Ironman Vineman 70.3 Race Report

Forcing myself to be comfortable with being uncomfortable; being able to push my body to stay strong, flexible and aerobically fit as I enter a new age group and phase in my life. These are the reaons I’ve returned to race Ironman Vineman 70.3, my favorite triathlon for the 5th year in a row.

Add to the list, the selfish feeling of entitlement when police officers stop all traffic at the sight of me coming at full speed on my bike.

“Coming through! Wee!” VinemanFB4

I’ve also been chasing a PR at Vineman for the past 4 years. However, shortly after I registered to race, I knew it would not be my PR year. I had sustained one ankle sprain after another. I had a personal and work life that took priority. Still, I’d give it my best effort, seek small improvements and enjoy this wonderful experience.

SWIM

I was determined to have a successful open water swim. Every year at this race, I get swum over by men in their 30’s (the wave which typically followed my start wave). I’d get my goggles and swim cap pulled away then inevitably lose my contacts. Last year, my wave start was especially crowded and I got kicked in the neck, just within a few yards of the start. For a brief second, I thought I’d DNF at the start of the race. Luckily I did not.

This year, I resolved to avoid the underwater smackdown. I traded swimming straight along the buoys for hugging the shoreline. This resulted in a 1.33 mile swim but I actually swam one of my fastest open water swim paces. I’ll work on swimming straighter for next year’s race, but for this day, I was happy to exit the river unscathed. And despite my goggles leaking, both contacts remained in my eyes. Halleluhah!

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swim exit martin

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BIKE

My goal was to bike at a pace faster than the prior year’s. I was not conditioned to reach my PR pace but I would try to get close. Since my wave started late, the air temperature was warming up. The wind also started to pick up and I rode in headwind and crosswinds for most of course.

I decided to use UCAN bars for my nutrition. In the past I preferred liquid nutrition. I found liquid UCAN too pasty so I settled on the bars, which worked well during training. I thought it would be a good idea to keep the UCAN bars and electrolytes in two separate plastic sandwich bags placed in the back pocket of my tri kit. This turned out to be problematic. I was never adept at juggling for food or drinks with one hand on the handlebar. While I’d practice eating the bars on training rides, I could not manage everything I stuffed into one back pocket. A fellow Team Betty passed me and I could barely acknowledge her with a plastic bag dangling from my teeth. I was trying to get into the second plastic bag in my pocket. Thank goodness there are no photos of this. I was peddling slow during these moments. It was frustrating. I finally stopped twice for a total of 11 minutes according to my Garmin watch. Those precious 11 minutes were used to go to the bathroom, fill my bottles with electrolytes and eat my nutrition.

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The Hunchback de Ziplock bags of nutrition is oh so very aero.

There was better traffic control this year however there seem to be a lot more cars on the roads. It is summer in Napa after all. For a few miles I got stuck with a three other athletes behind a slow moving car, unable to pass it. Another car almost took out two cyclists in front of me when they got confused and entered the wrong lane. I had to shout for the car to “stop” and we safely rode around it.

Despite all the wind, stopping and traffic, I managed to improve my pace from the prior year’s but my official bike time would record a slower pace than my actual moving time. In a similar way with my swim result, I was still pleased with my pace. I was able to negative split, felt strong throughout the ride and passed many athletes during the last 10 miles.

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As I got off the bike, I had a feeling I might be dehydrated. While I was on the bike, someone driving by shouted to me what sounded like “you need to take salt.” I dismissed it. It’s hard to be certain what exactly the words were. Also how could the driver have possibly known that? Still it stuck in my head as I headed out of T2. I investigated my arms and noticed that I didn’t appear to be sweating much and I had a lot of salt on my skin. It was a windy day, so that could have dried up my sweat and my back did feel quite sweaty.

After the race, I realized I did not drink enough on the bike. I had lots of electrolytes still in the Ziplock bag I was carrying on the bike. Rookie mistake.

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Ironically, my father had reminded me before the race to “drink, drink, drink” which he told me is the relic of a song sung by Mario Lanza (his favorite singer) from the movie “Student Prince”. “It might prevent cramps” dad said. I think he might have been right.

RUN

If I didn’t appear sweaty enough on the bike, I certainly made up for it on the run. The weather forecast was a high of 83F, which is relatively cool for this race. It felt much warmer to me. (Our car showed a temperature of 90F that afternoon.) I felt good for the first two miles and tried to stay hydrated, but both legs started to cramp up. I ran whenever my legs would allow me to and walked as fast as I could the other times. I traded encouragement and small talk with a few other athletes suffering on the run course with me. I carefully took in electrolytes, salt and nutrition and focused on trying to recover. I accepted that I could not run much but pleaded with my legs to at least allow me to run the last mile in.

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The high-fives from friends, cheers from strangers and the energy from my dear friend Rhonda running with me for a few yards, transferred some mojo into my legs and I was able to run the last mile to the finish line.

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I didn’t care so much about my time as I cared about finishing strong in front of the kids. I wanted to set a good example. What a tough day for them to get up at 5 am and be out there in the heat all day. I could hear the 11 year old cheering me from start to finish. I appreciated her energy and enthusiasm. I’m honored that the 13 year old sports enthusiast gave up on his search for Brett Favre (you know, THAT famous quarterback), to search for me. Favre’s wife was racing too. After I finished, the 15 year old told me he wanted to race a triathlon next year. My heart melted. He even offered to pace me at this race but I had to tell him it was not allowed, but he did find a lot of Pokeman all over Guerneville and Windsor.

I smiled to myself all day, grateful that my family was there cheering me on. I worried they’d be bored, hot and exhausted waiting for me to finish. I wanted to finish the race so I wouldn’t keep them waiting for me too long.

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And I’m so grateful for this guy, for making sure I’d get my workouts in and being my biggest cheerleader. Thanks for all the support darling!

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Shout out to my Team Betty. There were a dozen of us racing and I am also so grateful to be a part of an amazing group of women from all over the world. I would meet one of the Bettys on the run course. Later I would learn that it was Arianna and she had traveled from Ecuador to race. She graciously thanked me later for the “power hug” saying that it helped her. I told her a few miles back, another friend and SVTC teammate named Christina hugged me when I needed it. I told them both, that this sport is part training and part heart and soul.

There were a total of four Betty podiums. It was great to see the camaraderie and friendship between Audra and Jen (below). They stood on the podium together, in the same age group. Polly and Jordan also made the podium. A shout out to Jordan for placing 1st in her age group!

IMG_5122And happy birthday to Hannah, who was celebrating the anniversary of her 29th birthday in a badass way.

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I finished with my 4th best effort out of 5, almost an hour over my PR. The small improvements (swim, transition, learning about nutrition) will all contribute to the bigger picture next year, as I seek to, once again, chase down my PR. For now, I’ll celebrate being able to say that I am among the many happy souls who are privileged to partake in this sort of thing.

TAKEAWAYS

  • Need to re-install a bento box if I’m going to continue to use bars for nutrition otherwise I need to go back to liquid calories.
  • Heed my father’s advice to “drink, drink, drink” (water that is, not booze).
  • Try out the latest anti-camping remedy. Yes cramping is part conditioning and part hydrations but for me, it’s also a part of my genetics. Even when I’m fully hydrated, I can get bad cramps. It impairs me physically AND mentally. I’m afraid to push too hard when I race because I’m scared of cramping. This article talks about what I’ve learned about cramping from a nutrition class I took at Stanford http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-new-way-to-prevent-muscle-cramps-1468256588
  • Heed Coach Soren’s advice that if I really work on my swimming, I can get faster.
  • It’s a long-term goal. Coach Garry from SVTC reminded me that to really prepare properly, it’s a long-term goal.
  • I’m in a new age group and while it does get harder, it’s still possible to PR. I just need to work a lot harder at it.

It’s about the journey and for this race, I was smiling to myself on the course feeling loved and fortunate to have my family’s support. I am so grateful to be able to do this sort of thing.

