Monday, April 8, 2013

Memorial Hermann Ironman 70.3 Texas

This weekend was a weekend full of firsts.  After the races I've done and the challenges I have been fortunate enough to have, it was a true blessing to fall into a race that allowed me to be a "first-timer" on many different fronts.

The Ironman 70.3 was set in beautiful Galveston, Texas.  A few years ago, I would not have referred to Galveston as beautiful, especially with the hurricanes the area has endured, but WOW, Galveston has really pulled itself up by it's bootstraps and it looks better than ever.   The race was based in Moody Gardens.  If you have never been there, I highly recommend a visit!  It's affordable, beautiful, and very relaxing.

From the outset, this race was not going to be a "race" in the truest sense of the word for me.  I needed to test out my training plan and my ability to adapt to the endurance triathlon scene.  Most importantly, I needed to get an idea if the changes I have made in nutrition were going to be a good choice for the full IM in May and for ultras in the future.

In short order, here is how things went:

Pre Race Check-In

Ironman has got their act together.  Check\- in was an art form, something to behold, and something all race organizers can strive to achieve.  Of course, this is largely dependent upon the volunteers, just like any race, and to say that they were wonderful would be an understatement.  They really were remarkable.  So helpful, friendly, and encouraging.  They were quick to point a first-timer in all the right directions and I was in and out of check-in very quickly.

I was eager to get the bike racked and walk through the transition area.  This went smoothly as well.
A sea of bicycles!

Mark and I found Richard and we headed for a late afternoon lunch at Moody Gardens Hotel.  We chatted about race stuff, and then headed off to see a bit of the Island.

The water was a bit chilly at 63 degrees.  Thankfully it warmed to 65 by race morning.
After a pretty good night's sleep, which in and of itself is very unusual for me, we were on the road to the race start by 5 am.  The early morning workouts I've been doing have helped to prepare me for this and I felt awake and ready to go.

I did have quite a bit of pre-race anxiety and after donning the wetsuit, snapping a few pictures, and kissing Mark goodbye, I shed a few tears of fear which is quite unusual.  I was overwhelmed with the gratitude I felt to be able to be in that moment.  So many sacrifices were made financially, emotionally, and physically by my wonderful family and friends so that I could live this dream.  Sunday was Divine Mercy Sunday and is my favorite Feast day of the liturgical year. I love the Divine Mercy prayer and novena as it always seems to heighten the Easter experience for me. Knowing I was racing on this day which is so special to me only made it that much better.

The Swim
I headed off to the pier I would be jumping off of with the others in light pink caps.  Our wave was at 7:25, and the wait leading up to our start was filled with many nervous conversations between ladies that were new to the sport and distance and sweet ladies that shared their experience to soothe the others' nerves.  It was really a beautiful thing to see.

On time, our horn sounded and we were off.  I had scoped out the swim course the day before and knew I would be following the yellow buoys, turn at the red, swim along the orange to the next red, then the yellows to the paddle boat.  It looked so far, and I suppose 1.2 miles is quite a far distance, but thinking about it in terms of yards helped to calm my nerves.  2112 yards.  I can swim that very comfortably any day of the week now.  Yet, as my body hit the water and the wetsuit pulled the cold water in, the breath left my lungs and I had a difficult time reclaiming it.  Within moments I was looking for a canoe and made the decision that I was going to quit.  Then, a man who I had just heard passed away from cancer came to my mind.  Lou was a young man with a young family and I could only think of how much he would loved to have had another day with them.  How could I possibly quit and lose this experience that I had been blessed with?

I talked myself into sticking with the swim until it felt good.  I knew I could handle the distance.  I knew I could handle the wetsuit.  So I started my counting routine.  One.  Two.  Three.  Breathe.  One Two.  Three.  Breathe.  Sight.  And I did this til everything felt right.  Before I knew it I was rounding the first buoy and heading back towards the next turn to shore.  The buoys were very helpful and there was not much on the coast line to sight.  My goggles were pretty fogged up and difficult to see out of, so the colored buoys were instrumental in keeping me on course.  If I could not see a buoy, I would breast stroke until I could find my next sight.  I didn't trust the swimmers around me as I noted many swimming way off course.

After a bit, I felt the pelting of many of the swimmers who were in the wave after our wave that were now catching up to us.  These were young men, obviously much quicker than us in the 45-49" pink ladies" wave.  I swam to a more outside position and found my groove once again.  The water became a bit more choppy along this portion and I realized that instead of fighting the water, I worked with it and it seemed to make things go more smoothly.

By the end of the swim, I was almost sad it was over, but I ran out of the water, stripping the wetsuit down as far as I could so that the strippers could take it off for me.   I didn't feel tired or winded at all and was looking forward to getting to the bike.

Predicted swim time was 45 minutes; actual swim time was 46:57.

My T1 time was ridiculously slow... 9:46.  I didn't even try to be fast.  I wanted to be sure I did everything properly and not rush through critical nutritional things.

The Bike

The bike aspect of this sport is the portion I am most unsure about.  I do not feel at all strong as a cyclist.  I only started cycling a year ago and even then, it was very haphazardly.  Most of my early biking was don in a spin class.  About two months ago, I switched to most outdoor rides.  I was able to overcome most of my fears on the road, but my strength has yet to show up.

The way out felt good for about the first 10-15 miles.  After that, I tolerated the ride and then I was pretty miserable.  No matter how much I pushed, I couldn't see speeds higher than 18 or 19 mph and just when I thought I was going to turn around and catch the tailwind, I hit more headwind.  I told Richard that I am convinced that I cycle in a bubble of headwinds.

