Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Practice Success

Someone recently asked me some questions about how I got through the Ironman mentally. I typed up a relatively long answer for her, and decided it's probably worth sharing here. These techniques can be used for any kind of sport or life situation (I used the same techniques in childbirth and with clients I assisted as a childbirth doula that I did in training for the Ironman).

Here's my answer to her:

I'm curious if you've seen Kay Porter's book The Mental Athlete. Kay is a friend from my writer's group and I think her book is an excellent resource on this subject. By the time I read it, I was already using many of her techniques myself, but I would recommend it to anyone looking to improve their mental game.

Personally, I think it's really important to "train your brain" and not just your body. In the last two hours of the Ironman, it's pretty easy to tell who has a mental plan and who does not. There is a big difference between pain and suffering. Almost everyone in the Ironman feels some pain, but it doesn't have to be suffering. There are people in those last two hours whose sole focus though is suffering, and man does that look like a hard way to go! Instead of suffering, there's a lot of mental techniques that you can use that help you work through the pain and feel positive and strong.

I have always used visualization and other mental tools in an almost unconscious way, but about twelve years ago I became much more conscious about using them in training and in my races.
Here's an overview of my mental plan for the Ironman.

Positive Visualization: Before I go to sleep at night, particularly as race day approaches, I visualize the entire course of the Ironman, seeing myself moving confidently and smoothly with power and grace through all three sports and the transitions. At the end, I see myself crossing the finish line, feel myself smiling, exhausted and happy.

In any moments during the day when I feel myself becoming anxious or nervous about the Ironman, I replace those thoughts immediately with a mini-visualization. Perhaps I just focus on whatever I'm nervous about, or perhaps I just see myself crossing the finish line. Basically, I practice success. Incidentally, I used this technique during pregnancy with each of my kids, and my first birth went *exactly*, and I mean minute-by-minute exactly the way I visualized it.

Visualization In Action: When I'm training, I use any difficult times to visualize myself overcoming obstacles in the race. As an example, in one of my long bike rides this summer, it was unexpectedly very hot. By coincidence, the road I had chosen to finish my ninety mile ride on was hillier than I remembered it (or at least, I had never ridden it at the end of a ninety mile ride before!), and the hills were all facing the late afternoon sun. I was exhausted, overheated, and definitely hurting. So at that moment, I chose to visualize myself in a difficult moment in the Ironman. I saw myself in the heat, with a large hill in front of me. I focused my mind on believing that making it up that hill meant I would finish the Ironman. So I powered up that hill. I did the same with the next hill and the next hill, and then I was up and over the last hill. In the actual Ironman, I could call on that ability to work through a difficult patch by recalling that I had faced down difficult obstacles in my training and overcome them.

Specific Distraction: I had decided ahead of time on a race day plan for the marathon. I divided it into four quarters of 6 miles each (I left out the first and last miles, because I figured the excitement and crowds at the finish line would carry me through those). I decided that I would take a mental journey across my home state of Oregon. The first quarter of the marathon would be the Eastern Oregon high desert. The second quarter would be the Cascades down the center of Oregon, the third would be the Willamette River valley, where I live, and the fourth would be the Oregon coast. At any point, if I felt my concentration or physical abilities faltering, I would focus on memories from my life that occured in that section of Oregon. This was extremely helpful to me in the last half of the marathon when my foot injury was more or less excruciating. I called up camping trips I'd taken as a child, college road trips, watching my own kids at the beach, running with my dog on trails, anything and everything to fill my body with happy memories and positive feelings. It really worked!

Energy Visualization: I have some visualizations surrounding energy that I find helpful. I can visualize a golden light above my head, and my breath drawing in the light and when I exhale I send it to all parts of my body. This light carries with it a sensation of healing and peace. I can't really use that one during the race, but I use it when I'm relaxing after hard workouts to help my muscles heal and relax. I know it sounds really woo woo, but it works so who cares :-)

During the race I focused on the energy that all of my friends and family were sending me. I knew a lot of them were tracking me on and were following my progress on the course. I would concentrate on feeling their good wishes and their prayers and energy and let that feeling buoy me up and give me strength. I also visualized my husband and kids waiting for me at the finish line, and how great it would be to see them as I came in. They supported me so much through the whole training process, so I dres on that during the race.

