Sunday, September 30, 2007

By Popular Demand...

I was asked to include my race report from Arizona Ironman 2006. I don't know if there is anything that I wrote about that others are just waiting in anxious anticipation for. I hope that it at least provides entertainment.

I made it to the FINISH LINE!

I want to thank everyone who sent me messages of encouragement last week as I was getting ready for Ironman Arizona. Your quotes, prayers, and thoughts of you logging on to helped get me through some of long and mind-numbing parts of the course as well as the physically tough ones as well.

When I arrived in Phoenix on Friday, I was greeted by my wonderful friend Cathy Breig at the airport who traveled out to see me race and to be a volunteer on the run course. We got checked in at the hotel and made our way to find some lunch and then to go get checked in at the Athlete Village. I proceeded to sign my life away on the waiver, get weighed in, tagged with a wrist band, and was given explicit details about all of my gear bags, bike check-in, my timing chip, and my black swim cap with my race number written on it in black permanent marker by one of the helpful and very comical volunteers named Don. I then got suckered in to pre ordering race photos and spent an amount of money that I will not reveal to my husband on commemorative race clothing and souvenirs. Heck, how often do you do one of these things—Live BIG! I ran into one of the members of the gym where I teach my indoor cycling classes and he stopped in town on the way home from a business trip to see friends from the local Houston Racing Triathlon Club do the race and he said that he had my race number down and he would be cheering for me. I also saw someone that I had been coaching last year to get them started on their Ironman journey and he admitted that he was very nervous. I told him that it would be fine and that he should enjoy the experience. I talked to my coach and set a meeting time for the next morning and then went to the mandatory race meeting to learn all of the finer details of the race. I had a hard time sleeping that night as I was awoken by a bad dream that I did not have my wetsuit on and everyone was walking toward the start of the swim and then my Dad approaches me and tells me that he found out that they had one race spot left and he decided to sign up and do the race with me. I then woke up as I was frantically looking for a wetsuit and a bike for him to use. That was 1:30 am and I laid in bed for another 90 minutes trying to get back to sleep with no success, so I got up and started getting my gear in order.

After some breakfast and setting my gear by all of my gear bags, I did a double check that anything that I would need on the bike was in my Swim to Bike Gear Bag, and anything I would need on the run was in my Bike to Run Gear Bag, and that my Bike Special Needs Bag and my Run Special Needs Bag had food and other items that I would need at the 70 mile and 15 mile marks respectively. Cathy had a volunteer meeting at 9:00 am and I had a practice swim in Tempe Town Lake at 9:00 am. The water was a chilly 65 degrees and I was glad I had my wetsuit on. I did some easy swimming and swam out towards the start line to get a good look at the buoy line down to the first turn a mile away. After crawling out of the water, I was met by my coach, Anthony “Woofie” Humpage, and we went over my strategy for the next day which was just to finish and to finish strong. If I was going to race, then I needed to sign up for another race. We went over details of importance on the bike course and how to avoid some trouble spots that could lead to some flat tires. After getting things squared away, Cathy and I went to lunch and to run those last minute errands for things that I needed such as Velcro, Salt and Vinegar Chips for my Special Needs Bags, a Tic-Tac box to empty out and put salt tablets in and Velcro to my bike for easy access, Gatorade, and rubber bands. If anyone needs rubber bands, I have plenty that you can have. A 0.99 cent bag at Big Lots could last a small office for a year! I got my bike and gear bags and headed back to the Athlete Village for bike check in. After dropping off my stuff, we picked up some dinner at Whole Foods and had a nice picnic around the pool at the hotel. We watched Best In Show, a goofy movie about people who enter their dogs in dog shows to take my mind off of the race and then I collapsed into a nice dream-free sleep.

On Race Day I was up at 4:00 am and starting to get my double breakfast smoothie ready and to get my race clothing on. I loaded up all of the stuff that I would need for the race that I did not drop off the day before and started mixing up my energy gels and energy drinks with protein in them for on the bike. We drove out to the Athlete Village and I made the first of many trips to a Port-o-Can on the way to get my race numbers marked on my arms and my age put on my leg. With 2000 other athletes, I went to my bike and started to load on the bottles, spare tires, CO2 canisters to inflate the tires, food, and electrolyte tablets. After checking the tire pressure on my wheels, it was one more trip to the Port-o-can before I pulled on my wetsuit and made my way over the timing mat to activate my timing chip that I was wearing around my ankle.

