Race Report by B. Imei Hsu
August 21, 2016 Ironman Mont-Tremblant, Quebec Canada
At the time of writing this blogpost, I took a moment to watch the video recap of Ironman Mont-Tremblant. At the awards ceremony the day after the race, we watched on big screens the event we had just raced, that some of us had struggled through, that others among us had not finished.
Yet it wasn’t until nearly a week later while watching the video more closely that it really hit me what I had just completed: my first Ironman. As I watched the scenes of the rain coming down, I was at once overwhelmed with feelings of unbounded happiness for having experienced it, yet grief when I realized what I had just volunteered to put my body through over the past ten months. I am covered in multiple bruises, my legs are still slightly swollen, and I sometimes wake up thinking I’m caught in some traumatic race loop, soaked to the skin and shivering.
And for the first time in this entire journey, I finally broke down and wept.
As I am not one to easily cry, I suppose this requires a little explanation, so I’ll start near the beginning, to share with you how it is that someone with a fear of swimming, who didn’t even own a road bike, and who once thought marathons were for crazy people, would someday dream about crossing the finish line of an Ironman race.
Being a therapist to entrepreneurs, startup leaders, technology workers, and creative types, I often hear clients repeat the pithy motivational statement, “Live as if failure is not an option.” Another quotable I hear is, “Life without limits.”
Looking back at my journey to Ironman, which officially began in November 2015 when I registered for Ironman Mont-Tremblant (IMMT) in Quebec, Canada, I experienced the opposite truth: to give me the best preparation to cross that finish line, I needed to fail and recover multiple times across a few different areas in order to problem solve through my own set of very real limits and challenges.
To me, participating in an Ironman was not about an end destination, but rather a means to a pathway. If I could do this, I felt as if I could take on big projects and new causes, not just for myself, but for the sake of others.
By failing first, I learned how to adapt quickly, which is what IMMT was all about.
M’s Response after I signed up for IMMT…
“I took out extra life insurance on you.”
To give me the highest chances of success at becoming an Ironman on my first try, there were several key components to preparation and training. One of them was my bike performance. I am tiny. The “mighty” part would need to be built, one Computrainer ride at a time during the wet winter months in the Seattle area. To prepare to ride the elevation profile of IMMT’s bike course, I rode the 70.3 Tremblant course over 16 times.
I also went back to Maui Camp in March, headed by Coaches Michael Covey and Cal Zaryski, conquering the hills I didn’t get to ride the previous year due to getting a rock embedded in my knee (long story). Riding on the Road to Hana in rain, shivering and slightly miserable, ended up forming an important piece of IMMT training.
A Lifelong Fear of Swimming
Real Deal: Swim 2.4 miles in 2hrs20min to make the swim cutoff. The challenge: increase my swim distance from 1.2 miles to 2.4 without needing to pause.
Drama Time: I have had a lifelong fear of swimming, and panic in the water. When I was young, I was drowned in our backyard pool by a developmentally delayed boy who held me underwater until I passed out. I was rescued, but I still have memories of watching the sun go out as I lost consciousness.
I took swim lessons in 2013 to begin healing that broken, frightened, phobic place in my mind. Using Exposure Therapy, I began to replace my frightened thoughts with positive experiences of being in and around water. I even learned to paddleboard!
Additionally, this year I had temporarily lost my ability to bilaterally breathe on both sides (see “MRI”, below). I swam with a snorkel, just to alleviate the pain in my right shoulder and neck. Open water swims included a moment where I wondered if I might die!
Many times during the summer, I reminded myself of certain benchmarks during the years: learned to swim for the first time in April 2013; completed first Sprint triathlon in Sept 2013; completed first Olympic triathlon in Sept 2014; swam first one-mile open ocean swim in December 2014; completed first Half Ironman triathlon in June 2015. All I would need to do is keep my head, keep practicing, keep at it. And hopefully, keep warm!
Coach Covey assigned two pool swims a week, gradually increasing the distance. “Sunday Swimmy Swims” in the calm water of Beaver Lake followed in late Spring and became one of my favorite things, including The Rock and Back Double! I’ve been lucky to complete almost every one of my OWS workouts with at least one swim buddy from the team.
A Long Bike Course Needs a Kitchen
Real Deal: Bike 112miles in approximately 7 to 7.75 hrs, covering approx. 3600m of elevation gain, much of it in an out-and-back portion of Chemin Duplessis at the end of the double-looped course.
Drama Time: Um, poor Imei’s Grumpy Tummy cannot handle processed foods, especially race foods and formulated liquid nutrition. I’ve spent well over two years perfecting combinations of real foods to puree in a blender, add water, and pour into gel flasks and baby food pouches, as well as using Andy Lim’s Feedzone Portables recipes, like Blueberry Coconut Rice Cakes.
Living with Celiac Disease and over 300 food allergies and intolerances has been challenging, to say the least. I think sometimes people don’t really understand autoimmune diseases and how vulnerable the body is when its own tissues are under attack. It goes far beyond having gluten free options to choose from when cruising down the cereal aisle. I am so sensitive, I can’t safely eat out.
Not eating out the entire summer was very hard to coordinate. Period. As the months of training continued, I watched my list of safe foods diminish. It’s one thing to tell yourself to pass on that side of French Fries because it’s greasy carbs; it’s another to avoid those pomme frites because if you don’t, you could end up very sick for days.
Eventually, I was forced to eliminate applesauce, apple cider (with or without alcohol), white and yellow potatoes, tomatoes, goat yoghurt, almonds, sunflower seeds (and oil), and (wait for it) all alcohol. On top of not being able to eat seeds, nuts, grains (except rice), bananas, pineapple, bell peppers, squash, all legumes, all beans, dairy, cod, alliums (garlic, onions, leeks, and shallots), all emulsifiers, and almost all preservatives, “Feeding the Imei” became an all-consuming project. For all that work, I decided to archive all that work in a blog. My Allergy Advocate was born! I became an expert at batch cooking.
During this year, I’ve created recipes specific to my needs, such as Gluten Free Xanthan Gum free Pizza Crust, Allium Free Cauliflower Hummus, and Sweet Potato and Maple Syrup Puree. I also had invested in a Cabelas 6-tray food dehydrator, making my own fruit roll ups, gluten and soy free beef jerky, and kale chips. I don’t think I left the house without a pouch of food in my purse or backpack. This is also the first year I started carrying an EpiPen.
So, everywhere I go that involves triathlon and specifically long-distance cycling when I need to eat to finish, I must have a clean kitchen, an allergen-free blender, and my own special foods to work with. Kitchen = Happy Tummy and Happy Imei.
LCHF and Low HR Running
The Real Deal: Run 26.2 miles of mostly flat road while eating the least amount of food possible, carry an Epi pen, and be mostly self-reliant.