In the tough parts of the race, I also called up memories of other extremely difficult times in my life. Times when I faced large obstacles and worked through them. I remembered how strong I'd been in childbirth, how I summited Mt. Kilimanjaro when I was so affected by the altitude that I felt sick. I remembered the time I almost drowned while surfing, and just kept coming up for air between the waves. All of those things are part of my strength, and I can call on them (incidentally, during childbirth I called upon memories of triathlons I had done to get me through!). This is another form of drawing energy for me - drawing energy from past accomplishments and challenges.

Affirmations: I have several phrases that I use as affirmations that help me keep my mind and energy focused in the right place. They are almost like mantras in a way, and I will sometimes use them repetitively if I am in a tight spot, or I can use them as something to muse on or think about. One of my affirmations is "It is a privilege and a gift to be on this road today." There's also things like "I feel strong. I am committed. I will finish this race." Things like that

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Next Ironman

Almost the first question you get after doing an Ironman is "So, do you want to do another one?" I have to admit, that even as a swim coach who has trained people to do the Ironman, I never fully understood how people could get bit by "the Ironman bug" and want to do more of these super-intense, super-long races. Now that I've done one, all I can say is I Understand. For me, the answer to that question is yes, but it's a qualified yes.

Yes, in a world in which I had no commitments and finding the time to train was easy and painless, and the massive cost of registering and traveling to an Ironman was not an issue, I would do them all the time. But I don't live in that world. I live in a world in which, as a homeschooling mom, my children have a reasonable expectation that I will actually be around. Now, instead of dropping them at classes, activities, and friends' houses and jetting out the door with my running shoes or bicycle, I can actually hang out and watch them dance or ice skate or work with the robots. Admittedly, I feel a bit twitchy while doing so. As Maureen said in a comment below, my injured toe is probably a good guarantee that my body will get the rest it needs. I can tell that without it, I'd probably still be out there putting on the miles. It's hard to go from really ramped up to regular without feeling a little let-down. It's good for my kids, our budget, my spouse, my house (ah, the stuff that piled up while I was training intensively) to actually have me around. And, as my husband says, "Now we don't have that fifth mouth to feed either." I can't believe how much I was eating, now that my appetite is pretty much back to normal. Amazing! I don't wake up at 3:00 am completely ravenous. I don't think about food 24 hours a day.

But all that being said, I would love to have another Ironman date out there on my calendar, would love to sustain this incredible level of fitness, this feeling that my body can do anything I could throw at it. Would love to get on my bike and ride for hours and hours without fatigue, to regard a six mile run as a "quick lunchtime jaunt." It's all very appealing. And truth be told, I loved the Ironman. I really loved it. I loved all the stuff leading up to it, the travel and excitement, the other athletes, the feeling of doing something truly amazing. And other than my injury, I had a fun day out there on the course. I was really trained up just right, had put in the miles but not overdone it. I hit my peak and felt great.

Maybe it's crazy to expect that it would be as much fun the second time around, though I met athletes who were doing their third, fifth, or seventh Ironman and still seemed to be having a good time. I have a sneaking suspicion that one of the reasons I enjoyed myself so much this time is that I had very few expectations. I wanted to finish. I'm used to being competitive in triathlons, often placing in my age group or even overall. Before a race, I look at who is entered, at previous course times, I try to estimate what time I might hit, where I might end up. I set no such goals for this race. In a way, it really reminded me of my first triathlon 20 years ago. Though that race was a sprint, I had no idea if I would be able to finish it. It seemed like a big, and possibly unachievable goal. The Ironman was much the same, and similarly I just enjoyed myself, especially once I knew I would make it to the finish line.

Looking back over 20 years of triathlons, though, I can honestly say that I've enjoyed almost every one (well, there was that one in the Columbia Gorge where it was 104 degree with winds of 20+ mph and I actually cried during the run). Whether my goal was to finish or to compete, each of them has lived up to Richard Bach's prophetic words in the book Illusions: There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands. You seek problems because you need their gifts. In reference to triathlons, I would replace the word "problem" with "challenge". The Ironman was the biggest challenge of all, and I appreciate its gifts.

