Sunday, November 08, 2009


November 7, 2009

It Was a Long Day; It Was a Hard Race

So much to tell. First, and maybe foremost: finish time: 16:55:01. Its not how fast you get there, its just getting there. Its a story about endurance, determination, survival, and finally panic to finish in time.

The days leading up to the race, as I'm sure is typical for anyone doing an endurance event for the first time, was spent studying the weather reports, familiaring myself with the race course, and planning over and over what to wear. In an Iron event, there are 3 parts to planning, including nutrition and hydration for the long day ahead. For me, it came down to 3 am race day before I actually figured out what I would wear.

I had swam a couple of times prior to the race, and the race day weather report wasn't good: low 30s in the morning and a frost and freeze advisory. But the night before the race, I actually figured out that Wrightsville Beach, where the swim would take place, would actually be warmer than Wilmington, since it was inland and wasn't affected as much by the warmer ocean breezes. But the daytime temperatures for Wilmington and surrounding areas only was calling for a high of 68. That meant, for me, that most of my bike ride would be in cooler temperatures. As it turned out, the whole day was absolutely perfect other than a cool start to the day.

The Swim:

This would be an ocean swim in the Intercoastal Waterway, so we wouldn't have the surf but could benefit from the current. Transition opened at 5 am and we were there at about 5:15 to avoid the last minute rush that would likely make me forget something important for me, and to take a trolley over to the beach about 2 miles away. While we did not benefit from the strong current they had last year (because of the time change), we also were spared the 20 mph winds out of the north we had the 2 days before the race. A fairly calm morning, water 67 degrees, air a little chilly, so not that bad. Not as bad as I feared.

I was warned before the swim to "swim to the right side for the current but veer left when you see the "squiggly man." So maybe I misunderstood, or maybe I didn't follow directions, but somehow ended up to the left--way left in fact, to the point where one time I was outside of the left side buoys. This had to be the most confusing swim course I've ever encountered, since the buoys were placed far apart and staggered from left to right, so I was never sure where I was supposed to go. Especially with my limited sight vision. And I kept looking for the squiggly man, only to remember after 3 more missed turns that the squiggly man was at the finish, not at one of the turns like I was anticipating. So, due to these mistakes, I found myself off course 4 different times, likely resulting in about 5 minutes added to my time. One thing with the salt water and the little bit of current we did have, trying to get back on course took very little effort. One thing I noticed, that I wasn't aware of before but now I know, is that my arms with a sleeveless wetsuit rub on my wetsuit on every downstroke, and with the salt water I was aware of this early on since it results in a rash that stung like crazy! That's actually my worst chafing right now!

Once I saw the finish line dock, I pushed hard to get out of the water. We had to climb up a ladder and it was amazing that I had to make 3 attempts to grab the ladder. Everytime I reached for it, I was pushed back by the current, the same current I barely felt during the swim. When I attempted to get out of the water, I was so dizzy I couldn't believe it. I thought at first the dock was swaying, but it was only me. I took a quick glance at my watch and was stunned: 1:13. What?? Did I shut my watch off by mistake? But no, it was my swim time. Yes! was all I could think of. Actual swim time was 1:14 by the time I crossed the mats. I was very excited since it meant I had an extra half hour to "play" around with for the bike. As it turned out, I pretty much ate that time up on transition. We had a 400 yard run to the transition tents and of course there I ran into a couple of women I knew (Dread Pirate Rackham and Shirly Perly) and we were all chatting about what we were wearing on the bike. I changed from running shorts I used for the swim to biking shorts, lubing up appropriately, but left on my tri top and blotted as much water off it that I could. I had decided to wear that and my jacket and if necessary could take the sleeves off my jacket if I got too warm, but that never happened. I also wore socks and compression sleeves on my legs, so everything needed to be dried to accomplish getting dressed properly. Also a headband for my ears, but decided against the knit gloves and went with the bike gloves alone. It just didn't feel that cold to me. Then it was time to head out to the bikes, but first had to make a pit stop. Both porta johns were busy, and busy, and busy, for more than 5 minutes. If I hadn't had to go so badly I would have left, but I knew I wouldn't be able to last on the bike that long. One note on the swim to bike transitions, nearly everyone had longer transitions here because of the need to change from wet to dry clothes because of the temperature and then redressing for cooler weather. I know there were women who finished the race before me and actually had a longer transition here.

