Sunday, November 23, 2014

An Adventure for the Ages - Ironman Fortaleza

This post simply can't do justice to my recent trip to Fortaleza Brazil.  It was an experience for the memory books & quite the adventure, that's for sure!
Professional athletes have different criteria for choosing races than age groupers. ,The first two criteria I look at is race timing and predicted conditions. Fortaleza promised many conditions that typically play in my favor: non-wetsuit rough swim, extremely hot and windy bike, and brutally hot run. The timing of this race gave me enough time to get in a few solid training blocks after IM Louisville, and enabled me to finish my season before late November (which then opens up early season racing options for 2015).
One thing my brother and I do not have in common is our
tendency for adventurous eating. While Matthew sampled the
local cuisine pre-race I stuck to cooking at home &
fresh coconut water every chance I got. 
I knew what I was signing up for when I entered this first year race. So...let me first set the scene: Fortaleza has a population of 3.5 million (= significant traffic) with a per capita income equivalent to $6,000 US dollars.  Now do you think this combination leads to a society ready and waiting for Ironman athletes to take over their roads?  Another key element is that I don't speak Portuguese.  In short, I knew I had to pack my patience and brace myself for what could very well turn out to be a complete "shit show."  This approach turned out to not only be beneficial but vital!
Downtown Fortaleza
The week leading into the race was relaxing and calm. I owe much of this to my rock star bro. It is easy to get frustrated when you can't speak the language, don't know your way around, and question your safety within your surroundings. Having him there was incredibly helpful at navigating the logistics leading up to the race.
Don't let the calm water behind me fool you.
That only lasted for about 200m.

I thankfully linked up with (english speaking) Luciano at Barcellos Sports (bike shop).  He took me out to drive the bike course so I was better prepared for race day.  I tried not to be nervous when he told me that his car was equipped with bullet proof glass. My response: "wait a second. I certainly won't have bullet proof protection around me when I'm out there on Sunday." I'm all about expecting the unexpected, but..... I left this exchange out of any conversations I had with my parents pre-race.

Due to the extreme wind and heat the race started at 5:50 for the professionals and 6am for age groupers. Thankfully I adjusted to the time change quick and was ready to roll.



Swim:  The swim was the most vicious I've ever done.  Current, swells and constant chop.   I got off the line well and fought to hang with the guys surrounding me. After the first 200m we were out into the open ocean.  The instructions were to swim out to a "boat" since they weren't able to keep a buoy in place that far out on the course. Once there I severely questioned whether we had gone off course. This said "boat" was more like a piece of wood with a stick coming out of the middle, holding a piece of cloth (the sail).  We made the left turn in search of one more turn buoy before heading back to safety.  While out in the vast open ocean I realized there was no other sign of life out there. No kayaks, no paddle boarders, nothing - just us amongst the elements...hoping to survive (yes this sounds dramatic, but talk to anyone who did this race and they'll agree).  The middle of the swim was about staying calm and not letting mind run away from me.

ROKA definitely impressed me. I  swam better than ever this year &
capped it off will a killer swim in Brazil. 
I lost feet and was swimming alone towards the swim exit.  It felt like I was in the water for 1:10 not :52!  I was absolutely clueless where I was in relation to the other girls.  I jumped on my bike and heard Matthew yell:  "2nd, less than 2 minutes down." I knew it was swimming superstar Haley Chura ahead of me, but couldn't believe I kept the gap so close.  Rock on!

Bike: The bike course took us through town before making our way to a 4 lane divided road. Imagine riding through New York City with only an orange cone every 100 yards separating you from impatient crazy drivers.   We completed 2 loops there before heading back into town. The wind was howling from the beginning, but I'd been training in strong winds in the weeks prior so felt right at home. My heart rate monitor wasn't working so I relied on my power and perceived effort to guide me.  Not ideal. Stay calm.  I felt comfortable (thanks to a recent change to the Cobb Fifty Five saddle!) and strong.  I sat in 2nd until Mette Moe passed me around mile 30.  Matthew was out there yelling at me (and my American cohorts of course).  I have to admit that at times my mind wandered to the fact that he was driving amongst this mayhem.  It was great to see him periodically and know he was still alive.
Thanks Kevin Brooks for finalizing my look with a sweet
CLIF Bar custom helmet!
We were told at the pro meeting that we shouldn't worry about traffic because there wasn't much traffic on Sundays.  Well, I sure hope they have a differing opinion now.  Instead of giving bikes one side of the divided road and cars the other they had us riding on the left/inside lanes and cars on the right/outside lanes.  Traffic was bumper to bumper, often swerving in and out of the designated bike lanes.  20 police officers and an orange cone every 100 yards just wasn't cutting it.  You can't blame the locals for their frustration. I really think the City just isn't equipped to (safely) put on an Ironman and there wasn't enough time to educate the community about what was to come.  I have to believe that Ironman sold Latin Sports the license but no one from IM went out to examine the race site. There is no way anyone with an ounce of sanity would believe this was a good idea. (Yes, I thought about leaving this out of my report, but I'm always one to state the truth! I have a lot of patience for new races, and all the hurdles race directors have to jump through but not providing a safe bike course is something I have zero patience for).  There were areas with unavoidable broken glass and shredded water bottles (from being run over by cars after discarded by the athletes).  Despite having to slam my breaks and scream bloody murder no less than 6 times I never lost my cool or let the chaos affect my performance. It really was pure comedy! I point all this out not to complain, but to display how essential it is to expect the unexpected and stay calm no matter what.  I was prepared for this. Maybe I couldn't really imagine the exact obstacles and dangers we faced, but I was ready for anything that came my way.  I was calm the entire ride and had a level of focus and execution I haven't had in the past. It was great to later see my power file confirmed this. Whoop whoop.
At mile 60 I saw that teammate and friend Jessie was moving through the field and closing in. I  held her off until around mile 95 and rolled into T2 in 4th.  I flew through transition with complete confidence that this would be MY race.

