This past weekend I headed to Boise, Idaho to participate in Ironman Boise 70.3. To be clear, this is not the full Ironman that I have been training for, it is just a half which consists of a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run. Ironman Boise 70.3 has always been known to have questionable weather, but for some reason I ignored the obvious, paid my $225 entry fee and put it on the calendar.
As race day approached, I was glued to weather.com for the latest updates. Weather.com reported that Boise weather would be 75/sunny on Friday, 56/showers with high winds on Saturday (race day) and 70/sunny on Sunday. I am not a weatherman, but I was in pure disbelief that the days before and after the race were going to be nice. That’s impossible. I, like every other participant, believe race day = birds chirping, warm weather. Shoot, we paid for it!
The race started at noon on Saturday and when I woke up that morning, the forecast sounded a little bit like this: high of 58, 70% chance of rain, 20-45 mph winds, isolated thunderstorms, snow at elevation. I was in denial and took my transition bags full of warm weather gear and headed to the race start.
As I approached the race start, it was 45 degrees, pouring down rain, gusts of wind blew at 25 mph and the race announcer was blaring off in the distance. I couldn’t quite hear what he was saying, but from what I was seeing, I thought they decided to cancel the race. Participants were packing up their bikes and heading home. There was a small part of me that was excited because I was still 2 hours from my swim wave start and I was already cold and soaking wet. There was another part of me that was really sad because I have trained for this race and my 9 month old daughter, husband, friends from college and parents were all there to watch! As I got closer to the announcer I heard him say that the race officials decided that due to 45 mph winds, snow on portions of the bike course and potentially hypothermic conditions, they were going to shorten the bike course from 56 to 15 miles. The new bike course was now from Lucky Dam Reservoir straight to downtown. The announcer also confirmed that the swim in 56 degree water would remain the same. Now I needed to decide to either buck up and do this race or pull the plug and head home like so many other participants were doing.
I walked to my bike to set up my transition. I needed to get my wetsuit on, but was hesitating until the very last minute so I would not officially turn blue. I started to take my sweatpants off and a bone chilling gust of wind swept across my exposed body and I thought “what the heck am I doing?”. As I looked around, it sunk in that I was not alone. Bodies were shaking and teeth were chattering all around me. I sucked in and took a long exhale out and continued to wiggle my body into my wetsuit. Once I was zipped up, I piled my sweats back on, over my wetsuit and went on a search to find my husband and parents.
I searched and searched but could not find anyone. I was yearning for the comfort of someone to consult me on my race strategy. Should I do this race? I found a college friend who decided to throw in the towel. I found my teammates who also decided to call it a day. I really wanted to do the race but just wanted the support of someone to say “just do it!”
Finally, I see a bright yellow, soaking wet poncho with a familiar face. It was my dad! I could not have been more excited at that moment as I knew my mom, daughter and husband must be close by. My dad gives me a big hug and says “are you doing this?” to which I responded “I don’t know!?!” He pointed to my mom on the hill who was holding a homemade sign that said “I have one fast momma” and below was a photo of my daughter and I at my first race this season. My husband and daughter came over and at that moment I was so unsure of myself that all I could do was cry. I told my husband that “I am a mother now and I don’t want to get hurt on this course”. My husband reassured me that I could do this race. My dad gave me some last minute biking advice that I should never use my front break in wet weather as I could lock up and get hurt. After my family pep talk, I wiped off the tears and started jogging back and forth in my wetsuit to stay warm. I confirmed to myself “I am doing this race”.
My husband appeared on the hill yelling my name that my swim wave was lining up on the dock. I stripped my sweatpants off and handed them over to head to the dock. The countdown began. 8… 7… 6… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… and we were off. Swim, swim, swim. As I was trying to find a safe place, an arm of another swimmer came up and smacked down on the back of my neck just as I was taking a breath. My heart was already in my throat due to the cold water and now I cannot breathe. I went into a panic attack, in the middle of the water. I looked and looked for the kayak or wave runner to grab on to, but they were off in the distance. I was about to scream “HELP” at the top of my lungs but instead went into a deep conversation with myself.
“Jenn, you can do this. Everyone else is battling the same conditions. Swim on the inside, away from the pack and find your grove.” I moved forward in full-out breast stroke and then eased my way into freestyle. I tried my hardest to cup my hand, but my fingers were way too cold to even move. I thought again, “what the heck am I doing?”
