Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Day I Became an IRONMAN: The Run

I had made it!!!!! I had made it to the run.  In all of my mental preparation and planning for the race I kept telling myself, "Bethany, just get to the run.  Do everything you need to do to get to the run.  Once you are there, you have it!  IRONMAN is yours."  I am a runner, marathons don't scare me.  What scares me is digestive trouble but no matter what, I knew I could finish the race if I made it to the run.  I knew it.

I raced under that "RUN START" banner  with this incredible realization, " did it!  You got to the run AND you feel fantastic!!"  Holy Crap I yelled, "I'm gonna be an IRONMAN!!!"  I blasted past the spectators and flew up through the team tents.  The first person I saw that looked familiar was Dawn.

She was screaming and practically jumping up and down with pride.  I was so happy for her and for me.  We had done it and now all I had to do was run a smooth 26.2 miles.  The next group I passed was all of my family  and the AZ TRI Club.  They too were all out cheers and I raced up passed them with my ever plastered smile and huge victorious arms.  I wish I could describe the incredible joy I felt.  This was my moment, my time to truly shine and finish this goal that I had worked so tirelessly on.  This was the moment where all of the friends and family that had watched me over the past year and missed me while I trained got to be a part of the glory.  As I passed I felt this renewed passion.  "Sweet friends and family, I'm gonna go crush this for you!"

I blazed past the spectators and headed out on the first out and back FLYING.  I looked down at my heart rate monitor and it read 175. YIKES.  That's way too high, and at that rate I will crash super fast.  Settle down Bethany, you do still have to run 26 miles.  Okay, okay.........pace down........  Right at about the 1-mile marker, there is a long quiet stretch of the course that was just perfect for some self-evaluation time.  Okay.......nutrition plan......1 GU Gel every 20-30 minutes depending on pace.  Got it.  Salt sticks. Hmm, I was a little depleted on the bike so I am gonna have to be on top of those every 40 minutes or so.  Check.  I hit the 2-mile turn around and downed 2 salt sticks and 1 blackberry GU.  Everything is feeling right.  I headed back to Team Tent row ready to bask in the cheers.

Let me digress a bit here......last year was the first year I attended an IRONMAN race.  I remember cheering at our club tent and watching athlete after athlete pass by through the gauntlet of spectators longing to be one of them.  I dreamed about what it would be like to run down that path between all of my friends and family and hoped beyond hope that I would make it to that moment.  Every day that I would do a training run down in Tempe Beach Park I would dream it and it would embolden me to keep fighting...keep training.

So there I was.  Running the gauntlet.  Everyone was out in full Superhero force to cheer for me.  I felt so humbled and happy.  It was everything I could have imagined and more.  And I just couldn't wipe the smile from my face.  I was feeling so good and strong.  I FELT like an IRONMAN.

I sped away from the club row, through lines of additional spectators and out towards the opposite side of the lake. I saw my dear friends Cassandra Mehan and The Donahues on that stretch.

Around mile 5 I started feeling crampy again so I downed another 2 salt sticks and ate a GU.  Staying on top of the salt sticks was proving to be the key to my feeling good so I really started paying attention to how often I consumed them.  I had settled into a perfect pace and was just doing my thing.  My family had crossed the bridge and met me again at Mile 6 along with my team mate David who was volunteering.  They were the loudest, boldest crew and they were yelling for me.  I was so happy.  It was perfect.  

The miles ticked by with ease and I found myself at mile 9 before I knew it.  Our neighbors Kim and Lucas were there cheering and I also found myself at an aid station hugging my long time friend Cherie.  It was the extra boost I needed to run full force up the "big hill" everyone talks about and head back towards home.  Speaking of that hill I just wanna say, if you give hills power, they will make you feel weak, but if you embrace hills as a chance to grow stronger, then when you have to climb one you will be strong.  I loved that hill (both times I ran it).

I came down that hill and back towards the lake only to see my husband, my parents, and my sweet friends Rebekah, Bethany and Shannon cheering again for me.  I had to stop for some fast rushed hugs.  My specatators were the best!

I kept moving back across the bridge, around on Rio Salado, took the right turn up towards the turn and saw the sign. "LAP 2" with a left pointing arrow.  OMG........Bethany, You are crushing it!  I made the turned and smiled.  I said to myself, "I am so glad it's not the finish yet........I'm not done running!  This is just too much fun!"

I came back around through the same stretch of team tents and once again saw my ecstatic coach. She yelled at me, "Bethany! You are killing it." I yelled joyously back at her, "I so got this! This is the BEST DAY EVER!"  I ran up again through my family and TRI Club.  My girlfriend Bridgit ran a bit with me amazed at my strength.  "How are you doing this?" to which I happily huffed, "I just HAVE it today!"

