Many family members and friends have asked for a race report and after a few days of replaying my race in Arizona over and over in my head, I’ve realized that the race itself isn’t what makes for a great story, it’s the journey itself…and what an epic journey I’ve embarked! It was one I hope to never forget, despite its many ups and downs.
Holy cheese balls…where do I even start?!
Okay, from the beginning…why sign up for an Ironman?
Ever since racing for the UCSB Triathlon Team, I’ve had the dream that eventually, I’d want to do an Ironman; after all, it’s the triathlons of all triathlons! I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, that I was mentally and physically strong enough to endure such a long day of racing with a smile on my face and have a story to share for a lifetime.
The reason I signed up for one at 22 years old? I’m young, fresh out of college, single, no family, and no pets. What better timing?! The only real commitment I had was work. This said, I have such mad respect for those who are married, have kids, have a job, and still train like crazy. How you people make it work is so mind-blowing to me, I can’t even begin to fathom how you do it…you’re the Iron(wo)man of all Iron(wo)men!
With all this in mind, I signed up for the Ironman Race Ready Package which included Ironman 70.3 Silverman and Ironman Arizona 2015…a few weeks later, training commenced!
Unfortunately, I had a rough start. It took maybe one or two weeks into training and I began feeling intense pain in my left knee every time I went for a run. Soon, it became so unbearable that I had to give up running. Shortly after that, the pain followed me onto the bike and I quickly had to give that up too. After several weeks of no running or cycling, I assumed my knee had healed and decided to go for a short run. The pain that had finally seemed nonexistent and led me to believe my knee was okay, had suddenly come back as if it were a dormant volcano that finally decided to erupt. Awesome. I was left in a pool of frustrated tears.
I didn’t give up that easy though. After several attempts of stretching, strengthening, and resting, my knee was resilient to healing. I went to an orthopedist whom gave me a cortisone shot with strict orders to lay off running and cycling for another 6 weeks. I was torn. My family, though they supported me, began to seriously doubt my ability to train and race this year, crushing my dream and breaking my heart. I honestly didn’t know what to do. Stubborn as can be, I couldn’t give up on this thing I’d started, but I felt completely helpless and lost.
Six weeks later, I was allowed to go for an easy spin on the bike to test out my knee. I was excited, but so so scared as I pulled on my dusty cycling shoes and helmet. I quietly pushed my bike out the door and pedaled out of the driveway holding my breath, “Please hold up. Please be okay.” After 30 minutes, I was smiling from ear to ear as I was spinning on my bike down Cat Oaks, pain free!
A week or two later, I tried for a short run. Same thing; I quietly left the house and trotted down the street thinking to myself “Please behave. Please be okay!” My knee held up and I was beyond thrilled. A few minutes later though, the pain came back, “You’ve got to be KIDDING ME!!!” That was it. I had done everything I could to take care of my knee and it seemed to be telling me “Ha! Nice try, but no.” I was crushed. I remember going to CVS after my workout to get an icepack and some ibuprofen for the inflammation and called my parents in the parking lot in tears. As Physical Therapists, their advice was to lay off the knee. Obviously it was unhappy and irritated and putting it through all of the long miles to train for an Ironman would just be torture and could result in my inability to walk for possibly the rest of my life. I had never felt so crushed, little, and helpless. The only thing I could do was cry and shake in the driver’s seat. I wanted to yell at the top of my lungs and scream “Why ME?!?”, but knew it wouldn’t have helped nor answered my problems. After a few minutes, I called Jason, hoping for a different perspective. I did everything I could to stay calm and told him what my parent’s verdicts were. I was realistic, but deep down, I was hoping he would have something to add. He did. Luckily, I still had months before race day, and he was confident that I would be okay. He told me not to give up just yet.
A few days later when my knee had calmed down, I ran in a different pair of running shoes. NO KNEE PAIN!! Yahoo!!! I didn’t care why or what happened, but I never looked back and threw out the other pair of running shoes. I was running again!
