This race report is one that has been years, over a decade, in the making. On Saturday, May 5th 2012 at just after 8:00 p.m. I heard the words, “Colleen Rue, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” The 13 hours and 1 minute preceding that announcement were almost indescribable. Filled with highs and lows, problems and solutions, good, bad and definitely ugly…….
Race week started with Coach Heath crashing at our house on Monday. I was excited to have him in town! It was like I was on an Ironman vacation the entire week. Heath and I did our workouts, relaxed and played with the kids. It seemed to just be calming for me to have Heath around. I felt safe because he was there. He knew what was going on and he knew that all would be okay come Saturday. I honestly found myself perfectly calm. Less nervous than I was the week before. I was just ready to race.
The rest of our HT Training family began to join us on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning. Once everyone was in town it was a mad rush to Saturday. Lunches, expos, athlete check-in, banquets, pictures, packing, and stressing. My nerves finally started to take hold on Thursday after the mandatory athlete meeting. I was going to do this! Could I do this? Doubt started to creep in. I was feeling the pressure of performance in this event that I had never before attempted. What if I couldn’t finish? What if something went wrong? Coach M put it into perspective telling me…….of course you can finish…..you can lay down out on the course and take a break if you need to……you will finish……you have plenty of time…….you will do this.
Friday was a blur of pre-race activity. Trips to the lake, to transition. Before I knew it I was COMPLETELY exhausted. I couldn’t believe how tired I was from all the running around. I knew I needed to go home and settle down, but I just wasn’t able to. There was so much to be done. Late in the day we had to support Sydney at her first IronKids race! She was so excited and so cute and all I could think about was I NEED TO GET TO BED! I think my head finally hit the pillow about 10:00 p.m. The alarm was set for 3:45 a.m.
I woke up just shortly before my alarm and did my morning race-day duties. I was feeling pretty good. I had a touch of a cold, but I was feeling fine. Tony and Marci (fellow HT athletes) were staying at our house as well and so we all packed up together to head to the shuttle pick-up. We met the rest of our group at 4:45 and were off to what was going to be the start of another Epic race day.
As we drove out to the lake the outside temperature was perfect. Not cold. Not hot. Winds were light and the lake looked beautiful as the sun rose in the East over the ridge. The starting area and T1 were full of excitement. It was an awesome sight to behold. I got my bike all set up and before I knew it I was standing in my wetsuit watching the pros start their race. We were put in the water just after 6:45 a.m. to line up for our 7:00 a.m. start. The water was perfect! I had been swimming in the lake 3 times that week already and numerous times in the weeks before. I was ready for this swim.
The swim was the only point of real anxiety/unknown for me in this race. I am completely unfamiliar with a mass start (when all the athletes start at once). In shorter distance triathlon athletes are started in small groups, sometimes as few as 20 to a wave, sometimes a couple hundred. It is uncrowded and easy to get into your own groove quickly. Ironman is the complete opposite. An Ironman swim is known as the “washing machine”. Just imagine 1400 heads, arms and legs kicking and flailing through the crowded water. You are pushed, kicked, pulled and smacked in just about every direction and on every part of your body. People swim over you. People swim too close to you. You just have to survive those first few 100 meters until the crowd starts to clear and everyone finds their proper place. All of the sudden……..the gun went off……..and so did I with those 1400 swimmers.
It was crowded! Really crowded. We were close to the front as I was anticipating swimming the distance in just over an hour. I didn’t want to get too far back in the crowd and have to navigate slower swimmers. I held my line and actually didn’t have too much trouble. There were lots of arms and legs and people swimming horizontally across my back, but I found if I kept my eyes open and my feet kicking, I was okay. It stayed crowded as we approached our first turn buoy that would take us to the left at the first corner of our rectangular swim course. As I turned the buoy, I found my self tossed by several pretty large waves. My first thought, “Where’s the boat?” Who was throwing all that wake so close to us. I took a breath towards the wave and was immediately sprayed in the face by the white cap. WIND…….and not just a little. The washing machine just got worse. The waves were hitting me from the left side every few seconds. I could only breath to the right and was desperately trying to stay on course. It was difficult to sight the next buoy and all I could think about was that when I did make that next turn I would be head into these waves for over a mile and a half. THE GAME HAD CHANGED!
