Saturday, December 14, 2013

Ironman Arizona 2013

IMAZ 2013 is well and truly over.

The weeks since the race have been full of questions and healing and some emotional open wounds that may take a while to close up.

Partly, it's taken me so long to write this because I can only take reliving race day in doses. I make a habit of crossing the finish lines in my life, and this one escaped me.


I was so close. SOOOOO CLOSE!

You and me, Ironman. We are not done.

Life moves forward because that's what I choose. I'm wrapping Christmas gifts and going to parties, working on work and working on projects and, yes, I'm still working out. Maybe not quite as hard as I was pre-race, but I don't want to lose what I've gained.

Because I have gained SO MUCH this year.

What a year.

RECAP of YEAR 2013

I spent this year chasing races. CHASING them. My first race in February was my first race EVER. It was a 10K run (6.2M). At the time that was ALL I could do. And I could barely do it.

CHASING the race.

I was slightly ahead of the possibility but fully behind the capability, running my heart out and trying to catch those miles. Put them in my pocket. Cross the line just to chase the next race.

Two weeks after my 10K I did a half-marathon. WHAT!? Was I ready? HA! I chased the race! I chased the miles. I chased the idea. I chased my own potential. I caught it. I put it in my pocket. I moved forward.

Next I chased my first triathlon.

Only 3 months after my first running race and only 6 months before Ironman Arizona, I did my first triathlon. A sprint. I'm not kidding. And I CHASED it, people. I wasn't "ready." I had jumped on a bike only a few weeks before. I had a panic attack during the swim. I had clipped in for the first time ever THE DAY BEFORE. I couldn't run worth beans.

I chased it. I finished. It felt compelling.

6 months ago
1st Triathlon, May 2013
(I was as nervous for this as I was for IMAZ!)
350 yard swim, 12 mile bike, 3.35 mile run

My new life continued. I kept setting new goals in 2013 and chasing them down. Chasing them hard. Trying to catch those finish lines one by one by one.

In August I chased my first long course, the Utah Half -- 70.3 self-propelled miles (a half-ironman distance) -- completed in 7 hours and 5 minutes.

And if you blinked, you missed it. Chasing had become my habit. So even though this might have been, could easily have been, and maybe should have been the end-goal for a novice like me, most people barely registered that I had participated.

Honestly, it was kind of a big deal. But there were no crowds. No attendees that I knew besides a few athletes I'd met along the way. For me, it was a solitary finish.

But it was a great finish. I felt good.

--Between February and August my views on human potential had transformed. My body literally transformed, not so much where people could see the change but on the inside. My immune system was unbelievable. My heart and lungs were full and strong.

--My mental outlook and emotional desires benefited.

--My work ethic become habitual, a natural part of my daily attitude. 

--My priorities were easier to set. 

--I was more confident and less dependent; I wanted more of myself and needed less from the world.

--I found more strength in myself and more goodness in others. 

--Whether you believe it or not, based solely on my experiences, I knew that if I could make these changes, anyone could. Anyone could work for and see changes in themselves.

Goals can be set and attained.

Woman of Steel
2nd Sprint Triathlon, May 2013

But you have to work for it. 

Every step. 

Bad days, good days. Rainy days. Cold days. Dark days. Very dark days. If you can't get up now, get up soon.

The steps you take are not just physical. It's effort that encompasses your whole self: mental, emotional, physical. 

It's a process. You are processing yourself.


Now, for something important, just in case you're struggling with the same crap that I do.

I have realized through my own personal process that I deal with both anxiety and depression, two-sides to the same coin. To what degree do I deal with them? and to what end? I'm not sure. But they're very real, and they're difficult companions.

When you make changes, whatever you carry -- your fears, your demons, your weaknesses -- they all get out of bed with you in the morning. They stand around you, sometimes linking arms, trying to keep you from breaking through. You must be brave to face them. Very brave. You have to take a deep breath and push through and do it anyway (whatever IT is).

Racing this year helped me realize that both anxiety and depression, my two biggest demons, tend to shrink in size when 1) I exercise regularly, and 2) I make self-perceived progress in my life. Being surrounded by uplifting and non-judgmental people really helps, too.

I'm mentioning it here and now because I don't think we talk about mental illness enough.

Since I'm a generally outgoing and open person, it's a good fit for me to start the conversation. I want you to know that it's okay, you're not alone, and even people you might not have pegged (like me) can struggle internally with mental illness. 

I love my brain. But it fights with me sometimes.

More on that another day.


For now, I'll go on. 

It's the effort toward change that hands you the reward, keeping in mind that the reward itself is not always what you set out to accomplish.

But sometimes, it is.

IN 6 MONTHS --- 0 to 70.3!

