Arguably one of my best Ironman races and yet I sit here struggling to feel satisfaction. I have been going over the race bit by bit. Seeing where I can improve, what I did well, owning all the parts of where I excelled and where I lost focus. While in the end I came away with a Kona slot and an overall time PR, bike PR and run PR (and I think a T1/2 PR), I wanted more, I still want more. I have decided that is ok with me. I think the need to find satisfaction after a massive performance makes sense. You want to have laid it all out there and walk away as a victor. That feels amazing and triumphant! A conquer of the race. I typically revel in triumph after my races.
But not with Ironman Texas.
And that is ok.
I am ok to sit with the feeling that I left a lot of potential untapped out on that course. Nothing is guaranteed, nothing is owed to you in endurance sports (and life). I did not race to feel triumphant, I raced to face the unknown. The unknown for me has left me in some uncomfortable, disappointing feelings. AND it has left hungry for so much more!
Overall Race Impression
This race rocks! Wow! The community is amazing! The course is a blast and the support is so next level. Outside of Kona, this is my favorite Ironman race. It was also awesome to share the course with some of my MCC teammates and fellow MCC/TST Tucson camp. Between the 4 women racing we had a 1st place, 3rd place and 4 Kona slots! It is always amazing to be surrounded by strong women.
All the Little Things
Race week, ideally you can keep your nervous system as calm as possible. Lots of rest, keep life stress low. Give space for the mind to be calm and quiet. I decided to go to the race alone. Dad, my sherpa extraordinaire stayed back and my daughter/ #1 fan stayed in school. I have a hard time being a mom and racing. So I made this a solo trip to keep stress low.
I also spent time this week dialing into my race mindset. You can read more about that HERE.
I booked an airbnb that was insanely cheap which I soon found out why. It was under contract and during the 3 days I was there the gas company, inspector and pest control people came in and out of the house unannounced to me for several hours a day. It was not awesome. Coupled with a front tire that kept going flat, and some other personal drama, I had the ingredients to a pretty stressful race week that a year ago would have totally rocked me. This time, I stayed calm. Almost hilariously so.
What was the difference? I have been meditating daily for over 1.5 years. I constantly examine my mindset and how I focus my energy. So when bike issues happened, random people kept coming in and out of the house, I stayed calm and just dealt with what the day gave me. I knew in the end, I would figure it out. And I did.
When we look at races, it is easy to look at the watts, paces, and obvious mistakes made. But it is the little things that add up that can have a huge impact on your race and life. How you approach the little things is just as important as how you approach the big things.
Twas the Night Before
It was 4:45pm the night before the race. I just settled down to watch bad TV and eat my noodles, miso and soy sauce pre hot race meal (I know, yummy) and I get a call from Ironman. Not a good sign. My front tire was flat (again) and they said if I hurried they would let me fix it now. So I grabbed all my flat repair items and hauled ass back to transition. A lovely man in a cowboy hat called “Godfather” said I could take the whole wheel and bring it back in the morning. Amazing. So I grabbed the wheel and headed over to the local bike shop, Bikeland, where I had already been twice trying to solve the issues before. On the way over, I panicked called my bike mechanic friend who is not actually a bike mechanic, to run over ideas as to what it could be and what I should do. Bikeland guys spent an hour troubleshooting it. We never found the culprit so I said lets solve for all of it. So new rim tape, new tube, new tire and a bit of Stans (sealant) in the tube. I was not very happy to be racing with heavier tubes + sealant on such a fast course, but at the end of the day, the fastest wheel set up is one with an inflated tire.
I finally got back to my dinner around 7pm. I was able to chill out enough to eventually get to bed around 9:30pm. About 90 mins later than planned and preferred. But that is just how these things go. Better today than on race day!
I got to transition 30 mins early because that is how I roll. It was open and the tire held! Thank god! There is about a mile walk from transition to the swim start so I got everything set up, kissed Dragon (always kiss your bike before a race) and walked over. I actually really enjoyed the walk and used it as a warm up.
Water temp was 72, warm for a wetsuit but cold by Texas standards. I haven't swam in open water since 70.3 Indian Wells. I decided to not get into the water the days before. I am prone to ear and eye infections and have had my fair share of parasites from bad water. There was a heavy rain storm two days before and no way was I risking something before a race.
