First a little bit of my triathlon history.  I started doing triathlon in 2000, starting with sprints and quickly moving up to the Ironman in 2001.  Although I don’t have a competitive sports background, I took quickly to the endurance side of things and fell in love with competition.  During that time I also dabbled in running races and bike racing.  Ironman CDA 2012 was my 6th Ironman and 2nd time completing CDA.  My best performance (prior to this year) was either Ironman Wisconsin in 2004 (16/125) or Ironman CDA 2010 where I finally broke the 4 hour marathon.  My PR is Ironman Florida in 2002 with an 11:24 (flat course!).   Two years ago I began making plans to try to qualify for Kona at CDA 2012.  I knew my goal was an aggressive one.   My thought was that my race results at Ironman demonstrated that my endurance engine was strong, but that I really needed more speed.   For 2011, I focused on getting more speed through half ironman and Olympic distance triathlons, as well as bike racing (thanks for introducing me to cyclocross Sandy.  It’s a blast!).   I hired a coach in June 2011 and started executing the plan.   The plan seemed to be working as I had my first podium at a 70.3 event (half Ironman) when I took 4th at Vineman.  Going into the race this past weekend, I felt confident that I had a decent chance at the top three in my age group.  My training had been going well and I had good results at Wildflower (I took 5th despite some GI problems on the run and my bike was as strong as the top three).   I had been struggling some with a leg injury (one of those mystery ailments that is hard to diagnose) as well as a very recent bicep strain.    All and all, I was feeling excited and ready to go for it. You could wear a thumb brace if you have discomfort in that area.

I stayed in a condo with fellow B4T9er and SB Tri Clubber Kristine Finlay and Michael Simpson.  We were all keeping an eye on the weather since it had been cool and stormy the weeks leading up to the race.   The water temperature in Lake CDA had been between about 52 and 57, which is quite chilly.  The night before the race we had a big rain storm and we woke up to the sound of rain.  Heading down to the race start, the rain stopped and conditions seemed fairly mild.  Temperatures were probably in the mid-50s.  I decided to move pretty close to the front of the over 2600 people that were about to make a mass start into Lake CDA.  I had swam 1:14 here in 2010 and felt that I was much stronger and should be swimming somewhere between 1:05 and 1:10.  My PR swim was a Wisconsin with a 1:08.  The gun went off and in we went.  It was absolute mayhem as everyone fought to find their position and any indication of open water (which there was none).  I’ve done quite a bit of open water swimming, but this was nuts!  I kept my wits about me and just continued forward progress in the stream of moving people.  I completed my first lap and saw my time was 35 or 37 minutes.  Not bad, but slower than I wanted.  I went in for lap two.  On the way to the turn around, I noted it was starting to get really choppy and the sky was getting gray.  I realized the wind must have picked up, creating a pretty strong chop on the top of the water.  It was still super crowded and just impossible to get a good rhythm going.  I changed by breathing pattern to breath all to the left, to avoid water in the mouth.   Out at the turn buoys I noticed emergency boats with flashing lights and thought; I really hope they aren’t planning to pull us out of here.  Everyone was kind of bobbing (head up) around the buoys due to the crowded conditions.  I could see everyone looking at the lights flashing on the boats and kind of looking wild and bright eyed.  We continued on.  About this time I noticed that my right arm was not functioning correctly.  My hand was just frozen in a claw (imagine what your hand would look like holding a baseball) and the joints (wrist, elbow and shoulder) were also pretty stiff and frozen.  I wasn’t able to get my arm under me in a typical pull position, so my arm was just kind of limping around out to the side of my body.  It was really distracting (of course!) and actually a bit frightening!  I was still making forward progress and just kept thinking I needed to move forward and not get into one of the emergency boats (not that I saw a kayak anywhere near me in that mayhem).  When I finally did get out of the water I saw it was about 1:21 and felt a bit crushed…This was my slowest swim ever at Ironman.  Loosing 10 to 15 minutes in the swim when you are trying to win (the fastest girls usually go between 1 hour and 1:05) was definitely a set-back… Late I found out I came out in 39th place.  Also I noticed that my hands (both) were completely not functioning (I couldn’t get my ear plugs out) and I was shaking like a leaf all over.  I thought, oh I must have hyperthermia…  Now Ironman is known for its challenges, but this was one I wasn’t even anticipating.    Ironman has a way of always surprising you…  I got through transition with the help of volunteers.  The lady in the tent had to dress me, due to my shaking and frozen hands.  I did start to wonder if I’d be able to use my bike brakes and shifting…  I saw Kristine leaving transition, which gave me some friendly human contact.  I remember her saying “I am sooooo cold”.

