“All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and when they catch you, they will kill you…but first they must catch you.”
If you read my Beach 2 Battleship write up from last year, you will see that I started the post off with a different quote with a much different tone. Last year’s race was about fighting myself, fear, and self-confidence. This year, it certainly felt like I was fighting in multiple theaters. This year (all of 2016), I felt like I had a Thousand Enemies chasing me to not finish IMNC (Ironman North Carolina). And they almost killed my race, but they never actually caught me.
I signed up for IMNC last December. Between the end of the race last year and registration time, the race had been bought (I use that term loosely…it was a manhandled sale) by Ironman. Therefore, the race cost doubled because of the brand. I was not thrilled as I thought B2B organizers did an amazing job and feared Ironman would screw up some of the small bits that made the race so great last year (…just wait for it…). I struggled last winter with training due to stress and the rest of the year seemed to ebb and flow fairly the same. I did well in some shorter races throughout the year but the thought of the full Ironman loomed in my mind.
This summer’s weather in the south was brutal. The heat was the same as last year, and I can handle the heat after living in Arkansas and Atlanta for many years. However, this year’s humidity and dew points were too much. I struggled to run more than 5 or 6 miles and the 90 mile bike ride that was easy in the early part of the summer became overbearing towards the end, usually ending around 70 miles. Add in some shoulder issues that prevented me from swimming the majority of the summer took its mental toll. I was registered to race Ironman Chattanooga, but pulled out of that race because I knew I wasn’t ready. And good thing because it ended up being 98* and I would have *melted*.
I got PT on my shoulder to strengthen my shoulder so I could swim again and hadn’t really lost any speed, so my swimming confidence was back up. I figured out a good cadence and gear that I could ride in without too much wear and tear on the muscles but still with good speed (18-19 mph) for long distances, and knew my run would be fine in the cooler weather. I competed in the OBX Half (Ironman) and did fine in all disciplines (and a PR half Ironman time), so I knew I would be ready for Ironman NC, even if my training had been a portion of what it was a year ago prior to B2B.
However. Oh, however. I started having really bad shoulder pain (in a different place than the summer) to the point where I could hardly lift it about 2.5 weeks prior to IMNC. I had multiple massage sessions and dry needling that lessened the bite of the pain, but it never went away. I knew it was going to hurt to swim, so I decided to save that pain for race day and only have it once. If I could get past the swim, the bike and run were downhill!
It was cold! But it was the same last year – around 48* in the morning but the water around 74*. I knew once I got in the water that I would warm up, so I kept the hoodie on until we were at the start line. One of my triathlon and cycling friends, Lori Cove, had been hit by a car cycling with a group the Monday before the race. It was quite the shock and made for very emotional days the entire week. My triathlon club decided to have pink ribbons made to wear during the race to honor Lori. I was racing for Lori and a friend/co-worker, Troy Seguin, who passed away in May from cancer. I wanted to honor his life with my training this summer and fall and finish at the IMNC finish line. These two people presented a flood of emotions before I even got in the water at Wrightsville Beach, NC.
Me & Troy at Work in 2015
Me, Allie, & Lori at Ironman Raleigh 70.3 in 2016
#Pink4Lori Day the day before the race
Hands to remind myself of Troy and Lori
The cannon went off at 7:20am and we all ran the beach to the water in a rolling, mass swim start. There were considerably more people racing this year than last and it was a MESS. Usually after a 100 yards or so you can find a groove and path without people. With the additional people, we were punching and kicking each other left and right. I would stop to tread water and look for a good path to take with very little resistance or people, but it was just a sea of pink and green swim caps. To be honest, it was defeating. I knew I would be fighting people for the next hour or so. During Ironman Eagleman 70.3, I went into cold shock. Basically, it’s where the water is too cold for the body to adjust to, so you start hyperventilating and panicking. Well, it happened again at IMNC. I had gone about 250 yards and I knew I had to stop for a bit. I was not going to freak out again, losing my IMNC battle in the first few yards. Once I treaded water for a bit (and got a Charlie horse…ARGH), I calmed myself down enough to keep going. Then I got punched in the right eye, sending my goggles off my head. I caught my goggles before they disappeared underwater, but I was not having fun. It was the first time I told myself that I had nothing to prove by completing another 140.6 miles and if I quit, I would not be disappointed in myself. Then I saw the backs of my hands – Dr. Troy and Lori Cove. I put on and sealed my goggles, moved outside the main swim channel, and plugged onward. About 1.75 miles or so into the swim, you take a sharp turn left. When we did this, we were met with a furious wind and white caps on the water. Swimming that last .65 miles or so was brutal. We weren’t fighting each other as much as the wind and water at that point. I felt like it was 2 strokes forward, 1 stroke back. But I made it to the end, albeit 10 minutes slower than last year. Given we were swimming against the current for a bit, the number of people on the course, the wind, and my completely angry shoulder, I considered the 10 minutes a small victory. Oh, and let me mention that I also got a horrible chafing rash from my wetsuit! If you see my neck in the next few days and wonder what is going on, it’s what I call ‘wetsuit bite’.
