IMWI Race Report: Pre-race + 2.4 mile swim

Every athlete dreams of the perfect race. 
The race when there are no mechanical issues, the tummy stays happy all day, the legs feel fresh and the mind stays focused. The race when the weather is perfect and the pacing plan works perfectly.
And the race when you don't even get kicked once on the swim (Ok - now you are just thinking crazy thoughts :) 

Is there really such a thing as a perfect race?
Well, let's back up.... is there even such a thing as a perfect training session?

 How many times have you found yourself in the middle of a workout and feeling as if you are getting nothing out of it and just counting down the minutes until it is over? How about the workout when you feeling super tired or you are feeling stuffy in the head (or perhaps on the verge of a cold) and you can't help but lace up your shoes and get your workout done because it is on your training plan? 
How about the workout that you felt super run-down but still managed to feel strong at the end of the workout? 

Perfect is not a word that endurance athletes should be using in training OR racing because it is not only hard to achieve, but it rarely occurs. 

What's so funny about an athletes' hope for the "perfect" race is that an athlete who wants a perfect day can have the tendency to magnify EVERYTHING before a race. A little sniffle, sore throat, ache in a leg...all of those would likely be pushed to the side in an effort to "workout" in training but come race week, any little thing that makes you feel "off" is a worry for a "bad" race day performance. 

Athletes must remember that we train to improve fitness but to also better prepare for race day. Experience comes a long way when it comes to racing and within every training session, we have the opportunity to learn something that can be applied to race day...that is if you are training smart. 
Believe it or not, but race day is likely not going to be perfect but you can set yourself up for a great race day performance by using every training session to help you be better prepared for race day. 

I believe that the ultimate goal of endurance athletes is to not stress over having the perfect race but to channel positive energy to have a day when the body can perform in a way that reflects current level of fitness. You have absolutely no idea what will happen on race day so instead of hoping for the best day ever or comparing yourself to other athletes, you must know how to overcome obstacles that you encounter before and during the race. Just like in training, race week will not be easy but there IS a reason why you put in all the work....to experience race day and all that comes with it until you cross the finish line. 

Even though I know it is difficult to keep the mind in a positive place, just trust yourself that you and your body know what to do on race day. You got through all the training so stay confident that despite a few things popping up that may not be ideal, you can still accomplish more than you ever dreamed.

Karel and I both felt good about our fitness going into IMWI and we were both super excited to race and leave everything out on the course, especially since this was our last race of the season. To be blunt, our entire season was dedicated to THIS race. 

As for the perfect race, well, things started to pop up well before race day that made us question if this would be the "perfect" race for us. I will go into this in another blog so that right now we can focus on the race itself. 

Our diet before the race remained the same as in training. Real foods with the occasional Clif or KIND bar to snack on. We reduce fiber and fat on the 2-3 days leading up to the race so that means rather than having a plate full of veggies with rice on top we would instead have soup with rice or bread or rice with a side salad. Breakfast is our largest meal of the day and we consume this after morning training. This meal is usually carb dense and foods that sit well in the gut. The rest of the day is a lot of snacking and mini meals. We enjoy fruit and granola as well as our staple meals that work well for us on the two nights and night before the race. On Saturday (the day before the race) we ate our last meal around 4:30pm after checking in our bikes/bags and then just had a small snack around 7pm or so before laying down for bed around 8:30pm. 

To keep our minds calm, we watched a few funny cat/dog videos on the iPad and Karel also watched the US Pro cycling crit race to pump him up (I watched the end of it with him). 

We both slept really well (lights off at 9pm) in the basement of our homestay. Although I woke up once, I went back to bed to wake up fairly rested to our alarm set for 3:45am. 

Karel was rather calm in the morning whereas I was a bit more nervous.  With so many Ironman's behind me, I still get a bit nervous before racing. So many unknowns but I always think "what would Gloria say?"

