Tag Archives: Half Ironman

Honu 70.3: Thoughts & Feelings

It’s been almost two weeks since Ironman 70.3 Hawaii.  And I’ve been struggling with writing down my feelings and thoughts about racing Honu 70.3.  I feel overwhelmed and intimidated.  I question whether I’m capable of appropriately articulating what I experienced during and right after this race.  Nevertheless, I believe it’s important to write down as much as possible.  Doing so is therapeutic as well as a way to record this.  So here it goes…

A wedding determined the location of my first Half Ironman race.  (A couple of good friends married on Oahu the following week.)  Nevertheless Noah inspired me to compete in a Half Ironman.  While in Hawaii during race week I found a great deal of comfort from this.  I had a lot of time to think and just be.  With the beauty of the Big Island and many opportunities to be surrounded by calm and quiet except for the sounds of waves, birds and far away muffled voices, transitioning into a peaceful state was relatively seamless.

As mentioned before, race week is also taper week so by the time I arrived in Hawaii my training was over.  In addition to resting and completing lighter workouts, I shifted my focus to preparing mentally and emotionally for race day.  I still had some anxiety (about possible flats, GI issues, etc.) going into the race but I also had some confidence, more than I thought I’d have.  I had confidence in my coach, his training plan and support.  I had confidence that I would push myself extremely hard during the race.  I had confidence that whatever happened on the course I’d somehow get through it.  I had confidence in my support system, most notably MLH.  I had confidence that the reason I was racing was the best reason I will ever have.  And I had confidence that Noah would be with me.

During the swim I didn’t really think about Noah because I was so focused on making sure I was swimming the actual course.  However, during the bike, I spent a lot of time thinking of Noah and in fact I found myself talking to him.  I had a couple of moments when I thought about stopping because the crosswinds were so bad; I was scared. But I managed to move past these moments by thinking back to Noah in the CICU.  I felt silly, a little pathetic and then immediately emboldened.  “So what if I’m blown off the road,” I thought.  “I’ll probably get some scratches and maybe a bruise or two and even more severely injured but that all can heal.  It doesn’t compare at all to having a congenital heart defect, struggling to breathe, constantly dealing with throwing up or pangs of hunger because having food in the stomach before surgery or a test isn’t allowed.”  Yep, once again I was greatly humbled.

I had moments when I knew I needed to push harder.  It’s almost as if I trained for this because digging deeper and deeper came very naturally; I seem to have developed a switch.  By flipping it “on” my mind, heart and spirit knew exactly what to do.  And I dug down.  Riding hills were actually fun; I embraced such opportunities.  (I’m not saying I’m really good on hills; I just like them!)  I remember passing many folks as I climbed.  My attitude was: “bring it on – the steeper the better!”

With the race taking place along the Kohala Coast, I had the ocean on one side of me for a good chunk of the ride.  I made a point to look out and take in the ocean view as much I could anyway.  During these moments I talked to Noah.  I found myself talking out loud to him.  Who knows if others heard me; I really didn’t care.  I wanted to enjoy the amazing setting with him and I did.  The notion that water brings peace was reinforced.  Even as I fought heavy winds, climbed hills, navigated amongst other cyclists and managed my body and nutrition, my moments when I enjoyed the view with my son were moments of peace and comfort.

The run course was not as beautiful as the bike or swim.  The ocean was not in sight until around the last quarter-mile.  While the wind, heat and humidity were very challenging, I felt like my entire body knew what it needed to do and it did it.  Once again I connected with my son to help me dig way down.

After the race I felt a major high.  I still can’t believe I actually raced 70.3 miles!  And it boggles my mind that I did this for a little over six hours.  It’s not that it took about six hours but that I actually lasted this long!  I felt proud.  I felt proud to finish.  I felt proud to race for my son.

Looking back on my race week I now sense something shifted ever so slightly in me then.  And almost two weeks later I still feel this shift.  Perhaps it’s permanent.  I’m not quite sure how to describe it.  All I can say at this time is when I think back to Honu 70.3, I feel good.

