Tuesday, August 14, 2012

My IRONMAN experience


Wow. Where to begin. What an exciting journey that i am so excited to write about and share with everyone that wants to read!
But first - to answer my question - YES, i can get to the finish of an IM without the "proper" IM training. May had to deal with things that may not have happened had i put the time into it...but ultimately - i got it, i got my goal of finishing. An hour ahead of my prediction, and had to fight some road blocks along the way to get there.

If you read the last blog, you know that i was not IM ready! No i wasn't a couch potato, i have been doing my swimming and biking and running but not even close to what one should do, not even as much as i give my athletes for Half IM training. I did what i could with my schedule. Most in IM training are putting in 20-30 hours a week. i was curious and looked back in my logs and i pretty much was on the nose at doing 11 hours each week. Some drastically less. There was only 2 weeks i got in more - one at 13 hours and one at 15 hours (Fondo week of course). My weekly bike miles didn't even equal what i would be riding at one time. weekly miles!!! And it was only 7 weeks ago i decided to do it when i was able to 'on a whim' do the Garrett county Gran Fondo of 102 miles at almost 13000 feet elevation gain. With that - i decided i may be able to get to the finish line of a full IM as long as i didn't go for time.June 10th, 2 weeks prior to the Fondo i was 100% sure i would not do it! So i really do have the SMGF to thank. Well really my dear friend Kellyann who said lets do the 102 when we were both signed up for the 62. So, had she not encouraged me to just do the longer ride, i would not have had faith to go through with it. It was the deciding point for me...why not!!

Leading up to it, it didn't really seem like a big deal to me. I didn't feel like i was about to do anything different. Maybe it was because i didn't train for it properly like i have done with other events in my past or maybe it was because i just wanted to finish and i didn't have great expectations of me like i do in other events. Who knows. A few days before my friend Line, a great friend that has done a full IM as well, made it real clear to me that it "IS A HUGE DEAL!!!" i just wasn't feeling it at the time. But i thank her fro saying that as........

#640, pink bike, great spot in Transition

All i know is that when i arrived at transition the day before to rack my bike it all became very real to me finally! The excitement that filled my soul is unexplainable. I couldn't wait for the next day to be here. I walked around doing what i had to do with the biggest grin on my face. As if i were a child getting ready to go to the biggest amusement park ever the next day. LOL! The transition area was incredible. Right under the George Washington Bridge, not directly under but way below it at rivers edge with the most fantastic view of it.

not an easy run up to that bridge 17 miles in!
As for the training and preparing for a full IM - i would NEVER advise any athlete of mine to do it this way. I do however have a new perspective on ways to do it have you no time to put 6 months in and 20-30 hours a week. If i were to do it again, i would do as i did but with a little more - brick training would be a must to add in to get my legs use to running after biking. I just did not have enough time to do that. And had i started the bricks many weeks before i did, that would help too. Lots of positives in doing it this way - I feel that i did not have to deal with over use injuries as many do when they start in proper time for IM training and i didn't have to have the mental wearing either as there wasn't many weeks that i had to think about it much.
As for me  - well it was quite interesting as i went through the day realizing how much of many of my life's events helped me with my training and preparation for it. Things even from 10 years ago!!!

Here is how the day went:

2 am - beep beep - alarm goes off! UGH, only 3 hours of sleep. This was one of the most challenging parts of the day. 3 hours of sleep then up for 23 straight hours. Listening to other athletes that have done many IMs i learned that this was not how it normally is and the logistics of this race was crazy due to how it is set up all over the place (which was the only way to have it happen, so no complaints there, from me at least). There was no where to park at transition, it was simply a boat dock way below everything.... So the only way to do it was for the race to set up Ferries to there and then a ferry to the swim start. Which is why the morning had to start reallly early for everyone including volunteers. I got up better than i thought. i guess the excitement and anticipation.

3 am - drive to Hoboken (a very FUN town that i loved loved loved living in many years ago when i worked in NYC at the World Financial Center as their Wellness Coordinator).

4 am ferry to transition
4am - Ferry over to transition

5+ am - put food and fluids on bike and in transition bags that were set up in various places in transition

6 am - line up for ferry to start
getting off ferry to start the swim
630 am - ferry to swim start

7:27 am - start the swim
2.4 miles, 54 minutes, Fast course!

