Ironman Kansas 70.3 Race Report

A recap of what was by far my worst triathlon yet – a comedy of errors if you will…

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What a weekend! In short, if something had the opportunity to go awry, it did.

We had decided to hit the road from Houston late in the afternoon on thursday, so I loaded up our 2002 Honda Civic, picked up Courtney and started heading out. Of course, my impecable sense of premonition allowed me to pick the route out of downtown Houston that had by far the most accidents, so we had to endure well over an hour of stop-and-go traffic. It would have been more, but right about at the exit for the airport, the Honda decided that was as far as this trip was going, overheated and blew smoke in our faces. A quick check revealed oil in the coolant – great, blown headgasket (second time in three months!). I pulled out my roadside assistance card, called Allstate – I bet they recognize my voice by now – who promptly sent a towtruck to meet us. At the wrong location. Figures. An hour and a half and three different police officers went by until the tow truck finally arrived. Since the driver did not feel like cancelling the previous ticket and entering the new location, we had to pay an extra $40 out of pocket for him to tow us about 4 miles to the next big parking lot. Now left to our own devices in a non-functioning car that doesn’t lock in front of a more-than-usually run down Family Dollar with darkness quickly descending, we decide I should get a cab to the airport and rent a car so we could continue the trip. So one cab ride with a rather rude Cajun who was blasting Lil’John uncomfortably loudly, frantic negotiations with multiple car rental companies, and getting lost on the way back to Family Dollar finally got us leaving Houston at 10 pm. Given that it’s a 9 hour drive from Houston to Fayetteville, you can imagine that this is not the ideal way to start race weekend!

We pulled in at Courtney’s parents at 7:30 am friday morning. I got a quick 90 minute nap, we ran a few errands, had lunch with friends, loaded up the camper and jumped in the truck for the ride to Lawrence, which I promptly slept through. So glad I didn’t have to drive that part! When we got to the campground, the Northwest Arkansas Triathlete Team had already made camp and Frank, Jason, Mike and Mark were working dilligently on their bikes. We unloaded our three bikes and I joined the mechanics convention, where my two left thumbs felt sorely out of place. I took off my front tire, ready to install my brand new race tires – only to find out they are not typically sold in pairs! Slightly embarrassing, but c’est la vie, as I was informed that a brand new tire would likely be slower than a broken-in one. Ultimately, my Javelin, Courtney’s Cervelo and Anna’s Specialized got a quick clean, lube and gear/brake tuneup, Anna and Joey grilled up some steaks and we hit the sack. 

Saturday was alltogether set aside for taking things very easy. We got up and headed to packet pickup, which was combined with a shopping tour through the Ironman merchandise tent and some of the other vendor stations. Courtney found a great deal on a new tri top (white, which was definitely going to help in what was setting up to be a brutally hot race), Anna bought some race swag, a new swim suit and some bento boxes for her and Courtney’s bike, and I longingly drooled over the rental race wheels – as we will find out, a 808/disc setup would have been less than ideal anyways. We caught some of the athlete’s briefing, where we unfortunately found out that the swim was most likely not going to be wetsuit legal, and headed out for a practice swim. The water sure didn’t feel like it was too warm for a wetsuit! As we were getting in the lake, the wind was clearly picking up; swimming out a little way past the swim area buoy, the water was getting very choppy very quickly – definitely signs of what was to come the next morning. After the practice swim, we took the bikes down to T1, got marked and headed back to camp to chill for the rest of the day. Meanwhile, Joon, Maggie and Andrey (who we convinced to sleep in the Cagle’s camper in one of the spare beds instead of Joon’s car) had arrived to join a growing Northwest Arkansas Triathlete contingent, and Ron came over with his daughter to hang out for a bit – he was the designated cheer crew after what must have been a brutal day at Ironman Texas a few weeks prior. Another awesome dinner from Anna (lasagna and banana pudding, score!) and we headed to bed early to get up even earlier for the race.