Drama Time: Running long distances is more about my tummy staying happy than anything else. I ate a low carb, high fat diet, became metabolically efficient, and kept my HR low while running. My diet had to be Paleo with rice in order to stay healthy and non-reactive to new food allergies. I spent a lot of evenings sick and fatigued. This has been a HUGE challenge for me.
I lost 17 pounds, much of which I could not actually afford to lose. Running has a tendency to cannibalize my upper body tissue, and over the months of training, I leaned out enough to joke about channeling Gwen Jorgensen!
The running itself, however, has always been a fairly straight-forward part of the triathlon equation. While my guts prevent me from running particularly fast, I run steady over long distances. I did a lot of fun trail running, confirming my desire to try running my first 50k ultra in 2017. I truly enjoy myself on long runs, and with micro spikes and snow shoes in the winter, I learned to extend my running season and cross train.
And Now, An MRI On My Birthday
The Real Deal: Get to the start line of the race injury free and as pain free as possible.
Drama Time: in Late February, I started having neck, shoulder, and hand pain. Treatment gave it some relief, but it wasn’t until I had an MRI on my birthday that I learned I had a hemangioma and diffuse inflammation throughout my cervical spine.
Training became a day-by-day call. I had my long hair cut short, as I could no longer lift my hands above my head to style it. I wondered a few times if I should just quit and bag my Ironman dream.
Over time, I watched my neck and shoulder strength improve with chiropractic care from Gentry McGrath. I had once or twice a week adjustments, and some pretty painful but necessary medical massage sessions. I vomited after one session, it was so painful!
Coach Covey moved my workouts around to accommodate constantly changing pain levels. A Prednisone taper helped keep the inflammation in check. It also made my guts really unhappy. As soon as I was able, I had modified workouts with the Team, and did whatever training I could according to the day’s pain scale.
I was unable to train for about two weeks before Victoria 70.3, yet managed to race! This race began giving me some hope that IMMT was still a possibility. I booked a flight to Montreal in June, waiting until the last possible moment to be sure I was actually going to be able to race.
Race-Cation in Tremblant
Months before the race, I asked my sister-in-law Katja if I might arrive early in Tremblant and stay at her ranch home for a few days of R and R before moving into the Village prior to the race. Her home was nearby, yet far enough from the hoopla and electrifying environment of Ironman M-T. I got a true “race-cation”, and it was so relaxing!
Helping myself to the fresh vegetables in the garden, assembling my bike in her garage and riding from there to the Village and back, and listening to crickets chirp at night was just what I needed to keep the IM race jitters at bay, as well as decompress from my work as a therapist. Prior to flying to Quebec, I had been helping a lot of people process racial tension, fear, depression, work stress, and loss. My last day in the office was filled with difficult emotions, and I needed to take time and space to decompress in order to redirect my head towards my own game and focus.
Coach Covey and I talked over the phone, and I expressed concern that I wasn’t feeling anxious about the race. I was sleeping well, eating fine, and feeling relatively calm. “You are ready,” he explained. I suppose I expected to be flipping out about now, but I wasn’t.
I used the early part of the week to adjust to the humidity and to the three hour time change, forcing myself to rise early and plopping myself in bed promptly each evening by 8:30pm. Coach Covey outlined daily workouts under two hours to keep my body humming without adding stress or fatigue.
I also had time to pick raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries, baking gluten-free low sugar tarts with the berry puree, and trying to plump and hydrate myself up as best I could before Race Day. Um, #nomnom!
Pre-Race Day Prep in Mont-Tremblant
On the Thursday, I moved into a hotel suite with a full kitchen in Place St. Bernard, just a short walk away from the Expo and the Finish line. I had plenty of time to get a couple of short rides in on Chemin Duplessis, and a good thing I did, as I discovered a couple of issues needing attention from a the on-site repair guys.
My Look pedal bike shoe clip broke, and guess who thought to buy a set of spares before flying to Montreal? Um, C’est moi! I swear, preparing for an Ironman on the other side of the country in a small town is as complex as being a Project Manager for a product launch! Got that baby replaced in no time. Let’s also say I have earned my ownership of a set of Allen keys and torque wrenches.
My BlueSeventy wetsuit also decided to lose an important thread on the shoulder seam, and luckily BlueSeventy had a repair tent that fixed it overnight.
Registration was a fine-tuned machine with excellent volunteers. We would later learn about exciting new developments on how Mont-Tremblant is making the town triathlete friendly, such as opening the Tremblant course for training through the entire summer with signage and weekly road cleaning. The people of M-T are extremely friendly to the triathlons hosted, and you can feel it with the courtesy of the drivers on the roads to the attitude of the vendors in the shops.
There are plenty of things to do for families who travel here, including ziplines, shopping, hiking trails, museums, an indoor community pool, and the the Old Town of Mont-Tremblant. It is smaller than Whistler, B.C, yet the layout is similar. The architectural design is charming.
We attended the Athlete’s Banquet and required pre-race meeting Friday evening, even though I could not eat any of the food. I ate dinner in my hotel suite, and packed a light snack for the next few hours. They had entertainment including a singer, two Cirque du Soleil-styled artists rotating around a pole in a charming dance, and local government officials welcoming us to the area.
To my surprise, the Race Director laid out contingency plans that including canceling the swim, delaying the swim while cutting the swim distance in half, and starting the bike course at a slightly different point using rolling start waves. We were informed that we would be told first thing in the morning if these contingencies would replace the normal swim start waves or the event itself. I was unnerved. While I don’t want to swim in a fog or a storm, how will I feel if I race an Ironman with a shortened swim after all the training I did? Spoken like a true competitor, ha! But yes, safety first.
Since most of my prep had to be done in Seattle in order to pack it up and fly, my race-day prep in the hotel was simple. For the first time in the week, I actually got to put up my feet and watch the Olympic Games on television. I even caught Gwen Jorgensen’s triathlon finish, woot!
The Day (and Night!) Before the Race
Having an experienced 4X-Ironman Finisher in the house is so helpful! M joined me at the end of the week. On Saturday, he reminded me to “race my own race”, pace myself, and offered to wake up with me race morning to help me get off to a great start.
We spent some of the morning on top of the mountain by taking the gondola, snapping pictures, and fêting his birthday (yes, M’s birthday was the day before the race!). The weather was gorgeous, sunny, and bright. What was all this talk about a possible storm rolling in? Weather forecast said 40% chance of rain Sunday, but at Tremblant, you can never really tell.
With the gear and bike checked in the afternoon, all I had to do was finish preparing my fresh foods, freeze the pouches, and make dinner and breakfast. Phew! I had a check list of things to grab before heading out the door in the morning, so nothing would be forgotten.
I climbed into bed around 8:30pm, and M held me until I finally fell asleep. During my sleep, I dreamed that I finished the race in time, and then I saw myself walking into the med tent. Nothing else. I made a note of it to tell M, since many of my dreams come true.
Finally…It’s Race Day!
