Ironman Santa Rosa 2018 - Personal Best: 13 hours 5 mins
By 4am on Race morning downtown Santa Rosa was already a hub of activity when we arrived. Volunteers pointing athletes in the right direction and about 30 yellow school buses all lined up ready to transport us to Transition 1 and the start line at Lake Sonoma.
I was feeling a bit nervous but as I had slept really well, I felt rested and I had also managed to get my breakfast down. The transfer took about 40 minutes and although everyone on the bus seemed to be wide awake and chatting, I said very little to my partner Adrian, who was also taking part and nodding off next to me (unlike me he had not slept much at all).
Arriving at T1, we were met by a team of body markers who marker penned our race number on our arms and our age on our left calf. I then checked my bike over, pumped my tyres and added my nutrition and drinks. Although it was a beautiful morning, there was a slight chill in the air so I got into my wetsuit early to keep warm. The start line was below the bike transition and with nothing much else to do we decided to walk down early. There was no opportunity to get in and have a quick warm up swim so we waved our arms around a bit, and did a few stretches in an attempt at a warm up.
Soon the announcer asked us to get into our swim pens. I said goodbye to Adrian and decided to seed myself near the front of the 80 minute swim pen box. The sun was just coming up and Lake Sonoma was glistening and beautiful. I was glad I had taken the time for a practice swim a few days earlier as I knew the lake would be warm and clear and I was looking forward to getting in. The American National anthem played, gun sounded and the race began.
The swim is two laps with a short Australian exit and re-entry after the first lap. You swim out, directly into the sun which makes sighting a bit interesting before doing a right and swimming under the iconic yellow bridge into what is a sheltered cove where you loop round and come back to the start before doing it all again. I really enjoyed my first lap, I was swimming almost stroke for stroke alongside the man that got into the water next to me. He had a lovely gliding technique which made me think about slowing my stroke down and eased me into the swim. Lap two was uneventful and although I clunked into a buoy with my head I never got battered or swum over by anyone. I got out the swim feeling good and with a smile on my face before starting to jog up the fairly steep 400m uphill climb to transition one.
(Exiting the swim, I am far left with the goggles on my head. Smiling as always happy to finish the swim)
Half way up the hill there were wet suit strippers who quickly pulled off my wetsuit, pulled me up and before I knew it I was being handed my bike bag and in the tent getting my bike helmet and shoes on. Two lovely ladies carefully smothered me in sun screen and before I knew it I was on my bike and off. Riding over the bridge above the lake was fabulous, you can see swimmers below and there was a lot of supporters cheering. The sun was out and the first part of the ride was a long downhill section which helped dry me off and get myself settled down for the ride. I covered the first 50 miles pretty quickly and I was conscientious about eating, I think I ate a piece of high five power bar into my system every 15-20 mins or so. The aid stations were frequent and this time I remembered to grab water to cool me down as well as an energy drink. I did not stop at any station for the first 70 miles just pushed on until I really need a toilet break and some more sun cream. The volunteers were marvellous. A volunteer held my bike while I went to the toilet and another lady sprayed cream on my shoulders. I cannot fault the enthusiasm and support of the volunteers at this race.
The bike ride was mostly undulating with a few short sharp hills. Chalk Hill was fine, I spun up it and concentrated on keeping my power numbers down and so the whole way round the bike I felt I was pushing but not overdoing it. The road surfaces were pretty crappy and uneven. I have cycled on pretty bad roads in the UK but this was a different level. Such a pity as while I was down on my aerobars for most of the ride I felt that I could not really look around and enjoy the scenery as I was 100% concentrating on the road, avoiding potholes and cracks as well as debris from other riders. I had to stop to tighten my bottle cage which came loose but other than that the ride was pretty uneventful. There were a few people drafting and a couple of obvious packs came past which is a bit annoying but that is racing for you. As I got past the 100 mile mark I was desperate for the end of the ride, I was getting a bit fed up with the headwind and I was keen to just get off. As I rounded into downtown Santa Rosa there was lots of supporters on the route and finally the dismount line. I got off and a volunteer grabbed my bike to rack it. My toes on my right foot were feeling a bit numb so I stopped to take my bike shoes off before running, actually more like hobbling, to the transition tent.
