The Miracle on Ice Redux

The 4th event of triathlon is one that people don’t talk about, but it is the most fun.  It’s the retelling the story of the race to anyone who will listen.  Even the most minute detail becomes exciting to rehash.  This is especially fun to do with fellow racers, who feverishly compare and contrast experiences.

“Oh my gosh, I got punched in the face during the swim and my goggles fell off!”

“Wow, that’s crazy.  I flew down the descent into Keene at 45mph in aero!”

This is what a group of us were standing around doing on Monday morning while waiting in line to get into the finishers gear tent.  The pattern was disrupted when Henry Tragle turned to me and said, “Lisa, I think you’re great and you should go to roll down.”

Now, to give you a little background, in case you don’t eat, sleep and breathe triathlon (I hear these people exist), the Ironman in Hawaii, that you’ve probably seen on television, is the World Championship for the sport.  In order to qualify to go, you’ve got to get a slot at another Ironman race.  These spaces are highly coveted and hard to get.  The number of slots that a race gets are then divided among the male and female age groups according to the percentage of total finishers that come from their age group (or something like that).  The exact math behind the process is still a bit unclear to me, but that’s close enough.  I’m pretty sure there is also a magic 8 ball and tea leaf reading involved.  At any rate, if your age group gets 3 qualifying spots and you finish in the top 3 of your age group, you are an automatic qualifier.  You, then, have 2 hours to accept and pay for your IM Hawaii race registration or it goes into “rolldown”.  Rolldown is a process by which all the available spots are passed out.  If, for some reason, an automatic qualifier doesn’t take their spot, they start running down the list of names in order of finish until all the spots have been claimed.  Because they are so coveted, a spot doesn’t typically roll down too far.

For the last 12 months, getting to Kona (as the IM Hawaii race is referred to) has been my holy grail.  The dream of it has consumed me.  It’s what I wish for when I find a lucky penny.  It’s what I’ve day dreamt about.  We’ve been paying obscene amounts of money to drink Kona coffee.  Ryan has even bought Kona beer.  It’s been ridiculous.  I know that it was an absolute long shot that I would qualify at Lake Placid, but that hasn’t stopped me from dreaming.  It’s also why I had so much trouble dealing with this series of injuries.  I felt like my training was coming along really well and I was starting to let myself truly believe that I had a real shot.  That is, until May.  It was really crushing at first to realize that I had to let the dream go.  I know that I’m young and I know I’ll have other chances, but I was really, really bummed.

Things got so dramatic in the Albrecht household that after getting home from the doctor’s appointment where I found out my fibula had a hairline fracture, Ryan came home and in an emotional fit (his, not mine), he threw a full bag of Kona coffee in the trash.  (I dug it out immediately.  Do you know how expensive that stuff is?!)  It was tough to let that dream go, but, for the most part, I had.

I knew that in 2010 my age group (women 30-34) had received 3 spots.  I also knew that the slowest time to get a spot was 10:46.  On paper, the week before the race, I jotted down my best hope for times.  I figured if I could pull out a 1:10 swim, a 5:45 bike and a 3:45 run, I would have a chance.  I knew it was a long shot to be able to run that time with my limited training, but it was possible.  On race day, my swim was 1:14 and my bike was 5:54.  Going into the run, I knew that I was already behind my goal by 15 minutes.  I also knew that there was no way I could make up those 15 minutes on top of my goal run time.  It just wasn’t possible.  It was at that moment that I completely lost the eye of the tiger and mentally and emotionally filed away my Kona dream in the “maybe next time” file.  My marathon at Lake Placid became about not blowing up and enjoying the experience as much as possible.  At the finish line, I had no regrets.  I was really happy with my Ironman PR.  I was really happy with the run that I was able to hold together and I was on cloud nine for Ryan who had the race of his dreams.  I was really and truly at peace about the race. 

So, when Henry mentioned roll down, maybe a part of me rekindled a little hope.  I was already planning on going just incase, but my hope grew a little.  A friend of mine, Alice, told me she was going over at 9am because they would post how many spots were available for each age group.  “May as well go over and see,” I thought.

I knew from the initial online results that I was sitting in 9th place in my division.  I also knew that those wearing wetsuits would be removed from the list since it was a non-wetsuit swim.  I was doubtful, though, that anyone above me would have worn a wetsuit.  If you are that fast, you aren’t going to compromise your race by wearing one.  I didn’t expect much help here.

The official list came out and I had moved up to 8th.  One person above me had worn a suit.  Wow.  That puts me a little closer.

Now we were just waiting to see how many spots were available for each group.  In years past, my age group only had received 3 spots.  I wasn’t hopeful.  With only 3 qualifying, the top 3 women PLUS 2 others would have to turn down their spot in order for me to get one.  Not a chance in hell.  I knew there was no way 5 women above me were going to turn down a Kona spot.  No way.

