Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Kentucky - 2009 - Ironman - Post Race

UMMMM, OK THAT REALLY HURT! I don't know why I can't remember how bad these things hurt or I probably wouldn't keep signing up for them! Each one is a different experience but the common denominator is each time you have to dig down to the deepest part of you to keep going and do your best.

Ok race recap! We got up at 4:15 yesterday to have our breakfast and get the rest of our gear together. We had about 1/2 mile walk down to transition from the parking lot and then spent about 10 min in there just loading the fluids on our bikes and checking tire pressure. We then had a mile walk to the swim start to go find a place in line. And then we had another mile walk to get a place in line! That was ridiculous! So I think our Ironman was actually 143.6 miles rather than 140.6 after it was all said and done. Leigh and I were probably in the last 100 people in line so we were definitely the "back of the bus" so to speak. It actually took 40 min for us to get to the swim start as the line was moving at a pokey pace and then all of a sudden it was the "hurry up plan" and we were scrambling to take our clothes off and run down the ramp and leap in the river. The water was at least warm so that was good. We got to swim upstream for the first 1 mile or so and then we had a little help from the current for the remaining distance. It was a choppy swim though and even with the time trial start there was a lot of navigating that had to take place. The only hurdle for me in the swim was leg cramps and I need to figure out if that is just being chilled going into it or lack of circulation since I apparently don't know how to use my legs while swimming! The swim was pretty much what I expected time wise though so I felt pretty much on track going into the bike. The bike was chilly for the first few hours but things were going well other than numb toes and a running nose! Ok this might be a little too graphic and gross for you but Ironman is not a glamour sport! One thing that cyclists learn how to do is "blow your nose" on the bike (no there are no tissues involved in this procedure) The key is to not blow it on an innocent person behind you but also not blow it on yourself. Well I managed to blow it right on my arm. nice. Now spitting of course is also one of those valuable skills and again the goal is to be mindful of people behind you, wind direction and not hitting yourself. Again the skill of spitting "loogies" (lol love that term!) should have been learned from having 2 brothers! But no, I managed to spit right on my shoulder. Now I am really feeling special! However, to those of you who are wondering, I did not pee on the bike! I took advantage of the port o lets! lol see, a glamour sport! We did have a good amount of wind yesterday so the bike course proved to be quite challenging between the non stop hills and the wind. The pavement was pretty rough too so by the time I hit mile 90, I was really ready to get off the bike as my saddle area was really not happy! Still everything was for the most part on track for my goal time. As I came into transition, a nice volunteer took my bike and then I had to attempt to make my legs run to the changing tent. That was rough as I thought I was going to fall down! So I put my clean socks on and some sunscreen on and off the marathon! First 2 miles involved quad cramps and something really sore behind the back of me knee but you just have to tune that stuff out b/c at some point or another something else will start hurting so you just keep moving. I was cruising along at my goal pace (always the goal is to break 4 hrs in the marathon) and feeling pretty good. There were a few hills on the run so it wasn't the easiest of runs but then again, running a marathon after 112 miles of cycling is never easy anyway. It actually was a little warm on the run but nothing unpleasant. I did manage to dump gatorade on my head thinking it was water..........so again really looking good at this point! I felt really strong until about mile 18 and then around mile 20 things started to really hurt and my stomach was no longer "feeling the love" for the gatorade. Now it becomes a mental race b/c the body is shutting down. I could feel myself "checking out" and no longer very aware of the cheering spectators or the other athletes. Just wanted to get to the next mile marker. I switched to orange slices and water just to keep taking in some calories as I had a headache from dehydration at that point. The last 4 miles my pace dropped from my 8:30ish per mile to 9:30ish and that's all my legs would do. It became survival mode at that point as my running looked more like hobbling than running. Mile 25, I can hear the finish line and I just think, 1 mile, you can run 1 more mile! It was the greatest feeling to know as soon as I crossed that finish line I could STOP running! And then the words I waited 11 hrs and 15 min to hear.............."Heather Butcher you are an Ironman!" I never get tired of hearing that.........or perhaps I am just so happy to be finished that it makes those words golden. I ended up 12th out of 130 in my age group so I was completely pleased with my race as I know I did my absolute best. My age group was very competitive and the top 3 actually beat several of the professional women as well. So needless to say, my hope of a Hawaii slot was well out of reach but I did my best and that's worth more than anything.

Leigh had a great race too and we celebrated with pizza and ibuprofin at 11:00 last night. I didn't sleep well at all as it hurt to move but was just happy to be horizontal. The soreness will only get worse today and tomorrow before things get better. The awards banquet is today at noon and then we will be packing all of our junk to head home tomorrow.

Thanks again for all of your thoughts, prayers and support! See ya for the next one! lol I am crazy!

Kentucky - 2009 - Ironman - Day 2

Today is a cloudy day in KY as Leigh and I sit drinking coffee before heading over to the race site for the "Gatorade swim practice". It will be our first experience swimming in the Ohio River. The water temp is warm enough to make it non wetsuit so that is a positive for me other than the fact that the air temp tomorrow morning will be in the mid 50's. The swim start for the race is actually different than any other Ironman race as it's a "time trial", meaning that a couple of people jump in the water every 3 seconds and your race time starts as soon as you cross the timing mat. Apparently people will line up at the swim start at 5am (the race doesn't start until 7!) but I don't think I want to stand in line that long.