Inside T2 another helpful volunteer emptied my bag and helped me get ready for my run. I got my cap on, sunglasses and trainers and did not hang about, just a quick sun cream application from another volunteer and I was off.
Heading out on the run I felt okay. My legs were fine, my head was in a good positive place as I had noticed my bike time was 6.37 a lot better than my previous IM race. I had no idea at this point what my overall time was as I had intentionally decided not to use my watch in the swim in case my time was rubbish as I did not want anything negative to affect my race at the start. For me long distance is as much about the mental state you are in as the physical, keeping positive keeps you going and makes the race easier, start getting negative and it all goes downhill from there.
The start of the run was through the centre of the town, before hitting the main part of the route which was a mixture of pavement and trail. The support was crazy in the town. Loads of people cheering your name and whooping and shouting. The heat was also pretty noticeable and I was glad there was an aid station positioned early on the course. I started to religiously follow my plan of throwing one cup of water over my head to keep me cool, one cup of water in my mouth and to regularly take in an energy gel. I took a gel roughly every third aid station and while I struggled like mad to swallow it I did force them as I didn’t want to run out of steam. The run is three laps so you are running approximately 8 miles each lap. It’s mostly trail surfaces which I like with a few hilly sections just to keep your quads engaged! It was fairly quiet at the far end of the trail with very few supporters, so you had to dig deep and really keep your focus at times. I was concentrating on my run cadence and all the things that my coach Paul Ransome, has been drilling into me for months about keeping my form, pawing back, and keeping my head up, taking on my nutrition and just easy zone 2 running. I enjoyed the first lap, I was coping with the heat and feeling good. I kept telling myself if I felt this good on lap 2 then I would be winning.
I started to look out for Adrian, who I knew would be ahead of me on the course and just kept as many positive thoughts going in my head as I ran forward. Coming back into town to start lap 2 I was still enjoying myself. The crowds were fab and I high fived the volunteer at the turn around point. As I ran back along the trail I spotted Adrian coming in the other direction. We stopped for a brief kiss as we passed and he said he was heading in to start his third lap, he looked tired but okay. Lap 2 went by similarly to Lap 1 and surprisingly I found I was beginning to pass a few people. I was smiling as I came into the turnaround point for the last lap.
The crowds were roaring support and I shouted “Last lap” which got an even bigger cheer. I was really enjoying myself even although my big toes were really starting to ache, I ignored them and pushed on. Somewhere around this point my watch died so I had no idea what time I was on or what my heart rate was doing however, having trained for months in heart rate zone 2, I know by feel if I am overdoing it so I was not too worried. Half way round I started to feel stronger again and although I thought I was going to throw up my energy gels I did manage to keep getting them down.
Everyone on that run course was an absolute legend in my eyes, the number of people who passed and said “Good job” “Keep going” was just brilliant. I kept encouraging everyone as much as I could particularly those that were walking. The volunteers at each aid station were superb too. During the last three miles the sun was getting low and I started to feel a bit chilly. I heard myself say out loud “Come on, three miles lets go” and then laughed as I realised I said it to no one but myself. Although I had no idea what my time was, I hoped I might be close to 13.5 hours and as it was still daylight I thought that might be about right.
Those last few miles seemed the longest ever but eventually I was back in the town and heading for the finishers chute. The crowds were building and the noise of people cheering was fabulous. I remember putting my sunglasses on my cap and starting to sprint for the line. I threw my arms up in the air and soaked in the moment.
Mike Riley, the Ironman announcer said “Linda, you are an Ironman” and I crossed the line elated. I had done it and in a time of 13 hours 6 minutes. A massive PB for me and far beyond what I had hoped to achieve. Adrian, was waiting at the finish line, complete with his medal on and a huge grin on his face.
Ironman Santa Rosa was in the bag!