Why I Love Doc Martens, Reason #101

I've been wearing my Docs for the last week or so because the sole is really stiff and keeps my toes from bending when I walk. Of course, they also keep my ankle and toes from bending while I drive, which is not ideal, but overall they've been very helpful on my injured foot. My husband thinks they look way dorky, my friends drool over them (I got them at Goodwill, brand new!), and my kids' teenage friends think they are pretty damn cool.

But mostly right now, they feel great on my feet. I put my hiking boots (all steel shanks) on yesterday and hoofed it up a local climb with my husband and kids, and my foot feels okay today, but it still hurts if I don't have it taped up or if I have flexible shoes on. No running in my near future, wah!

Now, I'm pretty sure that if I had this pair, my toe would feel even better...

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Journey Begins: Everymom

When most people say "I'm training for the Ironman", they mean the Ironman this month, or maybe this summer, or at the most next summer. When I started training for the Ironman, I was talking seven years down the road.

When I started training for the Ironman, I had just had a baby, I weighed over 200 pounds, and couldn't run a mile. In short, I was Everymom, not Ironmom. No one would've believed me if I told them what I was doing, so I just chugged along with the support of my husband who bought into this crazy dream of mine.

I had trained for the Ironman once before, in a former life only vaguely remembered through a haze of all-night nursing sessions and laundry baskets full of diapers. In that former life, I was much younger, much fitter, but far less sensible. I had decided to do the Ironman mostly on a whim. The guy I was dating was doing it, and I had done plenty of triathlons, so why not? I sent in my check to Ironman Canada, got my packet in the mail, and that was that. I started ramping up the mileage, doing "daily doubles" and swimming with a group of uber-competitive Iron athletes.

What I discovered is that even young, fit bodies don't respond well to rapidly increasing exercise loads, without a good solid basis of long-distance work. I suffered from shin splints, knee pain, a lot of stress, bleeding ulcers, and anemia. My doctor threatened to take a baseball bat to my bicycle if I drove up to the Ironman, telling me I was so anemic that if I fell and scraped my knee I'd bleed to death. My friends drove away with bicycles festooning the tops of their cars, and I stayed at home in crushing disappointment, consoling myself with the idea that there was always next year.

But next year brought relationship turmoil and breakup which I solved by immersing myself in the adrenaline-soaked world of skydiving. There I met my husband-to-be, and life spiraled away from the Ironman. Though I still did some shorter triathlons here and there, I had too many other things occupying my time to train so intensely again.

So it came to be that eight years later I was sitting on a park bench in the early spring sunshine with a three year old on the playground and an infant in my lap and it hit me that the Ironman dream was not one I was willing to give up on. Motherhood was wonderful, but triathlon was a part of me that I was not willing to relinquish, and the Ironman is triathlon's penultimate challenge. Though I wouldn't mail in an entry form for six years, from that moment on I was training for the Ironman.

I Solemnly Swear I Will Never Take My Toe For Granted Again

My toe/foot is finally starting to mend. Today, I swam a thousand yards kicking lightly with my right foot and it felt pretty much okay. I managed to do flip turns too. It felt so good I wanted to kneel down and kiss my toe for getting better. I remember breaking my little pinky toe when I was in college and how surprised I was that I couldn't do anything until it mended. It's amazing how something so small can be so vital to everything we do, everything we take for granted.

One of my mantras when I train and race is "It's a gift and a privilege to be running (or biking or swimming) on this course today." Now I know how true that is. I vow to appreciate the gift even more, now that it is coming back to me.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!' She chortled in her joy...

Lo, even though the rain fell upon her
and the wind beat at her face,
Even though the air was chilly
And the pavement threw great stripes of mud up her back
The water pouring off of the overpass
Dumped a chilly Niagara down her neck
Still she rode
Her own bicycle
And all the world was good,
and she smiled as she rode

Saturday, November 18, 2006

My Enemy is Now My Friend

I used to hate using the pull buoys when I swim. A lot of my swimming stroke is in my legs, with a very efficient and strong kick, and as a woman my upper body strength can't match that of the guys I swim with in my Master's group, so whenever the pull buoys come out, I fall behind. When I first started swimming with them, I couldn't go more than a couple of hundred yards with a pull buoy before the men lapped me or my arms gave out.

