Thursday, November 12, 2015

Journey to Ironman Maryland 2015

After I found the finish line in Madison, I was ready to go back to normal life. I didn't touch my bike until maybe Thanksgiving. I swam maybe once a week (maybe). And I ran whenever I wanted. For however long I wanted. I made no workout plans. I just woke up and did what I wanted. The relaxed fall turned into holiday celebrations with family and friends. Before Christmas hit, I was aching for a schedule. I had had enough fun. I wanted structure again.

That's when I decided to call up my long lost coach and ask him if we could get me into shape in 8 weeks time for a marathon in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Those 8 weeks came and went. I trained in snow, sleet, and wind. And then I raced in heat, humidity, and SUN. And I loved every second of it. 

So let's fast forward to this years main event, Ironman Maryland. October 3rd, 2015. Training for Ironman Maryland started on June 1st. It had been a long Chicago winter and I was ready to challenge my body again. June was all about getting my body used to training again. The winter months had landed me in and out of hospital waiting rooms visiting a few different loved ones and my muscles were rusty. I had also recently started a new job. I'm a creature of habit so the change was welcomed but stressful. My plate was full and I was ready for my routine to fall into place.

July arrived and on the 7th day, my grandfather passed away. My half Ironman of the season was scheduled for the 11th. It was doubtful I'd be able to race. Ironically enough, funeral arrangements had to be set back a few days because there were people that needed to fly in. I was going to race Muncie 70.3 with Gramps under my wing the entire way. Unfortunately it wasn't the race I was hoping for with 2 flat tires within the first mile of the bike, adding 22 minutes of stagnant time to my overall bike split. My mental game was gone. I struggled through the run. I felt like I had never worked out a day in my life. I trudged across the finish line and was greeted by my brother, coach, and friends. Everyone had an amazing day, except me. I was happy for everyone, but at the end of the day, their race was their own and my race was terrible that day. The rest of July I spent focusing on how I was going to redeem myself at Steelhead in exactly one month. I had a fire lit under me and I was ready to prove I was better than my Muncie performance. 

Muncie was also Mark's first 70.3!

All of us midgets standing with Mark.

And guess what? On the 9th day of August, I blew that race out of the water. I managed a sub 3 hour bike split (2:57) and a 2:01 half marathon. I crossed the finish line with a 42 minute PR. My hard work was paying off. Ironman Steelhead instantly turned into my favorite 70.3. During the rest of August my mileage grew and so did my appetite. I would sit at work and consistently eat for the entire 8 hours I was at my desk. My boss and co-workers never left for lunch without offering to bring me a meal back.

Excited to see Rob and Ryan on the Steelhead course!

Jacqui and I after Steelhead!
Junior High teammates --> Current :)

At the end of August, I flew out to Baltimore to spend some time with my best high school friend and test out the bike course in Cambridge. Cambridge is about an hour and a half from Baltimore. So on the last Friday in August, Kait went to work and I stole her car and departed Baltimore at 5:00 am so that I could tackle the Ironman bike course. It's the flattest I've ever seen. But those winds were no joke. I managed to get 100 miles in on a rented road bike in 5 hours and 30 minutes. Things were looking good for race day.

At the end of the day, Kait beat me back to her house with just enough time to have a beer waiting on the kitchen table. The rest of our weekend included good food, bikinis, beers, laughs, and some killer workouts that she decided to join me in. I helped her tackle her first ever open water swim and in return she introduced me to a Baltimore classic cocktail called the Orange Crush. Fair trade off ;) I left Baltimore that weekend with a good head on my shoulders. I was more than ready for this race. But I still had 2 very serious training weekends left and I knew they were going to be a challenge in themselves. 

Because obviously Kait had nothing better to do...

We got our R&R in that weekend too.