What the heck is that sound? Oh my gosh, it’s the alarm!!! Ha ha ha, it’s Race Day!
3:45 am, and I’m eating breakfast early enough to give the Tum-Tum time to digest and take care of the “bathroom biz”. I laughed, knowing there were about 2800 others doing the same thing!
M took my phone for the day, using it to share play-by-play coverage of my day from body marking to swim bike run. I placed my foods in the T1 and T2 bags, on the bike, and then checked tires and brakes one last time. I had wrapped my bike seat and aero bars in plastic the day before, because we didn’t know for sure what the weather would bring. The air was warm.
All systems, go Go GO!
I looked up to the skies, felt the humidity, and like an innocent
fool lamb, walked out of Transition and made my way with M down to the beach club of Lac Tremblant.
And with no further ado, here’s what you came to read — THE RACE REPORT!
[Oh gee, finally! Is she ever going to just shut up about all that other stuff and tell us about the race?!? Yackity yakity yak, blah blah blah, did she even race at all?]
Swim Event 2:00:39
As mentioned, the Race Director for IMMT said that weather might cancel or delay the swim, due to fog.
Come race morning, we woke up to overcast skies and humidity, but no rain or fog. However, the wind was starting to pick up, and as I looked past the 13th buoy on Lac Tremblant where the first red Right Turn Buoy of the rectangular swim bobbed, I thought I saw what looked like swells and waves. Uh oh.
M said he saw me shaking like a leaf, but I honestly don’t remember it. My blood was pumped up with adrenaline, I was talking to myself, “You know how to swim! This is Beaver Lake, to the Rock and Back Double Edition! Let’s do this!” I put on my noseclip, hopped in for a very brief warm up, and lined up with the last swim wave, Women 40+.
My goal was to swim a 1hr40min swim by starting out mid-pack Left, and easing Right towards the line of sight. During races, I usually enjoy finding a draft zone and using the first bit to find my rhythm while picking off the buoys. I typically swim faster in races than in training. It would be the same as back home, only with 2800 others, ha ha! A jet flew overhead as the male pros were sent off by cannon. Soon enough, it was my swim wave, rose-capped and nervously chatting. As soon as I was waist-high in the water, I started to execute my plan.
The plan worked perfectly until I reached the first Red Buoy just past Buoy 13, signaling the first right turn. I even managed to not get swum over or knocked around, and I was surprised how quickly the swim seemed to be going. Yet at this turn, things were about to change.
I found myself in the middle of what I thought I had seen from the shore: WHITE CAPS! Oh crap! Rounding the first Red Buoy, I got smacked in the face with a couple of big waves, and I made a point of slurping the air on the side of my mouth while using my arm to block incoming swells. Unfortunately, I have very tiny paddles for arms! Bunches of rose-color capped women from my swim wave were slowly making their way through this channel towards the next Red Turn Buoy; a few hid behind the buoy itself for shelter. I did my best to make progress against the current but I began to fatigue.
Rounding the second Red Buoy (yes, I actually did bother to use Side Stroke, Back Stroke, Side Stroke, Crawl), the waves were even bigger! Several people were bobbing alongside kayakers; others were rolling up and down in the peaks and troughs. I pressed on, slowly.
One particularly big wave sent me airborne like Ariel in The Little Mermaid, and I jacknifed before duck diving under another wave. A kayaker signaled to me to indicate thumbs up or down. Thumbs up! But wow, get me outta here!
Working through a mild foot cramp by alternatively dorsiflexing and pointing my feet, eventually I found a rhythm by breathing on the side I had been unable to breathe on without pain all summer. The current didn’t allow me any room to pause; if I paused, I got pushed off course by the waves or slapped in the face with a swell.
I breathed on the side away from the waves, which also happened to be the left side. Lucky for me, my neck had decided to open up a couple of weeks prior to the race, so I focused on a good body position in the water, and overcompensated on the swim stroke against the current.
The kayakers had a busy day. I probably took in a good couple of mouthfuls of lake! Bleah!
I cannot tell you how happy I was to get down to the last three buoys and enter the calmer waters as I pulled towards the shore. “No more swimming! Swimming is done!” I shouted. Tra la la!
T1 Swim-2-Bike 17:57
The Lac Tremblant swim exit is located just under .5mi from Transition, so after the Wetsuit Stripper Guys got my wetsuit off, I trotted and walked along a long red carpet to Transition. It was then that I noticed I was shivering hard. Having endured a longer swim than anticipated, I was paying dearly for having lost a lot of body fat. The walk itself took more than five minutes. It was going to be a long T1.
In Transition, I worked as deftly as I could to remove as much water from my kit top and my skin to get my bike shorts and arm sleeves on. It wasn’t raining when I selected what I would wear, but I had an important choice to make: squish a wind jacket (not fully water repellent) in one jersey pocket (I had one ready to go, rolled as tightly as possible with a rubber band securing it), and by doing so, displace two “spare” pouches of food that would fit in that same pocket. Which one? Which one?
I chose the food over the jacket, slipped arm sleeves and my bike jersey over my drying kit top, secured my Giro Attack Helmet and bike shoes on after drying out my toes, and ran to the bike. I kept thinking this was going to be like “The Hunger Games”, only I wasn’t going to be hungry. By carrying all my food on me instead of leaving pouches in Special Needs, I decreased my risk of the bike event going sideways for me due to nutrition.
Bike Event: 7:57:01
I had been looking forward to riding the Tremblant double-looped course all year, having grunted my way through its hill profile over 16 times on my husband’s Comptrainer since January. Sometimes, I had to ride that course with my head face down in order to keep my neck and shoulders in the most neutral and pain-free position I could find. To be able to see deer, trees, a rushing river, and quaint neighborhoods with signs in French would be a real treat!
Hwy 117 is an out-and-back course made up of wide, smooth roads that were fairly clear of debris and almost no potholes. There are some nice rollers, and in my training for the 180km double loop course, I was looking forward to the fast descents that are clearly missing from the Computrainer version. The descents give riders a rest on the legs, and I find that they are often enough to reset my mind and attitude as well as the quads.
In reality , what I experienced was one spine-tingling, scream-worthy course. By the time I reached the first descent, a light rain turned into a downpour that did not let up for the next seven hours. At different points, I was pummeled with hail that made my bottom lip swell, since I was panting with my mouth open, working hard to make up lost time on the swim and T1.
Clinging to my little Cervelo TT with her 650c wheels, I was grateful I did not have deep-dish race wheels because of the high wind gusts up to 40kph. At one point, athletes returning back up a hill cheered me on with cries of, “Allez! Allez!” as I flew past more cautious riders.
Once again, my experiences at Maui Camp riding in rain helped me gauge a safe descending speed, and while I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared, at no point did I feel out of control. Pig (my bike’s nickname, aka Snappy Dragon II) and I had spent a lot of time together. I knew how she handled.
