Ironman Number 2…VINEMAN!!!

Elke Peirtsegaele

July 30, 2016

Race Morning

4:30 am wake up time. Race morning ritual: Pee. Eat. IMG_0999Nervous shits

The norm. By 5:00 am, we were on the road headed for Johnson’s Beach on the Russian River in Guerneville where the swim start and T1 were located.

As we drove out of the neighborhood of our homestay, a country song came playing out of the radio. Yee-haw, get ‘em cowboys!! Our pre-race pump-up tunes!

The drive to the swim start was pretty smooth until we started to enter Guerneville and the traffic slowed to a stop. With only one road entering Guerneville, all of the athletes and spectators were sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. I wasn’t too worried until I heard Rod (UCSB Triathlon Team) from the backseat ask Matt (the lovely race Sherpa) “Hey Matt? Do you happen to have a pair of goggles in the car?” I felt some butterflies start to swarm in my stomach…did I forget my goggles? Luckily Matt had some goggles in the car from the pre-race swim we did from the day before. Rod grabbed them. I quickly turned around and asked Rod if he could grab my morning bag in which I had put my goggles, cap, wetsuit, and timing chip in. He handed me the bag and I
quickly went through it to make sure I had everything. Huge sigh of relief. Everything was there…including my timing chip. I took a few deep breaths and the butterflies started to fade.

We inched our way closer to the start as we sat in silence, listening to the good ol’ country tunes. Suddenly, Rod rolled down the window. Matt and I looked at each other in the front seats, “Ewwwww!!!” The pre-race nervous farts were starting to make an appearance. We all started to laugh, breaking the silence and easing the nerves.

About half a mile from the start, Rod and I decided to walk to the start while Matt continued to sit in traffic and eventually look for a parking spot. Matt suggested we leave our phones in the car so we wouldn’t risk losing them. I grabbed my morning bag and bottle as Rod and I got out of the car and started to walk to the transition. It didn’t take long before we caught up with the crowd of athletes entering T1.

“Bike and run special needs bags! Drop them off here!” the volunteers called. My heart dropped. I felt my face turning red as I suddenly stopped and turned to Rod, “Shoot!!! I left my bike special needs bag in the car!” Rod sensed my panic, “I absolutely NEED that bottle. It has all the calories I need for the second half of the bike leg.” I started to panic even though I was trying to tell myself not to. I didn’t have my phone to call Matt to see if he could bring my bag down to the start. I quickly found someone with a phone and asked if I could borrow it. I quickly dialed in Matt’s number (which I had just memorized THAT morning!) and it went straight to voicemail. DANG IT! I sent him a quick text frantically asking if he could drop it off with the volunteers since I didn’t think I would be able to find him in time before the swim start…which was happening in 55 minutes. Yikes!!

I ran down the short hill into T1 and got body marked right away. I ran over to my bike brainstorming a plan on how to replace the missing bottle of precious calories. I suddenly remembered putting a baggie of “emergency” calories in my bento box. A light bulb went off. As I neared my bike, I heard a girl say “Elkeee!” I turned to my right and saw Jillienne from Team Betty. I was SO happy to see another familiar face! I quickly asked her if she had a spare bike special needs bag that she wasn’t using…and she did! I asked her if she had an empty bottle by chance and then one of her teammates from California Triathlon eagerly shouted, “I have a bottle you can have!” A huge wave of relief came over me and I was so dang happy, “Oh my gosh! Thank you so so SO much! You guys totally saved me!” I quickly went over to my bike and got to work. I poured the water from my shaker bottle I was sipping from that morning into the empty bottle so generously given to me. In the background I heard Jillienne explaining to her teammates that I was going to Kona. The guy who gave me his bottle said, “Oh, I’m so honored that you’ll be using my bottle! Take that bottle with you to Kona!” I started laughing and promised I would. I poured the emergency calories into the bottle, shook it vigorously and threw it into the special needs bag Jillienne donated to me. I gave my bike a quick look over, squeezed the tires to make sure they hadn’t deflated or flatted overnight, filled my aero bottle with electrolyte-enriched water and put my calorie dense bottle in the down tube cage. Next stop: ask a body-marking volunteer if I could use their marker to scratch out Jillienne’s bib number and put mine on the special needs bag.

