Tass Jones 2014
The cherry on my midlife crisis pie!
I AM AN IRONMAN
The End. LOL
My Ironman experience was incredible
It's been quite the journey, and I finally made it to the finish line. For those of you who don't know me well, I'll give you my background so if you're considering an Ironman you'll know you can do it too!! Because trust me, if I did it, anyone can!! You see, I grew up the fat kid. I was not fat by today's standard, but chubby enough to be teased endlessly for it. I was told by my father that "girls don't do sports", and told by everyone that I was not athletic. I believed it and spent my life on the sidelines. I was probably sitting on the sidelines eating a bag of Doritos, thus perpetuating my chubby belly and my belief that I was not capable of any type of exercise.
Although I lost the weight in college, it wasn't until about 5 years ago (at the age of 43) that I started trying to get “fit". I couldn't run one single lap around the track without having to walk. I joined a boot camp and really tried to stick with it. I finally started to see results and this made me try even harder. It became this wonderful cycle of strength results and increased motivation to push harder and try more!! I was introduced to competitive Powerlifting and decided to give it a try. In a year and a half I found myself at the World Championships in Vegas!!
Due to a complete lack of small older ladies in Powerlifting, I am currently the American record holder. Then a friend convinced me to try a triathlon. So I hired my first coach, the wonderfully amazing Sean Yeager Diamond, and entered my first race. It was the Goleta Triathlon in July of 2011. I was hooked. Fast forward to November of 2013 and my first attempt at an Ironman. I was ready and it was a perfect day for the race. Swim was going exactly as planned until mile 1.7 when I got pulled from the water with hypothermia and the doctor yanked my chip… race over. I cried for 2 hours straight. But 2 days later I found the courage (or insanity) to sign up for IM Wisconsin. I took the holidays off and started training in January. I hired the incredible Susan Kitchen of Race Smart - Sports Nutrition & Coaching. Bruce Davis at Hazard Cyclesport kept my bike in great shape.
I'm a bit OCD in organization, so the weeks leading up to IMWI, I filled my tapering time with making lists, and more lists, and lists of lists!! I was ridiculously organized. I wanted to give myself every chance to finish the race. I wasn't about to get another DNF because I forgot some key piece of equipment or clothing.
The first of several monkey wrenches got thrown into the mix when I tweaked my back the night before we left for Wisconsin. Super. It was painful and tight right up until race morning, then.. all good!! The second monkey wrench was the intestinal flu that manifested within an hour of arriving in Wisconsin (We flew to Madison on the Wednesday prior to the race.) Double Super. It was the worst … FOR FOUR DAYS. So needless to say, the fear factor was off the charts. Was my back going to keep me from finishing? Could my body even do this after 4 days of intestinal nightmare? Was I brave enough to get in the water after the Arizona experience?? The self-doubt was brutal. Simply brutal. But the good news was the weather was PERFECT! A high of 77 degrees with only 2 mph winds!! I also slept 8.5 hours the Friday night before the race which gave me a little confidence. Race morning finally arrived and thanks to all my color coded lists, I had everything ready to go. Drove to Monona Terrace and loaded the bike with nutrition and fluids, and topped off my tires. Quick stops in T1 & T2 to add freshly made Peanut Butter sandwiches.
Made my way down to the Swim start where Steve was waiting for me (bless his soul, he is the most supportive and patient man on the planet!!). The overwhelming emotions of the last four days had strangely gone away. I basically felt nothing. My mind was numb and to be honest, it was a welcome relief. Like a robot I put on my wetsuit, ate pre swim nutrition, finished my bottle of water, kissed Steve and got in the water.
Swim Where only in Wisconsin, you do the “Moo”…
I swam out to my predetermined start location, then treaded water for about 10 minutes before I would finally hear the National Anthem and the long awaited cannon. While waiting, I made sure to look all around me, burn as much as I could into my memory banks. I looked at the 5000+ people on Monona Terrace and knew that they were anxiously waiting for their loved one to finish an Ironman, just as my family was. I looked at all the faces of the people around me, and I saw excitement, fear, determination and I wondered what my face showed. Then… BOOM!! The first 1000 meters was brutal. Kick, slap, punch, scratch, dunk… you name it. I even had one guy literally grab my ankle and pull me backwards (I think he was trying to pull himself forward actually). Lucky for me, none of this bothers me and I kept my coach's advice in my head, "Don't waste a single ounce of energy reacting to what people are doing in the swim.
