Wednesday, November 18, 2009

13 hours to Make an Ironman

Soak it up, you are an iron maiden. Words written to me from another Ironman who is about to complete her second ironman. I definitely am soaking it up. What an unforgettable journey from beginning to end, culminating with the experience on race day. I'm like an endurance junkie, first marathons and now ironmans. Addicting activities and I love all of it. Ironman Florida 2009 will always be remembered for countless reasons. I'll do my best to put into words for you. The two previous posts give you an idea of how elated I was to have completed the distances and some of the stress leading up to race day. Now for an account of the actual race day...

Pre-Race

I woke up early, 4 AM, for breakfast (oatmeal), got dressed, got my bags and headed out the door with Colin to the race site. It was only about a mile away from our hotel. I got dropped off, then proceeded to drop my special needs run and bike bags in the designated locations. Next up, body marking and pumping up my bike tires. There were volunteers all over holding permanent markers up in the air. I walked up to one, got my number marked on both arms and my age on my leg. Only it said 35 which I've been all summer long in triathlons even though my birthday was technically 3 days after race day. I know, cry me a river. It's actually like getting to be 35 for two years, delaying 36, right? Now where was I? Body marking-check. Next I flashed my cool blue ironman wrist band to get into the transition area, pumped up my bike tires and filled my bike water bottle. All this and it was still dark outside.

My friends from Arkansas were staying in the host hotel right next to the race site so I headed up to hang out at their place until the race started. They had a balcony overlooking the beach and the exact start of the race. What a great way to start the race, we were all calm and chatting a bit, looking out at the beach. Actually, we were only calm on the outside, but it helped to try to stay focused and not be in a state of panic before the start of the big day. It was Trey's third ironman and his brother-in-law Scott's second ironman. Their families were there and Colin came up too, so there we all sat for about an hour or so until the start. They all had blue t-shirts with the name "All-In" on the front signifying we are all in this together. On the back of the shirts were the athlete names for whom they were cheering. Pretty cool to have that support! The absolute best part of that pre-race time was the group prayer. Scott led a prayer about all of our training and for strength during the race, and brought perspective to the faith we all shared that would bring us to the finish line. Emotions were close to the surface and I cried quietly through every word of the prayer but knew that God would see me through the day.

View of the beach race start from the balcony...

Before we knew it, we were pulling on wetsuits and getting ready to head out to the start. But first I had to pose for a few silly number pictures. It was actually the most neatly I had ever been body marked, what can I say, I got a girl with good handwriting.





The Swim 2.4 miles

I headed out to the beach with Trey and Scott and it was a mass of 2000 plus people that would soon hit the water all at once for the start of the race. At this point I was ready, nervous, but ready to just get in and start swimming. It really helped to have two friends standing beside me who had done this whole thing before.


Scott up ahead, then me, and next Trey-heading to the start.





left to right-Trey, Scott, Me, the back of Scott's wife Ashley, all nervously awaiting the swim start.










Wetsuit-check, White swim cap-check, Goggles-check





Once the swim finally got going, it was great. The water was rough and the complete opposite of my calm water practice swim, but it was a gorgeous morning. It was impossible to swim without touching people that were shoulder to shoulder in the water. I got kicked, bumped into, and did my fair share of getting into everyone else's business myself. This aspect of triathlon swimming always sounds much worse than it actually is in reality. The truth is that none of it hurts, you're just out there in the thick of the masses swimming. I kept stroking and breathing and moving right along. Strange as it may sound, there is something comforting about having so many people around you in the water, far better then being out there by yourself. The trick is to just keep swimming, you know, like in Finding Nemo, don't stop, just stay steady on your strokes. I even got my head pushed under the water three times! First time for that experience in a triathlon but it was fine, my head just popped right back up again! Once the guy kept following through on his stroke as if my head wasn't under his hand. Kind of funny now but I thought it was rude at that moment. :) I swam straight out to the furthest buoy and turned left with the crowd of swimmers bottle-necking to make the turn. Next it was a straight shot to the other red buoy on the opposite side. However the current was strong and pulling us all off course. The swimmers started talking to each other out there in the middle of the swim, saying "Swim Right" and pointing at the red buoy we needed to swim over to and around. From that buoy I turned left again and it was a straight shot to the shoreline. I realized that I felt relaxed, calm, not breathless with nerves. I also recognized that my body felt strong and that I wasn't at all tired. I knew I could finish the first loop and the second one too. It was an exhilarating feeling that brought confidence for the rest of the swim. I came out of the water at the end of the first loop at the exact same time as Trey. We talked the whole way out of the water, crossing the timing mat and getting water at the aid station on the beach. Salt water makes you so incredibly thirsty! Colin has laughed at my use of the word "parched" to describe the state of thirst, but it's truly how you feel. Then it was back in for our second loop. What are the chances you come out of the water with a person you know in that huge number of swimmers? By this time I was pumped, ready to swim the second loop! I had used a system of counting my strokes and looking up to sight the buoy's every 30 strokes. Otherwise I felt like I was making no forward progress because the water was so rough. I swam right into the first buoy on my second loop, yep, face to face with it. I had to laugh at myself but I was right on course! Before I knew it I was at the end and ecstatic to have made it through the swim! And the clock said 1:22, better then I had expected for the swim! Next up, meet the "peelers."