No longer was this race going to be the race in the plan Coach M sent me last week. All bets were off the table. As the 4-5 foot waves crashed straight for me, it was all I could do to just keep moving forward. Coach H’s voice was in my head, “Just relax…..Don’t fight the water.” I did that. I tried to find a rhythm for my breathing but it was nearly impossible. I was having to breast stroke every few strokes because the waves would push me up so high that my arms would just flail out of the water. I did find that kicking was helping to propel me forward and so I kicked like Coach M had made me do SO MANY times in pool workouts. Boy, was I grateful for kicking drills!
Some of the waves were so large that I actually found it easier to dive under them then to swim over them. I was just amazed that the calm water that we sat in at the start just moments ago had completely changed to a tempest. I knew that I was okay, but I was SO CONCERNED about others in the water. Thank goodness we were all in wetsuits (which are extremely buoyant). Little did I know how concerned I should have been as I just kept swimming from buoy to buoy. After the race, I found out extraordinary details about the safety patrol. That 57 of 60 kayackers had to be rescued out of the water. Safety boats had to be pulled out of the lake because they had taken on too much water. That hundreds of athletes were pulled into boats and put back on shore. That people were diverted and treated for hypothermia because of exposure. That we were basically on our own out there. All I can say is that we were watched over that day in that lake. Every prayer of the spectators on the shore and the swimmers in the water was answered that morning. Eventually everyone who went in the water, came out accounted for. It truly is a miracle. I don’t think you can understand unless you were in that water…….but it will go down as one of the hardest swims of my life and possibly in Ironman history.
I did it though! I made it out of the water. Almost 20 minutes behind schedule, but alive and in really good shape.
I ran up the boat ramp to the most AMAZING wetsuit stripper in the business. That gentleman had my wetsuit off before I knew what happened. I was in T1 and my friends Shirley and Daisy were by my side taking care of my every need. I’m not even sure if I put my own shoes on! I was out the door and on my bike for what I knew was going to be a difficult ride.
I mounted my bike with a nice tailwind that quickly ended as soon as we turned out of Sand Hollow State Park. We were head into a 40 mph gusting wind. Sand and dust was blowing everywhere. I stayed calm and just continued to repeat my mantra for the day “Relax. Don’t fight.” I quickly ate the peanut butter and honey sandwich I had grabbed and shoved down my shirt from my transition bag in T1. That would be the last solid food for me for the next 12 hours.
Usually the ride out of Sand Hollow and into St. George is a cruise. You get good speed and a nice warm-up before the real work begins on “the loop”. Not today. The headwind changed to a crosswind and back to a headwind (from the opposite direction than before). Mother Nature was giving us no breaks on this one. If there wasn’t going to be another St. George Ironman…….she was making sure that this one went out with a BANG!
By the time I got to the 2nd aid station about 30 miles into the bike I was only averaging about 16 mph. It was going to be A LONG day! I also didn’t realize I had drank all of the water I was carrying (it is mounted under my seat with a hose that I drink out of at my aero bars up front). As I ducked into a porta potty I asked the volunteer to fill my empty nutrition bottle in my cages on my frame, but didn’t even think about water. As soon as I left the aid station and tried to sip the water, it was gone. I was out of plain water for the next (very long) 15 miles.
I kept drinking my liquid nutrition from my bottles and taking my electrolyte supplements. But I wasn’t feeling great. My energy just didn’t really seem to be there. As we came across Ivins and into the Shivwits reservations the wind was in our face and to our sides and about to get MUCH worse. We turned into the canyon to Gunlock and realized that we were going to ride the majority of this ride into a severe headwind. There was a 15 mile stretch at this point where I averaged 10-11 mph. Oh my goodness! A stretch that I can usually clear in under an hours time, took me an hour and a half. The only solace we received was a tailwind up the infamous climb on this course “The Wall”. Unfortunately with tired legs from pushing the entire rest of the canyon it was still challenging…….but it was quiet. When you ride into a driving headwind all you hear is the wind. It’s noisy. With the wind at my back I could finally think.
As I hit the top of The Wall the first time, I prayed that the wind would not switch directions. So many times it is common that you will fight a north wind up this canyon only to have it shift to the other direction and fight it out of the South all the way back into town. Lucky for us, we were spared from that scenario. The ride from Veyo back to town was blissful. I reached speeds over 40 mph and just cruised on down. I was feeling great until we started back through town and out to the second loop.