Then I started training for the Ironman. Swimming for a prolonged period of time in a wetsuit in open water is different than swimming in a pool. The wetsuit gives you buoyancy, and also takes away some of the leg and ankle flexibility that makes for an efficient kick. So when you swim with a wetsuit on, you rely on your arms much more than you do in your regular pool stroke. In short, it's a lot like pulling with a pull buoy. I started increasing the amount of pool yardage that I used the pull buoy for, until I could easily pull over 2,000 yards without my arms getting tired. In retrospect, given the wild waves of Ironman Florida, that was a very wise move. After that first leg of the Ironman I didn't feel like I'd swam 4,000 yards, instead I felt like I'd gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson. It really took a lot of arm strength to muscle your way through all those waves and chop, so I was grateful for my time with the pull buoy.

Now, of course, the pull buoy is my friend. I still can't kick or push off of the wall with my right foot, so the pull buoy lets me swim when otherwise I'd be grounded. Since I can't run and can barely cycle, the pull buoy is saving me from complete and utter madness. And I think those guys in my Master's group are in for a surprise when I finally get to return to practice. They won't be lapping me again!

Friday, November 17, 2006

When Being Good To Your Body Feels Right

One of the greatest paradoxes of modern life is that we've reached a place where treating our body right feels wrong. Our culture and our media epitomizes exercise and eating right as the things we "should" be doing, but they make it sound like a difficult, and almost unattainable goal, one we will struggle to meet and perhaps never entirely achieve.

The question I hear asked most often when I talk or correspond (email, bulletin boards) with others about health and exercise is "How do I get to that place where doing the right thing feels right? How do I get to where I want to do it?"

Here's an answer I wrote recently for a discussion on a Health board. I thought it might be worth sharing:

I think the single biggest key is this:

Meaningful Change is Slow and Incremental

I think when we look for big, immediate change, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Our entire culture points to immediate change as the path of success, but instead it is most often the path of at the very least failure, and at the worst self-destructiveness.So when we immediately embrace (or think about embracing) some new diet or exercise regime, we are either in that place of euphoria, where we are actually doing it, or we're in that place of despair where we can't keep up with it, or we're euphorically planning the next big change. These steps both work against us and keep us from dealing with the real day-to-day issues that our thoughts about food and our thoughts about our bodies are hiding.When we throw this whole notion out the window that change will be immediate and all-encompassing, we begin to live in the here and now. We begin to have to exist and deal with whatever is happening to us now, today, this moment. We can also begin to make small, incremental changes that will carry us on a path to health and wellness and emotional stability (instead of the wild rollercoaster).

One of my mantras is "Walk in the Direction You Wish to be Going". Every day, we're faced with lots of choices. Which direction do we wish to be walking? In the direction of health? Or the direction of unhealth? Personally, I would divorce this decision-making from any notion of fat/thin. Thin is not necessarily healthy, fat is not necessarily unhealthy. Instead, think of good health.

So if I'm facing the refrigerator with an overwhelming desire to eat something sugary and fatty. Where does the desire come from? What will I gain from eating it? What thoughts am I trying to avoid by focusing on the notion that this food will make me feel better? What is the healthy choice, right here and right now? Sometimes the healthy choice might just be the piece of cake on the bottom shelf. That's okay, it's not a loaded gun. It won't kill you to eat a piece of chocolate cake if the rest of your steps that day are toward total body and mental health. If you can examine what is going on, and start to make choices toward health, if you can stop beating yourself up when you make a choice that takes you in an unhealthy direction, but instead just make the next choice for health, you will be walking on the path of health.