The weekend after Baltimore was Labor Day weekend. Coach Speedy G took full advantage of the 3 day weekend to load my training schedule to the max. Friday night was my last outdoor pool swim of the summer. Saturday morning I logged 85 miles on the bike at 18 mph and then hit the road for a 3 mile run and averaged an 8 minute pace. I couldn't believe how well my legs were feeling after these workouts. Sunday I pedaled next to my brother and played water girl while he ran his long run for that week. Immediately following his run, I had my own 4 mile shake out run. Later that afternoon, I headed downtown with Rob and swam 2 miles in Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan is known to be a little choppy, especially later in the day. And I needed to simulate race day conditions as much as possible. So I purposely waited until 3:30 pm to hit the water. Monday called for an 18 mile run so I signed myself up for the Oakbrook Half Marathon. I ran a 2.5 mile warm up, raced the HOT, HUMID, HILLY race, and then had a 2.5 mile cool down. Afterwards, I laid in the grass with Jacqui (Coach's wife) and let my body be still. Two nasty training weekends down, 1 to go. 

Ending the weekend with OakBrook Half Marathon.

The following weekend was Ironman Wisconsin and I had lots of friends competing. Jacqui and I packed the car on Friday after work and headed north. Our plan was simple. On Saturday while all of our friends were relaxing and roaming Ironman Village, the 2 of us were going to be riding the IMWI bike loop. THREE TIMES. For a grand total of 120 miles. Of God awful hills. If I could handle 120 miles of Wisconsin roller coaster hills, I could handle Maryland's flat landscape. And I made it. I woke up the next morning with a terrible head cold. My voice was raspy and I sounded terrible. But I had promised all my friends I'd be there screaming and cheering. And I was. We set up camp on the 2nd of the three hardest hills on the bike course. I ran up the hill with every one of our friends competing and screamed obscenities to them (with love, of course). After they all passed the first time, I grabbed my running shoes and hit the road. It might have been race day for them, but it was a training day for me. I had 14 miles to log. I ran down Big Timber road for about 3.5 miles with the bikers. And then I'd turn around and get to the hill where Jacqui and brother bear Mark were hanging out. And then I did it all over again. And when our friends rode by for the 2nd time, I screamed at them while I was running. (Once again, all with love.) I made it through the final tough weekend of training. 

Post 120 mile ride on IMWI course, pre race day cheering.
Re-Fueling required!

But I had a price to pay. The next morning I woke up with the worst head cold I'd had in a long time along accompanied with full blown laryngitis. My body needed a rest. I was 3 weeks out from race day and I needed to make sure I was healthy and ready to go. I completely took off the next 2 days and didn't work out at all. Getting healthy was the main priority. 

Alas, I made it to race week healthy and ready to race. My plan was to head out of town on Tuesday night with my other half and navigator for the trip, Rob. The weather for race day was looking far less than stellar. There was a tropical storm brewing in the Bahamas and it was expected to effect the East Coast with heavy rains on Friday and Saturday. Rob and I woke up Wednesday morning somewhere in Ohio and found out that the tropical storm had officially turned into a hurricane. Hurricane Joaquin wasn't going to make this easy on me. 


We hit the road and continued our trip to Maryland. At about 2 pm that day, I received a phone call from a friend who was already at the race site. The race director had officially canceled the race for October 3rd due to potential serious weather related to Hurricane Joaquin. They were planning on holding the race 2 weeks later on October 17th if the effects of Joaquin allowed Ironman to come back to Cambridge. 

My heart broke. Instantly tears fell down my cheeks. Of course Ironman had made the right call. There was no way they could hold the event with expected 50 mph winds and continuous hurricane rains for 3 days.  But that didn't mean I wasn't upset. I had spent so much time and effort this time around. I was in the best shape of my life. And then Joaquin had to show up. I had my cry fest. Rob and I drank some beers with Kait in Baltimore that Wednesday night while we cursed about all things related to Joaquin (Joaquin Phoenix, etc). 

Drinking away Ironman sorrows.

We woke up the next day and drove back to Illinois. On Friday I put my big girl pants back on and went to work. The first thing I did when I get to work was ask my boss IF this race gets rescheduled, would he allow me to take even more time off so that I can go back to Cambridge and race? He agreed, but it wasn't a quick yes. If this race actually went on, I was going to be the luckiest girl in the world.

