Sunday, December 1, 2019

Ironman Arizona 2019 Race Recap

Last Sunday, November 24th, I completed Ironman Arizona in Tempe, Arizona. It was my 2nd official “You are an Ironman” finish line moment, but my first time getting to complete a full Ironman as a “triathlon” since last year in Chattanooga, the race had the swim portion cancelled due to flooding in the river.

The race was an amazing day and I am so happy with how I did. It was more of a victory than I had thought it would be and am really proud of myself for how I finished.


But first, how did I get here?

My journey to this start line was different for me than other big “goal” races. This year, life came first for me, and I wasn't willing to make my schedule completely around training as I have in the past. I had signed up in November 2018 when I was unsure what races I wanted to do on my 2020 calendar, thinking I could transfer my entry if needed.

Flash forward to July 2019 when I decided that a full Ironman wasn’t in my priority list for the year. However, when I tried to transfer, I realized I’d misread the fine print and wasn’t able to transfer as I thought I could. So, after talking to my coach and some encouragement from the “Cacti Crew” of athletes already registered for Arizona, I decided to go for it. My coach was okay with my approach to training and the availability I told him I would have. He said he could make me ready for the race and with that, official training was underway in late July!

---- Race Weekend ----

I flew out to Arizona on Thursday, November 21st with a bunch of the ITL Coaching & Performance crew. We had 10 people doing the race and a number of others coming to do their own adventure at the Grand Canyon and to spectate. When we arrived in Tempe, my friend Karen and I went right to the Ironman store to register, buy Ironman goodies, and then ate some delicious Mexican lunch, and checked in to our AirBnB. I was staying with 3 other girl friends doing the race plus my boyfriend, who was acting as our de facto Sherpa for the weekend. Thursday and Friday were about getting together all our last minute things for the race. Saturday we did a practice swim in the lake, checked in our bikes to the race, and dropped off our gear bags.




As race day approached, I started to get a bit nervous about the lower amount of training I had done for this race compared to last year's training for Ironman Chattanooga. In 2018, I did TEN training rides of 100 miles or more, whereas in 2019, I did ONE. It made me nervous, and I had a few moments of pure panic in the 2 weeks before race day, but my coach constantly reminded me that I had been working hard and that I was going to be fine.

One thing I felt really good and happy about was that I did not at all feel burnt out. I was excited for race day and I was also excited to keep training for other things afterwards! Usually as a target race approaches, I am ready for it to be over so I can take a break. However, for this, I thought of race day as another long training day and was excited to recover from that and then continue with running, boot camp, etc.

I also went into Arizona feeling incredibly grateful. Last year’s race had been a huge disappointment and shock to me when the swim was cancelled. I had a lot of emotions around whether or not I was earning the “Ironman” title and felt like I had something to redeem. Weather was looking great for Arizona's race day and there was a threat in any portion of the race getting cancelled, so I was excited to get the full experience and truly call myself an “Ironman” without feeling the need for the tiny fine print around it that I hadn't swam.

Ironman Arizona is known for a cold swim and windy bike, but being an all around "friendlier" Ironman course. The talk of how cold the water would be made me a bit nervous, but I wouldn't even allow any thoughts or concerns about that enter my head. Any time it was brought up, I just thought, "I don't care as long as I GET to swim!" I turned my mantra for the end of training into “I get to swim. I get to swim. I get to swim.” I told myself that over and over in my final swim workouts and anytime I felt nervous about the water temperature or the river being gross or how I would feel after swimming 2.4 miles. I just kept reminding myself how it felt last year to have that element taken away, feeling grateful for this race, and that “I get to swim. I get to swim!”

The Saturday night before the race, I spent a little bit of time writing out my thoughts, mantras, things to remember and race strategy. It was very different prep than I have had before other races. My goals were simple – to finish – and to feel strong/good during and after. Because I wasn’t feeling burnt out and was excited to keep with training after the race, I wasn’t looking to necessarily burn every match I had. I didn’t want to push myself to the point of hurting/damaging myself. If I needed to take breaks on the bike to stretch a bit, or slow down/walk the run, that was something I was prepared to do. I cared about finishing, but not necessarily about the small margins of difference between if it were 14 hours or 15 hours.

My race thoughts, exactly as I had written them down were below:


I went to bed early and although had some struggles falling asleep, got in a good few hours of sleep the night before the race. We left the house at 5:00 a.m. to drive the 15 minutes over to transition. There was huge amounts of traffic gridlocked as we got close to transition, so the 4 racers hopped out of the car with our bags while Jonathan waited to park the car.

Transition area was open from 5-6:30 a.m. and that is your opportunity to revisit your bike, add your water bottles and nutrition, drop off your special needs bags, and recheck your gear bags. “Special needs” is essentially an aid station about half-way through each the bike and the run, where you pack your own aid/items that volunteers will have available for you.

I wanted to check the pressure in my tires in the morning but since I flew to the race, I didn't bring my own bike tire pump. A girl next to me was pumping her tires, so I asked to borrow hers, then quickly realized I had no idea how to use it. I had let a bunch of air out in the process, so now really needed a pump, borrowed a second one that I didn't know how to use, but this time, instead of just letting air out of the tires - I bent the stem in half on the bike tube.

I freaked out a bit and called one of the ITL coaches, Adam, who calmly told me to bring my bike over to the mechanic in transition. They changed the tube for me and pumped up my tires to the air pressure that I wanted while I nervously waited and watched, feeling like a moron. The whole thing rattled me. After that was over, I obsessed over my bags a bit more, added in some warmer clothing to my gear bags, then dropped off special needs before returning to the area where my friends, teammates and coaches were huddled up. Jonathan was just arriving at this point and when I saw him, I broke down and started sobbing as a last minute release of the nerves before pulling myself together to get ready to get in the water.

I put on my wet suit and booties, grabbed my cap and goggles, gave last minute hugs and head over to get into line to start the swim. The last thing I said to Jonathan and my coach, Jerome, before I went to start was, “Alright guys, I’m going to take my time out there!”



THE SWIM 
1:18:34 official time
19th in AG
166th Female
730th Overall
2:02 min/100m

The race has a self seeded start and I got into line between the 1:10 and 1:20 times. At the encouragement of Adam, I stayed with one of the other ITL athletes, Jim, and that's where he wanted to be. I had no real frame of reference beyond that I had swam a 1:20 in the pool the year before.

The water temperature was about 62 or 63 degrees on race morning and looked calm and smooth. That was a welcome change from the day before when the swim start had been really choppy. They lined us up 5 at a time to enter the water and start swimming.


Once I started, my triathlon instinct kicked in. My body seemed to fall in line that I've done this plenty of times before and I know how to do this. I had been reminding myself in the days before to not overthink things and that I know how to do a triathlon, this one was just a little bit longer. I think one of the things that had caused me to be more anxious at Ironman Chattanooga the year before was because of the last minute switch to just a “Bike-Run.” It had a different format and different start line feel that I wasn’t used to. With Arizona, I felt like I knew what to do.

And that, was just swim.

We swam out to the left, took a right turn around a buoy and swam straight down the lake. There was a bridge in the far distance I knew I would swim under before turning around, so I just focused on swimming from one buoy to the next, then from that buoy to the next, keeping my focus short and my stroke long.


After going under the bridge, we turned left, then left again, and started swimming all the way back, past where we started, under 4 more bridges, before exiting. I just kept focused on one buoy then the other, knowing that I just needed to keep my head down and focus until those bridges were past me. The race started as the sun was rising and it was beautiful to see every time I took a breathe.


A few times I paused to do a stroke of breast stroke and once I de-fogged my goggles but otherwise stayed pretty head down. I tried to draft, but mostly swam off to the side a bit keeping to myself. It was a very aggressive swim and any time I tried to get into the main pack I was getting kicked, punched, and pushed around much more than I have in any other triathlon I have done. Many others commented the same when we debriefed after the race. The water in Arizona was extremely murky and you could barely see your own hand 2 inches in front of your race, so one thought was that it was so aggressive truly because people just couldn't see the other swimmers around.

Whatever the reason, I made the choice that I would rather lose some draft advantage rather than start the day by getting beat up. According to my Garmin, I swam 700 extra yards, but I don't even really believe the Garmin distance is accurate so who knows.

The water felt calm for the first half but started to feel choppy about half way through. I imagined it as a force pushing me forward vs. being a challenge. In the second half I also needed to pee and figured it would be best to do it before I got out of the water. I am not someone who can go to the bathroom while my body is in motion, so I almost came to a dead stop floating face down to get my body to relax and go. Once I was, I started pulling, but laughed a little to myself, half expecting a kayak to come and check on me because my transition from swimming to doing a dead man’s float was so drastic.

The swim route was a bit confusing to me because it was different from what was published in the athlete guide. I heard from others who have done this race multiple times that the exit setup was changed quite a bit. We exited the water in a different location than usual which was speculated to be because where the normal exit was, there was a lot of dead fish that were collecting on shore. With the change, we had a .4 mile run from the water exit to transition that I started to prepare myself for as I neared the shore.

The last stretch seemed to take forever, but before long I was out of the water and onto the next part of the day!

TRANSITION 1 
11:38 minutes

As I exited the water, I chose to have the wet suit strippers help me take my wet suit off which was a huge help. I wore a long sleeved wet suit for the first time in a race, borrowed from a friend since I only have a sleeveless (thank you Karen, sorry about the pee!) The suit made me feel like a damn super hero and I absolutely loved it. The strippers were much needed though, especially in getting the sleeves off and over my watch, something I’ve never had to worry about before.

I wore neoprene booties for the swim (borrowed again, thank you Kat!) and left them on for the run into transition tent to protect my feet during the .5 mile run.

When I got out of the water, saw 1:18 on my watch and was really happy with that. I didn't have a real frame of reference but I have only been swimming 1x a week, if that, and knew I didn't have a lot of my normal swim speed and endurance going into this race. Although it isn't anything amazing, I felt good about that time.

As I started running to the tent to get ready for the bike, my HR felt super low. I didn’t feel winded or tired at all from the swim, but happy and ready to go. The entire .4 miles was a tight tunnel of people and I loved the energy and my excitement of finishing my first Ironman swim!! I almost cried after I passed Jerome and Jonathan because it just felt so special.


As I was running I felt super comfortable, like I was flying, and I thought to myself, “I wish I could swap the order of the bike and get the run over with now! I feel like I’m floating!”

I had a feeling wash over me that said, "Today is going to be a good day."


As I grabbed my gear bag and went into the tent, I didn’t have a ton to do since I was planning to wear my one-piece triathlon kit all day. I grabbed a chair and a volunteer came to help me. I had rolled my socks up so they’d be easy to put on, but as the volunteer dumped all my gear out of the bag, she then immediately unrolled them (which annoyed me a little.) I gave her some instruction at that point and asked her to help take the sleeves off my jacket as I had decided I just wanted to wear the vest. While she did that, I put on my socks and shoes, stuffed some nutrition in my pocket, put on Chamois crème, ate a mini Snickers bar, and put on a buff and some throw away gloves. The volunteer helped me get my vest on and zipped up and I was off!

BIKE (17.53 mph)
6:23:43
19th in AG
208th Female
1180th Overall

We had driven the bike course two days before so I knew what to expect with the course, which was great. But it is always different seeing it from the perspective of being on a bike vs. in a car. The course consisted of 3 loops of an out-and-back route on mostly highway roads. Each section of the out-and-back was about 18 miles. There were a few zig-zag roads before making your way to the Beeline highway, with beautiful desert scenes on both sides.

The first section taking us out of town was lined with crowds, I saw Jonathan again who must have run over after seeing me get out of the water, and all the ITL spectators screaming their heads off, which was awesome. Once I got out of the in-town section, which was a bit bumpy and full of construction (which proved to be very unfortunate for the sake of pictures), I started to tell myself to just get into the aero position, put my head down and ride.



I had heard from people who had done this race in the past that the outbound portion of the route was net uphill, despite seeming to be flat, but that the inbound section, being net downhill, was fun because you can ride fast. I had also heard about it being windy on the Beeline Highway, but wasn’t sure what direction the wind would be in on race day.

