Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Race Report: winja's IRONMAN SANTA ROSA (May 12, 2018)


It was a whirlwind of emotions this past weekend, but I'm fortunate enough to say that I finished the race and have officially "renewed my membership" to the IRONMAN club. 

A year and a half ago, when I finished IMAZ, I told myself (and others) that I was "one and done". It was a lifetime achievement - so much so that I would have been content never working out again. But then I got restless and needed to fill my time with something, so I signed up for AIDS/LifeCycle, biked down the coast of California, and in the blink of an eye, 2017 was over. 

2018 was a milestone year for me: new job, new living situation, and new priorities. It meant putting on my "big girl pants" and making decisions. So many decisions. Many people welcome change: I will be the first to admit that it's hard. My hours in the office were extended, I worked out much less, and my self-esteem suffered in the cause-and-effect cycle of not having enough time to do all the things I wanted to do. But c'est la vie. When the dust settles, I know that I will thoroughly enjoy all that life has in store for me. 

(WARNING: This is a huge wall of text. I come back and read it often though, so bear with me.)

For those who don't know, an IRONMAN is 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling, and 26.2 miles of running. To qualify as an IRONMAN, one must complete all three legs in 17 hours, or it will not count. That's similar to swimming from SF to Alcatraz, Biking from Long Beach to San Diego, and then running from Dodger Stadium to the Santa Monica Pier. All in one day. 


I had been avoiding packing for this race for the longest time. In fact, I'd successfully avoided reading the athlete guide (with all the race details, maps, and directions) up until the week prior to the race and was under the impression that the race was on a Sunday. Nope - it was on a Saturday. 

Moving from one apartment to another upended my life: I was living out of boxes, and while I'm particular about many things, unpacking is low on my totem pole when there are other things that need to be addressed. Like my last IM, I had begun to develop a rash on my side due to stress. I knew what it was so I didn't worry too much about it. I hastily packed everything I could on Wednesday night, snoozed for a few hours, and got up at 4am on Thursday to leave for Santa Rosa. 

We started our journey at 5am. The goal was to get to Santa Rosa in time for the athlete briefing at 2:

Santa Rosa is far.

I signed my life away, learned a little more about the race logistics, and prepped myself for all of the hills we were going to see on the bike course. 

Fear now surpassed by excitement, Joyce and I headed out to drive the bike course. At our athlete orientation, we were told that we'd be climbing nearly 4,000 feet in elevation. That's equivalent to climbing Mt. Baldy. On your bike. It was exhausting just thinking about it. The worst part? Just a week prior Strava sent me an email to remind me just how little I trained. "7 days," it said. I'm sure 5 of those days were cycling. How embarrassing. 

To take my mind off things, my sister and I met up with our little brother, Kelvin, in Petaluma for dinner. Brazilian BBQ is probably not the best for carb-loading, but THOSE CHEESE ROLLS. So good. 

We got back to the hotel later that evening and before I went to sleep, I had this great idea to sort out all of my stuff chronologically. I got a little too excited with the sorting. Every little thing counted, and I ended up purging a lot of items before they went into the bags. 

To be clear: I would do this again every time. I loved the idea of laying everything out and walking through what I would be doing. Did I really need 2 sets of goggles for the swim? Probably not. But it would be smart to have a bottle of water for every bag, right? Sure. 

The best thing I did for myself? Write directions. Every bag had directions. "Drink this." "Eat this." "Put this in your pocket." - when the volunteers came around to help me during my transitions, they read the directions on each baggie and told me to drink, eat, and shove stuff into my pockets. I never felt like I was forgetting anything, nor did I ever feel like I was wasting any time. 

On Friday, we were required to drop off our bikes, our bike bags, and our run bags. We drove over to the town center, dropped off the run bag, and drove the 30 miles to Lake Sonoma, where the swim was to be held. I pulled my bike out of the car, put some air into the tires (just in case I wouldn't get the chance the next morning) and grabbed my bike bag for T1. 

As I walked into T1 to put my bike bag down, I was advised to pull anything remotely edible from my bag. Apparently last year, wildlife had entered T1 in the middle of the night to snack on Clif bars and other treats. Alice mentioned to me that during T1 last year, one of the first swimmers came in only to find that his bag had been taken and dragged down the hill by a fox! The athlete was stuck looking for his bag and was ultimately one of the last athletes to leave transition because of his predicament. Poor guy. 

A volunteer followed me to my bag and strongly encouraged me to take "anything that would be eaten" out. He made me take my inhaler, my chapstick, and my sunblock out so that I'd "still have my bag" in the morning. Really? My inhaler? Fine. 

Joyce and I spent the rest of the morning at Lake Sonoma. We watched some of the athletes test the waters, sat on the dock, and dipped our feet in. The temperature was perfect. 

Every little thing triggered me. Who signs up for an Ironman and then doesn't train for it? Me. Who goes into something not knowing the outcome? Well, probably plenty of people. 

