Friday, September 16, 2022

Race Report: Ironman Michigan 70.3

 It's been awhile!!!!

Since 2019 I've done virtual triathlons through 2020 pandemic summer, and spend race season 2021 competing at the Age Group Nationals in Milwaukee, and the Chicago Triathlon Relay....all while pregnant!!

IM Michigan 2022 was my come-back race. I did complete a sprint this past summer, the Wisconsin Women's Triathlon, at 6 months postpartum. Michigan was my first long course post-partum, and my first 70.3 in several years(I had been signed up for Wisconsin 70.3 back in 2018 when I broke my foot, and then decided a full was my goal instead). 

My only goal for Michigan was to finish. Training with a newborn after a long labor(46 hours, completely natural)was NOT easy. I found the biggest challenge was time versus my athletic ability(though I had to be very patient with myself, rebuilding my pelvic floor health and mobility before engaging in running). I didn't officially start training for this race until about 5 months before it started. I only got 3 long outdoor rides in. I never made it past 11 miles, and my runs were either with a jogging stroller or while coaching others at CAC TriClub or CES marathon training. My long run paces at CES were never faster than 10:30 min/mile. 

Frankfort, MI is a quaint lakeside town nestled on Lake Michigan. We swam in Betsie Bay, which was a perfect 69 degrees the morning of the race. The course confused myself and other athletes as the kayakers meant to direct us kept telling us the wrong side to swim on regarding the buoys(they should have been on our left, but some kayakers told us to swim with them to our right). As a result I often found myself swimming straight at the buoys as a compromise. My goal here was to finish, and I do so in about 40 minutes, averaging a decent 2:06 pace. Had I wanted to put a little spice on it I knew I could have beat that time, but after a very long drive(5 hours made 7 due to multiple stops with the baby), a long night of getting up with the baby and not being able to sleep with terrible pre-race anxiety, and depleting myself with extra pumping the day before and the morning of the race, I was just happy to get out of the water!

Hills and wind. This was the theme of the bike course. Headwind bore down on us the first half, and gave no relief on the second. The hills were fun: rolling and moderate climbs, with a few longer/steeper grades thrown in(which made for some white knuckle downhills, as I barely had time to do hills in practice and it had been awhile!). I rode the course with my friend/training partner, so it made for a fun ride. I found myself encouraging her and keeping pace for us along the way, which was a great distraction(it was her first race at this distance). We stopped once for a re-set at an aide station due to her back hurting, and kept on going, averaging just under 17 for the whole ride. 

T2: the first transition from swim to bike was fairly quick minus waiting a couple minutes for my friend but T2 was my longest ever, even more so than Ironman. Why? My sweet baby, of course:) I planned to either nurse or pump in T2 as it would be time for a little relief before the run. Nursing was faster, so my family waited for me by an official tent and we passed my daughter back and forth. It was SO good to see her and give her some cuddles before the run. I think that break, while it took time off my official finish, gave me a mental boost for the run. 

Run course: ugh! It was a tight loop course(so it felt crowded)out and back along the bay, then through neighborhoods, and back to the bay. It was mentally brutal because first you went up toward the lake and saw the split between loop and finish. Took the loop split, went back out, came up and did the loop split AGAIN, and then were back out before heading back to finally take the finish split. Basically passed the finish 2 times before you actually finished. Rough!!!! The weather was perfect this entire day, though, overcast in the mid 60s, so the run felt fairly comfortable. I kept up with my hydration and gels and found a pace I felt comfortable with holding. I had planned to run/walk(8-1s), but after the first walk break came up I felt good, so I decided to save walking for the second half. I never needed it! I just felt so good on that run, better than I've felt on most triathlon runs. I felt strong, like I re-discovered my athlete self. I was no longer only momma, wife, sister, daughter...I was Kelly, Ironman athlete, and I was gonna enjoy this run. I never looked at my pace, and just kept going. I was so happy to see an average of 9 min/miles for this run once I completed. I even hit 8:30 toward the end, paces I hadn't seen since pre-pregnancy. 

Crossing that finish line was glorious. All that sacrifice of early mornings after sleepless nights, time away from my family to train, and so much mental energy when I felt I had nothing left. I wouldn't have gotten there without my wife, who supported me even to her own detriment, giving up her own sleep early mornings so I could train. When I saw my wife and baby after crossing I burst into tears of joy and gratitude. It takes a lot for me to be proud of myself, but I absolutely was after this race. 

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Race Report: Ironman Wisconsin 2019

"Well I started out on a dirty road. Started out, all alone.."