By this time, it must’ve been April. I had spent the majority of the past four months swimming and my swim was off the charts!! I was hitting paces I never thought possible (for me). Granted, I was swimming 5,000 to 7,000 yds on the regular to make up for my lack of cycling and running, but still, yowza! I was on fire! Despite feeling so good in the water, I couldn’t help but worry that I had fallen behind on the bike and run training. I kept my chin up though and repeatedly told myself “Just do what you can with a smile on your face and you will get there.”
The worry faded quickly as I regained strength on the bike. I was putting in the hours and absolutely loved it. I thought I would feel alone on all my rides and get bored – and don’t get me wrong, I definitely missed riding with my teammates and friends, but that was a rare occurrence now (most people laughed when I asked them if they wanted to join me for my 3-6 hour rides) – but I learned to love my playlists and sometimes even found myself singing out loud on my bike! Haha! I was loving it all until the gnarliest, most painful saddle sores developed from my 5+ hour rides (if this is something you’re experiencing or have experienced…1) I feel your pain and 2) I am now very well versed in its many forms of treatment and would be happy to lend you some tips!). After trying and battling several saddles, I finally settled on the 7th one. Ahhhh, sweet relief!
My run was slowly coming together, but I remained patient and cautious. I was on thin ice and really couldn’t afford getting reinjured. I focused on strengthening my glutes, stretching, and rolling. After a few months, things really seemed to come together. I could feel myself getting stronger every day. I remember my first 5.5 hour ride and crying tears (geez, I sound like a big cry baby!) of happiness when I saw my Garmin hit 100 miles. I couldn’t believe where I’d started and the rough road I’d been on, “I CAN do this.”
From here, things were only looking up.
Flash forward to Ironman 70.3 Vineman. I finished second in my Age Group and qualified for World Championships in Austria. Say what?!?! I was getting stronger and faster without even realizing it and it felt amazing! The Ironman 70.3 World Championships didn’t go as planned due to a broken rear wheel, but I was so excited and thankful to experience the buzz of such a big worldly event.
Flash forward to Ironman 70.3 Silverman. With most of my big training days behind me, I didn’t really know what to expect of this particular race. I was nervous, but calm. Jason told me to treat the race as another training day, to play it smart, work on nutrition, and have fun. I kept telling myself that I was going to go for a swim in a nice lake and then jump on my bike for a nice hilly ride, followed by a half marathon. No biggie! I executed the race exactly as we’d planned. I treated it exactly like one of my other long training days and it went better than I could’ve imagined! Without realizing, I won my age group and qualified for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Australia in 2016! As excited as I was, I still couldn’t imagine doing double the distance. It scared me and I just couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of having to do everything I had just done TWICE. How do people do it?!
Weeks Leading Up to the Race
After Silverman, I only had a couple more long training weekends and after that, I headed towards the dreaded land of Taperville. I hated taper. These few weeks were the most tortuous of them all! The workouts were much shorter and I felt ten times more tired than I did during the most intense
weeks of training! I was going to bed between 8:00 and 8:30 pm every night and waking up early, not knowing what to do with all the free time on my hands. My arms felt powerless in the water and my legs felt flat on the bike and run. I felt like I was slowly losing fitness and longed for the intense workouts again where I felt strong and unstoppable. I was losing my mind!
Days Leading Up to the Race
By the time I was in Arizona, I thought for sure I was going to lose it. Even at race registration, bike check- in, and gear bag drop off, I felt like my prime for racing had been passed. I felt like a couch potato the last couple weeks and a very small part of me felt like I didn’t even want to race anymore. That small part of me was more than over taper week and just wanted the whole thing to be done and over with. Was it burn out? No, I loved this sport and loved the training. I wasn’t burnt out, I was just yearning to do something again! To move! I felt like a caged-up lion waiting to be unleashed! I just wanted to let it all out!
4:15am wake up time. Race morning ritual: Pee. Eat. Nervous Shits. The norm.