Something wasn’t right. My stomach was full. My nutrition was not digesting. I went through my checklist. I had taken the nutrition I was suppose to take. I had taken my electrolytes (2 salt pills every half hour). I should be good. I was sipping on my water, but had gone without it for long stretch back before Gunlock. Why was I feeling so “full” and without any energy. The feeling got worse. I pulled into Ivins aid station again and used the restroom. I realized I was almost out of ALL of my salt pills. I only had 4 left! I knew the volunteer and she said she would call my husband who was suppose to be there with a bottle in case I needed a refill. He was nowhere and so I kept going. As I rode towards the mouth of the canyon again I started to think. Why was I feeling so crappy? Why was my nutrition staying my stomach? Something was off and I needed to make it right! I saw bikers everywhere turning around and headed the opposite direction. Some were sitting on the side of the road. Some were throwing up. I wasn’t the only one in this battle.
I popped the last 4 salt pills I had. I didn’t know what I was going to do for electrolytes for the next 2 hours or so. Then it hit me. I just took ALL my pills. I had enough in there for over 6 hours, almost 7, of riding and they were all gone within 5 hours. It wasn’t particularly hot and I was feeling terrible. Usually when I feel this way it is because I need more sodium, but not today. My energy was down. My belly felt bloated. It hit me like a ton of bricks…..I had taken TOO MUCH salt.
Ironman nutrition is a delicate balance. Too much of anything is not a good thing. Not enough isn’t good either. You have to find a balance where your body is able to assimilate the nutrition you are giving it, without overloading. I was overloaded, but in a way that I had never done before. I always erred on the side of more electrolytes. This time I was wrong. It was too much. I started drinking only plain water and packets of GU every once in a while for a few calories. I went completely off of my liquid nutrition of CarboPro. Within 20 minutes, my stomach my emptying and I was cruising happily to the finish down SR-18. It just kept running through my head about how lucky I was that Adam didn’t give me anymore salt. Had he been in Ivins when I was FRANTICALLY looking for more, I would have exacerbated the problem to the point of not being able to finish the bike. Instead I found myself in good spirits and in good shape headed into the run. I told myself that my reward for the day would be the party atmosphere of the run. I could walk it home at this point. I was going to finish this thing……..Though I still had to run 26.2 miles.
Bike: 7:09:34 (This was at least an hour slower than anticipated)
I made it up the last climb on the bike and down into transition. I handed my bike off to the volunteer and headed into the change tent. I quickly stopped off and used the bathroom, changed my clothes, got some sunscreen and started to run.
The run was my unknown. For over 6 weeks I have battled a foot injury. It was painful to take even one step while running. I had been rehabbing it for weeks in hopes to make it through this marathon. I had only run a total of 4 miles on it in the past 2 weeks…….luckily with no pain. I smiled as I took those first few steps. NOTHING HURT! NO PAIN! I was good to go. I was going to run this marathon!
I have run 8 marathon and one 50 mile 2-man relay………So 9 total marathon distance events. My body knows how to run long. I knew that, but I doubted my abilities after my longest training run for this Ironman had only been 15 miles or so, and that was months ago. I tried not to think about that. I just ran. I saw Coach M at the first aid station and her smiling face and cheers warmed my spirits!
The course was going to be challenging, and I was all to familiar with it’s challenges. It is a 3 loop course through downtown St. George. You have turnaround points at almost every mile of the over 8 mile loop. Basically, you go down hill, just to come right back up. Over and over and over again. I just kept on plugging along. I glanced at my watch just a few times to make sure I wasn’t going out too hard. I usually run well off the bike and settled into a 9:00 pace quickly. That pace held for the first half of the marathon. This was my plan. I didn’t want to go out any faster than that.
I continued with my nutrition and was well hydrated and fed at this point. My stomach was a bit bloated still and I was (you are going to get some gory details here…….but this is Ironman…..There’s nothing pretty about it!) kind of gassy. I felt okay though. My energy was good. My stomach was otherwise good and accepting all the nutrition it needed. I just plugged along. Walking through aid stations only when I needed to refill my water bottle I was carrying.
I had an UNBELIEVABLE amount of support on this course (actually all day long). I heard my name, what seemed to be thousands of times! Everywhere I went someone was yelling, “COLLEEN!” It was amazing and it helped SO MUCH! I felt like the St. George rockstar. THANK YOU SO MUCH ST. GEORGE! I couldn’t have done it without you.
