Wednesday, November 11, 2015

IMLOU--Part One (Better Late than Never)

So. . .

The last time I logged onto this blog, I was two and a half weeks post-IMMD and shared with you 140.6 Miles of Smiles, a detailed race report of my first Ironman triathlon.  It was full of all of the details, all of the pictures, and all of the emotions of the big day.  It was a magical event but one that I had no intention of repeating any time soon.  The training, the preparation, the money (um, hello, have you seen what they charge to do this stuff?) was enough to make me think twice about registering for another 140.6 right away . . until a girlfriend called me and said, "Hey, I think I am ready to do a full."  So, of course I agreed to join her on the journey.  After lots of talking and researching, we agreed on Ironman Louisville (IMLOU), paid the big bucks, and then sat back and waited for the training cycle to start.

Well, not exactly.  In the meantime, I completed my first 50K in January 2015 and snagged a marathon PR (4:35) at Quintiles Wrightsville Beach in March 2015.  However, as the months passed in early 2015, I knew that Ironman training was right around the corner.  I had continued to swim and bike throughout the Winter and Spring to go into training with a decent "base" in addition to running all the miles my body and schedule could handle.

Training for IMLOU was pretty unremarkable.  I used the same training plan that I had for IMMD since it had resulted in a successful race.  I knew that IMLOU would have more climbing on the bike (duh, Cambridge, MD is pancake flat), so I had to plan my rides to incorporate more climbing practice and elevation gain.

As training progressed, I found myself riding and running faster than I had when I was preparing for IMMD.  This was a huge confidence boost going into race day.  With the exception of pool closures in the months of August and September (hello, peak times for me to get the miles in), training went well.  Unfortunately, the same was not true for my friend that I had registered with.  Shortly into the new year, she had a huge set back and was unable to ride or run for a while.  Sadly, she was forced to pull from the race and I felt a bit lonely preparing for the big day.  While training for IMMD, I had the hubby and lots of tri friends to chat with about race day fears and excitement in the days leading up to the race.  This time, poor hubby had to field all of the tears, fears and worries that I threw at him during training and race weekend.

One huge fear, as always, was the swim.  In early September, there was an algae caution on the Ohio River (not exactly a pristine water source anyway).  All recreational activities, including swimming, were banned due to toxic blue-green algae.  I was convinced that the swim portion of IMLOU would be cancelled based on all the reports I was reading. . .  but with Ironman, "Anything is Possible", and the recreational ban was lifted less than 48 hours before race day.  As I read the update on our drive to Louisville, I was filled with panic--I hadn't been able to swim as much in the weeks leading up to the race because of pool closures, but I wasn't worried because I thought the swim would be cancelled.  The hubby tried to ease my fears, reminding me that I had a strong swim base and I was going to be fine.

When we arrived in Louisville on Friday afternoon, we quickly checked into the hotel and I set off to pick up my athlete wristband and packet for the weekend. The Ironvillage was within walking distance of the Galt House (our hotel) and I was able to take a good look at the river on my run over to Transition and Packet Pick-up.  The water looked a bit murky and a little choppy, but I pushed that aside as I got checked in.

We spent the rest of the evening exploring Fourth Street live (the site of the finish line!) with another couple who was there for the race, discussing race details over dinner and contemplating a practice swim early on Saturday morning.

Although our friend, Coach E, decided against a practice swim, my friend A convinced me that it would be a good idea to hop in the water just to get a feel for it.  So. . .  I got up early and headed down to the swim start along with lots of other eager athletes.

Practice swim. . . check.
Choppy-ish water. . . check
The practice swim was pretty laid back. . .  as long as you had your timing chip on your ankle and your swim cap in hand.  There were a few buoys set up with water safety monitoring swimmers along a small swim loop.  A and I pulled on our wetsuits, caps and goggles and made our way down the chute and into the water.  The water was a chilly 69 degrees and immediately took my breath away.  As usual, it took me a bit to calm down and get settled.  I took the opportunity to get a feel for a possible current (slight?) and an idea about the clarity underwater (pretty much nonexsistent--very similar to swimming in Jordan Lake).  I only took a short swim in the water and was ready to hop out, still feeling a bit of anxiety about the swim portion on Sunday.  I ventured back to the hotel to get changed and enjoy a day with the family.

The kiddos were registered for the Ironkids race--something that had not been offered at other venues we had been to previously (IMMD and IMRaleigh 70.3).  When I arrived at the hotel, they were dressed and ready to run!  We made the quick walk back over to the Ironvillage just in time for the race.  The little guy completed the 1/4 mile race with the hubby and The Reporter and I ran the one mile race together.

We grabbed a quick lunch after the race, checked my bike and bags for the next day (all of those things have to be checked in prior to race day), and discussed driving the bike course.  I had mixed feelings about seeing the course ahead of time--either it would be reassuring that I was well prepared for Sunday, or I would have a complete meltdown and crawl under the car seat when I saw what was waiting for me. . .  Off we went to preview the course.  As we drove the majority of the course (IMLOU has a 30-ish mile loop that you repeat twice, so we only had to endure that once on the preview), I kept saying things like, "Oh, this really isn't so bad," "this looks very doable," "Oh yes, this will be fun."  The hubby nodded and agreed with each statement and kept driving, eyes on the road.  Meanwhile, I was silently crying inside, throwing any time goals out the window, just praying that I would meet each cutoff on the course.  The course description for IMLOU is "rolling hills".  Maybe "roller coaster of hills" would be a better description.  I read a description post-race that said "IMLOU was 112 miles of 112 hills". . .  I would completely agree.  I knew, after that preview that I had my work cut out for me the next day.  Later, the hubby confessed that the bike course looked like a beast to him, as well, but he knew that if he said anything I would doubt myself.  Smart guy to keep that quiet, right? :)

We ended out course preview at the Garage Bar for my ritualistic meal of "pizza and wine", joined by Coach E and his wife.  The atmosphere was relaxed, so I tried to push my nerves to the side as I downed a glass of Merlot and enjoyed a great meal with friends.
pre-race ritual. . . every time.

