The power of the mind. Everyone knows that endurance sports take an immense amount of physical training and ability, but the strength of the mind can make or break a race. After making huge changes in my training, nutrition, lifestyle choices etc. for the build up to IM TX, I believe that the biggest change in this training cycle was my increase in mental fortitude and my approach to this sport. After 2 DNF races, I approached this race with the mindset to finish strong and healthy and experience some progression in some way. I nailed it. Every controversy I faced before and during the race (and there were plenty!) I embraced saying that they were lessons teaching me how to respond and react calmly so that when “my day” comes, everything will be smooth sailing.
I recognized last year after reaching the breaking point after Ironman Maryland, that this was my chosen path, because I had found something I failed at. It sounds crazy but I lost the love for the finish line and just completing events, because up until that point, I had never failed. Sure, things weren’t always easy and there were hardships (IT bands popping at IM FL etc.) but I always overcame them. So, the second I failed, I knew I had found my journey.
Toeing the line at Texas, I was more anxious and nervous than I had ever been in my life, because now I know what can happen. However, having felt the lows of low in this sport, it allowed me to reach the high of highs just crossing the finish line, despite the fact my time was not a reflection of my current fitness and growth. My hardships in this race were not fitness based, there is nothing I would change about my training or preparation, and those are the controllable factors. That alone, is progression in itself and leaves me already excited for the next race.
Iron Mum and I flew out on Tuesday afternoon, hopped in our rental and did the preliminary Whole Foods shop up to stock up for the week. I always tell people I have two diets, a training diet, and an outside training diet. The food I eat pre/during/post training is vastly different to what I ate for dinner or snacks and meals in between. Training nutrition is fuel, time to prepare for the session or recover. The rest of the day is about high net gain nutrition, and these foods are often very different.
Wednesday was filled with packet pickup, checking in, bike pickup and getting to grips with the area. Oh and checking accuweather obsessively with the predicated storms. I picked up my bike, practiced changing a flat a few times on the race wheels and went for a ride, trying to dodge the countless thunderstorms that Texas was experiencing. I finally found a great spot to put some power down on the pedals and all of a sudden I started veering off, my front steam (with aerobars, bottle holder and gears) had come loose…ouch. Fearful of what else was wrong I gingerly rode back on my road bike bars back to the Woodlands Mall area where Iron Mum was trying to having a swim bike run reprieve shopping in Nordstroms (trying being the operative word here…)
I dropped off the bike for a full tune up (and checked accuweather obsessively) and they had it ready the next morning. Thursday morning was an easy swim-bike-run with some pickups. Everything felt great, my legs felt light, I felt strong on the pickups and the body was in order. I stopped three times during a 45 minute ride at the bike shop to tighten up loose cleats, making adjustments, but I finally felt things were in order by the time I went running…
Thursday afternoon (checking accuweather again) we went to an All-World Athlete banquet. All world athletes are the top elite athletes in the sport, I am Silver meaning I am top of 10% and we were invited to a banquet with some guest speakers. It was great to hear Dave Scott (one of the legends of the sport) speak and hear some tips on the course and racing from Heather Wurtele and Jordan Raap. Their advice: don’t overbike, it’s a sneaky course! Noted. I was also lucky enough to meet Rachel Joyce, my hero and fellow Brit who lives in Boulder.
Friday was bike drop and picking up last minute items (trash bags to double wrap bike/run bags with the looming storm). We went to Target, which was feeling at this point like an extension of our hotel room we had been there so many times! We headed to Houston Airport to pick up Josh, I was so excited and grateful to have him support me. Josh knows better than anyone the journey I have been on and truly experiences the highs and lows I see. We had a quick adjustment at the Hampton Inn and then back to our hotel for a solid nights sleep.
Alarm clock set for 3:45 to get a good breakfast in 3 hours before the start. My race breakfast this year is slightly unconventional but has worked a treat: applesauce mixed with protein powder, a banana and sport drink. I find this super easy to get down at that time of day and easy to eat when your tummy is filled with butterflies! Top that up with a bar and a gel prior to the start and I feel fueled but not weighed down.
Iron Mum was up in full force (she’s an early bird too!) and we headed off to transition. I pumped up my tires, checked my gears and brakes and stocked her up with salt tablets and nutrition. Oops, like a brick I realized my special needs bags (that bags you receive half way through the bike and run were at the hotel). We started power walking back to the car until I made the decision that this was a moment to teach me, what exactly would I do in a future race if these bags were lost! So I bounced back adjusted my plan and adapted. I told myself good practice for the future.
The swim start was quite a walk away, we had done 3.5 miles before I even got in the water. I did my usual pre-race warm-up, I like to feel loose and warm. I lined up at the rolling start around a 1:15 predicted swim time, all my practice race sets had me coming in between 1:15 and 1:20. I was a ball of nerves and my heart was pounding as we did the countdown….
For the first time, I was truly excited for the swim, not just ready to get it over with. Chris Coffin of Open H2O has helped me tremendously with my swim in the past couple of months and I have seen some significant time drops. Although this was my first Ironman non-wetsuit legal swim, which puts me at a disadvantage, I was ready! I got into a groove despite struggling with my breathing, (made a mental note to practice starting swimming with a pounding heart!) and tried to focus on my stroke.
