PART 4: THE DAY I'VE BEEN WAITING FOR
so from here on out, there's not a whole lotta pictures to tell "THE STORY." both Oli and i were racing, and neither of us had friends or family there for support. i felt a little sad about this, but i knew i had a whole team of peeps back home and all around the blogosphere in my corner, and that felt solid. so it's a whole lotta words now with not many pics. hope you can follow along...
race eve was pretty quiet. once the bike and bags are dropped off, there's really not mush else you can obsess about. it's done. now, i just had to lay low, relax and stay off my feet. we went down to dinner in the hotel as soon as it opened. the vibe was a little more intense than previous nights, and since i really hadn't spent much time to get to know many of the people that well, i didn't want to linger long and pick up on any of the anxiety. we went back up to the room, and the last thing i had to do was mix up my Perpetuem and put it in the freezer. we watched a little mindless tv and were off to bed by 8pm. i was amazed at how i was managing to stay so calm. i wasn't necessarily tired at 8pm, but i got in bed with my copy of Going Long and reread the chapter on race day prep and strategy. as i'm starting to read, i hear some noise coming from below my hotel window, just some guys talking and later cheering, but the acoustics make it sound as if they're sitting in my room. here we go again. just my luck. it seems as though i have the misfortune on the eve of races to be plagued with noise outside wherever i'm sleeping. whether it's my annoying neighbors who decide to throw a party the night before i'm to run a marathon or the Nascar dudes next door to us at our hotel for IMAZ, it never fails. i'm always the old hag telling people to pipe down. so i'm still reading, and i get up to take a look outside my balcony. turns out it's OUR SHUTTLE DRIVERS, and they're all listening to the radio broadcast of a fútbol game from outside the window of one shuttle. mind you, these guys have been AWESOME shuttling us from here and there all week. they're totally committed to making our week run as smoothly as possible, but be damned if you try to tell some Brasilians NOT to get excited about their fútbol!!! so i opened the door to my balcony which was enough to get their attention, and they immediately apologized and quieted down. i still felt like a grandma though. lastly, before shutting off the light i reread my LIST/SCREENPLAY. i wanted to meditate on it one last time, wanted to envision a successful race with all its highs and lows as i drifted into slumber.
surprisingly, no tossing and turning. this alarmed me though. why wasn't i worried?? why wasn't i freaking out?? great, here i was freaking out about not freaking out. all week i kept questioning whether i was respecting the distance. i mean, if i wasn't freaking out, i must not be respecting the distance right?? woke up to my alarm at 3:30am. Oli greeted me in the living room with a drowsy, knowing look on his face and a huge race morning hug. we were still half asleep, still trying to get our race morning calories in and get dressed to head down for one of the first shuttles. i had notes everywhere. notes on what no to forget out of the freezer, notes on what i was to eat now for breakfast and what i was to take with me to eat a little bit later, notes on my mental notes. the last thing i told Oli as we were heading down to the shuttle was that i knew he would finish hours before me and that if he'd given it all he planned to give, he'd for sure be heading to Kona. and if by giving it all he had to give, he had nothing left to make it back to the finish line to wait for me, i totally understood. he said no, he'd be there. i left my camera on the table for him in case he had the chance to grab a pic of me going by, but again, no pressure...
there were hardly any hotel guests in the lobby as we waited for the first of the shuttles. come on people?? i know we're on island time here, but Ironman waits for nobody!!! so we made it on the first shuttle with maybe 3 other racers. the 10 minute shuttle ride WAS.QUIET. it was still pitch black as we got off and made our way to the race entry. first up was body marking, and there was Carlos volunteering, our fellow hotel guest who'd broken his wrist earlier that week while out on a training ride. he had a beaming smile on his face!!! despite all he'd gone through, despite being this close to his first Ironman and then getting injured, he was still excited for all of us. what a stand up guy!!!! body marking was the standard affair, both arms, hands, but instead of our legs being marked with our ages, it was marked with a letter code for our age group.
