The first lesson of the day: If you’re hopping off a pier into shallow water, be sure you land firmly on the bottom of your feet.
Trust me on this one.
The day before my second half Ironman distance (or Ironman 70.3 as the official branding goes) I went for a quick swim with my friend, Walker, who was also racing. Getting in the water was key for me since I had not been in open water since Muskoka 70.3 last year and I had never been swimming in salt water.
But the open water and salt were the least of my worries.
Because as I jumped off the pier into the shallow water, my left foot point forward and I landed in the hard-packed sand on the top of my foot.
I didn’t think much of it until a few hours later when the ache didn’t go away. In fact, the pain got a little worse. And then I saw the swelling.
Oh. My. Goodness.
Let the panic begin.
My foot was sore to the touch, though I could put pressure on it. It was swollen. Big time. Walker and our friend Theo were kind enough to fetch me some ice, ibuprofen and trash magazines to help with the pain, both physical and mental.
How could I have done something so stupid?
Then again, this shouldn’t be a surprise. I am the girl who gave herself a concussion by hitting her head on the soap dish in the shower.
Now I no longer had doubt about my performance — I suddenly had doubts I would actually finish the race.
The next morning my foot was still swollen, but not as bad. Nor was the pain as bad. I figured I can swim and bike and then I’ll take the run as it comes. If I have to walk, I walk. If it’s too painful to walk at a certain point, I’ll pull out with a medical DNF.
But there was no question that I would start the Lonestar 70.3 race.
Of course, that meant dealing with swim nerves.
My transition area set up, I sat in front of my bike and stared into space. The woman next to me asked if I was OK.
“I’m worried about the swim,” I said, suddenly fighting back nervous tears for which I apologized.
“No, don’t worry,” said the woman, who introduced herself as Gabrielle. “I have the same fears and talk to my friends all the time. Tell, me, what are you worried about?”
We chatted for a few minutes and I realized I had a fear of not making the swim cut off. Gabrielle told me she had done one other 70.3 race and as a slow swimmer finished in 1:06 — making the cutoff with plenty of time. And if for some reason I didn’t make the swim cutoff, well then, that happens. I sign up for another one and work on my swim.
So simple, really. How many famous quotations have we heard that stress the importance of how we react to failure (or perceived failures) rather than the failure itself?
Big exhale. All I could do was swim buoy to buoy. This was my plan. This was what I told Gabrielle when she checked in with me on the dock before the swim. It’s what I told another woman in my age group who had some tears welling in her eyes.
We were the second last age group to get in the water. Walker took her position near the front, ready for an awesome race. I floated to the side and back and recalled advice from my friend Carolyn: “Go for maximum enjoyment.”
And I smiled. No matter what happened with my foot or what happened on the swim, I had the opportunity to hang out with an amazing group of people on a beautiful day. I had the opportunity to do things I loved. Let the day come as it may.
I started slow, but began swimming right away. Bonus. And I took it buoy to buoy. Near the first turn on the course the fast swimmers from the wave behind me caught up and I had to pull up, lest they trample me and I drink in even more salt water.
At the turn, the course went into a current — and we were swimming against it. It wasn’t overly strong, but I wasn’t quite used to battling chop and current just yet. I thought again of maximum enjoyment. Of playing with the waves. And kept on swimming.
I picked the pace up a little bit, then started to get a little tired. I was sighting OK … until the course started to curve. I followed another swimmer which turned into a bad idea. On this course, we were to keep the buoys to our left. As I looked up and spotted the next buoy I was to head toward it was … way over on my right.
Course correction which added more yards to my swim. Thinking the end had to be near, I pulled up at one buoy to check out the lay of the water. Ugh. Two or three buoys out still before the turn into shore. I glanced down at my watch.
“Shit,” I said out loud.
I had been in the water for 48 minutes already and still had a ways to go. Negative thoughts started to float through my mind. But I forced them right out. OK. I had 20 minutes. (In reality I had more, but I gave myself 20 minutes). It might be close. But let’s go.
As I ran up the ramp and over the swim exit timing mat, I glanced down at my watch: 1:08. Not a great swim and frankly I was disappointed. But I let it go. Because it didn’t really matter what my time was — I battled through and made the swim cutoff.
Through the wetsuit strippers (which, I’m sorry, is just about one of the best perks of an Ironman race), through a quick shower to rinse off the salt water and back into transition.
