Sunday, November 05, 2006

Ironman Race Report: Waves, Wind, and Wounds

What an amazing experience this all was. By the end of the day, I could hardly remember how it all started. We had to be there by 5:00 am, so I was a bit bleary. A couple of athletes from our hotel gave me a ride to the race start, which was really nice.

Standing on the beach with 2,500 athletes was incredible, and just a bit scary. I decided to stick with my usual policy, based on the principle of the hypoteneuse not being all that much longer than the long leg of a right triangle - I started all the way to the right of the big group of people and swam at an angle to the first buoy. This was great, since I wasn't in the thrashing mob for the whole first quarter mile. By the time we got out towards the first turn, however, it was really clear that his was going to be a Tough Swim. The waves were really big, plus a lot of chop on top of that. Couple that with so many swimmers, and it was like a mosh pit out there, with people getting picked up and dropped on top of other swimmers. After rounding the first corner, you couldn't see the second turn buoy unless you were up on top of one of the waves. Apparently, they pulled one drowned athlete out and resuscitated him on the beach, and some of the pros were asking them to cancel the swim (and a couple did not start the race, or dropped out in the middle). One guy I talked to on the beach had come with a group but the rest of them decided not to even start! Talk about your tough conditions.

The nice thing was that people were generally very polite about it all - far from the image of athletes swimming over the top of each other, people generally just tried to hold their course as we all got bopped around into each other. One unfortunate and notable exception was a swimmer behind me who grabbed the big toe on my right foot going by (maybe hanging on for dear life?) and pulled it going by! That hurt like @#$!!, and I felt a pop sensation which really worried me. Not much to do though but soldier on. I came out of the water in 1:03, which was reasonable but about 6 minutes slower than my estimated time. Probably in about the first 100 swimmers out of the water.

My first transition was basically a debacle. I was queasy from the swim (remember, I get seasick very easily!) and slightly dizzy, and my foot hurt like nobody's business. Toe sticking out at an angle, that's not good! Luckily, as one of the first women swimmers, the changing tent was pretty empty and I had a personal volunteer to help me. I had first-aid stuff in my T1 bag, good forethought there. Pull toe until it pops back, tape it up tight, stuff ibuprofen in my pocket. Then I managed to put on my arm warmers (remember the unusually cold temperatures!), then remember I had no sunscreen on my arms, strip off the arm warmers, apply sunscreen, then realize that it is almost impossible to pull on tight lycra armwarmers over newly gooped-up arms! It would be funny to watch the comedy of errors from the outside, I'm sure. But I finally made it out of the tent and grabbed my bike.

The race announcer had said before the race that the seas were calm (a lie!) and that the wind on the bike course died down to nothing after 7 miles (another lie!) The bike course was quite windy, with the whole first half of the course straight into a headwind. I tried to hunker down and remember all of my windy rides at home, and how coming back I would make up the time if I didn't struggle to go too fast into the wind. The hardest part of the bike for me was feeling my toe throbbing and my whole foot swelling up, not knowing if I was even going to be able to run, walk, or hobble through the run course. It was entirely possible that I'd get through the whole bike to find that I just wouldn't be able to finish. Mentally, that was tough.

The second most frustrating part of the bike course was the appalling state of the race officials and their lack of penalties. I had fortunately been warned about this, so it wasn't a surprise, but huge groups of drafting cyclists came past, doing a good 4 miles an hour faster than I was doing without drafting. For those of you who don't know, you're not allowed to draft in the Ironman and are supposed to be time-penalized and even disqualified for drafting violations. It was hard to watch so many people choosing to essentially cheat, and knowing that by not doing so I was basically handicapping myself against all these athletes whose times would be so much faster. The officials just rode on by and did nothing, and the penalty tents sat absolutely empty. Completely ridiculous!

Other than that, the course volunteers and cheerers were great (my favorite was the family all dressed as superheros, handing out food and drink) and the bike went well for me. I had no flat tires or technical problems, and my heart-rate monitor kept me from over-amping and chasing the faster cyclists. I stuck with my nutrition plan and felt good when I got off the bike. I averaged 19.6 mph, but with the 6 portapotty spots (after drinking all the salt water from the ocean waves!) retaping my toe since it swelled so much, and retrieving my special needs bag for more medical supplies, I came in at 6:05, not much over my 6 hour estimate. I got to see Wayne and the kids cheering for me both coming and going, which was awesome. About two hours before the run, I popped the last ibuprofen, crossed my fingers, and prayed I'd be able to run on my injured foot.