I easily made the first and second bike cutoff points, despite starting out so late on the course. As the pouring rain and dark skies made it difficult to see, I flipped up my Giro Attack Helmet’s visor during the return uphill climb to the third cut off point, and put it back down on the descents. I did not dare look at my Garmin, keeping both hands on the headset for safety.
The wind gusts made it dicey to hill climb out of the saddle; it made more sense to get down low and make it harder to be blown over. I watched people ahead of me wavering in the wind, being blown a few feet in either direction. We were like limp ragdolls. The med tents were filling with people suffering from hypothermia. I heard ambulances in the distance.
As per plan, I pulled into the third cutoff check point, racked my bike, and used the Port-o-Potty. I noticed the humidity in the air converted the bathroom stalls into virtual greenhouses, and inside the stall (!!!) I carefully ate some solid food options (1/2 EPIC bar, as I am a “fat burner”, rice cake, and washed it down with fluids) while I could still feel my hands.
As soon as I warmed up, I hopped out of the stall, jumped on the bike, and worked to slowly catch up to the people I had been riding behind for the last hour. It was a slow hill climb out because of the conditions, but the elevation was not bad. My legs still felt great, and better yet, my neck and shoulders were quiet and free of pain.
The second section of IMMT’s bike course takes you back on Montee Ryan and through the quiet neighborhoods surrounding Mont-Tremblant, riding along Chemin Voyageurs and back near the M-T Village. Onlookers braved the storm with raingear and rang cowbells, shouted encouragement, and held up their beers from the patios lining the bike course. I heard a child say to her mother, “Look, it’s a girl!” as she must’ve seen my double braids, dripping with rain, as I rode by. “Bonjour! Oui, Je suis une femme!” I called back, and she happily waved.
Here, I felt a little less lonely, as the majority of athletes were still well ahead of me. It was nice to see the townspeople cheering in the rain.
Going under the Casino banner, the bike course heads toward the third section, Chemin Duplessis. On the way there, you pass the Rivere de Diablo, beautifully manicured golf courses, and whoa! – the Race Director himself, Dominique Piche, standing in the middle of a hill, flagging riders to slow down!
If the RD is on the course, you KNOW something happened, or something was being prevented from happening. When I descended past him, he caught my eye and said, “I LIKE your speed! Perfect!” I would learn a couple of days later that earlier in the race day, there was a bike crash involving some 20 athletes. An athlete reported that she saw a rider on the ground, blood spilling out of his head. I had no knowledge of any of this at the time I rode this section; my mind was completely focused on the three main hill climbs ahead.
For all the training of my Ironman journey, Coach Covey’s bike-heavy workouts paid off in dividends. The 8% grade and higher climbs were reasonable, and I picked off each climb, finishing with a, “Yeah! Hah!” I admit I was surprised to see a number of athletes walking their bikes up the climbs, and a few stopping by the onsite bike repair tent for everything from squeaky wheels to broken chains. I did note that my back brake started rubbing the wheel (why then, I have no clue), so at the turnaround point past the last hill climb, I opened the back brake slightly, and checked to make sure I could still brake safely on the descent. Good to go!
Part of the reason I picked a hilly course for my Ironman journey is that I have learned that hills are my friend. I’m lightweight, so going up is fine, and I’m aero, so going down is also fine. On the hills were the places I had the pleasure of passing athletes without sacrificing my legs. Descending back down those hills I worked so hard for made me smile so wide, my mouth filled with rain!
Before long, I was back at the loop turn around and heading out for Loop #2 and Bike Special Needs. I stopped there, dumped my used sweet potato puree flasks, and grabbed an EPIC bar, bacon, and lip balm. I had a pair of dry bike socks, but there was no point in changing them, as my shoes were soaked but draining, and the rain still kept dumping. I wished that I had a rain jacket! The humidity in the air was still keeping me warm; that, or I was having a hot flash! I heard someone call my given name, “Go, Bernice!” but didn’t see who it was. I would later find out it was a kind woman I had met via Facebook through the Women for Tri group.
And now for Loop #2! <— could it get worse? Yes, it could!
The only cut off I was really concerned about at this point was the 3:45pm third cutoff on the return on Hwy 117 before the climb out on Montee Ryan. The weather continued to be nasty, and as I mentioned before, I had on arm sleeves that provide some warmth when dry, but very little when wet. They were soaked. I even had rain dripping into my shorts from the back of my jersey. The humidity that had given me some warmth earlier was replaced by chills from the wind.
Again, I took the descents as fast I felt I could safely handle. I think it is safe to say that conditions were every coaches nightmare. I heard my teammate Lola’s voice in my head, “Keep your hands off the brakes,” although I was covering them with my fingers for safety. I began to clench my jaw so hard from shivering, it became sore. To loosen it up, I started belting out 80’ rock tunes, like Kansas’ Carry On My Wayward Son, British band Modern English’s “Melt With You”, and Steppenwolf’s, Magic Carpet Ride. Music is pure emotion, and it has always been a way I transform emotional stress into positive, “happy” energy. Soon enough, I was at the first turn around and heading back up the hill to the third cut off point.
The wind nearly knocked me over a couple of times, and I had slowed down a bit. My fingers were blue-ish, and at times, I found it difficult to ride without wobbling. Other riders looked as miserable as I felt.
IMMT ended up being all about adapting to the changing conditions of the course. One microclimate was dry, while another had a half inch of rain on the ground; one stretch had howling wind and rain, while another stung me with hail. As I approached the aid station and med tent next to the sign for the third cut off point (3:45pm), I pulled in and began to rack my bike just as I did the first time, only a med tent volunteer came running up to me and took my arm. “Come into the tent and warm up. You don’t look so good,” he implored. I shrugged his help off but said nothing, marched myself back into a steamy Port-o-Potty, and rested on the toilet seat. Things were
not looking good bad. <–you think?
As I began to shove food in my mouth, I had one of those, “This is it” moments. This is where you assess “What is” instead of looking at “What isn’t”. What was true: I had three of the five classic signs of hypothermia – shivering, difficulty talking, faltering coordination, difficulty making decisions or thinking, and losing energy. “What do I need right now?” I asked myself. “Do I need to quit? Is this it?” The answer came back: you need to get warm, and you need to get going. You are not tired. You can do this.
Sighing, I exited the stall and marched over to my bike, where the med tent volunteer was still waiting for me out of concern. He motioned over to the other athletes huddling under space blankets under a tent tarp and suggested that maybe I was done for the day. Two young volunteers came alongside and listened.
I hesitated, took a deep breath, and asked, “Do you have a large, clear plastic garbage bag?” The two volunteers looked at me strangely, then realized what I was about to do. I had done the same thing in my first stand-alone marathon in 2014, running while wearing a large plastic bag for five hours in a downpour. They helped me punch a hole for my head, slipped it over my helmet, and I punched holes for my arms. I said, “Tie the bottom off tightly around my waist. That should help trap my body heat and keep me warm.”
