Wednesday, February 5, 2014

IMAZ Part 6: The Finish Line & Beyond

In case you missed Parts 1-5 of the Ironman Arizona Race Recap: 

Click HERE for Part One: The Road To Tempe
Click HERE for Part Two: Countdown to Race Day
Click HERE for Part Three: The Swim
Click HERE for Part Four: The Bike
Click HERE for Part Five: The Run

The last mile of IMAZ was one of the longest miles of my life! It was a dark and desolate stretch of road that made me feel like the finish line was still so far away, yet I knew it was close . . .

So when I rounded the last bend and saw the finish chute lined with spectator-filled bleachers and the timing clock reading 13:25 and change—I had less than a minute to beat my IM Cozumel time—I picked up the pace, a lunatic grin plastered on my face.

Tom Petty’s Running Down a Dream was blasting (So true!) and I heard Mike Reilly announce that I was an IRONMAN (again!) . . . and I felt fantastic!


140.6 PR!

An Ironman Again!!

Immediately after crossing the finish line (and setting a 140.6 PR!!) a volunteer wrapped me in a silver space blanket, her arm tightly around my shoulders. I think someone may have had me around the waist, too. Clearly, this is a proactive move meant to keep newly-minted Ironmen (and women) from collapsing on the ground! They kept asking me questions like, "Do you feel okay?" "Do you need to sit down?" "Do you feel faint?" "Are you alright?"
Yes. No. No. Yes!

Someone removed my timing chip. A medal was placed around my neck. I was handed an icy cold water bottle and a finisher’s t-shirt, and was maneuvered toward a photographer taking finisher photos. From the scaffolding overhead, I spotted Tri Dad and our friends Erik (fellow IMAZ finisher) and his wife Marcia cheering and waving. Tri Dad and Erik joined me for some happy finisher photos:

And I kept waiting . . . for the bad part to happen. In Cozumel, I felt great when I crossed the finish line, and then my body began to shut down. I couldn’t eat. The smell of food made me feel nauseous. So I got a massage instead. The therapist seemed concerned about me. Someone had to help me off the table. I sat in a chair feeling weak and dizzy with my head in my lap. I wanted something light and salty—like pretzels—and there were none. It was more sugary sports drinks (vomit!) and pizza (ugh!) and fruit and granola bars and nothing I could imagine eating. I needed salt. I settled on Cup O Noodles. The smell made my stomach roll over. I took a few sips. It came back up again. And then I was shaking, lying on the ground, covered in a space blanket, my head in Tri Dad's lap. This went on for two hours. I tried to eat some orange slices. They didn’t stay down. By that point, my husband had conspired with the roaming medics to coax me into the medical tent. They helped me walk there. On the way, I hurled into a Gatorade bin. Not my proudest moment. Thankfully it was all but empty—only 4 or 5 bottles and some ice remaining.

In the tent, I was relieved of my wet, sweaty clothes, swaddled in space blankets from head to toe, and given an IV. I was not alone. There were many of us in the Mash-like tent.

And here’s the kicker. I suffered unnecessarily for hours trying to recover on my own before finally giving in to medical assistance. My electrolytes were out of balance. The IV/saline solution the medics administered by-passed my digestive system and went straight to my bloodstream to restore my electrolyte balance. Within 15 minutes—I felt as good as new, though my finisher’s photo—taken nearly 3 hours after I’d crossed the finish line in Cozumel—make it clear that I was still entirely loopy and out of it.

Crazy town.

Loopy post-IV electrolytes. 

The IMAZ finish line was an entirely different experience for me . . . an enjoyable experience, and one that I remember much more clearly.

First and foremost, I was hungry. And when I knew I could eat, I knew I’d be okay. And did I ever eat!! I had two slices of pizza, a plate of French fries, some fruit, a granola bar and a bunch of cookies. I think I had a bag of chips, too. It was delightful!!

Then, after replenishing much-needed calories, I got a massage. Bliss! Afterward, we collected our gear and transition bags, returned our bikes to Tri Bike Transport, and changed into warm, dry clothes.

Bikes returned to Tri Bike? Check. Warm, dry clothes? Check.

Post-Race with Tri Dad, Erik & Marcia

The best part was returning to the bleachers to cheer for our fellow finishers. It was so much fun to be part of the finish-line celebration . . . something I missed out on entirely in Cozumel

That night, back at the hotel, my knees were so sore I could barely sleep. Every time I moved my legs, a bolt of pain shot through my knees, waking me up. By morning, I could barely bend my knees and I spent the entire day limping around town as we returned to Tempe Beach Park one last time to collect our special needs bags.

