Saturday, October 29, 2022

Race Report: winja's IRONMAN California - Sacramento (October 23, 2022)



That's how many days separated my 2nd Ironman and this last one. But well OVER 4 years later, I have finally completed my 3rd Ironman. It's been a long time coming. 

Some who know me have known that my dream is to make it to the Ironman Championships. If you're not the top of your age group, you can qualify a few other wats, including by being invited or by completing 12 full ironman distances and join as a "legacy athlete" - maybe one day I'll make it! I'm now 1/4 of the way there 😜

But 3 Iron distances completed? This is a big deal. When I did my first race, I thought it was a fluke. When I did my second race, I felt like I had finally proved to myself that I was an athlete. This time around, I felt like I had let too much time pass, and I felt like I wasn't worth enough to wear the mantle anymore. Finishing was a hope but I knew there was a big chance I wasn't going to make it too. 

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. If you don't finish within the time constraints, they will call you a FINISHER, but not an IRONMAN. 


My buddy Chris (who you've probably seen in many of my other recaps!) and I have done a few other races together - Indian Wells 70.3, Calgary 70.3, Memphis 70.3, and countless shorter distances. After a lot of peer pressure, Chris agreed to do the race (his first ironman!) and was so committed to it that he even hired a coach! There were points where I felt like we were so, so different in training: His dedication to the sport and the sheer number of hours he spent training made me feel like there was no way I would finish - but I admired him for his tenacity and held on to my "it's all mental" strategy. 


Ready for the recap? As always, please note that I don't write this for anyone except myself. I love going back and reading my adventures over an over again, and I love to be able to re-live my experiences each time. You know - because memories fade over time and all. 



Unlike my last race, I spent a lot of time thinking about this race. Did I train? I had every intention of doing so, but life got in the way. I had hope to train for the majority of 2022 - but I was in a car accident a week before the LA Marathon (yes, I still did it), then got COVID after a work trip... which sidelined me from doing IRONMAN 70.3 Hawaii (and gave me a dry cough for 8 weeks). I traveled a few more times in the summer, and ultimately only trained on my bike the 8 weeks leading to the race. 

I swam twice in Tokyo and didn't do so again until the race. 

I have not run in a very, very long time. My only training for this portion was the many morning and afternoon walks I took my pups on!

But as the days of the race neared, I started to worry more and more, and I told myself that I would just start the race and see where it took me. 

I made labels... and then I packed. I packed for every minute that we would be in Sacramento because there was nothing else I could do to prep myself for this race! I even packed spares of everything (half a suitcase full) - just in case?? Hah!

We made our way up to Sacramento at 5am in hopes of getting in line for Merchandise (gotta get that swag!). On the way up, we were met with a little bit of traffic and were diverted from the 5 to the 99. Got some things to remember the race by (as I was paying I was also praying I'd finish so I could actually wear the clothes I purchased). 

It was my first time in Sacramento, so seeing the Capitol Building was really cool. I had heard about the homeless population there but was not aware of how prevalent it truly was. Some of the locals told us that there were parts of the race that were cleared off to make way for us to participate.

We shopped, walked around Ironman Village, settled in to our hotel rooms, and then went to dinner at  Morton's.

On Friday, we checked in with Chris's Team: Go The Distance, and got our Bib numbers before heading to lunch at Il Fornaio. It was so tasty we agreed we'd go back the next night for our pre-race meal. 

On Saturday, we dropped off our bikes. Chris went with his team to do a workout (I had not worked out since the Sunday prior), so I went on my own and tried to soak it all up while I was there. I love pre-race prep because it's like going on a first date: you don't know what to expect but the butterflies are there!

Chris dropped off his bike shortly after, and then we all headed over to take a look at the swim exit. 

I had every intention of driving the bike course, but I was drained from all of the activities, so we went back to our respective rooms and napped and packed everything for our race. I got smart this time around and just pre-packed each one of my bags so all I had to do was empty my pre-packed bags into my special needs and bike/run bags and be done with it!

Another thing I did was google map the course to familiarize myself with it. Saved myself 56 miles in gas, but probably something I won't do again. I would much rather drive the course! 


