Sufferfest 2013…er, Ironman Lake Tahoe 2013 Race Report

Well, a week has come and gone since I raced Ironman Lake Tahoe, so I think I have had enough time to reflect on the day!  And for those wondering, no, I haven’t done anything remotely close to working out (unless bike commuting to school counts), and no, I have no desire to do any working out anytime soon!  Also, note: this race report is LONG (but hey, Ironman is LONG).  But really, feel free to skip everything to go straight to the last 4 paragraphs, I won’t be offended.

The days leading up to race morning:

Luckily, we were fortunate to have found a GREAT house that I ended up staying in with my teammate Scott (and his girlfriend Karen), and friends Brian (who was racing) and Kim (his fiancé), Brian’s mom Lorraine, and our friends Lauren and Brandon (extra special treat—they flew out just to watch us race!), and the whole house atmosphere was super mellow.  Sure there were some stressful moments when we were trying to organize all of our stuff to drop off at the different T1 and T2 transition areas on Saturday, but all in all, they were a FANTASTIC group of people to stay in a BEAUTIFUL house with!  🙂

In the spirit of keeping things light (and always trying to not take things too seriously—because at Ironmans, there are FAR too many athletes that are around that are too type A for me and definitely too serious…), I had some fun before the race testing out some Korbel champagne with Brian and Buzz…

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We also had a team photoshoot on Saturday morning—it was supposed to be outside, but we had to do it inside because it was freezing cold and pouring outside.  We took the generic team shots…but…we also managed to have some fun as well: #kokuashake

All in all, once I was able to drop off my bags, bike, and get all of that settled, it was great because then I just headed back to the house to watch a little “Friends” with my mom, and even Jade had some relaxation time:

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That evening, we had a delicious baked ziti made by Kim and Lorraine, and it was lights out!  After all, I had an early wake-up call:

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Race Day:

That morning, at about 3:30 a.m., I made myself a giant breakfast of eggs, sausage, a bagel loaded with cream cheese, and lots of coffee…spent some time surfing the internet for a little bit, then we all loaded up in cars to head down to the swim start!

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We were fortunate to arrive at the transition area around 5 a.m., when it opened, and managed to find a parking spot pretty close.  As we walked towards our bikes, I immediately thought BRRRRRRRR.  It was very, very cold out.  I was bundled up as best as I could be, but it was a really cold morning.  I’m not sure what the exact temperature was, but I think about 36 degrees or so? We took a couple nervous pictures, Brian, Scott, and I:

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Once we arrived in transition, Greg and I walked to find my bike—I was worried it wasn’t going to be there, but there Cervie was, and she seemed just fine!

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Have I ever said how amazing it was to have Greg in my life?  There are many reasons, but in particular, it was AWESOME having him with me because his inner bike mechanic kicked in and as he got to my bike, he pumped up my tires, wiped off most of the water from the rain the day before and just checked my gearing and shifters to make sure everything was working well.  He’s awesome!  Just to have him to take care of that element was the best—so I didn’t even have to bother with it. He rules. 🙂

As he dealt with my bike, I headed over to my Bike Gear Bag to put a few extra things in it, then I headed over to VIP, mostly to get away from the rest of the crowd.  I found Lauren and Brandon on the pier and it was great to get some last hugs from them!

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And again, to try and ward off any nervousness I had before the race, I had to keep up with the silliness:

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I found a warm bathroom that happened to not be occupied and used that to put my wetsuit on.  It was SO COLD outside, so having a warm, well-lit space for me to put on my wetsuit was amazing.  I coated myself extra with some tri-slide (I figured a nice coating of oil would be great all day long to protect me from the cold) and got my wetsuit on, thanks to a kind spectator that helped me zip it up.  I headed back to VIP to grab a cup of warm coffee, then found Greg, and we walked down to the beach to wait for the start.  After several hugs and him telling me that he was really proud of me and believed in me, I was ready.  I stripped off the rest of my clothes, handed him my bag, and headed to the swim corral.

