Here’s how! Break your ankle 8 weeks prior to your “A” (MOST IMPORTANT) race. Get sinus and ear infection along with strep throat the week of your race. Run 2 weeks out of the last 8 weeks prior to your race. Prepare for a cold race, show up to almost 90 degree weather. Do you detect any sarcasm?! Hahah! Yep, this was about as good as it got leading up to my Ironman outside of one of the days getting to hang out with friends for short time.
What more can happen right? My coach had already texted me the night before saying it was incredible I’d even made it to the start line, which was true. Insert the announcement of NO WETSUIT swim, now this wasn’t a huge deal for me but let’s be honest……wetsuits make you faster. I took the news in stride, yet like everything else going into the race, my morning wasn’t the usual IM routine. I saw none of Team Fowler, I rely heavily on them race mornings. I’ve been known to cry on shore and ask “what are we supposed to do?” pretty much every IM. Regina is always the level head to remind me to swim, bike, run, and in that order. I lost Jeff somewhere in the push to get closer to the front of the swim corral. I wasn’t nervous about the swim or the waves, but once I was out there I knew pretty quickly I was either doing horribly OR it was going to be an ugly day for everyone. I’d sight and see a buoy and 5 seconds later it’d look 500 yards away. The 2nd loop proved even more difficult trying to get past the breakers, but everyone had the same conditions to deal with. The best/worst part was that my watch had been hit, so instead of having an accurate swim time it showed 40 minutes of transition. I’ve had this happen before and just focused on getting out of transition, and knew I’d reset the watch once I was comfortable on the bike. The 2.4 mile swim took me 1 hour 29 minutes (slowest time EVER by almost 10 minutes). The swim put me at 46th in my age group. Smile, and move one, that was my thought!
I started the bike excited to be done with the swim, and just tried to get into a groove before resetting the watch. The 1st 30 miles went fairly well, my average was high however my heart rate (HR) was on point. Just miles later I started to feel like my effort wasn’t matching my HR, it was now feeling harder just to keep it at 145 so I backed it down to 138 and tried to get through my funk. My theory during IM racing if you start to feel bad, EAT (a secret good old Forrest told me back in the day). About this time of day was when I’d started to feel weak earlier in the week from being sick, so I started taking water every aid station and just dousing myself with it in the face on my neck and all over my body. This began to be a trend at every stop. I finally got to special needs around mile 54, stocked up on my goodies and nutrition, and began my journey to the 2nd half of the bike. The 2nd half didn’t start out like I’d hoped, I was feeling the remnants of my ankle injury. The swelling, little pain on the pull up, and the numbness of toes was something I knew I’d just have to tune out. There are only a few things I really needed to do, focus on eating , HR, hydrating, and cadence. I looked at my arm consistently, I’d written focused, fearless, and believe on there. I think at times I’d get delirious b/c sometimes I couldn’t even remember my mantra. I’d say it wasn’t until mile 90 or so that I actually started to feel strong enough to really feel at ease back in the 145 HR range and strong. I still had no real idea of what my bike time was as I rolled into transition due to the watch issue, but was thrilled to be starting part 3 of my journey to the finish. Looking back over the stats it was nice to see that I’d finished the bike in 5 hours 36 minutes (new personal record) and averaged right at 19.9 even with my special needs stop figured into it. I’d now climbed to 22nd in my age group.
