  However, I did check the calves of all the ladies.  Our ages are written on our calves.  See, expectations rearing again. A lot of them were younger, a few were older and were serious serious badass women riders, wow, and a few were also in my group.  
The ride is two loops.  The first 28 miles is pretty fast with a giant decent. The 2nd 28 miles back to town is NOT fast with an 11-12 mile climb to finish it off. But you get a Reward at the top of family and friends and 100 of other strangers cheering with music and screaming and a whole lotta love!!! IT's a boost like NO other!  But it's a fast little zip through town and then...... you're off for another 56 miles alone.  sigh.  I was still ok. No belly issues.  All good. 
Until, the turn around on the Haselton out and back.  Ugh. Who ordered the wind!???  Wind makes me cranky on the bike.  Well, I was on target for a nice neat sub 6 hour ride until the headwind threw us all off.  That's Ironman for ya! You need to be ready for anything.  I am not sure but I think we had this solid headwind for about the last 20 miles. Blek.  My back hurt, I was SICK to death of pedaling, it was pretty hot and I really wanted to get on to the marathon.  ( haha.....what am I crazy? )  My positive frame of mind wavered a bit here as it took a long long time to get back to town. It took a toll. I was riding with the same group for all those miles and we were all rolling our eyes at how long it took to pedal up that mountain with a headwind.  
oh well... I finally got there. 
6:12 bike 3rd in age group, 24th woman and 275th overall  
Handing off the bike to the T2 volunteer is awesome.  She can have it as far as I'm concerned.  I did forget to add that somewhere around mile 80, that insane burning foot pain arrived and I was in agony over that. When I got to the line of the bike dismount, I took my bike shoes off and hobbled very gingerly to the tent.  No bathroom break yet. Hmmm..  Not a good sign. 
T2 didn't go a well as it should have.  It took me a while because there was some fumbling around with the stuff in my bag with the volunteers. They were trying to help but my salt tabs dropped out and spilled and in retrospect, I should have insisted they get put back into the case I had.  Lesson for anyone reading who may do an Ironman.  If you planned to have your salt tabs with you, make sure you have them. 
Finally, I headed off to run. 
Now is when it all starts.  
Every time I get off my bike on one of these things, I can barely stand upright. Miraculously, when I leave the tent, I can run.  Again, if you have one of these coming your way, keep the faith after the bike.  

I'm not sure I have words to write about the run. 

