Making it Work (in Silver Sandals)

Brain Re-calibration

About a month out from the Boulder Half Ironman, I realized I needed to recalibrate my brain.  I hadn’t done a triathlon since the epic Ironman experience more than a year ago, and I could tell that my brain was discounting how tough covering 70.3 miles was going to be.  Fortunately, I had signed up for an Olympic distance triathlon two weeks ahead of the Half Ironman, and that allowed my brain and body to remember that a race doesn’t have to be 140.6 miles to be hard!  That 1500-meter swim + 26-mile bike + 10k run kicked by booty, and it was the perfect thing to get my head back in the game and start mentally preparing for what August 3rd had in store for me.


We stayed at a hotel close to the reservoir to avoid any unnecessary stress the morning of the race and on race morning, I was up sometime before my alarm went off at 4:15 am and to the Boulder Reservoir by 5:00 am.  I got everything set up in transition, chatted with my fellow PC athletes, went for a short jog to warm up the legs, and found a port-o-potty.  My friends Sasha and Neil were there to cheer me on, and it was so great to see IMG_3281.jpgtheir smiling faces that early in the morning!  Zach and I talked about strategy as far as the legs go, and we decided it would be best to leave my bike and run legs in transition and wear my walking leg from the swim exit to transition.  After figuring out the leg logistics, we headed over to the swim start area and I got into my new wetsuit and did a short warm-up swim.  It was a pretty small area and quite crowded, so I only swam one loop, which took about 3 ½ minutes… (Quick side note about my wetsuit: Since my residual limb is so skinny, I can’t just cut the leg off that side, but actually have to get it tailored to fit my skinny/short limb – huge thanks to Laurie Mizener for doing an amazing job and getting it done in time for me to swim in it prior to race day!)  I sat on the beach for a few minutes, then headed over to the swim start on my crutches (I can’t wear my leg once my wetsuit is on).  The PC athletes get to start behind the professional women, so I got to line up in the water right behind them – which is pretty awesome!  I was the only PC athlete to start at this time, so the announcer gave me a special shout-out and I felt pretty dang cool.  Biggest win of all – I didn’t throw up before the race like I always used to do!


At 7:10 am on the dot, the gun went off and we were off!  I followed the professional women as they set off at a pace I can only hold for 100 meters, and settled into my own rhythm as I started ticking off the buoys I swam past.  I could still see the professional IMG_9919women ahead of me for a while, which helped keep me on track when I had a hard time spotting the buoys, but they had pretty much lost me by the time we were turning to come back to the swim exit.  I stopped momentarily to ask a kayaker if I was headed in the right direction, and just happened to get a big mouthful of water that went down the wrong pipe in the meantime.  After I hacked and coughed for a bit, I regained control, and set back off to finish the swim.  Towards the end I started getting passed by some of the really speedy age groupers, and had to kick a little more aggressively with righty to ensure they knew I was there and didn’t swim over the top of me – not having two legs to kick seems to equate to them not realizing I’m there if they swim up on my left.  I kept swimming and soon reached the swim exit where Zach was waiting to help me out of the water.  I got over to my towel, Zach pulled my wetsuit off, and I put on my walking leg to head to transition.


img_3263.jpgI walked/jogged through the transition area to my bike and sat down to switch legs.  Itook off my walking leg and socks and allowed my residual limb to breath a little while I put on my right sock and bike shoe.  I then applied copious amounts of glide and baby powder to my residual limb to help prevent chafing, and then put on my socks, liner, and bike leg.  I put on my helmet and sunglasses, then grabbed my bike and headed over to the sunscreen station to get lathered up before setting out on the 56-mile journey with my bike.


