Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"Jenny Paul, You Are an Ironman"

           It's been three days since I heard the words, "Jenny Paul, You Are an Ironman" and I am still not sure how I feel, or if it has even all sunk in yet. I'm less sore and more in awe than I thought I would be.
           People have been asking me since I crossed the finish line: How was it? How do you feel? I've been giving them basically the same answer: Doing an Ironman was the best and the worst thing I've ever done. It was supremely awful and amazingly elating all at once. I've never felt pain and joy like that before, both physical and mental. It's hard to explain in a short few sentences, so I'll write about it instead.

Race Week:
       Leading up to the race was a roller coaster. I was taper-crazy, going nuts not having anything to occupy my suddenly open schedule and felt the constant need to move. I am your typical, neurotic Type A triathlete, so I am VERY proud to say that I didn't pack until Monday for my trip that started on Thursday!
        To pack, I laid out a bag for Swim, Bike, Run, Special Needs, and Morning Cloths. I have tons of drawstring bags from other races, so I saved the planet a little and avoided ziplocs. Then, I wrote myself a detailed checklist and placed each item on the list on top of the bag it was to go it. Once I knew I had it all there, I stuff the bags, slapped a duct-tape label on them, and loaded them up in a suitcase, along with the street clothes I'd need.

Just a little Type A!
       I left Thursday morning to head to the Woodlands from Austin. I woke up on my own at 7:15 and popped out of bed, more excited than if it was Christmas morning! I just couldn't wait to get this party started. My fiance had a training for work, so he was unable to leave with me Thursday, instead having to suffer a bus ride to Houston the next day. ("Love you very much!" were words he heard more than once from Thursday on!)
      I arrived in The Woodlands around noon and immediately remembered why I left East Texas when I turned 18. I had worn boots, jeans, and my #50womentoKona shirt because I knew I'd not have a place to change and wanted to be warm at our happy hour and the athlete dinner. I immediately regretted this, and threw my hair in a ponytail before I even finished getting out of my car.
      Parking was easy at the mall, and the walk to check-in from there wasn't far. I excitedly followed the streams of compression clothes and visors to find Ironman Village near the Waterway.

The sight of this made it very real!
           I got through check-in quickly and got my packet and backpack. The bags were really nice, despite the fact that they were almost solid red. I had literally had a stress dream that they would be and I filed a formal complaint. You can tell where my real priorities lie. No matter what, I was pumped to have it. They funnel you straight in to the merchandise tent from check in, naturally, so I looked around for the name shirt I wanted and a tank top. Since the race was also my birthday, I decided to do as Donna Meagle would tell me and had a little Treat Yo Self action. While in the tent, I ran in to a friend of mine from our Facebook group and we had a funny moment of hugging and girly exclamation. Her husband was pretty confused about his wife hugging a random stranger in a tent! 

Nails looking good with that athlete wristband!

      I didn't do too much damage to my wallet and walked back to my car after going through the expo, which was much smaller than I imagined it would be. I killed some time (and cooled off!) walking around the mall until about 3pm, then headed over to The Goose's Acre to set up shop for our Ironman 20XX Facebook group Happy Hour. This group was great! If you are a first-time Ironman with no team or coach, find a Facebook group! It was a free resource for support and humor, and many of us had connected. I met two awesome ladies near me for rides and swims thanks to this group, and looked forward to meeting everyone else! We joked it was like one giant online date, but we had a good crowd of about 30 people show up and had fun shaking out our nerves and saying hi!

The remainder of our group after we remembered to take a picture! Thanks for coming!
      Since I was there alone, I left the HH with a couple of others on their own and headed to the Athlete Banquet. I had already paid for it, so why not eat? The banquet lines were quick, the food wasn't amazing, but definitely wasn't bad at all. However, the program was pretty lame. It was a long plug for the WTC's new initiatives (to make them more money) and not really centered on the race at hand. However, they did do some fun things like list the numbers of athletes from different countries AND most importantly, listed everyone who had a birthday on race day! Turns out, I was one of about 12, so happy birthday to us all!

My $700 meal. Pasta (pretty good), brisket (terrible), roll (terrible),salad (OK), Cake (delicious)
        After dinner and briefly getting to say hi to the awesome people with TriEqual (back at Goose's Acre, naturally!) I headed out to my mom's house, about 45 minutes from the Woodlands. I crashed there for the night and then promptly got up and left again to get to the practice swim in the morning. 
          I am a strong swimmer, but still glad I did it. It helped me get a feel for the water, for how to sight the buoys, and just loosen up and shake it out.  If it's your first time, or if you're feeling nerves, just go to the practice swim! I didn't swim long, maybe 900yds total, and took my time, even stopping to chat in the water with a 62 year old man who was enjoying himself as well! I had met with my friend Kerri to do the swim, so once we got out and dried off, we headed over to the Women For Tri tent to meet Meredith of Swim, Bike, Mom. If you don't read her blog, do it. She's funny, sweet, incredibly supportive, and an all-around nice person. She's also a supporter of TriEqual and a smart, informed voice on that debate!

