Friday, December 17, 2010

Saddling up to ride again

Well, I did it-- I can't believe that I talked myself into it! OK, it actually wasn't that hard. I've signed up to do another one! This time in Arizona. Iron Man Arizona to be exact. The questions abound:

WHY? Seriously? One wasn't enough? Are you Crazy?

Perhaps. I think what surprises me the most is how short of a time went by before I was thinking about doing it again. . . Only 4 days. . . 4 days is all it took to forget the stress of training, the annoyance of having to fit in workouts around family obligations, to forget how much I hate swimming laps in the pool; to forget all of the people passing out on their bikes during the race; to forget how much it sucked to leave that fan in T2; to forget how long that marathon actually is.

So 4 days. . . and about 2 more months for me to not let myself talk me out of it. The clincher came watching a number of my friends cross the finish line at IM Arizona 2010. The kids and I watched for hours as people poured across the line. Finally, OkK 12 hours into it) Flick hobbled across the line-- she'd been running 7th in her age group through the second run split-- but then clearly something had happened. As she limped across the finish line, tears rolled down my face and my kids cheered. About 54 minutes later, Sedonia made it across the line. . . followed about 4 hours later by Jen and Mike. Total amount of time spent watching my friends get across the line? About 5 hours. . . It was then that I knew I was hooked and so the next morning I begged John for some money and signed up again. (now, John said that the jury is still out on whether I will actually be allowed to train for it-- but we will show him-- I've already even booked a hotel room. )

The first step-- replace my bike-- as some of you know, my old bike was stolen sometime at the end of September. My new bike is finally here . . . and is looking good after being built out and fit-- unfortunately, the weather is not going to help me out this weekend and I doubt she will get on the road. . . she also needs a name. . .

Thanks for reading-- I'll be getting back to writing, and training soon. Just wanted to keep you posted.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Chapter 4: Carnage

T1: I started by running out of the water and grabbing my Bike bag from the volunteer. This took slightly longer than I expected. Then I found myself in the changing tent-- with a bag-- and no volunteer. For some strange reason, I couldn't get my fingers to open the strings on the bag. I pulled. I grabbed. I started to panic. Then it hit me (no, not the humidity-- that comes later), but the Big Idea-- I could simply rip into the plastic bag and pull my bike gear out! Pull and rip I did and out tumbled my bike shorts, socks, shoes, helmet and, the most important ingredient, Chamois butter. I pulled off my bikini bottom, remembering to put it in a separate plastic bag, and pulled on my bike shorts. I pulled on my shoes, snapped on my helmet, and applied vast quantities of chamois butter to the insides of my shorts.

At that point, I was ready to enter the sea of bikes in transition to find mine. As usual, about 80% of the bikes were in transition. Fortunately, they were racked by number and 446 was right where I'd left her-- ready for a ride. I walked to the mount line-got on my bike and headed out.

I was off. I reached down to start my Garmin--which I probably should have done earlier-- and was met with my first surprise--I'd forgotten to switch it out of run mode after the Falmouth Road Race. Duh-- So, with one hand, I started fiddling with it--trying to get it to 1) go into bike mode and 2) display my pace--i.e. I knew I had to average at least 15 mph, and I wanted Garmin to let me know how I was doing. Well, I did get it into bike mode but I never did get it to display my mph.

As I was fiddling with Garmin, I came across the remains of the first accident of the day. Somehow, someone's bike was lying in the ground in 3 pieces. Not sure how it happened, but the front wheel was in one place, the handlebars were in another and the remainder of the bike was in another. The cops were on the scene and the victim was no longer there so, taking my fingers off my Garmin, I kept rolling. No speed and more importantly, no every 15 minute reminder to take in nutrition.

Rolling. . . now that I mention it-- that is what the hills in Kentucky were supposed to be. Although, after training in San Francisco, I wasn't particularly impressed by the hills, many of my compatriots on the bike course were not agreeing with the description of the hills as "rollers." Maybe it was the heat? Many thought they were mountains.

I probably would have preferred mountains. It has always been hard for me to ride rollers-- I don't really like to go fast on the down slopes so I find myself with some creative shifting in order to make it back up the hill--- if I'd just let myself go faster on the downhill it probably wouldn' t be as much of an issue. . . That being said, I felt pretty good out there on the bike.

I'd set my watch for 1:00-- figuring that it would give me ample warning that I had an hour and 20 minutes to make it to the start of the second loop of the bike course. . . turns out-- I didn't need it. By the time the alarm went off, I was well past the beginning of the second loop of the bike course-- and well on my way to making the final bike cut off time. That being said, compared to many of my fellow competitors, I was standing still. The official statistics show that I was passed by 880 bikers during the time I was out there-- and it felt like more than that. Every time someone would pass me, however, I would think to myself (or say if it was a fellow TNT'r), "Why are you in such a hurry? We only get one day to actually be out here doing this. How lucky are we?" I was soon to find out what the hurry was all about.

That being said, all was not particularly well in Paula-city. I was getting hot. I was having a hard time choking down my "magic" potion of Cytomax and Carbo Pro. Warm, grape, sticky, sweet Carbo Pro and Cytomax is not something I'd wish on my worst enemy (you know who you are). I was waiting for the Special Needs station.

And waiting. And waiting. And waiting. For some reason, I thought that the special needs station was going to be right around the beginning of the second loop of the bike course. NOPE. In fact, it wasn't at the 1/2 way point of the bike. It was more like Mile 70. I finally got myself there (to replace my yucky bottles) and met my Special Needs Volunteer -- Wayne.

Wayne kindly held my bike (and chatted with me) while I switched out my water bottles (more yucky warm grape potion) and electrolytes. He watched me scarf down my Pringles-- high level Iron Man salt delivery system. He watched while I used my baby wipes to wipe the salt off my face and splashed water down the backs of my legs to rinse off the salt-- a little trick I learned after chafing at the triple brick behind my knees. He even managed NOT to tell me I looked like garbage OR that we were all crazy for being out here. Wayne, like many of the Special Needs volunteers were members of a Church that had cancelled Sunday services to come on out and support us aspiring Iron Men. I thanked him kindly, and, not having another reason to procrastinate, it was time to go on my way.

That was when I started noticing things. Like the heat (96 degrees) and the humidity (86%) and the heat index (103+). Not to mention the people sitting on the side of the road. The people lying on the side of the road. The people splayed out on the side of the road with their helmets thrown to the side. The folks who were lying in the hot sun-- to tired to drag their bodies to the nearest shade. The ambulances. Multiple ambulances. The sirens. The guy passing on ON HIS BIKE and, as he fell to the ground, knocking another participant (and his bike) to the ground.

It looked like the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan. Bodies, Bikes, Helmets and other assorted equipment everywhere. No one looked good. No one was smiling anymore. Maybe this was why they had all been hurrying? They wanted to get done before the heat index really climbed up there. Funny thing though, even though I didn't really pass anyone on the bike-- I must have passed a good 200 people sitting on the side of the road.

Those rollers had turned into mountains for some and I passed people walking their bikes up the hill. When I recount this story-- people are shocked. Walking your bike? In an Ironman? I think I was too tired to really think about it. But yes. It was true. I, on the other hand, felt pretty good. I was excited that I was going to finish the bike portion of the race well ahead of the 630 pm cut off time. I was tired; but was still feeling pretty strong. I was even hoping (up until the last 5 miles or so) to break 8 hours-- which would have been a great ride for me given the heat and humidity (my best 100 mile ride was 7 hours 41 minutes in much cooler weather).

I didn't break 8 hours-- I pulled into transition in 8 hours and 4 minutes. Little did I know it, but it was time for the real Iron Man to begin.

Chapter 3A: The swim start

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Chapter 3: Row Row Row Your Body

Waking (or not sleeping) bright and early, I headed down to check my bike in transition and get in line at the swim start. I was pretty nervous about getting there, pumping up my bike tires (since I hadn't brought a stand pump) and getting a good place in line-- since I knew that I'd need almost every minute of the day later on.

You see, unlike other triathlons, Ironman Louisville uses a time trial start where each person enters the water individually. That being said, however, the midnight countdown starts at 7:00 am regardless of what time you actually get in the water. SO, if you don't get in until 7:45 (the last athlete in), you still have 2 hours and 2o minutes to swim, but your bike and run cut offs will stay the same. Most importantly, you then only have 16 hours and 15 minutes to finish the entire event.

Thus, I wasn't so much nervous for the start of the race as I was getting a good spot in line so I could finish the race.

I walked down to transition as fast as I could (actually sharing sidewalk space with revelers from the bars the night before) and found someone to loan me their stand pump so I could pump up my tires-- no small feat when you think that we were all jockeying for starting positions in the scrum. (those that hadn't let the air out the day before were greeted by some unpleasant surprises when they found the heat had popped their tires). Four minutes later-- I was off-- half walking, half running to the line.

WOW was that a long line. Fortunately, I found Sandy, who had skipped transition (Maria was pumping her tires) and had been standing in line early. I jumped in with her-pretty happy with our position in the line. We hunkered down to wait for 2 hours.

About 20 minutes later, Coach Simon came by. Apparently, some of the LA team's spouses had come down to the line directly after the bars closed the night before. They had been in the line since about 230 am and and secured a spot about 30 people behind the pros (who, coincidentally, don't have to wait in line). Now we were cooking with gas. The 2 hours seemed to fly by and before I knew it we were standing down on the boat dock. Suddenly, like lemmings, we were following each other off the boat docks in 2 lines.

I hesitated briefly (you can actually see me if you look really closely at the end of the video-- I'm in a green top and a black and white striped bikini bottom -- the video wouldn't load, so I've added it as Chapter 3A) and then was in the water. The warmth again surprised me and I loved it. I started swimming out and around the island. I wasn't really getting jostled or kicked-- just enjoying my swim. I avoided the branches and the other low hanging things in the water and headed out past the island. Now, from looking at the course maps, one would think that the turn around was at the end of the island-- so as I sighted out, I was excited to see the end of the island not looking so far away. HOWEVER-- the actual turn around was about 2 buoys later. This little bit of the course seemed to take forever to navigate.

