Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Making of a Dream, Ironman Arizona 140.6


Have you ever done something that you never thought possible? Something that everyone thought you were crazy to attempt? Something where most people thought you would fail? I have. But before I tell you that tale, I need to give you a little backstory.

I had been amazed by athletes who completed a full Ironman since I first saw a televised Ironman World Championship race in the 1990's. I always cried while watching them because of the emotion, determination, and drive these athletes had. Watching these planted a tiny seed in my mind and heart that one day I would love to be able to complete one of these races.


Fast forward to 2012. I'm married with two kids, work in a sedentary job, been having heart issues since 2009, been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, and am morbidly obese. If I continued down the road I was traveling, I was going to stay unhappy and suffer an early death. Things had to change. I made the decision to turn my life around. I searched online for something to help motivate me and I found an all women's sprint triathlon scheduled for September 2012. I signed up for it. I joined a gym and started working out. I completed that race and was forever hooked on the sport of triathlons. Over time, I lost about 60-70 pounds, no longer needed to take heart medication and seldom had issues with my osteoarthritis.

My first triathlon, Olathe Women's Triathlon, September 2012
Fast forward again to 2015. I had completed a lot of triathlons over the three years. I had done three half distance triathlons that year alone and had finally decided to take on the full distance triathlon. I researched which race would be the best to do as my first full and decided on Ironman Arizona. This race is very popular and sells out in hours if not minutes. I had talked a few friends into racing with me and we were all going to go down to the 2015 race as volunteers so we could sign up for the 2016 race. 

After my first half distance triathlon, Bayshore 70.4, March 2015
On October 10, 2015, I severed my right ACL and tore my right meniscus while participating in an obstacle course 10K. I thought my dream was over. We all cancelled our volunteer shifts. Most of my friends decided to still register for the race. I was told by my doctor that I could probably plan on racing a sprint triathlon by the fall of 2016 but that there would be no way I could be ready for a full distance triathlon by then. I was heartbroken. 

At the hospital after severing my ACL and tearing my meniscus, October 2015
On the day registration opened, I didn't pay much attention to it. For some reason, the race didn't immediately sell out. It was still open in the afternoon. I saw a Facebook post about it and went to check it out myself. I couldn't believe it. I started thinking it might be a sign. I contacted my husband and coach to see what they thought about me signing up for it anyways. I would purchase the insurance so if I couldn't do it I could at least get a refund. My husband was 100% supportive. My coach said that he thought I could do it. He knew my work ethic and drive and said that as long as the reconstructive surgery and rehabilitation went as planned and if I stuck to my training plan then I should be able to complete it. I waited a few more minutes to think it over and signed up. It was scary but it gave me the boost I needed. 


I had the reconstructive surgery on December 29, 2015. It went perfectly. I immediately started physical therapy and stuck to it. I hit every milestone my coach said I needed to hit to stay on track with my rehab. I was allowed to bike outside in March and finally allowed to start running in April. I had lost a lot of strength and speed. I didn't know if I was going to be able to regain enough of it by the November race.

After my reconstructive surgery, December 2015
I raced in a sprint triathlon on May 21, 2016. It wasn't very fast but it felt pretty good. My healing, rehab and training were going as planned. I was released from physical therapy in June and started focusing on Arizona. I raced an olympic triathlon on July 9, 2016. My training miles started to increase. I raced a half marathon on August 20th and another olympic triathlon on September 10th. My endurance was coming back but I was still struggling with my speed. I attempted a half Ironman distance race on October 1, 2016 that resulted in a DNF and a trip to the ER for severe dehydration. The DNF was a bit of a mental blow but I refused to let it derail me. I took the lessons I learned from it to dial in my hydration and nutrition plan for Arizona. 

After the Kokopelli Olympic Triathlon, September 2016
I took two training trips to Arizona to scout out the course and get a few training rides on the bike course. This helped give me an idea of where I was at and what I needed to improve on. It also helped me mentally prepare for race day. These trips were extremely helpful. 

Running along Tempe Town Lake, September 2016
The first weekend of November was my peak in training. That would give me two weeks of taper. The miles listed for that weekend were very intimidating but I had stuck to my training schedule and knew that I was well prepared for it. I had a 3500 meter swim, a 100 mile bike ride and a 22 mile run scheduled. Due to an unexpected trip to my hometown to attend my uncle's funeral, I had to move my ride to the following Tuesday. I was able to get the swim and run in while visiting family. Once I returned home from the funeral, I completed the 100 mile bike ride solo. I had done most of my long rides with my husband but had to ride this one alone. It was a great time to test my hydration and nutrition plan, think about my uncle and family, envision my upcoming race and to reflect on this journey. 

