IRONMAN NUMBER SIX is in the books! It was fantastic. It was an amazing day and I want to remember it all. All 13 hours, 35 minutes and one second of it. Okay, no. Honestly, there are parts I would like to forget, but here are some highlights:

The day started at 3:00am. I took my meds [more on this to come], prepped a spot of tea and checked and rechecked my gear bags. At 3:40, Ace and I headed to T2 to meet Sunshine, drop my gear bags and hop on the bus. I ate as I walked.

My team scoping out the swim start the day before the race.

My team scoping out the swim start the day before the race.

My team had debated for days about going to the swim start. The race organizers had discouraged it and early on I had decided to take one of the shuttles from downtown SR to Lake Sonoma. The trick for spectators is that once you are on site, you are required to stay until the last cyclist leaves T1 around 9:30am. Ace & Sunshine wanted to be at the start - but didn't want to get stuck in traffic and miss portions of the bike. They had spent part of the day on Friday concocting a plan in secret and I had no idea if they would be there or not. I felt the butterflies as they stood on the curb and the bus pulled away.  

My bus ride was pretty chill. The white noise of the bus engine was actually soothing.  And it was a relief to not have to navigate through traffic, pull up Google Maps or even have to talk! I popped on my headphones and listened to my IRONMIX. Sunshine had given me a card for each day before the race so I opened the last one marked SATURDAY and read it in the blue glow of my phone.  Like the others, it was filled with U2 lyrics, favorite scripture verses and encouragement. I read my Wonder Woman card from Eliza and Renee. I breathed. I ate (a banana, a pop-tart and a Picky Bar).

We arrived at the swim start at 4:45am and I hustled to start checking things off my list. Yes, I have a list. It's like a scavenger hunt! Written down in the order that I prefer:  Find Lucinda. Drop my bags. Find the port-a-potty. Find a pump to borrow. Pump tires. Load bottles. Load bento box. Do a little dance. Drop bike gear bag. Warm up. Tri Glide. Sunscreen. Wetsuit. Drop morning clothes bag. Walk to swim start. Drop shoes. Swim warm-up. Get in the chute. Do another dance. Shuffle. Shuffle Shuffle. SWIM!

I was amazed at how fast time flew from the moment I stepped off the bus to the time I stepped into the chute. I was as amazed at the way time slowed from the minute I stepped into swim corral til the moment my toes were in the water. I seeded myself close to the front of the 1:10 - 1:20 section and we started the long descent into the corral. It took nearly 20 minutes for me to get in the water.  FOREVER! I kept looking up at the bridge high above and couldn't believe that I'd be biking over it. I kept looking down at the guy's feet next to me (seriously, they were huge). I kept looking out over the lake and thinking, Daaaaaaammmmm (because there was one).

My swim start.

Photo: Alvin Jornada/Press Democrat

Photo: Alvin Jornada/Press Democrat

The first loop felt easy. I immediately fell into my breathing pattern and found my stroke. It was crowded, but I followed someone's feet and let the crowd pull me past buoy after buoy. It felt like swimming in the channel with the current at home. The steam that was rising from the swimmers was my biggest challenge. Usually I can sight at least a few buoys ahead, but with the surface fog, I could only spot one at a time. Each buoy was more crowded than the next and I got frog-kicked on one and had to readjust my goggles at another. I also got flustered at the turn into the marina but quickly recovered. This was the one buoy you have to keep on your left shoulder and I started veering into the marina too early. I had to readjust my line back to the turn buoy and for a moment felt frustrated at myself. But, I had one more chance to get it right on the second loop!

And I did. The second loop felt fast. I had more space, could see better and found a great rhythm. I loved swimming under the bridge and looking at the sun rising over the dam. I came out ready to bike in 1:12:10.

The biggest challenge in the swim is actually the transition! It is a 10% grade for a quarter-mile to get up to the bike area. I left shoes somewhere along the carpeted path, so I picked them out, put them on, jogwalked 200 yards to the wetsuit strippers, sat down, took off the shoes, let them strip off the wetsuit, put the shoes back on and jogwalked another 200 yards to the bike chute. I predicted it would take me 15 minutes to do all that, grab my bike gear bag, take it to the changing tent, put on helmet, shoes, shades and headband, drop bike gear bag, run to bike and leave. I am thrilled to have done it eight minutes!


Take the shuttle to the swim start

Drop your shoes for the run up

Don't forget sunscreen