Thursday, November 29, 2012

One for the Thumb!

Several years ago, I vowed for the 4th time NEVER to do an Ironman Triathlon again. I had finished Ironman Western Australia in 2008 and had a very, very difficult race physically, mentally..A few months later I ran into a friend who said "You have to do one for the thumb!!" I scoffed..Nope, never, never, never I told myself....Well, as H started dreaming of doing an Ironman for his 65th birthday, I started to falter. Like childbirth, we forget how painful the race truly is...The result?

Signup November 2011

Never say never..
We got off to a great start arriving in Tempe on Wednesday at the big Ironhouse. The whole family soon arrived there to cheer us on..This is our Iron crew:
The best part of the whole weekend were the 4 grand kids, who participated in the IronKids on Saturday. Hundreds of kids ran the mile long race; we have some true competitors in our fam. This was my inspiration:

Avery took the race very seriously! She took off  from the beginning..wanted to win!
The Ironhouse was perfect and the kids all being there helped take the edge off of pre-race jitters..We at our traditional pasta dinner and it was incredible having the whole family there!

Pre Race-

I woke up at 2:15 race morning and couldn't sleep. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that I went to bed at 8:00, I never sleep well on Race Eve, and was a bit over the top excited because my family was there to watch us. Our friend MG picked H and I up at 5:00 AM-this royal treatment being dropped off at the race start is something I could get use to! I will say that I was a bit anxious, not the kind of nervousness I usually get before races-more like happy anticipation. After scooping up 2 other friends, we got door to door service to the Transition site. H and I planned our pre-race meeting place and time. We wanted to go into the water together, and that was the last I saw of him until the finish line! We kept missing each other at the porta potties, I guess.

Dropping off last minute items in transition at 5:00  AM

The Swim (2.4 miles, 4400 or so yds):

In the practice swim on Sat., we had jumped in with our wetsuits to check out Tempe Town Lake, which if you don't open your eyes or remember ducks live and poop there, is not too bad..but the practice swim just freaked me out because I felt so cold from the frigid water-I started to get very nervous..
H and I at the pre-race swim
The water was 61 degrees on race morning. The outside temp was in the 50s. Actually, with a hood on under my swim cap, I felt pleasantly surprised how good the water felt. Maybe 2500 people peeing all at once in the lake from excitement made the temp go up a bit? I would never pee in the lake-ha!
And the madness begins..this was my view at the swim start..

See I'm right over there!
I made my way down to the swim with 2499 of my new best friends. I thought how happy everyone looked...funny, they didn't look like violent people..My adrenaline was pumping as they played the National anthem..dawn was starting to break in front of me and I felt pure gratefulness that I was healthy and strong enough to be here racing an Ironman Triathlon.There were hundreds of athletes lined up at the waters edge, all waiting for others to jump into the frigid, dark water first. I finally talked myself into jumping in about 15 min. before the starting gun..I thought it would be important to get a good swimming spot. Little did I know maybe that was not such a good idea...

We waited for what seemed like an eternity treading water until BANG the gun went off. This is when all these athletes turned on me. I got kicked, pushed, punched in the mouth, swam over and yelled at. I am use to having a bit of jostling around for a few hundred yards but eventually things start to spread out and I get my swim rhythm. Not on this 2.4 mile swim. I never could get any open space in the water to get into any smooth areas to swim well. I felt like I was working hard, but wasn't going too far. At one point a guy popped up and yelled at me "Stop kicking me!" Dude, I am behind you! I laughed...everyone was getting kicked so that was ludicrous!

