I’ve become an Ironman twice now, at 51 & 52 – proof that your 50’s are what you make of them. Anything is possible, as the Ironman saying goes. When I sit back and think about it, zooming out from the details of training and racing, it still often feels unreal. But it’s true, I’ve done this big thing twice. I love it, and I’m so blessed to have the opportunity.
Racing the last 11 years with a grateful heart in triathlon and running has always served me well. Before triathlon, I was a long distance runner. I spent many years trying to get my first BQ, and I missed that piece of the pie. So focused on getting to Boston, I didn’t appreciate the small wins or the lessons – it was all about the big goal. Had I known what I know now, I would’ve enjoyed the journey more, and possibly gotten that BQ years earlier.
Training for Ironman #2 brought me many opportunities to build character and practice gratitude with the running injury in the home stretch of my training cycle. Resetting my perspective and goals was key to enjoying this Ironman journey. Which led me to write about gratitude for perspective the week before the race.
Best. People. Ever.
First, shout out to my amazing roomies, who kept it fun and did amazing things. Ann Sloan, also racing, never a moment she wasn’t full of fun and support. Ready to have a fun day with me no matter what, we started our race day writing FUN on our hands in Mickey Mouse pajama bottoms. Diana Hull, who is always an amazing human, was the Sherpa for 3 and guardian of my Dad on race day. And Diane Haensel, my Ironman mommy, as I call her, nothing but love for her. She took me to my first Ironman last August and gave me everything a first timer could ask for and more. This time round, she did the same through training and race day. She’s on a rocket to the top, crushing all her goals and still has time for me! And last but not least, my neighbor who is now my soul sister, Rachel Elizalde-Powell. We missed each other a lot at the race, but boy those text messages we shared pre and post race were priceless. Our one photo together (after a big giant hug) meant so much.
So grateful to have my Dad at Ironman #2. He’s always been so supportive, always trying to take care of me and in awe of my triathlons. Best of all, so proud of me. To see him on race day shouting for me excited and happy was the best. Mom at Ironman #1, Dad at Ironman #2. Perfect.
Race Morning – 3:00AM
Race day! My daily ritual every day is to wake up, light a candle and do my stretches while I read my daily affirmation. Even at 3:00 AM. So often the affirmation is exactly what I need for that day. Race day was no exception. The affirmation was actually my race strategy.
“I take time to live in and appreciate each moment of the day.”
As Ann says, “Happy Ironman Day!” All morning 🙂 – it’s the best. Alarms go off at 3AM – we may not have even slept – to start the eating, bag checking, get out the door by 4AM process. Nerves in the morning, sure. But with a bunch of amazing women and a Dad who is in awe of it all, you can’t help but settle down. Even on the long 35 minute bus ride to the lake in the dark.
Transition arrival. All the bags. We had already dropped off all of our bags, but the bags for Ironman still make me anxious. Morning bag, T1 bag, T2 bag, special needs bike bag, special needs run bag. Coming from 70.3 or shorter races before my Tremblant Ironman in August, the bags are a thing that I haven’t quite gotten used to. But come to find out, as the Rolling Stones say – you don’t always get what you want, but you get what you need. And I did. The flashlight I planned to have in case I had to run in the dark with my injury situation, ended up in the bike special needs bag. Oops. The gloves for the bike in case it was as cold as it was the day before, in the run bag. Of course, I learned all this throughout the day. Happily, I didn’t end up needing those things, grateful on both counts. I did however get what I really needed in my special needs run bag, and I am so grateful.
Swim – 2.4 miles (1:18, 9/43)
Walking down the steep boat ramp with Ann and Diane, I thought – here we go again Lisa Michelle – we are about to do this Ironman thing again. Breathe. It’s all about the company you keep. Mine was the best. We said “Happy Ironman Day!” to the video guy, did a little whoop whoop and off we went to our swim groups. The national anthem played and that always gets my emotions going. I thought of my Dad, up at the VIP area, hand on his heart like mine. Waiting with my swim group, I thought of Ironman Tremblant. Being delayed an hour due to fog, I really enjoyed the people I met. With no delay this time, I looked to my left and there was Kamala. She looked nervous. I smiled and said hi then we chatted. We hugged before we headed into the chute to the water. When you start the 2.4 mile swim with a brand new friend telling you to have a great day, that’s about as good as it gets.
Time to start swimming. My two favorite things to think about on the swim are “Just keep swimming” from my swim angel, Joy, and “Swim is just transportation to the bike”, from Alissa, my long time coach. Swimming is not my favorite by far, but it has grown on me I will say. Water temp was good, and lap 1 went a little faster than planned. Happy! My arm which had been bothering me the week before was ok. Happy! Lap 2, not so much. About half way through I thought, why didn’t my 500 yd alert go off? Glance at my Garmin – resume, save or discard?! Must’ve been that last kick from a passer by. Pulled out of the swim group, carefully chose the right option and buttons, resume please. Turns out that cost me a few minutes. In hindsight, I could’ve dealt with it after the swim, but it seemed important at that moment. Lesson learned. I’d hoped to swim as fast as I did at Tremblant, and I missed that goal. Onward up the boat ramp!