Coming back, I notice that the buoys all of a sudden went from yellow to orange? Was that the 1/2 way point already? I guess it was. I was feeling good and enjoying my swim. At one point I found a swimming buddy-- or someone that I kept bumping into repeatedly. . . over and over and over again. Nothing personal-- but we couldn't seem to stop bumping into each other. I'm not sure who got out of the water first, but I'm sure she was as happy to get away from me as I was to get away from her.

Around this time, I was swimming along and then found that I WASN'T MOVING! I swam 10 strokes and looked up for the buoys. I'm not sure what was going on but I didn't think I'd moved. So I swam 10 more strokes. . . same effect. What the heck was going on? The end of the swim was supposed to be DOWN RIVER (aka with the current), why was I not going anywhere? I was underneath the bridge to Indiana. This huge bridge (which we would run on later) apparently created its own current. It took about 30 really strong, hard, exhausting strokes to get myself out of its pull and get myself back on course.

The end of the swim came pretty quickly-- although my time was a little bit slower than I'd expected. I'd been "hoping" for an hour and 10 minutes or so-- but it came out to be an hour and 17 minutes (I'm blaming the chip mats, not my slow swimming)! I pulled myself out of the water-- Ironman has steps-- much easier than doing the fish flop on the dock-- and started out into T1.

Chapter 5: And Miles-- 26.2 miles actually--to Go Before I Sleep

What I never, in 10 months of training, understood; despite many trying to explain it to me; (and you probably aren't going to understand it now); is that Nothing Matters In An Ironman Until You Get Off The Bike. And, hopefully, start to run.

I pulled into T2 feeling pretty good. I'd enjoyed my bike ride (except for the lack of water at one of the water stops) and was fairly proud of my time (even though I'd hoped to go under 8 hours on the bike). I disengaged myself from my pedals and dismounted. I offered the volunteer the opportunity to sell my bike for me (probably the 20th time he'd received that offer) and walked slowly towards my run gear bag. The concept of an aquabike (just the swim and the bike) was looking really, really good. . . No one was running to those bags-- there was simply no way I was going to risk running, in my bike shoes, after 8 hours on the bike. Just wasn't going to happen.

I got my run gear bag from the volunteer-- did I ever mention that there were 3000 volunteers that worked on Sunday to manage the 2500 racers-- and headed into the changing tent. Most of the seats were taken. Except for the seat right next to the giant 4X4 fan. OH MY GOODNESS. Sitting Down Next To That Fan Was Heaven. And a huge mistake. I sat down and ripped open my gear bag (no struggling with cords this time-- I went right to the chase). Spilling my run clothes onto the floor, I accepted a gatoraid from a volunteer and started to work.

First off-- the bike shoes-- Oh the sweet relief. 8 hours of spilling water down into my shoes as I tried to keep cool-- those dogs were happy to be peeled out of my socks. First on-- the new pair of toe socks. Way easier said than done.

Second off-- the bike shorts-- YUCK. White sweat encrusted nasty pants replaced with super cool blue running shorts.

Finally, it was time for the shirt change. I stripped off my soaking wet, sweat encrusted tri-top and put on my trusty Worcester Academy Tank Top. You know, the one I've had since 1990. It just celebrated its 20th year of racing. (Yes, I could probably use another one-- I wonder if I know anyone who works at Worcester Academy).

I sipped my Gatoraid-- I chugged down some electrolytes and some pretzels. I used the potty-- twice. And finally it was time to head back out of the tent and onto the run. It was about 4:15 pm; I'd been on the go since 7 and had 26.2 miles to go before the day was over.

(as an aside, as soon as my transition time was published on the website-- my next door neighbor, running partner, and friend extraordinaire came running up to my mother-- "14 minutes in T2," she said-- "that is PATHETIC"-- little did she know that there was a woman who spent 42 minutes in T2).

Getting started was the single hardest part of the entire experience. It was so hard to get moving. The course started with a brutal out and back over the bridge-- or, more specifically, 1/2 way across the bridge. I WAS NOT FEELING IT. I saw Merla-- our team manager there to cheer me on and I tried to get the run started. My run pace, at this point, however, was slower than my walking pace. I tried to run my 5 minutes-- so I could walk my 1 minute but found that it wasn't going to work. I couldn't make the first 5 minutes. So I made a deal with myself-- I said I'd try my best to make it through 2 walk cycles. If I made it through that-- I would be able to walk if I still wanted to. . . 12 minutes later-- I still wanted to walk so I did. I found myself walking pretty quickly (15 minute miles) but for some reason walking was what I was comfortable doing.

It was on the bridge that I met my friend the sponge. Water stops in an Iron Man marathon are like a small grocery store. There are (in this order): sponges---water---gatoraid---coke---chicken broth---pretzels---cookies---fruit---powergel products---gatoraid---water--sponges. At mile 2 (still carrying my own shot blocks for energy) I took 2 ice cold sponges and a water. Those sponges were heaven. They doused my body in cold water. Then they scrubbed the salty/sticky gunk from my face. To keep myself cool I shoved one under each strap of my tank top. HEAVEN ON EARTH. I made it over the bridge and back through town where I started the lonely out and back past the University of Louisville.

Lonely is the only word to describe it for me. It was long. It was, despite the multitude of people out there walking, running, and shuffling along with me, a very quiet experience. Unlike the stand alone marathons I've run, where us middle to back of the packers tend to chat and enjoy our camaraderie, here people had hunkered down into themselves. Those of us on the first loop weren't feeling like sharing-- and those on the second loop-- well, they were looped. Or so happy to be almost done that I didn't want to talk to them.

At some point, I found my energy and started to run again. I'm not even sure where on the course I was-- or what kind of magic moment I had, but I found myself able to run again. It was still slow-- and I was still using my 5/1 strategy, but at least I was running.

I finally hit the turn around and started back towards town-- grabbing sponges at every aid station. By this point, I'd given up on my shot blocks-- just the taste of them made me nauseous. Sips of water left me dry heaving. I was OVER THIS RUN-- but I wasn't done.

What has 2 legs, two arms, and doesn't move? Speed Bump Guy. He had passed out cold in the road--perpendicular to the flow of traffic. He was tall enough that he took up most of the road. The only accurate way to describe him is as a speed bump. Competitors were forced to either go around the foot wide space at his head, go around the foot wide space at his feet OR go over him. Not surprisingly, while medical aid personnel rushed to his side, I saw people do all 3.

After passing Speed Bump Guy, I saw my friend Sandy headed towards me. We waived as she went by and that gave me another momentary lift in my race. Soon after I got my special needs bag and unable to even contemplate anything contained in it-- promptly dumped it into the trash. At this point, I hadn't had anything to eat or drink for 6 miles.

Coming into the center of town was both bitter and sweet. The crowds were amazing. So many people, screaming, yelling, cheering, music blaring, Mike Reilly (the voice of Iron Man) calling out "Jane Smith, YOU ARE AN IRON MAN. Alas, none of this was for me. In a cruel twist of race planning, the course went right by the finish line as we turned to run the last 12 miles. (Although I wouldn't be honest if I didn't admit I wondered what would have happened if I'd simply run down the wrong chute and finished after running a 1/2 marathon--surely that was far enough).

On my way back out I passed my friend and teammate Sandy. She was about 6-7 miles behind me on the course and it was getting late. She screamed at me, "how far away is that turn around and how long do I have?" as she passed. I didn't have time to do the mental math as to how far the mileage was but I knew she had about 90 minutes to make it before the 9:45 cut off. I gave her that information and started hoping that she, and Maria, would make the turn before the cut off time. (as it turned out, BOTH made the turn around before the cut off and made it onto the second loop of the course).

I was headed out again-- ignoring everything at the aid stations except for those glorious sponges. At every aid station I saw volunteers raking those sponges up into piles and putting them in kiddy pools of ice water. At every aid station I pulled my sponges out of my running garb and grabbed at least 3 to cool my face and to put in various places in my running attire. At one point, I had doused myself so thoroughly with sponge water that my running shorts looked like I'd taken them out of the washer before the spin cycle. I ran with a guy who'd been knocked off his bike by a guy who fainted for a while. He believed he had a concussion and hadn't been able to keep down food or water since mile 80 on the bike.

Speed Bump Guy was gone; but I noticed a lot of people trying to take his place. The sides of the road were littered with people who simply couldn't go any farther. Many said they didn't need any help, but I often informed law enforcement officers on the course of a fallen comrade.

About a mile before the turnaround out came the dreaded glow-sticks. For you fast people, glow sticks are what us slow folk get so that we can be seen by motorists and others in the dark. From something Margaret had said, I'd secretly hoped that I wouldn't need one-- but that was most definitely not the case. Glow necklace wrapped around my neck, I soldiered on.

Next came the turn and the way home. At least I was on the way home. It was dark and while the course was still populated, people were dropping like flies. My legs were tired but my arms and back were exhausted. I made bets with myself and deals. Deals with the devil were not far off. Finally, knowing I had an hour to spare on the midnight timeline, I gave up. I set my watch timer for 4 minutes and sat down to stretch out my entire body. IT FELT WONDERFUL!!! I got up 2 minutes into my 4 minutes and started happily running again. Why hadn't I tried this sooner (oh yeah, I was afraid that if I'd sat down I wouldn't get up again).

I saw Sandy headed back out onto the course. We hugged and I told her she was rocking the house. She looked great! She looked Strong. I wish I looked as good as she did. As we hugged I apologized to her for not thinking I would be able to hang around the finish line to see her come in-- her response? "I wouldn't wait for you-- go to bed."

The rest of the run is a blur. I know I stopped for another 2 minute stretch break. I know I saw my friend Maria headed back out on the out and back and called encouragement out to her. I know I made it back into town. I don't really remember much about it. (Come to think of it, as I write this, I remember that I used to say that about stand-alone marathons as well-- that the first 10 miles are hell, the second 10 feel pretty good and the last 6 I don't remember-- I guess that is just my pattern).

The last .2 miles is also a blur. I was moving. I was running. I was coming down the finish chute. The music was playing. . . spectators were banging the boards and were holding out their hands for high fives. I remember trying to navigate over to give someone a high five and then deciding that it simply took too much energy to actually get there so I ignored the rest of the people with their hands outstretched.