My solo 100 mile ride, November 2016
I finally entered taper 11 days before the race. I had managed to arrive there healthy and fully healed. I had only encountered minor issues along the way. I couldn't have asked for a better outcome. I knew that if everything stayed on track that I would be racing in my first Ironman on November 20, 2016. 


I had heard people say before that the actual race is just a celebration of the journey you took to arrive there. I completely believe that now. The journey I took to arrive to this point has been amazing. No one who was looking at me in 2012 would have ever thought I would be completing a full Ironman triathlon in four short years. I had many doubters of my ability to achieve this dream after I had my knee injury. Heck, I even questioned it a few times. Thankfully, I was surrounded with an amazing surgical team, awesome physical therapy team, knowledgeable coach, and supportive family and friends. Without them, none of this would have been possible. If you have a dream, no matter how big or how long ago you had it, never give up on it!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Fall 2016 Races: Kokopelli Olympic Triathlon, Bike MS: Vegas Challenge, Pumpkinman Sprint Relay

Kokopelli Olympic Triathlon, 9-10-16

My fall was full of training and racing all in preparation for Ironman Arizona. I joined several friends at Sand Hollow State Park to race in the Kokopelli Olympic Triathlon. I had competed in this race as both a sprint and Olympic in the past. It is always a well run race with good support and beautiful scenery. I used this race as a supported training day.

It was a perfect day for a race. There was no wind and lots of sunshine. My swim wave started just before the sunrise which was great because we didn't have to worry about the sun in our eyes as we tried to sight. It just started to peak over the horizon as we made our first left hand turn. The water was smooth and the swim went quickly. I finished the 1500 meters in 28:31.

Transition was typical with no issues. I had my bike racked near the bike exit which is where I prefer. I was in and out of T1 in 2:52.

The bike portion of this race is shorter than a traditional Olympic distance triathlon. That makes for a quick ride. It consists of a mainly flat ride except for "The Beast" which is a mile long hill at around the 3.5 mile mark. After that, the bike course is quite enjoyable and returning down that hill is a blast. I completed the 20.4 mile ride in 1:21:04.


Transition once again went without issue. I racked my bike, changed my shoes, exchanged my helmet for a visor and was off. T2 was 1:34.

The run was hot since there was no wind and we were in full sun. The run has one major hill that is only about 0.25 miles long just after the one mile mark. Once you crest it, the bulk of the run is mainly flat. The only other hill is the final stretch to the finish line. It is always a killer to try to push up that hill. It is lined with spectators and friendly faces so I somehow always find a tiny bit of energy to finish strong. I completed the 6.2 mile run in 1:19:26.


My overall time was 3:13:28. It was good enough for a 1st place finish in the Athena 40+ division. 


Bike MS: Vegas Challenge, 9-24-16

A few days before this event, I was given three free entries. I contacted a few friends to see if anyone wanted to join me and of course I found some. The MS Bike offered several distances. I decided to do the 50 mile ride. 

We arrived at the start location near Fremont Street and prepared for our ride. I met up with several friends while we waited for final instructions. We were all planning on doing different distances so we grouped up with the ones that were doing the same. 


One of my best friends was doing the 50 miler as well so we decided to stay together for the entire ride. That made for a much better day!


This was my first time participating in this ride. The route took us through Henderson, Summerlin and Las Vegas. It had aid stations about every 10-15 miles. The route was well marked and easy to follow. 


It was a steady climb from about mile 4 to mile 38. I could tell I was climbing but only the final eight miles really felt like it. Mile 38 to 50 were fast and fun! We were on Alta which is a street that can be busy in spots and there were several intersections we had to stop at but it wasn't bad and made the climb worth it. 

After the ride, the finish line was a party and a fun atmosphere. There was bar-b-que and music for the riders to enjoy. We sat around enjoying our food and telling each other about our day. It was a great way to end the day!


Pumpkinman Sprint Relay, 10-22-16

I capped off the Las Vegas triathlon race season by competing in the Pumpkinman Triathlon on a sprint relay with my husband and oldest son. I was the swimmer, my husband was the biker and my son was the runner. 

Pumpkinman has a unique race structure by having a split transition. T1 is at Boulder Beach at Lake Mead while T2 is at Wilbur Square in Boulder City. On our way to race start, we dropped my sons off as T2 to wait for a few hours until it was my oldest's turn to run. Meanwhile, my husband and I continued to T1 to start the race. Since there wasn't a transition to set up, we didn't have to arrive too early. 