Meredith, Kerri, and I post swim.
 Once I got done with the swim and walked with Kerri back to her car, we headed to transition to drop off our bikes and bags. Tips:      

- Get this over with early so you're not stressing about it all day                                                       - Rubber Band your bags shut. That way they're easy to open and close later, but sealed from any rain. I also saw people marking theirs with colored tape, etc. so they were easy to find. Smart!                                                                    - You CAN access your stuff on race morning, so keep your nutrition and anything that will melt out of there until then. Also, DON'T inflate your tires until race morning. We heard tires popping as we walked through. It's hot in Texas, air expands, rubber has its limits.
Cool panorama of transition posted on Facebook. It was a MUDDY MESS! And smelly!
         Finally, it was time to go check in to my hotel room and see what my $350 was going towards. I stayed at the Drurey Inn The Woodlands, and if you're doing this race, stay there! The room was nice, the staff even nicer. We got free bar drinks and dinner each night we stayed there and they set up breakfast early for athletes. It was expensive, but cheaper than the hotels right on the waterway without being too far, and totally worth it.

      I showered, set up my computer so I could charge my TomTom, and then let my checklist brain kick in again, keeping myself busy by arranging everything in orderly stacks. I made sandwiches with PB and bananas for special needs, then put everything in bags. I also put Nuun in two water bottles- one for T1 and one for T2, wrapped them in tin foil, and stuck them in the fridge. I wish I'd had a freezer, but oh well.

Special needs contents, plus race morning oatmeal.
      You do not get your special needs bags back! So, to avoid losing a totally good roll of duct tape, I used my now empty Nuun tube to make a roll of band aids and tossed it in the run SN bag. By the time I got done organizing everything in to its pile, my girlfriends started arriving. I had a friend from Colorado and a friend from Florida come all the way there to see me! I had two more come from Houston and College Station as well, and my parents came the next morning after the swim started. It was so awesome having such a big group of supporters there, especially having people to talk to and keep myself busy with.

       We went back to the Waterway and I showed them the transition area, swim start location, etc. Everything they would need to plan their time during the race. Then, we ate a late lunch of pizza at Girmaldi's (Yummy!) and went back to the hotel. After having to brave 5:30 Houston traffic to get to the bus station to pick up one very cranky man hauling a very big birthday box, we got back to the room around 8:30. (I had saved him a plate of dinner and a bloody mary from the bar, so his mood improved!)

         I tried to go to bed early, but couldn't sleep! It wasn't nerves or anxiety that I could feel, but I couldn't make my brain shut down. The worries about the weather were gone- forecast was clear. I knew I hadn't forgotten anything, and was ready for my 4:30 alarm. I just couldn't. Go. To. Bed. Bryce says he could feel my energy from across our King sized bed!

Race Day
      Finally, my alarm went off!  I hopped out of bed, threw on my kit, slapped on a #5Q tattoo and started rustling up my support crew while I brushed my teeth. They were just slightly less enthusiastic than me. I handed Bryce a Red Bull I'd gotten in my backpack and saved for him, and after that he was ready.
Pretty impressed with my quads! ;)

              We drove to transition and I hopped out with my bag while he found a place to park. Transition was electric, and smelled terrible! I ditched my flip flops and walked through the mud to my bike, pumped up my tires, filled my tank, and then sloshed back to my bags to add my final nutrition and bottles of Nuun. I found Bryce and Sandra back at the front, also meeting up with Kerri who was done with her bike, and we made the walk over to swim start.
The walk isn't long and it was easy to get down there. We dropped our special needs and morning bags with the volunteers and then, as timing would have it, it was already time to seed ourselves! Kerri and I got in the 1:20-1:30 group and moved slowly forward with the crowd of swim caps ahead. I started singing Happy Birthday to myself as we edged closer to the water, and the guys around me joined in.                                                                                                                                                                The rolling start was smooth and easy. I actually don't think I've ever been that calm starting a
race! There were still tons of people around me the entire swim, and a few jerks who insisted on swimming over instead of around, but overall, it wasn't bad! The buoys are bright and easy to see, even in the sun. The Waterway channel did provide a little extra challenge, as it bottle necked swimmers into a narrower areas. However, it was super fun to be able to see spectators during the swim! I caught sight of my group and gave them a big wave mid-stroke. I had worn a bright orange Zoot top, both to reduce drag from my kit and to be easily seen, and it worked great.
          Exiting the water was easy, thanks to plenty of volunteers. I finished in 1:32, almost spot-on with my goal of 1:30.   
Swim exit- ready to roll!
       I didn't realize it, but I had no idea what to do with my T1 bag when I got to it! It took me a minute to realize that I wasn't supposed to empty it right there, but take it to the tent with me. Oops! That added some time,but once in the tent, it was smooth sailing. I sat down and dried off with my towel, then put on my headband, helmet, and shoes. I took time to drink my whole bottle of Nuun, knowing I'd need all the fluids I could get, and loaded my pockets with my Hammer bars. I then wrapped my feet in two big plastic bags we had saved from shopping and dropped my T1 bag at the entrance, making my way to the bike.

