Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ironman Brazil: The Brutally Honest Race Report

I don't know where to begin for this one except by telling the brutally honest truth.  Because I guess, in a way, Ironman Brazil was the race where I was finally brutally honest with myself.


Caution: Waves Will Be Worse Than They Appear

Beat-down in Brazil

Manilla has it's Thrilla.  The Jungle had it's Rumble.  And Brazil has now staged it's Beat-down.
  • At least once on every race-morning I want to vomit, from nerves.  And at least once on every race-morning I think, quite clearly, "I do not want to be here."  "Hello, my name is Kelzie.  I am a professional athlete and racing makes me nauseous."  This race-morning I thought "I do not want to be here" as I stood with 1,800 people staring at body-surfing quality waves crashing onto the beach from which we were preparing to vault said waves and swim through the others turning the bay into a mosh pit.  This race-morning I wanted to vomit during the swim, which was essentially two wresting matches: first with all the age-groupers that started 10m behind us pros and then trampled me, and second with the sea itself. 

    Before the wrestling match.  (I'm far right; photo credit is not mine)
    • I swallowed considerable amounts of seawater.  I got mildly seasick.  I dry-heaved.  So it was almost the first race-morning where I actually did vomit!
    • When I completed the first of our two swim-out-come-back-ins, I had no idea how I was going to survive the second.  I was exhausted - and now, post-race, my upper body is ravaged far worse than any previous IM; even my armpits hurt - and imagined I was in for a horrible swim of 1:10-15.
    • I knew I was putting out a good effort and that my stroke technique stayed true long after it usually gets fuzzy around the edges, but at times I sincerely thought I was making no forward progress.  Africa ho!
    • I have NO IDEA how I made it out of there in 58:14 on my watch.  I think that swim split is a testament as much to the life-preserving floatation properties of my wetsuit as it is to my ever-increasing swim strength.
    • BUT another swim PR.  Still not setting any world-records here, but in these conditions, I'll take it.  Without these conditions, I really think I could have gone 55-56 min.


    Going For Broke

    Sometimes when you are in the middle of a project and circumstances are going well, you've got to change the game plan and throw down the gauntlet.
    • For the first 40 minutes I felt like utter crap.  The road surface was...rugged.  People were everywhere; with a true mass start, unless you are an uber-swimmer, you always exit onto the bike course with more people that a road can hold.  I had set a challenging wattage goal for myself and based on my sensations at that moment, it was going to be a long day of disappointment.
    • Packs formed that were so big the referees couldn't do anything about them.  I rode legally behind one group that had an escort of FOUR (4) refs, all of which just constantly blew their whistles without issuing penalties.  I have never seen such impotent course marshalling, except maybe at Clearwater.
    • I got the weirdest cramps: the diaphragm under my right rib wouldn't allow me to rotate my torso and all the fingers on my left hand kept seizing absolutely straight.  Which makes it hard to do things like hold a water bottle and brake your bike.
    • Who decided it would be a good idea to have two special needs stops?  At 47 km and 137km? And in a stop-get-your-bag-yourself-and-go style?  Luckily it worked out, but I was seriously thought my race nutrition plan was going to flash before my eyes.
    • Brazilian men are...quandaries.  They won't pee on the bike.  They won't let a female pass them without immediately trying to repass, but if they can't, they will happily sit-on for a free ride.  I dragged one group 30 km and when the wind turned in our favor, they shot around and actually had the nerve to thank me for the ride.
    • After giving said free ride, I was at 90 km in 2:25-ish (again on my watch; the race failed to capture any splits after the swim), which for me would be a non-Clearwater 70.3 bike split PR.  And I felt like the engine still had some rev in it, so I decided to keep rolling as strong as I could and see if today was the day to break 5 hours for 112 miles.
    •  Somewhere in the favela of Floripa kids are drinking from Eagleman 70.3 2008 and The Bike Rack bike shop in Burke, VA water bottles.  I hope Joe and Vigo appreciate the outreach and advertising.
    • I peed all over this course.  Sorry, course.
    • Seven (7) u-turns per lap.  That's either a maze or a Mensa test.
    • Holy Freaking Bike PR: 4:57:12 (again my powermeter).  Or oh, 27 minutes faster than my previous PR. 

