Lead Up to Race
I had a lot of setbacks this year which lead me to transfer from Ironman Mont Tremblant to Ironman Maryland. This would be my first Ironman and I wanted to get to the start line in the best condition possible. Finicky knee/IT band pain that started in November of 2013 plagued me throughout last year so I did very limited run training to let my knee heal. I stopped running over the winter only to have the pain come back with a vengeance during the Kinetic Half. I again stopped running and did all of my run training on the elliptical until a month out from the race. The longest I ran in training for IMMD was three miles; the longest I had run in my entire life was 15 miles three years ago. All of this combined with the physical and mental exhaustion that pervades Ironman training, and a series of subpar workouts leading up to the race left me in a fragile state. I had a lot of doubts and little confidence going into the race. Not ideal, but I had put in a lot of training hours and decided to push on. Then I got sick. A sore throat and head cold descended on me in the days leading up to the race. I tried to muster positivity and energy, but it wasn’t there. My cold left me void of any emotion including nerves.
Athlete Check In and Briefing (Thursday)
Athlete check-in was smooth and painless. It was wonderful to see some familiar Z faces and I attempted excitement despite how I felt. At the athlete briefing I learned that run special needs would not be located at mile 13 as listed in the athlete guide, but athletes would choose between accessing their bags at mile 9 OR 18 of the run. (Bike and run special needs would NOT be returned to athletes following this race.) We also learned that athletes would retrieve their own transition bags and bikes during the race. Other than that, nothing surprising so back to the house to pack up our bags and relax. My detailed packing lists included what I needed in each of my race day bags so I didn’t have to think much in packing things up. Execute and take cold meds.
Friday I checked in my bike and transition bags. Again, easy and straightforward.
Transition opened at 5AM. I put nutrition on my bike, pumped up my tires, got body marked (roaming volunteers doing the marking), added nutrition to my transition bags and dropped off my special needs bags. (Having a headlamp in the predawn darkness was really helpful.) The pre race swim was canceled and before I knew it, it was time to line up for the swim start. I got in line with the 1 hour to 1:10 group and promptly started to cry. Game on.
It was amazing running into the water with cameras flashing and people screaming on either side of the athletes. It felt so surreal. It took awhile for the scrum to spread out and there was a good amount of kicking/grabbing/dunking for the first quarter of the swim. The bouys were big and easy to sight off of with red bouys marking the turns. The water is brackish with very little visibility, but not too salty. The water temperature was hovering around 76 degrees in the days leading up to the race so I wasn’t sure if the swim would be wetsuit legal, but race morning temp was 73. Perfect! I swam a slightly long line (2.6 miles), but I had no complaints about the swim. I was out of the water and there was Miro standing by to yank my wetsuit off. It was SO awesome to see familiar Z faces throughout the race. Everywhere I turned, teammates were screaming my name. Celebrity status.
I grabbed my bag and had a semi long run past the men’s changing tent into the women’s tent. The tent was probably 40% full so I was able to get a chair and dump my stuff out. Volunteers weren’t readily available, but I probably could have gotten some help if I really yelled for it. By the time I was done changing a volunteer had come over to pack up my swim gear for me. I again had to run past the men’s tent and then make a u-turn to come back the way I came to get to my bike, but our Z sunscreen team was there screaming my name the whole time.
Within the first few miles I noticed something was off. I stopped, leaned my bike against a tree to check things out and discovered my rear tire was flat. In the moment I didn’t bother to check what was wrong with it, but decided to pump it back up and see how far I could ride to determine how serious the problem was. I rode another few miles and stopped again – I discovered a puncture of my rear tubular so pulled out my café latex to hopefully patch the tire and allow me to ride on. I made it to the first aide station and the tire was flat again. I asked a volunteer to radio for a mechanic (the athlete briefing informed us that this capability would be available at each aide station), but the volunteers couldn’t find their radio person. One of the medics said he would be happy to make himself useful as a bike stand so that I could take another shot at a café latex patch job. This round seemed to go a little better – I made sure that I emptied the rest of the canister into the tire – and on I went, discouraged and demoralized thanks to three flats in the first 15 miles. That’s how my mood stayed for most of the first loop of the bike. Between my cold and my flats my brain was making a pretty convincing argument that there would be no shame in quitting, but I continued to move forward and tried to shut my mind up. I reasoned that if I quit I would have to smash the IMMD pint glass my husband had purchased for me, I wouldn’t be able to eat my celebratory cake with family, the next year would plain suck waiting to take another shot at Ironman and I really wanted to get to the finish line to tell Scott Leary that I deserved the pony he promised to buy me. Evelyn Adams caught me around mile 50 and helped turn my day around. She assured me we were going to make the bike cut off (I couldn’t do any sort of math and assumed that I wasn’t going to make it) and chatted with me to help distract me from my pity party. I stopped at special needs to grab some of the things I didn’t plan on needing and set off on my second loop. I had turned off my five-mile splits on my watch because I hadn’t wanted to get discouraged if the numbers weren’t where I wanted them to be; now I needed the splits to bring my morale back up. I thought of the advice Sarah Coble gave me and decided to start talking. When someone passed me I said, “nice job”, when I passed someone I said, “nice job” if I was going a similar speed as someone I rode next to them and chatted briefly to find out how their day was going, and I made sure to smile and thank the volunteers. This did amazing things for my mood and thankfully the rest of the bike passed uneventfully. I religiously took in my nutrition and plugged away in a slightly too high heart rate to make up for some lost time. I was thrilled to hear Kathy Hsu yelling my name as I came in to T2. It was awesome to hand my bike off to a friend and hear words of encouragement as I went off to take on my first marathon.