I put on my race kit and layered up in a sweater, jacket, and pants. It was FREEZING outside! I grabbed my morning and special needs bags and bike pump and rolled out the door to catch the Tempe Valley Metro to Ironman Village. My parents and I got there early enough that I didn’t have to rush. I
pumped up my tires to the correct psi and hoped I wouldn’t flat. *Side note: on my pre-race ride Saturday morning, I had flatted. My dad and I replaced the tube, but the sealant I had the guys at Hazards put in my tires had leaked out. I tried not to freak out, but I was worried that a cactus needle or thorn was going to cause me to flat during the bike on Sunday. All fingers and toes were crossed race morning!* After my tires were fully pumped up, I filled my aero bottle with electrolyte-rich water and placed the bottle full of dense calories on my frame. *Que second side note. For some reason, I must’ve spaced when I was packing before leaving for Arizona. Jason and I had a long phone call regarding nutrition and I knew exactly how many calories I should be consuming per hour and therefore, knew how much I should pack. Well, like a noob, I was several hundred calories short! I hadn’t packed enough! When I prepped my bottles Saturday night, I had a mini panic attack and didn’t know what to do to make up for the shortage in calories…how could I have made such a stupid mistake right before the big day?! Luckily, I had packed extra PhysioPhyx for after the race. I dumped that into my bottles to make up for some of the shortage. I also put some extra ProBar chews in my bento box and special needs bags.* Once the bottles had been placed, I walked over to drop off my special needs bags. Everything was ready and all that was left to do was to visit the bathroom one last time, put on my wetsuit, hug my parents one final time, and head over to the swim start.
I always budget extra time to put on my wetsuit. It takes me FOR-EV-ER to put on my wetsuit!! Inching it up my legs, over my butt, up my torso, onto my arms, zip it up…I’m telling you, it’s an ordeal!! Once wetsuit-ed up, I hugged my parents and then to my surprise, started crying (again, I had no idea I was such a cry baby haha!)! I was so scared and couldn’t believe what I was about to do. It was going to be such a long and hard day and even though I had spent the past year training for this exact race, I was terrified. I had gained so much respect for the distance that I had become timid to attempt it! Nevertheless, I said goodbye to my parents and headed over to the swim start, wiping tears from my face and laughing at myself, “Stop being silly, you’ve done the training. You can do this!” My attitude flipped and it was game time!
I walked down to the swim start only to find myself in line for the 1 hour and 50 minutes projected swim time, “Holy cow! I have to move up!!” The swim was a self-seed rolling start and my group was all the way at the front. I squeezed and pushed my way through to the 1 hour group and let out a huge sigh of relief, “I made it!” A few minutes later, the pro men were off and five minutes after that, the pro women were off. Suddenly, everyone around me started moving towards the stairs, “Shoot! It’s time to go!” Before I knew it, I was on the steps, putting on my goggles, and jumping into the water. Yeah buddy!! Go time!!
If doing double, triple, and quadruple laps at Nite Moves didn’t get me prepped for this swim, I don’t know what would have! Even though the race was a rolling start this year, it must’ve been one of the most brutal swim starts I’ve ever experienced in a triathlon. Jumping off the last step into the water, my face was immediately introduced to a sea (or lake!) of sharp elbows and feet. Fortunately, my goggles stayed in place, despite the many blows to the noggin. Before I knew it, the two bridges above me were out of sight and I was headed for the third.
Sighting wasn’t a problem. With so many athletes in the water, I just followed those ahead of me. I kept trying to find some open water to swim in to avoid crawling over people and getting crawled over. Occasionally, I’d bump into someone and bounce off like a game of bumper cars. At one point though, I was swimming next to someone and they bit my hand!! I was shocked, but instead of stopping, I picked up the pace and made sure to get away from the stinker.
A lot happens in an hour plus swim. I don’t remember everything, but I do remember feeling like it was the longest and shortest swim ever. I remember asking myself multiple times, “Where’s the third bridge?!” And then thinking “Geez, running 2.4 miles is SO much faster. I would’ve been done a long time ago if I were running.” And then “Biking the 2.4 would be even faster!” After lots of thinking, swimming, and dodging other swimmers, I finally saw the third bridge and a few minutes after that, the first red triangle-shaped buoy, “YAY! The turn-around buoy!”
