Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman (basically commentates nearly every Ironman competition in the US, including Hawaii and apparently in Melbourne too) started us all out with a ten second warning then the sound of the horn blared-we (2,000 of us) were off on the swim! I felt great but soon I realized crap my goggles are leaking, which doesn't feel so good when pure salt water is flooding your eyes. I was still in waist deep waters so I just stood up. As I watched all the swimmers pull away from me, I tried to adjust my goggles..back in the water a few strokes and crap still leaking! This went on for what seemed like 5 minutes. I could not figure out wtf was going on with my goggles. I pulled them tight, tried to readjust, nothing worked. This was weird because in the warmup swim the goggle fit was fine. I had worn these goggles a dozen times in practice swims. Ok, relax it's a long day out here. Just find the problem and fix it.. No-go..I managed to get the goggles to where they were only leaking on one side minimally and just swam the whole 2.4 miles with salt water in my right eye. Not recommended except maybe in a race...I stopped every few hundred meters to try and tighten, adjust, to will the darn things to stop leaking. By now I was in deep water...nope, not happening. I think I kicked too hard trying to tread water because at one point I felt my timing chip slipping off my left leg..oh great! Readjusting the strap, I looked up and a race lifeguard in a kayak asked me if I needed assistance. I just said no thanks and carried on. So, I just swam..it seemed like I was really far behind the crowd of swimmers by now but don't think I really was...I finally started passing a bunch of people but was also being pulled along with the massive draft that you can only get from 2,000 other swimmers in the water. I did my best to relax with saline soaked eyes and not wear myself out. It's a long day out there. No sense in pushing here..I was quite ready to exit the water when I pulled myself up to shore. The clock said 1:39. I couldn't for the life of me do the math because this was the Pro start time, 15 minutes before us? I thought I had a 1:17 swim but really it ended up being 1 hour, 21 minutes. I had taken about 3 good gulps of sea water, not on purpose but I thought that would probably hold me sodium wise for awhile. As I exited the water, there was a big crowd of spectators cheering. I felt pumped to be finally out of the water. I heard my name called and smiled, having no clue who it was. I just hoped my reading contact had stayed in my right eye so I could see through the race, surprisingly it did!
Transition 1: I was trying my best to speed through but I can't seem to do anything to shorten my IM transition times. I didn't change clothes, only threw on a bike shirt. The volunteer, who was trying to be helpful I know, dumped my bag of bike stuff in front of me. Oh no, I had things put in a specific order according to what to put on when, etc. The second time I told her please don't do that, she finally backed off. I am sure she thought I was one bitchy athlete, her trying to help and all...oh well out of there in 10 minutes. I had all my stuff, nutrition, was fully clothed and went off to find my bike. As I ran out to the bike I met up with with the woman I had met before the race in my AG. She said hello and took off before me..again my thoughts were that maybe she would make a rookie mistake and go out too hard on the bike..