The Swim

HOLY COW.  Immediately as I started walking over, my feet were BURNING.  I had underestimated just how cold it was out and the cold sand was FRIGID. PAINFULLY FRIGID.  It felt like knives were shooting up into my feet and as I limped along to my starting group, I didn’t know what I was going to do for the next 5 minutes while we had to wait before the start line went off.  I looked around me and several people were still wearing their shoes, socks, plastic bags on their feet, booties, or anything else they could find!  Damn!  I hadn’t even thought about that.  One person even had grandma slippers on.  🙂 I decided that my best bet would be to sit down on the ground and suspend my feet into the air, like a dead bug.  Hey, it looked ridiculous, but it was all I could do…once I did, I started to feel less of the cold burning sensation, and I figured eff it.  Who cared if I looked silly, at least my feet were no longer burning because of the frozen sand…?  I decided, I am going to stay seated until the last possible minute.  🙂

I seeded myself into the 1:00-1:10 wave group, figuring that since the last time I did Ironman Lake Placid I did the swim in 1:04…with altitude (and no “cheat line” in the water), I knew that I would probably have a slower swim, but was hoping that I could swim under 1:10.  When the gun went off, I got up and we started moving slowly towards the start line.  I saw Jeff Edwards (Operations Director for Ironman and former Ironman Lake Placid Race Director) at the start of the swim, gave him a quick hug, and it was ready to get into the water!  With the water temperature being in the mid 60’s, getting into the water was MAJOR RELIEF!  Finally, I was warm!  I have never experienced that before, since usually I never want to get into the water (water monsters = scary) but this time, it was amazing!!!  We had shallow water for quite a bit and ended up walking into the water for a minute or so and then it was go time! I’ve never swum in Lake Tahoe before and never enjoy open water swimming…but this was a different story!  The water was so blue, so clear, the water temperature was perfect, and it was my absolute favorite part of the day.  When we took a breath we got to look at the snow-capped mountains around us and it was just overall enjoyable.  I never say that about the swim!  J  The one thing that made the swim particularly challenging was the water was so warm and the air temperature was so cold out, that there was a nice layer of steam that was rising off the water…

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This made it really, really, really hard to see any of the buoys.  In fact, I heard that once the gun went off, spectators have told me that everyone went diagonal to the first buoy, completely in the wrong direction, right from the start.  I had no idea that it would be so difficult to see…so I just kept following people in the hopes that “following the crowd” would yield good results.  They were mediocre results, as at one point I saw a buoy and I was on the wrong side of it.  Whoops.  I corrected myself and tried to do my best with sighting for the rest of the morning and found a line that seemed to work pretty well for me—at least I remained close the buoys when I passed them, and I was on the correct side.  J As I crossed the turnaround buoys, I glanced at my watch and saw that for 1.2 miles I had swum it in 34:50—that was pretty decent and I thought if I kept up that pace, I’d be able to reach my 1:10 goal, so I was pretty stoked!  I tried to speed up a little bit on the second lap at first, but then I slowed back down because I wanted to stay conservative as I knew I had a long day ahead.  It was a great feeling when I came out of the water, looked at my watch, and it said 1:08…Awesome!  Lauren even managed to see me come out of the water and snapped this really flattering photo:

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The first thought I had when running out of the water was that same BURNING feeling I had felt earlier…Damn.  It was still cold. I grabbed my Bike Gear Bag and headed into the changing tent, eager to get my wet clothes off and into something warmer.  Since I’m notorious for ALWAYS being cold, I knew I had to wear a LOT of clothes this morning.  I settled on high neon socks, Lululemon capri rights, my team cycling shorts/cycling jersey/arm warmers/jacket, a cycling beanie, and hand and feet warmers in my gloves and shoe covers.  You can imagine my surprise when I got to my bike and there was FROST all over my bike…FROST!  Holy hell.  I think my eyes widened a bit, and then I grabbed my bike (in a little disbelief, I know) and I headed out.  I saw Greg at the mount line and told him how cold I was…in typical Greg fashion he said “you’ll warm up, better go, well, see you later!” and I rode away.

The Bike

The bike course, like I had expected, was challenging.  I had practiced many rides that included a LOT of climbing and felt pretty strong at climbing and particularly at altitude, and I’d say that much of what I’d ridden on and prepared me for this course.  What I probably should have done, however, was driven the course before hand.  The bike course was about 2.3 laps, so whatever you rode at the beginning, you’d experience at least once if not twice.  What I should have looked into, really, were the climbs.  The climbs up by Truckee and Martis were not ones that were impossible—it’s just that I didn’t really know where the ends of the climbs were.  I saw the gang at a spot once I got on one of the highways:

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and I remember Greg telling me that there would be the infamous Brockway Summit once I turned onto that highway.  I rode and saw them at the top of the hill and thought—oh!  This must be it!  Piece of cake!  WRONG.  I wasn’t even close.  Right after I saw them, I had Martis and then Brockway to go—and it was a long, long way!  During the bike, however, on all of the climbs, I do have to say that I felt pretty good.  It was the only spot that I could really pass folks and also where I felt most strong.  Sadly, however, I am a notorious weenie on all of the downhills, so I tend to get passed by the same people that I passed as they go screaming by me.  I know that I’m too quick to use my brakes, but I’ve also seen too many crashes and recklessness that hasn’t ended well.  I’ll take the few extra minutes, if it means saving my face.  Up to Brockway Summit the first time, I was feeling pretty good.  But then, the descent happened and we got back down to King’s Beach and there was a long, “flat” and “fast” section.  This section was for whatever reason, just really difficult for me—mostly because I was starting to get the muscle aches and being in my aerobars was no longer super comfortable.  I also think that I just don’t have the same type of raw power that some people do on the flats, so I got passed quite a bit for the next 20+ miles.

Overall, it was just sad…and a little demoralizing.  I felt like I was the very last person in the race or something and it was really reminiscent of Lake Placid, when I did not pass a single person on the bike.  My goal for Ironman Lake Tahoe was to pass at least 1 person on the bike, which I did…but this section was long…and sad.  People blew by me like I was standing still and I just felt dejected.  When I did Ironman Lake Placid in 2010, I felt that same dejected, sad feeling around mile 90.  I was worried this time because all of this weakness I was feeling and wanting to quit was starting, and it was starting FAR too early…around mile 60?  Yikes.  I wasn’t even halfway done and already wanted it to be over?  It was going to be a looooooong day.  My confidence that I had leading up to Lake Tahoe quickly toppled, and it was just a sufferfest for the remainder of the ride.  Topping that off with being freezing cold the whole time (I never warmed up during the ride at all—and I couldn’t believe it when I would see some athletes pass me with no gloves on or just a little tri kit—CRAZY!), I was pretty miserable.  I saw the gang at the right turn just before Truckee on my second loop and gave them a sad face and told them that the day was not going well.  All I could really remember was Lauren’s GIANT smile and cheering me on while I was frowning, and I pushed on.  I kept telling myself that I couldn’t quit, that I had to get back to Squaw Valley, and started back on the part with the steep climbs once again.  This time, however, I knew what to expect, so they weren’t that bad this time.  I felt extra proud of myself while riding up Brockway Summit for the second time and staying on my bike the whole time.  Several people around me had gotten off and were walking their bikes up the steep hill.  I looked at them and said, that’s not going to be me.  Nothing on this course was unrideable, if you were prepared.  Like my friend Robin had told me before I left Fort Collins, when it gets difficult, remember that probably no one else that is racing did repeats up Rist Canyon.  You did that—you can do anything!  So, I kept that at the forefront of my mind and finally made it up to the top of Brockway Summit…where you were greeted with an old man in a Speedo…both times!  He was a trooper, staying out there the whole time!  I had about 25-30 miles still to go and just tried to maintain a comfortable speed.  I knew that I wasn’t setting records that day, so I thought I would keep trying to make sure that I ate and stayed hydrated. Again, I got passed like I was standing still on that last “flat” part leading up to Squaw, but I tried to not care as much this time around.  While we rode into Squaw Valley, I saw people already out on the run and again, I felt like the one of the last people to come in from the bike.  I was disappointed, but there was nothing I could do.

The Run

Immediately after I hopped off my bike, when I put my feet onto the ground, I felt shooting pains going up into my feet.  Awesome.  This seems like a GREAT way to start the run???  I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I grabbed my gear bag and headed into the changing tent.  Two volunteers helped me get out of my bike clothes and into my run clothes.  I wanted to wear my team kit, but figured that for running a marathon, I’d probably get too much chafing.  I settled for BRIGHT running shorts and my team tech tee and hat.  I was a little worried about wearing such little clothing for the run because it was getting colder, but I figured that since I was running, I’d have to warm up.  As I ran through the finish line area, I saw all of my friends and family, gave them some high fives, and I was off.

