Sunday, September 7, 2008

Gearing Up for Iron Girl: The Back Story

Its taken me a week to process Iron Girl. While on the surface it was "just a race" down a little bit deeper it was so much more! Almost two years ago Esmerelda asked if I wanted to be part of an Iron Girl relay team with her. I laughed and said "um, maybe" but I don't swim so well and my bike is old and run, ha, I just don't run. In the end Es decided she was going to do it all herself. I knew she would because I've seen her take on the seemingly impossible so many times and she always gets through it--you know, a triathlon seems easy when I think about her working full time, being pregnant, having a toddler, taking care of someone else's kids full-time, AND getting an MBA all at the same time. Talk about mental and physical toughness. Any way, I was fascinated by her stories as she trained for Iron Girl and the races she did before. I watched her body and attitude change as she made her way towards the races. Iron Girl was the first time I watched her race. Boobah, PDQ & I headed out to the top of a hill to watch the racers come up the hill. The energy was amazing. Oh, here she comes, yell for Miss Wendy and the girls and I did. The look of surprise on her face was priceless. They were riding up a hill and most everyone looked like they were having FUN! Finally, after picking up some flowers we headed off to see her at the finish line--except we didn't make it in time because of the traffic and crowds. When I saw her I was so proud, she was practically beaming with her accomplishment. My biggest surprise was the other women I saw there, friends from church, Mom from the babysitter, neighbor. It made me think, maybe this isn't such a crazy idea, maybe I *could* do it. And thus the triathlon wheels were turning.

I knew that if there were any way I was going to do a triathlon I'd need to start running right away. I could certainly get on a bike, I thought that would be a piece of cake given the time I'd spent in spin class. I dreaded the swimming part but I figured I had plenty of time to get to that but running, I knew running would be my hard part. So over the course of 5 months I did a Couch to 5K program from Beginner Triathlete. The mix of walking and running made it seem not as hard as I expected. I remember thinking I'd die running 3 minutes in a row but more importantly I remember the feeling of triumph the first time I ran 30 minutes in a row. What an accomplishment for someone who had never run more than a mile, ever.

Winter came and so did the triathlon training class, one morning a week at 5:15 AM at the pool and Sunday mornings at the gym and on the track for two hours of biking and running. That first morning I was scared. Would I be able to keep up? Would the class be full of real athletes that I could never keep up with? What if I made a fool of myself? Self doubt kept me up most of the night. But I went, met great people and worked hard, really, really hard. Inside on the bike wasn't so bad other than getting used to being on the bike for an extended period of time. It felt good to work hard. Then came the run. We (and by we I mean they) jogged over to the track to run laps and then we were supposed to run back to the gym. All that running I'd done for months to prepare for this day was on fresh legs. Running on legs that have been riding a bike for an hour is much, much different. I jogged and walked to the track and it was all I could to make it through the laps. When one of the coaches yelled "we're in zone 2 now!" as I trudged by it was all I could do to resist telling her I'd left zone 2 long behind and was working as hard as I could even though it didn't look like it! At the end of the workout I was exhausted. It was a good exhausted though. I went to church and it was all I could do to get up and down for the hymns. When I got home I took pain relievers, a hot bath and a long nap. I kept telling myself I've got 8 months until the race, I *can* do this but believe me, their were days I doubted it.

Es and I did an indoor tri in February and it wore me out. Again a great sense of accomplishment tempered with that was hard, what have I gotten myself into! In June we did a local tri to raise money for melanoma research and education. It was fun, my parents were there, my kids were there and I finished. I walked part of the bike, it was hilly and every time I rode the course I got off, I don't know how much was my lack of fitness and how much was mental after that first bad ride. There were days when I would run or ride and feel great. Then there were other days all along the way that made me seriously doubt what I was doing. Luckily most of the days were somewhere in between and there would be a good day to pull me out of a bad place.

Three weeks before the race there was an opportunity to swim in the lake used for the tri. It is not somewhere they typically allow people to swim. The typical reaction was, "you are going to swim where? eeeeeeeeeeew" There were about 500 women there that morning for the practice swim. We waited a long, long time to get in the the water but finally it was our turn. The first bit was fine, then my goggles broke. I spent the rest of the swim with a horrible headache from tying my goggles on my face. I spent about 500 yards trying to decide if the lake water would give me an eye infection if I just dropped them all together. I was glad I did it but again..."what am I doing?!"

I went to the brick n' pic with the tri club, the first time I'd actually interacted with them in real life, not just virtually on the message board. They were planning to run-bike-run. I decided I'd run and bike since my family was coming afterwards. I'd never run first and I have to say it took a LOT out of me. I had the slowest of the group in my sights for the first half of the run but then I lost them. My heart rate was unbelievably high the entire run. Finally, bringing up the rear I made it back to the bike racks and nearly everyone was gone. The guy riding sag said he'd follow me. I so didn't want to be last but off we went. He was helpful and encouraging. We eventually found some other riders from the club and they took turns hanging with me. I felt horrible for holding people up but appreciated the company. It was great to ride with experienced riders, calling out when cars were coming, there were things in the road and getting to know them a little better. It really shook me though, would I ever make it through the race if this run and ride had been so hard? It was coming up quick.

Finally, one last ride-run brick before the race with Es and our friend D from work. It was truly the best bike ride ever. Tons of people were out, waving and encouraging as they rode by. I was fast, I felt good and my back which had bothered me on nearly every other practice ride was good. I thought I had it licked when I started the run. Ugh. The run was miserable, I just didn't have it. D ran with me and then I'd walk, she'd circle back and run with me some more. We headed up the hill that until this point I'd always avoided. Mistake, big mistake. Holy cow, it was a long series of hills that never seemed to end. D finally took off and I ran with a few other women along the way. My foot hurt, I'd had some foot pain in the past but never enough to make me stop, until that day. About a quarter mile from the end I couldn't take it any more. I finally took off my shoes and walked from there. As I hobbled along I ran into a woman from my tri class and it was good to catch up with her. I was thrilled to find out the end of the race was in a different, closer spot than I thought. Besides the pain in my foot though I felt good. I decided I would baby the foot until race day and see what happened.

Almost a year of training to do a race. Really, it was more of a lifestyle change. Training included at least 5 workouts a week, including one "brick" that usually lasted 1.5-2.5 hours. Never in my life did I imagine I would be exercising long and hard enough to need food in the middle of it! As my distances grew, so did my confidence. Not just in the fact I could finish it, that I could run or that I could ride. I found that at work I was more confident in my opinions. I was more willing to take risks. Becoming an Iron Girl had way more to do about changing my life than just finishing a race.

Next time, Iron Girl: The Race.


Esmerelda said...


I'm so proud of you! I knoew you could do it all along.

g-man said...

And you did it all. :) You rock baby.

Tree said...

Amazing journey, my friend!