Runner's Footprints

Runner's Footprints

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Vineman Ironman Triathlon

Course & weather: 2.4 mile swim in 2-loops in the Russian River at Johnson’s Beach @ 55F, 112 mile bike in 2-loops through the vineyards in Guerneville @ 82F, & 26.2 mile run in 3-loops at Windsor High School @ 75F. 14:03:28

Reasons why individuals run vary as much as runners’ personalities vary. Some start to lose weight and stay in shape. Some run to find short-lived liberation from their busy chaos. Some run to reconnect with the beautiful elements of the outdoors either alone or with their two or four-legged friends. Some run to actually seek that desirable, burning but wonderful pain to reach personal achievement. But why? There is something biologically innate that give us personal satisfaction to physically exert ourselves beyond particular boundaries. So where do I fall? I’d say all the above. I find a great inner peace when all I can hear is my own breath early in the morning before sunrise as I run along the beach with my four-legged friends. When I am done, my body feels pure. It feels cleansed and thirsty for the next run. So when the opportunity came up to compete in an ironman, I could not pass the tantalizing challenge.

My journey did not begin on race morning but actually months before. Maybe years. It was those early years when I just started running in high school where I began to get a taste of the competition running had to offer. No, it is not simply putting one step in front of the other when you truly desire a specific outcome. For any competitive runner, they know it takes sweat, work, pain, and hopefully not injury but it sometimes happens. Some goals start with a simple fascination… that is how my ironman seed was planted. Several years ago, watching the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, as a fourteen-year old, left me in a trance. How can someone subject themselves to such a task would puzzle me for years but at the same time it ignited a fire inside that one day I could do the same. Finally, in January 2010, I took the plunge and signed up for my very first ironman unsure how to adequately prepare or what exactly I was getting myself into.

Race day came so it was lights out at 9:00pm but the whites of my eyes were in plain sight at 2:00am on this faithful race day Saturday. The day had finally arrived. Never had I been as nervous as I was. Understandable because it as the first time I would be driving my body to compete for 140.6 miles in three sports coalesced into one: the Ironman. Nonetheless, I knew I had done what I could to get myself to the finish line; however, with such a long racing day ahead, anything can happen. My parents, siblings, husband, and I drove out to the race start at 4:30am. An early start for most of them but we were all wide awake. We arrived to the race start location at Johnson’s Beach where the swim started in the Russian River, Guerneville. Shortly after arrival, I began my triathlon ritual: check tires, check brakes, potty stop, and check gear. With every passing minute I tried to calm my thoughts and just take each task at a time to make sure nothing was left out. First set up my transition one area with my bike items. Second, get my body marked up. Third, drop off my bike and run nutrition bags that would be taken for me to the middle of the course. Fourth, potty stop again. Fifth, warm up? I really don’t like to but as I have learned in the past, the cold water could send my body into panic so into the water I went about 15 minutes to the start. Surprisingly, the river felt lukewarm. Or maybe I was just heated with excitement. I was told it was 55 degrees out but I could not feel a thing. Minutes to the start, I said my last good-byes to my family with a little fear in my eyes. Only a few days ago, I felt like I was on my death bed sick as ever with the flu but I somehow managed to still arrive on race day hoping my cough and sore throat would not be aggravated. 6:45am Wave 4 and all women were sent off! My mental goal was to always stay in the game and take one piece at a time. For the swim, I did just that. I calmly attempted to find a pace that felt moderately easy but still maintained a pace in the middle of the pack. With the swim being a 2 loop course, I wanted to swim the second loop faster than the first and did just that. I climbed out the water in one hour and 25 minutes feeling somewhat refreshed and happy that I felt full of energy. But I needed to maintain focus. I had finished in 318th place out of the 700 starters. Quickly I jogged to the wetsuit strippers and they peeled my wetsuit off in seconds then I again calmly changed into a completely new set of biking clothes. I wanted to start fresh as the next leg would be a test of my weakness.

Sonoma County truly does live up to its name of having beautiful vineyards. I started the bike attempting to tackle it hour by hour. I was hoping to average 16mph but the hills surprised me and definitely tested the power of my thighs. The morning was very forgiving with a marine layer blanketing the skies for at least another two hours and then the sun peaked slowly through as the marine layer burned off. With each minute that passed, it became warmer and warmer. Hour 1, 15.5 miles done. Hour 2, another 15 miles done. A little behind schedule but I reminded myself it was very early to turn on any accelerators. What did I think about? How many calories have I eaten? Watch out for that rock. How many ounces have you drank? That vineyard looks like just like the one before….anything to entertain my mind. Hahaha you can say I was playing mind games with myself anything to distract myself from the thought that I still had many miles to go on the bike and still a marathon to run afterwards. All jokes aside, I really did count the number of calories I ate and ounces I drank. In a 7-hour bike ride, I had consumed 2,500 Calories (2 energy gels, four energy bars, two peanut butter sandwiches, and one bag of Doritos) and 100 oz of water or Gatorade. I was full to the max even though the Calories weren’t enough to replenish approximately 4,500 Calories I had burned from the swim and bike. Hour 7 complete and just 12 miles to go!! Dear God, I was almost going to make it! My bottom hurt, my feet cramped, my calves burned, and I was beginning to overheat. Nonetheless, nothing can explain how powerful the support of family can be. I had ridden alone for several hours and to see my family once again filled me with joy that I was ok and I had finished 112 miles in 7 hours and 33 minutes. “WOOooooo!” I heard my parents, my sister, then my brother with my husband, then my in-laws all with encouraging smiles. How bad I just wanted to hug them but I needed to reset my mind again that I was about to start my “favorite” part. Now I could no longer calmly change but with the energy I had I completely changed my clothes to begin “fresh” the marathon. Helmet off, visor on. Energy gel in hand and two running watches on my wrist: my ironman waterproof one to document my total time and my GPS to keep me sane and oriented where I was in the race. Marathon here I come.