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The first mile felt like it usually does once you start running off the bike (i.e. horrible), but then after that first mile, I really started to get into a stride!  I walked the aid stations, always being cognizant to fuel during the run (which I didn’t really do at Boulder 70.3), and overall felt pretty good!  I didn’t know if it was just being off the bike that put me in such a good mood, but I just started to feel awesome!  I started passing people (which felt great—to pass the people that had passed me on the bike!) and was just ticking down the miles.  I don’t think that when I had woken up that day it really occurred to me that I would be running a MARATHON.  Crazy!  The miles were going by pretty fast and I even had a run split where I ran sub 8 minute miles…I know that some of it was downhill, but seriously?  That’s fast for me in general!  Hahahaha.  I also ended up getting a MAJOR BOOST on the run as I was heading out of Squaw Valley and got several cheers from the Cal Tri Team!!!  I saw Papa Bear Kevin Haas, Mike Sontag, and Shelley Harper, and even got a chance to flash them my sportbra (which was a Cal Tri Sport Bra, what else?), and seeing them really helped my mood.  I also ended up running with a 64 year old man who was from Colorado Springs and was doing his 23rd Ironman.  We ended up chatting for a bit until we got separated around mile 14 at an aid station, and I was back to running on my own.  Around mile 14 is when the tiredness really started to kick in.  I knew I had some blisters on my right foot, so it made running painful and a little awkward, trying to compensate for less time spent on my right foot, and I started to spend a little more time at the aid stations trying to eat chicken broth, Gu, Perform, and anything else that might help.  As I headed back to Squaw to the turnaround point, all of a sudden, my body started to shut down.  I was COLD.  I was about 3 miles away from the turnaround and started to really shiver while I was running and I didn’t really know what to do.  My whole body was aching (I think from being in the cold all day long), and I started to think that finishing the race might not be an option.  I couldn’t really feel my arms anymore, nor could I feel my fingers and I knew that I had to get some more clothes or I’d have to drop out.  I found at one of the aid stations one of the foil blankets that they were giving out, so I wrapped that around me and kept running forward.  Putting that blanket on me, however started a flood of emotions and once I wrapped it tightly around my arms, I started to cry.  Tears were streaming down my face, but I was still trying to run forward, and I was a complete mess.  There is one other time that I have cried because I was too cold, and that was the infamous Cal Poly Triathlon where we raced, even though it had started snowing during the swim.  I think the DNF rate that time was around 80% or so?  Something crazy, but most people didn’t finish, including me.  That time, I quit while I was on the bike because after 20 miles, I truly couldn’t feel my fingers, I couldn’t shift my bike, and I couldn’t go any further.  This time, with this foil blanket wrapped around me, was reminiscent of that time and I started to think that maybe finishing was not a possibility for me.  Spectators saw me crying and running and tried to say supportive things like “buck up girlfriend!” or “it’s not so bad!” and the tears just kept coming.  I got to the next aid station, had some more warm chicken broth, and tried to give myself some tough love.  I kept repeating to myself “Christi, get your shit together!” and managed to resume running, this time without tears.  I was now about 2 miles away from the turnaround and thought that maybe once I got there, I’d be able to find my friends and family and steal some warm clothes from them.

Coming into Squaw Valley was both great (tons of people around!  Lots of energy!) but terrible (because some people were finishing…and you had 1 more lap to go, boo!), but luckily, I found my people.  I looked around, scanning the crowd, and saw Greg out of the corner of my eye.  I ran over to the side he was on and told him how cold I was and that I needed some more clothes (it was also pretty evident because I was running in a foil blanket).  He yelled back that he’d get me clothes and that he’d meet me when I came back around, so I had a sigh of relief that he’d give me something to run in so I could warm up.  I saw Lauren, Brandon, and my mom also close to the finish line, so that gave me an extra boost as I was heading back out for my second lap.  I met up with Greg right towards that end, and he handed me a long-sleeved shirt and my Cal sweatshirt.  As I started to put both on, he again told me how proud he was of me and that I had a really good swim and bike split.  I perked up a bit, hearing about my splits, and I think that once I got off the bike, I was in something like 8th place in my age group.  It was a BIG shock to me, since I had spent most of the bike feeling like I was in last place, so it really boosted my self-esteem!  I practically skipped out of Squaw Valley for my next lap, excited that I wasn’t actually doing as poorly as I had thought.

AND THEN THE WALL HAPPENED.

The famous wall everyone talks about…where you’re running (usually marathon distance) just fine, and then BAM!!!!!!!!! Out of nowhere, it’s like someone comes over and gives you two dead legs.  I’m talking beating you with a baseball bat, you can barely walk, type of “wall.”  Although I was finally warm (big relief!), my body just started to shut down and I was reduced to a walk from about miles 20-23.  It was like something had just taken all of the muscles out from my legs and said “good luck running!” because every “run” I tried to do, felt like excruciating pain.  I kept making forward progress, and got passed a LOT during this time.  But, I kept moving forward.  There was a spectator that was beating on this pot at the bottom of one of the big hills that kept yelling at the athletes to do the “Ironman Shuffle,” which is the “running” that most athletes seem to end their race with…barely a run, you’re shuffling along at about a 13-14 minutes mile pace.  I tried to force myself to shuffle along for the last 3 miles sort of succeeded—there were still some walking breaks in there, but at least I was moving forward!

