Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Ugly Truth.

Now that you've heard the heroic tale of the Ironman race itself, here is some of the negative aspects of training that you may or may not have heard about. When training for a first Ironman, people tell you the most terrifying stories. The stories usually revolve around, 1.) lack of sleep, 2.) being really really hungry all the time, and 3.) injuries. 

First, although my days of sleeping in were very few in the past nine months, there was only one or two distinct weeks when I was an "Ironzombie."

Second, yes, the food thing. I was definitely cranky when I didn't get enough food but I didn't wake up in the middle of the night with an empty tummy either. For this I am very grateful as it may have also contributed to many nights of uninterrupted sleep.

My #1 goal for Ironman training was - DO NOT GET INJURED! Months went by and I was in tip top condition, feeling like a champion in the making. There was no way I was going to over train. In fact, I would often stop my workout five minutes early, or at 9:99 of a 10 mile run. 


It wasn't until the last six weeks of training when things started to get really wacky.

Cyclist Palsy

About three-quarters of the way through a 90 mile ride along the Vineman course in Sonoma County, I realized I no longer had the ability to shift with my left hand. At first I thought perhaps my shifting mechanism had somehow been bent, or broken. But I soon realized that my hand no longer had the strength to push the shifter without using the strength of my entire arm. 

After the ride, I assessed the situation. I could no longer move my pinkie or ring finger, nor could I cross any of the fingers on my left hand. 

I promptly made appointments with a physical therapist, and called a doctor friend - completely freaking out that I had somehow suffered a traumatic brain injury, only to find out that something called cyclist (or handlebar) palsy is quite common. In short: Being in the drops for an extended period of time caused a pinched nerve which lead to immobility in my fingers and hand. I couldn't do the Vulcan hand (not that I needed to), cross my fingers, button my pants, or hold a fork in my left hand. Luckily, with some massage and riding out of the drops - it just went away.

Lesson learned: Use your core, and don't put too much pressure on the handlebars.

Calf Cramp

About a week later, I had to go back to my physical therapist about a massive calf cramp that started when I was running easy off the bike. I'm not sure if it was a cramp that was so severe that it hurt for a few days after, or if it was a nerve in my leg that shot pain down the back of my leg. 

"Sounds like you are ready for Ironman!" my PT said, meaning that everyone seems to have mysterious injuries and sicknesses leading up to the end of training.

Again more massage, rest, and stretching.


Between cyclist palsy and calf cramp, I also had a cold which put me out for a week. I definitely did the typical, "F#$% this, I'm going to ride up Montebello Road anyway, so suck it!" attitude.

Fun with Physiatry

I went to a physiatrist because it's covered under my medical insurance. I made the appointment when I had the mysterious hand palsy, and although the symptoms were gone I thought I should keep the appointment just to "pick his brain." 

I'd never heard of a physiatrist, and I bet 99% of people on this planet haven't either. A physiatrist is an internist who focuses on movement specifically. They are not physical therapists, or chiropractors. It seems their best qualification is the ability to prescribe drugs. The physiatrist didn't tell me anything a PT didn't tell me. He told me that my left side is generally weaker than my right, and ordered an MRI to figure out if I have nervous issues that stem from my back.

"So, Doctor, I have Ironman in 3 weeks. What should I be doing?"

He put his head in his hands and got kind of flustered. "Um your core - weak. Need to strengthen core. Pick one exercise and do that everyday and keep increasing the exercise." We decided on planks.

Great. So now my entire left side is weak, and also my core, which is like 80% of my entire body. Good to know.

Then, he decided to also give me a prescription for anti-inflamatory steroids "just in case" I feel something coming on. I felt he was on the verge of saying, "Well, just stop doing what you are doing," which, of course, won't happen.

I haven't taken any of the steroids.


Unfortunately I did not coin this term, which is sad because it is SO GOOD. I'd love to claim it. Pre-IronMan Syndrome is when your emotions are on a roller coaster and sometimes you cry because you miss a green light and stop riding your bike, or you get really irritated with a waiter for not filling your water glass for the 5th time. I never thought this would happen to me, but it unfortunately creeped in around the time I got sick and lasted until I was on the flight to Canada. I stressed out and cried for no reason a couple of times: on a bike ride in Tahoe, and while trying pack my bike for the trip.

