Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ironman Arizona 2014 Race Report - Play the Hand You're Dealt

Executive Summary:

2.4 Mile Swim - 1:21:33
T1 - 6:19
112 Mile Bike - 6:12:30
T2 - 3:59
26.2 Mile Run - 5:07:53
Total - 12:52:14

As many of you know, I raced Ironman Canada 2012 with full blown bronchitis.  It was one of the toughest things I’ve done.  About 10 days before Ironman Arizona 2014, Amelia came down with croup.  I probably caught that from her as I was having constant coughing for days.  I went to my asthma doc and the best they could figure out is that my lungs were having some kind of spasms/twitches that caused me to cough.  All the time.  I really felt fine.  No congestion, just this tight feeling and the annoying cough.  So, this was the hand I was dealt.  Better than bronchitis, right?!

The doc had me doing a duo nebulizer treatment twice a day and a new inhaler twice a day for the 4 days leading up to the race.   Tuesday before the race, I tried running on the treadmill.  I lasted 2 minute before the coughing got too bad.  I didn’t panic, though.  I can do anything if I can survive Canada 2012!  

Brian and I flew into Arizona on Thursday before the race.  We met up with some friends and most of the weekend was spent preparing, eating good food, beer and some awesome friends who were there to race, volunteer, or cheer.  It was a really fun weekend...despite the constant coughing.

I was able to run 30 minutes easy on Friday, so I took that as a good sign.  Plenty of coughing, but as long as I didn’t try to push it, I could kinda control it.  Still didn’t panic.  Play with the hand you are dealt.

Saturday’s practice swim, I just took it super easy and was able to control the coughing.  It was actually harder to do that on the easy bike ride.  But, I still didn’t panic.  You’re dealt what you’re dealt at Ironman.  Things could be a lot worse.  I felt like I could do the race as long as I didn’t push too hard.  My doc had a plan for me for race day as well so I knew which meds to take when.

Race Day:
I did a nebulizer treatment at 4:30 am on race day.  I knew it would take a while for my heart rate to come down after it, but that gave me 2.5 hours for it to settle and for the meds to hopefully work.  Headed to Tempe for the big day.  Strangely, I was not nervous at all.  I put in great training this season.  I was trained to race well, but I knew the lungs would be a limiter, so I think I had revised things a bit to just do what I could throughout the day.   We hung out with the Super Sherpas for a bit - they were amazing all weekend!  Then handed off some stuff to Wes from ProBikeExpress ( and we were off to the water.

My original goal was to swim under 1:20, hopefully closer to 1:15.  But, I decided to just cruise it, keep my heart rate down and keep my breathing under control.  Brian and I lined up to the left of the bridge leg and fairly toward the front.  I didn’t plan to be that far up, but we had tons of space, so we just went with it.  The swim felt great.  I didn’t get beat up too badly, had some good drafts along the way.  The only annoying thing was the people who kept stopping dead in front of me for no apparent reason.  Just keep swimming, people!   Overall, this was the easiest of all the Ironman swims I’ve done.  Maybe because I just backed off the effort and cruised it.  Whatever the reason, I really actually enjoyed it!  I did notice that it started to get pretty choppy in the last third of the swim.  Huh.  I’ve swum in Tempe Town Lake 3 other times for other races and it’s never, ever been the least bit choppy.  That’s weird.  (Note - athletes can not be asked to reason during an Ironman.  Wind causes choppy water.  Duh. I know this.  I had no clue during the swim, however!)

Transition 1:
I ran through the chute, grabbed my bag and headed to the change tent.  As I got close to the tent, a woman grabbed my bag and led me to a chair.  My own personal volunteer!  She was great!  She dumped out all my stuff and got it organized while I changed shorts into my super comfy, crotch-saving Coeur shorts!  (  She was so sweet.  I asked her for my wedding ring, which was in a ziplock bag, and she looked shocked as she retrieved it.  I told her not to worry - it’s just a $5 ring from Kohls - I would never bring my real rings to Ironman!  She looked relieved.  I told her I just felt more comfortable with a ring on that finger - it was a way to feel connected to Brian during the day.  Then, I took one of my inhalers as instructed by my doc.  Let’s see if it helps.  Dressed and ready, I ran out, grabbed the bike and got on my way.

