Everyone comes up with a brilliant race plan for Ironman, but then everyone has to deal with the reality that planning for something like Ironman is like trying to land a man on the moon. How you react to the changes in your plan will dictate your day. Don't waste energy worrying about things - just do what you have to when you have to, and keep moving. Keep eating. Keep drinking. Just don't sit down - don't EVER sit down.
Finishing an Ironman is never an accident. It's the result of dedication, focus, hard work, and the belief that all the long runs, long rides, and long swims every damn day will be worth it. It comes from getting on the bike, day in, day out. It comes from long, solo runs. From that first long run where you wondered, "How will I ever be ready?" to the last long run where you smiled to yourself with one mile to go...knowing that you'd found the answer.
It is worth it.
The weather condition was brutal. Some said it was like hell. The high was 97, and the humidity was terrible. I knew that it was crucial to manage. I had already adjusted my expectation of my finish time. I always said I wanted to finish in 12-13 hours. So I knew that I had to change my goal and expect the highest time.
At about 4:45, Mike and I headed to the transition area to drop off my things and to catch the bus to the swim start. The line wasn't extremely long to get on the bus, but when we arrived at the swim start, the line was really long. I got off the bus and headed to the end of the line with Lisa, Frank, Ed and Jodi. My whole family was with me. My mom from Italy, my cousin from Switzerland and of course my awesome husband Mike and the girls. I was so unbelievably nervouson race morning.
Go time. Athletes were getting in the water. The swim line was moving. Hugs were shared. I walked down the ramp. I jumped into the water with more than 3000 other wide-open sets of eyes. It took my breath away.
I shivered like everyone else, but smiled because the day I have waited for so VERY long was finally there.
I loved the rolling swim start; I was never really crashing up against someone and I wasn't being run over by other swimmers as I have experienced before.
I breast stroked for some time to try to get my breathing under control. I started out with unilateral breathing because I was so nervous. I looked upon the sea of humanity, and I knew that I was belonging there. I teared up in my goggles. Everyone does. The helicopters roared overhead. The splashing surrounded us. I stopped thinking about the Ironman, because I was now racing one. The swim was long - it's long for everyone, but I made it.
I was able to eventually relax and do bilateral breathing. I was thinking to myself.. “I have to keep moving and not freak out because there are A LOT of people walking along the riverwalk watching all the swimmers”. I got closer to the swim exit and the kayakers were directing a few of us to the right so we would go around the outside of the last buoy. The last buoy???? “WooHoo...Get me outta here”!!!!!
Swim Finish Time: 1:13:01 This is not that fast for me. There was a river current, so I was expecting to be faster. My previous ocean open water swim experiences were about 1:18:00.
Out of the Water I was 77/450 in my Age Group
T1- Out of the water and on to T1, I ran up the ramp towards the transition to get my bike gear bag. I was so happy to see my family screaming for me. My mom had a funny worried face. lol
Then I found my bag and grabbed it myself as all the volunteers were super busy helping other athletes. I got in the changing tent and put on my bike gear, ingested a Cliff Shot Gel and headed out to get my bike.
I was soon on my ForzaFit bike, eating my food on schedule, controlling my Ironman.
The voices, the cowbells, and the curb-to-curb chalk giving you a hero's sendoff can't wipe the smile off your face. I was able to settle down to my race. The crowds spread out on the road.
My power meter was not working. Bummed! I had a goal to follow, but now it was all about managing by feeling.
On the first 40-45 miles I was feeling very good. I know it was the adrenaline and being in the crowd of people. I set my Garmin to give me alerts every 30 min to remind me to eat/drink from my fuel bottle. Every hour I took in a Cliff Shot gel. I used Gatorade Endurance Formula mixed with CarboPro (360 cal per hour). After 2 hours I also ate a Special K Meal Protein Bar.
I stopped 3 times to use the secret port-a-johns.
In Chickamauga I stopped at the special needs bag area to change out my fuel bottles and get my other bar. Going through Chickamauga I was looking around to see my friends and family. Yes! I saw them. They were screaming: “Go, Go, Go!” The road heading out of Chickamauga became the part of the bike course I hated/liked the most. It was a constant climb, for what felt like 10 miles. I hated it because when I was looking at the speed, it was so low, but I liked it because I like to tell my legs: ”ShutUpLegs’! What kept me going was knowing there was a sweet descent on the other side. Whew. Got over that hill.
Now it was time for the second lap. The second lap was hillier than the first lap. I know what you're thinking, "that can't be possible". Go ride this course and you will understand. But that's ok. This is a beautiful bike course. The second lap was a bit more difficult because of the HEAT. About mile 80, I started to feel that morning sun turned to afternoon sun. It was hot now. I kept riding. I kept drinking. I kept moving. After all, this is just a long training day with valet parking and catering, right?
I put on my game face, fighting the urge to feel down as I was riding for what seemed like hours. I was tired. Doubts started fighting for my focus. Everyone struggled here. I had been on that bike for a few hours, and stopping would be nice, but I did not- not here. Not today. I grinded the false flats to the climb. I knew I was almost there.