now off to transition where Oli and i split up to head to our rides but agreed we'd meet at the wooden walkway to the swim start by 6:00. i hadn't covered my bike with anything the night before and it was pretty wet. every time i'd dry off the seat, it'd be wet again two minutes later. i had yet more notes for all the setup i had to do. first, attach computer to bike, then bento box, then tubes and co2, then salt stick turbo boosters, 1 gel flask of Perpetuem in the flask holder on the downtube, then tape 2 extra flasks of to top tube, then aero drink bottle to aero bottles, then fill bottle, 3 other bottles in cages with most important calories in seat tube cage, and lastly, rubberband shoes to frame. just as i was getting into the tasks, Oli comes over to check in. he tells me they're letting people have access to their race bags. SUWEEET!!! i'd have a chance to make sure my helmet was there. so i head to the changing tent area. sure enough, helmet is there as promised. except once again, the well-oiled machine does not let me go backwards through the changing tent. nope. i gotta go all the way around to the front entrance. no worries, it's still pitch black out, 45 minutes 'til i need to meet up with Oli. i'm golden, i'm calm, cool and collected. what the hell is wrong with me? why aren't i freaking out yet?? back to THE FUCKER again, everything is set to go. and as scheduled, now i gotta make a trip to the porta potty. but ya know where i gotta go?? right back where i just came from. DOH!! on my way there a guy comes up to me from behind...
NO FUCKING WAY. ARE YOU KIDDING ME??
i can't stop laughing. i've been spotted in Brasil. turns out it's Steve. i don't know his last name, but he's also from Team Disney and had been turned onto my blog through Wedgie's. i gotta say, no friends, no family of my own here, but what a huge compliment to come all the way to Brasil and be recognized for my blog. so Steve, if you still read this thing, you made my day, dude. SHOUT OUT TO STEVE FROM TEAM DISNEY!!! we gabbed and gabbed about Wedgie, i told him about my adventures with his teammate Ben in the Sao Paulo airport, we wished each other well, and i laughed my ass off inside to myself all the way to the shitter. got my pre-race dump handled. YESSSS!!! things are looking up. this time though, i decide to stay out of transition and go for a little warm up run, just 5 minutes down the main drag of the run course and back. traffic is now picking up and racers are filing in in droves...
back to transition and it's now time to change into the wetsuit and pack the dry clothes for drop off. i'm looking around for Oli and now i'm confused. was he coming back to my rack in transition or were we still meeting at the wooden walkway?? i thought i could just look around and find him easily, but no luck. suddenly, i'm at a loss. would i find him again before the gun went off or was this it?? oh well, couldn't worry about it now. i change into the wetsuit, put all my dry clothes in the designated bag for drop off, and grab the last of my FRS, the caffeinated Clif Bloks i'd eat just 10 minutes before go time and my Hammer Gel to tuck in my wetsuit leg for the halfway exit out of the swim. as i'm walking out of the changing tent, Oli appears and we make our way to the swim beach. we wanted to get in the water beforehand and try to read the current, but as we head in, they start calling the athletes to begin entering the swim corral. really?? we still have 30 minutes don't we?? we weren't really in long enough to feel for the current, but it felt like it was pulling opposite of how it'd been pulling all week. now we had to rush back around through the spectators to get into the corral and back to the left where we wanted to be staged. you could tell everyone had the same idea as we were all clustered to one side of a huge corral. i had been on the fence about where to start. COACH gave me a few options, and i ultimately decided to start to the front but to the far right. i felt strong enough to hold my own and take a straight line left to the buoy rather than be in front and center or in the thick of it all from the middle of the pack. what was definitely never in the cards for me was to wait at the back. i'm a strong enough swimmer, i don't get freaked by crowds and pushing and shoving, but i didn't wanna be at the front and center where it really gets gnarls. Oli had the same strategy, so we lined up together. he starts to get a little more intense now, starts sizing up the competition around us. the boys are definitely starting to get rowdy. i swear if any of them gets rough, i'm going straight for a blow to the nuts!!! 5 minutes until go time now and the crowd is getting riled up. there's a banner strip separating us from the pros who are lined up onn the other side with just a 10 yard heard start. not a very great advantage i'd say, but i guess with a pack of only 1253 participants, it's not as much of an issue. i see our Endurance Sports Travel host, Ken Glah, helping to accommodate the few athletes with disabilities including our fellow hotel guest, Amy, who's got one amputated leg. there are few other guides/volunteers helping a local Brasilian athlete who appears to be paralyzed from the waste down. it's these athletes who truly inspire me!! we really are lucky to be here and about to do this!! 1 minute to gun time now and still i'm relatively calm. i really just wanna get on with it now!!! i take one final look at Oli and he gives me the biggest hug. we'd been inseparable up until the gun, and it made all the difference for me with any anxiety i may have had. and for this i will be eternally grateful..