Out on the bike, I continued to shake and my teeth were rattling so bad I thought I may chip one.  I had put on more clothes that most (arm warmers, a short sleeve bike jersey over my tri singlet and even long fingered gloves).  I couldn’t believe how cold I felt, but kept looking at the others that only had on a tri singlet and thought they were nuts. The bike course was different than the one I did in 2010.  It had about 4500 feet of climbing over the 112 miles according to my Garmin.  My coach had stressed that I should ride the first lap controlled and within my capabilities.   I was a bit surprised at how easy I had to go (in terms of heart rate and power) to feel “in control”.    I started to finally get warmed up, but not until I had been riding for over an hour.   Before I even finished my first lap, my left leg started to hurt which progressively got worse as the bike continued.  I was planning to pick up the effort after the first lap, but given the pain and dysfunction in my leg, I just had to continue at my steady, controlled pace.  I ended up with a bike of 6 hours and 5 minutes.  My heart rate and power were quite a bit less than anticipated.  All in all, not what I was expecting, but I was so happy to get off that bike.  Later I found out that I had biked myself into 9th place.

Off onto the run course, I told myself I would run a couple of miles, but that if my leg was in severe pain I would stop.  About two miles in, I was still feeling pretty bad, my leg was stiff and not moving quite right.  But I saw a fellow SB Tri Club member in front of me (Patty Bryant) and decided I should at least say hi.  I ran up to her and slowed down to chat for a while.  Well that chat lasted for a couple of miles and by the end of it, I was feeling quite better.  Another Ironman lesson, relearned - those bad spells can pass - unless you are seriously injured just hang in there you may feel better.  From there, I set a controlled pace through the ten mile mark.  I planned to ramp up at ten miles, but the long day was starting to wear on me and I was only able to maintain my effort.  I found the pace that I could maintain and held it.  I felt like I could go faster, but when I would ramp it up, my stomach would start to go (I was three times into the porto-potties during the run).  The marathon was the easiest part for me for this race.  The warmer conditions felt so great after the hypothermia and my leg felt so much better than on the bike.  It was also great to see so many SB Tri Clubbers on the course.  At the 10K to go mark, I ramped it up again as planned and just brought it home.  I was so happy to be finishing another Ironman; especially giving the amount of adversity and struggle this one was for me.  Definitely one of the toughest races I ever finished, the only harder one was Arizona when I had an injured calf and Achilles tendon.  Finishing the race I spotted my SB Tri Club friends Craig and Diane Adams and knew I would see more friends at the finish.  And at the finish Evan and Erin, my friends from Sandpoint greeted me.   The crowds were phenomenal.  I ended up with a time of 11:41 and 6th out of 110 that finished in my age group.  According to the race results, 33 dropped out (24 on the swim alone…).   I finished the race with a huge smile and tears.  The smile was for the tremendous emotional day, for all the others that were suffering with me and for knowing that I was once again an Ironman.  The tears just were just part of the emotion, but also knowing that it was not my day to achieve my Kona dream!   Part of me wants to turn right around against all reason, and try again.  But there is no “reset” button for Ironman or any race for that matter and the cost and logistics of doing Ironman make it difficult to take care of what I feel is unfinished business.  For now, it’s time for reflection, to regroup, to try to rehab my leg and focus on family and work.  My Kona dream is still alive, but may need to take a back burner for a while (hope I can turn down that burner).

I want to thank so many people that supported me in preparing and completing this race.   Participation in Ironman impacts so many people: My husband, Sandy Sweetland and our kids for supporting the many long training weekends, early morning masters swim sessions and dealing with a somewhat unusual diet when I decided to go gluten free…And for believing in me all these years.  My parents, for their support and help with the kids.  All my training buddies, Santa Barbara Triathlon Club, B4T9 women’s cycling team, Santa Ynez Cycling Club (my frequent Saturday group ride), Santa Ynez YMCA master’s swim group, all the IronStalkers (yes we can feel you checking our results), and my Coach Cam Widoff for his training and weekly pep sessions.  Michael Kraus for numerous chiropractic treatment and Ironman bonding.  Joachim Creten at Terra Massage.  And of course my best friends and sponsors Debbie and Seton Claggett of TriSports for all the great training gear and nutrition, training and gear advice, and for just listening and of course for getting me stuff at the VERY last minute.

Nutrition and miscellaneous notes: Nutrition on the bike included 1200 calories of Infinit bike mix, 400 calories of apple cinnamon hammer gel, and 1 oatmeal power bar (270 calories?). Four bottles infinit, 2 bottles water. My Garmin says I burned 3000 calories. Two potty breaks (both on the side of the road). My nutrition on the run included about 700 calories of gel, 1 banana and alternating water and some type of electrolyte drink at every aid station.  I also put ice in my bra top and water on my head.  Cola starting at mile 23.  Three potty stops on run. Daylight at the finish. Awesome.


Nicole Sweetland