Ironman Maryland Race Report

I just realized I have been a negligant blog author. I haven’t written anything all year, eek!

Also, advance warning that this post is a bit lengthy. Thanks for your willingness to read this. 😉

On Saturday, October 1st, I raced in my FIRST Ironman – Ironman Maryland – on the Eastern Shore in Cambridge, Maryland. The IM Maryland course is absolutely gorgeous with its marshes and wildlife refuge. The land is basically at sea level… making it a fast, flat course in normal circumstances. That said, in the days leading up to the race, a freak low pressure system hovered over the area and dumped a crazy amount of rain and wind on the town.

Due to the flooding, they had to re-route the bike course the night before the race to avoid 1-2ish miles of 6-10″ flooded streets on Maple Dam Road. The streets were barely passable by car, so there was no way we could ride through on a bike. The new course panned out to be about 100 miles after the reroute.

The morning of the race, everyone was all geared up in wetsuits to start an epic day. I, on the other hand, picked the wrong port-o-potty line, which took 20-30 min to get through, so I was stressing about missing the start. I still had to put my wetsuit on and drop off my morning clothes bag. The gun was supposed to go off at 6:45 and I exited the port-o-potty line around 6:40ish. I had to sprint to drop off my stuff. As I was running, they made the announcement that the swim would be delayed 30 min due to the weather. Phew! It gave me a chance to relax and get my act together. Plus, I was able to meet up with some teammates to chat about our race jitters.

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With some of my favorite ladies!

 

30 min later, they announced the swim was cancelled due to the dangerous water conditions (it wasn’t even safe for the kayakers to be out there).

I have to admit, I was pretty bummed that we weren’t able to swim the 2.4 miles, but I knew the race director wouldn’t cancel the swim unless it was very unsafe. Throughout the day, a recurring negative thought kept surfacing that I couldn’t seem to shake … I was truthfully a bit bummed that I wouldn’t be doing a true Ironman distance.

Since they had to get ~2,000 athletes out on the course, we had to do a time trial start starting at 7:50am… One every 3 seconds or so. I was number 629 and went off around 8:25.

Once I went off, I hammered a bit to get around different athletes before settling into a goal wattage pace.

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It’s easy to look happy when you’re just starting!

 

The lack of swim caused a few noticeable differences on the bike leg. First, I was not warmed up AT ALL. Those who ride with me know that I like a good 15-30 min sloooow warm-up before I want to settle into a good pace. I’m not too sure how that may have affected me, but there was no easing into it because I was ready to roll! Second, who knew that swimming could regulate (or eliminate rather) your need to pee on the bike! I felt like I had to go throughout the whole bike ride and went at least once. Ugh.

The bike course was really nice for the most part. It was super fast on the way out. It gave me false confidence as I was averaging 19-20 mph. My watts (power level for non-triathletes) were slightly higher than the plan I was given by coach Kyle for the first half, but I felt great! 😉 (doh! Ironman lesson #1 – always obey your plan). I kept up those watts through the first loop. We had a pretty tough tailwind on the back part of the loop… For a good 10 miles or so. My 19ish pace quickly went down to 16ish with the same level of effort. It also rained a bit on the bike, so my shoes stayed nice and soaked.

As I rolled into the high school for the bike special needs, I saw my family cheering for me, which I didn’t expect. It made me so happy and I felt invincible! I had only gone through 2.25 bottles of Tailwind by that point which was slightly behind schedule, and I went ahead and exchanged them for 3 new bottles. After I rolled out, I started to feel my legs getting cranky and my stomach as well. Over the next 50 miles, my stomach progressively got worse. It was incredibly cramped and painful. I never felt sick… Was just in (what I can only imagine was gas) pain. It got tougher to stay in aero, so I got out quite frequently, which wasn’t ideal with the headwind miles 75ish-90. My watts progressively got lower and the ‘fun’ bike ride wasn’t so fun anymore. I wanted to be done. I hardly drank my new bottles of Tailwind because frankly I just didn’t want anything. My stomach pain distracted me from feeling my legs, but I’m assuming they grew increasingly tired/annoyed as well, which may have also contributed to my decreasing watts.

