i am an iron(wo)man

I did it!

Nine long months of blood, sweat, and tears to finally make it to this moment...  Ironman Coeur d'Alene.  All I was waiting for, and thinking about was hearing the announcer tell me...

I finally heard those four simple words.  I don't think there's anything more fulfilling (athletically speaking of course) then hearing that as you cross the finish line.  It was the most exhilarating, adrenaline pumping moment.  Hitting that final turn, seeing all the lights, and hearing the crowd cheering me on.  Suddenly all the pain, exhaustion, doubts, fear, everything, suddenly went away.  Honestly, I don't have the words to describe the moment fully.  Sadly, with the state my body and brain was in, the moment was kind of a blur.  Thanks to my family, and friends I was able to relive it in photos, and video.

The entire experience was so unreal...  Everything...  Checking in, the athlete briefing, the athlete village, setting up my bags, checking in gear...  It's unlike anything I've experience before!  It was exciting, overwhelming, and scary all at the same time.  I mean, it was my first Ironman, so I had no idea what I was doing, or what to expect.  The days leading up to race day, were so hard.  Emotions running high, dealing with brain injury flare ups, anxiety, fear...  It's funny.  You're supposed to keep your body moving, but also relax and rest.  Just dealing with all that 'before race' stuff was exhausting!

I've had so much love and support through out this entire journey...  From family, friends, coaches, therapists, doctors, fellow triathletes...  Without them, and all their love and support, I wouldn't have been able to make it to the finish line last weekend.  You know who you are, and thank you so much!

Having family, and friends come find me on the course to cheer, and motivate me, helped so much to muscle through the pain, dehydration, and exhaustion.  Seeing the number of text messages waiting on my phone after the race, brought me to tears a number of times.  I can't say it enough...  They helped push me through SO much, and I can't thank them enough!

To the wonderful volunteer at 2 miles to the finish, when my body was completely shutting down, he went out of his way to pace me all the way to the finish line.  He went above and beyond what he needed to do, and I can't thank him enough for what he did for me.

I talked about my story leading up to this Ironman.  Coming not being able to walk, talk two years ago, to finishing a full Ironman ... It shows you can achieve anything that you put your mind to.  All you need is dedication, determination, and put in the work, you can do anything.  The Ironman organizers aren't wrong...

anything is possible!

Believe it!  It might not be an Ironman, it might be a 5K, 10K, charity bike ride, whatever.  You can do it!  Put in the work, and achieve your goal, because anything is possible.

With all that out of the way, this race was single handily the hardest race I've ever competed in.  The hardest athletic achievement I've ever done.  I learned a lot in my first Ironman and it allows me to grow; personally, professionally, and athletically.  With this knowledge, I can take to future triathlons, bike races, or maybe even more Ironman's.  So let's dive into the race report!


results.

Goal completion time:  12:00:00 to 16:00:00-ish | Actual completion time:  16:39:31

Gender: 232nd
Age group:  57th
Overall:  792

Swim
Gender:  216
Age group:  55
Overall:  730

Bike
Gender:  149
Age group:  35
Overall:  572

Run
Gender:  97
Age group:  27
Overall:  817

There were over 1,000 competitors in the race.  Coming into this Ironman my only goal was to finish...  Take the knowledge, and experience for future races, and maybe even future Ironman's.  So I'm very pleased with my result.  Could I have done better?  Sure, but I knew I was coming in with a huge disadvantage...  Only having 9 months of swim experience, and never ran a full marathon, let alone doing all three disciplines in a row.  I couldn't have asked for anything better!


the swim.

Goal:  01:30:00-ish | Actual:  01:37:30

I'm always worried about the swim, no matter the event.  My nerves going into the swim were exploding!  Rushing to put the finishing touches to my transition bags, and special needs bags ... I was running late.  I didn't even have time to warm up.  So things off with a bang.  My lack of experience really hurt me in the morning ... Lesson learned.

Once I hit the water the nerves went away, and I started to get into my zone.  I didn't run into many issues on the swim, beyond feeling like the first straight away took forever!  Things got a little challenging making the first and second turn, as the water got choppy.  I'm a little glad my practice swims in even worse conditions, helped me prepare for that choppy water.  Just kept my head down, and tried to time my breathing with the waves.  I was a little thrown off with the fact we needed to exit the water, and down the beach across a timing mat to only re-enter the water for the second lap.  It was a little wired, but I guess they need to make sure every completed both laps before entering T1.  Either way, it allowed me to pop a couple of shot blocks, and it was back to work.

My goal was to complete the swim in about an hour and a half, and was very pleased to see I completed it in 01:37:00.  I'm sure getting out and back into the water slowed things down a little bit, but it's all good.

Out of all three disciplines, I was most proud and pleased with my swim, which shocked me and a lot of people, haha!

first transition.