After what seemed like an eternity, we rounded the last buoy and headed for the stairs at the edge of the lake where they hauled us out of the water. I kept thinking either I was in the front group and that is why folks were scrambling so hard or I was in the rear getting hit and run over by slower swimmers. The latter appeared to be true..I finally got pulled up the stairs, I looked at my watch and damn! 1:23. One of my slowest IM swim times ever..this was suppose to be my fastest discipline and I was already off my game. After a brief moment of letdown, I thought to myself ok, it is what it is, get over it and get going and make up for that 15 min you just gave up! This was my strategy, if one goal wasn't met, go on to a new one. I managed to jog up the chute to transition, where hundreds of people were cheering me on..this is the great thing about Ironman-the crowds are electrifying!! I found a spot in the grass, I had decided not to change my clothes in the changing tent..well this turned out to be not such a great idea-I didn't count on the fact that my hands were frozen from the cold in effect, all the time I was trying to save just was cancelled out by frozen fingers.

Swim time: 1:23

Transition 1: A VERY long 11 minutes. My fingers were completely frozen. I could not feel plan was to race through the transitions like lightening, getting my wetsuit off quickly, throwing my helmet, bike shoes, grabbing my bike and running the long trek to the bike start. As it turned out, I did manage to get out of transition all in one piece, but at a snail's pace..

Me so happy to be on the bike!

The Bike (112 miles):

I was never so happy to get on my bike. I started down the out shoot and saw my family!! That made me so happy! I stopped once I got a few hundred yards away because I heard a loud clatter in my bike wheel. WTH? I looked down to see my HR monitor strap caught in my spokes. Oh my gosh-didn't I practice this a hundred times in my head? I must've looked rather frantic because the volunteer helping me said, slow down, breathe, it'll be a long day out there..oh yea, I remembered and took a few deep breaths..after the HR strap was on, it never worked at all, not once in the whole race..oh well, so much for monitoring my effort. I would have to go by "perceived exertion". One more surprise, not so bad..

The first loop of the bike was nothing exciting. I felt ridiculously slow going out the Beeline, as was expected. I read an article about the bike at IMAZ and it said do NOT make the mistake of pushing up the false flat of 8 miles up Hwy. 87. Many riders do, only to run out of gas and have spent legs on the 3rd lap. So I turtled (is that a word?) my way up the gradual incline X3 loops. However, on the downhill, I flew!! Hoping to make up some time, I endured the almost 7 hrs of the bike primarily in my aerobars. Most of the time I was fighting boredom and random thoughts, except the 2 times I saw the kids near the turn around in town. It was so exciting to have a cheering squad on the course. Of the hundreds of spectators, these people were actually there to cheer ME! The surge of energy I received from that support was amazing! I asked the kids where H was-they told me 20 minutes back. I only saw H once very briefly on the bike. The rest of the day we kept missing each other. The best sign of the day was "Smile if you peed on your bike" I laughed! As I cruised the last 7 miles back into Tempe, I stretched my legs, did much spinning to work all the lactic acid out of the legs...I tried to stay in the moment as much I could but knew when I got off the bike, I was more than halfway done.

Me happy on the bike...probably the 1st loop..

Bike split: 6:56, average of over 16 MPH. Result=happy!

T-2 was uneventful. Took a lot less time than the first transition..6 min, 6 secs. This time, I could feel my hands...

Then I was running! (The sometimes never ending Marathon-26.2 miles):

I felt pretty darn good from the first step I took in my running shoes! I heard the crowd and family YELLING for me to GO! I saw more grand kids, gave them hugs. Avery told me "Grandma you are going to WIN!" I laughed and said " I wish that were true!" When I started to run around the bridge on the first mile-OUCH! My right back started to cramp. I have had this weird pain each time I have run off the bike in training for the last couple months. It really was hurting and I thought wow, if this keeps up, it will be a long rest of the day out here for me..yet I knew that aches and pains can come and go in the 26 miles of the marathon in Ironman. I stopped to pee, this is a good thing-means I was not too dehydrated. I took some Tylenol and Advil, stopping to stretch my back. It must've worked because sometime around mile 3, I started to feel better and took off running..I started to pass people, a first for me in Ironman running. I am usually the "passee". I finally, finally felt great running, at least for awhile. I stopped at each and every aid station about every mile, to walk and drink. I drank Iron-ade (Gatorade), coke, water. I ate potato chips, tried to take in gels. I was somewhat concerned about dehydration, which one should be in a race this long.  The fact is you are pushing your body beyond normal electrolyte balance. There is no way you can ever catch up, you just hope you can stay ahead of it! At around mile 5 on the run, my stomach started to blow up like a balloon..nothing was moving, no nutrition was getting through the old stomach. I knew this feeling, I knew it well. Something happens in Ironman that tells your body ok, maybe this all day race thing is not such a great idea-think I will stop digestion for awhile now. Here is where experience helped me. I knew this always a treatable passing state of being, yet I knew I could not stop taking in fluids or salt (I was taking salt pills all along to help with the massive loss of sodium). I remembered I had magic pills- Gas X! After taking a few of those, and after much self-talk (pain is temporary, I can do this, blah, blah blah..) my stomach decided it was time to start moving again. It worked!