At the dock where we were to get into the water, a volunteer was shouting into a bull horn to hurry and jump in or to push the person in front of us in and to swim out to the start line. The cold water was a little shocking as it seeped in through the zipper on the back, but soon it was warmed up to body temp. Before I had hit the water I had a couple of hits of a product called Rescue Remedy that my sports chiropractic doc had given me to help reduce stress. In the water I was pretty calm as I positioned myself along the line of buoys out to the first turn. I heard the announcer say that there were triathletes there from all 50 states and 30 countries around the world. Nearly 800 of the 2000 racers were doing an Ironman for the first time, and there were 385 women along with the men competing for a spot to go to the famous World Championship race in Kona, Hawaii. After the National Anthem and the gun, we were off and the water started churning like a washing machine.

It is true in a race like this that swimming is a contact sport! People are hitting each other with their arms and hands. Feet and legs are kicking other people in the head, torso, and arms. People are crawling over each other to get to the next buoy in the water. If you notice from the picture, we were swimming right into the sunlight so it made things hard to see with the light reflecting off the water. The picture shows how a lot of people were holding close to the shore, but my strategy was to stay at the bottom near the boats because that is where the buoy line was. If I had stayed to the shore then I would have had to swim further north to get to left turn and to start heading back. Once I slugged it out with all of the other people to get to the first turn, then the course headed north for 200 yds. It was still congested but then after the next turn to head back west and towards the swim exit, I found some “clean” water and I was able to really get some good swimming in. With the sun at my back, it was easier to see the buoys in the water and I continued to swim directly to them. Each one I passed I was only 3 to 10 feet away from the line. Along the entire course there were people in kayaks, jet skis, and boats in case someone needed assistance. I later saw in a video of the swim that one of the kayaker was capsized by one of the athletes trying to crawl up on top of the kayak to get out of the water. I am very thankful that I am a good swimmer! I felt very relaxed in the water and was able to keep a good pace. As I swam under the bridges towards the buoy that I would make one last turn to the left at to head back to the stairs, I decided that I needed to “take care of things” if you get my drift so that I did not have to wait in line at the port-o-cans in the transition area. That, I am afraid, is one of the less desirable aspects of the sport. After 2.4 miles of swimming, I made it to the stairs to climb out of the water and there were volunteers helping us up out of the water. I unzipped the wetsuit and then there were a barrage of volunteers forcing triathletes to the ground and peeling their wetsuits off of them as quickly as possible and getting them back up and pushing them off to the transition area.

I saw the time clock and I was not really pleased with my time, but what I had not realized was that the clock was started 15 minutes before our start for the Pro Racers. As I ran into the transition area, I ran over the timing mat that beeped as it picked up my timing chip and then I dashed to the rows and rows of gear bags to find my stuff to get on the bike. Volunteers were calling out people’s race numbers and they had our bags ready as we came running by. There was a men’s and women’s changing tent if you needed to change clothes, but I stayed in my race suit. All I did was dry off my feet, get some socks on, put on my cycling shoes, latch my helmet on, and grab my sun glasses. When I exited the tent two volunteers proceeded to slather sunscreen all over my body as I squeezed down another energy gel and some cold water. When I was shoved out of the area, I ran into the area where the bikes were on racks and started to count the racks like I usually do to find the one where my bike is. To my surprise, the volunteers had my bike ready and waiting for me out in the aisle for me. I grabbed my bike and trotted off to the bike mount line to cross over another timing mat to leave the transition area.

