Determination and Perseverance – Ironman 70.3 Raleigh Race Recap

A little background….

Sometime in early May I knew that racing Ironman 70.3 Raleigh was questionable, although I certainly didn’t want to believe it.  With developing back pain that became so severe and turned into nerve pain with a numb leg and foot, I was forced to think beyond Raleigh and look ahead to recovery for my “A” races of the season.  I had a hard time with this, though.  Perhaps it was my stubborn side that refused to allow things to “go down” this way.  If I didn’t start Raleigh, it would be my first DNS.  If I started but didn’t finish, it would be my first DNF.  Neither of those options were ones I wanted to accept, even though I had valid reasons for both.

Race week….

Race week was truly an emotional roller coaster for me.  It was filled with ups and downs, hopes shattered by realities.  Yet, even by mid-week, when things weren’t improving, I still couldn’t quite make myself say that I wasn’t going to race.  Only a doctor telling me that it wasn’t safe to race was going to be the end-all.  And I’m sure even then I probably would have thrown a tantrum.

It was on Thursday of race week that I had my first appointment with Dr. Charles Renick, an ART specialist.  I had read many promising stories that this guy was THE guy.  After all, he works on top athletes in triathlon, as each year he serves as one of the ART specialists at the Ironman World Championships.  Long story, short – in one visit with Dr. Renick, for the first time in weeks, I felt some relief in the numbness.  He gave me a series of stretches to do 5x a day, and suddenly, there was real hope.  With that optimism and after another doctor appointment on Friday, I packed my bags for a triathlon!

Race Weekend…

It was an early departure for Raleigh as we were going to have to make several stops along the way for me to get out and  stretch as recommended by the doc.  I knew the car ride alone was going to help determine whether or not I could race.  I made a deal with myself that if the numbness worsened or if the back pain returned, I wouldn’t chance it.  As much as it was going to kill me to not be on the start line, I knew I needed to play smart.

We arrived in Raleigh just around lunch time and the best part…no back pain and while the numbness hadn’t decreased, it hadn’t increased either.  Our lunch stop was at this quirky, little place called The Remedy Diner.  The hubs and I found this place when we raced Raleigh the year before and loved it.  My sister was traveling with us so this place was perfect.  The menu includes something for everyone – vegetarians, vegans and meat-eaters!

After lunch it was off to the convention center for packet pick-up, which was also the first time I really had to ask myself if I was going to go through with this.  No workouts in 3.5 weeks, recovering from a back issue, and yes, I still had numbness in my leg and foot.  The answer was clear…at least to me.  Yes, I was going to race.  Yes, it sounded crazy, but again, I had no doctor tell me that I couldn’t.  So, I picked up my blue bracelet, swim cap, timing chip, and other tri swag and declared that #2648 would race!

From the convention center, it was off to Jordan Lake to rack our bikes in T1 (in case I didn’t mention earlier, the hubs was also racing).  I racked my bike and didn’t look back.

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I also took a short walk to the swim start.  The buoys were already set out.  I swear the course always looks longer than 1.2 miles.  Would I be able to make it the entire 1.2 miles???

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From Jordan Lake, it was off to our hotel to check in and then dinner.  If there’s one drawback to racing 70.3 Raleigh, it’s getting down to the lake the day before the race and then back to downtown Raleigh or wherever one might be staying.  There’s a bit of driving involved and usually a good bit of traffic getting to T1 as there’s only one way in/out.  Dinner was at another fantastic find called The Fiction Kitchen.  If you’re a vegetarian or vegan visiting Raleigh, this place is a must.  Delicious!  After dinner, it was off to the hotel to pack and label gear bags and then lights out.

Race Day….

The alarm on my phone went off at 3:00 am.  It’s amazing how I can pop up at 3:00 in the morning for a race, but barely drag myself out of bed at 5:30 am during the work week.  I showered, stretched, lubed, and kitted up.  It was an early hotel check-out since the hubs and I had to drop off our run gear at T2 and catch a shuttle bus down to T1 and the swim start.  IM 70.3 Raleigh is a point-to-point tri, meaning T1 and T2 are in different locations, which takes a little extra planning and organization when packing gear bags.