The second half of the swim went by so much faster. After the first 1.2 miles, the crowd thins out as people settle into their own paces. I had a lot of open water to swim in, making for a much less eventful second half of the swim (no complaints here!). I remember swimming through the shade of the two bridges near the swim start/finish, rounded the third red triangle shaped buoy and made my way to the steps to exit the water.
I found my exit and before I knew it, a volunteer grabbed my forearm and pulled me out of the water. I pulled my goggles from my eyes and ran up the steps and pulled my zipper down. Out of nowhere, two women grabbed the shoulders of my wetsuit and stripped the sleeves off my arms…or at least the right one. The left one got stuck on my watch, as usual. As the lady and I were trying to get the sleeve off my watch, the other one was tugging at my wetsuit to pull it down my waist. When we got the left sleeve off my arm they told me to sit down and they pulled the wetsuit completely off my legs. I jumped up, grabbed the wetsuit from them and was sure to shout out a thank you and “You guys are so awesome!”. I sprinted off to T2 passing other men and women left and right, “Whoa! Where’s all this energy coming from?!” I didn’t slow down. I was so stoked and loved all the spectators, feeding off their energy. “1315! 1315!” The volunteers were yelling my bib number and handed me my bike gear bag. I headed for the changing tent and started putting on my helmet and sunglasses. I couldn’t see ANYTHING, “Geez, why’s it so dark in here?!” I couldn’t see my socks. “Where is everything?” Laughing at myself, I took off my sunglasses and quickly threw on my socks and cycling shoes and grabbed my make-shift, hand-made, cut up socks for arm warmers. A volunteer helped me throw my wetsuit, goggles, and swim cap into the bag. I left the bag with her and ran for the sunblock station. These volunteers are so great. They ask you where you would like the sunblock applied and then rub it in as quickly as they can, all with a huge smile on their face and an enthusiasm that matched the athlete’s. Off to get my bike!
I made sure to count which rack number my bike was stationed and found it without a problem. I grabbed it and ran out of transition. I was STOKED! I got to the mount line and jumped on my bike and started pedaling away down the chute. “Go ELKE!!!” I turned to my left and saw my parents jumping up and down cheering for me. I threw out my left arm for a fist pump and wave and must’ve had the biggest smile on my face. I was having the time of my life, “This was so freaking awesome!!”
The bike has always been my strongest of the three disciplines. It was my favorite part, absolutely loved it. From the second I hopped on my bike, I felt at home, comfortable and strong. I was in the zone. I kept telling myself not to push it and reminded myself I had 112 miles to go and 26.2 miles of running after that. The day had just started!
The first lap was so awesome. There was a head wind heading out of Tempe, but it really didn’t bother me. Heading out to the Beeline Highway, the wind picked up a bit, but still nothing to worry about. I tried taking in the scenery around me, but to be honest, what scenery?! Not the prettiest course I’ve ridden, but still fun nonetheless. I cruised by other athletes and shouted encouraging words to all of them. Some shouted some words back, but most stayed quiet. The turn-around came faster than I expected at around mile 19. I felt a push and was FLYING! I hadn’t noticed the false flat up and 2 – 3 mile small incline before the turn-around, and was now given the reward of a descent plus tailwind! YIPPEEEE!!!
I zoomed down Beeline Highway and made my way back to Tempe. I looked for my parents amongst the other spectators at the turn-around near Ironman Village, but didn’t see them. I saw Tammy jumping up and down screaming my name and I couldn’t help but laugh and smile. So awesome! I made the U-turn and headed away from the Village and back to Beeline for round 2.