 

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Forcing a smile in transition when I saw my mom. I was NOT happy.

 

Once I got back to transition and dismounted my bike, I could hardly walk. My left hip/leg was not happy and unstable. Luckily, I was able to work out the kinks via walking. My mom and step-dad were waiting by my transition area and were cheering me on. I tried my best to put on a happy, ‘this is fun!! face’.

I grabbed my run bag and made it into the changing tent. Everyone in there was complaining about how tough the bike was. My brain was so foggy, it was tough to process what I needed to do, but I managed to change tops, grab my race belt, visor and tie my shoes. Off to the run I went! Only, I forgot to take off my pesky HR monitor. I HATE wearing that thing when I run haha, so I stuffed it in my back pocket.

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Starting out on the run – likely telling my fam how much my tummy hurt!

Back to the thoughts I had going in about this not being a real Ironman, my mind wasn’t in the best place going into the run. I didn’t want to run 26.2 miles for no reason. That said, I had an amazing cheer (and support) squad of family and friends who made the trip to Maryland and I didn’t want to disappoint them. They were my main motivation for going out to run!

OMG my stomach pain only intensified as I started running. Not to be TMI but I tried going to the bathroom at each of the first 3 aid stations to see if that was the issue and nope! Ugh. I had no desire to drink my nutrition so I poured it out. Instead, I tried water, coke, Gatorade and a gel here and there because I knew I needed calories due to not taking in much on the bike. I did my best to run and then walk through the aid stations and that worked for a bit.

Right when I got to the second turn-around in downtown Cambridge, my stomach started to get unbearably painful. Nothing seemed to help, but I kept trucking along. I passed the BASE salt station and tried salt as a last option and nope, no relief. I felt so helpless.

 

fake-happy

Faking enthusiasm is a must when your family & friends are cheering loudly

Shortly after, I ran by the transition area and came across massive flooding on the course due to the high tide. We had to walk through it for a good 50-100 foot stretch… Shoes and all. The water actually felt good on my feet. I forgot to mention that the ball of my right foot felt blister-y at mile 2-3 on the run and I even took off my shoe to see if there was a pebble. There wasn’t, so I put it back on. It bothered me as I continued to run, but my stomach distracted my brain from that annoyance. 

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View of the flooded streets

After walking through the flood, I decided to walk and not run anymore. I started to cry because I was so disappointed, and I didn’t know if something was seriously wrong with my stomach. I also had been contemplating quitting. My family and friends saw me once – that’s enough, right? I started to wonder where I could turn my timing chip in and never could quite figure it out. As I continued to make forward progress, I got quite a few “chin up!” and “keep going!” cheers as I walked/cried. A few asked what was wrong and when I said I had stomach cramps, they enthusiastically offered me salt.

Then at some point, my Endorphin Fitness teammate, Cheryl Shaw, came up to me and asked what was wrong. I seriously started to sob/ugly cry as I explained. She walked with me a bit and calmed me down (thanks Cheryl!!). Shortly after, the EF team coach, Parker, rolled up on his bike. He asked me what was going on, and when I told him, he recommended I cut out sugar completely and only take in water and pretzels.

Right when Parker was talking to me, this random racer standing in someone’s yard asked me if I had water in my handheld flask. She wanted to rinse her hands. I poured water on her hands from a foot or two above. When I looked down, I saw a HUGE (and I mean HUGE!) light brown pile below her. She was like ‘you don’t even want to know what happened.’ Talk about traumatizing. Poor thing. I thought to myself – with that much poop, how could she have not had to use the bathroom before the race?  She later ran past me, thanking me for the water. That experience made me think, “it could always be worse!”