The marathon course was 3 out-and-back loops each about 8.7 miles long with four aid stations along the course. I had run this distance now 45 times. I know what to expect. I know how to pace myself. I know what I can handle. Oh how I was wrong to think I knew what this marathon would hold for me. I began the marathon with what I though would be an easy pace of 8:30min/mile. After shaking the remnants of the bike leg off in one mile, my pace quickly dipped to 7:30min/mile. Woah girl!! What was I thinking? I forced myself to slow down to approach the first ten miles as a “warm-up”. Who was I kidding it was still in the 80s and I had already doused my entire clothes in water to try to keep cool. Mile 3 rolled around and what did I see ahead: a large hill!! I couldn’t believe that they made the bike course hilly and now the run course hilly? I should have studied the course maps a little more closely. I trotted up the hill and came over and realized I was approaching the loop turn around now at 8:45min/mile. This time I wasn’t trying to slow down. No worries. I was still within pace to finish in 3:45. As I squinted to see the turn around of the loop at 4.35 miles I saw mom, dad, and Angela!!! Oh it was so good to see them. It filled me with warmth as I watched my mom kick the dirt around on the sideline as she waited for me to pass. Mamita!!! She quickly looked up and her eyes filled with tears. I couldn’t help myself. I cried…again… at this point it might have been the fourth time on the entire course. I gave my family a promising smile that I felt strong and averaged 9:00min/mile. First loop done right on target for a 4:00 finish. Not 3:45 but the way I was feeling, I will take 4:00. As I began the first loop, something odd started to crawl through every muscle fiber in my legs. I had suddenly been overcome with such extreme fatigue. What was happening? My muscles no longer ached like they did on the bike but the screamed with agony with every step I took. Mile 13….my God I was only halfway with the marathon! Fear began to fill my mind as I began to wonder if my body would allow me to make it to the finish. I walked. My muscles yelped. I jogged. My muscles screamed. I jogged. My muscles just couldn’t take it anymore. But I was not about to give up. I had never given up anything. I had dreamed of this. Why the hell was I doing this again??? I completed the second loop now 20 minutes slower than the first. Oh no, I was breaking apart physically and mentally. Mile 18. At the finish of the 2nd loop there was Jr and Armand cheering for me loudly. Tears again rolled down my cheeks. I didn’t want to run that 3rd loop. I really didn’t want to. It hurt too much to even breathe because my body didn’t even know if I was thirsty, hungry, or just plain tired. With an attempt to reset my mind again, I changed my shirt one last time and began the 3rd loop whimpering like I was five years old again. Just one more loop. Just one more loop. This day was filled with repetition but it was the only thing that kept all the wheels turning in my head. Mile 20. My pace now had shifted down to 10:00min/mile, 11:00min/mile, and even 15:00min/mile. I couldn’t stomach anything else. I couldn’t drink. I couldn’t eat. I was so tired of energy bars. I was tired of cookies. The fig newtons tasted like cardboard to me. The peaches no longer could go down. I had six miles to go and I needed to keep it together. Mile 22. Papito!!!!!! I kept telling myself stay strong. Stay strong. But the moment I saw him, I looked at him with sadness and fear. “Daddy, I am hurting so bad. But I am going to do it.” He walked a few steps with me and gave me that look he has given me since I was a little girl. He didn’t need to say anything. I knew. I needed to believe in myself to make it my goal. With the last bit of determination, I shuffled my feet back to a 10:00min/mile pace. That’s what the GPS read but I felt like I was floating. 23. 24. 25. 26….My dad was there once again! I’m going to do it, Dad. I’m going to do it. I turned the corner back to the finish line area and there it was the finishing chute that I had dreamed of for years. With 50 meters to go, I ran on the finisher’s carpet covered in tears crying filled with joy. My Dear God, I did it with you. You carried me through this race. 14 hours, 3 minutes, and 28 seconds later, I finished in 333rd place out of 548 finishers. The greatest things in life are sometimes earned through sacrifice and pain. Here I earned my title and honor to now call myself and IronWoman. Thank you God and my family for being the fire of my strength. I will return.


  1. Now you know what it takes for you to hit the wall in a marathon. Start with a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 bicycle ride!

    Congrats on toughing it out and doing a nice job of finishing! Once I learn to swim I may take the triathlon.

  2. Hahahah Howard! Yea that wall not only hit me but slammed down over me. It was so unreal to feel that amount of pain in my lower body. When I finished, any slight touch made me yelp. Normally, when I run "just" a marathon in racing mode, it is still painful but it becomes more of a cardiovascular test as I attempt to push the pace. You gotta try it! :)

  3. AMAZED, PROUD, INSPIRED are all feelings I felt that day. It was an unforgettable experience to witness. We love you!