Life Is A Race

Life is a race. Not a competitive race. Everyone's life is just a different race.

Our race may change course, there may be obstacles we must overcome, but if we keep our eyes on the Lord, we will reach our finish line and receive our prize. It is not always about the finish line, though. The journey is just as important. We need to make sure we don't miss something along the way while keeping our eyes on the prize.

Because I am a Christian and an athlete, this analogy is easy for me to see. Why do I race? Not to win (otherwise I would have given up long ago), but because it is a personal challenge. I'm a woman wearing so many hats -- wife, mother, Sunday School teacher, school volunteer, soccer mom -- juggling life's joys and frustrations. Talk about personal challenges! I hope to use this blog as an outlet for my frustrations and a proclamation of my joys as I tackle all the challenges I face in life.

One of my favorite Bible verses that helps me get through the hard times and relates to racing is also imprinted on my Road ID:

But those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:31

Thursday, May 30, 2013

I. AM. AN. IRONMAN. -- A Race Report from Ironman Texas 2013

My race number

I have been training for this race....Ironman....for a long time.  It was so time-consuming that I never even blogged about my training.  Well, I had an awesome race, so here's my race report.

For those of you who are wondering what an Ironman is,'s a triathlon that takes all day to complete.  It's a total of 140.6 miles, including 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking, followed by 26.2 miles (yes, that's a marathon) of running.  This particular Ironman took place in The Woodlands, Texas (just north of Houston), or....also known as the surface of the sun.



My friend and training buddy, Brian, did this race in 2011.  He talked me into doing it this year as my first Ironman.  It is always nice to have someone with you who has done this all before.  The plan was that I was going to ride with Brian to The Woodlands on Thursday morning, then Clark would meet up with us on Friday.  I got the kids off to school Thursday morning and tried to finish packing.  I was a wreck.  My stomach was turning and in knots.  Brian texted me he was on the way, and I was just getting in the shower!  He said he was stopping for gas, so I had a few more minutes.  Still....eeek!  Finally, he arrived, we loaded up my bike and all my stuff, and we were off.

The drive over wasn't too bad.  We stopped once and followed a very SLOW road for what seemed like forever.  We finally made it and decided to go straight to Athlete Check-in.  The line wasn't long at all [thank goodness, because I think I may have thrown up if I had to wait any longer] and the volunteers were super nice and informative.  After signing my life away on the waiver, picking up my backpack, getting my wristband and timing chip, we were ready to go.  We skipped the shopping and went straight to the hotel.  I have never seen so many people in compression socks all in one place!  Man...we are dorks....wait until they see all the aero-helmets.  [As of this writing, I do not own compression socks or an aero-helmet]

Checking into the hotel was pretty funny.  Brian told me he had a bunch of Marriott points, and his wife had cashed them in.  They sent them to him on $25 gift cards.  Well, he had about $600 worth of gift $25 increments!  While the woman entered in all his gift cards, I checked in and continued to wait.  LOL!  She said she'd never had anyone with that many.  I raised my hands and yelled, "You win the prize, Brian!"  We finally got our keys and lugged all our stuff up to our rooms.  We were on the same floor, which was nice.  
When we got off the elevator, there was a sign that read: 

We busted out laughing because we thought it was a joke.  Later, we found out it wasn't a joke.  Someone had done that and set off the sprinkler system!

I'm official!
Margarita is official!

We headed out for a late lunch, then chilled out at the hotel until the banquet.  My friend, Christina, would be at the banquet, so I texted her, and we all met up.  The food was great, Mike Reilly was great, though I couldn't really understand anything anyone said because the acoustics in the banquet hall just weren't good.  I met Matt and Laura, who were both doing their first Ironman, and we talked to some other guys from different places at our table.  The banquet helped calm me down, and I was able to eat, though my stomach was still in knots.

Lake Woodlands....pretty calm now

Pre-Race Swim:
Brian, me, and Matt after the swim
Friday morning was the pre-race swim.  I was looking forward to this because I always feel better once I see the water I'll be swimming in.  We headed out around 8:00 and walked the mile to the swim start.  They had an 800m course set up.  I decided I was swimming the whole thing.  The water felt a little chilly getting in, but then it felt great.  The water temperature Friday morning was 75.8.  The talk all week was whether it would be a wetsuit-legal swim on race day.  On Thursday, it was 75ish in the morning but warmed up to 79 by 3:00 and it was cloudy.  On Friday, it was supposed to be sunny and hotter, so I was not expecting the water to be cool enough on Saturday morning since it had to be 76.1 or cooler.  The pre-race swim was nice.  I did see just how muddy the water was.  I could not see my hand in front of my face....or other's feet.  I got to get loosened up and I wasn't feeling as nervous.  Brian didn't swim long, so he had gotten my towel and bag for me when I got out.  We saw Matt as we were headed to the hotel.  He forgot his timing chip, so he didn't get to swim, but he's a swimmer, so he wasn't all that worried.  We then walked back to the hotel to get our bikes because bike check-in was next.