First off, yes, there was the scare that the swim may not happen due to a sewage leak of some nature. For the first time i was going to be real upset if the swim were to be cancelled. Other tris it would be a dream come true - HA. but not for this! Here is my first act of past things helping me with this training - i have swam in plenty of rivers that are probably much worse - The Allegheny (sp) and the Mongohala (sp). The Allegheny was just 2 weeks ago and it too almost got cancelled due to contamination. So i had already trained my head to not let that get to me. River swimming as well. I had recently swam in a river which can be a bit scary..for some. the ferry to the start i was freaking a bit as the Hudson looked pretty scary, much bigger than the others. So i just kept visualizing the Pitt Tri i just did and remembered i handled that ok so lets do it again.

YES i had a great swim. Yes it was 2.4 miles. And yes, it was a very very fast course. But in comparison to the other swim times, i knew from that that i still had the swim of my life as the gap between me and the leaders where not nearly as much as usual.  AND - I felt great!
NO i am not all of the sudden this super fast swimmer - this swim was fast! The second half was all with a current. Thats 1.2 miles having HUGE help. I probably would have been more around 1:10-1:15 without the help of the current. It was the perfect course for me though.
But, regardless, for the first time it felt like the swim came together for me. And the times in comparison to others show for it. I did not get that hyperventilating breathing going. Anxiety was kept under control. I was so happy to see i was in the mix instead of waaay behind as i normally am. It finally come together for me. And I hope that will stick. Will i be able to keep it under control in future tri swims - i hope. Each time is different. Something can easily set it off...i just hope to keep my focus as i did to keep it under control. This type of start was the perfect start for me. Instead of a HUGE wave of people going off all at once, you basically had to start from 7 - 730 am. Its called a time trial start. I crossed the timing chip at 7:27 am, jumped into the river, had to spend a little time to set up my goggles etc... as i am not good with just jumping in and starting, i was fine with taking on the xtra time to do this as if i didn't i may not have had such a great experience. I got myself in a great spot away from the swimmers. They and the buoys were to my left and i breathe to my right so all i ever saw were the cliffs and rescue people on their boats kayakes boards etc.... At the beginning i almost went to that freak out phase when i thought about how far i had to swim, and that i had done the distance but in doing it i had a 1 minute break every quarter mile, i don't get the 1 minute break this time, can i do it without? But i quickly put my focus on form and never thought of it again. The water was not bad. It seemed much cleaner that the one in Pitt. Until the very end. YUCK - Sludge! the last 100 yards i would say was sooooooo muddy (at least that is what i say it was). So muddy you couldn't see anything but brown when your face was in water. some tried to start walking at that point since you couldn't see but the mud on ground was so deep you sank to your knees. i kept swimming till i got to the volunteers that were helping pull everyone out as you really couldn't do it on your own knee deep in mud. but some idiot guy pushed me aside and took my volunteer and i sank a little deeper. How rude!!!!

Transition 1 -
8 minutes
Got out of the water and as we walked up to Transition this guy looked at me and did about 4 double takes with an odd look on his face. LOL...this part cracks me up!!! he looks at me for a 5th time and says, "Ummmm....You have mud on your face." i wiped it and he said, "umm. no still there, kind of looks like you have a mustache!" Heehee!!! wiped the mud mustache of and he said i still had some on my chin. YUCK! i have to say that was a first! Volunteers basically ripped off your wetsuits for you, walked down to my bike gear bag and picked it up and into the changing tents. I planned on about 15 minutes per transition. And i meant it. I was not there to get some crazy fast time. But the volunteers really rush you through. (have i mentioned how incredible the volunteers were - unbelievable, they were absolutely amazing!!!) Which is great as most probably want to get out of there fast. I was a bit taken by surprise and didn't know how to take it and felt rude if i told them i was taking my time, so i got out in 8 minutes instead of 15.

