Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Ironman Lake Tahoe Post-Race Thoughts

Tahoe race morning. Simply beautiful.
Man, I thought it was hard to write about Vegas. Well, Tahoe takes the cake now. This month definitely did not pan out how I would have liked, but it happened, it's over and it's time to re-group, rest my body, enjoy the now, as well as plan for the future. I was thinking before Ironman Tahoe, "No matter what happens Sunday, I will still go to bed and wake up the same person on Monday." And when shit hit the fan on Sunday, I had to repeat those words in my head. A lot. Because, the other thing I was thinking about early on were some wise words from a friend on one of his race experiences... something like, "This is a tough course for everyone and someone's gotta win my AG, might as well be me...." I wasn't convinced I'd win, but I figured I could finish high up there. Well slice me off some humble pie.

This blog isn't really a race report because I didn't even get through the whole race, sadly. Just a recap of the day. As always, thanks to everyone who's shared in my journey and who's sent kind messages before/during/after the race. I want to let you guys know that despite a bad day, I have no regrets and what I did experience at Tahoe was priceless. It did a lot for me mentally and physically, in a good way. The highlight of my Tahoe experience was the good vibe this weekend brought: I personally felt that raw love for the sport, and was overwhelmingly excited and smiley. Not to mention, I was so happy to be sharing it all with good company... all that in itself was redemption from Vegas :)

Quick note before my story: Speaking of good company, I just want to say how PROUD I am of my friend and housemate, Elizabeth, for her absolutely amazing performance on this course. She is rock hard and worked her way to second AG and Kona -- totally deserving!!! It's funny because when we were all talking predicted finishing times, none of those times we had for ourselves are usually Kona-qualifying caliber in most IMs, so Kona was never really discussed, but that's the thing about Tahoe -- it's hard, and 12+ hours IS Kona-worthy! Anyway, mad props to her!

So anyway....

Saturday, as you probably heard, the weather was totally crazy. A storm quickly rolled in, bringing with it even colder temps, rain, wind and even snow. It was awesome to see everyone panicking. We happened to be driving Brockway during the snow portion of the storm and were laughing our heads off. There were rumors that the race would be altered, which made me sad as hell, actually. I came here for a challenge and I didn't want it messed with. That said, I do hate the cold and it's no secret to me that I do not function well in cold whatsoever so I am still a little mystified why I wanted this particular challenge -- the mind is a mysterious thing.

We got lucky and that storm left as quickly as it came, only leaving behind some extra cold temps and some wet roads for Sunday morning, but it was Ironman business as usual. Race morning I put on my wetsuit (bottom half) before we even left the house in an effort to stay warm, along with a couple pairs of socks and gloves and anything else that would keep me warm -- and I was still cold! Transition area in the morning was surreal with it being freezing and watching everyone trying to stay warm. And then once the sun started to rise, it got colder, down to 27-29ish degrees F, and you saw this beauty (thanks to my sister for all the pro photos here):
How often do you start your triathlon swim overlooking snow-capped mountains?
Cold but super excited before the swim.

John and I strategizing how we'll hold hands throughout the race ;)

Hats off to the volunteers who hung out in the water while we all swam. That had to be freaking cold.
And, for that matter, hats off to all the volunteers - best ever.

I won't lie. I was somewhat scared my cold body wasn't going to handle that swim, let alone T1, but I was ready to give it a shot! I have Raynaud's, so that put me at a disadvantage in the cold, but mind over matter. Looking at this situation: Not too many people would ever even dare toe the line in those conditions, so that's a victory in itself. Before the swim my hands and feet were completely frozen, and core temp wasn't that great. I was trying to run around and generate heat, but it wasn't helping. Thankfully, when we got in the water it felt GREAT (still warmer than the ocean, and way warmer than outside), which helped, but I was already too cold and unfortunately had some calf/toe cramping early on, which forced me to stop a couple times to work it out. Thankfully I did work it out, went on my way and cramping did not return, but on the other hand, my power in the water was weak to say the least.
If you can believe it, it was actually a relief to get in that water.
A note on Ironman's SwimSmart program: I think it's great! At first I was skeptical when they announced it this year, but now having done it I am a big fan, and it did not negatively change the experience. That "mass start" feeling was mostly still there. It started efficiently, and I was almost always with people in my range. Good stuff, Ironman.