If you take one step today toward health, and if you don't beat yourself up for any other steps you take, if you can stop thinking in terms of fat or thin, stop making everything a loaded weapon to shoot yourself with (metaphorically), if you do those things, then I will bet that the next step you take toward health will be easier. And the next even easier. And some time in the future, probably not today or tomorrow or the next day or even the next week or month maybe, it will be easier to take a step toward health than a step toward unhealth. The healthy choices will become the ones you want to make. I am 100% convinced of this.

Be gentle on yourselves. The path always has detours and setbacks. Just start choosing health, because you deserve it, because it will feel good, and don't be harsh with yourself if you don't think you've chosen right. Remember that making yourself miserable is also a step toward unhealth, even if you eat carrots instead of cake.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Oh Happy Day

My bicycle is home. When I saw the state of the shipping box, I was afraid to even open it. This is one of seven holes and rips in the box. Fortunately, all is well (I'm thanking my choice of titanium over carbon fiber for my bike right now) and nothing was damaged. My foot is still not capable of riding outside or taking much pressure (like hill climbing), but I can spin on the trainer and that will have to do for now.

You can bet someone will be getting a letter over this one! I was glad to have the ability to have my bike packed and shipped home directly from the Ironman, and not have to disassemble it in my hotel room, or ship it on the airlines - I saw two TSA employees literally sitting on some poor athlete's bike trying to jam it back into it's case! But this packing job was ridiculous.

Nevertheless, all is well. If the sun shines for a few moments this weekend, I might even try taking it out on the flat bike path. Oh happy day!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Glossy Lie

Nine years ago, I was standing at the finish line of the Portland marathon, waiting for my husband to run across the line. Now, he's a pretty fit guy: at the time of the marathon he was 32 years old, 5'9" and about 170 pounds and one could easily picture him on the cover of one of those glossy sports magazines that always seem to feature buff youngish people looking vibrantly athletic.

The eye-opening thing that day though was the people who crossed the line in front of him. People of all ages, shapes, and sizes, people who ran faster than my fit poster-boy husband. There were dumpy grandmas, gangling teenagers, middle-aged executives, and a notable woman with a bust so big that it made me uncomfortable just to watch her run. That day, a realization dawned on me, something that had been kept from me all my life, something that is largely kept secret from all of us:

You don't have to be thin or buff or athletic-looking to be incredibly fit.

I know it sounds simple, but this one piece of information keeps so many people from believing that they are athletes, that they even could be an athlete. The fact that this concept is kept from people means that so many don't step out the door, don't even try. This idea affects even the lives of real, true athletes every day. I remember my neighbor once said to me, after I lost about 5 pounds (my usual amount) in the final stages of training for a half-Ironman "Wow, now you are really starting to look like an athlete!" Yes, starting to look like an athlete. Despite the fact that I had been running, and often placing well in triathlons for 17 years at that point, I was starting to look like an athlete. Why? Because I got a bit skinnier.

I am used to this, of course. I'm a big girl. I've always been a big girl. I was "a fat kid" in school, though looking back at photos, I was far from fat. I was stocky, big-shouldered, big-boned (much like my own children). I was also muscular, but that doesn't count if it means your waist or hips are bigger. So I did not self-identify as someone who could be an athlete, nor did others see me that way. I have always loved swimming, so I tried out for the swim team. The coach said I was "lazy" and would never be a good swimmer (there's also this myth out there that chubby or fat people are lazy, which is often far from the truth).

And even to this day, I deal with surprise, even from other athletes, that I am as fast as I am. I stood on the beach of a triathlon start one day and listened to three athletes behind me malign the Athena category (the female equivalent of a Clydesdale race category - to enter as an Athena, a woman has to weigh more than 150 pounds) as the "fat chicks division". They probably didn't know that the athlete in front of them (me) was registered as a bona fide fat chick. In fact, I beat the weight requirements for the category by a good 10 pounds. And that was also the last they ever saw of me, except on the run, coming toward the finish line, I spotted all three of them still heading out. In another race where I was entered as a Pro, one of the other Pros caught me just before the finish line and said (really!) "I can't believe you're this fast." In the Ironman last week, a couple of fit and hardy male athletes that I had met earlier were out on the run course when I caught up to them. We chatted for awhile and then I prepared to move on. One of them grumbled about having three hours left. When I said I was on my second loop of the run course, their jaws all but dropped.