I dropped off the bag and headed straight to the port-a-potties…I HAD TO POOP! Those nervous shits…I tell ya! I decided to start the process of pulling on my wetsuit as I waited in line to use the port-a-potty. I heard the pro wave go off in the distance…only 20 minutes to the race start! I kept telling myself that I would make it in time and that there wasn’t a thing to worry about, but the guy behind me was FREAKING out! He kept muttering things under his breath and kept trying to tell me, “We’re not going to have time to warm up,” and “Oh my gosh people, hurry up!” I tried to tune him out, but he was starting to get to me. With my wetsuit pulled up half-way, it was finally my turn to use the port-a-potty. I ran in, did my business and ran out. I grabbed my goggles and swim cap from my morning bag and dropped off the bag with the volunteers. I ran down to the race start like a chicken with its head cut off only to hear the announcers half way through the national anthem. I paused to put my hand over my heart and pay my respects, but the second it was over, I was sprinting barefoot over the painful rocks to get in line at the back of the 1 hour and under swim group. I was weaving in and out between people in the coral until finally, I made it. SO STINKING RELIEVED!!! I took several deep breaths and told myself, “It is what it is. Time to race!” I danced off the nerves to the music that was blaring at the start line, smiled and joked with the other athletes around me.


One by one, we were allowed to enter the water and I heard “ELKEEE!” I glanced over and saw Matt standing in the water waving at me. I smiled and was about to say something when he cut me off and said, “GO! SWIM!!!” I dove in and got to it.

The Swim

The swim was so, so nice. It was an out and DCIM100GOPROG2388247.
back in the Russian River and was about 71-72°F, super comfortable. I wore a ROKA sleeveless wetsuit (which I had received 3 days before race day) and absolutely LOVED it! I got into a rhythm right away and settled into my hour swim pace just like Jason and I talked about. There were 9 big yellow buoys on the way out, each 200m apart. I remember the first part of the swim going by pretty quickly, I was just in the zone, comfortable and efficient. A few times, I scooped some river bottom pebbles with my hands as I scooped the water with my freestyle stroke. When I’d take a breath or look up to sight the buoy, I’d see men walking in knee-deep water next to me—what a weird sight to see while swimming in an Ironman!!

The red turnaround buoy was within sight and as I rounded it, I was expecting to see a second red buoy to turn around in the near distance. However, I noticed the swimmers in front of me swam a 360 around the buoy and headed straight back to the start. Turned out there was only one turnaround buoy because the river wasn’t wide enough to accommodate two! I noticed my swim cap was slowly slipping off the back of my head. I decided that the next shallow spot, I’d quickly stand and take a few steps to readjust the cap. Soon enough, I felt the pebbles in my hands and stood up, took a few paces while fixing my cap and goggles and dove back in.

The 200m buoys seemed to be further apart on the way back, but I just kept pushing the pace I had set from the beginning. Soon enough, I saw the two bridges I had swam under in the beginning of the swim nearing once more. Before I knew it, I swam past the second bridge and the swim exit was within sight. I swam until I felt the pebbles in my hands, stood up and ran out of the water, lapping my watch to see roughly what time I’d swam. 1:02!! I was very pleased having PR’ed from my Ironman Arizona swim time by 7 minutes!

I peeled down the top half of my wetsuit and the wetsuit strippers were ready to pull the bottom half off. I quickly sat down as they pulled at my wetsuit; it slipped right off! I grabbed my wetsuit from them and as I ran off to collect my bike bag, was sure to yell “Thank you so much, you guys rock!”

I found my bag and ran into the changing tent. Because I was the third woman out of the water (due to where I positioned myself at the start), I had 7 volunteers swarming me, helping me get my socks on, cycling shoes, helmet, sunglasses, etc. They were all SO eager to help, it was awesome! I ran out of the changing tent straight to the sunblock station and told them, “I want it all over!” Two or three volunteers ran over and smothered my arms, legs, and neck full of sunblock. After saying thanks, I ran off to collect my bike.