The swim was brutal and as I exited the water, I felt like crap. I didn’t even know my own name. My husband was calling for me and I had no idea. He was hanging over the fence dangling his jacket and telling me to wear it on the bike. He was also trying to tell me that I should bike in my wetsuit like the pros were doing. Like I said, I barely knew my name or my husband, so I grabbed the jacket and headed to pick up my bike. I could not feel my fingers or toes and had to ask a volunteer to clip my helmet on for me. “This is pathetic,” is what I said to myself. I had already spent 39 very long minutes in the water, I must keep going. I ran towards the bike exit, mounted my bike and took off. 15 miles, let’s get this done.
The bike started out on a long, wet decent. There was only room for 2 bikes to fit side by side, which made it challenging as those clinging to the breaks were on the right and those bombing down the decent were on the left. For those like myself who were rode conservatively aggressive, I spent a lot of time weaving in and out, trying my best not to get in the way of those moving faster. At the bottom of the decent, we exited towards the left on a single track trail which ended up bottle-necking as one rider was having a hard time climbing up the hill. After we got through the trail portion, it was all downhill into downtown Boise. Time to kick it into gear. As I went to reach for my gears, I could not shift as my hands were ice cubes. I resorted to smacking my gears up and down as that was the only way I was able to shift. As we turned the corned and headed towards the run transition, I thought to myself “was there snow on those hills yesterday?” I could not recall, but I later found out from our friends who lived in Boise that it has snowed that morning. I did have a good laugh at myself on the bike because I had an aerodynamic helmet, race wheels and bike, but had my husbands size large Arcteryx jacket on that was the antithesis of aerodynamics. But without his jacket, I would not have been able to complete the bike. It was a life saver!
As I dismounted my bike, volunteers greeted every participant to confirm they were not hypothermic. If participants showed signs of hypothermia, they were pulled into the medical tent. I am not entirely sure how, but I passed their quick scan and ran to change into my running gear. I had to ask one of the volunteers to help take my helmet off, which caused concern as to whether I was able to continue. I assured them that all I needed to do was start running and I would warm up immediately. He let me go forward. Putting my socks, shoes and race number on was quite the challenge. My hands were so cold that I could not feel anything. Although moments prior I convinced a volunteer I was good to go, I questioned myself if I should go forward as I was so cold. Running is the one thing that makes my confidence soar. This would be my time to just do what I do best and have a little fun.
Luckily the weather started to warm up quite a bit during the run. It wasn’t until mile 5 that I began to get feeling back in my hands and feet and the regurgitation of the reservoir water finally subsided. As I was running I repeated to myself a mantra from a pep talk that my brother sent me :”the only thing standing between myself and victory is me”. Of course I was not going to win the race, um no, there are people who get paid for that. The victory I was talking about was crossing the finish line in one piece and a lighter shade of blue than when I exited the swim. This was the toughest race that I have endured in my 10 years of racing marathons and triathlons. It was not only physically, but mentally tough.
I did not stop running. I pressed on like I stole something. The run was great. I found my pace and stuck with it the whole way through. I passed a lot of people not only in my age group but also those who started the race before me. Which made me feel good. As I completed my last lap and sprinted to the finish, all I could think was “you did it!” Crossing the finish line never felt so good. Over the course of 5 hours I went from crying and doubting myself to a big smile and overwhelming sense of accomplishment. What an emotional roller coaster. I was so proud of myself and downright thankful to be finished.
If I had to, I would do it all over again. Not because it was an awesome race, but because I learned some things about myself. I learned that even in times of panic that I have the ability to calm myself. I learned that even when Mother Nature provides unruly conditions that I am one tough mama. I learned that the reason I like triathlons so much is that you never know what you are going to get, which makes it exciting. Although this race was not my ideal day and I was deep down really wanting a spot to the World Championships, I learned that I can appreciate that the day provided the opportunity for other athletes to shine. I learned that I love my husband more and more every day. Lastly, I learned that I should pay attention to the weatherman and pack for all weather conditions and when worse comes to worse, wear my wetsuit on the bike ride!
A huge thanks to all of my friends and family who spent hours in the rain shaking the cowbells and cheering me on. I cannot even begin to tell you how great it feels to have your biggest fans screaming your name. A huge thanks to all of my friends and family at home in Seattle who were cheering from afar and sending sweet notes. I am one lucky girl!
Take good care, stay warm and be well mamas!