We capped off the trip to Tempe with a fun night out with Erik & Marcia—enjoying a Mexican feast on the outside patio of a downtown restaurant and indulging on homemade ice cream—before catching an early morning flight out the next day.

Back in Maryland, the plan was to REST—possibly for the entire month of December. However, 6 days after IMAZ, Tri D2’s cross country team was participating in a 5K run and Tri Dad and I, along with Tri D3, were all registered to run with her. MISTAKE! At least for me it was. 

                                                             5K and 1 mile Fun 
                                                    6th Annual Run of the Century
                                                     Saturday November 23, 2013

Tri Dad and Tri D2 completely dusted me. I couldn’t even keep up with Tri D3—my eight year old--so she ended up running alone, well ahead of me. Let me just say I could not even run the first mile. Both knees locked up completely. I tried a little walk/run combo in the second mile and it was a big FAIL. By the last mile I was reduced to walking only.

What really added salt to the wound (keep in mind I am entirely grumpy and frustrated and unreasonable by this point) was when the well-meaning volunteers were giving me extra encouragement as in, you know, the whole clapping and shouting “You can do it!" "Don’t give up!" "You’re almost there!" And, my favorite—“You’re looking good!” Which, clearly, I was not. I’m sure the volunteers thought it was my first 5K. Ever. It is unreasonable for me to say this but I felt humiliated and completely humbled. I wished I'd had a sign on my back that read “I did a 140.6 six days ago!!” I was an athlete on injured reserved. A member of the walking wounded. And I can also say, without a doubt, that I did my knees no favors that day. In fact, I probably set back my recovery by several weeks. So, the moral of this story is, do not race—At All! Not even the shortest distance—within a week of an Ironman!!

Finisher's Medal

Since that amazing day nearly 3 months ago (hard to believe!) I’ve been taking it easy—treating myself to some down time—and trying to recondition my body to eat less food!

For two weeks between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day, the only exercise I got involved long hikes and walks in my neighborhood and in the park adjacent to my neighborhood.

Hiking near home

Since the start of the New Year, the plan has been simple: Just Keep Moving. The “schedule,” if it can even be called that, looks something like this:


Tuesday—Swim (2400 yards)

Wednesday—Yoga (1 hour)

Thursday—Spin/Cycle on trainer (45 mins)

Friday—Run (5K or less)

Saturday—Strength & Stretch (30 mins)

Sunday—Walk/hike (30-60 mins)

Typically, there is also a 20 minute daily walk with Tri Dog and Tri D1.

This will likely continue until March, when training for “the season” begins. What will the season look like, you ask?

Well, when I was training for IMAZ, I envisioned a very relaxing, low key 2014 season. At my low points, I whined and complained to friends about how much training for IMAZ sucked and to please stage an intervention if I EVER forgot that feeling and started talking about doing another Ironman!

I started talking about doing another Ironman the day after IMAZ. It just can’t be helped. I have unfinished business with the 140.6. And, as with childbirth and most other things, you quickly forget about the pain and suffering involved once you’ve experienced the triumph and exhilaration of the finish line.

So gums are already flapping about IM 2015. The question is where . . . and when. Tri Dad, Erik & I tentatively have our sights set on IM Chattanooga . . . 

 or IM Florida . . . 

Time will tell . . .

Meanwhile, my vision of a low key 2014 went up in flames when I found out I’d qualified for the 2014 USAT Age Group National Championships.

2013 USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships Olympic and Sprint

Well, that’s just one race you might say. Which is true. It could have been one and done, but it won’t be. Because another amazing, awesome, incredible thing happened—I got sponsors. THREE of them.

In 2014 I will be racing for Xterra, SLS3, and the StrongHope Elite Triathlon Team. So I now have a job to do. A rep to protect. And I’m gearing myself up for the challenge, adventure and excitement to come in the season ahead.

Use Coupon Code SA-KUHLER to get 60% off!


StrongHope Elite Triathlon Team will raise awareness and funds for pediatric cancer

My longest race this season will be a 70.3, but I may even top out at an Int’l/Oly, as I anticipate having 6-8 races on the schedule this season. So .  . .
So much for relaxing! But it’s all good :) Here’s to a great 2014! 

