WIND FACTOR – HEART = 13:08:43
What do we get out of being an Ironman? Is it the opportunity to get the coveted IM stamp, tattooed to your body? Is it more than that; a desperate attempt to not get old and feel like a kid when we once thought we were invincible? Or that we were taught to dream big and the sky is the limit; are we the ones who continued to believe this after our childhood? What creates this Iron Insanity within us and time after time leads us back to wanting more?
On a day like today the weather would call for “high advisory winds” at home; but for here, it is a normal day. It is constant and unrelenting. At the start of the day, it was a light 15mph and only to pick-up as the day went by. The plan was to be through the first half of the ride by noon, in order to avoid the unprotected climb from Teguise to Los Nieves. As you looked up to the sky, it was dark and gloomy and looking like the tears from the sky could fall at any moment. I had slept less than four hours the night before, yet getting up was easy. That was fine for now, but would the lack of sleep weigh in on me later in the day? Even though I had gone to bed earlier in the night, all I could do was think about how I was going to make it through the bike course. I was obsessed. Baguette, peanut butter (and lots of it) and water was what I had for breakfast. Then I sat down to write out my cheat sheet (something later on in the race I was so happy I had done).
I will admit; I was weighing a lot of how I was going to make it through the swim based off my strength training. I had done a lot of kettle bell and pull-ups work and not a lot of swimming. This is due to a nagging shoulder issue that kept flaring up during my training. Ironman swims starts are not the top of my favorite list for many reasons. I am sure it is not the favorite part of the race for many. In any open water swim race there will be pulling, clawing, grabbing and hitting, and I can handle that from a woman who is my size, but to be hit and grabbed and pulled underwater by a guy twice my size is another story. 1350 athletes and less than 10% were women. I looked where most of the pink caps were and I took near the ladies. It was a beach start and I was not in a rush to get pummeled. Talking in Spanish, more Spanish and the gun! I started my watch and waited for my feet to leave the sand. It took one minute before I actually hit the water and off I went. Straight out to sea, I was to the first buoy what felt like in no time. A left hand turn and off onto the long straight away and then “SMACK!” right into my head. I looked up confused, not aware that I was that close to someone and then I saw the attacker – the lane rope with the hardest, barnacle covered buoys attached. Two things that went through my mind were, “ouch” and “wow, I’m actually on the rope!” And I stayed on that rope all the way to my turning point. Staying relaxed and keeping myself in the draft line is what I did the entire first lap and it was fantastic! I got pushed around a few times, but most of my problems happened when I had to get aggressive and past through a few people. Second lap was a little more challenging because the wind and tide started to pick up, but still held pretty steady. At one point looking down you could see a school of fish swimming the same direction right under us and I wondered if they were looking up at us wondering if we looked like a school of fish to them. Then entire time the bike was out of my mind until I was swimming to shore. Looking at the clock as I exited the water I notice I had PR’d by more than 3 minutes…nice.
In the transition tent I ran into my friend who came out here to race his first triathlon ever and we were both having a blast! Here is not the type of service you get at other races, especially in the US. You are on your own for taking your wetsuit off, getting your bags, sunscreen, dressing, everything. It is like going out to eat here – service is the same.
Onward to the bike – deep breath in – get ready to suck it up for the next six to seven hours; I felt great at this point, but it was to soon to tell what was going to happen throughout the day. We first headed north and the wind was pushing us out through the first 4k, then we made the loop and headed southbound to Yaize. This was your first taste of the headwind and all I can say is wow! There is a slight grade, but what you were fighting with elements made it seem tougher, however it didn’t feel too much different from the Computrainer course, so I wasn’t too surprised.
Survived the first climb and an hour later you were able to see the oceanfront and realize how much you had already ascended. As we entered the Timanfaya National Volcano Park, we got a real taste of what type of windy battle we were in for the rest of the day. As we made the loop, the winds shifted and picked up; now we were in for a strong northwest headwind for the next 100km. At moments when you started to wonder if this would ever end, we would be protected from any breeze. As welcoming as you would think this would be, it wasn’t, because of the lava rocks holding all the heat it suddenly became a sauna where you could feel your body cooking. You were taking part of a never ending or winning battle.
I remember thinking that Fire Mountain was hard, but in comparison to what you experienced ahead it now seems like a walk in the park. What was exciting about this area and all but one of the tough climbs was the fan support. You felt like you riding on a European Road Tour and all the fans were not only lined up along the side of the roads with flags and painted roads, but they would ride down the center of the road with you and cheer you on, take pictures and film. By the end of the race you felt like you knew part of the crowd, because they had spend the day with you (Rayco’s cheer group for me especially. Rayco was that one competitor who we were always within 200 meters from each other from the bike to the finish line, and he had an amazing group of drivers following him…therefore me too! By the time I was finishing up the run, the group knew me and was cheering me on as well as Rayco).
As we left Timanfaya Park and headed to Tinajo and onward to Famara you took a strong cross wind, but the view was worth the sideways lean you had to do on your bike to keep it upright. Famara was flashbacks from Abu Dhabi with sand blowing all over the road, all over you and into your mouth and eyes. Then, FINALLY wind at your back! As you headed back to the center of the island, toward Teguise you got to experience a steady, gradual climb where I was able to ride in my lowest gear and fly up the hill. It was pretty exciting. As we approached one of the many turnabouts I looked at my cheat sheet I had written down my arm (how many miles each climb was and where it took place), and we were about to take on the big one.
Now, this was without a doubt the hardest I have ever worked in my life during a race. Never have I climbed a hill so steep, so grueling (or windy to top), but here I was and ready for the battle. On the flip side of the coin, it was one of the most exciting parts of the race. The only thing that could have prepared me for the next two hours of my life would have been coming out here for two month before the race and practicing it over and over and over again.