Taking off my shoe covers while a volunteer held my bike
     The bike is always my favorite part of a race. I am a decently strong cyclist with great endurance, and I was looking forward to it. I got my feet free, walked to the mount line, and hopped on, waving at my friends and family as I left. My goal was 6:30 for the bike, and for the first half, I was flying! NOT because I had the hammer down, either. I was taking it very easy, keeping my heart rate low and my legs steady. We had a tail wind and the course was simply pretty flat compared to Austin. I stuck to my plan of 1 Hammer bar and 1 Endurolyte Extreme an hour, plus plenty of water.
       I did successfully pee on my bike three times during the ride, which was harder than I thought, but heartening because I knew I was hydrated. However, shortly after I ate my sandwich and Pringles at Special Needs, I hit the headwinds.
       Wind is something I had trained in, even high wind. However, these gusts were 30mph+! The stress of keeping my balance against them caused my lower back, for the first time in years, to begin to scream at me. I simply HAD to stop every 15miles or so and stretch or I was going to fall over. I was pretty bummed, since when I was moving, I was moving great, but it was what it was. I was comfortable grabbing bottles, so I drank a bottle and splashed myself at every aid station, keeping cool and full of fluid.
         I can happily say my nutrition plan was spot on. I felt GREAT the entire time as far as my stomach and energy went. If I hadn't had to stop for my back, I would have nailed my time goal. I ended up finishing in 7:08, almost 40mins slow. Oh well, at that point! My favorite sign was "You Still Look Really Pretty" at mile 90. It was a lie, and I knew it, but it made me laugh through my gritted teeth!
       The last 12 miles of the bike seemed to take forever, but finally I got back to T2 and handed my bike off and made the LONG walk around the mud pit to the tent. I met a girl who had been cramping the whole ride, despite salt and water, so I felt thankful that at least now that I was walking again, my body was in full cooperation. Or so I thought. I sat down in the tent, enjoyed ice water, and took off my shoes, only to see my feet were already obliterated with blisters.
Leaving for the run.
    It was so strange, because in my bike shoes they never once hurt, or even went numb! But there they were. I applied glide, powder, and dried them the best I could before saying, "OK ladies, let's run a marathon!" (Only a couple thought that was funny!)
       - Bring your own sunscreen! The stuff they use is greasy and hard to rub in
       - Pack LOTS of towels in ALL bags! It's hard to rub in cream and sunscreen on wet skin, and towels are a hot commodity in the tent.
      - Take your sweet time in the tent. Yes, you want to hurry to some degree, but relax, take a breath, and have some ice water. You have a marathon to run still!
      -  Have treats or snacks to look forward to! I ate pringles on the bike from my SN bag, and was so pumped to get to them on my run SN bag. 
      I had planned to run a mile, walk a quarter of a mile, for the duration. However, within the first few feet of the run, I knew this wasn't going to happen. I ran .5 and walked .5 for the first loop pretty successfully, averaging about a 14min/mile, which was just a touch lower than what I wanted, but not too bad. The energy on the waterway was so fun, and throughout the course as well (Volunteers and spectators rock!) I made my way on to my second lap, running my fastest pace because I knew I was coming up on Bryce and my friends, and I NEEDED to see them.

Coming in to sight
         Having them there, especially my two girlfriends who popped up out of nowhere to chase me with signs, was so uplifting and exactly what I needed. When I saw Bryce on the sidewalk, I wanted to cry I was so happy. I gave him a huge hug and heard him tell me how proud of me he was.


Best moment all day.

Sweet moment caught be another friend. Pep talk from coach. :)

      I took my time when I saw them with no regrets. I wasn't on pace to win anything, so why not enjoy the good parts? We took a silly selfie, talked about how I was doing, and then I headed off on my 2nd lap of the 3 lap course full of a better attitude. 

