The shortest race of my season, I returned to Decatur for the Rodney T Miller Memorial Triathlon (1.2km swim/30km bike/7.2km run), with the Mason family kindly hosting Bryan and I. The Decatur triathlon is a memorial race for Rodney T. Miller, a talented athlete with a passion for swimming, and a special agent investigator killed on duty. The race has a real emphasis on family and a lot of community spirit, so when Karla invited me to return to defend my title in 2012 I immediately accepted her invitation. The swim although short is challenging and a quite choppy, in warm lake waters so no wetsuits are allowed. I entered T1 as first female so transitioned quickly out onto the bike course which has a full road closure, some challenging little hills on the way out, and it’s then a fast mostly downhill return to T2. Out onto the run I somehow ended up grabbing my swim goggles, so thanks to the folks at aid station 1 that took them with a laugh, I had considered wearing them as I now had no glasses! Such a short race by my standards, I really enjoyed the fast changeovers, and came in 1st female and 4th overall, being pipped in the final 400m by the 3rd placed male. Thank you to Karla Miller and the team for having me again this year.
IRONMAN COUER D’ALENE BY THE NUMBERS:
Race start time: 6:25am
Water temperature: 53F
Air temperature: varying amongst the 50′s F
Time it took to be dropped at swim start: 2 seconds
First lap of swim: 28 minutes
Second lap of swim: 31 minutes
Number of times it took to mount my bike heading out of T1: 3
Number of times I wanted to stop, crawl up and go to sleep during the race: too many to count
Number of bikes I gave away on course: 1
Number of IV’s administered post race: 0 (medical crew were extremely stingy on this front in CDA!)
THE FULL STORY:
Sunday saw me start Ironman Coeur D’Alene after being sick all week, with what appeared to be a throat/sinus infection of sorts. I had been resting up, keeping things ticking over in swim, bike and run, and dosing up on Vitamin C, zinc, and plenty of water. I started with a positive attitude and the acknowledgment that I would more than likely feel terrible most it not all of the day. Ironman is a long day and so I decided to just do the best I could with what I had.
A slow start:
Diving into the freezing water I immediately got dropped by the girls I had planned to swim with. Pushing on I completed lap 1 in 28 minutes, on track for a PB swim. The weather was blowing the lake up and pushing the temperature down, reportedly from 59F down to 53F during the course of the swim. Bad news for my super swim time, with the 2nd lap being 3 minutes slower for most of the field! Out of the water I was freezing, almost falling over and just trying to run in a straight line into the changing tent, where I had arm warmers and a bike jersey in an attempt to keep my body warm. My running mount proved a failure with my balance whacked, and it took 3 attempts to get onto my bike. Gumby – I was clearly not in a good way.
Onto the bike it was unfamiliar territory as I watched one girl after another pass me, unable to react or match their speed. I was freezing and feeling so very weak, but I wasn’t ready to give up. I had been looking forward to this race all year. I had a bit of a buffer out of the swim in 4th, but slowly I dropped back in the field, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th . . . things were not good.
Conversations in my head:
You know that feeling when you know things aren’t right, and you also know the correct answer to your question, yet you still continue to question yourself? This went on the entire bike, as I tried to push on and minimize time lost. I kept telling myself Ironman is a long day, and you never know what will happen on that run. What if I get off and run a 3:20? Other’s will surely detonate, perhaps I’ll still make top 5. Then there’s the other thought process, how sick am I and how detrimental is racing in this state to my health? It was climbing the first long climb into the 2nd lap that I made the decision to withdraw from the race once I had reached T2. I backed off a little and made my way, albeit slowly, through the final 60km.