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Interested in the cool gear all the Bettys are wearing? You can get most of it here:

https://bettydesigns.refersion.com/c/be13

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My First Ultra Marathon – Northface Endurance Challenge 50K + 1 mile

I once said I’d never do a triathlon.  I am an Ironman.  I once said I’d never want to run more than 26.2 miles of a marathon.  I am now an ultrarunner.  YES I AM.  And I’m grateful for every opportunity to pursue these crazy things.  Before I continue with my race report, you should watch a video made by Gus Luong, who ran his first 50 miler the same day I ran my first 50K.  He graciously gave me permission to include his video, which shares his vantage of the amazingly beautiful and challenging North Face Endurance Challenge San Francisco 50 mile course.

It was a tough year physically. I was anemic, fatigued and had other health issues to deal with.  I dropped out of the Wildflower Long Course triathlon in May as a result.  When my health improved, I had permission to do the Vineman 70.3 half Ironman triathlon.  It was my slowest of 3 appearances but I was thrilled to get through it.  Then I was lucky to be invited to be a part of a 12 member team and raced Hood to Coast (HTC), a 197 mile relay race across Oregon.  I was feeling better at HTC and my running was improving.  This helped me feel optimistic about my first ultramarathon, the Northface Challenge 50K in the Marin Headlands.

Training had been going well.  Although I was not feeling like myself, I was able to train at a low heart rate and had the endurance to go long. Then, 4 weeks prior to race day, I developed a neuroma in my foot. Every step felt like I was landing on broken glass with a continuous burning sensation that extended to the tip of my third and forth toe. Over the next few weeks and up until the day before the race, I debated whether I should withdraw. Fortunately, I had a lot of encouragement from my friends and the confidence I could finish under the 10 hour time limit.   When I arrived at the start, my friends greeted me with a warm welcome. I’m so lucky to have such good friends whom I met through the love of the sport. Being surrounded by them comforted me.

It was perfect weather for racing. At 7 am it was about 55F and overcast. Last year it was about 40F. It had rained heavily for several days prior to the race. One of the foot bridges had been washed away so the race course had to be modified at the last minute. The course ended up being 1 mile longer, 32 miles instead of 31. So I ending up running a 50K + 1 extra mile.

Photo credit: Kiyoko Ikeuchi
Photo credit: Kiyoko Ikeuchi

 

Photo credit: Michelle Sun
Photo credit: Michelle Sun (raced 50K)

 

Photo credit: Glenn Schiavo (50 miler)
Photo credit: Glenn Schiavo (raced 50 miles)

My original goal was to complete the 50K in about 8 hours. I had to let go of my ego and be pleased that I’d complete it in less than 10 hours. I rarely take pain medicine before or during a race but on that day, I took an Aleve, an anti-inflamatory containing Naproxen. One pill lasts all day and I heard it was gentle on the stomach. My game plan was to start out slow, hike the hills and treat the first 6 miles like a warm-up. After 6 miles, I pretended my marathon race started. These are the type of mind games I’d play with myself.

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Parts of the trail were slippery with mud.   The worst part was climbing up the Heather Cutoff Trail. It’s a single track, with switchbacks all the way up the mountain.

The rainfall had produced a stream of water running down it. The mud was thick. As I climbed up, the elite and fast 50 mile racers were headed towards me, in the opposite direction down the mountain. Some were sliding down and I just tried to keep out of their way.  My foot was burning at that point and the idea of dropping out did enter into my mind. I had a brief thought that I could catch a ride to the finish at the next aid station. Then I heard one of our former coaches and elite athlete, Erich, say hi to me. Perfect timing. Hearing my name and having to look up and talk to him briefly woke me up from my discomfort. I continued to trot up in the mud. If it had been a training day, there would be no way I’d be running in this mess. But once I got over the fear of doing a face plant, I just embraced it like a 10 year old playing in the mud. Runners coming down gave me a lot of encouragement and updates on the condition of the course ahead. It was a big relief to get to the top. I saw 2 good friends. My pal Summer stopped to check on me. Her smile was another positive distraction. Then Amalia stopped in her tracks, called out my name and extended her arms to give me a big bear hug. Thank you ladies. I read somewhere that giving high fives or a hug helps to release endorphins.

The Heather cut-off slip and slide was quite the ride up and back down.
The Heather Cutoff slip and slide was quite the ride up and back down.  Photo credit: Alvin Lubrino
Photo credit: Alvin Lubrino
Photo credit: Alvin Lubrino
Photo credit: Michelle Sun
Photo credit: Michelle Sun (raced 50K)

 

Photo credit: Glenn Schiavo (raced 50 miles)
Photo credit: Glenn Schiavo (raced 50 miles)

 

Photo credit: Glenn Schiavo (raced 50 miles)
Photo credit: Glenn Schiavo (raced 50 miles)
Photo credit: Matt Iijima (raced 50 miles)
Photo credit: Matt Iijima (raced 50 miles)

I finally made it to the Cardiac Hill aid station. I knew at this point I was going to make it to the finish line, so long as I didn’t kill myself sliding back down that same switchback. I also heard someone say that we only had about a half marathon left to run. I laughed to myself thinking how 13 miles didn’t seem like much once you’ve ran a marathon distance or more.

Photo credit: Michelle Sun
Photo credit: Michelle Sun (raced 50K)

With my spirits revived, I picked up the pace and trotted back down the sloppy switchbacks. I studied how some of the fast 50 milers maneuvered in the mud. I tried to follow behind them (although briefly) and mimicked their strides. I was reminded to stay on my toes and to use and see the whole trail in front of me: the rocks or mound of dirt I could push off of; the grassy spot to gain some speed; or just to simply plant my foot in a puddle. If I slid, I just embraced it and kept on going. The mud was as sticky as it was slippery. One gal had to run the rest of the race with a muddy, wet sock when the mud refused to let go of her running shoe. I passed by several runners with mud on their faces and a lady who had one nasty, bloody knee cap. I’m happy to report that I made it down without losing my front teeth.

The last 13 miles was also when I entered into the state of foggy brain. It’s the period of time when I could not run and do simple math at the same time. It took me 15 minutes to calculate what pace I should maintain in order to finish under 10 hours. I kept thinking 26 plus 5 equaled 32. Close enough. Besides, rounding down felt better.

My knees spoke to me for the first time during the last few descents.  I almost never experience any discomfort in my knees but on this day, jumping over puddles, sinking and sliding in mud and the slightest change in my gait due to my sore foot must have put a strain on my knees.

At mile 29, I decided to just grit my teeth and go for it. After all, I didn’t want to come in last place and I didn’t want to take any chances of disqualifying. It was fun to pass a few people during the last two miles. I’m sure those runners did not appreciate me doing that at the very end but having fresher legs was the reward for conserving my foot.

Rama surprised me by greeting me at the last mile. Knowing my foot was hurting he said to me “you know you can stop running now” since I would make it to the finish under 10 hours. I stopped running for a bit, but I didn’t want the runners I passed to pass me back with less than a mile to go, so I ran it in. Wow. What a day. After my friends congratulated me at the finish, they pointed me towards the medical tent. With a little nudging, I went in and was never happier to have my foot massaged. I think I thanked the guy at least 3 times.

Photo credit: Chad Su
Photo credit: Chad Su

The foot is still tender, about 4 days later but the legs are fine. I’m looking forward to doing this race again next year. It’s well organized, a gorgeous course and after climbing an elevation gain of about 6,700 feet, you feel like such a bass ass.

The real bad asses are my friends who raced the 50 miler that day.  I don’t have the speed nor strength to pursue 50 miles on that course but maybe someday I might.  Never say never!

