Wednesday, May 23, 2012

FORTITUDE --- IRONMAN TEXAS

When I rolled into town I wasn't sure how The Woodlands would compare to other race venues. Everything is bigger in Texas though, so I was ready to be wow'ed. The Woodlands is a quaint area with several hotels, restaurants, bars, and shopping. Everything you'd ever need or want before and after a race was right there, including a KILLER 50m pool.  Huge props and gratitude to the community for welcoming us with their gracious southern hospitality.
The lead up to this race was challenging and presented several obstacles. I handled each with heart and passion and believed I was ready to put together something very special.  I entered the race on about 50-60% the training volume, but with a renewed sense of tranquility knowing I had my career and life back. Yes, this means less time to train and added stress, but there is a calming feeling that comes from knowing race day is not the end-all-be-all to my life!
Photo by Larry Rosa
Swim: After walking the 1.5miles down to the swim start I was feeling a bit anxious. It is crazy, but the swim was what I was most worried about. I've been swimming a few days a week, FAR less than what I need. After a quick warm-up and a quick chat with fellow AIMPer athlete Eric I swam up to the line. I opted to line up on the inside and away from the heavy hitters. I hate the frantic sprint at the start, but this choice cost me dearly. 10 strokes in and I was alone. I swam to the first buoy with one girl on my feet, I tried to put in 50 hard strokes but wasn't gaining on the huge pack ahead of me. I didn't sprint off the line hard enough, and in turn had the worst swim split in probably 5 years. Not ok, but luckily I didn't see the clock as I exited the water so had no clue what my swim split was. Had I known I might have given up right there. I got to the women's rack to see only 4 bikes remained- seriously, WTF! NOT OKAY! Focus on what I can do and put the past behind me, let's ride...
Bike: I felt pretty strong through the first miles. I didn't look down at my Garmin too much, but instead focused on finding my legs and building into the ride. I took heart rate off my computer so I wouldn't see it. I wasn't use to the heat and knew my heart rate would not be a good indicator of how I was riding. I got through mile 30 and started a few 10 minute efforts. I was riding alone and needed to occupy my brain and push my legs harder. I felt strong. My pedal stroke was solid and flowing. People who haven't ridden the course will tell you it's flat. It isn't, there are rollers. Small rollers, but enough to allow you to move around, get out of the saddle and utilize different muscles.
Around mile 35 I had a few spouts of bad luck. First, a bee fly into my top. Seriously?!?!? Who are you kidding you darn pest- I am not well endowed there so I have no clue how you managed to squeak your way in there. Luckily he flew out and left me unharmed. A few miles later I was forced to stop at a traffic light. The road narrowed and the traffic was stopped. I couldn't get by the cars, and eventually went around a huge truck on the left side. I got back into my groove only to have said truck come up on me and run me off the road! Yes, literally I was in the grassy ditch. Thankfully I stayed upright, got off my bike, back to the road and continued on. Back at it, laugh it off, stay positive. The black truck then slowed down again. Ok, now I'm scared...you know Texans like their guns- ummmmm, anyone out there? Help! Instead he just blasted black exhaust in my face and drove away. The joys of an open course, right.
Hot, it was HOT! I doused myself with water at each aid station, and utilized my TYR arm-coolers. Due to my poor swim I started getting caught by age group men around mile 60. I felt ok, not amazing or excellent but ok. I focused on nutrition and riding strong over the last 40miles.
Around mile 75 age group packs started swooping me up-groups of 15+ men with one loan female in the middle of each one.  Unfortunately age group athletes are not made aware of the fact that the pro drafting rules differ from theirs. We can not pass one athlete at a time, and leap frog. Once we move within 5 bike lengths of a rider we must stagger to the left, avoiding their slip-stream, and pass ALL athletes who are legally (or illegally in this case) spaced.  So in order to get around one athlete I had to crank up the power and fly through them all. I had an official with me for a good 90 minutes assuring I took each pass fair. I tried hard not to get frustrated, but it wasn't easy! I tried to focus only on riding a clean strong race, and not on the fact that these groups weren't getting penalized. Out of my control, and focused on MY job.
I was feeling strong and starting to power my way through the final miles. Then, WA-BAM, around mile 90 my bars went south, literally. I only have myself to blame as I am the one that tightened them after unpacking post-travel. I tried to stay in the drop bars and hold them up, but it got a bit dicey over the last 15 quite bumpy miles. Deal with it Caroline! I was worried I'd hit a crack/bump and go flying so I stopped riding aero. The bars kept getting worse and worse. I rolled into transition with them shaking all over the place. Sorry to all the volunteers that were there to catch my bike. I pretty much chucked it at them out of frustration! Run, time to R.U.N! Race isn't over until it's over, and somehow I'm still having fun.