Despite hearing the rumors and reports of what to expect, that outbound route was worse than I had anticipated! I felt like I was CRAWLING moving forward in the last 8 miles of the first outbound loop. The choppiness I’d felt in the water was pretty significant wind that was hitting us head on as we tried to push through the false flat uphill. I looked at my watch once and saw 10 mph and slightly panicked that I might not even make the cutoffs if I kept this up. All of my training had been plagued by really slow bike rides and I had in my mind that I was going to be on my bike an excruciatingly long time... but 10 mph??

Before, that though, at the 2nd aid station on the course (there were 2 aid stations going out, 2 coming back, so this was maybe 10 miles in?) I stopped to use the bathroom. It was early to stop, but part of my approach with this race was what I'd last said to Jerome and Jonathan, and that was to take my time. Use the bathroom if I need to use the bathroom. To pause and stretch/take breathers if I needed them. Not rush through special needs, etc. I was willing to spend those 2 extra minutes on the course to have an overall more comfortable and happy day.

The challenging outbound portion was challenging for everyone, and luckily, others seemed to be in the same position I was. I started to see some of my teammates making their way BACK and they looked to be much happier on the bike.

After a last little climb, I saw and made the U-turn, and started SCREAMING back into town. And I cannot stress this part enough... It was AWESOME and so much fun!

I am a pretty strong flat/downhill rider. I really enjoy it. While on training rides, I often end up getting dropped from my teammates because I am so much weaker on the climbs than them and then I’m so far back I can’t catch up / lose the motivation to catch up. This course was suited really well for me because the climb out was truly not that significant but then on the way back in, you can just fly.


I started to look for my teammates as well, wanting to see where everyone was stacked up after the swim. I saw Jim, who I’d started the swim with, and Todd, another in our group, shortly after the U-turned when they passed me. I smiled and screamed as I saw Lindsay, Laura and Karen out on the course. I also saw another Atlanta athlete who had joined us for a late season ride, Meg, and passed her on my way out. I’d end up seeing Meg quite a bit on the course and afterwards.

I kept my water bottle filled and ate when I felt I needed to, as I did in training. Last year part of my plan was “eat early and often” and force fed myself a bit, and ended up feeling sick. This year I wanted to pay attention to what my body was telling me vs. a calculated number of calories to take in. I tried the orange Gatorade Endurance at one of the aid stations and it just didn’t interest me at all, so I knew the only calories I would drink were the ones I had with me, which was Tailwind and Lemon Lime Gatorade.

It felt quick getting back into town and heading out on my second loop. The ITL crowd was just as enthusiastic when I passed them and I loved them for fueling me up in a different way for the next loop.

At this point in the day, it was starting to get warm. I had thought about taking off my vest and arm sleeves even earlier, but did not want to give up the momentum I had on the inbound section so stopped at the first aid station going outbound for a wardrobe change. I took off my arm sleeves, vest, and buff and shoved them into my back pockets and the gloves I tossed on the ground. I started to feel like a mule with so much crap stuffed into my kit.

As I started riding again, not long after leaving the aid station, I hit a bump in the rode and my back bottle fell out. I looked back and it was in the middle of the road. It took me a couple seconds to decide what to do and I did what instinct told me, which was to turn around for it. I rode to the side, turned back and rode to where my bottle was, waiting until there was a break in riders, and trotted out to grab it and then until it was clear to push off and keep moving again. As I was on the side, Meg passed me and shouted if I was okay, to which I said yes. Once I was moving I caught her pretty quick and explained about my bottle and how I hadn’t known what to do so opted to stop.

You can get a penalty or disqualified if you drop bottles (accidentally or not) outside of the designated areas and I didn't want to risk that. It is one of those rules that I don’t think many people follow, but I hate the idea of getting in trouble. Plus, my dropped bottle was a risk to other athletes as it sat in the middle of the road, and worse than getting in trouble, I didn't want to impact someone else's day in a negative way, so I stopped.

The second loop I knew exactly what to expect so it felt easier to manage through. I told myself once I got to the turn-around, the race would be half way over and 2/3 remaining sections would be easy. Breaking it down like that made it feel so simple. I never thought about mileage during the first few loops of the course, I just thought of completing each of the 6 sections of the course.

I didn’t make the mistake again of looking at my watch again on the outbound section. I knew I wasn’t going fast, so I instead focused on riding smart. I kept my head down a lot, made sure I was in the right gear (although I never left the big ring all day), sat upright when I felt I needed to, and just pedaled on. I focused on the yellow/white lines on the road, staying focused and trying to zone out and find a meditative state that I could just let the time pass.

Part of the course on the Beeline Highway goes right by a landfill. Until you are on the bike riding slowly past it, do you realize that it smells terrible. I planned a snack break before passing the landfill and as I was digging around for a snack, all of a sudden I heard my name being called and saw our friend Sondra cheering! It was such a fun boost to see someone out at this point on the course and was totally unexpected. I was able to give her a wave before digging back into my snack bag.


On the way out I started talking to as many people as possible. Everyone who passed me I told them that they were doing a great job, and I said something encouraging to everyone I passed.

In the days before Ironman Arizona I read Christopher McDouggall’s book “Running with Sherman” (which is a really cool story that I would highly recommend!) and in one of the tangents he talked about ultra runner, Krissy Moehl, who was incredibly dominant but only when she followed her 3 rules of racing.

1. Smile from gun to tape
2. Make someone else smile
3. Race like a demon

The first two really stuck with me and were on my mind a lot throughout my 13 hours on the course. Whenever I felt down or in a darker spot I thought of 1 and 2. Smile and make others smile. I made it a point to cheer on everyone, even the people that were passing me, which helped me pass the time and have some good smiles myself while complimenting and commiserating with others.

I was a little caught off guard when I was passed right before the turn-around by someone seemingly moving with barely any effort and when I looked up I saw the “P1” on her calf. It was Heather Jackson, one of my favorite pro athletes who was competing that day. She was gone faster than I had the chance to say anything to her, but since we were right at the U-turn as she came back towards me I shouted to her “Keep it up Heather!” and thought I saw a smile on her face, which made me pretty happy. Mission accomplished!

Before long I was at special needs, which was a little bit after mile 60. I really appreciated thinking about the race in the 6 little sections because I can’t say enough how much that helped me. Had I thought “Oh my gosh I am only at mile 60 and have 52 left!” that probably would have freaked me out. However, I knew I only had 3 sections left and 2 of them were going to be fast. That felt like nothing.

As I got to special needs, I was still fully sticking to my plan of "taking my time" so when the young volunteer starting quickly shouting to me “WHAT DO YOU NEED?” I told her that I needed a little time and asked her to just hold my bag for me. She said of course, and we laughed for a bit as I dug through my bag and made decisions of what snacks I wanted. I refilled my nutrition bags, taking more Clif bars and Oatmeal Crème Pies. I ate some Pringles and some peanut butter M&Ms, threw some Stinger Waffles into my back pocket, put on chap stick, and took the mini Chamois crème packets I’d gotten and shoved them in my back pocket.

My nutrition plan for this race was like a kid let loose in a gas station convenience food. It was basically all junk food! Part of my goal with training was to try and use up the food in my pantry and after Ironman Chattanooga last year, I went home with about 4 boxes of Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies, so that became this years bike nutrition! Along with leftover Halloween candy and other stuff we had in the cabinets.

In all seriousness, I started the day with 2 or 3 Oatmeal Creme Pies, 1 Clif Bar broken into tiny pieces, and Salt Stick chews in my bag with 1 bottle of Tailwind and 1 bottle of Gatorade and water in my aero bottle. I added 2 more Oatmeal Creme Pies at special needs and 1 other Clif Bar and a Stinger Waffle. I ate some M&Ms and Chips and that was about my nutrition plan for the day. The year before I focused so much on eating real foods and tested out all sorts of different things and ended up sick and unable to eat on the bike during the race. Although it is somewhat embarrassing to admit, this junk food approach seemed to work pretty well for me (my stomach has many more years of training eating junk food than it does doing Ironmans, that's for sure.)

I needed to use the restroom again but they didn’t have one at special needs, and knew it would be pointless to put more chammy crème on until after I used the bathroom so just brought it with me. I had put an extra CO2 cartridge and tube in my special needs bag and hated the idea of the tube just getting tossed (you don’t get your special needs bags back at the end of the race, so you just have to be prepared that whatever you put in there you won’t get back) but I already had a buff, vest, etc. in my back pockets and didn’t want to feel even more like a mule!

Before I left, I gave my volunteer bracelet to the girl at special needs and rolled out feeling refueled and ready for the next part of the ride.

I made it back into town, saw Adam and Doug at the turnaround, but missed seeing Jonathan or Jerome and felt slightly annoyed at that. I later learned that they were all out to lunch at that point, which I will forever tease Jonathan for. He also missed seeing me at one point on the run because he was in the bathroom, but I’ll get to that later. Ultimately it made me so happy to know that Jonathan and Jerome (my coach) spent so much time together during the race and love that my boyfriend and my coach, arguably my 2 biggest supporters, were running around all day cheering for me and having fun themselves. I am thankful that Adam and Doug were there, cheering me on! With such a long race like this, it is hard to put into words what those few moments of encouragement, excitement, and energy do to keep you going. You only see that person for a few seconds but that boost of adrenaline stays with you for a long time and I am so appreciative of everyone who came all the way to Arizona to help keep me and the other athletes energized throughout the day. It is truly amazing that we had such a large group of coaches and athletes there to support.


Finally, I was out on my 3rd loop. It felt like it had gone by quick! I stopped at the first aid station to use the bathroom again and reapply chammy crème. I saw my teammate Zach at the bike tech tent and checked on him but he said he was okay and ended up rolling out at the same time as me after I used the bathroom. We chatted for a minute and saw Lindsay coming in the other way on the course, and then Zach zipped off.

I made the plan to just stay focused for the last loop out, pause at the turnaround, eat something, and then readjust for the last 18 mile push in. I hadn’t eaten at all since special needs but didn’t feel like I needed to and didn’t want to force it. I figured if I hadn’t eaten by the turnaround, I’d pause to take in some calories and keep going. That plan worked out well and the last loop went by quickly.

The last section I did count down the miles, ticking away at 95, 100, 105, and then the last 7 miles in. I thought it would be fun to see how much I could push my speed on the 5 mile increments on the fast return. Looking at my watch data later I did those sections in 26.3 mph (miles 95-100) and 22.5 mph (miles 100-105). Those were my 2nd and 3rd fastest 5 mile stretches on the course! Only beat by miles 20-25 on my first loop which clocked 26.5 mph. Those slower sections did suck, but man, I had SO much fun pushing it and going fast on that bike course. All in all, I really loved the bike course at this race. I felt strong and comfortable the whole bike course which was so different from how I had been feeling in training rides. I'd worn a triathlon kit on this race instead of cycling shorts and was nervous my "seat" would be hurting at the end since I usually do long rides in cycling shorts because of the extra padding - however, I felt great and happy the whole ride!

One last thing to note was that throughout the course, I saw so many people with flat tires. Apparently it is common on this course because of all the cacti and the wind, the quills will blow off and into the road. I was so thankful that I, and my teammates, made it through without any issues with tires (for the most part!!) but I felt I saw far more people with flats than at any other race I have done.

Finishing up, coming into town, you had a fun “shoot” you rode through to get to the dismount which I really enjoyed. I passed off my bike to the catcher and made my way into T2.

TRANSITION 2
7:02

Coming into T2 and hopping off my bike, I just said a silent wish to myself, “I hope my legs feel good when I get off the bike!” I was thinking back to last year in Chattanooga where I felt terrible getting off the bike and seriously questioned if I could finish in first 3 miles of the run.

When I first got off the bike in Arizona, my ability to run was hindered a bit by my bike shoes and so I grabbed my bag and made my way into the tent to change into sneakers, anxious to test out my legs.

I went to the bathroom in T2, this time pulling down my onesie completely (when I had gone to the bathroom on the bike, I just sort of pulled the leg to the side.) Thankfully, it was easy to put back on and unlike the experience I had in Augusta where it was so hot and sticky that it took me an extra couple minutes just to pull it up. The weather in Arizona was absolutely perfect - cool, dry, and a high of 70 - so I wasn't as sweaty wet and sticky and easy to get the onesie back up.