The Quest for Rock Hard Abs

My (faux) New Years Resolution for as long as I can remember is to get rock hard abs. I felt pretty svelte maybe two weeks prior to Ironman and realized it was probably the closest I've been to attaining #RHA status since I was 18 years old. If the closest I've gotten has been through 12-13 hours of exercise per week, then this should deter most of you from desiring to have them. Seriously? Do you have an extra 12 hours to spare? And then, is it worth it to have a washboard as a mid-section? Your answer to this should be - No. Keep baking. And running the 5k fun run. Rock hard abs don't make you a better person. 

Are you in the best shape of your life?

Difficult question. Can I move my body for an extraordinary amount of time? 


Is my body in the best shape? 

Probably not. I've had all kinds of strange (although luckily minor) injuries in the past few months. You kind of beat yourself up training for one of these long events.

Post-Ironman Goals

Made Post-Ironman Goals
1.) Go on bike rides for fun.
2.) Work on my swim technique.
3.) Do some trail running.

Stretch Goals
1.) Become a stock photo model.
2.) Take up some martial art so I can beat people up.
3.) Rock hard abs!

Friday, August 7, 2015

I'm only happy when it rains: An Ironman Canada Race Report.

I'm only happy when it rains. I'm only happy when it's complicated. -- Garbage

Speaking of complicated: notice my use of the metric system throughout this post. Not only did I do an Ironman, but I learned math. 

The weather report was not ideal: there was great potential for 50F, 10C temperatures and a downpour during Ironman Canada. The Whistler area had been plagued with fires (poor air quality) and hot weather in the weeks leading up to the race, so I was grateful for cooler air. Fortunately, I had packed some extra gear, and was ready to spend some extra time in transitions to change into dry clothes. I borrowed some thicker arm warmers and shoe covers from super-Sherpa Kathy.

Assessing the situation before the swim start.
Swim: The swim was in Alta Lake - fresh water and about 21C, 70F. The weather didn't affect my swim because no matter what, it was wet! The only part of the swim that worried me was the mass start and where to position myself among 1,600 other athletes. I picked the back-to-mid right side of the pack. I didn't want to be all the way in the back, but I was willing to swim a little extra to the right of the buoys in order to maintain sanity.

The rest of the swim I tried to maintain a very zen-like state. When I felt like I was losing my focus, I tried to draft for awhile, or would pick a swim focus between each set of buoys. (Between this set, I'll think about relaxing my head, next set I'll think about reaching, next set I'll think about pulling, etc..)

There is a point in every swim over one mile where I think, "Geez, am I done yet?" I thought this would happen after the first lap, but instead of being negative I thought, "This is going to be the longest swim you've ever done - good job!"

My worst fears 1.) total panic, and 2.) being kicked in the face, didn't happen.

A 1:23 swim time made me happy. I would have been happy with 1:30, or even 1:40. I just wanted to get on my bike!

Pleased with swim time.
T1: Transition #1 was long because I decided to change most of my clothes and put on dry capris, a bike jersey (with my nutrition in it), a vest, arm warmers, full gloves, and socks. Oh yeah, I also grabbed the wrong transition bag and had to run back out to return it and grab the correct bag. Sorry, #609, I hope you found your stuff ok. :)

At least there was no lighting!
Bike: This is Ironman. It's not supposed to be easy. So, the rain was going to make it more difficult. So what? Just keep pedaling!

My heart rate was off the charts for the first 10 minutes - about 170 or so. I knew I needed to settle in and just enjoy the journey as much as possible in the pouring rain. My shoes were drenched in the first 30 minutes. My arm warmers were drenched at about 60 km. I had to keep my body temperature up!

Luckily the first hill was early into the ride, which kept me warm to some extent. There were many athletes coasting on the downhills, but I took the advice of my coach who says to keep pedaling, even when breaking. This kept my body temperature up on the downhill, and shielded my legs from lactic acid build up. Thankfully, I also enjoy downhill sections and didn't feel out of control descending, even on the wet roads. I passed A LOT of people going downhill because I refused to stop pedaling. I was a pedaling machine.

Pedal smooth up.
Pedaling down.
Pedal all day.
Pedal to the metal.
Pedals and pearls.

