As my husband, Matt, said, “it is not plastic man, it’s Ironman!” as we were talking about the weather conditions in Tahoe last week. We got to North Lake Tahoe nine days before the race to try to acclimatize to the altitude but unbeknownst to me I was acclimatizing to the cold weather while we were camping for five days! On the second to last night of camping it got into the 20s at night so I hardly slept as I was so uncomfortable. I woke up and told my husband if our condo was available we would be checking in a day early and thank heavens it was available!
I don’t think we were alone in checking the outlook weather forecast daily. We were prepared to know there was a front moving through with cold and wet weather expected for Saturday and calmer but still cold weather Sunday. It was wet and windy all day as we checked in our bike and bike gear bags and run bag at T1 and T2. We made sure we put all of our gear in extra plastic bags to try and keep them dry. We also put plastic bags on our bike seats and aero pads.
Later in the day when we were driving part of the bike course it started to snow! White stuff was accumulating on the mountain tops! Didn’t Mother Nature know an Ironman was suppose to happen the next day?!
When we woke up at dark thirty (actually 3:15 a.m.) on race morning I looked outside the window expecting to see snow on the ground. Fortunately the ground was not white and it was starting to dry up from the rain the day before. We only needed to put on our swim suits and morning clothes since we had decided to do a full clothing change from swim to bike to avoid hypothermia during the bike ride. We ate our oatmeal, grabbed our morning clothes bag, bike special needs bag and run special needs bags and headed out to the shuttle buses at 4:30 a.m.
Thirty minutes later when we arrived at T1 at Kings Beach we dropped off our special needs bags and made our way to our bikes to pump up the tires. Us former North Dakotans should have been more prepared and brought an ice scraper with us as there was ice, yes ice, on the plastic bags we put on our bike seats and tires! Maybe I should have brought snow chains for my bike tires! A community center in the T1 parking lot was open to us to try to stay warm so we ventured in and found a little corner amongst all the athletes to put on our wetsuits. The time was drawing near to leave the warmth, drop our morning clothes bag (which meant shoes too so only had socks on our feet) and head to the swim start. Ironman implemented a Swim Smart start which is similar to lining up for a marathon at your projected time slot. Matt and I found a space to stand in the icy sand between the 1:11-1:20 corral. It was too cold to get in the water for a warm up so I tried jumping up and down and swinging my arms on the beach to try and warm up. After the pros started at 6:30 a.m. in the foggy lake the line started to move as athletes entered the water. It was a more peaceful start compared to the mass start of our first Ironman swim. Matt and I walked into the shallow water together and I could see him for a couple minutes swimming until I lost track of him. I was able to keep in a pack of similar ability swimmers and despite not being able to see the buoys very well due to the fog felt I was keeping on course pretty well. As I got into a rhythm I started to think about a fellow masters swimmer who is battling pancreatic cancer so I chanted his name in my head along the way in between thinking of my swim coaches mantras of “stretch it out” and “swim relaxed”. I really was having fun and as I turned to complete the second lap and start the second I flipped over on my back to look at my watch time and it said 35 minutes! With a big smile on my face I started the second lap and caught myself smiling under water along the way as I was having so much fun and feeling so good! As I finished the second lap and swam as far as I could towards shore in the shallow water I was pumped to see my swim time was 1:10 which was 9 minutes faster than my first IM swim 3 years ago. My family was there braving the cold and cheering me into T1!
I ran to the bike gear bags, grabbed my bag and headed into the change tent…or what felt like a refugee camp! It was complete chaos in the tent with almost everyone there changing from swim gear to dry bike gear. I knew my transition was going to be long as I need to dry off and put on all my biking gear. I was glad I didn’t spend money on a new tri kit as it was covered with a cycling jacket! After I changed a volunteer (great volunteer support!) took my swim gear and I did the long run to get to the bikes, grabbed my bike and headed off into 30 degree weather! Despite my feet being bricks for most of the bike ride I really enjoyed the first loop of the course. The first 30 miles felt flat and fast with the last portion of the loop being two back to back climbs up to 7,200 feet. After the first loop climb I felt a flat as I was screaming down a descent but was able to pull over, assess the situation, stay clam and change my bike tube which flatted from a staple. Right as I was pulling over from the flat (around mile 40) Matt caught up to me and said hello while he was flying by. As I was finishing the first loop I was able to see our family that were out there supporting us which his always a moral booster! The second loop was uneventful except for an inner thigh cramp around mile 90 that I had to get off my bike and stretch in order to continue on. Taking in the cold weather, altitude, elevation gain, flat tire and quad cramp I was happy with my bike time.
During the last hour of the bike I was mentally preparing myself to get ready for a jog just like any other training day. I rolled into T2 where a volunteer takes your bike to rack, grabbed my run gear bag and made a quick short, shoe and hat change before heading out for the run. I kept the vest of my jacket on as I knew it would get cold on the run. As I started running through the crowd in Squaw Valley Village I knew the vest was going to irritate me so fortunately I saw my family and tossed them the vest. It was only in the 50s so I had on light arm warmers and light gloves. I had started having stomach problems on the last portion of the bike so my plan for the run was to run each mile between aid stations for the first 17 miles. I tried doing the electrolyte drink and cola at each aid station but my stomach pain grew worse so I had to switch to orange wedges for the rest of the race. When I got back into Squaw Valley Village to start the shorter 9 mile lap I was thankful I saw my family again and they tossed me back to the vest to try and stay warm with 30 degree temps back in the dark. My rhythm slowed down for the last lap due to the cold, dark and headlamps causing me some disorientation. Thankfully I am a fast walker so when I needed to walk made sure I had a fast walking pace. I thought of so many during the run and many were with me in spirit helping me get to the finish line.
It is such a bittersweet feeling as you enter the finishing chute of an Ironman. Ironman is more than just a race or about time goals, it is a journey. A journey where you continue to discover who you are and how the people that you surround yourself with help you grow and succeed. Thanks for coming along on my journey and seeing me through to the finish! Stay tuned for another post with more Ironman week pictures!