It’s very obvious now that Ironman is all about the journey, and race day is the party.
When I registered for my first Ironman in Lake Tahoe I did everything possible to prepare myself for one of of the hardest Ironman events in the world. When the race was suddenly cancelled I had a choice to make — shrug and move on, or finish what I started. I opted for the latter and I’m so happy I did. All I wanted was to accomplish this crazy goal that I worked so hard to achieve, and to finally hear those magic words “Carolyn Rohde, you are an Ironman!” Not only did I become an Ironman, I was one of those lucky people to get a Kona slot through the Tahoe lottery, reinforcing that cliche notion that every dark cloud has a silver lining.
I was nervous before the event but my friend reminded me that once I start racing my body will know exactly what to do. And she was spot on. I thought that I was going to be trampled in the swim, I was going to overheat on the bike, and cramp up on the run and have to walk. But none of that happened because I was well-trained and prepared. I just think it’s natural for our minds to think about the worst case scenario. One thing was for sure… there was absolutely nothing that was going to get between me and that finish line.
The whole day went by so fast but I tried to savor every moment and take in the passion and excitement that surrounds an Ironman event. I actually felt stronger and stronger as the day went on (at least relative to people around me). I paced myself well, nailed my nutrition and hydration, and kept a positive attitude all day. Ironman Cozumel was an incredible experience and I was so happy to run down that finisher’s chute 13 hours and 48 minutes later. The year-long journey took some meandering, but I’m finally an Ironman!
I could probably write 20 pages about the race, the emotions, and the details, so I’ll do my best to summarize the swim, bike, and run below. But if you want to hear more feel free to reach out or buy me a beer! Enjoy! And start thinking about your big, scary, audacious goals in 2015. Anything is possible!
The Never Ending Buoy Line
2.4 miles — 1 hour 38 minutes
I took a final deep breath and waddled into the warm, salty water with the other purple cap swimmers. I stayed to the back of my starting wave to allow the faster swimmers to get ahead. And BOOM! The race began!
The first 10 minutes were full of excitement, flailing arms, and a tiny bit of anxiety. I had a hard time in the beginning finding my rhythm and catching my breath, but I knew from prior races that this was just a temporary reaction and would go away. I also knew from experience that getting hit in the face is likely, but that’s all part of the sport.
The swim was a point-to-point so there was little advantage to staying close to the buoy line in the ‘inside lane’. Given I’m a slower swimmer and didn’t want to get trampled by the men’s waves that started after us, I decided the best strategy was to stay as far to the right and close to the kayaks as possible.
After the first 15 minutes I began to wonder where that highly anticipated current was that had been touted on the Ironman Cozumel website. “Fastest swim in Ironman!” “Swim with the current!” Was I swimming too far away from the shore? Will the current come later? I had no idea, but the swim just felt like any regular swim in open water to me.
I kept putting one arm in front of the other, counted my strokes, and just tried to keep a very smooth, manageable speed. The swim leg is an Ironman warm-up and absolutely not the time to overexert yourself. Plus, I probably couldn’t go fast even if I wanted to! Swimming has by far been the most challenging sport to pick up as an adult but I know I will improve this coming year.
After a little while I started to get incredibly bored. Every time I lifted my head to sight I swore I could only see 3 more buoys. “That must be the last one!” But it never was. The buoy line was a never-ending mirage. Almost like some mean mind game they were playing on us. I also refused to look at my Garmin because I knew I would get discouraged by how many yards remained. Finally I heard the announcers and music so I knew I was close! Yes!!
Windy… But Si Se Puede!!
112 miles — 7 hours 4 minutes
After 10 minutes in the transition tent putting on sun block, my “angel wings”, bike shoes, socks, bike shorts, helmet, sunglasses, bib number, bike gloves and chamois butter, I was ready to start the flat and windy 3 loop bike course.
