Last month, we shared the story of Garmin software engineer Lauren Olson who was preparing to complete her first full Ironman, after entering the sport of triathlon just over a year ago. Now that Lauren’s had some recovery time from her big feat, Ironman Texas, she took the time to give us a detailed race recap, including stories about some unique adaptations an Ironman triathlete has to make (like applying chamois cream when there’s no shelter in sight, performing roadside bike adjustments and more). Be sure to check out Lauren’s swim, bike and run data, precisely recorded by her Forerunner 910XT and uploaded to our free online analysis site, Garmin Connect.
I woke up Saturday morning feeling like I was going to throw up. I don’t know if it was traveling, being nervous for a week, or eating stuff I shouldn’t (probably was not the best time to try goat milk yogurt). The good news is I had absolutely no GI distress, my foot behaved on the run (probably due to more walking than I wanted to do), and at no point other than at transition and the porta potties did I stop.During the swim, a few hundred of us immediately got to the left of the buoys and I knew it, but there was nothing I could do about it. It was impossible to get back to where I needed to be with the wall of bodies between me and where I should have been. I was nervous about possibly getting a violation (how could they write up that many of us though?), and managed to get to the right side by the time we got to the turn around, but literally the whole first stretch was on the wrong side. At least it was a straight line so it’s not like I cut course! The crowd never let up. There were a few times where for about 5 seconds I wasn’t right next to someone and could actually swim they way one SHOULD swim, but that was about it. The good thing is, that mass of bodies kept me on course. The bad thing is, I got my fair share of punches, kicks and people on top of me when I wanted to breathe or pushing my feet down so I couldn’t kick. The last 1000 meters was in a very narrow canal where the crowd situation got much worse. I got punched so hard in the face my goggles came off- right in the eye socket too. Luckily it was shallow enough to stand so I could fix them quickly. I didn’t look at my 910XT until I was out of the water, and was very surprised to see I had done it in exactly 1:30. I was convinced it was going to say 2+ hours, it felt like an eternity.
Transition went pretty smoothly. In the tent I put on my bib, sunglasses and helmet, then ran barefoot to the bikes. It was there I realized I forgot to put on chamois cream as the packet was inside one of my shoes. Whoops! Well there was no way I was going 112 miles with no chamois cream, so I tried not to draw any attention to myself as I put it on next to the bike rack, but there really is no elegant way to do this.
On the bike, at first I thought my legs were really dead from the swim. It was sporadically very difficult to get moving. After I hit bumps in the road it would either get a bit easier or a bit harder, and that should’ve clued me in as to what was wrong. But there were so many people, and I was so focused on passing people (which on the first half I did almost exclusively, though that trend reversed on the back half) and not hitting anyone that I didn’t really think about why it was harder than normal. Once it cleared out a bit and I could actually think, I tried to look down to see if I had a low tire, but they looked sort of ok. It wasn’t until 22.6 miles in that I finally hit a big enough bump that my rear brake pad actually started making noise and I realized what had been slowing me down all along. I pulled off to the side and fixed it, then flew for awhile until the extra energy expenditure really caught up with me. A short time later, I had a terrifying incident on a long downhill where a crowd of spectators had gathered and were actually on the course, leaving all of a 5-foot-wide space for us all to go through. Some people use the downhills to rest and others (like me) use it to make up time and get over the next hill, so we were all converging at this bottleneck at the bottom of the hill. To fix my rear brake, I had loosened the cable a lot and was scared to brake at 30+ mph lest I go over the handlebars. I was screaming at this guy to get to the right, but he insisted on going right down the middle because of the spectators (who, on top of being on the course, were also sticking out their hands like we were going to risk crashing to give them a high five!). I was all of a foot behind his rear tire when I heard a guy directly behind me screaming at the both of us. It was a situation where even if I wanted to brake, that could cause an accident too, and there were many other riders around us so it would’ve been massive. Luckily, everyone kept their wits about them, and we didn’t crash, but that was incredibly scary. We should’ve been screaming at the spectators because they seemed entirely clueless as to what danger they were needlessly creating.