I changed my socks, put on a visor, my bib, threw my salt and chews into my pockets, grabbed some chap stick again, shoved a headband in my pocket, and went out on the run!

RUN

Shortly after coming out of transition, I saw my friends, Jonathan and Jerome cheering along the course. I’d wondered where they were as I came in off the bike and was happy to see them. In that first mile, my salt and chews kept falling out of my pockets, which was frustrating to have to stop and turn back for it. That hadn’t happened to me in Augusta when I wore the onesie and carried things in the pocket. I quickly realized it was due to how the bib was positioned that my waist belt was pushing things out. Once I got that adjusted, I was good for the rest of the race.





I was able to run well immediately and my legs felt good, which I was thankful for! However, it was warm and my HR was getting higher than I felt it should be in those first miles. I distracted myself by finding someone to talk to and spent the first 3 miles with a woman I’d seen in transition who was getting bandaged up because she’d had a spill on the bike course. The first part of the run course is 2-mile out on a path that turns around onto crushed dirt along the water. I could see all the dead fish lined up along the shore and put the thought out of my mind that this is where I had swam earlier! I walked the aid stations and a little bit more in that 3rd mile, but ran through seeing my friends and the high energy cheering sections through miles 4-5.


After the out and back, you passed transition again, more cheering sections, then head into an isolated portion of the course still on the path by the water, before making a right turn and crossing a bridge. There was a slight downhill coming off the bridge and I was started to get some cramps. It felt like a long stretch of not having an aid station, but that was probably just in my mind. 



I took some Base Salt from that tent as I passed, feeling cramps and knowing I needed salt to correct it. I had salt tabs with me, that I'd been taking, but wanted to see if having the salty taste in my mouth would have any different impact. I started to take quite a bit of salt to help with the cramps I was starting to feel.

I passed by my cheer section again, who had crossed a footpath bridge right by the transition area. Jerome told me to keep up with the salt and water at every aid station when I told him I was cramping. I was slightly concerned at the amount of salt I was taking but what I was doing seemed to be working and the cramps started to go away.

The run course on the other side of the river continued on the river path, U-turning, looping around a park, then returning to the river path to head back over the same bridge you'd originally run on.This time you kept going straight off of the bridge and down an abandoned side street with one aid station on it, before returning to the transition area to start your second loop.

It still felt warm outside, although the sun was starting to set. It was a beautiful sunset coming in but the sun was still so bright and high in the sky I was ready for it to go away. I had asked a volunteer what time it was when I left transition and they'd said 2:52. I used that as a calculation that the sun would set 2.5-3 hours into my run and figured once my watch died, if needed, I could use that knowledge of when I started the run to calculate how long I'd been out there.

I enjoyed spotting other athletes I knew on the course. I saw Meg and Meg’s family (I assumed it was her family by the fact that it was a guy in a Dynamo shirt who said “Go ITL – yeah Atlanta!”) and I passed my teammate Jim on the first loop. It was his first Ironman and he was walking a bit saying that he had knee pain he had never experienced before. Jerome has helped me with some mid-run stretches just the week before when I had knee pain so I encouraged Jim to ask Jerome for help when he saw him in a couple miles before running on. I wished him luck and continued on. He later told me that the advice had helped him so much and he was able to meet his goal time for the race, which made me so happy to hear. You never know when something you do is going to have an impact on their day!

I tried to tell myself that I just had 26 different 10-minute runs to do, with catering stops in between. I really tried to push myself to only walk the aid stations but at times I did walk when there was a slight incline or on the one true hill on the course, around the park.

As I came back in to transition to start my second loop, I really tried to take in how beautiful it was around me and the fact I was racing in a new place. Doing Chattanooga as my first Ironman was the right choice for me and helped me feel confident to race in a location I was familiar. But, this was incredibly cool to be on a course running in a new place. The sun was setting in the desert and the light was reflecting along the mountains in the distance. Meanwhile the city of Tempe started to light up against the night sky. I commented on it to a few other runners and tried to keep others smiling, as part of my race plan.

I jokingly asked people who had the best snacks in their Special Needs bag on the run (knowing I had a candy bar in mind!) but everyone else just said they felt too sick to eat. I still felt like I was going really strong and was so happy with how my day was turning out. Especially my stomach. I did remind myself that there was still a lot of race left, but my stomach was feeling good and I had no urges to use the bathroom at all. I ended up not using the bathroom once on the run course.

Every time I passed a mile marker on my first loop of the run that was for the 2nd loop mileage, I thought to myself, “Not yet – but soon that will be for me!” and I thought the same thing as I went passed the split to go one way for the finish, but another direction to start your second loop.

I got to special needs and felt a bit of indecision about what I should take. I knew I still had 2.5 hours on the course and the sun was setting quick. It gets cold fast in the desert when the sun goes down so I’d put a throw away shirt and gloves into my bag and I wasn’t sure if I would need them. I continued my day as a pack mule, shoving my candy bar, gloves, and buff into my pocket and carrying my long sleeve, still trying to make a decision about what to do.


When I passed the girls cheering I asked them and Krystle said “Some people are getting cold, why don’t you tie it around your waist?” so I did, and kept running. When I hit the half marathon split, my watch was still going (I expected it to die at some point), and I knew that my time was similar to what I’d run in Muncie and Augusta this year. In Augusta, I had felt strong and like I could keep going, so I thought to myself, “Can you do the 2nd loop faster? Can you negative split?” and used that as motivation to try and run more and walk less on the 2nd loop.

Every time I passed over a timing mat anywhere on the course, I thought of my friends and family getting alerts on their phone and thought of them cheering for me from afar. I used that mental image to keep me going.

To me, some of the hardest points are at 10 miles in and 16 miles in, when you still have so much left in an incredibly long day, it feels like you are going to be out there forever. I start pulling deep for inspiration. I thought of my grandmother, my family. I thought of my friend Meaghan and our military service members. I wore a bracelet with me during the race for Home Base foundation, the group I am raising money for the Boston Marathon for. I thought of this run as a training run getting ready for Boston and thought about the greater cause that I am supporting with that charity.

When I saw my friends after the 2-mile out and back after special needs I asked Jonathan to walk with me a second. At this point the sky was getting really dark so I also took off my visor and replaced it with a headband that covered my ears. I also cared about my pictures (#priorities) and wanted to ask Jonathan if I looked okay but when I saw him, that thought wasn’t anywhere in my mind. I told him how much I was hurting and he told me I was doing great and to keep going.

At mile 16, I was tired and things were hurting, and I still had 10 miles left. I started to focus on one mile at a time, “Just get to mile 17, then you’ll only have single digits left to run.”

I kept moving crossed over the bridge to go to the other side of the river a 2nd time, and this time paused to walk it. Despite trying to negative split, I wanted to gather myself for the last section and prepare myself mentally as well as have a physical break. I knew I still had more running in me, but the lights were coming down and I started to get sentimental.

I thought about how this race was so much for ME. Yes, I did it with a group and had 9 other athletes on the course, but I didn’t train with them as a group as much as I had the year before. I did so much training alone, I had found myself caught between moving to Carrollton in the spring and away from my regular training buddies, which was hard for me. I had needed to personally motivate myself through so much of training and now this race day. I took a moment just to recognize that and allow myself to feel proud of myself for getting to this point.

This year, additionally, I have not been happy with my weight for the whole year. I have spent so much time feeling unhappy with myself and with my body. All year I have been frustrated that I wasn’t skinny enough. Wasn’t fast enough. Wasn’t where I wanted to be. Yet here I was with 6 miles left in an Ironman, doing great, and still feeling healthy and with gas in the tank, all things considered. I was so happy at this point.

Also, while I was having this little self-reflective moment, I ate a candy bar! I had grabbed a Reese’s Outrageous bar at the Dollar Store that I’d thrown into my special needs last minute. I ate it as I walked the bridge, and in true Katelyn sweets fashion, told myself, “I’ll only eat half and then save it for later…” but ended up eating the whole thing and it was delicious and a great sugar boost.

As I prepared for the last stretch, I also did some math in my head about where my finish time would be. I honestly did not think at ALL about a finish time goal for ANY of the three disciplines for the race ahead of time. I was scared I was going to be out there all day on the bike and run so my goal was really to just finish. My watch had died at this point but I started thinking, “If I did a 1.5 hour swim, 6.5 hour bike, 5 hour run… I could be right at 13 hours…” I knew I was a little under those 2 times on the swim and bike but had no idea what my transition times were. I started my last 6 miles, hoping to run as much as I possibly could, even on the hills.

Coming down the river path on the other side of the course, I passed through my cheer section again who had also crossed over to see me. Jerome ran next to me a second and he told me that I was doing amazing and I told him I was still feeling great. I felt confident that I was not going to need the long sleeve so I tossed that and my visor onto the ground near the aid station, hoping they’d pick it up (they did.)

Continuing my approach from the bike, I tried to talk to as many people as possible, even if it was just a few encouraging words, chatting more when it was someone going about my pace. When I was alone, I worked to focus and zone out and pass the time.

At this point I wasn’t feeling cramps any more but a bit hungry and I had eaten all the Stinger fruit chews I had brought with me. I started eating pretzels at every aid station, swashing them with water so I could chew and swallow faster. I took some broth at a few aid stations as well. Gatorade I am learning doesn’t sit well with me during long races (I had tried some during the bike and at one aid station and both times wanted nothing to do with it.)

It was dark, and I had shoved a mini dollar store head lamp from my special needs bag into my pocket. However, I didn't want to pull it out knowing I was in the last stretch. I didn't feel like I needed it.

I passed mile 23 and my cheer squad again. Jonathan was nowhere to be seen (… maybe he is getting my backpack from the car, I thought?...) but Jerome was there and told me I had 2 miles to go! In my head I knew he was wrong but didn’t say anything about it.

Later I learned that Jonathan had been waiting there with Jerome for me, but was in the porta-potty for the literal 10 seconds I came through. I had run right by while he was in there peeing, having no idea. Apparently, Jonathan and Jerome legitimately thought that the point where they were cheering on the course was mile 24, not mile 23. Jonathan had thought he had another 10 minutes before I came through so used it as a bathroom break. The two of them had such funny stories and such a good time together throughout the day, running around supporting and cheering me on, that after the race any annoyance I had about Jonathan missing me at these points was wiped away. These two were the best cheer squad I could have asked for and I loved hearing their stories from the day.


Jerome gave me a hug and told me I was an Ironman and that he’d see me at the finish. For the last three miles my mantra became “Be proud of your legs. Your legs are strong. Be proud of your legs. Your legs are strong.”

My legs still were moving so well and I was so proud of them, sending positive thoughts as a way for making up for all the negative self talk I usually have about my body. I was so proud of my legs and my body for holding me up and powering me through the day. I honestly had no idea I had such a strong day in me. I spent this time truly appreciating and recognizing the strength and power I had within me.

I had seen Lindsay on the bridge right after I ate my candy bar. I had purposely eaten it away from spectator eyesight but proudly shouted to her, “I just ate a candy bar!” when we passed (side note – I also laughed to myself thinking about me accidentally getting chocolate all over my face and kit and what it would be like to round the corner to see my cheer squad that way if it had happened.) I saw Zach ahead of me when I was running along the river. And at my mile 25ish I saw my friend Dane. I could tell he was hurting and struggling to stay positive so I did my best to encourage him before continuing on. I sent positive vibes and thoughts to all of my friends who I knew were still out on the course.

I ran the last 2 miles without stopping. I skipped the last aid station just wanting to get to the finish, which somehow felt longer away than the first loop. My watch was dead so I don’t know my mile splits but according to the app I went 10:00 min/miles the last two miles. I still felt so good.


I kept trying to smile and make others smile, knowing around me were a lot of people who still had their 2nd lap left (Dane included.) There were tons of people all throughout the course on motorized scooters and skateboards and in my last mile someone zipped by shouting “You’re almost there!” to which I yelled back laughingly “Easy for you to say!” He seemed more annoyed than anything and yelled back, “OH I’ve done plenty of these!”

I hoped that maybe I made some of the runners smile by saying what they were thinking. The people scooting by my slow run had been annoying me all day to the point that I was tempted to push them off, haha.

