Friday, November 28, 2008

So Thankful

I am thankful for:

My family. #1 Son Jim came in yesterday, so I had my whole family together for the first time since...January? I can't remember. (Jim just reminded me he was home in May for my graduation.) But we had a great meal, and even my aunt and uncle came from Williamsburg.

My training buddies. Where would I be without the TriGirls? They are my extended family. After yesterday's Turkey Trot, Ironman Sharon was commenting how running a race without your training buddies is hard. I know I never could have trained for an Ironman alone. Thank you girls for being such good friends and for carrying me across that finish line.

Our comfortable life. My husband works hard (he even went up to Northern Virginia last night to work the midnight madness/black Friday sale at one of his stores) to provide us a nice home, good food, vacations, and some little luxuries (like good wine). The coming year will be tough, but it means so much that he has a job he loves and is good at.

Good health. I am grateful for my family's health and healthy habits. Even when Joey ends up in the ER, I am reminded that there are families out there dealing with more severe health issues than us. While diabetes is no cake walk, it is manageable. Now, if we can get Jim back into running... (Last night in our post-turkey delirium Jim and I were watching TV and commented at the commercials for video games for toddlers that "GET THEM MOVING" kinda like a wii set up for the under 4 crowd. Ack. If you want to get the kids moving, turn off the TV and make them play outside.)

My coaches. They believe in me and push me. Along with my training partners, they made it possible for me to cross that finish line and have become trusted friends in the process.

My online friends. I haven't met many of them, but feel like we have known eachother a long time. These women make me laugh, cry, and be inspired. Even though the great majority of them are more accomplished athletes, they celebrate my successes with me and motivate me to give my all to our sport.

I hope everyone has a blessed Thanksgiving weekend.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Wishing I was in Arizona...

Go Heidi, Tammy, CJ, Brad and Som! YES YOU CAN!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


I am long overdue posting a few corrections to my race report, and giving proper credit where credit is due. Apparently I was a little out of it during the race and subsequently couldn't remember who helped me change in T2. It was my sherpa extraordinaire, Lynn. On race day, Lynn was everywhere I needed her to be. Pre-race, she was up with me before dawn and saw me off on the swim. During the race, she was in transition and dropped other athletes (sorry, girls) to help me. She was also the one who post race, while I'm getting IV'd in the med tent, collected my bike and bags and oh so diplomatically instructed neophyte sherpas sister Molly and Poland-Lynn to bring the car around so I wouldn't have to hike 3 miles post IM back to the condo. There is no comparison of the job I did as her sherpa last year when she did IMFL and what she did for me. Granted we were both new at the whole ironman race thing, but now she has set the bar quite high. I'm a little worried, our next ironman we are both racing and our husbands may take off to go golfing instead of I think we've tagged Fave to be our sherpa extraordinaire for Placid! Many grateful thank you hugs, Lynn! I really couldn't have done it without you.

Correction #2--that group of people at mile 1 in the interesting costumes....I think one or two of you were still out when I was finishing, but I wasn't very coherent at the time. On behalf of many racers, thank you for the comic relief and support.

Now, switching topics:
Many hearty congratulations to all the TriGirls and friends who finished the various distance runs this past weekend. Jill and Mindy and Jeff--I am so proud of your accomplishment, your first marathon! Many of you set PRs in less than ideal conditions (it was almost 80 degrees and humid). Way to go! I'm sorry I wasn't able to cheer/spectate those that ran the 8k and half marathon but I hope you heard me ringing that cowbell. I was very proud to run Lynn in for the last 7 miles and set a new marathon PR (outside IM). By mile 23 it got quite blustery and I tried hard to be a wind break to help her out. At one point I had considered running the whole marathon with her, but am very glad I didn't! Jen, you were right. 7 miles was my limit for a first long run post IM. (Here is Jill, showing how smart we TriGirls are.)