I came across the finish line in 15:53:10. My finisher photo shows me looking wasted and tired but happy. At some point I'd moved my glow necklace to my head and was wearing it like a crown. I was done. I was Iron.

I was headed to the medical tent.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Chapter 2: Panic Time

On Friday night, our coach made us watch a video that suggested skipping the practice swim and sleeping in as long as possible. . . and GOD did I want to (knowing that sleep would be hard to come by Saturday night) but I was back to my clothing issues. I hadn't had a chance to try and swim in my mens tri top and bikini bottom combination yet. . . and, I was afraid to simply "try it out" on race day. So, 7:45 saw me waiting for some of my mates down in the hotel lobby to "try it out". . . We walked, slowly the mile or so to the end of the swim course where Ironman was

allowing athletes with timing chips and wristbands to get in the water and preview the course.

Although this was what I'd been waiting for-- and that 85 degree water was AMAZING. I was nervous. I really hadn't done much swimming in a month. . . (shhh . . . don't tell Sedonia). I took a few minutes in the water to get used to the feel, taste, and warmth of the water and after about 10 minutes, I climbed back out of the water-- experimenting with how it was going to be to find the stair platform when I got out of the water at the real race. My race outfit felt good-- so I decided to stick with it.

We headed back to our rooms to finish organizing our bags and get ready for the pre-race Inspiration Lunch. At this luncheon, TNT teams celebrate the accomplishments that have gotten us this far and rededicate ourselves to our honorees and to those suffering from cancer. Here we talk about why it is that we, as people, do these events to cure cancer-- not just to accomplish a personal milestone. This one had an open mike-- and some teammates got up for the challenge. Although my honorees: Laura, Bonnie, Collin, Tyler, Peter, Richard, and so many others are never far from my thoughts, there was no way I was going near that open mike. . .

especially with less than 24 hours to go before race day.

After lunch it was crunch time: Time to deliver the bags and my bike to transition where I wouldn't see them until I opened them on race day. Saying a quick prayer, I handed my run, bike, and special needs bags to the volunteers and paused to take a picture of my name tag where I was to rack my bike. Without my bike and bags I felt both light and relaxed AND scared to death.

I headed back to my hotel room--alone-- the way I was to spend the night and most of the next day.

I'd love to say, as some of my teammates have, that I fell asleep quickly and had a restful night's sleep. But I'd be lying through my teeth. I started out watching Twilight: Eclipse. During the movie, a packet of cards came under my door from my teammates, friends, coaches and mentors. While each one offered encouragement-- each made me feel more isolated: each person seemed to say the same thing--signifying, to me, that I did not get to know my teammates nearly as much as I had hoped to during the course of the season. The cards started the waterworks, however, and they continued for the next few hours-- all I could think about was "I'm wasting water". . . hydration I would need the next day.

After Twilight, it was Forrest Gump-- then the local news. The forecast for Sunday was 96. Shouldn't be too bad. I couldn't sleep-- I wasn't hungry. I was downright scared. I was wide awake, laying in bed, watching the ceiling, when my alarm went to to remind me to take in a few hundred calories. Sometime after that however I fell into a fit full sleep.

Looking at this post-- I'm amazed at how short it is. This day felt interminable. I didn't think it was ever going to end. How is it that, written up, it is so short. . .

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Ironman Louisville 8/29/10


Most of you remember, 9 months ago, when I signed up to do an Ironman triathlon in Louisville, Kentucky. Many of you have been reading along as I spent the last 9 months training, planning, hoping, worrying and dreaming about this one day: August 29, 2010. The actual day goes by so quickly, and so slowly at the the same time. The weekend surrounding it, however, turns the day into a much richer, fuller story. Accordingly, this "post" will be done in chapters (something one of my teammates did earlier) so that I don't lose you, the reader, as I chronicle the events.

Frankly, I think that it is as difficult to write about this experience as it is to actually have done it. There are so many things that went on that weekend, that, even now, having joined the club, seem insane-- and so many things that, no matter how well I could describe them to you, I doubt anyone who was not there could understand. But try I shall. . .

This is my story.

Chapter 1: Thursday and Friday: The Blind Leading the Blind

As previously mentioned, packing for an Ironman Triathlon is NOT an easy thing to do. This time it was even more complicated. We were allowed to send ONE bag. along with our bike, with Tri-Bike Transport. On August 1, when I left for the Cape, our bikes and the bag were due on August 23rd. While on Cape Cod, however, the date changed. My bike (which needed a new chain (and some truing of the wheels)) and my bag were due on August 18th. . . or the day I got back from the Cape. I begged my way into the bike store and got a tune up. It was a good thing I did-- it turned out my wheel was crooked and needed to be straightened out.

Then, what to pack? As usual, not much is easy-- I'd been sent a size medium women's tank top which fit me like a sports bra--stopping about an inch below my breasts, AND a men's extra large tank top-- which was baggy under the arms (and a few other places). I also really wanted to wear my bike shorts (with full pad) on the bike, but didn't really want to swim or run in the diaper. Then there was the issue of my Worcester Tank top. . . Can I run with out it???

I finally decided on the mens tank with a bikini bottom for the swim; I would do a full change in T1 into the mens tank with my full bike shorts for the bike; and then do a second full change into running shorts and my Worcester tank for the run. That decided, my gear, my nutrition, my shoes, and my bike headed out to Louisville. I still had a week to wait.

There were eight of us on the flight to Louisville: 7 of us who had never done an Ironman before (one of those of whom this was her FIRST TRI) and a Coach. We were all full of nervous energy as we tried hard not to talk about our goals, plans or fears for the weekend. We arrived and were immediately met by humidity and heat-- mild by Lousivillian standards, but significant enough to the residents of the Bay Area.

A good night's sleep brought us to registration day: or where things got interesting. We met in the lobby to head to registration. Small problem: no one knew where it was. All 7 of us walked along behind Coach Simon, frantically checking blackberries and iphones trying to find athlete registration. Given that I have gotten lost on EVERY SINGLE COURSE SO FAR-- this was either par for the course or not an ambitious start for the weekend.

We finally ended up at the Gault House and found that we were to stand in a long line. . . not so surprising, but the long line was for WEIGH IN!!! How did no one in 9 months ever tell me that you get weighed before doing an ironman; and to add insult to injury, we had to stand in line for the privilege? Lovely.

After weigh in it was time to grab out numbers-- or though I thought. First-- the medical forms: 2 of them. A waiver and a release, and a form to list any health issues, medications, and significant others. . . Hmmmm. . . why am I doing this again? (and why am I reminded, yet again, of giving birth?).
We received our blue wristbands-- to be worn all weekend, got our numbers, made a quick trip through the Ironman store and I headed down to pick up my bike.

The humidity had picked up quite a bit-- as had the heat. My green 2006 Peachtree Roadrace T-shirt began to look like I'd actually done Peachtree in it. I walked the mile or so to the Great Lawn and picked up my bike and gear bag. On the way, I stopped and oogled at the signs all over Louisville reading "Possibility City." It felt like the time was right. I also had my first glimpse of the Ohio River-- (aka, the reason I'd chosen this race). It sure was muddy; it sure was brown; and the turtles sitting on the logs floating on the water were at least a good sign that things could live in the water.

Then it was back to my room to unpack my gear bag and get ready for the Ironman Welcome Dinner. I also started to pack my gear bags: one for my bike clothes; one for my bike "special needs"; one for my run clothes; and one for my run "special needs." These bags were due on Saturday, so I needed to get them started. Somehow, however, just looking at all that gear and looking at my bike numbers, and my run numbers, and my bags -- made me scared. I was used to a transition situation where on race morning I got to lay out all my gear under my bike. . . what if I forgot something?????

Packed I was and off to the pre-welcome dinner team picture I went-- dressed in my bright, obnoxious flames. I got down to the lobby and found that none of my teammates had arrived. When they finally gathered, (the three of us that gathered), we were the only ones wearing flames. The others had left us hanging in our colors. . . We joined up at a table of non-TNT athletes-- two young (18 and 20) boys and their parents from Tennessee. Both were also doing their first Ironman-- and there was a friendly competition between the two of them as to who would be first.

As Mike Reilly, the voice of ironman, came on the stage, we learned that there were about 1300 people doing their first ironman. . . in a field of 2900, it just made sense that we felt like the blind leading the blind.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Two Weeks of Adversity Rides

Well, I've always heard that if you didn't have problems in training, you will have problems during your race-- so, I'm hoping that with the past 2 weeks of rides out of the way, I will now have NO PROBLEMS on the bike-- I've had them all already.

July 3rd was an OYO (on your own) 75 mile ride. SO, I set out to ride the Marin Metric Century course which starts around my house. I rose early to assemble my magic potions (Carbo Pro and Gatoraid mixes). Problem number one: there were no more Gatoraids. Not sure who drank them all (although I have a sneaking suspicion), but still. No Gatoraids. Given it was 430 in the morning, I certainly wasn't going out to buy any (moral of this part of the story? LESSON #1: check the night before) so I mixed up my Carbo Pro with Iced Tea. Halfway through my second Potion-- I ran out of Carbo Pro (see lesson #1, above).

I loaded up my bike, put my Chamois butter in the car and grabbed my phone. I was off. I reached the starting place and started to unload. You guessed it-- no magic potions. I'd left them sitting on the dining room table. OK. Now what? Well, I didn't want to go home-- the kids would have been up-- and there was a 24 pack of water in the back of the car, so I loaded up with water bottles and Gu and headed out anyway.

So far so good. It was a warm day and it was beautiful. I powered up Lucas Valley Road and to the top of Flat Rock Hill without even really feeling it. I was having fun and began the long descent into Nicasio. Feeling like a Rock Star, I got into the little town and immediately noticed something: THE PORTA POTTIES WERE GONE!

LESSON #2: When you are bent over in the aero position and have to go to the bathroom it is REALLY REALLY uncomfortable. Miserable actually. And, being a beautiful Saturday morning, there really was no good place to stop and just go. I thought about "practicing" going on my bike, as people tell me others do during the actual Ironman to avoid having to stop, but seriously? I just bought a new saddle. . I can't do that to my new saddle. Not to mention: GROSS.