At each aid stations I grabbed a bottle and continued. The volunteers were great, gave words of encouragement, and told me 'I was an inspiration to them'. Wow!!! The Ironman Chattanooga Volunteers Rocked!!!!!!
Again on the second loop, I stopped at the bike courses' best kept secret port-a-johns. This time going through Chickamauga I got to see Mike and Asia. Yay!!!! That made me so happy. My nutrition stayed pretty solid. I knew I needed to keep fueling and hydrating on the bike if I wanted to make it on the run. I fought for every inch of road. The energy of the crowd pushed me. I smiled when they cheered for me - my body got just a little bit lighter. I grinded. I fought. I suffered. I persevered. I plunged down the road, swooping from corner to corner, chaining together the turns, tucking on the straights, letting my legs recover for the run to come - soon!
Getting closer and closer to the bike finish I was feeling pretty good.
I started seeing people running out. I thought : ”Wasn't I just here?" The noise grew.
Bike Finish Time: 6:34:43 Averaged: 17.63 for 116 Miles (not the usual 112 Ironman distance). (Garmin avg 18.2 because of auto-pause)
Much, much slower than I could. But it was intentional. Needless to say, I'm extremely happy.
Note: The bike course is hilly. The are many false flats, but some descend too. Some hills are hard, but nothing we cannot mange.
Off the Bike I was 38/450 in my Age Group
T2- And I was back, with only 26.2 miles to go. I dismounted my bike and 100 volunteers fought for my bike. I gave it up and did not look back. I ran/walked to get my run gear bag. It was funny. After I handed off my bike, I started to run in my bike shoes. As you know, bike shoes AREN'T made for walking, much less running. So I stopped and thought, 'that's not gonna work' bent over to take my shoes off and started running again, stopped and thought, 'that's not gonna work either' so I grabbed my run bag and WALKED to transition. Ha!Ha! Hence my 9:44 minute transition times.
I got in the changing tent and the volunteer helped me as much as possible. I loaded up my pockets, and opened the door to the last long run of my Ironman summer - the one that counts. I consumed a Cliff Gel and water, stopped at the port-a-john again and I was on my way for the run. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. :)
I took that first step of a thousand...and I smiled. The bike did not let me down - the race was down to my own two feet. The same crowd that cheered for me in the shadows of the morning was cheering for me in the brilliant sunshine of a Sunday. I High-fived people on the way out. I Smiled. I Enjoyed it. This is what I was working on for the past 3 months.
That first mile was supposed to feel great. But it was so damn hilly. Did I say run? Ha.. If you can call 10MPM run then yes. I tried to run. Run a few steps and then resigned to walk a bit, everyone was walking and not running. I remember thinking to myself, 'I have to go 26.2 miles? How am I gonna do this? Then you'd hear your name, "ShutUpLegs!", and you'd have to start running again because you have no idea who just coaxed you into that run, but they were close enough to read the name on your bib number.
I saw my family again up to the first hill. I screamed Asiaaaa. Yes, they were there again. It made me so happy!
I was trying to get my legs to do what my mind was telling them: “ShutUpLegs”! After a bit, I finally got into a rhythm. I stayed tuned into my heart rate and my run rhythm. I got to the first aid station fast. I took in water. I vowed to take in something at each aid station. I tried to keep running. Aid stations were approximately every mile. So if I could just get to the next aid station, I'd be good. That was my mantra. Get to the next aid station. Walk the aid stations and run in between. "If I can keep that pace the whole race, I will have a strong run finish”. That being said, while running I would start thinking, “just hold this pace’” , that pace that I call my “MISERABLE PACE”. Yes I had trained to run at 9MPM, but that heat and humidity was brutal. Almost everyone was walking. I settled down just like I did on the bike, and got down to my pace. I saw the leaders coming back the other way. Some looked great - some didn’t. I felt great, sometimes I did not. No matter how I felt, I did not panic - this is the part of the day where whatever you're feeling, you can be sure it won't last. I kept moving. I kept drinking. I kept eating. I was still believing. I was thinking of all my Tampa friends that were thinking of me and probably drinking a beer for me in that same moment! That gave me power.
Around 10 miles or so I saw Mike who ran next to me for a bit and chatted. He was updating me on the proximity of several friends on the race course. So glad he chatted and reinforced what I needed to do to keep moving forward.
The run course was by far my favorite part of the whole day. Now let me correct this. I did NOT say that running was my favorite part, I said the run course was my favorite part. Why? Not because it was super hilly, but because along the run course it is so much easier to get myself out of my head. Aid stations every mile. I had a chance to joke, whine, or cry at least every mile. Then on several parts of the course there were a lot of spectators. Often I would give thumbs up to someone that may have been shouting. They'd yell, I'd yell. Hey, why not have some fun while I'm out here. And what a better way to 'numb' the pain.