Now I tell all of this because I think it's a vital message for people out there to get. So many people don't start exercising because they think they can't. Maybe their body type will never be thin, maybe they'll never get rid of that post-baby tummy or heavy calves or thick chest, or whatever their natural shape may be. I've seen plenty of people cross finish lines with those things. All of the fitness magazines out there give us a not-very-subtle message: if you look this way, you're fit. If you don't, you're not. I call it the Glossy Lie. Some of those people in the glossy photos are probably fit. Some of them are taking steroids and EPO and all kinds of other drugs in order to get that way. Some of them are starving themselves or throwing up or taking laxatives to look that way. Some of them are not fit at all. Some dumpy middle-aged woman out there crossing the finish line at the Portland marathon may be fitter than all of them.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Insult to Injury

I had expected a sort of post-Ironman letdown, as happens when you plan and prepare for any great event. And I had expected a difficult time transitioning from huge, huge workouts to a much smaller amount of time spent biking, swimming, and running. But this foot injury (from the race) has quintupled all of this. I can barely exercise at all - I can swim with a pull bouy, and without really pushing off of the wall, I can bicycle with my foot taped up and my cycling shoes keeping my toe straight, and I can't run at all, and can barely limp along walking. This weekend, I tried to walk to the store with my husband and kids and only made it 1/4 mile.

I went and got an X-ray on Friday. My doctor seems to think I have pulled the tendon attaching my toe to the rest of my foot, and possibly it has pulled some of the bone away on the bottom of my toe bone (the bone there looked "fuzzy" where the tendon attaches). He seems to think it will heal itself if I stay off of it.

Apparently, it might take months.

Ack! Death Sentence! I don't think I can do this, so closely on the heels of the Ironman, and in the middle of Oregon's rainy, rainy November. I am going to go stir crazy. And I am the world's worst patient to start with. My husband lives in fear of anything truly bad ever happening to me and having to deal with me (I was bad enough after the kids were born, popping out of bed to do things almost immediately). I am not good at sitting still and healing.

I'm off today to find a toe splint of some kind. I think if I can keep it stationary, it will make letting it heal easier while still being able to get around. Wish me luck!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Thoreau Said it All

The quote in the journal that I've been using all year to record my training and experiences:

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Reading that today as I wrote down my race splits and then closed the cover, I realized how important that quote was to me every day as I trained, and how true it rings now.

Here's to everyone out there, putting one foot in front of the other in the direction of your dreams.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Ironman Dream #3

The race is over, the equipment neatly stowed, the dreams of next Ironman (probably 5 years down the line - Ironman Brazil and Japan look intriguing!) are on a back burner... So why am I still having these crazy dreams? Here's last night's installment:

It's the bike-to-run transition, and in my gear bag I don't have my running shoes. Instead, I have my husband's old beaten-down favorite leather deck shoes. Having no other option, I put them on and start running, with their worn soles going flap flap flap on the pavement.

After the first mile marker is a special area where all athletes have to stop. Part of this race is that you have to put on a costume from a play, and you are judged not only on your finish time, but how well you stay in character during the race. I pick out a raven costume with feathered wings and put it on. I start running, remembering to let out a realistic "caw caw caw" every time I pass a judge's stand. A couple more miles into the race, I begin to regret my choice, because the feathered arms are very hard to keep up and look bird-like while I'm running. My arms start to get really heavy and tired, and I begin to lose my voice. I wake up while worrying if I'll have enough voice left by the time I reach the final judge's booth to still "caw".

Analyze that one, I dare you!

Friday, November 10, 2006

A Day in Pictures

Here's a few from raceday that my wonderful hubby took. My official finish picture is pretty good, I'll have to try and scan it in at some point.

I took the first one in the hotel bathroom, just after eating breakfast, 4:00 am.

Wayne took this when I was coming back on the bike course. Looking happy and feeling strong!

At the run turnaround, around 4:30 pm. Feeling no pain, yet...

Exhausted and ecstatic, with the kids at the finish!