I never wanted to be an Ironman. As a fairly serious triathlete(multiple events each season, podium spots)I was asked the question a lot. "Have you done an Ironman? When are you doing an Ironman?" I began to feel as if I was not  a "real triathlete" until I did one. Peer pressure was definitely a thing, though I felt the physical challenge could be possible, all the time devoted to get there seemed daunting. But when I tripped over my cat about a year and a half ago and snapped my fifth metatarsal clean in half, requiring surgery, pins, 6 weeks of boot wearing and no running for 4 months, I started singing a different tune. I was lucky to race last summer; 2 end of season sprints that still pulled in nationals qualifications for me. I felt like I was back, and cried after my first sprint finish line(also because wow that hurt after months of doing "chair aerobics" to keep myself in triathlon shape). But something else was calling me, something beyond nationals and a shot at Worlds. I wanted a bigger comeback. I wanted to be an Ironman. 

Training at first was just like my usual triathlon training, but longer, and I didn't mind it because I love triathlons; doing them feels intrinsically right in a way a lot of other things don't. All my life I have NEVER felt confident in myself. Only in the brief moments at the end of a race when I start passing other athletes do I believe I am strong. Only when I get an age group win do I believe I am even a triathlete at all. As a scared, shy, sometimes mute, often ridiculed, never sure, always questioning and self-doubting kid I grew up into an anxious adult with all those same characteristics, masked by an outward drive of accomplishing things(VERY OFTEN too many things at once)as if to prove to myself I was worth something. Yes, I'm in therapy for this. But I do recognize that doing these athletic competitions are the one time the outwardly confident person people apparently see is the same person as the shy scared kid I feel I am. 

I felt good about Ironman training, until the long bike rides. Those intimidated me. As a city commuter I have had my share of crashes, close calls, concussions, and injuries. This has made me into a bit of a nervous cyclist, which undermines the strength I have(aka I could go a lot faster but often hold back). So as I made it through each long ride safely, my confidence grew, especially when I started joining Chicago Endurance Sports for group rides. Who knew, cycling for over 6 hours could actually So I did it, I made it through the long rides, I cried at the end of many long runs because sometimes my body was rebelling against what I was doing to it, and I happily swam at 5am in Lake Michigan each week with one of my good triathlon friends. I had plenty of dark moments; many more than I did in the actual race. July was a blur of emotion where I felt sad, angry, and like I wanted to quit(those were some of the longest training sessions). Turns out endurance training really messes with your physiological systems, all of which I'm working not to get back on track(cortisol completely off the charts, white blood cell count low, various nutrient deficiencies...Ironman training is no joke). 

I wrote all of this before the report because I'm still trying to piece together race weekend. The entire training experience I felt very connected with what I was doing. Then race weekend came, and everything felt surreal. I moved through each step like a robot, checking boxes , calculating my nutrition, and getting my gear and bike in the right places. Race morning came and I waited for anxiety to grip me, for those pre-race butterflies to start, but they never came. I felt excited..a little. But mostly I felt like I was floating above myself somewhere, unable to grasp what was about to happen for the next 15 hours...and I stayed that way. My body did the Ironman, but I feel like my mind went somewhere else.

Getting geared up while snacking


There was a chill in the air as the sun rose over what seemed to be a fairly calm lake. Just the morning before I had swam with friends and it was perfect, warm and like glass. Race day it looked a little choppy but I shrugged, because this  wasn't Lake Michigan. I had found a friend as I was dropping off my special needs bag, and we started together. I felt she was as nervous as I should have been and I started to feel worried about what I wasn't feeling. Tom Petty's 'Learning to fly"(which I quote in this report)played out before the national anthem, and I lowered my goggles and started to focus on what was ahead. "Just a swim, Kelly" I whispered to the little part of myself that felt afraid. I swam a bit with my head above water until I spotted my family on shore, screamed out to them for a final wave, and dove under.
Waving in the general direction of my brother as I head up the helix.
Man, that swim sucked. My time was fine, only a bit slower than I had estimated. I'm a strong swimmer, and had been all summer. But the current...awful. Every head turn I was met with waves crashing over my face. I often just skipped every other breath and held it, pushing and pulling as hard as I could, my arms thrashing in front of me. As I rounded the first buoy I let out a half-hearted "moo," and noticed no one else around me was joining; instead I saw a bunch of people very off course, and swimmers hanging on kayaks. One of them was throwing up. I kept on. My left leg began to cramp from all the violent kicking so I just let it hang limp behind me for awhile. My goggles leaked, and I stopped a few times to fix them before I gave up on seeing and let them fill with water, all the while remembering a volunteer that had told us there was nuclear testing done in this lake in the 70's. "Cool, I'm blind now," I thought, and kept pushing on because after all this was the Ironman and you don't quit. I ignored every doubt I had in that swim, every feeling of drowning, and pulled myself out of the with a finish of 1:25. I couldn't see shit so I just smiled, got my wetsuit stripped off, and squinted my way up the helix, turning my head every direction where I thought I heard my name. I saw my brother, gave my coach a hug, but missed my mom and Raquel, which really bummed me out.

