Sunday, September 1, 2013

Ironman Kalmar Race Report

This last two weeks has been an adventure that I'm struggling to put into words, from Ironman Kalmar in Sweden to Challenge Penticton in Canada a week later.  I'll break it out into 2 or 3 posts, so stay tuned for stories of a few pints with legends of Triathlon Mark Allen, Chris "Macca" McCormack and Lothar Leder.

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away.....I Embraced the Suck

Jenna-Caer Seefried You ARE an Ironman 10:56

I craved hearing those words, I imagined them as those long rides and long runs piled up.  At the end of the day it wasn't those words that satisfied me it was a day of overcoming challenges to accomplish what I had worked so hard for that was the most fulfilling.  It was also crazy to be in a country that my mom's side is from, I remember as a girl my Grandma trying to teach me some Swedish...I wish I had paid more attention!

First off, the day didn't quite go to plan, but I've heard that planning Ironman is like trying to land a man on the moon - by remote control - blindfolded.  It took me a little bit to get over not racing to my physical capacity, to know that I should have been able to win my AG fairly comfortably.  But then I looked back on my expectations before the race, when I started this I thought it was crazy to believe I could come in under 13 hours.

2 Days before the race:

Ok I hadn't planned travel too well, getting to Kalmar involved driving 2 hours to Edinburgh, then a 2 hour flight to Copenhagen, followed by a 3.5 hour train ride to Kalmar.  Next time I wont cheap out on the travel.  The train was the stressful part.  Apparently only part of the train was going to Kalmar, trying to figure out if we were on the right train, finding a spot for the bike that didn't piss people off and which carriage we had to be in made it hectic and we arrived at 11:30pm.

Day before the race:

Still no nerves just waiting for race day.

It was 1.5 miles to the expo from the hotel, so kept my legs moving checking out the expo and registering.  Totally off topic...walking is tough!  I walked 3 miles and my feet were aching!  I can do a 22 mile long run and my feet feel fine, no soreness, but walking is a whole other story...speaks to specificity.

Back on track - I had missed the pre race athlete meeting the day before...hopefully I didn't miss anything important figure as long as I don't screw up the order and try to bike run swim I should be ok.  Kalmar was adorable, pastel painted houses, families riding around on bicycles and cobblestone roads, it was just what I pictured.

(There were barely any cars around, everyone cruised around on bicycles! You never see this in North America)

The special pre race dinner at the hotel was some cold pasta and spaghetti sauce.  Luckily I brought along some provisions, some oatmeal with peanut butter cinnamon and maple syrup...yummy my favourite.  I slept like a baby that night, still wasn't feeling nervous, I felt ready and knew the day would come faster if I slept.  So bed at 9pm and out like a light.

Race Day

3:30am Alarm goes off.  Breakfast at 4 am - I cant say I'm too strict on what I eat race morning, I have a general guideline but eat what looks appetising.  Luckily I seem to manage my stomach pretty well during races.  This mornings breakfast was a bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon, peanut butter and real Canadian maple syrup (all of which I brought from home), some cherry juice that looked good, pineapple, an egg, and the secret weapon a few cookies!  And coffee, oh the coffee...I didn't have any coffee race week so that I would be more sensitive to the caffeine and that hit of caffeine felt sooo good.  Especially since the Swede's make it high octane!

(I'm tellin ya its all about the cookies)

The Swim

(A bizarre two loops of a triangle like shape, followed by a half circle...I get lost in out and back swims!)

Ah there are those familiar butterflies, just in time the nerves have showed up, but luckily the butterflies waited until after I had digested my breakfast so stomach was feeling solid.

Wedging myself into wetsuit is always nerve wracking, whether in a race or practise I feel claustrophobic and know that an open water swim is to follow.  I struggle a little more than usual to put it on, hands shaking a little bit thinking about the day ahead, but take my time to make sure that I have extra room in the shoulders and everything is where it should be.

Getting into the water was surreal, I had seen so many videos about Ironman starts, trying to imagine what it will be like to have 2000 other athletes in the water with me, what the washing machine will feel like as that cannon goes off and we all start on our individual fight to conquer Ironman.  I warmed up again like I imagine the pro's do, head in the water blowing bubbles, trying not to hyperventilate.  Thats about as far as my swimming lessons went so anything after that is anybodies guess.  I just wanted to get on my bike.  The water was so dark that I had to ask myself if I was closing my eyes when I put my head in the water.

 I don't know that I even heard the cannon, all of the sudden the water was churning around me, so I followed suit.  I started in a moderately aggressive position hoping to catch feet as they went by.  My biggest goal was to get out of the swim without expending too much energy and not getting too off course.  The first I did, the latter I'm not too sure.  The swim course we were advised was 3.96km not that I needed the extra distance, but I'm sure I tacked some onto that.  It was craziness the whole time was just in a crush of people it was hard to move forwards or backwards, and I seemed to keep getting caught behind people doing the breastroke!  My plan to draft didn't go so well but amazingly stayed calm and no panic attack in the water, 2nd time in a race!  The wind had picked up and there was a lot of chop on the water, once again like Barcelona was swimming either up or down, made my limited sighting ability more obvious, as I took on water trying to sight at the bottom of a wave.

1:28:33 - I survived and was so damned happy to be out of the water.