After another semi-frenzied change in the tent, and a few more ibuprofen, I was out on the run course and my questions were answered - I could run! I really appreciated having my name printed on my race number because everyone along the course cheered each athlete by name, which made such a big difference. The ibuprofen played havoc with my stomach though, and I had a lot of abdominal pain and a hard time taking any food and drink. I've never done well taking ibu in the best of times, and the IM marathon is not the best of times for a stomach. I did my best though, and the chicken broth on the course really saved me, it was pretty much the only thing I kept down. I was feeling really great at the run-turnaround, right on my race plan of 10:15 per mile pace, including :30 of walking through each aid station. I gave a double-thumbs up to Wayne and the kids and told them to meet me about 7:00 at the finish line.

It got dark and a huge gorgeous full moon came out. At somewhere around mile 15, the ibuprofen wore off and I was in trouble. My foot started throbbing and swelling up, I started doing this weird hobble-limp run, and everything in my legs started cramping up from that. I began to take longer and longer walking breaks. The pain was intense every time I took a step. I really fell back on my mental race plan which helped me a lot. I had divided the run course in my head into four segments, a mental trip through Oregon. The first quarter was the Eastern Oregon high desert, then the mountains, then the valley, and finally the coast. I called up memories from those places, and that helped to keep me going. I alternated this with thoughts of all those supporting me: friends and family, and also the things I've accomplished in my past that were difficult. At some point though, the pain was too much and my brain just checked out. I have a big blank spot in my mind for about two hours of the marathon. Except for throwing up, I can remember every place I threw up. By this time my stomach felt completely wrecked and nothing stayed down. Somehow, I just talked myself into putting one foot in front of the other for those last 11 miles. Although my pace must've slowed dramatically, I  somehow made it to the finisher's chute at 12:21, still within my estimate of somewhere between 11:30 and 12:30.

To my surprise, Wayne and the kids were waiting in the chute to run across the finish line with me! I was thrilled, because the race rules had said they wouldn't allow that, but they changed the rules and did. I couldn't believe that I was really crossing after all these years, the training, the time and effort and travel and everything. I was so excited and grinning from ear to ear.

Through the chute it was a total zoo. I got photos taken and a metallic space blanket, and started walking around. Pretty quick, I was dizzy and very nauseous. While hanging my head over a handy railing by some bushes, Wayne noticed I was getting very unresponsive, and the last thing I heard before losing consciousness was him yelling "get a medic!" and my daughter asking "is mommy dying?". Into the medical tent I went, where I posted a blood pressure of 88 over 50, very dehydrated. A couple of bags of IV fluid later and my blood pressure was better and I came around, but the cold saline fluid and my wet clammy clothes, combined with the plummeting temperature made me start shaking so hard I couldn't talk. They took my temperature and found it to be 96! In the meanwhile, Wayne was trying to get my dry clothes from the transition area, but they wouldn't let him in with the kids. Finally, we got it all sorted out and I was dry, warmer, and standing up without the world swirling around. It started to sink in then, I'm an Iron(wo)man!!

Now, I'm stiff and sore from the weird limp-run and my stomach's a wreck. Everyone here is hobbling around and grinning congratulations at each other. We packed off my bike, picked up my gear, and tomorrow we head out for home. If you've been following this saga, I appreciate all of your support and good thoughts. It's been a long and tough journey, and I was tested to my limits (it's more than a little scary to think how my brain managed to hold my body together through the finish when I was obviously so close to breaking down!). I'm just ecstatic at finally completing my Ironman.


Danielle said...

Wow! I'm exhausted just reading about it—but how invigorating!

Congratulations! What an accomplishment!

harvestmoon said...

I'm so incredibly impressed! I can only relate on a 1/2 scale as I've only done a 1/2 Ironman.

You are such an inspiration!

Karen said...

I'm so thilled for you!

Amy said...

Wow, what an adventure. I know that nothing I say can match the inner sense of pride and accomplishment you have, Robin, but thank you so much for sharing a bit of the journey with us. I am honored to know you -- and would be even if you weren't an IRONWOMAN!

Amy (from the Shine list)

Beth said...

Wow! What an amazing acomplishment! Congratulations! Pity about your injured toe, good for you for being able to maintain your focus and finish in your target zone.

Ren said...

Congratulations!! That is truly a HUGE accomplishment.

Deanna said...

Awesome. What an amazing feat. You tell it well, too. Thanks for sharing the excitement. Congratulations.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on achieving your awesome goal! You rock!

Karen said...

Yeah Robin!! Very well done. You are amazing - what a great accomplishment!!

Karen M.

Dorcas said...

Amazing story. What an example to the rest of us in reaching "impossible" goals.

Bonny said...

uh ... WOW!!! congratulations again!

kinsey said...

WOW!!! Yay!!! How is your toe now? How disappointing to see cheaters... why would someone cheapen all their work like that?

Congratulations, IronWoman! :)


ElementalMom said...

Absolutely thunderingly inspirational. You are Mother, and I can hear you roar from here! Yeah!

Liz in Seattle said...

WAAAHOOOOOO!!! You so totally rock!!! The entire Fallin clan is cheering!