After about 800 yards or so a women veered right into me and kicked me right in the stomach. Ouch. Anyone who knows me well knows that my stomach is not my strongest asset and I have had a lot of issues with that over the past few months, so talk about sensitive spot! I rolled over on my back for a bit tried to do some deep breathing and work it out. I swam on, but had lost the front pack I had set out with. I knew it wasn’t going to be the swim I was hoping for, but knowing how much my swim efficiency had improved, I knew I would come in with plenty left in the tank. This was one of my strengths I pointed out on my pre-race goal setting session, good to have that reminder in the tank.
Came out of the swim in 1:27 which I was content with under the circumstances, I swam Boulder last year in 1:20 with a wetsuit, but absolutely tuckered. The swim to bike transition was very long and included running through a muddy field in bare feet. I got on, settled in but was very aware that my kick in the stomach was coming back to bite me.
My fueling plan has me eating a ½ bar 15 minutes in, but I spent the first 30 throwing up. Not something I had practice in training. I have never stopped out on the bike course, but approaching the first aid station I knew I had to visit the porta potty or my race nutrition would suffer. What I didn’t know was I would have to do this again, and again, and again, sacrificing about 25 minutes of stationery time. Not loving the one-piece tri suit at this point. I managed to bounce back with my nutrition and around about 45 miles began feeling like the troubles were behind me.
I was pumped and excited how well I was holding pace at such a low level of exertion. Just what I had planned and trained for. The art of pacing is a huge test of patience, but something I was out to nail and was adamant not to let the tailwind we started out with encourage a faster pace that I was not capable of sustaining.
Everything was going well and I was feeling great, a little nervous and jittery when cornering and descending, as my brakes were still incredibly squeaky. Things were rattling a bit but I thought perhaps it was in my head, wary of what happened the other day. Rule number 3,000, always trust your gut when it comes to the bike. And then it happened….my bars twisted off. After about 5 other athletes begged me to stop and check it out, I got reassurance that the bike was safe, but I would have to ride in my road bike position. For those of you who don’t know bikes, this is a huge disadvantage. You gain a great amount of speed (particularly on the flashy new bike I just got) by being in your tri bars. I was devastated, but tried to not let it go to me, after all, my body was performing beyond expectations, my energy was great and there was not an ounce of fatigue.
The 100-mile mark is a big milestone and I started getting pumped realizing that I could still come in beating my bike time from Boulder, which was a HUGE accomplishment being that the position took off about 20-25 minutes as well as the stops. This means I would have hit my target time of 6:00-6:15 all being well. Instead of letting it get me down, I let it fuel and motivate me.
So excited to see Josh and Iron Mum and get off a bike that I was very afraid of! I gave them cliff-notes of the morning and people laughed as I yelled back “But I feel amazing!” I ran through transition which was a mud pool laughing saying, “I didn’t know this was a muddy buddy race too!”
I grabbed my run bag and hit the road. The adrenaline got to me and looked at my watch and saw a 7:00 minute pace, knowing I needed to go out around 9:15 I immediately put on the brakes, adamant that I was going to take the first lap easy, second moderate and come home strong on the third. My heart rate monitor was broken, which being a slave to heart rate would normally have troubled me, but I was so thrilled at how good I felt, decided that was again, a good test and practice for something that can inevitably happen. I was impressed at my ability to “run by feel” which is nothing something I typically do. It showed me that even though my training is power/pace/heart rate based, my experience as an athlete enables me to dial into my rate of perceived exertion when technology fails.
This was my first Ironman marathon that I experimented with walking aid stations; it was also my first Ironman I did not walk once outside of that. Success. Since I knew it wasn’t “my” day I made some friends along the way and truly had an absolute blast just running, amazed at how good I felt and relishing in how far I had come that I didn’t let the days events get me down.
Since it was a 3 loop course I got to see Iron Mum and Josh quite a few times, and it was always a source of energy. On the last loop I knew I had reached my goal of not having to resort to the Ironman shuffle and so I went after a mini-goal I made on the spot: a negative split marathon. This means that you run the second half faster than the first, which is a huge test of patience, but something I needed to master in an Ironman to increase my long term progression in the sport, which is what I am after. In the last 2 miles I was aware I passed about 6 people in my age group.
I finish the marathon in 4:06, about 40 minutes faster than Boulder but more importantly, healthy, happy and strong. When you cross the finish line of an Ironman they yell your name and say, “You are an Ironman.” I have never heard that before because I tend to sprint through on race adrenaline, so this time I paused adamant to hear my name in 12 hours and 35 minutes, over 20 minutes faster than Boulder a year ago! Success.
I always say, “control the controllable” and in this case, I did exactly that. I swam, biked, and ran my heart out, I rested, recovered, nailed nutrition, achieved balance. In a 140-mile race, things are bound to go wrong and it is the way you respond to controversy that dictates results, just like anything in life. I am so grateful that my fitness was so strong going into this that the issues I dealt with didn’t cause me to crumble. I took the race from a conservative approach, knowing I had goals and objectives to achieve that would affect races to come, not today. I was patient, persevered, had fun and was rewarded with a finish line that didn’t hurt like hell! I might not have come in at the time I was hopeful for, but my day will come, and when it does after all these setbacks, your better know I’ll be ready for it! On to a solid rest period to get some of that balance back in life, then a buildup to Ironman Arizona in November! Another step in the ladder!