T1 – Swim to Bike (11:17)
People always say the volunteers are amazing. They are! However, the volunteer in T1 was beyond amazing. She saved my day. I’m eternally grateful for this volunteer angel.
I actually ran up the very steep boat ramp out of the lake (yes, that’s it above) and happily got my wet suit stripped off half way up. On the way to the transition area I saw my Dad, he was shouting my name trying to take my picture. Heart filled with joy, I said “Hi Daddy!” I quickly got my bag, got in my bike gear and was headed out to my bike. 6:30 my watch said, I almost shouted woo hoo! Transitions aren’t my thing, as people who know me understand, and that was a big goal for me this race. I reached for my helmet strap heading out of the tent, smile on my face thinking, I’m getting out fast! Then my heart stopped. Where is the clip? I can’t clip the helmet. Off my head it goes and I see that the clip is GONE. My day is over! I need my helmet. I get teary, shout help please and see a volunteer heading my way. She tells me it must be in my bag. Dumps my bag out while I stand there in shock, sifts through it all and finds the clip! She threaded it on and made sure it was secure, and then put all my stuff back and said have a great day. I had already given away my Starbucks gift card to the volunteer who helped me earlier and for that I was sad. I would have given this volunteer a $100 bill if I had it. SAVED. MY. DAY. I thought about this at least every 10 minutes on the bike.
Bike – 112 miles (6:17, 10/43)
Heading out on the bike, I was beyond grateful for my helmet. I got to see Dad again. He was so excited and I love that he was there. Smiling and waving I head over to the bridge. Crossing the lake was beautiful. I took a deep breath on the bridge, knowing at the other side of it was a steep, curvy downhill with a “no aero bars allowed” section. I have improved my fear of steep, curvy downhills, but let’s just say they are still not my favorite. I went down it and tried not to brake too much – mission accomplished. I did better than I planned, and luckily no issues with other bikers weaving and speeding around me!
The roads are rough in Santa Rosa, and I knew that. Diane advised electrical tape for my aero bottle, and I’m so glad she did. I can’t even count the many sections of road littered with lost bottles, tools and who knows what else. I got to keep everything I started with! I had no mechanicals (so grateful for that), and Sassy Slice rode like a dream as usual. Grateful.
Mishaps on the bike included very sunburned forearms, and sore forearms from the rough roads. Coming out of T1 the volunteer applied about 1/2 cup of sunscreen on my arms and hands, so my bike slipped a bit when I tried to grab it. I had to wipe some off. Apparently, I wiped too much off!
New strategy on bike nutrition was a win! At Tremblant I had a bottle an hour, so at special needs I had to stop and reload my 3 bottles. This time, I made 3 bottles with double nutrition in them with the plan to drink as much water as I could at each aid station. I was worried about hydration, but I was hydrated because I could not avoid a stop at special needs to pee. Well, I chose not to. Special needs was at mile 68 rather than half way at mile 56. From about mile 54 on I kept thinking, maybe I should be like the cool kids and try to pee on the bike. Then, I haven’t done it before, maybe I shouldn’t. I decided to stop instead at special needs. While this took a few minutes, it gave me chance to hand the volunteer the Starbucks gift card taped in the bag, and the smile I got for that was awesome.
Besides the fact that I just love Sassy Slice, and told her so throughout the ride, so many things I loved on the bike. The bright orange poppies, California’s state flower. I always loved them growing up in CA, and seeing them made me smile. Vineyards with perfectly lined rows, set beneath the blue sky. I saw people working in the vineyards and I imagined them thinking, wow who are these people racing by with weird helmets on fancy bikes. I waved, and got a wave back. The rusted trestle bridge over the river was so cool. As I was admiring it while I rode over it, I glanced to the river and saw a brown and white cow swimming in the river! I swear. The spectator corner where there was a ‘Baby’s first Ironman’ sign near a stroller. It made me think about Katie’s first Ironman, when Ken did CDA Ironman (his one triathlon) and I carried her at age 2 on my hip for 11 hrs and down the finish chute as he ran in. The country roads, bumps and all, reminded me of where I grew up north of Sacramento in Shingle Springs, CA. Days walking down those roads to Deb’s Frosty or riding my Honda 90 with my friend Enid to go visit other friends.
I rode to my Best Bike Spilt race plan, but somehow I missed the time by more than the stop at special needs. I had hoped to ride much faster than Tremblant with less elevation on the course, but I guess the road conditions took more out of my speed than anticipated. It was still faster, but the 6:05 bike split didn’t happen. At one point I thought, oh these rollers, good practice for Chelan, ha ha. But, I didn’t feel bad at all, less the burning of my forearms for 6 hours. Grateful.
T2 Bike to Run (4:30)
Thankfully, nothing eventful in T2, just in and out as fast as I could go. Oh and a healthy does of sunscreen that I had in my bag sprayed on my forearms! The volunteer accidentally untied one of my running shoes, but that wasn’t a big deal. She felt bad, so I was happy to pass on that Starbuck’s gift card to her to make her day.