The rest of the day included food - lots of food - before heading back to the hotel for last minute check-ups, putting my numbers on!!!, and bed. 


It's 2:30am and I. AM. JAZZED. soooooo excited! 

I shove a sandwich into my mouth - a King's hawaiian roll stuffed with spam - made by Alice the night before. My sister drops me off at the town center, I drop off my special needs bags, and I stand in line for the shuttle. The plan was to have Joyce drop me off so that there would be no hiccups, and then she would meet me at Lake Sonoma in the event that she had trouble finding parking, etc. 

We got to T1, and I immediately headed over to my bike to check on it. Are my tires still there?! Calm down, Winnie. They are. Are they still inflated?! I said CALM DOWN. They are. 

I set up all of my nutrition: Jelly Belly Sport Beans in my bento box for a quick, sweet jolt on the ride, Endurolytes for hourly checkups, and a disposable bottle on my frame so that I could trade it out at each aid station. 

I met back up with Joyce.Time for the waiting game. 

As the boat ramp continues to fill up, I start to feel this numb sensation. I'm excited, I'm scared, but more than anything I think I'm just indifferent. In the event that I didn't finish, Patrick had made a great point: I was already an Ironman. I had nothing to prove. I had no one to prove it to. 

If I finished, great. If I didn't? Well, I'd be right back where I started. 

I said my goodbyes to Joyce and watched as the horn sounded and the elite athletes got into the water. Athletes slowly filed in, and at 6:57am, it was my turn. The volunteers in front of me lowered their arms, signaling that I could get into the water, and I waded in.

The swim was beautiful. I thoroughly enjoyed it. With the exception of a few people trying to swim over me, I took the swim slow and focused on my breathing and keeping my arms steady. I counted - every two strokes was one number, and I made my way up to 1,100 before coming out of the water, walking up the boat dock, scanning my timing chip over the mat, and then... doing it again. 1.2 miles, done. 1.2 left to go. 

The second loop was a little rockier than the first. Some people were on their first lap still, which meant having to swim around them or having to redirect myself so I could avoid them. By the time I counted to 1,100 again, it was time to get out of the water. I was consistent in my swimming, and only 4 minutes slower than my first Ironman, so I'll take that win. 

IM says my total swim time was 1:29:29, averaging 2:19/100m.
Strava says my total swim time was 1:29:25, averaging 1:59/100y.

I'll take it. 

Getting out of the water also meant having to climb the massive boat ramp to get up to T1. Realistically, running up it meant that I would be tired for the bike portion, so I walked up. Peter met me as a volunteer wetsuit stripper, and held my hand as I stepped out of my suit.

I ran the rest of the way to grab my Bike bag, and made my way into the women's changing tent, where Nanette (a fellow Women for Tri ambassador that I met at Vineman 70.3 2 years ago!) helped me pull items from my bag. She fed me, made sure I had sunblock on my arms and back, and helped me put all of my swim stuff away!

I mounted my bike, and was a few miles in before I realized I had not put any sunblock on my face. MY PERFECT PLAN, FOILED BY THE SUN! Luckily, past Winnie thought ahead and put a sunblock stick into the bento box. Thank goodness, because temps were predicted to be in the mid-80s during the day.

I've probably told everyone willing to listen at this point, but hear me out! The bike portion of this race was hard. Probably not the hardest thing I've ever done, but certainly challenging, to say the least. The first part of the race held the biggest climbs: a 200 elevation climb, a steep descent, followed by a 400 elevation climb. Normally that's fine, but there must have been 100 smaller hills along the course. The descent at mile 3 is deceiving - you think you're going to rock the bike ride, and smaller hills bring you back down to size.

I wish Strava would tell you where the winds were during your ride. The race briefing person told us that the winds would come from the north, so if we timed our ride correctly, we'd have the winds on our backs pushing us forward the whole time. I was looking for this much-needed aid, and got it for the first 60 miles...

After special needs, however, it took a turn for the worse. The wind decided it wanted to come up from the south instead, which meant we were met with headwinds. For 50+ miles. By round 2 of Chalk Hill at mile 88, I was shedding invisible tears while going up a steep hill at 4mph with headwinds. It broke me.

Somehow, I trudged on through to mile 112. I counted up to 1,000 and then backwards from 1,000. When I lost my place with the numbers, I'd choose a random number and continue counting down. Anything to pass the time. My toes went numb. My legs started to cramp. The wall was creeping up.

When I did IMAZ, my friend John mentioned offhandedly that if I was able to get off the bike by 4pm, I'd be able to walk the marathon portion of race. I looked down at my watch and saw that I was ahead of my own schedule. If I picked up the pace, not only would I make it back before 4 -- I could legitimately walk the run portion of the race and still make it before the 17 hour cutoff time!

Trudge, trudge, trudge.

I got to T2 and a volunteer held me as I said #ShutUpLegs and peeled myself off my bike. Only 26.2 miles separated me from the finish line.

My bike portion was amazing.

IM says my total bike time was 7:11:01, averaging 15.59mph.
Strava says my total bike time was 7:08:05, averaging 15.6mph.

