Thursday, October 1, 2015

Ironman Chattanooga: Good Things Come in Threes

People often say bad things come in threes, but I beg to differ.  I think great things come in threes and throughout this blog, I'll prove it to you.  

The interesting thing about this season was that it wasn't even supposed to exist.  When I ended last year, I was a bit beaten down and broken.  My Kona experience involved crawling along the Queen K (never a good sign) and part of me was ready to pack it in and move on to other endeavors.   Now, looking back at the three big full distance races I've done this season, I can say it truly took this year for me to come full circle and become the best version of myself as an athlete.  As the year pressed on, my abilities and belief grew and I can honestly say I was racing each race with a true belief that if it was my day, I would be the one holding the finisher banner above my head in the end.  This didn't happen without the help of so many people, including my physical therapy and strength team at Vesla 360 to get me back to health, my husband who supported me as we trekked our way through another season, and certainly my coach, Jesse, who weathered some ups and downs as these decisions were made and helped me hone my skills on and off the race course. 

The days leading into this race were great, until the day prior when I completely fell apart.  I had some womenly hormonal issues that decided to rock my world with a vengeance and there were a lot of tears that day leading into the race.  None the less, I knew whatever happened that on race day I would stand at that starting line with a game face and a laser focus because that's what I've been trained to do.  

 My friend Jim Birch and I met in 2008 when I won my first 70.3 age group in St. Croix and qualified for Kona as my first Ironman.  We've stayed in touch ever since! 

Filing into the water with the largest field I've ever raced in, 37 pro women, was a little daunting, but I remained calm and ready to get out hard and hope to hold some feet for this fast down-current swim.  When the gun sounded, we all drilled it, as per usual, and I found myself staying with some girls!  PROGRESS!  In fact, after a few minutes, I saw a group ahead and even found myself swimming well enough to go after them.  MORE PROGRESS!!  I latched on, and swam the rest of the way with two other females.  The swim went fairly fast for me (which never say, ever), and I had time to think about the day ahead and spent plenty of time being thankful for other bodies around me vs. solo time trialing the swim as I've done all season. 

Final swim time: 48:50, 16th pro female out of the water

 Onto my fast Quintana Roo PR6  with disc wheel curiosity of Dave at 51 SpeedShop in Indiana,  I was feeling good right away (again, a rarity).  I reminded myself to hang tight and control the heart rate and watts early since Ironman is such a long day.  The goal was to feel the best of the entire ride when I hit mile 85 and then push the highest power numbers for the final stretch bleeding the momentum right into the run.  

It was hard not to go with some of the better cyclists in the field when they came past me, but I knew my coaches instructions were to allow ME to have my best race.  There was plenty of time left to do work and that work would matter most later in the ride and into the marathon.  I let people go and did my own thing for the majority of the ride.
The weather was spectacular, which made eating and drinking so much easier.  I was actually hydrated enough to have to "go" on this ride so that was a great sign.  My bike was feeling so good that I wondered if I was holding back too much.  I kept trusting that the plan was appropriate and by the time we hit 85 miles, I was ready to rip. 

The timing was perfect to see coach Jesse because he gave me the go ahead to "drop the hammer" as he so eloquently put it.  I smiled and took off like someone lit a fire under my bike seat!  The plan had worked perfectly and I was now holding my best watts with my heart rate still looking perfect.  Rolling along at 23 mph, I started catching the girls that had dropped me like a bad habit earlier in the day.  My legs felt great and my spirits were high.  I had no idea where I was in terms of place and I didn't care.  Staying process focused was bringing me into a great spot and I knew when I hit the marathon, I'd be ready to run and run hard. 

Final bike time: 5:11, 6th place

 Coming out of T2, I realized my heart rate strap wasn't reading at all, which is a fairly important tool for me as I properly pace the marathon.  I tried to put it out of my mind and use pace to let me know I was in the range I was supposed to be running (which was hard to do as there were some ups and downs in those first miles).  Finally, things leveled out and I was able to see I was running right at 6:50 which was perfect for me to maintain.  

People often ask me what I could possibly think about for 26 miles while running.  The best I can tell them is that I do a lot of positive self talk and a lot of singing (in my brain).  Through the first six to ten miles, I always tell myself  "smooth and easy" and I try to pretend it's only a half marathon so there's no thought of any miles beyond thirteen at that point (except for when you see the signs for the second loop - they REALLY need to cover those up for the first loop!  Just saying).  I tell myself the miles won't even get hard until sixteen because I truly believe the signals you send to your body are what it reflects back to you.  I started getting splits on the girls in front of me and found out I was in fourth place and running almost 20 seconds per mile faster at the moment.  This helped me keep my spirits up and drive my body hard, hoping I would be doing all the passing.  

