I know everyone catastrophizes their IM experience, kind of like childbirth and, like the latter, I will say what I hear so many women say after their traumatic event, "Never again!" It wasn't all bad and I do have many things to be thankful for, but like in life, when there is good luck, bad luck is oftentimes close behind.
To back up a bit, I had a goal of doing an IM by the time I was 40, so this was the year. AZ seemed like a great option because I have a house and many family and friends there. When the race was moved from April until November a couple of years ago, it seemed like a good sign since now I'd have the mostly beautiful Portland summer in which to do those long, hard training hours and then be able to extend my stay through Thanksgiving. I arrived in AZ the Wednesday before the race feeling healthy and well-trained. I had luckily been able to hit all of my big training days except one when I was hit with a cold 3w before race day. I recovered quickly and thanks to regular massage (thanks Theresa!) and chiropractic, I was able to arrive injury-free. The summer/fall training in Portland also allowed me to take advantage of the many well-supported century rides and half marathons to augment my training. I hadn't done a tri in a few years so I did 2 Olympics and 1 half IM in preparation.
To avoid any increase in my already high anxiety surrounding this event, I spent as little time as possible at the pre-race event. I went as early as possible to register and pick up my bike (Tribike Transport is an awesome service!) and skipped the pre-race swim and dinner. I know getting in the water before race day is always advised, but for me, a non-swimmer, the swim is basically going to suck and no amount of reconnaissance will change that. I had been struggling with whether or not to sign up for next year the day prior to the race and in the end decided against it, which I now consider to be a very wise decision. The weather was beautiful every day preceding (and following), 70's and sunny, and the forecast for race day which had been similar kept getting worse, 10 to 20 to 40% chance rain and temps in the 60's. But that's OK, I'm from Portland, what's a little rain?
Since we are still in the process of renovating our house here, I did what I needed to do to prep for the race and distracted myself with design details and socializing with friends (thanks for a great dinner Lara & Rich!) and family. Sleep was not great, but adequate and I awoke at 415am on race day feeling better than expected. Wes, as always, was a great assistant, reminding me of little details and dropping me off right in front of the venue, peppering me with words of wisdom along the way. I made last minute adjustments to my gear/special needs bag, pumped my tires, slipped on the wetsuit and was off to the swim start. The air temperature felt quite pleasant, probably in the 50's, and the sky showed no signs of rain. I waited with the masses on the sideline allowing the real swimmers to get in position. We had to jump off the dock into the 60 degree water, which was a shock to the system, but only for a couple minutes. The really annoying thing was having to swim to the start which seemed a rather long way away considering the distance we had in front of us once the gun went off. We treaded water for about 10m before starting and even though I had seeded myself where I thought was mid-pack, I was beat about the head and kicked for about 10m until I could get a good rhythm going. My worst fear, that my googles would come off and contacts come out, did not happen and though there were harrowing moments of water aspiration and aggressive swimmers (men basically suck! I mean, really, I know it is a race, but there was no courtesy amongst those in red caps!). For those from AZ you can imagine my amazement that I swam from Mill Avenue all the way past Rural Road and back...there were times in my life where I never would have dreamed of riding a bike that far! The swim was over (I was finally able to pee in my wetsuit, a first) and though it wasn't fun, it wasn't all that bad and certainly didn't seem like it took as long as it did. I finished in 1:21:28, which wasn't too bad since I did a 38m 1/2-IM swim in Aug. I decided to put on compression socks and this seemed to really slow my T1 (8m 30s: tight socks over wet feet/legs with numb fingers is a very difficult task!). I mounted the bike in 1h 30m, which was a goal I had.
