Well, what a whirlwind last week was in so much more than one way. One minute I am pumped for Ironman North Carolina. Resting, tapering, packing--ready to head to Wilmington. I trained so hard for that course. I finally got my crack at a course that suited me from start to finish. My flat course. The one time I actually cherry picked my race!! The one course that I sat on the trainer for and logged long bikes at high watts to simulate racing that flat course. The course I trained for, worked for, but didn't get to race. On Tuesday afternoon, a Facebook post from Ironman left me in tears. The announcement that the bike course was shortened to 50 miles due to lingering damage from Hurricane Matthew was devastating to me. This post came before even an email to the athletes-- nice! Anyone who races 140.6 knows that you don't work your ass off all year to only do half the distance and also cutting a 112 bike course short by half in an Ironman sucks. Especially for strong cyclists!! Having a discipline that you are strongest in cancelled or cut short just plain sucks. Anyway, cycling is my strength, so there it was ...gone. I wasn't really happy with the way they let the athletes know about the change nor was I happy about not at the very least having a transfer option. I was angry! I wanted 140.6, so I did what I had to do! On Tuesday morning I woke up excited, packed and ready to go race the race that I had trained for and on Tuesday afternoon I was in tears and left in a whirlwind of change. Not a way to go into something you've looked forward to all year.
We finally got to Orlando around 9pm on Thur and after getting in the hotel, settled etc, we were able to grab a quick bite of dinner at 11 pm. This is so not any of my pre-Ironman rituals and so stressful for me. On Friday we were back in the car and to the race venue which is in Clermont. Another 45 min drive with a toddler who was waaaay of schedule and SUPER moody. Whew. Once we got to packet pick up I honestly felt dizzy just from everything. I was trying to relax and enjoy everything but this was so different than everything I had thought about in training for the last 7 months. I was able to finally breathe...relax. I'm here. The race is tomorrow I was thinking. It's time to accept this change and roll with it.
I noticed the hills when we got to Clermont, but really didn't think much of it. It's Florida, how bad can it be???! Ha! Boy was I wrong. Anyway, first order of the day was getting the bike mechanic to try to fix my gears. For the last few weeks, my bike wouldn't go in the easier gears and that was OK. I was racing flat so I knew I wouldn't even be needing those gears. However with the super fast change of races, it left me no time to get my bike fixed and I knew that I would need those gears on a hilly course. The bike mechanic at the race couldn't get them to work so I knew that the hills would be even more tough for me on race day, but I still stayed positive and decided to just roll with it. What else could I do? The race was in less than 12 hours.
I got my bike racked, had a quick run and it was hot! 88 degrees. Something else that I wasn't planning on prior to Tuesday afternoon at 3:30. I trained all year in the heat knowing it would be perfect weather, cooler weather on race day. Here I was in the Florida heat. Heat, yet again.
After a quick jog, we hopped in the car to get back to our hotel in Orlando. An hour drive with all the traffic. At 9pm the night before the race, I was still trying pack my gear bags and special needs bags. I was so tired. I finally wrapped it all up and got in bed at 11 with an alarm time set for 4:30 am.
Restless sleeping for a few hours and then it's time to get up and moving. I was excited. I was thankful. No matter what the day had in store for me I knew that as long as my bike didn't break, I would walk away an Ironman again. This meant more to me than anything and for that all of the stress was worth it.
Quick in T1, actually my quickest ever and then it was off on the bike. I can't even fully describe what this bike course was like. There was quite a hill just out of transition and I joked to the guy next to me about having to climb right off that bat. He muttered..."You haven't seen anything yet." I giggled and thought to myself really?!? This is Florida, how bad can this really be. Besides, I've done IMLOU and right now I am in the best bike shape of my life! Well, before mile two I was retracting my statement to myself already. We hit a hill named Hospital Hill ( fitting) and there at the beginning of that 112 bike course were people pushing their bikes up the monster hill. Guys who looked like elite athletes...pushing their bikes. I have never seen anything like it. I grunted and groaned my way to the top. I did not have my easy gears, so it made is so much worse but I was glad I made it. Once I crested the hill and could breathe a sigh of relief it hit me...we have to do this hill 3x???!??!??!? Now I knew why the guy next to me out of T1 muttered what he did.