Utah Half, Long Course

Racer #91: transition ~ 5 AM

Before the pre-race meeting ~ 6 AM

Swim start, my heat 7:15AM, 1.4 miles, no wetsuit

Swim end, run to transition

Bike mount out of transition

Out of mount, start of bike course

 Around mile 40 of 56
(Kim Boldt Photos)

My favorite strangers

13.1 miles after swim & bike and STILL RUNNING!

A few steps from the finish line

70.3 miles, Half Ironman

That was it!

I chased a couple more events between August and November.

In only 9 months I participated in 14 organized events for a total of 516.9 self-propelled miles. I received a few medals as reminders that I started things and finished them, too.

Of course, those were just the races. 

If you add to that the miles I spent in training, in a little over a year, I went from being relatively sedentary to moving my body the equivalent distance of crossing the United States, coast to coast, and starting the journey back again.

That's no small accomplishment. 

What. A. Year.


The day came to chase down an Ironman triathlon. 

2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run.

I started the chase before the sun came up and was still chasing after the sun went down. Do you know how amazing it feels to be able to do that? It's amazing. It feels AMAZING.

Yet, in the end, I wasn't fast enough. 

I was swept by the course officials for not meeting the last of seven internal time requirements. I had been on track for the required midnight finish until about the 1/2 marathon mark. 

The second half of the marathon was my undoing. I was supposed to be at mile 20 at 10:30PM. I was at mile 18.

I figured out later that if I had been able to maintain the pace I was holding at mile 18, I would have been at mile 25 at midnight when the course closed down. 

MILE 25!!!!

Do you see why this is SO PAINFUL??? Do you see HOW CLOSE I really came?? Do you see why, even now as I think about it, I'm asking myself if I could have finished and why I didn't?

Let me be clear. I did not quit. 

But can you officially "not quit" yet still "give up?" I've been asking myself that every single day. After what happened to me out there, how could I not? 

It's an important question. 

I completed 132.4 of 140.6 miles.
For a newbie, that ain't too bad.

The 8.2 miles I didn't finish? 

Well when I raced my 10K in February I couldn't have run 8.2 miles to save my life. 8.2 miles would have been too many. But by November, 8.2 miles was a typical morning trail run with Lynne. She and I often ran 8.2 miles before most people were out of bed. In the dark. On a mountain. Between an elevation of 5000' to 7000'. Sometimes higher.

My point is that it wasn't the remaining distance that stopped me. 

8.2 miles is nothing to me now.

On race day, I experienced some exceptional highs and lows, including pain I couldn't seem to overcome physically... or maybe mentally... or maybe both. 

As many of you know, the buildup to race day included an unfortunate knee injury two weeks before I was slotted to leave for Arizona. I knew that it could be a deal breaker, but I'm afraid I may have thought about it too much, let it get to my head. 

The buildup also included a lot of interaction with my pal Anxiety who especially likes to visit me at night. When Anxiety gets into bed with me, I get very little sleep. With that kind of stress (injury, anxiety, lack of sleep) it felt like the race itself started long before the cannon went off. 

If I'd written this report the day of the race, you'd be getting a more raw, visceral version. If I'd written it in the three days after, you'd have heard nothing but tears hitting my keyboard. 

Like the team that loses the championship, this was my big goal for the year and I didn't quite make it. It was the missed field goal, the half-court shot that didn't go in. I've been going through a very real mourning process and have been working through that heartbreak in bits and pieces.

But now? 

For those of you who wonder, I'm currently happier than I have been in years. I'm proud of myself and how far I've come. I'm recovering from the race alongside my loving family, and I've learned some truly critical personal lessons along the way -- about friendship, honesty, hard-work and reward, commitment, strength, courage in the face of fear, slapping demons, and finding joy.

Besides which I am utterly resolved. 

Ironman 140.6 will yet receive the ass-kicking it deserves. 

And I will do the ass-kicking. 



There were a few moments from the weekend that should be highlighted -- the types of truly precious or hardcore moments that transcend the environment, the body, and the results.

These are the moments that change you or preserve you, make you question yourself or see yourself as you really are and want to continue to be. They pierce you deeply. They are, in effect, the real reason I race.

#1 Those Dear Ones

Nothing... NOTHING... will beat the surprise pulled on me by Ann-Marie and Anthony who helped my old college roommate Tammy to show up at the welcome dinner on Friday night without me suspecting a thing. 


When I saw A.M. & Anth at the top of the hill waiting for their banquet tickets, I started to tear up as I walked to greet them. They were really here! The kind of friends who show up through thick and thin. The best of the best.

Then Ann-Marie's innocuous question, "Would you like to meet my cousin?"

"Of course!"

I turned wearing my pleasantly arranged meet-the-cousin expression, and BAM!




Oh my gosh, look at those smiles!!!
I can't speak for them, but at that moment, 
I was the happiest woman in the world.