I went outside to fill in my coach, who was in line to register for IM Lake Placid.  He had some very valuable info to share with me.  For starters, the woman who finished first at IM Lake Placid had already qualified for Kona at a previous race.  The woman who finished second, who was a friend of Scott’s, had already told him she wasn’t accepting it.  Whoa.  This is getting more real now.  That means that if there are three spots only 3 others have to turn it down.  It drastically improved my chances, but, still, it was a long shot.

I went back in to check the board of how many spots were available  for my age group.  Holy shit.  FOUR.  The printout listed FOUR spots available!  Now only 2 others have to decline.  This was the first time that I started thinking that I could actually have a shot.  Just then, an official came out and told us that there had been a mistake, and they were recalculating how many spots each age group had.  The wind left my sails a little.  I knew four seemed like a lot.  Oh well.  I knew it wasn’t meant to be.  Next time.  Still, though, I waited for the revised sheet to come out. 

When it was reposted, my stomach dropped.  FIVE.  Oh.My.Freaking.God.  There are five spots in my age group.  I know the first 2 aren’t accepting them.  Only one more has to decline.  It was 9:30am.  The roll down wasn’t going to start until 11am.  “Go home and try to relax,” Scott told me. 

I was kind of stunned on the walk home.  It’s like my brain just wasn’t prepared to handle the ups and the downs and the ups again.  Could it be possible that after all this I might actually get a Kona spot after all?  I just couldn’t believe it.  I tried not to get too excited, but I knew there was a chance.  We got back to the house and my mom was still in bed.  I told her that we needed to be back at the school by 11am because it was possible I could get a rolldown slot.  I swear my mom, who is a slow mover in the morning, literally jumped from the bed into her change of clothes.  I have never seen her get ready that quickly in my life.  She knew what this meant to me. 

It was a long hour and a half. 

On the walk back to the school, my father in law said, “Can I ask you a stupid question?  Do you want to go to Kona?”

“It’s been my dream,” I told him.

We got back to the school about 10:45am.  There was already a large group of people crowded into the room where the roll down would occur.  I found a group of FeXYies sitting in the back.  There were a few of us with outside chances.  For a rare moment in time, I did not want to talk. 

Ryan told me that I could go in and find out how many of the 5 automatic qualifiers had taken their spot.  I was expecting that the first two had declined as Scott had told me, but if just one of the remaining three had passed it up, I would know that a spot would be mine.  I went into the room holding my breath.  I couldn’t even find the W30-34 list because I felt like my eyes wouldn’t focus.  Finally, I found the 5 names.  As expected, the first 2 had passed.  The remaining three had all taken their spot.  My stomach clenched a little tighter.  There were two more spots remaining and two more women above me.  My only remaining hope was that one of the two passed.

I went back out to the room where our teammates and family were gathered and sat down.  An official came out a few minutes to 11am and said that the rolldown wouldn’t start until 11:15am.  Ugh.  More waiting.  I sat on a bench with my head between my hands.  My heart was pounding.

Finally, the official came out again.  She announced that due to some age groups not having finishers, there would be two spots reallocated at the end of the rolldown…and then she began.  The process is quick.  Really quick.  She calls your name and if you aren’t there she instantly moves to the next.  She started with the younger age groups, but it was moving fast.  A few of my teammates who had had such great races were in age groups called before me and had not fared well.  The knot in my stomach grew.  Finally, she began.

“In women 30-34, there are 5 spots, 3 have been claimed so 2 will roll down.  The first name is……”.  A small celebration ensued.  My heart sank a little deeper, she was here and she claimed her spot to Kona.

The official began again.  In that moment I prayed and prayed and prayed, to nothing and no one in particular, but I prayed.  I had a vice grip on Ryan’s hand.  “The next person is…..”.  Another woman cheered.  I exhaled deeply. 

Well, it just wasn’t my time.  It’s okay.  I will be okay.  Someone rubbed me on my back.  It just wasn’t meant to be.  I was fighting the initial reaction to just get up and leave, but then I remembered that there were those two mystery spots remaining.  She hadn’t mentioned what age groups were going to get them, so I still had some sliver of hope.  I was pretty sure that they would be reallocated to the two largest age groups which, I was pretty sure, would both be mens age groups.  It was a long shot.

The rolldown continued as I pondered this all.  My head was racing with thoughts.  Finally, the initial rolldown was over and the official began again. 

“Okay, we have two additional spots to allocate.  We are going to start with….”  She paused. 

“women 30-34, women 30-34,” I willed her in my brain.

“Women 30-34,” she said.  Suddenly all the blood rushed into my head.  I felt dizzy.  It took every fiber in my to not just jump out of my chair and rush her.  Except, when she started announcing the first name, it wasn’t me.  She announced the next name.  It still wasn’t me.  I know I was next.  What is happening?!  My brain was spinning.

