Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Swim

"Who said Ironman isn't a contact sport?"
-Mike Reilly, famed announcer at all Ironman events

My cousin Tammy asked me the day before the race what I was most worried about.  That was easy.  The swim start!  However, I was pleasantly surprised by the initial start of the swim.  Check out this video I found on youtube.  As you can see, we're all pretty spread out:

Also interesting to me is the percentage of green (men) to pink (women) caps.  Our booklet said of the 2900 registered participants, only 27% were female.  That made me a little disappointed that there weren't more women, but also pretty excited to be a minority.

Ok, but I've gotten off-track and out of order.

The alarm went off at 3:45am.  I had set out everything for my breakfast the night before, so I could be eating by 4am at the latest.  On the menu:  (The usual for all my long bricks) Toasted plain bagel with cream cheese and strawberry jam, scrambled eggs, orange juice and a bottle of Starbuck's Frappacino.  I had read and heard interviews of others who were so nervous they couldn't eat.  I didn't have any nerves all weekend, and race day was no different.  This was just one really long brick day.  I've done this a dozen times already.  Game on.

*Ok: Disclaimer here. I am going to give you some particular information along the way that you most likely will not want to know. However, if I were in a similar situation and exploring blogs to know what to do, I would. So here you go (close your eyes, skip to the next paragraph):  I was going to have the [physically] worst day a girl can have.  Yep, the first day of my period.  The only day of the month that I want to curl up in a little ball and have an iv with pain killers.  Time to suck it up, princess.  I knew four weeks before that it was going to hit on race day, and I was really bummed.  I know my body well, and it does not perform well on this day.  Trust me, I've tried numerous times.  Too bad, because I will not be given a re-do anytime soon.  Now I had to figure out timing for tampon changing, because who needs Toxic Shock Syndrome to kick in after doing an Ironman?

After eating I got dressed into my tri suit that I would wear the entire day, even under my wetsuit.  I put on my sweats, did my hair, was ready to go.  I checked in with Pat who was not feeling much better but was still going to show up to start.  His room was right next to ours, so I met him in the hallway and Ken drove us to the headquarters.  He dropped us off near a parking lot so we wouldn't have to walk far.  It was just after 5am.

This was the second attempt at taking a picture of Pat.  When this one turned out the same as the first, I figured it adequately depicted how he was feeling; which was not very good.

We went to my bike first, aired up the tires, put the water bottles in their cages and put the PayDay bars in my bento box.  We walked over to Pat's bike and got his ready too.  Pat and I then headed to the transition bag area.  We both had stuff we wanted to add to our bags.  I did a double look to be able to find my bad easily after the swim.  We also had to take our Special Needs bags to the designated drop off area which seemed very far away.  Then we were off to find Steve.  We met up with him by his bike. 

Time was ticking so fast, before we knew it it was 6am.  We got bodymarked.  I wanted to wait as long as possible to put on my wetsuit so the ink wouldn't come off on the inside of it like it did at Barb's (fyi:  It didn't matter.  736 is clearly on the inside sleeves of my wetsuit.  Oh well.  Bonus memento).

Steve and Pat needed use the portos one last time, but I didn't.  So I told them I'd meet them where we were.  I got my wetsuit on and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  I was getting nervous.  Finally they came up with just enough time to get their wetsuits on.  The gun went off for the pros and we knew we had to get close to the water. 
But of course we had to get a picture taken first! :)

We filed in around everyone else.  That's when I looked up to the bridge that overlooked the start and saw it hanging:

I knew my loved ones were there, and I totally girled-out and started crying.  "Enjoy the moment" is what I was told by my ironman friends.  This was a moment that I wanted to remember forever. 

Where's Kerry Sue?  My brother made a red circle around my head.  I'm in the upper right area, near the pole.

It was a "Water Start" which meant we had to jump in the water and swim to the starting line/area and tread water until the cannon went off.  Steve, Pat and I filed in along with the others around us.  Right before we got to the stairs Steve put his hands on Pat and I and prayed for us; for safety, for thanks.  Yes, thank you God.

Splash we went, and kept track of each other as we made our way under the bridge.  I finally caught the eye of my support crew and they whooped and hollered for me.  On I went to the start.  We didn't want to get in the very front, but we kept moving forward until we found ourselves just about five people deep from the start.  The last thing I remember seeing is the dread on Pat's face; the last thing I said was "You've got this" to him.  He just had to do it.

