Arguably the best decision in regards to this race was made by my husband who bought me a wonder woman onesie outfit for race morning. Not only was it functional in keeping me warm and toasty in waiting for the swim start, it made me happy in a way that aided in my staying relaxed leading up to the race. Yes I proudly walked around the ironman village wearing my onesie and people loved it. TOO FUN !!
2.4 mile swim: get'r done!
On race morning, getting to the swim start was probably more stressful than the swim itself. It was a self-seeded rolling swim start, meaning first come first serve in getting in line and Kristen does NOT like long lines. I didn't feel the need to be first but I definitely didn't want to be towards the middle or back. That said, I made my morning bike check at transition quick and was accompanied to the swim start by my magical unicorn sherpa (aka the hubby). Yea, you better believe I felt special walking next to him! Once we were in line (~ 5:45AM) it was back into relaxation mode snuggled up in a sleeping bag using my wetsuit as a pillow. The race start was at 7:30AM so around 6:45 I suited up and started preparing for the long day ahead.
I hit the water right around 7:45AM and worked quickly to find my bubble of space and a rhythm. The swim is all about just getting it done: swimming strong and steady while expending as little extra energy as possible. I felt confident in navigating the open water and sighting and stuck closely to the buoy line. The water was calm and felt great overall! I didn't bother looking at my watch but two bridges we crossed under served as a great reference point as to how far was left to go. The swim felt long, but that's because 2.4 miles IS a long ways to swim. I swam 100% on feel without looking at my watch once and exited the water within range of the goal I had set (swim 1:08:07 / I'll take it). The wetsuit strippers made me sit down to pull off my wetsuit, then off I scurried towards the transition area.
T1 is all business. I aimed to keep it simple by leaving my shoes and helmet at the bike with very few items to grab from my bike bag. As I ran towards my bike I held my socks in my mouth and slid my arm warmers over my wrists. Socks and helmet went on at the bike, then I made the long trek to the mount line and slid into my shoes after doing my flying mount.
112 mile bike: rolling hills & infinite smiles
The highlight of the race was without a doubt this ride, and not just because of the mini ponies I saw along the route :) Coach called it a "breakthrough ride" for me and YES I have to agree! A major goal for the year was to work on my bike fitness and that work paid off with my riding strong, happy and confidently and with a smile glued to my face 90% of the time. I remember thinking 'thanks coach for making this feels easy!' and around mile 70, 'How are there only 40 miles left??!" That is certainly a GREAT feeling to have during a race and definitely NOT how I've felt in my prior ironman distance events. Of course, I couldn't help but to laugh when I heard a fellow racer exclaim (as I passed him on a hill): "You must be a climber! Oh sh$t look at her go!" (oh thank you sir for making my day!)
I worked my fueling plan and the hills and rolled into the special needs station at mile 60 excited for the miles left to complete. Another goal was to minimize time spent OFF the bike and I was able to make that happen thanks to having finally learned how pee on the bike (seems like a silly thing but it's harder than it sounds) and organizing my nutrition in a manner that I was in and out of the special needs station in a flash. In all I spent about 1 minute off the bike, versus upwards of 8-10 minutes in the past 2 ironman races. Cue a victory dance!
All that being said, in hindsight the downfall of my race began with nutritional issues on the bike. Actually it likely began before the race, but regardless, I knew I was peeing a little too much for the amount of fluids I was taking in and definitely more than is typical for me. My appetite dropped off later in the ride and so did my intake of carbs and fluids as a result. Something felt off but I just couldn't pinpoint what..
The last 20-30 miles of the ride are net downhill and fast, yet for me they were not quite as strong as I had hoped. Regardless, I focused my attention to finishing off my fuel, navigating the final miles back into the city and preparing myself mentally and physically for the marathon that was to come (bike 5:41:04 / 3rd fastest bike for my age group, woohoo!!).
I was excited about my bike split and eager to get to the run. That is, until my feet hit the ground after dismounting. It was a LONG run into transition, or at least felt like it. When I arrived at the changing tent and sat down, I felt light-headed. The volunteers on the course were AMAZING, including the one that tended specifically to me in T2. I pulled on clean socks and running shoes and off I went.
