I learned to swim in preparation of my first triathlon in 2010. Since then, I have completed 14 triathlons to include Sprint, Olympic and Ironman 70.3 distance races. After my second Ironman 70.3 race in Cozumel, I felt and thought that I could double the distance. I never thought about completing a full Ironman until then. I had to delay my decision to race a full Ironman a year due to financial situations, but in 2013 I signed up for the inaugural Ironman Chattanooga. The timing wasn't ideal, but I was trying to push forward despite all that I was dealing with. Unfortunately, I ended up having a bicycle accident that caused me to have to pull out of the race 10 weeks prior. As soon as I was released by my doctors, I signed up for Ironman Louisville. Tania and Von both signed up to race with me and Lloyd agreed to coach me. I was all set... except I didn't have a bike that was in condition to ride. I spent time on my damaged bike on the trainer and eventually got a bike in mid May. If I am completely honest, I had anxiety every single week while training for this race. I had anxiety about riding alone and about riding with others that were faster than me. I tried hard to get over my fear of falling again and tried to get comfortable with going into the aero position. I did my best with training and tried to have balance. When the day came to travel to Louisville, I felt prepared.
I arrived on Thursday and headed straight to Von's condo. We went over to the Ironman Village to get checked in with Leslie and Maggs. When the Volunteer pulled out my swim cap and race bracelet, the tears started to flow. I was overcome with the emotions of finally making it to this point after fighting so hard to get back to the triathlon starting line. Dawn came in on Friday morning after my short run and massage. We had an afternoon of pampering with the girls, lunch outside, attended the BTA Meet and Greet and then had dinner with Tania and Heather. Kevin came in on Saturday morning and we all went to get my bike checked in after I took it for a 20 minute spin and then we had a nice dinner. I got everything laid out while they went to get Bertha from the airport before it was time for bed. Kevin, Bertha and dawn all did a phenomenal job at keeping me calm and making sure that I had everything that I needed on race morning. I was so happy to have the support of friends there on my big day. Of course Tania was right by my side, as usual, before it was time to jump in.
I have been mentally preparing to just JUMP and not hesitate, as I always do. I consistently reminded myself that the fear I felt was irrational, as once I'm in the water and I can see out my goggles, I'm fine. I hesitated for a second, told myself to just jump... and so I did. Unfortunately, I didn't give Priscilla a chance to swim out the way and I jumped right on top of her. When I popped up, I apologized to her and took off. My chin was hurting and I prayed that she was okay. It was hard to get in my groove in first few hundred yards. The water was nice and cool, but the current felt like it was pushing me sideways. Before long, I got into my groove, but noticed people were walking! It was spooky as there was fog over the water as the sun was rising and I saw all of these bodies in black wet suits walking in the river. I called a kayak over so I could hold on to access the situation. I was determined to not stand and walk, as I didn't want the mushy river to squish between my toes. Before long, we swam around the island and it was time to swim to the exit. I peeked at my average pace a few times and knew that I was right on target to complete the 2.4 mile swim in 1 hour 40 minutes, as planned. Mission accomplished.
I was so grateful to have assistance with removing the wetsuit and changing into the bike gear. It felt like the time went quickly, so I was surprised to see that I spent over 14 minutes there. Must improve!
I started the 112 mile bike ride with fresh feeling legs. The swim hadn't tired me out at all. I knew that the first 10 miles were flat, so I planned to get fueled up before the hills started. I had 2 small zip lock bags of cut up potatoes with sea salt to eat once per hour along with my Infinit liquid nutrition. I accidentally dropped one of my bags of potatoes in the first mile. I noticed that the potatoes in the 2nd bag had a funny color to them. I tried to take out a small piece and dropped that bag too. I was determined to not allow that to rattle me. I had a back up Cliff bar in my back pocket and recalled that there would be Cliff bars on the course. I trained with those too, so I knew that my stomach could handle it. I noticed that my speed was 17-18mph and I remembered that Lloyd and Robert told me to keep a speed that I could maintain for the entire day. I was warned about going out too fast and burning out later in the day. I tried to dial it back a tiny bit and then we hit the first hill. My legs felt fresh, but I was determined to not "burn any matches" early on. I felt great and held a nice pace. we turned onto the out and back portion of the course and before long, I heard the first crash. This section was entirely too congested with cyclist riding 2-3 across in each directions at some points. There were some fast declines and long climbs and folks were riding very recklessly. At around the 21 mile marker, I saw a woman lying on the ground across the street and Tania called out to me from a chair saying that her day was done. I was going up a little incline, tried to stop to check on her, pressed too hard on my breaks, maybe forgot to clip out (I can't remember) and I fell. It was such a silly fall, but my knee was hurting. Someone brought me some ice, I checked over my bike, made sure that I could move my