“Wait, that can’t be right!” I yelled.

She stopped and looked down at her list again.  I, at this point, felt like I was going to pass out.  “oh, wrong list,” she says.  And then,…….

“Lisa Albrecht.”

The howl I let out was somewhere between a cheer and a yodel.  I heard the people around me scream and cheer and I ran for the door to the room to register.  On the way, I just put my face in my hands and started crying.  I just couldn’t believe it. 

I was shaking when I gave the woman my I.D. to get in.  I was just completely stunned, like I was having an out-of-body experience. 

Standing there, I texted Scott, my coach.  I’m Kona bound, I texted. I know.  I’m here, he responded.

Stunned.

I heard someone call my name.  I looked up and saw Scott on the other side of the room.  He was standing there with tears in his eyes.  I ran to him and gave him the biggest hug ever.  It was a happy moment.  I was happy he was there.

After paying for my entry, I walked back into the room where my friends and family were waiting.  There were lots of hugs and lots of red eyes.  I hugged Ryan, “Can you freaking believe it?” I asked him.  We had dreamt of this moment and talked about it 1,000 times.  I couldn’t believe it was happening.  He told me that when he looked around right after I was called, he saw my mom sobbing, Scott and my father in law tearing up, people hugging and cheering.  I am so blessed to have these people in my life.  So, unbelievably blessed.

Me with my Golden Ticket!

I don’t know how it happened.  I feel like something happened cosmically in the universe that led to the chain of events that made this possible for me.  I feel unworthy, sometimes, of the good fortune that has been bestowed upon me.  I live, truthfully, a charmed life.  I keep saying over and over, I am Grateful.  I am Grateful.

The rest of the day was spent celebrating with dear friends.  I felt like a shower of love and support rained on me all day long.  I just don’t know what I did to deserve it all.  I am Grateful.

Later on the next day my good friend, Kristin, told me to visit a blog post I had made on my training blog earlier this year.

This is a direct excerpt from my March 5, 2011 training log:

i REALLY didn’t feel like swimming after this trainer session.  really really.  we headed to the pool around 5pm.  i was trudging along and as we were passing Ledo’s there were a ton of people in there eating dinner.  i said to ryan, “ugh, why can’t we just go in there an eat pizza?”
ryan didn’t hesitate a second, turned to me and said, “it will all be worth it when your eating your authentic hawaiian pizza after kona.”

i don’t know if you can actually get hawaiian pizza in hawaii and i know that getting there is a total long shot, but i couldn’t stop smiling after he said this.  it definitely made swimming less painful. 

I totally would not be having this experience without him in my corner.  For starters, it was his dumb idea to get into this sport to begin with.  In addition to that, though, he pushes me and supports me more than I am worthy of.  Even after racing an amazing sub 11 at Lake Placid, he made the next few days after the race all about me and Kona.  He couldn’t be more proud.  Even now, almost two weeks after the race, he’s still telling strangers in elevators that his wife is going to Kona.  He routinely displays the kind of support and love and genuine selflessness that a person would be lucky enough to experience just one day of their life.  I get it every day.  I am Grateful.

My mom, who is my biggest (and loudest) fan, still cannot talk about Hawaii without crying.  I am Grateful.

Seriously, could my mom look any happier?

In 1980, the year I was born, the Miracle on Ice occurred in Lake Placid.  In 2011, I feel like a Miracle occurred in that very same place for me.  I am SO Grateful.

Aloha.

Edge of Glory (IM Lake Placid Race Report)

2011 Team FeXY racers

July 24, 2011

When I opened my eyes I really couldn’t believe it was race day.  Races are strange, you spend all year anticipating them, but, somehow, once they arrive it feels fake.  I remember my main feeling being, “I cannot believe I have to spend all day exercising.  This is gonna hurt.”  This was a huge departure from what I remember feeling before my first IM, Louisville, in 2010.  Then, I think the feelings were similar to the day I got married.  I was excited and couldn’t believe that at the end of the day I would be an Ironman (or, in the case of our wedding, married), how awesome!  In 2010 I was excited.  In 2011 I was realistic.  Reality isn’t necessarily what you want to go into an Ironman with.  The other major contributor to my lack of excitement I’ve already talked about in several of my previous posts- due to a series of injuries and inability to do much running training, I just didn’t go into this race feeling prepared.  I have to tell you, that is COMPLETELY foreign to me.  Since hiring Scott as our coach in January 2010 I have KNOWN I was completely ready at every race I’ve been to since.  This was a completely different and uncomfortable feeling.

