Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Swimbike Ironman Texas

What an amazing day!!!  And almost a surreal experience.  I don't know if i can explain how I was feeling on Friday.....we had a great day together, getting to know one another and going through all of the pre-race stuff.  But, it just didn't feel like I was going to race.  I wasn't nervous (except for that whole tandem thing) and I felt like an outsider looking in on all the pre-race chaos.  Bike and bag check-in, attaching numbers to helmet and bike - all the typical pre-race stuff without all the pre-race performance anxiety.  Except.....I still had to perform.  For the last 3 weeks, I've been casually talking about the swimbike that I have to do.  No biggie right??  At least I don't have to do the run! (not to mention I am not fit enough to do the run but that's a whole 'nother Oprah but really am I even fit enough for the bike???).  Just another 2.4 mile swim with another person tethered around my waist - no biggie.  Just another 112 mile ride on a tandem. Even though I had never ridden a tandem.  With another person.  Blind person for that matter.  And campy gearing.  It'll be fine, right??
Pre-race tattoo time:  Kompetitive Edge, TYR, QR

Race morning arrived as it always does - Patricia was full on race nerves and Sonja and I were initially calm.  That lasted for me until we got to that nervous energy mosh pit called TRANSITION.  Holy Moly - the nerves in that place could launch the space shuttle and it absolutely launched my nerves - I have decided they are contagious.  All of a sudden, I realized I just wanted to do right for Patricia.  I wanted to do well by Patricia.  Her goal was now my goal.....OUR goal.  That sounds strange because that was the goal all along but it was at that moment that that I knew I would do everything I could do to make it happen.   I would push on the bike I had never ridden to make sure she would have plenty of time to get the run done in that heat and humidity.  And make no mistake, it was an ambitious goal.  12 hours!!!

Sonja was awesome sherpa mom for Patricia and I in the morning.  She helped track down the last minute stuff Patricia needed and was a good listening ear for me.  I saw Triboomer in transition and he made me cry with some wonderful words (yep, I was nervous - the emotions proved that) ......congratulations to him for a great race!  We had plenty of time to walk to the swim start (about a mile away) and just tried to stay in the moment.  We got bodymarked and it was time to get in the water!  Patricia knew she needed just a bit of time before the gun went off to get over her initial panic but the greatest thing happened getting in.....no panic.  We calmly got in and swam over to the start.  I positioned us a couple of feet back from the pros (we got to start at 6:50) and wide of the buoys.  I wanted to make sure we had room when the age groupers got to us.  That starting time turned out to be great!!  We had clear water for the majority of the way out - no traffic and no one getting run over.  Of course, there was one mishap about 15 minutes in.....the tether on Patricia's end untied!  But no worries, we stopped and got everything taken care of and were off.

After that it did get a bit crazy.  I was staying just a bit ahead of Patricia so that I could spot everything going on around us.  If I saw someone coming up behind, I would either pull her closer to me by the tether or I would scoot closer to her so that no one could get tangled up in the tether.  She kept hitting me in the head, the ear, the hip, the butt etc. etc.  But whatever, she was holding a decent pace.  I was also getting brutalized by some of the people passing on the outside - padded swim cap next time!!  At times, it was so congested that I swam a modified breast stroke next to her to keep watch.  I was very pleased that we never really got run over - thank you swimmers for recognizing the day-glo orange caps we were wearing!  The final stretch of the swim was in a fairly narrow canal that was lined with spectators cheering.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw PIC!!  She said transition was around the corner and I asked her to have a mix1 ready for me - we'd been in the water for a while at this point and I was actually getting hungry:)  She ran ahead to meet us in transition.
Finishing the swim in the canal - we are the two orange caps in the middle
I saw our time getting out and I knew Patricia would be disappointed.  Crap.  She wanted to do a 1:30 and we were right at 1:40.  But she did that swim all on her own - as much as I wanted to help her get to 1:30, I knew if I pulled her she would be pissed.  She wanted that goal and she wanted to do it on her own with the only help being a working set of eyes.  As soon as I told her the time, she freakin' started sprinting to transition - she was pulling me along!!  I am usually much more casual about transition for longer races but this girl was on a 12 hour mission.

We screamed into the change tent, sat down, and Sonja got us all ready to go.  That was it!!  Now on to the part that scared the be-jesus about of me......tandem time!  Coming out of transition (and out of the swim), the crowds went absolutely beserk when they saw us and the tandem bike and realized Patricia was blind.  Mike Reilly was announcing and pointed her out......number 81 Patricia Walsh!!  With all of the yelling and cheering Patricia and I had a hard time communicating - we couldn't hear one another.  She was in a rush but I just wanted to safely get on that darn bike and not take anyone down in the process.  We got our right feet clipped in and pushed three times with our left legs......and got moving!!!  The spectators went wild again!  I manuevered us through the first corner and we started the trek out of town.

