In the summer of 2017 I signed up for Ironman Santa Rosa for May of 2018. I signed up because living in San Francisco I had already trained on the course and could train some more on the course. This would be Ironman number eight. Little did I know then that I would be moving to Hawaii and only have a few more opportunities to train on the course. Its been a hectic first half of 2018 with buying a house, doing a pre-planned trip to Europe, getting sick twice, getting partially moved and living like a camper in both places.
I went into Oceanside 70.3 (a half ironman race) in April not having a lot of confidence in my fitness. I had a disappointing lactate threshold test in late February which showed my fitness was not where it had been in 2017, although my run speed had been improving. I attribute the run improvement to losing some weight and becoming leaner. Much to my surprise and delight, I ended up having a good race in Oceanside and came in second in my age group.
I did a follow-up lactate test two weeks before Ironman Santa Rosa. Since February, I had been doing a lot of aerobic training (zone 2) and my fitness and lactate threshold had improved in that time. It was almost back to 2017 levels. I went into Ironman Santa Rosa feeling like I could have a good race. I had also signed up for Ironman Switzerland, so Santa Rosa was supposed to be the warm up race. About a month before the Santa Rosa race, I deferred the Switzerland race till next year because it was going to be too much to travel to Switzerland in 2018 with the move to Hawaii in the same year. My goal this year had been to qualify at Ironman Switzerland for the Ironman World Championships, which will be held in October in Kailua-Kona. I previously qualified at Ironman Lake Tahoe and raced in Kona in 2014.
|PLENTY OF TIME BEFORE THE SWIM START WITH|
LEISHIA AND LESLIE
I got up at 3:30 am and ate a 650-calorie breakfast and boarded the shuttle to Lake Sonoma at around 4:30 am. That gave me plenty of time to put my bottles and food on my bike, pump my tires, put on my wetsuit, and have a bathroom stop before I lined up for the swim start. My Ironman swims have been between 1:11 and 1:20 so I lined up near the front of the 1:10 to 1:20 predicted time sign/corral.
|EXCITED TO GET MY RACE GOING.|
|COME ON BUDDY, GET MOVING!! SOME OF US ARE RACING!|
I swam the first lap not easy, but not hard and finished it in 37 minutes, the same swim time I had for the half ironman in Oceanside. We had to get out of the water between laps and cross a timing map. I was trying to run through that little section but the people in front of me were strolling.
|FINALLY BACK IN THE WATER.|
The second lap, I concentrated on faster arm turn over and stronger kicking until the last section where I concentrated on stretching it out and pulling with my lats. It was a pretty un-eventful swim and my time was 1:16.
There is a long steep boat ramp to go up to the transition area from the swim exit. They did have about a three feet wide carpet which ran all the way up, with wetsuit strippers positioned about 2/3rds of the way up. I ran, passing a few walkers, had my wetsuit stripped off and continued to run to the transition tent.
I caught my breath putting on my helmet and socks. Since I my bike was at the far end of transition from the transition tent, I carried my shoes while I ran to my bike and put them on at my bike.
|RUNNING TO MY BIKE|
Then it was just a short run to the bike mount line. My transition time was 7:54 which was a huge improvement from last year’s Santa Rosa 70.3 (half ironman) time of 11:25. The carpet was a huge improvement over running barefoot on the old asphalt.
I was quite familiar with the bike course having ridden on every part of it many times over the years. They had done a really good job of marking the rough road sections (potholes etc.) with bright orange tape. It was a bit crowded for the first half of the first loop and that created some frustration as many people were riding to the left instead of the right, working hard to pass and then coasting once they got in front of me. I yelled at a few people who were not following the non-drafting rules and some guys who got in front of me and then started to coast. I did not want to get a penalty on the bike. It got much less congested for the second loop and at times I had to remind myself I was racing and not just out on a ride in the wine country. I did notice passing one woman in my age group so I knew I had moved up from third to second place.
At 80 miles the wind was picking up significantly with head winds and strong side gusts. I was ready for the bike portion to be over then with 32 miles to go. I could tell my feet were swelling in my shoes as the ball of my foot started to burn. I had toe-warmers on and couldn’t get to the top buckles to loosen my shoes. I got off the bike with a time of 5:59:40. My prediction had been 6 hours so that was darn close.
I got out of my shoes and started pedaling with my feet on top of them with about one block to go on the bike, and left my shoes clipped into my pedals when I dismounted. I ran to the changing tent in my socks. My socks picked up a few rocks so I took the time to change my socks. When I dumped my transition bag out on the floor the volunteer remarked “Wow, a minimalist. I love it.” I find that its better not to have choices in my transition bags. Socks, shoes, a small towel or washcloth to wipe anything off that needs wiping, a race number belt with my food in the pouch, a visor and I’m good to go. My transition time was 4:27.
|LOOKING FOR DENNIS|
This was a three-loop run, mostly flat with some of it being on a wide dirt and gravel trail. This is the first time in an Ironman when I have effectively carried out my run strategy. The first loop was on feel, not easy but not hard and not worrying about pace. The second loop try to hold my goal pace. The third loop just run and how fast I’d run would depend on how bad I wanted to be on my goal pace. And as it turned out; how badly I wanted to maintain first place.
In the first mile, my husband and another friend both told me I was in the lead. I’ve been in the lead off the bike in many races and always managed to allow myself to be passed. On the second loop the same friend told me I was still in the lead by four minutes. Near the end of that loop I was told by another friend I was ahead by nine minutes. I had been able to maintain my goal pace and now it was my race to win or lose.
I stopped at special needs to get more gels out of my special needs bag and a premixed bottle of Nuun electrolytes and water. I drank about a third of it and tossed it at the next aid station. The run started to get very challenging for me at 20 miles. I had been running through the aid stations and getting water at each one. On the third loop I stopped at one aid station to get a rock out of my shoe. I walked through one where I took coke instead of water and I think I just walked through one more while eating a gel and drinking water. I was worried about someone passing me, so I didn’t let myself walk for long.
How bad did I want it? I wanted it badly. I kept running past people who were walking. The brain sees people walking and it tells you it would feel much better to walk. I’m sure this gray-haired lady passing them with the age of 60 on her calf inspired many of them to start running again. I’d start to slow down and I’d make myself pick up my cadence, or add some bounce, or think about pushing off harder with my back foot. Anything to make me pick up the pace and keep my mind from telling me to slow down. As I had negative thoughts about my running, I pushed them aside. I replaced them with things like: how lucky I am to be able to do this, how much work I put in just for this day, if I go faster it will be over faster, you don’t get to Kona by walking, how great it will be to finish in the daylight, and don’t let all that training go to waste. The last six miles is always a battle between the mind and the body.
|HAPPY TO CROSS THE FINISH LINE IN THE DAYLIGHT!|
I crossed the finish line knowing I had run my goal pace or very close to it. I had seen one 63-year-old pass me on the run, but with a three-loop course we could have been on different loops. I was happy to have had the run I was capable of and to finish.
Then my husband said I won my age group and I didn’t believe him. Was he sure? With the rolling start, maybe someone would come in later who had started after me and had a faster time. But Mike Reilly had even announced that I was the winner of my age group. Finish time 12:18:56.
I WON! I executed my plan! I get to race in the Ironman World Championships in my new home town in October! A two-time Kona qualifier! Wow, wow, wow. It was a hard day, but a smooth day with no major glitches. I’m still riding the Kona Qualification high. The reality of the difficulty of an Ironman in Kona hasn’t really sunk in yet.
|CONGRATULATING SECOND PLACE ON HER GREAT RUN|
|FEMALE 60-64 PODIUM LINE UP|