The Peelers- hmmmm, maybe the best part of the race besides the finish line. Ha! Seriously, the guy looked at me and said "Get Down" then in 3 seconds my wesuit was completely ripped off. There were overhead showers to rinse all the sand off and then it was off to transition. And by the way, you do have clothes under your wetsuit, bike shorts and a tank top to be exact. :)

Transition 1

Trey and I were out of the second loop at practically the same time again, and walked up to the transition area together. I also saw Heather, a girl from Little Rock with the "All-In" group, as she was running to her bike decked out in full bike gear. We cheered each other on! Then into the tent I ran and someone handed me my gear bag along the way. I know this all took me 12 minutes but I promise I was moving! I toweled off and got my bike shoes, helmet, gloves and sunglasses on and somehow sprayed sunblock on my arms and legs. I did not want to get crispy in the sun all day and set myself up for a painful race. On my way out of the tent I stopped at the first porta-potty for the day, then ran down the row to get my bike. There was a guy standing there with my bike just waiting to hand it to me, WOW. The volunteers were amazing all day, it was like nothing I have ever experienced before.

The Bike 112 miles

Let me say it felt great to be on the bike! I saw the Chandler Clan and Colin as I was rolling out which was a boost! In the first couple miles I was acutely aware of the beautiful blue sky and sunshine surrounding me. I remember thinking "This is it. This is what I've been training for all these months, and I'm finally here doing it." Suddenly the bike ride was just like another training ride in perfect weather. I was very conscious of all the riders around me, making a point to keep 4 bike lengths between myself and the person ahead of me. I started easy, getting passed by many people, but not caring because I knew I had a long way ahead of me. I settled in and watched the minutes pass on my bike odometer so I would remember to drink my perpetuem every 20 minutes and take in food as I needed it.

At around mile 20 I needed to stop at the aid station and use the restroom aka porta-potty which was fine with me because it meant I was hydrated. A volunteer actually held my bike for me! I had been worrying that I had no sunblock on my face and so I asked if they had any at the aid station. The woman who was holding my bike said, "Yes, our paramedic right here has some." There he was dressed in his crisp white shirt and navy pants holding a container of sunblock. I took off my sunglasses and got ready for him to squirt some on my hands when he said "I'm just going to put it on for you." Suddenly this nice man was rubbing sunblock all over my face! I was in shock, I stood there for a second and he said, "Anything else?" I said "That was awesome! Thank you! Can you come to all my triathlons?" We all laughed and then I hopped on my bike and continued on my way.

The only tough part of the bike was a stretch where we rode into a decent head wind for awhile. As soon as I turned the corner, a guy standing there said "And here is your head wind!" Okay, here we go, hold on for the ride. My eyes were watering and I just kept pedaling and thinking about nutrition, eating when I got hungry and drinking water and perpetuem. I knew eventually we would turn out of this wind and started to get tired of dealing with it. My speed definitely slowed in the wind but then we turned and it was all good, my speed picked back up again. By now I had already passed long lines of cyclists a few times and of course been passed by many of them in return. I saw a group of riders stop at a yellow penalty tent to serve their time and determined to be careful not to draft. I saw people with flats off to the side of the road. I saw the official motorcycles cruising around to enforce the rules and offer assistance. There was another stretch where we rode over a surface with a zillion cracks, literally rolling over a crack every second. I really hate that on my bike but I knew it would pass and that everyone was dealing with the same thing. Sure enough, it gave way to a brand new road surface and I was flying, at least for me, hitting 22-24 mph. My overall average for the entire ride was 16.7 mph and max speed for the day was 30.3 mph.

