Wednesday, May 27, 2015

IMTX Race Report

* disclaimer:  This race report is long.  Like novel-length long.  I totally understand if you just want to scan it.  The length is more for my benefit, because I don't want to forget anything!  Plus if I decide to do this again, I want to know what went well and what didn't.  So, grab some popcorn and a beverage...this may take awhile!

On Wednesday, I met up with my teammates from Finish Strong Racing for packet pick-up.  We claimed our awesome backpacks, signed our lives away and were tagged with our cool new blue plastic bracelets.  Now I had all my gear and special needs bags, so I finished packing everything I would need on race day.  I decided that having one more tube for my bike might not be a bad idea, along with having a few more electrolyte tablets…I added both to my list to buy the following day.  Honestly, this stuff stressed me out.  I was afraid I’d forget to pack something vital.  Although with all my checklists, I don’t know how forgetting anything would be possible! (Can we say type A, OCD?)

Various pictures from packet pick-up!

The following day, I went to a seminar sponsored by Endurance Nation.  It was full of tips for a successful race day.  Very good info and last minute tips!  That afternoon, I went to a social where I met several awesome people from the Ironman Texas 20XX Facebook page.  It was fun to meet all the people I’d been talking to online in person.  I had also planned on going to a pre-race prayer gathering later that afternoon, but the there was a huge thunderstorm that came through and I think it must have been cancelled, because I walked over and didn’t see anyone.   Later that afternoon, I met up again with my Finish Strong peeps for the official Welcome Banquet.  I met quite of few people from other countries and states!  While it was exciting to be among all the athletes, the banquet felt a bit like an Ironman Infomercial.  The new Ironman University was unveiled, we heard from The Woodlands Township and from each of the major sponsors – Waste Management and Memorial Hermann.  The highlight of the night was getting to meet Sister Madonna Buder.  She is amazing!

Some pictures from the Welcome Banquet - FSC teammates and Sister Madonna

On Friday, we all met up for bike check in. We had rain every single day for weeks and the main pathway in transition was a muddy, stinky mess.  It would be another obstacle to overcome on race day…little did we know it would be a mud run / cyclocross / triathlon.  Once we checked in our gear bags and bikes, we went home to rest and relax.  The hubby and I picked the kids up from school, then took the Kiddo to gymnastics.  My parents met us there, so the Hubs and I could go check into the hotel where we’d be staying for the next two days.  We had an early dinner at Grimaldi’s and went to CyclesTx to by one more tube for my bike.  You know, just in case (can we say paranoid?)  It felt surreal to be at the hotel for my race, my Ironman.

Bike drop off...(clockwise from top left) me with Black Mamba, the mud in transition, the gear bags for the swim/bike transition and  the bike all racked and ready!

Race Morning
On race morning, I woke up a little after 4 am.  I said a little prayer of thanks that there was no rain.  Thankfully, the forecast looked pretty good all day...whew, that was a huge relief!  It was warm and humid, but that’s to be expected this time of year in our part of Texas. I got dressed, ate peanut butter on Ezekiel bread and a banana.  I prepped a bottle of Nuun to drink on the walk over to transition.  I was a bit stressed out about my tires, because I heard a number of bikes had flatted due to the rise in temperature during the day during check in.   

The Hubs and I started the trek.  When we arrived, we found that the transition area was even muddier than it was the day before.  I tiptoed through the mud and was happy to see that my bike tires were fine!  I put the Speedfill and Aerobottle on my bike and filled each.  I stuffed my bento box full of Honey Stinger Waffles, Electrosalt tablets and even a few Pepto tablets (just in case). I also put the extra tube into my bike special needs bag and was done.

Finish Strong arranged for shuttles to take us from the HEB near transition to the swim start, so the Hubs and I walked over and met up with the group.  It was awesome to have this service…thank you Finish Strong!

Once we were dropped off at the start, I went to body marking. I had put on sunscreen at the hotel, so my numbers were smearing pretty easily…I wished I had ordered the race number tattoos.  Oh well!  I took two Electrosalt tablets and realized I left my bottle of pickle juice in the hotel fridge.  I had been having crazy leg cramps in the water and wanted to do whatever I could to prevent it.  I decided not to worry about it and just try to relax in the swim.  I drank all of my Nuun and had another bottle of water.  About 30 minutes before the wetsuit start, I had a pop-tart...breakfast of champions!  I met up with my teammates again and I was joined by my good friend and best supporter, Kelly, plus two other awesome gals – Jennifer and Ami.  Coach John gathered the group together for an awesome and emotional pep talk and prayer.  The Anthem was sung and the pros started.  It was getting real, I was going to do this!

