5 years ago in August 2007, I was limping around on crutches with a hip stress fracture. It was very slow to heal, and after 4 months and an MRI showing that it had made some healing progress but was still there, and being in constant pain whenever I tried to do anything active, I honestly wondered if I’d ever be able to run again. The idea of it seemed so foreign to me by then, so much so that one night I dreamed I was competing in an Ironman and woke up thinking how impossible that was. After a long period of healing, prayer, and struggling through recurring hip pain in a two steps forward, one step backward kind of way, that dream literally became a reality in 2010. I completed my first Ironman in Lake Placid and 2010, and not only won my age group and the amateur race but broke the amateur course record by 10 minutes. I remember shedding a tear or two in the final mile leading up to the finish to think how far God had brought me in just three years!
Two years later in 2012, I still haven’t forgotten where I was 5 years ago. Thanks to a solid training plan from FFT and coach Eric, I’ve been injury-free for the past year and a half. Though I haven’t forgotten about the path I’ve taken to be able to compete in triathlon at the level I do, I don’t think about it on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Going out for a run is something I take for granted, that comes as naturally as breathing. I don’t worry before each run about injury recurring. Sometimes adversity propels us forward and motivates us to overcome. I’ve always believed that in Ironman, you truly need a reason for being out there that you will compel you to keep going when things get really, really tough. Prior to Ironman NYC, I began thinking more about the road I have travelled in the last 5 years. If I’d had a glimpse into what my life would be like in 2012, I’d have been beside myself with joy. I would have competed in this Ironman full of excitement from start to finish, even when it was painful, challenging, and even if I finished last. To know 5 years ago that I have the opportunities I now have would have been unbelievable, at least to me. So, before this race I decided that no matter how hard it gets, I’d remind myself that just a relatively short time ago, I’d have pretty much given my left arm to be competing like I do now.
As it turns out, I definitely needed it on Saturday! There were times when I did not want to continue, but one of the many reasons I gave myself for NOT dropping out was that just being here would have been a dream just a few years ago.
I’d decided I wanted to do Ironman NYC last year pretty much as soon as it was announced. It played to my strengths (and weaknesses!) with a downstream point-to-point swim, a hilly run course, and likely hot humid weather. It also offered a high number of Kona qualifying points. I was in!
To say the race was logistically complicated would be an understatement. However, I knew that would be the case when I signed up, and I think Ironman did a great job of pulling off an extremely complicated event in the most densely populated city in the US. Ironman also really did a lot of work to make sure pros were treated well at this particular race.
The pre-race events went like this: The pro meeting, typically 20 minutes, lasted a full hour while they went over all the details and strict schedule of race day events with us. The day before the race, we’d drop our bikes and gear bags off at transition via ferry from Manhattan to the transition area across the Hudson river in New Jersey, an approximately 30 minute ride each way. Then on race morning, we’d get on a ferry from Manhattan at 4:15am to be taken over to transition. Upon arriving at transition we’d have about an hour to setup our gear and take care of any last-minute details. At 5:45AM the pros would then board another ferry with just swim cap, goggles, and speedsuit to be taken to the swim start, 2.4 miles up the Hudson River. We’d then wait around on the swim start barge for another 30 minutes or so until the pro start at 6:50, at which point we’d all line up and dive off the barge into the Hudson to begin our race. I ended up receiving a $65 parking ticket while we were in the pro meeting since it took so much longer than usual and I didn’t have enough time on the meter.
To add to the headache, we then headed to our hotel in Manhattan, and were told that we were NOT allowed to bring our bikes in. We made a strong case that our bikes needed to come in with us (both for security and completing last-minute trainer workouts!) but they were extremely firm and would not allow the bikes into the hotel despite lengthy discussion. Well. I’d thought to ask about every other aspect of the hotel when I booked it, except “do you allow bikes inside the building?” We then headed to the welcome banquet for a couple hours to meet up with friends and by the time it was over, I was exhausted and more than ready for bed.
In the days leading up to the race, word was that the swim might be cancelled entirely due to a sewage spill in the Hudson about 15 miles north of the swim course. While that would be disappointing as having the swim cancelled would make this race feel like quite a bit less than an Ironman, swimming in sewage did not sound so appealing either. Finally, the day before the race around 5pm, they announced that the swim was ON.