As I rounded the corner to the finish I looked behind me a number of times to give myself a solo finish. Everyone I’d been running around turned for their 2nd loop and I was alone as I ran into the finishers shoot.

I saw Jerome and Jonathan, the two amigos together all day, and thought about how lucky I was and how much I loved and appreciated them both (in different ways, obviously.) I saw the ITL ladies cheering and yelling with the same enthusiasm they’d had all day. I gave high fives (at least I think I did) and soaked in every moment, running into the finish triumphant, emotional, and so happy.



The finish line catacher asked me how I was doing and if I needed anything but honestly I felt great. I told him I was good. I felt so happy, my HR didn’t feel high. My legs were still moving great. I returned my chip, got a picture, and spotted Doug taking pictures.


Doug is my teammate Jodi’s husband and a professional photographer. He always documents the most amazing Ironman moments and it made me so happy to see he’d been at the finish! I ran over to him for my official Doug finisher photo.


Then I walked over to see Jonathan and Jerome where they gave me hugs and we chatted for a bit. Jerome asked me if I knew my times and I said I did not since my watch died. He told me my finish was 12:51 and I had cut 8 minutes from my run from the year before.


I was so, so happy. I felt calm and collected and on top of the world. My goal had been to finish feeling good and I felt so good.

Even a week later, I still struggle to shortly summarize this race and what the feeling was like to finish my first FULL full Ironman. I was grateful. I was surprised at myself. Proud. Happy. Confident. Thankful to my coach for all the time he has told me "You can" and all the times he has talked me off of a ledge. Appreciative of my boyfriend who supports me (and my friends), cares for me, and is patient and kind with me. Inspired by the ITL ladies who did one of the hardest things in their lives, but then brought energy full force to the course all day long. The ITL crew is truly like no other and I was so proud and thankful to have our coaches, teammates, and other athletes all over the course throughout the day. I felt lucky. Indebted. To Jerome and his wife who came all the way out to Arizona to cheer for me and support me. It is something that is so above and beyond but meant the world to me. Having a dedicated coach and a loving boyfriend chase me around all day, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world (even though they missed me on that 2nd loop of the bike ;) ...)

I surprised myself, and I think some of my teammates too. It was a lesson for me to trust more, be more appreciative of my body, and that when you keep the focus on having fun - everything else that happens is just icing on the cake. November 24th was a good day!






More to come :) 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

October challenge

At the end of September, a few people who I have met through a boot camp class I started in the summer in Carrollton, posted into the training GroupMe a “challenge” for the month of October.

No chips. No candy. No chocolate (!!). No cookies, cakes, pastries. No white potatoes. No fried food. No white bread. No soda.

At first I breezed right past those messages thinking that something like that would be impossible for me. I love my chocolate. And my Diet Soda. And I'm training for an Ironman, I DESERVE all this stuff, right?! I knew that the month of October included a lot of travel as well - a week at a hotel for a work conference, a trip to Aruba for my friend's birthday, the birthday party itself, and of course, Halloween. I will be honest, I was terrified to try and commit to this.

But at the same time, I knew that it was something I needed - SPECIFICALLY for all those reasons why I felt like I shouldn't do it. I had been tracking what I was eating for a few months and trying to commit to eating better, but my progress was very slow. Most likely because I kept stopping and restarting every time there was a special occasion or travel. So I'd eat healthy for a couple weeks - then go to New Hampshire to see my family. Come back, eat healthy again - then go on vacation to Finland. Eat healthy again - then go to Toronto... you get the picture, right?

I was making some progress in the form of about a pound a month / 3 pounds overall. starting to make some very slow progress, in the form of losing about 1 lb a month. Which, I will take any progress over no progress, but with my Ironman in November, I knew that I was running out of time to keep delaying and stopping the good habits every time a special occasion came up.

Aside from letting travel and events interrupt any consistent diet, I also had some seemingly small tendencies that started as “once in a while treats” had suddenly turned into a daily habit. Such as adding some mini chocolate chips to my protein smoothie. And having a 2nd piece of chocolate to my daily allotted dark chocolate break. And Diet Sodas had become a daily thing – often with me sometimes driving out of the house to a gas station JUST to buy a soda, and purchasing cans to keep in the house, which is something I never did before (Hellloooo suburban living and being able to unload groceries right from the garage!!)

So, the day after Half Ironman Augusta, on Monday, September 30th I kicked off my "October Challenge" and what started off incredibly challenging, started to get easier and easier as the month went on.

I will admit, I did break the rules with a few small exceptions I allowed myself. One of which was Ironman training. For example, sometimes sweets are a part of the nutrition that I use to break up a long bike ride. Another example was Diet Soda, I did allow myself to have diet soda at times but not the daily go-out-of-my-way-to-get-it times. But now and then I did have Diet Soda, mostly as a replacement for alcohol when I would be socializing.

But otherwise, I honestly did so so good with it and was really proud of myself for sticking through!

I ended up having a second work trip at the end of October and so I survived 2 weeks of catered meals 3x a day, avoiding all of the pastries and breakfast sweets they'd have out.


Avoided the desserts and rolls that appeared at every lunch and dinner. I passed on the amazing baked goods of one of my friends on multiple occasions. Skipped the warm bread at the steak houses we went to in Aruba. And passed out on CHIPS when out to eat at a couple of Mexican restaurants - something I don't think I have EVER done in my life.



By the end of the month, I have to say, it got so much easier. The first week I was staring at dessert every day and pining about how I wanted to try it. But by the work trip I had the last week of October - I just didn't even look at the desserts! It got much easier to say no than I remembered was possible.

The scale started to make more progress and I was feeling really good - and really proud! - of myself.

October 29 in Puerto Rico

And then November came...

I am learning more about myself, but sometimes am not sure what to then do about that.

At the end of October, I was feeling so good and really wanted to keep going the eating habits that I had - but hoped to try and just be a little more relaxed with them. I wanted to be able to have chocolate here and there and indulge for special things, but, I have found myself slowly creeping back into some of the habits I had pre-October challenge!

I am learning that I do really well with having a strict set of limits of what I can/can't eat and I do really well with accountability to others. For years, I was most successful at losing weight when I did Weight Watchers. That program provides limits, in the form of the number of points you can eat in a day AND the accountability of a weekly weigh in by another person to have progress logged. This "October Challenge" provided those same things for me in the form of strict rules about what I could/couldn't eat. Whereas Weight Watchers doesn't rule out any food as an option, for the month of October I set limits BY eliminating certain foods. As well, it provided a group of people who were all encouraging each other and committed to this together.

I don't do well with moderation. I remember reading a long time ago on Swim Bike Mom's blog that "everything in moderation" is not a motto that works well or should be pushed upon everyone. Some people cannot moderate themselves well so "everything in moderation" does not work. You would never say "alcohol in moderation" to an alcoholic, of course not. But yet for people that struggle with sugar addiction and food, people don't always apply the same logic. I am very much a person who struggles with moderating myself around food. I cannot just have one cookie and be satisfied. No, I will eat ALL THE COOKIES until they are gone. I cannot eat just a few corn chips. I will eat 2 baskets full of chips at a Mexican restaurant before my meal arrives. I am not good with moderation so sometimes what's better for me is to strictly eliminate things as options. No chocolate. No chips. No cookies. No fried foods.

Set limits and accountability to others seem to be a good fit for me, yet I can't figure out how to make that happen when it is just me. October is over and so is the challenge, both the elements that work well for me are gone.

Right now I am continuing to try and set my own little "rules" for myself. For example, I weigh myself every day that I am home. No more skipping the morning weigh in if I have had a bad couple of days - I need to see it every day.

I am still limiting my chocolate intake and not bringing chocolate back into any of my snacks, and avoiding pastries and baked goods as much as possible. However, I will now have a bite of Jonathan's cookie or donut whereas I would have skipped it completely in October. Fried foods have creeped back in when going out to eat and white potatoes and bites of Jonathan's sandwiches have come back as well. As well as some chips. Although these things are small, when trying to diet, they add up. In essence, as I type this, I realize am back to trying to do "everything in moderation" even though I KNOW that doesn't work for me!

With the holidays coming up, as well as a big race, I want to keep with the progress I have been making. I don't want to back track through December. I hope that with writing and being open about what I am trying to do, that will help with some of that "accountability to others" that works for me and I will keep working on trying to enforce strict limits on my own. At 33 years old I'm finally figuring out are the elements that make up a program that work for me, but just need to figure out how to apply that knowledge as a next step. Always something to strive for! :) 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Veterans Day and the next part in this "story"

Part of the reason that I wanted to come back and continue writing here again was because the next part of my "story" is one that I really want to be able to document and remember. And one of the things that is so meaningful to me about this next story line is that I am expanding "my" story to be not really about me.

I am excited to share that in April 2020 I will be running the Boston Marathon in support of Home Base program, a nonprofit dedicated to providing support and treatment to Service men and women and their families with non-visible injuries. Home Base is a Mass General Hospital and Red Sox organization based in Boston that supports veterans nationwide. They do incredible work, that without sharing too much detail, has become an organization that I will forever be grateful for.

Yes, running Boston Marathon will be incredibly meaningful for me personally, but that is just a cherry on top of being able to support an organization dedicated to a group of people in our American community that has become incredibly personal to me, out Service men and women.

This opportunity came about at a time that I was looking at ways that I could support Home Base, NOT at a time when I was looking at ways to run Boston. That feels like just a bonus.

For those who have been around a minute, you know that Boston Marathon is something that feels deeply personal to me, as to many people from the Boston area. It is our home town race. "Boston Strong" feels like something that beats inside of us. I've watched the Boston Marathon on TV as a kid, pretending to be a runner in my driveway and mimicking the athletes (never actually thinking I could be one myself, I just "pretended.) I've rooted for Boston sports teams for as long as I've known. Attended baseball games at Fenway Park. Spent countless weekends roaming the streets of Boston visiting my friends who moved there after college. I ran my first Half Marathon 2 weeks after the bombing at the Boston Marathon, when our city and the sport I was growing in to was attacked. I went to Boston to cheer at the race in 2014, the year after the bombing and 2 weeks after my first marathon, to return, show resilience, and cheer and celebrate a marathon for the first time as a "marathoner" myself.

And in 2018, I made an attempt to try and get into the Boston Marathon by qualifying. Which did not go my way in the end, and was one of the most mentally and physically challenging experiences of my life.

I was training for my qualifying attempt during the months when my grandmother had her stroke and passed away. During the months where it was bitterly brutally cold in New England. When I felt like my family and I needed SOMETHING to lift our spirits... so I put the weight of the world on my shoulders trying to run faster than I ever dreamed possible. I wanted to be able to give my grandfather - a lifelong Boston native, Boston College graduate and all around Boston die-hard enthusiast - the chance to see me run the race. He has followed and supported and cheered at the race his whole life with my grandmother and her father, and told my mom he "hoped he lived to see the day I ran the Boston Marathon."

So yeah, you could say that running Boston will be meaningful to me personally. But it also means so much more because of this organization.

Which brings me back to Home Base. And the reason I am writing this post today, two days after Veterans Day. This organization has changed the lives - and saved lives - of many Veterans. And I am so proud to be supporting them.

Let me tell you a little bit about how I got here.

Back in August I was researching the Home Base website and looking for ways that I could support. I knew they were based in Boston but wasn't sure if they had other chapters or physical locations where I could volunteer or donate or something. While on their site, I saw pictures of their Boston Marathon team, which struck my interest.

I reached out to the organization's volunteer contact via the website and asked if there was anything I could do remote (which their wasn't) and asked - out of curiosity - about the marathon charity team. I learned that the charity team was very new, 2018 had been their first year, and that it was very small compared to other organizations and they only had about 20 spots. And that registration would open up in September.

I thought about this more, and what it would mean to apply for the team, and if now was the time I wanted to try again at running a marathon and if I wanted to get into Boston via a charity or keep trying to qualify. And ultimately decided that if I had the opportunity to support THIS organization, that would be so incredibly special and meaningful to me that I wouldn't be able to pass it up. Just applying to charity teams is not a guarantee because these spots can be really competitive and having so few spots, I didn't know what to expect with Home Base.