Just keep going forward. You'll need that energy later." Getting to the first turn buoy was great. In Madison it's a tradition to "Moo" at the first turn. Yes, "Moo", like a cow. It makes you laugh to hear everyone. Then a short swim and I was around the second turn and headed down the long side. It started thinning out a bit, mostly because I'm slow and the majority of swimmers were ahead of me.
My Garmin chimed at 30 minutes and I ate my first GU Chomps. You read that right, I ate during the swim. I'm Hypoglycemic and nutrition is KEY for me. Avoiding the "bonk" is mission number one. It happens so easily and quickly that I have learned to stay one step ahead of it, thanks to my awesome coach. I have Chomps wrapped in cellophane tucked in my wetsuit right at my neck. With my Chomps chomped, I continued down the long side. When the small buoys turn from yellow to Orange that signifies the half-way point. I looked at my Garmin and was happy to see that I was ahead of my goal time. I tried to find some feet that I could keep up with, but the side to side turbulence in the water right behind someone is too much for this motion sick prone girl. As much as I loved the draft, I had to swim on my own. The motion sickness that started by the attempted draft intensified with every 100 meters. Even though I took half a Dramamine pill, I was still sick. (My motion sickness is so bad that I'll get sick on a swing. I even got car sick once… While I was driving!!). I fell into a pattern of swimming until I was about to puke, then I'd breast stroke for a while and stare at the shoreline to get my equilibrium back. Swim… breast stroke… swim… breast stroke. I was miserable. It was the first dark moment of the race. My coach said there would be dark moments, and that I needed to remember that they pass and good moments would come. It's a good thing there is no exit in the middle of the lake!! Garmin chimed, ate my Chomps. Kept going. I was sure they mismarked the course and it was 24 miles long… I finally made it to the last turn buoys and headed for the bright red arch. I was sure I was close to the cutoff time so I swam a little harder. As I approached, I could finally see the clock and to my complete shock, I was right on my goal time!! I'm a slow swimmer so I told myself that finishing was all that mattered, but a 1:45:00 finish would be great! I came out at 1:45:15. Steve was right there and I was SO happy to see him that I stopped for a quick kiss 🙂
T1 The Warm-up
Madison is unique in that transition is inside a convention center. The TOP floor of a three story convention center. So once you're out of the water and through the wetsuit stripping folks, it's asphalt run to the cylindrical parking helix that you spiral up three levels! For me this was a bummer because it was still chilly out and I was soaking wet. By the time I made it inside the building I was freezing and shaking. I grabbed my T1 bag and headed to the changing room. The woman who helped me was an ANGEL!! She immediately wrapped me in foil blankets to try to get me to stop shaking. She pulled off my wet clothes and rewrapped me in the foil blankets, and rubbed my arms and legs until the shaking subsided. She helped me put on all my biking clothes (I felt like a baby on a changing table), and all the while she never stopped smiling and giving me pep talks. Advil, food, some water, lots of sunscreen, and thanks to my checklist, I had everything I needed. Quick break I was running down the long parking lot to my bike. I high-fived a ton of volunteers as I went by. Easy to do because they were basically done and just standing around (thanks to my slow swim and ridiculous 24 minute T1 time!!) I was grinning ear to ear as I got my bike... I made it through the swim!! Down the Helix on the other side and off to see what these notorious Madison hills were all about.
BIKE Say Hello to Three Bitches
As I came out onto the road, I got to see my family. Loved them for being there and shouted and cheered right back at them as I went by. I settled in really well and found my pace quickly. I made sure I didn't go too hard as the hills would make me pay for it later. (For those who don't know IMWI, it is known as the second hardest bike course in the US, and the 5th hardest in the world with an average bike finish time of 6:29) The hills by themselves are not bad, but the cumulative effect of literally 100 miles of endless hills is brutal.) I immediately started hydrating and got on my plan of nutrition and salt tabs every 30 minutes. The first 35 miles were awesome. I felt good, my pace was good, and I made it up to Mount Horeb no problem. I was actually passing people which surprised me!
