That’s it. We’re done. Ironman Indiana was my last triathlon. It was an end of a 12 year triathlon journey.
I’ve debated making this a short recap because I’m also going to retire my blog and maybe no one cares to hear about another race by me… but also, get it all out because it’s the end of an era and maybe when I look back, I’ll be happy to be reminded of these things.
Yeah, sorry. We’re going with long.
In 2020 I had signed up for two races with my friends Anne and Kelly. Ironman 70.3 Victoria and Ironman 70.3 Washington. When COVID hit, both races were postponed. For Victoria they were saying they wouldn’t be having a race in 2021, so we were asked to choose another. One of the choices was the Washington race which we were already sign up for and a handful of other options, so we decided on Boulder as race #2.
After not finishing IM Chattanooga in 2019 (link to that race report here), I still had a pang in my stomach for one last full. At first I wanted Ironman California, figuring I could possibly drive to it and save shipping my bike. But that race filled up fast, and I hesitated and missed my chance. Then a few weeks later they announced a one-time Ironman in Muncie, Indiana. The promise of a flat bike course got me, and I signed up. 2021 would consist of two half-Ironman races and one full. I had my work cut out for me.
Not a lot of exercising went on in 2020 during the pandemic. Seemed like everyone was just trying to maintain their sanity. I sewed… tried to play the ukulele (badly) and other things to keep myself occupied. Dog walking and bike commuting were the extent of exercising for me. Pools were closed. It drove me crazy not to be able to swim. My friend, Veronica, convinced me to try cold water swimming in the Puget Sound. In winter that water hovers around 47 degrees. I obviously had a wetsuit (although Veronica dips without one!) so I invested in booties, gloves and a swim parka and took the cold plunge starting in November. It saved me. Swimming in 47 degree water forces you to be present. Something really important during COVID.
Starting in January 2021, some pools started to open with reservation systems, but at first we had to drive an hour away to the Snohomish Aquatic Center to swim. Anne and I would jump in the car on a Saturday or Sunday morning and drive, swim, and drive home. Then we found a pool in Kirkland that was a bit closer. Anne’s husband Kelly and my friend Jenn joined. Then just one of the Seattle public pools opened and my husband, Jim, and our friend, Jill were in, too. Before I knew it we had a swim posse. With two people to a lane due to COVID, sometimes we had half the pool lanes reserved during a session. I liked to call us the “Adult JV Swim Team.”
When it started to look like races might really happen in 2021, I started to ramp up my running again. I started slowly with walk/run intervals, but suddenly on a “long” run on a Sunday in May, something pulled in my calf or Achilles. I went to a sports medicine doctor who referred me to physical therapy. I think my injury came down to poor positioning of my bike cleats and lack of ankle flexibility which gave me Achilles tendonitis. I knew for sure these races should be my last. Running was no longer something I wanted to push through. So, I’d be retiring from triathlon. It started to feel good to know that.
Fast forward to a surprising Boulder 70.3 finish in August (I had told myself I was going to skip the run… but ended up power-walking it thanks to some tough love from my husband on the run course…) followed by a Washington 70.3 finish on September 19th.
When I signed up for Indiana, I didn’t really realize the Washington and Indiana races were just two weeks a part. Couple that with some crazy deadlines and massive overtime for work, unexpectedly going to Hawaii to help my daughter find and apartment at college, our house being in full remodel mode, my step-dad going into hospice care and passing away AND training, and I was at my limit both physically and mentally. Just keep going, I tried to tell myself.
It came time to race Indiana… ready or not. I hadn’t really told a lot of people I was doing a full Ironman. I really kept it quiet. I wasn’t interested in naysayers or pot stirrers. This race was for me to finish.
Race morning and two of the most amazing people in my life were there at the start. My husband, Jim, and my best friend, Tammy. I didn’t sleep the night before, and I had a headache for most of the day before, too. But once my wetsuit and my swim cap were on, I felt okay. It was familiar territory. We’d been here before.