Finally, I started seeing girls ahead and told myself to reel them in slowly, not all at once.  I said "save those heart rate beats as much as possible," so I could use them as the race progressed.  It was hard not to get excited as I spotted Bree and her biker ahead, knowing that she was in second place.  When I finally got close enough to hear her breath, I also heard footsteps behind me and cheers.  Yikes.  I had a very good ideal that it was Lisa Roberts, super runner.  For me to say that as a runner myself, is truly showing you how spectacular Lisa is right now.  When she came by at mile thirteen, it was just too early to latch on to her faster pace.  I knew I might be able to hold it, but I might also bust into a million pieces at mile twenty. That wasn't a risk I was willing to take at the moment.  She passed me and then I passed Bree within about one minute. That was where the places remained, with Carrie Lester so far out in front that neither of us had any hope of running her down.

With over a thousand feet of climbing, this run course is not for the faint of heart.  The half mile uphills on the second loop took everything I had to keep moving.  The downhills were even worse, as they busted my legs into pieces.  Luckily, my bike escort, Tarbell, was exceptional, and kept me on task.  Thank you so much Tarbell!!  It was one mile at a time just driving myself mentally while knowing that giving anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift (one of my favorite "Pre"quotes).  There were great volunteers and people cheering all over the course, which made it so special coming through the town and down the final chute.  

Final 26.2 Time: 3:08, 3rd place

Crossing the line is pure joy. That's the only way I can describe it.  It's the closest I ever feel to flying and it's something you never, ever take for granted.  When you've squeezed out every last drop, it's a mix of satisfaction and exhaustion that can only be experienced in that moment.  It's the feeling I always search for while I'm out there and it culminates with being beyond thankful as you raise your arms up and point to the creator. 

Little thumbs up to the camera guy

Coach Jesse and I have come to a rare place where we've created an unstoppable team.  It's pretty neat when you can trust someone fully to make your decisions and then he gets to see them come to fruition on race day. Thank you Coach.  You are a huge part of making my dreams come true.

Lisa had one HECK of a day and threw down another huge run (3:01) to take a commanding second.  I've gotten to know some of these girls well and we've earned one anothers respect, which has been one of the things about the sport I've enjoyed so much.  We are strong capable women who are warriors together. They inspire me beyond words.  It's an honor to race them and bring out the best in one another.

You know what this one said when I passed her to Tarbell, her biker, "You take care of Kim, she's a good one!"  This goes to show you the character of the ladies I'm rolling with at this level.  Bree Wee, you are a class act.  I know you'll be at that World Champ starting line again soon.  So much love and respect for my competitors.

This is what happens when you just did an Ironman and attempt to take a group photo - i.e. no one can really move.  Bianca (4th), Beth (19th), yours truly, Amy (17th)

 Toasting little debbies with Beth was probably my favorite part of the day.  The journey we've been on together as friends and teammates is one that no one can describe.  We have come through it all, together.  She had a tough day, but never gave in and in true Beth form, fought her way to the finish.

Jim found me after the race and was still willing to get a picture despite me smelling like sweat, spit, pee, gel and post-race pizza

FYP athlete Holli F. swam, biked and ran her way to a 3rd place age group and new PR!  HUGE!  Go Holli!!

Awards were fun and hats off to all these awesome pro women and all the finishers who made it to the line that day!  It's never easy, but it's always worth it!

This picture of Kyle and I will just not cooperate, so I'm posting it anyway.  I am so so so so so thankful Kyle could fly in from his trip out West to come to the race.  He's simply amazing and I am beyond Blessed to have him in my life.  Thank you for all you do!

Huge thank you to my homestay family, Jim and Sandra Brewer.  They treated us like family and took care of us with food and everything else we needed all week long.  They are just spectacular people and I'm so happy I got to know them!  I'm pretty sure they adopted me by the end! 

I don't know what's next, but I do know that this third Ironman and third, third place, were really special to me.  Good things really do come in threes.  

Thank you to my sponsors this season for supporting me in so many ways.  I am lucky to have you on board!  Thank you for following and reading! 

Thought about you all day long LC, JD and TM.  Thanks to all three of you for being who you are.  You give me strength and I'm thankful for the gift you each bring to those around you.  I hope I see you all gracing a starting line some day soon.

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