Much gratitude to you all for following me on this journey! I appreciate your support and encouragement more than I can express! So, stay tuned! There's more to come in this triathlon adventure and my quest for the Ironman while striving to live a balanced, healthy, and meaningful life!  

Sunday, January 19, 2014

IMAZ Part 5: The Run

                                               IMAZ: THE RUN

In case you missed Parts One, Two or Three or the Ironman Arizona Race Recap:

Click HERE for Part One: The Road to Temp
Click HERE for Part Two: Countdown to Race Day
Click HERE for Part Three: The Swim (and Race Morning)
Click HERE for Part Four: The Bike 

The fact that I’d had a good ride—a PR for the distance—buoyed my spirits going into the run.

Bike-to-Run Bags
As I made my way through the transition area and changing tent, I was once again completely impressed and grateful for the quality and efficiency of the volunteer staff.

Before entering the changing tent, I dropped my Bike-to-Run bag and helmet on the ground and dashed into a port-o-pot. When I emerged from the pot, my bag and helmet were gone! A volunteer standing near the changing tent waved and yelled, “I have your things. Come on!”

Port-o-Pots near changing tents
I followed the volunteer—who was running!—into the tent and, I’m serious, she had my socks and cycling shoes off my feet and my visor on my head before my butt even hit the chair, and I was off and running. Unfortunately, if there were volunteers outside the tent doling out sunscreen (as I later heard there were), I missed them and had to improvise later.

Trying to Beat the Heat on first loop of Run Course

So with the desert sun high in the sky and air temperature hitting its peak, I settled into an average pace of approximately 11:40/mile for the first 11 miles, including 1-2 minutes of walking every mile. Far from blazing, I know, but in my defense: I’d already been racing for more than 7 hours and had covered more than 114 miles, with 26.2 miles still to go on a knee that had been troubling me during the bike; AND on legs that hadn't run more than a few minutes at a time in the six weeks leading up to the race due to a hip injury. So, slow and steady was my plan. The day really doesn't start to feel long until you start to run.

Must keep electrolytes in balance!

My second order of business was to keep up with my nutrition needs. Electrolytes, electrolytes, is all I kept thinking after an electrolyte imbalance in Cozumel sent me to the medics for an IV when, 2-hours post-race, I still couldn't keep anything down. And I didn't even see it coming—I felt fantastic up until the moment I crossed that finish line! 

                                                       IM Cozumel: No clue my electrolytes were out of whack!

Totally loopy post-IV at Cozumel
In Cozumel, though I’d packed a fuel belt with 32 oz of Infinit, I decided—with aid stations at every mile—to leave it behind. Probably a mistake. In Arizona I took a 16 oz bottle of Infinit with me as I exited T2 and sipped on it for the first several miles. With the need for sodium in mind, I tried to eat pretzels but quickly learned that pretzels, cookies and Bonk Breakers were nearly impossible to swallow. So, in addition to Infinit, bananas, grapes, water and Ironman Perform (sports drink) were the most palatable for me. The ice sponges were pretty awesome, too!

Suncreen and electrolytes--must haves in the Ironman desert! 
Forty-five minutes into the run, with the sun beating down on me, I started to feel myself burning. The bottom edge of my sports bra was also chafing my ribs. So, as I approached the aid station near the 4-mile mark, I called out for sunscreen and Vaseline—which had been available at every aid station in Cozumel—and was surprised to find none.

Spectators line both sides of the run course
Here’s another cool thing about Ironman: The spectators. These poor souls hang around outside from sun up to sundown, for the sole purpose of encouraging, supporting and cheering on our sorry butts! Ironman spectators should really get a finisher’s medal of their own! So, as I left the 4-mile aid station empty handed, a spectator who’d heard my request pulled me into her tent and supplied me with both items. (In hindsight--I hope that was legal!?!?) Ironman spectators totally rock!!

All was going reasonably well those first 11 miles and then, at the half-way point, the discomfort in my left knee—which began at the 6-mile mark—intensified, slowing my average pace to between 13:14 – 15:35 for the last half of the run. I hit my low point, rock bottom, at mile 17 which is when my right knee joined the party, sinking my pace to 15:35—my worst of the whole run—for that mile.

