Believe it or not, it was only on June 11, 2013 when I decided to race Ironman Lake Tahoe (IMLT). I wanted to race an Ironman locally but the races near LA were already full at the time.
Race distances: 2.4 mi swim, 112 mi bike, 26.2 mi run Registered Entrants: 2700+ Did Not Start: 565 (21%) Finishers: 1,719 DNF of Race Starters: 20+%; DNF on Bike: 267 (12%); DNF on Run: 182 (8%)
On June, I received an email from Noriel, a fellow Fil-Am triathlete (FAT), with great news about having some additional slots for FAT member. As a fully pledged Fil-Am triathlon club member, I was able to use one of the club’s many perks and advantages: I got a slot ☺.
Of course, I did not jump on signing up without my coach’s permission. At the time, I was already training for Vineman half ironman race (1.2 mi swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mi run), which was held last July 14, 2013. Coach Jackie Miller of QT2 Systems advised me that my Vineman half ironman training volume was already pretty high and I would have enough time to train for a full ironman in 3 months. Coach Tim Snow, protriathlete Caitlin Snow’s husband and another knowledgeable QT2 System coach, also approved her advice for me to race IMLT. According to them, it was doable. Hence, that was the start of my IMLT journey.
I did well on my Vineman half ironman race last July 14th. I was happy to hit a PR of sub-6 and rank 44 in my age group. After that race, I had a good 1-week of rest from training. Then, back to the grinding and training on July 22nd. Due to the reason that I only had exactly 2 months left to continue preparing for a full ironman distance race, I did not waste any time. I followed Coach Jackie’s training plan and uploaded my Garmin data everyday. I rode Glendora Mountain Road (GMR) many times as I can remember and always followed it with a short run. I ran even on the days when the temperature was scorching hot (above 100F).
I joined 1hr spin classes and cycled longer to complete the required training time. I completed Adobo Velo’s Tour de Francis century ride with 9,000 ft elevation on August 10th. I dragged myself to the pool and Long Beach Bayshore to swim…. Ahh the swim (Swimming and I have not been good friends but who else would do the swim part of the race for me? No one.)
Since Lake Tahoe’s high altitude also played a big role in the race, I also did some altitude training. I trained, rested and stayed in Lake Tahoe for about 4 days during the first week of September. I experienced the difficulty in breathing particularly when swimming and running.
Feeling that my altitude training was not enough, I joined Cycling Escape’s climbing camp in Sierra Mountains. I completed 2 days of back-to-back 50-mile climb rides along White Mountain and Horseshoe Meadow roads. Both rides had an elevation gain of 6,000 ft and maximum elevation of 10,000 ft. Both rides were hard climbs. They both gave me the experience of how it was to gasp for oxygen as we reached the top of the mountains. With my exhausted legs, I still followed the climbs with a 1-hr run on the first day and 20 minutes on the 2nd day.
Taper week (a week before race day)
I was in Lake Tahoe 5 days before race day. I didn’t really train a lot that week. Instead, I rested, continued to prepare myself mentally and followed my nutrition plan. I watched QT2 System’s webinars and took down notes. These were the notes that I read almost everyday before race day. I continued listening to my audiobooks (Macca’s “I’m Here to Win,” Chrissie’s “Without Limits,” and Matt Fitzgerald “Iron War”). Before 7 am, I swam at Kings Beach 3 days in a row when the temperature was still at 30F. The air temperature, especially after coming out of the water was very cold. My hands and feet were hurting due to severe numbness.
I would run back to my room and take a hot shower 2 out of my 3 morning swims. I told myself, “sh$t, is this what I’m gonna do on race day?!” On my 3rd swim, I toughened it out and sucked up the cold morning temperature.
The excitement in me was building up so much that I just wanted to start the swim as soon as possible. “Let’s get over this and race!!!!” I was dancing with the music to stay warm while waiting for our turn to jump into the water. Few minutes more, it was our turn to start swimming. Here you gooooo! I went running into the water while being careful not to step on rocks.
I placed myself on the outside of the buoy and away from a lot of swimmers. “Stay calm, Shangrila. You’ve got this. Stay calm.” When I sighted, “sh$t, where is the bouy?!? I could barely see them” The thick mist covered almost the entire horizon. I looked on my sides and saw only panicked swimmers – some of them were already hanging on kayaks. “Ugh, it’s better not to look around. I might just get infected with their panic moods.” So, I just swam and swam; one stroke at a time, taking every yard of the swim as calm as I could and telling myself “You’ve got this, Shangrila. You’ve trained hard. Get your head straight.” 1:37:30, that was my time completing 2.4 mile swim. Yes! Then, I ran to T1 tent (transition from swim to bike).
The transition tent was overly crowded and full of shivering women triathletes not caring to go butt naked in front of each other. I was trembling so bad while I hurried to change my wet clothes. Thanks to one of the volunteers who assisted me I managed great time. In 13 minutes, I removed my wet tri and wet suits, put on my dry underwear, sports bra, heart rate monitor strap, Fil-Am top and cycling shorts, Adobo Velo jersey, arm and leg warmers, blue wind breaker, helmet, gloves, socks, cycling shoes, ran and took my TT bike to the biking mount mat. Whoa! I actually think that 13 minutes was the fastest time I could get, considering all the dry clothes and accessories that I had to wear.