112 Miles, 8800 Feet Elevation Gain, HOT & HUMID & BLAZE SUN
6 hrs 33 minutes, 17.1 AVG,

me being my goofy self
The bike!!! How fun. I really did have a blast on the bike! In fact. I thought at 112 miles i would be bored to tears. I actually really enjoyed the bike portion of the IM. The course - HILLY! Different kind of hills though than we have in Garrett County. Not as steep, but looooooooonnnnnnggggg never ending slow moving climbs. So, i found it not as hilly as i expected but it slowed you down for sure and used up every single gear. It kind of beat my legs up a bit. Or may have been the heat. The heat or more so the humidity was soooooo brutal. It really caused a lot of issues with everyone! OMG. so steamy and hot! i have never dumped so much water over me. Not even at the Eagleman. But regardless. I had a blast on the bike. i felt great the entire time. The course was 2 out and backs. About 28 out then back. Out of transition you have that darn 2 mile climb to get up to the Palisades Parkway. Thank goodness we only had to do that once. But the out and back part any hill we climbed would be done again. Any downhill you enjoyed would eventually be a hill to climb. No problem. Was the perfect course for me. THe far section of the course was quite rough roads but was fine for me. Others had issues with crashing and many water bottles and even bke bags were flying off bikes and creating a ton of debris on the roads. That made me a bit nervous.
Around mile 80 i certainly was feeling the "i didn't train for a full IM" feeling. but i just kept fueling and hydrating and making my way to the run. I did get a severe stitch in my side that i knew was going to be bothersome for the run. This happened to me at Savageman half IM 5 years ago.
Also, my Quads started to get little spasms in it that i knew if didn't go away would make the run rough. My plan on the bike was to stay comfortable. not push. I predicted about a 16 mph avg but was able to do more of a 17 with that feeling. So made up about 30 minutes here on my prediction. Here is how it went using the splits they have on the website:

Mile 0-11 - Avg 17.7 mph & mile 11-29 - Avg 19.3
This was the out part of the first loop. The 17.7 incorporates that first hill out of transition that is about 2 miles and super slow moving. The 2nd part of the out was perfect. Probably mostly a drop in elevation but with some long climbs though. But easily able to keep a nice high avg.

Mile 29-47- AVG 17.7
This was the first part of the back.... Much more elevation gain so controlled the avg back in the 17s. Wasn't watching watch (until lunch break) just giving feedback based on splits and how course was. And how it felt.

Mile 47-64 - AVG 15.4
HA. LOL. Lunch Break! This was fun to watch my watch slowly start dropping the avg.
In IMs you can have a bag drop at the half way point in the bike and run where you can have whatever in it. You don't get it back though so no valuables - sunblock, food, socks etc.... I planned to have a 10 minute lunch break when i got to my bag. but i did almost skip it as i was feeling so great on the bike and didn't want to stop and have my avg start dropping. But then i quickly reminded myself what i was there for - certainly not for a time...i just wanted to finish. So i quickly got out of that thought process and stopped and took my 10 min lunch break to eat my sandwich re do my food box on bike and food in shirt pockets. After that i got back on crossed the next timing chip and had to make another pit stop as they didn't have the fluids with the bags. So went to next aid station and spent a few minutes re doing all my bottles, hit the bathroom and re applied sunblock. When i got back on the bike the avg was still in the 17s (fallen from the 19s) so i was pretty pleased to see that. I thought that much time would be a lot worse.

Mile 64-83 - AVG 17.9
2nd time on the out. Back to normal with my avg. I have always been a pretty consistent rider and runner so seeing this shows me that even in a long event i was still maintaining consistency.

Mile 83-101 -AVG 15.7
2nd time on the way back. MAJOR wind has now picked up. Too bad it didn't bring rain with it. It did rain about 3 times for 1 minute. What a tease. all it did was make the humidity situation worse. I guess that strong wind just blew it through so fast we didn't get more of it and then the blazing sun would come out steaming up the roads and our faces. UGH! I did not fight the wind, i eased up to save my legs for what was to come....the run!

Mile 101-112 - AVG 16.6
Average for the entire 112 miles - 17.1 mph! :-)
Made way back to transition. Stage 2 of the IM is over!!! WOW!!! Dismounted and that cramp in side was so bad i couldn't stand straight up, the bike helped not notice it that much. And quads were still in complete spasm that walking was not working. Uh Oh! Not sure if both were happening due to lack of training or the heat and humidity or lack of salt tablets - probably the combo of all 3!!!!

Transition #2:
12 minutes

I knew i was trouble with how my side and quads felt. The wonderful volunteers grab your bike for you and you make your way down to where your run gear bag is. I picked it up and back in to the changing tents. In the tent i did as you would - got ready for the run, put on dry socks and put on my my run shoes. At the exit of the tent, had to stop to try and stretch the side cramp out, the pounding of running made it hurt so bad - as if a really big sharp knife was stabbing me. I was talking to one of the volunteers there and she said that i need more salt tablets - darn, what was i thinking. i did plenty of electrolytes with my fluids but the tablets would help absorb the fluids so you wouldn't get that horrible cramp and that bloated pregnant belly, which yes i had too!!!! Unfortunately there were no tablets there in tent.  My quads too were an issue. not as bad as they were about to become though. i eventually made my way out of transition, still 3 minutes ahead of plan.
Going to have to run up to the top deck of that bridge!!!