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Social Interactions

I don’t know how good my social skills were before Noah.  Back then I did consider myself an extrovert though.  Since Noah’s passing I really don’t like interacting with people, especially strangers and even acquaintances.  I’ll do it if I have to.  For example I’ve attended weddings, professional events, birthday celebrations and other gatherings.  I’ll go.  In fact I genuinely want to go to support the friend who invited me.  However at these events I try to balance between being in the present and in a celebratory mood with shielding myself from conversations about babies, work, really anything that would touch upon my life over the past 22 months.  I feel that everything that happened during this period is very personal.  I don’t want to share this with strangers and acquaintances.  Also I don’t want to be a downer at a celebration.  And of course these topics are most likely to cause triggers.

I had to interact with a lot of people at Honu 70.3.

Right away during athlete check in, I dealt with a trigger.  The volunteer reviewing the waiver for me to sign joked that the document says I have to give over my first-born if anything happens.  I didn’t say anything at all and worked really hard — lots of times it’s truly an effort — to focus on completing the simple task at hand.  (Of course he didn’t know about Noah and was just being friendly.  Before Noah, I’ve made similar jokes.) Then he looked at the volunteer to his right and said, “I guess I shouldn’t make jokes like that with a lawyer around.” (Perhaps the other volunteer is a lawyer.)  And then I blurted out, “and my first-born died so it’s not a relevant comment.  Hence my reaction.  But you didn’t know.”  I immediately felt bad because the volunteer felt bad.  Yes, it was awkward.

A couple of times I grabbed lunch at the hotel pool bar.  The first time there I managed to get away with not talking to anyone.  The second time I found myself talking to the woman next to me.  (Her husband was talking to a couple on the other side and she was just sitting there, so we ended up chatting.)  We talked about triathlons.  She’s been racing triathlons for 30 years and raced Kona (the Ironman World Championships) nine times!  We talked about the crosswinds on the bike course.  We talked about all of the other Ironman races she’s done – she’s raced a lot.  I actually enjoyed talking to her.

I joined my coach and other members of his group for a swim in the ocean on Friday morning.  I briefly met only a few members when I swam with the group in March so leading up to this Friday group swim I mentally and emotionally prepared to meet people.  I tried hard to be social and easy-going.  I think I did ok.  We pretty much talked about the race, training and bikes.  My coach has quite a large group at this race, and many of them wore team clothes during their stay in Kona.  I saw them everywhere – on the race course, at the finish line, the next day at breakfast.  I felt bad for not reaching out and introducing myself to them but I knew I hit my limit for socializing.

I know I’m less of an extrovert now.  I don’t know if I’ll stay this way or if at some point I’ll feel more comfortable interacting with others.  Because I work hard to avoid triggers and talking about almost anything that occurred over the past 22 months, I find myself experiencing awkward moments.  I often feel socially inept.

I also know I prefer being around only MLH and my close friends.  I’m not up for meeting new people which isn’t good since we’ve just moved to a new town.

I’m thinking if I have to meet new people, I can focus on meeting other athletes.  I have a better shot at talking about just training and racing which are safe topics.

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Honu 70.3 Finisher!

I crossed the Ironman 70.3 Hawaii (AKA Honu 70.3) finish line! Since then I have had and continue to have so many different thoughts and emotions about this race. I imagine I’ll post at least few times about it. For now I’ll share my race results and sort of recap each leg of the race.

The results:

Swim (1.2 miles) — 50:56

Bike (56 miles) — 3:20:04

Run (13.1 miles) — 1:58:35

Overall (70.3 miles) — 6:20:21

Swim

I definitely struggled with the swim. I have a hard time sighting the buoys and swimming in a straight line. I’m sure I swam more than the necessary 1.2 miles because of these shortcomings. (I don’t know my actual distance because I don’t use my Garmin in the water.) I was pretty late coming out of the water. Oh but the water, the water was absolutely beautiful! I could see the bottom of the ocean! The sky was blue and the temperature was practically perfect.

Bike

The bike was extremely challenging. The place where we mounted was on a very steep incline so I (along with lots of others) had a hard time with the start. In fact for a couple of seconds I thought something was wrong with my bike because I couldn’t seem to pedal! Then at some point way too soon — I can’t remember when exactly — I began dealing with the notorious crosswinds. I do know I felt them as soon as I made it to the famous Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway — we actually ride part of the Ironman World Championship course — but I seem to recall encountering them almost as soon as I got past the steep incline. Whatever actually happened, these crosswinds are a big reason why this course is one of the hardest in the world. The winds are so strong bikes will slant over to one side while going straight. There were a few times when I truly felt like the wind was going to blow me off the road. (Seriously, picture scenes from “The Wizard of Oz!”) And they don’t seem to give any warning when they’ll blow. At times right when I think it’s relatively calm enough and I’m stable enough to grab my water bottle or a Clif shot, they hit me, and wham or even double or triple wham I’m holding on tight! Proper hydration and nutrition are so important while racing. The heat and humidity make these components even more critical for Honu 70.3. I’m not the most coordinated person either so trying to:

  • drink,
  • down an energy gel or
  • actually eat a Clif bar

while:

  • balancing myself on my bike,
  • bracing for winds,
  • navigating among other cyclists (without breaking any rules)
  • maintaining somewhat good form,

and oh yes shifting gears and pushing myself as hard as possible is “somewhat” challenging for me.

And WOW! I actually saw Lance Armstrong! I like to say, “I passed Lance on the bike!” Granted he was riding in the other direction well beyond the halfway point, and I was at something like mile 15. The cyclist right next to me yelled, “he makes it look so easy.” I completely agree. To see him in action was very, very cool. He’s truly impressive!

Run

The run was hard but not for the reasons I imagined while training. I thought once I put on my running shoes, consume a Clif shot and head out of transition I would feel overwhelmed at the thought of having to run 13.1 miles. The distance didn’t bother me though. I told myself, “I’ve got this run down. Just tick off the miles.” And the miles didn’t seem long until I was around mile 10.5, that is. That’s when my mind and heart wanted to go faster to finish strong and hard but my legs didn’t cooperate. I was able to pick it up but not nearly as much as I’d like. What made the run hard was the brutal wind and sun. My hat blew off at least once, and I had to hold it down with my hands a few times — not the best form for running. I felt the sun beating down on my arms and its intensity seemed to increase over time.

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One Week to Go, One Week to Get Psyched!

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been increasingly anxious about Hawaii.  I keep thinking, “I hope I can finish!”  This race does have cut off times for each stage:  1 hour 15 minutes after the start for the swim, 5 hours 30 minutes after the start for the bike and 8 hours 30 minutes to finish.  I’ve also begun to worry about my nutrition.  While I’ve been able to figure out what I need to consume for each stage while training, I’ve yet to put it all together.  Then reading about Lance Armstrong‘s struggle with race day nutrition reinforced my own concerns.  (Yes, I know, comparing myself to him is a little absurd.  He and I are in very different categories – actually completely different worlds!  He’s a seven time Tour de France champion and cancer survivor who this year returned to triathlons and in fact came in first place last week at Ironman 70.3 Florida, and I’m just an age grouper and bereaved mother who is hoping to simply finish her first Half Ironman.)  Oh and my left knee is still giving me issues every now and then.

Nevertheless, one week from today surrounded by 1,600 fellow triathletes (including Lance, Chris Lieto and other amazing professional athletes), I’ll be at Hapuna Beach State Park on the Kohala Coast of the Big Island in my tri-suit with goggles and swim cap on and body marked.  One week from today I’ll swim 1.2 miles, ride 56 miles and run another 13.1.  One week from today I’ll find out what 19 weeks of the most serious, structured and hard core training I’ve every gone through will do.  One week from today I’ll have another opportunity to honor Noah.

So starting with this morning’s training session I made a point to shift gears and focus on getting myself psyched.  After all, I’ve followed Pete’s training program.  And while next Saturday’s race will be my first 70.3 distance, I do have seven successful triathlons under my belt already.  And I did qualify for USAT 2012 Age Group National Championships.

As I prepared for this morning’s workout I pushed all negative/anxious thoughts out of my mind.  This worked!  During my two-hour ride I actually found myself dancing (as much as one can while on a bike – yes I’m sure I looked pretty funny) to some of the songs on my iPod.  I had to do a 10 minute 80%+ endurance effort and boy it was hard.  But I kept embracing this challenge more and more; digging deeper and deeper.  Towards the end of my ride I even found myself smiling a bit.  Believe me I did work very hard for the entire time.  With the exception of my 10 minute drill (which as mentioned before was at the 80%+ level), I stayed at the high end of my endurance level throughout the ride.  And I finished my session with a strong 20 minute run afterwards.

To continue psyching myself up this week, I’ve decided to think of all of the positives such as:

  • I’m the fittest I’ve ever been.  I recently hit a milestone.  On the bike I noticed it’s now taking me an additional 20-30 minutes to get my heart rate up to my endurance level — a sign that my body is getting into better shape.  (Also a sign that I need to increase my effort level!)
  • I’m back in CA.
  • I’m racing in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
  • I have the support of wonderful friends.
  • According to my grief counselor I’ve been making good progress.
  • I have MLH.
  • And of course there’s Noah.
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What a Difference a Week Makes!

