I'm going to do a couple of blogs on the ironman and the entire experience, but I don't want this one to be miles long, so I'm going to keep this blog to strictly the day of the race! :) I'm also going to be detailed oriented for people like my family who want to read this that may not understand "tri lingo". It was a wonderful day that I'll never EVER forget!
First things first, I sleep like a rock. I know this is going to sound weird, but I also don't get nervous for races. For some reason, the one area of my life that I'm able to control emotions is with race day. The anxiety and butterflies of race days in the past makes me SUPER anxious, so I don't like it so I don't do it. Therefore, I sleep really well. In 4 years of marriage, my husband was snoring the night before, so I woke up and then couldn't go back to sleep at 12am off and on until 4am when my clock was set. HAA!!!
I wrote a post about all of the different things that you have to prepare for in a half ironman, but the same applies in a full ironman. You can find that post HERE. There are SO many details that have to come together..so.many! And I don't do details. I'm bad at those. On race morning, I knew I had forgotten something and realized it was a towel coming into T1 (transition 1 from the swim to the bike) and it was SO cold. I didn't change in T1 like a lot of people because I like to wear my tri kit the entire day from under my wetsuit to the run! So we frantically went to our car to find something for me to use. I used a shirt and scarf of Tanner's. After dropping off a peanut butter sandwich at my bag because I wanted at least solid food at that moment, I got my body markings (tattoos for your arms and legs that show your number) and then I got on the bus that would take us from Transition 1 to the swim start.
[Note for those considering IMNC: There is about a 0.25 mile run/jog from the water to T1. I heard people complaining about that. I choose to not let that stuff get to me, but it's on like asphalt so you have to do the little jog dance as you are barefoot coming out of the water. You also have to walk about 5-6 blocks from where the bus drops you off (on asphalt and I wore no shoes on the bus) to the actual start. However, that's also my fault that I didn't bring disposable flipflops. You CAN bring stuff to the swim start and they have bags there to get the stuff back to you but of course they "don't guarantee that" so I don't risk it.]
Once we got to the swim start, we had about an hour before go time. That went by surprisingly really fast. I talked with some people that I met on the bus and then ran into George who is racing from my town (couldn't believe I found him) and then 2 girls that knew me from the Women for Tri facebook group. This start is not a rolling start by age group or gender. It's a mass hysteria (okay that's dramatic but really). They sing the National Anthem, blow the horn and then everyone dives in. I was so excited that I squealed and ran into the water with George as we side hugged and talked about how it was "finally our time" and off we went.
NUTRITION THAT MORNING: I was at an airbnb and didn't want to cook so I got those little cups that you just add water. I got the one with buttered grits (32g Carb) with 3 eggs and a fast break Reese bar (ha). Then I had a cliff bar, and a banana before start so I had right around 100g Carb before the start and around 660 calories total (I had a large meal around 4:30pm the night before as well) and the start time was 7:30am.
Many people fear the open water swim. I'm not one of those people. So, when I started getting kicked by grown men and smacked in the face, I was like KATIE YOU KNEW BETTER!! I knew better than to jump in that water all excited. I knew better than to not just let everyone go out first and then get in. Much to my surprise, I had my first panic attack in the water literally minutes after we started. I could NOT get a good stroke going. Everything felt so labored, and then I started panicking. Everyone was kicking me and I started floundering because like their arms when they would try to stroke as I was treading water would like pull my feet down and dunk me. OMG Yall, I freaked. I started thinking stupid thoughts immediately "omg omg I'm gonna drown. I'm seriously going to drown" as my heart rate shot up and then I started coaching myself "Breatheeeeeee. Just breathe." I rolled onto my back and did the back stroke to allow myself to openly breathe. I went SUPER slow to allow everyone to just pass me.
I finally rolled back over and started my swim legit. I just kept it consistent and easy. I certainly never pushed pace, and I would use the big buoys as guide posts to just get to that point...then the next..then the next. I actually was able to relax and started really enjoying myself. My wetsuit however was chafing my neck on both sides which now I have huge hickey marks, but I just ignored it. I was so excited when I could see the landing dock and people being pulled out. The swim to bike transition I'm always SO JACKED UP! I'm not really tired and I'm just so excited that one leg of the race is done so I was the crazy girl hollering and high fiving everyone.
I didn't change. I went straight to get my bag, and ate my sandwich and put on all my bike gear, and headed out. It still took me 9 minutes. My transitions are hilariously long, but who cares? I don't actually do these for time.
The official ironman camera man comes up to me because I was by myself and he has the camera up and he's like "SO TELL US YOUR STORY!" I was like "Uh uh uh, I don't have a story." Hahahaha! i couldn't think of anything, so I could have made the dang ironman film but was silly and just like stared at him until he realized I was awkward and left. LOL!!!
Okay, I'm going to try to keep this as brief as possible. The first 15 miles flew by. I was having a great time, and it was really windy but whatever. I thought how I was much better or a cyclist this year and yet I had to go the same distance (with the bike course being cut to the half distance). I feel like I'm going to sound like a diva when I say this but that course is proclaimed to be flat, and it is in fact not flat at all. It is one continuous uphill with only 15 miles at the end that are flat/downhill. My Garmin says that I did 1100ft of elevation gain from miles 10-40, so I know that's 30 miles to increase that much, but there was ZERO downhill. It was just one continuous tiny little climb. Most people who even did the race say it's flat, but I disagree. haha!