T1: I gave my volunteer bracelet away in the first transition because my volunteer was so sweet to me, pulling on my arm warmers and making me feel better about missing my wife and mom, telling me I'd surely see them as I got on the bike. I forced down a little snack and liquids, though my stomach was reeling from that swim and all the water I swallowed. I finally found the potties(I was concentrating too much to release the bladder during that swim) just as I was about to pee my bike shorts; before I ran in I heard my name being screamed behind me. Mom and Raquel!! Can you tell I was pretty stoked to see them?

The Bike

Aside from some major stomach cramping from the half a lake I swallowed, I felt fine on the bike, and started moderately fast. I had a goal of 15 mph or just below zone 2 for the first half, with a pick up to zone 2/16 mph the second. I had hoped to be off the bike in 6.5-7 hours. I was riding strong, and feeling pretty confident about this goal, but knowing I had many miles ahead. I stopped at the first aide station(not planned) as my front bottle had gone flying off down a descent and I had caught it mid-air halfway down the hill. A bunch of electrical tape(these volunteers had everything!) and I was back on the road, headed off the "stick" and onto the loops(Madison is lollipop loop course with a stick going in and out and 2 loops of about 40 miles each).About 30 or so miles in, I saw a familiar bike kit and realized I found a CES training buddy. I smiled. "I'm gonna catch you!" I thought, as I pushed ahead and passed several riders. "I knew I'd see you out here!" I started joking with him, failing to see that a friend I had done the loops with the last training ride was right next to me. "What the hell, you're kidding me?!" We both started laughing and began to ride together. Who finds a friend on the bike during a huge Ironman race? We figured it was fate and just kept going. I stopped worrying about my time goals, as we were pretty close on pace, though I was still aiming to pick up during the second loop and was feeling good, minus occasionally shivering as my arm warmers only helped so much against the chilly air. I had zipped a piece of paper under my jersey(a trick I read about that really worked)and at a later aide station I used my empty nutrition baggies to warm my toes under my socks(my own winter cycling in Chicago trick). 
First loop done! I was happy to still be with my friend, but thinking about seeing if she'd like to pick things up bit. Then, the rain started, and stayed with us for a good chunk, first as an annoying spitting rain that blurred my visor, and then as a colder, more driving rain. We had made it through the huge hills, the descents of which I feared so much in training, quite easily on the first loop. But the rain changed things. We slowed, as did most everyone. I saw many near crashes and heard about more as we hit the aide stations. Mile 70  I discovered I had gotten my period(cool, great!) and had some amazing volunteers rescue me with tampons. With the rain I knew my time goal was toast; I was just glad to be safe and have company, and was grateful for my friend on my hardest 
mental point on the bike...the last 12 miles on the "stick" when I became a child in the backseat of a car during a road trip. "How many more miles??" "Just 10 more from here," she'd tell me, finally giving me a report every couple miles as I think she got tired of me asking. Either way, I did it. I biked 112 miles, felt perfectly fine, not tired, and very strong(minus my butt and neck bones wanting to be OUT of that hunched position). My eyes filled a bit as we crossed under the bike finish, as this was the part I had feared so much in training. I couldn't believe it was over. At that moment I knew I would make it to the finish line. All I had to do was move my feet forward. Just 26.2 miles. Easy, right? ;) 

The Run

"The sun went down as I crossed the hill. And the town lit up, the world got still."

The transition between the run seemed to be easy, I had all my gear and nutrition ready, so I sat and got organized with a volunteer as I changed into my Women For Tri kit. I actually kind of felt excited, I mean, just a marathon and then I could call myself an Ironman! I grabbed my shoes and arrived at a moment where the race took a very shitty turn for me. I noticed my custom made orthotics were NOT in my running shoes. I had forgotten transfer them from my old shoes after the shake-out run the morning before. I berated myself for being so dumb. I had made so many lists! But switching my orthotics was not on any of them. I had no idea how I was going to do a marathon without them, considering: 1. I had worn orthotics my entire running career so far due to my flat feet and excessive over-pronating 2. I had broken my foot about a year and a half prior and knew the risks of stress fractures for my other bones. In short, I freaked the hell out. My friend Madison, who had been my bike buddy, assured me that I'd be ok but let me tell you, I could NOT shake that worry. Physically, I felt great and like I could run faster than the 10 min miles with walk through the aide stations I had planned, but mentally I was toast, and I was glad we had decided to keep together for the run. I felt anger rising. Anger at myself for forgetting something so essential. Anger at the Ironman for the stress of the training, and now this new issue which I knew was also making my family stressed. 4-5 hours is a long time to worry. After about 5-6 miles I could tell my fury was becoming fuel, and something in me turned from excitement to, "fuck this race." I couldn't stop it...likely it was mental fatigue from the day, but man I just did NOT give a shit anymore. Oh well, I thought, and kept jogging along with Madison, trying to enjoy the scenery around me. We talked about parting at halfway if one of us felt stronger than the other. By mile 10 I could feel I wanted to push harder, but I wanted to make sure I was strong enough to take it home, and kept it easy. I knew I would likely have to part ways with Madison eventually, which made me feel sad, because she had been such a good friend to me on the bike. 
Me and Madison truckin' along