The Bike

I ran over to the mount line, clipped in, and pedaled my way up the short, steep hill out of T1. 112 miles, here we go! I instantly felt at home on the bike and settled into a comfortable pace. I passed a few athletes here and there, but several men zoomed by me. I gave them a hoot and a cheer as they passed and continued on with my own pace. 15 minutes into it, I started my nutrition plan, right on schedule. So far, so good.

After the first little climb into the bike, I found myself alone on the course with vineyards on my right. I looked forward and said—out loud— “This one’s for you Papa.” I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from finishing my second Ironman. I remembered how proud of me he was during Ironman Arizona and let those memories feed my energy and pedaled onwards with a smile on my face.

About an hour and a half into my ride I heard, “Yeah Elke!” It was Rod! He zoomed by and I gave him a little cheer as he passed me.

This bike course is GORGEOUS; so many rolling hills and winding roads through the vineyards of Sonoma County; just beautiful. I took it all in, enjoying myself fully and consistently holding the pace I set out for. The esteemed “Chalk Hill” came and went—it was so much easier than I remembered from the past two years when I had done Vineman 70.3! I cautiously told myself that climbing it in the second lap may be otherwise…

The first lap went by rather quickly as I slowed to grab my special needs bag. The volunteers quickly pulled out the bottle that was given to me that morning before the swim start and I smiled; another huge sigh of relief. Plan B had worked seamlessly and I had the nutrition I needed for the remainder of the bike. After thanking the volunteer, I pedaled on.

The second lap was quite a bit warmer, but I held onto my pace comfortably. I noticed the urge to pee, so on every downhill I’d try to give it a squeeze…nothing. By the time I could finally relax, I had to start pedaling again to go up the next hill. This happened so many times that eventually I decided if I really couldn’t go on the bike, it’ll have to be the first thing I do on the run.

Somewhere on a flat section, a bee flew down my tri top and into my sports bra!!! I quickly scooped it out, but it was too late. He nailed me right in the chest! I got the bee out, along with its stinger, but it hurt so bad—the little stinker! Every breath felt like a knife was being pushed through my chest. So thankful I’m not allergic.

Round 2 up Chalk Hill was a bit tougher, but it came and went. After descending the back side of Chalk Hill, I knew I had about 20 miles to go. At that point, I was about ready to get off my bike.

Before I knew it, I saw Windsor High School. I dismounted my bike at the line and soon after that, the volunteers grabbed my bike as I headed out to T2 to grab my run gear.

I headed into the changing tent once more and started taking off my cycling gear as the volunteers were unpacking my run gear. Again, I had about 7 volunteers swarmed around me, all trying to help. No one else was in the tent (I later learned I was the fifth woman off the bike!). As I was pulling off my helmet and sunglasses, the volunteers were asking me if I wanted sun block and if I wanted water poured over me. I said yes to both and quickly took off my cycling shorts to put on my tri shorts for the run. As I was tying my laces, a volunteer had already clipped my race belt on and handed me my hat. Out of T2 I went!

The Run

As I ran out of T2, I felt my calve IMG_1216muscles tightening. Uh-oh. I had this happen on a few of my bricks during training and typically, the tightness went away after 20 minutes or so into the run. So I trudged on…until I saw a port-a-potty…

I quickly ran into the first one I saw and finally relieved myself of all the water I’d drank on the bike. Sweet relief! I ran out and carried on.

The tightness in my calves did not go away, but I carried on. After exiting the park behind Windsor High School, the run course turned into a hilly, exposed, and HOT course. I walked through every aid station to grab two cups of water, one for drinking and the other to dump over my head, face, and back. I ran on to mile 2 where Base Salt set up their tent. They were playing loud, upbeat music and I couldn’t help but throw my hands up in the air to the rhythm of the song. THEY WERE AWESOME! High-fiving them gave me a boost of energy to run through to mile 3.

At the turnaround point, just past mile 4, my legs still weren’t loosening up. It was hot at this point and I couldn’t quite get into a rhythm. I was a little bummed because I was hoping for a strong run (for me). Instead of getting down though, I chose to carry on as best as I could.

I continued to pour water over myself at each aid station and poured ice down into my sports bra when available, only to find it completely melted and gone by the time I got to the next aid station. At this point, I was convinced that I’d left my running legs in T2 and decided to make a game out of the run. I let myself walk the up-hills since I wasn’t running them much faster, and ran the down-hills and flats as much as I could.