As I left Tempe, I felt a few cold drops of rain hitting my face and shoulders. RAIN?! NOW?! It was in the forecast, but not until 5 or 6 pm. None of us, including the athletes, spectators, or volunteers were expecting this, “Maybe it’ll go away and it’s just this one cloud.” Boy, was I wrong. It POURED on us! I was so cold, shivering on my bike with nothing but a race kit and some cut up socks for arm warmers. So so cold! I tried to stay positive and think nice, warm thoughts. I stayed on my nutrition and remembered I was supposed to pee two times on the bike. I felt urge to pee, but every time I thought I was going to go, the urge would disappear, “Drink more!”
I hit the special needs aid station and screamed out my number “1315! 1315!” The volunteers were yelling “1515! 1515’s here! Get her bag!” I laughed and said, “13-15. Thanks so much guys!” Before I stopped, a volunteer already had my bag open and was pulling things out. She asked me what I needed and handed me the new calorie dense bottle, swapping it for the empty one on my bike and I grabbed a package of ProBar chews from her hand, “That’s all I need, thank you so much!” And off I went stuffing the package of chews into my bento box. I was surprised how quickly the exchange happened. These volunteers rocked!
Finally, I had to pee so bad, I decided to try coasting with my butt in the air and boy, did I pee! And it felt SOOOOO so good, not even kidding. The warmth trickling down my legs was the best thing to happen during that second lap on the bike. I was almost sad when I stopped peeing; back to the cold.
On my way down the Beeline Highway back to Tempe, I saw Jon Goodman and we shouted some encouraging words to each other. I was so happy to see a familiar face out there on the course, and for a second, I forgot how cold I was.
Heading back into Tempe, I looked for my parents again and this time saw them! Again, they were jumping up and down, screaming my name and taking pictures. I smiled, laughed, and cried a little. I was so happy to see them and even though I was so cold, I was loving every second of this race and couldn’t believe how good I was feeling. I was holding good pace and wasn’t pushing it, I was just focusing on taking in my nutrition and turning over my legs (and trying to stay warm). I hit the turn-around and saw my parents again and made my way out to the Beeline Highway for the third and final lap.
Right before making it to Beeline, I peed again. Sweet, warm relief (again!)! I knew I had done my nutrition right and was set up for a good remainder of the bike and run. Not long after that, I peed a THIRD time.
I saw Jon again and cheered for him again right before the turn-around at the top of the hill. I saw him a third time in line at a port-a-potty and shouted his name and “I peed THREE times!” We both laughed.
Right before entering Tempe, I peed a FOURTH time and told myself to hold off on the water. If I kept hydrating, I would have to pee during the run. I entered the Village, biked through the chute, and someone grabbed my bike from me. I tried running through T2, but it was so hard in my cycling shoes. I felt wobbly and like I was going to fall on my face at any second, “I hope I feel better in running shoes!” Again, the volunteers handed me my run gear bag and I trotted off to the changing tent. I tore off my sunglasses and helmet. As I pulled off my cycling shoes, I noticed my visor and race belt were already on my head and around my waist. Volunteers are the best! I quickly put on my running shoes as the volunteers were putting my helmet and sunglasses in the bag.
A few steps out of T2, I saw my mom and dad again. I’ll never forget the expression on my mom’s face. Her eyes were huge with excitement and she was cheering as loud as she could. She was so excited to see me, pure joy. I was so happy they were there and so excited to be on the run, I actually felt good! So good, I glanced down at my watch. 6:30 min/mile. Say WHAT?!? I slowed down right away. There was NO way that was going to happen haha! I slowed down to an 8:30 min/mile pace. Still faster than I was expecting to run, but focused on not pushing it. My legs felt like they were on autopilot; they were just doing what they’ve been training to do. Such an incredible feeling!