I can't really even begin tell you how hard this bike course was. Not only was it hard but I was climbing the monster course on an 11/23!! 23!!! I've always had 28 on Lou. NO EASY GEARS...Argh! And, when the race motto is 'Tougher than Iron' I can now assume that it's because of this bike course!!!!!! The climbs: Hospital Hill, The Wall, Sugarloaf Mountain, Buckhill. These babies were 19% gradient and not short little climbs either. They were long and grueling. Sugarloaf being the worse of them at 1/2 mile at such a steep incline. Not only were there hills, but very strong winds all day. Never ever a tail wind--how is that even possible. It was like a swirling wind in my face all day. At times having to grip so hard on the bike so I wasn't blown off. Yes, it was that rough. Having to do one loop of this in an Ironman race would have been perfectly manageable, but having to do it 3x was absolutely leg shattering and mind shattering. Especially for this poor girl who had to climb all day on heavy gears. Talk about a sufferfest! 18 climbs over the 3 loops over the monsters and that's not including all the other hills. WHEW! I was really wishing I had a compact crankset or a motor!! There were times up the climbs where my speed was 4mph! 4mph!???? I honestly dreaded loop 3 so badly, I nearly considered just walking off the course and taking my first DNF. If you know me, you know I'm not a quitter, but this was that tough. 6500 feet elevation gain makes Louisville's bike course look like candy. I've climbed Cat 1's in the French Alps that weren't this tough. This bike course is a beast. If you ever want to test your bike limits, I highly recommend this place. They have a century ride there called Hell Hundred if that tells you anything. Quad crushing cycling ... I had two chain drops during the 112 miles where I had to dismount and fix my chain. Once actually at the first loop turnaround when I hit a big dip in the road. Second drop was at the top of Sugarloaf. I was gutted when I looked at my speed because I am so much stronger of a cyclist that I have ever been in years past. I wish I had trained for a hilly course but I trained all year to race a flat bike course avoiding hills as much as possible in my training. I had only hard gears on the day, so tried to cut myself some slack. I was really hurting at mile 100! Mentally and physically. When you train all year to race a particular race, you can see it in your mind..you plan it, you learn the course you will be racing, the details. You carry that with you in your training day in day out. Here I was racing an Ironman that I had not planned, had not trained for and a bike course that didn't suit me as a cyclist. But all the same, here I was racing my full race. All of the suffering on that bike course didn't compare to the sadness I would have felt only racing 82 miles for something I trained all year for.
Anyway, I don't think I have ever been so happy to come off my bike!! I was so happy until my legs touched the earth. Doing 112 miles of that on very little gears, sure left me worse for wear. OOOOH this is gonna hurt. I had such a great year of running and was hoping to PB my IM run by a long shot. Not to happen on this day. On this course. The bike took too much out of me and my legs just couldn't respond in the way I wanted. I trudged along and was happy that I never got an GI issues which is something that used to always haunt me on the run. So, there are huge positives there. I finally have my nutrition figured out. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and promised myself that I wouldn't let any female pass me on that 26.2 mile run. I kept that promise up until mile 21 where I was running in 4th place overall. I was passed at mile 21 by the only female that passed me the whole run. Mile 21-26 were a real struggle!! When I hit mile 25, I was so so happy and that last mile as always was the longest mile of my life. I crossed the line. 140.6 miles on the toughest course that I have ever raced on. I was satisfied. I was happy. I was relieved. I got to finish with my Abby. Caleb missed this race because he was on a hunting trip. I have always wanted to finish 140.6 with my kids but Ironman doesn't allow it, so this icing on the cake. What a way to end the day!!
I didn't realize until the next day that I was the Female Masters Winner and 6th Overall Female. My time surely wasn't as fast as races past, but I can honestly say that I gave it all that I had. To handle such a drastic change only days before a race--to travel so many hours--the stress of it all--the craziness that it was and the monster of a race I raced. I walked away happier than I ever have in a full distance race. The GFT was a top notch race. Where organizers actually truly care about their athletes. I had the most fun out there and felt so at home before, during and after. This is one of the last surviving 140.6 races that isn't owned by Ironman and it's a great one! I have to say that now that my legs are feeling better, it is one I will definitely consider again. Next time tho...I'll train for those hills!
Congrats to everyone who finished their races at the GFT Ultra 140.6 and also IMNC. I know that so many others were gutted to have the race shortened and I really feel for them. To put in the hours and hours of training and not be able to do the race you planned is just terrible. I really feel for those who were racing NC as their first Ironman. To put things right (?) Ironman finally sent us all a $150 voucher for a 2017 full. I am currently undecided on a plan for that and the voucher expires in Dec. Rich wants me to sit on it for a while before making a decision. If I do take the leap, it will be a spring/early summer full because I'm planning to race my first 100 mile trail race next fall. It's going to be a busy year for us as well with all of the work we have going, selling house, planning a move to Hilton Head etc etc etc. I have A LOT to do next year so we shall see. For now...here's to the off season :)