I made my rounds of saying hello to friends and then headed to the water. I completed the 750 meter swim in 14:22. I exited the water, ran through transition until I found my husband, gave him the timing chip, and watched him leave on the bike. I then changed my clothes and headed to the car. I needed to drive to T2 and hoped to get there before my husband.


There is always lots of traffic trying to leave the park all at the same time, due to everyone having to drive to T2, so it takes a long time. As I was approaching Boulder City, I could see my husband making his way up the 8 mile hill climb and knew that I was going to get there in time to see the timing chip exchange. I finally arrived and found a parking spot along a side street and made my way to T2. 

I found my kids and told them that their dad was almost there. My oldest son was ready to go and waiting at the timing mat. As soon as my husband crossed the mat, my son grabbed the timing chip, attached it to his ankle and was off. 


My husband put his bike on the rack and we went over towards the run course to wait for the finish. He decided he would run the last half mile with my son to help him finish the race strong. 


I waited near the finisher's chute so I could run in with them. I finally saw them heading up the final hill. I joined them and we finished together. Our total time was 1:47:16. We all had great times and gave great effort for our portion of the race. It was a lot of fun racing together as a family. 


My fall was full of training and had a lot of miles and hours. It was really fun to break up all the hard work with the occasional fun event. I loved being able to spend time with my family and friends and being able to include them on part of my journey to Ironman Arizona 140.6.



Monday, January 30, 2017

ET Full Moon Half Marathon ~ August 20-21, 2016



I had wanted to run the ET Full Moon Half Marathon since I first heard about it in 2013 but due to conflicting race schedules I hadn't been able to until this year. I was in the midst of building my base back after my injury and surgery so a half marathon fit nicely into my training schedule. 

The ET Full Moon Half Marathon is put on by Calico Racing. The course runs along the edge of the mysterious Area 51, on highway 375. This highway has had an overwhelming number of reported UFO sightings, so much so that in 1996 the federal government officially named it the "Extraterrestrial Highway".

The race is located in Rachel, NV, which is high desert, and typically offers cooler temperatures than the Las Vegas valley. This is a night race so all runners needed to wear a reflective vest and a head lamp. 


We met at a hotel near the Strip and waited for several charter buses to take us to the race location. You can drive to the start but it is a few hours away and has very limited parking so taking the bus was a much easier option. 


The buses were labeled with the different race distances (full marathon, half marathon, 10K and 5K). Each race had a different start line so having the racers separated made more logistical sense. We loaded into our appropriate bus and settled in for the 2.5 hour ride. 


The buses stopped to drop off the marathon and 51K runners who had a midnight start time. This is where the "Black Mailbox" is, as well as a last minute packet pickup for those who couldn't pick them up in Las Vegas. We had picked our packets up at the hotel before be boarded the buses. There were several port-a potties at this location too. After a brief stop, we continued on to the half marathon starting point. There were a few port-a potties here and an aid station that the marathon and 51K runners would hit on their way through. 


As 12:30 AM neared, we turned on our headlamps and lined up on the start line for some last minute instructions. My husband was going to pace me on this run since I was nervous about making my goal time. As the countdown started, we gave each other our customary "Good Luck" kiss and then we were off. 

The run was a straight, point to point course. The first 6 miles were a constant climb to Coyote Summit at 5591 feet. The climb was steady and the steepest section was between 4.5-6 miles. There was a small false summit near the top that was a bit disheartening. Once at the top, we were rewarded with a nice long downhill run to the town of Rachel, NV. 


This was an interesting venue for a race. The temperature was cooler but would have pockets of heat. The race is always scheduled on the weekend closest to a full moon. Unfortunately, there was a cloud cover so we couldn't see many stars. It was really dark and I could hear things off in the distance which often spooked me. I was glad that my husband was running with me. I just focused on following him and trying to keep up. 

Once we were closer to Rachel, we could see the small town and it's lights. It was a nice beacon to aim for. We started to get passed by a few of the faster marathon and 51K runners. I didn't mind. They had to pass the finish line for an additional out and back before finishing. 

My husband started to pick up the pace as we neared the finish line. I was struggling but was able to hang on. I knew the pain would end soon. We made a left hand turn off of Highway 375 to sprint to the end at the A'le'Inn, a tiny hotel and restaurant. We finished in 2:43:22. I was very happy with this time. It was close to my slowest half marathon ever but I didn't care. I ran the whole thing. I had hoped to finish in 2:45 and with my husband's help, I was able to come in just below that. 