Back to Parker’s advice… I took it and that seemed to help. Nature called and I finally had to go to the bathroom!! After a pit stop, I felt a bit better after and continued to walk.

 

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Running with Emily, my savior

It was at that point that another EF teammate, Emily came up to me and walked for a bit. She was following a 4 minute run and 1 minute walk plan. When it was time for her to run again, she went ahead and I started to convince myself that maybe I should give running a shot again. I would be completely miserable if I walked the rest of the marathon due to how LONG it would take. So, I started to run and felt ok. My stomach pain was still there, but it wasn’t nearly as intense. I caught up to her and asked if I could hang with her. I’m so happy she said yes!! It was the push I needed to get through the rest of the race. We ran/walked her interval plan through the next loop. I saw my family closer to the turn-around and they could tell I was in chipper spirits.

 

 

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Trudging through the flood

Another thing worth noting is that the flooding on the run course only got worse. There wasn’t just the flood in transition, there was now also 2 additional flooded spots near downtown Cambridge that we’d pass twice per loop. They were long stretches of flooded streets with mid-calf deep water. You couldn’t really run because it would’ve expended so much extra energy. I heard that a LOT of racers were upset by this water. I imagine if I was feeling good and was having a great race, I’d likely be annoyed too. However, in my state, I enjoyed it. It was a nice excuse to walk and frankly, the cold, salty water soothed my hurt and blistered foot. Needless to say, we didn’t have dry shoes or socks throughout the entire race!

 

Once Emily and I started the third loop, we were both struggling. For me, everything hurt – now that the pain in my stomach subsided a bit, I started to feel other pains more intensely. The ball of my right foot was killing me and I was definitely walking/running on the outside of my right foot. That caused the outside of my right calf to ache pretty intensely due to the strain. My hamstrings felt like they’d seize up on occasion. The bone of Emily’s foot was killing her, and she didn’t want to cause unnecessary damage. So, we decided to walk once we got through transition. It was fine by me as my race plan and goal were already completely demolished. I’m sure I could’ve mustered up some extra oomph to run, but what was the point at this stage in the race? I’m sure it took us forever to get back for the last turn-around downtown before the finish line.

Back to my nutrition – I continued my pretzel fueling strategy (2-3 or as much as my mouth could handle per aid station). Suddenly, they offered chicken broth on the course, and I was in heaven! It hit the spot and I was frankly bummed when some aid stations didn’t offer it. That said, I believe I was SEVERELY under-nourished during the race. I’m not sure how/if that contributed to my late-marathon struggles, but I’m sure it did.

 

finishing

Almost Done!!

The flooding had started to subside downtown (since it was past high tide) as we rounded out our last loop. What we lacked in flood, we made up for in rain as it started to DOWNPOUR. I felt so bad for my friends and family who were out there waiting on us. Emily and I made our last loop around the bar area turnaround (which was HILARIOUS BTW!) and started to run into the finish. Cheryl actually caught up with us, and the 3 of us ran it in. It really was such an incredible experience. I was SO excited knowing the pain would shortly be over. I also got emotional because I seriously thought I would quit so many times into the marathon. The announcer said my name (along with the others) and then said ‘you are an Ironman!’ As I crossed the finish line, I started to cry. I couldn’t believe it. It was also so incredible crossing the line with my teammates who helped me through.

 

 

immd-finish

Ashley Gibbs – You are an IRONMAN! The finish line experience was incredible

 

Musselman 70.3 Race Report

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Brace yourself – this is a long post! 

The Trip

The Musselman Triathlon is located in quaint town of Geneva, NY, which is nestled in the Finger Lakes region. Brian and I drove up on the Friday before the race and made fairly decent time (~8 hours). We realized we were close when we started to pass winery after winery. That region was FULL of them! Secretly, I was a little bummed I couldn’t partake due to racing in two days. The region was absolutely gorgeous and super cute. You got that friendly, small town feel right off of the bat.