I loved ALL the support I received before, during and after the race. My family. My friends. My acquaintances. Some perfect strangers. Y'all prove that no matter what happens, the truest deepest most beautiful moments in life cannot be quantified or objectified. 

The deepest friendships don't have finish lines.

#2 Those Monsters

The bike course totaled 112 miles and was split into three loops of 37 1/3 miles each. I was very VERY sick on the whole first loop of the course.

This series of photos was taken when I was feeling my worst.

Click series to enlarge.

See how I look like I'm about to vomit? That's because I was.

If you were watching my bike splits, you saw that one of them dropped to less than 9 MPH. 

Around mile 42, five miles after my parents took these photos, I collapsed to a curb at an aid station and spent the better part of that split trying desperately not to vomit, my head drumming, my body numbing, fever and delirium.

I cannot adequately express how sick I felt. 

A monster reared inside me. I thought about quitting right then and there.

When I reached for my crossbow to aim at the beast, I fumbled. My intentions were good but my weapon was too heavy. I could barely lift it, let alone aim. 

Seeing my struggle, 4 angel volunteers rushed to my aid. They helped me steady, load, and fire. It took a while (and a lot of potato chips!) for the ugliness to die inside me, but when I got back on my bike, I KNEW I had entered and escaped from a terribly dark place.

I have never felt so strong. From that point on, my splits got faster and faster. And if you've never raced before.... well, that's backward.

#3 That Kind of Joy

When I made the bike cut-off, barely. The sweep vehicle was just minutes behind me. As I headed down the backside of the last loop, I passed it coming up the other way. JUBILATION! I honestly LAUGHED the whole way down. And check it. Happiness = speed. That was my fastest split at almost 18 MPH.

Coming down the last stretch.
The crowds were gone, but I was happy.

Even when everyone else had moved on, I had my own personal cheering section.

#4 Those Dearer Ones

Having my Dad walk with me. 

As you already know, the run became intensely painful. 

I was so far behind most of the racers that the typical rules didn't seem to apply; no official was going to boot me for having a friendly pacer. 

First I walked with a fellow athlete I met along the way (Susan) as Tammy, Ann-Marie, Anthony, and Jeff caught me here and there to cheer me on before moving forward to catch me elsewhere along the route.

Then my friends told me my Dad was around the corner waiting for me.

Here's Tammy pointing him out.

We were across the lake from the finish line with many miles to go and Dad stayed right with me and kept me company. I liked having him there. For me, it was a highlight of the race.



There's not a lot to include here, but there was one moment where I felt total defeat and I just sorta...

My heart broke.

Dad was still walking with me giving me lots of encouragement when a shooting pain ran up my leg, I stumbled, I slowed. I tried to reestablish my pace but I couldn't seem to move any faster.

You are welcome to debate with me whether my failing was more mental than physical as I have MANY times since, but the truth is that there was a single moment when I internalized my slowing pace and the inevitable result.

No finish line.

That was the worst, worst, worst few seconds of the race. I was so glad someone I loved was by my side. So thanks, Dad.



The days before the race were HECTIC. Not every moment, but most of them.

There was... well...

...driving to Arizona for two days.

(Flat Stanley came along.)

 ...checking out the venue.

(Sadly, this is as close as I got to the finish line,
but I refuse to go under that famous arch until it's legit.)

...multi-part registration with plenty o' paperwork., because (just like Disneyland)
they dump you from registration straight through the shops!

(My name's on here! I may not have 
finished, but I still happily wear this shirt.)

 ...requisite athlete meetings.

...organizing meetups with friends and family. 
(Except the one that was organized for me!)

...the welcome dinner.

...early morning practice swim,
followed by bike check-in.

... meeting up with friends for more fun.

... packing and dropping color-coded bags for transitions.
(There were a total of 6 bags for various purposes.)

Bike to Run Transition

Swim to Bike Transition


...a lot of walking around,
driving around,
meeting for meals,
finding parking,
getting stuck in traffic.

It was enough to make any girl tired.



I woke early on Sunday morning. And then I woke up again and again. 

1AM. 2AM. 2:30AM. 3AM.

The next time I woke up, I decided I might as well get up, and wouldn't you know? 3:55AM, five minutes before my alarm!

I had everything packed and laid out so getting ready was easy. The venue was only a three minute drive from my hotel and transition didn't open until 5:00AM, so I hit the road at 4:30AM. 

About a 1/2 mile out, I desperately wished I had left the hotel earlier or picked a different route.

IMAZ traffic was at a stand-still, and I was trapped. 

Now that was partly due to racers who kept jumping the line then re-merging, keeping those of us who were more hive-minded at the back. I guess that's what you get with 2700+ highly competitive people all vying for the same parking structure.

Then again, it got me agitated and charged up earlier than expected. 

I turned up my music, rolled down my window, hugged the bumper in front of me, and turned a saccharine smile to any driver who tried to edge between us. 