With my six mile run today I completed my first training week using Pete’s online coaching plan.  It may sound a little funny but already I feel very different.  I’ll go ahead and acknowledge the placebo effect is probably at play.   Something along the lines of “oh wow I’m now doing something different so I must experience a change.”  Placebo effect or not, I’m not sure it matters.  The fact that I feel different is good enough for me.

I wrote in my last post that I rarely did a full cardio segment and a complete strength training session back-to-back.  Well a few days after writing that post I pulled out my training plan for Nation’s (which I created myself).  I have a correction to make:  I did in fact do such workouts (also known as two-a-days) early in my training and quite often. I can blame bad memory for thinking two-a-days are new to me but I think there’s something more to it.  For some reason I felt my two-a-days this past week were…well different.  They were much longer and more intense than what I did for Nation’s.  Also, I’m sure since Pete planned them they’re better structured than what I put together.  And there’s the placebo effect.

During this past week’s training sessions I felt solid.  I did struggle some on the bike, specifically with keeping my RPMs and heart rate at the desired levels.  Also the last five miles of my 30 mile ride yesterday was by no means easy.  (And as mentioned before I did have to push it a bit with the weights.)  However I felt pretty good right to the end.  Don’t get me wrong, I definitely worked hard this week but I never felt like I couldn’t finish.  I do realize Pete’s current focus is on base building so I anticipate my workouts becoming much more difficult very soon.

Anyway back to this difference – or really differences.  What are these differences, you ask?  I feel like I’ve taken my training up a level already and I feel more confident.  I think I was a little anxious about not being able to follow Pete’s plan.  Well I did and while I experienced some challenging moments, I completed each session strongly.   I feel more focused.  A lot of this has to do with the need to keep track of my drills during each workout.  But also I’m zeroing in on my very specific goals which are to successfully complete Hawaii 70.3 and improve my splits at Nationals.  With each successful workout my body moves closer to being ready to compete.

I do feel one other major difference but I don’t think Pete’s plan has anything to do with it; I think it’s just a coincidence…or perhaps not.

Over the past week my connection with Noah became much deeper and different.  Outside of training, I think of Noah a lot. Sometimes he’s in-and-out of my mind very quickly and other times I spend quite a bit of time thinking and recalling vivid images of him in my head.  When I train though I believe how I think of him is different from this.

Last May I began feeling a very deep connection with Noah as I became much more aware and grateful that my heart could easily handle my endurance training and I could process the oxygen needed during these workouts.   When I feel or see (on my heart rate monitor) my heart rate climbing and hitting 60-85% effort, it’s almost as if I’m raising it for him.  When I feel my breathing becoming labored, I think of the ventilators he was on and I feel as though I’m breathing extra hard for him.  And it’s the stark and unfair contrast between what I and any other healthy body can do seamlessly with what Noah struggled with all of the time.  It’s this appreciation combined with sadness and a little bit of bitterness (yes still) that helps me dig deeper to find that determination and power to push myself harder, faster and longer.

During my workouts this past week though I’ve started feeling a different kind of deep connection to my son.  I now feel his presence almost constantly and this feeling is definitely different than my “non-training day-to-day” thoughts of him.  During my training, talking to or thinking of Noah is like second nature now.  It’s like at some other level I’m having a constant dialog with him as I swim, run and bike.  I’d like to think he and I’ve gotten used to training together, and our routine has him with me all of the time.  I’ve been thinking about how best to describe this and I’ve come up with “endurance consciousness.”

I continue to push myself to achieve 60-85% of my maximum heart rate (depending on the drill) and reach that labored breathing because there’s that connection I still have with him.  But now I have another one.  I’m so grateful for both.

————–

On a somewhat separate note, please pause for a moment to pray for or send positive thoughts to the parents of a little Heterotaxy boy named William.  After fighting super hard, he became an angel last Thursday.

It’s probably no surprise to you that I spent my first mile on my run today thinking of William and his parents.  I found myself welling up a bit when I thought about what his parents are experiencing right now.  Nobody should have to deal with losing a child.

Noah now has another friend in heaven.  God bless you, William.

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