I'm starting to feel a little post partum (IM) depression coming on. Part of it may be just the fact that I'm so behind on sleep after spending 8 hours in the ER with Joey. This time it wasn't an hypoglycemic seizure, it was HYPERglycemia (high blood sugar). All afternoon he was well above the 500s in his blood sugar readings. He's home today and feeling ok, but still running high (luckily not over 500 high). I'm hoping it may be just a growth spurt or his body trying to battle some bug. His next endocrinologist visit is in a couple weeks, so we'll tweak his background insulin rates then. He is such an amazing boy--he sat stone still while the nurse stuck him, took 6 vials of blood, and hooked up the IV. He is so brave and didn't cry at all. I can't say I'd do the same.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Run (part 3)

I felt pretty good headed out on the run (don't I look happy to be off the bike?!) My plan was to run the first half, then take it mile by mile with the goal of always making forward progress regardless of speed. As we started out, Kate G was having some foot issues and urged me to go ahead. I was surprised that my legs didn’t feel like total lead (yet) and settled into a comfortable pace. Mile 1 brought Shawn and Sharon’s Super Sherpas sitting in lawn chairs drinking beer. They offered me one but I passed, thinking I might partake when I saw them again at mile 14. In retrospect, maybe I should have had the beer cuz nothing much else was going down. Also at Mile 1 was this crazy group of people in costumes, the most interesting being a bikini top, tanga bottom, and itty bitty skirt thing. She was running beside the guys and letting them slap her bottom. I was hoping they’d all still be out there by the time I hit mile 25 (they weren’t).

Around mile 2 I hit my first “patch of grass” stop. Some guy ran by, asked if I was ok, and seemed a little taken aback when I told him what I was doing. My explanation of not wanting to be customer #1597 for the fun that was a porta potty then made total sense to him. At this point my stomach was already iffy enough as it was. I didn’t want to tempt fate by possibly walking into a really ripe port-a-john and losing my nutrition.

By mile 3 I had found a running partner, Joanne. She was on her second loop, in her second Ironman, and cruising along for a finish time of about 12 hours—and PR’ing by about an hour. We chatted away, and the miles went by quickly. Before I knew it we were in the state park. Sharon and Shawn ran by—plugging along and looking strong. We high-fived and “good job”ed. It was good also seeing Patty (tearing up the course!), Som and Fred along the way. At the turn around, my running partner was itching to get home at a little faster pace so we parted company. I took in a gu and some water and looked forward to the next 6 miles. On the way back in I caught Kate G, who wasn’t far behind me, and Charlotte who was plugging away diligently and sooo positive!

Joe and the kids were waiting for me at mile 9 and ended up leapfrogging along the course for miles 9-22. They cheered like mad and gave me lots of encouragement. I think the other runners also appreciated having them along that back part of the course. It does get pretty lonely out there. I was able to maintain my pace for the whole first half marathon—I think I did it in about 2:35 or 2:40, just 20 minutes off my half marathon PR pace! At the halfway point I collected my long sleeve shirt and took in another gu. Seeing all the TriGirl sherpas was great, but mentally it was tough looking forward to those miles in the state park. At this point the sun was setting, and miles 19-25 were going to be DARK. It was right after I ran into Karen, who had just walked a ways with Shawn, that I started to really feel the miles but I was able to run until mile 15.

I walked miles 15-20, and each mile kept feeling longer and more painful than the last. It was around then that my nutrition fell apart. I had been feeling nauseous since early on in the bike and every time I tried to take in some liquids my stomach let me know it was on strike. So, I just stopped forcing things down and settled for little sips here and there of chicken broth or coke. Sharon passed me at about mile 18 on her way in—she was still running and looking strong. She said “we’re going to be Ironmen tonight!” which was just the right thing to say! She finished in an amazing 14:14! Shawn and I met up between miles 19 and 20 and we pledged to keep trying to run at least a portion of every mile. Fellow racers were getting fewer and farther between and just as I was leaving the state park, some guy narrowly missed running into a deer crossing the road.

I hit mile 20 and resolved to run as much as possible all the way back. The mantra became “just 6.2 miles left to go…”, “just 5.2 miles left to go….” It hurt like hell, but it worked. I think that’s when I became a space cadet—Joe said when they saw me at mile 22 my eyes weren’t quite right and I was looking rough. He wanted to run with me a ways, but I sent them to the finish line. That was where I needed them to be, and what would propel me forward along the course. My sister and friend Lynn from Poland then took over the leapfrogging/cheerleading. By mile 24 even Molly was concerned and wanted to walk with me a ways, but then I was almost home and wanted them all there at the finish line. There was a small pack of us racers keeping each other company and motivating each other to run a bit. I found another fellow racer who was jogging/walking along at my same pace and we tried to chat a bit as we went.