When registration opened, I decided to complete an application. I explained why I was passionate about the organization, which was due to its impact on people in my life. Since Home Base is a part of Mass General Hospital, one of the questions they asked was if I couldn't get in to the Home Base team, would I be interested in some of the other Mass General charities.

I told them no. That if I couldn't run for Home Base, I wasn't interested in running Boston this year. This organization was meaningful for me to support at this time, otherwise, I would pass.

Within an hour of hitting "Submit" on the online application, I received a phone call welcoming me to the team! I was shocked to say the least. The application period didn't even close for another 2 months but as the organizer told me on the phone, "I could have waited but I knew as soon as I read your application that we wanted you on the team so why delay? We want people who care about this cause and that came across."

This is an opportunity I don't take lightly and my fundraising to reach my $10,000 goal is something I will be just as dedicated to as my training over the next 5 months.

Although I still have Ironman Arizona creeping up on me (a week and a half away!) I did want to share my plans for Boston this week on the blog as this past Monday was Veterans Day.

Throughout my life, I can honestly say I have always been thankful for the military Veterans out there, but it hasn't been personal. As with many, my gratitude deepened after 9/11 to service men and women. However, I have never really had a close connection to anyone in the military or anyone with Veteran status. I would thank people for their service when I came across members of the military, and truly felt that way, but it was not a personal thing for and thinking about how to support this group in our community was not a prominent thought in my mind.

Later in life as I have had more friends with military affiliations, watched friends prepare for and go out on deployment, heard and seen the impact on families, and adjustments back into civilian life, the space that this etched in my heart became so deep. And the desire to do something to support Veterans given all that they have given for our country - became so strong. I am so thankful that this opportunity has come for me to raise money for Home Base and to give back to our Veteran community.

This Veterans Day, I chose not to post my fundraising page on social media the day of the holiday. I didn't post anything. I thought about it a while but ultimately felt like I would be "exploiting" the holiday with a call for donations to my charity page. It just didn't feel right to me.

Instead, I watched and I read and I cried at the stories and messages and videos I saw some across my social channels instead. I read about and saw pictures posted from friends about their Veteran husbands and fathers, wives and aunts, grandparents, siblings, and loved ones for whom they are grateful. I used it as a day to give me more motivation towards planning events, organizing fundraisers, and giving me more reason why this cause is something so important for me to stand behind.

That being said, if you are like me, and you have always felt an appreciation for the military men and women who serve our country, but haven't had a close connection or known how to support but would like to - please consider donating to Home Base.

Home Base develops a treatment plan for each individual who seeks out help, working to overcome post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries, in order to successfully return to family life, job, school and community. With Home Base, they work to remove all barriers from patients looking for treatment - no long wait times, access to care regardless of discharge status, and where my fundraising comes into play, payment will absolutely not be a barrier. Home Base covers the cost for treatment for Service men and women.

Please click here to view my fundraising page.

I would love your help in supporting this cause, if you are so inclined, and will continue to share about my fundraising and training efforts in the months to come. Thank you!



Tuesday, November 5, 2019

I'm Back!


I am back! Not sure for how long, because life seems to be getting the best of me lately and time has become somewhat of a precious commodity. However, to be honest, I miss writing. I miss interacting with my little online community, carved out space in the world, and I miss having a channel to process emotions and document my life – for better or worse.

So, I’d like to make an effort to try and write more, especially because there are some pretty exciting things happening in both the very near and further out future.

But first, let’s recap a few things that have happened in the 12 months since I last posted.

·       I moved! Jonathan and I bought a house and I moved from the big city out to the way, way, way out ‘Burbs of Carrollton, GA. It is a really cute and fun little city and we are both really involved in and enjoy the local community here. I have a great group of friends here and have honestly been really happy with the move. A lot of times I just look around our house and think to myself, "I can't believe I get to live here." which makes me feel so at peace.

·       I began working primarily from home. My job has become more flexible, which is a blessing given the announcement above. I go into the office 1x a week, sometimes 2, and now have a wonderful home office where I spend the majority of my Monday through Fridays. The team I work with is mostly remote, so even when I was in the office, I spent most of my time on the phone, so there hasn't been a huge adjustment on that side!

·       I started traveling again! After 2018, a year where I still traveled, but it was primarily within the U.S. or Canada, I was itching for some real global exploration in 2019. I was very fortunate that at the same time I was able to get some personal travel on the books, there was also a pickup in my work travel. This year I was able to travel to British Virgin Islands, South Africa, Finland, Estonia, and Aruba, in addition to two trips to Canada (Toronto area and Calgary) and Puerto Rico. Beyond that, I had weddings in Key West and Lake Placid, 2 weekend trips to Boston early in the year, 2 weekend trips to Florida, a work trip to Las Vegas, AND my annual family summer vacation to New Hampshire. It has been a fun but BUSY year.

·       I’ve continued training. This is probably not a shocker, since exercise and endurance sports have become a big part of my life over the years. After Chattanooga Ironman, I took a month or so off, and then went into training for my first official “Ultra” which was a 50K trail race in North Georgia in February 2019. After the race, and additional time off, I got back into triathlon mindset and raced Ironman 70.3 Muncie in Indiana. I had such a fun time racing I decided to keep going with triathlon for the year and added to my calendar Augusta 70.3 at the end of September, which was part of a build into my 2nd full Ironman, Arizona, which is less than a month away now on November 24th

Although I think at this point the majority of people that read this blog are friends in real life or people who follow me on social media, so would likely know all of the above… I wanted to list it out because all 4 of these factors contribute heavily to where I am now. Mentally, and well, physically.

On the topic of training, with all of the changes going on in my life, to say that the majority of this year I have been out of a “routine” is an understatement. I don’t think I have had a “normal” week all year. For a long time, it felt like my weeks and my training, were very consistent and expected. I have been working with a coach for almost 3 years now and how we work together is that every Sunday evening, he will upload my schedule for what training and workouts he’d defined for me in the coming week. For a very steady period of time, my schedule was so routine that I honestly didn’t really need to check my schedule on a Sunday night. I had a consistent series of workouts I did Monday through Sunday, week after week. Monday swim, Tuesday track, Wednesday swim and trainer, Thursday group run, Friday swim, Saturday long ride, Sunday trail run. Or if I was marathon training, it was something similar – very standard and routine.

This year, I have no idea what each week is going to look like. Between what travel is happening, when I am going into the office each week, what my weekend availability is, when the pool is open, and a million other factors that have seemingly had my life be anything but predictable on a week by week basis. Adjusting to a normal training schedule while settling in to a new city, has been more challenging than I thought it would be.

For some, the unpredictability might be fun and break up the monotony of a regular work week. But my mind doesn’t always work that way. I like knowing what to expect. And I think my body likes knowing what to expect as well!

Although I am fit and although I am strong (hello! Ironman training is not easy!) I haven’t felt as good about myself and my body as I have at other times in my life. I have gotten a lot slower in all 3 elements of triathlon, which is hard to see happen. I had fought so hard to build up my running speed over the years, and then last year I clawed tooth and nail to just get a bit faster on the bike. Now, both running and biking, I feel like I’ve gone back years in Katelyn-time and reverse progressed. Even my swimming, which was something that I could always rely on, is slower and a struggle to get myself to do.

But that’s some of what happens when you don’t do track workouts consistently (i.e. ever) anymore, don’t ride 10 centuries in a summer, and stop swimming 3x a week with a Masters group and instead swim 1x a week alone and with no one to race in the lane next to you. Plus, the 15-20 pounds you’ve gained in the last 2 years.  

While these things shouldn’t be a surprise, it can sometimes feel like they are when you are busy enjoying life! Because don’t get me wrong, I absolutely have been! The past 2 years have been wonderful and fun and filled with adventure and love and delicious food. But I have been craving a need to make some changes in my life too. And I’m starting to take some steps in the right direction and see some of the pieces that I think could fit into place in the coming months.

I’d really like to make blogging and writing here a part of that experience and hope to spend more time writing in the future. I’ve missed you guys!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Ironman Chattanooga Recap

Well, over a month later, I guess it is time to put a wrap to Ironman Chattanooga experience by posting my race recap. You've all been waiting on pins and needles for this one, haven't you?! It is a long one, but that's okay. As much as I love you all, I wrote this out... every detail... for me. I love looking back on these posts and race recaps in future years and I am always thankful to have these details documented. Ironman Chattanooga, you're the longest race I've ever done, so therefore the longest post ever. Thank you all for reading and all of your support!

Where I last left off, I had learned about the swim being cancelled and worked to refocus my mind on how to stay positive and get the job done. I had learned about the swim cancellation at the very first athlete briefing that the race held, at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday. I'd drive up to Chattanooga that morning with my friend Karen, who had offered to accompany me for the day trip, where my goal was just to get done all the race things that I knew would be anal and time consuming.

We arrived in Chattanooga just after Ironman Village and the expo opened, at 9:30 a.m. It was a bit rainy and dreary out, but we had so much energy and were happy and taking pictures obsessively. I bought out the store, checked in, and then went over to the very first athlete briefing. The mood of the day changed drastically after finding out about the swim. We head home in a rather somber mood after grabbing lunch (and cake balls - I needed sweets as comfort food!) On the ride back, our mood picked up as we made jokes, lightened the mood, and made phone calls to others racing and to my coach on the way home.



We arrived back into town just in time to have another twist in race weekend, where my car started malfunctioning. I was so thankful to have Karen with me as we dropped my car off at the mechanic, got the diagnosis that I wouldn't have it for the weekend, and with only a few rounds of heavy tears on my part, I packed up everything I needed from my car, including my bike rack and bike pump, piled it into Karen's car, who took me back to my apartment. Blessings times a million to Karen for keeping me together on what was supposed to be a super fun and exciting day which turned into breakdown after breakdown on my part (literally and figuratively.)

After I was home and settled, I reminded myself I still had a race to compete in and started the process of moving everything from the the large pile I had been building on my dining room table to actual bags - including my gear bags for race day. I lay everything out and packed up what I needed and putting my wet suit back in the closet until next year.


Friday morning, instead of driving to the airport to pick up my mom and cousin, I took an Uber, bike rack in tow, to make a pit stop at the rental lot. I grabbed my mom and cousin upon their arrival from New Hampshire (yay!!!) and head back to my apartment in Atlanta.


Part of the reason that I had wanted to do the day trip on Thursday was because I didn't want to feel rushed or stressed on Friday and be able to actually enjoy my day with my family who had flown in to see me race. We hung out a bit at my apartment, then walked down the street to Krog Street Market where we had an early lunch, before returning back to pack up and head out for Chattanooga a little after noon.



When we got there, we went right to Ironman Village where we walked around a bit, made a few more purchases, and took a few more pictures.



I was glad that we stopped first at Ironman village because I was able to run into some others that were racing and it made it all the more exciting as the big day approached. From there we went to check in to our AirBnB.


I loved the location that we were in and the house worked out great. It had two huge bedrooms, a very nice kitchen and sitting area, lots of parking, Netflix, and an electric tea kettle - which was nice since I was drinking tea nonstop at this point to help keep my nerves at bay.

I had a short bike ride to do on Friday so I went outside and rode around in loops in the little neighborhood for about 25 minutes. As wonderful of a town Chatt is, it doesn't have the best locations to be able to ride without traffic or with smooth rides in the city. Although it was not super exciting to ride in small loops around the neighborhood, it got the job done. As well, the weather had picked up really nicely from the rain the day before and the sunshine was great. Although, it didn't change the way that the river looked unfortunately. It was crazy, the entire exit to where you would normally get out of the water was flooded.


After cleaning up, we went back into town to get dinner at Big River Grille where I had my standard Italian pizza and a single beer. We walked around a bit exploring downtown Chatt and then head back to the AirBnB for an early night. I started to get really anxious and nervous that night and needed a little alone time and time to talk to Jonathan to calm down a bit. As much as I had been in positive spirits throughout the day, something at dinner triggered me and I started to feel really sad and really down about the fact that I was not going to be able to swim in my first Ironman. I tried to put the thoughts away in the back of my head, and went to bed early.

I woke up on Saturday minute, lay in bed for about a minute, then got up, threw on my bathing suit, and snuck out of the house while everyone was still in bed to head to the Chattanooga Downtown YMCA.