After a so-so night of sleep, due to my own anticipation of race day and noise in the hallways of the hotel and outside, my alarm went off at 3:15 (which is officially the earliest I’ve ever had to wake up for a race) and after getting my food and coffee ready, hit the road at 3:45 to catch the pro ferry. As we stepped out of the hotel, the street was alive with people who were spilling out of the club across the street and hanging out chatting on the sidewalk, and definitely had not been to bed yet. Truly the city that never sleeps!
The two and a half hours leading up to the race felt quite long. There was a lot of hurrying to catch ferries, then waiting around. It was interesting to see everyone’s pre-race routine since all the pros had to travel around together in a confined space. Most of the other pros were in a fairly social mood and I met and chatted with several on the boat rides. On the ferry to swim start, we had the physically challenged athletes join us which was pretty amazing to see. Charlie Plaskon, a visually impaired 69 year old athlete who is often featured on NBC’s Kona coverage, sat down next to me on the ferry with his guide. He said this was going to be his 8th Ironman! There was another athlete who had lost both arms and was going to compete (without prosthetics, at least for the swim). Pretty amazing.
I was a bit nervous about diving off the barge as my goggles usually fill with water without fail and I did not want that to happen today. I suctioned my goggles to my head and tightened the strap until I was 100% sure they would not come off, and put on my swim cap over the goggles. Pretty soon the male pro start went off, and 5 minutes later, we were off!
Thankfully, my goggles stayed on and I found a small group to swim with. However, my head started throbbing about halfway through due to my tight goggles. It was actually making me a bit nauseous. The rough water didn’t help in that regard either. However, once we exited the water in 47 minutes, it was clear that the swim was in fact current-assisted! Still, I was with the last group out of the water so had significant ground to make up.
The bike was one of the truly challenging times of Ironman racing for me, in nearly every possible way. The course itself was not remarkably challenging- rolling ups and downs on a fairly boring 2 loop course that takes you up and down the Palisades Parkway x 2. From the start, my power meter refused to read, and even though I’d calibrated it properly before the race, it was showing an error. This was pretty distracting, as I’d wanted to rely on power to gauge my effort level throughout the race. I kept trying to calibrate it while biking, but had to wait until a significant downhill to do so, since you have to stop pedaling. For some reason it was taking forever and after several failed attempts, I finally got it to calibrate at mile 13. It then became apparent that the effort level I’d been holding was quite a bit less than what I’d been aiming for- about 20 watts lower. I tried to pick up the pace but when I did so, the pace was not sustainable for very long. I kept hoping things would turn around and tried to pick up the pace at various times, but was only able to do so for short periods. Around mile 40 I began to feel a bit nauseous again, but had brought coke with me in one of my bottles and sipping this really helped and I began to feel better. I was able to get down by bottle of First Endurance Kona Mocha EFS Liquid Shot, a bottle of First Endurance EFS Drink, and several bottles of on-course sports drink on the first loop of the bike.
At the halfway, I grabbed my special needs bag- an extra bottle of First Endurance EFS drink, and an Odwalla chocolate protein smoothie. At this point I decided it was really time to pickup the pace and go for it, but again was only able to hold my goal pace for a short period of maybe 10 miles. I started to worry that maybe I was simply having a bad day, and what if I felt even worse on the run? I still had only passed one pro woman with about 15-17 still ahead of me. I started to have many different thoughts. Would it be worth finishing this race if I didn’t come anywhere close to meeting my goals? When it comes down to it, I knew that anything can happen in an Ironman, it’s such a long race, and there is ample time for feeling bad and feeling great. Plenty that feel great now will have their “lows” on the marathon. And above all else, painful as it is, it is truly a gift to be able to compete in an event like this. I decided it was time for my first dose of First Endurance Pre-Race of the day, and started to feel more energetic. In retrospect, I should have taken some before the race but have never raced an Ironman with it and was unsure of the effect multiple doses throughout the day would have.
