Before the race
I was calm heading into race day. I had been there before and knew that the day would be much different this time. I didn’t feel the pressure to finish, let alone meet any time goals. I slept surprisingly well the night before and headed to race day jitter-free. For more on how I prepared for this race, read my post Race Prep.
My wave was second just after the pros. As the cannon went off for the pros, my wave filed into the water and swam out to the starting line (between two buoys). I checked my watch when I got out there and I still had a few minutes to get my nerves under control and do some bobbing in the water. I lined up closer to the left buoy in the middle of my wave. I headed out with a strong and intentional stroke holding a pace I was confident I could sustain. Looking back at my paces, I held steady around 2:00/100 yards throughout the swim, dipping below the 2:00 pace for the 2nd half.
Overall the swim was pleasant and I focused on staying in the moment, though my mind often wandered to the bike course – the dreaded bike course. I tried to focus instead on my stroke and thought about the athletes around me and the awesome thing we were doing together. As the leaders of the waves behind me caught up, things got a little rough, my goggles were knocked off a couple times, and I was certainly touched a lot. I never felt like my abdomen, or specifically my baby, were in danger.
I was feeling strong at the end and thought I may be eligible for a swim PR (under 1:24:22) but when I got out of the water I discovered I had just barely beat my goal for the day of 1:30:00. While I wanted a faster swim, it was still on par with my goal and didn’t bother me in the least.
Running up the helix was amazing. There were folks cheering all the way up. When I got to the top, I saw my teammates screaming and I caught a glimpse of my husband with enough time to give him a smile and wave.
Oh, the bike. I’ve always struggled with long bike rides (well, since I started biking last year) but this year has been abnormally challenging with my slowing pace – which means I’m out there even longer and I often don’t have a training partner for company.
I had committed to doing half of the bike course and determined I’d play it by ear after that. On my optimistic race plan (where I plan to finish the race), I had myself down for an 8 hour ride – going around 14mph with stops at special needs and as needed to get blood back into my feet (unknown, chronic foot issue). I executed my plan pretty well.
Early on the ride I lost some nutrition out of my back pocket. I thought about turning back for it (which is ALWAYS what you should do for long races) but decided to keep moving forward and take advantage of the aid stations more. I did make two unplanned stops on the first 1/2 of the ride: once to tighten a loose cleat and the second to dump my arm warmers and strip my vest.
Shortly after starting, I realized what a great choice my “baby on board” sign pinned to the back of my bike shorts was. I got many comments as folks passed me. Some said “Seriously?!” Others asked “Are you really pregnant?” Almost everyone was encouraging and it certainly helped me get into a good mindset for the bike.
I’ve only done Barlow (the most challenging hill on the almost 5,000 ft of elevation course) once since being pregnant and it was noticeably harder than I remember from last year. I was dreading Barlow and had told myself that walking it was totally OK – preparing myself for that likely outcome. As Barlow approached, I got mentally ready to both attack it and walk if needed. I saw many athletes walking their bikes and as I climbed the hill more got off to walk the last bit. My heart rate was climbing but I pushed through and was so relieved when I made it to the top.
I made one more unplanned stop in the first half of the ride when having to pee turned into NEEDING to pee. I stopped at the next available porta potty at mile 55. I knew special needs was only 5 miles away but I absolutely could not hold it anymore. I stopped again at special needs (mile 60). I took off my shoes to encourage blood flow and had a great conversation with the volunteer holding my bike. I was feeling good and relatively fresh, better than I remember feeling at that point last year.
After special needs, I started to notice the thinning crowds on the course. When you’re in the slower group of the bike like I was, there are less cheerleaders on the sidelines. The course definitely felt different than I remembered from last year or even the first loop. My “baby on board” sign was still getting a lot of attention, though, and that helped. I don’t know how I would have survived that bike ride without the shock and cheerful comments of fellow participants as they passed me.
Miles 70-88 were mentally the toughest of the whole day. My back and butt were killing me, my feet were causing me to stop often, and I had been biking for what felt like forever. I reminded myself that I hadn’t biked this far since Ironman last year – this served as both encouragement and validation as to why it hurt so much. My goal at this point was to make it back to where my family was waiting at ~mile 88. To relieve some of the back pain, I was often riding sitting up with my hands on my aerobar elbow rests; it was the most comfortable position.
When I got to where my family was I was not in a good head space – and I told them that. I got off my bike, took off my shoes, and laid on the ground hugging my knees. My feet hurt but my back and hips were in the worst shape. I rolled back and forth on the ground hoping something would pop back and relieve the discomfort. I thanked my family for waiting out there for me and shared that I was going to finish this ride , but that I didn’t know if I was going to do any of the run. I was feeling so done at this point, it took every bit of willpower to get back on that bike and keep pedaling.