Once on the bike, the plan was that I needed to eat and drink as much as I possibly could in the first two hours and to keep up with my salt intake. I had my inhaler with me in case my asthma kicked in like it had when I was in Phoenix for the Rock n’ Roll Marathon in January or the SOMA Half-Ironman race last October. I proceeded to empty the bottle of Gatorade that was between my handlebars fairly quick and I started in on some water. There were several turns to maneuver, but I was able to find a stretch of road where I had enough time to dig out an Iced Chocolate Mint Clif bar with caffeine and start eating. By mile 12 I was done with 250 calories and 48 oz of fluids and I felt like I was going to burst. Some people get good at taking a foot out of the pedal and “taking care of business” and washing off with some water. I am not good at that skill. So now I am desperately looking out for a bush along the road that is big enough to get behind. I find a good candidate and think to myself that one of my running buddies Emily from Team in Training would be proud of me that I have gotten over the fear of hanging my rear end out for God and everyone to see. So there I am in a median, hunkered down behind an overgrown tumbleweed with car traffic racing by on one side and cyclists zooming by on the other hoping that a race official does not see what I am doing. The funniest look on someone’s face is the look you get when you stand up quickly from behind a bush and you are still pulling your shorts up. So, it was back on the bike and back to the task of eating a drinking. I took a few electrolyte tablets because even though it was pleasant on the bike when I started, it was starting to get warm. Miles 14 to 19 were uphill and into the wind. The Pro racers had been heading back in on the first loop for some time. I had to laugh because their aerodynamic helmets that were tear-drop shaped and pointy at the back made them look like human pterodactyls.

At the turn around we had to roll over a timing mat to make sure that no one had cheated and cut some of the course short and then it was into the second “Feed Station” Volunteers were crowded along the side of the road holding out bottles of Gatorade, water, bananas, energy gel, and oranges. The second aid station was manned by the Phoenix area of the Desert Mountain States Chapter of Team in Training. I got big cheers as I rode through and picked up more water. I had already started drinking my Accelerade with protein to keep the body from wanting to tap into muscle tissue for fuel. I started in on my second Clif bar, this time going for the Peanut Toffee Blitz with more caffeine. Around mile 25 I was desperate for another large tumbleweed, so I was keeping a sharp eye out for all of my options. I ended up having to crawl down in the ditch which is not an easy task in cycling shoes. As I made my way back into town the crowds and the noise grew as I pedaled down Rio Saledo Parkway and past Sun Devil Stadium at Arizona State University. After looping over the bridge and getting jazzed up by all the music and cheering spectators it was out for loop number two on the bike.

This loop was HOT and the wind had changed directions. I continued with my schedule of eating, drinking, and ingesting electrolyte capsules. At a third of the way into my second lap, the Pro racers started passing me by on their third and final loop on the course. It is a humbling feeling when you are working hard and the Pros move by you so quickly it is almost like you are standing still. I was seeing lots of people along the side of the road changing flat tires and I was thankful that so far, I had not succumb to that fate. Along the course, motorcycles were carrying race officials looking out for rule violators. There was a very sophisticated system where if you were in violation of a rule, you were either shown a yellow paper plate and your race number was taken down or you were shown a red paper plate and told to go to the penalty tent and sit out for four minutes. I did see people in the Penalty Tent, but I follow the rules so I never had to have a paper plate flashed at me. At mile 64 we had an area where race volunteers were handing out the Bike Special Needs Bags. I had packed mine with extra energy gel, a bag of the Salt and Vinegar chips and other necessities. I was always on the lookout for big bushes and tumbleweeds and by the end of the second loop I had consumed 168 oz. of fluids, 1090 calories of food, and 7 electrolyte capsules. At Rio Saledo Parkway, I saw my dad and caught him off guard with his camera. He was able to get some pictures once I looped around over the bridges and started on my third loop of the bike course. Once again, the crowds and the music boosted my spirits at mile 75 and I knew that I was going to be able to make it. I determined that my next stop would be at a Feed Zone rather than a tumble weed so that I could get some more sunscreen.

The third loop on the bike was much the same as the last two, but now there were fewer people out on the course. There was a thin haze of cloud cover that helped to take the edge off of the heat, but I continued with my plan for hydration and nutrition. I am not sure if it was the heat or just a coping mechanism, but I started singing songs from Sesame Street to pass the time. On the way back in, I made my second pass by Dave, Race Number 984, who was riding one of those collapsible folding bikes, with a pair of surf jams, a t-shirt, a flower lei, and flip flops on. The first time I passed him, he was pedaling bare foot and the cow bell attached under his seat was ringing away. Many of the volunteers on the bike course were members of the local Native American Indian tribes and they did a terrific job of traffic control and helping us out. The last loop over the bridge and back to the transition area was very exciting with all of the cheering crowds. 112 miles, 240 oz of fluids, 1290 calories of fuel, and 15 electrolyte capsules later, I was going to see if I had prepared well for the run. As the route brought us back in, the volunteers were there to take our bikes once we got off of them to take them back to the racks. What a treat! I am so used to having to do that myself.