Me and the Hubs before the race, the masses at the swim start, getting hugs from friends (Kelly, Jen and Ami), the swim starting!

Prayer and pep-talk with Coach John

Swim - 1:33:14
Even though the water had reached 81 degrees, I decided that I was wearing my wetsuit.  Wetsuit optional (not legal) meant that I’d would be starting after all the non-wetsuit people.  I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly all the athletes were in the water with the new rolling start and the wetsuit wave was actually starting a few minutes earlier than expected.   I found my Finish Strong peeps and had fun dancing to the music as we waited and just had fun while we waited. I don't think any of us could contain our excitement.  A few minutes later, it was time for us to start.  Even though Coach told us to start at the front of the way, I hung back a bit…I have a history of having anxiety in the water and wanted to do what I could to prevent that from happening.

I slowly made my way into the water and started to swim.  And then the anxiety set in.  The stupid, annoying anxiety that I have not experienced in over a year.  Ugh.  I tried to swim a few strokes and would get out of breath due to the anxiety.  I stopped, tried to collect myself and then started again.  More anxiety.  I heard someone in a Kayak say something about needing to pull out another swimmer.  I finally told myself, “This is NOT how your day in going to end.  Not here, not like this!” I started my silly swim mantras and tried again.  At one point, I saw the blue sky when I took a breath…I was breathing better and my mantras turned into prayers of thanks – “Thank you God for the beautiful sky”, “Thank you God for helping me get my head together”, and even “Thank you God for Nuun”and “Thank you God for Gu”.  Finally, I got a rhythm and really got going!  Before I knew it, I could stop my mantras and just swim.  I actually began to enjoy the swim.  It seemed to take forever to get to the first turn, but then things went more quickly.  I bumped into a few people and a few people bumped into me, but for the most part the swim wasn’t bad.  And then I turned into the channel.  There were so many people squished into a small space! 

The channel when it wasn't quite as crowded

I know several 1:45-ish swim finishers and they didn’t seem to have issues with crowding in the channel.  When I saw all the people, I thought that either I was faster than I thought, or there were just more slower swimmers than previous years, lol.  I had trouble really getting into a rhythm, because it was just crowded.  Eventually either the crowd of swimmers spread out, or the channel widened, because I could see open areas when I was spotting and knew I could swim several strokes without running into anyone.  I only had one issue with a swimmer…he seemed to run into my legs and then decided to wrestle with them… I simply stopped for a second and let him move on.  The channel was really exciting – I could see the crowds each time I took a breath, I could hear cheers and cowbells. When we first entered the channel, I remember seeing pretty yellow flowers on one side. I tried to take all of this in and just enjoy the experience.  As I passed under the bridge, I looked for my friends and didn't see them.  I found out later that I was faster than expected and they missed me.   When I looked ahead, I saw the crowds and realized that I was almost done.  I couldn’t believe it!  I was almost done with the swim…it seemed so fast!  I actually felt myself smile.  While I was swimming.  And then I almost cried.  I was so happy!  But, I pulled my happy self together and finished my swim. 

The only pic of me coming out of the water and my eyes are closed!  At least I look happy.  Notice the mud?  It look a lot like the transition area.

As  I exited the water, I heard Mike Reilly say my name and lifted my arms and squealed!  I realized I had forgotten to start my watch (doh!), so I had no idea of my time.  A woman getting out of the water next to me slipped in the mud, so I made a point to walk slowly and carefully through the area.  Someone came up and unzipped my wetsuit, which was great because I completely forgot to do that.  The strippers stripped off the wetsuit in a flash and I moved on.  I waved to my hubby, my parents and kiddos and happily grabbed my transition bag and went into the transition tent.

Me picking up my gear bag

T1 - 13:34
I saw my teammate, Nancy, in the tent which was a surprise because she is faster than me.  When I told her that I forgot to start my watch, she commented that I must have finished in 1:30-something.  I was in shock.  I expected to finish around 1:45 or 1:50, but I never in a million years thought I would finish in 1:30-something!  At this point, the tent was fairly crowded and the volunteers were pretty busy, so grabbed some ice water, changed into a bike jersey, put glide on my feet, stuffed my pockets,  and was about to put on socks when someone reminded me about all the mud.  Instead, I put my socks in my shoes and carried them out.  Started to go to my bike, then realized that I needed to pee (I actually needed to pee when I was swimming, but I am not coordinated enough to swim and pee at the same time!)  So, I went back to porta can.  As I was about to exit the porta potty, I heard a thunk and then a splash…it was my sunglasses!  They immediately started to sink into that icky blue water.  I was not going to reach in and grab them!  Oh well, at least it wasn’t the Tailwind packets that had been in my pockets!