Run – 26.2 miles (4:54, 15/43)
And finally, the marathon. Here it was, the thing I knew was going to be my biggest opportunity of the day to practice gratitude. I headed out of the tent, Boston visor on my head feeling awesome! Too awesome. I always feel like sprinting after a bike split. About half a mile in I thought, ok Lisa hold your horses. You have had an injury, remember? 26.2 miles sister. Don’t take that lightly. The big goal is to not be injured more after this. So, I took the opportunity to stop at the first porta potty I saw to slow myself down.
A little more self control for a mile or so after that, then I settled in to a comfortable, slow jog, walking through aid stations, stopping at porta potties, eating banana pieces. Every step thinking, hmm, I am not in pain yet. Over and over and and over again, no pain. BINGO! This was my goal for the marathon, no pain. I had only run slowly for 2 hours leading up to race day so I hoped the fitness from swimming and biking would take me the distance. I gave myself permission to run “fast” the last 3 miles if I wanted. As the miles went on, I got tired. I knew that fast ending was not going to happen. But, I had no pain, save the rocky section of the trail where it felt like those giant rocks were stabbing my feet through my Hokas. On lap 3, I was so happy to say out loud (yes, I did) “Never running through here again!”
Special needs. With 3 laps for the marathon, we got to pass by special needs twice. As I mentioned, I had put my flashlight in the bike special needs bag, but thankfully I correctly put my note from Katie in my special needs run bag. That is what I needed. My plan was to stop and read it the first time, and pick it up and put it in my pocket the second time. Reading that note not only got me crying, but the volunteer standing next to me with my bag as well. Highly recommend this to anyone doing an Ironman who is planning to stop at special needs. MADE. MY. MARATHON.
I dug deep to keep positive even though I had no pain because I wanted to run faster. I often thought of my note from Katie, and how I’d pick it up again. Once I had it, I occasionally put my hand on my pocket to check that it was there. There were other things I loved beside my note. The sound of the creek as we ran back and forth around it. The smell of eucalyptus reminded me of where I grew up in CA. The HOKA fly zone fist bump every time I went through and the ‘3rd lap!” recognition when I was on my last lap. The Base Salt girl saying “There she is, I love her smile and she’s consistent.” Seeing Ann and her big smile! It was so nice to hear her shout my name and say hi. And of course Diane. Even though she was racing to try to podium, she paused to give me a huge smile and a hug and ask how I was! I got teary. Next time I saw her she said “I’m going to put the hammer down”. I couldn’t be more excited for her!
The only mishap on the run was a bit spectacular. After happily putting my note from Katie in my pocket at special needs stop #2, I headed to the lap turnaround. Ok, this is it. Last lap. Finishers to the right, me to the left. Lined with spectators cheering people on, I made the turn. And there it was, I am going to throw up! No…a spectator yelled “Hold it in!” I shook my head and two steps later, right there in front of everyone (instead of tucked away on the running trail) it happened. Just enough to make a scene, but not enough to send volunteers over. A quick reassess and up and off I went. I felt fine. Maybe too many banana pieces…The crowd cheered! Lap 3 here I come. Thinking about when I’m done just sitting on the couch snuggling with my Dad back at the condo. Last time I will be at this spot….
The Finish (12:47:19, 12/43)
Making that right to the finish line, I could not contain my smile. I was not running faster as I’d hoped, but look at me I made it! I thought about another goal of kicking my heels up at the finish line. A quick assessment of how high I was picking my feet up at this point made it clear that raising my arms was about all I was going to be able to muster. At the same time, hard to believe it was over. Not even sure I wanted it to be over, crazy as that sounds. All through the race I thought, this is my last Ironman and here I was at the finish.
At the finish, there was my Dad cheering for me with Diana at his side doing the same. Smile! And just like that you are done. I looked straight ahead and there was Diane waiting for me. So grateful. Diana reminded me, “Take the picture!” since I missed it at Tremblant and regretted that. And so I did. And then Diane with me, my Ironman Mommy! She waited for me to finish, it really melted my heart. Grateful.
I missed some goals, but I hit the big ones – no pain and enjoy the moments. Despite the goals I missed, I am thrilled to have gotten 12th in my age group and only finished 16 minutes slower than Tremblant. I had no idea what the day would bring, and again you don’t always get what you want, but you get what you need.
Recovery the Day After (Race Day Video, Wine Tasting, In-n-Out)
We made it to the breakfast and the roll down ceremony hoping that Diane would get a spot, and if not we were surely going to celebrate her 6th Place! She rocked it. The race day video played, and it brought back so much from the day. Because I love the experience, I am a sucker for those videos and all the amazing humans in them. And that’s when the thought crossed my mind, maybe this won’t be my last Ironman…
We ended the trip with a fabulous day of wine tasting and In-n-Out burger before catching our plane home – because, after all, even though WA is my beloved home, I am a CA girl.