About 30 minutes after I had found out the swim was cancelled, after the initial shock wore off, I swiftly and decisively made a decision. I would complete a 2.4 mile swim SOMEWHERE that weekend in Chattanooga. From the athlete briefing, I texted Jonathan, who I knew was at a computer, and asked him to start researching pools for me. He went above and beyond and was even messaging random Chattanooga triathletes he was finding on social media to ask for tips about local pools.

I went to the Chattanooga Downtown YMCA, which I realized, I had been to before a few years ago when I took an RRCA Running Coach certification course in Chatt. I cannot say enough positive things about this YMCA or their members. They did not charge anything for people coming to swim for the day, had signs up welcoming Ironman participants, and were so incredibly helpful and friendly.

Without much ado, I jumped into the pool, where a number of other people with blue wristbands were already swimming (doing a shake out or doing a 2.4 mile swim, I don't know) and just started at it. I wanted to swim 4250 yards and I wanted to do it straight through. I planned for the fact that I might get interrupted since it is a pool with shared lanes and maybe someone would ask me a question or something - and told myself to just tread water if that happens. My feet were not touching the bottom until I hit 4250!

I finished up after 1:20:13. I was tired, but was really proud of myself for finishing and for getting it in. And not because I felt like doing the swim on Saturday would make me any more or less an Ironman the next day. But because I did what I could to make the best out of a situation that had really disappointed me. I was feeling SO down about the swim getting cancelled, but, it was out of my control.  Rather than let that down-ness ruin the weekend I had been looking forward and working towards for so long, I took advantage of what I had at my disposal and controlled what I could control. I was not happy that I didn't get to swim, but I was happy with how I handled it.


When I finished up at the Chatt YMCA, I met up with my mom, cousin, Brick and her husband G at one of our favorites, the Frothy Monkey. It was nice to sit and catch up with them. I had a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on a bagel, as well as some of a muffin (and coffee) and from there we returned to the AirBnb. I wanted a pretty relaxing day on Saturday so we just lounged a bit, I fiddled with my bike some, and I prepped my "Run Bag." At the last minute, I taped a picture of my grandmother right below my handlebars and I put my guardian angle pin on the bag that I carry my nutrition in. In my run gear bag, I put my running sneakers, race belt with nutrition (salt, Gu), hat, change of clothing, socks, and Glide.

Once I had everything together, we head back to Ironman Village where I met up with my coach to go over everything and to then drop off my bike and bag. He rolled up my socks so they were easy to roll onto my feet in case they were wet, but otherwise all was good.  My family went for a walk and Jerome and I talked through last minute changes in mindset and plan given that the race would not have a swim portion. Despite the disappointment I was feeling, I also felt a bit thrown off by the time trial start and how starting right on the bike would affect my day.


Leading up to the race I had told myself over and over, "You know how to do this. You've done a ton of triathlons before. You just swim, bike, run." But just a bike-run felt different.

Jonathan met us downtown in Ironman Village after arriving in Chattanooga, where we walked around a bit before heading back to the AirBnB. I relaxed a bit more, used my recovery boots, and then piled everyone up again for an early dinner with ITL at Whole Foods! My dinner was a bit random but included some rice, chicken, mac and cheese, and a few brussels sprouts. I got small portions of things from the hot bar and just sort of picked around. Nothing was really appealing to me, which is unlike me. Throughout the day I had been burping a lot and feeling gas-y, but I thought that it was just nerves. It didn't alarm me really at all.


After returning from Whole Foods, we returned home with the intent to watch TV but my anxiety quickly turned on and I went to my room for some quiet time. I prepped my special needs bags, organized everything for the morning, and made checklists for myself of everything I wanted to do before leaving the AirBnB and everything I wanted to do before getting on my bike. I made them super specific and detailed down to "put hair in a ponytail" but that level of detail helped me feel relaxed. I knew in the morning I would just have to get up and execute.

I hadn't been sleeping well that week at all. Friday night I took something to help me sleep. Saturday night I just got into bed early, wanting to give myself the best opportunity I could to wake up feeling rested. As I got into bed, I started to feel butterflies of excitement that I hadn't felt since the swim was cancelled. As I lay in bed, I said to Jonathan, "You know... I FEEL like I am doing an Ironman tomorrow." To which he replied, "GOOD. Because you are!"

One of the things that I was worried about was how the lack of swim would make me feel come race day. Would it change the excitement? Would I feel less accomplished, as I ran across that red carpet? I wasn't sure. Even weeks later, I still have mixed feelings about it. But at the time, that feeling the night before of butterflies was a good sign to me.

I wasn't nervous about my performance the next day. I felt confident I could finish the race. I just wanted everything to go smoothly. No mechanical issues on the bike. Remember everything I needed. Feel strong, etc. I did not need to spend as much time sitting with headphones on, mapping out a strategy on my computer. I had a few things to keep in mind, but nothing that required extreme focus. The main goal of the day was to have fun and smile a lot. And cross that finish line.

I woke up around 6:00 a.m. and started checking things off my To-Do list... apply race tattoos, apply sunscreen, brush teeth, put in contacts, get dressed in bike clothes, eat breakfast, etc. My breakfast was my same meal I have before every big race and every big training day - Special K Chocolatey Delight with almond milk and strawberries. Everything was going according to plan and Jonathan and I head over to Ironman Village.

I put my nutrition on my bike, put air in my tires, snacked on a banana, and then mostly just chatted and hung around with friends who were coming into town that morning and arriving at the race. I felt so appreciative that there was so much support all around for this little old bike-run thing we were about to do.






I started to get very anxious at the last minute as I head over to my bike. Jonathan was by my side the entire time. He is incredibly calm and nothing seems to phase him, so he is a great balance to my anxious, nervousness in these times. I had left my socks and bike shoes at my bike, was wearing flip flops, which I handed to him before going into transition barefoot to get to my bile. As I said bye, I told him, "Tell my mom I love her!" ... to which he told me that I sounded like I was about to go down on the Titanic and to just go have fun. It made me smile as I head in to start the race.

They called athlete up by bib number, 100 at a time, to line up 2x2. One of the silver linings of the day was that I would get to start right by my friend Kevin. We had both registered for the race with an affiliation to the Atlanta Triathlon Club, so we were racked together and he was 629 while I was 621. We were able to line up right next to one another as we head to the start and walked by our friends cheering us on. As we got closer, they told us that we had to have one leg over our bike frame. Getting closer. One leg should be clipped in. Almost there.





As we got to the very start, the woman in charge tried to usher me forward in front of Kevin. I tried to protest and she yelled at me, so I moved up. I rolled forward, hit my watch, crossed the start line, and was off. Kevin was 5 seconds behind me and our friends and families were cheering for us as we started our 142.2 mile journey.




THE BIKE
Distance: 116 miles
Time: 6:17:57
Speed: 18.5 mph
Div Rank: 22
Gender rank: 194
Overall rank: 916

The bike course starts off on the same route as the 70.3 race I have done in Chattanooga twice. You make your way out of town on a few bumpy roads, covering some rail road tracks, through some turns, and heading out onto the highway. Although I knew the route, I told myself once I got to the highway I would feel more settled since I had JUST biked this route a month before.

I felt good as I started, but I kept looking over my shoulder for Kevin. He started literally 5 seconds behind me and we are about the same pace, with him being a faster starter than me even. He should have been catching up and passing me. It made no sense to me and I was so confused. At one point when I looked back, he was no longer in my sight. I felt concerned, but at the same time, we had discussed that we would love to ride together (as much as possible legally without drafting) but it was still a race and neither of us should ever slow down or ride faster than they wanted to for the other.


I thought maybe he dropped a bottle going over the tracks and stopped for it, or something along those lines, and I kept moving forward. I passed by our friend Phil while still in town, then once we were on the highway, rode by my friends Anthony, Jenn, Sarah and Brett, in the first straight away section. I already felt like such a rockstar with so much support on the course in these early miles.


I settled in and started to just get comfortable on the bike. I had fiddled with my watch the night before, shutting off as many settings as possible to hopefully preserve battery power and keep my watch going for the duration of the race. Inadvertently, I must have shut off the alert that beeps every 5 miles on my watch. I almost never look at my watch while I'm on the bike and just ride by feel, so that was fine, but it actually really surprised when we passed the first sign that said 10 miles. 10 miles already?! I thought.

"Eat early and often" was a part of my plan, so I tried to start taking in nutrition once I was on the bike and in a groove. Immediately upon eating my first bites and taking in my first sips of Gatorade - I knew something was off. My stomach was having a hard time letting anything settle. I burped up banana and thought to myself, "Ugh. I shouldn't have eaten that!"

But then I kept burping but it wasn't just gasy burps. I felt like I was going to throw up and could feel it rising and would have to swallow it back down. It felt and tasted disgusting (as I am sure it is disgusting to read about as well.) I was drinking a lot of water to clear the taste when that would happen, but I was having a really hard time getting down the food I needed. I tried to take smaller bites and just do what I could, but from the beginning, I really struggled. I usually never have a problem eating on the bike and this was totally new to me.

I focused on riding and on the course. I watched for milestones on the course, feeling so lucky that I knew what was coming. I just kept going and was enjoying myself. There were a lot of women riding around me, and that felt pretty neat and was empowering. The weather was cloudy and perfect conditions for riding. It was too early for my lack of ability to eat to have any impact, so at the time, it was a great day.

I tried to be helpful to others around me when I could, and encouraged a few people up the toughest climb on the route, right before Hog Jowl. Going into it, I expected to be passed a lot more than I was on the bike and I was happy with how I did getting up that climb. Thinking back, I am laughing to myself about sharing unsolicited course insights to the riders around me. It just made me feel so special that I knew what was coming on the course!

The back half of the loop is so much fun. I saw a few other ITL people as they flew by me, but still no sign of Gerke. My body fought taking in nutrition and I started counting down until I would get to ride through Chickamauga, where I knew my friends and family would be.

Around mile 36 I grabbed a bottle of Gatorade from an aid station for the first time. I missed a few people trying to pass it to me, so I had to completely stop and have someone hand one over. I kept riding and as I was building momentum again, I took a couple big gulps of the Gatorade. It immediately came back up and this time I did not do such a good job of swallowing the vomit back down. I coughed a bit, drank some water, and from that point on, I knew I was done with Gatorade on this bike ride.

I did my best to modify, and at the times when I was able to eat, shoved in calories. I started doubling up on my salt chews, hoping to make up for what I was missing from the Gatorade. I still felt okay actually riding, I just couldn't eat.

As we got closer to Chickamauga, the energy picked up. People lined the street and I started getting really excited, scanning the crowd for signs of people I knew. Just before entering through the main strip, I suddenly saw huge signs and people yelling "SPECIAL NEEDS!"

It was a bit sooner than I expected, at about mile 50 of a 116 mile course. When I got there, nobody had my bag ready and people were just staring at me so I started shouting my number, "621! 621!" The volunteers up front realized that nobody was ready for me and started yelling as well to the people sorting through bags. It felt like forever until someone came up to me with my meticulously packed bag open for me to stare in to. I had put a TON of snacks in my bag, trying to anticipate different options for if I was craving salty or sweet, and picking favorite things that had been comforting or helpful to me on long rides throughout the summer of training. I stared into my bag packed with rice crispies, peanut butter pretzels, potato chips, cherry gummy candies, and refills of my regular race nutrition. And absolutely nothing looked appealing.

My hands were shaking and so scatterbrained, I didn't know what to do. I swapped out my regular nutrition, realizing just how little I had eaten on the first half of the ride - both my bag of oat pistachio bars and salted potatoes were barely half gone (where I expected to finish the whole thing on the first loop.) I knew I should take something else, so I shoved the peanut butter pretzels in my back pocket and grabbed a fistful of cherry sours and shoved them directly in my mouth. I spotted my ITL teammate Whitney almost right beside me, going through her bag with her volunteer and shouted hi before pushing off and starting to ride again.

Right. through. the. most. amazing. cheering. section. ever.

The first lap through Chickamauga was FILLED with people screaming and cheering on both sides of the course and it was SO SO cool. I realized quickly that shoving this chewing food in my mouth right before the biggest photo op of the course was probably not the smartest move. I chewed that mouthful of gummy candies FURIOUSLY, swallowing it as fast as I could. It was one of the most comical moments of the race for me.

