Monday, October 26, 2015

Ironman Maryland

One year, one month and one day from when I signed up, I was ready to race my Ironman!

It was around 5:30am when Heidi dropped me off at transition in Great Marsh Park.  Dan and Joann got out with me and went to turn in my special needs bags while I tended to Xena and my gear bags.  Then the rest of the crew got parked and Daz showed up with coffee for all the minions.
Then we had a little while to wait, and try to keep warm.  I put on my wetsuit and we wandered over to the swim start area.  I had to pee, but decided to just wait until I was in the water.  We waited and waited, and then we hear the voice over the loudspeaker announce that because of the wind advisory, we were going to have a shortened swim, only 1.2 miles.  I cried.  I wanted 140 miles.  There was also a delay, and the race was not going to start until 7:30.  My jacket came on and off several times, thinking it was time to go and then realizing we had more time to wait (and I still had to pee!!).  Then the next announcement, that we were going to have a 3000 meter swim instead (only 800m short of 2.4mi), and would be doing 2 laps. OK, that's better... I'll take it.  They also said they would adjust the cutoff times and let us know.  But we still weren't starting.  It was so cold, and there was a long day ahead.
After what seemed like forever, it was finally time to line up.  I started talking to a couple ladies and one of them asked me "are you Jen?"  ... "I am!"  Turns out they recognized me from my blog, how cool (hi ladies, I hope you had a great race!!).  Then we started moving and before I knew it, I was in the water.  I was told it was about 7:45 when I started the race.
Instructions for the new course were never really communicated.  Were we going clockwise or counter clockwise?  How many buoys are there?  This swim was such a clusterf*ck.  I have never in my life been swum over or scratched or grabbed so many times, and people were viscous about it.  I had my leg grabbed and pulled more times than I can count.  I was kicked and scratched repeatedly.  This was awful.  I started swimming towards an orange buoy, thinking it was the turn buoy, but a kayaker stopped me... that wasn't the turn buoy, there was a red one further out.. this course was so confusing!  I think we had the current with us on the first leg?  I know we were going against it on the second leg.  Then I had to do the loop over again...
The current seemed stronger on the last leg.  Really stronger, hard to move forward.  How many more buoys?  Two?  Three?  OK, I think it's 3 more buoys, just keep swimming.  The water got shallow and people were standing and walking, but I kept swimming and swimming until the very end.  I stood up and saw Heidi and Jon standing to the left and waved.  I made my way out of the water and saw the rest of my crew as I walked towards the wetsuit strippers.  Swim time, 1:07:59.
I grabbed my bike gear bag and headed into the changing tent.  It was so crowded, standing room only, if that... people were changing anywhere they had room, even if it was in the doorway, visible to the whole world.  I followed another girl through seas of people until I found a small opening, no bigger than a seat cushion.  I stood there and wrapped a towel around my feet, I was so cold.  It took a little extra time to open my bag and get my stuff organized because my hands were so numb.  Then I noticed a girl next to me put on an 'MJG' jersey like Andrea wears... "are you Andrea's friend?"... "Yes!  Are you Jen?!"  So cool meeting Amanda in this fashion.  Then a seat opened up and I sat down to put together the last of my outfit - shorts on, short sleeve jersey, arm warmers, wool knee socks with toe warmers on them, the light jacket I'd ordered last minute from amazon.  Did I have everything?  I hope so because the volunteer grabbed everything up and it was time for me to go start the bike.
Since the race was postponed, there was a volunteer shortage which meant no bike handlers.  To make it fair to everyone, they made us do a huge zig-zag through transition to get our own bikes.  Some people have been saying that this extra distance makes up for the 800m we lost on the swim.  Indeed, it was a long trek to get my bike - I almost couldn't find her at first - and get to the mount line.  T1 time, 16:51.
I'd taken some ginger pills before the swim and wore ear plugs and was hoping they helped and that I wouldn't feel that same dizziness as I have before after the swim.  I think they worked!  I took it easy on the first 12 miles to the high school, felt pretty good and was going a good pace.  My legs had some weird pains in various places (it kept shifting), but I think they just needed to get warmed up.  As I approached the high school, I saw my dad and my uncle, and then as I rounded the corner, the rest of my minions and my mom were standing there cheering.  I was surprised they'd made it there so fast as I'd just seen them at transition!  Going down Maple Dam road was a breeze and I was putting up some good numbers.  I tried to enjoy the moment and enjoy the scenery as I rode through Blackwater Refuge.  I passed the Team Z aid station where I saw Jen M, Linda, Chris and so many more teammates.  Then I made a turn directly into the wind.  Then more wind.  And more wind.  It never stopped.  I saw my numbers dropping.
I made it to the dreaded MD-16, the part of the course that has haunted me all summer, not for any reason other than it's long and boring and usually a headwind.  Of course today, the winds were hitting me all over the place, so this road was not really worse than any other part of the course.  I was wearing full-fingered gloves and found that grabbing my starbursts and uncrustables was difficult without the use of my fingers.  But I managed to eat some, was drinking my infinit and refilling my aero bottle with water at every aid station.  I had to stop once when I dropped my chain (and then immediately again because I hadn't put it back on correctly).  My outfit was perfect.  There were times I was warm, and thought about taking off a layer, but then I'd turn into the wind and get cold.  The only thing that was really uncomfortable was my feet which were frozen.  I passed Heidi around mile 50 and knew I was almost at special needs.
I saw Joann and Daz as I pulled into the high school at special needs.  Joann raced ahead to let the others know I was there, while Daz and my teammate, Amanda, hung out with me for the few minutes I was there.  The volunteer held my bike and I climbed off because I needed to stretch and put some hand warmers in my shoes.  Amanda checked with the volunteer to make sure they were allowed, and she and Daz handed me all my new nutrition, took my trash and put the hand warmers between my shoes and covers, as I sipped on some sprite.  I was there for a couple minutes, but I did not dilly dally at all.  Then I was off for the 2nd loop, waving to my friends and teammates at the Team Z cheer station.