Bike Check-In:
I showered the lake water off and changed out of my wet clothes.  I made sure my bike gear bag and run gear bag were completely packed up, grabbed my bike, and headed out.  Transition was about a 7 minute walk from our hotel.  Brian and I walked down there, volunteers showed us to our spot and carried our bags for us.  We saw Christina when we dropped our gear bags off.  We all ended up going to lunch together, which was nice to relax.  After all that, we were back at the hotel for a while to relax.

Friday Evening:
'Twas the night before Ironman,
the bikes are all racked....
Clark left Austin around 3:30, so I expected him around 6:30.  Brian and I had decided we wanted to eat a bit early, and just sandwiches.  We headed out to eat around 6:00 and just went to Which Wich right next to the hotel.  We sat outside because it felt good in the shade.  Plus, we could watch for Clark.  There was a lot more hustle and bustle than on Thursday.  There was a Dave Matthews Band Concert at Cynthia Woods Pavilion next door and a prom at our hotel, plus we were across the street from the mall and movie theaters.  There were limos and all kinds of crazy stuff all around us.  Eventually, I spotted Clark's orange Mini Cooper and tried to direct him to the hotel.  After going in circles a few times, he finally found the entrance.  I took Clark and Carter to the place we had lunch and sat with them while they ate dinner.  We grabbed a few things at HEB, walked by transition, then, we went back to the hotel and got to bed.


I woke up around 4:00.  The Starbucks downstairs would be open at 5:00, but I made coffee in the room and started drinking that.  I got dressed in my Desoto 400-mile shorts and Desoto green tri top.  I ate a bagel with peanut butter, but I couldn't finish it.  I sipped on my coconut water mixed with Skratch.  I double checked my special needs bags and texted Brian a few questions.  At 4:45, the official water temperature was posted at 77.2, so I didn't need my wetsuit.  At 5:00, I headed downstairs.  Starbucks hadn't even opened the doors yet, and there was a LONG line already.  I headed back upstairs, made another cup of that not so great coffee (Clark does roast our own beans, so I'm kind of spoiled) and took it with me.  Brian and I headed to transition with our 3 bags to put nutrition on our bikes and pump up tires.  I met Caroline next to me, and she helped me with my tires.  We headed toward the swim early since it was a long walk.

When we arrived at the swim start, we both got body marked, then got in line for the port-a-potty.  The lines were long and slow.  Brian dropped off our special needs bags while I waited in line.  We waited close to 45 minutes and only had about 10 minutes to spare.  I started my Garmin but then decided to turn it off and start it later [this would prove to be a BIG mistake!].  We both peed and dropped our morning clothes bags then headed toward the water.

Getting in the lake to start the swim

As we were walking toward the water, I pushed the start button on my Garmin.  It just said "Garmin" on the screen and would never go to the satellite screen.  [PANIC!]  Brian said, "Don't worry.  It will work.  Sometimes it takes a while."  I gave it a few more minutes while walking into the water.  I turned it off and back on.  Still nothing.  I knew I didn't NEED that Garmin, but being Type A, it was really going to help me to have it.  I did a hard reset.  Then, I started it up.  It took a while, but I finally got the satellite bar 1 minute before the cannon went off.  I looked around.  I looked at all the people on the bridge behind us.  The start didn't seem as crowded as I imagined it.  Then.....BOOM!  We were off!  I pushed the start button and started swimming.

Boom...the cannon goes off and we're off!
Washing Machine
I anticipated the swim to be rough and slow.  It actually started out not so bad.  I was swimming relatively evenly, lifting my head often so I didn't run into anyone.  I noticed my Garmin was asking me if I was indoors and if I had moved 100s of miles, etc...  I just hit the enter button several times and kept swimming.  I was sure it was getting the time, I just hoped it would find satellites before I got on the bike.  Around 500m, it seemed to get a bit more crowded.  I breaststroked some just so I could navigate around people.  I wasn't getting kicked or punched or elbowed, which was good.  It was just crowded.  I forged ahead and it eventually cleared out again, and I was able to get back into a decent rhythm.  Eventually, I reached the first turn buoy, which I knew was roughly 1/3 of the way.  We swam left to the next turn buoy, turned left again, and started swimming back down the lake.  It spread out again, and I was able to swim pretty steady for a while.  No one was swimming straight, so I kept having to go around people, but I couldn't see them sometimes until I was on top of them.  Someone was grabbing my foot at one point, and I got kicked in the goggles about halfway back toward the waterway, but nothing major.  I had succeeded in not swallowing a lot of water [which was apparently a REALLY good thing...some were not so fortunate and paid for it later].  I was trying to swim downhill because I know my hips were low from all the sighting I was having to do to get around people.  As I approached the waterway, I heard something.  I realized it was a big group of people on my right cheering very loudly.