 I can't remember when but at some point I started picking up the pace and passing more people. I noted with interest and pleasure that I was passing young strapping men/youngsters..this only served to inspire me!!
I made this picture smaller because of the determined (sour) look on my face~

The kids were there around mile 8 to cheer me on. I think I told them my stomach was a mess. Becca asked me what mile I was on, I said Heavens, I have no idea! I had my run Garmin on, but I couldn't figure out how to use it at that point I guess! See this is the thing I have learned about Ironman-expect the unexpected! 140.6 miles is a long flippin' way and s#%t will happen along the way..the thing experience has taught me is; OK stuff will happen that I don't anticipate in IM and when it does, then I adjust my goal/plan accordingly. This is the ONE THING a coach can't teach you, a book can't describe no one can impart. It comes from that place inside that can face the challenges and readjust my attitude/game plan. When I had a sucky swim, I just said ok, I will just have to make up for it on the bike and run! This helped me on the run go faster..I told myself there was no reason I could not run 26.2 miles, walking the aid stations. I trained a very long time for this race, I did my 1st IM eight years ago and I was better, faster-stronger. False humility is useless! At no time in this race, did I go to what I call the F^*%#k it! Zone. I had trained my mind for these thoughts. I did my best impersonation of Chrissie Wellington (champion Ironwoman) and said Never, never give up my dream! It is beside the point am not 32 years old and particularly athletically gifted, it was my Mantra the whole run.
MG took this picture as I headed out for the 3rd and last loop of the run...
Then came the race to the finish line. When I saw the kids for the last time, about 100 yards from the finish, Becca said RUN MOM- you can beat you PR! My PR for Ironman was 14 hrs. 15 min. eight years ago in Florida, my first one. I knew I was close! As I rounded the corner to the finish line, I saw the clock click over to 14:16. Mike Reilly, the "voice of Ironman" for the last few decades said
Debi Wess from Albuquerque, New Mexico-you are an IRONMAN!

Missed a PR by 1 minute! I have wondered since what would have happened had I NOT stopped to get Icy Gel put on my legs by the 2 young men on the run course-seemed like a good idea at the time! Maybe would have made that PR..No matter, I was happy, really happy about my race. I felt like I did my very best for this IM course, these almost perfect conditions and at my age.

Run Time: 5:39 my PR on a Ironman marathon. Happy Days!!

Final time: 14:16

Worst...finish picture...evar! 
15th out of 39 women in my AG, 1754 out of about 2500 athletes overall (this does not include the 200+ athletes who DNF'd), 415th out of 793 women finishers.

I'm in!!!

I saw the kids beyond the finish rope. The catcher that caught me threw a solar blanket over me, finisher's medal around my neck and asked if I was OK? I think I said "no" at that point. What did I need? Uh, I dunno..They asked me something about "what size T shirt did I want"-say what? I was quite befuddled by this point....I kept asking for; my family, pizza, water, not necessarily in that order! The "angel" catcher woman took me outside the finish area to my family..I asked Allison to immediately help me get PIZZA! After finagling our way past the "finish line guard" (Nazi), I wolfed down 2 pieces of pizza. I felt instantly better! It amazes me how much IM has changed over the last 8 years. I remember running right into H and Becca's arms in Florida. Now they have it all partitioned off so family can't get to you right away. This was a small hitch in an otherwise awesome, amazing, wonderful experience at the finish!!!
The family supporting H on the run of IMAZ. Love this pic!