I was so happy to be on my bike where I actually felt strong, powerful and fast (much different from the swim!). I was smiling from ear to ear for most of the bike ride and had so much fun out there. I’ll never forget before my first century ride my TNT coach, Marc, said something like “how fun is this? we get to be like kids again and ride our bikes all day! just have fun!” And ever since then I’ve looked at cycling as the most fun and youthful sport ever.
I took the first half of the first lap to spin at an easy pace, settle into a rhythm, and let my stomach calm down from the swim. I eventually turned the corner to start the 12-mile stretch of the East side (the “windy side”) of the island and was met with a lovely headwind. It wasn’t knock-you-over windy but it was definitely enough to slow me down from 20 mph to 12 mph. The wind on the first lap wasn’t that bad, but it got progressively stronger as the day went on. The first two laps were decently easy to power through but the third one took a lot of strength and determination. My pacing strategy was to take it fairly easy on the windy sections and push it a little bit on the tailwind sections; worked out well.
At the North end of the island towards downtown San Miguel is where the locals came out to cheer. They were amazing!! They had noise makers, signs, music, and were yelling “Si Se Puede!” (“yes you can!” in Spanish). They definitely treat Ironman as a special day for the island and come out in full support. They gave me a huge boost of energy. Then turning left to the West side of the island is where the tourists were situated. They were also incredible and had tons of enthusiasm. I saw my parents, brother, and my friends holding signs and yelling on each lap. Thanks everyone!!
The weather was sunny, hot, and humid so I was really happy that I wore my white arm coolers (“angel wings”) which helped with sun protection and also kept me cool. I also dumped water all over my body at the aid stations and let the wind cool me down. I knew the key to the bike would be to stay on top of electrolytes and to avoid overheating. That said, I knew from experience this summer (Death Ride, Wildflower, Alta Alpina, Vineman) that I actually do fine in the heat and can handle it better than most people. So I wasn’t too worried about it. Thanks Michigan roots!!
My nutrition and hydration didn’t go exactly to plan but I still nailed it and felt great. I had 3 zip-lock baggies filled with Larabars, Picky Bars, Shot Bloks and salt tablets. The plan was to start with the bars then transition to the Shot Bloks on the 3rd lap. But I accidentally dropped one of my baggies filled with bars. But I knew the aid stations were fully stocked with bananas and Kind bars (Plan B!). I also had a little flask filled with Skratch Labs powder (almost confiscated at the airport, “I swear it’s a hydration powder! Try it!”). But it was too hard to fill the bottles, mix with water and try to shake it up without getting off my bike. So I ended up using the on-course Gatorade bottles diluted with water. I don’t normally love Gatorade but I had trained with it a few times and knew it would be sufficient.
I stopped twice during the bike ride; once to go to the bathroom and another to grab my nutrition from my Special Needs bag. The Special Needs station was a little confusing and very little English was spoken, but I figured it out.
For the whole 112 miles I didn’t have any pains, just a little ache in my left glute, and truly felt strong the whole way. All of that training on the hot/flat/windy Silverado Trail in Napa really paid off well.
Overall I was really happy with my bike ride. It took a little longer than expected, but as soon as I hit the headwind section for the first time I re-set my goals and expectations for that leg and the whole race.
26.2 miles — 4 hours 49 minutes
When I started the marathon my legs actually felt pretty normal (thanks brick workouts!). I ran through an enormously energetic and positive crowd of people and felt excited for the final leg of the race. I saw Colette, Sam, and Trey with their signs (“Where’s The Tofu?”) and loud cheering and then immediately saw my parents and brother. It made a huge difference to see everyone so early on in the run. Thanks guys!
The run consisted of 3 out-and-backs (4.4 miles out, 4.4 miles back, repeat 3 times). I absolutely loved this because the spectators were more compact, so it was one big party! There were DJs blasting music, people cheering loudly, more “Si Se Puede” chants; the energy was absolutely through the roof! I just fed off that energy and used it to fuel my run. I also was able to see all of my tri friends on the course and gave each other words of encouragement as we ran passed each other. All of that motivation was incredibly powerful.