The Bike: I started the bike warming up. I mean warming up my body, which was pretty chilled from the water and cool temps. I didn't push too hard the first hour or so, which is good because after 30 miles, I realized my rear brake was rubbing..oh crap I knew I should have had the bike shop loosen those brakes! We had gotten our bikes tuned up the week before. Afterwards, my gut told me to take it back in to adjust the brakes and fix the wierd clattering I heard when shifting to the bike chain ring..did I listen to my gut? Hell, no...I thought the magic bike elf was gonna come in and fix it overnight I suppose...geez! Of course these issues came back to haunt me. I was thirsty from the get-go on the bike. I assume this is probably from all the damn salt water I had consumed but I tried to follow "the Plan" of nutrition I had set out to implement. I didn't take in much until after one hour on the bike, then started electrolyte drinks and gels, like clockwork. I just carried on the first loop, it was kinda easy just like Coach had said. Very little wind going out, small headwind coming back into town. We did this loop twice. There was a cloud cover that kept the day cool, almost chilled at times. I wondered if I would regret the decision to not throw on the jacket the volunteer had dumped on the ground for me. I had arm warmers on but honestly I didn't fully warm up until the 2nd loop. As I was going out on that first loop, the Pro athletes were coming in to head out on their 2nd loop. Ok, new goal-get done with first loop before Pros passed me, finishing their bike leg. I almost made it! With about 15 miles to go on my first loop, I heard the swoosh, swoosh, swoosh of the cyclists and there they were, motorcycle escort in front, passing me like I was standing still. I had no idea how fast I was going (sans bike GPS) but I think I did the first loop at a decent pace for me. Halfway through each loop, there was a tunnel, which was pretty cool actually. The blast of warm air the first time was a welcome and surprising benefit. I know lots of people dread those tunnels, since it is a wheeeee..downhill, but I liked it! After the tunnel, there is a bit of an uphill for about a half mile, just enough to keep the doldrums away on a very long day on the bike. I tried to get out of the saddle about every 15 minutes, a trick I learned from a bike coach. It saved my ass literally for about the first 85 miles..Right after the first tunnel in and out, I spotted a Bike Mechanic truck just beyond an Aid station. I thought I was seeing a mirage! I stopped suddenly and said help please? The noise in the big chain ring was getting progressively worse and I knew my chain was rubbing against something important. He looked at it and said I just wasn't pushing the gear in hard enough when I changed gears...hmmm, I've never had to do that before! But it seemed to work when he did it. This went ok for awhile then it would start rubbing again..and this people, is Ironman..expect the unexpected! I can keep the risk of crap happening to a minimum but honestly there is always s#*%t that happens in a long race like this!
Lesson: Listen to my gut when it comes to pre race bike tune ups and adjustments, especially when I am out of my home town and away from the LBS that I know really well. I feel lucky because I finally figured out if I was in one certain gear in the back, I could eliminate the clattering noise up front.. Oh well, if nothing else, this kept me occupied for a few hours. At the end of the first loop we headed back into Frankston before heading out again. I REALLY had to pee and I didn't want to pee on myself because it was way too cold! However every time it saw a porta potty on the bike course, there was a line of athletes waiting. Oh hell no, I am not wasting time waiting in a friggin' porta potty line so I did what every respectable Grandma would do. I squatted behind a truck at one of the aid stations. I am sure it was a scary sight for all the cars racing by on the other side of the freeway across from the bike course lane, but I was really hoping the small piece of cardboard I found to hold up in front of me was hiding the worst of it. Besides, at that point I thought who cares, I will never see these people again! Plus the volunteer told me all the guys had been doing it all day, what's one old lady going to hurt. It's amazing how the mind rationalizes even the most odd behavior after being in a race for 8 hours! After the 2nd loop turnaround I saw my husband! I yelled Hartley! not knowing if he heard me but grateful I knew he was still in the game. As a matter of fact I saw him twice on the bike, he wasn't that far behind me so thought we may cruise in together on the bike but alas, he was having his own challenges out there.
112 miles is a long bike ride...The last 30 miles or so took FOREVER it seemed. Again Coach was right on, the wind picked up and yes, it was a headwind. All I could think about were the 2 women I had passed in my age group on the first loop. Yes indeed, the first timer had gone too hard out on the bike. Those women did not look happy..Miss Fancy Tri Bike was literally a mile back from me, or so I thought at one point at a turn around. My whole goal here was to get far enough ahead of any of the real runners in my age group so they couldn't catch me on the run. Then I started slowly thinking what if there is no one in my AG ahead of me? I wouldn't even let my mind go there yet.. I remembered all those races, short or long when some fast ass woman in my AG passed me on the bike. In those moments, I always felt defeated oh there goes one of THOSE women! the real athletes who are faster than me! During the bike Sunday, I had satisfying thoughts of hey maybe those other women are thinking that about me-is that possible? Ha, take that decade in my 50s! Maybe turning 60 isn't such a hard thing!
My ass was about to fall off and then I had to ride some more in the headwind. It was nothing like the wind we had in Geelong last month, not even close but was annoying, I was tired and in ass pain. I knew it would pass, I just needed to get on the friggin' run! I had no idea what time it was, I think I asked someone along the way, and I realized I was probably not going to break 7 hours on the bike leg, which kind of disappointed me however I knew there was a whole marathon ahead to make up for it. This is why I love endurance sports. There are so many points at which the tide can change..