With around 30km to go I noticed a fellow competitor, Heather Wurtelle, standing on the other side of the road, looking pretty distressed and holding a crank in her hand. I called out and then decided to stop and see if I could help, knowing she had been the race leader prior to her mechanical. We clearly couldn’t get the crank back on without some tools, so when an Ironman support vehicle pulled up across the road we requested assistance. No tech support was anywhere nearby, and with Heather already having lost around 10 minutes I asked Heather if she thought she could ride my bike (Heather is 6’2 and my Cervelo P4 is a 51cm!). We asked the Ironman staff member if this was OK and with no real resistance to this idea we swapped shoes and Heather was off, a giant on a mini bike!
Upon being returned to the medical tent (by car, no I didn’t ride Heather’s 58cm with one crank!) I started hearing rumours of the drama unfolding outside. Heather had made it back to T2 on my bike (and managed to gain back 2 minutes on first place), started the run and held a huge 40 minute gap to 3rd place. Unfortunately after completing 13 miles she was approached by race officials and issued a red card, being disqualified from the race. Much protest followed by people at the event, and much banter also started to fill tri forums with people’s opinions and quoted rules from various rule books. Despite this the ruling stood and Heather was unable to complete the race.
Post race I’ve visited the doctor and received antibiotics for a sinus infection, so a few days of easy training and I’m hoping to jump back into it. Bottom line I was sick, there is nothing I could do about it, and I feel happy knowing that I did everything possible to give myself the best chance at racing. So back to business, I look forward to be back racing strong real soon!
Moving well into June I’ve now been on TeamTBB a little over 2 months, and boy has it been a big learning curve. Now as coach Brett, Doc, Sutto (whatever you may know him as) is on twitter, your all getting a little insight into his personality, training and racing philosophies, things that bug him and his generally bad grammar and spelling … (no offense doc).
Let me tell you that my initiation into the team and training under doc has not even come close to the picture I had in my mind. I had heard many stories, yes, but I like to form my own opinions and so pushed all of this aside and began with an open mind. Not only do I feel very fortunate to have such a knowledgeable, experienced and successful coach, but am also very thankful to have such a funny, entertaining, caring person helping me to achieve my dreams, by teaching me lessons that I will carry throughout my career and I am sure into my future life after triathlon.
I can tell you one thing that changed almost immediately, and that is my attitude. My attitude to what is now my job, my attitude to training, and my attitude to racing. Through lessons, some simple, some tough, Doc is teaching me to look past the minor details and instead see the overall picture; to see the mistakes I make over and over again and learn how to change my behaviors that are ultimately holding me back from being the best athlete I can be. In the small amount of time I have spent so far on the team to realize that yes, doc is known as the most successful triathlon coach for a good reason, and it’s not because he waves a magic wand.
Being part of TeamTBB has not only given me access to doc’s coaching, but additionally the team’s amazing sponsors, and a group of dedicate individual athletes that work toward a common goal of being the best they can be not only as athletes, and as people. How can I not be inspired and encouraged by the performances of my talented and hard working team mates surrounding me. Rewind a year and I would have been amazed at the results of TeamTBB just last weekend all around the world. Ask me now and I am hardly surprised, I have witnessed the team in action at camp in Mooloolaba, witnessed doc’s passion and dedication to his athletes and his team. Excellence breeds excellence and it is exciting and motivating to be part of such a great team, and very hard not to feel the need to step it up and match the efforts of my team mates as I learn and grow as a TeamTBB athlete.
So with my next race just around the corner I am in final preparations for Ironman Coeur D’Alene on June 24th. A major race on my calendar? No. A solid training day? Yes. A chance to display the hard work I’ve been putting in and a stepping stone to learn through valuable racing experience? Yes. I am currently training in “my Leysin” in Flagstaff, Arizona, breathing through a straw at 7,000 feet, enjoying the endless summer days, and putting 100% effort into developing myself into the most successful long course triathlete I can be. Please feel free to follow my journey through the TeamTBB website, my twitter @christiesym and my personal website www.christiesym.com – I hope you join me on my journey!