The first loop had pretty much zero visibility - just follow the feet in front of you.
I survived that dang swim with a time that, all things considered, was not too much slower than what I would have expected on a "normal" day. I think I am capable of going just sub 1:20 on a comfortable swim course in regular temps, so 1:23 at Tahoe was a-OK with me, especially with time stopped to work on my calf/toe cramping. And a note on the cramps: This was not me "trying to swim harder than I'm used to going" or "not being conditioned" for an IM swim -- the cramping was all a cold thing.

T1 was unlike anything I've ever seen in my life, and men and women who've raced many more IMs than me were saying the same thing. You have hundreds of women crammed into a tent trying to undress, dry up and get on warm clothes. It was insanity. You basically had to work shoulder to shoulder with everyone like a sardine, with not an inch of room to spare, while trying to shiver less. I did not give a crap about my T1 time, I just wanted to start that bike dry and not as frozen. I ended up taking an 18:xx T1, which included a complete wardrobe change with putting on a million layers, activating heat warmers for hands and feet, trying to then gather my wet stuff that was scattered about with everyone else's things, stuff it into my bag and peace out.

I was felling pretty good mentally going out onto the bike. Proud of conquering that swim and proud of not getting hypothermia (or at least not officially being diagnosed with it haha).

So the bike. Dang. The course is hard, and I was excited to tackle it, but the universe had other plans apparently. About mile 25ish, my Di2 died, and I was stuck in my gear. Thankfully I was in the small ring in the front, otherwise I would have been completely done at that point with the climbs that followed. At first, I literally thought lack of function/feeling in my fingers that was the reason for gears not shifting, but not the case. I decided I'd keep an eye out for tech and just keep spinning out riding. I eventually stopped at aid station 4 in Martis Camp, where there were lots of resources, and we officially realized then the Di2 was dead. It shouldn't have died; it was charged, so I am a bit mystified. I was at ~mile 34 at that point and of course I could go on like that. Or, the other option: The guys said they could call in a battery for me (which they had!), replace it and I could go on with my day with all gears. How long it would take for tech to arrive with the battery, however, was the unknown. I decided to wait. I wanted to do a full Ironman with full gears! When I flatted in Canada, I made the decision to wait and it only cost me ~40min; I could do that again and still survive, right?

Starting the bike. If you can believe it, this is an attempt at a smile, but my face was frozen ha!

I actually was still in good spirits while waiting. After the flat fiasco in Canada, I knew the drill -- stay positive because you can still persevere even when bad stuff happens. (Granted, after IMC, the last thing I wanted in Tahoe was another bike failure -- two for two in my Ironman career so far, shit!) So, I was chatting with people who stopped at the aid station for relief (maaaany people were happily taking a chance to stop and chill) and I also got a private show of the pros climbing through Martis Camp on their second loop, which was badass to say the least. The power those guys and girls had climbing, especially compared with the AGers they were passing, was awe-inspiring.

But then, before I knew it, it had been an hour and a half of waiting. I was losing it. Dammit!!! This was not good. I talked to a volunteer dude, and from that convo decided that I might as well just go for it and ride as it was so I could at least experience the course; who knew how it'd be with the gear situation, but like I said, better to be stuck in the small ring than big ring. Also, at that point, it was becoming an issue of making bike checkpoint cutoff times, as well. So I continued on, determined to make the cutoffs and finish the ride. As luck would have it, at some point I saw a tech on moto and stopped. Sure enough, he had a battery for me, so I got my gears back. It ate up more time, as he was helping someone else when I stopped, but I could ride normally again. Yay!!!

But the damage had been done. I didn't really drink or eat anything while stopped for that 1.5hr at the aid station. No desire and clearly wasn't thinking straight. I should have forced myself to keep up with hydration at the very least, but I was a little sick to my stomach over the situation and the sensation to eat/drink was gone-zo. Stupid. Additionally, before that I screwed up my hydration. For those first ~20+ miles I was not drinking enough. I was so cold and my drinks were even colder, my thirst sensation was non-existent, had frozen limbs/extremities... basically I was simply under-doing it for the energy I had expended -- including all that energy expended on the swim and trying to generate heat in the morning. Stupid. Stupid.

So, after I started riding again out of Martis Camp, I could feel the dehydration setting in, namely in my eyes. Does anyone get this issue: Traditionally, when I am behind on drinking, my contacts start to dry up in my eyes and they get foggy and feel like paper. This was happening. Then, one of my worst triathlon fears happened, a contact fell out! All I did was blink, but my eyes/contacts were so dry that it just popped out. So now I was riding half blind and with very blurred vision. That continued for more than an hour, and I was telling myself that it still was not going to stop me, but it was tough. I am legally blind without my contacts, and the blurred vision was making me dizzy, giving me a headache and making it hard to navigate, to say the least (this course was no IMAZ out-and-back style; there are many turns and it's always curvy and up or down).