After what seemed like hours, I finished the last 5k on the bike and just like magic, someone took my bike from me and I headed into the changing tent.
Bike time: 7:07 not great, not bad just OK..
T-2: At transition I had to dig around for my T-2 bag, which was hanging on a hook. Holy crap, I think I am the first one in here in my AG! Still wouldn't let my mind go there. Not yet..T-2 was much smoother, still a gawdawful slow time of 7 minutes something but by then, I let the volunteers dump whatever they wanted seeing as how they were taking off my disgusting socks and helping me change shoes...whatever, I didn't care, just wanted to start running! In my flurry of yes, I'll take that, not this (I brought way too many what ifs?), I forgot my electrolyte tabs for the run. Uh-oh..I might have to resort to the dreaded Gatorade, a dirty word in my Nutritionist's mind.
The Run: Oh man, I was glad to be out running! The sun was finally out, the clouds dissipating. It was turning into a gorgeous day out there. As I made my way out of Frankston, the cheers of local people was an encouraging incentive to keep going. Actually, I felt great. All those many many bricks we have done off the bike (run directly after biking ) were paying off. My legs felt strong. The only thing that hurt was my neck. I scanned my body for other pains. Back-nope, ass-sorta, feet-nope, brain-only a little fuzzy..I did wear a Garmin GPS on the run. I set it to start and took off like it was any other training day. I ran for 4 minutes, GPS alarm buzzed, then walked for 10 seconds, then jog for 50 seconds, GPS buzzed I started running again, repeat. I did this a total of 66 times. The running part I kept between 11:00-11:30/ min. mile. The walk and jog maybe averaged 13-14 min/mile. When I felt the urge to run faster (it is a race you know), I fought it because I remembered what Michael had said don't run faster than you did on you longest runs. OK Coach, you got it,..and I stuck to the plan til the very last run down the finishing chute.
The run was point to point-Frankston to Melbourne (St. Kilda), along the ocean:
We ran out of Frankston onto a street which had a slight tilt to it, "camber" is what they call it here. In order to avoid running on the tilt, I ran towards the middle of the bike path. The road was open and cars whizzing by, some had their windows rolled down and folks cheering. While running along the streets of the towns during some of my walking portions, the folks along the road would cheer, trying to be helpful I am sure keep running, don't slow down, etc. I think I kept mumbling that I was using the run/walk method to explain my slow downs but finally I gave up and let them tell me to keep running-just blocked it out of my mind. I was hoping running on this slanted pavement would not screw up my legs. After a few miles, my feet started to burn. Uh-oh, this might be a long day, I thought. I stopped to take off both shoes, readjust my socks and put the shoes on a bit tighter. It worked! I hate stopping during the run. It feels like time lost. When I sat down to fix something, it was kinda hard to stand back up again, my legs were so stiff. I had Vaselined my feet up really good in transition to keep the dreaded blisters away that can develop on a long day on your feet. The adjustment seemed to work and I had no problems with my feet after that. I had grabbed an extra pair of running socks, just in case my feet went south and carried the socks in my hand pretty much the whole time. This ended up being a good decision come the end of the run..somewhere in there I stopped to pee in the bushes again. OK, I am still hydrated, I was glad to realize this.
