Thursday, May 19, 2016

Ironman Texas 2016: Ironpocalypse

I have been waiting a long to time to write this blog. I have been pretty much silent on the blog front for a few months now because I have been wanting the next one I write to be a positive one and I wanted it to be for IM Texas. Without further ado, this is my very crazy day at Ironman Texas.

I guess I will start with some background on the goings on before the race. A lot of people say that this race was cursed from the get go. I say it was cursed because I was doing it. They say bad things come in 3's. So for me, 1. IM MD was canceled, 2. IM MD was resceduled but I ended up in the ER and didn't finish, 3. IM TX had a whole host of problems. About 3 months out of the race, the normal bike course was a no go because of construction and a county commissioner saying we could not use the roads in that particular county. Race organizers scrambled to get a course together and 3 weeks before the race we had a 112 course. Cue mother nature. Some of you might have heard about the flooding happening in the Houston area in late April. Turns out part of that course was washed out and due to time constraints the course was shortened to 95 miles. This caused an uproar in the IM community. People were very negative about it, saying that IM doesn't care about them, that they want their money back, that course had too many turns, blah blah blah. I thought we were ironmans, not a bunch of whiners? It is just one of those things you have to accept and move on. I refused to get caught up in the negativity and focus on my race. Sure I was disappointed, but people lost everything in those floods, who am I to complain? I get to race - I was just grateful to still have a race.

Onward. I flew out last Wednesday for the "cursed" Ironman Texas and met my parents there (they flew in at the same time at the gate across from me!). To say I was excited was an understatement. I was a bundle of energy - taper does these things to me! For this race, I didn't actually get nervous until the night before. Normally my anxiety is through the roof, but my approach to this race was that I can't change what is going to happen, what will be will be, and it is all about how I respond mentally. This time around, I knew all the goings on of check-in and pre race things, so I got everything done early in the morning and spent the afternoons leading up to the race resting and getting ready. To add to the "cursed" vibe - the bacteria levels were too high in the canal where we normally exit for transition. So T1 and T2 were split and the swim course changed. Whatever, no one ever wins in the swim (unfortunately for us swimmers :) ). Also, I ran into a girl I swam with in high school who was doing her first IM at Texas. Small friggin world!

Race morning. WOW it was already muggy and hot before the sun even came up. Challenge accepted Texas. Water temperature prior to race start at 6 am was 81! BATHTUB water and definitely not wetsuit legal. YES. I hate wetsuits. Age groupers started the swim at 640. I am still undecided how I feel about IM changing to a rolling start. I actually really like mass starts because it is an adrenaline rush to be battling 3000 other people. When the cannon goes off now, it is a slow shuffle to get everyone in the water and anticlimactic. But I doubt IM cares what a former swimmer has to say since most people like the rolling start because it makes them more comfortable because it is based on expected times. MEH I say. Regardless, I had a pretty sub par swim. I have been feeling like crap in swimming lately and times have been off. I was 3rd in my AG for the swim, so yikes. It wasn't horrible, it just wasn't good and I never really got going even though I was able to get clean water and hug the bouy line. Also, I had that the swim was 4000m which is 200m longer than the normal distance and I was right on the bouys. I am not the only one who had their gps give a longer swim course. But whatever, like I said, nothing is ever won in the swim. I kinda expected a slow swim time (57 min) just based on the way I was feeling. The nice thing about swimming my entire life, is that I am very good at gauging my time and pace based on how I am feeling. Anyway, I exited the swim feeling ok and I was ok with the slow time. Nothing I can change about it, but move forward and adjust.

I got through T1 quickly and headed out for a nice, hot bike ride. The start of the bike was nice because a fog had rolled in and things stayed cooler the first 10 miles or so. I was basing my effort on my HR because my power meter was all over the place. My coach had told me to expect my HR to be about 10 bpm higher than normal training rides, so I kept my HR under 150. I was having a fantastic bike. I averaged 19.5 mph over the whole ride (about 0.6 mph faster avg than my first IM) and was getting consistent split after split. However, there were some FAST girls here. I am not a bad cyclist, but there were a crap ton of girls just flying, some splitting faster than the pros! Kinda just one of those things you have to accept and focus on your own race. For all the bitching about the bike course, I actually really liked this course. Yes, there were a lot of turns, but the course was fast and the turns let you get up out of aero and stretch a bit. AND with how hot it was towards the end, it shut people up about the missing 17 miles and I am pretty sure no one cared at that point. Also, men (dude-bros) bike like assholes. I know drafting is an issue at Texas, but it was worse than usual on this course. I can't tell you how many times I almost got taken out when they passed me through turns or when they passed in giant groups. SO ridiculous. I was pretty stoked to have the bike split I did, because had it been the full 112, it would have put me right around my goal time of 5:45.