This is when the wind situation was really bad. We were going over big bridges, and the gusts apparently were up to 31mph. When they would come through, they would literally move me. When people pass you on the bike, they always say "to your left!!" and they would yell that at me as I'm trying to steer right but my bike is going left due to wind. It was very scary. I felt out of control a lot, and didn't go down into aero much at all due to just gripping the handlebars for my life. The weather reported a continuous headwind of 23-27mph. It never let up. I typically do 15-16mph on the bike, and I was averaging 10-12mph. I could NOT get my bike moving, and because it was that tiny constant incline it was just bad. If I had forced myself into aero, I wouldn't have trashed my quads, but I was too scared so I burnt up my quads really bad just to fight the wind. I didn't stop ever because I was nervous that if I stopped with this wind, it would be really scary to get the momentum going again, so I rode for 3 hours and 45 minutes with the death grip! LOL!
My traps and neck have never been so sore. omg!
One time a tear fell down my cheek because if I'm being honest, everyone was passing me constantly. I felt like I was so terrible at tri and didn't even know why I bothered coming out here with all of these people that are so legit. Clearly, I was in a funk. This lady gave me encouragement when she saw my face and was like "OH SWEETIE! ALMOST THERE! WE GOT THIS. THIS WIND IS AWFUL! GO GIRL!" That kind of thing in a race is a God send.
At mile 40, we got the sweet sweet release of the turn around point. I've never been so happy in my entire life. FINALLYYYYY we were on the downhill, and headed back into town. 16 miles on the downhill with the tailwind was about the best gift we could have received going into the marathon. I started averaging around 17-20mph at that point so that my final average was around 14.7mph, which is SO SLOW for me, but I know the wind affected everyone by 2-4mph on average.
NUTRITION ON THE BIKE: I had two bottles-One had Lemon Lime Tailwind (50g C) and the other had Strawberry Lemonade of some brand I haven't tried before (oopsies I forgot) and it was the same nutrition (55g C ~220calories). I planned on drinking both but with the wind fear, I only got down one full bottle. Tanner said when he got my bike, he was worried when he noticed one full bottle, but I really was fine all day on nutrition. And clearly, I was behind on nutrition. My plan was 150calories/hour, and I had been 5 hours with only 340 calories. Yikes!
TRANSITION 2 (Bike to Run)
For those considering this race, the stopping point is on this tiny declined hill going into a gravel area so it was kinda odd with them having to yell at us to slow down as we were finishing so we didn't all have a big pile up then you jog on this little strip, and hand your bike off to a volunteer on your left. From there, you go into the changing tents. The volunteers were absolutely amazing!!! They were so helpful, and we all were changing into our running shoes, and then I exited out of the tent after I ate another cliff bar as quickly as I could thinking that put me right at 500 calories for the 5 hours I'd been working out, and that would have to do. I knew there were aid stations along the way a lot on the run so I wasn't concerned.
The transition into the run was unclear where the marathon started, but I was like "Wait, I need to start my garmin!" I was about 0.25 miles late on my Garmin start. I'm going to tell you my Garmin splits, because the tracker on the run was SO false. One time it tracked me at 5:39/mile for a 3 mile section. HA! I wish I became a Kenyan out there!
As I got off the bike, my legs literally became complete jello. It was hilarious as that's not happened to me before, but my knees were buckling and the girl behind me was like "Woah, are you okay?" HA! I was like "Oh yea I'm good...just casually about to go run a marathon!" LOLZZ! Not.
I got so so excited coming out into running. I saw my family, and I went in for a hug for Tanner. He does far more than I can ever explain, and is my biggest cheerleader always. I asked him what it felt like being there on Saturday as a spectator and he said that he can't describe the amount of joy he feels inside as he sees me go through the finisher chute. He said he knew how much time and passion I had put into this journey and how much it meant to me, and in those moments, he couldn't be any happier, so it makes him emotional.
Miles 1-3, I was FLYING as indicated by my split of 7:05/mile which was correct. WOAHHH KATIE SLOW IT DOWN! I could literally hear Bethany and Tanner fussing at me in those moments as they got the update on their phones. HA!!! I wanted to aim for 7:45-8 the entire marathon, but I genuinely had no clue what to expect after everything else, so I just was going to do whatever effort told me to do in each moment.
Miles 4-6 splits were 7:36, 7:43, 7:47 so I was proud to be doing a little better as I was purposely having to slow myself down but I knew my energy wouldn't last. I got to mile 8 and thought of mile 8 of Boston this year, and how I felt so awful at that race, and how I felt so great after doing so much more before on Saturday. That's the beauty of running. Some days are good. Some days are bad, so never give up on the bad. Take the highs with the lows.
Miles 7-10 splits were 7:52, 7:38, 7:53, 7:44!