Essentially, I was recreating the steamy environment of the Port-o-Potty, using my own body heat to produce the balmy effect. I felt a little bit like Tom Hanks in, “Castaway”, making fire! Once again, a past failure could prove to help me succeed.
“How much more time do I have to make this cutoff?” I asked.
He looked at his watch. “Eleven minutes!” he exclaimed. “You should not go.”
I looked at him and said, “I think I’ll be OK. Let me try. I swear, if I am not steady in the next fifteen minutes, I will pull myself over and get to the police officers who are waiting up ahead.” He shrugged and stepped back.
“Well, then. I had better get going!” I said. And with a shove of my foot, I was off, plastic bag flapping against the wind, and steam rising up to my face. Within a few minutes, my hands were warm again, my core temperature felt more comfortable, and I stopped shivering.
By the time I got back to the neighborhoods of Tremblant, the rain was beginning to ease. As I went through a traffic circle, I stopped to rip off the plastic bag and hand it to a volunteer to dispose of it. I would not be needing it for the second pass through Chemin Duplessis.
It’s a wonder how slowly the last six miles of hill climbing can feel. It was also lonely. Once again, there were people walking their bikes up the hills, and once again, I was still on my bike, panting my way up each hill.
As soon as I reached the turn around, the volunteers were cheering. “You made it! You’re going to make the final cut off! Go go go!” they cheered.
The descent off the hills was one of the sweetest parts of the ride; it was truly, “all downhill from here”, and since the roads were now dry and mostly empty, I took the descents quickly, sailing past a few stragglers, and laughing in the wind.
As I handed off my bike to a volunteer at the Bike Dismount, I asked, “How much time?”
I discovered I had just fifteen minutes to spare. Phew! Guess I really am going to get to run a marathon, I thought. Ha ha!
While I had planned for a 7:00-7:30 bike split, most parts of me were just relieved I had made it without falling off my bike!
T2 Bike-to-Run 08:32
The Transition tent was mostly empty. I dumped out my dry clothes from the Run Gear Bag, stripped off my wet clothes with a,“Good riddance to you!” and moved the remaining food pouch from my bike jersey to my hydration vest. The vest also had my EpiPen, a small amount of electrolyte water, electrolyte tablets, Imodium, a few Canadian “222’s” for pain if needed, and my headlamp. While I had felt silly all summer training with a hydration vest for a race where almost no one else uses one, it really was the only reasonable option I had as a food-sensitive runner.
I struggled to get my calf sleeves and Injinji socks on, despite drying myself off as quickly and carefully as I could. The bike ride had felt like an extension of the swim in terms of being cold and wet, and T2 felt like T1, only much shorter because I wasn’t shaking so hard.
M was waiting for me just outside the run exit onto the course. I would find out later that he had been knocking it out of the ballpark in terms of adding clever commentary, factoids, photos, and video from the day’s events onto my Facebook Wall. How can I not smile seeing this photo out of the run exit, Cat Bombed with two fat fluffy kitties?
Marathon Event 06:09:35
Once again, as I left Transition and started in on the marathon, I took a moment to ask myself, “What do I need?” I had everything I needed. The air was warm but not too hot, the wind had died down, and the sun was out. There was no hunger, thirst, or pain. I hit the button on my Garmin to start the run, and I started running at a slow and comfy pace.
My goal was to keep a steady pace somewhere between a 10 to 10:30min/mile, after warming up at an easy 11 min/mi. for the first mile. Except for the first couple of rollers heading out of town, this goal was not too difficult to meet.
The double-looped run course allowed a lot of interaction between athletes, and I wasn’t bothered that some were coming in for their finish as I began my first loop. My body started to warm up with the humid air. I congratulated runners as they headed into town for the Finisher’s Chute.
In my training back home, I had planned to drink water, take electrolyte tablets, and use the remainder of my sweet potato puree and pouch of blackberries for easy-to-digest fuel. This worked great until I began to fatigue, and then the plan was to sip Pepsi at every other aid station as needed, to get caffeine and real sugar.
When it came time to get that first sip of Pepsi, I asked the volunteer to hand me an empty bottle, just to confirm what I had experienced in Victoria 70.3 (and as was promised in Canadian races): the Pepsi should be real sugar, and not High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).
Oh no! CORN! It’s HFCS! <—*insert explicit swear word of your choice*
The last time I had intentionally ingested HFCS was when I ate a package of theater-sized Sour Patch Kids. Within a couple of hours, it all came up, fell out, turned my guts inside out, and left me nauseated. And so at the aid station, I handed the cup of Pepsi back to the volunteer. What was I going to do?
I had four capsules of electrolytes with added caffeine, and calculated that the caffeine in those pills would carry me through the first 13 miles, maybe to mile 15-17. After that, I would have to see what it would take to keep me going. When I hit mile 14, I was tired enough to take my first sip of Pepsi, and true to form, it felt like adding Rocket Fuel to my Imei legs. I have to say, the next five miles were amazeballs! The first half had gone by easily, seducing me to believe that the second half would be more of the same. It sure felt that way.
The decision to sip Pepsi is one which I will always have mixed feelings. I popped an Imodium for “just in case”, kept trucking along at my Diesel Turtle pace. Again, there was no pain or soreness, just fatigue, which I could push off with sips of Pepsi.
Darkness had fallen, and the numbers of athletes on the path were thinning. People that I had passed earlier had passed me as I began to slow. Approaching Mile 20, I realized I was starting to feel nauseated and slightly dizzy. Knowing there was a potty stop and aid station just ahead, I trotted over, opened a stall door, climbed in, and vomited.
After I emerged from the Port-o-Potty, I thought it might be a good idea to have my BP and blood sugar checked at the med tent. The nurse there confirmed that my BP was low normal for me, but was likely falling ever so slowly. My blood sugar was normal high, and I made the decision to continue on.
With just six more miles to go, I paced myself the best I could, walking and running, walking and running, taking tiny sips of water, and hanging onto my stomach. At certain points, I realized I was running sideways towards the edges of the path. I was alone, and running in the dark. Glad I brought my headlamp. The light keep me from stepping on the tiny frogs that jumped across the path.
I thought about my husband’s habit of talking to himself. See, I used to tease him at home when I would overhear him muttering to himself. But alone and running in the dark with a Grumpy Tummy, I started talking to myself: “Keep going! Get it done! Only five miles left!”
Doh! My Garmin, which had been running since the morning, signaled Low Battery. In short time, it would shut down and I would need to use the signage to estimate my pace and distance remaining. “That’s OK, you’re well inside a 10k, just like being on the Sammamish River Trail,” I said to myself.
As I passed through each remaining water station, the volunteers whooped and hollered, cheered and danced. They were fantastic! “Go get your medal!” they shouted.