Went through the first section of huge roller coaster hills and they were harder than I thought. When I drove the course, I thought the downhill speed would carry you up the steep hill directly after… wrong. Nothing like standing up, in your easiest gear, grunting and sweating for 5mph… But I did it. Shortly after that I hit my second dark time of the race. I started to feel funny, not tired, just funny. I slowed down a bit just as my coach told me to do if I felt bad. Then came the nausea. Horrible nausea. I got emotionally upset and all the doubt came flooding in. "This is a stupid race" "Why am I doing this" "I didn't train enough" "I'm a failure" etc…. I wallowed for a few minutes, then shook it off and decided to get rational rather than emotional. I realized that if I felt nauseous, it was because my body needed something and it was trying to tell me. I needed to think, to listen, to feel. I started down the check list and gave it water, food, salt tabs. Still felt crappy. I felt so sick that I sat upright on the bike in case I needed to hurl. And then…… URRRRPPPPP!! The biggest frat-boy-beer-like burp ever!! Instant relief!! I was so joyous I almost cried!! It was perfect timing because in 2 more miles was a series of hills known as the "Three Bitches". I packed in more calories, drank a good deal of Perform, and waited for the dreaded inevitable leg burn. But what I got instead was the absolute coolest thing I have ever experienced! The first hill of the three is about 1.5 miles long, winding and covered in a canopy of trees, and oh yeah… lined with several thousand people!!! They were 4-8 deep all along the entire hill. Everyone clapping, cheering, dancing, encouraging. There was tons of music and every imaginable noise maker known to mankind - bells, whistles, drums, horns, everything!! People were wearing costumes and it was a party!!! It was so crazy and enthusiastic and uplifting, that I rode up the entire hill with one hand on my bars and the other in the air fist pumping and cheering right back at the spectators!! It was unbelievable!! I felt like I was in the Tour de France!!!! I was at the top before I knew it and as I rode away from the crowd, I thought to myself "If I stop right here and right now and don't finish, it will all have been worth it just to have experienced that!!". I made it through the rest of the first loop and got a good lift seeing my parents. The second loop went by about the same as the first, without the horrible dark time of nausea thank goodness. I stayed true to my nutrition & hydration plan and only stopped pedaling once when I stopped at special needs for food supplies and a natural break. Steve and my brother Dave were driving around the course trying to see me at certain spots, but they missed me the entire first loop. Fortunately they timed it perfectly on the second loop and I got to see them several times. Such a joy and a boost to see their smiling and encouraging faces! At last the second loop was done and all I had left was the 16 mile leg back into Madison. I felt good, I felt strong, I felt proud to have conquered the Wisconsin bike course. My goal was to finish the bike in under 8 hours and I got into transition with a bike time of 7:46:29.
T2 Warmed Up for the Marathon
I was surprised that my legs were working underneath me as I grabbed my T2 bag and jogged into the changing room. Another wonderful woman was there to help me and cater to my every need. It's the benefit of being slow - there are plenty of volunteers to help since the majority of people have already gone through!! I sat down and within 30 seconds I felt like crap. Lightheaded and woozy. Didn't expect it after feeling so good on the bike. Drank some water and ate some Chomps. Laughed with the girl helping me to distract my mind. Started to perk back up and finished changing as quickly as I could. Said my thank yous and headed out to attempt a marathon… wait…
Steve was right outside and I ran over to him for another quick kiss. His eyes were shining and I knew he was as excited as I was at the possibility of actually finishing!! As I went through the timers the clock was 10 hours and 9 minutes.
My goal had been to be starting my run at 10 hours so I had plenty of time to walk when I needed it. My 15 minutes spent in T2 getting rid of the lightheadedness put me a bit behind, but I was happy with where I was and how I felt.
RUN Making Friends
The run out of transition was uphill! I thought "Really?? The first 4 blocks is uphill?? So not nice." I figured I should walk it so I didn't stress my system right out of the gate. But I felt so good that after the first half a block I started running. To be honest, I was completely surprised that my body would run. They make you go right by the finish line on your way out and it was fun to hear all the cheers for people finishing. It humbled me to realize that the winner had already been done for an hour and thirty minutes! I ran the first 5 miles without any trouble and I felt great. Steve and Dave were on bikes now so they could ride ahead and wait to cheer for me as often as they could. It was the best encouragement to see them every couple of miles!!! Both sides of the run course were absolutely PACKED with people. There were so many signs that at times it was hard to read them all as you went by.