26.2 mile run: it's not over until it's over
The run started off rough and only got rougher as the miles progressed. Running out of transition I was thinking "oooof! How far is a marathon again?!" My parents were sitting right around the block and I passed off a high-five to dad. Jordan was about two blocks up from there, and I took a moment to walk while updating him (I was procrastinating). I remember saying something along the lines of "I don't feel good. Something is off. I'm peeing too much"
The next 10 miles were a slog, nothing quick, nothing horrible either. I utilized each aid station and cherished every cold sponge I could get my hands on. Those things are worth their weight in gold! As I made my way back to towards the finish line to complete the first out and back I started feeling worse and walking more frequently. I knew a stellar marathon was not in the cards at his point and turned my focus toward taking care of myself. I saw my parents again at the halfway point, gave them a hug, kept moving around the block to where Jordan was waiting. This time I was feeling much more desperate "I really don't feel well." By this point I had made an executive decision, really the only decision to be made: "This is definitely not going according to plan. I am just going to have fun with it."
Shortly thereafter, things started getting ugly in what coach Jim accurately described as the "yikes this is scary 3 miles" (miles 14.5-17.5) Everything plummeted (pace, cadence and heart rate) and my legs felt as if they were going to give out. I remember trying to recall phone numbers in case they did, but also thinking that I would finish at all costs because I wanted to see the spectacular finish line that I had heard so much hype about! My hands were swelling, muscles ached and I felt nauseous. Thankfully, I recognized these symptoms and knew the dire need to get salt in my body ASAP. Also thankfully, the aid stations had started serving chicken broth early. Hallelujah AMEN for chicken broth! I drank chicken broth, ate chips and prayed for God to give me be strength to keep moving forward.
"Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy."
~Thich Nhat Hanh
Races like these have a way of challenging you to the core and presenting the question of "How bad do you want it?" I remember thinking during the marathon "For better or for worse, this is what I came for." I entered this race with the desire to challenge myself, and on race day that challenge turned out to be much different than what I had pictured. And while the option of whether or not to finish never crossed my mind, I knew I had the power to decide how I wanted to spent those final miles. Decisions! My exact thought at this point was "Time to pull up your smelly big girl panties and make this race happen." LOL. I did NOT work my butt of all season just to have a pity party, instead I made the conscious choice to smile and attempted to run again. While things didn't turn around automatically, the broth rejuvenated my energy and the act of smiling lightened the load on my feet. The on course music did an excellent job in adding even more pep in my step, and slowly but surely I was feeling like my normal spunky self again: running, smiling, passing people. Never ever, ever give up... and smile! The happy beat that had been running through my head most of the day returned and carried me toward the finish line:
Throwing it back to middle school here with good 'ol Vitamin C:
"Ironman, it ain't easy, it's so tough... might as well put a smile on your face and make the most of it!!"
I told my coach that smiling saved my marathon and I truly think it did (along with the chicken broth). Smiling releases feel good endorphins and neuropeptides and also acts as a natural pain reliever. It changed my perception of what was going on around me and it definitely changed how people perceived me. I can't tell you how many people commented in those final miles "Wow she looks so happy and fresh!" which only made me smile even more! The race I had planned and hoped was long gone, yet I still found plenty of reasons to run joyfully.
^These two pictures were taken along the same stretch of course of the marathon, one just before halfway, the other towards the end of the marathon. I'd say they summarize how I was feeling quite well.
Before I knew it there were less than 5 miles to go, the endorphins had really started to kick back in and I was having the time of my life! I looked at my watch a few times thinking "Is this really happening?" Whereas I had been barely moving at 15-17 min/mile pace a few miles back, after mile 20 my paced dropped down into 8:30/mile range. And while those final miles weren't "easy" by any means, the smile never left my face. Three, two, one mile to go and before I knew it I was making the final turn to the finish. I saw my family and ran over to give them some well deserved hugs and kisses, procrastinating this time because I wanted to hold on to the moment a little longer! THIS is what I came for: to SMILE and HAVE FUN, to enjoy the process regardless of final finishing time or placement, and to share that moment with the people who have encouraged me every step of the way. With a few final high fives, I made my way across the finish line. Partially relieved to have made it, but mostly elated that I had once again managed to cover 140.6 miles! (run: 4:39:18 / ouch)
Making my way down the catwalk... I mean finish line... meow :)
To say that I am happy with my race and satisfied with the outcome are two different things. The positives far outweigh the negatives in regards to my preparation for and race day, and I am extremely proud of myself for maintaining a positive attitude in light of the challenges faced. That said, I am still wrestling with a sense of disappointment knowing that definite mistakes were made that significantly affected my perform to my best ability. I know well by now that being an endurance athlete carries its fair share of risks and challenges and I'm learning to accept them as a part of the journey and process. I am beyond elated with the race as of whole, but in a way my mission feels incomplete. I know I have more to give, and I can already guess what my coach would say in response:
"Let's keep working."
Kristen Chang is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and triathlete residing in southwest Virginia with her husband and dogs. Follow along as she shares favorite fueling recipes, general wellness and sport nutrition tips and stories from her athletic endeavors.
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