Bike Course Notes: It was lonely and quite at times with only a handful of cheer stations. I think this will improve in future years, but be prepared for some alone time out there. There are some rough sections of road. An attempt was made to pave the more serious potholes, but I saw plenty of ejected bottles near those sections. The aide stations were sometimes crowded and littered with bottles that were left in the road; the crowds and debris forced some racers over the double yellow line in order to safely pass stopped athletes and errant bottles.
I made it off the bike, but I had no idea what to expect of my first marathon. My plan was to run a ½ mile at a roughly 12 min/mile pace, walk for 30 seconds, repeat and hope that my knee held up. I also added in short walks at the aid stations to take in water and Coke. I high-fived, made new friends, smiled, stuck to the plan and it worked. Val handed me some extra strength Advil and salt tabs, and I think these went a long way towards saving my day; I ran the majority of the marathon pain and cramp free. I loved the three loop run course – it meant I was almost always only a few minutes away from seeing another Zer/my family/the Team Z tent on the course. The section of the run that went through town was unreal. During my second loop of the run the sides of the course were lined, 4 people deep, with cheering, screaming, adult beverage consuming spectators that had spilled out of bars and restaurants. There was also a band at the turn around. The crowds were slightly less on my final run through this section, but it was still awesome. I didn’t mind passing the finish line a handful of times and actually found it motivating, thinking each time that soon enough that would be me. After dark, the residents lined the section of road along the water (Bellevue/Hambrook Ave) with candles and lanterns. This was magical – running down a candle lit street, looking at the stars with people cheering for you as you can hear, “You are an Ironman” in the distance was unlike anything I have ever experienced.
People told me the day flies by and it does. Suddenly I was savoring those last few miles, running, smiling and taking it all in. I stopped to kiss my husband and mom in the finishers chute, marveling at all of the faces that were there yelling for me at that moment. Then I was under the Ironman arch, on my tiptoes, arms reaching into the sky as I basked in the blinding lights that illuminated me, the newest member of the Ironman family. It was priceless. VIP status continued as Jen Gibbins caught me and escorted me through the various steps following the finish line. I was extremely touched to have the support of so many teammates throughout the day and at the finish line. Johnny Hannan put my medal around my neck and Heike was there for yet another sweaty hug from me. My husband, mom, in-laws and more friends were waiting right outside the finisher’s area. I was on top of the world and will probably stay here for awhile. Ironman lived up to all of the hype and I’ll be out there again next year!
Run Course Notes: Instead of getting special needs at mile 9, I was offered it at mile 6 and told I that couldn’t have it at mile 9 (on the other side of the path from mile 6). I ended up having to wait until about mile 17 to pick up the refill of my nutrition. It worked OK for me, but hopefully they’ll sort this out for next year. The section of the course through town is cobblestones/bricks so you do have to watch your footing. The portion that goes out Westside Bypass can get lonely and dark, but there was an aid station at the turn around and the volunteers were awesome. (The volunteers and Ironman staff throughout the entire event were amazing.) Lights on the course after dark were probably spaced a few hundred yards apart. Sections were very dark and a good number of athletes were wearing headlamps.
I don’t have another Iron-distance race to compare this to, but I thought that Ironman Maryland was extremely well executed for a first time race. Small things went wrong – no AM swim warmup due to behind schedule water safety personnel, special needs mix ups on the run, limited medical support in the finishers area – but as a whole the race was well done and the town of Cambridge was a great host. If anyone doing the race next year has specific questions, please feel free to reach out to me over the coming year.