There was a huge spread of food at the finisher's table but I wasn't ready to eat anything. I grabbed a banana and a cup of chocolate milk. While we were eating and drinking, we saw that a bus was ready to leave and the next one would be about 30-45 minutes later. We decided to hurry up and get on board. This ended up being a good and a bad thing. As we were riding home, I was very thirsty and had nothing to drink. I also started to have tight legs that really wanted to stretch out. In hindsight, we should have caught the later bus in order to cool down and rehydrate. My husband, as well as most of the bus, fell asleep on the return ride but I wasn't able to. We arrived back to the hotel around 6-6:30 AM. We headed home but stopped for breakfast on the way. Once home, we settled in for a nice, well deserved nap.

I would definitely recommend this race to anyone. It is put on by a great company who always provides great tech shirts, original finisher's medals. fully stocked aid stations, unique placement awards, helpful volunteers, and fun courses. 


Monday, January 23, 2017

Ocean Shores Olympic Triathlon ~ 7-9-16


My family decided to explore the Pacific NW for our summer vacation, so of course, we had to add a race into that trip. We selected the Ocean Shores Olympic Triathlon for me and the Washington Toughman Half distance duathlon for my husband. Both being put on the same day at the some location. The race was held on the peninsula town of Ocean Shores, Washington. 

We arrived two days early. This gave us one day to do a shake out workout as well as time to explore the coast and local area before the race. Packet pickup was held the day before in the local convention hall. 

Race morning arrived and greeted us with rain, wind, and chilly temperatures. It was in the mid 50's, raining and wind was 15-18 mph with gusts to 21 mph. Not the ideal racing conditions but we hadn't driven all that way for nothing. We set up our transitions and got ready to race. I put my wetsuit on early to help keep me warm. The duathlon started before my race so we watched the husband start and then made our way to the water's edge. 

 

The swim was 1500 meters in Duck Lake, a fresh water canal that runs most of the peninsula. The water temperature was mild but felt warmer than the air temperature. The Toughman Washington State athletes started first and then all the Ocean Shores Olympic athletes started next. It was a mass floating start. We entered and exited at the boat ramp. The route was a long, skinny rectangle. There were not a lot of participants so I never felt crowded during the swim. I completed the 0.9 mile swim in 30:01.



I had left my flip flops at the edge of the boat ramp but decided to run barefoot to the transition area since it was only a short distance and through the grass. Big mistake. The grass was covered with thorny grass also know as burweed. By the time I reached my transition spot, me feet were covered with burs. I had to stop and pick every single one out before I could put my socks and bike shoes on. That took a lot of time. I finished T1 in 4:17.



Once on the bike, it started to rain harder. At times, it felt like tiny stingers hitting my entire body. The bike course was an out and back skirting along the edge of the peninsula. It was a relatively flat course. The wind was really strong while on the bike. Since we were on the water's edge, there was no wind break. It made for a few really fast tailwinds along with some fierce headwinds. One of the things mentioned by the race company was that we might see deer while on the bike course. They did not disappoint. I rode by several deer eating grass next to the road. It made me a little nervous since I didn't want to have a collision with one of them. To my knowledge, no one had any problems with deer during the race. I felt pretty good while completing the 25.34 mile bike section and finished in 1:26:20.





T2 was quick and painless. I made sure to stand on my transition mat to avoid getting anymore burs in my feet. It was still raining but I wasn't cold. I headed out for the run and waved to my boys. I was in and out of T2 in 1:08.

 

The run was a flat out and back course. The middle half of the run was on the beach. On a normal day, it would have been a beautiful run but the rainy and windy weather made it a bit rough. For about 1.5 miles of the beach run, I had sand and rain beating me in my face. Once I hit the turn around point, the wind helped push me along. I kept a steady pace, ran the entire thing and finished strong. I completed the 6.2 miles in 1:09:25.


My total finish time was 3:11:09. That was good enough for 2nd place in my age group of females 40-49 and 5th place female overall. I was so excited! This was my second triathlon after coming back from ACL reconstruction surgery. I gave a solid performance and my knee held up great. Completing this race reassured me that my rehabilitation and training where on track and that my attempt on Ironman Arizona in November still looked good.


The company that put on this race was going out of business and this was their last race. Because of this, they did not give us race shirts and the medals were nothing great. They promised to mail me the age group award but I have not received anything and do not expect to receive one. Even without the usual race paraphernalia, I'm glad I was able to participate in this race and experience this amazing location.








Monday, January 16, 2017

Cycling in Crater Lake National Park ~ 7-4-16


Crater Lake National Park has been named one of the ten best National Parks to explore on a bike. After reading about it in an article by Active.com, we decided to add it to our "Must Do" list. We scheduled a short stop while on our summer road trip to Washington and headed to the park on the 4th of July.