After dinner, the hubby and I decided to take the kiddos to the pedestrian bridge that links Kentucky to Indiana--yep, more walking.  Although I should've given my legs a rest, it was worth the walk to get a full preview of the swim course from the bridge.  (I may have had a brief panic attack thinking that the swim was waaaaaay longer than it actually is, because I totally lack the ability to judge distance.  This took a "suck it up" talk from the hubby and a reality check on exactly where the course would go.)  It was an excellent chance to think about dividing the course into smaller parts to make it feel more manageable. . .  something I was thankful for the next morning. 
kiddos getting their wiggles out!
a peaceful ending to the evening

I would be swimming where that boat was traveling in a few short hours. . .
When we returned to the hotel, I double checked my gear that I would need in the morning (tri suit, wetsuit, body glide, etc) and tried to get to sleep at a reasonable time.  To my surprise, I fell asleep pretty easily and woke up to my alarm at 4:00am. . . 

Race day was here.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

140.6 Miles of Smiles--IMMD Race Report (Part 2)

Ironman waits for no one.  So when the alarm went off bright and early on Saturday, September 20, I sprang out of bed, nervous, but ready. 

I had probably had one of the best nights of pre-race sleep ever, thanks to the Merlot and an early turn-in, with the exception of a midnight wake-up due to incoming text messages.  As soon as the phone alerted me to a message, I was wide awake.  After responding to another Ironman friend of mine, who assured me that he never sleeps well the night of a race, I finally fell asleep until the 3am alarm.

As I padded downstairs, I wondered how many of my housemates were up and moving.  Soon the hubby joined me to make espresso (2 shots, please), as I devoured my pre-race meal of a Peanut Butter and Jelly waffle sandwich.  Soon after, we were all dressed and ready to drive to the shuttle parking lot. . . ready for the day to begin.

We reached the shuttle parking lot before 5:00 am.  In fact, it was 4:44 am, on the dot.
As we pulled into the parking lot, something must have brushed against my phone to turn the screen on.  When I looked down to turn it off, I saw this:
One of my constant, long-distance cheerleaders (and a total inspiration to me) during my IMMD training has this "thing" for 4s.  I snapped a quick picture of my screen and texted it to her.  Little did I know that "4" would follow me through the day, as a beacon of hope and a reminder to keep pushing.

The shuttle ride was quiet, as most pre-race gatherings are.  A bus full of nerves moved through the quiet streets of Cambridge that would be alive with cheering crowds in a few hours.  As we pulled into the Transition Area parking lot, I had to tell The Reporter goodbye.  Only athletes were allowed in transition, so all family members and spectators were asked to wait "on the outside".  We parted with plans to meet back up prior to the swim, but without designating a location.  

The hubby and I took off in different directions to load our bikes with fuel (Tailwind Nutrition in my bottles and Luna bars in my bento box) and try to find a bike pump to inflate our tires.  It was too dark at that point to get a good look at the water, so I busied myself with other pre-race preparations and tried to push the thoughts of the swim to the corners of my mind to ease my nerves.  As I organized my supplies, the loudspeaker announced that the water temperature was a chilly 72 degrees, meaning that the swim WOULD be wetsuit legal! (76.1 is the cut point)  Soon bikes were loaded, tires were filled, bike and run bags were checked for all of the necessities and special needs bags were dropped at the designated locations.  All that was left was to slather ourselves with body glide (to prevent wetsuit hickeys and chafing), trislide (to ensure a quick exit when the wetsuit strippers did their job), and sunscreen (to protect our skin on a 6+ hour bike ride with little shade).

As we prepped I spilled my pre-race nervous talk all over the hubby.  I was worried. . .  about the swim (Would it be choppy, windy?  Would there be a current? What if I get in trouble? Will I make the 2:20 cut?), about the time cut-offs on the bike (1:30 pm for the first lap--57 miles-- and 5:30 pm for the second lap), about the time cut-offs on the run (9 miles by 7:40pm, 18 miles by 9:50 pm), about the midnight race finish cutoff (Several people told me that a good "predicted" IM time is to double your 70.3 time and add an hour--crap.  That meant 15:30 for me. . .  Would I make it?), about possible GI issues (IM can take a toll on your tummy as hubby found out last year and take a grown man from a run to a crawl in a matter of minutes.), about mechanical issues (What if I get a flat tire??). . .  what if?  He gently reassured me that I could do this race.  I just had to keep making forward progress. . . no matter what.  Then he politely shut down any more nervous talk and told me it was time to find the Reporter and line up for the swim start.

Our meet-up plan with the Reporter failed since we didn't have a prearranged meeting spot.  Once we dropped our "morning clothes" bags in the collection boxes, it was time for the National Anthem and soon the paratriathletes would be entering the water.  Any chance for a pre-race swim/warm up was nixed when they announced that the swim course would not be open for warm ups. . .  there just wasn't time in order to have an on-time start.  At the time, I was disappointed to miss out on a swim warm-up, but in retrospect I am not sure that I would've been so confident getting into the water if I had felt the "chop" of the Choptank River prior to "go-time".

The swim was a "rolling start"--part of Ironman's new "swim safe" initiatives.  Instead of a mass start of 1700 athletes taking to the water, we were to line up according to predicted swim finish times and trickle into the water in groups.  Since the hubby placed himself in the 1:10 and under group and I was conservative and stayed behind with the 1:30-1:45 group, we wished one another good luck, shared a quick kiss and parted ways.  That would be the last time we would see each other until late in the day on the run.  

As soon as the hubby walked into the mass of wetsuit clad athletes, I heard someone call my name. . .
The Reporter and Coach E's wife had found me!  It was just the face that I needed to see--my fearless girl who loves the swim more than anything--to boost my confidence and remind me that I CAN do hard things.  She begged for a pre-race thumbs-up and the fear was written all over my face. . .
After a quick hug and kiss from the Reporter and a hug from E's wife, I took my place in line and waited to enter the water.  

Photo by: Ironman Maryland via Facebook

The Swim:

I had no idea what to expect from a rolling start swim, much less a swim with 1700 of my closest friends.  As I walked toward the boat ramp, I could see that athletes were funneling into the water, through the slip area and out into the river.  I could also see how choppy the water was.  It was a far cry from the white capped waves of the previous night, but it wasn't the smooth bathtub-like water of Jordan Lake on my home turf.  The further I walked onto the ramp, the more I realized. . ."this is REALLY happening". . ."I am about to swim 2.4 miles and begin an IRONMAN". . ."What the Hell am I thinking??"

