Fear not, I will not tell you how many grams of carbohydrate I ate in the days leading up to the race (lots), how many salt tabs I consumed (11), how many gels I ate (7), how much I drank on the bike (72 ounces), how many times I compared the pain of racing to the pain of labor (once, at mile 50 of the bike), how many times I peed (once, while standing in T2), how many times I ran 13 miles before the race (none) or how many parts of my body are now painfully chafed (many).
I will tell you how I went from a year ago being hugely pregnant – and that’s me putting it politely – to being on top of my age group at a competitive 70.3 less than 11 months later. For nearly 11 months. When I wrote my race plan, those were the first words. When I stepped into the water, before the start of my wave at Eagleman 70.3, those were the first words I said to myself. For nearly 11 months I’ve waited. I couldn’t wait. Within weeks of giving birth, I was already dreaming. Of where I wanted to go athletically. Starting over. Where would the story end? You always write your own ending. Mine ended in Hawaii. Why? Dream big. And a very hormonal, post-partum girl can dream, right? Someone told me, the year after pregnancy go big. You’ll need something wow to motivate you, something big to make the sacrifices worth it, something out there that seems so impossible that you, as a driven athlete, will be compelled to work hard to make it possible. Today was the day, Eagleman 70.3. One Kona slot available in my age group. One chance – here, now. I don’t chase, I won’t chase. If it happens, I go. If it doesn’t, I get over it and move on to something else. There’s a handful of 70.3s where you can qualify for Kona, age group winners get the slot. The goal was set: *Win my age group at Eagleman* Despite a few setbacks, despite carrying a few extra pounds – I never once doubted I could do this. I didn’t know who else was racing, I didn’t look, I didn’t care. All I knew were my abilities and my preparation. As I got closer to the race, I got more prepared. As I got more prepared, I got more confident. Confidence is that firewall that makes thoughts of “maybe I can’t” stop before you have time to notice them. I started to notice only the reasons why it would be me. I wouldn’t think of anything else. Race morning couldn’t arrive quickly enough. For months, I’ve watched this race, all of its 70.3 miles worth of moments, play out in my head. Along the way, sacrifices made to make sure I arrived at the start line as ready as I could be. I gave up coffee. I went to bed early. I woke up early. I ate clean. I took supplements. I never, ever missed the recovery window. I arrived at goal weight. I compartmentalized my training. I brought in the babysitter. I balanced between my workouts, my work, my husband’s workouts and my child. I committed only to what it would take to achieve this goal. I listened to my body. I had a race plan. I wrote it out. I read through it over and over again. I worked my mind’s eye in overtime, going through the race. I arrived at race day not wondering what would happen but knowing how it could happen. And then ready to make it happen out there. I focused only on where I wanted to go. I focused only on my successes. I forgot I ever had failures. I found only proof for success. I searched through my race history and reconnected to every race I won. I went back through my notes. I made myself read and absorb. This is what I’ve done. This is what I can do. This is what I will do. I found my confidence by building it. And once I built what I knew it would take, I found a calm in my confidence. More importantly, I trusted myself, faith in knowing that I wouldn’t set the goal if I couldn’t do it. Trust is confidence. 11 months of waiting comes down to ten seconds to go, standing neck-deep in water. The buoy is right next to me with only a few other girls. In front of me is what looks like an endless row of buoys leading to the bridge. The river looks calm but the Choptank is always choppy. The water is 82 degrees, no wetsuits. Five seconds to go. And just like that, it begins. I cruised the swim. For most of it, I hung on someone else’s feet. In the past two weeks, I’ve done nothing but swim open water to get ready for this. Half way through, we made a right turn and I lost the feet in front of me. I noticed two other blue caps around but mostly I got mixed in with men from waves ahead of me. The swim felt long but eventually I saw the shore and started thinking about transition. A long run, grab-and-go at the rack, then out on the bike. The first few miles were