The timing map beeped as we ran into the area with the gear bags and volunteers where shouting race numbers out to have our bags ready when we came by. In the change tent, it was much faster this time as I slipped on my running shoes with the elastic laces, dumped a cup of ice down the front of my race top, grabbed my hat and fuel belt and dashed out the door and ran past the cheering spectators and on to the 26.2 mile run course. My friend Cathy was right at the start of the run course under the Mills Ave. Bridge and she gave me a big hug and then shouted out to the crowds to say “Go Elizabeth!”, which they did and started cheering loudly. The echo under the bridge made it sound really loud. It was so very motivating that I started to cry and then was struck by the thought that I had done good with my hydration if I was still able to squeak out a few tears. My Dad was right around the corner to take pictures and the path was lined with spectators and volunteers who were handing out cups of Gatorade, water, fruit, energy gel, and cookies. I had done a great job on the bike of keeping my heart rate around 140 beats per minute and I wanted to continue to do that on the run. I walked on the up hill sections and ran on the down hill and flat sections. I walked through the aid stations when I needed to drink because running and drinking out of a paper cup is not a skill that I am very good at. It was HOT and the clouds that had been out were now gone. All along the run route were signs that people had made the day before to motivate the athletes. I had made one for myself to remember that I was doing this race for Chad, Eve, and John my Honored Teammates and especially in memory of my Mom who would have been very concerned about me, but very proud. I would see that sign on each loop of the run to keep me going. I continued to keep track of my salt/electrolyte intake as well as my intake of amino acid compound to keep my muscles from being used for energy for the body. I was glad that I was so diligent in doing this because now I was seeing strong men reduced to throwing up and passing out along the side of the course. I was glad that I could run and run as fast as I could, away from the terrible sound of miserable people. The volunteers were handing out cold, water soaked sponges that were great for wringing out over the head, stuffing down the front of back of the race top and using it to wipe off the sweat and grime on your face, neck, and arms. I was doing a good job of keeping my heart rate down, but the running was getting the digestive track moving. That meant more port-o-can stops and I tried to make them as quick as I could because it was so hot inside of them. I passed by the race venue again since each loop of the run was like a figure eight. I saw my buddy Cathy again and people were cheering and commenting on my great smile. I was just so happy that I was running! I saw my coach for the first time and he was asking me how I felt and if I had my inhaler. He said I looked good and to take it easy when I needed to. As I headed out the other direction to run around Tempe Town Lake, there were more motivational signs and the aid stations had some great music playing. I had Van Halen’s song “Running with the Devil” and A Flock of Seagull’s song “And I Ran” literally running through my head for most of the first and second loop. There were more timing mats to run over to check where you were on the course and that you did not cut part of the course. After walking up a steep hill to get back to the Mills Ave. Bridge, Ford had a Hoopla Station and their Motivational Mile with music, a mist arch to run through to cool off and lots of cheering fans with those crazy blow-up noise sticks. On the second lap I saw my Dad again and his fiancĂ©e Val and her sister-in-law from her first marriage who were out there in the heat cheering for me. I told them to go find some food and that I would see them at the finish line. I started to really notice the huge salt stains on everyone’s race clothing and I was not surprised when I came across more violently sick people. I kept running and checking my heart rate. Since I was right on target with 138 to 142 beats per minute, I knew that I was doing a good job of taking in enough fluids and fuel. When you sweat and dehydrate, your blood becomes thicker and your heart has to work harder to pump it through the body and the result is an elevated heart rate. There was a lady who did not like the fact that I was passing her when she was walking and she would start running to get ahead of me and then she would have to stop and walk. I would trot on by and then she would start running to get ahead. That continued for some time until she could no longer pass me. I felt a little sorry for her because I know that her pride was a bit wounded, but I was also laughing as I thought of the race between the tortoise and the hare. I kept going my slow and steady pace. I ran for a while with a girl who was twenty-four and she was feeling a little queasy but she was still running. She had only started doing triathlons in the last year and was telling me that when she signed up for this race, she had no idea how hard it would be. I like to call that beginner’s courage. That is when you should have fear, but you don’t have enough information to be fearful. The sun was starting to go down and the heat was not as intense. I thought about picking up my Special Needs Bag at mile 15, but I was doing o.k. and I thought that I would save it for the next loop. The Sour Patch Watermelon Slices would be a good treat and I knew that I would need the glow stick after it got dark. I saw my coach again and he said I looked strong and my form was good. Other than being tired, I had no complaints. I “ran” into my client that I had coached, Carlos Albert, and checked on how he was doing. He was walking but he was finishing up this third loop. I told him that he could do it and I kept running. I did not see him again until he was about a mile from finishing and he passed me in an aid station where I was getting some Gatorade. I wished him luck and he told me to hurry up and finish. I saw a motivational message from my friend Cathy on the lighted message board at the Ford Motivational Mile. One more loop to go. I handed off my sunglasses to Cathy and headed out in the dark. More and more people were walking now. The sun was down and I noticed that it was starting to get comfortable again with the temperature. Not only were there sick people, but people who were sitting and lying on the ground next to the run path. I kept running. It was starting to become a game to see how many people I could pass by between each aid station. At one of the aid stations, a volunteer told me that I only had 10 kilometers to go and that put a huge smile on my face. I kept running as more people were walking. The crowds were thinning out now and I asked a volunteer what time it was. He told me it was 9:00 pm and that I had plenty of time if I was on my third loop. I had been out on the course now for 14 hours!!! With less than a 10K to go I kept repeating a prayer that had been sent to me by someone I am coaching for Team in Training. I would make it through this! I would finish strong! Again, only walking to drink at the aid stations, I kept up my steady turtle pace of running. I had skipped on picking up my Special Needs bag because there was plenty of support out on the course and someone had handed me a glow necklace that I put around the brim of my hat like a funky halo. All of these men that were walking were telling me to keep it up as I ran by. I thanked them and kept going. One last hill to walk up and then it was across the bridge to the finish. I got some fresh sponges to soak my hair down so that I did not have “hat hair” for my photo finish. I tossed the sponges, passed a few more people on the bridge and ran over a timing mat and had volunteers pointing me where to go.