"It's going to be awesome girl! I'll be tracking all day sending lots of good vibes. You Got This! Mind and body are in sync and ready to go!" - Gloria, my mental coach and BFF

By 3:55am I was filling my powder-filled bike bottles and run flasks for my T1 and T2 bags and special needs. I put powder in the bottles on Sat to save time on race morning. Karel filled his bottles the night before and kept in the fridge. 
By 4pm we were sipping on our coffee (with a little milk) and ready to eat. Since we do not eat a large meal the night before the race, we typically have some type of urge to eat in the morning but nerves kinda make it a little tough to enjoy that 4am pre race meal. I was on the computer checking the weather and Facebook and Karel was browsing his phone. 
I had a glass of plain water and then a water bottle filled with 3 scoops Osmo hydration to sip on while at the race venue (I had the same to sip on the day before the race). 
Karel had a glass of water with 2 scoops Osmo pre-load and then a bottle for the race venue of his custom INFINIT drink (with 2.5g protein) with 2 scoops in it. Neither one of us take anti-inflammatories on race week (and hardly ever in training, maybe less than 10 a year) for it can have a negative affect on recovery as well as the gut and kidneys. We both take MAP before long training sessions and races as well as during the race (even though each of our own INFINIT formula has 1.5g of BCAA's in it). Karel also takes Race Caps Supreme and has a Enervit pre sport gel before the race. I do not consume any additional caffeine except coffee for it upsets my tummy. 
Pre race was our typical pre-training foods, just in higher quantities. All low residue and carb dense with a little fat/protein. Karel had a waffle sandwich with PB and Jam and INFINIT MUD. I had 2 WASA crackers w/ PB, banana, granola/raisins and maple syrup. 

Around 5:10am we were dressed in our race outfits and warm clothes on (which we would also have for post race in our morning clothes bag). The weather cooled off since Friday and race day was looking perfect!! Winds 5mph and lows in the low 50's and high's of 76 degrees. 

Our amazing homestay Ed (who raced IMWI last year) drove us to the race start and kindly dropped off my special needs bags at Starbucks for me. What a treat!! 

Surrounded by so many athletes, volunteers and spectators, my nerves started to subside. I was feeling waves of excitement and anxiousness so I knew that this meant I was getting in race mode. I feel much more experienced than when I started racing Ironmans so I just kept reminding myself that I could handle anything that came my way on race day. 

Karel and I typically stay close together before the race until we part before the swim start. Body marking was outside the transition and was really quick. The volunteer asked me if this was my first IM and I said it was my 9th. He said "WOW" and all I could think was "thank you body...and wow, this is a bit crazy!"
We both got body marked (race numbers on our shoulders and age on our left calf) by the awesome volunteers, and then we headed to our bikes. 

Karel had a pump with him for our tubular tires and he pumped up my tires first and then went to his bike. 

I put on my Garmin Edge 500 bike computer on my bike and turned it on to test to make sure the power meter picked up (since we put a new battery in it yesterday). I tested my brakes, spun my wheels and placed my three bottles in my bike bottle cages (2 rear and 1 on the down tube). My cage on the seat part of the frame held my spare tubular. My extra CO2's and adapter are on my Gorilla cages in the rear of my bike.

I was approached by a few Trimarni followers which made me so happy and all of a sudden, all nerves went away. Surrounding myself with so many athletes (and soon-to-be Ironman) made me remember why I love what I get to do with my body. Even though this is an individual sport, we all are in this together (and we all like to suffer together). 

After I finished with my bike, I walked to Karel's bike which was at the end of his rack, closer to the mount line. The transition area is HUGE so we made sure that by 5:45am we were walking to the inside of the Monona Terrace to put our bottles in our transition bags (inside the building, just like the changing rooms/tents)

After a bathroom stop, we headed to our bags and they were both easy to find thanks  to purple ribbons on them. I debated about wearing arm warmers so I took them out of my T1 bag in case I wanted to wear them under my wetsuit and for the bike. But it ended up being comfy weather while putting on the wetsuit so I decided no arm warmers (which were actually arm coolers and very light). After dropping off my flasks in my T2 bag, Karel and I headed to the helix to walk down so that we could both see what we would be running up after the swim. 