A few miles down the road I found a good spot to pull over and solved that problem. Now it was back to the bike and I was headed out towards "the big one". This is a hill that humbled me (and Sandy) the last time we rode this course. Well, I clearly won round two. While I'd made it up the hill the last time we rode here; this time I ate that hill for lunch. ONE more nasty hill to go (and the return up flat rock) and I'd be done with this ride. . .

I was feeling really good. I was "flying" (a relative term in my book but still, I was going pretty fast for me-- over 20 mph on the flats of the course) when I turned into Petaluma.

LESSON #3 Don't forget your course map at home. Well, I had ridden the course once-- how bad could it be? I found my way through Petaluma with only 2 small detours. . . Then it was onto the last big hill of the day. Now this beast had beaten me into submission before. I had made it to the stop but had required a 10 minute recovery stop the last time I rode this one. NOT TODAY. Although it still sucked, and I'm sure I was super slow, I was doing fine.

I was also doing fine on water. Although I had no carbopro, I still wasn't feeling bonky. I was hydrating. I did miss my aerodrink bottle (the one that sits right in the middle of my handlebars so I can drink without really having to move), but otherwise it wasn't so bad. Amazing how athletes survived on just water for so long.

Well, then things got interesting. As I was whizzing down the backside of that last hill, I took a left on to what I thought was Nicasio road. Well, it wasn't Nicasio road. It was Novato Road (memorandum to self: learn how to read). Now, I didn't know this at the time. I was just happily oblivious as I rode on down the road. Until I saw the large body of water on my right hand side.
"Hmmm" I thought to myself, " I don't remember seeing that before. Well, it was early both times, maybe I missed it."
"Hmmm, I would have sworn that the town would have been here by now."
"Hmmm, Wow, I'm in downtown Novato-- HOW THE HELL DID THAT HAPPEN?"
See Lesson #3, above and add, Bring the Course Map and Pay Attention to Where You Are Going.

Fear not, avid reader, your erstwhile Iron Woman was not concerned. I was only 50 miles into the ride and feeling really good. So, I figured I'd simply follow the bike path signs to San Rafael from Novato. . . (those of you who live in the area know where this is going). . . Down the road I went, merrily unconcerned about getting home until I followed down the path and came across the big sign of doom in the middle of the road:

Freeway Entrance. Bikes Allowed.

Seriously? Are they kidding? NO. The bike path from Novato to San Rafael actually puts bikes on the HIGHWAY. For those of you not from the area? The same 101 that runs all the way down to LA! Good Idea? NO.
So, I pulled out my phone (which I usually don't ride with) and re-routed my self another way home. Well, just about then, some other folk came by and headed down the bike path. I hollered at them "can you go this way?" and they responded "yes." SO, I tried it again. But yet again, I was going to end up on the highway. NO THANKS. (not sure why I didn't believe myself the first time). LESSON #4: ALWAYS bring your phone on long rides. You never know when it may come in handy.

I found my way home AND managed to get all those miles in AND it took me 2 hours less than it had taken me the last time I did that ride. SO, all in all, it was a good, if not stressful day.

FAST FORWARD A WEEK to IronTeam's 100 mile Tour of the East Bay Alps. Saturday morning, July 10th dawned bright and early with a wake up time of 430 am. I double checked my potions (mixed the night before) and loaded them into the car 1st thing (along with my bike). Then it was time to wait for my babysitter to show up so I could leave the house. I'd allotted 1 hour to travel the 49 minutes to our start time. . . but, of course, my sitter was a few minutes late and I found myself with 53 minutes to get to Walnut Creek, unload myself, get ready, and GO.

Pulling in, I found that most of my teammates were ready. For those of you that know how much I HATE TO BE LATE, you can imagine how this felt. Especially when Coach Dave told someone that they would have to wait for me while everyone else got rolling. I ran through the bathroom-- pulled out the Chamois butter- and flew back to the pack. I got ready, got set and GO. I rolled with the group: Coach Dave even called out "way to rally, Paula" as I biked by. (Warning to the Reader: This is as good as the day gets. . . you may want to stop reading now).

Well, to say that I ignored LESSON # 3 would be an understatement. As a group ride, I knew that the ride would be marked. Coach had even spent 4 hours attaching markers to the route for us AND printed out pocket sized route sheet. SO, I hadn't even looked at the course. In fact, I hadn't even thought about the course.

If you can't wait, scroll down to the end now and see the course-- or, you can see it unfold as I did. . . in wonderful technicolor hell.

The first mile was out to the beginning of Mt. Diablo park. And then the climbing began. No, seriously, the first 10 miles were an uphill climb of Mt. Diablo. And a climb it was a total of 2200 feet (give or take) in elevation. And how beautiful it was. I was enjoying the slow climb; looking out over the valley; looking back towards the city; taking my time; getting my legs and lungs warmed up. At 10 miles in, however, we reached the junction and a number of teammates turned in for a rest. I kept going and found myself on the downhill side. Given that I'd rather go UP the hill than DOWN the hill at 30 mph; the mileage down the hill, riding the brakes, with huge drop offs on both sides of me were harrowing. One of my teammates, Katheryn, who had pulled off at the Junction raced by my, calling out "not a descender, eh?" as she flew by.

For some reason, I'd gotten into my head that that was the worst of the ride. So, as I headed out, I was having fun, feeling good and really enjoying myself. I had a blast chatting with Susie about Oakland politics as we headed back towards Oakland (and San Francisco). Pulling ahead of Susie after a while (and having long lost site of Katheryn), I though I was headed to the first water stop. Not surprisingly, I missed it-- no idea where that first water stop was-- still haven't seen it.

But, as I turned right onto Bollinger Canyon Road, I noticed that there were a number of bright green flames wearing folk not very far ahead of me. In fact, I started to "chase" them up that road. Now, chase is a relative term. The road had started to climb again AND we were headed into what felt like a 15 mph headwind. But kept them in my sights I did as I climbed, and climbed. It seems like I was getting closer until-- Poof-- they disappeared all together. Where the heck did they go? I kept riding, and riding, and riding but didn't see any turns in the road and didn't see my fellow flames wearers. Finally, I reached the end of the road. (and the top of the hill). There was nowhere left to go. Cursing, loudly, I grabbed my route sheet and turned around. Well, fortunately, the correct turn was only about a 1/2 mile down (meaning I'd only climbed a 1/2 mile more hill than necessary). and I was back on my way. I had, however, lost my brethren; and, given my cycling woes, I wasn't planning to catching them anytime soon.

Imagine my surprise as I pulled into the first (I guess second) water stop. Being out of water, I was very happy to see Roe waiting for me. Roe is one of the many spouses and significant others who help us out all the time by patiently waiting for us (sometimes for 9 hours) to get to these water stops. She, like all of these folk, is a hero. I could also see my flames brethren just pulling out of the water stop. But, I stopped, filled up, found the potty (see lesson #2, above) and pulled back on my way.

The first turn was onto Redwood. Well, apparently while I hurried through the bathroom back at the beginning of the morning, Coach had warned everyone that they would be on Redwood the longest of any road of the day. Having missed the warning, I had no idea what I was in for. Redwood started to climb almost immediately. It went up, and Up, and UP, and UUUPPP. I swear, I think that road went up for 23 miles. (looking at the elevation chart-- it pretty much did).
I am not kidding. It just kept going and going. There may have been a few downhill sections, but I didn't notice them. What I noticed was that every time I looked up, I was ascending again.

Finally there was a break. And a water stop. And conveniently, there was Coach Dave. Who I proceeded to chew out. Who I proceeded to tell that "there is not a single hill in Kentucky the size of this monster." Who very nicely pointed out that "at the top of the next hairpin turn by the science center" we'd get a flat section for about 45 minutes or so. Well, you may have heard this before, but COACH DAVE LIES. Needless to say, Katheryn, who I'd met up with at the water stop, and I took him at his word and headed off in search of the flat section. (Note to the reader: I'm still looking for the flat section).

Around this time I found some pretty ugly head space. I started to think about quitting. Who really wants to do an Iron Man anyway? Who really needs to climb these hills since there is no way the Louisville course is anything like this? How long would it take a SAG vehicle to find me? I kept calling out to Katheryn "you have got to be kidding me" every time I saw another freaking hill looming. My right knee started to hurt. My left knee started to hurt. My right hip started to hurt. My head started to hurt. My neck started to hurt. Well, I think you get the picture. I started to wonder if I should "save my body for my race?" None of this was made better by the AMAZING view over Skyline Drive in the Berkeley Hills towards Oakland, San Francisco and the Marin Headlands.

I knew we had Pig Farm looming. For those of you who have kept up with this since the beginning, you know what Pig Farm is. For those of you who haven't, well, it is the hill that I've fallen off my bike 2X on because it is so steep that I can't keep moving. I knew it was about mile 73 or so. . . I didn't want to go there.

But I kept on keeping on. I passed Katheryn on the uphills; she blew by me on the downs. We made it up and over Pappa Bear; up and over Mamma Bear; up and over Baby Bear and into the BEST WATER STOP EVER. As we pulled in we saw a cadre of the faster folk pulling out. They, apparently, had camped out for a while munching on Magic Bars, Chocolate Bars, Pretzels (my favorite) and other assorted goodies. Katheryn and I too took a few minutes to rest up, recover, and munch before heading out. I was disappointed to know that "baby bear" hill was NOT, as I'd hoped, Pig Farm and that I still had that demon to slay.

I wish I could say it was in epic battle between me and the hill. I wish I could say that something amazing and wondrous happened, but really, I just powered up that hill buoyed by Coach Simon's words that "when you get to the top of Pig Farm, you are done with the climbing." Well, folks, COACH SIMON LIES TOO.