I didn’t realize it at first, but I had actually picked up a little speed as I headed into the last three miles. There are a few little rollers to run, and I was tired and nauseated, it was all I could do to quickly walk up the roller and then run down the other side as best as I could. I ran into ‘N’, a first time Ironman athlete, doing the same thing.
We agreed to help each other out, and it turned out I had the stronger pace, so she followed me in, and then we’d walk the hills. As we got to the last two miles, we helped each other remove a layer of clothing off our kits. We were almost there; we could hear the music and the crowd at the Finisher’s Chute.
Since N’s swim wave was earlier than mine, she had less time left on the clock to beat the 17-hour deadline, so as soon as we neared the top of the Village heading into the final turn into the Finisher’s Chute, I said, “Congratulations!” and sent her off. A few minutes later, I heard Mike Reilly call out her name.
The Finisher’s Chute was lined with families of athletes, kids, and AG’rs that had finished earlier and came back for the exciting finish. People were holding out their hands for High Fives, and I stretched out my arms to catch as many as I could. I heard M’s voice as he ran along the sideline, “You got it! You got it!”
There was no pain. There was no fatigue. There was no soreness. The moment felt surreal: did I really swim 2.4miles, bike in the rain and wind 112 miles, and run 26.2 miles in a day? Is this really happening?
I saw Mike Reilly, microphone in hand. He looked at my bib and declared, “Imei Hsu, YOU. ARE. AN IRONNNNN- MAAAAN!”
It was done. I had become an Ironman in 16hrs 33 minutes, burning an estimated 7308 calories*, whomp whomp! Just to give you an idea of how much that really is, I would have to eat the equivalent of nearly 46 modest slices of Betty Crocker Supermoist yellow cake without frosting. Doh!
Swim: 2:00; Bike 7:57; Run: 6:09
Total time to finish: 16hrs 33 min
*Update: When I looked at that calorie burn estimate from my Garmin, I did have an awareness that for 16+ hours, that was actually a low figure, even for a guess. Doh! I had forgotten to take in account thermogenesis, which burns calories at a higher rate in order to keep the body warm. A cold swim, a cold bike, and a cool run translates into a higher burn rate. Calculating across 16 hours, it is easily conceivable to add anywhere from 2000-3000 more calories burned to my total, so now we’re talking about 10,000 calories or more. That’s maybe another 17-20 slices of unfrosted chocolate cake, yo.
P.S. So, What About That Dream, Imei?
Remember how I made a note of my dream where I saw myself finish, but I walked by the med tent?
Well, here’s what happened. As I received my Finisher’s medal (BTW, this thing is heavy!) and returned my timing chip, I began to walk around a little bit. I knew that my blood pressure would fall faster if I didn’t keep moving. To my left was the Med Tent, and it looked like they were beginning to close up. One of the men in the tent approached me and asked if he could help. I inquired about a weight scale, because I wanted to double check to see if I had lost a significant amount of water (suggesting dehydration) versus gained weight (suggesting hyponatremia). The volunteer said he didn’t have one, and he began to walk alongside me as I searched for a place to sit briefly and stretch my legs.
At this point, I wasn’t feeling too badly, just a little nauseated. As I sat down, the volunteer was right there with his arm under my armpit, and I couldn’t figure out why. I think I might have been leaning or looking unsteady on my feet.
Here is where things begin to get a little fuzzy. I believe my blood pressure began to drop quickly, and I could hear him urging me to lie down on the bench. Several other med tent volunteers rushed over, and I felt a blood pressure cuff being placed on my arm.
Next, the volunteer said, “We think you should go to the Medical Clinic on top of the hill. We are closing the tent here.” I told him he would need to find my husband waiting outside the Finisher’s Chute, gave him M’s name and description, and said I wasn’t willing to leave until I knew M had been informed of what was happening.
At this point, I was no longer able to sit up. They transported me by stretcher to the Medical Clinic, and I vomited again on the way. At the Medical Clinic, they had my Race Info Card which has all my medical information on it, but no one seemed to be reading it. Without asking my permission or telling me what they were trying to do, the lead doc tried to start an IV (he attempted over six times, but apparently my veins may have been difficult to access), and I resisted because they were trying to start fluids when it was more likely my low blood pressure was caused not by dehydration, but a food intolerance response to Corn.
After telling them to stop poking me (!!!), the lead doc asked permission to give me Zofran, an antiemetic, via injection. One of its side effects is drowsiness, so I again asked them to make sure M had been notified what was happening. Eventually they found him, got him to the Medical Clinic, and then I could just let them work on me. [Update: M later informed me that for the most part, I was no longer fully conscious; my eyes were closed and I was not moving].
My BP had dropped to 76/50, and though I have a normally low BP, they were attempting to raise my BP by adding fluids rapidly. I reminded them that unless I was truly showing signs of dehydration, too much fluid could cause hyponatremia, and that I did not want excess fluids on board. As the Zofran begain to kick in, I got sleepy [or I passed out], so the rest of the story is even fuzzier as I slipped in and out of awareness. The more fluids they put in, the further my blood pressure fell. I heard them discuss in French that I would be taken to the hospital. [Update: after translating from French to English what I recall the doctors saying to one another, my BP fell somewhere near 63/39].
Here’s what I know:
- I got a short ride in an ambulance to the local hospital, to be kept overnight for observation because of low blood pressure and vomiting.
- The hospital had other Ironman competitors in it, so I got a bed next to the nurse’s station in the hallway.
- Someone snored a lot <– and loudly! I don’t think it was me. Hmm.
- While I slept, I was given almost 2.5 bags of IV fluid. Doh!
- My legs were the size of baby elephant legs when I woke up at 3:45am, hungry and in need to pee.
- I had been shivering so hard, they removed my wet clothing, put a gown on me, wrapped a hot IV in a towel, and placed it in between blankets to keep me warm.
- Therefore, I dreamed I was sleeping in bed with my kitty cat, with her warm body next to me. Purr resonance, for the win!
- Breakfast consisted of a gluten free piece of toast that had emulsifiers and soy in it, so all I got to eat was a small bottle of water and a tiny container of orange juice.
- If I could, I would have eaten my small baby elephant legs, as I was HUNGRY!
I would find out later that M wasn’t even told that I had been whisked off in the ambulance, nor did they tell him what hospital I would be at. However, my mother-in-law knew where the hospital was, and she arrived shortly after the ambulance. She also snapped this picture for me. Don’t I look blissed out?
As I lay in the hospital bed, I kept thinking about the day’s events. Did this really happen? Wait, where’s my medal? Apparently, my clothes from the morning’s pre-swim was under the bed in a bag, along with my hat and medal. I looked at the Ironman plastic bracelet with my bib number stamped on it: 1009. Yes, I really did it.
My arms were covered with bruises from the evening’s failed attempts at getting an IV placed. After a few days of working at getting the excess fluids removed, my post Ironman weight had dropped to 106 pounds.
