On Sunday, July 28th, I completed my fourth Ironman race. I finished the 140.6 miles in 13 hours and 31 minutes – my fastest race yet (17 minutes faster than my IM Wisconsin time in 2009 and 27 minutes faster than my 2008 IMLP race). Overall, the day was nearly perfect – the weather was cool and overcast, the course was full of friends from coast to coast, and my family & friends were there to support me. But, it wouldn’t be an Ironman without a few challenges to overcome – and this year presented some unexpected ones.
The Unexpected Emotional Challenge
The week leading up to an Ironman race is typically spent eating, packing, going over your gear list repeatedly, traveling, and enjoying some short (yet intense) taper workouts, and generally obsessing about all things Ironman. This year, my pre-race prep week took a different focus due to an illness and death in my family.
My original plan was to meet my brother and his family in NYC and drive up to Lake Placid together. My brother, his wife and two daughters would also be sharing my rental cottage just a block from Mirror Lake (the race start) and we would go explore the region together for a few days after the race. They were there for my first race in 2008 – and my niece had one of the best phrases a then two year old could say, “What Aunt Sara doing now?” I couldn’t wait to see my nieces along the course and splash around in Mirror Lake with them after the race.
Unfortunately, my sister-in-law’s mother had been very ill and when her condition took a turn for the worse in mid-July, we quickly changed the plan. My sister-in-law and younger niece flew to Florida and I flew in to St. Louis to meet my brother and older niece.
I was definitely anxious about the change in plans: more flights = more dehydration, fewer chances for workouts, less time for work, and no training buddies. But, I reminded myself, I’ve done this Ironman thing three times already. I know the drill. I’ve been to Lake Placid many times. So, without hesitation, I was off to help out my brother for a few days.
From Sunday until Thursday, everything went smoothly. I found the time (and facilities) for a few final workouts. I borrowed my parent’s car in Albany to get up to Lake Placid a little earlier and get settled in (grocery, pick up bike, etc). It’s amazing how quickly the time goes by once you get to an Ironman race site. Registration, bike pickup, a few short workouts, an athlete briefing…
Unfortunately, we learned Thursday night that things were really not going well for my sister-in-law’s mother. On Friday morning, she passed away. My brother and niece left that afternoon to make the journey to Florida for the funeral. I stayed in Lake Placid, questioning what I should do. Should I skip the race? Should I leave just after the race? Would I be able to make it in time for the funeral? Would it be ok if I did not attend the funeral? Do my brother and sister-in-law need my help over the next few days? How do I focus on a race?
From Thursday night through Saturday (pre-race) night, I probably slept a total of 12 hours.
Many of my friends were thinking and talking about their expected times on the course, I was thinking about the time it would take to get to Florida and the time you should spend with your family.
I felt a bit exhausted and distracted going in to Sunday morning, and I was reminded by friends (Thanks Mona!) that I had put the effort in during training and gained the strength to get me through race day.
I Know This Feeling
While the days leading up to the race were full of the unexpected, by the time I hit the run course, I faced a new and familiar challenge. In my last two Ironman races, during the run I found myself so dehydrated that I felt like I had to pee, but there was nothing there. I wasted a lot of time stopping at port-a-potties and even more time just walking. Not only is it an uncomfortable feeling during the race, but it can hurt for a few days after and I even had blood in my urine after Ironman Canada.
When this old familiar feeling hit pretty early into the run, I knew what to do this time.
I ran in between each aid station, and at each aid station, I alternated between a combo of coke/water or water/perform-water mix. The Ironman Perform drink had wreaked havoc on my stomach during the bike, but I knew I needed to push the electrolytes until I could pick up my Cytomax bottle from my special needs bag at Mile 13.
I told a few friends what was going on, and then just tried to ignore it. The strategy seemed to work! I definitely paid the price at the end of day and into the next – there was blood in my urine again and my bladder ached. I almost dreaded going to the bathroom most of Monday. But, I felt like I beat that old familiar feeling that wore me out at Ironman Canada!
A few other highlights from Race Day:
- Loved: The new swim start – we lined up on the beach by estimated finish time, rolling entry into the water.
- Hated: My sleeveless wetsuit caused some serious chaffing under my right arm. I started pulling unevenly to compensate…and lost some time.
- Learned: Swimming 3 days a week is really necessary if I want to ever hit my best time again (1:06)
- Finish Time: 1:12
- Loved: Cool, overcast day. And seeing my all the cheering stations from DC Tri Club and Team Z!
- Hated: Ironman Perform caused stomach cramps.
- Learned: To push water to clear out Ironman Perform!
- Finish Time: 6:50 (met my goal of breaking 7 hours!)
- Loved: It was so fun to see so many friends…had the opportunity to run, walk, hug, and high five Matt, Clay, Daphne, Brandon, Sara, Katya, Katie, Angela, Kevin, Kate, and more!
- Hated: Feeling like I had to pee constantly. And, spectators trying to get me to run up the hills.
- Learned: To ignore the pain and the comfort of walking. Picked myself up and started running again – and followed my plan to walk the hills and bust out the last mile along Mirror Lake Drive and through the Olympic Oval to the finish.
- Finish Time: 5:11
Is there another IM in my future?
I just don’t know right now.
I feel happy with my overall performance. I met some goals I had set: shortened my transition times, broke 7 hours on the bike and finished in 13:31. I had a great time with friends and family. It feels like a good note to end on…
On the other hand, it was a tough week leading up to the race. I was not as focused as I had hoped to be…and I did give up on the run a little bit. I know I can break 5 hours on the run. My bladder hurt so badly though – I was considering icing it after the race! And, there was blood in my urine after the race (just like in Canada). I’m not sure this dehydration situation is the healthiest and it might not be worth putting my body through that again.
Ironman #5….we will just have to wait and see!