Monday, August 31, 2015

Ironman Sweden Race Report

Ironman Sweden was my 20th Ironman. I've known for a while that it will also probably be my last full Ironman for a while. Everyone tells me it won't, so I guess time will tell... but I do know that for 10 years I've raced a full schedule every season, while working full time. I'm a master of time management, because I have to be in order to race pro and do my job well. It's a choice I made and for the most part I have loved and embraced it. It's also hard and I'm ready for a change - I want to have fun adventures that don't always revolve around the amount of training required to race at the top. I have also had an ankle injury that I have been managing / somewhat stubbornly ignoring for over four years. (Yes, pros are just like amateurs in this area). It's time for me to fix my ankle before I schedule anymore full Ironman races. I still plan to race next season, but most likely only shorter distances.

All of that being said - the dreamer, hard-worker and goal-chaser wanted Sweden to be an amazing final hurrah of racing Ironman distance. I wanted to race for a personal best and I trained and felt fit to do so. Things don't always work out the way we plan, but I'll tell you this - the sport of triathlon is like no other and the spectators in Sweden made this Ironman a massive party (even though it lasted much longer than I would have liked). Onto the race....

Saturday evening I slept very little - perhaps the time change, perhaps because my stomach was upset, maybe excited nerves. I probably slept 2 hours. And I awoke to a body that was semi-nauseous and didn't feel great. I hoped over time it would pass, as I had a similar experience at Ironman Wisconsin years ago and that race ended well.

This is the pro swim start. When I got in the water I knew it would be choppy (the winds were blowing about 20+ mph), but I didn't think it would be as choppy as it was once we exited the sea wall. Inside the protected harbor while waiting for the gun to go off there was already swell. By the time I had reached the outside buoy I was in a washing machine. I've swum a number of choppy swims over the years and this ranked right up there near the top. I did my best to find the buoys when on top of the waves and tried not to swallow water. The swim course is actually a really cool route that does a large loop out in the Baltic Sea (this part had large waves), and then we swam back inside the harbor, under a small bridge and up a river to finish right next to transition. I'm sure if I had grown up swimming I would have loved it all. I think my favorite part was the final 100 meters in the river, where I could see the swim exit. I swam 1:05.

Out onto the bike and I had no power from the start. As soon as I took in my first nutrition I was nauseous. I figured after an hour things would settle down and I might feel better. I rode over the 6k bridge (fun!) to the Oland Island while trying to ignore the tons of men now passing me. The winds were whipping and much of the time they were cross winds. The head wind sections were a slog. Time ticked on and I felt worse. It was mostly frustrating, but what can you do?! Unfortunately we can't always choose the days our bodies feel their best. I hit the mid-way point and wanted to lay down on the grass next to the lovely Swedish families yelling "Haja! Haja!" I continued to eat and drink on a schedule and turned my legs over. I came off the bike after 5:33.

I was actually very excited about the Sweden run course - it consists of running through the old town four times (while completing three loops). The old town is what comes to mind when I think of a very, very, very old European town - complete with a wall around it, cobblestones, and winding narrow streets, with a tunnel through the outer town wall thrown in. (Any European town that is older than my country is great in my book!)

I was still nauseous at the end of the bike, but pushed that aside and decided I would aim for a fast marathon and salvage a small part of my race, which at this point was looking quite dismal. I had nothing to lose. I love running and I love a spectator friendly course and I knew this could be fun if I could make it that way. I really really hoped the nausea would subside.

Out of transition I felt a bit better and as I ran more (and faster!) the nausea seemed to subside. I smiled and ran fast and for a while ran with a guy from Stockholm stride for stride. The spectators were so fun - yelling "Karisa!" and "Go USA!" (there was a little American flag on my bib number). Even once we left town and were out in the neighborhoods and along a bike path the crowds were everywhere. I took in gels and they seemed to be sitting well. I ran as fast as my legs would turn over and was happy to be clipping off kilometers. I made it through the half way point feeling fairly good and then around mile 14 I took a gel and immediately my nausea came back. A minute later I puked in the bushes (first time this has ever happened to me). The nice thing was, once I puked I could run fast again. Except I was worried because I still had 12 miles to run and without those calories in my stomach I knew I wasn't going to be able to keep running fast. At the next aid station I switched to Coke. And that didn't sit well at all. As my calorie intake disappeared, so did my fast running.

By the final lap I was willing the legs to turn over. Aid stations became a buffet of trying to get something, anything! into my stomach. I tried chips, pickles, and lemon slices (those were actually good, but provided little calories). I made some new Swedish friends and shuffled to the finish after a 3:46 marathon. I finished 6th in 10:33, very far off what I had planned.

Thanks Mom for all the cheering!
After the race I tried not to be overly sad about my race - I know I did the best I could on the given day - and really that is all we can ever ask of ourselves. The sport of triathlon and in particular Ironman has given me memories over the past 10 years that I never would have dreamed. I've seen the world through racing and made amazing friends. So rather than putting a final closure to my Ironman racing career, I will end by saying I hope that if I put as much focus into healing my ankle as I did over the years into Ironman training, that I can soon be healthy and perhaps give Norseman or some other crazy endurance adventure a go in the near future!

Post race my Mom and I went up north in Sweden where she lived for a summer when she was 19. And then I road tripped from Belgrade to the Croatian coast and back up to Italy. It was an amazing trip that I feel incredibly lucky to have experienced. I will post photos on the other adventures soon.

A huge thank you to my sponsors!
Zoot - fast TT shoes, flexible wetsuits, awesome training and racing apparel.  
Microscope World - my other great job.
Profile Design - fast TwentyFour wheels, aero bars and hydration. I love the Aero HC system.
Powerbar - gels, hydration and recovery for ultimate performance.
Nytro - my local (but they sell all over the world!) bike shop with all things racing/training.
Extreme Endurance - thanks for helping me recover and keeping me healthy!

Rudy Project - great helmets and sunglasses, awesome colors!
Bont - best cycling shoes around.