Swimmers swimming up the waterway
 I eventually made it into the waterway.  I was worried it would be super crowded because it was so narrow and only 4 feet deep, but surprisingly, I swam right up the middle.  The water was more like the ocean on this part because the waves were all crashing against the sides of the canal, BUT it was so narrow that most people were swimming straight, which meant I didn't have to sight as much.  I tried to get back into a rhythm, swimming downhill, breathing relaxed, stretching out my strokes.  

Carter waits for me to finish with his cowbells
I was having to turn over more to make sure I didn't get a mouth full of water every time I breathed, but I was fine.  I knew it was nearly a mile down the waterway.  I kept looking off to the left to see if I could spot Clark and Carter and looked for them on the bridge, but I never saw them.  There were LOTS of people lining the waterway.  It was so cool!  
That's me coming into the finish

Finally, I could see that last red buoy.  I knew I was almost there!  I made the left turn and swam to the volunteers who helped me out of the water.  I didn't even look at my watch until later, but my time was 1:26:01.  Goal was sub-1:30, so that was great!
Out of the water!!

I headed toward transition, grabbing my bike gear bag, then waited for the port-a-potty.  Once I took care of that, I headed into the changing tent.  There were rows of chairs and lots of volunteers.  Wow.  I plopped down in a chair and dumped out my bike bag.  I decided to keep my tri top on because the pocket was big enough to hold the nutrition I needed to put in there.  I put on sunscreen (something I will skip next time), then tried to get my Cool Wings on.  It's hard to get those on when you're wet.  I put on my socks, shoes, and helmet, stuffed everything else in the bag, and headed out.  12:00ish  [That time sure went by fast]

Headed out on the bike!
I love the bike.  I had studied the map and elevation, so I had a plan.  I knew I'd had a tailwind for the first half, and that it was a bit more uphill, so I planned to push a bit going out so I didn't have to into the wind coming back.  I knew the hills shouldn't be too bad, but I really wasn't sure since it is 112 miles.  I felt great and drank 1 bottle per hour of Perform plus a Gu and some Powerbar chews.  That was the plan.  At mile 20, I got a cramp in my right side.  This has happened before.  I thought maybe it was my asthma, so I pulled out my inhaler and took a few puffs.  It didn't seem to help much, but I let up a bit, and the cramp did get better.  At mile 35, there was a guy in a women's bikini bottom with a sign that said "Doubters can suck it" and another that said, "You are NOT almost there!"  That gave me a laugh.  At mile 40, I stopped to go to the bathroom again.  [That's good. I know I'm drinking enough]   Apparently, this was also the point when Christina passed me.  I was watching for her but never saw her.  At this point, it was starting to heat up as well.  I was grabbing water and squirting it on my cool wings....what a life-saver!  I knew once we headed into the wind at mile 65 it would get a bit harder, but it would also feel cooler.  The course was beautiful, but even with all the pine trees, it was still hot.  We did get some shade for a while, but a lot of people were starting to feel the heat.  At mile 60, I grabbed my special needs bag and got the 2 Gus out and headed back out.  I stopped at a few more aid stations just to rest my feet a bit and refill my bottle without having to try so hard on the move.  I was feeling fine, though.  My toes got a little achy a couple times, but I just started pulling up more on my pedals and wiggled my toes some, and the ache went away (thank goodness).

Relaxing for a moment
Going out, I was averaging better than 19mph, which was my goal.  I knew I'd slow down into the wind, but it wasn't as bad as I thought.  A LOT of guys had issues with the "hills" on the course.  It was a rolling course, but very SMALL rollers.  I was passing everyone on the uphills, especially the guys with disc wheels and aero-helmets, and I wasn't even trying that hard because I wanted to save some for the run.  Living in a hilly place and riding lots of hills definitely pays off when you ride a relatively flat course.  I never left my big ring....that is NOT a hilly course [others would say differently, though]  
Race Mode, but smiling  ;)

I was mostly surrounded by guys because spectators would yell, "You go girl!"  By mile 100, I swore if I had to drink another sip of warm lemon-lime Perform, I was going to puke!  I also knew I was almost there.  Most of the roads were VERY smooth.  That was another complaint I heard.  The chip seal didn't bother me at all because it was smoother than any chip seal I've ridden on.  It didn't phase me a bit.  After mile 100, we were back on the main road with very little shade and lots of cars.  I was ready to be done.  Near the end, we had cones, and our riding lane was petty narrow.  It made it hard to pass people, but I did anyway.  I made sure not to push too hard, but a lot of it was downhill, so my average speed went up near the end.  Finally, I was done!  6:10:52...18.1 mph...faster than my fastest estimate of 6:15 [that made up for that ridiculously slow transition].