At this point my mind had totally checked out and I was having a hard time regulating my body temperature. I had to really focus on moving forward and putting one foot in front of another, otherwise I would just stop. I knew I could do it and knew I could finish, but it took every ounce of mental and physical energy to maintain any forward motion. My running/walking partner and I hit mile 25 and I had to run. I had to finish, sooner rather than later. I started getting choked up as I passed the club Vega, or whatever it’s called. But that turned into sheer joy as I hit the finish chute after spending 14 hours and 51 minutes to travel over 140 miles. I heard Mike Reilly call my name and say “You are an Ironman!”

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Florida Course is Flat….NOT! (RR part 2)

I had not previewed the bike course. Instead I went grocery shopping—which had to get done, otherwise my nutrition plan would’ve gone straight out the window. I heard brief snippets from Charlotte and Fred about bumpy sections, but never got the chance to talk to Shawn and Sharon about their impressions. I’m sure they would’ve said the same thing. Like Timberman (where I also didn’t drive the course), I didn’t want to have the suffering to look forward to. Keeping it a surprise would keep it interesting, I thought. I don’t think I’ll make that mistake again.

Kate G and I headed out of T1 pretty much together. For the first 10 miles, I was trying to settle in, calm my stomach which was just starting to get queasy, and talk myself into eating and drinking. I was able to down most of a smoothie just before leaving the transition tent and knew that would keep me fueled for most of the first hour since goodness knows the Clif bar wasn’t tasting good. I was feeling pretty good up to the turn onto Rt. 20—my speed was around 17 and I was passing more people than passed me.

That all changed after the turn. The headwind hit and slowed me way down. Then the rollers started. Then I got passed by everyone and their dog—and they were all in big pace lines. (Isn’t that illegal???) I thought several times about trying to hop on the back, but was afraid I’d get nailed with a penalty. So I stuck it out by myself. Kate G and I played leapfrog a bit. I tried to conserve time by not stopping for potty breaks (we all know what that means…), and considering how many times I need to go whenever I’m on the bike, that probably saved me about 15-20 minutes in my bike split!

As Rt 20 and the headwind dragged on, and time ticked away, I got more and more discouraged. I know the low point of every IM is supposed to hit between miles 70 and 80, but I was seriously questioning whether or not I’d finish the race before I even got to the special needs stop at mile 50. The brightest point of the bike was seeing some TriGirl zip by in a white rental car honking like mad. Damn, that looked like Heidi, who was supposed to be back in Richmond training for IMAZ. Sure enough it was! She came all the way out to watch and cheer us on—and she was the pretty much the only reason I kept going at certain points. Thank you so much Heidi. I wish I could do the same for your big race!

Anyways, back to the hell that was Rt. 20. I was so hoping I could catch up with Sharon and Shawn—figuring they’d be stopping for potty breaks and uncrustables at special needs. Never did happen. Kate G and I did get caught up again at special needs and making the turn onto 231 felt blessed relief: finally a tail wind! Cranking along at 21 mph was bliss, and I started thinking if it kept up we’d negative split the bike (at this point I think we’d been on the bike for over 3 hrs already). Whoo hooo! We did stop at mile 56 to refill water bottles (why they wouldn’t have water at special needs is beyond me…) and pee in the grass.

I knew too soon we’d be turning to go west again, naively thinking that since there was a headwind east bound, there’d be a tail wind west bound. NOT. This was where it got bumpy. At one point I had to put my bike in the small chain ring to be able to turn the crank at a decent enough pace. At the little (10 mile?) turn around, I did see Shawn and Sharon—looking strong and almost like they were enjoying the ride. Bump bump bump for almost 30 miles. At this point I knew I wasn’t quite keeping up with the nutrition plan: I was taking in all my fluids but was lagging on the solids. Every so often I had to eat one of my ginger chews to keep the nausea at bay. At mile 80 I started in with the gu—one for every 10 miles which seemed like an eternity.

Finally the pavement became decent again, but at this point I realized how far back in the pack I was. When you only see like 4 people strung out for a mile in front of you, you are going S-L-O-W. The game now became “get me home and off this friggin’ bike!” I was never so glad as to see the bridge that we came over at mile 10—but those last 10 miles in were still tough. I started getting very emotional as I passed more and more spectators. I was so anxious to see friendly, happy faces and hear people say “Good job.” Even though many, many spectathaletes said “good job,” every time I heard it I thought how lucky I was to have made it that far, and yes, dammit, I am doing a good job. Just doing the race is something most people (and at one time I myself) would never consider doing.

