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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.