Back on Maple Dam road, my averages started coming up again.  Joann, Daz and Dan passed me with their heads and cowbells out of the car window cheering.  My first thought was 'hmm, I wonder if Joann had any trouble getting my bike out of transition' -- this was the first sign that my mind was no longer working properly as I was still on my bike!  Then Sweeney and Rob passed me, and they leap-frogged me for the entire second loop which was great!  One time I pulled up to them to say hello, but more to get a salt tab and put on chapstick which was in my pocket and impossible to do while riding with my gloves.  I asked them if they knew what the new cutoff time was, but they didn't.  Of course they didn't because they were out there cheering for me, but my mind wasn't working.  Again, no dilly dallying, and I was right back on the bike.  That was the last time I stopped.  A couple more sightings of Sweeney and Rob... Heidi joined them at one of their stops, and then the whole crew was there waiting for me at mile 96.
This was really one of the hardest rides I have ever done.  My back really started hurting around mile 80 and it was excruciating, but I knew I couldn't stop.  I managed to pull it together every time I passed my friends so they didn't know how miserable I was, but my back hurt really bad.  There was no position that felt good, and I was working so hard to pedal through the wind.  I was in my lowest gear of my small ring and didn't feel like I was moving at all.
I was finally finished with the second loop and started on the lollipop stick portion back to transition, except it felt like the wind was getting even stronger!  I kept looking behind me to see if Maddison was around.  I'd passed her around mile 20, but know we are very similar paces so kept expecting to see her, to exchange a few comments about how miserable we were.  Plenty of other Z'ers did pass me and between them and my friends, there was constant support on that course.  But I was still miserable and needed to be off that bike.  I was genuinely concerned I wouldn't be able to dismount on my own without falling over.  I started having conversations with Xena and told her that if she could just get me back to transition before the cutoff (whatever that might be) and without a flat or mechanical issue, that I'd give her a good long break from me.  She obliged.  Bike time, 8:08:26.
Finally, I pulled up to the dismount line and managed to climb off the bike without issue.  I was in so much pain.  I tried to tell my friends this, but I'm not sure they understood how I felt.  They were so excited that to see me finish before the cutoff.  It was hard to walk Xena back to her place on the rack, but I did manage to yell at Jon that I peed on the bike (and not to tell Joann since she was picking up Xena later, although I think it was Heidi who ended up with that task).  As I made my way to the changing tent with my run gear bag, a race official came up to me and said I only had about 10 minutes to get out on the run course. Yikes, I hadn't realized I was that close to the cutoff (though I found out later, I actually had about 20min to spare)!  I asked him what the final cutoff was and he said I had until 12:30 to finish the race. OK, sigh of relief, I think I can do this.  This time, the tent was basically empty and I had plenty of seats to choose from.  I took off my bike clothes and threw on my run clothes, grabbed the ziploc bag of miscellaneous things I knew I needed, and decided to carry it with me so that I could start the run in time.  T2 time, 13:40.
Some more cheers from my friends and then I saw Andrea just as I was turning the corner onto the run course.  She reiterated that I had 7 hours to do the marathon and all I had to do was maintain a 16 min/mile pace.  I can do that!  She walked with me and held my ziploc bag as I took some pain medicine and applied Tri-Slide to the bands of my sports bra, the things I didn't want to waste time doing in transition.  Then Joann appeared and took all my extra stuff to hold, and I was off on that first loop.  It took about 2.5 miles for that medicine to kick in, so those miles were s-l-o-w.  I didn't worry because I knew I could make up some of that time and get my pace under 16 min/mi.  I started trying to run some, able to do a little further each time.  I came up to the Team Z run aid station and got a big hug from Val.  I asked her to confirm the final cutoff time and she said she thought it was 12:15.  Hmm.. that's different than 12:30, and she said she'd call over to some Z'ers at the finish line to find out for sure and let me know the next time she saw me.
Maddison caught up with me around mile 5 and we walked together for a bit until she stopped to pop a blister.  She promised she would catch up again and sent me along, which I did because I knew if I stopped, I might not be able to start again.  On that return stretch back to Great Marsh, I ran into Sweeney and Heidi and asked them to walk with me.  I told them my concerns about the race cutoff time and got my gloves from them.  Maddison caught up again and we finished that loop together, through Great Marsh, the Team Z cheering area, up to the finish line area, and back again.  All this time some random guy had decided to join us.  At first, we didn't mind the extra company, but he got more and more annoying with every step.  Rob showed up and convinced us to start running, but the guy followed us.  We stopped at the port-o-pots, and the guy stopped too, we just couldn't shake him!  I understand why he'd want to stick with us as he was out there alone while Maddison and I had so many people cheering for us and encouraging us, but our personalities just didn't mesh.
Dan and Rob joined us for the start of the second loop, and luckily the random dude started talking to Dan more and left Maddison and me on our own... kind of.  Rob kept pushing us to pick up the pace, so I tried my best, walking as fast as my legs would take me.  I had forgotten how far it was to get to the Team Z aid station!  I pulled ahead of Maddison a bit and Rob and Dan stayed back to cheer her along, but I kept going, I knew I couldn't stop or slow down.  I finally made it to the bypass and saw Val and she told me the cutoff was 12:08 and that I had to start the 3rd loop by 11:03.  WHAT???  That is a hell of a discovery at mile 15 of the run, there was just no way I could make up that much time in 10 miles.  And no fair after the race official told me I had until 12:30 and had been pacing myself to that time.  I started running as much as I could, and allowed Rob to push me even though I wanted to punch him in the face every time he told me to pick it up.  I actually turned over some pretty decent numbers for awhile, and managed to lose that annoying guy for good.
I was so cold in the 30mph wind gusts.  My lungs hurt trying to breath in the frigid air.  My body temperature was fine, my outfit was perfect, long sleeve Under Armor shirt, short sleeve Team Z shirt on top, shorts,  compression socks and gloves.  But it was hard to breath.  I remember Heidi asking me at some point if I needed my inhaler because it sounded like I was wheezing.  I probably should've listened to her as I was beyond the capability to make rational decisions for myself, but I passed on it.  I kept going, one foot in front of the other, running when I could.  I saw my minions all over the place, they were everywhere, so awesome!  As I was completing the second loop, I finally asked for my inhaler which Daz brought to me.  He, Joann and Sweeney joined me for that final lap.  I saw Andrea and then Siri and remember telling both of them I didn't think I was going to make it.  Neither of them accepted that.  As we passed through Great Marsh Park to begin the last loop, a race official asked for my bib number.  I told him, and then.. "did I make it?" ... "yes, you did, now you just have to get to the finish line!" -- PHEW!  I glanced at my watch and it was 11:00.. I made the cutoff by 3 minutes!!!