Despite all the staff’s attempts to give me a “normal” blood pressure of 120/80, I convinced the doctor to allow me to leave the hospital with an Imei low-normal of 86/63. I felt fine. Again, no pain, just a little bit of soreness from lying in a hospital bed with lumpy blankets. Katja and M picked me up at the hospital, and we were just in time to make it to the Award Brunch to see the champions and Age Group winners receive their awards.
By evening, I was dining on Atlantic Salmon, garden fresh kale, and rice at my sister-in-law’s home, playing Exploding Kittens card game with her, her daughter and girlfriend, and my mother-in-law, and celebrating with a little champagne. I had to stay up late that evening to pack and dismantle my bike into the Ruster Hen House for an early morning start to the Montreal airport, yet I was surprised how good I felt.
I later learned that two men most critically injured in the big bike crash during the race were assisted by athletes who worked in anesthesiology who happened to be there at the same moment. The two men are making a full recovery. I am too.
It’s still a little unclear to me why I had such a dramatic reaction either to the Corn in the Pepsi, or to the rigors of the race after becoming hypothermic. What is clear to me is that with each step of the race, I took the time to problem solve and make the best decisions I possibly could regarding what to do and whether to proceed.
As I checked on the results of others who were racing IMMT, I saw that some are already signing up for next year. While I’d love to say, “Sure, let’s do it again!” I think it’s probably wise to do a bit more research to determine what exactly caused the severe hypotension, and to make sure it’s a preventable situation in a future race of any distance.
Because I was intercepted by the med tent volunteer, I did not get my official picture taken with my medal on. This one shall suffice until I get one at home with my team kit on.
At the time of this writing, I can say it has taken nearly a week to process all that happened on my Ironman journey, from the start all the way to the hospital, and then the flight back home.
I met most of my goals: I have proven that long-endurance racing is possible for people with autoimmune disease, though I must be careful to work with my challenges and limits. I have proven that I am tough, strong, and adaptable. I have prepared my mind for new challenges that lie ahead. I am ready to launch my new brand, My Allergy Advocate, and help improve the lives of those of us who live with food allergies, intolerances, and autoimmune disease. And I have overcome my doubts about what is possible for me — apparently, much more than I would have ever thought!
[aka the goodies to take away from my fortune and foibles]
For an excellent comparison of this year’s IMMT race against previous years and conditions, check out this link from Coach Cox .
I love what Mary Beth Ellis, Women’s 1st Place Finisher, said about this year’s IMMT race. She said that the swim was more like an ocean swim than a lake swim, that the conditions on the bike course were so tough because of the weather that most of us should feel happy that we just finished, and that IMMT is one of the few Ironman races aside from Kona that she returns to again and again. It is truly a special place, even if the weather nearly wiped me out!
A couple of days later, I began doing an analysis of my performance, and noting the three success factors that positively impacted my race, and three elements to improve.
- Nose clip, all the way.
- Eat pre-swim food on the beach 30 minutes prior to take off.
- Start from outside, move in and draft.
- Don’t freak out about white caps.
- Practice swimming in bumpy water.
- Don’t take as many breathers.
My swim was a good 20 minutes slower than planned. Oy. I will be thinking about this for some time. I believe with time and healing, my swim times will return closer to what they once used to be before the neck and shoulder pain became a part of the picture. I’ll likely enter myself in a swim race for a two-mile distance next year, just to see if I improve.
- Chose the right shorts (padded chamois)
- Pre-loaded food in the bike jersey pockets
- Took time to get it right.
- Two towels, one to warm up with, one to wipe off excess water.
- Hand warmer packets. It’s so hard in Transition when you’re shaking!
- Body fat. Period. That would’ve been nice. Despite 3x/week strength sessions to try to get my weight up, I just couldn’t keep much body fat on. I look a bit like a Halloween skeleton. Time to eat!
Can you say, “Longest T1 evar?” Sure, I can work on getting this shorter, and Mother Nature can work on not being so cold and windy!
- Descending at my comfort level in rain, which was actually fast.
- Baby food pouches made eating on the bike easy to do single handed
- Warming up in the Port-o-Potties = GENIUS
- I don’t know if a bike jacket would have helped or overheated me during the first loop. However, I will buy yet another jacket.
- I had extra giddyup left over off the bike, which suggests I could have pushed a little harder on Loop 1. However, Loop 2’s weather conditions nixed any gains, so I am satisfied with my descending speed.
- Purchase yellow low-light shield for Giro Attack helmet; dark skies left everyone scrambling for eye protection and better visibility.
I actually loved this bike course! Profile wise, it was a good challenge for me, and if I could do it again under better weather conditions, I would.
Comparing relative to my swim time in my AG, my bike splits were actually fairly solid. Hypothermia made the second loop slower towards the third cut off, but if the weather conditions weren’t rainy, I have every indication that I would have had a good bike split commensurate to the level of training I put in.
By picking a course with hills, I improved my bike split averages overall. The training goal on the CT rides were to stay around 14-15mph, and it looks like my splits during the race peaked around 17mph. I still believe this is the best choice of type of course for me, as a “fast flat” with headwinds would not have given me much advantage.
- Laid out everything in the Run Gear bag on chairs so I could see everything.
- Salomon S-labs XXS Hydration vest pre-loaded. Best decision to use it to carry everything but remain as light as possible.
- Take time to put on Injinji socks on dry toes = no blisters
- Figure out a way to get calf sleeves on faster, especially on wet skin. I don’t like wearing them on the bike, and previous training sessions with them on produced uncomfortable results, including swollen feet.
- Have two dry towels in sealed bags ready for drying off (rain or sweat)
- Having my own food with me.
- Bringing my own headlamp, since I knew I would finish in the dark.
- Running a comfortable pace and walking the aid stations as needed.
- No corn.
- No corn (repeat for emphasis). That includes the new NUUN tablets, which changed their formulation this summer. I did use it on the bike in my Speedfil, diluted.
- Walk past the med tent at the finish line if you can still walk, ha ha!
I am not a fan of road races anymore (the trail run bug has bitten me hard!), but if I must do a road race, this sure was a nice one. It’s mostly flat, and gives competitors a shot at a PR. While I would have been happier with a 5hr 10min marathon as planned, I compared myself to my AG, and it looks like it wasn’t such a bad run split, with exception for the time I had to stop to vomit and get my BP and blood sugar checked.
It’s worth mentioning again that separate from the GI distress in the last six miles, I had very little discomfort in my legs or shoulders, and was moving comfortably. I think this marathon event has taken the fear of running a marathon out of the equation, with the exception of running in extreme weather conditions.
As I mentioned before, I have been interested in running my first ultramarathon 50k distance by my birthday in April 2017. I have my sights on the Mt. Si 5ok, with a goal finish time of about 7hrs 30 min on the non-technical, dirt and gravel trail run.
I suppose this as good as any point in this Race Report to mention that one of the keys to Ironman-distance training is knowing when to take a Rest Day. This is why I believe there is no perfect race plan out there that you can pick up and copy, only the perfect race plan that is customized to you and your unique response to the training.