I went into the mud pit transition, and grabbed my bike.  I ended up carrying my bike over the mud (can we say cyclocross?).  Small plastic swimming pools had been placed near the transition exit, so I washed off my feet, put on my socks and shoes, and was finally off.  Thank you to all the volunteers who were holding our bikes while we did this!  I as approached the mount line, I saw my awesome nephews and then saw rest of family and friend, Jill, and was off!

Feet cleaned, shoes on and ready to roll! 

Bike - 7:31:16
Just as Coach instructed, I started the bike slow.  Just as he warned, my heart rate was crazy high (in the 150s).  It took about 7 miles to get my HR under 150…my goal was to not get higher than the low 130s (hills were the exception).  People were passing me, but I just kept it slow.  Coach had said that if people are passing you, you’re doing it right. As I headed out of The Woodlands, I saw a friend from my small group at church, Tommy.  It was great to see another familiar face!  

I really needed to go to the bathroom again, so my first stop was at the mile 20 aid station.  I saw my “Team Beef” friends from Woodlands Fit, used the porta potty, grabbed a water to top off my aerobottle, then put the water bottle in my pocket for later (exactly why I opted to wear the jersey..although it made for ugly race photos later, LOL!).   My plan was to finish a bottle of Tailwind every hour (drinking every 15 minutes), sip on my water, eat a Honey Stinger Waffle and take two Electrosalt tablets per hour. 

Getting ready to leave The Woodlands

There were segments on the bike with lots of sun, some with clouds (which made it feel so much cooler), lots of headwind , lots of cross winds, a tiny sprinkle of rain and a few patches of tailwind throughout the course.  I saw quite a few people on the side of the road with flats or other issues and each time I said a silent prayer of thanks for making it as far as I had with no issues.  Maybe I was drinking too much, because I seemed to have to stop at every other aid station for the porta can!  (Yes, I should probably learn to pee on the bike, but I just couldn't make myself do it!)  

I had been having back issues on the bike for the past 6 weeks, so that had been a major concern for me as the race approached.  Fortunately, I had no real issues with my back.  The only exception was on the largest hill on 1486 (affectionately named Bertha by a teammate).  I felt a slight twinge, so I shifted into small chain ring in order to not have to mash the pedals so much.  It seemed to help.  Having the extra bottle of water in my Jersey was nice, because I could occasionally spray my head, back and chest with it to keep cool.

It really helped that I had done training rides out on the course.  I was familiar with the route, the hills and even when to expect the wind.   Along one stretch, someone was burning a tree.  I’m not sure if that was intentional or not, but the smoke was blowing right into the road and the cyclists.  I figured if nothing else, it would cover the smell of my sweat for a little while!  I did stop at special needs for chips and a few sips of a coke (I had frozen it the night before)….both were heavenly.  A woman who was eating a PB&J commented on how delicious and cold it looked.  I offered her a drink and she agreed it was great!  I gave the rest to the young woman who was volunteering.  Apparently, they hadn’t had much to drink and it was pretty hot out there.  Another woman had dropped her salt pills on the course, so some of us offered our extras...heaven knows I had packed plenty!

My favorite bike pic..well except for that water bottle sticking out of my back pocket!

I have to give a huge kudos to the volunteers…they helped with anything and everything.  There was a great young guy who helped me mix up a couple of bottles of Tailwind and grabbed water for my aerobottle without me even asking for his help.  All while I pretty much just stood there at my bike  Amazing!

My final stop was at mile 90.  We were off the rough roads and chip seal!  It felt great to know we were so close.  There was a lot of traffic, but for the most part the drivers didn’t look too annoyed.  Some of the people even rolled down their windows and cheered for us.  There were a few small hills in The Woodlands, but it was so good to be so close to the end of the ride, I didn’t care at all.  There were people cheering here and there, which was awesome.  Overall it turned out to be a great ride!  My stomach felt a little iffy here and there, but probably just too much water/liquids.  I had Pepto tablets which really helped.

T2 - 14:30
When I dismounted my bike, I saw my family.  When I entered the changing tent, I saw Nancy again and took the chair next to her.  The volunteer who helped us both was AMAZING!  She dumped my bag out on the ground and went through each item to see what I needed and what I didn’t.  She poured cold water on our heads and sprayed us with sunscreen.  She was a rockstar!!!  I wish I knew her name so I could find her and thank her.  I only know that she completed IMTX in 2013.