I was able to get into the aerobars quite a bit, but I was in pain.  Neck pain mostly, then low back, then glutes.  Nothing felt comfortable.  And my hands were going numb.  They have been affected for about 2 months also.  I have no strength in them anymore and fine motor activities such as handwriting, nail clipping, application of make up, is near impossible or done very poorly.

I saw quite a number of riders with flats and a few went down right in front of me.  I felt like if I could look down instead of up and out, my neck would relax, but I didn't think that was safe with so much going on so quickly around me.  I think that perhaps my helmet needs to be adjusted so that it fits a bit further back on my head allowing me to look more with just my eyes rather than craning my neck so much while in aero position.

By the end of the ride, my predominant thought was that I just confirmed that there is no way I can do a 112 mile bike ride. 

A positive that did come from this ride was the nutrition.  I was able to take in exactly what I planned, 800 calories in the form of Tailwind, plus I drank two full bottles of water.  This seemed to work very well.  I was happy with the way I was able to take the bottles from the aid station volunteers and put it into my bike bottle.  Just a few weeks ago, I couldn't take my hands off the handle bars at all.

My predicted bike time was 3:30/ actual bike time was 3:28:49.

T2 time was slow as well:  6:30.

The Run

The run course was set up with 3 loops of just over 4 miles.  I am not usually a fan of loops and typically avoid them, but this time, I actually really enjoyed them!   The course was all within Moody Gardens which is beautiful.  There were plenty of people out on the course cheering us on.  I am fairly certain many of them didn't even have anyone running the race, just folks having fun sending out good vibes!  The course was also set up so that most of the route we saw other runners coming and going.  I had many moments were I saw people and passed them up only to find out later that they were on a different loop than I was.  Kind of funny to see my competitive nature come out like that.  I kept my pace intentionally slow so as not to blow up before the third loop.

By the time I began the 2nd loop it was quite warm, 85 degrees, and I was feeling a bit "weird".  I started having chills and that is usually the first sign of electrolytes being off.  So far, Tailwind has worked very well for me, but I knew going into the summer, I may need to take a few S caps to offset the electrolyte loss.  I decided to take one Scap and drink more water at each aid station.  I walked through each aid station to be sure I got a good drink and continued to drink from my 400 calorie bottle, taking mental note of drinking one third the first loop, one third the second loop, and one third the last loop.

This in and of itself was such a change for me.  I typically drink at will because I only carry water.  But now, knowing my calories are measured out for time, I was more conservative in just drinking because thought I was thirsty.  Instead, I drank when I felt I needed some calories and then drank as much water as necessary as I entered the aid station.

The first few times, I got things backwards drinking the water first and then taking the calories.  After awhile, I figured out that my palate liked it better if I drank the Tailwind first as I entered the aid station and then the water to wash it down.
The first loop I did use the 8/2 method for the first 3 miles.  Then I went to the walk through the aid station methodology.  This seemed to work very well for me.  I felt stronger on the second loop and by the third loop, I felt ready to push the pace.

The best part of this run was seeing my family several times on the course.  The run route lent itself well to spectators and for this, I was very grateful!
I was finding that I needed to hold myself back by the end of the third loop.  I wanted to push it, but I knew it was too soon.  The last mile I did open it up a bit and came in at an 8:30 something pace.

I crossed the finish line and blessed myself as I did.  I felt completely reliant on my faith for this race.  I overcame many fears through the encouragement of friends and family and good old fashioned "just do it" mentality.

My run time was predicted to be 2:15; actual time was 2:10:58.  I couldn't have been more pleased.

My race time was 6:43.  I was 44/74 for my AG.  Not too shabby for my first 70.3.

My initial reaction to this race was that as much as I enjoyed it, I was convinced that it only confirmed for me that I am not anywhere near ready for the challenge of the full distance.  Today, I can assess how I am feeling physically and while I still do not feel "ready" per se, I do trust what those who know me and those who have helped me get to where I am now have to say and they say I can finish IMTX.  Physically, I think my body is closer to being ready than my mind is, but with more work, prayer, and trusting in the plan, body, mind and spirit will be at the start line on May 18th.

And as always, Phillipians 4:13 will forever remind me that I CAN do all things, in Christ.  My Savior. 


  1. A great report. Thanks for taking us on your journey. So many lessons, so many memories. What a blessing to be able to endure and grow in the journey.
    "More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." Romans 5:3-5

  2. Very impressive debut!!

    You looked great when I saw you-although I wasn't too surprised. You are one strong lady and somebody I admire very much.

    Congrats on your finish and all roads lead to 5/18 :)

    Yes you can do all things through Him who gives you strength.

  3. Nice job Karen especially since it was your first. The work you've put in looks like it paid off!

  4. You. Are. My. Hero.

    SOOOOO stinkin' proud of you! Epic.

  5. Karen,
    Thank you for sharing your inspirational journey. I can't imagine what it takes to prepare and to put your all into this effort. You did great! We were down cheering on two of Craig's aunts 59 and 60! They both made it in under 8 1/2.
    I believe I saw you pass on the bike at the 10 mile/ state park. Molly heard from E you were there so the kids made a sign for you. But y'all come up and pass so fast, and probably are in a zone, you might not have seen. But we were supporting you. We had fun cheering on everyone as they went by. Some comedians. The women all had smiles. Beautiful day- I'm glad we came. Congrats!!

  6. Great job Karen! Loved your race report! I know several people who have gone through the same "I'm going to quit" thing during this same swim and have continued and done well. I know you are going to be more than ready for IMTX and can't wait to cheer for you out there! :-)

  7. You are AMAZING! Please tell me you are getting the tattoo to go with it! :)

  8. No tattoo for this girl! Needles are scary.