Coming to Hawaii was never part of my plan. Coming back this season after two years of rest and trying to heal my body, my goal was to keep things simple and manageable. I’d do shorter races and spend more time trying to build my speaking business, write my book, spend time with my husband, etc., etc. But, alas, I was inspired by my new handcycle, which is much faster than any I have owned in the past, and the fact that I made a last minute decision to race at the Buffalo Springs Lake Triathlon in June, and won a slot to the Ironman.
It was a tough decision to take the slot because I felt like had done all I could do in the Ironman department when I finished the Beach 2 Battleship race in North Carolina in November of 2008. I didn’t make the bike time cut at that race, finishing in 16 hours and 20 minutes (the official time cut of the Ironman is 17 hours). When I did that I decided that was all I could physically do.
But, after a good day at Buffalo Springs and a decent spring of road racing and cycling time trials, the Ironman sounded like a good idea. When I returned from Texas and BSLT, my coach Kathy put together a training program for me for Hawaii and I got to work. My fitness was coming along great; I had lost nearly 20 pounds since the fall and I was looking and feeling fit. And then last week, before coming to Hawaii, I visited Coach Neal who has worked with me since 2005 and trained me for the Redman and subsequent Ironman races, and we did some physiological testing to see where I was physically and to plan a strategy for the race. At the lab I did a FUEL test and a Lactate Threshold test, the latter of which would help me to set heart rate and power guidelines for the race. The FUEL test would tell me how many calories I burn per hour and how much I would need to ingest in order to go the distance. The good thing about this testing is that Neal is a little bit of a numbers geek (I say this with complete love and admiration, because anything involving numbers makes me break out into a sweat and start itching) and he was able to take the ride information that we downloaded from my bike computer after my attempt at Hawaii in 2006 and convert it to my current fitness information and put together my race goals for this attempt. On PAPER, things looked good. It appeared as if I could possibly complete the bike leg in approximately 8 hours and 42 minutes. This was good news because we knew that with my swim abilities and past times, I would have between 8 hours and 45 minutes to nine hours to complete the bike and still make the 10:30 cutoff. But we all know that “on paper” and “in reality” are two different things.
Yesterday morning we entered the water at 6:50am for a 7am start. Neal was my swim guide, as he was in 2006. I didn’t think this year’s swim was going to be as difficult as the one we had in 2006, however heading out to the 1.2-mile turnaround was slower than we did last time. The time getting to the halfway point was 46 minutes versus the 44 we did four years ago. The return trip was much better this time, however, doing 56 minutes versus one hour and one minute. When we got to shore, Billy, my handler, rushed in and helped Neal get me out of the water and into transition. T1 was a relatively quick five minutes and I was off on the bike. As I rode away, I felt much better than I did the last time here and was off to a great start. My first checkpoint was way faster than before and was well within the splits that Neal and I had figured out and taped to my bike. Unfortunately, a couple of things happened during the bike. First, my computer stopped working so I had no way to measure my power, speed or distance, so I felt like I was riding blindly. Fortunately, I have ridden enough to know my pace and limitations, but I was hoping to follow my splits as closely as possible. The other thing that got in the way was the Hawaii weather. The course here, in my opinion, isn’t necessarily harder than other courses, but the heat and wind play largely into the day and can make or break the race. At first, on the way out, neither seemed to be an issue, but the further north I headed the more the cross winds picked up. So this, coupled with my non-functioning computer, being followed by the NBC cameras and overall fatigue began to wear on me. I was hoping at some point to get a break, but the winds only worsened as I made the right turn to begin the 18-mile climb that is in the middle of the course and heads to Hawi and the turnaround. As some points in the climb, I estimate that my speed probably went down to four or five miles per hour.
When I got to the top, my support crew (hubby Steve, Coach Neal and friend Roberta) was there cheering me on. Neal yelled to me that I was 45 minutes ahead of where I was in ’06 and that I should keep pushing hard…I still had a chance. But as I turned to head down from Hawi (which really isn’t a straight descent, but more like rolling hills with an overall elevation drop) to the Queen K highway, which is the road into town, I realized that I couldn’t overpower the cross winds that continued to build. At some points I was nearly begin blown off the road. I had a few spots of great speed, but not enough to get me where I needed to be. Once on the Queen K, I was able to pick up speed and I time trialed like my life depended on it, but in the end it just wasn’t enough. Unlike last time, when I was picked up in a car at mile 92, this time I made it to about mile 102 at the 5:30pm time cut. I asked if I could just ride in and was actually allowed to come in by my own power (this isn’t usually the case, but maybe because I was still going strong and wasn’t too far away and it was still daylight, they let me). When I got to transition, my watch said 6:19pm. I was 49 minutes past the time cut. I asked if I could do the run course to get an unofficial time, but unfortunately by that time the beginning of the run course was beginning to be torn down. My day was officially over. Since I knew, coming into transition that I likely wouldn’t be able to go on with the run, I was mentally prepared for the disappointment and I was better able to cope with the fact that I would not finish. I also knew, that I left everything I had on the racecourse, and there wasn’t a thing I could have done differently to change the result. I gave 100% today.
Although I won’t say never (I’ve learned better), I believe that today capped my attempts at the Ironman. Although I enjoy being able to push myself to this great distance, I continue to be disappointed with the Ironman time cuts which, I feel, skews the playing field between able-bodied and wheelchair athletes. I know from past experience, that I am capable of doing a three-hour marathon following a 2.4-mile swim and a 112-mile bike and have done so in the past (both in the Redman Ironman and the Beach 2 Battleship). Had I been allowed to finish the race yesterday, I would have likely finished in 14 hours and 20 minutes, effectively beating approximately 300 racers. The final racer came in last night at 16 hours, 59 minutes and 13 seconds. For purely arbitrary time cut reasons, she was allowed and able to finish the race and I was not. This continues to confuse and frustrate me because at the end of the day, what we are all out there for is to test ourselves, our limits, our training and to cross the finish line. The fact that I have the ability to beat the last place finisher by over two hours yet not have the opportunity to cross the line feels, to me, discriminatory, non-inclusive and unfair. I know there are people who will disagree with me, but all I really want is what 1962 athletes had the chance to do yesterday and that is to cross the finish line, put my arms up in victory and to be able to celebrate my accomplishment.
Even though this wasn’t the result we were all looking for, I have lots of people to thank:
My sponsors: the Challenged Athletes Foundation, Metro Brokers, Wings of Sport, Jen Bars, Optic Nerve, Mountain Fitness Training Center, 720 Media, and the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine.
I appreciate the donations and help I received from Diana Rarich (Back to Center Massage), Danica Larson, Marna Hamling, Cathy Edstrom-Clark and Jane Smith.
Doug Thralls, for not one, not two, but THREE awesome massages. He is amazing!
Of course, ALL my friends who called, emailed, posted on Facebook so many encouraging messages I couldn’t count them all.
My family for not telling me I’m crazy for doing yet another Ironman and
To my support crew-Steve, Neal and Roberta who have done nothing but take amazing care of me all week!
Thank you everyone for being part of this journey!