The last mile was, as it always is, SUCH an amazing feeling.  You can hear Mike Reilly in the distance, there are cheering fans everywhere, and the run up the cobbles felt like I was running on air.  A BIG difference from 6 miles before!  It’s always special to hear Mike call out “Christi Leong, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!” but this time, it was so much more special than Ironman Lake Placid.  This time, it was 14 hours and 8 minutes of THE hardest thing I have ever experienced in my life.  There were multiple times I wanted to quit, but didn’t, and the pain that I felt during it was in no way comparable to Ironman Lake Placid.  I think it was a combination of the altitude (and not enough oxygen getting to my muscles throughout the day) and the very cold temperatures (that caused my body to feel so much more exhausted from trying to keep me warm all day long) that made it so difficult.  Oh, and the course too…I saw on someone’s Garmin data that the bike had about ~8,300+ feet of climbing?  That will certainly make for a difficult day!

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The Epilogue

I wanted to give a few special shout-outs to my Ironman Foundation Newton Running Ambassador Triathlon Team.  You have all made racing this year so very special and I appreciate so much that you have all given me a reason to race.  I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting all of you and spending time with you—it’s a wonderful group of individuals that I am so lucky to be a part of and I am glad to have you all in my life!

To all of my wonderful friends and family that have donated to my fundraiser (and Keep Tahoe Blue), you all are 100% the reason that I finished the race this past Sunday.  I can’t tell you all how much I wanted to quit and thought very seriously about it (during the bike and run in particular!) … but it is truly because of you, that I didn’t quit.  You all were so very gracious to donate to this fundraiser and I felt like I wouldn’t have held up my end of the bargain, if I had dropped out.  I thought about each and every one of you while I was racing, and it was because of all of you, that I knew I had to keep on keeping on.  Thank you so much for supporting me in this endeavor—really truly.  Thank you: Mom, Auntie D, Dad and Toni, Ellen and Nick, Marisa, Robin, Kay, Chris, LLPC, Curtis, The Ulrich’s, Dewey and Carolyn, Mike, Megan, Barb and Bill, Patty, Julie and Bob, Donna, Hathor, Vicki, Diane, Julie and Bob, Ed, and Jim, for your never-ending support and for being there for me and making sure I finished this darn thing!  🙂

And a special thanks to my wonderful friends and Mom that made it out to the race to cheer me on—words can’t express how fun it was to see you out on the course in your silly t-shirts and heads on sticks.  They were the brightest points for me throughout the day, and always kept me feeling positive…even during the times that weren’t so positive.

Big extra thanks too, to Greg for believing in me and helping through this day as well.  Thanks for knowing exactly what I needed during the day, helping me deal with my bike (cranks, cassette, wheels, and who knows what else!) and gear backs before and after.  You are the best! 😀

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(Not from Lake Tahoe, but from a great ride we did in CA! 😀 )

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5 thoughts on “Sufferfest 2013…er, Ironman Lake Tahoe 2013 Race Report

  1. Amazing report from an amazing performance, Christi. Shows the importance of the mental game on top of everything else and even though you had a hard time at certain points it’s clear you never truly cracked or gave up on yourself (running while crying? That takes so much guts). My reaction is that if you felt good once you got into the run then you did something right on the bike. And if the run got hard in the last third/quarter of the run, then, well, it’s *supposed* to get hard then! Congratulations and thanks for sharing the report. Curtis

  2. I’m so proud of you, ironman Christi!!! Seriously- I can’t even begin to imagine what you went through and the fact that you finished and pushed through the cold, the pain, the mental and physical wall is unbelievably impressive. As always, you continue to push your limits and test yourself and come out an even better person every time. You’re going to continue to do bigger and better things and I can’t wait to see your list of accomplishments grow!

  3. Congratulations Christi! I love how you are SO amazing, and yet so honest, and kind to everyone else along the way. You are truly the epitome of an awesome Ironman athlete. I am so so proud of and inspired by you. Take it easy and keep up the sausage and eggs and smiles! 🙂

  4. Shaggy, you are such a stud! Great report. I doubt you will ever look at Lake Tahoe the same way. Time for some serious R&R and vegetation. Were you ravenous for the next week? How sore did you get? Happy Birthday!

    Britcha

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