 The grand kids hugged me, my kids took care of me as we waited for H to cross the line. When he did, we really celebrated!! 

Wow! Couldn't someone tell me my SKIN was showing!
The miracle of technology told me I finished 15th in my age group. Out of 32 women 55-59 years old that finished, this put me mid-pack-my usual. There were 42 women in my AG if I count the no-show/DNFs, which I think I will. This puts me in the top third? I'll take it..I raced my heart out and Kona (Ironman championship, which you have to win your AG to qualify for) is just not in the cards for me at this point in my life. Who knows if it ever will? I am still one lucky, blessed woman to be able to do this thing called Ironman!


1. Seeing friends along the way inspired me! Especially thanks to MG, my original partner in crime for IMFL, 2004. His encouragement then and now were SO helpful!

2. My goal time was 13:30. Being 46 minutes slower doesn't really upset me..

3. My other goal was to finish feeling pretty good-mission accomplished! For the first time ever, I did not swear off future IM races at the finish line..a major feat for me..

4. In 2 years, when I age up to 60-64 I will perhaps go to some remote location IM and try and qualify for Kona. I will NEVER give up my dream to go to the World Championships!

5. It is infinitely more fun to race with a cheering section in matching red T-shirts there supporting me. Thank you family!!

6. I hope, on a very special level that my grandchildren will remember Grandma and Grandpa doing Ironman. My dream is that it will serve as inspiration for them to reach for the stars and never, never give up!!

7. Ironman is a metaphor for life. How so? To achieve anything in life, you have to work hard and prepare. No matter what curve balls you are thrown, you readjust the Plan..and carry on. Sometimes it's outcome is disappointment, and occasionally it surprises you when everything comes together. No matter what, I know I have given it my all, at that given time, in those circumstances. If I don't, then I am challenged to be better, do better.

8. Life sucks really, really bad sometimes. I have to roll with the punches, fix the problem-then the pendulum swings..

9. Changing my clothes in an IM transition, or not changing my clothes makes no difference whatsoever. I am still a drenched in sweat, stinky, dirty hot mess at the finish line! Not worth the extra time it takes to change in transition..

10. I don't completely suck at running anymore...see #6..

11. My regret is that my parents never lived long enough to see me accomplish this athletic feat. But then again, maybe I am inspired to live longer, be healthier because of them. I get my stubborn, strong will to do anything I set out to, from my mom. The first 4 syllable word I learned-I remember distinctly my dad helping me learn it-was perseverance!

12. It is WAY more fun to train with my partner in life, my husband. He is the only one who understands how hard I have worked to achieve all my dreams-he is my "Hart" and Soul..

13. The 2 best Ironman races I have had have been under Coach Mark Mico. There is something about his plans, his belief in my ability, his humor, his many stories that push me to achieve my best. Also many kudos to my new bike Coach Adam, who kicked my butt up many, many hills on the bike, even through my loudest whining! This has only helped me make gains on the bike I never knew I had in me. To our Wednesday biking group, who put up with my slow arse for the first 6 months I rode with them-they never lost faith in me-THANK YOU!!

14. Yes, you CAN buy speed on the bike. Mrs. Venge, who cost as much as a new car catapulted me to to new level of biking. It took awhile, and I am still not amazing on hills, but having my mighty steed under me gave me confidence. I mean it has to, right? Otherwise I could never justify getting a fancy bike like this. If anything, she gave me the intimidation factor. More than once someone said Nice bike-during the race. Then I remembered, oh yea Mrs. Venge you rock!!

15. For the first time ever, I am not that sore after Ironman..A couple of days of stiffness then I was fine. One word...YOGA...been doing it for the past 9 months along with IM training. I am hooked! Thank you Yoga by Julia!!

Now, about that pizza...I am still hungry!