Considering the climb, the headwinds, the hill at mile 88 - I will take this. Hell, I would take this on a bike ride ANY DAY! At one point, I was coasting at 19.91mph. YES. YES. YES.

The best part? I was less than 8 minutes slower than I was at IMAZ: a predominantly flat course with no real incline that I definitely overtrained for. Maybe under-training comes in handy sometimes?

T2: more sunblock, swap shoes, add hat. RUN TIME.

I'm out! All smiles, I'm so excited to finish. AND! It's 3:57 pm. I'M ON THE ROAD BEFORE 4PM! I CAN WALK THE WHOLE MARATHON AND STILL FINISH! As long as I maintain an 18 minute mile, that is.

I start running, and it's slow but steady. Half a mile in, however, it hits me - my stress fracture, exacerbated by the constant revolution of my legs on the bike and the pressure of the weight of my body, decides it's time to quit. I "pull over", try to stretch my lower calf, and am immediately met with resistance. I can't bend my knees for the life of me.

I'm distraught. How was I going to attempt 25 more miles in this pain?

So I start walking.

"John told me I'd finish if I maintain 18min/mile if I get out by 4. John told me I'd finish if I maintain 18min/mile if I get out by 4. John told me I'd finish if I maintain 18min/mile if I get out by 4. "

-- "Winnie!"

I turn around.


Nope, not kidding - John was right behind me. Did I mention he was doing this race too? It was his 13th Ironman (yes, he qualified for Kona!). He fell into step with me, and that's how it went for the next 25 miles. One foot in front of the other, shooting the shit, right up until the finish line. It couldn't have gone any better - I had company for 25 miles, I walked through the pain, and I finished in a timely manner! John was my saving grace, both at IMAZ and at IMSR. If you're reading this, THANK YOU, JOHN.

The finish line called to me: bright lights. Mike Reilly. My sister, brother, Irene, Ruth, and Peter. I let John cross the line first and trailed after so he could have his moment on the carpet.

squee! I finished!

Nanette was volunteering at the finish and snapped this shot of me right after:

This, my friends, is sheer happiness.

H A P P I N E S S 

I am now a two-time IRONMAN triathlete!

IM says my total run time was 6:33:32, averaging 15:01min/mi.
Strava says my total run time was 6:33:36, averaging 15:06min/mi.

For someone in pain, I think I did pretty well! I can't complain about any of this.

Total times, as provided by IRONMAN:

Y'all ready for the aftermath?

... and a whole pizza and 2 full-sized Snickers bars. :D


My training buddies - Alice, Jason, Patrick, Evan, Jay, Martin, Bryan, and Charlie!
My Marvel and HT/HU teams, and my friends, for enduring my bullshit.

Special shout-outs to the following (in no particular order):

Newly-inducted IRONMAN finisher, Alice! Thank you for being my training buddy. For forcing me to swim when I tried to avoid the pool, for encouraging me to do a lap around the Rose Bowl even at the wee hours of the night, and for letting me in on your bike rides so I wouldn't have to train alone. As Mike Reilly says, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN! I am so proud of you and your endeavors.

Team DISNEY. My heart will always belong to Disney, no matter where I am. Disney runs in my blood and I'm so fortunate to be able to surround myself with such bright lights - to train with, to commiserate with, and to enjoy life with. You are my home, Team DISNEY.
My sister Joyce, who always inconveniences herself to ensure that I'm having the best time. She's selfless, she's thoughtful, and she never hesitates to come along for the ride! Thank you for everything you do for me. Expert spectator doesn't even begin to cover it. I am lucky to have you as a sister and a best friend. 

My little brother, Kelvin, for showing up to one of my races! In my nearly four years of racing, this is the first race Kelvin has gone to. If I had tears to shed in this moment, I would have. Special shout-out to Irene, who came out too!
And finally, no picture, but this will do: Patrick, my first training partner and my buddy through thick and thin -- thanks for reminding me that I had nothing to prove to anyone. My outcome was mine alone, and I needed that reminder from someone like you. Thanks, buddy.


My team surprised me when I got into the office on Monday! I only told a handful of people about this race, and forced them to promise me that if I didn't finish, we were never to speak of it again.

THANK YOU to the wonderful team at HT for keeping tabs on me! You believed in me even when I didn't believe in myself.

I had dinner with Alice last night to talk about the race and debrief. We went over how everything went, and ended up on the topic of training. I told her that I had only worked out 19 hours in April. In comparison, when I was training for IMAZ, I was averaging 19 hours every week or so.

Alice pulled up her hours, and I was blown away: (her number is the bottom number)

I... probably should have worked out more. But Alice - so. many. hours.

I think I'm done with fulls forever. It's a lifetime achievement to do an Ironman even once, so 2 times is almost unheard of. Anyone who does more than that is definitely crazy. But I'm sure I'll continue to iron in some way or another. It's in my blood. :)

What are we Ironing, anyway?

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