It felt so good to be nearing Panama City Beach again and to know the finish of the bike was close at hand. My total roll time according to my odometer was 6:38 and my official finishing bike time was 6:49. This means I had a total of 11 minutes for stop time which consisted of 3 restroom stops, a sign that I was staying hydrated, yay! I also stopped to get my water bottle filled twice, and once to get my special needs bag. While I was riding I ate about 4 granola bars, 3/4 of a peanut butter and honey sandwich, and a package of GU chomps. Wow! Plus I drank my two 3 hour bottles of perpetuem. I just really paid attention to my body, ate when I was hungry, and stayed on my plan. Before I knew it I was crossing the dismount line and handing my bike off to yet another fabulous volunteer. Time just flew on the bike, I was so ready to run!

My favorite sign on the bike course was this: "Ride It Like You Stole It!"

Transition 2

Well this was a faster stop, around 5 minutes. All I had to do was shed my bike gear, change into running shoes and shorts, grab a hat and I was off. There was the sweetest little girl who must have been around 11 helping me in transition. She pulled everything out of my gear bag and offered it to me. She even loosened the laces on my running shoes so I could put them on faster. I thanked her and told her what an amazing job she was doing. I just wanted to put her in my pocket and take her with me on the rest of the race. I wish I had asked her name and age, she was adorable.

The Run 26.2 miles

To my utter surprise I had no leg pain or feelings of muscle fatigue as I headed out on the run! This was completely unexpected for me, I kept waiting for my whole body to just shut down with exhaustion but it didn't happen. I took a GU energy gel immediately as I was leaving transition. I saw the "All-In" spectators cheering me on and Colin was out there too with the camera getting a couple of pictures before the battery died. By this time he had already been forced to watch the beloved Iowa Hawkeye's suffer their first loss of the season, bummer. The quarterback got hurt! Of course I forgot to ask about the game even though I had been thinking about it on the bike. I realized I had several questions in the first few miles of the run, "Did the Hawkeye's win? Where were my friends in the race?" I knew they were all ahead of me but just wondered how they were doing. So I determined to keep running and ask my questions at the turn-around. (which I did...)



In the first mile I had to stop 3 times, once to fill my water bottle, once to get a wet paper towel to wipe the salt and stuff off my eyes (gross, I know!), and once to use the restroom. All the while I was going easy and trying to pay attention to how I felt. I could feel a slight headache coming on so I made sure to drink water and a little gatorade. I really went out conservatively taking short walk breaks and making my way on the out and back loop. I kept waiting for my legs to get that marathon fatigue, wondering when it would hit me, and expecting it earlier then in a normal marathon. I tried a sip of coke in that first loop and it was no good for me, instead I stuck with GU chomps and energy gels and water. I had eaten enough on the bike that I could tell all I needed was gels and water for the run. Later in the run, after dark, I tried a sip of chicken broth which was also no good to me, skipping that for all of the run. Normally in a marathon I take 3 to 4 gels but for this 26.2 miles, I needed about 4 or 5 Gu gels plus a package of GU chomps, which was equal to two gels. Wow! I definitely needed more than usual!

Mentally, instead of thinking about miles, I thought about landmarks on the course. We had to run through neighborhoods and wind our way to the park which we looped through, and then back the way we came to the turn-around. There were lots of spectators out cheering us from their front lawns and along the course. One group was having a 70's costume party complete with loud music and dancing in the street cheering the runners on. I had to make one more restroom stop in the middle of the first loop, good, I was still hydrated! I saw Heather two more times on the run, she was still ahead of me, and it was fun to see someone I knew to cheer on!