We lucked out with a hotel room only a few blocks from the start and finish line, so instead of my usual 2:30 alarm, I got up at 3! Chris and I met up at the lobby with the rest of our bags for the race, and walked over to the stadium where are bikes were. We were told to drop off our bike special needs bags and our run special needs bags, and then we headed inside the stadium - I filled the water in my bottles, added my nutrition to my bags, and met up with Chris so we could try to catch a bus to the swim start.

We walked out of the stadium only to find a massive line leading to.... who knows what? We asked and apparently it was the shuttle line. We stood around for what felt like 45 minutes, and the line moved slowly. Staff came around to tell us that spectators were in a different line and that they needed to prioritize swimmers. 

The race started at 7, and at 7 we were still in line. We finally got onto a shuttle and were dropped off at the swim start - 2 miles away but felt like it took us 20 minutes to get there. We hustled and lined ourselves up with the 1:20 swim finishers, got in line... and were off!


As soon as I was the water, my heart rate elevated. I couldn't calm down. Was doing this race the right thing? Was I going to finish? How would I do 2.4 miles?! Was there E.Coli in the water? Should I let water get in my mouth? What creatures lived in this river? How shallow was it? 

We were instructed to keep the buoys to our left, but based on feedback from other athletes it sounded like some of the buoys were taken by the current. At one point, when the American River turned into the Sacramento River, athletes were swimming upstream to try to go around the buoy. It was a cluster for everyone who tried to obey the rules of the race in keeping the buoys to the left. Clearly mother nature had different plans!

But all's well that ends well - at least for now. 

I finished my swim with the fastest swim time I've ever done! Thank you, current!

There's a point in the data that shows an extra slow lap - I'm assuming that's when I fought the current to get around the buoy!

It's also worth noting that the wind at this time as 8.3 mph and that my pace was 1:40! I'm usually a 2:10-er :) You can find my swim stats here. 

I beach myself like a whale and get out of the water, then head up the ramp, out of the embankment, across the street (said hello to Matt, Colette, and Terry!), into the stadium - grabbed my bike bag, and went into the changing tent. I was hoping to get some help with changing (in my last two races, I had some great volunteers, and this time around I even packed two gift cards to give!) - but much to my chagrin, no one offered to help or even walked to my area of the tent. 

I put on my cycling shoes, my helmet, glasses and gloves, and shoved some of my nutrition (hawaiian sweet rolls!) down my throat as I stashed my inhaler, my chapstick, and more nutrition in my back pocket. A quick spray of the sunblock on my face, and I was out of the changing tent and headed for my bike. 

The transition was so long I couldn't tell if I should jog to my bike or just walk it at that point. That morning, Chris's teammate Naomi mentioned that the bags to the bikes were roughly half a mile! Total transition had to have been at least a mile. Anyway - after 20 minutes in transition, I was off to the bike portion!


In the days leading up to the race, Chris had mentioned that if you sectioned off the bike into four parts, you'd get four 28-mile segments that were out, back, out, and back. It was a nice way to digest the bike ride - instead of a 112 mile trek, you were doing 28 miles at a time. I loved that plan. 

I typically average 15 mph on my rides, but for part 1, I was averaging 23. I felt so amazing. I thought to myself, "the ride back probably won't be so nice, but I may just PR the bike portion!" Lies. So many lies. 

I started to feel the wind toward the end of part 1. When we hit the southernmost point of the ride, there were cones to demarcate a U-Turn, and I'm pretty sure that U-turn was what broke me. I felt the gusts of wind immediately. My speed on the bike went from 23 down to 8. I truly felt like I was biking uphill - for 28 miles in part 2. I started to tear up. I did a bunch of math in my head, and my time went from a 6 hour finish to a 10 hour finish. There was no way I was going to make the bike finish. 

But I put my head down and kept riding. I was terrified to lift my hands off the bike because I felt like I was going to blow away. At the 56 mile marker (and at the end of part 2), I stopped for my personal needs bag. I didn't need it (minus the gift card I put aside for my volunteer) - but I wanted to get off my bike and stretch. Matt and Cheryl were waiting for me! It was so nice to see them, even though I felt like a fragment of myself. 

I had shoved food into my mouth because I hardly got to eat on part 2. I was hungry. I was angry. But I was relieved to see people I knew. After a minute or so, I climb back onto the bike. 

Part 3 was nice... look at me cheesing for the camera!

and Part 4... well, let's just not talk about it. The running joke for everyone in the IMCA facebook group is that we basically biked 56 miles up a continuous hill. They say the gusts were 35-40mph, but garmin says it was only 11mph. I don't believe it. I literally felt like I was going to blow off my bike. 