At any rate, I had gotten a good nights sleep.  I had a glass of wine and one tylenol PM with dinner (chicken and baked potatoes with dark chocolate for dessert) at around 6pm.  That is the secret component to a successful race for me.  I slept like a freaking baby.  I woke up at 4:15am and still got 8 hours of sleep.  Lovely.  An hour was enough time to eat breakfast, take care of business, check my bags for the 1000th time, kiss Roo Roo, get a big hug from my mom and father in law and hit the road. 

We got to transition around 5:30am.  This was plenty of time to put my nutrition on my bike, have Ryan pump my tires, have Ryan pump other people’s tires, double check my transition bags, do a visual walk through of both transitions, get body marked, wait for Ryan to do who-knows-what and head to the Team FeXY tent and special needs stations.  When I got to the run special needs station to drop off my bag, I realized I didn’t have it.  I must have lost it somewhere along the way.  Oh well.  I didn’t really need anything in there anyway, but I was REALLY hoping that that was the only bag I had screwed up.  By the time we got to the FeXY tent, we really didn’t have much time at all before it was time to put on our swim skins, take a few team pictures and head to the swim start.

The swim is always what I am nervous about.  I’ve never done a mass start before and was a little nervous about what it would feel like.  To make matters worse, for the first time ever (I’m pretty sure) in the history of IM Lake Placid, the water temps were higher than 76.1 degrees.  This meant that if you wanted to be eligible for age group awards or Kona slots, you couldn’t wear a wet suit.  Swim skins, however, would be permitted.  A swim skin is a 1oo% textile blend with no neoprene.  So, while they are supposed to be faster than just wearing your tri outfit, they don’t offer any buoyancy.  Ryan and I had heard rumblings of this from our friend and teammate, Henry Tragle, on Friday.  So, on Saturday morning Ryan was lined up at the Blue Seventy tent at the expo to buy us swim skins.  At $295 a piece, that seemed pretty steep for something I wasn’t going to get a lot of wear out of, but Ryan wanted them.  I was grateful for this decision as we stood on the beach on race day.  I was actually shocked at how many people still wore wetsuits, but I was happy with my decision to go with the swim skin.  Ryan and I started wading out toward the swim start.  I was pretty surprised at how much room there was in the center, so, against all advice I had heard, that is where Ryan and I began treading water waiting for the swim start.  I tried to limit my energy expenditure while waiting, but I was shocked at how hard it was to tread water for 5 minutes.  I tried floating on my back, my stomach, it didn’t matter.  Unless I actively tread, I’d sink immediately.  I remember it being a lot easier to float before I started training for triathlon.  My old built-in rear flotation device is much smaller these days.  The clock ticked down, I told Ryan I loved him and then BOOM!  The cannon went off……and all hell broke loose.  Oh my goodness.  I have never experienced anything like it.  In a split second, all the space I had was completely gone.  I found this video on You Tube.  It does a pretty good job of capturing the swim start.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpXlJI1IZt4

It was, honestly, more like wrestling than swimming.  I kept my breathing mostly calm, but at 112 lbs and with no wetsuit, staying afloat was tough, especially with guys, much bigger than me, in wetsuits swimming over me.  I’d swing my arm forward to take a stroke, only to land on top of another swimmer.  At the same time, the person behind me was, literally, on top of my legs.  It was unreal.  We had been told that there were divers in the water below us.  I remember thinking at one point,  “I’m going to sink and no one will know until it’s too late.  I hope a diver sees me.”  The crowd you see in that video lasted for the first length out, around 800m.  That was the toughest 800 meters of my life.  At about  500 meters out, I realized that I had to get the heck out of the scrum, and just swam right to get to the outside of the masses.  That was MUCH better.  I took the first buoy wide and then the return trip back for the first loop was so much easier.  I finally found some open water and concentrated on my form.  I got out of the water after my first lap in just under 35 minutes!  That had been exactly what my target was.  If I could just do it again for my second lap, I could come in at my goal time of 1:10.  I felt confident this was doable since I was pretty sure the second lap would be faster now that the crowd was thinned out.  The second lap felt smooth and strong, so I was disappointed to see that my total swim time was 1:14 when I got out of the water.  I’ve learned time and time again in races that just because I may feel like I had a crappy swim, I can recover and have a great race.  I didn’t let the time bother me and just kept moving.  Official time: 1:14:21.  This was the 46th ranked swim in my AG of 123 (wetsuit included).  Ugh.  It was faster than my IM Louisville time, so that’s a plus, I guess.  Still, though, I must improve this.  Training alone isn’t helping.  I need a swim coach.  It’s apparent.