Takeaways:

  • Two 16 ounce water bottles were more than enough to get me to each aid station.
  • I should have carried a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a bar with protein with me. I had 4 gels and 3 cookies. It wasn’t enough. Because my pace was much slower due to my foot, it took me longer to get from aid station to aid station and I got hungry. I was lucky I did not bonk.
  • Carry an extra pair of dry socks if it’s raining or muddy. If it’s cold, you can wear the socks on your hands.
  • Do more weight training and leg strengthening early in the season.
  • Practice more fast hiking up hills. Because I’m a slow hiker, I am more comfortable jogging up slowly. While this works for me, I need to develop my hiking muscles.   This will help to so save my running muscles.
  • Don’t be afraid of the mud or puddles. Sometimes you just have to run right through it.
  • If ever I see someone suffering during the race, I’ll be sure to give them support. Sometimes that little bit of encouragement can go a long way.
  • That drink offered at the aid station that almost matched the color of my shirt is Mountain Dew.  It has a lot of caffeine in it and at mile 26, it’s my new favorite magical elixir.
  • Never give up on the things you love to do nor the people you love.
  • Never say never.
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Photo credit: Kiyoko Ikeuchi

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The North Face Endurance Challenge 2013 Marathon – First Trail Race Report

“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter.  I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill one only finds there are many more hills to climb.”  – Nelson Mandela

Mandela passed away 2 days prior to my first trail race, The North Face Endurance Challenge (NFEC), marathon distance.   His words were my mantra as I climbed the hills of the Marin Headlands.  My other inspiration came from my dear friend Kelly, a 10 time Ironman and 2 time 50 mile endurance runner who had to miss racing the 50K NFEC because her cancer had returned a few weeks before.   While I was sad she could not be out there on the course with me, seeing her the day before the race lifted my spirits.  She reminded me to enjoy my race; I reminded myself to be grateful.  A big “thank you” to NFEC for deferring Kelly’s registration to any NFEC race she wants to do next year.

I signed up for this race to console myself after my DNF at Ironman Lake Tahoe (IMLT).  A friend racing the 50K recommended it.  Since I was pulled from the IMLT course at mile 60+ on the bike, I still had some pent up energy brewing inside my body.  However, after a long training season, I was too mentally exhausted to do another Ironman right away.  Doing a trail marathon seemed like the perfect answer.  It was something new and challenging to focus my attention on.  I admit I was frightened when I discovered there was 4,500 feet of climbing.  I was also intimidated by the trails.  While I had trained for IMLT by running on some local trails, I am very new to trail running.  I am still learning how to navigate around the uneven and bumpy terrain.  My goal for the race was to survive it without doing a face plant or spraining my ankle.

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The temperature was between 35-40F on the morning of the race.  Located in the Marin Headlands, just over the Golden Gate Bridge on the other side of San Francisco, the NFEC California is the “championship” of the series of NFEC races.  As a result, some of the world’s top endurance athletes were competing that morning.  A couple days prior to the race, I attended a panel discussion.  I inadvertently photo-bombed a photo shoot with the athletes’ sponsor, Salomon.  Oops.  Just call me Gump, Forest Gump.

My apologies to Salomon fo the photo bomb.  Some of the athletes here are: François D'haene, Michel Lanne, Cameron Clayton, Emelie Forsberg, Ryan Sandes, Kilian Jornet, Ricky Gates, Miguel Angel Heras and Anna Frost.
My apologies to Salomon fo the photo bomb. Some of the athletes here are: François D’haene, Michel Lanne, Cameron Clayton, Emelie Forsberg, Ryan Sandes, Kilian Jornet, Ricky Gates, Miguel Angel Heras and Anna Frost.

The 50 miler race began at 5 am!  Yes, it was dark and cold at that time.  Here’s a fun video of the elite male racers.  It’s challenging enough to run the trails in broad daylight, let alone in the dark with headlamps.

http://bit.ly/1kXniOC

The 50K race began at 7 am and the marathon (my race) began at 9 am.  I arrived early to see my 50K friends at the start.  Since I had a couple hours before my start, we drove to Sausalito where I ate a big traditional bacon and eggs breakfast.  It was divine.

After being frozen at Ironman Lake Tahoe, I wasn’t taking any chances.  I wore two layers on top, a fleece headband and inserted hand warmers inside my gloves.

Takeaways

  • I carried too much food and too much water (2 liters) in my hydration backpack for the marathon distance.  I think I will carry just a handheld bottle or a smaller hydration pack in the future.  The aide stations were fully stocked with all the food I needed and were close enough for me to survive with less water.
  • Solid food worked well for me on a trail race.  Salted boiled potatoes, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pretzels and oranges are my favorite.  I waited until mile 13 to start consuming coke and took only 1 gel the entire day at mile 20.
  • Power walking up the hills saved my legs.  I was successful in making up time on the flats however lost a lot of time on the descents.  I need to learn how to run faster downhill.  I know I will improve over time with practice.  For my next race, I will focus on running up some of the hills.  I ran this race very conservatively because I was afraid of dying out on the course from all the climbing.
  • Trail running is a much more laid back and supportive community.  There was much more encouragement and camaraderie from fellow racers than any other race I’ve ever been in.
  • Trail races offer the best free food for their athletes.  Unfortunately, as usual, I am unable to eat much after several hours of physical exertion.  It is important to consume some calories within 20 minutes so I came prepared with a frozen chocolate milk, my favorite recovery drink.  It was so cold that my chocolate milk was still a little slushy 10 hours later when I finally drank it.

I finished about 44 minutes over my estimated goal time.  My legs felt remarkably good 24-48 hours after the race.  My quads, hamstrings and hip flexors were tight but I have felt worse after a half marathon.  My feet were a bit tender but no worse than after any other marathon distance running.

It is absolutely gorgeous at The Marin Headlands, my new favorite place to run.  I had so much fun, I will be doing the 50K next year with my friend Kelly.  Did I really just say that?

I think my race report could have been summed up entirely with photos, taken on race day and on my training runs a few weeks prior.  I can’t wait to get back out there again.  Enjoy the photo journey.

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Several heat lamps were provided to help keep athletes warm before the start of the race. I ended up making friends with some of these folks on the course.
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I ran with a nice man “Sal” from Mexico. He’s ahead of me here in the photo. Running at a low heart rate and hiking up some steep climbs in the wilderness is conducive to making new friends.
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Some of the descents are steep. I kept my eyes on the trail and only looked up when walking or when the trail was flat and clear. When I did take the time to look up, this is what I saw.
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Ran into a friend here who was racing the 50K. She had made a wrong turn and ended up running 2 extra miles!

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Yeh, that was fun!
Yeh, that was fun!
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We had amazing weather every time we went to the Marin Headlands to train.
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Nature’s stair master. After training on the Dipsea Trail the week prior, these stairs seemed tame.
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Yes, the quads are burning just a bit and then you have to start running once you get to the top.
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I’ve gotten so use to just putting my head down and doing all the climbing here in Northern California. When I make it to the top and survey the land below, I still get amazed at how high I’ve climbed.
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Turns out I have some horse whispering skills. He came up to me as if to offer a ride. I declined. I enjoy running free out there as much as he does.

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Vineman Half Ironman 70.3 Race Report 2013

The Vineman 70.3 Half Ironman is one of my favorite courses to race.   A qualifier for the Ironman World Championship 70.3, this triathlon attracts a competitive field.   It is also a very scenic course taking athletes on a tour by Sonoma’s picturesque vineyards and wineries.

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Swim

I arrived early at the Russian River and felt relaxed.  The start was located in Guerneville, about 16 miles from the finish in Windsor, California.  It was overcast and air temperatures in the low 60’s F.  I felt cold standing in my wetsuit waiting to start.  I tried to warm up by jogging in place and doing jumping jacks on the beach.  Fortunately the water temperature was about 70-71F which was warmer than the air temperature.  It felt good to jump in.

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I decided to swim to the far right this year to avoid getting trampled on by the 30 year old male triathletes in the waves behind me.  Last year, 2 guys swam right over me causing my swim cap and goggles to come off.  As a result, I lost 1 contact lens.  This made for an interesting bike ride last year.  Little did I know, I’d have another “interesting” bike ride this year.

For the first time during the swim, I looked back a few times to see if there were any swimmers right behind me.   This probably cost me a little time but it provided me with comfort.  No one swam over me this year.  For the second year during this race, I stood up and walked during the swim even though I promised myself that I would not waste energy trudging through the water.  The river is notoriously shallow in some parts.  The water level seemed even lower this year.  Once I felt my hands scrape the bottom of the river, I broke my promise and walked.

