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%)

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