There was still no way I was going to make the 12:08 cutoff, but passing this checkpoint meant that they weren't going to take my chip, and I would have an official split for the entire race. I didn't come 135 miles to quit now.  That last lap was a struggle though.  My legs hurt.  My friends kept wanting me to go faster.  I tried running one last time, but my lungs were having nothing to do with that.  I couldn't breath.  It wasn't that I was out of breath and had a hard time catching it.  It was like my lungs were frozen and couldn't open at all.  I felt dizzy and thought that was it, my race was going to be over at mile 137.  It was a scary moment.  Daz told me to put my arms over my head, but again, my mind was not able to follow instructions at all.  Luckily this all happened over just a few seconds (even though it felt much longer), but I knew I was done running.
My friends kept pushing me.  In that moment I had a love/hate relationship with all of them.  "Keep pushing" ... "We need to pick it up some" ... "Don't stop" ... I wanted to stop.  I didn't want to quit the race, I just wanted to stop, for a minute, my body hurt so much.  But I didn't.  I kept moving, inch by inch making my way to the finish line.  Last time through Great Marsh Park, last time past the Team Z cheering station which was now completely deserted.  People were cheering for me but I couldn't even crack a smile to thank them.  I was freezing and miserable.  I was past mile 25 when 12:08 came and went, but there was nothing I could do.  Oh well, I was still going to finish this thing.  I made my way up High Street for the last time and Val joined me.  She agreed to stay with me so that my friends could go wait for me at the finish line.  Val prepped me for the finish, saying that Team Z would still be there even if it wasn't an official finish.  She took my gloves from me so I didn't have them in my photos (and that's when I noticed how swollen my hands were!).