We decided to stay with teammates in a dorm apartment on the campus of Hobart and Wiliam Smith Colleges (aka the “athlete village”), which is about 4 miles from the race site. The sleeping arrangement was not ideal (single bed, no AC), but we made due.

The Day Before

On Saturday, I decided to get in a quick bike ride to spin the legs a little.The American Legion Post was serving a pancake breakfast, so part of my ride included riding to it. The breakfast was really nice (hardly any athletes were there – odd), but I didn’t get the memo about needing to pay in cash. I did an IOU and they let me slide.

After that, I decided to ride into town. There was a sprint race going on that morning and I thought I could catch some friends racing and spectating. On the way, I got a flat tire and fortunately, I was near the Geneva Bicycle Shop. I figured it would be less stressful to let them fix it vs. me tinkering with getting on a new tire for 30 minutes. It was the best decision I made that day. The Mechanic was incredibly helpful. While I was there, I kept thinking of various bike issues to ask him about and he helped me with them all (adjusted my rear tire to help prevent my brake from rubbing, replaced my missing cadence sensor, fixed the flat, told me how to clean my bike, etc.).

After my visit with the mechanic, I tagged along with my teammates to preview the bike course. The course didn’t seem quite as daunting as it ended up being. I probably should have paid better attention and taken better notes on the false flats and slow climbs.

After that, we attended the mandatory, yet very entertaining pre-race briefing. Then, we all walked over to the Mussel Wall and painted our names on the wall.

Musselman Wall

After that, it was a bit of a blur. I went by packet pick up to get my race numbers and swag. Musselman is known for giving out really nice swag (shampoo, conditioner, a cool shirt, etc.). Unfortunately, they were no longer giving out the little stuffed mussel guy for some reason. I was bummed! That was the main thing I was looking forward to, so I can take pictures with him in different places (like Niagara falls below) as other fellow Mussel racers do. I ended up buying him for $10 anyways. 😉

Niagara Falls Mussel

We had a early-ish team dinner at a yummy local restaurant (Emile’s Restaurant) who accommodated our strange triathlete requests (e.g. plain grilled chicken and a plain baked potato).

Then, I set off to get my race gear in order, make breakfast for the morning and go to bed early.

The Morning Of

The morning of was pretty straightforward as far as races go. I woke up, grabbed my breakfast, got dressed and headed out to the race site. Brian was my race Sherpa thankfully, so he dropped me off fairly close to transition. I quickly set up my gear and was reminded to “be euphoric today” – a cute tradition of the Musselman.

Be Euphoric Today

Race Set-up

I was really nervous about swimming in my wet suit. I had only swam in it once and it felt too big but yet constricting (like I couldn’t breathe normally). I really wanted to swim without it, but most urged against that. Two of my teammates helped me adjust it, so it actually fit really well. I had room in my neck and arms and feel like I could swim (yay!).

I did a quick pre-swim warm-up and quickly got in my corral to start. A storm was on its way towards us, so the water was fairly choppy – not a good sign.

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The Swim

It was a walk out start, which was helpful to get a good position among the pack. Since my age group was so large, we got our own wave.

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Luckily the water was pretty shallow until we got to the first buoy. That helped immensely because the water was so choppy from the storm. We had to fight against the swells and it was refreshing to know I could put my feet down and dolphin dive if needed.

My wet suit felt great and was a non-issue. The only thing that bothered me was where it rubbed the back of my neck – likely from having to lift my head so high to see above the waves. I got my first wet suit hickey as a result! 😛

Once I was able to get into a steady rhythm, I just tried to focus on my form, breathing, sighting and trying to cruise along. The rough water made it more difficult, but I was able to manage I had to do some breaststroke here and there just to see over the swells. I found a girl that was about my pace to draft; however, she was directionally challenged and didn’t sight well. I would continue straight ahead and she would bump into me when she over-corrected.