I felt good as I set out on the bike and was able to get my "bike-legs" pretty easily. I used my rode bike with clip-on aerobars and the set up worked well as I was able to stay in them for basically all of the bike. My sister, Lauren, was volunteering at the first bike aid station and though I passed on supplies the first lap, it was nice to see her out there. There was a tailwind up the gradual hill, noticeable in that with fairly minimal power output I was able to maintain a 20+ mph pace. Why then was I so surprised by the headwind on the way back? Still, I was able to keep my power output under control and feel pretty good, but it is always frustrating to have a the apparent ease of a downhill stolen by a headwind, even when you know you benefit from the tailwind on the uphill, it never seems a fair trade-off to me. It was awesome however to see Chrissy Wellington, Leanda Cave, Jordan Rapp, Chris Lieto, and the other pros whizzing by...amazing! Going out on lap 2, I decided to push the pace and take full advantage of the tail wind. I took a water from Lauren and stopped to pee at that aid station. Since there was a small line, I decided to take my garmin watch off my handlebars and put on my wrist for the run. Bladder emptied, I hopped on my bike and proceeded to push the pace out to the turn around. Once there the rain started, slowly at first and then increasing to a downpour right as I turned back into the headwind which had also noticeably increased. Pelted with cold rain and some hail, I made my way back to start the 3rd and thankfully final lap. Again, I pushed the pace to take advantage of the tail wind even though it seemed that during this lap in particular many people were taking it easy. The rain started again, but lighter and at the turn around it was clear that the wind had picked up even more, not just from the front, but the side as well. In fact at one point there was a wall of dust was coming from the east & I had to actually dismount because I almost got blown over; I looked back to see the guy behind me have his wheels blown right out beneath him, his shoes didn't unclip so he was just lying on his back like a turtle so I helped him steady his bike so he could free his feet. Ugh! I know Chrissy's time make it seem like it was a perfect day but there were downpours and hail too though she was likely off bike by then. Back on the road it was difficult to not get clumped with other riders so to be safe from penalty I stayed on the shoulder which luckily was relatively free from debris. I also noticed that the garmin that had been on my wrist was no gone...great, that should be helpful during the run! At any rate, I finished the bike (6:24:07) and was through T2 much faster than T1 (3:04, despite having to have volunteers re-attach my race number which had torn off in the wind) and was off on the run, with my remaining garmin from my bike clutched in my palm.
I felt pretty good at first and started at about a 9m/m pace, but after the half-way point, I started to lose steam. I even passed a couple pros (OK, they were on their last lap & I on my 1st, but still), including Lieto, who did not seem to be having a good day. Wes and my family were strategically placed on the bridge for high-5's which helped tremendously, but after I passed them for the last time and headed out towards the lone hill on the 3rd lap with 5 miles to go, I had had enough and my legs just wouldn't go any faster. Unfortunately, at this time I also hit a mental wall and I couldn't care enough to get it going. Even still, I never walked which in the end I think helped me move up significantly in my age group standings. At about a mile to go I was able to pick it up and cruise for the finish (4:19:38). Funny, I thought I must really have looked strong as I heard the announcer yell, "Leigh Lewis from Lake Oswego, Oregon, YOU are an Ironman!", but based on the concern of family who was there and a co-worker watching on-line (thanks, Carrie!), I now realize I must have looked pretty exhausted. My total time was 12 hours, 16 minutes, 47 seconds which was under my first (to finish) and 2nd (to finish < 14h), but not under my 3rd (sub-12h) time goals. This time placed me 768/2500 overall and 24/166(?) in my age group.
If I had to do something over, I would have used the compression calf sleeves under the wetsuit to save time in T1. Also, I would have done longer transition runs after long-ish rides in the hope that my legs would have been a bit stronger for the later miles of the run. But overall, I think things went as well as could be expected given the conditions.
Thanks to everyone for the support! And thanks to Anne, for the training plan, endless advice, and patience with my anxiety over being sick. What a great resource!
Addendum: My recovery has been great! My RN sister gave me a post-race IV in the comfort of my own home and, though I was definitely stiff and sore the next day, each subsequent day was better such that I could tolerate a deep tissue massage on Wednesday and by Thursday I really had no complaints. Friday I even hopped on my commuter bike to do some shopping. I am now happily entering into a month-long yoga-intensive phase & looking forward to some snow-shoeing and skate-skiing before ramping up for winter/spring cycling. Although I still have now concrete plans to revisit the IM distance, I am entertaining the idea of a couple 1/2-IM's later this year...we shall see.