I had to stop a couple times to re-group. I was under the impression there was a 2:20 cutoff in Martis Camp, so my goal was to make it past that. But my body was just starting to give out on me. Even with taking in appropriate calories and drink at that point, I was getting weaker by the minute. Another Ironman bonk unfolding.... The course terrain didn't make things easier, either. Hahahaha. Hilly? Windy? Cold? Yea, just a bit. Being that I was so behind time-wise on the bike, the wind just kept getting worse as it got later in the day.

Turns out there was no 2:20 cutoff, and I was ok to proceed. Whew. But I was getting more f-ed up by the minute. I couldn't see clearly whatsoever and that was a little scary, I felt like crap, and oddly my body was freezing even though it was "warmer" outside by then. I stopped, debated for a while, and decided to call it a day after 88ish miles on the bike. A 7hr training day? Sure, haha.

I cried. A lot. I was gutted, and did not like having to make that decision. I don't even really want to talk about those moments in detail. Too hard. I thought of my peeps racing and wondered how they were -- probably all on the marathon or close to it.

I eventually re-connected with my parents and sister, and when we started talking more we all noticed that I had a wet cough and was kinda wheezing. I noticed it prior while still riding, but didn't think much of it. They made me go into medical just to make sure it wasn't high-altitude pulmonary edema, as we do have a family history of that, so I did, just for them. No HAPE, but they did say I had a good case of exercise-induced asthma. Geez.

So that's it. That was my day. I don't know what to say. At Vegas Worlds, no matter what, I was not going to DNF, but this course and the unforeseen circumstances of the mechanical and whatnot and so much downtime on the side of the road, blah blah, were just too much. It sucks, and there have been tears -- plenty of 'em -- but shit happens. On a positive note, I got to be at a historical Ironman event and even better got to see John, ER and my athlete Ray all fight hard to finish their races. They, along with everyone else who finished this beast, are heroes to me. This course rewards the mentally strong. I heard it had the highest DNF rate of any Ironman ever. Ever! More than 1,000 people didn't finish I think - out of 2800 or so who registered. (Don't quote me on those stats, though.)

I have to give a special thanks my family for being by my side and being 100 percent supportive no matter what happens to me in a race. They are my rocks. I called them while stranded at aid station 4, and so they knew everything. Once they knew I was just going to ride with a dead Di2, they still waited for me another couple hours or so at Dollar Point to see me pass. They all cried with me back at Squaw and tried to lift my spirits. They didn't judge me for calling it a day, and understood. I also want to say a special thanks to my peeps for their love. Hearing the stories of how concerned John, Elizabeth and Ray were for me during the race when they didn't see me made me cry (again), and even makes me tear up now. I am so lucky to have people who care so much, that's a special thing.

So what's next? I will not do another race "for redemption" this season. I am done. Not a fun ending to the season, but it is what it is. Sometimes these bad spells happen for a reason, right? As I said in the beginning, I am still the same Tawnee. A little sad, yes, but I'll be fine :) Too many other joys in life to let this keep me down. Plus, I made a deal back in June to take a good long offseason after Tahoe no matter what in order to get my body back to 100% health; that said, I am proud that I even did what I did this year. But now it's time to chill, recharge, have lots of fun this offseason and plan for a KILLER comeback.

I am down, but I will never be out.  I love this sport and what it brings to my life, and I will be back and better than ever. As my good friend D said, the Ironman distance apparently doesn't like me so far, but eventually I will change that. So stay tuned :)

Thanks again for your faith, love and support.


  1. Sorry about the bad luck Tawnyee. Incredible circumstances in even more incredible conditions...WOW!
    This curse will be broken. Have a great and recuperative off-season. Keep the great podcasts coming. Love the show(s)!

  2. What a great race report. I am competing in my first Ironman in Cozumel in November, and I know that during this race, I will be thinking about your experiences the last two races and how you fought though the Cards you where Dealt. Your an inspiration to all who listen and follow this blog.

  3. Hey Tawnee,

    Bummer to hear about this Tahoe experience, but you know that cliche about what doesn't kill you...

    Stupid cliches aside, enjoy the offseason of reflection and gearing up for next year!