My overall swim time was almost exactly the same as last year, however I believe I’m a better swimmer this year.  I felt strong at the finish and kicked harder.  Had I not swam so wide, not looked back for swimmers behind me and walked less, I suspect that I would have had a faster swim time.

T1

I stuffed my bike shoes with a sock in each; my heart rate monitor in the left shoe and my sunglasses inside my right shoe.  In the back of my mind I always worried about leaving my expensive Oakley sunglasses out in the open but dismissed that thought.  I naively believed there would be no reason for theft since each of the athletes would come prepared with their own gear.  I was wrong.  My sunglasses were missing from my neat little set up.  Nothing else was disturbed.  I looked all over wondering if it somehow got kicked around.  I’m not sure how that would happen without other items, like my bike shoes, being disturbed.  My heart rate monitor and socks were still tucked inside my shoes, just as I had left them.

Searching for sunglasses.
Searching for sunglasses.

I shouted out to a few friends volunteering and spectating to see if they had an extra pair of sunglasses for me to borrow.  No such luck.  A good friend volunteering that day ran back to T1 with me to help me look for them again.  I was hoping they were hidden in my T1 gear.  Unfortunately they were not.   I fretted for a minute thinking about what it was going to be like biking without my sunglasses.  I had already sustained an eye injury and scarred my cornea last year so I was extra cautious when it came to protecting my eyes.  No time to fret.  I grabbed my bike and got on it as quickly as possible.  My T1 time was over 11 minutes, twice the amount of time I had hoped for.

Bike

I am behind schedule and riding by myself for the first few miles.  Most of the field is ahead of me.  This helped me to relax and settle into my ride.  I then noticed that my Garmin was not displaying my average pace or the mileage.  It’s not picking up the satellite.  I didn’t want to turn it on and off in the middle of the race and hoped it would eventually pick up the satellite.  It does not.  I had to ask other athletes what mileage we were at along the way.  Fortunately, my heart rate monitor was working.  I relied strictly on heart rate and feel for the entire 56 miles.  To make the ride even more interesting, my chain jams a few times.  About 1/3rd of the way into the ride, my front derailleur is unable to move the chain out of the small ring.  Perhaps the jam threw the derailleur off.  My Vision shifters are also jammed.  Great!  Perhaps some bike mechanic skills would have helped here.  Other than changing a flat, I possessed no bike repair skills.  Stuck in the small ring, I continued to ride and hoped I’d make it up Chalk Hill without any major issues.

bike3I followed the strategy prescribed by my coach, which was to ride conservatively and not push myself until after Chalk Hill.  Chalk Hill felt like a mere bump in the road.  That’s good!  It was a sign that I did not push too hard or too soon.  With permission to ride more aggressively, I passed a few athletes post Chalk Hill.  I had been playing cat and mouse with three 30-something guys for the last half of the course.  One of the guys I chicked, passed me back however he could not maintain his pace.  I got stuck behind him on a road with a narrow shoulder.  There was a lot of car traffic preventing me from passing him back right away. I felt a little frustrated then finally found an opportunity to pass him back.  It took longer than I liked.

The last stretch into town was comfortable and flat.   I tried to make up some time but was still stuck in the small ring.  At least this allowed me to spin my legs and I was able to easily run with my bike to T2 as soon as I dismounted.

T2

I overshot my T2 row which confused me for a moment.   I quickly realized where my running shoes were.  I took an extra minute in T2 to take some fluids and a Salt Stick.  It felt warm and I did not want to cramp.  Last year I grabbed everything and took salt and fluids while running which was a better strategy.  My T2 was a minute slower compared to last year.

Run

My legs felt heavy on the run but I quickly found my pace.  I have chronic hip and glute pain which flared up the day before.  I had been dealing with this all year.  It’s a bit uncomfortable but I knew I would be able to run through it.  I saw Coach Tom during the first few miles of the run and again towards the last 3-4 miles.  He told me to keep on smiling.  It felt warmer compared to the prior year.  My wave was also later this year (3rd to last) so I am one of the last groups out on the road with fewer athletes to run with.  I dumped cold water on my head and put ice inside my sports bra at every water station.  Last year, I ran by a few aid stations without stopping.  This year I took my time and stopped at each one.

I caught up to some of the athletes who passed me on the bike.  I noticed one lady in particular, because of the triathlon kit she was wearing.  I recognized that she was a member of a team a good friend was a member of.  She was in my wave.  I also passed her back and forth on the bike and then I passed her on the run, twice, which surprised me as she never passed me back on the run course.  I made a mental note of her race number.  I wanted to see if she was missing time recorded by the timing mats on the run.  Sure enough, she confirmed my suspicion that she cheated.  She cut out a portion of the run that travels through a vineyard.  Shameful.

Coach Tom refused to give me a time goal this year.  He knew it would be hard for me to attain this based on all the training I was doing for Ironman Lake Tahoe.  Even though my legs felt heavy, I thought I achieved a negative split on the run.  I didn’t even come close.   I was able to run most of it, only walking at the aid station or up a hill.  Most of the people I passed were walking or running very slowly.  It wasn’t my best pace but I was pleased to be running and not cramping.

I finished the run with an average pace 30 seconds per mile slower than the prior year’s.  My overall race time was 19 minutes slower compared to last year.  My nutrition was spot on.  I did not feel beaten up at the end.  It was a good race.  I enjoyed it very much and look forward to doing it again next year.

finish line favorite - Version 2

 

Nutrition

I started my carb loading and hydration loading with Osmo Pre-Load 48 hours prior to the race.  I typically try to stay hydrated all season long.   I’ve been taking a Nutrition for Endurance Athletes class at Stanford and have incorporated the following into my Pre-Race nutrition and hydration routine:

  • Carb load 3 days prior to the race, consuming 2x the amount of carbs I normally do.  You can carb load 2 days prior.  I tend to under eat and cramp, so I like to carb load 3 days prior to ensure I had enough glycogen stores built up.
  • Extra calories should come from starches (bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, yams, oatmeal, etc), however I consume the same total amount of protein, fat and vegetables as I normally eat in a day.
  •  Eat 2x as often, keeping the amount of carbs in any one meal the same as I normally eat.
  • Drink an extra 1-2 liters of water to hydrate the newly formed glycogen.
  • Try to eat the healthiest calories with less salad and vegetables than I normally consume to avoid excess fiber that can potentially cause GI distress.

For details and photos of what I actually ate, check out this link:

Wonder how the Hungry Athlete carbo loads? In preparation for my half Ironman this past weekend, I carb loaded…

Posted by The Hungry Athlete on Tuesday, July 16, 2013

On Race Day, I ate a berry scone, banana, potato gnocchi and drank Osmo Pre-Load.  Since I had to wait almost an hour before my wave started, I ate a granola and cranberry bar and continued to sip Osmo Pre-Load while standing around in transition.

On the bike I planned to have at least 4 hours of nutrition on me.  I actually needed less than 3.5 hours of nutrition.

PLANNED CALORIES ACTUAL CALORIES ACTUAL CONSUMPTION
Total Time including stops 4 3.5
BIKE total calories per hour 250 250
Total calories needed 1000 875
CALORIES QTY TOTAL CALORIES QTY TOTAL
Bonk Buster Bar Blueberry Oat 220 1 220 220 0.5 110
Carbo Pro 100 8 800 100 8 800
Osmo 35 4 140 35 4 140
TOTAL CALORIES 1160 1050

I always want to get off the bike feeling full and ahead of my nutrition rather than behind.  On the run I consumed only gels, Salt Stick, water and drank coke starting the last 6 miles of the run. No GI issues and I felt I had enough calories in me.

Takeaways

1)  Hide your valuables (sunglasses, heart rate monitors, etc) under a towel or bag in transition.  In a panic and rush, your fellow triathletes may also trip over or kick your stuff around.

2)  Listen to your coach.  I posted the following on my coach’s Facebook page a few months ago.  He got a good chuckle out of it.

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While I’m a pretty good student and take instruction well, I have to admit, even though coach told me I would not PR at Vineman due to my Ironman training, my ego still thought I might be able to pull it off or at least come close to last year’s time of 6:35.