Which is the exact moment when I crossed paths with another awesome person—a fellow athlete who saw me hobbling along and offered to share his Bengay—which he said he swears by for IT Band pain. Can’t hurt, right? So in that literally and figuratively dark hour, I stopped to spread the analgesic cream on my knees, while Bengay guy and I watched, with mild surprise and detached curiosity, as a female triathlete squatted down right there in the middle of the run course and peed on the walkway. I am not kidding—and she couldn’t have been more than half a mile in either direction from the closest port-o-pot. In the dark hours of a 140.6, we are all brothers and sisters on the battlefield, fighting our demons and struggling to survive.

Magical Chicken Broth

It is also around this time that I started to feel the dreaded bonk coming on. My energy level was running now and I felt nauseous. I’d heard many stories about the magic of chicken broth and so, as a vegetarian, I hate to admit that the nasty, gamey-smelling broth is the very thing that turned it all around for me. No kidding. A few sips of the stuff and I was golden. Kind of like when you’re a kid and you’re sick and your mom gives you chicken soup to help you feel better. 

The first time I tried it I made the mistake of catching a whiff of the stuff, and the smell was utterly repulsive—I thought I was going to hurl. But I chugged it down and, almost instantly, felt better. So whenever I started to feel bad on the course, I had a little chicken broth—being careful to hold my breath while drinking it—and chased it down with a little cola. Voila! Magic! And, as the evening wore on, I switched from fruit to chips, cola, Bonk Breakers and cookies to sustain me.

During the first loop of the run I saw signs that read, “Don’t slow down—there are zombies chasing you.” I didn't really get it at the time. The “A-ha!” moment came during the 2nd loop when, after more than 12 hours on the course, I hit a turnaround point and ran past the runners behind me—many of whom were limping, staggering, groaning, grimacing, and more or less dragging themselves along the course. Zombies were indeed chasing me.

Zombies are chasing you on the run course
Thanks to my failing knees, I was forced to walk the last 10 miles of the course, adding short bursts of running whenever I could on the flattest stretches of road. The walking meant that my goal of going sub-13 hours had slipped from my grasp so, by mile 17, I was clinging to my second goal of setting a 140.6 PR by beating my Cozumel time of 13:26:14. 

Ironman Cozumel Finish Line
This is the moment I was beyond glad I’d chosen to wear my GPS watch. I checked it constantly, pushing myself further than I should have, beyond what my knees were capable of, to BEAT THAT TIME. I was singularly focused. With 3 miles to go, every second counted. It hurt to run, but I ran anyway, sometimes until tears came to my eyes or could hear myself saying “Ow, ow, ow!” as I pushed on, racing the clock. 

Each aid station on the course had a different theme, which was entertaining and served as a distraction from the pain and general unpleasantness of running. The ones I remember most were the Pirates, Superheroes, 911, 70s, 80s, Dance Party, Disco and Christmas.

Pirate Aid Station
The Christmas aid station, at mile 25, was the last aid station on the course. From this aid station I could hear the crowd but I couldn’t see them, or the finish line, though I knew it was close. The last mile of the course was actually pitch black and completely deserted until there was less than 2/10 of a mile to go. 

Finish line in sight--finally!
I wanted more than anything to run—RUN—across the finish line, not limp or walk or drag myself across it, so I walked the last mile. I walked until I rounded a corner and finally saw the big blue finish line, shimmering like a mirage beyond a finish chute lined on both sides by bleachers filled with raucous spectators blowing horns, ringing bells, waving flags, cheering, shouting and clapping.

The finish chute!
When this sight for sore eyes (and sore knees and sore legs and sore feet) came into view, I ran. During the pre-race meeting, athletes were advised not to sprint to the finish. We were advised to take our time, take it all in, absorb the energy of the crowd, revel in the accomplishment, savor the moment, and hear Mike Reilly announce “You Are An IRONMAN!”

Beating my Cozumel time with less than a minute to spare!
I, however, was doing none of those things. With the clock ticking away, and my goal of beating my Cozumel time drawing dangerously close, I ran.
With Tom Petty’s “Running Down a Dream” blasting, I sprinted through the chute. I did hear Mike Reilly shout those magical words but, best of all, was seeing the clock. I finished my second Ironman in 13:25:38. And it was the most awesome feeling in the world! 



Time: 5:43:58   Average Pace: 13:07/mile
Best Pace: 10:53/mile at 1.9 miles
Worst Pace: 15:35/mile at 16.9 miles
63rd/142 Division (Top 44%)
342/747 All women (46%)

1588/2704 Overall (58%)