I hit T1 running.  I felt like I was running the giant slalom to get through all the people dilly dallying down the LONG, transition shoot.  As I always do, I had run through the transition over and over again in my mind and knew where everything was.  I had no problems finding my bag.  No problems getting in and out of the changing tent.  I was running to pick up my bike in the grassy field of transition while wearing my bike shoes.  All of a sudden my good ankle rolled and I heard an audible, loud pop.  Oh shit.  This has never happened to me before, but my ankle felt like it completely popped out of joint.  It didn’t feel like a traditional sprain.  It didn’t hurt right away.  It just felt like it dislocated.  I was in mid running stride and the next time that foot hit the ground, I heard another pop and I felt it go back in.  Completely freaking bizarre and terrifying.  I kept moving while assessing the situation.  No pain.  Nothing.  The gods were looking out for me today.  All in all, total transition time was 4:35.  I quickly scanned the results and it looks like that would place me about  6/142  of the total women who did not wear wetsuits.  I made up a bunch of time here, and actually, as it turns out, even passed Ryan in transition.

Got on the bike, took it easy on the steep, short descent out-of-town and then it was on.  The bike is where I really wanted to pack a punch.  It’s a two loop course.  I was about a mile out of town when I heard Ryan on my left.  “I love you,” he said.  “I love you too,” said another guy to my right in response.  Lots of love out there on the bike course.  I kept him in my sights being sure not to draft him.  How much would it suck to get a drafting penalty for drafting your own spouse?  I passed him back as the uphills began and then he passed me for a second and final time just a few minutes later.  I fought the desire to keep up with him.  I knew I had to keep it easier on the first lap.  The descent into Keene was a blast.  I flew down it, only touching my breaks once or twice.  Even with a pretty significant head wind, I hit 40mph on this stretch.  Not as fast as I was hoping for, but the wind was pretty significant.  I hit the turn toward Jay and was really hoping for a tail wind, but it wasn’t meant to be.  I had wanted to keep my HR under 165 during the first lap, but, found myself failing miserably.  In fact, for the first 56 miles my average HR was 167.  I was feeling great, though, and seeing a bunch of FeXYies cheering all along the course all day was giving me a huge boost.  I’d see Ryan at all the turn arounds just a mile or so ahead of me.  It was so much fun.  I was loving the bike.  I started getting a little nervous, though, because I knew my HR was higher than it should have been.  I was pushing too hard and I knew it.  I just couldn’t stop myself.  Coming into bike special needs, I knew I was in trouble.  I definitely felt more fatigued than I had planned on.  I was hopeful I could hold on.  Passing the FeXY tent and returning to the Olympic Village was such a high that I temporarily forgot I was tired.  I kept reminding myself to have fun and enjoy the moment.  A few times when the crowd was quiet, I put my hand to my ear with all the flourish and build up of Hulk Hogan and people started screaming for me.  It was awesome.  By the time I reached the climb out of Lake Placid, though, there were no more crowds and I realized I was out of gears.  This hill definitely felt a lot easier the first time through.  This isn’t good.  The second loop consisted of a mild bonk.  Now, there were other factors that aided in this.  For starters, I think the wind picked up pretty significantly for the second lap.  My max speed on each lap is evidence of this.  The first time into Keene, I reached 40mph, and I don’t remember doing a ton of pedaling on some of the steeper sections.  I was mostly just letting gravity do its work.  Again, my max speed the first time around was 40mph.  The second time, I felt a TON slower, BUT I was in aero and really pedaling through much of the descent.  My max speed the second time was 37.7mph.  That’s a pretty significant difference.  I really do believe the bulk of this, if not all, was wind.  I also stopped to use the bathroom the second loop.  I just really do not know how people pee while biking.  I envy these people.  At mile 75, I just gave up and stopped at a port a john.  Even with all this, I was seeing Ryan at the turn arounds in roughly the same place, so I knew I wasn’t losing that much, if any, time to him or to my other teammates, it seemed.  I’m grateful for that because it kept me from falling into a terrible fear that I had blown my race.

Lap 1: 19.9mph avg speed/ 167 avg HR/ 2:51 time

Lap 2: 17.9mph avg speed/ 160 avg HR/ 3:03 time

Total: 18.9mph avg speed/ 164 avg HR/ 5:54:04 time

Transition 2 was pretty uneventful.  As before, I had mentally rehearsed where everything was and what I needed to do.  I ran into the women’s tent and a volunteer immediately took my bag.   My friend, Amy Spriesterbach, was also volunteering in the tent and came over too.  I had two volunteers for the price of one!  I remember saying something like, “this is only a half marathon, right?”  Jokes, as usual, are my coping mechanism.  I was in and out of transition in 2:04, again one of the better transition times I saw posted.

So there was no avoiding it anymore, I was on the run.  I was coming off of injuries, minimal run training, had had some kind of strange ankle issue in transition 1 and had a mini-bonk on the bike.  I was not overly confident going into this run.  Yet, while I assessed things in the first few minutes, everything felt fine.  I had no pain in either ankle or foot.  All things considered, I actually felt pretty good.  In fact, I even managed to dance to the YMCA while it was playing on my way out of town. 