And then.... Daz came running up and told us they were holding the finish line open for me!  Ohmigosh, I was going to get a finish!  I heard the announcer over the loud speaker, "come on Jen, we're all waiting for you".  It was unreal.  Some race officials came up to me and escorted me to the finisher's chute. I asked them to tell me when I should start running, because I wanted to run but knew I wouldn't be able to make it too far.  I think I gave a fist bump to Gerry Boyle, the race director.  It's all kind of a blur now, but all of a sudden one of them told me to "go!" and I was there.... I was in the finisher's chute.... I was running.... and I was getting my Ironman finish.
The finish line wasn't super crowded.  It wasn't the amazing finish that you hear about at midnight of other races. But it was all MY people.  This was MY finish line.  And I loved it.  I saw everyone lined up on the barrier and I held out my hand to high five as many people as I could.  I couldn't believe this was all happening, and then the announcer stopped me, and told me to turn around, and the whole crowd joined in...

"Jennifer.... You.  Are.  An IRONMAN!!!"

I turned and crossed the finish line with my arms up in the air.  I did it!  Deb was right there, volunteering at the finish line, and ran up to give me a hug.  She told me she knew they were waiting for someone named Jennifer but nobody knew the last name and she was just hoping and hoping it was me... and it was!  I was so happy, I couldn't stop smiling.  Someone put a medal around my neck and offered me a foil blanket.  I made my way through and saw Joann and gave her a big hug.  Cameras were going off all over the place and I felt like a rock star.
16:37:39 was my final time, coming in around 12:19am.  I knew that there are some people that would not consider me a real Ironman because I came in after the 12:08 cutoff time, and Ironman itself didn't list an official finish time for me, but I didn't care.  I have video proof that an authoritative source called me an Ironman.  I am an Ironman!  And if you do the math, even if the swim was the full 2.4 miles, my pace would have put my overall time under 17 hours (16:57:12).  Run time was 6:50:43.
........But then........ one week later, I received an email from Ironman, apologizing for making a timing mistake, saying that Maryland was always supposed to be a 17 hour race, and that they are adjusting my online results to show that I am, indeed, an official Ironman finisher!!
What a day!  I am so thankful for everyone out there cheering the whole day, especially Maddison, Val, my parents and all my iron-minions:  Joann, Daz, Sweeney, Jon, Heidi, Dan, Rob, Cindy, Sarah, Dave.  You guys got me through this race.
(and of course the blow up minions, sherpa-Carl, sherpa-Stuart, sherpa-Dave and sherpa-Bob).

1 comment:

  1. Jen I am so proud of you!!!! Congrats!! I love reading your blogs, you are truly an inspiration! I am glad I had the chance to meet you before we started swimming in that frigid water! :) I look forward to continuing to read your posts! Congrats again, You Are An Ironman!!!!!