May 14, 2019 - Broken handlebars, wasps, glass... It was a day to overcome obsticles and finish with an almost 2 hour PR
The day started out uneventful. I woke up after a surprisingly restful night of sleep and readied for the day. We drove to town so I could drop off my special needs bags and my nutrition into my run bag and then headed to Lake Sonoma. Parking was full, so I hurriedly jumped out while my parents searched for a spot. I juggle my bag and waters and hurried to transition. I readied my bike and realized I was missing a rubber band that I needed to hold my water bottle on. I tried to call my parents, but there was not enough service. I used the port-a-potty quickly, borrowed a pump for my tires, and filled my bottles. I started toward the swim start, trying to plan for a lack of water bottle, when I decided to try to a fix it with what I had. I attached the bottle crookedly with one band, filled it, and headed to put my wetsuit on. My mom found me and I was able to give her my morning clothes bag before we walked to the swim start together. I walked to the front of the self-seeding. The time neared, my dad made an appearance for awkward starting photos, and they sang the national anthem. They allowed us down the ramp to the water's edge. The announcer started to tell the athletes to await the cannon when it suddenly exploded. The briefing had stated five swimmers would be allowed every five seconds, but there was no one at the start to regulate, so there was a sudden surge from all around me as swimmers panicked and moved to the water. I threw my goggles on and started my watch as I ran through the water and dove in to start the race.
I had planned on a smooth, open first loop swim with some careful pacing and drafting (if possible) before the chaos of the second loop with the slowest of swimmers that would be just beginning their race as I did the loop again. However, this was not going as planned. There must have been at least fifty swimmers racing for the bouys ahead. It was a sea of green caps (men) and the occasional pink (women) my arms would get stuck under bodies beside me, I could feel hands up my legs and bodies preventing me from kicking; I couldn't breathe without mouthful of water, and when I tried to sight for a bouy, I just saw body parts. I followed the melee and tried not to drown to the first turn, hoping the chaos would subside at the turn. The turn was fairly flawless, but the crowd did not disperse; everyone was a skilled swimmer, swimming straight, and competing. I tucked my arms as close to me as I could and kept my rhythm. By the second turn, the crowd thinned slightly, and after the third, I was able to find some comfortable space and draft off two men ahead of me. I kept with them for a time until we passed under the bridge again and sighted for the final turn until exiting the water at halfway. I attempted to see the gravity of the line still to enter the water, but couldn't tell from my vantage point and the crowds on the ramp. I made my way quickly to the ramp and made the sharp turn. I glanced at my watch and made a bee-line back to the water, not stopping to enjoy to milestone as I was more concentrated in preparing for more crowds. I had some amount of weaving through slower swimmers and the occasional flailing limb, but I kept to my race plan and stayed to the inside. The turn was crowded, but I snuck through and kept to the inside on the long straight away. I sighted straight for the bouys and snuck around them as I neared. I settled into a comfortable pace, no longer able to tell who was in their first or second lap. The turns were horrendous with swimmers bobbing and stopping. I got kicked in the mouth and lip. I ducked underneath one crowded bouy to avoid disqualification by going around the wrong side. For the most part, the second loop was more comfortable than the first. I made it to the last turn and sighted to the finish. Crowds of swimmers were stopping, standing, and tredding water in the yards from the swim exit. I fought through them to get out as they tried to find where the turn around was. I finally made it to the ramp and ran up, taking off my cap and goggles, and starting to strip my wetsuit as I ran up the steep ramp toward the wetsuit strippers. I heard the announcer say my name and concentrated my sights on the next trial ahead - the bike.
The run to transition was about a 10% grade and a quarter mile to the changing tents. The ramp and road were covered with black rubber mats. I stopped and a group of girls helped me the rest of the way out of my wetsuit and I worked my way up to the top of the road. I ran into transition, shouting my number. The mats ended and I ran on the concrete parking lot. I felt gravel or glass under my bare feet and winced, but grabbed my bag and into the changing tent. A volunteer helped me with my shoes and socks and sunscreen. I gave her my swim things and grabbed my single back up nutrition source - a pack of ProBar Bolt gummies - put on my sunglasses, helmet, and visor, and headed out. I made a quick stop to tighten my shoe and ran to find my bike. I grabbed it and ran for the mount line. I saw my parents again and clipped into my pedals, and off on the longest leg of the race.
