I can't believe this whirlwind year has come to a close. It feels like just yesterday that I pulled the trigger and signed up for Ironman Copenhagen. Many people along the way were surprised that I'd be attempting an Ironman without ever having completed any distance of triathlon, but I knew if the distance didn't terrify me I would never stay focused enough to get to the start line!
To tell you that Ironman is hard is an understatement. It feels amazing, satisfying, wicked challenging, and just plain frustrating all at once and sometimes not at all. Setting out on this adventure I knew I would be challenged and it wouldn't be easy, but how exactly that challenge would look I wasn't sure.
Getting to the start line of the race was the challenge in itself. I set out to become an Ironman because I wanted something to force me to train. I also wanted something beyond running, and I've also always dreamed of becoming a cyclist. The swimming is not something I excel at, but I've been able to consistently swim the 2.4 mile distance in 1h 30 min which is plenty ahead of the cutoff times, so yes it is a piece but my training wasn't focused on that.
Ironman training forced me to jump into cycling and boy did I shed tears upon tears about my bike and my rides. Most of my training focused on the cycling because it was the one part that can make or break a race, and the part I had no prior experience with. I had a million people tell me thousands of different opinions on my bike, the bike geometry, my pedals and shoes, and even bought a super snazzy triathlon bike because I was convinced Ironman wouldn't be possible on my trusty Specialized Ruby. I ended up racing on my Ruby because I wasn't comfortable with the size and riding position on the new bike, and knew that I completed 100 miles on my road bike as well as one could hope for their first century ride.
Countless times Tony (my boyfriend and #1 support crew) got phone calls with me crying in the middle of nowhere asking to be picked up. My tears came from a range of things- I crashed and bent my handlebar, my GPS wasn't working, I didn't feel good, the temperature was way too hot, I ran out of water and food and didn't have money....and there were a few times where I got out there and just plain didn't have the headspace to focus on a 5 hour ride. While many people get concerned over so many rides gone bad, I knew that when the pieces came together at the end I would be able to do the distance, just how fast was the question.
My first triathlon was actually a Half Ironman in New Hampshire this June. It was a really tough course and really hot but I finished and I was proud. I was probably one of the last few people to cross the finish line in 7h35min but I was happy and it was relieving to know that the million pieces that must come together for a good race worked perfectly! Looking back, this is probably my favorite distance and I'll most likely focus on this distance next year.
My second triathlon was an olympic distance in Boston in July. I actually raced this on my triathlon bike, and it was the first time I'd ever ridden it (yes I know this is a nono). BUT it worked out fine and my race overall went pretty well! I enjoyed the distance but definitely didn't feel the mental pain that one goes through after hours of racing. The worst part of this race was that I had to pee. SO. BAD. the ENTIRE. TIME. But good to know that I could do a whole race that way. Clearly, I have not figured out peeing in a wetsuit and not sure I could handle the other alternatives...
What else about training- oh running. One would think since this was my 10th time training for a marathon it would be a cake walk, right? NO. This summer was excruciating hot and I'm not one to run well in temperatures over around 65 degrees. Most days 85's and up even bright and early so my training was rough. My most successful runs happened with wake ups at 3:30am and getting out to the Esplanade by 4:30am. It kind of worked, but at the same time waking up at 3:30am on a Tuesday morning is not really a great recipe for a great week, but I guess it had to happen!
I know you probably want to know all about the race. My brother Kyle and my long time client Debbie and her daughter came with me to Copenhagen. They were extremely helpful and were so excited even down to the last minute of the day even though they were out there cheering as long as I was out there competing.
I woke up, got my clothes on and ate my breakfast which was organic poptarts, two servings of applesauce, and coffee. This definitely seems weird but a huge challenge for me is GI sensitivity during races (this is a thing for my marathons too) so my food choices tend to be odd but they work!
We all met in the lobby and walked to the subway to get to the start line.
We got there later than I expected, but I went to the bike transition area T1 and waited in the LONGEST LINE OF MY LIFE for the porta potty. I started putting on my wetsuit around 6:30 and was all suited and ready to go by the official start time of 7am.
At the start line I was a little rushed and didn't get time to go for a warm up swim, which has been super important for me to feel comfortable in the water. I've done a lot of open water swimming in my life, but in a race setting I still get a little nervous and shocked at the start. A race marshall told me they closed the warm up swim and I would have to just get in line for the start. I almost cried but told myself I wasn't going to let something at the beginning of the day ruin my last many months of training and the day ahead of me.