    Run Until The Wheels Come Off

    When you throw the original game plan to the wind, the consequences change - but you still have to pay them.
    • The first lap is 21 km, with a second and third lap of 10 km each.  
    • The hills, no I mean walls, at 8-10 km of the first lap are just cruel and unusual punishment.  The people running them were moving the same speed as the people walking them.
    • I had water in my ear all day.  It finally popped at 4 km of the run.  Talk about living inside your head during a race.  More like an echo chamber!
    • Unofficially the wheels started came off ~14.5 km.  I made a good show of being strong as I passed one of two age-group women I knew were in front of me (NOTE: apparently there were three...at least according to the post-race math conducted by the race organizers) - after I saw them playing with the packs on the bike - and then...some bolts loosened up.  I worked to tighten them back up until 18 km, after which, until 20 km, was a constant series of mental games, some of which I won and some of which I lost.  BUT I did win some of them.
    • Officially the wheels came off for most of the second lap, the first 10 km lap.  I couldn't imagine being done and the real struggle of keeping a strong pace was setting in.  It was far more the head games that sabotaged my lap than any physical decline.
    • Three lap run courses were designed by the Devil. 
    • Starting the third lap, the second 10 km lap, I knew the current race time and my goal time and the time difference between them.  I told myself "Kelzie, if you want to do this, you have to go."  And I went.  I tried to stay with anyone holding a challenging pace.  I passed one pro ~32-33 km.  I passed the other age-grouper (NOTE: apparently one of two) still in front of me ~35-36 km and as I didn't really have a hammer to put down, I just tried not to let up. 
    • They say a well-executed race is the one in which you empty the tank, exactly on or immediately after the finish line.  And although I admit that this was not an ideally executed race, I came pretty darn close to doing exactly that.  The last 1.195 km was torture...hold it...hold it..hold...it...ho...ld...   I was never in danger of blacking out or bonking or crumpling, but I literally did not have any more to give to go faster.  My body and I had established an exquisitely delicate balance in which it had agreed not seize up and fail me if I did not ask it to do anything untoward.  I do not think I could have made it another 1000m, at least at that (pitiful) pace.
    • I crossed the finish line and my body and more importantly, my focus, were just done.

    General Brutal Honesty 
    • My time-goal for IM Brazil was sub-10 hrs.  I finished with 10:03:43 on my watch, 10:01:52 according to the race.  I'm fine - ecstatic! - with my time.  It's a 12 (or 13/14) min PR and on a course not known to be flat and fast.  10:05 would be too far away to count, but 10:03 is close enough that I know I can get there, but not close enough that I know one less drink at an aid station would have been the difference.  Imagine 10:00:05...pure agony! 
    • I was told 6th or 7th pro at the line.  When all was said and counted, I was 8th pro and 9th woman.
      • I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well at IM Brazil.  I needed to prove a whole host of things: that I wasn't a one-hit wonder who then turned in a tide of mediocre-at-best professional performances before quietly deciding that I had no business sharing a start line with these ferocious women; that all the hard work, time, money, effort, and sacrifices I make are worth it and translate not only into real results, but also a potentially viable profession; that I could make myself hurt.  A course (or chafing or blisters or simply the 9th consecutive hour putting pressure on your feet) can easily make you hurt, at which point the choice becomes yours as to whether you back off or face the fire.  Facing the fire - and the mental tenacity to do so even when the fire is actually burning you - is as much a learned and practice-able skill as your swim stroke.  I have to be able to face the fire if I am ever going to cut it doing what I have chosen to do.
      •  Could I have gone faster over-all if I had spent less on the bike?  Maybe.  IM is such a long dance that extrapolating an outcome from one input is nearly impossible and trying to do it will drive you crazy.  Am I happy to know more of the reality of what I am capable of on the bike and how I survived or not running off that effort?  Yes.  As athletes we are simply uber-complicated black-box problems.  How can we find out about ourselves if we don't push the boundaries?  We can't.
      •  So PRs all around, except on the run, which I'm chalking up as a mental focus PR.  One-by-one the pieces are coming together: the swim continues to get faster, the bike took a huge jump forward, and the run...still only has room to improve!
      • And finally, a paycheck.  My second ever, first as a professional.   If I'm being honest - and I am - that feels as good as any PR.
      • Back to Austin, to 105 degree heat, and the Show Goes On...Cuz that's how my daddy raised me. 


      As always, thanks for reading and your support!  Any questions or comments, just put them in the comment section and I will happily respond.  

          1 comment:

          schmonz said...

          My comment is: awesome.

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