I got to the top of that hill and started to POWER HOME. I felt good at this point I was not going up hill-- and, believing Coach Simon, I wasn't going to have to go uphill anymore. Until I saw the next hill. It was all freaking over at that point folks. The tears started to flow. From that point on, every time I started to climb, the waterworks started as well. It was not a pretty experience.
I also missed my second, and third turn marker. Making the course LONGER and even HILLIER than the one represented in the graphic. I have NEVER, EVER in my life wanted to quit anything as much as I wanted to quit this course. At the last water stop people were talking about some of my teammates who had been SAGGED forward and OH MY GOD did I want someone to ask me to SAG forward too. It had been 8 1/2 hours; surely I was so slow that they needed to move me ahead on the course-- PLEASE! ANYONE ? ASK ME TO SAG? CAN"T YOU SEE I"M DYING HERE?

Apparently my coaches had other ideas. After getting lost 3 times and completing a full 100 miles (which most people did 96), I was DONE. It was 445 in the afternoon. Now all I had to do was fight the East Bay traffic on the way home.

I can officially say that I came, I saw, I conquered. The coaches have admitted that this was their scheduled "mind-fuck" ride. . . and believe me, when it comes to me, IT WORKED. This was by far the closest I'd come all season to quitting, to giving in. I'm still amazed (3 days later) that I didn't give up. I'm not sure why I didn't other than fear-- the fear that maybe if I did give up I won't be able to finish Louisville. The fear that I'd let you all down. The fear that I'd let my self down. The fear that I'd let my babysitter (who'd been with my kids for 11 hours) down. I did it. I made it. And we are 7 weeks before the big event.

And now, for course map and the elevation profile:

As always, without out you, the readers and donors, I'm not sure that I would have made it through this experience. There is still time to get on board and help out those suffering with Cancer. Click

Monday, June 28, 2010

Training for an Iron Man is a lot like being Pregnant

No Really-- bear with me for a minute.

We are 30 weeks into my 42 week training season and I've got a few observations.
For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of either training for an Iron Man or being pregnant, I will explain.

So, as some of you may not know, the human pregnancy period is 40 weeks (we all say 9 months, but when you're pregnant, it is more like 10 months because you have to wait 40 weeks). Many pregnancies go at least one, if not 2 weeks over the 40 weeks--- this leads us to the 42 weeks of Iron Man training.

At the beginning of both-- actually for the first few months; you are thinking, "This isn't so bad. I can handle this." If you've got morning sickness (or you are super sore from some workouts) you know that this too will pass and you will be rewarded for your efforts. Your body doesn't change much-- in fact, most people can't tell you are pregnant-- or training for an iron man.

Then, in the second trimester (the second 3 months); your body starts to change for good and for ill: you notice your growing round belly, your full shiny hair, your glowing face (pregnancy) and your new muscles, your lack of soreness, your endurance going up (iron man). Near the end, you start thinking about how this child is a lot easier to take care of now than it is going to be when it gets out. . . (or this ironman thing isn't so bad).
You start to prepare: You take classes (both), you visit the hospital (both for some people, like my teammates who've had falls); you do longer workouts and practice triathlons. You create a plan (a birth plan, which, in my years of med mal defense, my OB clients were quick to point out that the longer and more detailed the birth plan, the sooner everything went to hell during delivery or a nutrition plan (which I'm hoping doesn't create the same results)).

Finally you start to reach the third trimester: all bets are off. Your body is changing: "Wow! are those really my thighs that don't fit in my jeans anymore" (both); "Seriously? That is MY ass?" You start to get sick and darned tired of the whole thing. You are hungry all the time. You are TIRED. Your body feels heavy. You JUST WANT IT TO END. YOU count the days-- at least with pregnancy you have the hope that the baby could come early. You re-count the days. You are READY READY READY to be done with this whole thing. And then you realize:

No matter how much you've prepared, no matter how ready you are: it is still going to hurt.

Double Brick Weekend:
Sunday we headed out for our double/triple brick weekend. Those of us participating at Canada or Louisville were only to do a double brick while our friends competing in Vineman had a triple brick--their race is 4 weeks earlier-- those lucky bastards.

A brick, in triathlon language is not what it sounds like-- its not how you feel doing it; it is actually a bike workout followed by a run and is named for the guy who first started doing it.
Our bricks were to be 2 hour (30 mile) bike rides followed by 1 hour (5) mile runs. Doesn't sound so bad does it? A total of 60 miles on the bike and 10 miles of running (doesn't sound as good does it?).

I pulled up to Yountville in Napa County at 7:30 to be ready to ride by 8. I'd already discovered that I'd forgotten my Garmin (the one for my wrist) and would be computer-less on both the bike and the run. As usual, I was apprehensive-- I'd not been feeling the workouts lately-- been feeling slow and heavy-- I've been trying my best to get them all in, but with my kids out of school and my aunt here (and insert excuse here) I'd fallen off for a week or so. But here I was: ready as I was going to be.

After a quick trip to the potty to apply my Chamois Butter (use your imagination) it was time to get directions from the coaches. "Turn around a 1 hour on the bike a 30 minutes on the run. It is supposed to be hot hot hot out here today so be sure you are adjusting your nutrition plan accordingly." We were rolling. We were off. I started out riding with Liz: our honoree captain. She lost her brother to Leukemia years ago and has been a TNT member ever since. This was her second consecutive TNT season and is approaching exhaustion. That being said: she is always a pleasure to ride with. After the first 9 miles, I picked it up a bit and pulled forward. I'd borrowed a watch from one of my coaches and was surprised to see that I was at the hour mark and still hadn't it the turn around; but, since I was supposed to turn around (and was afraid not to) around I went.

Heading back into town was fun: we had all turned around at the one hour interval and we had the pleasure of following each other back into town. We rolled in with a pack of about 10--all decked out in our fancy "flames" (purple and lime green flames that say IRONTEAM on the back). As we rolled past one couple, the woman asked how far we were going. "90 mile bike and 15 mile run" responded Coach Mike. Seriously, the woman started to gag. (I actually felt guilty since I was only biking 60 and running 10.

Off on the first run. OK, so I admit I didn't pay enough attention when the coaches were giving instructions in the morning. In fact, I didn't pay any attention. This would come to bite me in the ass about 4 miles into this run. I headed out without any water, thinking there would be a water stop at 1.2 miles (there was) AND at 2.5 (the turn around). Arriving at the turn around-- there was NO WATER. Yikes. It was getting hot and while this Georgia Girl LOVES hot weather, its been a while since I've run in 90 degree temps. It was also about mile 2.4 that I realized something pretty important: I'd forgotten to change out of my bike shorts. (you know you're iron when it takes 2.4 miles of a run to realize that you haven't changed out of your bike shorts). Back at the only water stop on the course I guzzled a few cups and headed home. I was pretty happy with this run: I was supposed to hold my Iron Man Marathon Pace (11:39/mile) and held about 10:50's. It is just hard to run that slow on a normal run.

Sucking down some water and electrolytes and switching shoes, I was back on the bike. This time I rolled out with Susie and Coach Sedonia. We started a bit of the pregnancy analogy above and then settled in for a nice discussion of the season. There was a bit of discussion about motivation and how different people are motivated in different ways. As an offhand comment, I mentioned that I thought that Coach Dave didn't know what to do when he saw me crying after finishing the 100 miles at Clearlake (all 45 seconds of waterworks). Sedonia laughed and agreed with me. In fact, she mentioned that he must have told her about it 3 times and even said "that's the first emotion we've seen out of Paula all season." Completely amused, I mentioned that it just wasn't my style to emote-- bitch and complain-- yes, cry and emote-- no. Sedonia agreed with me and said it was actually one of the reasons why the coaches don't really worry about me: I may get the workout Turrets (pretty often) but I get the job done. It made me feel pretty good.

Sedonia turned off to help Rocky with a flat and I was on my own. I was hoping to get all the way to the turn around this time: I wanted to go faster and I wanted to get there. Apparently it was not to be. At the 1 hour mark I was exactly at the same spot I was the first time. Frustrating Yes; but also kind of heartening since I hadn't lost pace the second 30 miles.

Can't say the same for the run: This run was UGLY. I was smart, and brought water and I made the turn around and I stuck to my readily improvised 1 minute walk 1 minute run strategy so, it could have been worse: but pace wise? This time I did the 5 miles in 70 minutes (please don't calculate the pace per mile-- and if you do, don't tell me. I don't want to know.).

It was a great day. I sort of wish I'd tried the 3x brick (don't worry, I'll get my chance in a few weeks) but also realized that some salt tabs would be WONDERFUL to have if I need them (when the mercury hits 101 like it did yesterday some salt to go with all that water would have been great). Do I still think I can do this?
Of course, with all of you, my donors and loyal readers, to help.

Speaking of which-- I'm 500 dollars short of my fundraising minimum. 500 by JULY 1. If you can help (from small to large) please do: I need your help, those with cancer need your help.
Thanks so much for reading and donating.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

3/4 Iron Weekend, Part 2

So, what I didn't tell you in the last installment, and haven't really talked about enough, concerns the people of Iron Team. I may have mentioned in the last installment that the folk who own the compound up at Clear Lake are TNT alums from a while back who have chosen this way to show their commitment to the cause. But, I've probably not talked nearly enough about everyone else.

On the team there are the Coaches, Mentors and Captains. These people are working out with us and providing support-- they get volunteers to come out to the course; they mark the courses; they spend countless hours away from their families; they listen to us complain ("do I need to call the WAHmbulance?"); they make sure we have food and beverages out there and basically the team wouldn't be able to function without them.

There are our Honorees. These folks are living with blood cancer. They train with us; they staff water stations; they tell us about their struggles with the disease. Basically, they give us the inspiration to keep going when we want to stop.

There are the volunteers that come out for the heck of it to drive SAG on the bike course; to man water stations, to throw those water balloons down out back (see the last entry), to keep out spirits up and help us change our tires in an emergency.

Then there are our teammates. Given my family situation, I don't ever feel like I get to know all my teammates. However, the ones I've had the pleasure of getting to know well this season have been amazing. I just couldn't ask for more. BK who jumped behind the wheel of the Tahoe (he drives one as his primary vehicle) to back it down the 60 yard driveway; Shep-- who I've ridden with in the past (and now I think is too fast for me to keep up with) Iron Mel, M-dot Afan, these people struggle with me and keep me smiling and laughing when the pre, during, and post workout Turrets sets in.