The rain caused two rivers of water on the road, so you had to make the decision to swim on one side or the other - or you'd just get yourself (and the person behind you) wet. No one wanted to be up on someone's wheel when they are spitting water back at you, so drafting didn't seem to be a problem.

Passing through Whistler was fun with the crowds of happy, soaked, cheering Canucks. I got a glimpse of Marek and Brian standing in the wet (bless 'em). About half way through the course though, I worried that if it kept raining, I would be completely soaked and very uncomfortable. Fortunately, as we approached Pemberton, the rain subsided.

I decided that I would stay at a low heart rate at the TT portion beyond Pemberton and save myself for the final climbing section, and the marathon. I stayed below 150, closer to 145 and still felt like I made good time through the flat section. I also felt like I had enough time to stop at the port-o-potty. My coach believes you should just pee on your bike, and that's fine. But she never said anything about #2 on your bike - and I was wet enough already.

I saw Deirdre after she had turned around from the out and back at Pemberton. She was "faffing" with her watch, but looked strong. I timed myself from the location where I spotted her and figured 20-25 minutes behind SpeeDee was fine with me!

The climbs out of Pemberton were not as nasty as I imagined. Instead of a steady climb, there were three or four moderate climbs with some downhill and flat sections between. Another cyclist commented, "There shouldn't be many more of these - we are running out of kilometers!" Right he was.

About seven salty balls got me through the bike. Nom, nom, nom.

Grab bag! Go! Sun is shining.
T2: Ironman volunteers gave so much help in the transition area. The gal who helped and set out all of my essential run items for me while I changed was really awesome and encouraging. Hats off to all of the volunteers throughout the day! They really make the experience.

I ate 1/4 of a turkey sandwich. It wasn't as delicious as I had imagined.

More rain. 
Run: Kathy gave me a little pep talk out of T2, and asked me if I needed anything. I couldn't believe I was going to run 26 miles. My longest training run was 14, and I think it's because I went over the planned workout.

The run course had two loops - starting and ending in Whistler Village, where most spectators are out on the course. The turn around was by the beautiful Green Lake, a glacial lake with very pretty colors! The two loops gave me plenty of "fan" sightings (Kathy, Brian, Mel, Marek) and also competitor sightings (Dee, Brynje, Tana, Stephen, Jeff to name a few). Mentally, seeing others out on the course was so motivating!

The few kilometers out of Whistler Village were slightly uphill and I had shin cramps.  I walked a bit and adjusted my shoe laces. Once the cramps subsided, I picked up some time on the downhill.

Going into Ironman my goal was to "run" as much of the run as possible. Too many times I had heard about the Ironman-shuffle, which is often more walking than running. Although I walked a little bit and through a few aid stations, I was able to use some of my CIM training and keep a pace throughout. I tried to think of it like a slower marathon; I kept a pace where I felt that I was holding back slightly. Once my pace got below 5:30 per km, I backed off the pace. That was going to be too fast to sustain for 26 miles. I tried to keep the pace closer to 5:45 throughout, which is about a 9 minute pace per mile.

Another trick that worked really well to break down the marathon, was envisioning the race at four 10k races. (Thus my love of the metric system really began.) The first 10k was adjusting. The second 10k was settling in. The third 10k was maintaining. The fourth 10k was giving everything I had left. I'm not sure if I negative split the marathon portion - but the second loop of the race was much more comfortable than the first.

Best things on the run besides seeing my friends on the course: pretzels, and chamois butter. (My arms and thighs were chafing like no body's business.)

It started to rain again during the last 2 km of the run, and I was starting to get cold. But I remembered thinking, "OMG! I'm not going to bonk or have gastrointestinal issues! This is fabulous!"

You can't just finish. You have to do something with your arms to show that you are still alive. Unwritten rule.

Finish Line: I had done the math, and realized I would be finishing in under 12:30. There was still plenty of day light, despite the rain clouds which had accumulated overhead again. There was only one more little loop through Whistler Village.

I saw the red IM rug appear under my feet, lifted my arms above head. Finished. Hugged a volunteer, then Kathy, gave Brian a sweaty kiss. Kathy made me take a finishers picture because she knew I would just walk by, then she made me get in the massage tent.

It was only then that I felt any pain. Yep, my body hurt. I kind of wished I was still running. It was so much harder to stop - it hurt much more to be finished. What an awesome journey!