Heading into T2 I decided to yell out for help, as I wasn’t that aggressive in T1 and it’d cost me time b/c no one came to me. The lady who responded was a god send for sure. Absolute angel! She put my socks on, got my water for my toothbrush, just amazing! Couldn’t thank her enough. I ran out of T2 and saw a friend, Chad, he wasn’t having a great day after the bike and I tried to get him to start the run with me but he wasn’t having it. The 1st mile of the run in Ironman is typically my fastest. I respond well probably due to my cadence and years of tri’s, but have to quickly reign myself in after that. Mile 1 was almost under 8 minutes. I saw my family and friends, I didn’t ask about Jeff, I assumed he was ahead of me and just wanted to run my own race. I backed off on the speed a little bit and tried to find my special cruise speed. The outside of my ankle and inside of my ankle were not feeling well, walking aid stations (I stopped at every one I could find!) was worse than I’d expected. I decided to again stay focused, this was where my race was going to be much different than ever before. I truly had to focus on EVERY single step. You don’t think about it until it is the difference b/w finishing a race or rebreaking your ankle. I’d chosen to run with no brace, taping, or anything and knew one slight roll of the ankle would be the end of me. Miles later, I was reminded how much focus was needed as I saw another athlete come off a curb and do the exact same thing I did. I almost cried out of fear. The course has speed bumps, potholes, and is uneven throughout. I paid so much attention to where each step was, I rarely saw friends, and some I never saw. I told myself I just needed to make it out and back (13.1 miles), and that’s how I think of that course. One goal, make it to the out and back. I survived the 1st out and back by utilizing the aid stations ice water, I really think this huge for me. It was hot, and I needed to try and stay cool. Right before I hit the turnaround on the run I saw my Katie (coach) and Brad, they were shocked (as was I!) that I was still running. My sister greeted me at the next corner and then the rest of my family. My dad told me to run like the wind. My hubby and my son were there to high five me along with my mom. Their support is simply priceless. At this point I told my sister I was hurting, wasn’t sure how long I could maintain the pace with the pain, but I was going to try. Hitting the turnaround was just another point for me to break this run up by saying just make it to the out and then back and then you’re done. I passed Katie and Brad for the last time as she told me I was on PR pace. I honestly thought she’d done some math wrong, I mean that swim alone was 10 minutes slower than ever before! I didn’t put too much stock into it and just kept running. I’d go over 2 different things in my head this 2nd loop, drink gel salt. Every mile I’d do the next thing in order. The other thing I kept repeating was focused, fearless, and believe. Now was the time to dig deep to get it done. The sun was starting to go down, I’d purposely left my headlamp on the dresser. I didn’t want to wear it, it was my way of giving this injury the middle finger, yet I knew that if it got too dark the risk of falling was pretty much guaranteed. I’ve never focused so much in my life. I was scared. Every step was now becoming a question mark. I had to step feeling strong and trusting, yet able to respond if the ground was uneven. Oddly enough, I smiled a lot. As much focus as it was taking, I was SO HAPPY and felt so free to be running. I hit mile 24 and knew I had the rest of this race in the books. I stopped at my last aid station, as I always do on this course, and then ran. I ran off pure adrenaline, relief, and happiness. I had NO CLUE what my run time was, my finish time, nothing, but I knew that I’d proved I had what it took to be an ironman that day and that was certainly enough for me.
My finish time was 11:31, a personal record for me by 13 minutes. I was dumbfounded, as I’m sure many of you all were. I’d ran myself to a 13th place age group finish (4:14 marathon), until some chic who decided to wear a wetsuit bumped me to 14th. No animosity there at all…..or the fact I could’ve been in top 10 had I ran a minute faster. Yes, I still think about these things, and yes I know it’s simply ridiculous! I think this race is a testament to the quick thinking of my ortho (Dr. Cassas), PT (Brad), and Katie Malone (my coach). The first thing Dr. Cassas said when this injury occurred was, we will get you to IM. Katie’s first words, I like a challenge…..and then she challenged me with LOTS of out of the box thinking. I really credit her for this race. I would NOT have had the race I did had she not kept me conditioned, and race ready despite my injury. I also trusted these people enough to listen to them, try not to push too many boundaries, and give my ankle time to heal.
I certainly finished proud of my accomplishment and thankful to my family, and most of all my husband. I know the last 8 weeks were stressful for me, but I can’t imagine what they were like for him. He supported me, believed I could make it happen, and there’s not much more I can ask. Every text message, Facebook post, and phone call people sent, I took those words out there with me race day. I’ve never felt more love and support than I did this particular race and you all certainly had a part of carrying me to that finish line. Thank you to www.trisports.com (Debbie and Seton) they made sure I could spot my mom, sister, and son in a heartbeat since they were all decked out in the gear. Powerbar and Nuun’s made sure my race day and pre race hydration was on point regardless of being sick. Atlanta Bread provides me with the comfort food needed during tough times (butternut squash soup still my fav!). Number 8 is in the books, I’m happy it’s done, it seems like a dream. I missed a lot of my normal social Ironman race week stuff, and Jeff stepped up and helped a lot with my son. He was probably on his feet way more than he needed to be, and I’m sure it impacted his race. Heath and I are lucky that Addison has someone who cares about him as much as he does, and I’m lucky to have such a great friend …..even though he did say I looked like crap more than once the week ofJ.
In case anyone is interested, I’m going to do a Part 2 post that details what I actually take in for nutrition during an ironman. Nutrition is leg #5 of Ironman (leg #4 is transition….free speed), and it took me 7 ironman to finally nail my nutrition. I know it’s different for everyone, but thought I’d share what I’ve finally found to work.