My day at Ironman New York City was not an experience that I care to repeat anytime soon. I must say that with so many great ironman races around the world, this probably isn’t one that I will consider adding to my schedule again. But I should probably make that another post entirely and just report here on my personal experience of race day, or this will be much too long!
Short story: it was not my day at the races. There were some bright moments, however. I think ironman is a long enough race that even on our worst days, if we stay in the game mentally, we can salvage something, and at the very least, learn some valuable lessons. This was ironman #55 and I still walked away with some new ones.
The first 3+ hours of my race comprised one of the day’s valleys. The swim was a nice, friendly non-wetsuit swim (for pros) with a separate start for the women—my fave. We dove off the barge into the Hudson and almost immediately formed into a big line. But once I had made my way around a few of the women ahead of me, I realized I had been dropped off of the front group. For several hundred meters, I fought to bridge this gap until I finally realized it wasn’t getting any smaller, and I was just doing the work for a few women behind me who were hanging out and hitting my feet. Wanting to keep the gap from growing any bigger than it was, I kept on working at the front all the way til the finish when it ended up as just one other and I left chasing the lead group.
Contrary to what I heard from most others who experienced this downstream swim, my swim felt hard. I felt like I was working the whole way, and I was tired. However, it’s not the first time I’ve come out of the water a minute-plus down, and there were some great swimmers in the field, so I emerged just happy to be done and mentally ready to move on to a good bike. But things got worse from there. I spent the first 30 or so miles feeling like my quads were going to explode while simultaneously going backwards. I can count on two fingers the number of days in the midst of hard training in the past month that my legs have felt that bad, and this was race day. Not ideal.
In the first quarter of the ride, I was passed by girls that I don’t usually see until the run. Of course at the time I had no idea that, because of the current and the quick swim times, only a few minutes separated the pro field, instead of the 15 or so that would usually make up the spread in our swim times. I had moments of feeling quite demoralized and thinking that this was going to be the. longest. ride. EVER. But I just tried to focus on what I needed to be doing in that moment and drew upon memories of previous ironman experiences in my mind: I had indeed had races in which it took the legs until halfway to start working, and others in which my best runs had followed terrible rides.
Even though all but a few pro women had passed me after the first quarter of the ride, I refused to believe the race was over. Just about 30 miles in, I reached for my big dose of caffeine that I usually reserve for mile 60. Either it worked or my legs finally warmed up—probably a combination of both—but around mile 45 another pro woman came past and I was actually able to up my speed and match her pace. This gave me a carrot to chase and, although we certainly weren’t breaking any speed records, it kept me focused and on task.
Just like chasing the GCM on a training ride, I could stop thinking about anything besides keeping this girl in my sights. I knew the longer I had someone to pace off of, the less time I would lose over the second half of the bike. And sure enough, I was able to sit at about 15-20 meters behind this girl until the end of the ride, which meant that I made up time on a few of the women whom I couldn’t keep up with earlier. The legs had indeed come around a bit!
It is the next part of the race that I am most proud of, as I finished the ride still a long way from where I wanted to be at that point in the race. But I told myself that a great marathon would be enough of a take-away from this day to make it worthwhile. The first 16 miles of this run were a hillfest and I was pumped about it. More than anything else, I was confident in my run going into this race (quite a change from the past several months!).
I set out of transition straight uphill and felt good like I had in every one of my runs off of long rides in the past month. It was hot, hilly, and hard, but I knew that everyone was facing the same challenges and I felt strong; after essentially only being able to limp up hills from from March through June, I did not take this feeling for granted.
I smiled a lot during the first half marathon. And I passed a few girls. What happened next was so odd, because I have never gone from feeling as strong as I did in the first 14 or so miles to blowing up like I did on Saturday. Ironman #55 and even I was surprised.
Just as I went onto the steps of the George Washington Bridge, running speedster and iron-newbie Laurel Wassner flew past me, and I realized that I was about to catch Heather Gollnick just up ahead (or so I thought-ha!) . . . then things started to go terribly wrong. As I climbed the stars, my legs felt like wet noodles about to collapse beneath me. I got up onto the bridge and started looking around, assessing what exactly my head would hit if I passed out and fell over.
One foot in front of the other . . . One foot in front of the other . . .
George Washington Bridge of Death
There was no one out there, and I wondered who would find me. The prospects for where my head would land were not too promising either. I reached into my pocket for more fuel even though I knew I had taken all my planned calories and then some, so I couldn’t imagine that calories were my issue.
Nothing seemed to help. Long story of the last 8 miles of this run cut short, the “easy” /flat last part of the run course was the slowest and most difficult for me. I am proud that I kept my head in the game for so many hours when most things were not going my way on the day, but in the end, my body failed me. Pretend-jogging was all I had to give in the end. Honestly, I felt lucky that I didn’t end up in a heap on the side of the running path because I have never been so gone at the end of an ironman.
So back to work it is. Coach reminded me that I have been training un-injured for all of five weeks, and I ‘ve been in this game long enough to know that things don’t happen overnight. Patience isn’t always fun, but persistence almost always works!
Back to life after an IV . . . With one of my awesome athletes, Neil, who dealt with the heat like a champ and crushed a 10:29!