Saturday, November 30, 2013

The War

Tomorrow comes and so does the day that myself and 2,800 other athletes have been preparing for physically, mentally, and spiritually for a long time.  2013 Ironman Cozumel.  The day represents what, to many people, appears to be an insurmountable physical challenge.  What will challenge the competitors most is the mental battle.  The war with our personal inner demons.  Yes, we all have them.  That nagging voice inside our head which tells us we are not good enough, that we are weak, and that we will fail.  That part of us which is a coward, weak, wanting to take the easy road, a quitter, and full of doubt will try to win the war during race day tomorrow. 

Due to high winds, the swim portion of the race has been modified at the last minute.  It has also been reduced from 2.4 miles to 1.9 miles.  While this will shorten the swim and allow the swim to be with the current, instead of against, it will also create significant last minute chaos.  The trick to the swim is always to STAY CALM.  There will be 2,600 or so people all starting to swim at the exact same time-7:00am.  All the age group athletes, of which 25% are women and 75% are men, will take off with the gun shot.  We all swim along the same course keeping the buoys in sight as best we can with the waves.  Swimming 2.4 miles is not an easy task but swimming while being kicked in the head and having your feet grabbed makes the experience much more complex and memorable.  For myself, I have not been in the swimming pool for at least six months.  At home in Kotzebue, there is no pool.  I have trained for the past few months on a Vasa Trainer which simulates the conditions needed to work my swimming muscles.  I actually have no idea how I will fare in the swim with the entirely ‘synthetic’ training routine.   This is my fifth Ironman, so I have the benefit of having the confidence in knowing that I will absolutely finish the swim.   The question is in what amount of time and whether my time/technique will have improved or not.  My best IM swim time was about 1:15 (the shortened swim course will reduce this by about 15 minutes).  I would like to finish in 1 hour.   I will be focusing on my technique, on even and steady breathing, and on finding a swimmer just ahead of me to pace off of.   The water is too warm to allow for wetsuits.  For additional excitement there apparently are invisible jellyfish that bite like horseflies.   I don’t think that is a joke.

The bike course consists of three laps around Cozumel.  The course is entirely flat and the pavement is in good condition.  The difficult component of the course will be the strong winds.  The key for me will be to start off easy.  In the excitement, many people hit the bike course hard and then suffer from downgraded power output for the remainder of the day.  I will take the first 10 miles to get my legs warmed up and moving good.  I am aiming for a negative split which will allow me to finish feeling positive and strong.  The course is going to be crowded but this will also keep things interesting with more riders to pace with.  The bike segment is important for getting in key nutrition which will maintain strength not only during the bike but the run as well.  For me, bike nutrition has been tough.  Lately, anything has been hard to get down without GI consequences.  The course nutrition will be untested for me.  Without calories, the body will eventually run out of vital glycogen and the dreaded ‘Bonk’ will occur.  Therefore, getting in gels, electrolytes, and water will be my focus during the bike.  My goal for the bike course will be to average 18 mph-but this is hard to predict as it is so dependent on the wind conditions.  I would like to finish in under 6 hours.   Faster if possible!  I have trained inside on my computrainer all year putting in hours after hours on my bike.  Amelia thankfully kept me company for most of those hours!   I am really looking forward to a fun and gorgeous Oceanside ride on a real course.

It is hilarious to watch racers getting off the bike and onto the run.  I remember one year I was lucky enough to have John with me to cheer me on.  He was waiting for me near the bike dismount and I was so happy to see him I wasn’t paying as much attention as I should have.  I had to stop suddenly to dismount but couldn’t get my shoe out of my pedal and promptly fell right over!   I was hoping John didn’t recognize me. 
It typically takes 2-3 miles of running to get your legs back and feeling strong (or numb enough to not be bothered by them).  That moment when you hand your bike over to the volunteers and take off your bike shoes feels that pure heaven.  At least until you throw on your run shoes and realize you have 26 more miles to go.  The run course is also three laps on a single road out and back so it will have many racers and spectators.  It is surprising how often you find yourself completely alone on the usual 1-2 lap courses.  This will be a refreshing change.  The run is a massive mental mountain.  It becomes SO EASY to slow the pace down, to walk through the aid stations, to just stop enough to reduce the pain momentarily.  People on the course want to talk to you for distraction which can be either good or bad depending on how it impact the target pace.  I am not a fast runner.  I also had ankle surgery in May which removed an OCD Lesion (Osteochondrial Defect).  Recovery from that surgery was painstakingly slow.  Working closely with my coach, Rebecca McKee, we decided our first task in racing IM Cozumel was to arrive at the start line uninjured.  Not as easy as it sounds.  We therefore had to be very conservative in our training approach for running.  This meant not putting in as many hours as needed, not being as intense as needed, and taking it easier than in the past.  My longest run, two-three weeks ago, was 15 miles.  Once again, I have to rely on my past completion to know that YES I will complete the 26.4 mile run but it will not be fast.  My training pace was a mere 6 mph.  My goal is to maintain that throughout the course.  This would have me finish the run course in 4:30. 

I like to have a mental plan for the run.  There are many people in my life over the years that have helped me to be the person that I am and have supporting me along the way.  I have a list-actually.  Every mile is dedicated to a different person (a few people have multiple miles!).  In my foggy brain, I reach out and say thank you to those people in my life.  I have actual conversations about common points of interest.  This inspires me when most needed and make me feel tremendously grateful for all things in my life. 

While I may be racing against the other random people on this course the biggest battle is always with myself.  It is what being an IronWOMAN is all about.  When I triumphantly cross the finish line I will have pushed back my inner demons until next time.  I will have shown my self-doubt, fear, and cowardice who is boss.  I will get to honor all the beautiful, precious, and incredible moments in life.   I will then get to watch every other racer out there crossing the finish line do the exact same thing.  Some will be jumping up and down, some will be crying, some will collapse, all will have something in common.  

You can follow the race at  Bib # 1821.  Thanks for your support! 


  1. Katie thank you for sharing the mental side of the race. Us "commoners" don't fully understand the physical or mental part of this race. It was wonderfully well written. I am so proud of you - you finished again!! Mom

  2. Congrats on your awesome finish! You did the swim in under 1 hr or at least that is how I translated the results - need to work on my Spanish!!!

  3. Katherine - Hi, this is Jaime from IM Coz, we met on the plane heading down! I was sad I didn't get your email or something before you left, so I just wanted to say hi, it was so nice meeting you! And good luck in March, you're amazing! don't know how you did IM training with Iditarod - thats awesome.

    1. Hi Jaime! So glad you reached out! I was bummed not to get your contact information...or even your last name! It was so great to get to know you and your mom. I reached out via facebook. Hope to stay in touch :-)