The race officially started and I had to wait in a long line of the other 3000 potential Ironman athletes. I anticipated starting around 7:30am but didn't actually get there until 7:45am
I FINALLY could see the front of the line and also saw my cheer squad right before I went off. The great thing about Ironman Copenhagen is they did a rolling start where every few seconds 6 athletes got to run for the water. This was GREAT because it took away a lot of the things I get nervous about in races. I get overwhelmed when too many people are running into me, they grab your toes, kick you, and I've heard people often swim over you though this hasn't happened to me yet. I was most concerned about the temperature but once I got my face in the water and started swimming I adjusted a lot quicker than I expected and I was well on my way for my 2.4 mile swim.
The swim itself took place in a lagoon type body of salt water. It was super shallow for a lot of it which meant looking at the ground, coming close to fish and jellies, and getting greens stuck in your hand every stroke. I even saw some men stand up in the water! I have told a lot of people that there were things in the race that I didn't expect to be hard that ended up being incredibly challenging. The swim was one of them, though not in the physical challenge kind of way. It was SO foggy after the first 1000m that it was really tough to tell where you were. We weren't covering a huge distance because of the route we swam so technically sighting things like the next bridge or the shore on the right, and the finish on the left should have been easy, but the fog made you lose complete sense of direction. There were many points where I had no idea where I was, even in relation to a buoy, I just told myself there were people around me and to keep swimming. This part was probably the most tedious.
Sure enough I'm nearing the end of my swim pretty much at my predicted time of 1h30min and I'm so excited to be done with this part of the race. One of the coolest parts of the swim was at the end you see the feet of volunteers and they literally grabbed me out of the water and the guy put me on my feet. This was awesome, and it helped me jump right out and head to T1 for my bike gear.
I took around 10 minutes to transition because I wanted to take my time and not forget anything and decided it would be best to use the porta potty in T1 as opposed to on the course, when I knew I wouldn't want to get off my bike. I did really well but missed putting chafe cream on some crucial spots, which definitely bit me in the ass later (literally, ha).
The bike was a blur, the first loop was tough and I kept looking at my speed knowing I should be going faster but feeling like my legs didn't have it. I also was dealing with some decent saddle discomfort because of my forgetfulness in T1 and it took almost two full hours for the feeling to come back to my fingers because of the swim. My hands tend to go numb easily anyways and usually after an hour of swimming it happens. The swim and the colder water didn't help. While lots was bothering me, I told myself in my head that 112 miles is always going to suck, and whether it be contact points (hands, feet, saddle) or inside my body like heart rate, breathing, muscles, etc. I'd rather have issues with my contact points.
The only hill on the course, was definitely a steep climb, though short. There were a few decent hills leading up to Geels Bakke and every time I eagerly searched for my cheer squad hoping that I'd just topped the hardest climb. When I saw my team's bright pink shirts I was SO relieved. I was also relieved because this meant I was almost to the end of the first loop and I was doing well with the time cutoffs!
My biggest concern was finishing the bike course in under my cutoff time which is 9.5 hours of swim + bike together. There also was a time of day cutoff time for starting the second loop so I focused on nothing but that time cutoff until I'd passed it.
Once I started the second loop I felt a million times better. I stopped a few miles after to finally apply some chafe cream, which probably looked hilarious to spectators. I literally pulled off to the side and had my hands in my pants, but nobody does an Ironman to be glamorous I guess! I made a few other adjustments and loosened my shoes a bit and was on my way. This second loop for a while I was cruising about 4 mph faster than my first time around so that felt awesome. I knew at this point that I was going to make my cutoff and have time to spare, so that felt AMAZING! Somewhere out there in the farmlands of Denmark I felt like I finished the Ironman then. The moment you realize you WILL finish, regardless of the hours to come was better than the actual finish.
During this piece I had trouble stomaching the food that normally works great for me, so this was frustrating. Knowing that you need to eat but not being able to is tough. I told myself I'd go one step at a time and I'd make it and on the run refuel. This is not what I planned and not usually what works for me but during an Ironman you have to be flexible and roll with the punches.