Mind you, this was the second time I had been on a tandem with Patricia.  The first was on Friday for an entire 2 loops of a parking lot.  All I can say is that a tandem handles much differently from any road or TT bike.  The center of gravity is way behind the front rider.  Sonja and I had talked about just taking it easy for the first hour and getting used to the bike.  Good idea!  Not to mention the fact that there was so much rider traffic on the way out.  It was just not smart to do any sort of push initially.  It was dangerous.   The next big moment was my first bottle grab.  We'll just call that one a FAIL.  We started wobbling almost uncontrollably when I reached that we were thisclose to crashing.  Patricia suggested she just hand me bottles after that - OK!  We were literally just figuring things out as we went.  Since I had no access to bottles without Patricia, I knew this would be my big "sacrifice".  I would try to stay on relative track nutritionally but I knew I would be short liquid and calories.  I just had to get her through the bike.  I let her know when we were approaching an aid station and we would decide whether or not to slow.  If we did, she would stick out her hand for Perform or water.  It worked incredibly well.

So, here's what we have so far:  new to tandem riding, getting used to cornering a tandem, not bottle reaching, no aero bars, not my bike.  Oh, did I mention this bike had Campy gearing and I have NEVER ridden with Campy????!!!  Yeah!  That caused us some gearing mishaps.  But, I handled it like a champ:)  Really, this could have been a complete effing disaster!  But we did it.  We got comfortable with each other.  I got comfortable with the bike.  After 40 miles or so, Patricia could even tell that I was cornering better.  I have had some questions/comments that would make it seem that Patricia could coast along while I just pedaled away.  It didn't work like that at all.  She was a full participant in the bike.  My job was to set the pace, make sure she wasn't panting or pushing to hard so that she could run the marathon after the bike.  There were times when I called her out on pushing too hard - I could feel the pressure on the chain.  As I said before, Patricia was a full participant in this Ironman.  I was only her set of eyes.
This is somewhere between mile 100-110...not sure why I'm smiling 'cuz I'm pretty sure I was melting!
Now, usually during a 112 mile bike in an Ironman, you don't have many people to talk to.  It gets kind of boring.  But we talked to all sorts of people!  And some of the comments we heard!  Good comments like "go tandem" "go CDifferent", "you girls rock, have a great day"!  And silly comments like "that's cheating" "she's not pedaling up front" "that's drafting" "that's not fair".  Really?  Not fair?  OK, how about we blindfold you and you try riding a bike??  I also tried to keep our conversation light and encouraging.  Someone had posted signs over the course that read, "Welcome to Ironman, now you are broke".  And, "Ironmom, because having babies wasn't tough enough".  And, "Pain is temporary. Your finish video on the internet is forever".  Silly things like that I would read to her that we would giggle over.  Sometimes she would not want to talk.  That was fine, we just kept pedaling.  I started telling her major mile markers....60, 70, 80.  Triple digits!!

It was incredibly hot and humid - the heat index was 100.  The only saving grace was that we had clouds and some light showers for the first half.  How was I feeling during all of this?  I hurt.  I was on a bike I had never ridden and my body was not particularly pleased about it.  My bike training was not quite ready for 112 but it wasn't too far off.  I wasn't comfy for the first 40 miles.  But part of that was because I had to pee so bad (very well hydrated).  And just so you know, you do NOT pee on a tandem.....unless you really dislike your partner, bad form.  My back started hurting.  My right glute at one point was just on fire.  But I was not about to bitch and moan.  I just had to get us through 112.  Standing up to stretch in a tandem is also difficult.  Standing up to pedal on a tandem is difficult.   Everything needed to be communicated and coordinated.  My quads were starting to burn.  The last 12 miles were particularly difficult.  The sun had come out and it was unbelievably hot.  We were on our way back into town and riding next to stopped traffic and you could just feel the heat coming off the cars.  Both of us just wanted to be off the bike.

I had been keeping track of our pace but my stupid Garmin decided its memory was full somewhere around mile 70. I deleted the history and made a note of the time and miles.  But, of course, race brain could not remember all that data (right, time and miles) and so I wasn't quite sure how we were doing.  I asked a couple of riders what the race time was (one had the nerve to say if you were keeping track you weren't racing???) and finally figured out that we were still under 6 hour pace.  Just keep pedaling!!  Finally, we were back in the Woodlands with all sorts of wonderful people out on the course cheering.  And that was it!  We were back to the roaring crowds at transition.  Off the bike, and once again SPRINTING towards the change tent.

