Thursday, August 08, 2013

Nailed my first Ironman 140.6 miles: Vineman 2013

Doing my first Ironman is like falling in love for the first time.

Throughout the race, I was pleasantly surprised at the incredible peace and ease at which I swam, bike and ran.

The swim has traditionally been my weakest and most challenging portion of the race.

On race morning, I was unusually calm and in good spirits.

The race started at 6.30 am. My swim wave started at 6.36 am. Russian River is clear, calm and shallow. For the first time in any triathlon race, I swam with ease and confidence, and came out of the water 3 mins faster than I expected. Good start to a long day!

Training for Vineman started in Nov 2012. For 8 months I lived, breathed, ate, slept, dreamt, talked and thought nothing but triathlon.

Through all of this, my husband has been my biggest cheerleader and supporter. On days when I wanted to opt out of training for the excuse of spending time with him, he firmly said no, go out and train, or you'll not be yourself. By saying I won't be myself he meant I won't be the super hyperactive Angie who thrives on endurance training adrenalin. And those daily shots of adrenaline that comes from training makes up my very DNA which, if not taken for a day, throws me off balance and into a low state.

If you think I'm an endurance junkie, you're probably right, which is why when I sustained a nasty hamstring/calf injury on my right leg 4 weeks into the race and I couldn't run or train effectively for 1.5 weeks, I was rather down, anxious and worried that I would not be able to compete at all. But my triathlete friend, GR, who saw me through my training taught me to apply the human factor to my training – to listen to my body, to rest when needed, not to take each training session as a killer session, to learn to train by feel, and most of all, to trust the process.

If not for him, I wouldn't have done as well as I did in the race.

He taught me Pacing, Nutrition, Execution (PNE).

I carried those 3 words with me into the race. You see, an Ironman race is long. Professionals complete it in 8-9 hours; for most everyone else, i.e. the age groupers, we complete it in anything between 9-17 hours.

I took the number in between and based on my current capability, estimated an overall finish time of 13-13.5 hours.

In order to complete within that target finish time, I have to ensure that I pace myself - to swim, bike and run at my trained speed, and not to go out too hard and fast at the start when I feel fresh, only to be depleted midpoint and slow drastically down at the end portion. I'm glad to report that I paced myself evenly throughout the entire race, as I kept drilling the 3 keys words in my head: Pacing, Nutrition, Execution.

Race day isn't about hoping for a miracle that I'd be able to go faster and finish in incredible time. Race day is all about Execution: executing your race pace and sticking to the plan. I can't expect to do on race day what I haven't done in training. In the past that was the mistake I made and so I didn't fare well in those races, but for this important Ironman race, I sobered up and realized that race day is all about executing what I know my body is capable of accomplishing.

Coming out of the 2.4-mile swim in 1 hour 37 mins, I smiled. The hardest part of the race (for me) was over! Now all I have to do is bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles.

I got onto the bike with ease, enjoyed the ride, and savored the beauty of Sonoma County. The entire bike course was flanked by wineries and vineyards on the left and right, and in the horizon, green and golden mountains. I must have looked rather silly smiling and beaming on my bike while the other competitors raced the course.

If there was a miracle that happened on race day, it was the weather. Sonoma County has traditionally been extremely hot in the summer, and the past few years during Vineman, the temperature averaged the high 90s Fahrenheit (30s Celsius).

Miraculously, the weather on race day this year was in the 60s Fahrenheit (10-ish Celsius), which I saw as a sign that God has my back on this race. He set the stage and made everything perfect for me and the rest of the participants that day.

During the bike portion, I religiously took in my nutrition: a combination of Lara Bars, Clif Bars, Clif Shot Bloks and Team Osmo Hydration Drink.

It's important to have your nutrition come in different shapes, sizes and medium for variety sake and to prevent boredom on the bike; well at least for me, this formula seem to work out very well. I had no gastrointestinal (GI) or bloating issues.

I wasn't racing anybody. I was simply executing my race plan. And I wasn't hard on myself - I allowed myself to hit the bathroom twice on the bike, doing ahem, both a big and a small number, slowly wheeling in to the aid stations and stopping to take a minute of rest, thank the volunteers and chatted with and encouraged other triathletes. I wasn't just racing - I was enjoying every moment of the day. I knew it was gonna be a long day, so I didn't wanna be hard on myself but to enjoy it with other people.

I've never ridden 112 miles in one stretch without longer than an hour break in between before, so by the time I was done, I was very pleased and knew that with the swim and bike conquered, the run was just gonna be a blast - coz I love the run the best.

During training, running after biking always hurts - my chest would hurt, my heart rate would escalate, and my legs would feel heavy like lead. Brick runs (running after biking) was my least favorite part of training because it spells PAIN.

Imagine my surprise when I got onto the run course - I thought I was gonna hurt, but no, I felt incredibly good! So good it was almost unbelievable. I felt no pain, no discomfort, just sheer joy and the ability to run easily after over 9 hours on the swim and bike.

So ran I did. Smiling most of the way. I received numerous cheers from supporters for holding a good form and pace and smiling widely despite the brutality of the run that most of the triathletes on the course were struggling with. Many walked the course, especially uphill. I'm glad to report that I ran the whole way through, even uphill, when nobody else did, and walked only the aid stations and stopped to use the portable loo twice.

A number of times my right calf and knee hurt, but each time it did, I prayed and asked for the Holy Spirit to flow through my body, into my cells and muscles. God answered every bit of my prayer, and held me up strong throughout the run, till the finish line, where I sprinted the last 200 meters and was announced as a first time finisher as I smiled and raised my hands in victory. I did it! I finally nailed this dream that eluded me 2 years ago when I failed to complete it in Germany.

My official finish time: 14:15:38

The victory is sweet, but not as sweet as the lessons learnt along this journey that made me mature as a triathlete. Would I do this again? For sure. Even if I have a baby, I'm determined to train through my pregnancy and come back even stronger and speedier than before.

Having competed in several half Ironman distance races and experienced the pain and brutality of those races, I've often questioned myself if I could really complete a full Ironman – which would demand double the distance, pain and agony. Little do I know how miraculous the human mind and body is - crossing the finishing line on July 27, I give my Master Creator the fullest credit for His handiwork in me - for fearfully and wonderfully creating me to be the endurance athlete that I am. And I vow to glorify Him always, in all my sporting pursuits.

I'm thankful also, for the amazing support I've received from those who love, care, encourage and cheer me on for the past many years, who believed in me and never doubted my ability to do this. My husband, family, pastors, friends, coaches, fellow triathletes - my success is every bit yours - thank you for helping me reach for the stars. 

My cheerleader & most supportive spouse

My support team and incredible housemate, Ash - first time anybody made me a poster!
(psst.. he's super sweet, single & available!)

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