As you come through the town of Teguise, the 90km point, crowds line the street and your journey uphill begins. It isn’t very technical, but very steep. For 10k all that when through my mind was: 1,2,3…50 in the saddle, 1,2,3…50 up and out, 1,2,3…20 in the saddle, 1,2,3…20 out, 1,2…10 in, 1, 2…10 out and repeat over and over again. That is how I did it, the only way that got me through. At the top you are at Los Nieves and got a quick view of your grand achievement, special needs station (lunch sacks like what they give in the Tour’s) and don’t forget to shift gears or you will miss the opportunity completely. And down you go, like an uncontrollable rollercoaster. Quickly you are at a little town situated between two “mountain tops” where people are lined through the narrow streets, music playing and you come to the center of town, sharp turn and you are back into the next climb…Haria.
Now this is where looking at race profiles seem deceiving; the climb getting to this point, while steep, long and quit the challenge, what was to come was even harder. When training on the Computrainer course I had even noted this, so I felt like I was prepared. 1,2…10 in, 1,2…10 out, 1,2…5 in, out out out push push push and DO NOT let your cadence drop or you will drop over!
You work so hard hoping for a reward, but the tangling switchbacks were something only an experienced Alps climber could be able to take advantage of. This is the point of the ride where the “break check” at the bike check in was of necessity. Needless to say, if the breaks didn’t work, you were screwed. Never have seen such tight and steep switchbacks before; each lasting 200-300 meters with sharp turn back and lasting for 5km and a descent of 650 meters. I braved looking up at one point to see the cyclists above me, coming down and it was an impressive site to see. Finally I was at the bottom, still on a not-so-steep descent I found myself working against the wind just to move downhill.
We soon made a turn to a closed to traffic road to what soon would look like a climb to the heavens. Mirador del Rio; narrow and lined with stone along each side of the roadway, only wide enough to get one car through the path and the most spectacular site I have ever seen. Breathtakingly beautiful – like a picture from the heavens and for today it was only to be shared with the chosen few who were up to the challenge. My eyes have never seen such beauty the earth has created. All around words like bonito, bellissima and stunning were being said as you reached the top. Worth every moment of riding through hell to get there; and that was before the bumpiest 30 mph and a 8km/5 mile descent I have ever taken. I couldn’t go faster for the road conditions were so bad. This was the turning point of having your wind at your back; 55km to go! One more pass through Teguise, past St. Bartolome and into Puerto del Carmen!
Normally it takes me until the last 20k to get “bike claustrophobia” but I had hit it already. I think it is because I had never been on a bike that long; Lake Placid took me six hours and I was pushing near that point with still quit a bit to go.
All I did was push as hard as I could through this point; there was a 32k uphill battle with the wind at your back, so that wasn’t bad. Riding down into Puerto del Carmen was a blast! Downhill, wind pushing you and twists and turns that took you all over the place. I had so much fun riding this point, getting to finally open up fearlessly and ride technically too! Then…unbelievable; just before you think you are done, you get to head north again into the wind for another 5k.
I had NEVER BEEN SO HAPPY TO START A MARATHON in my life! Anything to get off that bike, I would have done it at that point. Let the run begin! Like any race near the transition point it is a rush, no matter how good or bad you feel. Heading out for the first lap, about 3km in you made a turn directly into the wind and THAT IS IT, I AM DONE! I have officially stopped caring at this point and lost all heart. I kept searching for the biggest person I could get behind to draft off (something you can do in the swim and run – today was one of those days where you really could run draft and it make a difference). I was hungry like I have never experience right from the beginning; the ride really had taken a toll on my energy levels. Every aid station I took the liberty of a mini meal of apples, bananas, oranges and pretzel sticks…and water and I was taking my time. Run a little, hit the food bar, walk and eat it, run a little more.
Ironman definitely is a Boys Club here in Europe and the women who do it are even a rarer breed and get impressive respect from the outsiders. In the US, there are typically all sizes and shapes of people, but here there is only one – FIT and legs so nice. Running the tangent is something everyone does as you search for your next line you have to watch for oncoming runners doing the same. As I was approaching the last 5k a woman yelled to me something in Spanish, “?????????, Kimberly. Never Stop Running Kimberly!!!!” Those were the last words my great-grandma ever said to me before she died, “Never stop running.” Those are amazing words for me, since that is what my life is now, how I make a living. Suddenly I cared again and picked my heart off the ground. It is a 5k, that’s it, and one of my favorite distances and I am done. I dug deep and found my rhythm and pulled through, never stopping from that point and passing up the two aid stations along the way. How did I have so much energy there in the end? (…Maybe because I didn’t work so hard for the other 37km.) As I started down the shoot, hearing “We have Kimberly Shah from the United States….,” I closed in on the guy in front of me, walking with is wife and newborn and no way possible to go around…ahhhhhhhhhh! I had to stop and stand before the finish line waiting.
Last year’s finish in Lake Placid the girl in front of me just stopped and didn’t move so I couldn’t run across the finish line annoyed me, this guy just pissed me off. I missed the “you are an Ironman” moment of glory. Thirteen hours of hard work for that!
I will always stand by my belief in having people from the stands come into the finish shoot – NEVER SHOULD BE ALLOWED…EVER! This is stemmed from a race I was battling out for a top finish and a dad had his boy run out into the shoot as I came around the blind corner and collided with the kid. And now fueled by the man and his family at the Lanzarote Ironman..
What can you do now? It is over. Three Ironman down and the first one, without a doubt was the most glorious finish ever! Throughout the run I definitely had my moments of sanity, thinking never again, but today is a different story as I think of when and where for the next. That is part of the Iron Insanity, isn’t it?
WIND FACTOR – HEART = 13:08:43