The Bike: I am not a strong biker, and I will be the first to admit it, but I started off really well and felt good. Wasn't cold, wasn't panicked, nothing remarkable. Just riding along comfortably and well under the cutoff limits. The course routed us around Wrightsville Beach area, then to Wilmington, and north to other areas. We rode one part of the race on an expressway with one lane closed only for bikes. I always wanted to do this. The road was smooth and fairly flat to downhill and no wind. That all changed around 30 miles, at the first aid station. Then we headed west into the wind, a cross wind actually, from the south and the west. I noticed my speed dropped some but it wasn't a huge drop. I was still maintaining more than what I had calculated to be the minimum speed I needed to maintain and finish on time, but of course I realized I had a cushion for the fast swim. I was pretty much holding my own except the wind was kicking my butt, to the point where eventually I was struggling with the pace but continued on. Oh, and the course description called the course "pancake flat." Ha! Not at all. After special needs, at 65 miles instead of 56, there were a few steep hills. And as luck would have it, just as I approached the hill, a gust of wind would come out of nowhere and beat me down every time. Wind and hills, my nemeses.

By the time we made the final turn back to Wilmington, 38 miles out, we were going south and once again into a head wind. I don't know how strong the wind was but it was constant, and I struggled to maintain a decent pace, a pace only fast enough to guarantee a finsih before the cutoff. And this section was not flat either by any means, more like a false flat, since it was a steady upgrade. Basically, not being a strong biker, it kicked my butt. And the worst part was a constant almost blinding headache through the back of my skull and into my neck. It might have had something to do with the wind because I had noticed it when we were going west also, but then it completely went away until now. I figured I would only get by on the bike portion anyway, but I was starting to worry. I hadn't seen any other bikers on the course for hours, until I finally passed a young guy around 80 miles. I figured he would repass me any time, but he actually was coming in on the bike when I was going out to run. I did see Don out there, and he was encouraging. He rode ahead and waited 3 different times before heading to the finish.

When I reached 100 miles, it was getting hard, really hard. I was struggling to maintain even a 12 mph pace at times and was starting to do the math for finishing and knew what I needed to do. I was also getting quite annoyed with all the traffic on the course, because while they closed one lane on the expresway, on the 4 lane divided highway they had nothing to indicate a race going on, and with me out there by myself, I had cars whizzing by me in both lanes at 55+ mph. The hardest part on the bike was the last 3 miles. OMG, it was through a busy section of town, onto the bridges going into Wilmington and elsewhere, and there was so much traffic and one lane dedicated to bikers, but there were cars who did not observe this. Not only that, those bridges were steep climbs, and I found myself going 5 mph on the last one, almost beside myself to get done.

Surprisingly, I was nowhere near last, even though I went over 8 hours. I was surprised also that no one ever passed me.

The Run. Finally, I was in transition. I was relieved. I just had no huge desire to push myself to get ready to run. Somehow I forgot that this was a race and once again blew away a ton of time.

This time I also had to change everything to make sure I would be warm enough on the run the whole time. I had decided no special needs was necessary as long as I got everything I needed in transition. I put on a long sleeved shirt and my jacket, gloves, and a headband and was glad I did later.

The run was hard, that's all I can say. The first mile included a huge climb on a bridge overpass, so I pretty much walked the first 3/4 mile, ran to the first aid station, and then established a run/walk pattern I was able to keep up for most of the first loop: 4 min. run, 2 walk. That's the best I could do. It also got dark by my second mile, so I had to watch my footing in many places. I tripped over a reflctor on the draw bridge and decided then I would only walk over that slippery thing. Then after 2 miles we were directed to the downtown area, which the city so conveniently decided to do road construction on Thursday and ripped up the road in that area. So not only did we have to weave ourselves through the construction cones, we had to watch our footing for the torn up areas. And we also had 3 steep hills or downhills and a half mile stretch over a brick street through old downtown Wilmington, and out to a lake development and through a park. It was so dark I couldn't see much, so have no idea how it looks. The area was lighted either with street lamps or spot lights, so it was either too bright and blinding or too dim so you didn't know where you were going. I'm sure this was a lovely part of the course in the daylight, but in the pitch dark, nothing impressive. I was more worried about turning an ankle or running off the path, which I did more than once. At the turnaround, they didn't even have a chip mat, so anyone could have turned beforehand and no one would have known otherwise. So I wasn't too crazy about the run course.

On the second loop, once I hit the bridges, I just wanted to walk. So I did. I walked and walked and walked, trying to calculate if I could still finish on time walking the whole way. I had my doubts but couldn't look at my watch anymore. I was truly at a low point, and thankfully, Don showed up right around the 3 mile mark to cheer me on again. That's just what I needed to get me running again. At this point I was counting cones. When I ran out of cones, I started counting steps and then counting street lights. At the first aid station in the park, the volunteers were a little too enthused and one of them, doing jumping jacks, smashed me in the face. I really didn't want to deal with being injured so just moved away as quickly as possible. [Note: Swollen eye on the eyebrow, but no serious injury.] I was mainly stunned and jarred.