Before we went to the water, we put on our wetsuits at the top of the helix and gave the pump to Ed. We said our goodbyes to Ed (see ya at the finish!) and bathed ourselves in body glide. Karel kept his old socks on to toss by the water and I walked barefoot. We each had a throw away bottle of sport drink to sip on and toss before we got into the water. 

We carried our Morning Clothes bag (green bag) to the water edge to drop off (I keep my cell phone in it, turned off for post race as well as a change of warm clothes, towel, wet wipes, sandals). Karel and I approached the banner to the swim exit/start and we both listened to Mike Riley pump up the crowds. 
Karel gave me a hug and a kiss and just in case we didn't see each other again before the swim start, we both wished each other a safe race and to give the best effort possible. 

Karel went into the water first and I took my time getting in. Since this is an in-the-water start, there is a lot of treading water. But unlike Kona, the wetsuit swim helps for buoyancy. I swam a little to get my Xterra Wetsuit adjusted (Karel has a new Xterra Wetsuit too) and to get my body warmed up. I made my way to the right of the boat ramp which was to the right of the buoys (which we keep on our left). I would say I was in the middle of the large pack and only two rows back. After the pro's went off, the anticipation was getting greater and greater and after the anthem, the excitement was building. 

I could see Karel just a few row's behind me and I just hoped that we would both have a good, safe day. Nothing can prepare the body and mind for the start of the Ironman and even after 8 Ironman starts, I still get a bit nervous of the craziness of the start of the Ironman. 

With 10 minutes to go, I had a little mental talk with my dad. With 5 minutes to go, I turned around and smiled at Karel. With 2 minutes to go, I cleaned my goggles, made sure my Garmin 910XT was set to multisport w/ satellite picked up and hoped that every athlete would have the best day possible. 

With 1 minute to go, I could feel the energy flow through my body. The energy from the other athletes was super contagious. With only a few pink caps around me, I was hoping that the boys would play nice for 2.4 miles. 

30 seconds left. It's almost time. The race that we have been waiting for. The race that Karel and I have to give the best effort possible to make our dream come true. 
The race when I get to travel 140.6 miles with my body and mind to show myself that anything is possible. 
Mike Riley gives us one last pep talk that our attitude is all we can control on race day.
See ya at the finish line he says...3,2,1...BOOM!!!
We are off!!

Unlike in 2010 when I raced IMWI, the swim course is 1 loop. We head straight away from the swim exit so that the Terrace is to our right. I made sure not to go out too hard but instead to find my rhythm. I let those who were faster than me swim ahead and I tried to find a group to stay with...until it was time to find another group. That's kinda how the IM mass start works in that it is just a bunch of small groups working themselves out so that by a mile or so, you are finally around the athletes who are about the same finishing time as you. 
The swim start was not as brutal as I had imagined and I found myself not being beat-up. I was able to get good strokes and spot well without choking on water from kicking feet and large bodies. The water was rather calm and there were plenty of buoys to help keep us on course. 

The first segment to the turn buoy was rather comfortable. I felt really good and all nerves were behind me now. I made sure not to jump ahead in my thoughts so instead of thinking about the bike or the run, I thought about the scenery. Anytime I saw something, a building or tree, I spent some time thinking about that object. Sometimes my mind would wander and I would smile that me and maybe another girl or two were swimming with the boys. 
I also thought about why athletes start kicking hard when you accidentally hit their feet? We are all in this together, can't we all just get along in the water? 

Sometimes my mind would go to a place of calm - so grateful that I can do this year after year! 
But I had to make sure I reminded myself that this race was THE RACE. 
There is absolutely no holding back, there are risks to take and there are no excuses to be made. 

After the first turn buoy, I turned to the left and headed out to the 2nd turn buoy. I didn't look at my watch but instead, made my way to the far end of the lake, still swimming parallel to the shore. I could feel a bit of a current and I kept noticing myself moving away from the buoys to my left. I put a little extra effort into my swim to get with a group so that they were on my right (buoys on my left) so I wouldn't find myself off course. Amazingly, I did not have to spot a lot thanks to the multiple buoys. The sun was in our eyes but even though I went with my non-tinted goggles, I had no trouble seeing ahead...probably because that last far buoy was well, way far!!