The first 2/3 of the swim was fairly difficult because of how choppy the water was; however, once we got into the last third, we hit the canal by the marina. SO much better – the current actually pulled us along a little bit. I eventually made it to the end (woohoo!) with a time of 43:22.

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The Bike

I was happy with my swim despite the conditions and was looking forward to the bike (my favorite leg). I rode out of transition and started pedaling with excitement.

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That excitement quickly ended once I realized how SLOW I was moving.  When my Garmin lapped at the 5 mile mark, it said I was moving ~14MPH and my heart rate was remained pretty high (zone 5 high). My goal was to keep it around 130 (zone 3/4) during the first half of the leg to conserve my energy and my legs.

Negative thoughts started going through my head – Something must be wrong. I had never been that slow in training for such an extended period of time. Maybe it was my rear brake. It was rubbing before. Maybe that bike mechanic didn’t actually fix it properly. Maybe my tire moved when transporting it and it’s now rubbing. Crap! I wish I looked at it in transition. Dummy. Do that next time!!

I told myself I’d keep going to see if it gets any better. Nope. Around mile 10 I was still averaging between 14 and 15 MPH. I was ticked! I decided it must be my brake. I thought I would wait until I saw the first SAG but then I was worried that by waiting, I was wasting my leg muscles. I needed my legs to be as fresh and ready for the run as they could be. This is not going to plan.

With that, I impulsively jumped off my bike on the grassy shoulder of the road. It was not the best idea as I could have been a hazard to racers behind me if they weren’t paying attention. For the most part, everyone was really nice – asking if I was ok. One person cursed at me b/c she wasn’t really watching where she was going and I must have scared her.

I tried spinning my wheel to see if the brake was rubbing and in the process of doing so, my chain hit the long grass nearby and proceeded to come off. Crap! Tears started forming as I saw all of the racers pass me. This was supposed to be my strong leg! I was going to kill it. I was ready. Now, I’m going to get a horrible time because I’m wasting it here fiddling with my bike, my legs will be exhausted from working hard against a rubbing brake and I will be moving super slow.

I couldn’t get the chain back on, so I picked up my bike and placed it over my shoulder and was able to manually put it back on the gears – grease everywhere, though! I spun my tire and it seemed OK. I decided just to jump back on and see how it goes. I think I wasted about 5 minutes in total – who knows!

What I didn’t realize is that first 10 miles was pretty much all uphill (no down hills or flats really). I probably should have studied the map more closely and set realistic expectations with myself. In addition, the incoming storm was causing a horrific head wind. I was fighting gravity and the wind with every pedal stroke.

Around mile 15, I finally found a decent descent. My MPH increased and my heart rate came back to my goal zone. I realized maybe it wasn’t my brake. I averaged 19 MPH during that next 5 miles and a crazy 22.9 MPH the 5 miles after that. I had never sustained that high of a speed in training – I was ecstatic! It was SO much fun riding it too, even if it was pouring rain.

Mussleman Bike Pic

OK, so I was feeling more confident. As I just mentioned, it was also pouring rain in addition to strong winds. The rain didn’t really faze me – I actually quite enjoyed it. The only time I worried was when the wind would pick up and my bike would skid a little due to the rain. Over the course of riding, I had about 5 scares where I thought the wind was going to push me over and get some kind of scary and painful road rash.

This was also my first time ever trying to change out water bottles. It was definitely tricky. I often wanted both water and food and it was difficult to manage. There is a skill involved with keeping your bike upright while slowly riding by and grabbing a bottle. I luckily managed OK at each stop – phew! No spills there.