We arrived at T2 around 5-ish.  I dropped off my run gear bag and reviewed my ‘landmarks’ that were going to guide me to the correct rack and location when hopping off the bike.  I swear.  This is the one area I mess up every year and I told myself I would get it right this year.  See, I’ve raced Raleigh every year that it’s been on the IM 70.3 circuit, and every year, I blow it when I come in to T2.  I always end up going to the wrong rack, panicking because I don’t see my stuff, and then shouting ‘where’s my stuff, where’s my stuff’ until a super nice volunteer comes to my rescue.  Volunteers are truly some of the best people!  Once I thought I had my ‘map’ memorized, I found the hubs and my sister and we boarded the bus to Jordan Lake.

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If you’ve never been on a bus with a bunch of triathletes before a big race, you can bet it will be:  a) a silent ride or b) a ride with nothing but nervous banter, as I call it.  My bus was quiet.  Inside my head was not.  The voices in my head were really starting to speak up and reality was setting in.  Oh, and a slight tightness in my back appeared.  Great!

When we arrived at T2 it was still dark out (third year doing this race and you’d think by now that I would have remembered a headlamp).  I got body marked and headed straight in to transition to get everything sorted and ready to go.  On my way in I got to meet one of my SOAS Racing teammates, Ana, and inside transition I got to meet another teammate, Kristy.  For months, the girls on the SOAS Racing team have conversed via FB and other social media so it was great to finally get to meet some of them in person.  Such a fantastic group of inspiring women; I’m humbled to get to call them my teammates!

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Transition was bustling as usual.  The sounds of tires being pumped, nervous laughter, and spray lubes and sunscreens filled the air.  I got my bike ready and decided to find a quiet place to eat breakfast and stretch.  Even though the race started at 7:00, my age group wasn’t set to hit the water until 8:16.  That meant I had plenty of time to get nervous and possibly even back out.

At about 8:00, I saw the yellow swim caps, my age group, lining up so Ana and I headed over to the line.  I don’t remember a whole lot about the moments before we entered the water other than telling my teammate that she was going to have a great race and setting goals for myself for the day.  I told myself that any of the following three choices would be better than not starting at all, especially considering my situation:

Good day:  Complete the swim.

Great day:  Complete the swim and bike.

Best day ever:  Cross the finish line.

The Swim:

Just before 8:16, my age group entered the water.  We clapped, cheered, and wished each other luck.  In the back of my mind, though, all I could think about was what I was going to do if my back seized up or my numb leg refused to work.  The horn hadn’t even gone off yet and I was already making the worst mistake.  I was letting the negative thoughts creep in and pull away at my confidence, and confidence was the one thing I REALLY needed on this day.  And then the horn blew….

I’m not sure if I just managed to line up in the worst possible spot, but right from the get-go I was getting the crap beat out of me.  Typically, in the swim, I would hold my line but I just didn’t have the confidence so I let several swimmers swim right over me.  This nearly induced a panic attack, but luckily I started to come to my senses.  I had to do a lot of ‘talking’ to myself and I finally started to find my rhythm.  I hit the first turn buoy and headed out into the stretch of the swim that, every year, has been unpredictable.  This is always the section of water that gets choppy, whether it be from the wind or the rescue boats.  I remember sighting several times and thinking that I wasn’t getting any closer to the next buoys.  I’m not a great swimmer to begin with, but considering the fact that I hadn’t swam in almost a month, I had a possible recipe for disaster.  I tried to keep my mind focused on my stroke, but I was completely distracted by how crowded it was and how little forward progression I seemed to be making.  And then the thought.  THE thought.  “You’re not going to make the swim cut-off.”  I felt like I had been out in the water forever and I was convincing myself that my day would indeed end after the swim because I wouldn’t make the time cut-off.  Over and over again, I tried to focus on getting from one buoy to the next, until finally I saw the swim finish banner.  I made it.  Slowly, but I made it.  And to my surprise I was within the time cut-off.  Swim time: 47:37

The Bike:

After running through transition, I decided that I felt good enough to at least start the bike; I would take it mile by mile.  I lubed and sunscreen and hopped on my carbon steed, Bullet, and we were off on our 56 mile journey.

I have to say, I really like Raleigh’s bike course.  This year, though, there were some changes made due to construction.  One of those changes included a newly added out-and-back within the first 3 miles of the bike.  Now, I’m not sure what Ironman was thinking when they added this because it did nothing but cause mass congestion.  That new drafting rule….pfffff.  Throw that out the window.

