Tuesday, November 22, 2011
I am thrilled that today's guest blogger is none other than newly medaled Ironman, Wendy Morley. When she isn't on the race course she is the fearless books department manager at Robert Kennedy Publishing who I work closely with on a daily basis.
Read on for her incredibly real and inspiring account of her 1st Ironman...
Here I am, ready to leave Panama City Beach, Florida after completing my first full Ironman. I had decided I would need a vacation after the event, which took place Saturday, November 5th.
It was Sunday, November 7th, 2010 that I signed up for the event – yes, one year ahead of time. Most Ironman events sell out in under an hour once they become available the day after the race, so you really have to make your decision and go for it.
I did my first triathlon in 2008 – a “try-a-tri.” This is a mini-triathlon designed for beginners thinking about whether they’d like to do it. I was not a swimmer, cyclist or runner at the time. I wore an exercise outfit on the swim, used an old mountain bike on the bike and got a stitch on the run. As a fast-twitcher through and through (read: sprinter/weight trainer –– no long distances!) I had thought that short distance would be enough, but over the next couple of years and dozen or so triathlons I kept going longer and longer. After years of “fitness” training, which I still love, I needed a challenge, and going longer was it.
There are few races longer than an Ironman, and that’s how I ended up on a chilly beach in northern Florida at 6:50am, with nearly 2900 other people, watching the pros take off and waiting for our own mass start 10 minutes later. I positioned myself way off at the side and back of the throngs, thinking I’d rather lose a couple of minutes at the start and not experience so much mayhem, but I found that missing mayhem is all but impossible when 2900 people are swimming at the same time, the same place, heading for the same markers. Nothing can prepare you for the mass start.
With all the arms turning and feet kicking, you get hit, punched, kicked and knocked around incessantly, and you just try to keep going, looking for the large buoys that guide your way. Shortly after starting, working to stay calm and keep my cool, I heard a woman hyperventilating. I thought ‘Okay, I’ve got 17 hours for this race. I can give up a little time to help someone else.’ and so stopped with her for a few minutes, rubbing her back and trying to help her breathe normally. Once she was breathing better I continued on my way, but the crowds had not lessened any. I was pretty sure at one point someone pulled my timing chip off my ankle, which later proved to be true, and someone else kicked my goggles out of place. With great difficulty I managed to get them back on, only to have them kicked off again moments later. This time for the life of me I could not get them back on properly. Every stroke they’d fill with water, and every second stroke I’d empty them and try to adjust them, to no avail. The swim course was set up in two 1.2-mile laps with a short beach run between them. I couldn’t wait to get to the beach to have the opportunity to fix my goggles. Climbing out of the water I found that indeed my timing chip was gone, and so as I fixed my goggles I also searched out someone I could report my missing chip to, who brought me over to someone else to give my details. This man assured me my chip would be ready with my bike, and I continued with the second lap.
The second lap was much better; the group gets thinned out by this point. The relative clear of the water allowed me to see all the jellyfish, which was disconcerting, but I got back to my normal speed and until close to the end, when I ended up in a strong current that seemed determined to keep me from the shore. Finally made it up, got my wetsuit stripped off, ran under the freshwater showers and into the change tent. I had been hoping for a swim time of 1:15 but ended up with a time of approximately 1:30 (I’ll never know my real time). Most people had faster swim times than they expected, but with my trials and mishaps I lost quite a bit of time.
The full Ironman races have something most triathlons don’t - a change tent with volunteers. Most triathlons you have to keep everything you need with your bike and look after everything yourself. In a full Ironman the day before you have to pack and check in bags with everything you think you’ll need, one for the Swim to Bike transition, one for the middle of your bike ride, one for the Bike to Run transition, and one for the middle of the run. Volunteers help you get the bag, and then in transition they also help you get everything you need.
Changed, helmeted, relieved in the port-a-potty and relatively dried, it was time to get my bike, but no timing chip was there waiting for me. Another few minutes spent trying to find where to get my new chip, and I was on my way on the bike. The swim plus T1 took me around 1:45.
The instant I started my way down the extremely windy Front Beach Road my nose began running, and it didn’t stop for the next 6 hours and 20 minutes or so that it took me to complete my 112-mile bike ride. I had to continuously wipe my poor nose on my gloves, my sleeves, wipe my gloves on my shorts and start all over again. The bike course is pretty flat, which sounds easier than hills but in fact is not – especially not when you have the wind we had. With hills you put some extra effort going up, but then you can coast. With this bike ride, there was zero coasting. It was just pushing into the wind. If you tried to coast, you stopped. The roads at least were decent until hwy 388, when the compression cracks made a bumpy mess. The road was so bad that I worried my bike would fall apart or that I’d get a flat – bicycle parts were strewn all over the road and ditch from those who had gone before me, both to the turnaround, which I could not have been happier to see, and after, when the wind was finally helpful.