The course crossed the bridge we swam under and had a short segment of climbing before a steep and curvey downhill. I felt good and adjusted to the top of my drops to gain some aerodynamics with access to my breaks as I road down the hill. When my right hand grabbed the tape, the bar under it felt unsteady and a red flag instantly flashed; my right drop was broken. Panic never crossed my mind, but I was angry and upset. I immediately blamed Ironman, thinking it was broken in the span that I had left it almost 20 hours ago in transition. I didn’t check it that closely this morning, but it was fine when I road it on Thursday; wasn’t it? Had it maybe broken on the flight with the airline and baggage handlers throwing it around? I had just paid the bike shop to check and tune the bike that week before I left. Was it really broken? Ya, it was definitely loose. And now with the downhill, it wasn’t straight anymore. Well, this was one way to force me to use my aerobars more than I usually did. The ride wove through vineyards on two-lane roads that were mostly shut down for traffic. Some bikers sped past, but mostly I just saw the support and officials riding past on motorcycles. My toes were mostly numb and I couldn’t decide if my shoes were too tight, my feet were cold and wet, or if I was low on hydration or electrolytes. My right foot hurt a little, but it was mostly just numb, so I ignored it. At one point, a butterfly flew in my face, and later a wasp nailed me in the chest. I didn’t realize until that night that it had stung me. My poorly secured water bottle rattled and splashed water over me on the rough roads, and the piece of my handlebar was now obviously only being held on by the handlebar tape and stuck out at an awkward angle. A few people road by and asked me about it, if I wrecked and was ok. It got to a point it started swinging as the tape unwound. I tried to find a sharp edge on the metal to saw through the tape, but couldn’t work it as I road. I finally decided to stop at special needs and ask someone for a pair of scissors. It swung at points, I was worried it would catch in the wheel and I tried to hold onto it. I made it to mile 56 and a nice guy cut it nice and tight where I needed it. I shoved the spare piece into the rubber band holding my aerobottle in place, and I was back on my way. But I couldn’t find the special needs bags. I got back on my bike, thinking maybe it was around the curve. Still no. Had I missed it in my mechanical distraction? Did they not bring the bags out? I grew irritated, thinking I could have slept in an extra hour and not driven to town to drop them off. I knew I couldn’t ride another three hours without nutrition and started to think of a game plan. I pulled out my gummies and started snacking. The only options were on course nutrition which would be cliff chews and gatorade. Neither was ideal, but I could make due at the next aid station, but that would be in about 15 miles. I almost dropped the snacks a few times, but managed to keep ahold of them and finish the packet over the next 45 minutes. Then, at mile 74, the sight of special needs. I yelled out my number and was able to refill my nutrition and grab my second spare gummies. I guzzled on the liquid gold as I continued riding, but the concoction was a little too concentrated and my stomach forced me to slow down until I could dilute it at the water station. The second half of the race felt much longer with my fatigue and the lack of handlebar distraction. I had placed the piece hollow end up, and it whistled when I got over 18 or 19 miles per hour. I saw water bottles, glasses, and debris everywhere from the rough roads causing bolts and things to loosen. I second-guessed every piece of my bike, wondering if there was going to be another piece to fall off. I realized of any part to break off, the piece was the most non-crucial and most ideal if such a thing existed. At least I could finish this race. I continued on as the afternoon wind started picking up and we continued over the rolling, rattly roads. The ball of my right foot was still bothering me, and I wondered if I had a stone in my shoe or sock. I finally made it into town and weaved through the cone-regulated traffic toward downtown. Another rider got a flat just outside town, and then I passed two police SUV’s heading in the direction I came. I was about two miles out, when a stray bystander threw a black water bottle at me out of nowhere. It missed me, and when I looked, he was walking away. I increased my cadence, more motivated to finish the bike, and finally made it to transition without further incident.