26.2 miles, 3200 feet elevation gain, HOT & HUMID & HILLY!!!!
5hrs 12 minutes, 11:55 AVG
At first aid station i stopped to get the salt tabs. By mile 4 i would say the side cramp settled down. By mile 10 the quads were in such complete spasm they were trying to take me to the ground.
Here is a bit about the run. The run was the hilliest run i have ever done. Puts where i live to shame. However, it was only on a 4 mile stretch that you did 4 times. So im sure the area is not as hilly as where i live. But if you were to put a few of the biggest hills in Garrett County and put them in a 4 mile stretch - thats pretty much what it was. Straight up, straight down and again and again and again.
Of course, had to get up that one out of transition first and then never have to see it again - phew. Everyone was walking, i ran walked it. I had to walk due to the side cramp as it was dealing with the bounce of running. I felt great otherwise. I ran most of it, and even though real slow it felt fast as i went by many of the others walking it. Once at the top you started on the 4 mile stretch that you do 4 times to bring you to 16 miles in the run. Very beautiful run. Up and down the cliffs. I'm sure the downs did not help my quad situation. I did great on the ups though. I'm telling you i had so much energy and felt great (other than the quad things and 4 miles with the side cramp). And i looked great next to the others around me. But then mile 10 happened. The quads fought back! They wanted to get into a tug o war match with the rest of me! Poor things didn't have a chance winning with my head. They almost took me to the ground. I stopped to stretch them out. I could not take a normal stride, in fact walking was impossible as the stride for walking was too long for the quads. i had to keep a very particular stride for the quads to be able to continue. A very very short stride. So for 16 miles i had to completely focus on keeping that stride, As soon as i lost it - not good. For 10 miles i had to stop every 2 -5 minutes (no, i am not exaggerating, it was the only way i would get to finish) as my quads would start to lock up and i knew another step my knees would be taken to the ground and i probably would be in need of a medic. And on the injured list the rest of the year. So i paid real close attention to the quad signals. Body awareness - its HUGE. When i got the signal i stopped and stretched again. Every 2 - 5 minutes. It was quite annoying as even with this going on everything else felt great. I had such great energy, and the rest of my legs just wanted to go, but as soon as i would - it brought me to a tree to stretch and prevent. UGH! there were some times i didn't think the quads would let me continue. i said to one guy i was with that i dont think i am going to be able to finish. I thought i was going to have to get a medic. UGH. But i stretched it a little longer and got back into that keep that real small stride and don't worry about how long it takes you. It was that medal that kept me figuring out a way to get to the finish. And that i finally let you all in on what i was doing so i knew i would be asked if i finished.
The course - UGH. I was so sick of that same 4 miles. It was fun the first time but the 2nd time around i just wanted to get out of it. Mile 16 - finally done with those crazy ups and downs. At least on that same stretch.  I heard many other athletes saying they have done 8+ IMs and have never experienced such a hilly course. Again, the perfect course for me had my quads let me go with my energy. I was there to finish. And i reminded myself that many times. The focus on the stride was mentally exhausting but i got there. So, now you have to finish that mile up hill to get out of the park. Then when you think the hills are done we turned the corner and had a mile to get up to the GW bridge- all up hill.and long. Then up and down the stairs to get on upper deck of GWB
 Mile 19 - you are now in NYC and the rest wasn't too bad, some little ups and  downs. It was the absence of the big downhills that helped me get a little more running in before having to stretch the quads again. So my time started getting a little better. By no means though were the quads better, just took a bit longer for them to give me the im going to snap now feeling. So the downhills could have been why the quads got as bad as they did.
10 years ago from now i hiked the Appalachian trail in 5 months. Here was another time i realized how life events has helped me train for this without realizing it. Although the AT still remains the most physically and mentally challenging thing i have ever done, it was that that helped me get through this IM. When my quads would make me feel as if they weren't going to take another step, i used a lot of remembering to get my mind to remember how the many times i didn't think i would make it to the end of a hike, each day every day!. i would remember the hardest days i had out on the trail and remind myself if i can make it through that i can fight these quads off and get to finish. The AT made me much tougher mentally. I truly believe that it helped me get to the finish.
strong at the finish
The last 3 miles i got a big lump in my throat as i got choked up realizing I'm going to do this. I may have to stop a few more times to stretch the quads to get there but i was going to slowly get there!!!! I had a really strong finish And i was only 12 minutes off my prediction for the run.
Dealing with the quads, especially knowing how my energy and rest of body felt great to allow me to have a fantastic run, was exhausting, but it is that that made the emotions of finishing that much more grand!!!! It was my quads VS my mind and rest of body. The Quads had no chance of winning!!! not when matched up with my mind!

