Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ironman Arizona Race Report

Four years ago I signed up for an all women's sprint triathlon after spending eight weeks working up the courage to do so. The plan at the time was to do one race to prove to myself that I could do it. Well, you know how that goes. I ended up doing five races that season and then set my sites on my first Olympic the next year. Again, I obsessed about it, worrying about how hard it would be, could I really do it. So, this has been my pattern. When I completed my first HIM last year my friend  said to me, you will be doing an IM next. My response.. "No way!". Yet, something about watching those late night people on the Internet cross the finish line, the little voice in my head that kept saying... "maybe you can do it" and my friend who is bravely battling a Cancer  while reminding us all to seize the day, and take time to live life guided me to Arizona last November to volunteer at IMAZ 2010 and stand in line first thing the next morning to sign up for 2011. This past year has been a busy one, not only with work and training but a new puppy and a purchase of a home. Nothing like doing things all at once! (well within a year). It has been quite the journey.

Race week: My friend Meg and I flew to Arizona on Wednesday. I wanted to have time to settle in, and not worry about rushing, or getting stuck in a snow storm in Denver or anything else that might cause more stress or anxiety to what I thought would be a anxious time. It was a good plan. Meg and I arrived at Tempe Town Lake early Thursday morning and I was able to check in and hit the merchandise tent before 10:00.

 Being one of the first 100 participants to check in, I received an e-mail later in the day that I was the proud owner of a new pair of TYR goggles. That afternoon we drove the bike course so I could get a sense of what I would be experiencing on race day. I was pretty calm about the race during this time yet I was worried that I didn't feel well. I had a headache that would not quit and I felt exhausted. There were times in the day where I was worried that I wouldn't even be able to complete the swim, I felt that bad. I also had two more friends and my fiancee arriving the next day and certainly didn't want them to have spent the time and money to make the trip to find out that I couldn't even race. Fortunately I started to feel better on Friday and by Saturday I was doing pretty well.  Friday afternoon,  Meg, Tanya, Lisa, Brian and I walked around the IM Village and I pointed out just how far I had to swim before I could turn around and come back.

Tanya, Lisa, Meg, Me and Brian

Friday night, the ladies attended the welcome dinner and before the evening was over I heard rumblings from Tanya..."I want to do an Ironman". :)

The swim practice had me nervous as I don't do well in cold water and was greatly concerned how the water temp would effect me. I wore a neoprene cap and booties, and while cold, I managed to talk myself into believing that the water temp would be manageable.

Check out the guy behind me. Anything look familiar?

 After spending what seemed to be hours trying to figure out what to put in each of my four bags, it was time for bike and gear bag check in.

 Not sure what I was thinking at this point.
 It takes  thee people to figure out just where to put the number on the bike

 This was towards the end of the bag packing.  The floor was completely covered earlier on. Again it took three people to get this job done :)

There is a lot to take in on the days leading up to the race.

Once the bike and bags were in their place my friends went out to dinner while I enjoyed some down time in the hotel. I was pretty calm at this point. That was soon to change however.

  OK, so I was trying to lighten the mood.  It was really early. I was nothing but serious and somber after this

Race morning I woke up before the alarm and shortly thereafter the nerves kicked in full force. I tried to be calm on the outside but inside, I was starting to really stress out about the swim. I had planned to stay way in the back to avoid contact so that wasn't my worry. It was again the water temp that had me worried. I have had some bad experiences in cold water which didn't help things. Walking to transition you would have thought I was heading to my death :) I knew there was no turning back but boy did I want to.

 I managed to do all the things that I needed to do including turning on the GPS device so that people could track me. Once I had my wetsuit, cap and booties on, (I also had socks on over the booties) I made my way over to the swim start area. As people started towards the dock to jump into the water, I backed away and let them all go in front of me. It was amazing to see how many people were actually doing the race. Mike Riley said there were 3000 and it sure seemed like it! It was close to 7:00am and people were still getting into the water. I made my way to the dock and lowered myself into the water just before the gun went off. The price to pay for waiting till the last minute is that you don't have time to get close to the start line before the gun goes off.

I was still under the bridge as the gun went off but at that time didn't think about the extra time it cost me. I was just happy to avoid battle. Hind sight being 20/20, I wish I had started further up or better yet walk along the ledge to the start and then sit on the ledge like so many others did before the start. When I saw the pics of that I was really surprised.

 Look at all of them walking to the start!
Now they are sitting at the start! Not sure that frustrates me because I didn't know I could do it or that it doesn't seem fair. 

During the first half of the course I felt I was doing pretty well. I was avoiding contact for the most part, passing some slower swimmers and doing a lot of positive self talk. I sang some of the songs to myself that I had listened to over and over on my Swimp3 player during all of those long pool swims. As I started to make the turn to come back I checked my watch and was happy with my time. I am not a fast swimmer but I figured I could finish by 1:30 if not a bit sooner. It was shortly after this that things started to go down hill. My legs started shivering in my wetsuit and the cold was really getting to me. I tried to stay focused on anything other then the cold. I tried to draft off of people, look at the view, just anything to not think about the cold. As much as I tried though, I started to struggle. It is hard to explain but I felt like I was losing energy, that the end seemed SO far away and I was losing focus. It wasn't a fitness issue as I wasn't winded at all and had the altitude advantage coming from CO. I think the cold was just having it's way with me. The rest of the way back was long, slow and scary. At the turn to get to the dock, I remember telling myself "you WILL finish this!" Once I got out of the water, a volunteer asked me if I was OK. I said yes but that I was cold. She immediately got me a Mylar blanket and asked me if I wanted her to walk with me. I said thanks but I was OK. I tried to run to transition but couldn't. My teeth were chattering and I was just focused on moving forward and getting warm.