I have to admit, having people to strip your wetsuit off was a little weird ... it was great, but super weird, haha!  Wish all triathlons had that service.

The volunteers were amazing, getting and handing my bag, and then all the volunteers in the changing tent helping get things in and out of your bag ... so incredibly helpful, and very appreciated.

I took my time in the tent, making sure I got everything I needed, and giving myself time to regain my land legs before heading out to my bike.  Another weird, and kind of awkward thing were the volunteers ready to lather your exposed skin with sunscreen.  I guess nothing is more awesome then having two older ladies feeling you up with sunscreen, haha!  It was great, but still super weird.

I was able to find my bike fairly easily, and had a little surprised guest on the other side of the fence, my daughter!  That made me super happy, and I took some time to walk over to the fence, get a little fist bump, and a good luck kiss from her 😊.  What a perfect way to start off the bike!


the bike.

Goal:  04:00:00 to 06:00:00-ish | Actual:  07:14:49

The bike started off great, and felt strong the moment I hit the saddle.  I knew going in this bike course was going to be challenging.  I've been told it's one of the hardest bike courses in Ironman ... awesome (sarcastically 🙂). From the bike start to the first turn around point, Higgins Point, suited my skillset nicely.  Nice a flat, with a little false flat, and then a pretty good short punchy climb which I always love.  Once I got to highway 95 on the other hand, the course started to become not suited for my skillset.  It's about 30 miles of long climbs that never seem to end, and then when you hit the second turn around, you pretty much rinse and repeat everything you just did to get back into town.  Perhaps if I was using my road race bike, which is better equipment for climbing then my tri bike, it would have been easier.

The Ironman website, and route guides got the combined elevation wrong, which didn't help with preparation.  They said the bike would be around 7,000 feet of combined elevation gain, when in actuality it was only about 5,000 feet.  I don't know about you, but that's a pretty big difference.  Thanks I guess, haha!  I only recon one complete loop, so I guess I could have done the math if I paid attention to that data.

Anyway, things were going great, and meeting my time goals, until I reached about mile 60 ... approaching the Higgins Point turn around, and speed needs bag pick up.  Leading up to mile 60, something happened on my approach back to town which set me up for failure the remainder of the race.  Coming back to town I ran out of my own fluids.  During my training I knew Gatorade Endurance Formula (yuck, by the way) would be the drink on the course, so I trained with it.  The key difference?  I used the powder mix version, and Ironman used the bottled version (I was never able to find the bottled version to buy).  So obviously, when I ran out of my mixture, I would pick up the bottles at the aid stations, and everything would be fine.  Well, turns out the bottled version is very different then the powder mix.  It's heavily concentrated (obviously), but to me it tasted very sour.  The moment I drank from the bottle, my stomach instantly rejected it.  The entire time getting back into town I was forcing myself to take it down, but it only got worse.  At this moment I started to get worried, because I didn't bother to put additional bottles of my mix for the bike, only one bottle that was in my run bag for the run.  Shit!  Well I couldn't drink the stuff, so I switched to the bottled water (first lesson learned).  That decision was my downfall.

Side note...  Not that it matters, since this was the last full Ironman in Coeur d'Alene.  But I feel the special needs bags should have been available closer to mile 50, then where it actually was at mile 63-65-ish.

I wish the special needs bags were available sooner, because my body was craving things before I could fill that craving with the food in my special needs.  And as we all know, once you've reached the point of already craving something ... you're already too late.  On the second approach to the highway 95 nonsense, the lack of a sports drink was in full effect.  I was struggling to keep my heart rate and power at the levels they needed to be.

On the final approach into town to the next transition, my body was already shutting down.  I barely ate anything the last 10 to 15 miles of the bike.  Well shit.  Nothing you can do about it, but learn from the mistake next time.

second transition.

I wasn't in the best shape coming off the bike, and as I was walking down the transition chute to get my run bag, I saw my daughter, and ex-wife now my dearest friend and only family.  I think I remember telling her that I was not in good shape, and not sure if doing the run was the best idea.  I honestly can't remember, because a lot of that race was a blur.  She told me to keep fighting, that I can do this!  It helped, but I knew the run wasn't going to be good.

I got my run bag, and went to the changing tent.  I remember sitting in that tent for a very long time, well a full 18 minutes to be exact.  I couldn't really do anything, and the volunteers were so awesome getting things in and out of my bag, getting cold wet towels around my neck.  They all are rockstars, and Ironman would be screwed without them.  Got what I needed, threw some ice in my hat, and finally headed out


the run.