When I took my Rest Day(s) seriously (and you should know that sometimes I was given three Rest Days in a row), my body bounced back stronger and fresher. To do this, you must learn to tell your anxious thoughts to “shut it”, especially if you are surrounded by people who workout everyday without breaks. Rest Day does not equal Lazy Day; I had Active Recovery activities, massage and chiropractic adjustments, batch cooking, Compex muscle stimulator sessions in bed, and time to strategize for the week so that I didn’t waste precious time and energy on the organizational side of training.
Running has the most hard impact on the body, and thus Rest Day’s benefits are often seen most clearly in running performance. In training, my long runs never went past 20 miles, and the majority of them fell between 8 and 15 miles, with much of it on soft trail to give the legs a bit more cushion. Rest Days timed after longer road runs made a big difference in my recovery from long brick workouts. Respect the Rest Day, and your body will thank you for it.
And speaking of thank you’s….
A Word of Thanks
I have a lot of people to thank for making this Ironman journey and finish possible:
M – for always being there. And then, for specifically not bailing me out when there was something I needed to do for myself. I’m sorry this was such a nail biter for you, but I know you never really did doubt that I’d make it. And yes, thank you for telling me I didn’t need the disc wheels but that I did need to get travel medical insurance. Also, your Nordstrom Employee Discount should come in handy, since none of my clothes fit, including my skinny jeans. Let’s go shopping!
Coach Michael Covey – thank you for taking on the world’s most food-sensitive athlete who couldn’t swim, was weak on the bike, and crossed her arms in front when she ran. You turned me into a lean, efficient machine, and taught me to think like a smart athlete. I am a very different person than I was when we met in 2013. You couldn’t pry my fingers off the pool deep-end ledge. If you ever rolled your eyes after yet one more spill, food mistake, heat exhaustion collapse, or the rock-in-the-knee incident, I never saw it.
I hope I didn’t turn your hairs white this season! Let’s do this again (just let me gain some weight back first). Oh, and maybe we should write Bob Seebohar and become a poster child for Metabolic Efficiency Training. At the very least, I would be honored if you would write the foreword to my upcoming book about managing food allergies intolerances while taking on the adventures of a lifetime.
Julie Hsu Rawlins and Ragnar “Sister, Misters, and Blisters” – love the support, the Special Needs Bag goodies, and the positivity that filled my Facebook Page. Thank you for your faith in me. Can’t wait to run Beat the Blerch with you, and then watch you run your first marathon next year.
Stefanie Magnuson – I think you’ve sent me a kind and funny text nearly every day for the last three months leading up to IMMT. I hope to return the favor when it’s your turn.
Maui Camp Girl Power Ladies (Debby, Margie, Erica) + Lola – for your wisdom, strength, company, experience, and faith in me. Margie KT taped my shoulders, gave me a foot massage; Debby led the rides and the runs, and allowed me to pace off her and her years of experience. And Erica, the NutriBullet = win! Let’s all go back again.
Swimmy Swim Sunday Group – I never had to swim alone because of you. Thank you for each time you woke up early on Sunday morning and climbed into Beaver Lake in the rain, fog, low light, or sunshine, waiting for the lopsided swimmer lagging in the back.
PRO Sport Club Triathlon Team – your words of encouragement, excitement, and workouts in the Winter through Spring helped get me into a frame of mind to train hard in the summer months alone. Many of you gave me just the right amount of push from behind to try harder, go longer, and dig deeper. You provided inspiration as you won AG podium places, and stayed and cheered for the Diesel Turtles among us.
A special shout out to the members of the group Women For Tri on Facebook – women are in need of encouragement, emotional support, and inspiration, and the group members have plenty of this to share. I hope you all know how important it is to lift each other up in a culture that often tears us down because of our gender, age, or appearance. I visited this group frequently to help me during my recovery and rest days, and as much as people gave me insight into their races, I pledged to share mine in order to pay it forward.
Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart.
Update: Jan 15, 2017
A few people have asked me how I am post-Ironman, due to my health conditions. Thank you for asking!
I fully recovered by the end of September 2016, mostly be not racing or doing any hard workout for a month after IMMT. I did run an easier-paced half marathon trail event three weeks out, and I was careful not to push the pace. I ate a lot of food! I walked in the sunlight, picking berries. I left my bike alone for awhile, and tossed out worn pieces of clothing from training.
The key to recovery for me is refrain from racing and training for awhile, and gain weight back. It has taken nearly three months to gain back ten pounds of healthy muscle and fat, creating the stores an athletic body needs to pull from in order to engage in long-endurance activities. I slept and ate my way to recovery, and it’s paying off. My power on the bike is increasing, I’m sustaining faster speeds, and my running is more comfortable, albeit slower.
I lost the ability to process alcohol over the summer, and I haven’t quite gotten it back. I can measure out about two ounces of wine if I want a celebratory toast with friends and family, and that’s about it. And I am currently working with a nutritionist who is an ultrarunner, exploring possibilities of getting more protein in without pissing my guts off. I miss the wine, and I’ve been essentially alcohol-free by choice 7.5 months, with a break at the holidays for a tiny glass of Prosecco.
In a little over a month, I’ll be back in Maui, Hawaii training with my coach and others, and my running volumes will have already progressed well past the two-hour mark. Two hours of exercise per day has been what I’ve been at for awhile, to keep my body from needing to “eat” tissue to sustain itself. So the name of the game for me this season is to hang onto my butt — literally! — by doing my best to support my body during its tendency to burn through my fat stores quicker than I can feed it.
Best thing yet, I haven’t needed to visit the doctor’s or the allergist’s office since then. I have followed up with my chiropractor for neck and shoulder pain, and last week, he updated me to say that I no longer needed to come in regularly, only if the pain returned. This is really great news!
For those of you who have made it here to my Race Report for tips for preparing for IMMT, I wish you a wonderful, adventure-filled journey.
For you, more parting pieces of advice: treat your body as precious as the professional athletes do. Nourish yourself. Train hard and train efficiently. Sleep well and often. Naps are awesome! Don’t fuel yourself with junk. And take your eyeball off your appearance and focus on building a strong engine from the inside — the outside will do what it needs to in order to accommodate what you are asking of it. Say farewell to sugary processed foods you eat for comfort, and say hello to micronutrients that turn you into a mighty and unstoppable powerhouse. Leave your music tunes behind, yet learn to tune into your voice, telling you what you need in each step of the way. Listen to your Coach. Trust the training. If you need it, cry in a hot shower, and let the water wash off the dirt and grease and tears. Don’t be afraid to let your butt grow bigger – you’ll need the muscles! Spend less time on your clothes being matchy-matchy, more time on preparing for the elements. Find your inspiration, and keep it close. always always always, keep your head in your own game. And archive your journey, because it’s a wild and wonderful one, at any age.