But, I had to stop those thoughts. I worry over others(my family, my wife very likely so worried about my unsupported shoes and the thought of a re-broken foot, my running friend)before I can make what I see as the "selfish choice." But, that's what Ironman is. If you have anyone in your life that cares about you and wants to spend time with you, then choosing to do this crazy thing is absolutely a selfish choice. FINALLY I got that, and just embraced it. We got to mile 13, and I enjoyed a couple things in my special needs bag...mainly the poncho I insisted my mom grab for me, because at this point that lovely rain started to grace us all again, this time even harder. It poured on us for about 10 more miles. I popped a light on(so glad because it was pitch dark at many spots along the lake), poncho on, snacks consumed and off we went. Madison and I ran about another mile more before I told her, "I have to go on, I need this to be done." I looked back at her a few times and turned forward, adjusting my poncho so it wouldn't flap, and took a deep breath. Now I was alone again, and I felt the anger come back, coupled with a deep sadness, and them more anger at being sad. "Damnit," I thought, "this is the end of your Ironman! You should be enjoying this!!" I looked around me, and found that it didn't seem anyone was enjoying this. Lots of people bent over vomiting, lots of grunts and slow shuffles and labored breathing. Physically, I felt no fatigue, and marveled at my shaky legs when I did make myself stop(as at this point I had picked up the pace and was blowing off the aide stations). I decided my legs just didn't want to stop, so I wasn't going to until I reached the finish. I saw my family one last time, soggy and exhausted in the rain, and slowed myself down. "Almost done," they told me, and I could see they were over it. Me too. "Ok, I'm gonna end this for us. NOW." Rage mode engaged. I started on faster than before, breaking 9 min/mile, refusing to stop, and forcing at least one gel down with water every couple miles. Later I'd find out from my coach and friends they laughed and tried to figure out what I was doing as my predicted finish time kept rapidly dropping. At this point I tried to force myself to take in what I was doing. I passed mile 22, slapping the sign and yelling "ahhhhhhh!!!!" Kept that up until I saw the capital, heard the cheering, and knew this time instead of looping around again I'd be down the finishers shoot.
 I weaved in and out of people, hearing a lot of 'damn girl" as I reached my arms out at that building, a yellow-orange glow in the darkness. "Go go go go," I kept repeating. This didn't feel like the end, my legs didn't ache and my lungs didn't burn like they did at every triathlon finish line. My body felt like it was floating, gliding down the finish chute. I didn't see my family. I didn't hear anyone I knew call my name, just chanting strangers holding their hands out for me to hi-five, which I did before sprinting toward the finish, the lights blinding. "Slow down slow down" but my body was no longer under control. "Kelly Dues, Chicago, Women for Tri, You Are An Ironman!" I'd later hear this on the finish video, as I heard nothing when I crossed except for yelling, which I realized later was my own.
My amazing support crew: brother Tony, my mom, my wife.

I told the volunteers who caught that I was going to throw up, which surprised me, because finally my mind was connected to my body and I suddenly felt the aching legs, tired arms, worn out body. I steadied myself to take a finisher photo before pushing through to hug my family. My wife and I cried, "it's over, it's over" I told her, and made my way around the barriers, where I found my
A very dark photo of my phenomal coach, Chrissy Davis.
coach and thanked her profusely. I would not have been there without her, and I knew that. 

Looking back now, of course I wish I had slowed down in the finisher's chute, of course I wish I had stuck around longer to bask in the glory instead of wobbly-legging my way back to transition because I was shivering so hard I couldn't think straight. But, anyone who has done an Ironman knows there isn't much thinking left at the end. For some, maybe it is a moment of glory, the best feeling in the world, nothing else like it. For me, it was an affirmation. I had to watch my finish video several times to accept that yes, that was me crossing the finish line. I had to have several people congratulate me in the following week for me to congratulate myself. And I had to look at my finisher photo countless times to really believe I was an Ironman. I hope I can take this accomplishment and help myself know my true strength, the Kelly everyone else sees. For me, it won't be about that moment of glory. It will be about finding the true, deepest part of myself and letting that self thrive. 

Race Report: Ironman Michigan 70.3

 It's been awhile!!!! Since 2019 I've done virtual triathlons through 2020 pandemic summer, and spend race season 2021 competing at ...