I was expecting a countdown, but nope.  All of a sudden the cannon went off and so were we.  Having ear plugs in makes everything seem a little more dream-like.  I was surprised at the ease at finding a "lane" and that I wasn't getting kicked and clobbered.  I kept telling myself, "This is the Ironman!  You're doing the Ironman!" and continued to do a self-check: Yep, I'm having fun.  This is the most insane thing I've ever thought was fun.  Bring it!

At first I was breathing on every stroke.  When I was breathing on my right, I could see the shore.  It seemed odd to me that the spectators could walk as fast as we were swimming.  Eventually the crowd dwindled and there wasn't anyone on the shore.  The sun still wasn't up, but it was lovely.  As the music from the starting line faded, the only sound to be heard was the splashing of swimmers.  It was really cool.

Every now and then I would have space around me, then all of a sudden from nowhere someone would swim into me.  One guy kept hitting me in the head every time he stroked.  Really?  Stop stroking in that direction, please?  No?  Fine, allow me to move out of your way.

Another time I just got hammered from all directions:  both sides of my head were getting elbowed, someone was pushing down on my legs as they were stroking, then a second on the other side.  So I stopped and yelled, "AAAAAH!" and let them go by.  Then I tried to relax from nearly drowning, catch my breath and find my rhythm.  Stroke, reach, rotate; stroke, reach, rotate; BREATHE; Repeat.  Oh, I'll make coach Rich proud.  Don't reach in front of my head, reach above my shoulder.  Yes.  And again.  Again.

I had looked at my watch at one point thinking it had only been about five minutes, but it had already been 17!  I looked ahead and could see the next bridge we had to go under.  Before I knew it we were at the turn-around; I could tell because I could smell/taste the gasoline in the water from the boats that were there.  One left turn around a big, red buoy; then another left turn.  I knew from the course map that it was just under halfway at the turn-around.  I checked my watch, which said 30-something minutes.  Crap.  I was slower than I thought.

The way back was going fast, and I just wanted everyone to slow down so we could make the moment last longer!  I kept checking to make sure I was really giving it all I had; I didn't want to look back on the swim and wish I had gone faster.  Every now and then I would tuck behind someone who passed me, and I would feel their vortex and draft for awhile.  Inevitably I would lose them and be on my own.  I tried to do that about five times.  Reach, rotate, reach, rotate, breathe.  Looking ahead I could see the bridges that also held transition.  I wondered if my family could see me.  Turns out they could:

The longest part of the entire swim was from the last buoy to the shore/ladders.  Reach, rotate, reach, rotate, breathe.  Push yourself in, Kerry, you don't get a second chance.  There were six "lanes" on the ladders reaching shore.  I chose to go to the far right (outside) because they were more empty.  There were volunteers on the steps.  "Step on the bottom, we'll do the rest" is what they told us all.  Sure enough, that worked.  I wandered onto solid ground; my vision was blurry from water getting into my goggles from all the whacking I endured. 

It took me awhile to feel steady on my feet, but I had to keep moving forward.  That is, after all, what all the volunteers were shouting at me to do.  Alright, alright...I'm moving.  Where are the strippers?  Oh, there they are.  Unzip, hang onto my cap and goggles in my left hand; that way they stay in the wetsuit when it comes off.  The volunteer pulled off one sleeve, then the other, and was so nice to be careful pulling it off around my Garmin.  That reminded me to push the lap button to signify the end of the swim, and the beginning of T1.  I noticed it said 1:20-something seconds.  That will do.  "Sit down" she said, as she tugged it off my legs and feet.  Swoosh!  Off it came, she helped me stand back up, and off I went, running through the clamouring crowds.  It was electrifying!

At first I walked to the transition.  I knew it was quite a ways, and what was the hurry?  We had all day, right?  Besides, I couldn't see clearly still.  I looked in vain for the Kerry Sue banner or anyone who looked familiar.  Finally, as I rounded the corner to grab my Bike Bag I saw Gia and Kaylin and heard them screaming hoorays.  Oh, yay!

I got my bag, then rushed off to find myself a patch of grass to get my bike gear on....


  1. I love reading your experiences! I was looking for you frantically during the transition. I was on the bridge right above the porto's and transition lane to the tents. Perfect spot to take pictures for you running to the transition tent. Bummer deal that I couldn't recognize my own sister....look for the one in the black wetsuit and pink cap :-). Glad you saw Tammy and Kaylin. Can't wait for the bike part.

  2. "Where are the strippers?" Best line of the blog. This epitomizes IMAZ:)