I was hoping to have the wind at my back through the whole trip back, but this was not the case. I did have a few hills, which were nice but didn’t last long, then it was back to the incessant pedaling. By mile 70 or 80 I was getting pretty tired. Tired of being in the aero position, which really was necessary in that wind. Tired of pedaling hard. Tired of wiping my sore nose. I know I slowed down a little in that range. While I’d passed literally hundreds and been passed by few in the first half, I was probably passed by a dozen or two in this area. Finally I had a talk with myself and said ‘Come on, you are in an Ironman! Did you think it was going to be easy? Get a grip!’ and picked up my speed.
Turning onto highway 20 made things a little easier, then we had another windy detour before heading into the last 15 miles or so. You had thought that with the extreme wind on Front Beach Road on the way out that it might have been easier on the way back, but if anything it was worse. That wind just gets funneled in between the condo buildings and seems to come from every direction. I couldn’t reach T2 fast enough, and I could not have been happier to get off that bike!
A lovely volunteer in T2 helped me get tissues and some healing cream to put on my nose, I got changed into my running gear, back to the port-a-potty and on the running road. Running felt so good! I don’t think it has ever felt so good. My husband and son were there early on the course with signs for me, which revived me even more.
My plan was to run 10 minutes and walk one minute, and with the aid stations one mile apart I thought that would be perfect timing. Before long I realized I was going faster than that! I felt good though, so I just kept it up. I felt like I could push it even more but reminded myself that I still had a marathon ahead of me. From past marathon experience I can say the end of the marathon is very, very different from the beginning.
The first half of the marathon was great. (Except for the first aide station, where I didn’t realize the gels had been opened and as I stuck a couple of chocolate gels in my fuel belt, squirted brown goo all over myself. Spent the next few aid stations trying to wash myself off!) I kept up the 10/1 pace with no trouble. Shortly after turnaround, however, I used a port-a-potty and then walked for a few minutes. It felt so good to walk. My body was getting pretty tired. I decided to run 5 minutes and walk one minute the rest of the way, and that’s basically what I did, though sometimes I’d walk a little more. The run was pretty flat, so I’m sure that helped. And tons of people on the course were cheering us on, local and non-local. The support of the community was just amazing!
They say to figure out your Ironman time you should take your 1/2 Ironman time, double it and add an hour. Both 1/2 Ironmans I’ve done I finished in 6:11. Keeping in mind that things can happen during an Ironman that you don’t count on (such as getting your timing chip pulled off, or getting a flat) my goal was 13 1/2 hours. Really I was hoping for 13 hours as a best-case scenario, but 13 1/2 was my goal. Somewhere around the 20-mile mark I realized that I could actually beat 13 hours, and made it my new goal. I couldn’t see my watch but every time I got near a lighted area I’d check it out, do some math and tell myself I’d better not slow down. At around 25 miles I said to myself ‘Okay, you can bring this in now.’ So I picked up my pace and stopped having any walking breaks. I kept seeing the number 12:58 in my mind as I ran.
Before too long I could hear the crowd and the announcer calling people over the finish line, and not long after was the chute. Running down that chute I felt amazing. All my fatigue was gone. I had the biggest smile on my face. I was “caught” by a really nice guy … I had thought they just make sure you’re okay, but he grabbed water for me, grabbed one of those silver warming things, brought me to get my medal, brought me to get my picture taken, and was just amazing! Somewhere in there I checked my watch and found that I’d beaten 13 hours by 7 minutes! My official time was 12:53:14, and I heard those magic words called out: Wendy Morley, you are an Ironman!
It’s traditional to get a tattoo after this accomplishment, and yes, I intend to!
Notes on Food:
You have to have a pretty good food plan for these longer races, and you have to figure out what works for you ahead of time. My race food starts two days before. I eat pretty normally with high fiber and, believe it or not, a glass or two of red wine, which always clears me out the next day. The day before race day, I eat lots of low-fiber, high-starch carbs and a little protein, mainly sweet potatoes, potatoes and bananas. Race morning it’s traditional for me to eat Honey Nut Cheerios (I know, not clean, but it works for me) and a banana. I consume a gel just before the swim and again just before the bike. I really need to eat on the bike but by the run can’t really digest well anymore. On the bike I eat mainly dates and nuts, including salted peanuts, but stop about an hour before T2. I also take electrolyte capsules with my water, and on occasion I’ll have a gel, Power Bar or Ironman Perform (similar to Gatorade) if I feel it’s a good idea. On the run I have no appetite and have to be very self-aware. Again I take electrolytes with my water and force in a gel periodically. I always hear how triathletes love the chicken broth that appears on the run, but I had no stomach for it. They had fruit and toward the end of my run I found I could get down some grapes and orange slices. This food plan worked great for me.
Posted by Tosca Reno at 9:17 AM