- entry is wide
- hands go steep and deep
- hips are rotating with every entry
- shoulder above elbow, elbow above wrist, wrist above hand
- keep breaths straight to the side. don't let them turn you on your back
- long distance per stroke
- sight often and adjust for current
- continue to look for draft opportunities
- only swim as fast as your form stays good
all of a sudden, i'm chuckling to myself, and next minute I'M STRAIGHT UP LAUGHING HYSTERICALLY.
holy shit. I'M SWIMMING IN AN IRONMAN RIGHT NOW!!! I'M REALLY HERE!!!
i can't stop smiling, then chuckling and then laughing. this has never happened to me in a race or any other training situation, but i'm gonna roll with it. i'm right on the feet of one guy, but i think i can find someone faster, so i try to get around him. i keep doing this from one person to the next, all the while still laughing and trying to stay focused on my form points. still though, i'm not feeling the crazy claustrophobic feeling that everyone describes with Ironman. for me, no matter what the size of the crowd, i never get the sense of any great mass of people except for the people immediately around me, and they all seemed to be pretty tame. others would later describe this swim as brutal and vicious with tales of being tugged on, shoved and kicked but nope, not here. i struggled more with my fear of the jellyfish. i could feel a few through my hands here and there, but i just kept telling myself that they weren't the stinging kind. still i wasn't seeing any huge swarms of them with my goggles in the water, so that was good.
the swim course was shaped like an "M" where we swam up to the right side to the first point of the M. then we'd swim back in diagonally to shore, exit the water, run about 50 yards on the sand and then back into the water to swim the second portion of the M. the second portion was slightly shorter than the first, so my strategy was to go out slower for the first portion, assess my pace on shore, and then pick it up for the shorter portion. there at the first point sat the biggest buoy that kinda resembled a huge, orange traffic cone. on shore the day before, it appeared as tall as a two story building for sure, and the race directors swore that these would be impossible to miss from the water, but sighting them was still kinda difficult. i guess what was missing were intermediate buoys to help keep us on course. still, i sighted often and felt on course. up to the first point of the M and now over to the left a few hundred yards to a smaller intermediate buoy where we turned left and cut diagonal sighting off of a huge Powerbar hot air balloon that stood on shore. again, no intermediate buoys and the hot air balloon didn't seem as easy to sight as it appeared on land. by this point the pack was thinning out, and it was harder to find the next draft option, so i just sat on one person's feet all the way in. still feeling strong, still feeling comfortable, still swimming with good form, so no complaints. coming closer to shore, i began to hear the announcer and crowds of spectators cheering. i skipped up outta the water and looked down at my watch to assess where i was at.
this was slower than i expected even considering that the first portion was longer than the second. i stopped to grab the Hammer Gel outta the leg of my wetsuit, suck as much of it down and wash it down with the water they had on shore. just then, outta nowhere, i hear a manic loud voice yelling at me. it was Ken Glah himself, running up to the barricade and nearly knocking it over, face all crazed and voice already sounding horse...