Yesterday we rode part of the bike course and we got to see that we are going to have a pretty challenging bike ride. It will be somewhat scenic though so that will be nice. Not that we do much sightseeing while racing! We did attend the pre race banquet last night and there are 800 first time Ironman athletes. There is a guy who lost 201 lbs in training for this race and of course a guy who is on his 36th Ironman. Lots of good personal stories.

Today is going to consist of taking the bikes down to transition, loading bike bags and run bags and making sure everything is in working order. You are given a red bag for your bike to run transition, blue bag for you swim to bike transition, another bag for special foods on the bike, a bag for special foods on the run, a bag for pre race clothing.............that's a lot of bags! It's really an amazing production to pull off really. Keeping 2500 people organized to have a great experience is a big deal. There are 3,000 volunteers to facilitate this whole event..........they truly are the key to the Ironman experience.

Ok for those of you who haven't done an Ironman, or for those who will be experiencing their first one in the near future, I am going to give you a taste of what the day entails. Ironman is a fascinating event and the experience is really like nothing else I have ever done. Each time I do one of these races, it is a unique experience. The day begins at 4:30 with some coffee and nervous energy while trying to force down some breakfast. Generally, I actually love to eat but race morning brings so much anxiety that it is very difficult to relax and eat. Then we lug our nutrition and fluids down to the transition area and get the lovely tattoo of our race number all over our bodies. We do all the pumping of tires and checking and rechecking of all sorts of things on the bike and people watch to see if there is something else we should be doing. We will have a mile walk to the swim start from the transition area so the next step is to head to the swim start and stand there anxiously awaiting the send off. The first few minutes of the swim are absolute chaos with hundreds of arms and legs thrashing around you and on you that it is difficult to get into a groove and relax. You are allowed 2 hrs and 15 min to complete the 2.4 miles of swimming and if you come in at 2 hrs and 16 min, you are not allowed to continue the race. Fortunately for Leigh and I who are efficient swimmers, the swim is more of the warm up for the rest of the race as it is the shortest part. As you exit the swim, you grab you gear bag and proceed to the changing tent. (there are separate changing tents for men and women though!) Since it will be in the 50's race morning, my plan is to wear my regular swim suit and then change into my bike shorts and racing top so that I can be dry starting the bike portion. The volunteers in the tent are helping you change (no time for modesty here!) and applying sunscreen, offering you water and helping you gather your stuff so that you can head out and get your bike. Now onto the 112 miles on the bike. The first 56 miles are actually really enjoyable b/c all you can think is "I am doing an Ironman!" Then around mile 85 the race begins. Your legs are now getting tired, your fluids are no longer cool and refreshing, your "saddle area" is not happy to be on the bike at all, you are sick and tired of ingesting artificially flavored gels and beverages, your neck, back and toes are tingling from being in the same position for so long and you are now faced with the looming marathon. It becomes very difficult to stay focused and the only thing you want to do is "get off this stupid bike!" The last 20 miles seems like an eternity but it is pure joy when you roll into transition and hand your bike off to the nice volunteer. Of course as you step off the bike you are painfully reminded that your legs do not remember how to hold your body upright. It's an awkward few hundred yards to get your gear and head back into the changing tent. Everyone has a their own quirky habits in terms of what happens in the transition from bike to run. Mine is that I must put on clean socks..........there is something slightly "refreshing" about that. Seems kind of silly actually though as the rest of your body is covered in salt, sweat and stickiness anyway. There is a brief moment of "Oh my gosh, I have to run 26.2 miles!" and then you tell yourself, "just start running". The first 2 miles are difficult as your legs just don't want to cooperate. But then you settle into a pace and you are once again elated that you are doing an Ironman. This lasts until about mile 15 of the marathon and then once again the fatigue levels are starting to become overwhelming and if you are lucky, you are still finding some sort of enjoyment over your calorie choices at the aid stations. "gatorade, cola, water, pretzels, gels, bananas, orange slices.........." It soon becomes a song in your head and none of them sound good. Mile 18, your gait is now modified to accommodate some muscle group that has decided to revolt against you. The aid stations/walk breaks become the light at the end of the tunnel. This is where decision time comes. You can either "choose" to walk most of the remaining miles (because that is like heaven compared to the pounding of running) or you "choose" to keep running. I have wanted to lay down in the street just to stop the pounding on the legs that those last few miles brings. Mile 23 is both the longest part of the race and the glimmer of hope that you need to keep going. Somehow if you can find the mental strength to tune out the fact that your whole body hurts, and run strong those last few miles, the finish line is the most glorious thing in the world. The same guy announces everyone that completes the race that day..........he is called the "voice of Ironman" and his voice is like music to your ears. And as you run across the finish line with hundreds of people lining the chute cheering for you, you hear those magical words.........."Heather Butcher, you are an Ironman!" I never get tired of hearing that as it makes all the suffering worth it.

Ok so there you have the idea of what the day will be, I will give the race account on monday. Thanks for all the thoughts and prayers as well as support. It means the world and it is that strength we can draw on when things get difficult.