For nutrition, I carried 3 Feed Zone Portable PB&Js and 3 gels. I figured that had to be enough food. I also had my Powerbar electrolyte calorie drink plus water. Everyone told me to drink a lot of water whenever I eat to help with digestion, so I did. My Profile Design speed fill bottle was full of water when I started and I picked up 4 additional water bottles along the way. This was the first bike ride where I felt like I had to pee immediately after I was done. Crap! Maybe I went overboard on the hydration. I ate my Portables early on (during the first half of the ride) and then my gels after. I remember thinking I was hungry towards the end and was trying to find some food at the stops, but couldn’t swing it with the water bottles. When I finished the bike, I remember feeling incredibly hungry – like I could eat a full meal right then.

By the end of the bike, I was feeling better about my race. I felt like I made up some time and enjoyed some of the beautiful Finger Lakes country along the way. My time was 3:20:26 (thinking I would’ve been around 3:15 had I not jumped off my bike).

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The (f*#%ng) Run

The run. Ah yes, my Achilles Heel of triathlon. Well, let’s just say my run was disappointing as I sort of knew it would be. I started off feeling optimistic – I was running about a 10:30 mile and in search of a port-o-potty. There was essentially one at every SAG, which was nice. I stopped at Mile 1 and afterwards got some water. (Talk about having a hard time pulling your tri kit back on, though! Ugh.)

I made sure I stopped at each SAG to take a mental break, hydrate and take some nutrition. Since I was notably hungry, I decided it would be good to eat part of a banana. It made my stomach whirl, so I walked a little to allow it to digest a bit.

The run course was incredibly hilly. The elevation basically goes up for the first half of the course and then comes down for the last half. Normally that’s ideal, but the first half pretty much crushed my soul and spirit. There were a ton of supporters along the course, which was fantastic. For one of the first big hills, you could choose whether to climb up a house’s grass lawn or walk up the stairs. I chose the stairs – no sense messing with that! At the top they had a little band playing and supporters cheering everyone who made it up there. One of my teammates who was pulled from the swim was up there cheering as well. I was SO happy to see her. I also passed another teammate who is super-fast and enabled this picture to be taken.

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As the miles continued, the harder it became to continue to run. My legs just didn’t want to. I felt miserable. I had to play the mental game of “just get to the next SAG” or “make it to that street sign.” A lot of racers passed me on the run and I mean a LOT. That was incredibly humbling. That’s one of my least favorite things about racing triathlons. I do so well at the swim and bike and am lose any competitive ground on the run. I wanted to “stay strong” (as a faster few teammates yelled at me when we passed in opposite directions) but I just couldn’t. Quite a few times I considered DNF-ing, so I could be done with this madness, but I knew I wanted to finish.

I tried eating and drinking more to see if that helped. Luckily, it didn’t result in any GI issues – likely because I wasn’t really exerting my heart rate. In reality, I was likely well beyond the point of glycogen depletion. All I could really do was continue to put one foot in front of the other and run as often as I could. I walked up all of the major hills to conserve energy – particularly the never ending large hill through a winery. I didn’t care. Forward progress.

I remember getting close to 1 mile left and it felt like the longest mile ever. I wanted to run the whole thing, but couldn’t. I set more goals for myself – get to this landmark and then walk or only walk until that landmark and run again. My run was a small shuffle.

The finish line was in sight and I was almost there! Most of my teammates finished before me and many were cheering. It was great to see them, but I couldn’t appreciate it because I just wanted to be done and sit down. I felt miserable! I couldn’t believe I paid to do this to myself. I also didn’t understand what athletes are thinking when they do these types of races for fun!

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In the end, my time was ~6:51 and my run was a whopping 2:41 of that time. My half marathon time was a good 25 minutes slower than my half marathon last year. Going in, I was hopeful I could break 6:30. Because of the conditions, most racers’ times were worse than expected, so that made me feel a little better.

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Forcing a smile after I was done.

 

The Aftermath

After I cooled down, ate and started to feel more normal, the happy emotion started to surface. I was proud of myself for finishing and the desire to improve on the next one also surfaced. I learned a lot about nutrition. I decided I likely slacked too much on my long runs and could improve there. Maybe I wasn’t ruling out any long course races in my future after all.