Before the 2 mile marker, the rain came pouring down, “How is it STILL pouring?!? In the desert?!?” I was so cold and wishing I had packed a long sleeve or light jacket. No luck. I saw my parents again at the 3 mile marker and focused on running. I walked through
every aid station to make sure I’d consume water and calories. In the back of my head, I remembered Jason telling me that I would probably feel great until about mile 8. Here was mile 8 and I kept running. I kept running through miles 9, 10, 11, and 12. I felt myself losing energy even though I saw my parents again at mile 13 and got my special needs bag. The volunteer opened it and I looked into it, forgetting what I packed. I looked into it, hoping to find some energy or a fresh pair of legs. Sadly, there was nothing of the sort. I left the bag and tried running. My legs were tired and I was exhausted. There was a tiny hill (if you could even call it that) and I decided to walk up it. I wanted to run, but my legs didn’t. Miles 13 through 17 were a major struggle. I saw my dad again at 16 and I wanted to stop. I wanted him to wrap me up in five blankets and carry me home. Somehow I still forced a smile onto my face, but felt completely depleted. He told me that I could do it and to keep going, he told me I was his hero. Another thing I’ll never forget for the rest of my life!
At mile 17, I was arguing with myself. I knew that if I kept walking, it would take me all night to finish. I wanted to finish this thing sooner rather than later, so I made a deal with myself. I decided to walk 0.20 miles and then run 0.80. I did this for miles 18 through 23. At 23, I suddenly got a second wind and saw my dad on his mountain bike. He was cheering for me again and I kept saying to him “3 more! 3 more! I can do this!” It was more for me than to him. I was trying to convince myself that I really could do it and that the finish was so close. At 2.5 miles left to go, I saw my dad again and he told me that the first place girl just passed me and that third was hot on my heels. “WHAT?!” I had no idea where I was or what place I was throughout the entire race. This was the first time I had received some news. “When would she have passed me?!” Whatever. I wasn’t going to settle for third, so I picked up the pace and wanted to battle it out for second.
At 2 miles to go, I saw both my parents on their mountain bikes cheering for me, my dad yelling “Squeeze it out Elke! You’re so close! Squeeze it out!” I kept running even though my legs were begging me to stop. It hurt to lift them. 1 mile to go, “Come on Elke! So close! Squeeze it out girl! So proud of you!” It was taking everything I had to get to that finish line. The pain was far more than I had ever experienced before but I wanted to get to that dang finish line!! I told my parents I would see them at the finish line and turned a corner. There it was! The finish line! I was running down the chute and so many hands
were outstretched waiting for high fives. No one was in front of me or behind me. I ran and gave the spectators high fives, just for the fun of it. And there was the finish line, slowly getting closer until “Elke Peirtsegaele, you are an IRONMAN!” I was so happy to finish that line and so relieved it was all over.
I bent over and two volunteers quickly wrapped a blanket around me and gave me some water and a finisher’s medal. They asked me how I was. Besides the pain I felt in my legs, I felt fine. I gave Tammy a hug and thanked her for all the cheering and support. I loved every second of it.
Unfortunately, my parents missed the finish (they got lost trying to get in with all the gates set up), but after reuniting with them. My sister called me and started screaming and crying, “YOU WON!!!! YOU’RE GOING TO KONA!!!” I didn’t believe her. My parents had told me that I was in second, and when I finished, I had no idea where I had ended up (and in the moment, really didn’t care). I was confused, but when she said it a second time, I got super excited and started jumping up and down, screaming and crying. My dad said “Hold on, don’t get your hopes up. Let’s make sure.” He pulled up the results on his phone as we all held our breath, “You won!!!” I started crying. Nikki was crying. I jumped and gave my parents a big hug.
There are so many things and so many thoughts that happen and go through your mind when you race an Ironman. Even after a week, I’m still remembering little bits that happened during the race. It’s an amazing and indescribable experience. Although I proved it to myself that I could do an Ironman, I couldn’t have done it alone. I am so incredibly lucky to have such an amazing support group of family and friends. They’ve seen me go through the highest highs and the lowest lows and have continued to be there for me every step of the way no matter what. A HUGE shout out to my coach, Jason Smith, for believing in me and getting me from where I started to qualifying for three World Championships in one year. I never would’ve believed you had you told me I was capable of this when we first started working together. There aren’t enough words to describe how thankful I am to have you as my coach. I’m so so excited for another year of training with you! Big thanks again to my sponsors Power of Your Om and PhysioPhyx for supporting me throughout the year. You guys have been the best!
KONA 2016, HERE I COME!