See you after the race!

Kentucky - 2009 - Ironman - Day 1

Greetings from KY! Ok so that is not quite as exciting as "Aloha" but it's an Ironman all the same. Leigh and I arrived yesterday afternoon and Rob (Leigh's husband, the saint that he is) picked us up after driving the 5th wheel 20 hrs from FL. We went straight to registration and got our official "bracelets" and race packets and of course spent some money in the Ironman store. It's amazing how much Ironman stuff that is available, and even more amazing how much triathletes are willing to spend!. I even saw "Ironman dog biscuits!" The race starts and ends in downtown Louisville so the host hotel is also in downtown Louisville. I am not much of a city person and I am very directionally challenged so I am quite thankful to have Leigh and Rob in charge of the driving. Anyway some of you may not find this story funny but it had me laughing most of the day. As we were walking from the registration to a cafe yesterday, we walked by 2 young women sitting on the curb (they were unfortunately very overweight) and just as we walked by, one of them leaned over and let out the loudest fart! (sorry can't think of a nice way to say that!) It was so unexpected that Leigh and I looked at each other in disbelief and just started cracking up as soon as we got past them. So now we have been exposed to the "farting locals!" Hopefully this is not indicative of the rest of the population in Louisville. I grew up with 2 younger brothers so those kinds of things are always funny to me. I apologize if I grossed any of you out with that story.

We then proceeded to walmart ( we are lacking in store options) after lunch to get some groceries and got stuck there for an hour due to a torrential downpour. People watching in walmart is always interesting so we entertained ourselves by looking at interesting products and watching random people. Rob and I got a kick out of this particular brand of snack foods. The were called "bimbolitas" (I was a spanish major and I have no idea what that word is but they are a "sweet pastry" with a creme filling apparently) and for a mere 89 cents you can consume 500 calories in one serving of bimbolitas! It is sad that it is so cheap to eat unhealthy. Sorry this blog is a little on the lame side and full of useless information, but as of right now, there isn't anything overly exciting to talk about.

The KOA (RV park) we are staying in is not exactly scenic but it's only a couple miles from the race start so that is at least convenient. In fact, it resembles a parking lot to be honest and as Rob pointed out, the nicest trees are next to the dumpster. Oh well, hopefully we well see some scenery later today. Anyway, the weather is a bit uncertain for the race on Sunday. Ironman Louisville is considered to be one of the "hottest" races on the Ironman circuit and typically high 90's is the norm for this race. But wouldn't you know it, there is a freak cool front on it's way and it looks like race morning could be in the low 50's with a high of 71. So for the Florida girls, that is a little on the cold side and I am a little unsure of what clothing to wear. That is the way Ironman goes though, a lot of uncertainty and you just have to be prepared to make adjustments. Today we will probably go for a short swim in the lovely Ohio river and perhaps go for a short easy bike ride once we get out of the industrial area. So far this is not what I thought Kentucky would look like...............I am hoping that the bike ride will bring on the horse country and green grasses rather than the industrial eye sore.

Tonight is the welcome banquet where all the athletes will be in the same location for the token pasta dinner and a nice presentation. Usually footage from past races is shown and it's a great way to get everyone really pumped up about the race. The reality kind of sets in though about what you are about to ask of your body and it can be a bit overwhelming. Ironically this will be my 8th Iron distance triathlon, and yet that same fear in the pit of my stomach is there every time I think about tackling such a long day.

I hope to have more to talk about in the next blog than farting locals!

Kona - 2008 - Post race

I wasn't sure if I was going to write anymore blogs but I decided that perhaps I should send some final thoughts as well as share the last adventures. Also there are a total of 5 blogs and if any of you are missing any of them (they are numbered 1-3 and then " the race" and "the trek home") please let me know and I will be happy to send them on. I had a hard time keeping up with my addresses.

Sunday night was the awards banquet and I had heard that would be a neat production. It started around 6pm and once again the food was less than what I had hoped but fortunately they had good dark beer on draft so that was a perk. (: I have to give another "background story" for the next thing to make sense. Most of you probably know "the Hoyts" but in case you don't, here is the short version. Rick Hoyt was born with cerebal palsy (I think it was 1962) and the doctors told Dick and his wife that they should just put him in an institution as he would only be a vegetable. But instead they opted to take Rick home and raise him themselves. When Rick was in highschool (yes that's right he did go to highschool) his PE teacher asked him if he would contribute to help a challenged athlete do a 5 mile race. Rick (keep in mind Rick is in a wheel chair without the use of his legs and no control over his arms, he cannot verbally speak but has a computer that communicates his thoughts,which I find absolutely amazing) went home and asked his dad if they could do the race together. So his dad pushed Rick for the 5 mile race. Rick loved it and so they began to do all sorts of running races all the way up to marathons. Rick said "I feel like I don't have a handicap when we race" so then they decided to do the Hawaii Ironman. Yes that is correct, that event in which I described how challenging it was.............Dick pulled Rick on a raft the entire 2.4 miles, rode a bike with Rick on the front the entire 112 miles, and then he pushed Rick the entire 26.2 miles and they did it in under 16 hrs. I cannot imagine doing that race pulling more than my own body weight and I think they did it a total of 3 or 4 times. They have now completed over 900 athletic events together. They no longer do the Ironman as it's too much being that Dick is now in his 70's and their last attempt unfortunately resulted in their not making the swim cut off mark, but they still do lots of running races. Anyway, they were inducted into the Ironman hall of fame at the banquet on Sunday and Rick actually "spoke" to us.........he has a wonderful sense of humor and his vocabulary probably exceeded all of ours put together. So incredibly inspiring. Interestingly, my group actually saw the Hoyts at a cafe that day while we were having lunch and we had our pictures taken with them. Unfortunately a torrential downpour started right after Rick finished speaking so we had to cut the event short as it was being held outside with no option of shelter. But it was worth it to hear him speak.