Back to the weekend. After the 2 mile swim and 100 mile bike ride it was time for a BBQ. Dinner and stories about survivors and connections to the cause completed, it was time for BED. And I mean BED. We were pooped. That being said, there was still time for some laughs with my hotel mates Margaret and Mel. (think-- who would be on your "list"? And what does it say about us that we could come up with a woman on the list before we could come up with a man?) To bed we went.

At 2am the phone rang-- it was John. Will's ear was hurting and he needed advice. Advice given, I tried to get back to sleep. Tried being the operative word. About 2 hours later-- I was asleep.

The lack of sleep, however, was the least of my problems. 9 hours of Carbo-Pro followed by a turkey burger washed down with regular Coke was my problem. To say I was having trouble, eh hum, getting things moving, was an understatement. I just couldn't get my system going. That and I was tired. Dog tired. But not sore.

We woke up at 5 and packed up our room to head back to the compound for our 16 mile or 3 hour which ever comes first run. Reaching the compound (and parking in a spot it would be easy to get out of), it was time to run before I was ready. Off we went at 7am. It was already getting HOT out there. Now, I'm a girl who LOVES hot. That being said, after 2 years living in freezing cold Mill Valley, HOT was a surprise-- a not all together unwelcome surprise, but it definitely made it hard to get moving.

I started out the run feeling pretty strong. Simon, our run coach, had asked us to go out slow, super slow, at our IM marathon pace. So I was supposed to run the first 1 1/2 hours at 11:39 pace. I was also supposed to take walk breaks. Needless to say, I couldn't do it. While I was able to take the walk breaks, I wasn't able to hold the slow pace. I found myself drifting upwards towards 9:30 or 10:00 minute pace. But On I Went.

Passing the second water stop, I again wished I'd been able to use the potty. I started cramping in my belly. But On I Went. I think I started slowing down but it was hard to tell since Garmin (the one I wear on my wrist) went dead--effectively leaving me without a pacer and without a chime to tell me when to take my walk breaks.

I saw Coach Simon at the top of the hill-- he commented that we were about an hour and 10 minutes into the run and I should hit the water stop "about a 1/4 mile down the hill and turn around." Well, I have to tell you, Coach Simon LIES. That water stop was about 2 miles from where he was standing. I kept going, and going, and going, always saying that I'd stop when I hit that damn water stop but it never showed up. At this point I was crampy and THIRSTY so I knew I had to find it before I could turn around and head up the hill back towards home.

When I was finally approaching the water stop, I saw that our coaches had moved the motivational signs: they were now down there at the bottom of the hill leading into the water stop. I must admit, however, that this water stop was 1/4 mile away from the turn around spot on the course. . . and, despite Coach Sedonia's parents telling me that they'd let me continue on to the actual turn around, I turned around at that water stop. I just wasn't feeling it that day. And I figured that I could add the additional 1 mile that we biked yesterday for the 1/2 mile I didn't run today.

The way home was excruciating. It just was. I was crampy (still couldn't get things moving); I was tired; I was hot; and I just wanted to get back to the compound and get home (to fix Will's ear). At one point Coach Dave came by on his bike--- I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't even recognize him. . . in fact, as he said "how you doing" I thought "Jesus, just what I need right now, an annoying dude." Anyway, after he laughed at me for my "eh hum-- difficulties" he reminded me I was on the flats and on my way home.

I made it. Even passing a few of my teammates on the way back. I have no idea how long it took me to get back. It felt long but I think I was home in the allotted 3 hours. Then it was down to the lake to ice the legs (again). The nice thing was I was done with the weekend: 2 miles of swimming, 101 miles on the bike and 15.5 miles running. For those of you keeping score that is 118.5 miles-- or, in english, a really f-ing long way. What is even cooler about that: it leaves with 42 miles to add (.4 on the swim; 12 on the bike; and 10.7 on the run) to finish a full Iron Man. For the first time, I feel like I'm actually going to be able to do it!

Now for the drive home. Iron Mel (who had had a good run) and I were on our way home by 11. She had a fundraiser the next day and I needed to hurry home because Will's ear was still bothering him. I still needed to use the potty. We listened to the Garmin this time and, timewise, it was better. BUT we had to drive over this Mountain that twisted and turned and scared the crap out of me--ok, that was wishful thinking at that point-- as we went up and down the mountain. As we twisted, we kept up a constant pace eating our Pringles (read: salt delivery system) and washing them down with regular Coke. You know you are are Iron when the only pace you were able to hold all day was your post race Pringle consumption. We finally met up with Route 101 where we pulled into the gas station to use the potty and get gas.

We were followed into the one bathroom station by some of our teammates and, unfortunately, it was NOT the cleanest or nicest potty I've ever seen. That being said, both Mel and I had never been so happy to see a potty and I must admit, after my tribulations of that morning; that potty was worth its weight in gold.

On the road again, still hungry for lunch and making an appointment for a doctor's appointment for Will's ear, I caved into the pressure and stopped at In-n-Out Burger. Now, my teammates, including Iron Mel, rave about this place-- as do most Californians (or Westerners, not sure which it is). They say it has the best hamburgers and fries EVER. I've been here 2 years and still hadn't been (who needs fast food burgers anyway?) That being said, having finally eaten at an In-n-Out, and being famished when I was doing so, I don't have a clue what they are talking about. The burgers are no better than McDonald's, Burger King's or any other fast food burgers. Yet again, the Californians have no idea what they are talking about.

Finally we were home. I dropped of Mel and ran home to take Will to the doctor. He did have an ear infection and we were able to get him some antibiotics. Both he and I were feeling great by Monday-- I was surprised. All that mileage and I wasn't even sore. In fact, I felt great. For the first time, I felt like I was going to be Iron.

So what is (was) next? I had Dipsea coming up in 6 days. . . 7.4 miles of quad and hammy busting trial running from Mill Valley over Mt. Tamalpais to Stinson Beach. Did I make it? You will have to wait for the next installment.

In addition, I'm still fundraising: I need about 700 dollars to reach my goal. If you can help me out by helping out those who are suffering from blood cancer, please do so now. I only have 15 days to get the fundraising done.

Monday, June 7, 2010

PACKING FOR A TRIATHLON is not anything like getting ready to do a marathon. Or a Swim. Or a Bike Ride. I imagine it as more like packing for an ascent on Mt. Everest. You've got your gear: Swim Gear (wetsuit, swim caps plural, goggles plural, baby shampoo--keeps your goggles from fogging up, body glide--keeps your neck and arms from chaffing, conditioner--helps get your wetsuit over your body, towel, oh, and yeah- your bathing suit); Bike Gear (bra, bike shorts, biking shirt, helmet, sunglasses, Garmin--to keep track of mileage and time, socks, bike shoes, bike); Run Gear (run shorts--some people don't change shorts, run top--same deal some people don't change, running shoes, socks, hat). Oh yeah- -and that part that they don't tell you about in the TV commercials-- NUTRITION GEAR (7 water bottles, 10 packages of GU-type substances, 6 Gatoraids, 3 power bars, 2 packages of Gu Chomps, and 1 big container of Carbo Pro). This time, however, the coaches were throwing the concept of our "special needs bag" at us. Your special needs bag is something that you will get during the middle miles of the bike ride. In it you are to put any "special needs" you may have. With such great advice from my coaches (Simon-- a pillow and a pizza), mentor (a Starbucks double expresso), and friends (beer, porn), I had no idea what to put in my special needs bag. I perused the grocery store and decided on: a coke (in case I got a headache), some NutterButters, Advil, and, at the encouragement of my teammates, Pringles. I also added replacement water bottles, with my carbo pro Gatoraid mixture, and some electrolite tablets.
AND WE'RE OFF (part 1)
Packing done, babysitter in place, I was off to pick up Iron Mel to head out to Clear Lake for our training weekend. We added her stuff to John's Tahoe and put her brand new bike on the bike rack behind Bayou (my bike). Iron Mel had had a rough day man wise and as we headed out of town, she started telling me the story. While I listened to her story, I started noticing that The Garmin (the one that tells us how to get places in the car) was telling us to go a different way. Per our directions, we were headed out over the Richmond Bridge, through the East Bay and up 80. Garmin kept trying to get us to go another way. Thinking she was crazy, Mel and I turned her down and kept going. . . and going. . . and going. . . for about 3 hours.
Finally, out side of Oakland, Garmin gave up and got with the program. The population got thinner and thinner (at least one town had a "population 56" sign marking the town limits) and the terrain got more and more beautiful. It also started to remind me more and more of home. The closer we got to the lake, the more and more it looked like Lake Oconee-- or at least our side of Lake Oconee).
We were a bit worried about what the hotel was going to be like. Mentor Margaret had described it as "a dive", and she had informed us that there was a carp fishing tournament going on and the parking lot was full of Budweiser drinking guys driving pick up trucks. We were there. It was time to get serious.
What were we up against? Well, the course was a 2 mile swim, followed by a 100 mile bike ride on Saturday. Then we were to eat, sleep and get up on Sunday for a 16 mile run. I'd been told the course was "challenging".
I was pretty nervous-- not about the swim but, as usual, about the bike. I'd never done a century ride before. In fact, I'd really never contemplated doing a century ride before. But the biggest demon I was facing was myself. I've been in a funk lately. Not really in the mood to train (although I have been), not really in the mood to race (although I have been), getting really sick of all this fundraising (although I have been), and really wondering why on earth this matters to me anyway. Who really wants to be Iron. As John says, isn't it enough to be fit and healthy without actually doing a 140.6 mile Iron Man? So, anyway, I've been down.

We got up EARLY and headed out to the Shaw Compound. The Shaws are TNT Alums who open their compound on Clear Lake up to Iron Team every year. So, about 60 of us descended upon them at 5:45 in the morning to set up our mini-transition areas and get our swim waves.