3)  Periodization, tapering and recovery are just as important as the hard training.  Over-training can lead to poor results or injury.  This is particularly important at my age.  I want to make sure I stay healthy enough to continue to do triathlons as long as I want to.

4)  After the race, I had the Vision shifters replaced by Shimano Dura Ace which are much more reliable.  Tune up your bike before every race.  Perhaps I should learn some basic bicycle maintenance skills.

5)  Start out slow on the run.  Last year I was able to negative split the run by starting out conservatively.  I went out too fast on the run this year.

Wildflower Long Course 2013 Race Report

The Wildflower Long Course is one of the most beautiful and one of the most difficult 70.3 half Ironman (HIM) distances around.  Not only is it hilly, it can also be very hot with windy conditions.  This particular weekend was epic.  We endured scorching temperatures of over 100F on some parts of the course on Saturday (the day of my long course race), and a chilly 62F on Sunday (the day of the Olympic course race).

I’ll begin my race report with a fun video documenting our race experience:

The Wildflower Long Course was my 1st race of the season.  This was my 2nd year at Wildflower.  I was more experienced, felt better prepared and am physically stronger.  I was hoping to PR (set a personal record) on this course, improving my previous time by 30 minutes, possibly more.  Regardless of my goal time, I was confident I’d have a positive race experience.

Swim

I was in the 2nd to last wave start.   That meant that I would be waiting around for quite awhile before I started my race.  I had to plan my nutrition to account for the gap in time between when I last ate breakfast until the time I am on the bike.  I brought a Greek yogurt and a bottle of Ensure to transition.  Both provided additional calories and protein.  I also drank Osmo preload to stay extra hydrated and prepared for sweating in the heat.

The water temperature was 70F.  I had a good practice open water swim a few days earlier and was the calmest I’ve ever been before the start of a swim.  I am also lucky to be starting in the same wave group with 3 of my dearest friends.  We gave each other a “good luck” hug and we are off.   One minute after the start of my swim, dad posted on my Facebook “It’s 9:26”.  It was like he was with me at the start line and watched me dive into the water.

My left goggle filled up with water almost right away. I could make out the big orange buoys and tolerated the water moving around in my left goggle for the entire swim.  I purposely swam more aggressively than in the past, focusing on my form all the way.  I even practiced bilateral breathing and breathing on my non-dominant side.

The relay team wave caught up to me quickly and they are at my feet, bumping to my left and right.  Fortunately, no one swam on top of me.  I tried to swim wide to avoid them.   At the end of my swim, I was able to stand up easily with no cramping.  Horray!

I thought for sure I had PR’d my swim however official race results showed it was actually one of the worst swim times I’ve ever posted.  My swim pace was 13 secs/100 yards slower than last year.  I swam 20 secs/100 yards faster at another open water swim 3 days prior.  Unfortunately I lost all my Garmin data so I do not have any data other than the official race results.  Perhaps swimming further away from the buoys to avoid the relay team swimmers contributed to a slower swim time.

Several of my friends had unusually slower swim times as well.  There were complaints that the distance was longer and the official timing was off by 5-10 minutes for  some of the swim waves.   Tri California, the organizers of this race acknowledged the timing issue however as of today, nothing specific was confirmed.

For now I’ll assume I swam a bit further than 1.2 miles.  I did swim wide to avoid the relay swimmers. I was happy I did not lose my contact.  I was very comfortable in the water and felt more efficient.  It was a good swim for me.

T1

For the first time, I am able to jog after a few steps out of the water to T1.  I reduced my prior year’s transition time by about 5 minutes!  My coach wanted me to reduce my T1 by half.  7:15 is far better than 12:19.

Bike

The Wildflower Long bike course is legendary with a section labeled on the official map as “Nasty Grade” at mile 41.5.

For 40 miles, I rode with good effort while continuing to keep my heart rate in check.  I am a stronger cyclist this year.  Three weeks prior, I easily rode with an average speed .7 mph faster on the entire course compared to the prior year.  I felt confident that on race day, with a little more effort, I’d achieve an average 1-1.5 mph faster than the prior year.  I was on target to achieve this.  I did feel a little sleepy.  Perhaps due to the heat?  I had caffeine in my Perpetuum which eventually perked me up.

courseprofile

The air temperature was anywhere from 93F-100F.  I was drinking water and taking in electrolytes diligently.  At mile 36 I grabbed 2 water bottles from the aid station and filled up my Speedfill.  I was consuming water at a very fast rate.  I learned later that the bottles I grabbed were most likely partially filled.  The race organization admitted to doing that however this was not their normal practice at earlier water stops or in previous years.  This aid station later ran out of bottles altogether.  A friend of mine had to turn around on her bike to retrieve the bottle she just tossed so she would have a bottle to fill water with.

I was out of water before the next aid station at mile 42.  I assumed I was drinking water at a very fast rate.  Now I wonder if partially filled bottles compounded the situation.

The aid station at mile 42 ran out of  drinkable water.  The water they had was undrinkable.  I didn’t understand what that meant but I was not about to drink water that was deemed “undrinkable”.  A volunteer offered to dump it on my head.   I accepted.  A volunteer told me they had contacted the race organizers twice about the water but no one knew if more water was on it’s way.  I started to feel a little worried.  I was quite thirsty.  I stretched my legs and tried to cool down.  I cautiously took a sip of my nutrition because I am unable to chase my protein and carbohydrates down with water .  Without water, I am unable to take any electrolytes.

I got back on my bike and climbed Nasty Grade as slow as possible to conserve energy.  As if having no water and 97F wasn’t bad enough, we had headwind climbing Nasty Grade.  Seriously?  My legs cramped up and I am feeling light headed.  My power and energy level dropped but I thought I was still going to make the bike cut-off time because I had “banked” some time with a faster bike pace prior to Nasty Grade.  I also thought I could make up some time on the fast descents coming up.    Unfortunately, there were strong crosswind gusts on the descents and I could not take the descents at over 40 mph like I normally do.  I was being blown around so much and had to take it slow.

Image 5

The last aid station at mile 47  had run out of water as well.  I am 9 miles from transition.  The most difficult part of the course are the rollers after Nasty Grade.   I decided to find a shade where I could get off my bike and I tried to cool my core temperature down one more time before I had to face those rollers.  After taking a few minutes to recharge, I got back on the saddle and tried to push a little more aggressively to finish. I felt a little demoralized, nauseas and had no energy but I shifted into my easiest gears and spun as fast as I could.  Unfortunately, it was not in time to make the cutoff.

For the waves/age groups who had no water at two aid stations, 26% of the women DNF’d.  In comparison, 8-11% of the men in the same age groups, who started the race earlier DNF’d.   The percentage of women in the same age groups who DNF’d in previous years is much lower.

T2

I was disappointed but stayed focused.  I racked my bike and put my running shoes on.  I thought I’d make the most of my experience there and attempted to run the course anyway.  All around me were a few disappointed ladies.  One lady looked at me and said “I normally don’t cry over races.”  I told her, “C’mon.  Put your running shoes on and come run with my anyway.”  I tried to catch up on my hydration and took extra electrolytes (Endurolytes/Salt Stick).  I wonder if I took water in too quickly.  I still felt nauseas.  I could not hold it in.  I was frustrated because I had no idea if I had too much electrolytes or too much water.  I learned recently that you can cramp up from too much salt too.

Run

After 7 miles, I started to feel too sick to continue.  I made a decision to run straight for the medical tent.

Takeaways

I asked the nutritionist who was teaching the nutrition for endurance athletes course at Stanford, what I could have done to recover from dehydration.  He told me, “go to the medical tent.”  I learned that sometimes if you are too dehydrated, you just need to stop and seek medical attention.  I felt worse at that moment than I did after Ironman Canada.

This experience was epic.   It was not a positive experience but a good experience.  I had a good swim, a good transition and a decent bike.  I was able to run for 7 miles.  Except for running out of water, I had my nutrition down.  I was able to ride a hilly course with my TT bike which was a boost of confidence for my upcoming Ironman Lake Tahoe which will have a lot more climbs.  Stopping to cool down for a few minutes did help me to recover a little but it is difficult to do it without water.