Yesterday we took a trip up to the volcano and we decided to stop at the "Greenwell coffee farm" on the way. That was fascinating actually as I learned so much about coffee, I guess I just assumed it was a simple process but there really is a lot to it! If any of you are familiar with pure "kona coffee" you will know that there is a huge difference between that and your standard coffee. I apologize that I was unable to bring back coffee for all of you but it is also a mere $22 a bag so........Anyway the Greenwell family has been doing coffee since the 1800's I think it was and they still have the original trees. They don't use them for actual coffee production as a tree is only good for about 40 years but they use the beans to plant the next trees. One tree will only yield 1.5lbs of coffee per year so that is why they have to have so many trees. There are 20 red berry pickers and they start at the bottom of the grove and pick the red berries on the tree and work their way up. It takes them 3 weeks to get thru the whole grove and then it's time to start over as this takes place 8 times per year. First the sweet red outer shell is squeezed off and then they have to soak for several days. After that they are moved to drying screens and this process takes 3 weeks but if they get wet they have to be thrown out. So all the drying racks have a moveable roof and since it rains like clockwork around 4pm every day they just roll the roof over the beans. Then the next outer layer is removed and then the beans can be roasted but once they are roasted they have about a 3 month freshness life so they sell a lot of "green beans" that you can roast yourself. There is only about 22miles of the kona coast that actually is ideal for growing coffee due to the perfect amount of rain and sun so that is again why it is so expensive. They had great samples and we enjoyed tasting all the flavors.

Ok next stop was the black sands beach to see the sea turtles. The sand really is black and there are turtles everywhere. That was pretty neat but I do think I prefer the white sand in terms of enjoying the beach. Then we headed up to the volcano which has been active for the past 8 months and that is what has created the "vog" which also leads to acid rain and the haze that we experienced a lot in the afternoons. The taste of sulfur was intense once we were up at the national park and you could see steam coming up from all sorts of random places along the crater. We did walk through a lave tube and that was very dark and damp, I sort of felt like I was in some sort of adventure movie! At night you can drive down another 20 miles and see the lava pouring into the water but unfortunately we had to pass that experience as it took close to 3 hrs just to get to the park to begin with and that would have made our trip way too long. My brother and sister in law were going to do that so perhaps they will have some good pictures.

We finished our last night in kona trying to eat the rest of our groceries so we had yet another pasta dinner, I think I am ok to skip pasta for awhile now. (: We did go for breakfast this morning (which is actually the next morning now that I am sitting in Charlotte waiting for my last flight to get home) at a cute little place on the water. It was basically an area covered with a big tent and you sat in beach chairs. The place was "on the rocks" so we were about as close as one could get without actually being "in" the ocean. (: It was relaxing but sort of sad to know that the trip was about to end.

Now the fun begins. If I ever have the privilege of doing the Hawaii Ironman again, I will have learned some valuable lessons. I thought I was doing great by being at the airport 2.5 hrs before my flight, however I did not anticipate the lack of workers to help with the process. I got to load my bike box and my checked bag on a belt just to receive a sticker that said "inspected", though from my point of view they didn't do anything but watch everyone struggle with their luggage. Then I lugged it over to the line that lasted 45 min before getting to actually check the bags. Now the really great part, my bike box was "overweight" so not only did I get to pay the regular $125 bike fee, I got to pay another $125 for the excess weight. I don't think that 15lbs extra should have cost that much and quite frankly I don't really believe that I had 15lbs extra in there b/c I didn't put that much back in my bike box than what I had going to kona. I would have tried to take things out but my other checked bag was also overweight and I had just done that mad scramble of taking things out and shuffling them around to my carry on. What a nightmare. I am a bit suspicious in terms of the accuracy of their scales. So the extra $165 for excess weight was lovely. Then after all that, I had to drag my bike box to yet another location which was the opposite end of where I had to drag my other checked bag. Yes that's right, you are on your own for all of that. I think it would have been easier if they just let me put those things on the plane myself. So that process to just get to the boarding area took almost 2 hrs and since kona is an outdoor airport, I was already a sweaty mess. So my lesson learned and my tip to any of you who may go to kona, take advantage of the sky cab people. You have to pay $3 per bag and $5 per bike but I am thinking that it is worth it especially since i am not sure they actually weighed the bags.