Nutrition was key on my run. So why the hell did I not remember to bring my Shotz electrolyte tabs? I had bought a new nutrition running belt at the Expo (a big No-NO to wear anything new on race day). I had worn it twice in short runs and seemed fine. Plus, how could I resist the sticker sale price of $20, bottles included? The bottles were adjustable and it was really cool how I got to move them around if one part of my waist got sore. In 2 bottles, I had all the Shotz gels I needed for the whole run. The 3rd bottle had 1 electrolyte tab in it, which I diluted in 8 oz. of water. I took a squirt along with a cup of water at each aid station, every 2k or so, a slug of gel every half hour. This went along fine until I ran out of the electrolytes tab solution. Damn! Why did I forget this important part of my race plan?? Oh well, another lesson in Ironman adjustment. I began to take in just water at the Aid Stations. I was kind of afraid of taking in all that water without the 'lytes" attached to it. I was sweating profusely even though I was cold. Finally I gave in and started with the dreaded Gatorade just to get some sodium in my body to help with all the water. I felt fine, had a bit of gas but otherwise my stomach was fine. No pains, no diarrhea-nothing. I got a bit hungry actually at times, I think at the run special needs I wolfed down a Shotz bar which helped to curb that hunger feeling. I would say other than forgetting the tabs, I nailed the nutrition in IM...finally.. With the help of Darryl, it all came together for once. I had practiced ALOT for this race with the gels, bars and drink in training. It worked!
I felt like crying.,was I really in first place? Did I really have a chance to go to Kona? I was overwhelmed by the thought and just started picking up my pace. I was sure the 2nd place lady was right behind me, ready to pass at any moment....wait, wait-don't run any faster than your longest training run..stick to your race plan..This became really, really difficult to do, since I felt so motivated to go, go, go!! If I really was winning I needed to open the gap between me and the imaginary woman behind me. But I resisted the urge to run faster. I surely didn't want to "blow up" and have to start walking for real. I carried on but now my thoughts went something like I can win this thing, I am a winner, I deserve this..and on and on. I intentionally tried to bring up every person's image who had encouraged me on Facebook. I thought about my kids, who I was sure were following me at home, especially if I was in first place. I thought of my mom. Please help me Mom, I really want this. I knew she would be so proud of me if I got first place..I thought of my dad who taught me my big first long word: perseverance. I remembered it like It was yesterday. This went on for miles and miles, imagining all my friends/family cheering for me. The run along the beach was no less than spectacular. The ocean surf sound, the sunset, the birds singing and cheering for me. I coudn't imagine a more perfect run day. I really wished I had a camera to capture this moment-me, the ocean and spectacular sunset. A few times I passed people walking on the course and said wow how 'bout that sunset? The crowds of people were no more. It was pretty much me, myself and I having these great conversations about the day, the sunset, the possibility I may be going to Kona. I thought if not me, than who? I deserve this, I have trained so hard the last 5 months, I do deserve this. The last half of an Ironman marathon takes forever. Time wise I was on a pretty good pace for me. I was doing the marathon in PR time. Run, walk, jog, stick to the plan...at one point on the road part I had talked with a course marshal who recognized my TEAM Tri top and knew I was part of "Xavier's Team". She told me he had finished the race in 8:45 and won his age group. I whooped for him. Great job buddy! I asked her about Michael and she didn't know his time or how he was..I asked her if she knew who my husband was and if she had seen him. She said no but she would bike back to check on him and tell him where I was, then get back to me. I was kinda worried since he hadn't caught me and I knew he wasn't that far back on the bike. I really wanted to share these moments with him..she took off saying she would check on him. I never saw her again. In the back of my mind I continued to be concerned about him the whole rest of the run.
It started getting dark, really dark. Glow stick on my race belt, I carried on cautiously in the dark. The running path was not lit, which surprised me. This is effing dangerous, I thought to myself. I have been known to trip and fall on some surfaces if I don't pick up my feet the right way so I was super careful along the unlit portion of the run. This kept me focused for quite awhile, ever knowing the phantom woman in my age group was running me down. I began to wish/pray that someone-my coaches, teammates, anyone would come along and tell me I could relax a bit, that I was indeed winning and didn't need to worry. That never happened so I kept running..I was so looking forward to seeing my friend Alison, who I knew was at the 32k Aid Station along the course. This kept me going for several miles...knowing I would see a familiar face. At the 32k mark, she wasn't there. I thought ok she probably had to go or something. It was pretty late and all... Then the next aid station came and there Alison was!! With a wild cheering section of Aid station workers, she announced that I was her friend from New Mexico in the US...and the cheers got louder. I got a much needed hug from her and that kept me going for the moment. Thank you Alison!! Then I realized I had forgot to ask her if I was ahead of my competition then started to doubt I was. She probably didn't want to discourage me with negative info. My mind was playing tricks on me at times. I couldn't figure out miles to kilometers, even though I had a friggin' watch on to tell me. All I knew was at the point I had 5k to go, I started to relax a bit and thought holy s*%#t, I think I am really gonna win this thing!! The crowds of spectators got bigger as I got closer to St. Kilda. Someone had said you could hear Mike Reilly from several miles away from the finish but I didn't hear him at all until I was very close..the cheers were so motivating that last couple of miles. Go Debra! They would say (had my proper name on the front of my number belt). That was so cool...I was so close..I started to see the sides of the race chute.