T2 was overall uneventful and quick. I ran through, grabbed my bag, and had a volunteer help me with my shoes and stocking my nutrition. I looked at my right foot while swapping socks and found a stone or glass of some sort lodged in the ball of my foot. I didn’t have time to inspect the damage, except that the cut was deep. I swapped my helmet for a running hat and glasses and was off. Running felt good, besides the stabbing pain during the strike of my right foot. My legs easily found their stride as I crossed out of transition and onto the running course.
The run was a three loop out-and-back through a park with very conservative climbing. Besides that, I hadn’t paid too much attention to the maps. I followed the course routing through downtown Santa Rosa and cheering crowds. My pace was relaxed and I quickly saw the turn around from the previous loops; two male runners were nearing the turn, already completing their first or second lap. At least they weren’t headed to the finish, I thought. I had made it a pseudo-goal to finish my first lap before anyone crossed the finish line; a lofty goal. I decided not to look at my watch except for milestones. It was set to vibrate every mile. I didn’t want other data disrupting my pace or race. My first mile was in the low 10 min range. I kept comfortable with my pace with conservative walking when I needed a drink or food or encountered a steep hill. Just after mile 2, the trail turned onto dirt. Well, this was unexpected. I love trail running, but had not worn the proper shoes for that kind of trail. The dirt was uneven and littered with large, gravel-like stones. I did my best to abide by the rules of the road, staying to the side except to pass, all while trying to keep to the better parts of the trail. By the 5k, my right foot was numb from the consistent shooting pains and my pace had seemingly felt more settled. I knew it was too lofty to expect to keep my pace under thirteen minute miles, so I aimed to keep it at least under fourteen minute miles. I still felt good as I turned and went back to town at mile 4. I was glad the course was so well routed as there were some confusing turns off the main path. I saw my parents coming in and leaving and stopped for a hug since I hadn’t seen them really since the swim exit. I ran back out of town on the same trail. The first loop felt full of people running their second and my second loop seemed full of people running their first. My pace slowed a little, or probably more accurately is that I started walking a little more frequently. I was still happy to keep my paces below fourteens and happy as I passed just as many people that passed me. I calculated that I needed 12:30 pace to break thirteen hours. No, was it 13:00? Math was difficult and I decided to recheck when I had easier numbers to deal with. As I neared mile 16 for the second turn around in town at mile 17, the last lap seemed daunting. My legs were starting to tire. I saw my parents again and warned them that I was fine, but the last loop was going to be ugly and to not get concerned about my slowing pace. Running seemed harder to do every time I stopped to walk, so I tried to come up with a plan. Sunset was at 20:11 - two and a half hours away. My first lap had been 1:44, and my second probably 10 minutes slower. I figured if I kept my pace under 15 minute miles, I could make it before sunset. My coach had mentioned counting steps, so I decided, I’d run 200 steps and walk 100 for the last 9 miles. On mile 19, I started talking to another racer who was a firefighter in Oregon. We talked for a bit. He was on his first lap and helped distract me and I ran with him until I hit the mile 20 marker. I made the mile at 13:55 and knew I wasn’t going to be able to maintain that pace for the last 6 miles. Breaking 13 hours wasn’t going to happen, but I could still finish before sunset. I counted my steps, or tried to. The first step running was always the hardest; my quads burned and my ankles were sore from the uneven running and lack of stability in my shoes. I finished the last of my “solid” nutrition by mile 24 and decided skip the rest. It would be quicker to just run and drink and not eat for the next half hour to the finish. At mile 25, I lengthened my run to 250 steps. I took two walking breaks that mile, pushing to make it to the finish. I took one last walk break just after the turn to the finish and prepared for the third mile run through downtown and to the finisher shoot. Some guy went blazing past and I slowed to enjoy the shoot to myself. I gave high-fives down the aisle and stopped my watch a little early to enjoy crossing the finish line at 13:12:53 - just eight minutes shy of a two-hour personal Ironman record for me; my third time crossing the Ironman finish line and my fifth full distance race.