Monday, November 30, 2009

IMAZ Race Report: Pre-Race

I had my bags packed days in advance. I had the lists for the packing ready weeks ago. This whole trip has been visualized down to every last detail for months. I'm a planner, a list maker. I was ready. The training was done, the logistics were nailed down, there was nothing left but to do it.

Zach and I went for a run Thursday morning in Portland and then had bagels and got ready to leave. Emily drove us to the airport. We boarded the plane and I read Twilight to pass the time. Before we landed, the flight attendant made an announcement asking anyone who was traveling to Phoenix to compete in the Ironman race to raise their hand, and my hand shot up!! I looked around and everyone was looking at me. Their faces were blank, even confused. No one appeared to understand. Whatever! This is kind of the whole Ironman experience- people don't understand, or they do, and think you are crazy. I'm used to it. And Zach was beaming, and I knew there were a couple other hands in the air and I knew they got it, and that was enough for me.

We arrived in Phoenix Thursday at 5:45 pm. The sun was setting and looked beautiful, I thought about where I would be and what I would be doing at that time in three days. By the time we got outside and picked up our rental car it was dark and that fact momentarily let my mind relax a bit.

But then we drove through Tempe on the 202 and I could see the Mill Ave bridge, all lit up. And I could see the lake. And the lights of the transition area. And I suddenly felt very nauseous and nervous. I got all quiet and was suddenly glad that Inga had to cancel on dinner. I knew I wasn't going to be good company. Zach and I found a California Pizza Kitchen and I scarfed down some pizza and a salad. I wanted a beer. I wanted to pretend this wasn't happening!! But actually once I had some food in me I felt a bit better and wasn't as anxious. After dinner, we drove to a grocery store where I loaded up on peanut butter, jam, bread, english muffins, Ensure, pretzels, fig newtons, water, gatorade. I had brought a couple packets of oatmeal to complete the pre-race food requirements so I was good to go. We were staying with Zach's aunt and uncle in Chandler, so they had tons of food and all that but I knew I needed my specific brands of stuff. We drove out to their house and unloaded all our gear and visited for a while before turning in. I didn't sleep very well at all, but that wasn't too surprising. I felt rested when I woke up so no worries.

Friday morning we had some cereal and headed to Tempe for a day of pre-race activities. The lake was open for swimming, so I was going to check the water out. Then at 10:00 athlete check-in opened. I also wanted to just scope out the whole thing and get a feel for how the flow of the transition area worked. I also wanted to drive the bike course, organize my gear bags, and then attend the mandatory athlete meeting at 7:30 pm.

We arrived at the race site about 9:00 am and I was so excited to walk through the Ironman Circus! There were banners, booths, announcers. It was amazing! It was a big production. I was not feeling very nervous, just excited. We walked down to the water and I put on my wetsuit and got in the lake. It was COLD. It took my breath away! Oh boy. The swimming was rather chaotic so I kind of just breaststoked until I got some free water and then followed the general flow of swimmers down the lake under the Mill Avenue bridges. I was originally just going to jump in the water to see how it felt, but suddenly I found myself swimming a couple hundred yards with no obvious place to turn around. Finally another swimmer was stopped and chatting with a kayak lifeguard-type, so I stopped too. I realized they were saying THIS is the starting line. As in, I just made my way from about where we enter the water on race day and swam TO the STARTING LINE. I was tired! It seemed so far! It was kind of funny, and I was very glad to have figured that out before race morning. I turned around there and followed the return flow of swimmers back to the stairs where we exited the water. After I'd been swimming a few minutes I felt pretty warm so I felt better about my prospects of surviving the first leg of Sunday's race. Zach got some pics of me swimming and was waiting for me when I got out, helpful as always. I put on dry clothes (changed under my towel like everyone else) and told him all about the swim.