This was a two loop, rolling start swim. I went off with the 1:35 – 1:40 group. I think some of the faster swimmers were coming through on their second loop and I was hit in the face by another swimmer. Great… leaking goggle. There was no real visibility in the water to see where other swimmers were. Even just a few inches in front of me I couldn’t see any swimmer’s feet. Just a lot of green. Luckily, I was able to finally get a seal on my goggles and just swim. First loop was 47 minutes. Right on time. I finished the second loop with a total of 1:40:07 for the 2.4 mile swim.
Transition was kind of a haul and it was what they call a dirty transition. Bags were at our bikes and no changing tents. Luckily I had already made the decision to wear the same kit all day. I hopped on my bike and got going.
The bike course was “flat.” Mostly any climbing was false flats of 1 and 2% grades, but for pretty long stretches with an occasional short 3 or 4%-er. But “flat” also meant wind. Flat also meant continuous pedaling. By mile 90 my shoulders were aching and my butt was too. A guy passing me said, “when I get home I’m burning this seat.” It also rained. “Let it rain,” I thought, I’d rather have rain than heat.
I was so lucky to see Tammy and Jim so many times on the bike course. They really got around. I kept thinking about them hoping they went to eat lunch or took a nap! It’s a LONG day for spectators. One time my friend Kim was with them, too. That was fun. I passed them and another spectator said, “how about THAT cheering section!?” I also saw windmills and corn! Growing up outside of Chicago in Northwest Indiana, the cornfields made me smile, it felt very nostalgic. Total bike time for 112 miles was 7:54:32.
Back into transition, I was thrilled to be off my bike and start the run. It was two loops. I started out with my run/walk intervals. At that time of day, it’s still daylight. Spectators and athletes are cheerful. You still have a sense of humor. There were some pretty funny signs, one which said, “you could have chosen chess.” That was my favorite.
Then loop number two comes. It gets dark. You’re just trying to make your way to your special needs bags to get your headlamp. Your emotions sink because some people you’re passing have finished their second lap and are on their way to the finisher’s shoot and you’re turning around to go back out. It gets real dark, real quiet, and real lonely.
I realize half way through the marathon that my two other races this year have been on trail. The asphalt is a relentless ache on my feet. Whatever I’ve done to my ankle that started on the bike hurts with every single stride. My watch dies. Someone tells me, “you’re almost to the turn around,” and the turn around is really nowhere to be found. Where is the fucking turn around?
Volunteers ask me how I am. “I’m fine,” I say. “I’m finishing no matter what.” I say that just in case they think they are going to cut me off or take my chip. That’s not happening. But at the same time you want it to happen because you’re in so much pain. I tell myself out loud, “you’re fine… you’re FINE.”
I need some tough love. And here it comes. About three miles from the finish a super dark figure appears. I really hope it’s my husband — and it is. “Hey there… how are you doing?” “Everything hurts,” I tell him. “I know, let’s go,” he says.
We move forward in the dark. I TRY to run the downhills with him… we try to run from this cone to that cone. I can see the glow of the lights at the finish line. I hear the announcer say… “okay, two minutes and 30 seconds to the end of Ironman Indiana.” After a pause of silence I say, “did he say two minutes and 30 seconds?” “Yes,” Jim says. My watch has been long dead so I have no idea what time it is. And I decide not to ask. No matter what, I’m finishing. We’re finishing.
As we reach the edge of the finisher’s chute, I see Tammy. These two have been out here all day. I’m so grateful.
I finish and the guy says my name, even though there is no one around and they are folding up tables. But he doesn’t say, “You are an Ironman.” I figured I’ve missed the 17 hour cut off.
The volunteer hands me a finisher’s shirt and the other one says, “let me get your hat…”. I stuff the hat in my hands with the shirt and a bottle of water.