Finally I reached the turn-around and felt a surge of excitement that I was starting my second and final loop for the run. At this point I realized that my body felt good and felt strong, the fatigue wasn't setting in. There wasn't speed there, which I was well aware of by all of my slow mile split times, but I really felt pretty good. I decided to run the whole second loop. It was strange, I thought that surely for parts of this ironman day I would be completely miserable and in pain, but instead I loved the race day as much I loved the training! I'm sure it was rooted in adrenalin for the whole day itself but I'll take that! I had been afraid to push myself mentally in the ironman marathon the way I normally would in a regular marathon because I wan't sure how my body would handle the distance in this race. But now that I know what it's like and how it feels, I have a better understanding of how to mentally push through the distance. I'm still happy with my approach because my number one concern was nutrition and monitoring how my body felt throughout the day.

So back to the race, it got dark in the first hour of the run but I was holding out for a glow necklace, I wanted purple! What did I end up with? Orange! Oh well, it didn't really matter. It was cool to see all of the runners with their glow necklaces dotting the route. Suddenly someone said my name and I looked back to see I had just passed Trey, it was great to see someone I knew! We chatted a little and then he told me to keep going. The second loop through the park was mostly pitch black, not well-lit. I just kept running though, passing glow necklaces along the way, talking to a few of the runners. A radio station was parked at the end of the park loop blaring music and when I passed it this time, they were blasting The Black-Eyed Peas "I Got a Feeling That Tonight's Gonna' Be A Good Night" and I was even more pumped up to keep running. It was an awesome feeling! Once I got to 21 miles or so I started counting down the miles, and that was a good feeling. I still thought about running from landmark to landmark along the course. By the time I had only a few miles left I was psyched!!!! One of the spectating groups had been playing 80's music all through the run and I was so excited to hear "Thriller" blaring from their speakers as I passed on the second loop. I said "I've been waiting for some Michael all day!!!!" It was on! I was on the home stretch and I could not wait for the finish! I could feel myself picking up speed on sheer adrenalin to be at the end of this day! When I came around the last little turn before the right turn into the finishing chute, I started screaming and acting like a crazy person! If you saw the podcast on-line of me crossing the finish line, you saw that I kept it right up until the very end. What a feeling! It was a good night! I was so excited to have reached this goal. "Kirsten Davis-You Are An Ironman!"


Immediately after the finish...

The spectacular volunteers gave me a medal, a t-shirt and a hat, put a space blanket on me, and took my timing chip-which had given me a nice little chafing spot on my ankle by this time. I stopped for a quick photo with my medal and then moved on to the food tent. To my dismay, I couldn't bare to touch the array of pizza, fruit, cookies, or pretzels that was laid out for us. Normally I can easily eat lots of pizza and food at the end of a marathon. But that night I knew one bite of anything would make me lose everything!!!!! So instead I drank a bottle of gatorade and then walked back to the food table, still no go for me to eat! Sometimes you just know you can't do it, and I could not do it! I grabbed one more gatorade and went to meet up with Colin. It was so much fun to tell him all about the day! Before long, the "All-In" gang was gathered around and we were all swapping details and elements of our Ironman day experiences. Everyone had great races and they had all managed to finish with PR's, wow! We had much to celebrate and appreciate. I really had been praying all day and thinking about my friends out there doing the same thing, also thinking about my friends and family at home cheering for me. There was so much strength to draw from in all of that. It was an unforgettable day.

Now if you made it to the end of this post, congratulations, because it probably took 13 hours to read! LOL

PS I finally managed to eat pizza at midnight that we had delivered to our hotel room, whew! After all, I burned 7,409 calories that day!

Ironman Finishing Time: 13:15:17

6 comments:

Jen said...

Amazing story... I cried. I am not sure why but it was awesome to read. Not sure I could ever compete for 13 hours, but you made it sound easy. Great job!

Mike and Lisa said...

I am so proud of you, Kirsten! I wish I could of been there to cheer you on, following you on the course, like in Berlin. (= But, know that I was thinking of you and praying for you. I could never do that, but your vivid posts always make me think (for a microsecond, lol) how much fun it would be to try! Hope you are doing well! Miss you!

Marianne said...

congrats! way to go. m

Colleen Renee' said...

so fun to read your post just a few days before IMAZ. I hope we get to meet up at one of these races! Us JMU Music ladies are representing at IRonman!

Gwen said...

Kirsten, you are amazing! Congreatulations on you accomplishment. The blog post was great and made me feel like I was there.

Janet said...

wow.. that was awesome. sorry it took me so long to read.. I just did not have the 13 hours it takes to read it until today :). I cried reading it as well. COngrats.

PS I finally know an Ironman