Off the bike, hooray!  I was showing Jill that I had my good luck charm with me. :-)

Just one of the many good luck charms I had with me...this one given to me by my friend, Jill

Run - 6:05:23
Once I was ready, I headed out to the run.  I saw my family and friends and walked to get my heart rate down.  I loved that the aid stations were so frequent.  I didn’t always need something, but there was music and happy, smiling faces, which really helped keep me pumped and excited.  Another nice thing about doing a race in your hometown is that I seemed to know at least one volunteer at every aid station!

Happy to see my "Team Christy"cheer crew...the Kiddo gave me the "Ick" look and opted for a double high-five

In addition to the aid stations, there were several tri groups out on the course with loud music.  There was a fun group on Lake Woodlands, South Coast Endurance had “Hippie Hollow” which was AMAZING, CyTri had a team of cheerleaders, and  Moxie Multisport had men in Speedos and women in Bikini’s dancing (yes I danced a little at each loop).  I saw several friends on the course who took time to jog alongside me for a bit, always with smiles and encouraging words.  It was awesome. And, it helped to see signs that the Hubby made for me along the course.

Just a few of the signs the Hubs put out on the course for me to see!

The aid stations had fun themes like the United Nations or Pirates.  The most encouraging volunteer award goes to the Pirate woman welcoming everyone to the OutRival Racing aid station.  She yelled out comments (with her pirate-speak) about how strong we looked, how we were almost Ironmen (and women), etc.  She was awesome!  There was also someone along Woodlands Parkway who was having a backyard party.  He and his friends were yelling and cheering over their fence with a megaphone.  That was hilarious!

Another highlight of the run was seeing Coach Dana and Coach John riding by on bicycles in East Shore giving lots of encouragement.  East shore had lonely, quiet areas, so that gave me a little extra energy when I really needed it.  My first loop was fun…I just took in all the sights and sounds.  Several friends had told me to try to enjoy every minute of this race and I was doing my best to do just that. I could see my cheer crew in front of the Marriott from the other side of the Waterway and hearing their cheers was amazing.  The entire Waterway was filled with spectators and I was constantly hearing spectators call my name.  There were a couple of annoying out and back sections, but I didn’t mind the first time around.  There was another great aid station before the final out and back, the “Some like it Hot” station.  I saw volunteers from my run club and other people that I knew.  When I made it to the stairs (Yes, there were stairs!  We went down, not up!), I saw my longtime friend, Kristi.  She ran with me until we reached my cheer section at the Marriott.  I high-fived friends and family, hugged the Hubs, gave the Munchkin a kiss and high-fived the Kiddo (she wanted no hugs from her sweaty Mom). 

Cute signs from the cheer squad!

My Mom and cousin, Debbie, giving me some cowbell!

Happy to see my "Team Christy"cheer crew...the Kiddo gave me the "Ick" look and opted for a double high-five.

The Hubs coming along for a little stroll

The second loop was more of the same.  One thing I noticed was that I had to stop at a porta can way more often than I wanted to….again, maybe too much liquid on the bike?  The sun was starting to get lower and the temps started getting cooler.  This helped immensely with both HR and pace.  Before North Shore Park, I saw my friend Jerry who jogged and walked with me for a bit and then met me again at the park exit.  I stopped at special needs, changed my socks, added more glide and ate a few potato chips.  I ate a Hammer Gel every hour and picked up potato chips, oranges and cold water at the aid stations.  The aid station on Panther Creek had watermelon and it was insanely good! I had intended to use Nuun in my handheld water bottle, but it just didn’t taste good to me.  So I had an Electrosalt tablet each hour, my Gu and a little chicken broth here and there.

Grabbing a quick kiss from the Hubby on the 2nd loop

On the third loop, it felt great to know I was almost done.  It was a much quieter loop – the crowds were thinning and the music was gone in some areas.  It gave me some time to just let it all sink in...I was almost there!  Moxie was still dancing and there was an elderly lady on the patio of the retirement home on the waterway who was clapping (I saw her on my first and second loop, too).  I saw Michele LeBlanc from Outrival who gave me some words of encouragement.   I meet up with a friend, Richard, on path the dark path along Woodlands Parkway.  We chatted a bit and managed to leapfrog with each other the rest of the way.  Seeing friends along the course also helped make the miles go faster.

Just a couple of friends who cheered, rand and walked with me on race day - Kristi (top) and Tammie.