Before I knew it, my toes were wet.  I stepped forward and my ankles were submerged.  My calves, knees, thighs. . .  I walked into the water nervous, yet confident. . . scared, yet excited.  And then the Choptank began to earn it's name.

Photo from:
I planned to breaststroke until I could get out of the boat ramp and the mass started to thin out, but as soon as I put my face into the water, the chill took my breath and the salt tingled my lips.  I was used to warm, freshwater swimming and this chilly brackish water was a bit of a change for me.  After a few attempts to swim freestyle, ending in sputtering and panic, I decided to take the hubby's advice--do not panic. Keep making forward progress.  Do not stop.  Meanwhile, in my mind, I looked at the second buoy, noticed my tortoise-like pace and started planning my afternoon on the run course as an aid station volunteer, because I felt unsure that I would finish the swim successfully.  I decided that breaststroke was better than stopping, so I kept going, and pushed the negative thoughts aside.  And although it was painfully slow, I was moving forward.  As I watched people pass me and feared that I was last (I didn't dare look back--I wasn't going that way.), I began what would become a day-long game of time calculations.  I knew that I had to finish the swim in 2 hours and 20 minutes, and because I had DNFed a swim in a 70.3, I knew too well what that disappointment felt like.  I also knew that my slow breaststroke was not going to get me to the finish by the cut off.

By that time, I was making progress and looked to my right at the buoy I was passing.  4.  Buoy number 4.  That 4 stood out like a neon sign, reminding me that I could do this swim.  Suddenly, I made a decision.  If I wanted to finish this race, I was going to have to put my face in and GO. . .  and I did.  Right before I started swimming at buoy 4, I had looked ahead and noticed a large group of swimmers pulling away and out of reach.  Was I last?  I put my head down, rode the chop and swam, and soon I found myself on the heels of the group that had just seemed out of reach.  I was making up time and feeling good.  Sure the salt water burned my nose and throat, like a constant neti pot cleansing, but the feeling of gaining speed outweighed the challenges of the swim. 
Photo by the Reporter
As soon as I turned right at the first buoy, the swim got more challenging (as if choppy water isn't a big enough challenge).  There was a current, just strong enough to push me to the left as I swam, forcing me to swim hard left in order to make the next turn.  I was sure that the direction of the current would be a blessing at the next turn buoy, only to be disappointed that it really didn't push me along.  As I rounded the buoy, I quickly glanced down at my watch.  44:00.  I still had one leg of the first loop and a complete second loop to swim, and I had an hour and thirty five minutes to swim it.  I wasn't ready to breathe a sigh of relief yet.  I knew that I would have to work just as hard on that second loop in order to make the cut off and start the bike with a little cushion of time.

The second loop proved to be just as challenging as the first and maybe more mentally taxing.  My game of numbers and time played on in my head as I hoped to beat the 2:00 mark (My practice 2.5 mile open water swims had clocked in at an average of 1:27, so I knew I wouldn't be anywhere close to that.), but my heart just wanted to make the cut-off.  The number of swimmers decreased as people exited the water and entered transition, making those of us left in the water feel exceptionally slow.  I had kind of settled in to a group of swimmers that were my speed, and my confidence grew as I rounded the last turn buoy and headed in.  As we approached the shore, I noticed that the water was shallow enough for walking, but I swam all the way in, hoping that my legs would be getting plenty of work later in the day.

1 hour, 59 minutes and 29 seconds later, I stepped across the timing mat and heard my name over the speaker.  I had done it.  I had met the swim cut off and finished a pretty challenging swim course.  In fact, when discussing the swim on the course later in the day, many athletes mentioned the rough conditions and the fact that their personal GPS devices logged the swim anywhere from 2.7 to 2.9 miles in length.  No matter what the distance, though, I had done it.

My wetsuit was promptly removed by the strippers and I called out my race number "394" to the "bike bag" station.  I was handed my bag and directed to the a white tent.


As I mentioned in my last post, all "transitions" or changes would take place in a changing tent.  There is no bike-side transition in Ironman, mainly because so many people elect to change clothes throughout the race, but also for volunteers and personnel to have the opportunity to check on the well-being of the athletes.  The women's changing tent is not for the faint of heart or the modest.  There are rows of chairs waiting to be occupied and people stripping off clothes in every corner.  Upon the advice of several Ironman finishers, I had elected to wear my trisuit for the entire day.  After doing multiple century rides in my tri shorts, I knew I would be comfortable, and to be honest, I really didn't want to take the extra time to change clothes--putting clothes over a wet body is not my idea of fun.  Therefore, my bike bag only contained my tri top (I only wore shorts and a sports bra under my wetsuit), shoes, helmet, a Luna bar (which I promptly shoved into my mouth after downing two cups of fresh--not salty--water), injinji socks, a towel, and sunscreen.  After toweling off and eating, I pulled my tri top over my head and enlisted the help of a volunteer.  I can't say enough positive things about the people who volunteer for races.  Many of these people are triathletes and understand what your day entails, but many are just good hearted people, out there to help.  I had help pulling down my jersey and I asked to be sprayed with sunscreen, again.  As soon as she sprayed my neck, I felt a familiar burn of "wet suit hickeys".  I had missed a spot when applying body glide and now I was going to play the price.  She quickly coated my arms and legs with sunscreen and after 6 minutes, 27 seconds in transition, I was off to retrieve my bike and begin a 112 mile journey.

The Bike:

After having driven the bike course on Friday with Dave and the hubby, I knew what to expect (a pancake flat course with one small hill) and when to expect it.  As I ran from transition, pushing my bike, I heard the familiar voice of Coach E's wife wishing me well.  A perfect pick-me-up to get me started.  