The ride is a 33 mile loop, with about 3800 feet of elevation gain, around the rim of the lake. It can be completed either clockwise or counter-clockwise. We decided to do the ride counter-clockwise.


We arrived early in the morning and parked at Rim Village. There was plenty of parking and a restroom open for use. Crater Lake is above 6,000 feet in elevation so it was quite chilly and there was still snow in places. We layered up and hit the road. The first 3.5 miles of the ride were downhill. It was fun and fast. We then stopped at the Park Headquarters to pick up a cycling brochure.

The next 13 miles of the East Rim Drive were closed to traffic due to debris still covering the road in places. It was great to not worry about cars but we did have to keep our eyes open for tree parts on the road. Once on the closed road, we immediately began our first climb. It was 1.5 miles long and I thought I was going to die. Little did I know that this was just the beginning. I had read about the rides difficulty but I was not prepared for just how difficult.

At the 5 mile mark we were greeted with a nice downhill. I'm a slow climber but I can fly downhill! I knew that it was going to be short lived so I took as much advantage of it as I could to gather up some speed before hitting the next hill.

Near the bottom of the hill, we came upon Vidae Falls and stopped for a quick photo break. The waterfall was beautiful and I'm so glad we were able to see it since only cyclists and hikers were being allowed on the road.



If I had thought the first hill was bad, the second hill was 2 miles of sheer torture. I was glad that we were in the trees at this section because I wasn't able to look around. I was too focused on getting up that hill. Once at the top, we stopped for a short snack break. It allowed us a nice view across the valley to the south of the lake.  


Thankfully, what goes up must come down. We had a lovely, fast 3.5 mile downhill section. It was freedom to just go and not have to worry about cars. The road was wide open and it was glorious. We came around a left hand curve and saw the main reason the road was still closed. There had been a rockslide. It covered the road and had created several large gouges in the pavement. We decided to walk our bikes through this section to avoid getting a flat. 


The next 2.5 miles was another killer climb. Once at the top, we came to our first pullout, the Phantom Ship Overlook. There were two hikers eating their lunch here so we stopped and had them take our picture. It was the first time we had really seen the lake. It took my breath away! The water was so blue. I took advantage of our stop and shed a layer of clothes. We wished the hikers well and then were on our way. 



After a 1 mile climb we saw our first big snow drift. We had to stop and take a picture in the snow. This was also the last overlook before we started our longest descent.



We rode about 2 miles before we intersected a gate blocking the road. That was the end of our closed road section. We had completed about half of the loop at this point. We continued down the 5 mile downhill section. Since we were now riding with traffic, we had to hug the shoulder and be much more aware of our surroundings. 



We were riding right next to the lake now and were rewarded with amazing views the entire time. The day could not have been more beautiful. There were no clouds in the sky and the blues were breathtaking.

At around the 20 mile mark, we stopped at a pullout for another snack break. We saw other visitors and were able to get our picture taken together. We stayed there for a few minutes to take in the unreal views. We could see the boats making their way around the lake taking passengers back and forth to Wizard Island. Seeing how small the boats looked gave perspective of how massive the lake really is. Seeing the different currents moving along the water was mesmerizing.




We continued our way around the lake. As it was getting later in the morning, we began to encounter a lot more traffic. We also began to see a lot of cyclist doing the loop clockwise. Drivers were courteous and patient so I never felt in danger. 

At mile 27, we came to the North Junction. This is where the West Rim Drive begins and traffic really started to increase. We began our final long climb of the ride. I was really starting to get tired and I was ready to be done. I knew we only had about 5 more miles so I buckled down and pushed through. There were sections here that had no shoulder with large drop-offs inches away. These sections made me very nervous. 

Once we crested the hill, we encountered road construction. They were repaving the road so we had to ride along dirt for about a half mile. Luckily, we caught the end of the single file traffic line and didn't have to wait or lose our speed. 

Finally, we came to the intersection where the East Rim and West Rim Drives meet. We turned left to make our way back to the Rim Village parking lot. Now the lot was completely full with cars circling like hungry sharks. We loaded our bikes onto the car, changed our shoes, hit up the bathroom, and chatted with a few others cyclists we had seen earlier in the day. 

I was suddenly filled with pride and awe at what we had just accomplished. I had completed a ride that many people only dream about. It was painful, blissful, horrible, amazing, frustrating, and beautiful. If you get the chance to do this ride, GO! You will not be disappointed.