During the last 20 miles of the bike, I was starting to get passed by a certain number of age group males. Most of them would pass and keep going at a decent pace, but a few would make the pass and then slow down a lot. The 3rd or 4th time this happened, it was a group of 4 men and their pack was taking up the whole road. After dropping back a bit I picked up the pace and passed them all. After a minute or two I heard the ref motorcycle come up behind me but instead of passing me, came up beside me for about a minute and gave me a red card, but didn’t tell me for what. HUH?! I was told I had to stop at the next penalty tent. Since this was the first time I’ve gotten a penalty in a race, and try hard to pay attention to drafting distance and following the rules, usually overly so, I was both shocked and confusing and frustrating at the same time. I was 100% done with this bike course. Apparently I was not alone and many pro penalties were given out that day, particularly by this woman who’d given me the penalty. Once I stopped at the penalty tent, I asked where I could find out what rule I’d broken and they said “they didn’t tell you? They’re supposed to tell you.” They also asked if it was a woman who’d given out the penalty and when I said yes, they said everyone had been complaining about her.
While waiting for my 4 minutes to pass, which seemed like an absolute eternity, my frustration turned to anger and a desire for redemptionand a good finish at this race. I decided to start a new page on the run and move up as much as possible. I reminded myself that this was a very challenging, hot and humid run course and many had gone very hard on the bike, which would mean carnage on the run course, even for pros. I thought if I could hold it together and have a good run I might have a chance at a top 10 finish. Not what I’d originally hoped for at this race, but still respectable.
The NYC run course is truly unique among Ironman run courses- the first 16 miles feature significant climbs and descents- no flat here- just up and down- and then climbing several FLIGHTS of stairs up to the GW bridge at mile 16, and across the bridge itself. Then, at mile 17.5, back down several flights of stairs down to the Manhattan side. Then you then get some flat, but your legs are too tired at that point for it to feel easy. All in all, 1500 feet of climbing on the run which definitely makes it the most challenging Ironman run course I’ve done.
I started off the run feeling OK. As the miles progressed I began to feel better and better, and one by one, started passing pro women. Throughout the run, I passed 6 women to move up to 10th place by mile 15, while 5 pro women ended up dropping out on the run. Running over the GW bridge at mile 16 was one of the highlights of the race for me- I was feeling relatively good, the view was incredible, and I only had 10 miles to go. However, it was hot and humid and it was clear that I was running out of salt pills. I stopped at every aid station from mile 18 onward to chug sports drink and coke, get several cups of ice and take a salt pill. I decided to stop paying attention to what mile I was on at that point- each remaining mile of an Ironman feels like an eternity when you’re at that pojnt of the race- and just focus on pushing myself forward as fast as possible. Around mile 24, I saw Laurel Wassner behind me and she eventually ended up passing me and put about about a minute on me in the last two miles of the race. I was SO happy to cross that finish line even in 11th place. Though this wasn’t exactly the result I wanted, I was so glad to have not given up on this race. I saw Chris toward the finish cheering me in (he’d gotten up at 3:15 to come with me to the swim start and see me off and cheer me on as I was coming out of the water, but hadn’t been able to get back over to the NJ side to see the end of the bike and first part of the run with the crazy logistics). I ended up having the 4th fastest run of the day and though this race will not get me enough points to qualify for Kona, I’m thankful for a good season so far and to be healthy and injury free.
Since this was by far the most stressful IM I have done, the post-IM week therefore had to be the most relaxing! I had the best time in Montauk, NY at my parent’s summer cottage on the lake and my activities consisted of paddleboarding, floating in the water and doing some short open water swims, biking on the cruiser bike on trails overlooking the ocean, and relaxing and recovering making good use of my CEP compression socks to speed recovery, and eating all the great food that my mom made featuring lots of produce from her garden, locally caught seafood and lobster! The second half of the week featured a trip up to upstate NY for a wedding where (along with lots of other fun activities) we did the most AMAZING bike ride past picturesque farms, many cows, sunflower fields, and wildflowers.
Many thanks to Fast Forward Triathlon and coach Eric, FFT sponsors Inside Out Sports, First Endurance, Computrainer, Rudy Project, Cervelo, TrainingPeaks, CEP, Skin Sake, FS Series, Prevail Conditioning, and SPaRC for helping us to compete at the highest level! Thanks also to my family, friends, and training partners for pushing me and supporting me not just on race day but on a daily basis.