Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Ironman Louisville 2015


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.

Pre Race:

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 
Things to IMPROVE:
  • 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
The most important thing that I need to improve is my confidence on the bike.

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.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Facing my fears and getting back out there

Fear.  What an extremely powerful emotion. It can be mentally crippling and can overcome you, if you allow it. It’s so very easy to suggest that a person “get over it and do it anyway”, but that is much easier said than done.  Some people deny that fear is real. I can attest that it is. It’s REALLY real. I have allowed fear to totally sidetrack me and consume me. I have allowed fear to prevent me from doing the things that I absolutely love to do. While I did need to take time to recover after my bicycle crash and I had some family issues that were demanding of my time, I have allowed fear to keep me on the sidelines for far too long. But, not anymore! I felt the fear, I fought it and I won.

Columbia Triathlon (0.93 mile swim, 25 mile bike, 6.2 mile run): I must have cried 5 times before I got in the water. I’m not 100% certain why. I was just extremely emotional about getting back out there to do a triathlon again. I knew that I could handle the distances.  I never doubted my ability. I believe it was the thought of getting on the bike that had me in tears. I was afraid to get on the bike, as I had only purchased it a week prior and I wasn’t that familiar with it. It’s super light weight compared to my last bike and I wasn’t comfortable in the aero bars. I wasn’t comfortable with how light it was going down hills. I wasn’t comfortable with the electronic shifters. Most notably, I wasn’t comfortable with the thought of riding it in the rain, as the roads would be slippery, making it more likely for a fall again. I was a COMPLETE rack of nerves.  I was afraid I was going to fall. As soon as I started the swim, I swam to the wall and told the cop that I didn’t want to do the race today. He told me to get my mind in the game and to get to swimming. Maybe I just needed some tough love? As I swam, I felt the raindrops and worked myself up into a complete frenzy. I prayed that Lisa had a bad swim (sorry Lisa!) and that her bronchitis was too bad for her to continue the race. I had decided that if this were the case, I would end my race and not go out on the bike.  I started the swim a while before Lisa did, so I knew I would have to wait. I noticed numbers on top of the buoys and assumed there would be 15 of them. After the 10th one, it was time to exit the swim, however I was mentally prepared to swim further. I must have been in the transition area for 20 minutes crying and texting my cycling coach, Tania and boyfriend about how I couldn’t go out on the bike. They all encouraged me to just go and reminded me that it was just a practice day. When Lisa came into transition, she saw me waiting for her by her bike. The look on her face was of pure disgust from her swim. She looked at me and asked what the hell I was doing standing by her bike. I burst into tears. She said, “Oh no! Get your shit together, grab your bike and let’s go! We’ll do this together”. Tough love again. No one would let me give in to the fear. I got it together and headed out to ride. I hung behind Lisa for a long time, as I was afraid to go down hills, afraid let go of the handle bars to get water or to take in nutrition, afraid that I would mess my gears up going up hills, afraid of the slick roads. I was just completely overcome with fear. I tried to strike up a conversation with Lisa. She just ignored me or grunted at me. Finally, I got the courage to just GO.  I made it up all the hills and just took my time practicing on my new bike. Before long, I made it to the finish line and was able to smile back at Leslie’s cheering face. I think I mean mugged her as I was heading out. The run was uneventful. I knew that I had to make some changes in order to make it to the finish line before the race cutoff. I finished the race with Lisa by my side with her amazing family support and Kevin at the finish line. I did it! Tri Becca: 1 Fear: 0