I went into the changing tent and was never so happy to be surrounded by so many bodies. It was like a steam bath in there! I found a chair and started to change clothes. It was slow going as I was shaking but at that point I really didn't mind. I just wanted to warm up. ( Days later I learned that there was a warming tent. Wish I had known that on race day!) A fantastic volunteer proceeded help me in every way possible. I felt bad for her as she was dripping in sweat while she was doing everything she could for all of us. Once I finally had everything on and was ready to head out the door, I stood at the exit another minute or two before going out to get my bike. I was still cold and I guess didn't feel like I was physically ready to ride a bike. I stopped at a port-a-potty on the way out and even spent a bit of time in there just to stay warm. (For me to spend ANY extra time in a port-a-potty speaks volumes as to how cold I was!) I finally made it to my bike and hit the road. 19+ minutes in T1. Yikes!

Still feeling the effects of the swim at the start of the bike.


The bike is by far my best event and while I usually focus on speed and am very competitive with myself on the bike, I told myself that on this day, it would be all about pacing and not exerting to much energy.
I set my Garmin to show average speed but removed the field that would show current speed as I knew it would be that much more difficult to ride at a much slower speed then I normally would. It took me a while to feel OK on the bike as I think I was still recovering from the swim. As soon as I got out on the road I noticed that my GPS (Athlete Tracker) was not in its holder. My dad had the link to the tracker on line and I knew he would be worried if he saw that I wasn't moving. For the whole first lap I worried about what he was thinking and stopped at the end of the first lap to tell my friends to call him to let him know I was OK. The second lap was much better and I felt pretty good. I wasn't winded and my legs felt OK.

 I made a port-a-potty stop and a stop at special needs during this lap which took up some time but I didn't feel like I needed to race. Again, looking back on it, I wish I had gone a bit faster but I just didn't know what was going to happen on the run and I was being very cautious. The wind kicked up on the second and third lap but I was feeling fine at the end and was confident that I could walk the marathon and still finish under the 17 hour mark.

I have to add here that my friends made great signs for me that were totally a surprise!  Look how cute there are!!!


I am not a runner. As much as I try, it is always a struggle and I am extremely slow. Beyond that, I have a history of having terrible GI issues after long runs so I did have some concern about that. I did a run walk for the first lap and time wise was doing pretty well for me.

 I wanted to get some miles behind me to ensure I would make the cut off in case I had to slow down later on. My hamstrings were extremely tight but beyond that I was feeling pretty good. At mile 10, things changed. Out of the blue, I started to feel sick and dizzy. It came on me suddenly but it has happened before and has never ended well. At that moment I had a fear of not finishing. I had been drinking chicken broth at the aid stations but had skipped a couple before this happened. I forced myself to eat a couple of shot blocks thinking that I needed to try and get my electrolytes in balance and was able to walk to the next aid station without incident and get more chicken broth. From then on I told myself that I would just have to walk, keep drinking chicken broth and not risk it by running again. It was a bit frustrating because I felt like my legs could continue a run/walk but I just couldn't risk it. If I had tried to run again and got sick, I knew my day would be over. So that is what I did. I walked 16 miles. My friends were very supportive and encouraged me on.

 Finally I was able to make the turn to the finish line. At the welcome dinner Mike Riley said that we should take the time to enjoy the finish. That he sees so many people sprint to the finish and not really take it in. Since I was walking that wasn't going to be a problem :) I was a bit nervous before I started down the shoot. To get all that attention.. well I wasn't used to it. You would never have known that though. As soon as I saw all the people with their hands out for high fives, I had a big smile on my face, high fived them all back and took in as much as I could.

 I heard Mike Riley say "Kathleen Kellams from Highlands Ranch, CO, you are an Ironman" then he stopped me before the finish, said something to me and then got the whole crowd to say "Kathleen you are an Ironman!" I waved to them all, held my arms up high and enjoyed my moment of fame :)

I walked through the finish line, not looking like death warmed over like I usually do, while trying to stop my watch but instead reached to the sky,and smiled for the photographers.

After finishing I met up with my friends. They were very happy for me and were texting others and posting on Facebook that I was now an Ironman. My friends were with me through the whole race and were stationed at numerous places throughout the day to support and encourage me. I can't thank them enough.

Meg's husband Richard greeted us at the airport with this great sign :)
 Julie  was another person who has been extremely supportive and I know she was cheering me from home. Aimee  and I did a few rides together and shared a couple of moments during race day. I was glad she was out there with me.   I want to send a special shout out to Joe who really supported me during the last couple of weeks leading up to the race with posts of encouragement on my Facebook page. It meant more to me then he could have known.
Would I do IMAZ again?  Yes... if the water wasn't so cold!  Is there another Ironman in my future.  I am thinking so :)
Thanks to everyone in the blogger world for all your support this past year. I appreciate you all.