All of a sudden there was a Hello next to me and it was Sonja.  It was switch time.  We grabbed our bag and headed in.  I took a back seat in getting Patricia ready - Sonja and the volunteers had that covered.  I just poured ice water on my head, in my face and down my bra.  Honestly, I could not imagine going out for a run......but I didn't have to.  Patricia did.  Our bike split was 5:46, which included an "easy" first hour and a 3 minute pee break!!  Race time was 7:30, she had to do a 4:30 marathon to get to 12.  She had quite a cushion to get there.

Go Patricia!  Go Sonja!!

After they left the change tent, I just sat down on the chair and tried to get my stuff together.  I was drinking water and sucking on ice.  Eventually I put on some other shorts and probably 20 minutes later I finally emerged from the tent.  I got the lay of the land and figured out how the run was working and stopped and talked to Matt for a bit.  Biggest problem with stopping after the bike?  I ended at the change tent.....not the food tent.  Major bonk one hour later.  Matt's wife Kristin had a table on the race course right at mile 10, 18, 26 (3 loop course) and I finally located her and some food.  I'd eat and go cheer on the athletes.  And I was waiting to see Patricia and Sonja.  Finally, they came around and Patricia looked like she was hurting a bit.....Sonja was keeping her going.  The next loop, they looked better and Sonja was working the crowd into a frenzy for Patricia - they were still on pace.  Last loop and the race clock was at 11:39.  I took my position at mile 26 and waited.  And waited. 11:45, dang I was nervous.  And then I saw them come around the corner.  I jumped up and down and squealed with delight!!  As they passed I joined them for the final .2 into the finish.  The crowds were once again going berserk as we went by finishing with a 6:30 pace.

11:50.  She beat her goal by 10 minutes and was so happy!!  It ended up being incredibly happy and fulfilling for Sonja and I as well.  What a great day and what a great experience.  11:50.  Dang.  The fastest blind woman in the world at the Ironman distance.

The Finish Line.  I love how there are spectators with their jaws literally dropping watching us.   And yes, that's how I look when you go from 0 to 6:30 with no warm-up and fully belly.

Christine, Patricia, Sonja, me, Griffon
Congratulations Patricia!!  And Thank You for letting us be a part of your day:)

The midnight finish line party picture with Dana and Nina (we really only see each other at midnight finish lines!!)


Unknown said...

I'm teary-eyed reading this!! BIG CONGRATS to Patricia, she is truly amazing. Props go out to you and Sonja too!! What an incredible experience- thanks for sharing!

Big Daddy Diesel said...

This is the race report of the year!! Hands down. Thank you for volunteering to do that, thats amazing!!! I have goosebumps from reading this!!!

Bret said...

Awesome accomplishment for any athlete! Congratulations Patricia! Amazing selfless acts by two awesome ladies pacing Patricia.

Shannon (IronTexasMommy) said...

Absolutely awesome! Congratulations to Patricia! It was great so many of the C-Different teams out on the course! You are amazing for doing this with her!

TriBoomer a.k.a. Brian said...

Meeting up with you, Sonja, and Patricia was a highlight of the Ironman Texas experience. You don't know it, but when I walked up to you guys in the grocery store parking lot all calm and stuff is that I had ran as fast as I could across two lanes of traffic and dodged cars and grocery carts to be sure I caught up to you.

You did a great thing. Good on ya!

Stay tuned...

PJ said...

That is too awesome for words!

Kristi said...

Amazing! Simply amazing. I had tears in my eyes reading this. Congrats to all three of you!

Tyler Walton said...

way to go rock stars. I am proud of everyone that toes the line and makes the best out of the day that they can. What a great story!

goSonja said...

Awwwww, PIC, what amazing things we have done together, and this is yet another one. Job well done my dear, JOB.WELL.DONE.

Nicole said...

purely inspirational. all three of you.

Ryan D said...

This was a pretty fun RR... nice work to all three of you! Nice work on navigating that cadillac of a bike!

Erin said...

Michelle - I saw you at the swim on Friday and wanted to say hi but you guys looked SERIOUS! I'm so glad that you killed it out there! We'll have to trade notes on the race once I feel like going to practice again.

Erin (from HR swim team)

Ransick said...

wow, what an awesome way to give back to the sport! Patrica is amazing. So cool you and Sonja could help her achieve her goal.

ChrisGarty said...

Wow, amazing. Great write up. Thanks for all you do for the sport!

Luke Migalla said...


Congratulations on being a vital part to Patricia's success! Great story. Your descriptions painted a very clear picture. I had the opportunity to guide a blind athlete to his first tri finish this year. Amazing experience. Was really freaking about the swim tethering thing. Used an old credit card like a belt buckle. Worked great. Take a look if you get a second.