Tri California sent a personal note to myself and others with a sincere apology and some have received a complimentary entry for next year.

The takeaways from this experience are:

  1. Be more aware of how much water is handed to me.  Hopefully the race organizers will revisit their process and this will not be an issue in the future.
  2. There is a fine line between being tenacious and knowing when your health is in jeopardy.
  3. Thank all of the wonderful college students who volunteered to stand out in the heat all day.  At a couple of the run water stops, the volunteers cheered me on with so much enthusiasm.  I was surrounded by 10 college guys who gave me high 5’s and cheered for me as they dumped water on top of my head.  One of them told me they loved me.  It made my day.
  4. It’s ok to concede.  Weather, mechanical issues, illness and other factors out of your control can impact your race day.  It’s all good.  I am lucky to be able to do this.  I hope I’m healthy enough to return next year.
  5. I can survive racing in 100F.

Ironman Canada 2012

The Journey Begins

My Ironman journey began 2 years ago when I spectated and supported friends at Ironman C’oeur d’Alene in 2010.  I knew back then an Ironman was something I wanted to accomplish.  I had just started to learn how to swim and signed up to do my first triathlon, which was the Big Kahuna 70.3 mile half distance in 2011.  One month prior to that triathlon, I spectated and supported friends again at Ironman Canada.  After an enjoyable practice swim in the calm and warm waters of Lake Okanangan and driving most of the gorgeous bike course which were surrounded by vineyards, lakes and mountains, I decided that Penticton, BC was the place where I wanted to do my first Ironman.  I stood in line by myself and signed up for Ironman Canada in person, before I had even completed my first triathlon.

Pre-race morning

I’m back in Penticton, BC, Canada on August 26, 2012, 1 year later and getting up at 2:45 am to fuel my body for the big day.   I ate a bowl of chicken rice soup (70 cal + carbs + sodium), drank Ensure (350 cal + protein) and ate 1 frozen blueberry waffle (220 cal + carbs) for a total of 640 calories plus a can of coconut juice for electrolytes.  I tried to go back to sleep.  I barely slept for 2 nights.  I was too anxious.  After dozing off I was up again at 4:30 am and tried to eat some more.  I was still too full.  I grabbed my special needs bags, wetsuit and frozen bottles.  Ron gave me some words of encouragement and a big warm hug.  I then head out to catch the 5 am hotel shuttle to the race start.

On the shuttle bus I am surrounded by really fit triathletes.  They all look like they’ve done this before.  I’m feeling inadequate and even smaller than my 5’3” stature.  I then see Eric and Todd board the bus.  I’m at least relieved to see a couple of familiar faces.  I bring an oatmeal bar to eat and an electrolyte to drink during the drive but I really don’t feel like eating.  It’s dark out and I’m cold. The air temperature is about 60F and the water temperature is 71F.  Maybe the water will feel warm since the air temperature is cooler.  The air temperature will warm up to 84F.  Perfect day for racing!

After I pulled my wetsuit on, I downed a Gatorade pre game gel drink for a quick 120 calories and continued to drink my electrolyte drink mix.  It had been now 3.5 hours since I’ve last eaten.  I wanted to ensure I am well fueled and hydrated.  I took great care to ensure I was well fueled and hydrated for several days prior to the race.  Due to my history of cramping, I was going to do everything I could to prevent cramping … or so I thought I did.

Swim

I felt fairly calm but excited.  I made a good effort over the past year to improve my swim technique and gained a sufficient amount of open water swim experience.  I felt comfortable swimming 2.4 miles.  However, I have a torn rotator cuff and had to remain very conservative while training and competing.  Coach Tom and I knew going into this, my swim would be all about just getting through it conservatively with enough energy reserved for the bike and run.

This would be the largest mass swim start that I’d experience with nearly 3000 athletes.  I’m worried about getting kicked in my bad shoulder and in the face where I might lose my goggles.  Having lost a contact at my last half Ironman triathlon.  I packed an extra pair of contacts in my T1 bag just in case.  It was no fun riding my bike at Vineman with 1 contact missing.

Ron and I agreed to meet near the peach to wish me luck and a photo.  I could not find him and was getting more nervous so I headed for the water.  After a short warm up swim I tried to find him again with no luck.  That’s ok.   I know you were out there!  The water always feels cold to me.  I tend to run much colder than most people.  Chris J, a fellow athlete observed me shivering smiled and asked “are you cold?”  He thought the water temperature was perfect and couldn’t believe I was shivering.

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The next few minutes would go by very quickly.  A few of my friends from the Team in Training’s Ironteam called me over.  Jerrold tells me the plan is to wait 5 seconds after the start and then we’ll all start swimming together.  Then, the horn blows and Jerrold turns to me, motions with his hand to follow him and says “C’mon Pim, let’s go, let’s go.”  I must have looked like a scared child.  He turns again, and tries to coax me to start swimming, “C’mon”.  I slowly follow him in.  A few people touch my feet and a couple actual grab my left ankle.  I don’t understand why people need to grab other people’s feet.  I kick gently and they let go.  Jerrold is a stronger swimmer so I don’t try to draft behind him although if I had to do it over again, I should have.  You are supposed to draft behind a stronger swimmer.  Here’s where I made the first of 2 critical mistakes of the day.  I found a lady to draft behind who seemed to be swimming steady.  I notice she’s a bit slow but I can easily stay behind her.  At times, I actual swim up to her so I back off.  I can tell I am a more efficient swimmer than she but made a poor newbie decision and I tell myself that I am going to follow behind her until the 1st turn dubbed “chaos corner”.  The plan was to take off on my own once I made the 2nd turn which was about 1.2 miles into the swim.

The water was clear and I can see fish.  I am relaxed and enjoying the swim.  I am hardly putting in any effort.  I’m basically floating along doing a 2 beat kick at low cadence.  When we reach the 1st turn, I look down and see 3 scuba divers laying on their backs on the floor of the lake and staring back at us.  One of them sees me looking at him and waves.  I wave back.  While the lady I was drafting off of was swimming on target, she would often just stop to sight.  This slowed me down even more since I was following her and had to stop too.  Darn, I wish I just had the confidence to go around her.  I had never done this at the Catfish Crawls, why am I choosing to do this now?  Nerves I think.

Typically there are just a couple of official boats and lifeguards in kayaks or on surfboards at shorter distanced triathlons.  Today there were lots of people spectating from boats all lined up along the home stretch back to shore.  This made it hard to spot the 2nd buoy.  There were so many vessels in the water in your field of vision.  Fortunately, there were spectators on a boat nearby cheering us on.  They point to where the next buoy was.  As I go around the 2nd turn and head back to shore, I felt the fingers on both of my hands start to stiffen.  I tried to shake them out and open and close my fists while swimming.  I made a point to relax my entire body during the swim so the cramping was not due to being too tense.  I felt cold.  I then felt my hamstring cramp on 1 leg.  Then it’s my calf on the other leg.  I flexed both my feet while swimming which slows me down.  The pace of the lady I was drafting off of is now the perfect pace since I’m cramping.  I am in no condition to pass her as planned.  The cramping passes and then comes back.  This would continue on and off for the remaining 1 mile swim back to shore.  Sigh.  I knew this could potentially impact the rest of my race.  I’d have to wait to see what happens when I get out of the water.

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I remained calm and when the cramping subsided, I broke free from drafting and made it to shore.  I struggled to stand up in 2 feet of water.  My legs cramped up again and they really hurt.  This happened to me at Big Kahuna last year where the water was cold.  I hobbled along and tried to get my legs moving across the timing mat.  I see that my time is about 2 hours!  The swim cutoff is 2:20.  I was expecting a time of 1:30 – 1:45.  I swam way too leisurely and spent too much time in the water.  No wonder I was so cold.  My fingers are too cramped to pull the wetsuit off my wrist.  I tell the wetsuit strippers that I am cramping and one guy helps to pull my wetsuit off my arms.  I told them I couldn’t sit down because of my cramping.  Two of them grab my arms and lay me down gently, pull of my wetsuit, and then pick me up onto my feet.  Thank you!