At one point, I wanted to quit. I was envisioning one of those wind tunnels that people did - but tried to come to terms with doing it for an extended amount of time. I typically do my half ironman bike portions at 3-3:15 hours. For this race, I hit halfway at 3:45, so I knew the earliest I would come in would be at 7 and a half hours. Even during IM Santa Rosa, my longest bike time (4,000 climb) was 7 hours. 

I was tracking for 7.5, which meant that I would be 30 minutes late for the run portion. My secret has always been that if I could get off the bike and onto the run portion by 4pm (7 hours of biking), I could walk an 18-minute mile and still finish. 

My marathon window was getting smaller and smaller. 7.5 hours on the bike roll by, and I'm in tears again. Would I make the bike cut off? I started to ask people who rode by me, and every time I asked, no one seemed to know the answer. It was probably because they couldn't hear me over the wind, but it got more and more demoralizing. I started to see less and less people on the bike path, and I started to wonder if I had already missed the deadline but race organizers just wanted me to ride in versus pick me up in the SAG truck. 

At 8 hours, I finish the bike. All the time I had saved on the swim was used up, and I only had 7 hours to complete the marathon. The LA marathon earlier in March of this year was 7 hours. Would I make it?

I dismount my bike, crushed but thankful that I wasn't pulled off the course for being too late. 

What I would say about this bike ride: It sucked. Under normal conditions (and the weather was beautiful the day before and the day after), it would have been an amazing ride - flat and fast - but the wind made it the most challenging ride I've ever been on. Would I do it again? Not without the guarantee of good weather. This bike ride broke me. You can see the rest of my stats here. 


Those who know me know I don't run anymore. I had plantar fasciitis after my first ironman, and then a stress fracture, and truthfully, I just didn't train for this race. I walk the dogs a few miles every morning and night, and that is the extent of my training. With that said, however, I can be a fast walker when I want to be!

When I got off my bike, I knew something was wrong. My toes had fallen asleep and everything in my shoes hurt - but it wasn't until I felt the blisters after I got off my bike that I knew running wasn't in the cards. Blisters had developed in between my toes and on the balls of both of my feet. They were just forming, but I knew a marathon would just make them worse. 

Transition was short, so let's just get to the meat of the run portion. 

I tried to jog the first mile, but I forgot to empty out my back pockets from the bike, so I had WAY too much stuff with me. I kept doing the math in my head, and even if I did a 16 minute mile, there was a chance I would not finish on time. I had to try to hit 15 minute miles or bank any of the seconds I did under 16 miles. 

The route had us go through a few different places, down a long bike path, and then back to the Capitol building, where we had to do 2 laps before finishing. Very straightforward. It got dark very quickly, which was fine - the only issue was that there was no lighting in the park. I packed a running light in transition and another one in my special needs bag, but I FORGOT to pull it from my special needs. I didn't want my only light to run out - especially since there were others on the run still - so I turned my light off and fumbled in the dark. In retrospect I really do wish I had grabbed that second light, just in case. 

At mile 20, someone kept shouting at me from the side of the road, but I ignored the voice until I realized it was Matt. I was in such a brain fog that I didn't even recognize him.  I just wanted everything to be over. My pace was getting slower and slower, the number of people started to dwindle, and I found moments where I as on the path by myself, dragging my poor blistered feet along. 

When I got to the Capitol, I was both relieved and disappointed. 4 more miles separated me from the finish line. Luckily, they passed by quickly, and with 20 minutes left to spare, I crossed the finish line as a 3-TIME IRONMAN!

This year has been one of the most challenging years of my life - I would never wish it on anyone. But it's also been one of the best years of my life - I've had the opportunity to travel, to move up in my career, and to prove myself both physically and mentally. I would not trade it for anything else. 

Note the 15 mph winds! You can find the rest of my run stats here. 

8 years ago, I did my first triathlon. At that time, it was the biggest physical accomplishment I had ever done. 6 years ago, I did my first Ironman. I never thought I'd do one, let alone 3. The first one was a fluke, the second one I proved myself, and this third one was just to renew my membership. Hopefully there will be many more to come. 

Many congratulations to Chris for finishing his first IRONMAN! Welcome to the club. :)