My goal was to try to run 8:30s out to the first turn around, 8:40s back into town, 8:30s back out to the River Road turn around and whatever I had back.  I had also planned on walking the bigger hills from the beginning.  There are 2 of them and you pass them both 2 times each.  My first mile out felt controlled and where I needed to be, but it ended up being 7:46 pace.  Damn.  Too fast.  I tried to slow it down, but the second mile was 8:15.  The third was even worse at 8:04.  In fact, my first 9 miles averaged an 8:21 pace.  I felt the same as I had in training, though.  My lack of run training hasn’t impacted my initial speed, but it’s just limited my endurance.  I really had the feeling that it didn’t matter how much I slowed it down on the front end, I was going to struggle on the back end either way.  River Road was the worst.  At this point, you are furthest from the town and there is no one out there.  At mile 5ish, I really felt like I was starting to have problems.  I started drinking one of my Fuel Belt bottles with pre-race, a highly caffeinated drink.  That helped for a while, but my mind wasn’t cooperating with me.  The dark voice kept telling me that I still had 21 miles to go.  This was going to be a disaster.  I just kept willing myself back to the turn back into town.  There was a pretty nice sized hill there and I had promised myself I could walk it.  I was relieved when I finally made it there and got a walk break.  It was at this point that I saw Ernie coming in the other direction.  “How are you feeling?” he asked.  “The same as I look, ” I told him.  It definitely felt like the beginning of the end.  I knew I would finish, but it might be ugly.    I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to start running again.  I had prepared myself that I might be walking til the finish from here.  However, when I got to the top of the hill and started running again I found that I, surprisingly, felt pretty good.  It’s amazing what a little walk break can do. 

The run back into town was a nice reprieve from the loneliness of River Road.  There were FeXYies at aid stations, Katherine Liola and Scott at the corner of Main Street and music blaring.  The turn onto Mirror Lake Drive was awesome because I knew I would see my mom and the rest of the folks at the FeXY tent.  My pace picked up again and I felt rejuvenated.  Similar to the bike, I was also seeing Ryan and the rest of my teammates at the turn arounds and felt like my pace wasn’t slipping too much.  I wasn’t losing too much ground.

The second lap became about not getting caught walking by friends and teammates.  I knew roughly where a bunch of our teammates were spectating and I knew roughly where I should expect to see my fellow racers.  I also really did NOT want to get passed by anyone I knew.  That really kept me moving.  I made little deals with myself.  “Okay, Lisa, if you run to that phone pole, you can walk to the top of the next small hill.”  I just broke it into little pieces.  When I reach the turn around on River Road for the second time, I was able to assess where other teammates and friends were.  I knew that unless I blew up, I should be able to make it to the finish without getting passed.  I also knew what time I needed roughly to have a shot at Kona and I knew my swim and bike were already a combined total of 15 minutes too long and there was no way I could cut an additional 15 minutes off of my A goal marathon time, so I just kind of chilled out.  I walked way more than I would have if I thought I had had a shot.  I saw Ryan running down Mirror Lake Drive back to the Olympic ring.  I knew he had had a great race.  He looked strong.  I was so proud of him.  “Take it the fuck home!”  I screamed at him.  Probably too strong of language with families all around, but I was so excited for him.  I passed the FeXY tent and got a little burst of energy,  but, shortly beyond the tent, I started walking again.  I only had a mile to go and I was walking.  Out of the blue from behind me came my dear friend, Alice.  She was at the end of her first loop and I was finishing my second.  How could I schelp around when she had to get back out there and do it again?  She cheered me on.  I rounded the last turn around and said to her,  “Come on, Alice.  Let’s run this next mile together.”  As I started running again, two other racers I didn’t know who were running near me gave me words of encouragement.  I was so out of it, I don’t remember saying anything back.  I wish I had.  It was so amazing of them to encourage me while they were suffering through the same thing I was.  It’s stuff like this that makes the Ironman experience so amazing.  It was wonderful to make the turn toward the Olympic oval while others were turning left still to go out for their second lap.  I was so happy to be almost done.  I turned into the oval and immediately heard a group of FeXYies scream for me. 

 I ran around the oval, saw the finish line and just smiled.  I was so happy to be there.  I heard them announce me, crossed the finish line and hit stop on my watch.  It was only then that I realized that I had still PR’ed my time from Ironman Louisville.  I couldn’t believe it.  I had been looking at my mile paces on the run, but I hadn’t been watching the time.  I was so happy.  I looked up and Ryan was standing right at the finish.  I cried the moment I saw him.  I was just so relieved that we both made it and had good races.  I just stood there and hugged him.  In the end, it was a 3:53 marathon.  Definitely a time I could be proud of given all the obstacles.  To also get an IM PR was more than I could have hoped for just 3 weeks prior.  Ryan ran a stellar race and finished with an amazing 10:57.  I was so proud of him.  After a few minutes, we were able to reconnect with my mom and my father in law.  My mom is always so proud and emotional.  I was so happy to have her there.  I’m also thrilled that Ryan’s dad, Bill, was able to come to Placid and watch us.  He’s a proud dad, for sure. 