It says a lot about my style of competition. If you're legitimately faster than me, power and glory to you and yours. But if you try to blatantly cheat me out of my place, bugger off. It ain't gonna happen.

It took me 25 minutes to park.

The whole morning was hectic. People everywhere: athletes, fans, directors, volunteers. Never enough time. Barriers where you need to get through. Hopping fences or walking twice the distance because you couldn't as-the-crow-flies to anywhere.

All morning I was getting texts from family and friends all of whom were trying to meet up with me before I got in the water and all of whom were running into the same problems I had had with parking and general hecticness.

If I picked some choice keywords for IMAZ, one of them would be CROWDED. It's known as the most urbanized of the Ironman races, and while this is good for spectators in one way, it certainly limits the square footage available to move around physically. A lot was happening in very little space.

Loading bikes with water bottles and stuff.

I spent much of the morning trying to meet up with someone / *anyone* to grab the bag I had packed for Bridgette with snacks, water, etc. Everyone had trouble with traffic and parking and general movement.

A.M. & Tammy finally found me (hooray!) thus the following photos.

Check it! I did my own Rocktape job!
That morning, on the grass, using only a pocket-knife.

How cute. So young and innocent.
I'm MUCH older (and wiser) now.

They say there's really 4 events in a triathlon:
Swim / Bike / Run / Put on Your Wetsuit


THE SWIM: 2.4 MILES: Time = 1:33:31

That's not me. But that's what it was like close-up.


So I *like* to swim. A lot.

I'm not killer fast, but I'm not really slow either.

Look carefully at this photo. Do you see the arch? You can click it to make it bigger.

 Main Transition Area
Sans ~3000 Athletes
(Who Were All Out Swimming)

All the athletes had to squeeze under that arch to activate our timing chips. But since it was a mass start, not a rolling start, our "official" time didn't start until the cannon.

Here-in lies my rub.

I was near the back of the line, and it took FOREVER to get people into the water and moved away from the edge so the next row of folks could jump in.

They started the line moving about 15 minutes before cannon, and that was NOT enough time to get everyone in. The first people were really lolly-gagging. Dum-de-loddy-doddy... what? I should get in and move out of the way?

The back of the line didn't move.

With a non-rolling start, people had no impetus to move forward quickly once their chips were started. So they hung out congesting the entry.

By the end the announcer was shouting at everyone... "Get in! Move on! Swim away from the jump area! Don't hang out! Get to the starting line! Move it, people! Move! Move! Move!"

The problem is that a too-large percentage of us had literally just jumped in the water when the cannon started, including myself. My head popped up, I was no where NEAR the starting line and **BOOM.**

I remember thinking, "Okay. I guess we're going."

This is a little long, but it has a close up of us jumping in.
Click ahead if you want.
Kayaks start to move away at 1:38, cannon at 2:04.

There were two major problems for me with a non-rolling start.

1) I was 50 yards behind the bridge when the cannon went off.
2) I was at the back of the pack. No, I was way behind where the pack was even gathering

I had wanted to position myself somewhere near the front.

That meant, for a reasonably strong swimmer like myself, I had to swim through EVERYONE.

It was mayhem.

Most of the people who did not finish were pulled during the swim. Over 200 actually. 

Anthony talked to some paramedics who told him that 15 people were taken to the hospital from the swim alone, effectively overwhelming the local hospital. All remaining emergencies needed to be taken elsewhere.

A.M. spent her entire *birthday* supporting me at my race!
Now THAT'S a true friend.
Ann-Marie and Anthony Bott

Some of those who did-not-finish (DNF) did not finish before the race started because after they jumped in the water, others jumped directly on top of them. One more reason for a rolling start.

Of course I got kicked and swum over. But that really didn't bother me from a paranoia standpoint. I feel comfortable enough in the water to know that getting pushed under isn't permanent.

Mostly, I was super annoyed. 

As Tammy wrote in her own IMAZ report, "Swimming 2.4 miles is a lot tougher when you can't move 2.4 feet without getting a foot in your face."

The conditions were super crowded. And it wasn't *just* because there were so many athletes. It was partly because of the race course itself. There was no ocean in which to spread out. 

In a narrow man-made lake, buoys and officials marked the inside of the course and an actual wall on the outside trapped us in a narrow lane. It may not seem that narrow but with 2700+ athletes, let me assure you it was.

I'm really good at sighting and keeping a straight line in the water, but zig-zagging here was inevitable.

With all the zig-zagging I had to do to force my way through the congestion, I am 100% certain it added a lot of distance and at least 15 minutes to my swim. I'm confident I could have cut my swim time to 1:10 or 1:15 if it hadn't been for the CROWD OF BODIES.

Next time, I will do things differently.