I ask Tammy and Jim if I can just sit down for a minute before we head to the car and they generously oblige. I park myself on a chair that faces the finish line and I see a time of 16 hours and change up on the board. I’m totally confused. “But wait, I made it.” I just want to ask the volunteers what the deal is… so I go up to the gal who gave me the shirt and she informs me that this race had a time limit of 16 hours and 30 minutes. And until that very moment, I DID NOT KNOW THAT.
Rewind many paragraphs in this race report to where my last weeks of training also included crazy work deadlines, helping my daughter at college, my stepdad passing away, house remodel, etc. I had little capacity to pay attention to details. I was really just surviving from moment to moment. I never saw anywhere this race was a 16-1/2 hour race.
I don’t know when Ironman made that announcement. There has never been a full Ironman in this location, only a half, so no previous Athlete Guide to reference. The Athlete Guide doesn’t come out until 3 weeks before the race, so if it was then… you could have signed up for this race thinking it was 17 hours like a traditional Ironman, trained all summer, and then find out you only had 16:30. Regardless, it was my bad for not knowing. Would it have changed anything? Who knows.
I could be of the mindset I finished in 16:53:40, under 17 hours of a traditional Ironman finish. Or I could be disappointed I didn’t finish in the 16:30 they allow because some fall races are started later (to not put swimmers in the water before sunrise for safety) and don’t add the 30 minutes on the backend because of road permits.
I’m 100% of the mindset that I finished all 140.6 miles and I am now RETIRED from triathlon racing.
When I poured myself into the backseat of the car I noticed… inside my hat was a finisher’s medal.
NOW FOR THE THANK YOU’S
Thank you Jim Brown for years of swimming, biking, and running with me, holding down the fort when I was on long rides and runs. Thanks for taking me for my first Ironman tattoo after my IMAZ finish. Thanks for all your support and by default supporting our friends racing with me. You’ve checked out many bikes from transition and even taken care of friends in the medical tent! You are my Ironman.
Thank you to Matthew and Charlotte Brown for all the cheers for your Momma and for hours without me while I trained and chased these dreams. I hope we proved that you can do anything. Sometimes it’s a slow process… just don’t give up.
Thanks to Team Svehla (my siblings) who I’ve raced with throughout the years. My sister, Mary, who got me into long-distance cycling in the first place, my brother, Jim, who asked me to do an full Iron distance in the first place back in Arizona in 2014, and my brother, Bob, who is always there on the other end of a text or the phone with support and the jokes (the jokes are key!). Pretty remarkable we are all full Ironman finishers.
Thank you Anne and Kelly Evans, the last triathlete partners standing. Thanks for so many years of training and racing together. I’ll still be there with my cowbell to cheer you on.
Thank you to my JV Adult Swim Team: Anne, Kelly, Jim, Jenn, and Jill for keeping it fun this year.
Thank you to my LUNA Chix training partners… Julie Johnson (for many years of bike rides and fun) and Charity McCullum (for jumping in with me to open water swim and on a 70 mile training ride this year).
Thank you to my coworkers, Hannah Bonotto and Mike Muller, for waiting for me to finish Washington 70.3 so we could get a photo together. It was cold and rainy and that warmed my heart.
Thank you to Amy Dean, Jennifer Diggs, and Mike Muller for the best post race gift basket (sent to my hotel), in the history of post race gift baskets! And your support too!
Thank you to Bobbie Rowland for saving us a lot of running around by picking up my husband from the airport in Indy and meeting us half way.
Thank you Kim Doolin for coming to see me the day before and coming to cheer me on during the bike.
Thank you to Tammy Rowland, my best friend and chosen sister, who’s support is always undying. To wrap your arms around me and tell me how proud you were at the finish line meant the world.
Thank you to complete strangers who’ve since commented on that “Grit” post or messaged me privately on Facebook saying that they are proud of me. I think if complete strangers are proud of me, I can certainly be proud of myself.
And thank you, reader, no doubt if you’ve made it all the way to the end of this… you’ve supported me too, and I thank you.