As I rode out of town the course was congested with cyclists.  Fearful of the dreaded "drafting call" (you must keep 4 bike lengths between you and the bike in front of you, and lots of other details that are too boring and technical to write here), I watched the people around me for an indication of how fast they might be riding.  As soon as I felt comfortable, I began to pass people in order to set myself up for a good speed on the bike.
I felt good about the bit of cushion I entered the bike leg with, but the numbers game played on in my head.  I had set a goal for myself to maintain an average speed of at least 15.5 mph for the 112 mile ride.  I knew that I may face some wind and road challenges, but if I rode like I had trained, 15.5 would be attainable.  About 12 miles into the first lap, I was feeling good and finding my groove.  We circled through the local high school and that's where I saw #teamSims, cheering and smiling.  I can't even express how much their enthusiasm lifted me.  I was feeling confident that the ride was going, just as planned.  (Meanwhile, the hubby was out on the ride after a great swim--he got a flat tire at mile 2--oops. . . who changed those?--but was asking everyone he saw if they had seen me to confirm that I had safely made the swim cut off.  Much to his disappointment, no one could confirm my time, so he was left to wonder as he rode.)

 The only mishap I had encountered so far was that my Tailwind nutrition had settled to the bottom of my aerobottle, making the first few sips pretty salty and gritty.  Fortunately, it didn't impact me negatively and I just rode on, planning on 200 calories per hour, alternating liquid and solid nutrition (Tailwind one hour followed by Luna bars and water the next--repeat until you reach 112 miles.)

At mile 27 it was time for a bathroom stop and a water bottle refill.  I kindly told the volunteers that I was going to duck into the port-a-john, if could they please grab a bottle of water for me I would refill when I was out.  As soon as I stepped out of the potty, a well-meaning volunteer looked at me and said, "So, are you like the last one on this first loop?"  



You just don't say that, sir.

I informed him that I most certainly was not and there were plenty behind me.  At that point I was averaging over 16 mph, I had passed the area of "standing water" that wasn't, yet--because of tide schedules, and I was feeling damn good.  I was not going to let his comment ruin my time.  

As soon as I remounted my bike, I sped away at 19mph and didn't slow down until the next turn.  As I neared the end of the bike course a familiar sound approached from the rear.  Full disk wheels roared past as the first few groups of speedy men were finishing their second lap in the home stretch.  I would be lying if I didn't say it was a little soul crushing to watch people turn left toward the bike finish as I rode straight for the second lap.  However, after a glace at my speed, I knew I was right on track to finish in plenty of time.

As I approached the high school a second time, it was time to refill my nutrition at the special needs bags.  I had no idea how this process worked, as I had only watched the pros on TV at Kona ripping the bags open with their teeth and refilling on the go.  For a girl who can barely drink and ride, stopping was my only option.  I took a few minutes to have the volunteer reapply suncreen while I refilled my bottles with Tailwind and ate another Luna bar (Lemon this time). Unfortunately, the water for my bottle was at the end of the line at the aid station, so I had to stop, once again, to pour water into my bottle before I could go.  Before I left the water stop, I asked a volunteer what time it was. . . 12:44.  Not only had I beat the 1:30pm bike cut off, but I had also added to my time cushion for the remaining cuts.

I thought that the second loop would be predictable, like the first, but I didn't count on the increase in wind and the ponding water on the roadway due to high tide.  The wind impacted my speed slightly, and I was suddenly thankful for all of those weekend long rides on the NC coast.  

I approached the ponding water with trepidation, unsure of how to attack it, worried of falling.  I unclipped both shoes and rested them on my pedals as I rode through each puddle.  The first few weren't so bad, barely even sprinkling me with water.  But the last few soaked my feet, especially my left foot.  Thankful that it wasn't worse, I pedaled on to the next aid station.

The same man who had asked me if I was last, once again approached me as I refilled my bottle.  I kindly told him that he would be working a while longer, as there were more people behind me.  He gave me a wink and apologized for his previous comment as he helped me refill my bottles.  

The remainder of the second lap was a bit lonely.  On a ride of that length, you tend to find a group and stick with them--but not too closely.  I played leapfrog with several athletes, but I really just enjoyed the moment of the ride.  Sure, my body was cranky, especially my ever fussy left hip, but I was doing something that most people would never dare to try and I was going to enjoy every freaking moment.

After passing the 100 mile mark, I knew I was safe for the last bike cut off, unless something went really wrong, so then the marathon calculations began as I finished up my ride.  How fast would I have to run/walk to make each cut off?  Could I do it?  As the bike course headed into town, it intersected with the run course and I saw a familiar face right away.  My online friend Big Dave was on the run and looking great.  We exchanged a quick "hi" and I pedaled hard to finish up.  I still hadn't seen the hubby, and wanted to let him know that I was doing this crazy Ironman thing!

Seven hours, eight minutes and twenty nine seconds later, with an average speed of 15.68mph, I dismounted my bike at transition, gladly handed it off to a a bike handler to rerack, headed to the "run bag" area to retrieve my gear, and entered the changing tent once again.


As soon as I sat down in T2, I noticed that I was not alone.  There were tons of women just finishing the bike.  One asked for the time and the head volunteer said "4:15".  We all cheered, knowing that we had seven hours and forty-five minutes to complete the marathon.  I quickly changed my shoes (but not my socks--bad move), stocked my pockets with fuel and had the volunteer spray me with sunscreen.  Before pulling on my 70.3 visor that I had worn throughout training, I made a wish that I would be able to "trade it in" for a 140.6 at day's end.  After seven minutes and twenty-nine seconds, including a port-a-potty stop, I headed out on the run, hoping to see the hubby and our other friends on the course.  

The Run:

The run is always my favorite part of triathlon.  It is like dessert--saving the best for last.  I knew that my training runs had been strictly four minutes of running and one minute of walking and that I should stick to that plan as long as possible, but once I got moving, I realized that I felt good--really good.  And since I also knew that things could go south quickly, I decided to run as much as possible before taking a walk break.  

The flat run course was an out and back configuration (3 times), so as you were running out, you were able to see athletes headed back in the other direction.  I was certain that I would see the hubby on the run, so the first three miles flew by as I looked to my left watching for him to pass by in the other direction.  I began to see my house mates, one-by-one, but no hubby.  