This time, I was forced repeatedly to tread water packed in by 5 or 6 people. I'd view my cage, site a 2" gap between the leg of the man ahead of me and the arm of the man next to me, and plunge between them, pushing through fellow-swimmers just to get out of the fray.

The water was colder than I'm used to but just as murky as the lakes back home, so I felt comfortable with the conditions overall. I was glad I'd done the practice swim the day before to get used to the cold and because I hadn't been in my wetsuit since August. 

It was cold enough that we were allowed by Ironman rules to swim in booties, but I opted to go barefoot. After a while your feet numb up.

The first mile was slow going. That's about the time it took before we were spread out enough that I could find small swaths of clear space to claim. That's also about the distance it took to push through to other swimmers who were going my relative speed.

In the end, the swim was still my best event, I'd just have done it differently if I could do it again. I'd have forced myself into the earlier jumpers and placed myself better at the start line.


As I was going along, I kept thinking, "Huh. I feel good, but 2.4 miles is still a long way."

Several bridges later at the half-way point / turn-around, I was swimming strong. In fact, I was picking up speed because I finally had room to move!

Around mile 1.75 I switched mantras. 

Instead of "steady on" or "point A to point B," my tummy rumbled and I thought, "I'm hungry."


"Wow. I'm super hungry."

"I could go for a McDonald's breakfast sandwich."

"Mmm... bacon... sausage... pancakes... eggs... mmm... yes... bacon..."

That's pretty much all I thought for the rest of the swim! It was making me giggle.

That's also how I knew I was in good shape. 

I mean, not in good shape physically... although I guess I was that too, but I mean, that's how I knew the race was so-far-so-good. When I'm hungry, it's a great sign that my body is working properly.

When I'm NOT hungry, I know I'm in trouble.

I got to the steps (which do not really go down into the water but kind of hover above you) and hoisted myself up. 

As I climbed out, I felt lightheaded. I always do. This lightheaded thing is one of the couple of factors I need to get figured out before I start racing again. But I shook my head a few times to get the blood to my brain, laid down to have the wetsuit stripped from my body (that was a first), and ran (YES I DO RUN SOMETIMES) to transition.


I'm not really sure what happened here. I took too long in transition.

And it was kind of a blur. 

I honestly thought I took longer in the second transition than the first, but that's patently untrue. It just goes to show time flies when everything is confusing.

There were a lot of women in the tent, so I had to commandeer a spot. Then first I had to take care of some girl stuff because I was ONCE AGAIN racing with my period (which totally sucks). And you probably think it's weird I'm talking about it, but let's get real. 1/2 of the people on the planet are women, and our reproductive processes get us all here. It's not taboo, it's life.

I don't know what percentage of the racers were women, but it was definitely fewer than men. 1/3? 1/4? Anyway, I wouldn't have been the only one with my period that day, but I wished the timing had been better. My period is not just an inconvenience that slows my overall finish time (although it is that). It also physically changes my body in many ways, none of which are helpful to racing.

Other than that, I put things on I didn't need to wear and took things off that could have been kept on. I made mistakes born of inexperience. It all took time.

The biggest mistake of my race happened in that tent. 
Hindsight is 20/20. 

I should have put on socks and powdered my feet.

That's it.

I should have worn socks. Would have taken me 30 seconds, tops. Could have / might have saved my race and gotten me to the finish line. I developed giant blisters on the balls of my feet during the bike that killed me in the run.

Damn socks.

THE BIKE: 112 MILES: Time = 8:01:28

Well, you already know I wasn't wearing socks. But let me tell you about the rest of it. Most importantly, I needed to be faster.

Looking back, nothing physical seems as hard as it does when you're doing it. Distances seem shorter. Intensities seem less intense. Pain is forgotten.

But if you have ever thought to yourself, "Yeah, but it's 112 miles on a bicycle. So, I mean, how hard could it be?" I encourage you, as soon as possible, to get in your CAR and drive 112 miles.

Yes, do it in your car. With heating. Air-conditioning. Soft seats that support your whole butt. Adjustable upright back. Windshield. Windshield wipers. Airbags if you crash. Protection of all kinds from wind, rain and temperature fluctuations.

And just to keep it as inconvenient as possible, don't use cruise control. Use your actual foot to hold down the pedal.

Oh shoot, what's that? There was a tiny bump on the road, and you still felt it? How is that possible? You have state-of-the-art shocks!

Bug smashed on your windshield? Haha! Could have hit your eye! Or flown in your mouth.

See all that detritus mucking up the 6 inches of shoulder at the side of the road, the rumble strips? You know, where the bikes are supposed to hang out? It's okay, you get this well-manicured lane with very few rocks / pebbles / sticks / piles of glass shards.

Are you starting to feel cramped. Want to stretch? After all, you've been in more or less the same position for over an hour now. It's getting less comfortable. In your ergonomically padded chair.