With about 100 meters to go, Bam!! I tripped over one of the metal feet holding the the chute gates and went down. I never saw it coming so went down pretty hard, skidding my hands and knees to try and stop the fall. Oh..my..gawd.. SERIOUSLY??? I felt so stoopid!! Someone asked if I was OK, I said I thought so and pulled myself up. Quickly surveying my body, I looked down and was bleeding from both my knees, my hands and I had what looked like a pretty good gash in my right hand. I still had the pair of extra socks on me and quickly wiped my knees and applied pressure on the hand gash to try and stop the bleeding at least until I crossed the line. I was somewhat dazed and confused from being at the end of the race, from falling..all of it. But I thought and maybe said out loud there is no effing way I am not getting to the finish line! I will crawl if I have to! The adrenalin kicked in and I sprinted to Mike Reilly's voice and at last I saw the Finish Line. People were cheering and banging on the sides of the finishers' chutes. I heard my Coach, Michael yell my name and cheer-I smiled at him..I was so relieved, happy to be finally, finally done! When I crossed the line, I heard it, I heard Mike say over the loud speaker Debra Wess, the winner of the 60-64 age group-you are an Ironman! It was official. I screamed and jumped up and down. Yeessss!!! I cried, I couldn't believe it. After all these years of blood sweat and tears, I finally did it. I won my age group at an Ironman! I tried to look up to the cameras, which I knew were filming the Finish Line and tried to motion to the kids, who I knew were watching in the US. I have no idea if they saw that. Oh..my..gosh, I am finally done and I am going to Kona!!! Run time: 5:34
Total time: 14 hours, 20 minutes. First place out of 5 women.
Back to earth, I immediately told someone I needed medical help and showed them the gash in my hand. They put me in a wheelchair and took me to the medical tent, where several people looked at my hand and said what I already knew..you need sutures in that hand..oh fudge, this is not how I saw my celebration of my age group win, not the way I imagined sharing that moment. I told anyone who would listen that I won my age group, I was going to Kona but they were more concerned about my physical well being, for which I was grateful. After taking my vital signs (my temp was pretty low, are you cold?-well, yes..), I was taken to a bed in the medical tent where a medical student told me she was the one doing the stitching. Hmmm, a medical student who obviously looks like it's her first time stitching someone up is doing the sutures in my hand... After asking some questions, (I use to be a nurse so wanted to know exactly what they were doing) I finally gave up control. I could not insult this poor medical student by asking for a plastic surgeon, after all this was my right hand! After what seemed to be a long slow, medical teaching experience process with a doctor instructing her, I had 4 stitches in my right hand. I was really hungry, thirsty at this point. I told them if they didn't let me eat, they were going to have another problem on their hands, my low blood sugar. Finally they brought me some Gatorade. Oh how I longed for pizza right then! I was practically I tears because I didn't know where Hartley was. I kept asking of they could find my husband. Well, no they had no idea..I begged them to find my phone from my morning bag, which was in a tent right outside the door..no, they couldn't do that..I wanted to cry..After about an hour, they finally let me go. Stitches and bandaid on hand, I finally got my drop bag and saw H in the food tent. We hugged and he said YOU ARE GOING TO KONA!
Right then, I got it. I really, really had reached my long term goal/dream and even more. I won my age group, had beat my competition by an hour and I was going to the Ironman World Championships...