So my final thoughts on the Hawaii Ironman. Although you are probably "sick" of my thoughts by now! (: There is a lot that can go wrong as well as right in an event as long as an Ironman. You go in with your best plan but you always have to think on your feet and make adjustments when things don't go quite as planned. All in all, there isn't anything that I would have changed in our preparation, training, taper etc. The conditions were one of the worst they have had and it was our first time there. We didn't quit, we gave it our best shot, we kept smiling (well most of the time), we made adjustments when needed, we supported and cheered for each other and we crossed the finish line with pride. I had the opportunity of a lifetime and I got to share it with 3 amazing women that I had the privilege of coaching. I hope you get a sense of what they accomplished, the were not just "middle of the pack" among some average athletes, they were in the top half of the best in the world at the Hawaii Ironman. Thanks again for "listening" and I hope you have enjoyed experiencing this event through my eyes.

God bless,

Kona - 2008 - Race Day

anxiety, anticipation, INSANITY, frustration, excitment, strength, weakness, determination, pride, beaten, focused, elated, agony, encouraged, lonely, hopeful, exhaustion, triumphant............finished!

Those are just a few of the emotions that all of us felt yesterday at this amazing race. I haven done a lot of races in my lifetime and none of them compare to this one.......on many levels. Starting at 5am in the morning, the music is blaring at the transition area as 1800 anxious triathletes frantically run around dropping of their special foods and drinks at their designated locations, getting body marked, pumping up bike tires, putting nutrition and fluids on the bike and making their way down to the swim corral. The Navy seals parachute in and then the drums and shell horns start, the helicopters and news cameras are everywhere. The professionals are in the water at 6:30 awaiting the cannon that fires at random so you don't know when it will happen. As soon as the National anthem ends, the first cannon fires and the pro men and women are off. Now it is chaos as all of us amateurs make our way into the narrow swim line. There are kayaks and canoes to keep us inside the bouys but all you feel are arms and legs trying to stay afloat for the next 15 min. Every where you turn you are faced with someone in your space and you start to feel a little claustrophobic. It is getting cold and you are just fighting to not get tired waiting for the start. All of a sudden the cannon goes off and it is just white water in your face. It was a constant beating for over an hour and while it was great that you could see the bottom and the scuba divers down taking pictures, all you wanted was to get the swim over and get out of this craziness! The "turn bouy" for the swim happens to be a big sailboat so that was at least easy to spot but for most of the swim it was just following the arms and legs in front of you.

Ah the swim is over! So we all run thru the hose showers to rinse off before grabbing our bike bag and heading to the changing tent. As we head out onto the bike the streets are lined with spectators cheering and clapping you really do feel like you are somebody! The first few miles of the bike were through town so you had to be cautious and it was a good opportunity to transition from sea legs to land legs. So after about 30 min of in town riding we headed out to the famous "queen K" highway. It was starting to get warm but I was just so excited to be there............that lasted all of about 90 min until we started to head towards Hawi and the winds picked up to a lovely 30 mile an hour head wind/cross wind. Your enthusiasm takes a real beating when you go from cycling at close to 20 mph to 9 or 10 mph in that wind. So for over 90 min it was constant wind in your face, even the beautiful coastline in the distance was not enough of a distraction. However the idea of that lovely tail wind after we would turn around was motivating. When I finally reached the turn around I was excited to see my parent's, my brother, sister in law and my 2 nieces there cheering for me. And yes that tail wind.................which unfortunately lasted all of about 25 min as the winds shifted. So now it is back to that cross wind where you are leaning sideways to avoid being blown off the bike. I have no idea what the gusts were but it was enough to make it difficult to even grab your water bottle to take a drink. The heat was beating down and I heard that the heat index was over 100 degrees. I thought when we made the turn back to the Queen K that we would be out of the wind but instead of the cross wind, it was back to the headwind. That has to be one of the most demoralizing feelings and all you can do is put your head down and pray. Your mind wanders to all sorts of things and you really think of the pure insanity of all of it. I have to admit, the last 12 miles seemed endless but once again the cheering crowds as I headed back into town lifted my spirits. The volunteers are absolutely amazing as they take your bike and help you get your socks and shoes on as well get you anything else you need to get started on the marathon. The first few miles flew by pretty quickly as Alli drive was completely closed to traffic so it was all runners and spectators. Every aid station was full of gatorade, cola, water, sports gels, chicken broth, bananas and orange slices so you sort of get to pick what sounds good at that particular moment. I saw my family and friends again both at mile 2 and mile 7 and then it was up a hill and back out on the queen K. I felt pretty good up thru mile 10 and then my achilles was really giving me a tough time so I started taking walk breaks thru the aid stations to give it some relief. And the count down begins.........it really gets tough around mile 15 or 16 as there are still so many miles to go and yet you have done so many miles. The course takes you through what is called the "natural energy lab" and it is anything but that. You run down a hill to a desolate place and turn around and run back up the hill. The aid stations are now your only drive and you say to yourself, "just run to the next aid station." Now it is getting dark and there are no street lights and all you can see is the line of "glow in the dark rings" that the runners are wearing. At about mile 20 I started making bargins with myself such as "you get to walk for few seconds at the next aid station", "you can still break 4 hours in the marathon if you stop being a whimp", "you can run 6 miles in your sleep!"...etc. I think that was the longest last 2 miles of my life as I could hear the crowds screaming and the lights of the finish line were so close. The course took you down a big hill before the last turn onto Alli drive and I thought it might be less painful to just roll myself down the hill..........but not so glamorous so I kept running. The finish line was the best thing I could have seen with the big screen TV, the announcers, the grandstand filled with specators, my family and complete strangers high fiving me all the way down the line. It was awesome but a huge relief as I have never wanted to be finished with something so badly in my life as every step was painful. After you run up the ramp and you have been declared an "ironman", you get a fresh lei put around your neck along with your finisher medal. You are then shuffled off to the food tent (which I was already on the verge of hurling so I by passed that) and on to pick up you finisher T shirt. The next 2 hours are spent attempting to eat 1 piece of pizza and get your stomach to settle down. Of course you get to watch all the other athletes come in as well and that is always inspirational.