72 hours later it was official, Ironman Maryland would take place on October 17th, 2015. As most people on social media were calling it, IMMD 2.0 But I needed to get everything in line. My lodging. I immediately called the lady whom I was staying with via AirBnB for my original trip to Cambridge and asked her if her home was still available for the alternate weekend. Luckily, it was available and my reservation was simply moved from one weekend to the next. My plan: continue the taper. Keep your head on straight. 

And hold out on any luxuries I had given up during training season.

I had not had a latte of any kind since May and I was more than ready for a latte on October 4th. Unfortunately, now it would have to wait until October 18th.

I also needed a travel companion. I needed a plan B in case Rob couldn't get the time off. Shortly after the official announcement that IMMD 2.0 was a go, Rob received confirmation that he was able to travel again as well. Plan B was unnecessary! Things were looking up! 

However, in between Maryland 1.0 and Maryland 2.0, life hit pretty hard and Rob and I had to say our final goodbyes to his mother. No boy should ever have to live without his mom. And my heart broke for him. I was ready to hang my hat on the 2015 racing season and call it a wash. I was simply not meant to race Ironman Maryland.  And then Rob called. The funeral services would allow me enough time to travel to Maryland and still race. He even insisted he come with. I couldn't believe it. Not only was I going to be able to compete, I was going to have my other half with me. And a special guardian angel. I needed to regroup and prepare myself mentally. 

This time, we drove straight through the night and arrived in Cambridge on Thursday morning. We were among the first people at race check-in as they opened at noon. Thursday consisted of race check-in, browsing Ironman village and the local pier, stopping by the Normatec tent and getting a free 20 minute session in my favorite boots, and an early dinner. We were both beyond exhausted from the past few days and were in bed by 8pm. 

The view from the Choptank Lighthouse.

I mean, the weather WAS better this time around...

Our first night in Maryland.

Friday morning arrived and I made it the Choptank River for a nice pre-race swim. The water was a bit chilly. But if chilly water was all I had to deal with, we were doing good. I followed it up with a short bike ride around town. Everything was in fine working order and I was ready to pack my gear bags and check-in my bike! I packed more layers than usual in my gear bags. The weather forecast was looking a bit on the chilly side, not even reaching 60 degrees for the high. I was in for a chilly swim, a cold bike ride, and a brisk run.

Matilda's photo shoot
No I did not name my bike

Transition the morning before the race

After all my gear was checked in, Rob and I ventured back to the Ironman village and I convinced him to try the Normatec boots with me. He was hesitant but finally agreed. Once it was all said and done, he agreed. Those boots rock. 

*If you wish, please contact me with donations so that I can one day purchase my own pair of Normatec recovery boots.

Obvi we need them...

The 2 of us ventured around the area and Rob staked out his viewing points for the swim. He's pretty much a super spectator so I never argue when he insists on finding his viewing points. 

Dinner that evening consisted of my usual bison burger with a beer. I've learned over the years that a carb heavy meal makes me feel sluggish and slow. Over time, I transitioned my pre-race meal to consist of more protein. That's something I learned from Jacqui, the fastest girl in school. We now share the same pre-race meal ;) 

Dinner of Champions!

Race morning arrived and I was ready to roll! I made my way to transition and set up my nutrition on my bike. After everything was set I met up with a friend of mine from Tennessee who was also racing, Jake. Jake had a different agenda. He was standing in a wedding on Sunday morning in Knoxville, Tennessee and had to be ready for pictures by 8 am. Which meant he had to finish the race and depart Cambridge no later than 11 pm to make it in time for the wedding. Meanwhile, I wanted to finish this race and prove to myself that no matter what life threw at me, I could handle it. Together, we were ready to make this happen.

6:30am - Official announcement: "Due to 30mph winds on the Choptank River, the swim will be shortened to 1.2 miles instead of the usual 2.4 miles." At this point, I'm happy to even be here. Just tell me when I can start and let's get this show on the road, kapeesh? 