Goal:  06:00:00 (I think) | Actual:  07:18:22

How I survived the "run" still eludes me.  Pretty much half way through the first lap, everything was shutdown.  I couldn't eat, and I could barely drink anything.  I pretty much did 20 miles with nothing but sips of water, and the occasional pretzel, because that was the only food my stomach would actually allow.  I grabbed some Base Salt on the course, and that helped a little until I dropped it and all the salt spilled to along the ground.  The socks I decided to use for the race turned out to be really bad.  I've trained in them before mind you, so I didn't think they would be an issue.  But blisters were forming quick.  Luckily I put a different pair of socks in my special needs bag, just to be safe!

It was a really hard first lap.  People kept passing me, seeing the state I was in, and thinking I was on my last lap, and the finish is near.  I would tell them it's only my first, they would look at their watch (I'm assuming to see the time of day), then look back to me, and say 'well, keep at it'.

I got to my special needs bag, took my shoes and socks off ... year they didn't look pretty.  Tried to put bandaids on, but they wouldn't stick to the skin.  That's a bummer.  Got what I needed, and then headed out again.

At this point, doubts were setting in, and I was really worried that I wouldn't make the cutoff or the finish line.  I was an emotional mess.  Trying to hide my crying, so other runners and volunteers couldn't hear or notice.  Fuck.  I had no idea how I'm going to finish this thing.  I couldn't eat, and I couldn't drink, and still have two laps to go.  All I could see was failure, and not hearing the announcer yell out 'you are an Ironman'.

Then, I think on the second lap, I ran into some familiar faces.  Some I would never have expected in my life to be there.  They gave me the encouragement, and strength (what I had left anyway) to just keep at it.  If you finish walking, or crawling, you finished.  Seeing those people, and hearing their support helped tremendously.  Okay, I still got this.  Force my body, just muscles through it, and deal with the consequences after the race!  At that moment, I started to throw in some light on/off jogging, to help keep my average pace in check.  They weren't for very long, but it allowed me to get my pace fast enough where the walking would not put me in the cutoff danger zone.

Finishing the second lap, darkness started to fall, and for the last lap it got really difficult to see.  Now, I originally wasn't planning to be out in the dark, so didn't think of having a light in my special needs bag (second lesson learned).  It was hard to figure out where I needed to go, and if there was anything in my way.  The darkness also gave me some pretty bad vertigo, so I was pretty much just looking at my feet the entire time.

As I approached the final two miles, I suddenly heard some say 'Erin'.  It was so dark, I couldn't see my hand in front of my face.  I was like, who the hell knows my name out here?  And then a person came up to me, and it was my ex-wife (without kid this time).  She came out to find me, started helping me get moving, and pace me back to town.  I cannot thank her enough for everything she has done this race weekend, even with a 2 year old to tend to.  I wouldn't have made it after the bike if it wasn't for her.  So we started walking, and she was encouraging me to keep going.  I was SO close!  Then the best, most wonderful, volunteer decided to join in helping me pace myself to the finish.  I was completely speechless!  He was the greatest volunteer of the entire event, to do that for someone, it's incredible.  He didn't know me.  He didn't know my story coming into this Ironman.  He just saw a girl in need, and felt like he needed to help in anyway he could.  I wish I knew who he was, he told me his name, but there wasn't anyway I would remember that.

With their help, I made it to the final turn.  I zipped up my jersey, tucked my glow light stick they gave me into my jersey pocket ... saw the lights and sounds of the finish line, and started to run!  And I finally got to hear those words, and run through that finish line arch!  I did it!  I am an Ironman!


takeaways.

  • I learned more of what I really needed in my bags now, and understand that process better.
  • Take the bullet and do everything that you would do the morning of the race, and just do it the night before, and not worry about it.
  • Carry all my own nutrition, and fluids.  Don't trust that things on the course are the same you've been training with.
  • CHAP STICK!!!!  Jesus, I needed that SO BAD!
  • Get to the start earlier then you think you need to be.  Unless it's like your 20th Ironman.
  • Figure out where all bags need to go before the race.  I had no idea Special Need bags needed to be dropped off somewhere completely different from the rest of the bags.
  • Better understanding of what snacks I actually needed in my Special Needs bags.
  • Need to rethink my entire nutrition/fluid plans.  Shotblocks just don't cut it for endurance, long races like marathon's and Ironman's.  They are fine for shorter triathlons, and bike races.
  • Have a light in the run special needs bag.  NO MATTER WHAT!!!!
  • Find better running shoes.
  • Despite the days leading up to the race being a little unique...  Needing to spend time with family, etc...  Resting before the race is important.
  • Sunscreen, and Body Glide your feet if you plan to not wear socks with your cycling shoes.
  • Body Glide the ankle you plan to wear your timing chip on.
  • Finish the race while the free massages are still available, haha!
  • Don't bother going to the medical tent, they won't really do anything for you.  Not worth it, just get back to the hotel, or hospital.

the photos.