There were 14 aid stations on the 13 mile loop, so there was plenty of water, Perform and snacks to go along with the endless cheering and support from the volunteers and spectators. There are 2 sections that go through downtown streets made up mostly of bars and restaurants. They were overflowing with spectators screaming and cheering. It was awesome. Around mile 5.5 I started feeling pain in my lower abdomen. Cue dark moment three of the race… The pain got worse and worse. It reminded me of when I had appendicitis. My lower belly bloated so bad that I looked pregnant. I had to walk. I was pouring sweat and was totally nauseous. It just happened to be right as I entered the second crazy business district with a billion people everywhere. So there I am, walking along, butt clenched tight, sweating, staggering, wishing I could find a bush to crawl under and die. I somehow made it through the business area and down to the trail along the shore of Lake Mendota. Much to my delight it was only gas!! After a minute or so of apologizing to my fellow athletes, I felt much better. Started running again. It's amazing how in the span of 10 minutes you can go from miserable and wanting to quit, to feeling great and running. The body is an incredible machine!! Another 6 miles of walking the hills and running the down, plus running the flat when I could, got me to the turnaround of the first loop. Half way there!! They are quite cruel in Madison though, because they make you run the first part of the finisher's chute before they have you do a U-turn to head back out to the second loop. A bit of a mind F#*@. But just after the turn is special needs so I stopped for 1 minute to grab some more food. My coach said no solids during the run, but I think she forgot that what your tummy can process at a 13 min pace is very different than what she can process when blazing along at a 7 min pace!! I was starving and a GU just wasn't going to cut it. A peanut butter sandwich never tasted so good.
About a mile later I started to feel that telltale rumble in my lower guts… "oh no… Please no… I just passed the aid station and… it'll take me over 10 minutes to get to the next one… Oh no…" But the race gods were looking out for me because just around the corner was where Steve's oldest son lives, and he was standing out front!! Thank God!! I ran up to him and begged to use his bathroom. We bolted inside and I just made it. That would have been really ugly if he hadn't been there!! I apologized and thanked him profusely, and set off running feeling much lighter on my feet. Shortly after that I made friends with two other women who were cruising along at my pace. We all chatted and decided that together we would push each other to finish the race. We came up with a running strategy where we would pick points to run to, then allow ourselves to walk for a minute, then pick another point to run to. It was fantastic! It actually made it fun, almost like playing a game with friends. Then one of the ladies got a burst of energy and took off leaving the two of us behind. We wished her well and continued our strategy. We had fun telling stories and laughing about all that we'd been through to get to that point. One final episode of the "rumble", but thankfully it was right before an aid station and I made it in time. At about mile 20, my new friend looked at me with big sad eyes and said she couldn't run anymore. Her feet hurt too much. She urged me to go on without her since I could still run. I looked at my Garmin, calculated our walking pace and the distance left to finish, and determined we would finish with 30 minutes to spare if we walked the rest of the way in. I told her I wouldn't leave her and the two of us would FINISH this darn race. She cried. I cried. Then we laughed and got busy power walking. Those last 6 miles were so incredibly fun!! We laughed and talked the entire way. We cheered, we high-fived everyone, we even danced through the aid stations. One aid station gave us the best spirit award!! With each passing mile I realized that I was actually going to finish and I would be an Ironman. What a feeling. As we rounded the corner to the Capitol building I told her I wanted to run the finish. She agreed wholeheartedly. So I took off. The finisher's chute was unbelievable!! Over a 1000 people at 11:30 at night!! I ran down, swerving left and right to slap all the hands extended in congratulations. Then I saw him… MIKE REILLY!!! Holy Cow!! He was dancing and so full of excitement and energy. I heard him say my name and those infamous words. I high-fived him as I went by and he gave my hand a tight squeeze.
I walked up to the guy handing out the medals and he shook his head "no". I almost fainted. I turned around to look at the clock to make sure I finished in time and turned back around. He realized what I thought and quickly said "The women get their medal from her" and he pointed to a tiny girl with an arm full of medals. It was the women's winner, Britta Martin!! She finished in 9:30:08 and she stayed to hand a medal to every woman that crossed the line. What an incredibly cool person!! I made a bowing motion to her and told her she was amazing. She promptly threw her arms around my neck and said "No way! YOU are amazing!! This is my job. But look what you just did!!" I burst into tears and she put the medal around my neck. Wow… just wow.
The following day was filled with fun! Eating, spending time with family, shopping for swag at the Ironman store, and even a Brewers baseball game in Milwaukee. The best part is that I wasn't sore at all. Guess I need to hug my coach for that 🙂
What an experience!! My plan was to go easy to make sure I finished. I did. I wanted to feel good at the finish so I could enjoy it. I did. I wanted to share it with Steve and my family. I did. I am the luckiest girl in the world!!!