I looked at my watch and I was really excited when I saw the distance I had covered and the time. Could this really be the swim I have been wanting since I started racing the Ironman....would this be the race when I would break 1 hour???? I had come SO close in Austria with a time of 1 hour and 10 seconds (uggh) and maybe, just maybe this would be the race when I could do it!! 

Regardless of the swim time, I was not going to let the swim affect the rest of my race and as Karel says, once the swim is done, you forget about it and check it off your to do list. You can't make up for a bad swim and a good swim is just the start of your day. 

As I finally  approached that 3rd turn buoy that seemed like it would never come, I took a look at the shore which was at an odd angle from where we were and then a little bit later, at my watch. Oh bummer. The time was getting closer to an hour and I knew there was no way I would break an hour. Oh well. I didn't see too many pink caps so I felt good with my position in this first leg of the Ironman. 

My body felt good and I did not feel too tired. I was a little ready to get out of the water because I was super excited to put all my Greenville bike training to the test. 

As I looked at my watch, I still had about 100 yards or so to go and noticed that my Garmin was over 2.4 miles at this time. Well, it is what it is. 2.62 miles when I exited the water in 1 hour and 2 minutes. 

Karel had the same on his watch (2.59 miles) and he finished in 1:10. Karel said he felt really good in the water and never felt like he was getting beat-up in the water which is really good for him...considering he just learned how to swim 2 years and 2 months ago (he couldn't even swim a lap without getting out of breath!)

Now the fun part. This is NOT your normal transition. Just over .5 miles from the swim exit to the bike mount line and a helix that has to be run-up in order to reach the transition area (inside the building). 

The strippers were awesome and I had 3 volunteers to take off my 1 wetsuit. Awesome!

I kept my cap and goggles on (whereas Karel had his in the sleeve of his wetsuit) as I ran with my wetsuit to the Helix. 

Oh the crowds!!! 

Around and around and around I ran. I could not stop smiling!

Once I reached the inside of the building, I ran into the T1 bag room and immediately spotted my bag and purple ribbons. I grabbed my bag and as I was running, I reach inside and put on my Giro Attack helmet. 

The room had just a few women in it and I had a wonderful volunteer helping me out. The volunteers are amazing and they will do whatever you tell them to do - Absolutely awesome!

The volunteer asked if she could empty out my bag and I said yes. 
I then told her to put the Clif bar chomps and Enervit bar and coin purse of 3 Tums and MAP pills in my pockets. I always carry extra nutrition with me just in case I lose a bottle or need additional calories (which on this taxing course, I wanted to have some back-up for sure).I told her it didn't matter which pocket she put them in. As she was doing that I put on my right sock. I asked her to take off my chip and after I put on my left compression sock she put the chip back on me. I grabbed my sunglasses and my cycling shoes and told her thank you and she told me she would put my swim stuff in my bag. 

I put on my Oakley commit sunglasses as I was running and carried my shoes to my bike. The transition area was a long way to run so that is why I didn't have my shoes on (in IM Austria we were required to put shoes on IN transition area and we could not remove our wetsuits until we were IN transition area).
A volunteer grabbed my bike and as he was doing it I put on my shoes. I grabbed my bike, turned on my bike computer and then ran past Karel's bike and then to the mount line. 
(at least I still am faster than Karel on the swim....for now :) 

Because Karel knew his swim would be slower than the top guys in his AG, Karel wasted NO time in transition. I am pretty sure Karel treated transition as a race in and of itself. He sprinted up the helix, in and out of transition and sprinted to his bike. It's time to play catch-up for Karel!!

As I was mounting my bike about to clip in and go, someone yelled "bottle!" I didn't feel my bottle come off when I got on my bike so I stopped and picked up the bottle. It was an INFINIT bottle so I thought it could be mine but all my bottles were on my bike. 

The guy next to me dropped his bottle and it rolled to me so after a quick bottle hand off, I was off. 

(thanks Trimarni athlete Ryan R for the pic from the computer!)

Now it's time to go down the helix and start the hardest 112 miles of my racing career!