Monday, July 26, 2010

Ironman St. George 2010: Race Day!

Well..................that was absolutely the hardest race I have EVER done!!!! I didn't think anything could be harder than the Hawaii Ironman but this one topped even that.

Saturday morning at 3:30 am the alarm goes off because we have to be down at the shuttles between 4:30 and 5 in order to ride out to Sand Hollow reservoir. Kim and I suck down coffee to warm up as it is 49 degrees outside when we head out lugging our drinks and snacks for the long day ahead. There is an intense feeling of "dread" as we think about what lies ahead but the day is here and the only option is to go. The bus ride is filled with nervous energy, I sit next to David and we discuss nutrition and swim strategy but mostly we just talk as a distraction. Kim and Leigh are sitting a few seats away and Vince has been MIA since he got there. I am wearing every warm item of clothing I brought as well as holding hand warmers in my pockets just to keep my fingers from going numb. It seems crazy to think about racing when it's this cold out. When we get off the bus there are swarms of people everywhere and it resembles a recently stirred up ant hill if you were watching from a distance. We check our bike tires, put our drinks on our bikes and stand in an absurdly long line for the port o lets. Now it's just waiting for that announcement that we must head down to the swim start. There are roughly 2000 of us that will start the race............somewhere around 1700 will actually finish. We spray what is the equivalent to "Pam cooking spray" all over our arms and legs in order to squeeze into our neoprene wetsuits. It's not really comfortable or flattering but it's warmer than the clothes I was wearing. The water is 59 degrees...........I am afraid of how cold it's going to be and I know that I will not be able to feel my hands and feet soon. We have to jump in the water and line up behind some buoys for a few min before the start in order to ensure that everyone begins at the same time. I cannot explain the shock of the water as it first hits my face........I start hyperventilating and panic is unavoidable as hundreds of arms and legs are swirling around me. The cannon goes off and I am fighting for an open space anywhere and trying to not think about how cold I am. Finally things settle down a bit but I am starting to shiver in my wetsuit, I take a peak at my watch in hopes that perhaps I am almost done. It's only been 27 min............really????? I am not even half way and I know I am in trouble. Unfortunately a lot of energy is expended trying to keep warm in cold water and once the shivering sets in, you don't have much time before "bad" things start to happen. At 47 min both legs seize up in massive cramps but I can't stop or I will be run over by the swimmers behind me. So I swim dragging my legs as if they were unattached to my body. I can't feel my shoulders or anything else and thoughts of quitting become more and more appealing but I know that Leigh, Kim, David and Vince are all out there fighting the same battle, so as their coach, I cannot let them down. I can see the swim finish but I feel as if I am moving thru quick sand to get there. Finally my feet touch the bottom and I try to hobble to the volunteers who strip your wetsuit off for you. My feet hurt so bad because they are so cold.........every little piece of gravel feels like a knife in my feet. I grab my transition bag and head into the changing tent but am somewhat disoriented with the uncontrollable shivering. A very nice volunteer had to both undress and dress me in my dry bike clothes (there is no place for modesty here)as I was useless to make my body do anything. I see some man taking pictures through a gaping hole in the changing tent but I just don't care. Of course I could end up on Utube and that would be very scary? Over 13 min later I realize I have to leave the tent as there are still 2 more segments to this brutal race. I want to cry but a voice in my head screams "H, move your butt as this is a RACE you know!