I heard the next day that there was a woman who cheated and swam with white flippers/zoomers.  She pulled them off about 100 yards from shore and left them floating in the path of other athletes behind her.  How selfish!  If I saw her, I would have totally pointed her out on the beach to all the spectators and race officials.  She would have been disqualified and the Ironman rules are that you can even be banned from future Ironmans.  I think this is a good rule.  Anyone caught taking a short cut on the course or cheating in any manner should be banned.  It is bad for the sport and immature of the athlete who cheats.  You are only cheating yourself and it is not the responsibility of others to call you out.  Each individual athlete is responsible for racing with integrity.  You will lose a lot of respect from fellow athletes if you cheat and you will have no one to blame for that other than yourself.  I know someone who DNF 2 times at IMC but had the courage and belief in herself to successfully complete this Ironman in her  3rd attempt.  Those are the people I admire.  As for the cheaters, it tells me you gave up on yourself.  I already read a random blog about other athletes seeing the woman with the white flippers.  I met a man who said his friend was right behind her and will try to report her since he knew her swim finish time.  The timing mats and technology rarely fails at these races.  The timing mats tell an honest story about how you are racing and in this case, may identify the cheater.

T1

In the changing tent, I tried 3 times to put my socks on, once by standing, once sitting in the chair and once again standing with my foot on the chair.  It wasn’t going to happen.  The cramping went all the way up my hips.  The wonderful female volunteers tell me not to worry and put my socks and bike shoes on for me.  After they help me get dressed, they bring me a fleece blanket and wrap it around me.  I am still shivering.  One lady asks for permission to use her body heat to warm me up while the other lady rubs my legs.  They suggest I sit in the sun with a blanket but I tell them that I am ready try to get on the bike.  That’s the best way to warm my muscles up.

Bike

I briskly walk out of the changing tent.  It’s not hard to find my bike.  As a novice swimmer, my lonely bike is typically one of the last bikes left on the rack.  That’s ok.  I’m use to it.  I pedaled off slowly.  I knew that I needed to do 2 things immediately.  I needed to eliminate the cramping and I needed to stick to a plan to ensure the rest of my day went well.  I needed to warm my muscles up slowly.  I am one of the last few athletes left.  I am not going to try to catch up to anyone.  I spun my legs at a high cadence but lightly.  I would remind myself to ride “featherly light” for the entire 112 miles.  Ron was anxiously waiting for my appearance out of T1 and I am happy to see him.  I want to explain to him what happened but I need to keep riding slowly.  I’ll fill him in later on the course.

Although I knew my cramping was not from dehydration, I took some additional salt sticks and started to catch up on my electrolytes and hydration.  I knew that I was already in jeopardy of not finishing under 17 hours right off the bat.  I was experiencing my worst case scenario 2 hours into the race by cramping up so badly.  I needed to make smart decisions.  I knew Ron and Coach Tom were wondering what the heck happened to me.   I should have been on the bike a long time ago.  Don’t worry guys, I made the right decision to dial my effort back even more.  I made a decision to ride at least 1 mph or more slower on average than originally planned.  Later Ron would tell me that Coach Tom was concerned I would do the opposite and push myself too hard on the bike in order to make up the time.  Don’t worry Tom.  I knew that by just staying relaxed and dialing back my effort I could reserve enough legs to gain time on run.  You had coached me well.

For the 1st 20 miles, I picked a lady who had a Tribe jersey to follow.  I didn’t know her but I knew that most of the Tribe folks were very experienced triathletes so I committed to letting her pace me.  Eventually, I was able to pass about 50 people by the time I descended Richter Pass even though I was pedaling at 65% effort.  My bike and run effort is based strictly on heart rate.  Everything is going as planned.  My average heart rate for the bike was 141 bpm.  Perfect!  I still maintained a moderate heart rate around 150 when climbing Ritcher Pass and Yellow Lake.  I tried to greet as many athletes on the bike as possible.  I looked up often and made sure I saw everything.  I wanted to remember this race.

I made a point to take in my nutrition diligently.  I had enough nutrition for a 9 hour day.  I knew I would not need all of it but I wanted to have some reserves to prepare for a flat tire or accidentally dropping my nutrition on the course, etc.

PLANNED

ACTUAL

Total Time including stops

9.0 hrs

7.75 hrs  on road

BIKE total calories per hour

250

250

Total calories needed

2250

1938

CALORIES

QTY

TOTAL

QTY

TOTAL

Bonk Buster Bar Blueberry Oat

220

1

220

0

0

Turkey sandwich

200

1

200

0.5

100

Honey & Lemon Stinger Waffle

160

1

160

1

160

Toffee Crunch Cliff Bar

260

1

260

1

260

Carbo Pro

100

8

800

7.2

720

Perpetuum

135

5

675

4.25

574

Coke

240

1

240

0.3

72

GU

100

1

100

1

100

HEED

100

1

100

1

100

TOTAL CALORIES

2755

2086

Horray!  I got my nutrition down.  My stomach feels good and I have maintained a strong level of energy.  I didn’t mind any part of the ride.  Well, maybe except for when a man passed me saying “Good job Pim”.  He had 70 written on the back of his calf.  Really?  I tell myself that this 70 year old probably was a former top age group finisher and qualified for Kona when he was younger.  I didn’t try to pick up my pace during any part of the ride.  The cramping in my legs would continue to come and go.  I kept trying to hydrate and take electrolytes.  In hindsight, since my cramping issue was caused by the cold water, I don’t know if I needed to catch up on my hydration so much.  I had to stop to pee 4x on the bike.  I’m not ready to pee on the bike yet.  The thought of sitting in bike shorts soaked in uric acid and bike socks soaked in the same does not appeal to me. I normally don’t need to stop that much while on a long training ride.  I wonder if my body was telling me I had enough fluids in me and was getting rid of the excess.  The problem is, once I get a cramp, no matter what the cause, it is hard to get rid of it.  I basically have to live with it for the rest of the day in some manner.   Maybe I needed to have pickle juice waiting for me at T1 after the swim?

I didn’t mind the out and back through the vineyards at around mile 70 where we picked up our special needs bag.  The ride through the vineyards was longer than I had expected.  I road it even slower thinking I’d spin my legs out so I don’t cramp up when I stopped at special needs.  People I had passed earlier started passing me and that was the only time I thought, oh gee, I’m riding way to leisurely.  I picked up the pace slightly.  I stopped to drink about 1/3 of a coke and eat a turkey sandwich.  I had frozen both the night before and placed them in my special needs bag.  It was divine!  The coke was still cold.  I chatted with the volunteer guy and it was the first time I asked for the time of day.  He said I had plenty of time to finish.

As I continued on my ride, I tried to thank or nod my head to anyone who cheered for me.  Having spectated 2 Ironmans, I truly appreciate the effort it takes to spectate.  It’s not easy.  There were many times I saw a woman or man sitting by themselves on a beach chair in a remote location on the side of the road cheering people on.  I’m sure they were there for their friends and family but they still cheered on everyone else that went by.

The entire time, I smiled to myself and took it all in.  It was the most marvelous bike ride of my life!  At no point did I wish it would come to an end.  At no point did I really want to get off the bike.  The decision to wear the heavy duty bike shorts then change into tri shorts for the run made for a comfortable ride.  I tried to relax my neck and shoulders in the aero position.  I spun my legs featherly light and did not feel fatigued at all.  I was preparing to run a marathon after.

I thought Yellow Lake was at mile 80 so I rode very conservatively in preparation for the climb.  It turns out it was at mile 90.  That’s ok.  I conserved some more energy.  I climbed up as relaxed and easy as possible.  I resisted the urge to go faster and even slowed down when I saw Ron and Patty waiting for me near the top.  Ron ran next to me and I was able to update him on what happened on the swim and how the bike was going.  He said they were wondering what happened to me after the swim.   He assured me I had plenty of time.

The downhill back to Penticton was a lot of fun.  On one of the descents I reached a maximum speed just over 41 mph.  I was able to get into the aero position but weighing only 106 pounds, I did get blown around in the cross winds a bit so I had to hit the breaks a few times.