  4. Sorry you had such a tough day, but it is tough up here! I race XTERRA here in Tahoe and know the sight of snow on the mountains, AND on the course. Better luck next time. Have a great off season and I always look forward to the podacsts.

  5. It's like a crap shoot! You never know how the race is going to pan out... I guess that silly quote "Anything Can Happen" is true after all. Hope you manage to get past it without beating yourself up too much. :) Rest up!

  6. Tawnee:

    Thanks for sharing the real deal. I'm betting that not too long from now you will have an awesome race and it will be sweeter because of what you went through.

    Take care,


  7. Tawnee:

    Thanks for sharing the real deal.

    I'm guessing that not too long from now you will have an awesome race and it will be even sweeter because of what you have been through.

    Take care,


  8. Tawnee, I'm so sorry you didn't have a better day out there. I have 2,000/,2000 vision without my contacts. I can totally relate! I usually keep a spare in my transition bag, but now you've got me thinking I need to keep a pair on the bike. Wow! You continue to amaze me with your maturity and complete honesty about where you are as an athlete and human being. I think we all know you'll be back, but we're just as concerned that you're doing okay. Yup, we're all behind you!

  9. Great report! Sorry to hear it didn't go the way you wanted but I love these honest accounts of the real deal. We all have these types of days and they do make you sad and angry but they still serve a purpose down the line. You'll be surprised where you think of this one and how it helps you in the future! Hang in there and enjoy the off-season!

  10. Long time podcast listener and I need to say thanks to you, Ben and Lucho for getting me through my first IM.

    Bummer on your race, next year will be different!!!


  11. I know you are disappointed but I think you rock. I know the feeling of disappointment very well and it makes you stronger and more determined. You did your very best and equipment malfunction is just part of the deal. Miss you and come see us soon. Love, Mama Kimmie

  12. Tawnee, thank you for honestly sharing a very tough experience. I was glad to see that you had already internalized some of the things I was going to say, and more wise words I hadn't even thought about. The true character of a person is revealed in the crucible of testing. And you have that in spades. Enjoy the off season (us AZ folks have one more race), and I've just PR'd my sprint and olympic distances, just a half ironman to go. All thanks to you and Lucho over the past year. You make difference in more ways than one.

  13. Sorry to hear about your race, seems like we called it quits about the same point. My first DNF ever; emotionally and physically draining. Rough day. Not sure if you left your Di2 battery on your bike all night, but that cold would have killed your power, even if it was a fresh charge when you dropped your bike off on Saturday. I pulled my battery off and tapped over the electrical contacts the night before and reattached the warm battery before the start and things went fine with the bike, not so much the operator.

  14. Oh, one other thing, on super cold/wet mornings: surgical gloves. Most of the med staff have them around, as do the T1 and T2 areas. Put them on over your bike gloves, perfect wind and moisture barrier. Easy to get off when you are warmed, but super great for keeping things dry and warm...ideal for cold mountain bike mornings. (Rebecca Rusch trade secret, so shhhh!)

  15. Sorry about your recent bad luck Tawnee. I know you'll have a killer season next year. Love listening to you, Lucho and Ben on Endurance Planet. You guys are the reason I'm competing in my first half iron distance race next month (Beach2Battleship). On the plus side you get to go to Kona next month! I don't think you'll have to worry about sub freezing temperatures! haha

  16. Sorry about your recent bad luck Tawnee. I know you'll have a killer season next year. Love listening to you, Lucho and Ben on Endurance Planet. You guys are the reason I'm competing in my first half iron distance race next month (Beach2Battleship). On the plus side you get to go to Kona next month! I don't think you'll have to worry about sub freezing temperatures! haha

  17. ironnmans are tough! it really is all about the day. You did what you could. Be proud! you are inspiring a lot of people out there friend. hugs!

  18. You are an inspiration! I really appreciate your honesty and openness about your good and not so good days. It's going to make success all the more sweeter for you. You help us all to keep on pushing the limits!

  19. You are a star! ...and you made me cry :( Love you!

  20. Hope you give this some air time on your next 'cast with Lucho. There are a lot of good nuggets in there.

  21. Thank you for sharing your difficult journey. Sometimes life (the universe, god, etc) dishes us out some really unexpected, extremely difficult challenges that kick our ass. There's a lesson and a purpose in this experience, I think, but sometimes we never know what or why this is. Other than practise at how to learn to accept what is and move on to the next "interesting" moment and life experience.
    You are simply awesome and very gifted. Never forget it.
    Rest up and try again.