The Bike 5:36:29

I took my time in transition trying to make sure I had everything on the bike.  Once my feet were clipped in and we were on the road I was ecstatic.  My stomach however...not so much.  I had swallowed a fair bit of water and the first hour of the bike couldn't take much in as it was threatening to come back up, stayed calm, sipped when I could and eventually it evened itself out.  I felt phenomenal on the bike, watts were coming easily, and without the brutal scottish roads, and not having to wear a rain jacket my speed was faster than in training and HR was right where it should be, low end of MAF.  I was just cruising, then we hit the Island, and the crosswinds began!  It was tiring fighting to keep the bike going in a straight line, the loop was a rectangle with crosswinds on the long edge, with wide open planes so nothing to shield you from it.  All I could do is continue to battle it and stay within myself, I did get a little boost in this section though!  I had a team mate recognise me and give a little motivation as he went by, that gave a mental boost.

I spent most of the bike ride just spot checking, how's my HR, can I take in more calories, am I pedalling efficiently, where is my power output.  At 110km I got this hit of energy and just felt on top of the world, I smiled at all the crowds on the bike course, gave thumbs up to eveyrone who cheered.  I learned that any energy you gave the the crowd you got back 10 fold.  It was feeling too easy everything was right on target...little did I know what was to come...

At this point I was averaging over 21mph, heart rate was low end of zone 2 so well within where I could sustain all day and run fresh.

Then my seat dropped, I hit a wicked bump and my seat dropped nearly to the bottom.  It wouldn't stay up.  This happened 30 miles from the finish, longest 30 miles of my life.  It went from feeling like a comfortable ride to hips burning when I tried to push the pedals.  I was using completely different muscles to push the pedals, ones I needed to run well, an they burned because they had never been asked to do this before.

It actually hurt riding my bike, I tried to alternate standing and sitting but it just burned, so backed the power and speed way off and just tried to limp into transition hoping to still run well.

The Run - 3:39

Pain.  In training I always feel fantastic off the bike, even on rides where I'm holding higher watts than what I race at, its easier to run than to stop running, I can hold 7:40 pace all day with HR at Zone 2.  So I had some high expectations for this run.

Unfortunately I stressed out some vital muscles in my new bike position specifically the hip flexors, I got off my bike and I was limping they hurt so much.  But pain I can run through.  So I took time in transition tried to stretch so I could run upright and got out there.  I was finishing this no matter what.

I stopped to stretch a few times, walked the aid stations and just tried to keep the pain in check.  It hurt but I could grit my teeth and keep going.  Around mile 13 the pain started to go away and I started to loosen up...little did I know I would wish the pain would come back, at least I could run with it.

On the bright side, energy and stomach were solid the whole race.  I took in more than planned on the bike because stomach felt good, and way more on the run, but both of those could be because of the lower intensity on the bike and run that I do in training.  2000 cal on the bike and about 700 on the run.

Enter the Leaning tower of Kalmar (as it was dubbed by a friend).  My right side seized up, it didn't hurt, the muscles just contracted and it took everything I had to try to stay upright, I was crunching my left abs and obliques trying to straighten up, but they started to fatigue and give in they couldn't fight the opposing muscles.  So I just ran.

(Cant straighten up because it hurts, but still upright)

(About 6 miles from the finish, the leaning has started, I'm fighting to stay upright)

(Abs and obliques on the left side have completely given in I can fight the lean so just trying to run without falling)

That last 7 miles were the longest of my life, I have run that distance so many times.  It was so hard my head was screaming at me to straighten up and run, but my muscles just wouldn't respond.  So frustrated because I still had energy, stomach was strong, head was in the right place but I couldn't fight the lean.  I lost that race in the last 7 miles.  The last mile took me over 11 minutes, I could see the finish line, but I kept falling over into the barriers, I was completely off balance, and could barely stay on my feet.  Apparently it looked like I bonked hard, but I still had plenty of fuel and energy.  I was caught a few times by the crowd and had to fight off assistance.  I could see that finish line.  I watched 1st & 2nd place run by me in those last 7 miles.  I should have been miles ahead.

I stumbled across that finish line and was told to stop and was put on a stretcher.  I couldn't even straighten up for my finish line photo.

Honestly I was upset at the finish line.  I had had harder training days physically and had a lot left in the tank energy wise, I knew what I was capable of and a mechanical made it a tough pill to swallow crossing the finish line much slower than I thought.  However it did feel so good to cross that finish line, and to have the confirmation that mentally I have what it takes for this race.  When my body was failing there wasn't any thought of stopping, just my head screaming at me to push harder.  I did blow away my original expectations of 13 hours, and it was an amazing experience to run with the crowds of Kalmar cheering along, I swear the whole country came out to cheer the crowds were so deep.  

But it was my First Ironman.  I will be back, if I wasn't hooked before this fired me up even more.  

I did get cheered up by the awards ceremony!  I've never won a trophy before, I wasn't into sports as a kid - I was the chubby kid that got picked last and had zero interest in moving unless I had to, and no hand eye coordination to speak of.  So this was a first, the crowd at the ceremony was unbelievable they cranked the music everyone on their feet clapping to the music and chanting it was such a rush to be called up to the stage!

(Rocking my MaccaX Embrace the Suck Shirt)

One hell of a day, and its been a journey I will never forget to reach that finish line.  I had so much support going into this race, I couldn't have done it myself.  

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