At the mounting mat, I saw my family and it gave me a boost before starting my ride. I tried to cover myself up the best I could to endure the cold temperature. It must have been around 40F when I started the ride. My toes and fingers were icy. I didn’t like that I couldn’t eat and get my nutrition at a certain time when I was supposed to. My hands were very numb and wearing fully covered gloves didn’t help in having grasp. “Ah, I’m gonna be in trouble if I don’t eat.” I was only able to eat after 1hr of riding the course (which was almost 3 hrs since the race started). At the 2nd aid station, I changed my gloves, took salt tablets and ate my gel blocks. I ate my PowerBar while riding. The PowerBar was like eating a nougat candy as it was too tough to bite; the cold temperature kept on just throwing things at me. Although I finally got my nutrition, it was already a bit late ☹. As I turned to Schaffer Mill road, I started feeling the cramps on my right leg. “Ugh, ahhhhh I have not even started the climb and here I am cramping.” Although Schaffer Mill road only had a slight % grade, we had to face some headwind. I stopped and got off my bike to stretch my legs and eat more. Then, I was back on my saddle, “Take it easy, Shangrila. You have a long day.” I knew that my pace slowed down as I calmed my cramping right leg. I got off my bike another time to tend my cramping legs. There were many long hills.
The hills reminded me of climbing GMR Mountains, where I would ride and use my road bike instead and not my TT bike (I used my TT bike on the race). I only rode less than 40 miles and already felt that the bike course was hard. It was hard but I knew I could do it. If I was not cramping, then I think that the first loop would have been easier for me.
After 45 miles of riding, I then reached Brockway Summit, the last climb of 1st loop. I continued eating my nutrition until my leg finally kicked off the cramping. I was very happy. Without the cramping, the 2nd loop was actually easier for me ☺. I passed a LOT of riders both male and female on the climbs, especially while climbing to Brockway Summit. Hahaha.. That felt great! I thought that I was done and won’t meet the cut off time when I started cramping during the first loop but I made it! I was still feeling good after 112 miles of riding. I completed 112 miles ride with start elevation of 6,248 ft, max elevation of 7,228 ft and elevation gain of 6,550 ft in 8:05:38. I knew that I could have done better if I didn’t cramp but it’s okay. I felt strong going to T2 (transition from bike to run).
It took me almost 6 minutes to remove all my riding clothes and accessories in T2 tent. Then, off I went to tackle the run course. With QT2 Systems training plan, I do not get the sick, weak and “about to throw up” feelings when transitioning from bike to run that I used to feel before. I felt great and strong starting off my run. I kept my heart rate within the range that Coach Jackie advised me. Whenever my heart rate went up, I slowed my pace a bit. I was running strong and with no interruption until about 9th mile. I tried to eat the best I can but failed to do so. I was having stomach reflux. Whenever I tried to eat gel blocks or drink my energy drink, I felt the need to throw up. My stomach was only taking in pretzels and water.
Being on the course for more than 12 hours, I knew that taking in pretzels and water was not enough. I was right. I started slowing down at mile 13. It was getting dark and the temperature continued to drop. It must be at 40F temperature then. At mile 15, I started feeling weak almost about to faint ☹. Sigh. My legs could run but I did not have much energy. I wanted to eat but my stomach was not accepting the food I was trying to feed it. My run became a slow jog and walk. At mile 17, I had to sit at the aid station to eat. I had some bites of banana and couple of pretzels. I think I was sitting for about 5 minutes, just enough to cause me to shiver badly. “Ahhh, how can I even go further?!! I feel terribly cold.” My training in LA reached to temperatures of up to 100F and there I was racing at 40F. I was only wearing tri top, shorts and windbreaker. I took one step at a time while holding the silver blanket tied around my shoulder. It was almost 9:00 pm then when I started my 2nd loop.
The 2nd loop had less than 8 miles. With my last bit of energy, I walked 90% of the remaining 8 miles of the run course. The course was too dark that I could only see shadows of runners. I was weak, sleepy and very cold. I started coughing and sniffling. I learned that the temperature dropped to 37F that night. I covered my bare legs with silver blanket as I fought the dark cold night. The last 8 miles took me 2 hours to finish. I completed 26.2 miles run in 6:06:22.
My official race time was 16:08:25. Among my age group of females 30-34 years old, 24 triathletes did not finish ☹. I also learned that there was 24% DNF overall. On the bright side, I finished and ranked 69 in my division. Given all the challenges (e.g. altitude, extreme cold temperature, hilly bike course, headwind, etc.), I knew that I did the best I can. I was almost sick and only had a bit of energy during the last 8 miles of the run course. I was determined to finish IMLT. Bringing home my hard-earned medal and having my family’s support made it all worth it. It was such a great experience.
Thank you very much to Vineta who made a lot of sacrifices in order for me to train and race Ironman Lake Tahoe. Thank you, for taking all the pictures and taking care of me before and after the race. Thank you to my friends and family who have always been understanding whenever I cannot attend a gathering due to training and racing schedules. Thank you to my family particularly, my mom, dad, sis Joy, Nikki, Aunt Aida and Aunt Remy who came to Lake Tahoe to support and be at the race. Thank you very much to QT2 System, especially to Coach Jackie for providing me training plans, advices and all the support that I need to be ready and strong on race day. Last but not the least, thank you very much to Fil Am Triathletes (FATs) and Adobo Velo family who made all the training and my stay in Lake Tahoe more fun.