This was possibly my face all day.
       Sadly, my better attitude didn't last that long. I did much better on my second loop, but still by the end of it my feet were awful. I even stopped at medical to see if they could help. They wrapped the blisters with second skin and wished me the best, but it didn't help much. I tried to remember to smile, have fun, and enjoy myself, but GOD I HATE MARATHONS. They are not fun for me, so it was HARD. I missed Bryce on my third time around because he had run to the store to get something for my birthday celebration, which made me even sadder. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, which was NOT the attitude I needed to take. However, despite my pain and desperation, quitting was never an option. I never even thought about it, mostly because I knew I wouldn't get that $700 entry fee back, and I WANTED that medal! 
       A man that had been back and forth with me all day on the course caught up with me and struck up conversation, which was exactly what I needed. He was kind, chatty, but not overly-enthusiastic. He let it show that he was in pain too, which allowed us to commiserate while still moving forward. We power-walked the entire last 6 miles, suffering through the gruelingly long out-and-backs that plagued the last parts of each loop. I also loved the loud lady at the pirate aid station, the Moxie racing speedo dudes, and Hippie Hollow, of course. Also, whoever made the "Come and Take It" flag with the Blue Bell logo is my hero and a genius. Let's be friends. 

      FINALLY, the time came to cut off to the finish line. I was so thrilled, I ran, despite the protest of my feet. I ran hard, letting all my pain and emotional mess show on my face to whoever looked. I saw friends I didn't know were coming, which was a great surprise, right before hitting the chute.
       The finish line was amazing! It was so bright, lined with hundreds of people. I briefly saw my dad, Bryce, and Sandra, but barely remember it. I took my time behind the guy in front of me to make sure I heard my name. I couldn't see Mike Reily due to the lights, but I could hear him. He said it. 

"Jenny Paul from Texas,  first timer, You. Are. An. Ironman, Jenny Congratulations!"

      I wanted to cry but I couldn't. I just crossed under the time clock and hugged the first volunteer I saw. She caught me and walked me along, after giving me my medal and shirt/hat bundle. She asked if I needed anything, and I motioned that I needed to puke. I had a trash can to grab right away and heaved, with not much coming up. After that and some water, I was back to feeling normal. She walked with me to get my picture taken (ughhhh) and then asked if I needed medical. I said no, seeing Bryce waiting for me, and went to him on my own two feet. I was luckier than the guy behind me, who was carried to medical by three people.
       Bryce coordinated with my friends, who waited with me while he went back to transition and got my bike and bags while we went to the hotel. We were able to see the final finisher cross, which was super fun, as we walked away. My friends had made a huge banner, sang me happy birthday again, and offered me a cupcakes. I felt bad, but all I wanted in the world was a shower and a bed and peace and quiet. You KNOW I'm not feeling well when I don't want cake!

The awesome banner they made me.
Me, much better the next day with me medal, shirt, and pointing to my name!
   My final time was 16:12:03. 

    Two hours longer than I wanted, and harder than I thought. But I did it. I finished. It was the best and worth thing I've ever done. I sat down with my friends shortly after and swore off doing another one, but then took it back. I know I'll to another one. The greatest part is knowing that, through my hard work, others, including my close friends, have been inspired to try as well. So at least next time, I'll have close company on the course! Bryce hugged me at the finish line, nearly in tears, telling me how proud he was and how amazed he was at what I had done. It made the pain in my feet disappear immediately. (Don't worry, it came back!)

       It's a hard thing to comprehend when it's all over. I'm so thankful to everyone, friends and strangers, who got me there. I am so proud that I did it, and look forward to doing better next time! I took the next day to soak it in, eating lunch with friends after finding my name on the Lululemon wall. I hesitated on the finisher jacket, since we had spent so much money already, but Bryce insisted that I have it. I needed a nice jacket anyhow, and this one had my birthday on it! You best BELIEVE I have worn it every day!

Lululemon wall in the Woolands
My snazzy jacket, medal, and a smile on my face!
      We got back to Austin and I finally got my birthday present- a hammock! Talk about knowing what I needed! Bryce set it up for me as I unpacked my incredibly smelly bags and we took a rest, enjoying calm after the storm. He said he was ALMOST convinced to try a tri himself after watching me, and let me tell you, the man hates swimming and running, so that's a big deal!
       I'll say it again: Thank you, volunteers, family, friends, and strangers. I had an incredible journey and an amazing time. I am less sore and more full of heart than I ever imagined- both great things!  I've got 5 races left this season, one of which I may have a new partner for, and have two friends already telling me they're signed up for triathlons. That's great news coming after a whole lot of pain. It was worth every. Single. Second!

Going to get some rest, won't be long before we're back at it!
I'll post this here, but not my FinisherPix- they are AWFUL!


  1. Omgosh, I'm such a sap! I teared up when I read that he got you a hammock! What a perfect gift! You're an inspiration, Jenny!

    1. Hah! He knows me well- two things I like are triathlons and taking naps! :) Thank you!