Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ironman Lake Tahoe 2015 Race Report

I was registered for Ironman Arizona in November. On my bike at Ironman Texas, in a fit of Norseman nostalgia, I decided to defer my Arizona entry to hilly, beautiful Lake Tahoe instead. While I know that you shouldn't trust anything you're thinking after mile 80 on the bike at an ironman, within a few days I found myself registered for Lake Tahoe. Bonus: Mom and Dad said they'd come to cheer! None of us had been to Tahoe before.

Training for this race felt a lot like training for Norseman - get on your bike, climb every hill you can find, repeat. I felt myself getting stronger this summer. A nagging hamstring injury that I'd had for years was GONE. I was feeling like a fish swimming. I nailed a few tough track sessions and built confidence in my run. When race week approached and the taper madness hit, I thought I was feeling too good, and started inventing things that might be wrong with me. "I think I'm getting arthritis in my left thumb," is something I actually said out loud. I felt great.

Until I arrived in Lake Tahoe and went for a practice swim and realized that the Internet forums were all correct: swimming at altitude was no joke. The lake was beautiful and it should have been a sublime practice swim. But instead I was panicking thinking that I was having to breathe on every stroke on this easy swim - swimming at "race pace" for any period of time was out of the question. Running felt the same way - a much slower pace for the same effort at sea level. Yikes.

Tough swimming at altitude but so beautiful, clear, and little gold flakes washing up on the shore.
Emily had warned me about all of this and said to just go on feel and not worry about paces. The altitude would slow everyone down. The day before the race, I read a Facebook post from pro Chris McDonald, who had won the race 2 years earlier. He commented that racing at 6k feet, patience was key at this race over every other ironman. "Patience" became my mantra.

Race day arrived with some drama - a black bear had broken into the transition on the beach the night before and eaten 5 gear bags! I suppose bears can't resist Honey Stingers either. I realized how foolish it was to store food in our bags overnight, but I hadn't even considered the possibility.

T1: Bear City.
The swim was a rolling start and I was late to the corral. I ended up swimming with the 1:30 group on this 2-loop swim. I spent the first loop trying to get my bearings and breathe. The second loop felt much better, but I had no idea of my pace. I knew that I could accelerate quickly to pass a slower swimmer, but I was afraid to sustain a hard pace because of the altitude. I was disappointed with my effort (or lack thereof) on the swim, but I ended up running out of the water with a swim PR (1:10:55).

The air temperature was around 40 degrees and I opted for a vest, arm warmers, and gloves on the bike. It's hard to get arm warmers and gloves onto numb hands, but a couple of awesome volunteers helped me and I was out on the bike course pretty quickly.

Prettiest T1 in the USA.
Oh my goodness, the bike course. It's 2 loops, which means every beautiful scenic vista you see, you know you get to see twice. You ride through cute beach towns, then up through the hills and pine trees to the town of Truckee, then around this corner where you can look down and see the cyclists weaving back on the path below you in the bright sunshine under a perfect blue sky.

Up the 4.5 mile Brockway climb, which is more Lemmon than Imingfjell, but nevertheless felt pretty tough the second time around. It was filled with spectators who were cheering in costumes, Tour de France style! Descending the other side, my goal was to get to 50 mph, but I only managed 47. It was exhilarating! Then back to King's Beach for round 2.

Photo and relentless cheering by Mom and Dad!
I did have my struggles during the bike. I was cursing the fact that I'd told someone the previous week that it always gets difficult at mile 80. This race was no exception, and I found myself losing energy and struggling to turn my pedals over at 100 watts on the flats. I got through it, but it was a good reminder that even though you get stronger through years of training, this event is never easy. I was happy with a 6:45 bike split at this race.

The run was beautiful too. And a surprisingly challenging course - with only 900 ft in elevation gain, I figured that once you were off the bike, the run would be easy, but there were several steep, challenging hills and an off-road section where you had to go up and down some dirt stairs. You got to run along the Truckee River for part of it. All of it was gorgeous. The air smelled fresh and delicious and even though my lungs were burning, I was loving it.

So happy to see Mom and Dad at every corner.
The best part of the run was that Mom and Dad were there every time I turned around! The loops and out-and-back course allowed me to see them probably 10 times or more. Dad told me pretty early in the run that I was in 11th place off the bike. Patience and forcing myself to hold easier watts on the bike was paying off! I took a tip from Hillary and played Pac Man on the run. I was really proud to run myself into 7th place and achieve an ironman marathon PR (4:43). Almost 10 minutes faster than Ironman Texas and at altitude. Yessss!!

Mom, the relentless cheerleader, on the run course!
The last two miles were a mental struggle but I rushed to the finish line, trying to preserve my 7th place spot. Running down the chute never gets old. I high-fived everyone that I could. I felt so incredibly happy crossing that finish line. Total time 12:49 on a perfect, beautiful day.

I know I left it all out there because as soon as I crossed the line, I felt terrible. Nauseated, couldn't eat anything, and finally got an IV, which didn't really help me feel better, but I'm sure it helped me recover. A week later, I'm finally feeling more like myself.

Even though it was a long shot, I attended the roll down for Kona slots. They got snapped up right away by first and second place. But how cool that I even had a chance!

Dad and I just after roll down in Squaw Valley.
I wouldn't trade this experience for anything. I'd do it again in a heartbeat, but the day after the race, Ironman announced that they were discontinuing it. I'm so glad I had the opportunity to race here before they cancelled the event.

Thank you to Emily for preparing me so well, to blueseventy for the incredible Helix that just keeps bringing me swim PRs, to Bicycle Heaven for making my Slicey beautifully race ready, and to Tri Bike Transport for getting her safely to Tahoe. Thank you to Mom and Dad for being the greatest spectators and cheerleaders ever! Thanks to Trent for reminding me that racing is fun, and a special shoutout to Hillary and the Smashfest Queen family for unwavering cheers and support all season long. And thank you to all of you for the love and support and virtual cheers that you were sending while I was racing. I felt every bit of it! Loving this journey.