The first major Ironman on the US circuit would be my first Ironman of the season, just 6 months to the day post surgery to remove my gallbladder and infection that had been lurking within me for the entire 2011 season. My first 2 months under Brett’s guidance had gone well, it had been a big learning curve and I could feel my body responding to the new training program. I had some disruption from travel and plans made before joining the team, but all in all it had been a solid 8 weeks of training with no illness.
Despite this I still didn’t feel anywhere near ready for an Ironman, and have to be honest in saying that I was a little concerned about my race nutrition plan. If your not aware the gallbladder plays an important role in the bodies digestion, and since my surgery my races had either been short, or as was the case in Abu Dhabi, I wasn’t convinced that my nutrition plan had worked as well as I would have liked. In hindsight I neglected to address this crucial part of my race, took a chance, crossed my fingers, and hoped for the best. Well let’s just say the best is not what I got on Saturday.
I was fortunate to have a lovely homestay host me in The Woodlands and Race morning came around fast. I slept very well the night before the race, and woke feeling calm but excited about the day ahead. My plan was to focus on the swim, where I tend to lose a lot of valuable time, to reflect the work I’ve been doing in the pool of late. A quick start set this up and I found myself in a great position off Mary Beth’s feet in the first 200m, before settling into the 2nd pack over the next 400m. A moment of distraction saw me lose the feet of the chase pack and I soon had to settle in front of the 3rd pack, leading them on a zig-zag course towards the canal and swim exit – I prefer to follow feet and not lead, but they can thank me for the extra swim training!
Out onto the bike Bry informed me I was 3.5 minutes down on Caitlin Snow, the group I had originally been swimming with. I had no concerns about making up this time, but I did have some doubt about being able to catch up to the front of the race, which MB and Amy Marsh were controlling. My body felt good, my riding controlled, and I caught and passed both Caitlin and the 2 other girls ahead of me very quickly, leaving only MB and Amy out in front. The first 90km passed quickly and my gap to the leaders only extended about a minute, it didn’t feel real hot and I felt in control. The second half saw the wind pick up and despite still feeling strong most of the way my deficit to MB & Amy grew and I entered T2 in 3rd place with a sub 5 hour ride in 4:58.
I was looking forward to the run and trying to close the gap to the leaders, and also hold off the fast running Caitlin from behind. Lap 1 went by quickly and I felt confident I could hold my pace, despite it being down around 3 hour marathon pace. Around mile 9 I noticed some nausea which grew over the next mile. Then the brick wall rose in front of me, quite literally out of nowhere like a slap in the face. From here everything is a little blurred, my legs felt fine, but my body and mind were in a boxing match. I dropped from 3rd to 4th, to 5th, and then to 6th, walking aid stations, shuffling in between. Finally with 4 miles to go I dropped to 7th. My placing no longer mattered, but finishing did. I would crawl to the finish line if that’s what it took. Luckily it didn’t.
So I finished my 5th Ironman in my slowest time yet, and my first time ever to walk in a race. I also hurt the most I’ve ever hurt after an Ironman, incapable of doing much more than lie on my back and wonder what had happened.
So the big question, what happened? I arrived at the race in good form, health and fitness. My body felt good, and mentally I was strong and ready to race. The one thing I hadn’t dialed was my race nutrition. Since the removal of my gallbladder I’ve had some troubles with digestion, especially in some of my early season races. This not only left me confused about what works for my body now, but also lacking confidence in this area. Each race I try something, and each race is different. In short, I haven’t found the right combination that works for me yet. So going into the race although I felt a bit confused as to what I would do, this wasn’t anything new. Unfortunately my plan didn’t work.
What I experienced on Saturday was a complete bonk, plain and simple. I learnt a lot in Texas, especially that if your not sure about something, ask. What may seem a silly question now, will only be sillier if you don’t ask about it in the first place.
I am recovering well and will take this brutal lesson from Texas with me, along with the great strength that I will have gained from this race. I’m looking forward to the next one, and hope to be in a state to celebrate over the finish line, not fall across it.