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.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Weather, or Not

Well, here goes. Everything's checked in, and all I have to do is figure out a way to fill the next 10 hours that I won't be sleeping, until 4:00 am tomorrow when I need to get up.

Everyone here is busy speculating about tomorrow's weather. When we hit the bike course, the temperature outside (after figuring in wind chill) is supposed to be about 35 degrees F (!!!!!), but by the afternoon, it will be in the low 70's, thus leaving everyone with the dilemma of what to wear, and what to bring, and where to put it on the course so that we don't either freeze or roast, or both.

I'm glad I brought my armwarmers and my head wrap from chilly old Oregon, but truth be told I was really looking forward to biking in shorts and a jersey and not feeling all bundled up like the Michelin man. Well, somehow I will muddle through and hopefully remain relatively comfortable.

So, I know you'll all be with me tomorrow in spirit, and I appreciate the calls, emails, and good wishes from everyone. Hopefully my next post will be titled "I am an Ironman"


I haven't had my camera with me whenever I've been out biking or running, or today while signing in and checking my bike and bags. If you know me, you know I'm rarely without my camera! I've seen some great Ironman snapshots, but you'll have to use your imagination, since I don't have visuals.

I've seen a half-dozen high-end race bikes leaning against the wall of a bright yellow Waffle House restaurant. A never-ending line of runners and bikers coming past the hotel down the strip, a 77 year old man getting his gear ready, a room full of Iron-athletes, cheering a man who lost 140 pounds this year, in order to come here and go 140.6 miles. It's really inspirational being here, I wish I could share it with all of you!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

I'm Either Very Brave or Very Stupid

Maybe a little bit of both, LOL. The winds have really picked up here (supposed to be 17 mph sustained, gusting to 20 tomorrow) and the ocean looks like some evil witch stirred it up with her broomstick. I went down to the Ironman course this morning to swim. The beach looked like a scene from my favorite movie City of Angels, with all these people in black standing and looking out to sea at dawn. Out on the course, it was, well ugly and a bit frightening. Somehow I think this will not be one of the fastest swims of my life. The swells and chop out there are pretty intimidating, and I really feel for the people who are not strong swimmers. If the conditions are similar on race day, I think more than a few people will not meet the swim cutoff time of 2:20. Myself, I am adding 5 - 10 minutes to my estimated swim time, for sure! I think the winds will make the bike course tough too, but the cool air will feel great when I'm running, compared to yesterday's heat.

I also wonder if I'm the only person out there in the middle of the ocean with the theme song from Jaws running through their head. It's funny, because I've got hundreds of hours scuba diving under the ocean, many of them spent in the company of sharks (including, on one memorable occasion, a real live feeding frenzy), but somehow that is not as scary as being on top of the water, not knowing what might be lurking beneath you. I guess the comfort is that with 2500 people in the water, it's highly unlikely that any ocean life will want to be anywhere near the Ironman.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Flat Tire Bugs

I made an important discovery about Florida wildlife today while riding my bike. After about 8 miles on the road, I heard that sound that all cyclists dread, that rythmic phhht phhht phhht sound of a tire going flat. But when I stopped and examined my tire, all looked well. When I started cycling again, it sounded fine. That is, until about 5 miles down the road, when I heard that sound again. Repeat stopping and examining tire. Nothing. Again, sound is gone. Repeat this one more time, but this time as I was standing there scratching my head, I heard the sound again. Only this time, I wasn't even moving, and the sound was coming from a tree. Apparently, there is some cicada-like bug here that makes a sound remarkably similar to a bicycle tire in the process of going flat. Joke's on me!

Earlier today, I went through the registration tent and got all of my wavers signed, timing chip bleeped, weighed in (so they know on the course if you are seriously dehydrated, I'm guessing) and picked up my packet. We looked around the rest of "Ironman Village", and got to meet some very nice athletes (including one woman who is doing her 6th Ironman, and gave me some great tips). The kids got to make signs that will go out on the run course for some inspiration when it will be most needed!

Then we came back to the hotel for a nice afternoon swim. Lots of dolphins swimming off of the beach today, we watched them for a long time. Very cool!