I knew my friend Kathleen was going to be in the T2 changing tent, and as soon as I walked in, she saw me!!!  She dumped out my bag and asked if I was changing completely, and I said yes.  She helped me get changed, and I made sure I had what I needed in my pockets....and she pushed me out.  It took a while, but I predicted it would.  12:00ish [I gotta work on those transitions]

Running on the Waterway
The run has always been my nemesis.  I did not know what to expect.  I still could not wrap my mind around running 26.2 miles after all that I had done, but surprisingly, my legs felt great.  My stomach.....did not feel great.  I had experienced this some in training, so I knew it would hopefully get better after a couple miles.  I wasn't going to drink the sports drink at first, but at that first aid station, I was ready for another flavor, so I took it.  My plan never even got started to run 2 miles, walk break, drink, eat, run 2 miles, walk break, etc....  I just decided to walk at every aid station.  I ran some, walked some, ran some, walked some.  My stomach was on and off, so I did what I could.  I was off to a slow start, but I knew once I was able to run more, my pace would pick up.  I was trying to enjoy it, but not only was my stomach upset, my lower back was cramping.  I tried stretching it at the aid stations.  The first loop went by pretty quickly because it was all new.  It was really hot, but there was some shade on the course.  The volunteers were great.  I was putting ice in my sports bra at every aid station, pouring water on my head, and drinking what I could stomach.  I said something to a guy about my stomach, and he said I probably needed more salt.  I did not bring salt tabs because I have never needed them.  I was tempted to pick some up off the ground that people had dropped.  Eek!  In the new neighborhood part, the wind was at my back, and the sweat was in my eyes!  A guy offered his rag around his neck to me, which helped.  It was SO hot, and there was very little shade in that area.  Eventually, I came around to the waterway, which I knew was the best part of the course.  They weren't kidding.  People were everywhere cheering for you by name [our names were on our bibs].  I was hoping I wouldn't miss my family.  I was getting tears in my eyes as I ran down that waterway.  Then, I saw my brother up on the hill.  He asked how I was doing and said everyone was right up ahead on the hill.  I walked for a bit so that I could run past them.  I told him my stomach wasn't good, but I was doing o.k. I saw everyone with their signs and ran past them and gave high fives.  When I looped around the other side, they had moved over there.  That was a huge boost.  Then, I ran through the Moxie tunnel with guys in speedos dancing around all the runners.

The Moxie Multisport Cheering Squad

Now, for loop 2.  The 2nd loop is always toughest because it's the middle.  I ran the dirt path out and back, then walked up the embankment to the parking lot.  There was shade in the parking lot, so I started running again.  I was able to do a bit more running, but then my stomach really started hurting around mile 9.  I hit the bridge across to the swim start area in the sun and just had to walk.  I was thinking to myself, "This is going to be a long marathon."  I said a little prayer at that moment asking God to get me through this race and just give me the strength.  I knew only He could give me the strength I needed at that moment.  I walked longer than I wanted to, then tried to jog a little.  I approached the volunteers asking if we wanted our special needs bags and told them yes.  I knew I just had to run around the park to my special needs bag.  I was able to run slowly.  Once I got that bag, I sat down in the grass and took off my wet socks and changed into dry ones.  It felt great to sit down for a minute.  I had not thought about what to do with the socks I took off....those were my good socks.  I stuffed them in my tiny pockets in my running tank.  I grabbed the Gus and gummi bears and ate the 2 Pepto tablets I had in the bag and grabbed my rag that I planned to get wet and put on my neck.  I was stopped for a few minutes, which made that split really slow that my family and friends were a little worried.  At the next aid station, I drank some chicken broth.  Chicken broth has never tasted so good!  I quit drinking as much perform and drank more water and ate another Gu at mile 12.  My stomach was settling, but my back was killing me.  It was so cramped up that it felt like my stomach.  I discovered it hurt more when I walked, so I tried to run as much as my stomach would allow.  As a result, my overall pace picked up.  As I came around the waterway to complete loop 2, I saw my friend, Maggie!  I gave her a hug, and she told me I looked great.  
Carter running with me down the waterway
Then, I saw my family again.  My son, Carter, ran with me for a short distance, then he headed back to the family.  I was feeling a bit better, as the sun was getting lower, and some clouds were rolling in.  Again, the Moxie guys...this time one of them had pinwheels stuck in his speedo.  I was cracking up!!  I saw Kathleen again too!  She was really encouraging.  I then heard a woman say to her husband, "Come on, you only have 9 miles to can do that with your eyes closed!"  Another runner and I got a huge laugh out of that.....she has NO idea!