I was to be in the second swim wave-- and I was NOT happy about it. If you remember the Louis Tri, where, due to my swimming ability, I was held until the fastest group to start, and then, due to my terrible biking ability, I was one of the last people to cross the finish line. Not fun. Not confidence inspiring. NOT WHAT I NEEDED FROM THIS WEEKEND.
AND WE'RE OFF (part 2)
The first group went off and our second group entered the water. Pleasant surprise: it was fairly comfortable. Unpleasant surprise: it was filled with tree like vegetation rising up from the depths of the lake to tickle (and tangle) our arms and legs. I was in a group with Sandy, Mel, Margaret, myself, and some other folk. We were off.
It was a smooth swim through the water, but it was not an easy swim. I couldn't see. I couldn't see the course markers. I couldn't see the buoys. The sun was coming up and every time I breathed to my left, I was blinded by the light (cue Jackson Browne song now).
Reaching the final buoy and turning around, I was supposed to look for a dock. No Dock. So, I started swimming. Still no dock. One of the support kayaks said to swim for the trees sticking out into the water and when I got there, I'd see the dock. I got there. Still no dock in site. I caught a vague glimpse of another support kayak out there and headed that way. They were sitting close to the dock!!! I turned around and headed back for the stand of trees that marked the edge of the Shaw compound. At this point, I'd passed a couple of wave 1 swimmers and was headed for the (dreaded) bike.
How Long Would it Take to Ride 100 Miles in a Car? 2 hours? 2 1/2?
100 miles. Wow. What a long way. In anticipation of this ride, I'd packed actual bike shorts (something I usually don't do) and worn a bathing suit under my wetsuit so that I had to change before heading out. I usually just stay in tri shorts throughout the entire race. The difference between the 2? About 2 inches of padding between your butt and the bike seat. For once in triathlon, more IS more. I stripped down and pulled on my shorts and flames bike shirt. (For those of you who haven't seen our flames, lets just say that lime green and purple are VERY noticeable on a bike). After a quick stop at the potty and to apply some Chamois butter, I was off.
About 3 miles in, my arms started to hurt in the areo position. I was in a panic. A few weeks ago, after our 80 mile ride, I'd been to the bike fitter. Rand had adjusted the stem on my bike, we'd gotten a new saddle, we'd upgraded my crankset, and I was expecting (as advertised) a pain free ride. 3 miles in, my arms were in agony. OH MY GOD. How was I ever going to be able to stay on this torture contraption for 100 miles. There were pins and needles running down my arms as I passed Marvelous Mentor Margaret (and one of my teammates) changing a flat-- turned out to be her second flat of the day). Fortunately, by the time I got to the first water station, which I blew by, the pins and needles in my arms had stopped and I was getting comfortable.

What was amazing was my new crankset. OH MY GOD. I'd been riding on a standard and had just upgraded to a compact. This was supposed to give me more gears. Not sure whether it did or not, but I will say that I didn't really feel like my legs were working at all. Just smoothly turning round and round easily on the pedals. My new saddle was a bonus as well. On the old one, 15 miles in I'd already be feeling it-- here, I was comfortable.
So, I settled in for a long day in the saddle. I wasn't really sure how long this was going to take; but I figured it could take up to 10 hours. This was a really hilly course, with some 9 % grades on it, and it was LONG-- encircling Clear Lake-- AKA, the largest lake in California. To check out the bike course (it wouldn't
About mile 30 Margaret passed me again and I started to see some of my teammates. Some passed me, some I passed out there. I generally ride alone, since about 2/3 of my teammates are significantly faster than I am and 1/3 is significantly slower than I am. Thus, I find myself alone on the course a lot. BUT today, coach Dave's wife had joined us. She is training for her second Iron Man and, despite tackling a beast of a 70.3 the weekend before, was joining us on our training weekend. Norma and I rode together for about 60 miles. I must say, having someone to ride with was wonderful. We alternated breaking the headwind (no where but in Northern California is there is head wind in both directions), despite USAT's prohibition on drafting. We talked about the course, nutrition (every time my buzzer would go off to remind me to drink, Norma would shout "hydrate" from where ever she was), Iron Man training, sharing your spouse with TNT, and, basically, having Norma there made everything easier and more fun. Even that stretch of pavement where the road was covered in dirt and holes.
Speaking of holes-- I've never ridden a course with more holes and crappy pavement. At least 30 miles of the 100 were on bad roads. They were a mess. My food sources rattled, my arms rattled, my tires bounced. For some of the ride, it was like riding on 2 flat tires. . . for some of the ride it was like riding on 2 flat tires while pulling a couch. I almost met my maker during one stretch. I'd veered pretty far to the left of the road (think uphill almost dirt single lane) trying to find some decent pavement-- it was about mile 72, I was OVER being on the bike and OVER being on crappy pavement, what do you want? Well, around a bend I went and there was the green SUV. I pulled hard to the right and got on my side of the road, but it was a close call. Its hard to say who was more scared, me or the driver.
Anyway, life altering part of the course done, we proceeded up the final real hill of the ride. Sedonia, our swim coach, had placed signs with our names on them urging us to "Go" and "Ride" As usual, this show of love and support brought on the water works. . .. Memo to all TNT coaches and managers: making people cry while they are trying to ascent 5% grades is NOT HELPFUL. Its really nice. . . its just not helpful.
Finally we were headed back into town. We'd passed the 80 mile mark (my previous longest ever ride) and were headed back to the park when we saw our leading teammate. . . What? We had to do this freaking road again? What? We had to go over this same stretch of HORRIBLE pavement AGAIN? NO FREAKING WAY! The workout Turrets started pretty hard and serious at that point. We started singing. . . we started signing the Oompa Loompa song from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. . . Words like "what do you get when you spend 100 miles on a bike? A sore bottom and hatred for coach Mike (our lovable bike coach)."
Needless to say, when we got back into the park and saw coach Mike there. . . (and Marina told on us). . . we were not loving him. BUT we were wrong. I took back all my nasty lyrics when I found out that we were not to head back up the 2 flat tire couch stretch of the course. In fact, I jumped off my bike and hugged coach Mike when I realized that we didn't have to do it again.
12 miles left-- on the way home at last.
I can't begin to tell you how amazing it is to spend 100 miles on a bike. There really are no words to describe it to you. It is long. It takes a really, really long time (7 hours 41 minutes including potty breaks and water stops). It is hard. It hurts your girl parts. That being said, it is amazing. I started to cry off and on as I approached the last 5 miles. I just couldn't believe that I was actually going to make it through a 100 miles. At mile 97, one of my teammates, Katherine, drove by and asked me if I wanted a water balloon down my back. OH MY GOD YES. She tried, and, given that I had no idea what I was doing, I flew by her and we didn't make it work. Then, around she drove again and tried again. Success. A purple balloon filled with ice cold water down the back of my shirt and "pop" a cold splash of water. You know you are Iron when. . . . .
Anyway, I finally pulled into the driveway to the compound to Coach Dave, Mel (who had done 80 miles on her new bike with new aerobars), and M3 (Marvelous Mentor Margaret). I completely lost it. I just couldn't believe I'd done it! I couldn't believe I'd actually ridden 100 miles. I couldn't believe I'd done it in under 10 hours (which I wasn't sure I was capable of). I just couldn't believe that I had gotten that far. . .
But we weren't done. . . . we still had Sunday. A 16 mile run.
To be continued. . . . .

Sorry to have gone away for a while

Somebody asked me the other day whether I'd stopped blogging (in the wake of some controversy over my previous post about Alcatraz). I thought about it for a while. I certainly had no intention of abandoning my blog (and am getting ready for a LONG entry about 3/4 iron weekend), but I'm sorry if anyone was feeling left in the dark.

I think I haven't posted for a while because I tend to write up only the "big" stuff-- and at this point, even the "big" stuff (until 3/4 weekend) has become pretty routine. 50 mile bike ride? No big deal. 4200 yard swim. Been there, done that. Double spin class (2 hours) followed by 4200 yard swim. Done it-- no biggie. It is sort of surprising, but none of it seems that out of the ordinary to me at this point. Guess that is why USAT calls it the multi-sport lifestyle.

Or maybe I've just not posted in a while because doing all that stuff takes time. Lots of time. Add to that coaching a soccer team, gearing up to throw soccerfest again this year (think 4000 person festival with beer and soccer), AND co-chairing Will's school's on-line auction, and being the room parent in Jack's room. . . and, and, and. . . Well, I've been pretty busy. ANY WAY on to the action. . . . 3/4 Iron Weekend. (will start working on this post after dinner-- it was a long weekend (2 days, 118.5 miles) so it may take a while. )

Monday, May 3, 2010

This was my second shot at Escape From Alcatraz, having done the race last year (!/note.php?note_id=91151859422) on Jack's 3rd birthday. Due to some infighting in the world of triathlon, the race was moved up 6 weeks this year so instead of being held mid-June, it was time to jump off the boat in early-May. Last year's race was tough for me. I was a novice; I'm not a biker and was riding my cheap, HEAVY bike, and I was worried about making it home for Jack's birthday party. With all this in mind, I had set pretty lofty goals for this race:
1) to take 10 minutes off my swim time
2) to take 10 minutes off my bike time
3) to take 10 minutes off my run time
4) no walking on the run and
5) finish in under 4 hours.

I'm going to issue a warning right now-- parts of this blog are going to be "whiny" (yes, worse than usual) but the point of this blog is to capture the highs and lows of training so I'm going to attempt to be truthful.

The Pre-Race Battle
Saturday was a beautiful day in the San Francisco area. For those of you that follow my facebook accounts, you know this is a rare statement from me. . . John, the kids, John's father Russell and I spent morning at one of the playgrounds in the city (I took an hour "escape" to get my race numbers), had a lovely lunch, and stopped by one of my favorite places-- the sports basement- to stock up on Body Glide and nutrition.

As usual, as the day wore on, John became more and more frustrated with the amount of time this was taking from our family. He repeatedly commented that he wasn't bringing the kids down to the race (although it is a short 30 minutes away) and mentioned repeatedly that he would do things like this "if it didn't take away so much family time."

One of the reasons that I do this is my family. I love my two baby boys more than anything I can imagine and I want them to grow up knowing that their mommy is strong; and that a beautiful woman is one who is sweaty and gross coming across a finish line. Accordingly, it is pretty important to me to have them there.