There I saw Gabrielle.
“Hey! You made it!” she said.
“I did. But I was still slower than I thought I would be,” I replied.
“Me, too,” said Gabrielle.
Good. I thought. It wasn’t just me. It was a hard swim for some of us.
On to the bike which was billed as a windy out-and-back course. Once out onto the main road I got into my groove — only to have to stop about seven miles in when a police officer directing traffic was waving an SUV through to turn RIGHT INTO ME. I started yelling, as did the volunteer at that intersection. The car stopped, but not before my heart rate skyrocketed.
Back in my pedals I took off hard. I talked with Mark the night before about my foot and he suggested that since I didn’t know what was going to come on the run, I consider going all out on the bike. I knew my foot wouldn’t bother me on the bike (since the cycling is not a weight-bearing activity) and I know that of all the triathlon disciplines, my bike is my strongest (though my transitions can be pretty stellar, too).
Plus, Mark reminded me, this is what I trained for. What would I be saving myself for? Just leave it all in Texas.
I thought of that several times during the course of the day, especially on the bike. On the route out I pounded into the wind and had the most beautiful, graceful, spectacular bottle exchange at one of the aid stations that you would ever see. Seriously. This is free of sarcasm for once. It was a thing of beauty. It should have been caught on film.
At the turnaround, I knew that I was having a good day on the bike and the best news was that the crosswind would on the way back would include a bit of a tailwind, making the return easier. I passed people continuously and in return was only passed twice. I felt good. At one point I realized I may have taken in a bit too much Gatorade. There were some mild gastrointestinal issues starting to brew, but grabbing water at the next aid station helped to settle my stomach.
Then it was on to the run.
The run course was flat but had two problems. First, it was not shaded and the 80-plus degree Texas sun was beating on us for 13.1 miles. Even me, with a complexion that rarely if ever burns covered in sunblock, still suffered sunburns on my shoulders. Second, the course was four loops. It wasn’t so much the loops that bothered me but the winding nature of the loops — lots of turns and sharp angles. It got old quickly.
My goal became to walk only the length of the aid stations and so my task became to run from aid station to aid station. Those first two miles were the longest (and I ducked into a porta-potty at the first aid station, just shy of a mile into the run) but I kept moving forward. There were four total aid stations — three on the course and one back when you passed by transition. At the three stations on the course I walked through the line, taking water and Gatorade to create a diluted mix, and a wet sponge to cool off my body. At the aid station back by transition, I walked to take a gel and water.
And I kept running.
It wasn’t fast, but it was running. And everyone seemed to be walking at certain points. Keeping my walk to the aid stations was a proud moment for me.
Near the end of my second loop, I got a pat on the back as Walker passed by me. She was on her final loop.
“I knew you’d do it!” she said as she passed me. I glanced down at my watch. Walker was going to crush her goal time.
“Bring it home!” I yelled to her.
And I continued on.
To my surprise, my foot didn’t bother me at all. Of course, I didn’t think about it. I thought only about getting to each aid station. I started to ache a bit on the outside of my left leg. My foot was a tad sore, but not in any type of pain which would cause me to stop or walk. In fact, by the second loop I had forgotten that I had an issue with my foot at all.
During my third loop I glanced down at my watch and realized that I could have a pretty decent run and finish time. I picked up the pace a bit on the fourth loop — part out of the desire to leave it all on the course in Texas and part out of sheer jubilation that I would be a finisher.
As I entered the finisher’s chute, I passed a runner. I heard the announcer say my name, note I was from Buffalo as he thanked me for bringing the warm weather.
I finished in 6:50:08 — much better than my time in Muskoka of 7:30. I was hoping to be around seven hours, thinking between 7-7:05.
Yeah. I crushed that.
My bike time was 3:13. Granted I benefitted from a flat course, as compared with Muskoka (which also was two miles longer) but still, that was a pretty darn good time.
My half marathon was 2:21:02. I can do better, but considering my PR in the half marathon is 2:09 (and that’s without the swim and bike before), that was a solid run.
And Walker? She was looking for around a 5:45 and she finished in 5:35:22.
It was a good day all around.
More reflections on Texas to come tomorrow.
Right now, my left foot has returned to its swollen state and the black and blue bruise marks are more pronounced. So I’ll elevate, ice and enjoy what turned out to be a fantastic race in more ways than one.