It was nice to ride back into civilization.  There were athletes already finishing their run and I saw some of my friends on the run course.  I am behind the pack but I know I will continue to pass some more athletes on the run.  I had already passed over 100 people on the bike.  I had managed the bike course well.  Whoo hoo!

T2

I felt like a professional athlete having a volunteer grab my bike and rack it for me.  It was nice to change into a fresh pair of tri shorts and to be able to wipe my face.  On my way out, 2 cute young male volunteers help to apply sunscreen to my shoulders and back.  I teased the guy who was applying the sunscreen to my legs saying “ooooh, nice leg massage”.  He then applied more pressure and massaged my left leg for real and then the other leg while applying sunscreen.  Thank you!  I wanted to stand there longer but needed to get going.

Run

Legs felt great!  I had good energy.  My plan was to take it easy for the first 6 miles  I had trained running up to 18 miles so why not just eliminate the 1st 6 miles and turn it into a 18-20 mile run?  Ron told me, even if I felt like running, I should try to walk a lot in the beginning.   Save it for the last 6 miles.  I see Ron around mile 2.  He told me that Tom said to keep smiling.  I have my Garmin set at a 5:1 run/walk interval.

At the 1st water stop, I would make my 2nd newbie strategic mistake.  I decided to take a drink of the electrolyte drink mix they offered on the course.  I have not consumed this particular brand in over 2 years because it didn’t always agree with me.  Doh!  I felt pretty good and there were no signs of cramping but I was worried the cramping might return.  I risked drinking the electrolyte drink mix because I wanted to ensure I kept my hydration and electrolytes in balance.  I had stopped to pee 4 times already during the bike and once at the start of the run, so I was worried that I was peeing out all of my electrolytes even though I was also taking in a lot of salt sticks.  I hold off on consuming any coke until mile 13 but I do take a few gels along the way.  I feel pretty good!  When I run my intervals, I am running between 9:30 – 10:30 min/mile pace.  Perfect!  I try to make sure it is closer to 10:30 – 11:00 min/mile to start.

My goal is to negative split and Coach Tom gave me permission to “race” starting at mile 18.  I continue to have to stop to pee a lot.  I think at least 6 more times!  This causes me to drink more electrolytes and take in more salt.  My stomach starts to feel discomfort.  Uh oh.  I feel ok at mile 11 and catch up to Jerrold.  We run for a bit until I get to the special needs turn around.  I start drinking cola on the course.  I was looking forward to it.  The combination of the carbonation and caffeine is wonderful.  However, my stomach is not liking the mix of gel, salt, electrolyte drink mix and now cola.  My tummy starts to turn sour fast.  I am unable to stick with my run/walk intervals.  I can only run until my stomach hurts too much.  That is ok.  I know I will finish this race within the time limit but any time goals went out the door.  It actually went out the door on the swim, but I was hoping to make up some time on the run.  I’m a little bummed because my legs can run!  I have no cramping and I have a lot of energy and legs left!  Whenever I am able to run, I can run a 9:30-10 min/mile pace easily.  The rest of my run will be dictated by my stomach.

I finally catch up to 82 year old Sister Madonna Buder.  She is a bit of a celebrity in the Ironman world.  An experienced triathlete, she holds many records and has completed about 45 Ironmans!  I tell her that she’s doing a good job as I run on by.  If she acknowledged me, I would have ran with her but she stayed focused.  Next thing I know she’s chasing me down!  I can hear her breath behind me.  I feel a little guilty passing her but at least I got her going!  What an amazing lady.

It is dark now and there is a whole other feel to the race in the dark.  People are mostly walking and running whenever they can.  I still had spring in my legs so I got a lot of comments from other athletes and spectators about my good pace and running strong.  Jerrold catches up to me now and he tells me that he took an Advil, Tums and changed his socks and now got his second wind.  I probably should have taken a Tums too but I was afraid to put anything else into my tummy.  Jerrold tries to motivate me to get going with him.

We finally make it into town.  For the last 6 miles I can only manage a sip of coke and a sip of water.  I stop drinking anything for the last 3 miles.  I see Ron again and I tell him about my stomach issues.  He tells me he’ll see me at the finish.  I know I will finish in time.  I’m just enjoying the rest of the run at this point and trying to take it all in.  There are more spectators on the streets.  I see Jerrold up ahead going strong.  I’m so happy for him!  Running is his weakness and I have witnessed him improve his running tremendously.  His energy inspires me to keep going.  I do feel like vomiting and all I can think of is that I don’t want to puke in front of all the spectators.  The last 2 miles are very exciting and there is so much energy in the air.  People are cheering you on like crazy.  I try to thank everyone.

About 1 mile from the finish, I smelled those awesome homemade donuts from the street cart.  I kinda wanted one.  I could hear the crowds, the music and the announcer now.  The people on the streets were amazing.  All I kept hearing was “you got this!”, “congratulations Pim”, “good job Ironman”, “you go girl”.  I looked up and said “thank you” to each person.  Jerrold and I gave each other one last high five as he headed in the opposite direction towards the finish.  I made the turnaround shortly thereafter.  It’s very real now.  I told myself, “don’t cry, you don’t want your finish photo to look bad”.  I almost lost it just before I entered the chute so I stopped looking at people.

As soon as I’m in the bright lights, I could hear the cheers and the people banging their hands on the boards.  I heard Ron call out my name.  I saw his hand extended and run to give him a high five.  The next few strides go by almost too fast!  I needed to run slower!  I was so happy, I wanted to jump in the air.  I raised both hands up.   I heard “Pim Kunakasem, you are an Ironman”.  Next thing I knew, I was grabbing the banner.  Ron teased me later that he thought I was going to run off with it.  I had so much energy and legs left, I could have kept on running for sure!  My average heart rate was 138 bpm, much lower than usual due to my GI issues and I managed to pass 179 people on the run.

Coach Tom told me that this is one of the few times as an adult you will feel nervous and excited like a child.  He was right.  Words cannot describe how I felt.  People tell me that the song “Time of Your Life” was playing.  It was the perfect song for me!

Post race and recovery

About 5 minutes after I crossed the finish line and posed for my finishers photo, my stomach reminded me it was not happy.  My feet were also pretty sore.  Joe R who had an amazingly fast finish saw me sitting in the recovery area and hangs out with me.  I managed to eat a couple bites of watermelon.  I knew I needed to get water and protein in but I couldn’t even look at the pizza.  I head over to the medical tent and the nurse there assured me that what I felt was normal and would eventually pass.  She told me it’s ok if I don’t feel like eating right now.  I would eventual vomit on the ride home.  Thanks Ron for soothing me at that moment.  I didn’t quite feel like an Ironman as I stuck my head out of the car door.

That evening, I managed to eat half of plain toast and drink a little flat Sprite.  The next morning I ate the other half and drank more Sprite.  An hour later, I was able to sip ½ of a frozen coffee drink.  The caffeine and sugar perked me up.  By lunchtime, my stomach had finally restarted and I was able to eat a whole quiche.   By the next evening, all I wanted for dinner was ice cream.

Immediately after the race and during the first 24 hours, my feet hurt the most but I had no blisters.  My legs were less sore than after my first marathon probably because my running was limited by my GI issues.  After 48 hours I was stiff and my back was sore but I’m feeling good.  Within 72 hours, my legs almost feel like they’re completely back to normal.  I don’t even feel like I need a massage.  I can’t wait for my next Ironman!  The goal for this race was just to finish and I’ve learned a few things:

1)  Draft behind someone who is a faster swimmer than you or just swim without drafting until you find a swimmer at the right pace to follow.  Exert some effort so your muscles stay warm in the water and prevent cramping.

2) Don’t try anything new on the run course.  Trust that the salt sticks and water will be enough.

3) Take the Tums and Advil you are carrying.  Your stomach is already messed up.  It can’t get any worse.

4) Trying to catch up on hydration too quickly equals lots of portal potty stops.

5) Just let yourself vomit and get it over with.  You’ll feel better after.