I looked at my watch and knew that I was going to finish over an hour under my personal cutoff time, and this was awesome! At that same moment a guy flew by me on the bike and I passed a guy that looked like he literally wasn't trying at all. He said something to me in Danish and I don't speak Danish but understand a little Norwegian, which can be very similar. For some reason immediately I remembered reading some cutoff time being 4:30pm, regardless of your personal time. I panicked and convinced myself that I had to be at T2 by 4:30pm or I would miss the cutoff to finish the bike.
This meant that I had roughly 30 minutes to complete just over 13 miles, which for me is fast, and at the end of 112 miles was REALLY FAST and really hard. Holy moly. It was a mixture of adrenaline, tears, and fear that I would get to T2 and be forced to pull out of the race that fueled my sprint to finish the bike. I rolled into T2 I think around 4:33pm. I slowly got off my bike thinking that it didn't matter and I didn't make it only to find a volunteer helping me find my transition bag and showing me to the changing tent.
I was looking around the tent waiting for a volunteer to come up and tell me my day is done, while slowly changing. A volunteer walks over and asks me why I look like I'm about to cry and I look and him and ask about the 4:30 cutoff time. He looks puzzled and tells me if I'm under 9.5 hours I'm fine. I almost hugged him but spared him the grossness of my sweaty hug and jogged off.
I saw my cheer squad who were SO EXCITED to see me coming out of transition, and it was a relief to know the rest of my race was just a marathon.
I say just a marathon because it's familiar. I know all of the curve balls and all of the signs to pay attention to so its much easier to react to how my body feels in this section of a triathlon. I felt tired for sure, but was happy my pace was around a 10:30 mile. This isn't what I would hope in a normal marathon, but after exercising for 8 or 9 hours, you take what you get.
The course was four laps around the same course which was good in some ways, because you feel like you're making progress faster, but bad in others because once you've seen it, there's nothing to keep you occupied.
I ran and ran and ran. And then I felt dizzy and lightheaded and walked around mile 14 I believe. I think I walked for about 2 miles straight which I was really bummed about because I didn't have that in my plan. I had trouble stomaching my normal running gummies and pretty much everything except for crackers and cola. I've always used salt pills and pretzels as a stable in my runs, and this I stayed consistent. I drank and ate as much as I could stomach and after about 30 minutes, my dizziness went away.
Everybody always says that nutrition is the key to a good Ironman and yes, they are correct. If I had gotten enough calories on the bike and the first portion on the run I'm sure I would have cut at least an hour off of my time. For the first half of the marathon I was looking at about a 13:30 finish. While that was exciting, I knew I didn't want to risk fainting or passing out or just finishing and not feeling good about my body so I slowed down. The tough part is none of this is hindsight knowledge. I knew the entire time what was happening, but I just couldn't stomach food for a lot of it.
You know how you feel and what that means for the next few hours or miles, and know how to fix it but looking at the food options or what I had stashed in my pockets just couldn't make it into my mouth. I don't think I even ate one of my run gummies, and eventually I threw them in the trash because I didn't want to carry them anymore.
I was coming in on my last few miles of the race. You get to a point where you are so tired of moving that you move faster because of the idea of being done sooner. All I could think about was sitting down and going to sleep. It was about 9 or 10pm in the evening so you really feel like the day needs to just end. I got my last lap counter and flew (as much as one could fly) to the finish line.
A girl on the course I talked to told me to go slowly up the finish line because you get better photos, and it lets you take in the moment more. If you see my race videos posted later, I didn't walk and I didn't pose for photos. The only thing on my mind was give me that medal! I was so excited to just be done and that all of the sweat and tears and time and stress was now officially over.
I am happy to say that I AM AN IRONMAN in 14 hours 43 minutes and some seconds that I don't care about.
It feels great. Will I do another one? I'm not sure. In comparison, I LOVED the half Ironman distance. I don't know that I can say I loved anything about the Ironman besides being done. I enjoyed the challenge of the training but now that I've had two weeks to digest it, I enjoy sleeping at night and not feeling the stress and anxiety I dealt with over the last many months surrounding the training, fitting it into my schedule, the fear of wasting my time and money, and in general the intensity of everything I was doing. I'm sure I'll do it again, but for now I'm going to take a break, and start back next spring with a half ironman!
I appreciate all of your support and excitement in this process. I look forward to sharing my next adventure with you, whatever that will be! If you have questions about my training, or if you think you might need help planning training for any type of road race or triathlon feel free to reach out!