The bike was miserable. Once we got out of town, we were forced to do our ride on a highway. Also note that because of the Hurricane Matthew flooding, our 112 mile route was cut to 56. The first 40 miles were into a 22 mph headwind, with gusts up to 31 mph. I normally ride around 18-19 mph and had planned to be at this same pace. However, with the wind, there were 5 mile stretches where I was averaging 10.6 mph. Absolutely defeating. At the first rest stop, about halfway through the bike, I saw my friend, Allie, and told her that I wanted to quit. I had felt that way since getting on the bike and when the wind gusted and I almost fell over multiple times, I had zero desire to be out on that course. Knowing how to put me in my place, she told me, “Lori Cove wouldn’t quit.” And she was right. Troy Seguin wouldn’t quit either. So, I carried on the bike. This whole time I was fighting with my helmet. I wasn’t able to loosen it, so it was pressing very hard on my forehead and I was starting to get a bad headache. I finally pulled over on the bike and got the jam undone so I could try and ride without head pain. Then the winds started picking up. When you are riding slightly downhill and only able to get to 11 mph, you are crushed. And when the gusts would pick up, I would nearly fall over. In fact, many people did. There were lots of people on the side of the road, bloody, and with broken bikes. It was a terrible day to be riding. I got so frustrated at one point that I started to cry. I pulled over to the side to compose myself and decide what I was going to do. I knew the turnaround would be coming up soon and that meant that I had an opportunity to ride with the wind for short while. When I got to the next rest stop just after the turnaround, I ran into my friend again. She was very upbeat and said we are finishing this bike. And that’s what I needed, although I was NOT in a good mood or cheery in any way, shape, or form. The first 39.5 miles averaged at 14.61 mph. I haven’t ridden that slow in this decade. The second part of the ride, to 56 miles, I averaged 19.12 which is much closer to my normal average.
The transition from bike to run was just STUPID. Ironman had us run in our bike shoes with our bikes on a mat over rocks. Yes, you read that correctly. For about 500 yards. My coach was standing there directing people, and it was good to see a familiar face…but all I said was, “The bike was awful.” They wanted us to push our bikes with our left hands so we could hand off our bikes to “bike catchers” to rerack our bikes. However, I know I can’t steer my bike with my left hand, so I ignored the warnings and handed off my bike without incident. However, I have read many people’s stories about falling and wrecking with their bikes in their left hand. WHAT A MESS. This is one of the areas (besides too many people being on the course!) that Ironman messed up.
The run was great…however, I have no clue when it started because Ironman never had a marking on when the run started! Absolutely lazy and absurd. So, my watch distance ended up being off the entire race. The run was the same path as last year, and I loved it. I loved running through downtown and along the lake. My husband was on his rollerblades, meeting up with me at various mile markers to encourage me. And he always does. He makes me smile and keeps my head in the game. I had hoped to average 12-13 minute miles since I didn’t have a good run in over 6 months, but I was trucking along at 10-11 minutes miles until 18 miles. That’s when I decided I didn’t want to run anymore. I could, but I didn’t want to. I met up with my coach around that time and walked a mile or two with her. It was nice to just keep moving forward with good conversation, even if I did forget what year it was…(Ironman brain). I got to mile 24 and a friend, Veronica, was there cheering me on. I was so excited to see her and stopped for a bit to talk and get a picture. Having in my mind on the swim, bike, and run my friends Lori and Troy, I wanted to make sure she knew I appreciated her. I didn’t care about my run time, although I certainly could have had a marathon PR. I know that for a fact – I felt that good. After saying goodbye to her, I finished the last 2.2 miles running and feeling awesome. About .5 miles from the finish, the emotions of Lori, Troy, and the past year of training caught up with me and I shed a few tears. I had done it again even with all the things that hadn’t gone just quite right this year, with my Thousand Enemies. I composed myself coming down the finisher’s chute and got to hear, “You are an Ironman, Sarah Zumbrum!” and I felt relief. I had honored my friends on this day. I fought harder mentally and physically this year than last with success. I truly was mentally strong and had put mind over matter. Having Allie on the course kept me going. She reminded me why I was out there – to honor those who couldn’t race that day.
Me & Veronica
This race would not have happened had it not been for the people mentioned in this post and others I have ran, biked, and raced with over the past year. Ironmans are tough, and just because you do one does not make the next one easier. Physically, I knew I could do it. But 2015’s race was a physical race. This year was a mental race. I hope I never have to race a mental race like this one again, but I know that if I do, I will be successful.
So, what’s next? I don’t plan to do another full Ironman. Half Ironmans? Yep, at least one or two a year. Would I recommend IMNC to a newbie? Yes and no. It’s flat, so it’s easier on the body…but it’s still 140.6 miles. However, the nice things from B2B are gone, so it’s…Ironman. You pay more for less, sadly. So, I’m torn. “…What does the weather look like on race day?” will be my question. J