It started off ok. I ran down the hill and took a little inventory.  Sure, I had some aching and fatigue but it was normal and fine. My feet had calmed down. My Achilles wasn't talking. Ok, let's go! I don't remember much until I got down on the very lonely River road the first time. There was no shade.  It was hot. And my energy was draining. My legs were beginning to seize. I had eaten a banana in T2 so I was trying to wait until 45 min or so to start with my gel flask.  Over and over again, without conscious thought, I would stop. My legs just kept stopping. It made it hell to start again. But I had to stop.  And that was not like me.  I have never walked my Ironman marathons. I walk most aid stations, but that is it. A couple of times I had to grab onto the guard rails.  And then my feet went WILDLY crazy with pain and I know I yelled out. I had a few guys ask if I was ok.  Everyone is hurting out there. I was not any different than others. But what happens out there is that while there is a 'race' happening, we are all in it together. The camaraderie and support for fellow athletes is like nothing I've ever seen.  
I just kept starting again.  It hurt more and more every time to restart running.  I walked the aid stations and every time I took 2 gatorades and some water and ice and dumped it on my head. I just ran aid station to aid station. Mile to mile.  At 5.5 miles we make the first turn at the end of River road. It is a LONG 5.5 miles to that turn. Ok, only 3 more 'lengths.' Pool talk. The run is 2 loops, just like the bike. 
I was running with a couple guys through the first 8-9 miles.  We were step for step and without talking a lot, we'd encourage the other along.  It's an unspoken understanding.  
This was somewhat new territory for me. My runs are usually pretty strong. They hurt, and I suffer, but this was different. I was truly concerned about what the next 18 miles would bring. Would I have to walk this race? I was certainly going to finish.  
I was thrilled that we also had a headwind on the run back on the River road as we headed to the turn at the ski jumps.  ugh.
Site of 1980 Olympic Ski Jumping
By now, I was sucking down the EFS gel flask. It was slowly kicking in I guess.  I struggled up that hill by the jumps and all of sudden, I rallied.  I could run! Yes!  I took advantage of that and got back to business.  There was a guy I had been partnered with until then and I felt sad that I lost him at that point. I do hope he made it. I wish I had remembered his number. I wasn't going fast but I was going forward. I ran back into town and made my way down the longggggggg out and back on Mirror lake road.  Just like the half way through town ride on the bike, the run is just as sweet.  The high fives and cheers lift me up and give me hope. 
I ran around the little village, felt like I was a runner again, smiled and started to allow myself to get excited. It was happening.  I was going to make it.  Only 13.1 miles to go. How bad can it be? 
I flew ( hahaha...it's all relative ) down the big hill and heard Prince's Let's Go Crazy blasting. I had energy and excitement and I sang out loud.  The village was excited and partying and the volunteers were dancing.  But then, you leave the village. And the roads are nearly silent despite the 100s of athletes running together on the roads. Everyone is in their own head. Everyone is saying something to themselves. Some are walking, some are running, and some are limping and outwardly struggling. But we are all there together and that is so easy to feel. I embraced that more than ever this time.  I tried hard to speak to people who needed a push. I told every volunteer Thank you and tried so hard to hang in. I had a little bit of an idea of where I was in my age group. I tried not to care. I told my husband not to tell me any more updates. I needed him not to care. But at the same time, I knew where I was and of course, I am a competitor.  At some point out on that River Rd for loop two, things really started to hurt again. It's more than being tired.  Just like the first 7-8 miles, my legs were just seizing and shutting down on me.  Without warning, I would just stop. I didn't want to! I am not sure what was happening.  It was SO very hard to take the first 2-3-4 steps again after stopping.  My goal was to just keep moving forward. I never looked at my pace. Not once.  I just knew that if I kept moving at a steady and consistent clip I would be ok. It took every ounce inside me to do that.  This was it. The last 10K of my Ironman life.  I started drinking coke and hoped it would work magic. I worked my way up the ski jump hill again and had an encouraging back and forth with an older gentleman. Then, I faltered again and grabbed the guard rail.  He Turned around and came Back to me!!! Just a few steps but as we know, you don't retrace steps in a 140.6 mile race.  We'd been given red bands to wear to hand off during the day to special helper. I gave mine to him when he did this. He was very gracious and said, Angela- thank you. Thank you for this. He was only loop 1. I only had 5 miles left. He had 16.  He had a long way to go and I wanted him to have some sort of boost and know I appreciated his help.
On and on I trudged.  Mark and Cam were all over the run course on their bikes. It was awesome.  Kurt also appeared consistently with his words of wisdom that I take with me every time I race. His voice and words were comforting and gave me confidence.  
Just keep running. 

Talk about so close and yet so far.......... I ran / power walked/ jogged/ ran/ repeat up the big hill through town and then at mile 24 took the right Away from the finish area. That's a brutal turn. As I ran down the final mile before the turn to the final mile in, my body started letting me know it was just about done.  My hands and face were tingling. I was wobbly. I had no focus.  I guess my brain knew I was almost at the point of getting help and it let me weaken.  Mile 25.3  and we make the turn to head back. LESS than a mile. And I stopped????  I was asking for salt. I was that desperate.  That t2 salt mishap. It wasn't happening so I squared my shoulders, put my hands in air and squeezed them as some guy running with me told me to do and just got myself there! I was grimacing and smiling and so extremely excited. I made it. I actually made it. 
run time : 4:04  2nd in age 

I have this great video, thanks to my Dad. He is always right there supporting me in all the crazy things I do.  And he always manages to get cool videos. Thank you, Dad!! You and Mom are absolutely amazing to keep chasing us around through all these adventures. 
I needed a little love in the medical tent after this one so sadly, I don't have any cool post-race pictures.  I'll search the official site for my race photos at some point. 

Standing on the podium Monday morning was a big deal for me. I wrapped up my Ironman career as 3rd in my age group & 18th overall female. At age 49 in the 45-49 group, I will take it.  I didn't expect the emotions to creep up on me as I stood there.  But they did. As Mark and I walked to the car after, we were quiet and wide eyed and holding it in. We had a great time with this journey. For 10 years we did this. Together. Sure, I was the one on the race course but we did it as a family. Our boys were 5, 7 and 9 when it started and now they are 15, 17 and 19.  They grew up with this and oh the stories we have of it all!! As I said in one of my FB posts, they know all the behind the scenes messiness and they somehow love me anyway.  We have traveled to Lake placid, Mont Tremblant, Canada, Florida, Texas, Mexico,California, all over New England of course, our favorite, Kona, Hawaii. It's been a blast. We have so many memories together because of this sport. We have made friends and share experiences and have stories to tell forever.  But it is time for me to put this one aside.  I am not done racing. I am definitely not done competing. It may be shorter triathlons and who knows what else.  But Ironman life has come to a close.  I am both sad and very satisfied and confident. It is time. 

Men's 45-49 winner Jeff Capobianco!!! One of the dear family friends we made through this sport!  




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