My athletes did great! We came here for our first trip to kona and finished in the top half of our age groups on a really tough day. Everyone was saying that this is the toughest year they have had in a long time due to the wind and heat so I am proud b/c the difference between this race and the other IM races is that it is the "world championships" and all but 150 people actually had to qualify to get here. So we came, gave it our best and we are "Hawaii Ironman finishers!"

Today is a day of miserable soreness. We have all sworn that we will never do this again. Of course that is such a silly statement that I have probably said at least a dozen times in my life and yet I still find myself signing up for some other crazy event. I must admit though, this race was the hardest race I have ever done and I have enough hurt to last me awhile. We are about to head to the awards banquet, that is if I can get up from this chair. Things are ok if you keep moving but once you sit still, it gets really ugly!

We only have 1 more full day in kona so we hope to go to the volcano tomorrow. Thanks again to all of you who have supported me (us), prayed, thought about and took the time to read the blogs. I hope you enjoyed this incredible experience with me.

See you at home!

Kona - 2008 - Day 4

It is now the day before race day and the nerves are starting to surface. (: I was unable to send a blog yesterday as the internet was not cooperating so I will combine yesterday and half of today as I don't think I will be sending one tomorrow! (: Even I cannot text that fast.

Yesterday was the last short bike ride before race day. Suzette and I met Kim and rode about 40 min (some of which was hilly as it's hard to avoid the hills here) and we had a fantastic view from a cliff overlooking the ocean. The downhill was way faster but a little scary but all in all I think everyone is feeling really rested and ready to do something..........which is usually the sign of a perfect "taper." We have been pretty "lazy" in comparison to a lot of the athletes here but at this point in the game, the more rest the better! Yesterday afternoon we went to the "iron prayer" which was started by fellowship of christian athletes I believe. It was held in a cute little church right in downtown kona so that was cool. For those of you who are familiar with the sport, one of our local Florida professionals (Heather Gollnick) was a featured speaker. Heather has been involved with the "iron prayer" ever since it started 5 years ago. She is actually not even racing to do a hip injury but she wanted to come and be an encourager at this awesome race. It was a great opportunity to thank God for the privilege of being here for this awesome experience, the journey it took to get here and all of the wonderful family and friends who have supported me all the way. What was kind of "ironic" also (though I really don't believe that anything happens without a reason) was the woman sitting next to me in the church. I have to go backwards a bit for this story to actually seem that 'neat" but while I was waiting for our flight to leave Maui to come to kona, I met John Blaze's mother who was coming to be at the finish line of the race. For those of who you don't know who John Blaze was, I will fill you in. A few years ago there was a young PE Teacher who always wanted to race the Hawaii Ironman but had never been able to qualify. He was then diagnosed with ALS (which is Lou Gherig's disease) so he was awarded a slot. He was one of the featured stores that year at Ironman. When they interviewed him, he said that he would cross the finish line even if he had to "roll himself" across. So that year when he came to the finish line in the dark, he dropped down and literally rolled himself across the line. The following year, his ALS had progressed to the stage where he was in a wheel chair and unable to use his arms or legs. A young guy named Brian did the race for him while raising money for ALS and wore John's number "179". He also rolled himself across the line as John did the year before. The next year John had passed and Brian again did the race with his number as his number has now been "retired" to very special individuals. So now we are back to the church (please excuse the length of this story) and the lady I was sitting next to told me that her son was doing the race and he was going blind and that she lost her husband to ALS last year so her son was going to wear John Blaze's number. Perhaps that doesn't seem significant to any of you but in a race where there are 1800 athletes and 5,000 spectators and volunteers, I found it really amazing that I would meet those 2 people connected with such an amazing story. I think that perhaps the next Ironman I attempt my need a greater cause then myself............but let's get thru this one first!!!!! (:

So after the iron prayer it was on to the "carbo loading dinner" which usually entails pretty lame food but free is free and there is usually a good presentation. The food was as I expected and the presentation was great. They did a whole thing on the culture here with the "ahi" (fire) and there was dancing and drums, music etc...it was cool. Then they took some time to recognize the original participants as this is the 30th anniversary of the race. This year a guy that raced the first Ironman is back and this will only be his 2nd Ironnman ever. So he basically waited 30yrs to do his next one. I think he will have a much better bike than the 60lb free spirit he was riding! (Rob I know you know what I am talking about!) There were a lot of amazing stories of some physically challenged athletes, the oldest, youngest, last year's age group winners etc. It was very motivating. The race will be aired Dec 7th I believe and if you get a chance to watch it, you should. There will be some great stories.