The wind is blowing 20 plus miles an hour already and it's still barely 50 degrees. I shiver and shake on my bike for 20 miles or so before I can drink or eat anything and then I realize I am probably way down on my calories and I need to figure out how to make up for it. The scenery is beautiful and I am trying to distract myself from my frozen feet by looking at the mountains. The hills are relentless as is the steady 20-30 mile per hour headwind. (I find out later that there were gusts of 42 mph that day) The pavement is rough and it's difficult to stay relaxed as it shakes and jars my body, especially the "saddle area." Sadly, I know it's going to get REALLY uncomfortable way too soon. A hilly bike course is challenging enough but when you add in a brutal headwind it becomes almost demoralizing because you are going so slow. 3 hrs into the bike I think I can feel my feet and I am finally somewhat comfortable, at least from a temperature standpoint. I still opt to keep on my toasty long sleeve x-tatic NB shirt and my winter gloves though. I am actually starting to enjoy the beauty of all the small towns and there are tons of locals out cheering us on. Unfortunately there is still another brutal lap of hills. I am approaching "Veyo" which has a hill called "the wall" and it is 1.3 miles UP! I am out of easy gears on the bike so standing is a must at this point...........aagghhh I can feel the inner thighs starting to cramp. I just want off this bike.......................I look down and I can see miles of canyons and mountains, it is breathtaking...........or I am just out of breath due to the hill I just climbed! The last 20 miles back into town is mostly down hill, thank God!!!!

I put my running shoes and finally shed my gloves and long sleeve winter shirt (I have never done a race in so many clothes!) and proceed to start the long run. It is a gradual uphill for the first couple miles but I am feeling pretty good and my pace is comfortable and right where I had hoped. The volunteers have been amazing all day and every mile there is a small smorgasbord of items to choose from so that helps pass the time. Mile 4 is a brutal uphill...........finally running seems idiotic as I am quite sure I can walk faster, so I do. Actually as I look around, most people are walking up the hill. The great thing about Ironman is that you always have company. This particular course has 2 large loops with 4 mini loops within the big loops. Unfortunately these are all hills. I keep thinking that Ironman is hard enough just doing the distance, why did they have to make this course insanely difficult? But then again, Ironman is supposed to be hard I guess. I am still running but things are starting to take a negative turn. My Achilles tendon is on fire and I am nauseated. I run with a girl in my age group for awhile and she tells me that she has done every Ironman in North America and that this one is by far the hardest of all of them. Great. I have to let her go so I can walk and dry heave...........I am thinking perhaps I should retire from Ironman as this is just not that much fun right now. I am envious of the spectators sitting in lawn chairs drinking beer and eating "real food". I stop taking mile splits around mile 14 as it is depressing to watch every mile get slower even though ironically I am still passing people. It is mile 21 and this cute 25 yr old guy comes up behind me and asks if I think we can stay under 13 hours. I look at my watch and do some quick math (lol for those of you that know me, the only math I can do is run and swim splits!) and I realize we have to pick up the pace or it's not going to happen. So I tell him we need to run the down hills and the flats since we obviously are walking the up hills in order to make it. The down hills are hurting just as bad as the up hills now though as every step sends a painful jar all through my body. I try to distance my mind from my body to some degree because now it is a mental battle and I just need take it one mile at a time. My new friend cannot keep the pace so I am going solo..............3 miles left......."water, Gatorade, cola, pretzels, chips, bananas, orange slices, chicken broth" it becomes like a song at each aid station and I know I only have to hear it 3 more times. I can now see the finish line and I am going to reach my goal of staying under 13 hrs. The street is lined with spectators, lots of them with hands outstretched so I "high five" them as I run down the final 300 meters or so. I can hear "the voice of Ironman", Mike Reilly shouting "you are an Ironman" to the runners in front of me and I can taste the finish line and I know I can finally stop. "Heather Butcher, you are an Ironman!" I never get tired of hearing that. The funny thing is that I have heard it now 6 times from him and he always says my name like "Boucher" as if I am French or something. I sort of thought "Butcher" looked pretty self explanatory but I guess it adds a nice touch. I get my picture taken ( those are always really attractive!) and a very nice volunteer guides me to the medical tent as I am told I look very pale. I don't feel so well but does anyone really look that great after all of that? I am sticky, salty, dirty and probably stinky but they don't seem to mind. The nausea returns and I am cold again so I lay down on the ground......or rather I crash land to the ground in a heap as there is nothing left in my legs to hold me up. David finds me in the tent and takes great care of me and even scavenges some warm blankets which I greatly appreciate. Kim joins me a short time later looking equally as pale and spouting out the same report "Oh my God that was the hardest race ever! It was harder than Hawaii!!!"..........she proceeds to tell me that "she hates me" which has been the group's mantra since we started this journey. I just laugh because I know she and the others will be signing up for another Ironman soon. We put our race morning clothes back on and head out to see Leigh and Vince finish. The finish line is on fire with spectators and it truly is like a party out there. Thousands of people are cheering and screaming as streams of athletes continue to finish. It is almost midnight and the clock ticks down but most people have stayed to watch. In Ironman, you are allowed 17 hrs to finish the race so if you cross at 17:01 you are not an official finisher. There is always someone finishing at 16:59 something and it's quite magical and emotional to see the last official finisher cross the line. There are always those who don't make it but there will be another day for them. That is the crazy thing about Ironman,, once you have done one, you share a silent bond with everyone who can say "I am an Ironman." And somehow the misery and pain you felt all day long is replaced by the pride of what you have accomplished and all of a sudden you are tempted to have that feeling again. I think I have said "I am NEVER doing one of those again!" 9 times now..............maybe I will see if I can do all of the races in North America since now I have gotten the hardest one done? Actually I can barely move due to the soreness so I think maybe I will "table" that idea for now.

