Thursday, September 14, 2017

Ironman Wisconsin - the race that was

Guys it's about time I dust this thing off and write again. I have several drafted posts that I just never published, including one called "Ironman St. George 70.3 - the race that wasn't." Most of you are familiar with me trying to destroy my ankle on stairs (errr one stair) and I ended up going to St. George as a spectator (which was equally as awesome as racing) and transferring my Ironman Boulder entry to Ironman Wisconsin, so I could have some time to heal. This leads me to the story of "Ironman Wisconsin - the race that was"

I'm honestly surprised it happened. Really, I am. I have had a huge question mark looming over my head since I got hurt. Could I really finish an Ironman this year? I mean, I have finished them before. but each of the sprints I have done this year leading up have actually wasted me. I had a hard time recovering after each, simply because I did not have the strength back in my left ankle and surrounding muscles yet. I think I underestimated how hard recovery and healing would actually be when I injured myself. Under the guidance of the always awesome Coach Liz, I took almost two months off from "land" running and did water runs in the interim. I didn't really start running until early June, which gave me 3 months to get myself to the IM Wisconsin start line. And that was hard. Prior to injury I was really seeing improvements in my run, after I just felt like I was slogging. There were some bright points, but the looming question mark weighed on me.

Of course, I had lofty goals this season and only a few people really know them and I will keep them that way. The problem was is I had to face the very real possibility of racing an Ironman not at 100%. My favorite pre-race question my coach sends me and her other athletes is "If things go wrong, what is your plan and how will you change it?" While I never go into a race thinking I won't reach my goals, I had to be realistic with myself. So in the days leading up to the race I really thought about this and came up with the following:

1. Don't quit
2. Smile
3. Thank all of the volunteers
4. Cheer on everyone
5. Seriously, keep moving
6. Just be glad you are lucky enough to be racing. You are doing something that less than 1% of the population do.
7. Don't even start with the "I wish it never happened"
8. You are a stronger person because it happened
9. If this effort is all you have to give today, then that's fine. You are still leaving it on the course. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH SHOWING WEAKNESS. You showed up to the start line and put it all out there and the result will be what it is.
10. Also, just keep things in perspective. Going slow is a first world problem. My family in Florida was going through Hurricane Irma. We didn't even hear from my in-laws in Key West until yesterday. They were able to call out on one of the few land lines. They ended up losing everything (they had a boat they lived on). So perspective.

Number 9. I have hard time admitting I am not feeling right. I feel like I need to be strong and at my best all the time. Unfortunately, this is life, and 99 times out of 100 you are going to fail. So I sucked up my worry that people would judge me based on my finish and realized at least I had the courage to start.

The absolute best part of this race was that I knew quite a few people racing and that would be spectating. I had a great time with Kelli and Isabelle in the days leading up and they really helped calm my nerves. Our constant group messages on FB the last few months also pushed me through the last big training bricks too. I can't thank them enough for their encouragement!

On race morning, I was a bundle of nerves. I don't even think I was this nervous for my first one in 2014! I got to transition early and am very glad I did since my rear tire was flat and I was thankfully the first in line for the bike mechanics and didn't have to wait. I dropped of some extra things in my gear bags and then sat down to try and relax. Izzy was hanging out there with her family too, so it was a bunch of the pre-race nervous chatter and trying to figure out when to go to the bathroom (this is a big deal guys!). I suggested we wander down to the swim start since the potties shouldn't have huge lines yet. NAILED IT. And it was back to more waiting. We got our wetsuits on and finally it was time to line up. I actually started to cry at this point. I don't know why, but I was so nervous and sick to my stomach. Luckily I was walking arm in arm with Izzy, so I wasn't alone in my tears. I remembered being very grateful for my friend Liz at my very first Ironman start and I was just as grateful to have a friend with me at this one! We hugged and wished each other good luck and swam out to the start line. I lined myself up so I was close to the buoy line so I could hug the buoys and not fight much at the start once I got out in front. They set the cannon off for the pros, but for the age-groupers all I heard was "GO, GO, GO!" Ok, I guess that's it then? Anyway, (Coach) Liz told me to cruise the swim. The plan was to do a steady build. Each turn I picked up the pace a bit and started passing more and more people who went out too hard. I had steadily been reeling in two girls ahead of me and so at the last turn, I wanted to get by them and wouldn't need to expend much energy to do it. I AM SO GLAD I DID THAT (also glad I listened to my coach about cruising the swim - this was the lowest my HR has been coming out of the water before)! I got out of the water and all I heard was Mike Reilly say "And there she is, your first female age-grouper, Lani Seaman from Santa Fe, New Mexico!" AND the roar of the crowd. WHAT. THE. SHIT. You're kidding right?! OMG OMG OMG. I almost forgot what I was doing (ok I did forget what I was doing). I jumped up and down, screamed, threw my hands up in the air, you know, just had a little party with a 1000 of my best friends.  The wetsuit strippers had to tell me to sit down, so they could help me get the thing off! Honestly, in that moment I was so at peace with whatever happened during the race, bad or good. It was so unbelievably (literally) perfect and it is one of my favorite athletic moments. I ran up the helix, heard Amanda cheering at the top, and it was off to T1. The link for the swim exit is below. You can see me just behind the men's leaders at about 25:30-26:00. I exit the water at 26:30ish. Turn the sound way up (not great quality) and you hear the announcement and my name and everything. I'm also putting in some pictures of years' past swim starts just to show what the crowd was like!