Well, of course, before I could go to bed for a restful evening, John and I had to have our "discussion" of whether he would be willing to bring the kids down. And, as usual, after being made to feel guilty for hours for wanting them to come, I gave in. Despite the fact that the race was 20 minutes from our house and the kids could play in the sand of crissy field (and still see the race), they weren't coming.

I was packed; I was ready; now all I had to do was get up.

Waking up at 3:00 am is crazy
Always. Everytime I do something like this I wonder why these things can't start at a more humane hour. Although I was not a first timer anymore (and didn't have to be on the 430 am bus to the boat), I didn't want to be late and risk losing my window seat on the boat to sit in the middle with people all around me. So, I compromised and left the house at 4 am after double checking to make sure I had all the necessities.

Packing for a triathlon is something like assembling gear for an Everest Trek and packing for Escape from Alcatraz is worse than most due to the multi spot start and the extra run leg. For the swim you need your wetsuit, booties, goggles, two swim caps, body glide (to keep your wetsuit from chaffing your neck) and conditioner to pull the suit on with. For the bike-- your bike, your helmet, your GPS, your bike shoes, sunglasses, your socks, oh, and I've gotten in the habit of changing my shirt between the swim and the bike. The run-- you got it-- another shirt, a hat your number, and of course, your running shoes (and an extra pair of socks just in case). Oh yeah-- there is also the nutrition (gu's, gatoraid bottles, carbo pro) and, in Alcatraz's case, the extra pair of running shoes for the run between the end of the swim and the transition area.

This year I was smart-- having set up my transition last year in the dark, I brought my camping headlamp with me so I could see what I was doing. After dropping my "mini-transition" bag off at the truck and setting up my stall, I boarded the bus for the 20 minute ride to the boat clutching the bag with my wetsuit, goggles, booties, a snack, a drink, my body glide and my conditioner. (Yes, I left the kitchen sink at home).

I picked up my chip and got in line for the boat where I was joined by Ironteam's Swim Coach Sedonia who was racing today as well. We boarded together and carved out some prime real estate up against the windows where we could see the Pro triathletes jump off the boat. About 20 minutes later, we saw someone else wearing IronTeam's Flames, and, expecting Captain Tony, we stood up, put our hands in the air and started jumping around. You guessed it-- it wasn't Tony. Fortunately the guy took pity on us and joined our little circle anyway-- he'd done IronTeam last year (Kentucky) and knew Sedonia anyway. Finally, about 10 minutes before the boat was to depart, Tony joined us and our little 4 some chatted merrily until the boat shoved off and we started the wetsuit wiggle.

I started to get nervous pretty early on this year. I'd had a bad swim here last year (according to my dad, I'd gotten faulty information and swam 2 1/2 miles instead of 1 1/2). I'd gone slow; I'd had trouble sighting, I'd gone way off course, AND I'd been dizzy throughout. SO, despite being a strong swimmer, I was definitely uncomfortable. Didn't help that I was on the boat with my swim coach who was hoping to finish the swim in 25 minutes or less. Then there was the marine wildlife. . . Most people who swim in San Francisco Bay are afraid of the sharks. Me, however, I don't like the sea lions. While they won't bite you. They are somewhat like puppies-- 2 ton puppies-- that like to play with swimmers. As the boat pulled into position, a sea lion looked up at us and waived. GREAT.

Before I knew it-- it was time to jump and off we went into the water. I was much more prepared this time-- following a totally different line of sight all the way in. The trick here is to swim straight across from the boat to the shore-- the current (4 million gallons of water heading under the golden gate bridge per second) will pull you from left to right. I swam towards aquatic park until I floated past it, I swam towards Fort Mason until I floated past that. I swam towards the dome of the Palace of Fine Arts until I was past that. I swam towards the orange roof of the San Francisco Yacht Club until I found myself on the beach-- still about 20 yards to the left of the "official" exit point! I ran (with many others) along the shore and up through the exit to mini-transition.

It's About Family, Damn It.
Up in mini-transition I shed my wetsuit and booties and donned my old crappy running shoes. Of course, I'd forgotten to unlace them so there went a few minutes unlacing running shoes with frozen fingers. I headed out to run the 1/2 mile to my bike awaiting me at the real transition area and I heard, "GO PAULA." I looked over and there was Kevin Owens and his wife. Kevin was a Team in Training ("TNT") teammate of mine last year on the Lavaman team and he recently completed his 2nd lavaman with TNT this year. I waived, smiled and headed to transition.

I changed my shirt, donned my bike shoes and helmet and headed off on the bike. What a difference a year makes. This year the bike course was PACKED. There were so many people out there and I was being passed (nothing different there) left and right. In addition, the wind had started picking up already and we were riding into a pretty strong headwind.
Coming up the first hill by the bridge, at about mile 3, Captain Tony passed me with a "looking good Paula" (that was the last I saw of Captain Tony). About 6 miles in another Ironteam mate passed me on her way up the big hill to the palace of fine arts.

Fast forward to coming back up from Golden Gate Park. For me, the toughest part of this course comes after golden gate park when you turn and come back up the hill by the Cliff House and then go up Seal Rock Hill to Clement Street Hill. Clement Street Hill on that side is a KILLER. I've walked up that hill many a time and saw about 4 people walking up that hill as I stood on my bike and muscled up that hill ! ! !( for only the second time). No rest for the wicked as we were then headed up back to the Palace of Fine Arts. Coming up the last hill, I started talking to the girl next to me. She was from Oklahoma, she loved the beauty of the course even though it was hard etc. We chatted the whole way up that hill and, as I passed her on the way down, she thanked me, telling me that I "got her over that last hill."

Screaming (for me) down the home stretch, I heard, "Go Paula" and then again about 4 minutes later "Go Paula." I had no idea who it was, but I had a cheering section. I was back in transition, and headed out on my run just as the announcer said, "we have our women's winner."

Transitioning from the bike to the run is always difficult-- your feet feel numb. Your legs are used to moving in other directions. Even your running shoes feel bulky next to the relative compactness of the bike shoes. As I took the right turn out of transition, Coach Mike and some other Iron teammates calling out my name and cheering me on. (Solved the first question). About a 1/2 mile later, I saw Merla our team manager and some others cheering me on by name as well (ah-ha, the second mystery supporters revealed). Turning right onto the path by Crissy Field-- it was Kevin and his wife again. . . cheering for me again.

About this time, I started to feel so lucky and so loved. I know it sounds silly, but since my family couldn't make it out, it was so amazing to have people there who knew me and were cheering for me. Other than Falmouth (where my family lives and my dad and I race every year) I generally do most of my racing alone. To have so many people there watching out for me and caring about me brought me to tears. This is my 3rd season of TNT now and I've got to say that my TNT friends have become my family away from family. I can't even begin to tell you how much I appreciate them.

I headed up the first set of stairs, after mile 2, with a smile in my heart-- it was a beautiful day and I was having a great race. This set of stairs is narrow, and, on race day, a two way street. Athletes flew down the stairs as I struggled up them. The reward for getting to the top? A sweeping vista of San Francisco Bay, out over the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands and the Pacific Ocean. The sailboats had come out and the bay positively glowed with the sun glinting off their white sails (no one has colored sails here-- I think it is part of the austerity and coldness of the area).

I saw one of my boat mates headed back down the course towards home and, about 10 minutes later saw Sedonia heading for home. I ran over the hill and down to the soft sand of Baker Beach. At this point I started running with a woman named Rachel who was finishing up the relay leg for her team. She was amazing. We talked about how the sport of triathlon is about learning who you are and about seizing the moment by enjoying the day you are having in the body you have. By the time I reached the top of the sand ladder (read 400 steps of sand going straight up the side of a hill), I was all smiles-- This may have been Rachel; this may also have been that from that point, the remaining course is downhill.

It may also have been because I had been paying attention to my watch, although I haven't mentioned it here. I didn't have a swim time but I did have a bike time, and I was pretty sure that it was at least 10 minutes faster than last years. I was watching my run time, and it looked like I was on pace to be at least 10 minutes shorter than last year. In addition, it looked like I was going to make it home before 12:00.

At the end of the run, you spend about 2 miles on the flat road by Crissy Field. It was covered with regular folk out for a Sunday stroll. I took a few seconds to slap the hands of a few little kids who were there and to thank a few dads who'd brought their kids out to watch their mom's do the triathlon. As I approached the finish line, I heard my name again. It was Kevin, his wife, and another familiar face from my TNT Lavaman team, Gary. This year, Gary has been through hell-- prostate cancer, chemo, surgery, radiation, and seeing him there at the finish line looking AMAZING was one of the highlights of the race for me.

As I hit the finish chute, I saw the clock-- I was looking good. I'd definitely made my 12 cut off-- in fact, I was looking like I was going to make a 11:49 ! I heard my name yet again and it was Coach Mike, Maria and a few other Iron Teammates cheering me to the finish! I was done.

3 hours and 49 minutes or (more impressively) 43 minutes faster than last year. 24 minutes on the swim and about 10 each on the bike and the run. I'd run the whole course (except for the sand ladder of course) and achieved all of my goals. I can't even believe that I had such a good day.

After the race ended and I was waiting to pick up my stuff from the boat and the mini transition, Kevin and his wife joined me. I don't even begin to know how to express my gratitude to them for cheering me on, keeping me company, holding my big plate of food for the kids (I was bringing them home brownies), and on top of it all volunteering to carry half of my stuff to my car for me (I couldn't let them-- they'd done so much for me already).

What is next on this Iron Journey? Well, first off, I still desperately need to raise some more funds. My next TNT fundraising deadling is May 13th. . . I am about 1500 short right now, so, if you can help-- now would be a great time to click on my fundraising website and donate what you can (even $5 helps to save a life and push me towards my goal).
My next big training events: there are 3 that are worrying me
1) an 80 mile bike ride on 5/17
2) 3/4 iron weekend on 6/5 (2 mile swim, 100 mile bike, 20 mile run) and
3) Dipsea-- check this race out in this month's runner's world magazine.

As always, thank you for your love and support and for reading.