As I approached the second aid station, I heard music and felt the energy of a great group of volunteers waiting to sponge me down with cold water, refill my water bottle, or hand off a cup of pretzels.  Suddenly, I heard a voice over a microphone say, "And here comes Mrs. Leventhal!"  Bewildered at who would know my last name on the course (Our first names were on our race bibs and I heard "Go Erin" all afternoon and evening!), I approached the aid station with confusion.  Suddenly I recognized Trisilk, another online running community (#F3) friend who had taken the red-eye from Vegas to cheer on Big Dave, Dave, the hubby, me, and lift up countless other athletes on the run course.  I couldn't have seen him at a better time.  A quick hug and high-five and I was on my way.

Not long after seeing Trisilk, I FINALLY saw the hubby.  Neither one of us could have been happier to see one another on the run course.  We had both made it that far, and things were looking good time-wise, and health-wise, for both of us.  No crummy tummy for the hubby, and strong legs for me.  After we exchanged a quick kiss and some positive words, we both went on our separate ways to complete the run.  He was much closer to the finish line than I was, but I knew then that we would both make it.

My nutrition had been on-point, taking in calories and hydrating as planned.  But about six miles into the run, I decided that I really didn't want any of the nutrition I had stuffed in my tri top.  My water bottle of cocogo had been hot when I took it out of transition, and luckily the ice on the course helped to cool it off, but the pocketfuel naturals (usually my favorite) and honey stinger waffles that were waiting for me to ingest were not appetizing, at all.  I suddenly decided to just eat off of the course.  My GI system was ok, I had plenty of time to finish, and I was really tired of eating "sweet".  So I began eating at every other aid station--chips, pretzels, coke, and ice.  I still drank my cocogo for electrolytes, but the salty goodness of the chips were a welcome change from a sweet-filled day.  As soon as the sun began to go down, the aid stations were stocked with the nectar of the Gods--Hot Chicken Broth.  It was just what I needed and wanted.  

My miles on the run clicked by effortlessly. At mile seven, as the course wound through the downtown streets of Cambridge, I saw the reporter and #teamsims.  I was so excited to see them and exchanged high fives as I ran past.

   I settled into a nice walk-run pattern and after dark. I chose to run the lighted portions of the course and walk the darker areas.  At mile 18, I had access to my "special needs" run bag which I had stocked with extra fuel, a fresh pair of socks, a headlamp and hand warmers.  Knowing that I had already abandoned my own nutrition, I had a choice to make. . . leave the things I had in the bag in special needs to be thrown away, or try to stuff some of it in my pockets to use at a later time.  I decided upon the latter, filling my jersey pockets to the brim with goods.  I did leave insignificant things in the bag, but my injini socks and brand new pocketfuels were not about to meet the trash can.  My back pockets looked like a mobile convenience store and felt like it too.  Walking was fine, but as I ran, everything bounced around, and finally I resorted to placing a hand on the side of my jersey as I ran to keep it steady.  I knew I could tolerate it for the final 8 miles, so I kept run-walking through the dark.

My last lap on the course was just as peaceful and enjoyable as the first two.  Many people were walking at this point and I overhead several say that they were ready for it to be over.  I was just soaking it all in. I think I was praying and thanking God every other minute, so grateful to have the opportunity to experience this. Sure, I was tired, but I was still out there and I was going to finish.  

The home stretch to the finish led runners down the main street of Cambridge, once again.  Spectators were street-side in bars and diners, watching the athletes.  The final turn to the finish was at the end of a long section of cobblestone road.  The first two times I reached this point, I had to turn right to stay on course and continue running, but the last turn took you left and to the finish.  A crowd stood at the turn and cheered no matter what, but their cheers were deafening when someone finally took that left-hand turn.

As I ran that final stretch into the finish, so many thoughts of disbelief filled my head.  I couldn't believe that I had completed something that had once felt so big and unattainable.  I couldn't believe that I had the courage to take that leap of faith and register for something so daunting.  I couldn't believe that I had smashed my goal time and felt good doing it.  But as the disbelief washed away and reality hit, my heart was full of joy.  I had succeeded.  I had done it.  

I ran the finish chute alone, able to take it all in and listen to this:


Fourteen hours, forty-four minutes and seventeen seconds after my toes skimmed the water on Saturday, September 20, 2014, I had finished.

But really, it is just the beginning. . .

2.4 mile Swim: 1:59:29
T1: 6:27
112 mile Bike: 7:08:29
T2: 7:29
26.2 mile Run: 5:22:23
140.6 Miles FULL of Smiles: 14:44:17

Monday, September 29, 2014

140.6 Miles of Smiles--IMMD Race Report (Part 1)

It has been one week since I crossed the finish line at IMMD.  One week of reflection, celebration, rest and getting back to reality.  One week of digesting all of the events of last weekend leaves me with so much to say.  So. . .  grab an Americano, you guys. . . It's a long one.  I hope you will join me as I recount my first 140.6--IMMD.


Wednesday, September 17

When I arrived home from work on Wednesday afternoon, my carport had been transformed into a bike service center.  The hubby had my bike on the stand, cleaning gears, checking brakes, and making her nice and shiny!  Since I have little to no experience changing tires mid-race, I asked that he leave the tire changing to me to get in some practice. . .  just in case I needed to use those skills on race day.

Four tire changes later (both mine and the hubby's--trusting guy, right?), I was feeling confident and ready to tackle packing my things for our weekend away.  Soon, our bedroom looked like this
as I divided gear for each leg of the race.  I knew, based on the IMMD Athlete guide, that each athlete would be supplied with bags at check-in.  I could just shove everything in my travel bag and divide it once we arrived in Maryland, but I didn't want to take a chance with forgetting anything, so I used my bags from Raleigh 70.3 to organize my gear, planning to transfer it into the designated bags once we were settled and checked-in.  

After a quick trip to Target for our cheerleader to pick up glow-sticks,
we dropped the Little Guy off at the grandparents' house and turned in for the night, knowing that we had a long drive ahead.

Thursday, September 18

We got on the road well before sunrise, with hope of making it to Cambridge, Maryland in time for the 3pm Athlete briefing.  Knowing that the drive would be long, the reporter packed homework and books to occupy her time, while I worked on knitting a new sweater to calm my nerves.  