Yeah.  So, remember how it was choppy in the water?  I figured out in the first 10 pedal strokes why.  WIND!  Like, a LOT of wind.  As I rolled out of town, I thought....uh, oh.  IMAZ is known for the wind, but usually later in the day, for the last part of the bike.  We’re getting it from the very start.  Oh well.  Here we go.  Loved all the spectators on the bike course in town.  Made the turns in town and headed out to the LONG out-and-back on the Beeline Hwy.  Um...yeah.  WINDY!  But, flat.  So, let’s just see how it goes.  Unfortunately, the wind really made my lung issues worse.  Lots of coughing on the outbound leg.

Got to the turnaround and was thankful for nice volunteers who held my bike while I ran into a porta-potty really quickly - super fast stop - very little time lost there.  I was so grateful for the slight downhill and mostly tailwind, so I flew back to town.  Lap one - down.  Two more to go.

The wind picked up even more on the second lap.  Ugh.  I hate the wind. I would really rather climb a mountain than ride into the wind.  It was mostly headwind on the way out and mostly tailwind on the way back, but there were some tricky, gusty crosswinds that could be scary.   More coughing that seemed to get worse - my chest felt a bit tighter now.  As I got back into town, I really, really didn’t want to get back out there on that third loop.  It’s funny.  I would never quit an Ironman due to wind.  But, the constant conversation in my head was about how I was going to quit.  This is not like me...especially on the bike.  I just felt so crappy.   But, what are you going to do.  This is the hand we were dealt.

And, the wind picked up EVEN MORE on the third loop.  How is this even possible?!   More coughing.  The muscles in my stomach and sides started cramping a little from the coughing.  Mentally, the wind was really hard on me in the last loop.  When I got to the turn around, I was so grateful that I cried actual tears!  Again, I was grateful for all the volunteers.  They had several there to hold bikes while we used porta-potties.  So, another quick break, and I was back on the road.

Started flying back down toward town.  I was hoping maybe once I got out of the wind and off the bike, I could get the coughing more under control.  In the paper the next day and at the awards ceremony, they said it was the worst wind they’ve had at IMAZ in 11 years of racing.  Of course!  :)   I also noticed throughout the ride that there were a LOT of flats, particularly near the turns in town.  I’ve never seen so many flats in my life.  Kudos to the tech support crew who seemed to be helping people left and right.  They worked hard all day!  Thanks to James at TriBella for my flat-proof tires.  He must have sprinkled some extra anti-flat mojo in there.  (

Transition 2:
I was so happy to hand my bike off to a volunteer at the end of this ride.  Cycling is normally my favorite part of triathlon, but the wind really beat me down.  I had another wonderful volunteer help me get changed and ready for the run.  I took my other inhaler and headed out for the run.  Still coughing.

Headed out on the run...directly into the wind.  Ugh.  Really?!   I felt OK in the first 2 miles.  It was so awesome to see our Super Sherpas working at the 2nd aid station.  Lifted my spirits.  As I left that aid station, I was thinking that I just wasn’t feeling right.  I wasn’t sure if it was just that my breathing was harder or maybe the meds I’d been on for several days.  I just felt a little light headed and off somehow.  It was fun to see Kristin and Derek out there cheering - love seeing people having fun spectating!  When I got to the far side of the lake, there are fewer spectators.  I thought as long as I took it slow, I could keep the coughing somewhat under control and maybe not be as light headed and dizzy.  So, I plugged along.  I really started feeling bad after mile 7 after a quick porta-potty stop. 

It was nice seeing Betsy on the far side of the lake.  Always nice to see a smiling face.  I just kept plugging away.  Aid station to aid station.  Made it back to mile 13 and the start of the second loop.  Mary was there and I got a big hug - I really needed that!  But, was pretty discouraged that I had 13 miles to go.  I usually keep a good mental outlook while racing.  But I think racing my second Ironman with lung issues really got to me more than I thought it would.  The coughing wasn’t bad enough to quit and as long as I kept it slow and steady, I didn’t feel too lightheaded.  So, off I went on lap 2.  

When I got to the 2nd aid station the second time, the Super Sherpas were gone, but another woman recognized me - we met in Denver several months ago.  I stopped and chatted with her for a while and got in some chips and chicken broth to bump up my calories and salt.  And, quite frankly to take a little break.  This is not like me.   When I race, I’m usually 100% in forward motion.  But, it was nice to just take that little break.  I kept plugging away after that.  