knee, checked on Tania, called to notify her wife of her accident, and I was on my way. The first timing mat and turn around was just ahead. I needed to gather myself, so I stopped, went to the porta potty, refilled a bottle and tried to get my head back in the game. I felt rattled. My knee only hurt for a little while after that. I'm not sure if I blocked out the pain or if it was better. I do know that I was extremely cautious for the rest of the race. I'd never seen so many crashes on a course before. I noticed that my speed wasn't increasing. I tried to go aero continuously, but every time I did, there was someone or a car that was too close for comfort or a downhill that made me uncomfortable riding aero. I noticed that the course had thinned out and that many people were starting their second loop as I was starting my first. I kept pushing forward. I stayed on my nutrition plan to drink every 15-20 minutes and eat a tiny bite of something solid every hour. No hill felt insurmountable after I reminded myself that Lloyd took me on a ride up a freaking mountain! There were plenty of spectators in La Grange! I hit the mid way cut off point. I kept pushing forward but realized that time was getting away from me. My speed never really increased unless I was going down a long hill and there weren't that many of those. I started to calculate the time and thought that I would be okay. I didn't want to burn out and not have anything left for the run. I knew that if I could make the bike cut off, I would get to the finish line of the run at all costs before the clock stuck 12am. I never quit. I pushed forward and keep pushing and pushed until I got to the end of my 112 mile ride. Unfortunately, I was a few seconds too late. I dismounted in time, but had to run around the corner to the timing mat. The cutoff was 6:30pm, but I had to be done at 6:29:59. When I finished the clock said 6:30. I told the guy that it wasn't 6:31, so I should be fine. He said, "No, you have to be finished before the clock reads 6:30. You are too late. I'm sorry but we can't allow you to continue. I have to take your timing chip." He was a little hesitant to take the timing chip off my ankle, like he thought I would kick him in the head. My day was done. I walked my bike in with my head held high as spectators and volunteers clapped. Some told me that they were sorry. A BTA Sherpa was right there and said that I missed it by 14 seconds. She assisted me with changing into some other shoes and a hat and with getting my bags. I was able to hold my head high, because I felt that I did my best and I never quit. The sadness didn't immediately kick in. I borrowed a telephone to call Kevin and took a walk back to the hotel.
I never got up to my planned speed after the crash. My knee only hurt a little bit and I didn't think that it impacted my ride at all. Did it? Was I rattled from the accident and never recovered due to fear/anxiety? Was it because I didn't stay in aero enough? Was it because I was being too conservative riding in fear of burning out too soon? Truth be told, I've not gotten totally comfortable in the aero position during training and I rode aero even less on race day. Yes, I could have saved some minutes in T1 and at Special Needs. I only went to the porta potty once and only stopped for a minute or two at aid stations. I'm sure I lost some time when I fell and I was making sure that Tania was okay after her accident. But still. Even with all of that, I should never have come that close to cut off. It's puzzling to me. But I do know one thing: I NEVER QUIT. I fought to the end and tried to beat the clock. The two heartbreaking facts are that I missed the cut of by SECONDS and that I felt absolutely fine and knew that I could make the midnight cutoff in 5.5 hours if I gave it my best. I had mentally prepared myself to be ready to fight and to become an Ironman before midnight. I wasn't permitted to continue, so I just have to try again. The rules are the rules and I simply did not meet the cutoff, but it's a hard pill to swallow. I am working on logistics to try again really soon.
The nature of my spirit is not one of a quitter. The two most immediate things I did post DNF were to check if another race was still open and called my coach. The most important thing that I did was make a list of what went right and what I could have improved upon. Here is that list:
Things done RIGHT:
- Got over my fear of jumping in to start the swim
- Conquered the swim in my expected time
- Nailed my nutrition on the bike
- Kept a positive attitude
- Shorter transition time (swim to bike)
- Be careful when stopping to avoid silly crashes
- Shorter time at special needs
- Get stronger and faster on hills
While I am terribly saddened by not accomplishing my goal, I am still proud of myself. I am proud that I fought my way back from the bike crash last year. I am proud that despite my anxiety of riding, I keep pushing forward and challenging myself to overcome my fears. I am proud that even when time is against me, I will still push and try to beat the clock until the very last second. I think that speaks to my character. I am determined to get comfortable again riding my bike, especially in the aero position. I started competing in triathlons because of my my desire to be better, to do more and to challenge myself. I have done that and I will continue to do that. I decided to do an Ironman triathlon, because I believed that I could. I still believe that I can, no mater how this turned out. I realize that it's a blessing to be able to physically do this. Everyone is not so lucky. Just one short year ago I wasn't physically able to do what I did on Sunday. I do this because I can, because I get to do this, because I am blessed.