Run: I entered the run course in 9th and was up for the challenge. Chris was standing 1/4 mile in and reminded me to chill. This has become quite customary for him by now... I come off the bike too far back and want to reel everyone in ASAP. It's a marathon though and I'd have to be conservative and stay smart in this heat. It was surely over 90 degrees by now. I love racing in heat, but I hadn't adjusted or acclimated to it at all. 2 steam room sessions were not going to do the trick and I knew that. I focused on hydration, not over eating and constantly throwing water on myself. I quickly found myself settling at 7minute mile pace and feeling pretty comfortable. My race was far from what I had scripted, but I stayed calm. I can do this, and I'm not going to quit.
I saw Kurt around mile 3 and got splits on the girls sitting 5th-7th. I was over 10minutes out of 7th, but didn't think for a second that was impossible.  I passed Jackie after the first loop, and was now running in 8th. Bikes, I want the lead bikes- I want 7th, then 6th, and hoped for 5th. I felt strong and confident. My stride felt great, and the foot pain I've experienced in the past was pretty minimal. Not-Giving-UP!
During the second loop things started heating even more and I had to force myself to get in more calories. My stride still felt good, and I remained light on my feet. Then, around mile 19 I feel apart. It wasn't a slow process, everything became unrailed in a flash. I got an awful cramp in my left glut and could hardly put one leg in front of the other any more. My legs felt good, but the spasm left me at a hobble. I wanted to know how far back 9th was (see pic on the right-I was running scared). All I could do now is fight to stay in the money and hold onto my position. 9minute pace, and for the first time since my very first Ironman I walked. I walked the last 2 aid stations not knowing how I'd start back up again. I yelled (more than once) at my sherpa crew demanding to know if I was going to get caught (ok, I'll admit it, I'm not always the nicest person while I'm racing!). I had to keep fighting. At the final out and back I got a gauge on Jackie, and knew I could hang on. I crossed the line with a smile- a forced & painful one! But a smile nonetheless.
This was not the race I had dreamed off, but in the end I found reason to be happy. It took a little calming from coach, but I had to be honest with myself. That doesn't mean I was satisfied-not in the least- I just had perspective and found happiness in my day. My training was not ideal for a PR, especially in those conditions.  I jumped up on stage to accept 8th very proud of how I've battled through some difficult decisions and transitions the past 6 months. I had fun out there and was honored to represent my sponsors, coach, and friends the best way I could on the day.
As I said on twitter (@ckgregory), sharing the stage with amazing women like this NEVER gets old. We fight hard out there and I admire the tenacity and passion my competitors. I promise you, each of us dug DEEP. The conditions-wind and heat- were tough! Congrats to each of you who finished this race....and here's to the next one! FORTITUDE...I've got it and it's not going anywhere...

Thank you TYR for being the backbone of my triathlon support team. I loved the non-wetsuit swim and Torque time, even if it was a little more "time" than I would have liked. My Scott Plasma is da-bomb, and look forward to further challenging myself to race like I train and conquer an Ironman bike course. Vision, thank you for making my bike frame into a rocking machine-race wheels, components, I love the whole Vision package. I rely on my Garmin bike computer and forefunner everyday in training & racing and am appreciative that I get to test out all their fancy dancy new products.  Nytro, My crazy/hectic life means I couldn't do this without your amazing bike services! Kurt, endless thanks to you for your support, cheers, and facilitating so much for me down in San Diego while I'm up in LALA land playing attorney!  Oakley, my shades match my red TYR carbon kit perfectly - thank you. And Chris/ AIMP Coaching, HUGE thanks for all you do to help make this journey what it is! I love being part of this amazing group of AIMP athletes- 5 of us raced IMTx and it was awesome to all have each other's back and have Chris out there beer drinking... I mean cheering.

3 comments:

Rachel Zambrano said...

I admire you as an athlete, balancing life, and always look forward to reading your posts. Thanks for the inspiration!

Bethk said...

I'm so glad that I found your blog and your twitter feed. I'm training for my first IM and am about as far back in the pack as you can get. It's nice to know the pros face the same challenges and frustrations as I do, just at a faster speed! I like the packing list in your last post, too. Good luck and I'm looking forward to reading about your future adventures.

Christi said...

Congratulations on a tough race!