Now at this point here at mile 14 I had managed to consume all of my salt sticks and found myself having to solve a potentially big problem.  BIG RULE: You cannot accept any aid from friends or family no matter what.  So me asking for salt sticks from my team or coach was out of the question.  Most of the aid stations had some form of electrolyte replacement, but I needed much more than a swig of Gatorade.  I ran into the mile 15 aid station hollering, "Electrolytes, electrolytes!"  to which I was given 5 cups of Gatorade....BLEH.  BUT.........they also have pretzels!  While the idea of consuming crunchy pretzels was out of the question I knew I could suck the salt off of them.  So I grabbed a handful as I went blazing by and started sucking on them. I would suck the salt off one and then spit the pretzel and then do it again.  I did this through 2 aid stations until I found a BASE Electrolyte tent.  It worked and I was so proud of myself for having "worked the problem" and I never had to slow down.

I ran through the gauntlet again filling up my fatiguing body with cheers and high fives.  I smiled and squealed with glee, "I'll see you all at the finish line!"

At mile 17 I saw my friends Matt, Tara, Mason and Katie and before I knew it I was cruising past mile 18 and feeling INCREDIBLE.  YES, I was tired. YES, I could feel lots of muscles, but I had it.  I had trained more tired than this! As I once again reentered into the long stretch of the course I mentally high fived myself.  Bethany, you are strong, your body is trained and capable.  You can run the rest of this marathon.

The miles go by much differently in the IRONMAN marathon as compared to a regular marathon.  They go by faster and easier.  Once you are out there for 8 hours, 4 more doesn't make it harder.  My pace was smooth and easy.  I am a fat burning machine and in my heart, I AM A RUNNER.  I headed into the final 6 miles of the course in a sort of zen like place.  I had my girlfriend Melissa and her husband show up around 21 and I recharged my batteries for the final push.  

It was dark and I once again came to the big hill. I told myself, "Bethany, you will not walk this hill."  My legs were beginning to scream at me and with every step I was feeling them.  Even so, I couldn't wipe my smile off.  I got this!  The hill came and I bent my head low and forged on.  My sweet hill angels Debbee and Doug Donahue came strolling by on their cruisers and simply said, "What hurts?  We are going to pray you up this hill."  I nearly cried.  Not because of pain or because I felt I couldn't do something.  No, quite the contrary.  I felt the tears because it was dark and very lonely along that stretch of the course and the Lord had brought me 2 special friends who were on their bikes and could literally travel beside me up the hill.  I felt covered, supported and completely loved.  I wish I could have spared more energy to talk to them, but I had to yield all of my energy to the remaining miles.  All of a sudden I was at the top of the hill headed down for the final 4 mile stretch.  Friends truly make the load lighter.

I cruised through the aid station at mile 22 and smiled.......O   M    G!  This is it!  The final miles.  I mentally told myself to soak it all in.  Feel everything, look at everyone, breathe in everything because that finish line that I had dreamed about for years is literally right around the corner.  
My right foot was beginning to threaten a charlie horse cramp.  I took a salt stick and talked my foot out of it.  "I get it body....we are tired......but we are strong so just do it!"  I did it.  I felt every step and when I turned onto Rio Salado and saw Mile 25 I felt overwhelmed.  The end had come so fast......too fast.......I started soaking in the reality that I had CRUSHED my first IRONMAN.  I didn't know to what extent, but what I knew was that I still felt incredible, I hadn't stopped once and I was in the last mile.  My pace quickened, but my heart slowed.  I was so peaceful, content and happy.  I came by all of the spectators lining the street a quarter mile from the finish line and high-fived every single one of them.  They didn't know me......but their smiles as I passed confirmed what I was just realizing.....I had just done something really special and moving and inspirational.

I turned right on Rio Salado and saw the turn. 2 hours ago I had headed back on my second loop. Not this time.  This time I was directed by that amazing sign and it simply said, "TO FINISH" with an arrow pointed straight ahead.............

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Day I Became an IRONMAN: The Bike

And just like that, I was at the bike portion of the race.  2 years ago, this section of the race was the most frightening, the most daunting and the most nerve-wracking part of the race for me.  2 years ago a 45-mile ride put me out for a week. 2 years ago I looked at the reality of riding 112 miles in the middle of a triathlon and cried.  I didn't know how I was going to do that.

But.....there I was...clipped in and aggressively pedaling up through the spectator-lined exit shoot, down the clunky ramp softening the blow from the sidewalk of Tempe Beach Park to the asphalt of Rio Salado.  There I was smiling like a fool because I was confident and cool.  I knew EXACTLY how I was going to conquer the miles in front of me.  I felt no fear, no worry, no anxiety.  I felt nothing but joy because somewhere between crying about what seemed impossible and tackling a 120-mile bike ride I became a cyclist!  I feel at home on Lady Dash.  We're friends.  She gets me and I get her.  We work well together and as I headed away from my family and friends and out onto the Beeline I just couldn't remove my smile.  I got this.