Whoa! Did you not just hear but feel the shooooOOOORRRRSHHH when that 18-wheeler careened by? The cavitating pressure changes and whorls of air tightening your grip on the wheel as you felt your car shake and pull?

Good, now you're with me.

So as you drive, imagine going this distance by cranking your own pedals--flats, uphills, downhills. 112 miles. Without any car-induced pleasantries at your disposal.

And for heaven's sake, if you see a cyclist along your route SLOW DOWN and PASS GENTLY when it is COMPLETELY SAFE to GO AROUND while giving her/him SUFFICIENT ROOM that if s/he gets jostled by the pressure or for any other reason crashes at that moment, you DON'T RUN OVER HIS/HER HEAD! And DON'T TEXT while driving.

What if it was a grown-up Bridgette out there on her bike? Please don't hurt my baby!!!

But here's the thing. I'm somebody's baby, too. And somebody's mother. Don't hurt me either.

Just... please be gentle with cyclists.

You might not like us, but you should. Why? Not because we're decreasing pollution or combating obesity but because we're humans. With fears. And families. Some of us are new to the sport and we wobble when we don't want to. Like when cars get too close to us, and we're petrified.

Please, please don't let your comfort or your distractions in the car or your annoyance that for a few seconds you can't go as fast as you'd like make you dangerous. We're very, very exposed out there. And probably tired, too. It's a vulnerable position.

Please be kind.

Okay, ah. That felt good.


112 miles really IS a long way. And I know a lot of you reading this are cyclists. Long-distance cyclists, so you get it.

Of course, for every hardship, there is a benefit -- not least of which is that you feel incredibly accomplished when you get yourself from point A to point B using your own legs.

IMAZ was interesting because, once again, the word of the day was CROWDED.

It's also very windy!

Cross-winds. Head-winds. Shifting-winds.

That's me down the chute out of transition!

I wasn't 5 miles out the gate when I rode, wide-eyed, past a cyclist lying on the ground, medical personnel holding oxygen over his mouth trying to get him to open his eyes.

A few minutes later I passed another man on a stretcher being loaded into an ambulance.

Two minutes after that another ambulance came charging past me, lights and sirens full throttle, taking someone to the hospital, I presume. I don't know the circumstances or results in any of those cases.

But I felt like a kid out of her element.

"Umm... hmmmm... ahhhh. I don't know what's going on here, but I'm gonna do my best not to end up in an ambulance today. I hope, hope, hope. Please don't let me crash! Don't let anyone crash into me! Or get close to me in any way!"

Part of the problem is that I'm so new on a bike, I have to be excessively careful. I still lose my balance too easily.

For example, I cannot let go of the bike with my right hand.

Yep. I'm not kidding. I can let go with my left, sit up, stretch a little. But if I try to do the same with my right, I wobble and crash.

All the aid stations were on the right, so I had to pull in and stop any time I wanted a bottle of water. Not because I couldn't reach out and take it. Because I couldn't reach out and take it with right hand.

I kept to the extreme right of the road to let the thousands of cyclists whiz by. And even though we were SUPPOSED to keep 4 bike lengths between us and every other bike, the course was SO CROWDED that it was nearly impossible.

What's more, there were tons of pelotons which is purely illegal in an Ironman. Closing the gap reduces air pressure but increases risk. I guess, like most things, if you can get away with it, you do. And LOTS of racers did. Maybe someday I'll be one of them.

Mostly, I just plan to become stronger and faster.

I already explained why I started out so slowly and why I picked up speed on loops 2 and 3.

On loop 3 Jon and Christina came out on the course to cheer me on! Yay for family in the wilderness! It was so great to suddenly know somebody out there. Thanks for coming guys!

In other news, I learned to pee on my bike which is really gross but probably saved me from getting disqualified. Keeping hydrated means peeing. Peeing means stopping. Unless you don't.

The volunteers all along the way were fantastic.

At the top of my last loop, I stopped to eat chips and get water and ask the time, and while there, I lost control in front of everyone.

Peed right down my legs. Puddle on the ground.

I didn't even realize what was happening until it was over. Say hello to the repercussions of giving birth!

I decided not to mention it. Just got back on my bike and rode away.

At the bottom of the loop, about mile 100, I stopped for more water and told the volunteers my peeing story at the top of the loop. I'm pretty sure I made their day. They were all still laughing hysterically as I took off for my final miles into the sunset.

When I came into the chute when I was done with the bike, I cried.

Not just cried.

I wept.

I was weeping so uncontrollably I'm SURE the last few people along the sides were wondering why I was such a basket case and coming up with all kinds of crazy stories of what must have happened to me out there to be sobbing like a crazy person.

In truth, nothing super exciting happened to me.

I just finished.

Apparently that was enough.