Once you enter the park, you have about 1.75 miles before the turnaround. I was starting to feel the urge of needing a bathroom really bad so waited to get to the turnaround to see who was close before I decided to hit the bushes. It was so hard to go after all the other exertion that day, I'm sure I sounded like I was having a baby. And then the true seriousness of my chafing was very apparent. I was almost screaming with pain. So once again, decided to walk. I was findng myself mentally spent. I wanted to finish and then I didn't care. And then I got the better of myself and knew I cared, so started running again. It was painful, it wasn't pleasant, it definitely wasn't fast, but it had to get done.

At 3 miles to go, I ran into Don again and he said I had 47 minutes to finish. I was encouraged. Like I said, I hadn't looked at my watch the whole second half, so I was encouraged to know I still had a chance. I had already told myself that I hadn't busted my butt the whole day to not finish this race, and decided I would cross that finish line no matter what.

The biggest problem with the last 3 miles was it was the hardest. Up hills, the two uphill bridges, darkness, and at this point no spectators. When I got to the 24 mile mark, I pushed myself over the bridge to the drawbridge, then walked across that, ran down a steep downhill and on to the 25 milemark. I asked for my usual: coke and water and was given Heed, but at that point it didn't matter. I just said "hurry up, I'm running out ot time!" At 25 miles, you hit a steep uphill on the bridge in the pitch dark. I allowed myself a brief walk for one cone and then decided to not stop until the end. At 26 miles, I glanced at my watch: 16:51. Yikes! I have to make this. I had pushed myself the last 3 miles, I could keep on for 2/10 of a mile. All this time, I could hear behind me the closest next finisher, Waddler, and I was praying that she too would finish. I picked up the pace. It was surprising how I was such fleet of feet these last two miles especially. I don't think I have pushed myself this hard for at least 15 years.

I was so glad to see that finish line and the clock: 16:55:01. No hoopla, I was the second to last official finisher, Waddler the last one. But again, its not how long it takes, its the climb. Pretty much everyone had gone execpt those waiting for us.

Post Race: I was stiff, not cold, not hungry, but seriously chafed. I knew it would be excrutiatingly painful to deal with that, and I was right. It took me a good hour to get a shower , soak in warm water, and get things "bandaged" up. Diaper rash cream works like a charm!


Just_because_today said...

It's the climb - I love that song.
I read your entire report, what an amazing story! I can only appreciate but never imagine what is like to be Ironwoman. Congratulations, what a great accomplishment

Lily on the Road said...

Oh Vickie, I've said it before and I will continue to say it.

I'm just so very proud of you and I'm so excited you lived your dream. YOU ARE IRON!!!


Missy said...

Congratulations Vickie! I'm so sorry we didn't get to meet before the race. I get a little zoned out pre-race.

You have to be thrilled with the result. That run in the dark had to be NO joke. ANDDDD, pancake flat - NOT. Bridge crossings and slow grades for sure.

Love your moment, enjoy it! Congrats.

SWTrigal said...

Vickie-you did it!! It was a hard day with the wind and those bridges-give me a break (pancake flat my ass to the RD)-they were TOUGH especially at the end and I did half your distance-great, great job..

Anne said...

Congratulations on such a valiant effort. Darn those drivers who didn't abide by the rules and let the cyclist have one lane to themselves. And, I sure hope the chafing wounds heal quickly. Can only imagine that painful shower.

Marlene said...

Reading this gave me goosebumps. You are such a trooper and a true inspiration. Finishing with 5 minutes to spare after so many moments of despair is truly amazing. Congratulations, IronWoman!

Lisa said...

What an awesome experience. You are so right - it is about the climb. I was thinking about you all day. Really wish there had been tracking.

You are very inspiring. Goes to show that ordinary women can do extrodinary things - and I mean that as the highest compliment.

Recover well.

Big Daddy Diesel said...


Calyx Meredith said...

The run course was lovely during the day but several times I thought how much of an obstacle course it would be in the dark! I was very thankful to only be doing half of the miles you did. I thought I already respected the iron distance, but wow, do I have a new found appreciation for it now. You rocked it! You dug deep inside and found the iron to finish. I am honored to have been racing with you - even if we didn't get to meet in person! Next time.

ShirleyPerly said...

Congratulations Vickie!!!

Yes, that last windy section on the the bike was tough. I got so pissed when I saw a few folks drafting each other but I guess it was better than seeing hardly anyone. You are a real trooper to keep going on your own as you did. All that training you did paid off.

So wonderful to meet you at the race and get to know you better. If there are any photos I have posted on my blog that you would like, just let me know. I will send you the originals which are higher res than those I posted.

Hope you are resting and recovering well!

jeanne said...

oh wow. that was so inspiring. You must be so proud! what an accomplishment, and what a way to pushthrough the pain and mental torment!

You're amazing.

Phoenix said...

You did it! You should be so proud of yourself. I sure am proud of you.