This strategy carried me through the first two laps of the run, but by the time I entered the park at the end of the second lap to start the third lap, I was not a happy camper. I saw Matt and he told me that the first place girl, who must’ve passed me somewhere on the run, wasn’t too far ahead. I kind of laughed to myself and said, “There’s no way. I’m dying.” I was so tired and right about then, I was ready to be done…and that was only mile 18!

I wasn’t ready to give up though. I only had one more lap to go and knew I was going to finish; it was just going to take a little while longer.

Lap 3 did take a bit longer. The balls of my feet were blistering in my socks and it hurt to run, but I kept thinking to myself that the more I ran, the faster I’d get to the finish line and the sooner I’d be able to take the shoes and socks off.

Even though Lap 3 felt like eternity while I was out there, it now seems like it wasn’t all that long. I got closer to the high school and knew there was only half a mile left to the finish. The course took us around the school and the finish was in the school’s courtyard. I told myself that I HAD to run the rest. This was it!!!

The Finish

As I came around the last corner which led to the school’s courtyard, I saw the large and oh so wonderful FINISH LINE!!! I was SO. DANG. HAPPY!!! I ran through the finish line with a huge smile on my face and heard the announcer say “Elke Peirtsegaele from Goleta, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” **Chills are running down my spine as I’m writing that!** My final time was 11:33.38, second in my age group.

A volunteer gave me my medal, a water bottle, finisher’s shirt and hat and another volunteer took my timing chip.

I saw Kelly Gunn and we chatted a bit, having seen each other out there on the brutal run course. We agreed that we would have an ice cream date when we were back in SB!!!

I turned and saw Matt further down the finisher’s shoot. I got my picture taken with my medal and walked over to Matt and Rod. Rod and I started to share our stories with one another; I couldn’t believe the epic day had ended!

Thank You

After racing for 11 hours and 33 minutes, you IMG_1213realize exactly how much can happen and exactly how much goes through your mind. So many random thoughts; so many ups and downs. I still find myself thinking about the race and having an “Ah Ha!” moment whenever I remember a bit I’d forgotten about. It’s seriously an amazing journey; the race itself as well as the training leading up to it. It takes a large support crew to get it done, to stay motivated and to continue pushing forward; I couldn’t have done it without the help of so many. I am such an incredibly lucky girl to have such an amazing support group of family and friends—especially with everything that’s happened this year. There were definitely times where I doubted I would ever race again this year because life was really making a mark, but I honestly think that the training helped me get through those incredibly hard times and I know my dad would have been extremely proud to see me continue this journey and to not give up so easily. This one was for you.

A huge thank you to my mom and sister whom have gone through equally as much this year, yet continued to support me through this journey. They continued to have my back even though they thought I was crazy. Life doesn’t stop. I love you.

A HUGE shout out to my coach, Jason Smith, for believing in me even though I was doubting myself like crazy. You got me to where I am now and it just keeps getting better! One month till 70.3 World Champs down unda and 2 months till Kona! Yeahhhh buddyyy!! Thank you so so much for everything!!

Big thanks to Team Betty for bringing a huge group of badass ladies together! It was seriously so much fun seeing other Betty’s out on the course and giving each other high-fives and encouraging one another to keep pushing through. So fun! #badassisbeautiful

Another huge shout out to Power of Your Om and PhysioPhyx for supporting me throughout the year. You guys are AWESOME!! Power of Your Om is my favorite yoga studio in SB and they have been so supportive of my journey. So much love for the studio and the staff. #poweredbyom #pushplayexpand PhysioPhyx has been my number one, go-to recovery drink during training and post-race. The benefits from their blend of high-octane carbs and fast-acting protein, PhysioPhyx LPR gets me recovered and ready to go for the next big day! #physiophyxlpr #getyourphyx

Lastly, thank you again to Jillienne and your California Triathlon Team for SAVING me on the bike by donating your special needs bag and empty bottle (which I will be bringing with me to Kona!). You guys ROCK!! So much LOVE!!

Up Next:

Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Mooloolaba, Australia – September 4, 2016

Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii – October 8, 2016