I started the run at a normal ‘marathon pace’ around 9:30 min/mi and was able to hold that for a few miles. The sun was still shining and it was quite warm, so I dumped a whole cup of ice down my shirt and just let it melt. I also dumped water over my head at each aid station for the first half of the marathon to keep cool.
After a couple miles my stomach started to get a little sensitive, so I switched to water (no more Gatorade) and drank that for the rest of the race and ate Shot Bloks, pretzels and bananas. I was still running at the same heart rate as the beginning but my pace was slowing gradually over time, as expected. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hold 9:30’s the whole run.
My mental strategy for the run was to stay as present as possible. I did this by truly doing the marathon 1 mile at a time. I would check-in with myself regularly “how do you feel?” “what needs to change this mile?” “any aches or pains?”. That really helped a lot because it focused my brain on the present instead of getting overwhelmed by the miles ahead. Also, sometimes we can convince ourselves that we’re in pain, and we’re really not. Finally, running a full marathon after 9 hours of swimming and biking is a very daunting task, so breaking it down into manageable chunks was really the best way for me to tackle it.
Continuing on, once I got to the final turn-around I told myself I could start walking if I really needed to at mile 22. But I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t even stop at my Special Needs bags for my dark chocolate peanut butter cups or ice cold Coke. My legs were on auto-pilot and I was still feeling pretty strong. So I just kept jogging the best I could and didn’t walk (except to use the bathroom of course). I didn’t expect that at all! There were so many people walking, and I always heard that walking is a normal part of Ironman, which it is, but in the moment I had zero desire to do it, and I also didn’t want my legs to tighten up.
The best thing I did for the marathon was run with a handheld water bottle. That allowed me to zip through the aid stations, only slowing down to re-fill my bottle every hour or so. I always have a hard time drinking fluid while running (I always have to slow way down or walk) and I just didn’t want to do that every mile. The water bottle also had a pouch that held my Shot Bloks and were easily accessible. Perfect!
Mile 25 was by far the most emotional mile of the entire race. It finally sank in that in a matter of minutes I would successfully finish my first Ironman. I was smiling so hard and slapping the hands of spectators, and soaking in the moment. The craziest thing to me is that my marathon time was only 19 minutes slower than my standalone marathon PR!
The finisher’s chute was a moment I’ll never forget. I was so happy and enthusiastic I just threw my hands in the air, pumped my fist and yelled out loud. Video here. That emotion wasn’t just for the 13 hours and 48 minutes it took to get to the finish, it was for the entire 12 month journey. From registering for Tahoe, to our first training ride, to the devastation when Tahoe was cancelled, to the finish line in Cozumel. It was a roller-coaster year but I couldn’t be happier with the outcome. It required a massive amount of hard work, dedication, commitment and sacrifice and it was so worth it. I’m grateful for this experience and for the people around me who encourage and supported me daily. Thank you.
- Photographer Expert and Organizer… Michael Rohde
- Parents of the Year… Mom and Dad
- Expert Coaches and Motivators… Duane and Dorette Franks
- Fun Training Buds… Golden Gate Triathlon Club and Team in Training friends (shoutout to GGTC Ironman team Tami, Mike D, & Jesse!)
- Pro Spectators… Colette, Sam, Trey, and Mark
- Bike Fit Extraordinaire… Pedro Dungo (“pfits”)
- Body work/ART Expert… Dr. Scott Nissenbaum
- Tri Gurus… BP, Troy, Sam, Phil, Trey, April, Alex S, Danny, Dan, etc etc
- Fans From Afar… AJ/Melissa/Ben/Arthur/Charlotte, Kellen, Violet, Carlie, Sheff, Kellie, Meg, S2, Aunt Sara, Aunt Susan, etc etc
Ironman… it takes a village. Thanks everyone!!!