My Ironman Race Experience…The weekend started on Thursday when Aleks and I went up to Windsor to check in. I was so glad to be there with someone else as it was all a bit overwhelming. We drove up in the morning and got our race numbers, all the gear bags and a very lovely Ironman Vineman backpack to put it all in. After having a quick browse around the pretty small expo, we went to the athlete briefing. As always, the briefing was anything but brief but it was good to get the information and actually feel like this was going to happen. Then after a quick stop for food, we drove back to San Jose.
On Thursday night my kids had decorated my gear bags so I could find them easily and then I packed up all the stuff I needed for the race. Friday morning I set off for the real deal. I drove straight to the bike drop off. The traffic was complete carnage with everyone trying to drop their bikes off and have a look at the river for the swim.
After dropping my bike I wanted to drive the bike course just to get a bit of a feel for it. I’m really glad I did as it gave me a bit of confidence for the next day. The course was marked really well and I didn’t get lost driving, so could see that I wouldn’t get lost during the actual race. The hills didn’t seem too dreadful, either up or down.
My drive took me to the high school where I dropped off my run gear bag. This was where I made the most mistakes. I forgot to put in my running sunglasses, food for the run and a bottle of Nuun but these all turned out fine in the end really. After dropping off my run bag, I checked into my hotel, had dinner, just chilled out for the evening and tried to get some sleep.
I woke up at 3am on Saturday morning. My alarm was set for 4 but I just couldn’t get back to sleep. So I had my breakfast, put on my swim clothes and warm clothes over the top and went downstairs. The hotel had moved their complimentary breakfast earlier so it started at 4! I had thought that there was a shuttle from the High School (the finish area) to the swim start but there wasn’t, so I thought I would have to drive to the swim start, leave my car there all day then get the shuttle (there was one afterwards) back to get it after the race. That didn’t sound too appealing, so I was cheeky and when some people got up from breakfast to leave, I asked them if they had room for me in their car. Luckily they did and I got a lift with some very nice people to the start.
The swim was utter carnage. Firstly the river is very shallow in a few places – so much so that my hand was scraping across the floor as I swam. Lots of people opted just to get up and walk instead. This caused a few problems because the walkers were slower than the swimmers so were just in the way. Secondly though, people were just really aggressive. There was lots of pushing and shoving – me also after a while! It was just hard to find space to swim. My swim time was 1:18. My aim was to be out of transition by 1hr 30, so I am pleased with this time. If I do another Ironman, I’d line up with the 1:10-1:20 people rather than 1:20-1:30 and hopefully it would be a bit easier to swim properly rather than trying to do lots of overtaking.
Transition was really funny. You get out the water and there are people there to get your wetsuit off. So I just had to sit on the mat and someone pulled and pulled! Then I found my beautifully decorated gear bag and went to the women’s changing tent. It was such a fun atmosphere in there. We were all smiling and telling stories of our epic swim, but also trying to get ready for the bike.
On the way out of transition, I saw Aleks. She had done a faster swim but slower transition so we got our bikes at the same time. She raced off to do a fabulous bike split. And I was off on the bike. The first half went really well. I was fast and confident. It is quite a hilly course – not big scary hills but just rolling constant ones.
The second half was when the tiredness kicked in. By mile 70 (nope, still can’t get over the incredible distances!) I was seriously flagging and by mile 80 I decided I had to give myself a break. I told myself just to sit up and go slow for a while just to get some strength back. It worked and by the nastiest section of the course – mile 95-100 – I felt much better.
The bike was really fun. Lots of people overtook me as I’m on the slower side but I also overtook quite a few people. There would be sections where I’d overtake someone on an uphill, they’d overtake me going downhill and we’d continue that for a while. There was a guy in a blue shirt that I think I passed about 8 times and another guy with a black aero helmet that kept passing me but I don’t remember me overtaking him! He probably stopped at more aid stations or something. Then there were other people like the girl in the patterned dress and the woman with the pink bike. After a couple of to and fro’s we would have a quick chat on the way past each time. It was a fun atmosphere.
The last few miles of the bike were really just a slog. After the hill just before 100, it was just trying to pick off each mile until I got to transition. The second transition was similar to the first. Someone took my bike off me and I got my run gear bag and went into the tent. I think I took about 10 minutes that time and then it was off on the run.
The run course was 3 loops of an out and back, which was really great. It broke it up into really manageable sections. Each was about 4 miles – just a neighborhood run with Darlene and Sarah. The course was also mainly rolling hills and the secret of Ironman seems to be that almost no-one runs the whole thing. So I walked through the aid stations and many of the hills.
The first lap was probably the hardest as it felt like there was just so far to go and my legs were completely dead after the bike. I saw Aleks on the start of my second lap and end of her second. She was doing great and seeing her gave me a huge boost. She overtook me near the end of my second lap, when she had just a mile or so to go. She was running with her husband and looked so strong!