Sleep deprivation really kicked in mid run. I had that fuzzy eye feeling and the last few miles of the run i was yawning like crazy. Up for 23 hours straight on 3 hours of sleep was rough!

2.4 mile Swim, 112 mile Bike, 26.2 mile run = 140.6 miles!
13 hrs 1 min.


* The volunteers were amazing. i just need to say that again. truly amazing!
* the race is getting a lot of heat of complaints. I too was nervous of the logistics. They were pretty crazy even for an IM. The 2 am wake up calls to catch way early ferries in comparison to start time etc... The fact that you are a bit all over the place between NJ & NY, the August heat, the hilly courses, rough roads etc... But to me - it went so smooth from what i expected. i dont know what everyone is complaining about. Due to the complaints, they have pulled the 2013 registration out after sending out a message that it was open. No - i am not doing it again next year but not because of the logistics of the race, just no need to do another. And if i were i would try other ones. But i really do hope they keep it. It is so great to have such an event where i grew up. It is aggravating that people just have to complain instead of seeing the greatness about it.
* i know you all have the big question - "will i do another?" - well the answer is i don't know. I guess thats better than no. I do know i would still not train for it as most would. I just have no desire to put that much time into training. There is just way to much in life to do as well. however, i did the IM to finish, which as a first should be whats its about for anyone, if i do another i would like to take a little time off, see if i really can do 10 hours as many have told me i can and i feel i could. But i would do like this year with just a little more to help do that, i would have to incorporate bricks into my training. But the 6 hour rides each week - no thank you. And I'm in no rush. Maybe 5 years from now i will give it some thought. By then my son Ashton will be older.
* How do i feel now - GREAT. I thought i would be walking real funny on Sunday but my legs feel great. Sure, my quads were sore but they weren't that bad and i walk normal. nothing else hurts. My energy was crazy on Sunday. i wanted to go do it again on Sunday! HA! jk! but seriously probably thought it for a second - you know me! I have been eating a house, for real! but that really isn't anything different for me ;-) My timing chip chewed up my ankles so i have bad scabbing and may be a tad bit infected - that has been the most im dealing with. i have taken the last 3 days off - couch potato for sure, but i am itching to go run. i just know the importance of recovery and just because my legs feel good doesn't mean they are recovered so i am being good and doing what i am suppose to do - resting! will try to start some active recovery Wednesday.

* Whats next - Well, i signed up for the Savageman Half IM next month. I did sign up for this though with a goal in mind. I just am not sure if that will happen now as i will need to spend some time to properly recover from the IM. And with that, that may prevent what i need to do to be able to get under that 6 hour mark for the Savage course???? Stay tuned!!! Time to recover now!

* as much as this is hard to believe.....i know i am missing a ton of info. I wish i had a type writer in my brain when i do these things as i have so much more story. I can't remember all the example in life that helped me through this. But i so wanted to as when they came to me in the IM i was so excited to share with you all to help in future challenges you come across. And those don't have to be just races in mind. Any challenge in life there is something in you life that has prepared you for it and if you can embrace that you can find what it was to connect it with and next thing you know you are on your way! Did that make sense? ha! wish i could remember it all. My brain thinks a lot. but tough to remember it all after the fact.

The Thought of this medal is what got me to the end of the run. No way was i going to make it that far and not make it to the end missing out on my medal!!!


  1. WOW!!! Great Job Jen!! This is truly amazing what you accomplished. Very proud of you... Now, if I can just get you to swim 2.4 miles and bike 112 miles before the next marathon we do together, I might have a chance to beat you (as long as you didn't train for all of it). Congratulations on an amazing feat!

  2. What a story, what a gripping read, what a strong, determined, gutsy journey to your goal! I love it and was feeling every minute with you as you wrote it. Great photos. Again, I am so thrilled for you!!!