For the next few miles, my back continued to yell at me and my discomfort grew. I noticed that my butt was slipping back on my seat. I wasn’t quite sure why and imagined it was just a natural modification my body was making due to the discomfort. By mile 93 I decided to do something with my seat. When I got off my bike, I found my seat facing down toward my back tire at a pretty significant angle – no wonder everything hurt! I fixed my seat to be parallel with the road and hopped on to finish the ride.
After fixing my seat, I felt terrific. I was far more comfortable on the bike and got a second wind. I started to pick up speed heading back to transition. I stopped once more at mile 105 to rest my feet and finished the ride strong and feeling good. I was so happy to have made it through the bike!
I was feeling so good when I arrived, that I was inspired to continue on. As I dropped off my bike to a volunteer and headed into transition 2, I had a quick check-in with my baby saying “What do you think, baby? Should we head out for a little bit of a run?” I was feeling good so we continued on. After changing my clothes, I made a quick stop at the restroom, and headed out.
I felt so good running – I often do feel good with transition runs. Running is my favorite part. I looked down and noticed I was running ~10:00 pace. I then checked my heart rate and it was in the appropriate range – so I continued on. I decided then to execute last year’s running plan: walk the aid stations and always eat and drink something as you walk through.
After just 2 miles, I had to pee again. Incontinence is something I dealt with after my first child and with physical therapy last year, was able to control it. Since becoming pregnant, however, it was increasingly hard to control. Most of my runs resulted in many pee breaks. I waited for ~3 minutes at the portapotty at mile 2 waiting for my turn.
From then on, I felt like I was running from portapotty to portapotty – and often waiting my turn when I got there. It was incredibly frustrating. I stopped at mile 5, 8, 9, 11, 13… Not only was I stopping frequently to pee but I wasn’t always able to keep everything under control between portapotty stops. That was embracing (though, probably no one else knew or noticed) but also incredibly frustrating.
At mile 10, I saw my coach and was feeling confident I could finish the race. By mile 13 my situation was deteriorating and I started to get really down. Just after the turnaround at the halfway point, I saw a little boy waving and me and realized it was my son. I stopped for a kiss and thanked his father for bringing him out. It was a special treat to see him on the course – especially at that hard moment. As I headed out to start the second loop, I decided that maybe if I just power walked I could better control things and still make the cutoff, but by mile 15 I was feeling defeated. I wasn’t having fun anymore, I couldn’t run without peeing, and walking hurt so much more than running. I was miserable.
Around mile 15, the course goes into the UW football stadium and laps around the field. I saw my husband just before going into the stadium. I told him I thought I was done but that I’d go into the stadium, do my lap, and think about it. I asked him to calculate the pace I’d have to sustain to meet the cutoff and have the answer for me when I got out.
While in the stadium, I remembered why I was there and what my goals were. It broke my heart to quit – especially after I had completed the hardest part: the bike. Was finishing worth being miserable for another 3+ hours, though? I remembered last years’ race and the wonderful experience it was – one of the best days of my life! This year, however was far from that. This race had stopped being fun around mile 70 of the bike. I had a great race last year and I’d have another great Ironman in the future. This year was about staying active through my pregnancy, proving a point: that you can complete long, endurance activities when pregnant, and having fun. Finishing Ironman probably wouldn’t further my agenda items in any significant way.
By the time I left the stadium, I had made up my mind: I was done. When I came out, I found not just my husband but also two coworkers and a group of teammates cheering me on. I broke the news to them – feeling terrible they had come out just to watch me quit. My teammates asked if I wanted them to walk with me so they could convince me to keep going. Such a sweet offer, but I was done. My husband walked the 3 blocks to our house, got the car, and took me home.
We went home, I rinsed off, and I was treated to wings and fries from our favorite nearby pub. My original plan was to head back to the finish line to cheer on the final participants, but my emotions were still fresh and I decided I wasn’t quite ready to watch others finish. Instead, my husband went to pick up my gear, and I went home to unwind. I started receiving many texts from those congratulating me or those still tracking me thinking I was about to hit mile 22. I sent the regretful texts explaining I was no longer on the course, it just hadn’t been updated yet. Everyone was incredibly supportive and congratulatory, but it was still hard.
I rethought my decision to call it quits several times a day for the next few days. Each time I came to a resolution that I had made the right call – and each time that resolution came faster. I still think about how cool it would have been to finish Ironman pregnant. I also remember how cool what I did was and that there’s another Ironman waiting for me – next time without a baby on board and with a PR to chase. I’ve started negotiations with my husband on IMWI 2019.