The biggest part of the bike ride for me was being completely conscious and competent when it came to my nutrition.  This is the place where countless athletes have really hurt their races because of misjudging nutritional needs.  IRONMAN is like a big chess game.  You gotta play all the pieces right.   You have to think of your nutrition like an IV line.  It's not a big burst or an intermittent drip.  It's a steady consistent stream.  Food, water, electrolytes, water, food, water, electrolytes, water. Biggest tip, "If you are hungry you are already behind." Every 20 minutes my watch would jingle telling me it was time to fuel.

My nutrition strategy was simple. Power Bars, Tailwind liquid nutrition, and white potatoes with salt.  At least 1 electrolyte salt stick every hour and a minimum 16-24 oz of water every hour.  As I pulled away from Tempe Beach I let my excitement settle and my Heart Rate get out of the "energy drink" zone then quickly got on my nutrition schedule.    

My coach had given me a strategy based upon my Heart Rate and so I worked hard to follow her plan.  The Problem?  I just felt so great.  My race wheels made Lady Dash lighter and faster which easily translated to more speed for less work.  Here's another tip:  Train heavy, race light.  I trained on old wheels that have seen much better days.  They were heavy and had a smaller cassette (translation: my legs had to work hard while training).  I intentionally did that because once my race wheels were on I became literally unstoppable. I knew I had to get control of my HR so I had to make myself slow down.  It was hard, but I know it is what made me great on the bike.

Numerous athletes complained about the wind on the Beeline.  I never felt it.  I powered up the Beeline passing cyclist after cyclist and cruised home on the first lap feeling like a powerhouse.  Oh Bethany.......You have got this!  I came around the turnaround and passed the RACELAB tent with all of my family giving them a huge smile and a big number 1.  "That's One!" I shouted. Time to kick it up a notch.

I was feeling so good and as I powered back out on the course I re talked myself through all of my nutrition plans and did a little self-evaluation to feel where I was.  I had already stopped 2 times to use the bathroom (didn't want to pee all over myself for a few extra minutes) and realized that I was slightly overhydrated and running the risk of diluting my system too much.  So I backed off a little on the water, added a couple extra salt sticks, ate some potatoes and drank some Tailwind then settled in for the long upwards stretch on the Beeline.  Lap 2 found a lot of cyclists slowing and I literally leapfrogged my way up the course.  I cannot tell you how many fancy bikes I passed and could only stop and silently thank my coach for teaching me that you can have all the fancy gear in the world, but if you don't train hard it won't matter.  My training truly paid off as I put cyclist after cyclist behind me on the hill.

I came back to Tempe Beach Park and flashed my Number 2 and a big ole smile as I flew past my family and friends.  Their cheers were like an additional injection of jet fuel and I headed out on lap 3 with renewed energy.  I SO GOT THIS!  You and me Lady Dash.....let's finish it!

About a third of the way into the third loop I started feeling some minor stomach cramps.  Uh oh!  Okay, slow down and evaluate.  Where are you  on nutrition?  I'm good.  Where are you on water? Good there too.  What about salt sticks? Well....I took one an hour ago, maybe I need more.  It was the right answer.  Another tip:  Many times when you experience cramps in any part of your body during a race, it's a sign of electrolyte depletion and not a food problem.  Check.  2 Salt sticks went in and within 20 minutes the cramps were gone and I was once again flying up past cyclist after cyclist.  I made the turn at the top and headed home.  I couldn't believe it.....the miles had FLOWN by.  There I was at mile 95 barely working hard and going, "Holy crap!  I am headed back to run now!"

I cranked my gears up, plastered my permanent smile back on and confidently owned the Beeline home.  It was incredible that final 18 miles.  It was empowering and mesmerizing.  I had to remind myself..." gotta get prepared to run now!"  So I settled in, stopped all chewable nutrition and went to strictly liquid.  10 miles from the Park I ate a GU Gel and mentally started gearing up to run a marathon.

I flew into the park practically squealing with excitement.  Lady Dash and I had owned the course.  I knew we had when I paused my Garmin and saw that we had done it in 5:44.  Had you asked me 2 days before the race I would have told you that my goal was 6:15.  Imagine my surprise when I saw what we had done.  AHHHHHH!!!!!!!  I carefully handed my bike to a volunteer and said "Please take care of her....she did good!"  and ran off to claim my gear bag.

I was on cloud 9 and while my legs were feeling a little like sea legs, they were nothing but strong.  I had run right off the bike a hundred times.  I knew what it felt like and as I pulled into transition all I could think of was, I never in my wildest dreams thought I would feel this good!  I'm ready to run a marathon!!!

I sat down on a chair in transition and a sweet volunteer took my shoes and socks off, adorned my feet with fresh socks and my purple Altra Shoes.  I clipped on my number, threw on my hat, grabbed my bottle and raced out of transition in under 2:15. I  headed to the arch that read "RUN START," looked at a volunteer, flashed him my ridiculous smile and said assuredly, "It's a GOOD day!"...........