The 5 mins before the race start is my favorite. Everyone stands there, anxious, struggling with wetsuits, unsure what will happen. Newbie asking questions, random conversations you have with the athletes around you. It is one of the most unique experiences. I train mostly alone and rarely share the experience of all three sports with someone. Most people think its insane, and I don't disagree with them. Ironmans are insane. But at that starting line, I am surrounded by my people. 2500+ humans that have sacrificed, pushed, worked, found joy and disappointment and a part of themselves in this insane sport. We have all decided that on April 22nd, there is no other way we want to spend the day than seeing what happens when we swim/bike/run 140.6 miles. I always get teary eyed at the start. I am grateful for these athletes, for this sport and for my mind and body that will carry me on an adventure.
Well, that was different. There is always going to be contact in open water swimming in a race. It happens. But holy shit. This was ridiculous. I was punched, kicked, swam over, had people swim under me, head butted, goggles torn off… and this went on for the whole race! Usually things settle down after the first few hundred yards, not here. It was hard to see, it got really confusing with the two sides of the course close together, the sun was bright. A combo of all these factors made it a shit show.
The contact was a factor but I think the main reason I was about 7 mins slower than usual was I got really frustrated. I would get a rhythm then have my legs pulled down, momentum slowed then it took awhile before I could find my rhythm again. I took wider lines and a few times to get away and just flat out stopped mid stroke at a few points in frustration. I lost my focus and got caught up in the others around me. I bled time doing that. When I saw 1:15 I was shocked. I knew I lost time but 1:15, I was faster in Kona! Clearly swimming and open water swimming is an area I need some serious focus in. So ok, a summer of ows swimming it is!
It was also a good lesson in the importance of staying on task when you cannot control your immediate environment. The bike and the run I can control my personal space, but not on the swim and that really threw me.
I am notoriously slow in transitions and while not the top of my class, T1/T2 is a massive improvement and includes peeing in my chair (tri is so glamorous!).
I gave myself the first 5 mins of the bike to be pissed about the swim then I let it go. It was going to do me no good to be upset about it, can’t do anything about it now. My brain wanted to immediately analyze it and try to solve for what I should have done. Super useful in my post race analysis. A bike split destroyer if I focused on it now.
When something happens in the race that I am frustrated about and the thoughts keep coming, I like using a container. I literally imagine a container (I am visual and I find imaging very helpful), put the situation in it and say ok brain, I get it, we can come back to it and analyze the shit out of it, but not until we cross the finish line. Anytime a thought comes in about the swim, I picture the container, put it in and then get back to the task at hand.
This is a flat, fast and windy bike course. My plan was to ride it strategically. That means using the athletes around me, especially the bigger men to block the wind (at a legal distance) and be as aero as possible. When we hit the Hardy Toll road, we were moving so fast I kept looking at the trees to see the wind direction. I expected to be slower and even questioned if we had a headwind. When we hit the turn around and I was rolling 24mph at about 100 watts, the headwind was confirmed with the super fun tailwind for the next 20 miles.
The second loop the wind picked up and direction made it more straight headwind than a cross/headwind. I had an awesome group I was with but lost them in an aid station when I dropped water and had to pause to get another one. In hindsight probably should have blown through it. I was ok on liquids and the group was a good one. Oh well. Lesson learned.
I could have ridden quite a bit faster and stayed within my power goals, but I really wanted to save my legs for the run. As long as I was holding over 21 mph I ignored watts and kept my focus on riding as fast as I could for the least amount of effort.
Somewhere in the 350ish cal range/hr
3 bottles of Skratchfuel fuel + 2 packets of The Right Stuff for sodium supplement
2 packets of Skratch chews
2 Cliff Blocks packets
5 SiS Gels
This is a PR run, but it doesn't feel like one. My goal was at 3:45 and I thought there was a pretty big chance I had more than that in me.
When I got off the bike I felt good. Freshest I have ever been getting off the bike and ready to go. I locked in at 8:30s and went to work. I was pretty surprised when my friend said I was in 11th. Damn this was a competitive race! I was not totally sure of Kona slots but I knew in 11th I was pretty safe.
This is a 3 loop course with tons of support and diverse sections making it a really great course to break down mentally. The concrete is less awesome, but I have done IMAZ twice so I was prepared for it.
First loop I settled in and felt great. Cooled at every aid station, fueled, and stayed on pace. Towards the end of the 2nd loop my pace started to drop a bit. I wasn't worried at first. I had a solid 8:26 average pace for the first 14 miles and I knew it would probably start to drop off as the miles ticked on. No worries. I thought about my mythical bird I developed for my race mindset, how I loved being out here, how awesome everyone was around me. I ran with a guy for a long time at an excellent pace to give myself a little break in watch checking.