So, all told, my bike split was 7:13. Not quite the 6:30 that I expected and had told Joe to plan on. Pulling into transition I saw my sister and Joe and the kids yelling like mad. See how I'm smiling in that picture--I'm unclipped, ready to jump off. I think handing off the bike was one of the sweetest feelings of the race. (Yes, take that damn bike, I don’t want to see it again for a while!) Added to which, Cyndi, Derek, and Grandison were all there waiting for me. Hugs all around, “how’re you feeling?”, “good job”, and help in the changing tent. What could be better?! Kate G pulled in just a short while after me, and I waited in the tent to start the run with her. I was a little apprehensive about the run earlier in the week, but at this point I was looking forward to it. A chance to socialize and visit with other racers, and have more support in terms of seeing friends and sherpas along the way. Bring it on and let’s get this thing done!

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Race (part 1)

My first half iron race was Eagleman in 2007, which I raced with many of the girls training for IMFL that year. Joe and the kids had stayed home that weekend, so I wasn’t able to see him before the race start. I remember feeling that the 70.3 miles we were traveling that day loomed pretty large—seeming to be an almost insurmountable distance. I was very scared and nervous that I wouldn’t be able to finish. I called him (and woke him up) just before we were due to get in the water and cried. I think he was a little annoyed that I had woken him up, but he was able to say “you’ve done the training, you’ll be fine.” I didn’t believe him.

Standing just outside the starting corral for Ironman Florida, I wasn’t quite as scared. This time I knew I could make it through the swim, bike, and at least half of the run thanks to our experience at Chesapeakeman and our weekend at the Eastern Shore. The rest of the run would be a matter of just making forward progress. Being able to hug Joe and hear him say he was proud of me was the best send off. I did miss seeing my sister before the start, but asked Joe to have her say three Hail Mary’s for me. (I’m not about to buck a trend. Every family trip—over 40 years of Cunningham travels—has started with those prayers and every trip has concluded safely.)

Shawn, Sharon, Patty and I walked over the timing mats and into the starting corral together. It was at this moment that the race became very real to me—I held hands with Shawn as we walked in, and we both had tears in our eyes. I had trained with these women, through tropical storms, hot and cold, and just about everything in between for the past 5 months. I could never have been ready for the race without their support and company along the way. They are my sisters in blood, sweat, and tears and I will treasure their friendship for a long time.

Once in the corral, we stood at the back. I remember looking at all those people in front of me thinking soon we’ll all be in the water TOGETHER. Ack. I can’t remember what caught my attention after hearing the national anthem, but I turned around and at the fence were our TriGirls! Jill looked more excited than I felt, but her good luck hugs and those from the rest of the crew helped me know that they would be there cheering their hearts out along the way. Just then the gun went off! I wasn’t even paying attention and was really caught off guard. But that was a good thing—having too much time to agonize over it would’ve sucked. We had planned to try to remain towards the back of the pack, but momentum seemed to carry us forward into the water. As soon as it was up to my waist it was time to start swimming. It was right around this point that I lost Shawn and Sharon.

The first loop of the swim course wasn’t as bad as I imagined. While very crowded, I wasn’t being swum over or pushed down. Every time I took a breath, though, there was someone right in my face. It surpising at first to be looking straight into someone else’s face while we were both breathing and not pull up to stop, but I needed to delineate and defend my personal space. I kept my recovery pretty wide. Going around the turns was crazy. Everyone got condensed into a small area, and with the sun coming up it was a little hard to see the next turn bouy. Luckily this was the shortest swim segment, so I knew it wouldn’t stay like that for long. I did think about Placid and how it will be similar and different (same crowd, no chop). Coming down the stretch to the timing mats I felt some help from the current and was able to find some more space.