Washington’s Crossing (1.2 mile swim across the Potomac River):  I thought it would be a good idea to practice jumping off a boat before the Escape the Cape Triathlon. Plus, I thought it would be completely BADASS to swim 1.3 miles across the Potomac River from Virginia to Maryland. Tania and Von were both racing, so I signed up. Now, I did not stop to think about how nervous I am to jump into the water at the weekday swims or at other triathlons. Yeah, that never crossed my mind. As we were lining up to get on the boat, I got really quiet. Tania kept asking if I was okay. I wasn’t tearful, but I had the nervous pee thing going on. Oh BOY! When it was time to jump, Tania and Von jumped in with no issue and I just stood there. I screamed to Dennis (who was running the event) if I could sit down then jump in. He screamed back, “REBECCA, JUMP OR JUST STAY ON THE BOAT!!. I screamed FUGGGGGGG!..... and jumped in. My goggles immediately fogged up. Thank goodness, Tania was there. I started to panic saying “my goggle are foggy, my goggles are foggy, I CANT SEE! I CAN’T SEE!!” She let me hold on to her while I cleared and adjusted my goggles.  She’s such a good friend! I started to swim when the horn blew and kept reminding myself that my heat rate would soon slow down, that my body was just trying to acclimate. Before long, I got into a groove until something changed. It seemed like I was swimming sideways and not getting any closer to the ferris wheel at the National Harbor that we were swimming back to. The current had changed, as a tide came through. It was pushing us under the bridge to the left when we were supposed to go straight. Tarus was working safety and in a kayak. I asked if I was swimming in the right direction and he affirmed. That ferris wheel looked like I was swimming while standing still. It was NOT getting any closer! At one point, I took a breaststroke to look where I was going and my feet touched the muddy bottom of the yucky Potomac River! I SCREAMED! Tarus asked if I was okay and then laughed when I told him that I got Potomac mud between my toes. At last the ferris wheel and buoys finally came into closer view and it was time to exit. Whew! I swam more than the 1.2 miles and it took me FOREVER, but I did it. I must have looked a mess, as Von kept asking if I was okay. Tania took me home, as I needed to eat and take a rest before my run. That night my throat started to hurt, Tania couldn’t stop sneezing and Von had a scratchy throat. That Potomac River water gave us the coodies, but we are CERTIFIED BADASSES for swimming from state to state across a river! At least in my mind, we are! Even though I freaked out in the beginning, I still did it and to me, that's winning. Tri Becca: 1 Fear: 0

Escape the Cape Triathlon (1 mile swim, 25 mile bike, 5 mile run) Cape May, NJ: When I saw the advertisement for this race, I just HAD to sign up! I wanted to be on that boat! Lisa signed up for it too, so I was IN.  When she shared with me that it was a 15-foot drop when we jumped off the boat, I almost messed my pants. Uh OH! I vowed to practice diving at the pool. Yeah, that never happened. Whenever I went to the pool, I could never work up the nerve to dive in. I am such a punk! It started to STORM on race morning. Lightening, thunder, you name it. I prayed that the swim would get canceled. My prayers were not answered. Before long, we were being herded onto the boat and were stuck there until it was time to jump off. I felt nervous, but kept telling myself that it was just excitement that I felt. The energy was on TEN, the music was loud and the race director was pumping up the crowd. The Olympic triathletes all donned their yellow caps and before you knew it, it was time to jump in and swim the 1 mile back to shore. Lisa and I decided to jump together. When it was our turn, Lisa jumped and I looked at the guy standing there. He directed me to move to the side to speak with the Sports Psychologists. They shared with me that it was just adrenaline that had my heart racing, that it only took 4 seconds to hit the water,  to not look down and just step out, instructed me to take some belly breaths, etc. I just couldn’t do it. I turned away from the water and the lady told me to not give up. I looked at her and said, “oh NO, I am NOT a QUITTER!”. She played on that and affirmed. I said that over and over, “I AM NOT A QUITTER! I AM NOT A QUITTER!...”. I asked if I could sit down and jump in. They gave me permission to do so, I then asked them to push me in and I was off… The swim was my fastest swim yet, due to the current. The bike ride was uneventful minus the newbies that were riding on the left, guys speeding by on the right, many fellow triathletes on the side of the road with flats and a couple of falls after  people took the curves too fast. I tried getting into the aero bars a few times, but I couldn’t get over the fear of swerving and crashing or hitting a pot hole (I realized that I didn’t have any CO2 cartridges to fix a flat). I felt strong on the bike but was likely not fast enough yet. The run was HOT and running on sand sucks. Since I was one of the last Olympic triathletes to jump off the boat, I was one of the last few athletes on the course. Nevertheless, I crossed the finish line and earned my medal and T-shirt. Lesson learned: Jumping off boats is NOT my thing! Although I was overcome with fear, I still got off the boat and swam back to shore. So to me, that’s a WIN. Tri Becca: 1 Fear: 0

Fear. It’s a powerful emotion, but  one that you can fight off and win. I feel like I can call myself a triathlete again. My fitness level, speed and endurance are not where I’d like them to be, but I am determined to remain consistent, give every workout my very best and make sure that my nutrition plan is OnPoint.

Ironman Louisville training starts on Sunday. The next 16 weeks will be interesting. At least I don’t have to battle with fear any longer.