When I ran through transition 2 (yes, I was still able to run at this point), I felt excessively light-headed. When I came into the tent there was almost no one there.

That's the only benefit to being slow. By the time the bike was over, I had almost the whole road to myself. By the time I came into transition, there were only a few other women there with me.

I sat down.

My head was swimming. I was blinking. A lot.

I told the woman-volunteer who was helping me change that I felt light-headed and the next thing I know there's another woman bent down, her eyes 5" from mine, I assume to check if they were dilated.


I laughed.

"My name's Kelly, I'm in the transition tent at IMAZ, I just rode 112 miles, I'm about to run a marathon. I'm feeling pretty light-headed at the moment but if I sit here a minute I'll be fine. I'm not in shock. Thanks for asking."

She stood up straight. "Seems alright, but let me get a medic."

Hahaha! That really made me laugh. Not sure why she didn't get a medic to start.

The medic asked me to drink some broth, but most broths make me sick, so I talked her out of it.

I did don a special pair of glasses in keeping with the theme!

Then I was off!

You can see how few people were left to cheer me on, but they all loved the bat-glasses. It was sunset so I could only wear them a few minutes. Probably for the best. I had so many compliments and requests for photos that it was really slowing me down. :)


The truth is that there's not a lot to say.

I started by running. Slowly, of course, because that's the only way I run.

Then I alternated walking fast / running.

Then I walked fast.

Then I slowed down.

Then I stopped walking.

Then I cried. Again. But for different reasons.

Here it is, in photos and video.

Still running. Still batty. 

Bat glasses off. Still feeling okay, but... oh my feet!
Mile 2 and they were already feeling the flame.

My savior, Susan,
who kept me zoned in on that which I could control
(which was very little).
We walked/ran in sets, light post to light post.
We stayed together from Mile 3 to Mile 9.

Here's some video my Dad took around Mile 12... not quite half-marathon distance. My knee, my feet. It pains me to watch this, but not as much as it pained me to walk it.

In the miles between the video above and the photos below, I cried hard for the second time during the race. Around Mile 14.

My tears didn't last long, but they were hot. I felt alone, disappointed, and broken. I was gutted.

I limped myself down to the end of the course and started back again on loop two. That's where the next three photos were taken, and they are honestly some of my favorites from the whole race. Probably from the whole year.

At this point, around Mile 16, I was in so much pain. I knew I wouldn't finish and felt that loss like a death. I hurt physically, too.

Suddenly Bridgette ran to hug me while Jeff reached out to steady me.

It says so much about... everything. Who we are and what we do and how I feel about my life. It was then that I realized that races come and go. Successes come and go. Disappointments come and go.

I knew I'd live on to race another day, if I chose to race ever again. And in the meantime, I'd have the most important people in my life by my side, giving me love, helping me stay on my feet.

Even after that, I kept walking. Like a miniature hulk. Fingers twisted and rigid (how I deal with pain). Gait unruly. Walking on the outer edges of my feet. Just pushing on until the race officials inevitably caught up to me.

And then it happened. The officials drove up behind me a short while after I'd passed Mile 17.

They were exceptionally kind. They didn't boot me cut-and-dried. First they said, "Hi, how are you feeling? Do you think you're going to pick up your pace? Are you planning to run again?"

I gave them the look.

Then they said, "What do you want to do?"

I said, "I want to make it to Mile 18. Then I want you to take me back in your golf cart, so I don't have to walk any more."

This is how it ended: Jeff, Bridgette, Tammy, Ann-Marie, Anthony, and the race official walking by my side to the next (and my last) mile marker. My poor Dad wanted to be there, too, but a mix-up earlier meant he was elsewhere on the course waiting for me.

After this photo was taken, we drove away. Bridgette immediately fell asleep, sitting straight up between me and Jeff. I didn't bawl or shake, but tears slipped silently down my cheeks. Jeff put his hand around my shoulders, and it was done.



Blister, right foot, photo taken immediately after the race.

Blisters, left foot, taken after I showered ~midnight.

Same blisters, about a week later.

Burning a hole through my toenails to relieve the pressure.

MRI result, fluid build-up in both knees.
More fluid in right knee. Multiple locations.
I don't really know what that means, 
but no one seems too concerned about it.

I must have some arthritis or tendinitis going on too because I still regularly experience a lot of painful stiffness in my right knee. Ultimately, I'm thinking it's a no surgery situation though, so that's great. I can get back at it faster.


--The best way from Point A to Point B is to keep moving.

--I thought I had missed one of the bike cut-off times. I pushed myself as hard as I could just so that all of you who made 140.6 commitments would have a few more miles out of me before it ended. That push was what actually kept me from missing the cut-off! THANK YOU!!!

--All bad days end. So do all good ones.

--Injuries. They're the worst. My conditioning was fantastic. I didn't even get sore! A little sleep and I was raring to go, fit as a fiddle. Could have raced again the next weekend except for the blisters and the knee. 