When my alarm went off at 4:45, I was pretty excited to get racing. I grabbed my phone to check the weather and got an immediate damper – 20 mph winds from the time my swim wave started, picking up and getting stronger throughout the day, along with temperatures in the mid-90s. Anna, who had been up for a while, had already made her decision to bow out of this predictable carnage. We got in our race gear, grabbed some breakfast and headed out to set up T2 and make our way down to T1 to put the final touches on the bikes and get ready for the swim start. Anna took her bike out of transition before the race started and kindly volunteered to be race sherpa (in all honesty, she didn’t really volunteer, I just kind of handed her my transition bag and pump). Final confirmation from the race director came in: no wetsuit, just barely too warm. At 6:30, the pros started; nothing too noteworthy happened there, Clayton Fettel swam straight off the front and would ultimately go on to win wire-to-wire, same with the women, where Rachel Joyce demolished her competition by over 22 minutes! The agegroupers were a different story though – the lake was looking rough, with the wind whipping up significant chop, with waves that were up to 3 feet high by some (slightly exaggarated) accounts. In every single group that went off, multiple people dropped out before even reaching the first buoy. I was getting seriously worried about Courtney, who had not practiced the swim much leading up to this race; also, I was starting to get sceptical about my goal of going sub-5, but I decided I was going to go for it and just see what happens. Of course, about that time I noticed I had forgotten to put the Garmin in transition, meaning I was going to race entirely by feel – something I am quite comfortable with in a running event, but on the bike, thats an entirely different story. Finally, my turn came to get in the water as the very last wave, and waves were already getting to be an issue while treading water and waiting on our gun to go off. I went pretty far wide, knowing my swim is pretty slow anyways, so I never had much issues with having to fight people for position. The gun went off, and we headed out on our way. Immediately, it became clear that there was not going to be any rythm to my swim. The chop made it about a 50% chance of getting air or water in my mouth when I turned to breathe, and sighting was a similar gamble. Luckily I found me a small pack to draft off, and somehow they managed to keep us on course. About halfway to the turnaround, I started to have to throw in some breast stroke just to recover a bit and finally get a few good breaths in – and even then it was tricky with how short the interval between the waves was. Ultimately, I started counting strokes to keep my mind off of the beating I was getting in this washing machine and went with 80 strokes freestyle, 20 strokes breast, rinse, repeat. That rythm worked pretty well, the only times I was knocked out of that rythm were when I saw a few girls from Courtney’s age group just floating in the water on their backs – every time my heart skipped a few beats, so I swam closer to see if it was her and if they were ok. It never was Courtney though, and they seemed to just be trying to recover and tough it out. Ultimately, I got through the swim feeling ok, and actually in a time that I wasn’t too unhappy with. I was shooting for sub-40, but in the conditions and without a wetsuit, 43:50 is pretty acceptable for a land shark like me.

T1 went without much incident, besides my relatively botched flying mount – it took me FOREVER to get in my shoes, I really need to either invest in some triathlon shoes or make a heel loop out of duct tape or SOMETHING!! The wind clearly wasnt about to let up, but I felt ok, the heaviness in my quads started to fade a bit, and I was passing a lot of people. Granted, with my age group being the final wave to start, I was bound to be passing slower people the entire race, but it still provides a nice mental boost (especially if the person you are flying by is riding a bike that is an order of magnitude more expensive than your own). Trouble started when I began feeling a bit thirsty only 8 miles into the ride. I had loaded up my two saddle-mounted bottle holders with a fairly thick Perpetuem mix, hoping to grab water at the first aid station at mile 14 and put it in my third cage. I tried to tide myself over with my Perpetuem, but it didn’t go down so well. No real issues yet, the water at the aid station was going to get me right back where I needed to be. Too bad I totally botched the hand-off and dropped that water bottle! Now I was in trouble – I didnt quite realize how deep, but I knew this wasn’t good. I started downing thick Perpetuem just to stay hydrated as temperatures climbed well above 90, and the 25 mph wind did its part to speed up dehydration. The next aid station wasn’t until the mid-30s, and my stomach was starting to feel excessively full, which it made known to me by burping up ever-bigger portions of what I had just drank. On top of that, we had figured out from our usual training paces that I should catch Courtney about halfway through the bike, and I was getting anxious because I hadn’t seen her. Did I miss her? I would feel really bad for passing her and not saying at least something – a few words of encouragement, anything. Was she ok? Did she make it through that swim? Was she just having the ride of a lifetime? Or maybe I was just going WAY slower that I thought I was? Finally, I hit the second aid station and grabbed two water bottles – one I put in my cage, the second one I greedily chugged. BIG MISTAKE! What was just a little burping up quickly escalated into me throwing up – from mile 40 on, I was emptying my stomach once every 2-3 miles, much to the dismay of riders around me. I am pretty sure that up to that point, I was riding really well (wouldn’t know since I had no Garmin, no watch, no bike computer), but no more. Not only was my gastrointestinal system violently rejecting anything I put in, the tireless crosswinds had taken a toll on my neck and back (Aero helmet + consistent crosswinds = tough day), so I could not stay in my bars and had to sit up for the last 16 miles – might as well put up a sail! The climb back up to the dam at mile 50 really took the last bit of what I had and I decided this was it, I was just going to rack my bike in T2 and call it a day. After 2:55 (15 minutes slower than what I had hoped for), I rolled up to the dismount line, slowly climbed off my bike granny style and wobbled over to my spot.