The special needs area was 2 miles further than they said it would be, and I was already pushing it with my nutrition. I knew I would really need it at mile 56, and when they announced it would be at mile 58 at the athlete meeting, I thought maybe 2 extra miles would be ok…but 4 extra miles was NOT ok. My speedfil was empty at mile 54, there was an aid station in between, but I only got water. Hitting mile 58 with no special needs really started to concern me, and then by mile 59 and still no special needs I started to hit a wall. I was getting really angry it wasn’t where they said it would be, then started thinking maybe I heard them wrong and it was going to be at mile 68 rather than 58. But luckily it was at mile 60. I stopped entirely to refill my speedfil and get more chamois cream (thank goodness I had that in my bag! Did something right!). But I had lost all my momentum--of course the physical kind, but also the mental kind--and that is also where the head and cross winds really picked up. There were some bad gusts, and by mile 70 or so my arms were so tired from gripping tight to compensate (plus being curled up made me want to throw up even more), I had to come out of aero a lot, which is the worst thing to do when it is windy. It was around mile 80 that I came to terms with the fact I wasn’t going to meet my time goal and the focus really shifted to finishing without throwing up. I decided not to push it at all anymore. At mile 83, I came up on an ambulance loading up a guy who looked like maybe a car hit him. His head was pretty bloody. This really made it sink in that I was doing ok just getting this far in one piece and not to beat myself up about not getting the time I wanted. I was going to finish and that should be enough for your first Ironman.
Coming into transition was really exciting. There were lots of spectators (who stayed off the course, thank you!) and cheering and cameras, and when I finally saw my boyfriend Kevin for the first time in 7 and half hours, I had a giant smile on my face. “More than half done now. All that’s left is the run and even if you have to walk you are going to make it,” I thought to myself. Kevin told me I was doing great, though he knew my bike split was a half-hour slower than it should’ve been. It didn’t matter anymore. I used the porta potty, had a nice girl help me with my stuff in the tent as I put on my compression socks, shoes, fuel belt and hat. Then I ran outside to get sunscreen, and had three nice volunteers cover me all at the same time. It was a little odd having three strangers put their hands all over your body and it’s perfectly acceptable! I thought I was being quick through transition, but it ends up I spent 9 minutes there. Whoops again.
At the start of the marathon I felt amazing. I had taken it easy enough on the back portion of the bike (too much?) that I was confident I could keep my pace around 9 min/mi. But a few miles in, it became apparent that pushing it at all would make me throw up. So I backed off a bit. And I backed off even more on the second loop because there was that psychological effect of having seen what ONE loop looks like, but there is still TWO more left. I wasn’t mentally prepared for that. At first I only walked the aid stations. On the second loop I started walking the aid stations and 50 meters past the aid stations. Then 100 meters, then 200… at this point, my time goal was out of reach, my stomach was starting to feel a little bit better, but wasn’t so good I could push it yet, so I figured the thing to do was really soak in what was happening and savor it. I was going to finish, no question, and I wanted to burn as much of my first Ironman into memory as I could. The volunteers on the run course were really great. I really liked that they’d talk to me by name saying “Lauren, I’ve got water and perform here for you” or “Good job Lauren!” rather than “good job 194”. I picked up a little on the third lap, because it’s impossible not to get a little excited to almost be done. I think I was smiling the whole last nine miles.
Coming into the finisher’s chute, all the spectators put their hands out for a high-five, but I didn’t high-five anyone and I felt a little bad about it. I’m quite the germophobe, and knowing where my hands had been and where all those other Ironmen’s hands must’ve been… they might as well have been high-fiving the floors of all those porta-pottys! I was thinking about what a jerk I must’ve seemed to all the people putting their hands out that it really distracted me from what was happening. When I crossed the finish line, I wasn’t totally aware it was happening, it was so surreal. I had expected that I would cry at the finish line, but surprisingly I didn’t (though I feel close to crying now, writing this).
Chrissie Wellington put my finisher’s medal around my neck, and I thanked her and shook her hand (which was SO cool, never mind the germs. What, am I NOT going to shake the hand of the greatest female triathlete of all time?!), and then my catcher got me. She handed me water, walked with me to make sure I didn’t pass out, then let me loose in the finisher’s area. Kevin found me and we sat (well I sat, he had to wait just outside the finisher’s area) while I drank some chocolate milk, and worked up the motivation to walk back to transition to retrieve my bike and gear bags. It still hasn’t really sunk in that I’m an Ironman triathlete, even now. For all of my life, the Ironman was a race only super-freakishly-fit people did, and I am having a very hard time coming to terms with the fact I am actually one of them now. Though really what I’ve learned is anyone can do this if you put in the time and train consistently and intelligently. I didn’t get the time I wanted (was shooting for sub 12, but ended with 13:04:30), but in a way, the nausea was a blessing in disguise because it made me savor it, and take it easy enough that I never hated it or questioned whether I would finish. Now I’m trying to figure out which Ironman will be my next one.
Lauren finished 24th out of 57 in her age group, 178th out of 485 women, and 914th out of 2017 total finishers. Impressive stats for her first full Ironman and we have no doubt there will be a follow up. Congrats from all your Garmin friends and fans. Soon, we’ll catch up with another Garmin triathlete and Forerunner 910XT user who just completed her first half Ironman — the Kansas 70.3.