As I made it past the halfway point of my second loop I hit a mental slump. I saw my husband and my friends and immediately just lost it. I was crying. Sobbing. I just kept running, but I was a mess. My friend Paul came out and ran with me and just held me up. My body was tired. My spirit was in a slump. Paul let me go at the aid station before I made the turn to the final stretch of lap 2 only to have another friend, Aaron, jump out when he saw me in my slump. Aaron ran with me for what seemed like a 1/2 mile. He reminded me of the people I had inspired during my journey. He told me how proud he was of me…….how much he looked up to me. He may have thought his words were falling on deaf ears as I did not (could not) respond, but I heard every word. More importantly, my spirit heard every word. At the same time I was running with a new friend, Ryan from Los Angeles that I had met a few weeks prior during a training ride. Ryan was kind enough to express that because of my help out on the course during that training ride, he was going strong today. It was quite a moment for me. I realized just how much love and support I have……..even from people who I don’t really know. To all of you….. THANK YOU! Thank you for pulling me through this moment.
Aaron dropped me at the next aid station. After a few bananas, I started to feel much better. Then came Mile 20. You remember the “gassy” issues I was having. Well they were starting to feel a bit more urgent and at Mile 20……well there was business to take care of. VERY IMPORTANT business. I stopped at the next porta-potty only to find it locked. I must have looked panicked because Paul, another fellow HT athlete saw me and yelled, “Colleen needs to go to the bathroom.” I’m not sure why he yelled it, but looking back it was really funny. Luckily the person in the potty came out. He looked at me and said, “You don’t want to go in there.” I responded with, “I don’t have a choice.” He was right though……It was pretty bad. Actually, REALLY bad! I didn’t care. I couldn’t care. My tummy needed some relief.
I’ll spare you the really gory details, but this took care of everything and I was feeling fine. I did stop a few more times just to make sure, but all was well for the last 6 miles. My pace was slowed just a bit by the “tummy trouble”, but i was only about 20 minutes behind my first half split. I was on par for a 4:20 marathon. I was so excited. No, it wasn’t my fastest marathon ever, but it wasn’t bad at all. I saw both coaches at some point and M yelled out, “YOU ARE DOING IT!” I WAS doing it! I was going to finish this. My legs hurt. I was emotionally spent and I really wanted to stop, but I was DOING IT!
I made it to the final aid station and saw another HT athlete Jess walking to the turn around. I walked with her briefly to see how she was doing and lament a bit. As I bid her farewell, I hit Mile 25! THE FINAL MILE! I WAS DOING IT! I plodded back down Main Street and saw the finish line. Before I knew it, I was in the chute. The crowd was cheering and I told myself to enjoy every single step of my Ironman glory! I heard the announcer, “COLLEEN RUE! YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”
FINISH TIME: 13:01:47
I crossed the finish line into the arms of my good friend Craig, my husband, Coach Heath, and my friend Paul! It was amazing. Just outside the chute stood my friends LaRae, Tammy, Emily, The Curtis Family, The King Family, my kids, my parents. EVERYONE! I HAD DONE IT! I WAS AN IRONMAN!
I met two of my ultimate goals. One, to finish in the daylight. Two, to finish feeling strong. I was GREAT! I felt good I was ready to sit down and celebrate. 🙂 After a little time in the finish line, a cold piece of pizza and a heavy medal hanging around my neck, I headed home for a quick shower. Adam and I turned right back around to the finish line to meet other friends crossing the line to their victory. IT WAS AWESOME!
I ate a Big Mac at 12:13 a.m. and finally put my head on my pillow at 1:30 a.m., almost 22 hours after the day started. In those 22 hours I put my body and my spirit to the ultimate test. Not only did I complete 140.6 miles, but 140.6 miles in BRUTAL conditions. Ironman isn’t suppose to be easy and today it asked for more than I ever thought it could.
Many thanks to my sponsors: Triathlete’s Edge, Red Mountain Resort and Fezzari Performance Bikes. You made this journey possible! Thanks to my family who has put up with some crazy training schedules for 6 months! To my friends, my neighbors, my coaches, I couldn’t ask for any better. TO ST. GEORGE……..I LOVE THIS TOWN! You guys know how to party Ironman-style and made every mile that much easier! THANK YOU to every person who handed me a cup, filled my water bottle, stripped my wetsuit, watched out for my safety, held my bike, smiled when I cried, celebrated when I finished……..I will remember this day and it’s moments FOREVER………
…………….now if I could just get back to walking down the stairs normally, that would be a nice 🙂