The stretch through Chickamauga was truly awesome. Seeing my family and friends all out there, covered in blue, cheering, was so incredible. They were at the end of the cheering section, right before starting to head out of town. I had a HUGE grin on my face, trying to make eye contact with everyone in a split second and taking it all in. It was overwhelming and so special.




As soon as I passed everyone, I started to choke up and cry. It had just filled me with so much emotion to literally SEE the support of so many people, yelling, screaming, and losing their voices just to give me energy and adrenaline to get through this day. The crying made it hard to breathe, so I pushed the sappy feelings away and focused on getting down to business.




Coming out of Chickamauga there is a climb up, then a nice descent. I felt so confident about it from the training ride. I told myself that I was more prepared than anyone for this portion and focused - pushing through that section.

I started the second loop and knew I could do this. For a while, I just focused. My friend Whitney rode up behind me at one point and smacked my butt saying hi. We were able to stay together for a bit, chatting as we passed each other back and forth. Knowing she had started behind me, I asked if she had seen Kevin. My heart sunk and my stomach dropped as she let me know that he had a broken cleat on his shoe - that had happened at about mile 3. I had no idea how bad it was but I hated to hear he was struggling and tried to send him good vibes. That damn bike of his!

The second half of the bike I just tried to keep my head down. The effects of not having eaten much were starting to weigh on me. I would lift my head up and feel dizzy. I tried to eat as much as possible and felt so frustrated with my stomach. My Gatorade was never touched again (which you can see in pictures from both loops through Chickamauga - it is in the exact same spot/level each time.) I focused on salt, potatoes and a Clif bar. Riding started to feel harder the second loop around and I had my coach's words in my ear telling me to go slower when I felt like I needed to go slower, and try to not burn too much. I started to feel a bit worried that I was going too hard but just tried to stay steady.

I had to use the bathroom once, at around mile 65 (right before Whitney caught up to me.) I tried hard to pee on my bike (for those of you unfamiliar with triathlon... it's a thing) and I just couldn't do it. I had been holding it for a while, so finally stopped at a porta potty, using it really quick then continuing to ride. I ticked away the miles 10 at a time, knowing that I was counting down at this point.

Whitney got ahead of me after a number of miles riding together, and I ended up in a pattern of leap frogging a few women back and forth that I started to recognize and have names for my head.

I wanted to try and talk to them, but I didn't really have the energy for it. And everything I thought of to say to say somehow seemed inappropriate. So I just had conversations with them alone in my head "You've got great legs!" I wanted to say to the one girl in short shorts. "You know, they make pink bike shoes too!" to the girl in the all pink kit with blue shoes. "Daniela Ryf wardrobe malfunction, huh?" to the girl with her tri top zipped halfway open and flapping around. But none of these things seemed like a normal or appropriate thing to say at the time.

So I just kept my mouth shut.

The sun came out and I started to feel it. At this point, I had Chickamauga in my sights again and I knew it would be a good pick me up. Right before getting there, I caught back up to Whitney and asked if it was okay if I went through first as I passed her. It was just as big of a high riding through the second time and I loved every moment of it.





On my way out, my friend Nathan passed me and said to me, "Bring it in!" knowing we were in the home stretch. I tried to push out of Chickamauga hard again, but my legs were tired. I started looking at my watch for the first time of the ride, seeing how far I had to go.

I hit 100 miles at around 5:25 on the bike - a 20 minute PR for a century ride. I wanted to be above 18 mph on the bike, which I knew meant finishing the 116 in 6:24. Never being quite good at math, I thought that I was on the verge of making it, so tried to keep up the hustle on the last miles back into town. The last few miles I counted down one by one until I saw the finish up ahead and the dismount line. The bike was done!

TRANSITION
Time: 6:42

I feel like I should say "It felt so good to be off the bike!" but in reality when I hopped off the bike, my legs buckled and I felt terrible. I have no recollection of handing my bike off to a bike catcher, but I assume someone took it. I just remember feeling like my legs weren't working, feeling dizzy, and trying to keep moving forward. I stopped before running through transition and took off my bike shoes. I was struggling with balance and didn't need wobbly bike shoes throwing me off, in addition to my head/stomach.



I heard my name called and saw my coach's wife, Jess, who was volunteering as a bike catcher, waved, and then ran through the transition area, grabbing my run gear bag and heading into the transition tent, feeling so disoriented. I just stopped and stood there when I walked in, not knowing what to do, until a volunteer came over and asked me if I needed help. I said yes and she directed me to a chair. I just sat there for a minute while she dumped out my bag asking what I needed. I said I needed a minute and she grabbed me some water, while I tried to just get focused. I grabbed the peanut butter pretzels still in my back pocket and had a few of those. As well as a few bites of Stinger Waffle. It was really hitting me that I had NOT eaten enough on the bike and I did not feel well at all.

The volunteer helped me change my clothes, put my socks on for me, commenting that rolling them that way was a good idea (thanks Jerome!) and I started to put on my shoes. She wrapped my sunglasses I'd worn on the bike in my bike jersey so they wouldn't break, and tucked it into my bag  (tip for future Katelyn - put your sunglasses case in your run gear bag!) I put on my hat and race belt, and tried to attempt Body Glide on all my chafing locations, but was so sweaty it didn't go on. I tried to dry off with paper towels but that didn't work, so I just threw the Glide back in my bag.

As I was leaving, I noticed my friend that I swim with, Wendy, in the tent volunteering. Had she been there the whole time? I never saw her! And I noticed Whitney as well. I said hi to them both, and with nothing left to do and no other excuses to stick around, I made my way out.

RUN
Distance: 26.2
Time: 5:04:41
Pace: 11:37 min/mile
Div rank: 26
Gender rank: 168
Overall rank: 668

Right outside the tent I saw my mom, cousin, Brick, etc. and stopped to give them a hug. I love them and all, but was also really trying to procrastinate this whole running thing. I saw my friend Kathi and said hi to her as well and thanked her for being there, then shouted she should go say hi to my mom.

The run started by heading out on these gray carpets covering the grass. It was a makeshift start given that part of the run course was under water. It felt wobbly and I worried about stepping wrong and twisting an ankle. Finally we made it onto the pavement and I heard people screaming my name and cheering for me and started to pass through a few sections with friends and people cheering.

I saw Anthony, Jenn, Brett and Sarah right by transition, then as I head up the hill I saw a number of my friends all with SO much energy - which was exactly the opposite of how I felt. I gave Jonathan a hug (procrastinating more) and waved to the people who yelled my name from up above (had no clue who it was at the time.) I ran through the ATC section and out onto the highway for my first loop of the run.






Heading out, on the unshaded highway, I was away from the crowds finally and on my own. And then I stopped running for the first time.

Holy shmoley. I felt dead.

I adjusted my watch to show me my HR, thinking it would be super high. But it wasn't. My legs just felt awful, my body disoriented, and my head dizzy and lightheaded. It was HOT and I was barely a mile in and already walking. I had been wanting to since I left the tent but there were so many crowds. I walked a little bit and then ran a little bit. Walked a little bit and then ran a little bit.

I have never had to walk this early in any race before and it was freaking me out. I felt terrible. I didn't know if I could do this for 26 miles. I started to freak out a bit and doubt if I could finish this. I struggled to get focused. I wasn't used to running in the heat of day like this, it was hot, and there was no shade on the highway.

The first few miles, I run-walked, walking the aid stations and drinking water and taking small sips of Gatorade. My lightheadedness seemed like a bigger risk factor than my nausea so I forced down Gatorade, knowing I needed the electrolytes. I thought to myself, "I could puke and keep going. But I can't keep going if I pass out." so decided to take on the Gatorade.

I knew that the course went out about 4 miles on the highway then turned on to the river walk path. I left my watch screen on HR and measured how far I was going based on course markers, never concerning myself with pace. I would run and then walk a little if my HR got around 160.

At around mile 3, I saw my coach, Jerome, up ahead on the course. It felt like a mirage because I was so thankful to see him. I needed him in that moment more than I can explain. As much as I loved all the energy and people coming off the bike, he was who I felt like I had needed to see.

I started to cry as I came up to him, telling him how terrible I felt and how I didn't think I could do this. He walked with me for a bit and told me that it was supposed to feel terrible and that I could do this. I didn't have the words to get into how bad I had felt on the bike and the nausea, so I just told him that I hadn't eaten enough on the bike and wasn't feeling well now. He told me to make up the nutrition on the run, walk the aid stations, take in what was needed and correct what was wrong. This clicked and gave me purpose moving forward, trying to fix and correct myself, rather than think the whole thing was doomed.

I had been feeling lightheaded. So, salt. I needed more salt.

I kept trying to drink water and Gatorade, but pulled out my salt tabs, which I had forgotten were in my race belt. I took a couple salt tabs at the aid station, grabbing some pretzels and chips as well. I made the turn onto the bike path, where there was some help from the shade, and at every aid station, focused on trying to correct my nutrition. Once I got in some salt, I knew I needed calories - more than a small handful of pretzels was going to provide. So I started choking down Gu gels. I hate those gels, but I knew it was the fastest way to calories. And besides, chewing wasn't really working out for me well. I alternated as best I could with salt and calorie focuses, and maintained my run/walk. I had no real interval or ratio for it, just would run as much as I could, trying to push myself to specific landmarks or points, then walking for a short bit, and running again. I walked every aid station.

I saw Jerome again as I came back through around mile 6 and asked him if I would finish if I just kept going at this pace the whole time. He laughed at me and told me of course. Part of me was scared because I thought... if I was walking at Mile 1.. what was I going to be like at Mile 20?? I think that realistically, I assumed I would walk at some point, but I thought that I could AT LEAST run the first 6 miles or something. So it really freaked me out to be walking so early. Jerome told me that I had all day, that I would be fine and to focus on moving forward. If this was my pace, this was my pace, and there was no shame in that he said. He also let me know that everyone was starting to struggle since it was so hot. I said back, "It's not THAT hot." Although it felt hot to me, but I didn't want to complain or exaggerate, and I knew Chattanooga has had some hot years. He said "Katelyn - it is 90!"

The course goes out 4 miles on the highway, back a couple miles on the bike path, then back onto the highway a bit before making your way to cross the first bridge, Veteran's Bridge. My friend Lauren was waiting for me there, cheering and jogging along, telling me how strong I was and how amazing I was doing running up the hills. I told her, "I think I am going to be out here all day!"

I still felt pretty bad and when I saw my friends and Jonathan cheering me on at the bridge, I stopped and gave Jonathan a hug. I said in his ear, "Jonathan, I am hurting." and he told me "I know."




I'm not sure why, but somehow that made me feel good. I love him and it made me feel special to know that he knew me well enough, the paces that I was capable of, and everything about me to know how much I was hurting. Seeing him and friends gave me a boost to keep moving, and we have since laughed about his lack of encouragement in the quick response of "I know."

I walked a bit of the incline of the bridge, then enjoyed the downhill until I hit the point of incline on Barton that brought me to a walk. Chattanooga Ironman's run course has a couple of big climbs, in the neighborhoods on the other side of the bridge from downtown. The major hill is Barton, which I walked the entirety of going up. It was the right thing to do. I started chatting with a woman next to me from Savannah, but just focused on a fast paced walk up the damn thing. As soon as I was at the top, I started running again. I felt so lucky that I knew the route and knew what to expect of where the hills would be. It kept me running at points when I wanted to walk because I told myself, "You're going to want to walk that big hill around the corner, so keep moving now!" I went through the golf course loop and started to go back up Barton, walking it the opposite direction as well but running a small portion in the middle where it leveled off.

At this point, I started to feel better, gain some confidence, and get a bit of an adrenaline boost knowing that I was almost to halfway through. I realized that I could maintain this run/walk that I was doing and that even though I was walking more then I expected, my run still felt good and was moving at a decent rate. My head was starting to feel better and I started to get a second wind.

When I started to cross the foot bridge, my second bridge, to return back to town, I thought of the training run I had done here back in August. I had purposely run two loops of the bridges that weekend, the first time, I had tried to visualize myself during the race and how I would feel on that first loop. And in the blink of an eye, here I was doing it. I felt happy and I felt confident.