We headed next to Athlete Check In and even though it was barely 10:00 there was a huge line that snaked all through the whole area! We hopped in line and then one of us would wander around and then we'd switch. I made my way to the merchandise store to preview the gear and souvenirs and found the Tri Bike Transport tent. Finally I got through and signed my waiver. Next I received my packet with race numbers, gear bags, timing chip, swim cap, and my wristband. The volunteer was this sweet old guy and wished me good luck. I picked up a race poster on my way out of the tent. Our next stop was the Tri Bike Transport. I didn't need to pick up my bike but I wanted to see it and make sure it arrived safe. It was there, safe and sound! Finally we headed back to the store. I was going to wait until Monday to purchase anything but the volunteers in the store told me that most things will sell out before then, besides that Monday is super busy because they release the finisher gear. So I decided that I would go against my superstitious instincts and buy the damn gear. And then a crazy person took over my body. I was possessed. There was SO much cool stuff!!! I was grabbing shirts and shorts right and left. Stickers and mugs were going in the basket and Zach was being piled up with clothing and hats. It was like a cartoon. I went to the dressing room and thankfully emerged with only a handful of perfect items. A bike jersey, four running tops, running shorts, a swim suit, cups, mugs, stickers, hats. Plus souvenirs for my parents. My jaw dropped when the total was revealed at the check out, but I knew I'd been saving up for this exact moment, and I knew that this would be great motivation to finish the race!

After leaving the race site we drove the bike course. We followed the turn-by-turn directions from the athlete guide and I was very pleased that there were no surprises. The course is generally flat, the roads are in great condition, and once you get out of town onto the Beeline Highway, the desert scenery is very beautiful! As we neared the turnaround I noticed the road did climb noticeably, but it wouldn't even be called a "hill," just a little rise. It was about 18 miles to the turn around with the final 10 or so being on the Beeline Highway. Good stuff. We turned off the course and drove into the town of Fountain Hills for some lunch. We spotted a Subway- perfect!

We drove all the way back to Chandler to our home base (Zach's aunt and uncle's house) and I began organizing my things. I was anxious to get this process started. I opened up my carefully packed suitcase and laid out the gear bags I'd received at check in. Morning Clothes Bag, Swim to Bike Transition bag, Bike to Run Transition bag...... um...... I looked back in the race packet sack... where are the Special Needs bags? Gah! I had Zach double check and sure enough they were missing. He was trying to catch a nap but promptly hopped up and volunteered to drive back to Tempe since the check-in was still open for another hour or so. He's my super helper. I continued to organize while he was gone and finished up when he returned with the rest of the bags. I put bright green duct tape on the outside of all my bags to distinguish them, which ended up being a great idea. I was very relieved to have everything ready.

The next thing on the schedule was meeting up with Inga and her husband Josh and going to the athlete meeting. I didn't originally mean to have them attend the meeting with me but they seemed ok with it so they did. It was fun to have them there and they learned a lot about how the race worked. We got to see the Everyday Hero presentation and I'm glad I did because I saw the guy- Rudy- several times on race day and it was cool to know his story.

After the meeting we all went to a great italian restaurant called Oregeno's for dinner. There was a pretty long wait but that was ok - we were stalling anyway since Maritza's flight arrived at 10:30 pm and we had time to kill. We had a great dinner and a great visit. Inga gave me a very special pre-race gift which included a mug and chamomile tea to help me relax, a yellow bracelet she had made that represented strength and will power (I wore it the entire weekend, including during the race), and some absolutely awesome, adorable, hilarious photos of the two of us twenty years before. She had called her mom in Montana and she found these long-lost pictures of us completing the Rankin Run, an all womens 5k in Great Falls, Montana. I was 8, maybe 9 years old. I will put the pictures in this post and I think I am going to frame the one. SO freaking awesome. It was such a surprise since I had completely forgotten about it and had no idea there were photos! Amazing to see. I look exactly the same. Hilarious.

We went to the airport and met Maritza and spent just a few minutes together before they headed back to Inga's (aka Spectator home base) and Zach and I drove back to our home base. I got to bed about 11:30 and actually slept pretty good.