This morning we went for a short swim (really more like we played in the water and looked at the fish) and tried to hit the espresso bar out in the water but it started moving away and we decided not to try and catch up to it the day before the race. (: Then we went and had latte's at a place called "lava java" with all 300 other triathletes that had the same idea but we did get to see the coast guard boat pull in while we there. I apologize for my lack of military knowledge but its' the USS something......anyway there will be 2 navy seals who will be parachuting into the water before the race start and then doing the race with us. wow!!!!!

In a few hours we will take our bikes and gear bags down to transition area and get all that set up. It's a lot of crap to lug around for these things!!!! Then back home for an early spaghetti dinner as we try to stay calm.

Ok well that will have to do until Sunday as I will be a bit busy tomorrow. www.ironmanlive.com will have race coverage so if you are still awake and want to check things out please do! My race number is 1364.

Til later,

Kona - 2008 - Day 3

Aloha! Well today was kind of a boring day in regards to writing a blog so I decided to give you some insight into Ironman since we are now in the final days to the race. It is so crazy that close to a year has passed since I even qualified for this amazing race and now it is less than 3 days away. Some of you have done an Ironman or at the very least, a triathlon. Some of you think this is the most absolutely craziest event on the planet............and yet it is hard to find anyone who is not somewhat enchanted with the whole idea of completing the Hawaiian Ironman.

So while I have not actually yet experienced this Ironman, I can give you some insight on what an Ironman in general entails. First off you are usually awake at 3:30 or 4 am both from anxiety as well as having to force yourself to eat some breakfast before the race. I personally love "eating" usually, but I sure don't enjoy my forced breakfast the morning before an Ironman. Then you head down to the start to have some nice volunteer write your race number in permanent black marker on your body. Yes, you end up with a lovely sunburn image of your number that lasts most of the winter! After that it's time to slather on some sunscreen which of course there are those hard to reach places that you always miss so there is another lovely hand print or weird mark to last the winter. After that it's off to load your bike up with the gallons of sports drinks and gels, inflate the tires and check, recheck and check again all the brake pads, tires, and anything else that really should not have changed overnight but that we compulsively must assure ourselves are all ok. Then it's usually the 20th visit to the bathroom (ok too much information I know) and then probably back to check all the gear bags that you had to load up the day before. Oh and back to check the bike again b/c something could have happened in that 15 min that we were not there. (: Then it's down to the swim start. Some of you may not know this, but Ironman is not divided up into age groups in terms of the swim start. It is actually a mass swim start..........yes that means 1800 to 2000 people all thrashing about in the water as a cannon goes off. It is complete chaos and while I have a swimming background it is probably the most dreaded moment of the whole race. Athletes have ended up with broken noses, ribs, concussions and other various injuries. There is always the irritating person hitting you in the back of the head every stroke they take or the one hitting your feet the entire way so all you can do is pray that the swim will go by quickly. Ah thank goodness, on to the bike! You must run into the changing tent with your gear bag and get all "dressed" and ready to take off for the 112 mile bike ride. Initially you are elated to be out of the water but as the hours pass, you are now sticky with gels and sports drinks, hungry and tired from eating the same stuff, salty, sweaty and hot from the heat of the day and realizing you still have 30 miles to go........that is when the mind starts to revolt against your body. Now thoughts like "this is the dumbest idea I have ever had, why did I decide to do this?"........."I don't even care if I finish, this sucks"..............."I just want to get off this stupid bike".........And then some kind volunteer out there shouts out and says "hey you are awesome! keep it up! You are almost there!" and you keep going. And now you think..."Yes I am doing an Ironman and I will finish!'. Yay! It is time to get off the bike, again elation that the 5 plus hours on that not so comfortable bike seat is done! You run back into the changing tent to put those running shoes on. You sit in a chair and think "Oh......I have to run a marathon." And then you say, "just start running....." And so you do. The first 2 miles are horrible as you feel every mile of the bike ride you just completed. Then you get into your pace and you start feeling kind of good..........you get confident and determined as you run by the miles of smiling, encouraging volunteers and family out there cheering for you. Ah the magical or not so magical mile 18.......if you are one of the avg people out there, it is now starting to get closer to sunset and it's getting lonely out there. Now you are really tired of gels and sports drinks. The one time I drink cola is on the marathon of an Ironman b/c for some reason, it is a life saver at that point. Sometimes you lick the salt off your arm as a last resort if you are in need of sodium, sometimes you feel as if you are just plain losing your mind. Now you really have to play mind games as there is now no part of your body that doesnt' hurt. If you can make it to that 23 mile mark you just think "have 3 miles to go......I can do that!" As you get closer to the finish line you can hear all the spectators cheering and you hear the announcer calling out the names of those finishing the race ahead of you. Finally you see the banner of the finish line, all lit up with a big screen TV so you can see yourself running down the final few yards..............then you hear those words you have been dying to hear...."Heather Butcher, you are an ironman!!!!!" Then some kind volunteers wrap some mylar (I just call it aluminum foil) around you so you are warm, they ask you a few questions to make sure it is safe to let you proceed and then you blankly look for someone you know. But it is done and you have achieved what seemed so impossible at many points during the long day. I know it sounds like a crazy race but when you truly test your limits, both physically and mentally, it truly is an experience.