A few hours into our trip, we arrived here:
When the hubby suggested taking this route, I had a little panic attack.  The bridge tunnel had been on my list of places that I never had an interest in visiting.  First of all, I am not a fan of bridges or tunnels, and did I mention bridges??  But driving this route meant an "educational experience" for the Reporter (bridge-tunnel power point, anyone?) and a visit with our friend Heidi for a pre-race pep talk.  So, I sucked it up, and actually ENJOYED it.  Yep.  That "scary" bridge-tunnel wasn't so bad after all!  

Right on schedule, we pulled into Cambridge at 2:30pm--just enough time to find a seat in the grass at the Ironman Village and take in all the details of the pre-race briefing.  The atmosphere was relaxed and the head official running the meeting was comforting.  Soon all of our questions were answered and we were ready for athlete check-in!  The hubby and I made our way through each check-in station, receiving the trademark Ironman wristband, gear bags, swim caps, and a new backpack emblazoned with the IMMD logo.   A quick walk-through the Ironman store left me hopeful that I would be back on Saturday night to purchase my very own M-Dot gear to wear with pride, as a finisher. . .

After dinner on the river with our housemates for the weekend, and a quick trip to a local ice cream shop, we started settling in at the vacation rental we would call "home" for the weekend.  My first order of business was organizing my gear bags.  Soon our room went from this:

to this:

I double and triple checked each bag, ensuring that everything I needed was there--extra socks in special needs bags, nutrition for the bike bags, race belt and visor for the run bags--because these bags would be dropped off on Friday in the transition area and I wouldn't see them again until I was ready to use them on race day!

Friday, September 19

The hubby, the Reporter and I woke up early to meet friends for breakfast in Cambridge.  As I have mentioned several times, we have been fortunate to connect with athletes near and far through social media, and sometimes we are lucky enough to meet them in real life and even race together!  Friday gave us the opportunity to spend time with a fantastic family from Pennsylvania that we have known "on-line" for quite some time.  We instantly hit it off, so while our girls played in the pool all afternoon, Dave (a two time Kona finisher), the hubby and I drove the bike course to get an idea of what we would be riding on the following day.  In a word, it was gorgeous!

At the athlete meeting, we had been warned of the possibility of water covering parts of the roadway through the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge.  The thought of pedaling through the water made me a bit nervous, but after I saw the areas affected, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief.  

We had also been warned about. . .  THE HILL. . .

The bike course consisted of two loops, confirmed by the navigators in the front seat. . .

Once we returned from the bike course preview, it was time to deliver our gear bags and rack our bikes.
The transition area was unlike any race I had ever done.  There were drop zones for bike bags, run bags and special needs bags (these are bags that you have access to half-way through the bike and the run for refueling).  Bikes were racked side by side with no "transition space" because all of your changes would take place in the "changing tent".  But the transition area was not the most intimidating part. . . 

Beyond the barriers of the transition area was the Choptank River where our swim would take place the following morning.  The buoys were set for the swim course to give a preview of what was waiting, but if the wind, the chop and the swells were the preview, I surely didn't want to see the main event.  As I stood on shore, trying to make sense of the swim course (2 loops) that didn't match the online map in the athlete guide, I swallowed back fears and reminded myself that I hadn't put in all those miles and hours to back out the night before.  I was also reminded, by the hubby, that the wind was picking up due to incoming clouds and the morning should be calmer and less choppy.  Still, I wasn't convinced.

In an effort to calm my nerves and fuel for the next day's event, we had wine and dinner (and wine) at a local brick oven pizza company.  
Pizza and Wine--athlete food, right?
While we were dining, we chatted with other athletes at nearby tables and that is when we met Gregory Durso.  Greg was a para-triathlete who was paralyzed from the chest down in a sledding accident, competing in his second Ironman attempt.  He had not been able to finish the race in Lake Placid in July, but was back for redemption at IMMD.  His spirit unbreakable and his determination contagious, I knew he would be a face to look for on the course the next day.

Nerves calmed by Merlot, ice cream, and a good pep talk from the hubby, I was ready for my final race-day prep. . .
My friend, Gina, sent an Ironman care package in the weeks leading up to the race, complete with race-day nail polish.  As a two-time Ironman finisher, she knows all the important things to remember on race day.  As I sat chatting with one of our house mates, painting my nails, I began to feel a sense of calm.  I was hopeful and confident that the next day would be one of joy and celebration.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Finding My Balance


a state of equilibrium or equipoise; equal distribution of weight,amount, 
something used to produce equilibrium; counterpoise.
mental steadiness or emotional stability; habit of calm behavior,
judgment, etc.
a state of bodily equilibrium

When taking on a new project, commitment or challenge, one of the first things I do is sit down with my trusty notebook and pencil to develop a plan.  I am a list-maker, a scheduler, and a planner.  I don't like the unexpected and unscheduled.  I like to know exactly what to do and when to do it.  Maybe that is why I enjoy training for races--choose a race, choose a plan, plug it into the calendar and go.   

After I recovered from the initial shock of registering for a Full Ironman triathlon, I realized that I needed a plan.  

"Of course," you are thinking, "You need a training plan to tell you when and how far to swim, bike, and run, and when to take rest."

While this is correct, I soon realized that this was not the only plan I needed.  I need a plan for my life for the next thirteen weeks.  A plan that would ensure that I could keep all facets of my life in balance while still devoting enough time to training to get me to the starting line on September 20.  

One complaint of many triathletes during the training period is that they feel that they lose touch with their families because of the long hours required for workouts.  With both hubby and myself training for the same race, we had to figure out a way to reach the starting line healthy, happy and with our marriage and family intact!

If you remember this post from several years ago, I went on and on about how the hubby and I share a love of running and triathlon and but over time, we have learned that training together is not always the best choice for our own personal goals, not to mention our marriage.  He is becoming rather speedy and most days I am stuck in one gear--"semi-slow".  Even so, we like to try to schedule some of our workouts together, especially trips to the lake or the pool for a long swim.

With all of these things in mind, I had to develop a plan that would allow me to achieve balance in all areas: spending time with the hubby (training or otherwise), spending time with my children, maintaining a sense of peace in my household by keeping it organized, clean and cozy, preparing healthy meals for two hungry triathletes and two crazy kiddos, getting adequate rest, and of course, getting in the training on the plan. I had done it before while training for other (shorter distance) races, and with a little creativity and some compromise, I was determined to do it again.