All in all my team represented Florida really well. We overcame altitude, cold water, enormous hills and brutal winds so that we could call ourselves an "Ironman!"

Thanks again for all of your prayers and well wishes as they are appreciated more than you will ever know. Until next time..................Heather

Ironman St. George 2010: day 3


Ok here we are the day before the race and there are lots of things to do. After a leisurely morning with lots of coffee (eeek it was 44 degrees this morning!) and a nice breakfast we headed to the reservoir to check our bikes in and possibly do a swim. When we got to Sandy hollow the wind was blowing at about 30 mph and it was freezing! The bikes were being blown all over the bike racks and trying to walk around was very challenging, but the view was truly amazing. I finally got up the courage to take a swim with one of my other athletes as I needed to check out my "skull cap" (this is to keep your head warm) and my little booties (to hopefully keep my feet warm) as I hadn't worn either of them in the water yet. There were white caps and "antarctic" looking birds as well as a huge rock formation in the middle of the water. The initial frigidness" of the water took my breath away. It felt something like when you drink a slurpee too fast and get brain freeze only on the reverse as it was from the outside in. Anyway after a few min I couldn't feel my face or my hands but it will be doable. I guess you face the challenge on race day because you have no choice. You find a way to endure it and that's what it's all about. We dropped off all of our gear and had a nice early dinner and are now sitting in the hotel basically "killing time" until the race. It's hard to not think of what we will endure tomorrow as well as the intense soreness that will follow but it's coming whether we are ready or not. We will get up at 3:30 to be ready to take a shuttle between 4:30 and 5:30 out to the reservoir as no cars are allowed out there. There we will check our bikes, gear bags and apply lots of "lube" to get our wetsuits on and await the 7 am mass swim start. Yes that's right, 2500 people all at once will start frantically swimming with the sound of a cannon. And the race begins...........

Ironman St. George 2010: day 2


I have never been to St. George but it is absolutely beautiful! Unfortunately the wind today was blowing about 25-30mph which made our pre race bike ride a little less than pleasant. However we did go to a gorgeous place called snow canyon where the scenery was truly breathtaking. (see photos in the next email). We did a photo shoot at this canyon for the company that actually made it possible for us to come out here and do the race. The company is "Young Living" and they produce amazing essential oils and a super antioxident drink called "Ninxia Red" which all of us have been enjoying to help us with our recovery as well as our general health. They filmed us both riding and running up and down the hills of this gorgeous canyon and it allowed us to experience some level of exercising at altitude as well as work out some pre race jitters. We did see some interesting wildlife and nature such as roadrunners, eagles, wild flowers and "frabbits" ok this is a small rodent that we couldnt' really see as it was fuzzy and small but hopped and sprinted at an amazing speed so we figured it was some interesting combo of a frog and rabbit. It was a good source of humor to lighten the mood anyway.