Ok hopefully that wasn't too long of an email and my purpose in writing it was just for you to understand why all of us do this crazy event. Hopefully tomorrow will yield a more entertaining day of Hawaii adventures.

Thanks for all of your thoughts and prayers as well as support!

Kona - 2008 - Day 2

It's odd to not have to be anywhere at any particular time and yet the day still seems so busy. Today we went down and registered for the race so we picked up our numbers, goodie bags and timing chip. We don't get our t-shirt until we cross the finish line so there is that incentive. (: Suzette and I did go for a swim again today and about a half mile out in the water was a nice espresso bar set up. Someone had anchored a sign on the bottom of the ocean pointing us in the right direction. That was pretty cool to have an espresso stop in the middle of the ocean but I declined as I had already enjoyed one of Cheryl's kick butt espressos before the swim. The turtle was back but there were signs up not to touch the turtles..........which I had not planned on doing anyway.(:

We did some shopping in the open market and there was a nice Hawaiian man who offered to do my hair with some funky hair tie. He had a nice mannequin set up to show me what fancy tricks he could do. I decided it wasn't realistic for me to do it myself if I bought one so I just kept my visor on....big surprise there!

We went for a nice dinner at a restaurant called "Huggos" which is right on the water so we got to see a beautiful sunset as the waves crashed on the rocks. Delicious ahi tuna but the atmosphere really made everything so much better. It is dark now but the cars and athletes are still in constant flow up and down our street. I don't think I would necessarily like to live full time in this condo if it is always this busy since the condo is only 3/4 mile away from the finish line that is nice. Actually we do end up running the first few miles of the marathon by our condo so that is great for the spectators and family that will be here.

Unfortunately my other athlete (Kim) who was supposed to arrive earlier this afternoon ran into some challenges. She was about 2 hrs into her flight from phoenix to kona when they had to turn around and go back to phoenix due to a broken radio or something. So now she is getting in around 8 or 9pm tonight and we will be picking her up. She must be exhausted from that nightmare. At least she can sleep in a bit tomorrow though.

Well today was not all that exciting as I read back over this email but it is fun to be here. Tomorrow is a snorkeling day as well as some more official IM stuff. It is amazing how the whole town supports the event. There are signs up everywhere "welcoming triathletes."

More later,

Kona - 2008 - Day 1

Hopefully all of you receiving this actually want to be receiving this! (: I figured the easiest way share my daily kona experience would be to send a mass email. I know this is a bit less personal but this is the only way to get it all done. Anyway it is pretty amazing here and our condo is nice as it does overlook the ocean. Unfortunately and fortunately (for race day anyway) it is on Alii drive which is probably one of the busiest streets here. There is a constant flow of athletes and cars going by as well as surfers hanging out and blasting their jamaican music. So that is interesting. There are lots of tropical birds and even mongoose which we have seen. I thought they were ferrets at first but they are not quite as cute. Well I guess that depends if you think ferrets are cute! Today we took our first swim at the pier and that was so beautiful! You literally could see the bottom the entire way and it was easily over 20 feet I would imagine. Lots of coral and colorful fish as well as lots of athletes. The water was relatively calm but got a little sloshy the further we went out and we probably didn't swim more than about a mile. There was a friendly sea turtle swimming near shore with everyone so that was really cool to see. We then decided we should see "Hawi" which is where the bike turn around is and apparently that wind is much stronger there. So we drove 35 miles and then rode 18 miles or so to the town of Hawi. And they were not kidding when they said the wind picks up there. It was mostly gradual climbing into very swirly wind. It was sort of a headwind but a lot of cross wind too. It was a bit difficult to take in fluids a few times as it felt like you might get blown over if you let go! Suzette got a flat today so we had a 20 min break for her to change her flat. I got that experience yesterday on my little ride so now 2 of us have practiced our tire changing techniques. Unfortunately my brand new $60 tire had to be retired due to the huge gash but the expense of this sport never ends! (: The scenery going up towards Hawi is really awesome anyway so we did enjoy that (well after you get past the miles of black lava rocks) as you are up high and can see the ocean as far as you can see. I can see why it can be a tough bike ride though with the wind and climbing. Also I guess a tradition of the IM is to find the white rocks among the black lave rocks and write messages so you can see tons of messages all up and down the Queen K hwy which is pretty interesting. I don't think I will be participating in that though, seems like too much work hunting for the white rocks. (:Tomorrow registration opens so we will get all our stuff (numbers, gear backs etc) and start that process of getting organized. I am sure we will do a swim again tomorrow and maybe do some sight seeing. All the cafe's and stuff are really cool in the little town of kona as you can see the ocean from most of them so that's really nice. It is a little pricey but we are kind of in the middle of nowhere so that just the way it is.Ok well that was the day in kona today. We hope to go do some sight seeing tomorrow or the next day as the volcanoe is active on the island so we may try to go see that. The weather is pretty warm (85 or so) but the trade winds are going to die down for the next few days so it will feel hotter. Unfortunately they are expected to come back on Friday, yay just in time for the race!!!!!More later,Heather