I turned the corner and saw one of the most spectacular things I had ever seen—The Finish Line. The music was blaring, the spectators on the grandstands on either side of the finisher’s chute were cheering, and there was a huge Jumbo-Tron screen showed me headed in toward the finish. Then I heard what I had been waiting a whole year of training to hear, “Now coming to the finish, age 35, from Houston, Texas, Coach Liz, YOU ARE NOW AN IRONMAN!!!” The volunteers put up a finishers tape to run through and there was someone on the other side to catch me if I collapsed. I was so elated that I think the volunteer was a bit surprised that I was doing so well and did not need to sit down. Someone took the timing chip off of my ankle and my personal volunteer got me one of those foil “space blankets”, some water, and a backpack of finisher’s gear and then, I got my medal! I had my picture taken and then Cathy and my Dad stumbled out of the crowd to get to me. I was on such a mental and physical high. After taking a moment to get more pictures and a little food, it was time to collect my bike and my gear and head for the car.

Swim: 1:19:25 Bike: 7:34:41 Run: 5:46:53 Total Time: 14:52:55

All in all, I could not have asked for a better day to do a race. I had no mechanical problems on the bike, no flat tires, no stomach problems, no blisters, no black toe nails, no injuries, no aches or pains, and no DNF for Did Not Finish by my name in the results book. I walked away with a bit of sun burn, blood shot eyes from the dry winds, and a new found respect for what the human body is capable of doing. I have been riding this incredible wave of positive energy that I was only fazed a little bit when the airlines lost my bike on the way home. I was reunited with my bike on Wednesday morning and I was sad that it did not get frequent flyer miles. Again, thank you for all of your support over the last year and especially in these last few weeks as it got closer to race day.

Warm Regards,

Coach Liz

Team in Training Triathlon Coach

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society—Texas Gulf Coast Chapter

USA Triathlon Certified Coach



TriBoomer said...


Well done! And well written to boot.

Thank you for all you do for TNT.

Stay tuned...

CoachLiz said...

Thanks Boomer,

Just putting my degree in English to good use.

Coach Liz