I don’t know why I thought it would be a good idea to continue, but I gave it a try anyways and made my way out onto the run course after all. I ran a good bit of the first mile, and then the wheels came off worse than I have ever experienced in my entire life. Still throwing up every few minutes, I was getting chills in 93 degrees, completely unable to keep down any nutrition or hydration. After 1.5 miles, I groggily walked up to Jon, who was cheering everyone on after qualifying for long-course Duathlon world championships the week before and asked him where Courtney was, if I was just so out of it that I never saw her? He informed me she made the very smart choice of dropping out halfway through the swim, but she was ok. Well, one worry less – now I just needed to get my stomach under control and get hydrated again! I stumbled down the hill towards Asphalt Beach, occasionally managing a run, but mostly just trying to stay upright. I got to Asphalt Beach for the first time and decided for the second time I was going to drop out. I grabbed a cup of water, a cup of coke, and cooled them both down with ice, slowly sipped them and made my way to the closest volunteer to hand in my chip and take the trail behind T1 to our campsite. Too bad I found Mr. You-can-do-it! He refused to take my chip, told me I had to walk up to the finish area anyways to hand it in so I might as well not be a little girl and keep going. Well F***. Ok, back up the hill to T2, at least there was SOME shade now – but more and more runners were stopping next to me looking exceedingly worried, asking me if I was ok, if I needed anything, if they should get help…I made it to the next aid station and repeated the coke/water/ice combination, and noticed I hadn’t thrown up the last batch! I didn’t really feel any better yet, but at least there was a halfway ok sign. I was still freezing, and getting really annoyed at all the people in the campground with their sprinklers and water hoses because I was very cold and thought how inconsiderate it was for them to just spray me down without asking (No really, I was that out of it – you guys are actually pretty awesome!). Our campsite was at mile 4 on the run course, so the goal was to make it there and be done with this torture. I more fell into a camping chair than sat in it, frustrated, mad, and ready to quit. Everyone around me seemed to agree that that was a very good idea. So much so that I decided they couldn’t possibly know what they are talking about, so I mustered what energy I had, muttered a few curse words, jumped out of the chair and sprinted off as fast as I could. Which didn’t last very long. Surprise. The way the run course goes, I was going to be back at the campsite 2 miles later, so I was just going to reevaluate then. I WAS in fact starting to come around, the chills were going away a bit and I still wasn’t throwing up. To say I was doing good would be a ridiculous statement, but compared to what it was, I was positively flying. However, by the time I made it another 1.5 miles to Rons camp, the next problem had manifested itself – my back was starting to cramp. I have never had that issue before, I assume it came from trying to hold the bike up in the crosswinds, compounded by the strain of the aero helmet. It was getting to a point where I could only take shallow little breaths because a deeper one would have me doubling over grabbing my back for a minute. Luckily, Ron had a very handy fix – stuff ice into the back pockets of my tri jersey! Brilliant! Still, when I came by our campsite, dropping out sounded really inviting again – too bad everyone there had left to go to the finish area, so I kind of had to keep going again. My aid station routine was still water/coke/ice, but now I grabbed an extra 2 cups of ice for each pocket, and things started looking up. I got done with the first 6.6 miles in a stunning 1 hour 31 minutes, leaving me 9 minutes to finish the second loop and stay within my goal time. Hah. Funny.

As I turned out of the transition chute to head on the second loop, Courtney and Anna were standing there waiting for me, cheering me on with a nice dose of concern; also, their expressions pretty clearly revealed that they thought I was a stubborn dumbass for trying to keep going here. Nonetheless, Courtney started running with me (yeah, I know, outside assistance, waaaah – honestly, I didn’t really care, if they decided to DQ me here, I wasn’t exactly going to cry). That helped so much, having her there! Things were progressing along towards the finish line. Not very fast, mind you, mainly due to the pretty severe back spasms that forced rather frequent walk breaks, buit progressing nonetheless. Water/Coke/Ice/Ice/Ice, run some, walk more, death march to the finish. Not much else to say really besides I did manage to speed up the second lap to a blistering 1 hour 14 minutes, for a total time of 6:30:11.

The good news is that I still have that 5 hour barrier to strive for! I really can’t thank Courtney, Anna, Ron and Jon enough for getting me through this race, they are all amazing. It’s funny how tough conditions exponentially magnify any mistakes you make out on the course. I can’t wait to get back out there and try again – Redman half, sub-5. Or at least I am going to try as hard as I can.

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