Here is a quick list of seven survival strategies I have utilized for staying sane and maintaining my balance during training:

1.  Be flexible.  Seriously.  It seems so easy, but often it is the hardest part.  Triathlon isn't paying my bills, and probably never will, so I can't let it rule my life.  If the plan says "run 5 miles" on Monday, but that is the only day the pool is open for laps at a time that you have a sitter, make it work and move on.  The hubby and I quickly discovered that we couldn't get caught up in details that wouldn't matter in the long run.  As long as we got the workouts done as close to the plan as possible, it was a win-win.

2.  Involve the kids!  I can't even count the number of people that ask me how we train with two young kids.  My answer?  We train WITH two young kids.  The reporter loves to ride her bike while I run (3 miles or 16, she is there with a smile) or join me for laps in the pool.  Lake swim?  No problem!  We added a Stand-up Paddleboard and a mini-kayak to our collection this summer so the kids can paddle or ride along while one of us plays "lifeguard" and the other swims.  Sure, it takes longer, but our kids are enjoying the fun of weekend trips to the lake and the Reporter has even started joining us in some Open Water Swimming!

3.  Change your wake-up.  75% of my runs take place before my kids even open their eyes in the morning.  I meet my faithful and loving running partner twice a week before sunrise for our morning miles.  While we solve the world's problems by the glow of headlamps and streetlights, my kiddos are still snoozing at home with the hubby.  The same can be said for early morning swims and bike trainer rides, as well.

4.  Schedule your housecleaning.  I don't have the luxury of a maid or chef, so those responsibilities are left to us to deal with.  At our house, Friday night is cleaning night.  While everyone else is at "Happy Hour", I already have clothes swishing away in the washer and my vacuum is getting warmed up.  While we dine on pizza and watch the latest Disney feature, I fold and sort laundry.  By getting these chores out of the way on Friday evening, I have the whole weekend ahead of me when I wake up Saturday morning.

5.  Menu Plan and Meal Prep.  I started weekly menu planning when we got married.  Although my method and eating habits have changed, the basic idea stays the same: Plan a menu for the week--breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, shop on Sunday after church and prep as much as possible on Sunday afternoon/evening.  The time saved during the week is a huge pay-off for a few hours of prep on Sunday.

6.  Ask for help.  For Christmas, we asked my husband's parents to gift us with babysitting for the year instead of gifts, and the results have been fabulous.  Not only have we been able to utilize this for training time (and much-needed date-time), our kids have enjoyed spending time with their grandparents and going on adventures while we are away.

7.  Honor the REST day.  It is so easy to get caught up in training and think that MORE is better.  But, I have learned that "more" eventually leads to less because of burn-out, injury and fatigue.  During both 70.3 and Ironman training, I have been diligent about following my "rest day" plan. That means, NO swimming, biking or running and lots of cuddles, reading and relaxing with family.  Your body and your mind will thank you for it.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Final Countdown

6 days.

6 days until I arrive at the starting line of Ironman Maryland.

It's been 13 weeks since I last posted on the blog.  13 weeks filled with swimming, biking, running, fueling, rest days, researching, and planning.  13 weeks of celebrations, setbacks, fears, frustrations, victories, challenges, courage, improvements, accomplishments, and adventures.

In six days, I will set out to swim, bike and run 140.6 miles to the finish line of Ironman Maryland before the stroke of Midnight (and reach every cut-off point from point A to B in ample time to move on) to earn the right to call myself an "Ironman".


Over the next few days, I plan to share a few things I have learned throughout this life-changing training on the blog.  Stay tuned. . .

Monday, June 23, 2014

Hydrate Early and Often (A Product Review and Discount Code)

"Hydrate Early and Often".  . .  this is a phrase you hear often in endurance sports, and for good reason.  Our bodies depend on water to keep us running (or riding, or swimming, or zumba-ing), and without it we can land in a heap of trouble.  Without proper hydration and electrolyte balance you can experience fatigue and less energy, reduced mental focus, muscle camping, and decreased endurance.

However, until a few years ago, I paid no attention to fueling for workouts.  I thought that if I had a little water along the way on a long run, or a sports drink at the end of a ride, I was doing the right thing.  In fact, when I completed my first Olympic distance triathlon, I fueled with water, an orange, and a couple of Fig Newtons.  No wonder I fizzled during the second half of the race and felt awful afterwards.  I saw exercise as a means to BURN calories, so why in the world would I want to CONSUME calories during my workout?

As my training became more focused and my knowledge about what my body needed grew, I began to try different fueling options: gels, gu, chomps, bites, beans, powdered drinks, tablets.  And while I didn't have GI issues with any of them (oh, well, maybe there was this one product that sent me straight to the port-a-potty), I didn't exactly LOVE any of them either, and I had no brand loyalty.  In fact, I would just use whatever was lying around the house--casts offs that the hubby had tried and didn't care for, race samples, hand-outs from friends--or whatever was on the race course.  Luckily, I never had major issues with switching things around, but I still wanted to find something that I really LIKED drinking and eating.

First Rule of Hydration:  ALWAYS stop for Lemonade Stands!

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to sample a new product that had just hit the market.  After a few workouts, I wrote the company to let them know how pleased I was with the taste and inquired about purchasing more of their product.  They replied quickly and asked me to join their team as an ambassador for their product! 

Cocogo combines the hydration of coconut water with the taste of freeze dried fruit and natural sugar while providing a balanced blend of electrolytes and seven essential vitamins.  The taste is light, refreshing and natural, as compared to other products I have tried that are either too sweet, too syrupy, too gritty or too artificial.  Each serving is measured out in a convenient little pouch, allowing you to adjust the intensity by adding additional pouches for flavor or longer, harder workouts, and it mixes beautifully with no gritty sediment waiting at the bottom of the bottle when you finish your workout!


Cocogo comes in three flavors: Grape, Lemon-Lime and Raspberry Passion Fruit, and honestly I love them all!  I was skeptical when I tried the Raspberry Passion fruit, as I am not a Raspberry fan at all, but it is a perfect blend of flavors!  I often mix Grape and Lemon-Lime for long workouts to intensify the flavor and the hydrating benefits, while sipping on "Grape-Limeade"!!  Not only do I use these myself, but I feel good about my active kiddos using Cocogo as a drink mix on hot days or after swim team workouts. 