Total time was 11:08:56, and 8 minute PR from last year.  I was thrilled with it.

Getting to the finish line had its challenges for sure, but, in the end, it was a great day. 

After going home and getting some rest, food and a shower, we all headed back to the finish line at 11pm to watch the last finishers cross the line.  What an amazing time that is.  It’s the best party going.  These people have been out there for 17 hours.  That is incredible.  They are of all ages, all body shapes and all Ironman finishers.  Their medal says “finisher” just like mine does.  It’s awe-inspiring to see what some people push through.  The final person to cross the line, finished in 17 hours and 8 minutes; 8 minutes after the cut off.  She won’t be an official finisher.  Try to tell this crowd that…..http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NmaYrvpx8wg&NR=1

 I walked home, exhausted, but happy with how the day had gone.

Today, again, I was an Ironman.

 
….p.s. make sure you tune into tomorrow to the rest of the story 😉

The hills were alive with the sound of my panting

I am typically up for anything.  With very little to no pressure, I can be convinced that anything is a good idea.  I also have

Gran Fondo? That's me!

what I refer to as “small dog complex”.  This leads me to believe that I am stronger, mightier and more ferocious than anything life can throw at me without regard to the reality of the situation.  It was a combination of these traits that led me to find myself at the starting line of the Garrett County Gran Fondo Diabolical Double this past Saturday.

We had originally heard about it from a friend who had done it the previous year.  He likely said something like, “it’s a 125 mile, Tour de France caliber ride with 15,500 feet of climbing.”  What I likely heard through my “small dog” filter was something like, “meh, whatever, it’s only 13 miles longer than an Ironman bike and it’s got some big hills.  Totally doable.”  And with that, I was registered.

Here’s what I know now.  125 miles is just 10 miles shy of the distance you would cover driving from Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia.  I am also now aware that if you climbed the highest peak in the contiguous United States (Mount Whitney in California), you would have only climbed 14,495 feet.  This small dog was in for a very rude awakening.

Most of our group at the start of the day

I started the day feeling pretty good.  From the Start to check point 1 was 18 miles with a net down hill of 1600 feet and only one rated climb.  There was a large pack from the start heading down some pretty fast and tricky descents.  At some point on this segment I reached my max speed for the day of 50.2mph.  It’s probably for the best that I didn’t actually see that I was going this fast at the time or I might have wet myself.  Ignorance, truly is bliss and I actually really had a lot of fun letting it fly.

The real fun started from checkpoint 1 to 2.  This consisted of 21 miles, 5 rated climbs covering 3,797 feet of climbing.  On paper, this, to me, looked like the hardest stage.  It’s never good when you see an area named “Devil’s Half Acre”, but, still, Ryan and I arrived at checkpoint 2 in good spirits and decent shape.

From checkpoint 2 to 3 is where the darkness began to appear.  It covered 18 miles, 2,311 feet of climbing, including the well-known (to everyone other than me) Killer Miller climb.  Killer Miller is a 1.3 mile climb which at one point reaches a 20% grade.  This was my first glimpse of carnage as I watched a cyclist in front of me concede and get off his bike to walk up.  It was so demoralizing to watch.  My legs and lungs were burning.  If he was walking, then I could walk, couldn’t I?  Instead, I immediately kept my head down and avoided looking at him as I passed.  At this point, all talking between Ryan and I had ceased.  We were both silent, most likely in deep contemplation of life.  We had gone 56 miles, not even half way through, had already done roughly 7,100 feet of climbing and we approached the splitting point of the Diabolical Double Course with the Savage Century course.  The opportunity to reduce the ride from 125 to 100 miles presented itself.  I saw the mile markers in advance-Diabolical Double straight, Century to the right.  I saw people stopped at the corner in deep thought.  I dropped into aero, jammed my gears down, yelled “STRAIGHT” to Ryan who was right behind me and gunned it past the intersection.  I needed to get the hell through there before I had the opportunity to think.  I was incredibly relieved to see check point 3 approach, the worse was behind me, I thought.  I was totally wrong.

The next segment, from checkpoint 3 to 4, was the longest.  It spanned 26 miles, including 3 climbs and 3,000 feet of climbing.  Included in this was a 2 mile stretch of gravel road.  When we first turned onto it, it was a nice down hill grade, but it would soon change to an uphill with the gravel being replaced with mud.  At this point, the last thing my legs wanted to do was to grind through an uphill, muddy road, but when you’re in the middle of wilderness, the options aren’t plenty.  At the end of the gravel, we were treated to a short downhill, but it wouldn’t last long.  The next 7 miles would take us up to a peak and directly back down to a valley over and over again.  Ultimately, it would add up to 7.1 miles, totaling 1,950 feet of climbing including pitches of over 20% and culminating in one final climb of Big Savage Mountain.  After a steep and treacherous descent into Westernport (basically down most of the famed ‘Westernport Wall’), we arrived at checkpoint 4.