Remember how I said it was hot? Well I guess I wasn't really thinking when I got off my bike. IM transitions are long and I took my bike shoes off to run to my run gear. Turns out, that concrete WAS HOT. I totally blistered the bottom of my left foot from the hot concrete (I don't wear socks on the bike). FANTASTIC. I grabbed my gear and ran into the run tent to run into a familiar face, Heather - a friend from SB Tri. Surprise! What a random way to meet after 3.5 years and kudos to her for volunteering in that tent, it was hotter than it was outside in there! Seeing her lifted my spirits and I realized the random person that yelled my name coming out of the bike was her! Such an awesome surprise!! Anyway after frantically getting gear on and finding a potty, I finally made it to the run course. The first loop was ok - I was steady and holding steady, but man it hurt. That's ok though, it's a friggin marathon after a bike and swim, it's going to hurt. I started having a pity party early in my second loop and it shows in my splits. I saw my parents and they could see I was hurting and then my mom pulled the Kari card. "Do it for Kari, think of Kari." DAMMIT MOM. I knew if I gave up and continued my pity party I would regret it. I trained too hard to give up and I knew I could get a PR. I went through the half marathon mark faster than I have ever been in a race (half or full distance) and continued. My splits were starting to come down and I was finally going to have that last 10k I have worked so hard for. I believe it was around mile 17 ish when the storm hit. IT WAS EPIC. The canal looked like it was about to flood over, we were running through rivers of water, and being pelted by hail (that hurts by the way). DID I MENTION THE LIGHTENING WAS STRIKING THE BUILDINGS ON WATERWAY? The winds were strong enough to blow away the finish line and they ended up pausing the race. I was stopped somewhere around mile 20, along with hundreds of other runners. It was frustrating, but again it is out of your control. We stood around for awhile until they started us again. Unfortunately that meant I got cold and my muscles cramped up. I was freaking out because I didn't want people to think something was wrong (like in MD)! To top things off, when they started us again, it was a slow jog since there was no where to go. The paths we were on were too narrow to move through. Also, if you wanted anything at an aid station it was basically impossible because there were too many people. While I was frustrated that my pace was slow and my PR was out the window, I kept myself in check because everyone else was in the same boat. Things really didn't open up until I was back on the waterway and only had two miles left. I was able to get under sub ten pace the last part of the run, but I tried not to think of what could have been - that would just frustrate me more. I had told myself that I would embrace the challenges presented to me and worry about the things I could control, and that was my mindset.

THE FINISH. I didn't think I would get emotional finishing this, but I did. Everything just hit me at once. The disappointment from Maryland, struggles with my illness, the struggle getting my metabolism back in order, THIS EPIC DAY. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong, but I finished. I could let go of the fear of not being able to finish, the fear that there was something more seriously wrong with my health than we though, the fear that I wasn't good enough. I once again proved to myself that I could do it. I doubted myself after Maryland and I was scared that I would have issues again, but I finished. It didn't go as planned and I feel like I should have been faster, but things were out of my control and I finished. That, my friends, is what ironman is about - the challenges you face and the way you deal with them. Also, huge thanks to my catcher who held me up after I burst in to tears - happy tears, and listened to me blubber about how this was my vindication. I made total sense with my crazy ramblings.

Saturday wasn't about being the fastest and it wasn't about PRs. It was about conquering myself and the mental demons that have been suffering with the last few years. It was about celebrating my health and the ability to even race (my health was questionable after MD). There are so many of you that believed in me even when I didn't believe in myself anymore. I can't thank all of you enough - I wouldn't be here without you. 9 months ago I was in a very dark place and I didn't think there was a way out, but you guys helped pull me out and I am here, living and breathing, because of you. I have a starting point again and I can only go up from here.