My goal from the start of the race was to run everything except the aid stations where I would walk and refuel.   I stuck to that until mile 20.  At that point I also allowed myself to walk the hills.  There are not many and they are short, but it helped to not force myself to run up them.   Got to about mile 22 or 23 and took my third and last porta potty stop.  (The run aid stations were awesome with lots of porta potties, so I never had to wait for one.)  I took a brief break for some chicken broth and to mentally regroup to make one final push to the finish.

At some point near mile 24-25, running in the dark, you can hear Mike Reilly calling out people’s names letting them know, “You are an Ironman!”  I shed a few tears thinking about how badly I wanted to hear that again and be done with this race, completing my 5th Ironman.  I shuffled all the way  to the finish, made the turn and for the first time in probably 10 hours, I smiled a real, genuine smile.   I did it!  I finished despite the pain.  This was the hardest marathon (and the slowest!) I have ever run.  I have never worked so hard on the run for an Ironman finish.  It was mentally really, really hard.  Which makes the finish that much sweeter.  I played with the hand I was dealt all day.  That’s a win in my book!  I was thrilled to see the Super Sherpas just past the finish line along with beautiful Amber and Juliet.  They did not have the day they wanted either.  Seeing them I broke into sobs.  Thankfully, they embraced my lunatic, post-Ironman crying.  

I asked a volunteer where the medical tent was.  Instead of pointing me there (we could see it), she walked me all the way there.  The volunteers at this race are truly amazing!  I managed to get some chicken broth down and received some instructions to be sure I stayed on top of my rehydration.  The docs were a bit concerned about my cough, but I promised to do a nebulizer when I got home, so they let me go. I wanted to be sure I didn’t miss Brian.   I found a chair near the athlete food area and waited for Brian.  Thankfully, he came in shortly after that.   I was so proud of him for finishing on a tough day as well!  I started feeling my usual post-Ironman nausea, and I was shaking from the cold, so we headed home.   

So, all in all, not my best day.  About an hour slower than I wanted.  Not my favorite day on an Ironman course.  But, there are always some good things no matter how poorly the race goes.  Here are my favorite things from Ironman Arizona 2014.

  1. Racing for TriBella.  I am honored to wear the race team kit and to be on a team with some really fast, inspiring ladies (including the 4th place Pro, Katy Blakemore!)  Liz, James and Daniel always make sure we are race ready - thank you!!
  2. Djimmer and Christiaan at Rebound (  Thank for getting this old, rickety body ready for another race!!
  3. Super Sherpas!  And, all the wonderful friends who came out to cheer, volunteer, etc.  Even though I felt like crap, I appreciated your smiles and encouraging words on the course and after the race!
  4. The fun, well-stocked aid stations.  The aid station at the turn around on the bike was amazing.  The ones on the run course were even better.  Great music, fun costumes, tri clubs with tents set up having a spectating party.  Loved it.  And, I stopped at a total of 5 porta potties during the day and never had to wait in a line - quite a feat with 2500 athletes out there!
  5. The volunteers.  There were 3000 of them.  They handed out water and food.  They held our bikes while we were in the porta potty.  They did everything in the change tent short of putting my shorts on for me!  Thank you, volunteers!
  6. The course.  Yes, the wind totally sucked on the bike and even on the run.  But the course is actually pretty cool and I will probably do it again.  (Yes, I just said that.)
  7. Starting the swim with Brian.  I loved hanging out, treading water chatting with him before we headed out on our own individual journeys. 
  8. Seeing spectators while swimming.  That pretty much never happens at any other race.
  9. Seeing my athletes out there giving their all, making the best of the hands they were dealt.
  10. Great friends racing, spectating, volunteering and cheering at home.
  11. The finish line.  There are so many times during this race, more than any other I have done, where I wondered if I would actually make it.   If you’ve never been at an Ironman finish line - do it!  Find an Ironman close to you and see the “why”.  Why would we put ourselves through this?  The pain, the physical challenge, the mental battle.  It’s all answered at the finish line. 

So, we all played with the hands we were dealt on race day.  It’s always a gamble - toeing the line at Ironman.  No one is guaranteed a win, a PR, even a finish.  All you can do is try.  Give it everything you have.  Leave it all out there.   Then, when the dust settles, start planning for the next one!

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