Saturday morning there was more pre-race stuff on the agenda but not as much. This day was more about hanging out with my friends, relaxing, and thinking positive. We ate cereal at home again and then drove to Tempe. I went to the Tri Bike Transport tent and picked up my bike. They put the pedals back on (that is the only thing that is taken apart for shipping) and Zach pumped the tires. I put my seat bag with spare tubes, bento box (power bars to be added in the morning), and bike computer on the bike. Then I rode it around the parking lot just to make sure everything was working. We attached the race numbers in all the required places and walked over to the transition area. I found my row and racked my bike- there was a sticker with my name and race number exactly where I had to rack it. Next, I took my transition bags over to the two separate transition areas and found the sign that included my number in the range. Thankfully both signs were at the edge of the areas and my bag was numerically first, meaning my bags were at the end of the rows. Super easy to find, and the green duct tape made it even easier. I walked over to the change tent and checked that out. I found a volunteer and asked how the flow of the transition area worked and he explained it well. I asked tons of other questions and made sure I knew everything I needed for race day. Finally satisfied, I exited transition and found Zach.

Inga and Maritza had arrived at this point so we went and met up with them. The rest of the afternoon was spent hanging around the race site checking everything out and taking pictures and talking and laughing and having a great time. Maritza and I did a 2 ish mile run along part of the run course and also got to see the entire swim course as we ran. Then the four of us found the sign-making tent and spent a good hour or more making fun colorful signs. I knew Inga, Maritza, and everyone else were going to make more signs so this was just a partial sign-making session. I made one for me from my mom and dad and I made one for myself that said "I believe in you." Zach made a great one that he turned in - they were placing some of them along the course so it was fun to look for it while I was running. We finally left Tempe and went to a great lunch spot near Inga's where we sat outside visiting and listening to the live music and eating delicious sandwiches. Finally, we had to take off so I got final good luck hugs from Inga and Martiza and Zach and I headed back to home base.

Back at the house, I got my last few things organized and Zach made the race day PB&J sandwiches for me. He also mixed up my bottles of Perpetuem and put them in the freezer. I tried to take a nap but mostly just laid there reading Twilight and resting. Zach gave me a special surprise which was a folder of notes from all my friends and family!! It was supposed to be something for my special needs bags but he figured that wouldn't work as well as he originally thought, so he gave them to me the night before. It was so fun to read through and some of them made me tear up. It was cool to know everyone was rooting for me. :)

When I couldn't rest anymore I went upstairs and all the family was there hanging out. Zach made spaghetti dinner while I visited with his Dad and Stepmom, Aunt, Uncle, and cousin. We ate a big delicious dinner and then even had a little ice cream cake after. I finally said my goodnights and headed back downstairs about 8 or 9 pm. I took a bath and finished Twilight and then went to bed. I was anxious and excited and not very tired. I knew I had a long night ahead of me... but not too long. The alarms were set for 3:30 am. I closed my eyes and tried to relax. It was only hours away....


Let's get this awesomeness out of the way first:
Rankin Run, Great Falls, MT, 20 years ago

And now onto the more recent athletic pursuit:

Thursday, November 19

Portland Airport

Friday, November 20

Phoenix. Hellooooo sunshine!

Arriving in Tempe at the race site:

Heading into water for practice swim (in red cap):

Getting used to the cold water (63 ish degrees):

All done! You can see here the Mill Avenue bridges. The start line is beyond the second bridge:

Tri Bike Transport. My bike is in there somewhere:

Checking in for the race and getting race packet:

Pro press conference. Kate Major and (spoiler alert!) race winner Sam McGlone:

To be fair, this was what I took into the dressing room to try on. I didn't buy it all, I swear!

Driving the bike course. This is what the first few miles through town were like:

Heading out the Beeline Highway:

Desert scenery:

Back at Aunt Carol's getting gear bags ready. The balloons were from my mom. :)

Green duct tape really did make my bags stand out:

Beautiful sunset, heading to Tempe for pre-race meeting:

At athlete meeting:

Saturday, November 21

Picked up bike from Tri Bike Transport and took it for a spin just to be safe:

Bike and transitions bags ready to be turned in:

T2 bag:

A peek inside the empty change tent:

A view of the T2 bags from the bridge:

The arch we had to exit through before the swim start:

Bike Out:

Maritza, Inga, and me hanging out at the race site:

Short run with Maritza along part of the run course and with a view of the swim course:

Zach making me a sign in the sign crafting area. It took me a minute to figure out what this number meant. It's the total from my shopping spree. :O

One of Inga's many spectacular signs!