In T1, I was still just in awe, so it took a few moments to get my bearings back. Once I knocked some sense into myself that I still had 138.2 miles to go,  I put my pretty unicorn socks and pink kit on and got my ass out on my bike. At this race, the volunteers hand your bike off to you, and even though they yelled out my number to get my bike, I got to my rack before them. I also saw Gilyana and her husband cheering and I smiled and waved!! Thanks Gilyana for the video!


The bike pretty much hurt from the get go. I felt gassed and my legs just hurt. I mean just fatigue. I think that was just a culmination of months of the mental and physical stress of recovery. So basically my plan for "if things go wrong" started here. This is a bike course you have to be smart about. It is very hilly and many people go way too hard in the first half. The plan was to keep off the gas the first half and then build the second half (which I totally managed to do!). When I started the bike, I wasn't sure if that was going to happen!  In fact, at mile 6ish, I actually got sick and threw up. Sorry guy behind me! I spent a lot of the bike quite nauseated. Despite that, I absolutely loved this bike course! I wasn't really bored at any point and most climbs weren't bad with the exception of Barlow and Midland. I've never seen a bike course with crowd support like this! I smiled so much during this ride even though I was not really feeling good and not going fast. I ended up riding up Barlow (sorry coach, I know you said to walk it) simply because I felt like I needed to ride it at least once. It definitely lived up to it's legendary steepness! Midland was amazing because the crowd there was just like you see in the Tour de France. I had a guy who called me Pinky (pink kit, pink and black bike - thanks to all the spectators on course for complimenting that, I love when people notice the color coordination hahaha) run up the hill with on both loops in his firefighter outfit. Firefighter guy - you made me smile so big. I also saw Amanda at the top on loop 1. Seriously, I don't know how she had the energy since she just raced the Ironman 70.3 World Pro Championships the day before in Chattanooga! It was so great seeing you so many times on course. It help keep my spirits up on a tough day! Around mile 60-70, the muscles around my bad ankle started to hurt and were fatigued. Luckily the injury site itself didn't hurt (don't worry, it came back to bite me on the run). Despite the pain, I was still able to push through.

One of the few times I was not smiling. This was on the bike path at the beginning of the ride when I was feeling really sick.

I would like to point out that this course is pretty technical and the roads are rough. It was very easy at certain points to crash. At about mile 102, heading back into town, a girl had crashed and it look bad. She was on the ground with about six other riders stabilizing her. I stopped and asked if they needed any more help, but they said they got it. I found a volunteer a little bit ahead and made sure she knew, but 911 had already been called. So a little shaken by that, I made my way back to town and was extremely grateful to be off my bike.

In T2, I told the volunteer that helped me that I was getting naked and reapplying chamois cream so I am gross. Quite a few of them got a chuckle out of that. I really thought that full change and cream would help chafing, but I was completely wrong. Anyway, I did my thing and headed out for the marathon.

At this point, my nausea had subsided, but my ankle was really getting sore. I got in as many good miles as I could and then just focused on doing what I needed to get things done. I saw Izzy when I was coming around at mile 9 and we hugged and shed a few tears. I told her that foward motion will get us there and we will finish. Kristan passed right by us at that point and I jogged to catch up with her and introduced myself since I had only been familiar with her on our teams facebook group. She was struggling too, so we ran/walked together until about mile 17. Kelli and I passed each other at one point and she looked like she was hurting as much as I was (even though she made it look easy!). I saw Amanda again on State St. and at the finish (seriously how did you have the energy?!). I also got to see my mom about 4 times and the pretty Steamin' Seaman sign she made for me. Once I hit about mile 22 I breathed a sigh of relief. I knew I was going to make it. I had been holding my breath hoping I wouldn't re-injure my ankle, but I knew I could make it 4 more miles. This time when Izzy and I crossed paths again, we were smiling! To be honest, I did really enjoy this run. The crowds were so amazing. I smiled so much and I thanked volunteers profusely. As always, coming into the finish chute is amazing. This time though, I was even more emotional than past races (didn't think that was possible). I full on ugly cried! I feel like with this race, I really embraced the Ironman experience and I'm not sure I have done that before since I have always been so focused on myself. But this time I really just let myself enjoy the day and the journey and I think that is because I really had nothing to lose. So that question mark I was so worried about really didn't matter - I had the race I was going to have.
It never gets old. Ugly cry at the finish.

So what now? I think I need a break from Ironman. My ankle and surrounding muscles are very sore. Long distance really exploited the weakness still there. I know ligament tears take a long time to fully heal, but I didn't want to believe it. This was by far the hardest build up to an Ironman I have had and I know it's because I wasn't 100%. I've spent the last 3 years training for iron distances and I need some time to rest and regroup. The last two iron distances I have done, I have had labored breathing throughout the night (I got to spend some time in the med tent Sunday). I was considering IM Arizona next year, but my body is TIRED. I plan on continuing to strengthen my ankle and will probably focus on short distances next year. Mostly sprints and maybe an Olympic (I really despise the Olympic distance though). I want to build some speed again and just take some time to spend with my husband. Ironman training can really take its toll on relationships since you are gone all the time! 

I can't thank everyone enough for all the kind words and support. This sport is hard and you guys really help keep my spirits up. Especially this year!