congested with a lot of men from the earlier waves. Within 30 minutes, the traffic thinned out and the road rolled along. As aero as possible, low head, tuck, don’t ride into the wind, ride right under it. I ride courses like this all of the time – relentlessly flat, smooth pavement, wind, no coasting, very few turns. It doesn’t let up but I’m used to it. In the weeks before the race, I focused on how half IM watts felt – I knew when my legs started burning, I was going too hard. I knew if it felt like I could hold the pace all day, I was going too easy. I kept it somewhere in between. I passed a few women in my age group early on but beyond that had no idea how I was doing. A few women from F30-34 passed me but no F35-39. I was either ahead or behind. Does it matter? Keep pedaling! The time passed by quickly. I kept waiting for that lull around 90 minutes but it never came. I felt good and speed was looking strong. Until mile 50. At that point, every time I tried to go aero, I got nauseous and my quads felt on the edge of cramping. When all else falls in long course racing, pop a salt tab. So I did. The pain didn’t go away. I almost cried at how bad it hurt. Then I thought of labor and said shut up, this is nothing. I rode the last 6 miles sitting up and watched my speed fall. I’ve never felt so out of control in a race. It was frustrating and for a half mile thoughts of HOW AM I GOING TO RUN LIKE THIS snuck up but I quickly swept them away. It’s a long day. Anything can happen. Let the race come back to you. You prepared too hard and long for this to give up on yourself. Coming into transition, my legs were in incredible pain. It was the slowest run through transition ever. Once I got to my rack, I didn’t even notice that I was the one of only two bikes there. All I noticed was that I could not bend over to get my shoes. I bit through the pain, got my shoes then noticed my elastic lace had gotten under the tongue in my left shoe. Then a spider crawled out of that shoe. Then I figured since I’m standing here fiddling with my shoe I might as well take a pee. Why is it that when you’re in the biggest hurry you have the slowest pee? 2 minutes and 51 seconds later, I exited transition. I had no idea how I would run on these legs. Then one mile later, those same legs felt like amazing. And that is half ironman racing. You never know. So until you know, you don’t give up. You keep going like everything is going according to plan. And the plan was that the first 6 miles of a half marathon never feel good. The day before the race, I read through my 2007 race report. What in my mind became stored away as an effortless day of perfection was actually a 4 and a half hour affair with extreme pain. I needed to remind myself that when you’re truly racing a half Ironman – it doesn’t feel good or easy. Back to today. It was hot – 88 degrees and no shade. The aid stations seemed too far apart and too crowded. The course was cluttered with men. But where are the women? I passed a few younger women early on but still had no idea where I stood in my age division. My legs were feeling fresh and though the splits were not great today – given the weather conditions, compared to everyone else I was flying. (from a group of guys running 3 across the road when I passed them) I learned a few tricks about cooling when I was at the OTC in April and they were working. Water, ice, I flew through the aid stations leaving a mess of cups behind. Once out on the straightaway, I knew there were only 2.55 miles to go to the turnaround. The pace was locked in and I was hunting. Where are those darn women? After mile 5, I noticed Beth coming the other way. A few women from her age group followed, but I still couldn’t see anyone from my age. I was so busy looking across the road that I barely heard a women say to me “you’re in first now” when I passed her. I gave her a thumbs up but didn’t believe her. There had to be more women ahead of me. The other part of me didn’t want to accept that maybe she was right. When you find out your leading halfway into the run, you still have halfway to go! So I kept running the pace. Around mile 7, it hit me – I was in the zone. That feeling in a race where you don’t even recognize the pain, the heat, all you feel is tunnel vision for your effort toward the goal. Such tunnel vision that I ran right between a man and a volunteer handing him a cup of Coke. And that is how I ended up with Coke all over my face. But I had somewhere to go. The whole day I just kept saying to myself FOCUS ON WHERE YOU WANT TO GO. I’m going to Kona, people, CLEAR THE WAY! Around