While leaving checkpoint 4, I was confident the worst was over (again).  The map showed only 16 miles, 2 climbs and 2,200 of elevation gain.  This stage, however, was the single hardest time period in my entire sport history.  The first climb was 900 feet over 5 miles.  On paper, it looked nowhere near as daunting as the shorter, yet steeper climbs we had already done.  In the end, this 16 mile segment would take us a full hour and a half.  It was constant grinding of the gears.  We were also completely alone.  At this point, the group was so thinned out that most of the time there was no one within sight in either direction.  Having Ryan there saved me.  I don’t know if I could have made it without him.  We never talked.  We were both so fatigued speaking was impossible.  It was just such a comfort to not be alone.  About 4 miles into the first gradual climb the road made a sharp turn up a switch back and got much steeper.  I went to stand up out of the saddle and my quad just completely failed.  It collapsed underneath me and I fell back to my seat, almost going down.  Somehow I recovered and kept grinding away.  I never thought we would make it.  There were plenty of times I told myself that I would allow myself to get off and walk  at the next tree or at the next pole, but somehow I kept pushing.  This was the hardest thing I have ever done, but finally we were at mile 100.  Only 25 more to go.

Only 10 miles separate checkpoint 5 and 6.  I knew that these were the last hilly miles.  There were 2 climbs totaling 1,800 feet, including another long, gradual hill, but I knew I could make it 10 more miles.  I knew it.  I knew the end of the climbing was near.  The sight of checkpoint 6 was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.

Now, only 15 miles remained with only one final climb at the very end.  It was the final climb up Wisp Mountain to the finish.  For the last 15 miles of easy rollers I contemplated this climb.  I had done it on Thursday just to get an idea of what it would be like.  I knew the toughest part was the .6 mile stretch that climbed 600 feet.  A chair lift, literally, runs from the top to the bottom of this same hill.  I would have to cover it on my bike after 8.5 hours of climbing.  After my quad had failed earlier in the day I was pretty sure that I just couldn’t physically generate the power needed to make it up.  I told Ryan as we approached that I was going to walk it.  Afterall, it was only .6 miles.  It would probably only take me 2 minutes longer to walk up than it would to ride.  I was okay with this decision.  I had done so much already.  If I walked a half mile, I was still really proud of the day.  He told me he would wait for me at the top.  “We are crossing this finish line together,” he said.  We turned the corner to make the ascent and I saw it.  The hill was lined with people cheering and ringing bells.  Shit.  There was no way in hell I could get off my bike in front of all these people.  It took every fiber in me to make it to the top, but I did it.  I was so overwhelmed by the support at the time when I needed it most that I almost cried.  When we got to the top all Ryan said was, “I knew you wouldn’t walk it.  I knew it.”  After another .25 miles of uphill, Ryan and I crossed the finish line together.  I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to do this with him.  I am so grateful.  I am so lucky.  We really are just the best of teammates.  In the end, it was less than 9 hours of ride time, about 2 hours less than I had originally hoped for.  I can’t say I will ever do it again, but I don’t regret it for a minute.  It was an amazing experience and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to have done it with my best friend.

Ryan and I celebrating with a champagne toast.
 

When I said I do….

I really want to put together a post about the Diabolical Double and how intense it was, but I also want this blog to reflect what is foremost in my heart, and foremost in my heart right now is Ryan.

Ryan bandages me when I’m hurt.

He builds me up when I’m feeling down.

He breaks wind for me…….on the bike when I’m tired.

He believes in me when I’m doubting…and here’s the best part…he REALLY believes.  It’s not just words.

I was just feeling incredibly lucky today thinking about him and I started humming our wedding song out of the complete blue.  It’s not a song that get’s a lot of radio play (or any radio play), but I remembered it from when I was riding the school bus in the boonies of PA.  I remembered thinking it was so beautiful, so when Ryan and I were looking for “our song” I suggested it.  Now, Ryan is not a country music guy, “BUT”, I told him, ” just listen to the words”.   He did, and he agreed.  This song (click here) says everything I felt about him and everything I feel about him still. 

I think so many relationship issues could be solved by simply listening to “your song” on a daily basis and remembering why you picked it and how you felt.  It’s just a simple thing.  Go back to the basics and remember what you loved most about your loved one from the beginning.  It’s so easy to let life’s stresses and distractions cause you to forget.  It’s worth taking the time to remember.  I’m not preaching, but more typing to remind myself.

Ryan, I love you, and I can wait to “find out what forever means”.