The second lap was when they brought out the chicken bouillion. This is famed in Ironman as being the best pick-up in the world, and they were right. It was like nectar. It is just really salty, warm broth – exactly what you need during the run. My second lap was pretty uneventful but at the end of it, I got my run special needs bag. The volunteers thought I was really funny because I put all the contents in the trash and kept the bag – my daughter had decorated it and as we weren’t getting the special needs bags back, I wanted to keep it. (I also kept my bike special needs bag.)
The run was a lot quieter than the bike. People were friendly but not really chatty. We were all just in our own spaces trying to get it done. I did pass a guy who was 75 – I think he was the oldest I saw. He was very chatty and had lots of advice. This wasn’t his first Ironman. (We all have our ages written on our left calf so it was easy to see how old people are.)
Then near the end, I was walking and trying to keep up with another woman who was also walking. She was really fast so I couldn’t catch her until I started running again. She was only on her second lap and had to walk fast just to make the cut-off. I felt so dreadful for her as it didn’t look like she was going to make it, but I really hope she did. That was the worst thing about the final bit of the run – seeing people going out on their final lap and not being sure if they would make the cut off.
The third lap was when it started to get dark. Going out was ok but coming back I really wished I had a head torch. I think I lost a bit of time because I just couldn’t see and was more wary of where I was putting my feet. Just after mile 23, my watch alarm went off. (I have a daily alarm at 9:15pm to tell me to go to sleep.) I realized that if I pushed it, I could go under 15 hours. My goals before the race were first to finish the bike under the cut-off, next to finish the run under 17 hours and finally to finish under 16 hours. Under 15 just didn’t seem possible. But when my alarm went off, I knew I could do it if I just pushed. So I did! I know my time for the final lap was the slowest but I did push my hardest for it. My marathon time was only 20 minutes longer than my marathon personal best! (That’s definitely something I’ll need to do some work on.)
And then you get to the turnaround where it says finish one way, more laps another way. There was another 5 minutes of running after that but you don’t know that – you just have to keep going. You feel all happy because you have done all the laps but you still have to keep pushing and I had no idea how far I had to go because they didn’t have a marker for 26 miles. Keeping myself going for those minutes was so hard. I just wanted to walk or sit down but of course I didn’t and kept on running. Going through the finish chute is surreal. I have dreamed for so long about it and it really didn’t disappoint. The announcer says “Judie Wilcox, you are an Ironman!” and you run through massive floodlights so you can’t really see anything.
I didn’t know what my finish time was until much later. I did check my watch and knew I’d finished under 15 hours – woo hoo! But I didn’t know any more than that as I didn’t have my phone to look it up. With the rolling swim start it is hard to know exactly and the finish clock showed the time from the elite start. To be honest, I didn’t really care much about anything just that I had finished.
After the race I went to the food area and got pizza. I don’t eat pizza usually but I figured that I didn’t really care. It was perfect! Once I got my morning clothes bag back I wanted to put my warm-up pants back on. I think that was one of the hardest parts of the day! I must have looked so funny trying to get them on but it was so hard getting my legs high enough! Aleks’ husband had picked up my bike and other gear bags. We had to pick up our bikes by midnight and seeing as I wasn’t expecting to finish until near to midnight, knowing that someone else was collecting my bike took a huge weight off my mind. Thank you Nikolai.
Then I had to walk back to my hotel. It took about 30 mins and was good to keep my legs moving. The only problem was that I didn’t actually know how to get there so I had to ask at the info desk. The lovely volunteer there looked it up on her phone for me.
Once back, I had a shower. That’s when I find all the places that have chafed because they sting as the water hits them. My heart rate monitor and bra were the main culprits. I have another nasty welt on my back from the bra clasps but as that happens during most of my long runs, I wasn’t surprised. My little toes are just big blisters but other than that, I’m relatively ok. My legs are completely beaten up obviously and my arms are tired.
Sunday was the athlete celebration banquet and awards ceremony. More importantly I could now to go the shop and buy all the things that I couldn’t bring myself to buy before. I wanted a 140.6 sticker for my car. I wanted a t-shirt. I would have bought pretty much anything that says I am an Ironman. In the end I bought a lovely hoodie and a few other bits and pieces. The breakfast was really good, healthy food but I just wanted a proper breakfast, so after I picked up my bike from Aleks, I went back to my hotel and ate properly!
It was a truly amazing experience. I’m not sure I’ll do it again any time soon as the training was brutal but once the kids are busy with their own lives, maybe I will. The woman who I drove to the swim start with is in her 60’s and just did her 7th Ironman, so there is still time.
The thing to take away from this whole thing is that you can do it. I have no idea what your “it” is, but I know you can do it. Whatever “it” is, find out what you need to do to get there. You might need to train to even get to the start of the training plan – I did! But have that goal and work for it. Always have your goal in your mind and every day do something towards it. That might be training but that also might be resting and recovering. It might take you a long time to reach your goal but I know you can do it, because I did. I am an Ironman!!