mile 8, I told myself I could sustain the pace a mile longer. What’s one more mile of this pain? In fact, I was so excited and ready to be there that I thought – I’ve waited months for this….I want this feeling to last forever! I might have been delirious from the heat. I got the sense that indeed I was leading my age group because I didn’t see any other women. But what if one more is up there? Would I be satisfied knowing I eased up on the pace? Could I live with that? I held the pace through mile 9. Finally, I hit mile 10. Mile 10 is the moment of truth. Will you hit the wall as you run out of fuel or will you run right through it knowing you are only a 5K away? For the last 3 miles, you HTFU and hurt yourself. Advice from my coach in the days before the race. I could ease it in the last three miles or get over the pain and hurt myself. Mile 11. And then I saw it up ahead – the fence. When I previewed the course the day before, I told myself, no matter what, at the fence you go. I went. Eagleman has what is perhaps the longest mile of your life from mile 12 to the finish line. At mile 12, you can see the finish line…across the river and down the road. The extra .1 mile when you are in the finish line chute is insult to what feels like full body injury. Finally, I crossed the line. 17-minutes slower than I did it 4 years ago (ah, youth) but good enough today for what I think is a win in my new age group. I found my phone. A few texts. Please tell me I won my age group. YOU DID. With over a 5 minute cushion. I found Chris, I cried. Not because I would have to go to Kona again – you mean I have to train for this thing? – but because I set a goal at a time when it sounded impossible and I did it. Nothing – no drug, no experience, no ice cream flavor, no amount of coffee – will ever replace that feeling for an athlete. Ever. Any time you qualify for Kona, a few hours later you get that feeling of waking up in the middle of the night after getting a bad haircut. You sense you’ve done something bad but can’t pinpoint what until you remember. Oh god. I just signed up for an Ironman. Why? Someone asked me why. Why are you doing this again? You’ve been there twice before, had solid times, no complaints – why revisit it? Because it’s a race that rewards patience, strength, heat tolerance and endurance. And if any athletic woman ever wonders what she can accomplish in pregnancy, well, she need only waddle around at 36 weeks to know she is engaging in secret training. Heat tolerance? Try being 38 weeks pregnant and 35+ pounds heavier in the Midwestern July. Endurance? I wake up after 4 hours of sleep now and feel ready to tackle the day. Strength? I do at least 20 intervals up and down the stairs while carrying a 20 pound baby, every day. And patience? I’ve been training for this for more than 11 months. Try 21 months. I’ve waited. And when I finally get to race day, I’ll be ready. Five years ago, someone suggested I started this blog to chronicle my first trip to ironman. Along the way, I’ve dreamt big many times. I’ve succeeded and failed but never regretted dreaming. If you never thought you could fail, what would you dream? That’s what I asked myself 11 months ago. I hadn’t run for 5 months, I just had a c-section, I was still carrying 20 extra pounds and I had a newborn. What on earth was I thinking! I wasn’t thinking, I was dreaming. Dreams can be anything. Go create one for yourself. No matter where you are, put the impossible into your realm of possibility. Why? Why not. Why not you, why not now. Go stand on the edge of your own greatness and take a leap of faith. Who knows where you might land? (in my case, smack in the middle of 2000 other people either crying or crapping themselves while treading water and waiting for the sound of a cannon…I paid how much money for this? Next time I should just go get a haircut) Until then, I’m going to eat a lot of Cheez-Its, put a lot of salt tabs in button baggies, cry at least once, throw my bike into a ditch and break out in hives for no apparent reason at mile 96. Yes, friends, I’m going to be training for Ironman. Thanks to TriSports.com (supported me in success, and failure, small-me and pregnant-me), Power Bar (addicted to the recovery bars), Recovery e21 (send more, like LOTS), mom (for watching Max), Chris (thanks for giving me “the speech” before the race), Jennifer (who helped me lay the base), Kurt (who made me race specific ready), Jenny the babysitter (for all the early mornings) and all of you for reading (you’re still here? Seriously, don’t you have jobs or spouses?! PETS?! Go home already!)