Halfway across the bridge, I saw Lauren again, who started jogging with me and telling me for the second time how amazing I was doing and how incredibly consistent I was being. She gave me updates on the rest of our crew out on the course, as I breathed a sigh of relief hearing Kevin was off the bike. It made me feel good to hear that I was being really consistent and Lauren was so confident and reassuring telling me that I was doing great, because I had not once looked at my pace or how long I had been out there. I said out loud "I can do this." then came off the bridge through the ITL cheering section.


This portion of coming off the bridge and through the crowds before starting my second loop was overall one of the highlights of the race as well. It was such a whirlwind and went by so quickly but I loved every moment of it. I high fived all my smiling friends and family members, lining either side of the road in a wave of blue T-shirts, and then rounded the corner through the Atlanta Triathlon Club section where I saw Jerome and gave my coach a high five, silently thanking him for being in the right place at the right time when I needed him earlier.


Special needs was right here, and the volunteers were ready for me. Without ever stopping running, I grabbed my bag (which only had in it some Tylenol and an extra Gu), grabbed the Tylenol, tossed the bag, and kept moving forward. As I was doing this, there were more of my ITL friends along the street and my friend Lindsay shouted to me, so excited "Katelyn - Gerke is right ahead!" This was one of the happiest moments of my day and I practically sprinted over when I saw him ahead, jumping in the air behind him and giving him a hug.


I was SO happy to see him off the bike and still moving. I walked with him for a bit and caught up with him about his bike ride. He had done the whole dang thing with only one foot clipped in on his bike. His hips were bothering him on the run due to the imbalance of cycling. I offered him Tylenol and he said to me "I am fine. I just want to finish." We chatted as we climbed a hill and I told him I was going to run at the top. He encouraged me to, telling me I was killing it. And after another hug, I kept moving.


Running through all my friends, getting to talk to Gerke, plus the Tylenol and the bit of knowledge that I was half way done the run... it was exactly what I needed and I continued the second loop having FUN on the run course.

I talked to more people. I smiled. I maintained my run/walk and encouraged/commiserated with those around me. At around mile 15 I used a portapotty on the run. I had needed to use the bathroom for a while, but they all just seemed like too far of a walk off the course. Eventually I talked myself into using the bathroom and walked the few feet off the run course to use it. It was immensely painful due to some chafing I discovered and I returned back out, knowing that my shower was going to be rather unpleasant that night. I was also chafing on my chest so I grabbed some Vaseline from an aid station and slathered it on (bless them!)

The Tylenol that I had taken at special needs was due to the fact that the bottoms of my feet were aching. They were throbbing and had actually been bothering me since when I was on the bike. Towards the end of the ride, they started flaring up as I pushed down on the pedals. It had happened to be a couple times before and I believe are referred to as "hot spots."

I saw another coach out on the highway stretch, Adam, who was so encouraging and told me I was doing a great job, which was exactly what I needed to hear. It was so amazing to see people on that stretch out on the highway and was so much appreciated.

I felt better on my second loop. The sun was starting to set and it was starting to feel cooler out. It was an odd feeling because I had no idea what time it actually was out, which I didn't even think about until the sun started to go down. I know I could have looked at it on my watch but I never moved it from the HR screen. I had no clue how long I had been out there.

In Ironman, you typically have until midnight to finish the race. Throughout training, not meeting the cutoff was never something I worried about. I don't mean to be arrogant I think I always felt confident I could finish the race within the allotted time. But throughout the day, so many doubts and questions and uncertainties ran through my mind. On the course, I questioned if I would make it and felt like my run was taking forever.

Around mile 16-17, I looked at my watch for the first time. I knew I had 9ish miles to go and I remember thinking, "It could be between 1:30-2:00 hours to finish!" and my watch was a bit past 3 hours at the time. I felt okay about that thinking that I would finish between 5-5:30. It wasn't what I had originally wanted in the day, but my plans had changed. I put my watch back to HR screen and kept going.

During the second loop, I was just focused on finishing. I felt better mentally and I literally just did exactly what I had done the first time. I walked at the points I had walked before and started running at the points I had run before. There was one girl who was running by me for a while, at a very consistent, but slow pace. I would catch her, then drop behind when I would walk, catch her, then drop behind. Doing my run-walk, I was staying right with her, and I eventually did pass her completely. I told myself I would overall do better if I kept up the walking. However, looking back, I feel like I could have pushed myself more in the second loop. I settled. I thought to myself, "If I finish in 4:50 or 5:10... does it really matter?" I didn't care about my time any more and I had the drive to keep moving but I gave up on trying to run beyond what I had done on the first loop. I am a bit regretful of that now. When I ran, I was running well.


I saw more people that I knew from ATC and ITL, as well as someone I knew just from Instagram. I talked as much as possible on the second loop, trying to pass the time. Lauren and some ATC-ers were waiting right before crossing Veteran's Bridge the second time, and I had much bigger smiles this second time through. I skipped hugs and just smiled and waved at Jonathan and our amazing friends from the West Georgia Track Club cheering for me.


The sun was starting to set and it was getting so beautiful. I knew I just had the 5ish mile loop on the other side of the bridge to tackle, and knew it would be pretty void of spectators that I knew, so I started to just take everything in and really cherish every moment. I still walked all the hills but tried to take in everything around me with every step I took. The setting sun, the darkness coming around me, the aid stations starting to get lit up. Racing from the morning, through the day, and now into the night, was so unique for me. I thought to myself how cool it was and reflected back on all the mornings running in the dark before the sun was up, and then here I was now, running while the sun had set.

I was still run/walking super consistently and even got a "Damn, girl - you're moving!" from a guy that I passed while on one of my run portions. As I head up the hills by the golf course, coach Adam was there on the bike. He again told me how great I was doing, and this time reading off my run splits from the tracker, reiterating how consistent I had been and telling me I was on track for a finish a little over 5 hours for the run.

I kept talking to people where I could, and stayed on top of my nutrition, even through the end, choking down gels when I could and not wanting to risk anything. As I started to walk back up Barton, the mega-hill on the run course, I saw my coach, Jerome, on a bike, who yelled to me, "There is my favorite person!" which made me so happy. He kept showing up at the most perfect moments.

He walked nearby me up the hill, telling me how proud he was of me, how amazing I was doing, and giving me more details on the day. He updated me on Kevin, which was just breaking my heart to hear about. As we chatted, I warned Jerome not to get me in trouble as he walked his bike alongside me. I ran down Barton, and he met me under the bridge. As I ran down, I saw Kevin and our friend Phil, giving them a wave as I passed on my way in to the finish. I was being carried on adrenaline at this point.

As we got closer to the second bridge, that would take me in to the finish, Jerome told me everyone was waiting for me on the other side. He reminded me to take it all in. Even now, as I type this, I get choked up just thinking about it. He said my family was at the finish and there was a crowd waiting on the other side of the bridge. He said Jonathan was there and that he was giddy with excitement waiting for me. "Jonathan? Giddy?" I thought to myself. I told Jerome I didn't believe him and that Jonathan doesn't get giddy.

Before getting yelled at by a marshal and riding away, Jerome told me how proud he was of me, and it was a great feeling.

I was running at this point, but when I got to the start of the foot bridge, I started walking. This time it wasn't to catch my breathe, but to take a little bit of time where I knew it would be quiet to take a few moments for myself. I walked and looked around me. It was dark out now and lights lined the bridge and downtown Chattanooga lay out in front of me along the river. It was quiet on the bridge, peaceful. With a slight echo of sound in the distance of music blasting and the faint words from the announcer shouting "You. Are. An. Ironman!"


I thought about the months of training, the years of triathlon, learning to run, growing confidence on the bike, the days and moments I doubted myself, the long bike rides, the back-to-back weekends, the friendships and bonds I made throughout this journey, my friends and family and amazing boyfriend who supported me. I breathed it all in and looked around me, thought of all these things, and got goosebumps as I took it. all. in. Every drop of it.

As I walked across the bridge someone else in the race came up beside me and with one look at my face he said to me, "First one?" I said "Yup." "Going to the finish?" he asked. Double yup. He wished me congratulations and told me take it all in, then kept moving.


As I got to the halfway point on the bridge, I started running. I saw Lauren. I started to smile. This was it. I ran off the bridge and through all the ITL people cheering and screaming. I saw Jonathan and stopped and gave him a hug, and saw Jerome smiling in the background, knowing he had told me to stop and give hugs. He looked so proud of me and happy for me.



I asked where my mom was and someone said at the finish. I shouted "Okay!" and kept running, as Jonathan told me he'd meet me at the finisher shoot. But then all of a sudden I got confused. I literally could not remember where I was supposed to go. I stopped and said "Where do I run now???" and someone pointed me "Uhh -- right in the direction you have been doing!" and I thought "Oh yeah!" and kept moving forward.


I rounded the corner where the ATC cheer tent was. It was dark at this point and I didn't see anyone's faces but smiled to the crowd as I started to run downhill to the finisher shoot. A stretch of road I had run and walked on many times before. A moment I had visualized countless times. An experience I will never forget.

My friends and Jonathan had run down the shortcut set of stairs after seeing me cross the bridge and were running alongside to the finish, screaming my name and shouting "Go Katelyn! Go Ironman Katelyn!" Jonathan ran alongside the longest, yelling out, "Katelyn, I love you!" and telling me he was proud of me. It makes me choke up even as I type, just thinking about it.

This finish was unlike any race finish I had ever done. It was cooler. I was smiling, looking all around me, spotting familiar faces in the crowds on either side of the finisher shoot. I checked behind me to ensure there was nobody right on my heels and slowed down to take it all in. I filled with emotion thinking about all of the months, years, fun, long, hard days that were going into this moment.

I saw my family and ran over and gave them a hug. My coach was on the other side of the finisher shoot and captured a moment I must have watched 100 times over.



I kept moving, and started to cry, running through the finish line as I heard those coveted words, "Katelyn Buress, from Atlanta, GA, You. Are. An. Ironman!!"






Overall
Time: 11:29:20
Distance: 142.2
Div rank: 26
Gender rank: 168
Overall: 668

My crossing of the finish line was "boring" according to my sister and brother who were watching on the live feed, but it was full of tons of emotion for me. I got my medal and then immediately started to look for my family. I saw Jonathan on the left and went over to him and gave him a big hug and had a moment with him before walking towards the exit where all my family and friends were waiting for me. These were some of the best hugs ever.






The rest of the day was spent watching and cheering for others as they finished, trying to eat some normal food, and eventually packing up and heading back to the AirBnB. I was tempted to try and stay at the finish line until midnight, but I really wanted to shower and lay down. I had changed into shorts and some of the chafing going on was making me really uncomfortable.

Chattanooga Ironman was one of the most amazing days ever and it was made so amazing not by my speed or pace or time I crossed the finish line, but by the amazing showing of love and support I had from friends and family alike. Every single person who came out and cheering for me, who positioned themselves on a strategic part of the course, who said something encouraging, and who came out that day helped make this such a special event for me. Even more than a month later, I still have mixed feelings about not being able to do the swim. And about feeling sick on the bike and not being able to run as much on the run. But when I think of the day, I just feel overwhelmed with emotion at everyone who helped get me across the finish line. I am so appreciative.





The week following the race, I had a really difficult time recovering. My legs started to feel better after a day or two, but my stomach was a complete disaster. I honestly could not eat from Monday through to about midday Friday. I was really sick and think I may have caught some sort of a bug. I didn't leave my apartment the whole time and spent most of the days going back and forth to the bathroom (even waking up every few hours all through the night) and curled up in the fetal position. It freaked me out quite a bit and frustrated me endlessly to be so sick. Eventually I got my stomach back to me and began some celebratory eating the following week. Workouts have been coming back slowly and I am enjoying swimming and running, and have just started to get on the trainer a bit more. I have yet to sign up for another Ironman for 2019, but I am thinking it will likely be in the works.

My focus throughout October was supporting Jonathan through his race the first weekend in November, and now I'm getting back on track. Ironman Chattanooga was such an epic journey and I loved the training and the friendships that came out of this race. I will forever have a deeper special place carved in my heart for Chatt and the great races I have had there. Thank you for reading so far!