I was hoping to see some familiar faces in the crowd at the beach as we went over the timing mats. I know I looked at the clock, but didn’t register how fast or slow I was going. I grabbed some water to rinse out the salt water, and headed back out. Some guy and I chatted a bit, but too soon it was time to swim again. Like Chesapeakeman, my swim felt like it lasted just as long as any open water triathlon swim, regardless of distance, but unlike my other races, I was able to find my rhythm much sooner. Going around the turns the second time was a little easier since the crowd was more dispersed, and it seemed that last stretch went really quickly. I hit the beach knowing I had a better swim than at Chesapeakeman, and went in search of Karen and Shelley to get stripped! Total swim time 1:25:31, ten minutes faster than C’man which was 1:34:50.

What a crazy place the wetsuit stripping area is! Sand, wetsuits, and wet bodies flying in every direction. In addition to having my wetsuit ripped off me, the last big scab from my bike accident on my ankle got pulled off. Ouch. Up the beach I ran, hoping I’d find my peeps in transition. In the tent (and naked!) were Shawn and Sharon, changing so quickly that I didn’t have time to run out with them. I think Patty was there too, and she zoomed out of there pretty fast too. My coach Grandison helped me change. I think next time I won’t bother with the bike jersey and will swim in my tri shorts and top—it was tough just getting shoes and socks and arm warmers on! Kate G and I hit the bike together, which I was very grateful for. So many familiar faces in the transition area (Cyndi, Derek, Trish, Jill, and Jackie) sent me off feeling good.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Race Countdown (post mortem)

Friday passed in a blur. I remember spending most of the day floating around, feeling like it wasn’t quite happening to me—that I was maybe there to watch my friends race. At one point around lunch, I ran into Michael Lovato at the expo. He and Simon Lessing had stayed in our hotel up at Timberman, and I had chatted them up a bit, thinking they were pretty hot (at the time I didn’t know they were major stud pro triathletes and in Michael’s case, married to another hot pro triathlete, Amanda Lovato). Michael was very nice, remembered me from Vermont, and wished me lots of luck. I also had met Bree Wee on Thursday night at the pasta dinner. She’s such a sweet woman and an amazing athlete—she ended up taking 4th woman overall and qualifying for Kona. Way to go, Bree!

Friday afternoon came quickly. I was able to talk to Marit and Jen about the race and my strategy. Jen’s best advice was not to write the end of the race before it even got started. I had a certain goal in mind for time, but she was able to remind me to take each minute as it came and be in the moment. That advice saw me through so many points in the race! Before I knew it, I was almost late to pack my bags and rack my bike, but got them done by 3. That evening I had dinner at the condo with my sister and two Lynn sherpas who had all arrived that day. While we were doing that, Joe took the kids trick or treating at the mall. It was not quite the regular Halloween experience they have at home, but they still had a good time and scored some good candy. Soon after they got home at 9pm, I went to bed.

Surprisingly, I slept pretty well. Not too much of the half-awake, I-know-what’s-coming-and-can’t-relax sleep before other races. I woke up around 1, but was able to fall back to sleep until just before the alarm went off at 4. It was nice to be the first one up and have a little quiet time to myself. I made coffee and started trying to eat my breakfast. At that point I knew the nerves were starting to kick in—it was all I could do to choke down my usual yogurt and granola. TriGirl Lynn got up and helped me pack up my last things, and then we headed down to meet up with Charlotte and Fred to ride to the race start.

Walking toward transition with crowd of other athletes, volunteers, and families, I was glad I brought my ipod. Being able to tune that out and listen to my usual music really helped calm me down and put me in the right frame of mind. I found TriGirl volunteers to body-mark me—big hugs all around! Once in transition, I was very glad to have gotten there very close to 5. I wasn’t rushed at all and was able to get tires pumped, nutrition loaded, and more breakfast eaten before finding Patty and the other TriGirls. Then it was time to stuff the sausage. I had decided to wear Cyndi’s full wetsuit instead of my own john-style one. I liked the added buoyancy and protection (from jellyfish) that it gave me.

By 6:15 I was starting to panic that Joe wouldn’t make it down to the beach in time to see me off. We did find Cyndi and Derek—Cyndi was an important part of my pre-race morning. She brought her trusty sharpie to write “Yes, You Can!” on my arm like I had done for her last year. Having her there, telling me I would indeed become an ironman that day was so special. Then it was time to hit the beach. I frantically called my sister since Joe wasn’t answering his cell phone, and she woke up the other Lynn and kids back at the condo. Joe was headed to the beach—and he found me! Good thing too, since it was time to head into the starting corral.