--My family means the world to me.

--Friendships are sacred. My true friends are dear to my heart, even when they are not near to my heart.

--It was amazing and heartening to get on-line after the race and see how many people were invested in my race. Thank you!!!

--Experience! You may have to make mistakes in order to have a better experience next time around.

--Last year when I volunteered, I was at the finish line at midnight. It was super exciting!!! I filmed the last finisher, screaming and hollering with the crowd. Then they shut it down. Turned off the lights and closed up. Just. Like. That.

I remember looking back into the darkness and wondering who was still out there. I remember thinking, "How does it feel? To race all day and be so close?" 

Now I know. When you've finished whatever it is you've worked so hard to attain... remember... there are people behind you giving it their all. 

--Ironman and I will meet again. I will finish.

--Until we meet again, I will work on getting faster, stronger, mentally tougher, and more competitive.

--Take care of your feet!

--Good friends help you move forward. They also help you laugh when moving forward is painful.



So I chased and chased and chased my races.

I so often came in late. Almost last. At the end.

And this time, I think I may have been the VERY LAST to get cut.

On our drive home from Arizona I had plenty of time to think.

I asked Jeff if he thought I could have finished, and he said he thought I could have, absolutely. That he thought about shaking my shoulders and yelling in my face to keep going. He also said he knew me well enough to realize that resolve like that has to come from inside of me. That yelling at me, no matter how well intentioned, would have made me cry.

I wasn't sure he was right, but I wasn't sure he was wrong. Part of me wished he had yelled at me. Part of me was glad he didn't. It's enough to make you question everything you're made of... doubt yourself in ways you'd never considered.

But Jeff followed up with this nugget of wisdom.

"It's okay to question yourself. Evaluate yourself honestly. Use the answers as fuel, not as a punishment or a crutch."

That's what I'm doing.

This ISN'T my last.


Tammy and Alvin said...

Wow, that was long and profound! Just typing that post was quite an accomplishment, not to mention all that you did on race day! I loved your recap and thoughts, the quotes and Jeff's final 'nugget' of wisdom. Lots to think about and inspire me. You're Amazing! I'm so glad you're a part of my life and that I had the incredible opportunity to witness your strength first hand.

Lore said...

Take care of yourself, all parts of you, and I'm sure we'll see you accomplish many successes in life, and one of those could be another Ironman.

Gweem said...

Good job Kel! That was neat to read. I'm amazed at how much you were able to accomplish in such a short time. Although I somehow missed you both times that you passed by me, it was really neat to be there in the morning and then follow your times online throughout the day. Your last bike lap time was impressive! Thanks for inviting me to be a part of it, and thanks for the inspiration.

Unknown said...

Wow! Thank you for sharing all that! I'm astounded you did all that in a YEAR! Most runners will do 2 or 3 events in a year. (way shorter events!) You'll heal up & be back I know. You have the heart of champion. Congrats. You've learned SO much. All the best in your future competitions!!!! You're an inspiration!!!

Unknown said...

Kelly!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh my. So excited to read your report. You got so much out of this year and I am amazed by ALL of it! Congratulations. Thanks for sharing it in this amazing report.

You are AWESOME!
Brenda (HD Mama!)

kim said...

I am so impressed with you. You have done so much in one year! I read your report and loved all of it. Made me cry when you talked about your dad being around the corner and waiting for you. My dad isn't here anymore, but the hard things I do in life, I always feel him there. So that part was extra sweet to me. Kelly, things maybe didn't go as hoped or planned, but I can't wait to hear all about the victories of your next Ironman! You conquered so many things this past year. You looked demons in the face and shoved them out of your way. You are "Stronger Than Yesterday"! You are amazing Kelly Hoose Johnson and I am proud to know you!

Rich said...

Wow! Wow! That was awesome! Thanks for sharing in your journey, I loved it...and there's zero doubt in my mind you will finish an Ironman :)

Mark and Kim said...

What a battle. So many things I can nod my head at and so many things I am barely starting to understand what it would be like. Thank you for sharing the minute details of your year!

Ann-Marie said...

I soaked up this post. Wow! Wow! Wow! You are such a huge inspiration to me. I'm grateful that I get to be counted as your friend, and it was an absolute delight cheering for you at IMAZ. Perhaps permanently etched in my mind will be when I saw you at about mile 15, walking on the sides of your feet and half hobbling along, giving it your all with every step, refusing to stop until the officials made you stop. You have the heart of a true Champion. You were a Champion there and you'll always be a Champion to me. Way to go, Kel! I love you tons.

MeganRuth said...

I'm so glad you wrote this (not that you didn't already know this but you're a great writer) and that I read this. I laughed, cried, and feel thoroughly inspired. PS I'm still working on my 140.6 challenge.