This run on the Ironman NC course is one of my favorites of all time. You go up a tiny hill out of the town and into this beautiful park. It's completely flat, with a turn around point at 6.5 miles that you do a loop twice! There are aid stations at every single mile marker, and loud music playing and cheering. When I came through at mile 8, the beat of the song was my exact step so I was dancing with the volunteers which they absolutely loved. I was having a BALL! I was seeing so many people that I knew from facebook and instagram the way that the course is looped so I was hugging people left and right and people yelling my name. It was great! At mile 11, I thought "Eh, I'm okay but I don't need to be making a good time and I can tell my legs are throbbing so bad so I need to just start slowing down to a reasonable pace that my body feels is right!
Miles 11-14 were 7:51, 8:02, 8:04, 8:18
At mile 15, I felt this twinge in my calf. I've been struggling with my calves since I began endurance training. It's just something I kind of live with on a baseline. The way that my body is shaped, I have really long calf muscles, but they aren't developed. I've tried to build the muscle, but they don't hold up well, so I thought it was normal and it was so I kept running!
Miles 15-18 7:55, 8:02, 7:55, 9:10
At mile 18, I got a calf cramp. I was like "Oh boy!" I stopped to stretch it out, but it would not let up. I knew I had to continue forward and just do what I could. The wheels came off the school bus though. When I stopped, all of the toxins that had been building up like released into my legs and I got this at Grandfather Mountain Marathon, but it feels like I'm going to crawl out of my skin in pain. My legs were finally DONE, and it hit me like a brick ... to the face... with a chair attached.
I had been eating every single mile marker with the aid stations. I would grab handfuls of grapes and pretzels and cliff bars and I was stuffing in as many calories as I could. I started having stomach pains around mile 12, but it wasn't intolerable, but I did ease up at that point and not eat so much quantity of solid foods, and started taking the gels and chomps. I didn't personally take anything because I knew they'd have it out on the course and I don't like carrying it.
I probably got in a solid 200 calories/hour on the first 3 hours of the marathon so nutrition wise and gut wise and hydration wise, I actually felt great the entire race.
At mile 18, I knew I just had to shuffle step to keep that one foot in front of the other motion going. Mile 19-22, the splits were 9:46, 8:49, 8:50, 9:47. The 9minute/mile ones are those that I was genuinely walking just to try to ease that calf pain then would pick back up again to just try to move forward. I knew I was almost there, and of course there was nothing that would stop me, but I just knew it was going to be the longest 4 miles of my life...and it was. haha!
At mile 24, I saw George. He was walking and I kinda panicked for him like OH NO! WHAT HAPPENED?! He explained that his wheels came off as well around mile 16 and that he was struggling. We encouraged one another, shuffle stepped for a little bit, and then he said he was going to have to walk and for me to go on out ahead.
Miles 24-26 were the hardest miles I think I've done. My legs were hurting so bad, but I knew I was so close and to just shuffle shuffle. The energy was insane. The crowd was going wild, and I was loving their encouragement. It was so needed in those moments. At mile 25, I knew I had one mile left, and that it didn't matter about anything at that point but that finisher chute. People started yelling that I was about to be an ironman, and I started crying. Crying while running is very hard to breathe so I kept coaching myself to not cry just yet. I rounded the corner and saw my mom. She was screaming and jumping up and down OMG OMG GO KATIE!!! OMG UGLY CRY TIME! I came into the finisher chute. It's a red carpet, and everyone could see my name on my bib and were yelling my name. I looked to my left and saw Tanner. He was yelling, and smiling so big.
I took in every single moment and second knowing I'd never get that feeling again. I put my hands up as I shuffle stepped across that finish line, and then starting sobbing. As per usual, the volunteers think I'm hurt and start asking if I need a med tent. I'm like "No no! I'm just a finish line cryer!" I immediately thought how long it would take to find my mom and Tanner and then all of a sudden, Tanner's there at the end of the chute. I got my medal, my PJ pants (tradition in NC), and I just sobbed into his chest. He kept saying "I'm so proud. I'm just so proud."
There is nothing in my past, and nothing in my future that will ever be like the moment I had in that finisher chute and I'm tearing up typing this. When you put your entire heart and soul into a dream that you've had your entire life, and watch it come to fruition (even if it's not how you originally intended), the feeling is indescribable. You feel on top of the world and I'm still on cloud 9!
I know during the process, my family thought I was crazy. I fought so hard for cycling. I had so many knee scraps learning those clip ins. I spent countless hours learning to bike. I watched hours of inspirational videos on youtube to get me through. I wanted to give up so many times, but I just kept telling myself that just like a race, it's just one more step. It's just one more mile, and then you make it. You dig so deep, and learn something new about your limitations every single time. The truth is, as I always say, the limitations that we place on ourselves are only there due to societal norms and our inability to open our minds up to the possibility of what we are capable. Every time you break down that barrier, you know that anything is possible. I look up and think how this must be what heaven is like. For the first time in your life, you aren't your worst critic. You cry because of all the doubt you had in yourself, you broke down those walls with just one more step forward, and you know that no one can take that from you.
If you'd like to see my other race reports, you can find those HERE.