At half way point, I saw my family again. I stopped to stretch. My hamstrings were tight. Every time it is hot, they are tight. They told me : ‘Next time we see you, you will be at the finish line”. So I didn't want to let them down. “I got this!” On the second lap, just as the first, I checked my pace every mile. I wanted to stay at least 10:30 or 11:00 minute pace ( I adjusted the pace due the Heat). I think I probably could have pushed it a bit harder on the run, but I didn't want to take the chance of something keeping me from finishing. So I kept moving. On my second loop I got to see several Tampa friends, including Lisa. Unfortunately she was not feeling good. There were sooooo many highs and lows along the bike and run course (including lots of hills). One thing I discovered during the run was I needed to get out of my head as much as possible, so I 'played' with the spectators and volunteers. At one point along the run there were two young children (a girl and a boy) standing next to each other holding their hand out for a 'high five' as people ran by. I hit the little girls hand and missed the little boys hand standing next to her. He looked so upset that I missed him that I turned around and ran by him again to give him a 'high five'. The look on his face made my day.
The brilliant sunshine started to yawn. I was coming up to those aid stations fully alive with people, music, and chicken soup. TAKE THE SOUP. Yes take it! Keep moving. “I will soon only have a few miles to go.” So I started to believe that I was really going to make it ,not my predicted time, but I was going to make it. I started to imagine how good it was going to feel when I was going to get there. So I let those feelings drive me on. When my legs just didn't want to move anymore, I thought about what it was going to be like when someone would have caught me…and put a medal over my head... all I had to do was get there. I started hearing the people in town. People I couldn't see in the twilight were cheering for me. As I was getting closer to the finish, the crowd was yelling"Almost There" and if you've ever done any kind of race, spectators ALWAYS yell 'almost there'. But this time they were right. I could see the finish. OMG I could see the finish. Smiling from ear to ear. Running down the finisher shoot, many people were holding out their hands for a "Hi Five”. Itwas so overwhelming. So exciting. So worth all the crap I went through. I started to realize that the day was almost over. I was exhausted, wiped out, barely able to run a 10-minute mile, but I was asking myself, "Where did the whole day go?" I was standing on the edge of two feelings - the desire to finally stop, and the desire to take these last moments and make them last as long as possible. I hit mile 25. My Ironman had 1.2 miles left in it. I was running. I found my legs. I was flying. I do not know how, but I was running. The lights grew brighter, brighter, and brighter. Soon I was able to hear the music again. This time, it was for good. Soon they would have seen me, everyone would have seen me. I ran towards the lights, between the fences, and into the night lights made just for me. They said my name. I kept running. Nothing was hurting.
The moment was mine - for one moment, the entire world was looking at me and only me. I “broke the tape” at the finish line, 144.6 and not the usual 140.6 miles after starting my journey. I was jumping for joy. The flash went off. I stopped. Yes, I finally stopped. My legs wobbled at last, and suddenly...were capable of nothing more. Someone caught me. I leaned into him. YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!"
I heard : “Rosa Laura Saggese Elbooz You Are An Ironman!" I raised my hands and I jumped at that moment.
Run Finish Time: 5:16:12 Averaged: 12:04 for 26.2 Miles
I have trained to run this at 9MPM. I had to adjust the pace due the Heat and Humidity. My garmin avg was 11:00 with auto pause.
Run/Overall Finish I was 27/450 in my Age Group
The volunteer that was at the finish line told me I should give a thumbs up for one of my finisher pics so I did. One volunteer also asked me if I wanted a shower with a bottle of water, and I said “Oh yes, go ahead!!!”. The photographer was snapping pics pretty quick and I tried to do a thumbs up but the flash went when I wasn't ready, so she motioned me to do it again.
Overall Finish Time: 13:20:59 27/450 in my Age Group
Yes it was a good day! No wait, it was a GREAT day! Yes I am shocked at my finish time! Yes I’m extremely happy.
OMG, I can't believe I did it! And yes I’m an IRONMAN.
IT HAS BEEN AN AWESOME EXPERIENCE!!!!
Note: I want to send special thank to my wonderful husband Mike Elbooz who supported me here in Chattanooga and always supported my crazy training schedule! A special thanks to my mom Lia Russo who came from Italy and my cousin Pina Russo who came from Switzerland to help and cheer. And of course, my girls who were understanding during my hard training and also completing a little Ironman following me every where on race day. I want to thank all my friends who were sending me good vibes on race day. Without all of you I could not have done it!
As I tell my athletes for race day:
Remember that your training is to help you execute on race day. To reach your full potential as an athlete at your upcoming race, it's important to use every training session to perfect your nutrition, pacing and mental strength as well as to discover what gear/equipment is going to give you the best race possible.
Trust your training, trust your plan, trust your nutrition and trust your gear, but be always conscious. Adjust your expectation on race day according to weather, feelings and anything is happening that day. Never give up and keep screaming: “ShutUpLegs”!
Note: "According to Channel 3’s morning meteorologist David Karnes, Sunday’s high reached 97 degrees in Chattanooga, that's the warmest September 25th since 1931. A total of 611 athletes and spectators were treated by event medicine specialists in the medical tent at this year's Ironman. A majority of those individuals received treatment for heat-related illnesses. The race did see a higher than normal rate of athletes who did not finish. There was a 39% DNF rating at Chattanooga IM this year."