Ken Glah, race director and owner of Endurance Sports, in charge of over 500 racers and family members traveling from all over the world. i met him briefly for a minute in our hotel lobby, maybe had a two minute conversation with him, and somehow in the midst of all the race frenzy, all that neoprene, he ran up to cheer for me. ME!!! i can't tell you what a boost it was. i definitely felt a jumpstart to the second, shorter leg of the swim. i dolphined back in with a new energy. no more laughing now, there was work to be done. back to focusing on my form points and trying to sight on the buoy ahead, WAY AHEAD.
about halfway to the next buoy, people began to scatter in all directions on the course. some were still holding a straight line to the buoy, while others were drifting far right across my path, and i fell somewhere in the middle. i kept trying to concentrate on swimming hard left but to no avail. i could tell i was drifting further and further right of the buoy, yet still there were droves and droves of swimmers further right than me. by the time i came upon the distance off shore where i should be turning at the buoy, i was a good 200 yards to the right of it.
now turning left and trying to get back in the pack, i was swimming straight into the current. if you couldn't keep up with it, you just drifted further and further off course. i was giving it everything i had and barely making my way any closer...
it was surreal really as there was no other indication of how strong the current was. it was eerily flat, no chop, no wind even, just a killer current from below. i wasn't panicked so much as just pissed off that this was what my swim was coming to. here i was in the one event that was a no brainer, and I WAS CHOKING. now came the last left turn before heading to shore, and i was faced with a critical decision. i was still looking for a draft to get back in, but by now EVERYONE was drifting so far off course and now heading back towards the halfway Powerbar balloon!! should i follow the crowd and catch a draft but be WAY OFF COURSE or should i keep heading forward on my own in the right direction towards the swim exit?? you'd think you'd know what the obvious answer was, but this current was STUPID STRONG. in the end, i couldn't bring myself to knowingly follow the majority crowd heading in the wrong direction, so i continued towards the swim exit but now felt TOTALLY alone out there. occasionally, i'd sight around or even take a breath and look behind me. i could spot the handful of people who'd made the same decision i did. i mean THE FEW people, like 10 people. you could feel the sense of uncertainty in our decision. WE WERE ALONE OUT THERE, but i just kept on going, kept trying to focus on my form points and putting everything in my catch to move that water under me, everything in my catch to get just a few yards closer to shore. as we got closer the lifeguards scrambled to rein us all in through the final chute of smaller buoys onto shore. when my feet finally hit the sand i was so friggin' relieved. here was the event i had expected i'd be sad to see end. i've never been so happy to be outta the water EVAH.
actual swim time: 1:38:17
heading up onto shore and towards the changing tent, i could see the droves of people still so off course coming outta the water and having to run 2 football fields to make it back to the actual swim exit. i was still second guessing my decision to stay on course. for sure i could've run up the beach faster than i could swim against that current, but what could i do now? the most prominent theme to the whole day was something COACH told me to remember no matter what:
ONCE THE EVENT IS DONE, IT'S DONE. PUT IT BEHIND YOU AND MOVE ON...
back up onto land, i peeled my wetsuit as low as i could. we came upon the wetsuit strippers, and i found myself distressed at which stripper to go to. THEY WERE ALL HAWT!!! so i just sat down in front of one of them staring in his eyes intently. with one full swoop, he rips that sucker off of me..
THANK YOU. THAT WAS SO HOT. WE CAN DO THAT AGAIN LATER WITH OTHER CLOTHES IF YOU WANT...
but i digress. i gotta get into transition and get my bike on. once again, let me state how terribly organized and efficient this race was. again, i found myself paired up with my very own volunteer who was holding my bag with the pink vinyl tape hanging from it. she walked with me into the women's changing room as i dumped EVERYTHING out of the bag. she brought me water, and offered to apply sunscreen although i politely declined (i'm sensitive to a lot of brands). quick change outta my Under Armour lycra shorts and into my bike shorts. applied MASS AMOUNTS of chammy butter, then headband, helmet, sunglasses, no socks, no gloves. the volunteer put everything back in the bag including my wetsuit, and I.WAS.OUT.