Feeling good on the run
Loop 3 was exciting.  I knew I had this.  I kept drinking chicken broth, which seemed to help the cramping and stomach.  I kept pouring water on my head for a while longer.  I saw a guy carrying his shoes and walking in his socks around mile 19.  He was on his 3rd lap as well.  His friend urged him to keep going and walk with me.  I asked him if he had blisters.  He said yeah, and I told him to go to the next med tent he came to because they would have something.  Poor least he was on the last loop.  I walked with another guy around mile 20 or 21 who said this was his first race....ever.  He looked like he was in his 50s.  I asked him why he signed up for an Ironman as his first race, and he said his brother is 18 years younger, and they were both doing it.  He looked good.  He was still on his first lap, but he said the swim about killed him.  ;)  He was running and walking, and I knew he'd finish.  He was being smart.  The glow sticks and lights were on the trails at this point, so it was going to start getting dark.  Clouds had rolled in, which was also nice.  Eventually, I was running/walking with Julie from Ohio.  She was in T2 with me.  This was her 4th Ironman.  We chatted for a while and went back and forth, but I eventually ran past her as well.  I was getting faster and faster as the sun got lower and the miles flew past.  When I hit mile 23, I could taste the finish line, and I was ready to be there.

The Finish:
As I approached the waterway the 3rd time, I knew this was the home stretch.  I hit mile 24, and I just started running.  I decided I was going to run and run and run.  I saw my family on the other side of the waterway as I passed.  I could tell they were impressed I was running.  I was smiling from ear to ear, running past everyone, taking in the crowds of people watching me fly down the waterway, and getting tears in my eyes again just thinking about what I was doing.  I'm about to be an Ironman!!!!  I knew I had to go down and up and around then another down and back on the other side before heading to the finish line.  I decided to take one last walk break before mile 25 so I could really finish strong.  There was a nice breeze, and I knew the last out and back was cool because it was shaded all day.  When I saw that MILE 25 marker, I was ecstatic!  I saw Kathleen again on my way out for that last little out and back, and she said I looked great.  I started running and running, passing everyone in my path.  
Almost there!

Running down the finish chute
I was smiling so big!  I know people were smiling back, but I didn't see them.  I heard them calling my name, though.  That last 1.2 miles was the longest 1.2 miles I have ever run!!!  
Right before I hit the finish line
When I hit the finish chute, I couldn't believe I had finally made it and was feeing great.  The out and back finish chute was a little mean, though, especially with a slight uphill going into the finish.  As I approached the finish, I didn't see my family because 1. there were blinding lights in my face and 2.    I was concerned someone was going to get in my finish photo.  
There was a guy in front of me, but when he stopped to hug someone, I ran past him and finished all by myself.  

I could hear Mike Reilly calling out others' names, but it was so loud at the finish line that I had to strain to hear over the crowd:  "Kelli Hughes from Cedar Park, Texas, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!!!"
You. are. an. Ironman!

Run time: 5:27:25

Total time: 13:28:50


Jennifer was my volunteer at the finish line.  She was awesome...took my stuff for my picture, made sure I got what I needed, I pointed out my family and told her this was my first Ironman, etc...  I met back up with the family, took some pictures, picked up my morning clothes bag, ran into Julie while doing that, then headed back to the hotel.

I spotted my family -- I did it!!

What a day!  I did not realize the temperature climbed to 96 with a heat index of 100.  There were LOTS of people who did not finish probably because of the extreme heat.  I honestly didn't feel the heat as much as I thought I would.  My ranking was much higher than I thought it would be, especially my run, which was my best of the 3 overall.  Apparently, average times were 22 minutes slower this year compared to last year.
Ironwoman right after the race

My cheering posse (mom, brother, dad, son) with their signs
Me with Clark and Carter
Finisher's certificate
This was such an awesome experience.  I'm sure I'll have more reflections later.  I do want to thank God, first.  Then, I'd like to thank everyone who encouraged me, trained with me, and believed in me.  I could have never done this without each and every one of you.