6:45am - Official announcement: "The swim will now be a 2 loop 3000 meter swim. We are trying our best to make this swim as close to 2.4 miles as possible! We will also now have an official start time of 7:30am." (3000 meters = 1.9 miles) Laughable at this point. At least the sunrise was pretty.

Sunrise over the swim start on the Choptank River

7:30am - The gun goes off and the athletes start to enter the water. Within 60 seconds of the official start my toes hit the water and my race had begun! 


By the time we had entered the water the winds on the river had died down quite a bit. The water was still quite choppy, but it wasn't anything I hadn't swam in before. I was very relaxed for the swim. The rolling start helped. I never had to fight for swim space and was able to focus the second I hit the water. I was also very conscious to not take in any large amount of water. This is something I'm famous for doing at least once during every race. The Choptank River is brackish, so it contains some salt water and fresh water. The last thing I wanted was to take in to much and make myself sick. I'm also pretty good about knowing the swim course and try to swim the shortest distance possible because no one really WANTS to be in the water that long. But this time around, the swim course had been changed on me twice within the last hour and I had no idea where the buoys were. I went into the swim blind and prayed that the guy in front of me wasn't a crooked swimmer. 56 minutes and 12 seconds later, I was the 15th person in my age group out of the water. WHAT!? I had no idea at the time. I was just ready for a good ride!

Somehow Rob managed to climb onto a buoy to take this picture...
Yes he really is THAT close to me.

Wetsuit halfway off before I'm even out of the water! #skillz


I decided to go minimal on the bike and not wear all the layers I packed in my gear bag. It was starting to warm up more than I expected and the lady in the transition change tent told me to leave my extra layer in the bag. Settled. I love it when other people make my decisions for me. The first 10 miles the bike course weaves through town before starting the 45 mile loop through Dorchester County that you do twice. The winds were not bad at all heading out. I was expecting worse. I had a hard time getting comfortable in the beginning. But by the time I started the first loop, I was warmed up and ready to rock. The beginning of the loop started with a nice tail wind for about 12-15 miles. I was riding comfortably at 22-23 mph without even trying (LOVE TAIL WINDS!) Then the cross winds started. And on the second half of the loop, the head winds hit. As we approached special needs at mile 58 it was a relief to know that my beloved tail wind was coming back. Only this time, it didn't last as long. And then, there was no cross wind. Only headwind. And stronger than the first loop. That was the longest 30 miles of my life. At one point I looked down at my speed and saw 12mph. And I was struggling to keep it there. But I told myself if that I was going to make this day something to talk about, I had to find a way to make it through this bike. There was a group of older men, anywhere from 45-60 years old that I played cat & mouse with for most of the bike. They really started to piss me off on the second loop when they would pass me AS A GROUP. AKA - cheating. Every time this group of strong, tough, old guys decided to pass me as a group, I let their egos grow and gain on me a little bit. But the second I started to feel the wind die down, I took off. And wouldn't let myself slow down until those guys were behind me. The third time this happened, I heard one of them say, "Well, I'll be damned, she's doin' it again!" That's right. And I'm doing it solo. No one else to break my wind. I later heard that the winds reached 35 miles an hour on the bike course. And I believe it. 5 hours and 59 minutes later, I was back in transition (averaging 18.7mph). Due to the lack of volunteers because the event had to be rescheduled, athletes were instructed to rack their own bikes. As I approached my bike rack I noticed it was almost EMPTY. Where were all the bikes? Still on the course. I didn't know it yet, but I was currently 7th in my age group. 

I'm going so fast, can't ya tell?

All smiles :)

Maybe Rob dressed like a course marshall on purpose so he could easily navigate the course? Maybe he didn't...