More of a grimace than smile at this point.
Run: I started the run with a water bottle that was frozen when I dropped it off pre-race.  Sadly it was now reaching it's boiling point so I discarded it.  Although I got my heart rate back for portions of the bike it never clicked on during the run. Time to run by effort and pace.  Usually I have to relax and hold myself back through the opening miles. This wasn't the case and quickly I had reason for concern. Half way through the run I gave in to my stomach discomfort and made a few quick stops to relieve myself.  I prayed this would turn things around, and willed myself to put in a solid effort to try to narrow the gap.  It didn't help that aid stations were way too far apart considering the heat and intensity of the sun (2k).  While I never felt dehydration I found myself constantly craving more fluids to cool my core temperature.
The conditions were brutally PERFECT for me. Heat, humidity, no cloud coverage, and some wind mixed in there. Sadly my legs never came around.  Every fiber of my being wanted to get back on the podium. Sadly not a single fiber was willing to fire in order to get me there.  Matthew was there giving me splits and trying hard to motivate me. He was all over that course. Eventually I confessed to him that my only goal was to make it to the finish.  26.2 miles sure is a long way to run when every single second is a battle of wills.  I finished 5th and soon after collapsed.  I gave it everything!

The day did not end as I had hoped it would. I was fit, strong and ready for this race. The reality is somethings we fall flat despite not having any real answers for it.  This is part of Ironman racing, and the reality is we only get a few shots every year to put all of our hard work to use.
Matthew and I escaped the city and spent the rest of the week on the beaches of Cumbuco so he could enjoy what he really came for: the kite surfing.  I spent this time searching for the positive take aways from my race - and there were many.  For the first time I was in a position to compete off the bike.  I was possessed with focus and execution on the bike that was vastly different from any prior races.  Coach Tim was quick to remind me where we were one year ago.  I'm back in the mix and have a lot to look forward to next season. Most importantly, I BELIEVE in myself now more than ever!  and this, my friends, is huge.
Ironman Fortaleza Champion: Haley Chura. HECK YES!
She absolutely crushed this race from beginning to end.
Inspiring & Impressive! So stoked for you my friend!
Brazil was quite the adventure and something I wouldn't take back for anything. The race had it's faults but I made the most of everything that came my way.  Thank you Brazil for my craziest race experience to date! I now know I can handle anything that comes my way on race day.
Standing on stage with friends, teammates, incredible athletes and amazing
women is something I will NEVER take for granted. 
I'm now in the thick of my off season! When I say "off" I mean off. Nada. Nothing. Zero athletic activity.  I'm 2 weeks in and have one more week to sit on my butt. It is not easy and I'd do anything to go for a run but know once I start the season it's game on! So, sit I shall.
Congratulations to everyone who completed IM Fortaleza. It was brutal out there.
2014 is a season I am ridiculously thankful for! I'd say the 2014 season is one to smile about. When it comes to my excitement for the year ahead, I think this picture sums it up.
All laughs and smiles from that podium. We earned it! 
To my sponsors who supported me all year I am beyond grateful! You make this sport about so much more than myself, and in turn motivate me to dig deeper, find faster, and believe!

4 comments:

Haley Chura said...

Definitely an experience none of us will ever forget!! You've inspired me to finally write my race report too!! Congrats Caroline and thanks again to Matthew for the cheers (still no idea how he got out there!) and acai bowl!! Enjoy the offseason and see you in 2015!!

Marvin Dittfurth said...

Wow! what an adventure! To even finish this event is awesome but to finish 5th is amazing. And, I like your perspective, your attitude during the whole process. I would so much agree that this experience will make you a more confident contender...I think we grow through what we overcome....and you overcame a lot with a good spirit..

06ironman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
06ironman said...

Congrats on a great race and overcoming the negative self talk that always creeps into these punishing races. Particular kudos for calling out WTC for the unsafe race conditions (no safety crews in the middle of the ocean and dodging cars during the bike course-they make good money from these races and need to ensure athlete safety). Qb