After passing my favorite pirate lady, I knew I only had a 5k left.  For some reason, it seemed so much longer than a 5K.  Probably because this was the longest stretch between aid stations and it included the out and back sections, which by now just seemed really annoying to me.  I walked a lot in those final miles, and pretty much waked all of those final two miles.  Had a tiny cramp in my right calf, which is why I decided to not worry about my pace.  I also decided that I had been running so slow that I was probably only going to shave 5 minutes off my time by running more.  Funny how you reason with yourself when you’re getting tired.  However, even though I felt the fatigue setting in, my body still felt great.  No weird aches or pains, no weird GI issues, just a teeny calf cramp.

I finally made it to the last aid station.  At the turnaround, there is a bell you get to ring on your final lap.  I rang the bell twice and started to get more excited.  I saw my coach from my first year in Woodlands Fit, Debbie.  She walked with me for a long stretch along the Waterway, which helped make that final little stretch more bearable.  Once she left me, I noticed that I could hear the crowds.  I was getting closer and closer to the finishers chute and Mike Reilly’s voice!  I finally ran again.  The people standing there were cheering and clapping.  The next thing I knew, I was entering the chute.  I wanted to take it all in, but it went so quickly, dammit!  I tried to high-five as many people as possible along the way.  At some point I yelled something like, “Holy f*ck”, I’m almost done!”  I’m apologize if there were children around, but the words were out before I knew what was happening.

Coming down the finisher's chute...this part was a total blur!

I saw friends, but it was just such a blur!  I almost went back and hugged them, but I opted to just keep on going.  Finally, I rounded the u-turn and headed up the hill toward the finish!  I continued the high fives with anyone who had their hand out and spotted my family…I stopped for hugs, high fives and a kiss from DH.  So amazing!  And then I raised my arms and galloped and danced as I head Mike Reilly say, “CHRISTY GONZALES, YOU – ARE – AN – IRONMAN!” I let out a scream (or three). 

To say I was a little excited would be an understatement...This is a sample of my happy dance.  If I knew how to post the video, I would!

I stopped my happy dance too soon, because the official finish photo is well, kinda boring, LOL.

It was all so surreal.  My friend, Cheryl, was there to greet me and gave me a huge hug.  I was given my medal and was walked to the next person who would give me my hat and finisher’s shirt.  Coach Dana walked up and gave me a hug, congratulated me and made sure I felt okay (which I did!).  He walked me to the finisher’s pic area and just like that, it was done.

I was an Ironman.

It was perfect.

Time - 15:37:57

Afterwards, I saw my Dad on the other side of the barrier and gave him a hug.  I had to keep walking in order to exit the finisher’s area.  When I did, I saw my friends, Tammie and Kelly.  Before long, more and more friends and family started to make their way through the crowd.  We hugged, laughed at my finish line performance and took copious amounts of pictures.  It still hadn’t hit me that I was done, but felt great all the same.  

"Team Christy"minus a few who had to leave a little early.
Awesome coach giving congrats and checking in!

Lots of post race selfies!
 I have the most amazing friends and family...I love these guys!!!

My heart and soul...I could not have done this without these guys!!!

I was hoping to take a quick shower and come back to the finish line for the final hour, but the hubby went to get my bike and the kids had had a long day.  Instead, I watched the big video screen from our hotel room and listened to the crowds while chowing down on two slices of Grimaldi’s pepperoni pizza.  For once, the Kiddo was desperately wanting a shower and the Munchkin quickly fell asleep with his stinky, sweaty clothes on.  I still couldn’t believe it...I had done it!  

Later that night, I sat in bed and read the text messages and Facebook posts from the entire day. Everyone was asleep and all I could think about was how freaking lucky I am. I have an amazing support system – my Hubby, kids, parents, inlaws, friends, teammates, coaches.   I felt thankful that I had such a great day.  Everything fell into place perfectly.  It was awesome.

I am blessed beyond words.  I am pretty sure I fell asleep with a smile on my face.


Pony and Petey said...

I read the whole thing!! I'm sooooooo proud of you!!!!!

Jerry Reimer said...

Reading this and seeing your pictures, I could only think "how to run Ironman Texas and finish with a smile." I'd say you did everything right. Congratulations!

saroy said...

Awesome, awesome race report! Congrats again!! :)

Viv said...

I loved the report with all the pics and details and all! You had a great swim. I enjoyed how talked yourself off the anxiety edge and it worked cause you had a heck of a smile at the end of that swim!
The bike set you up to lock in this race in perfect time girl. I loved and enjoyed all the support you had on the run. I wish I could have been there for you. You did fantastic and after all this time you are an IRONMAN! Now I'm happy to say that one of my cool mom buds has that gorgeous shinny medal. CONGRATULATIONS!!