I couldn't believe how good my legs felt when I got off the bike. I knew I had a couple of decent miles in them before I would crash. So I wanted to make sure they were quality miles. The run is a loop that is done 2.5 times. The first 4 miles of the course takes you along the water and turns you around in large cul-de-sac. From there you had back towards transition. I was sure that by the time I saw Rob at mile 8 I was would have hit my wall and would be hurting. It's an Ironman, it's inevitable. Mile 8 came and went and my body was still holding strong. I was holding an 8:45 pace. Rob was there to tell me that I was currently 7th in my age group and I nearly stopped in my tracks. I couldn't believe it. Then I realized that's counter-productive, keep moving. 

Mile 8 of the run

From there you run through the main street in town, pass the finish line, head towards downtown Cambridge and turn around, then head back to the transition area. That counted as 1 loop. When I saw Rob the 2nd time at mile 11 I still felt great! He told me that Kait was on her way and that I was very beautiful. (I keep him around for good reason.) By the time I hit the cul-de-sac for the 2nd time, my hands started to go numb from the cold wind. The winds that were on the bike course didn't just disappear for the run. They were alive and well and bone chilling. I grabbed by gloves from my back pocket and expected my downfall shortly thereafter. But then I saw Rob again at mile 19. And I was still holding strong. Surely my downfall was coming soon. I'd never ran an open marathon and felt this good, let alone an Ironman. He told me at mile 19 that he wouldn't see me again until the finish line. I said my goodbyes and knew that that I was going to finish these last 7 miles strong. I hadn't come 133 miles to fall apart now. 


Mile 19 - I promise I felt better than I look!

At mile 24.5 I saw Jake's family and knew that Jake had just finished. The Cubs were currently in the playoffs and the day before I had joked that I wanted to be finished before the start of the game. And it was actually going to happen. His dad yelled, "You have plenty of time before the Cubs game starts! You're doing great!"

I passed up the last 3 aide stations because I didn't want to waste any time. I wanted to see the finish line. I ran down High Street and approached the finish shoot. No one in front of me. No one behind me. I had the shoot to myself and I couldn't believe it. The clock read 6:54 - the time of day. I had no idea what my finish time was. I just knew that I had DESTROYED my previous IM time. 

Coming down the finish shoot!

I love this picture that Kait snapped on her phone.
Rob behind the lense as I cross the finish line!

My catchers insisted on touching me and making sure I was ok. I was more than ok.  I ran away from my catchers when I spotted Rob and Kait on the fence. I kissed Rob, hugged Kait, and stood on the fence beaming. Rob gave me my phone and said, "Please call your mother, you have to tell her about this." So I did. And of course she cried. It wasn't until she asked me what my time was that I realized I still had no idea! My watch read 4:12, my marathon time. I pressed one button to find my overall time and this is what it said: 

11 hours
22 minutes
28 seconds

WHAT!? Just a casual 3 hour and 15 minute PR. 

::Cue the girliest scream you've ever heard::

I made it back to Rob and Kait and couldn't stop smiling. I was on cloud 9. Did this really just happen? Did I really just finish 6th in my age group? How was it that ONLY 44 women had finished ahead of me? 

You couldn't have paid me a million dollars to frown at this point.

Together, we made it!

Kait and I at the finish line.

Celebrations started immediately afterwards! 
It ONLY took me 20 minutes to walk 3 blocks for this beer.. Ouch!

My IMMD 2015 crew celebrating at RAR Brewery.

My takeaway from this 2015 season: Curve balls happen. And this season was no exception to the rule. As cliche as it sounds, sometimes you gotta just role with the punches. I had quite the training season. I gained a few guardian angels along the way. I had worked my ass off. And I had the race of a lifetime. I showed life who's boss. I won. 

If possible, my support system seemed to grow. Of course my family were my biggest supporters. My friends never questioned my insanity. Coach Speedy G still insists that he had nothing to do with my success and that he "only created the workouts." But he's wrong. I might have put in the time, but without his guidance I'd still be trying to figure out how to put on a wet suit. And of course, my other half, Rob - never left my side during it all. 

2015 was by far my most challenging season yet. And I prevailed. With that, I give myself a "Well done."

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