Then things started to go south and go south fast. It is normal to feel pretty sick at the end of Ironman runs. You never really know how your body will react after mile 18. Its been through a lot of stress. At first I was like, ok how can I troubleshoot. Then the dizziness and nausea really ticked up. Shit.
I tried to throw up thinking that might help, no luck. Nothing came up. I tried to troubleshoot with everything, coke, gatorade, salt, gels, oranges. More ice down the bra, in the hat. Nothing was helping. I watched my average pace fall from 8:30 to 8:35 to 8:40. I knew the 3:45 was done. I was deflated. I went from feeling so good to feeling so awful.
With 3:45 out the door, I also assumed and overall PR was gone too. What was left was Kona. Ok, Kona. Kona I can get. I thought of Azella, she wants to go back so bad. I want to go back. I knew I had about 8 -10mins on 12th place. There were enough miles left and enough fast women that if I slowed down too much, I could be caught. No matter how terrible I felt, I needed to run as fast as I could.
That was a hard realization.
For a moment I questioned if it was worth it. Was it worth digging deep for 11th place? Some arbitrary place with maybe a Kona slot? I even questioned why I was out there. Dark spots come and go in racing. I have had them all before. What came through my head in those woods were some of the darkest spots I have had racing. I was honestly caught off guard. I questioned why I raced, if I belonged there with all these other amazing women, if all of this was really something that filled me up or did I just make it all up? When these thoughts happen you can believe them, you can spend your energy looping around picking them apart, or you can let them go.
So I asked myself again. Just one time. Is this worth it?
From the depths of my soul my answer was “fuck yes!”
I came here to be in it. And right now being in it means keeping 11th and going to Kona. I chose this. I am in, so I will be in it!
Once I made that choice, I never entertained that questions again. I let the dark thoughts exist and I released them. I had no energy for doubt, only the task at hand. I never doubted it or asked if it was worth it again. I gave myself one moment to answer and when I said yes, I went all in on yes.
I focused on staying in each single moment. I was going to string moment by moment together until the finish line. I stopped looking at my watch. I fueled, I stayed cool, I dry heaved, I focused on each step. When my mind drifted to disappointment I redirected the road in front of me. When I started picturing the finish line, I redirected to the tree in front of me. When I dreamed of laying down, I went back to the sound of my breath. That is how I ran the last 8 miles. Focus, re-direction, presence and digging far into the well.
When I reached mile 25 I finally looked at my watch. I could break 4 hrs for the first time if I really hustled. So I went for it. 4hrs or bust. “Lets go!”
That last mile, it is like the most uphill in the whole damn race! I fought so hard for a 9:20 pace and gave it my all. I don't even remember the finish line, the lights, the carpet. I am sure they said my name at some point. I crossed the finish line and ran right into the volunteer. I was pretty surprised to turn around and see my overall time of 10:41 a PR.
I told the volunteer over and over “I am not ok, I am not ok, I have done this 8 times before I know I am not ok.” They took me to the med tent, my first. Amazing people in that med tent. They took care of me and made sure I was functional. It wasn't until I got my phone in the med tent 30 mins later that I saw I made a sub 4hrs by 16 secs and I held on to 11th. I ended up only 10 secs back from 10th.
I am not totally sure what happened and I still need to chat with my coach about it. One possibility is too much gross lake water. I did get pink eye after the race (even more glamorous) and swallowed a ton of water. Possibly off on hydration? Maybe fueling. My legs had more, my system did not.
Just because I set myself up perfectly on the bike, does not mean I get the run I trained for and wanted. Triathlon owes me nothing and nothing is a guarantee. A lesson in detachment was my gift for the day.
6ish? SiS Gels
Water every aid station
Gatorade after mile 13
Coke after mile 14
Some amount of The Right Stuff
I eventually came around and spent the rest of the evening on the banks of the river cheering for my mindset athlete and watching incredible humans stretch the idea of what is possible in their lives. Watching them, legs tired from the day, mind settled, I felt just pure joy for this sport.
Is it perfect? No. We saw that on Monday. But how can it be? It is a place for humans to be humans and it encompasses all parts of humanity. If we choose it, it can be our place to be pushed and tested. It is a vehicle of inspiration and disappointment. It is a place of expression. It is an adventure. It is a place to be more than you thought you could be or less than you hoped.
I left a lot of untapped potential on that course. It was not a triumph and it's ok. There is no guarantee, I am owed nothing. I got what I came for… the unknown, the challenge, the lessons of detachment and the moments in pure presence. And I want so much more. I am ok that today I sit, still unsatisfied, driven for more, hungry.
I am going back to Kona!