The first 5 miles of the bike were painful.  Not in my back (or my numb leg – ha!), but every where else.  I told myself to stick to it because my body would ‘get with the program’ eventually.  And I was right.  By mile 8, I was starting to enjoy being on my bike and the pain was lessening. I made sure to get on top of my hydration and nutrition as these are 2 key areas that will take you out of a race in a heartbeat if you screw them up.  Speaking of nutrition, this was my first endurance triathlon that I was racing without using gels.  Back in November of ’14, I was introduced to Tailwind Nutrition.  This stuff is truly amazing!  Yes, I know… Everyone says that about their nutrition products (until they’re bent over on the run heaving), but I swear this stuff works better than ANYTHING else I’ve ever tried.  And, I’ve tried a lot.  Their slogan is: “All you need, all day.  Really.”  Nothing but the truth right there.

The miles seemed to be ticking by pretty quickly and I thanked God often for the day he was giving me.  I thought I just might make it through all 56 miles on the bike.  And then somewhere around mile 45, I was starting to feel the fatigue of not having trained in nearly a month and the whole foot that I couldn’t feel, yeah, that was starting to wear on my nerves a bit.  But, my back wasn’t hurting and nothing felt as though it was getting worse, so I pushed on.  Finally, the city skyline came in to view and I knew T2 was just up ahead.  To run…err…walk, that was the question.  Bike time: 3:17:06

The Run:

I hobbled off of my bike and rolled Bullet into T2.  I had no trouble locating my rack this time! 🙂  I racked Bullet and started rummaging through my run gear bag.  This year was a little different.  Ironman didn’t allow us to take anything out of our gear bags so it took a little time to dig everything out.  With my numb leg and foot, I decided to sit down to change my shoes.  Sitting down sure felt good and I wasn’t sure I wanted to get up.  After all, I had already met my goal for a ‘great’ day and I knew I’d have to walk the majority of the half marathon course if I chose to continue.  It was sure to be a death march in the heat that was starting to quickly rise in downtown Raleigh.  I asked myself the one question that I often ask myself when I feel like quitting in a race.  Are you dying? I’m sure the smart ass in me wanted to answer “well, I might if I keep going” but I knew I wasn’t, so I couldn’t give up.  I was only 13.1 miles away from completing another half iron, albeit a long 13.1 miles.  I stumbled to my feet, grabbed my nutrition bottle, and made my way over to the sunscreen station.  A volunteer slathered me down (I seriously looked like a bottle of sunscreen had blown up on me).  After a “thank you” I began my hobble-run out of T2.

I was no more than maybe 10 feet out of T2 when I realized just how long and hard the rest of the race was going to be.  And then I heard a familiar voice.  It was my sister.  “How are you feeling?”  If I recall correctly, I just shook my head and kept going.  “Hang in there, girl,” I remember hearing her say as I made my way into the city.  Probably not more than .2 of a mile down the road is when I realized I just couldn’t run.  I couldn’t feel enough of my leg and foot to run without potentially causing some other sort of injury.  And cue the death march music.  Bum, bum-bum-bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum (I’m a music person so there is totally a tune to this).

I typically LOVE a city run.  I tell everyone this.  I am a city-runner.  I was born to run city streets.  Put me in the woods and I start to lose my mind and my way.  However, on this very day, I wasn’t too fond of the lack of shade that makes up downtown Raleigh.  As I trudged along, I looked at my pace.  Even my walking pace was pitiful.  I knew that if I didn’t find a way to move a little faster, it was possible I might not make the final time cut-off.  At the first aid station, I grabbed ice, poured it in my bra and decided I was not going down like that.  From that point on, I tried to run a small portion of every mile to counter-balance my walking pace.  I knew that if I could keep a pace of 15 mins/mile or better, I’d be well within the time cut-off.  It was hot.  And I was going to be out there for a long time.  But I was determined to finish.

Mile after mile I saw many others suffering just as I was.  I even saw some people that looked like they were in far worse shape than me, so I reminded myself of popular hashtags I include with a lot of my posts: #noexcuses and #getitdone.  That’s exactly what I did.  A few hours later, I found myself staring down the long runway to the finishing chute.  Raleigh has a spectacular finish line and it’s always lined with cheering crowds.  I ran the best I could until I reached the end.  Run time: 3:06:52

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Overall time: 7:21:17

This was by far my slowest race, but I won’t say it was my worst.  If I think about the positives, I learned a lot about myself out there.  I learned that I do have a great deal of determination and with perseverance often comes the sweetest of rewards.

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