Let’s just address this photo right now because I LOVE it. The fact that my beloved dog is wearing a backpack/harness along with an oversized “Ironman training buddy” bandana is ridiculous enough, but then he is being held up mid-air to “cheer,” all while my husband is cheering and taking a picture of me racing. It’s just all too perfect. A huge thank you to my teammate Suz Martin for capturing this moment. Guaranteed this will end up framed somewhere.
So now about being an “Ironman.”
A full Ironman never seemed like an impossible thing to me because I knew when the time came for me to do one, I would be prepared and ready for it. While Ironman Arizona (IMAZ) wasn’t on my schedule (or radar) until about eight weeks before the race, I still felt extremely prepared and knew the only thing I had to do on race day was just go out there and cover the distance as fast as possible.
So why IMAZ? I raced the ITU Long Course World Championship at the end of September which was a 4k swim, 120k bike, and 30k run. That means the swim was 200m LONGER than a full ironman, the bike was about 75 miles, and the run was nearly 19 miles – a race that can more or less be considered in between a half and a full. After doing ITU Worlds, I still did not have any intention of doing a full until one of my teammates teased me about doing IMAZ with her, along with many other BAM athletes. I laughed and told her it was kind of tempting but I was in no mental state to make that decision (this was hours after finishing ITU Worlds). Admittedly, I was less “afraid” of doing a full after ITU Worlds, but I knew that a full would still be a different beast.
After a couple days of thinking about doing IMAZ and after my coach told me I could do it if I was okay with extending my season, I decided to do IMAZ and felt excited for the new challenge. I knew that I would one day be doing fulls as part of my professional career, so why not go out and see what it was like. Maybe I would perform better or like the fulls better? You don’t know until you try.
I’ll spare you ALL of the details of the race, but I would say overall it was a great first FULL experience. Here are some things that were notably different from my usual half ironmans:
Change tents: HELLO! Having three or four women helping me get my wetsuit off while handing me my helmet, or helping me change my shorts, and then bagging up whatever gear I left behind was AMAZING. I also thought it was fun to interact with some people briefly between disciplines – almost like a quick break. I’ve done other races that have change tents, but I didn’t have to run through them, so I didn’t. Here the change tent was the only option, and it was great!
Running shorts: I usually stay in my tri shorts and tri top the whole race, but this race I changed into running shorts for the marathon. I haven’t loved the waistband on my tri shorts while running, and I knew I would be much more comfortable in just pure running shorts. I don’t plan to change my shorts every time I do a full, but this was something I wanted to do this time. I didn’t want to be worried about my shorts cutting into my bloated race belly or having to pull down my tight speed top to cover that same bloated race belly :). I only wanted to be worried about putting one foot in front of the other. No regrets here and I’ll make sure I’m in a tri suit that I’m totally comfortable in going forward.
Mind over matter: I turned off all the thinking and doubting and negative thoughts that can go on during the race. I knew that my biggest challenge would be my mind during a full ironman. Sprint to full – or really anything difficult in life – THE MIND is key to success. I told myself that my only job on race day was to push hard and just cover the distance as fast as possible while still looking out for my nutrition. I did JUST that. There was a time during the bike where I didn’t feel great – part nauseous, part hungry, part needing to just be vertical (this race was VERY aero), and that’s when I thought outside my plan and had to make some adjustments to make sure I could finish the bike strong and safely.
The other time I “used my brain” was at mile 16 of the run. Let me tell you – something happened at mile 16 and from that point on, EVERY SINGLE STEP HURT. My quads were just so fatigued and in serious pain. For a moment I thought “here we go, now my pace is going to drop like crazy so I can manage this pain.” Then I realized that that wasn’t the right approach – my legs were going to be killing me no matter what, so I had better suck it up, embrace the pain, and push my body as best I could. Everyone on course was likely feeling what I was feeling. My pace did drop some, but I can tell you that I was embracing the pain and had accepted that in order to finish, it was going to hurt no matter how fast or slow I went.
ALL THE BAGS: I probably asked for reassurance 12 times to make sure I was doing special needs and all the gear bags right. I didn’t want to screw anything up and be left without my run shoes or needed nutrition at any point! I never ended up using my special needs bags (bags available during the bike and run that you put extra nutrition or anything you want in), but I did check them in just in case I came across a nutrition disaster during the race. I’m mostly sad I never got the chocolate muffin back that I stuck in my run special needs (sometimes you just need a calorie slam in the form of a muffin and I wanted to be prepared haha).
Moral support: Many of my races this year have been without my coach and/or teammates, and while I am perfectly fine to go out and do a race on my own, it sure is nice to have a huge support squad on the course and on the sidelines cheering for you! I looked forward to every loop where I knew I would see my coach, my husband and dog, teammates, and friends. I’m extremely grateful that my first full had so much support because it absolutely made the day better. It’s a LONG day out there, so THANK YOU to everyone who cheered and supported all race weekend long.
My biggest takeaway from my first full Ironman race: Ironman taught me that when I think I’m in pain during a race, I’m really not at my worst pain. I don’t think I had felt pain like I felt for the last 10 miles straight finishing IMAZ (not to mention the days after the race – unbelievable pain!!!), so I know there is MORE pain to be had for me in my races. I hope that my experience racing a full will help me suffer more in all of my races, because the person who can suffer the most is the person who will likely get the best out of themselves on race day.
If you need more Winston in your life, check him out on Instagram @winstogrampup!