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Facing and Overcoming Obstacles, Ironman 70.3 Maine Race Recap

Mission Accomplished. 

I knew once I gave birth to Gia last October, I was going to have to do something to really challenge myself. Something that would bring back my pre-baby body and also strengthen my mind. 

So, with Jim being an Ironman and USA Triathlon Coach, I thought what better way to do that than with a Half Ironman. A swim, bike and run totaling 70.3 miles. I prepared by signing up for one Sprint and two Olympic distances with my final goal being to finish the Half Ironman 70.3 Maine.

In December, once I was cleared by my doctor to workout, I began swimming at the YMCA. I would go 3-4 days a week, struggling to make it from one end of the pool to the other without panicking and flipping on my back. 

Jim created a training plan for me that outlined a swim workout twice a week, a bike workout twice a week, a track workout once a week and a longer run once a week. Six days a week of half Ironman training. I stuck to the plan as much as I could, logging hours and seeing incredible progress over a few months in the pool. But factor in a newborn, a full-time day job and managing SENS Fitness, and I was overwhelmed, to say the least.

Fast forward to Saturday, August 25, 2018. The day before race day in Orchard Beach, Maine. 

Jim and I breezed through the athlete check-in, organized our bikes and everything else we needed in the transition area and to my surprise, I actually felt calm and ready. 

At night, we hoped to get Gia to bed as early as possible. Instead, around 6 pm we were faced with a puking baby. She felt feverish, kept shoving her hands into her mouth and would not hold any milk down. She'd go on to throw up four times. A call to our pediatrician confirmed it was either an ear infection or severe teething pains. We were told if she didn't have an easy night to bring her to urgent care in the morning.

Luckily, we had plenty of family with us that offered to take care of her should we need it. Gia finally settled down sometime around 11 pm and our alarm went off at 4 am. Not a restful sleep for anyone, that night. 

Aside from being worried about the baby and exhausted, I was actually looking forward to getting in the water. I panicked the day before, looking out on the swim course, terrified at how far the boueys looked but on race day I felt ready. However, I’m not going to lie and say it was such an amazing experience! It wasn’t ideal. I had one larger man and an older woman constantly swimming around me, pulling my leg, hitting my back and brushing up against my hand. No matter how hard I tried to swim away, to the left or right of them, there they were. BUT, the water temp was 65 degrees and I did as best as I could to flow with the waves and not swallow too much salt water. I swam 1.2 miles in the Atlantic Ocean in 44 minutes. My Garmin registered 40 minutes. I'm pretty proud of that time. 

Then the bike. Oh, that f*%#* bike. 56 miles is a long ride. So, naturally when you’re out there riding for so many hours, to pass the time, you're either going to be alone with your thoughts or you make friends. While riding alongside a girl who was going at the same pace as me, we struck up a friendly conversation for about 5 miles. No one was riding in front or behind us.  Out of nowhere, an official with Ironman rolled up on the back of a motorcycle waving a blue card at me, screaming “blue card, blue card, DRAFTING!” I learned this because I wouldn’t pass my new friend or get behind her, creating an unsafe environment for other triathletes.

So, I dropped back behind her let her ride away and a few miles later at an aid station I spotted a tent that read “Penalty.” I unclipped, got off my bike and told the guy standing there that I received a blue card. He told me I had to kill 5 mins in the tent as punishment. I was annoyed but used the opportunity as a chance to refill my water bottles. 

Back on the road I hit the 30-mile timing mat and was feeling good. Until about a mile later I hit something that caused my back wheel to pop. I was screwed. Unlike the other experienced triathletes, I had no replacement tire on me. I was told the type of tires my bike had (tubular) never got a flat. So what did I do? For starters, I began crying quietly. Then, I took off my bike shoes, crossed the road and started walking back toward the aid station. At that point, I began to sob. Loudly, unabashedly, paying no mind to the athletes who were screaming “Are you ok?” as they whizzed past me.

About a two mile walk later, I finally got back to the area I stopped in minutes before. I found the penalty box guy and told him to call me a service car, that there was no way I’d be able to finish the bike portion and I need a lift back to the finish area, 26 miles away. 

Enter a young man named Cory. He ran over and said, “I’m with the local bike shop and working with Ironman, I can fix your wheel for free, no problem. Do you want me to?”

Dilemma. Do I let him fix the tire, finish the 26 miles or say, "thanks, but no thanks" and tell everyone, there was nothing I could do, shit happens? 

45 minutes after the initial flat happened, I was back on the road and those final remaining miles were brutal. I convinced myself on the ride that there was no need to do the run. By that point I would be nearing race cutoff time, so why even bother?

When I did finally arrive at the transition area, I saw Jim’s family. I heard them cheering but I felt so embarrassed at my failure that I could not even smile or look in their direction. Gia’s happy face giggled at me and my heart broke. I couldn’t stand the thought of her someday learning that I gave up on something I worked so hard for. 

So, exhausted and beyond willing to move, I made my way for the run exit, which in my haste to get it over with, was actually the bike entrance. Just another sign that I shouldn’t be attempting these 13.1 miles. 

I got after it. Slowly, alternating between a jog and walk I made my way through the course, thanking the volunteers and trying my best to smile at the people around me. 

Finally, a mile and a half out from the finish line, I began to pick up the pace and was determined not to stop until I had a medal around my neck. 

I still can’t believe I actually followed through with it all. Next to childbirth, getting to and across that finish line was hardest thing I’ve ever done. But I didn’t make it there, alone. 

To my mother, without your help, day in and day out, watching Gia so I could train, I would have never been prepared for any of it. Thank you for all your patience and love. 

To my husband, best friend and yes, even business partner, Jim your endless support, quiet but constant confidence in me and expert training as my coach helped me through every hurdle out on that course. It was your voice I heard that kept telling me, “you can do this.” From the bottom of my heart, thank you. 

I said I’d consider doing a full Ironman 140.6 at some point. After this race, I’m not so sure that’s the case anymore, but who knows. I never predicted my life would turn out the way it has and I could not be more proud of everything I’ve accomplished and all that we do as a family, everyday. 

Create goals, work to make them attainable and don't let anything stand in your way.

- Karen