I made one sign for myself:
Zach's sign. Hilarious!
Lunch and live music at Duck & Decanter:
Back at Carol's for dinner and relaxing before bed:
Large bag o' spaghetti:
More report and photos coming soon!


M. Brooks said...

Awesome pre-race report!! I can't wait to read about the race - I know it will be inspiring! It's really cool to have read your posts all through your training, and then to see the culmination of all your efforts in your IM race report!

Susan said...

Haha Zach's sign is priceless! You have awesome support from friends and family...can't wait for the race!

kelsalynn said...

Great pre-race report. I love the 20-year old pictures. What a great gift! Zach's sign is hilarious! Love it!

unathleticrunner said...

Great photos! Can't wait to read the report! I love Zach's sign...HAHA :)

Bob - said...

love the pre-race report, way to get us ready !! and yes Zach's sign is an instant classic!

Alisa said...

Love the pre-race report! All the photos are AMAZING. I can't wait to see more of those!

I still can't believe that the start line for the swim was so far away, don't they know you were going to be swimming 2.4 miles!?!?!!?

Zach's sign was awesome. At that point, you HAD to finish, right?!?!?! =).

Jo Lynn said...

Wow, what a spectacular event. Damn! Everything is SO BIG! Great pictures. ;)

Anonymous said...

Great to read, You are truelly someone who was ready and Zach a perfect husband and friend.... M&D from MT

the gazelle said...

great pre-race report! Can't wait to read the rest. And seriously - what a great support group you had!


aron said...

love this. i read every single word :) cant wait to read more!!

RoadBunner said...

Zach's sign is hands down the MOST AWESOME race sign! Ha! That would motivate me :)

KK said...

I'm so glad to see your Boston jacket got some much deserved one on one time with Jen before the IM purchase (Zach's sign is so funny!).

Okay, getting serious. Awesome pix so far. I am very impressed with your planning and organization. Can I hire you to be my personal assistant next year?

I cannot wait to hear about the rest of this. Your descriptions are perfect-I can picture everything happening and it sounds like you had the best IM experience, especially the support crew-yay!

KK said...

Back it up...where is the section to comment on that kick ass video? Zach seriously has a future in that! I love the song he chose and how he timed everything to match perfectly (swim start, you flexing to a key drum beat prerace, etc). But he couldn't have done it without all the awesome footage you provided. I loved your smiles, how you hugged everyone on the run and how your spirit shone throughout. I teared up at you pumping your fists at the finish line. This for sure is going front and center on my Jen shrine. Congrats again, I am soooooooooooooooo happy for you!!!

Bob - said...

Thanks KK for mentioning Jen's IM video, just went back and watched it -- WOW , awesome job Zach...I had to go over to youtube and give it 5 stars!!!

Way to document an awesome day!

Sean Lemecha said...

Haha... I love the $427.74 sign. That must've been refreshing to see/read while out on the course, huh? I feel like the other signs with motivational messages might blend together after a while and it might take something humorous or clever to make you smile or laugh.

I can't imagine not spending any less than what you spent on gear, too. If I ever did an ironman, I'd probably buy a million pairs of socks and always wear them to work instead of dress socks.

Marathon Maritza said...

I'm so happy that I got to be there for your big day, and I'm loving hearing all your thoughts about everything that went on leading up to the race.

I'm seriously hanging on your EVERY word here! Hee hee!

Amy said...

OMG, the sign you made for yourself made me cry. Actually, the whole post did. LOVE IT.

Sidenote: one of my best friend's lives in Chandler and we ate at Oregeno's before the Phoenix 1/2 marathon last year. I can visualize your trip!

Love Zach's sign with the total (I thought it would have been more than that).

On to the video (I'm reading these backwards I guess)

Ewen said...

I'm enjoying this Jen. Funny about the 'hard' and cold pre-race swim. And the crazy shopping-spree - when is too much IM gear enough? Maybe $427.74s worth ;)

Judi said...

loving the report. its such an exciting event. and i love the whole production, and seeing all the mdot athletes, aero helmets and tri-dorks everywhere, lol. your RR are bringing back some great memories.

get yourself something to focus on soon though. you feel kind of let down after a while. it gets hard. that's why i had to have CX racing.