The bike was my biggest focus going into this race because I hadn’t put in a lot of time in the saddle since my tri bike and I sort of had a trial separation period after Ironman last year.  Coach Mark knew I could work through it, though, and he encouraged forced me to get back on my tri bike and really grind out some hard sessions on the trainer.  I really wanted to do the bike in under 4 hours, but just didn’t know if I had the capability based on my lengthy break from longer rides.  I started out holding a steady pace because the first part of the course was pretty flat, and just kept pedaling and grinding up the hills.  It was quite refreshing to be able to shift gears and actually ride up the hills this year, so that was good, although I did have some flashbacks to Ironman last year when I had to image1 (3)walk up the same hills because I wasn’t able to shift gears (for 88 miles if you haven’t heard that story).  About halfway through, I knew I was on target to crush my 4 hour goal, and I just stuck with it and held my pace.  It was getting hot out, but I wasn’t feeling it yet since there’s a nice bike on the breeze.  I did, however, stay ahead of hydration, and felt like I needed to go to the bathroom for the better half of the bike, which was a good sign that I wasn’t dehydrated.  My leg was fitting a little tight, and I eventually had to pull over to take off a sock to give my residual limb more room in the socket.  This was around mile 50 when I just couldn’t stand the pain of my socket squeezing my calf any longer.  I almost fell over on the side of the road because I was using my bike to balance while I took off my leg, liner, and a sock, and then put everything back on again, but managed to (mostly) stay upright.  One passerby did ask if I was okay, and I quickly said I was and thanked her for checking so she could get back to her own race.  Got re-situated on the bike and finished the last 6 miles, with a total time more than more than 12 minutes under my 4 hours goal – I was ecstatic and actually got a little choked up as I neared the dismount line and realized I had crushed my goal and executed a plan probably better than I ever have before.


T2 was uneventful – I racked my bike, took off my helmet, and then sat down for the leg switch.  I removed my leg first, then my right shoe, put on my right running shoe, and then put on more glide, powder, a gel sock, my liner, and my running leg.  I did it in this order to allow my residual limb the maximum breathing time between leg changes.  I already knew I was going to be in trouble though because of the swelling issue I had on the bike, and I joked with Zach that he actually had to go do the run because I had signed up for the relay and not told him…  Even though I knew it was going to be rough, I threw on my visor, running skirt, and race belt with by bib, and set out to finish what I started.


I finally took the long-awaited potty break shortly into the run, and at least had confirmation that I was not completely dehydrated.  This run course is brutal because it’s on crushed gravel and pretty much 99.9999% exposed with no shade.  I started out doing a combination of jog/walk, but quickly realized I couldn’t keep it up because my left calf was getting the circulation cut off by my prosthesis again.  Unlike on the bike, the gel sock I wear when I run does not have any wiggle room and I therefore couldn’t take a sock off to relieve the pressure.  My only option was to stop, roll down the sleeve that holds my leg on, and pull my leg off slightly to relieve the calf.  I kept doing this every few minutes, and was mostly walking by this point due to the calf issue + mid-90 degree temps with zero clouds in the sky.  Thankfully there were aid stations with ice every mile and amazing volunteers who kept me going for the next mile with my freshly stocked sports bra of ice.  The run course was two loops, and as I was closing in on the finish of my first loop I was seriously considering throwing in the towel once I finished my first loop and taking my first DNF (Did Not Finish).  I just didn’t know how I could keep walking on my running leg with the calf issue and the fact that my running leg kept shooting out backwards because of the loose gravel, slowing down my walking pace.  It was also super hot, and the only cloud that had covered the sun had lasted a mere 14 seconds before allowing Mr. Sun full ability to beat down on our souls again.


Fortunately, just a few minutes after I was having these thoughts of accepting a DNF, along comes Zach, running towards me with my walking leg strapped to his backpack.  He said both our moms had texted him worried about my slow run times and he had realized he needed to jump back on leg duty and deliver my walking leg to me.  As a PC athlete, I get to have a leg handler, so this was part of his job for the day.  I switched into my walking leg, but quickly remembered that I didn’t pack a left tennis shoe because my running leg has a shoe sole on it and doesn’t need a shoe… in my head, my only option at this point was to put on my walking leg, strap on my sparkly silver Chaco sandals, and walk as fast as I could to finish the remaining 8+ miles of the “run.”  So that’s what I did.  I walked over 8 miles in the dust and dirt and 90+ degree weather in my sandals because I knew in my heart that I had to keep moving forward and not take a DNF unless it was forced upon me – it was not going to be a conscious choice now that I had my power sandals on my feet.


The finishing chute was pretty long because you had to once again go past the finish line before looping back around to cross the finish line (something about good picturesIMG_9894 with the mountains in the background), and I power walked and gave high fives to all the kids along the chute.  The cool thing about this finish is that this was the experience I had hoped for at the Full Ironman last year – I wanted to take my time, walk across the finish line, and get a PR (personal record) in high fives.  Since I was so close to the cutoff last year, I didn’t get to have that finish and instead sprinted across the finish line as if my life depended on it.  My race this weekend didn’t go 100% as planned (and they never do), but I felt a sense of fulfillment as I took my time to walk through that chute and across the finish line in my silver sandals. 


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