So the race begins with a swim in Sandy Hollow resovoir and it is basically melted snow so it's definitely going to be a cold swim and wetsuits are a must. I think the water temp is "up" to 59 degrees now............that is really not much improvement in my book but there will be close to 2500 of us that have to deal with the same conditions. We will then bike out of the canyon and head thru downtown st. George and up in the mountains for a hilly 2 loop bike course. This race is unique in that there are 2 transition areas. Typically there is only one transition area and that is where everything takes places. You have your bike set up on a rack and then your bike and run gear are in color coded bags that you pick up on your way to the changing tent. This time we start the swim and get the bike stuff but finish the bike at another location to start the run. For those of you who don't know, the Ironman consists of 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking and 26.2 miles of running which is 140.6 miles you must travel powered by your own body. As I said before, I have done 10 of them and yet, when I think about what I am about to ask of my body, I tend to question my sanity. Perhaps that is what lures us back to this crazy event. It's obviously a physical challenge, but more definitively, a mental challenge. Your mind can play crazy tricks on you and one minute you are on cloud nine and you are feeling stronger than you ever thought possible and the next minute you are filled with self doubt and suddenly aware of how bad your body hurts and all you want to do is "stop". But the race itself is such an amazing event that it is actually really difficult to "quit". The volunteers are absolutely amazing and the encouragement of family members and spectators make all the difference in the world. I think that is what makes Ironman unique. You will not find anything so inspiring as the volunteers and race officials as you will at an Ironman. They will cheer as hard for the first place pro as they will for the last place amateur and that will bring the strongest of heart to tears. Perhaps that is why I love this insane event.......everyone is on their own yet we are all facing the same daunting task of completing such a difficult challenge. And to finish, well that will be as rewarding for me at number 10 as it was for number 1.

Ironman St. George 2010: day 1

Here we go again.............for those of you who have known me for awhile, you know that this is not the first Ironman blog and you are probably wondering "why" I continue to do more of them! This will be Ironman number 10 for me and it will take place in St. George, Utah on Saturday, May 1. I am sitting on the plane with 4 other athletes/friends/clients trying to distract myself from the race that lies ahead. You would think that I have done this enough times that I wouldn't even get nervous and yet that is the furthest thing from the truth. In fact, I may be the most nervous I have ever been second only to the Hawaii Ironman. It's not that we haven't worked hard and put in some good training (though a little unconventional at times) it's more the unexpected that is so terrifying. As of now the weather is forecast to be rather unpleasant (low of 44 and a high of 65 and rain), this is a first year race so there aren't any comparisons to be made, there is altitude to contend with and a cold water swim (55 degrees as of the latest data). So a little bit to be nervous about I guess. Our training was pretty interesting this winter. I know that when I say that the Florida "winter" was challenging for training, I will get stink eye from those of you who endured winter up north but it really was difficult to get in the necessary bike training. So we had sporadic training that was termed "Kamikazi" training since it was composed primarily of several really difficult workouts followed by quite a bit of recovery. Not your typical Ironman training actually.The 5 of us made a dozen or so trips to clermont which is our favorite place to ride and did countless hill repeats. We carried back packs with our running shoes on our back so we could run in between hill repeats. I was the recipient of many verbal "I hate you's" and scowls but they kept on showing up and working hard. They endured brutal strength training workouts, hundreds of squats and lunges and other challenging core exercises, But I have confidence in them and I fully believe they will do well and that it will be a grande adventure for all of us to say the least.