Want to try it out yourself?  Well, you are in luck!  Cocogo has just launched their NEW website and is offering FREE SHIPPING for this week only!
And to save even more, use this discount code (ELEVENTHAL) to get an additional 40% off your order anytime!
If you are already using Cocogo, now is a great time to stock up and take advantage of FREE shipping!  Get an extra box for the car and the gym so you are never without hydration!
Note: The opinions in this post are mine and I am not compensated for my review of this product.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Leap of Faith

Eleanor Roosevelt said it best. . .
Do One Thing Every Day That Scares You --Eleanor Roosevelt//I NEED to take this to heart
And I'm pretty sure I've got the next thirteen weeks covered. . .
In July of 2009 when I participated in my first triathlon as part of a relay team, I had no intention of adopting triathlon as a hobby.  I was a runner, who liked to ride my bike, and I was perfectly happy with that.  Eight weeks later when I completed my first super-sprint distance (clinging to the side of a canoe for the better part of the swim portion), I had no intention of tackling anything longer or more challenging.  Swimming was still my nemesis, and I didn't think I had the time or skill to train for a longer distance race. 
In the Fall of 2011, in a moment of excitement and peer pressure, I successfully completed my first Sprint distance race. Again, I was happy with my finish and felt that the distance was just enough to feel challenged, but not too much to feel completely overwhelmed.
In April of 2012, I took another big step forward in my journey by completing my first international/Olympic distance race.  This new distance challenged me in a new way, and I began to think that maybe, just maybe, I could tackle more.
                                              If your dreams don't scare you, they aren't big enough.
 So, in August of 2012, I signed up for Ironman Raleigh 70.3.  The outcome was not what I had hoped for, and I immediately began to question my judgment of what my body and my mind could handle.  You see, as the distance becomes longer, your mental strength is just as important as your physical strength.  However, I moved forward, conquered my fear, and began to feel confident in what I could achieve once more, and registered again for Raleigh 70.3, leading to a successful and joyful finish.
                                               Decide that you want it...
Late in the evening of October 26, 2013, as I walked in the dark with the hubby who was shuffling from port-a-potty to port-a-potty during his first Iron distance triathlon, we made a promise to each other to one day do a full Iron race together (2.4 mile swim; 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run).  That promise planted a seed that has been growing in my heart since that night. 
As I trained for Raleigh 70.3 this year, I knew that my short term goal was to have a happy (green) race, but in the back of my mind that promise that the hubby and I made was ever present, and I often thought to myself, "Could I really conquer that distance?". 
                                         be brave
A few weeks before we raced Raleigh, the hubby and a group of friends decided to register for Ironman Maryland, and while I lingered over the registration form online, I wouldn't commit until I had a solid, successful 70.3 under my belt.  As we sat around the dinner table discussing his commitment, I shared my desire to race longer and we agreed that if Raleigh was successful, we would fulfill our promise to one another and register for and race Beach to Battleship together in October 2014. 
On the way home from Raleigh, I told the hubby that I felt ready (well, as ready as you will ever feel to make a HUGE jump in distance) to sign up for something longer.  I technically had two successful 70.3 experiences in the bag, and I finished both with a smile and gas in the tank.  He asked which race I was considering. . .  Would we do B2B in October as we promised each other or would I sign up for Ironman Maryland (IMMD) which was at the end of September? 
The more we discussed it, the answer seemed to appear.  Although B2B would give me an extra month of training time, It would also mean that the bulk of my hard, long training would happen after returning to work in the Fall, making the weeks a little nutty around here.  If I chose IMMD, I could train all summer while I was off work, with my heaviest training weekend falling over Labor Day weekend and a recovery week scheduled for my first week back to the grind of work. We already had travel and hotel accommodations nailed down for IMMD, but B2B is less than a day's drive and we have family that live a few miles from the start, so that wasn't an issue.  My training plan lined up to begin IMMD training after a rest week without having to make a huge jump in the distances I was already used to.  In fact the first few weeks would be a welcome step-back from where I was right before Raleigh.
So, on a Thursday afternoon a few weeks ago, I did this. . .
I kept it a secret, at first, only sharing with a few trusted and like-minded friends, and unsure that I would ever tell the world of this crazy plan.  But then I remembered something that I read in a weekly email I receive:  In order to achieve your dreams, first you have to say them out loud.  Share them with the world and let your support crew of friends and family hold you accountable. 
Although much of triathlon racing and training is a solo venture, the support of those around you keeps you going when the days are long and the training is hard.  So here I am. . . putting it out there. 

Am I scared?  You betcha.  But, I am also excited about this journey and proud of myself for taking the leap of faith.  Do I think it will be easy?  Absolutely not.  I know the training will be long and hard and I will have to make sacrifices.  I know that race day will be long, so long, and grueling at times, to the point of wanting to quit, but I am preparing now, both mentally and physically, for that challenge (as much as you CAN prepare for this distance). There are no guarantees in this journey, but if I never take this chance I will never know what I can accomplish.
So, that leads me to this blog.  When I began this blog, it started as a challenge from the hubby, who enjoys my writing and thoughts and urged me to share with the world.  The blog name "I could go on and on and on" referred to my verbose-ness and unending thoughts.  I have shared thoughts, feelings, ideas, rants, projects and food with my readers (all 18 of you) off and on for a few years now, and I have no plans to eliminate those kinds of posts as I move forward.  But I have also begun to share and document my running and triathlon journey, and while I realize that some of you couldn't care less, many friends have reached out and asked me to blog about this part of my life as it brings inspiration and motivation to their own journey.  I don't document these adventures to brag, but to share in this life's journey with those I care about and maybe, just maybe, inspire someone out there to take a leap of faith and dream big.
Over the next 13 weeks, you will probably see more triathlon and training posts here, and if that's your thing. . .  awesome, come along for the ride.  If not. . .  I still love ya.  Because now, "I could go on and on and on" doesn't just refer to my love of talking/writing, but to this multisport lifestyle that I love and want to share with the world.