Ultra Season

So yesterday was a big bust. I was not sure if I should digest what happened and then write about it or just spew it all out like I usually do. I have been up since 5am this morning and while I let John sleep a little more I guess I will try to capture my thoughts and impressions about yesterday.

Race morning we were up at 4am. I was able to take a nap the previous afternoon and while we got in bed at 8:00, that nap made it hard to fall asleep even with some Advil PM on board. I read for an hour and then fell into a nice sleep. Around 1:30 I woke up and then started to stress and toss and turn. Finally got a little more sleep but was up and ready to go at 4:00. We made it downtown very quickly, got parking, pumped tires and dropped off all our bags. We convened with all the Get Fit crew in Dana’s room and the company helped keep the butterflies at bay. Then it was time to head down to the swim. Wetsuits were donned and we got in the water.

John’s plan was to swim ahead and head toward the inside of the buoys where there would be less traffic. The canon went off and I followed John. There was a little confusion and chaos in our area but I was able to concentrate on keeping John in sight and just kept on swimming. The butterflies never got a chance to get going while I worked to keep up with John and before I knew it I was almost at the first turn. I lost John at one point but saw him again around the second turn but then he was gone. But by then I was fine. Water was basically calm except for the churning of the swimmers around me and the buoys were getting ticked off one by one. I rounded the last turn for the first lap, checked my watch and my time was a little less than 50 minutes. No problem, I had plenty of time and felt good. The second lap was relatively uneventful, lots of jockeying for position and a little flurry when the “lappers” went by but overall very uneventful. My arms were starting to feel the lack of wetsuit time by the end of the last lap and my shoulders were screeching at me as I headed to shore. I got out of the water and the clock said 1:40. Perfect! Plenty of time to get the bike course done. I was elated!

I then got my wet suit off and headed up the parking deck spiral to transition. The run up the spiral was long and annoying but finally I was in the hotel and grabbed my bag of clothes. I worked to get my bike gear on and saw that Dana and Leslie were dressing too so that made me feel great. Said hello to Dana, got a hug and headed out to my bike. 

Down the parking deck spiral and out on the course. The first bit was slow with all the twists and turns on the bike path and through some parking lots but eventually we were out on the course we drove on Friday. I felt a little sluggish at first but eventually the legs started to warm up. Leslie was feeling sick and we leapfrogged our way through most of the first loop. I would have liked to have been moving a bit faster but I knew I was still doing great on time and things were going well. The hills were relentless but we trained on hills all summer and I felt pretty good. I kept it in the low gear and spun my way up those hills passing many along the way. Things started to take a turn for the worse around mile 25-30. I started to get a nagging pain on the inside of both knees. I had experienced this before on one leg and knew this would not get better. I tried different foot positions and nothing seemed to make the pain stop. Before long every pedal stroke was painful. The 3 big climbs were excruciating but I was still able to get up the hills and still was passing people as I did so. I started to panic because I did not know if I could keep this up for the rest of the race. I started to slow down even more  and spin more because every stroke was agony. Once I passed the 56 mile mark I never saw Leslie again. 

Side note on the cleats: When I first started ramping up to big distances on the bike I started to get a nagging pain in my left knee. It would never start until late in the ride. The guy who fit John’s bike helped adjust my cleats and for the first time I was pain free. Since then I have kept them in the same position and when ever changing them out I magic marker the outline of the cleat to ensure they are exact. So, a couple of weeks we got our bikes checked out by the same guy and he changed my chain and replaced my worn cleats. I thought nothing of the change since I was confident he would have replaced them in the same exact position. Since I was in taper I only did a few short checkout rides and everything felt fine. On to race day.

On the second loop another issue presented itself. My side was cramping. I had never experienced this on the bike and tried to stop and stretch when it got really bad. It was then I realized I really had to pee. Well, no rest stops seemed imminent despite pedaling many miles looking for one. Finally, I found a good place to make a quick run in the woods. Around this time a sheriff car pulls up and he asks if I am OK and he also adds that I am the last bike out there so he had to keep an eye on me. I asked if the other bikers had been cutoff  and he said no they all just dropped out. The heat was a bit too much for some people yesterday. Although it was hot, it was nothing like we had experienced in Georgia this summer and I felt good except for my knees and needing to pee. According to the sheriff the next rest stop was 5 miles away and he suggested I use the woods if I really needed to go. Excellent idea! I took care of my business and then got on my way. At the next stop I pulled out my bike tool and decided to try and mess with my cleat. I WISH I had done this when it first started. The change gave me some relief in my left leg but the right was still a mess. I had a little more spring in my step and started the big rolling hill section of the course. I did OK but the climbs were still super painful. I kept moving but around mile 80 I realized I was not going to make the cutoff. I had the worst hill section ahead of me and even if I gained some speed in the final trek back to town the last hills would have done me in. It was time to bow out. 

I got back to the start of the race, changed clothes, relayed my day to Leslie and Peggy in T2 and saw them off for the run. 

Unlike IMCDA I was not crushed. I was annoyed and resigned. There are many things I would have done differently to prepare but all in all I think I was well prepared. I worked on my swim and got so much stronger and more confident in open water. I worked with a trainer to get stronger overall. I worked on my bike and did hill repeats, technical bike courses and even conquered the Gaps! My recent runs had gone well and I felt strong. I was much more prepared for this race than my first attempt in 2010. I was nervous but felt like I was ready. The hills were plentiful but I know under different conditions I could have handled them and still had plenty of time to make the run. My energy level was good and I felt strong except for the pain in my knees. I visualized the accomplishment and stayed positive. This is why there were no tears this time. I did everything I could except for taking the responsibility to ensure my cleats were good. I will never leave this to chance again. It is too critical. 

Despite being over my experience, it is incredibly hard to watch the rest of the race unfold and see everyone you trained with reap the rewards. One training partner had a worse day then mine and had to quit during the run. He stuck it out all day but stomach issues and blisters got the best of him. My heart aches for Harry because I know how he feels. This was his first Ironman and he was so ready on all counts. Strong swimmer, biker and runner. It was a no brainer. It goes to show that everything needs to fall into place on that one particular day and unfortunately, things that are beyond your control can ultimately do you in. It’s a tough, tough thing and a bitter pill to swallow.

The question now is will I ever do this again? Right now the answer is NO. I spent so many hours training, stressing and preparing for this race. The money alone is depressing. I fought off sickness, risk of injury and felt the toll it takes on your marriage. This is not a small endeavor. It consumes your life and makes you an incredibly selfish person. Sure, I would love to hear Mike Reilly say those words to me on race day. My ironman still feels like a lesser accomplishment than the hoopla and experience of the corporate IRONMAN. It is still the same distance but it is just not the same experience.

I really don’t think I am cut out for this distance. Despite all that has been accomplished the bike is still my nemesis. I struggle with it and I honestly hate it most days. I wish it was different and maybe if it wasn’t so hard for me I would like it more. I just don’t know the answer. What I do know is that I have a 50K in 3 weeks that I am not exactly prepared for. I have not been running any super long distances but the endurance is there. The ultimate goal is the Pine Mountain 40 miler in December so Stump Jump is just another training day. Pine Mtn will be my longest distance to date. So here’s to Ultra season. Let’s hit the trails!

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