kris’ ironman arizona race report

Kris wrote the following about her experience at Ironman Arizona.  It’s a story that demonstrates great determination beyond the 140.6 miles of the event … both before and during the race … enjoy!

IMAZ Race Report

As many of you know, it was a bumpy road getting to Arizona. Paul’s bike accident made training a bit tricky. To some extent, I followed a training plan, but mostly I made it up on the fly. Whatever fit in my schedule for the day was what I did for most of July and August. Often times, I called on ESR folks to stay with Paul while I snuck out for a workout. Things got a bit better in September, but it was sometimes still hard to get the longer training sessions done.

In mid-September, I went to Grand Coulee to do the Grand Columbian Half Ironman. I had a decent swim and good bike, and headed out on the run strong. But, around the mid-point, my calves started to cramp. I was still able to run, but my stride was very stilted. By mile 10, my quads were getting into the act too. At one point, I foolishly thought I’d stretch it out, and then my whole left leg seized up! When I could walk again, I hobbled to the next aid station and drank some coke. That seemed to be just what I needed to get my running again, and I finished the last 1.5 miles running in that stilted fashion.

Needless to say, I needed to figure out the cramping issue before attempting an ironman, so I went to a sports doctor to talk about my nutrition plan. She did a complete blood workup and discovered that everything was out of whack – my iron, B12, and D were low, and my leptin and testosterone levels were low too. She suspected overtraining syndrome, or celiac disease (gluten intolerance). I was a little surprised by the latter because I didn’t have the typically GI symptoms. The blood test came back
positive for Celiac disease, and I was put on mega-doses of B12, D and iron. I was told to keep eating gluten before having a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. The biopsy was definitive, so by the time everything was confirmed, it was only 3.5 weeks before Ironman. Boy, did that mess with my nutrition plan!

I immediately went on a gluten-free diet and started trying out every gluten-free bread and pasta I could find in the hopes of finding something I could eat pre-race. Somewhat counter-intuitively, I was having more GI issues on the new diet than I was before. I saw a nutritionist and she said my gut was inflamed
and the bacteria were out of whack, so I started taking a priobitic several times a day. By then, it was less than 1 week to IMAZ!

Then on Wednesday of race week, I wrenched my back moving some stuff around a home. It hurt to stand up straight. I didn’t have time to see my chiropractor, so I gritted my teeth and hoped for a miracle! On Thursday morning, I went for a swim, which helped loosen my back a little, but then I went to the airport and caught my flight, and everything tightened up again. The flight was uneventful, and I headed straight for the hotel and tried to figure out a plan for dinner.

The hotel clerk directed me to a nearby food store which appeared to be in a Hispanic neighborhood, so it carried a lot of items for making Mexican food, which wasn’t what I had in mind. So, I hopped back in the car and drove around looking for the Safeway that the clerk had mentioned. Once there, it took a long time to shop because I still wasn’t sure what I could eat. I finally settled on peanut butter, jam, rice cakes, potatoes, veggies and cheese. I figured I could make PB&J sandwiches with the rice cakes for lunches, and have cheesy potatoes and veggies for dinner. Not real exciting, but also not too distressing!

On Friday morning, I went to the race site to get my tri bag from TriBike Transport (I shipped my bike and bag with them so that I wouldn’t have to mess with putting my bike together). I debated about going for a quick swim, but noticed that there was an ART (Active Release Therapy) booth nearby, and opted to visit it instead. I had hoped that they would help my back, but the guy who worked on me wasn’t very good. I felt slightly better, but not much.

After the ART session, I went and got my bike, only to discover that the front tire had a pretty good nick in it. I went to the bike booth and bought a tire, then proceeded to change it. However, I didn’t change the tube, which I would regret later. When the bike was ready, I took it back to the hotel and changed
to go for a test ride.

Almost immediately, I discovered that my aero-bottle no longer fit between the aerobars and the tire. It sat on the tire! I managed to pull the bottle up and ride for a while, but every time I hit a bump, the bottle would fall down and start rubbing on the tire. I looked over the bike and surmised that the bike shop that did the tune-up before I shipped the bike must have moved the aerobars. Since I had no tools with me, I had to take it to a nearby bike shop to get the bars adjusted. So much for not having to monkey with my bike upon arrival!

I did another quick test ride and everything seemed to be in order, so I went for 20 minute run. This was not pleasant. My back hurt with every step, and I decided right then-and-there that I would walk the marathon if I had to.

Next morning, I went down to the expo site again, this time with the intent to swim. The ART booth was open again, so I decided to give it another shot. This time, I hit the jackpot. The guy who worked on me was very aggressive, but I knew that was what I needed. When I left, I felt somewhat abused, but much looser. I then did my swim, drove the bike course, found a Whole Foods that another racer had told me about and headed back to the hotel to relax.

For my pre-race dinner, I violated rule number one – don’t try anything new on race day. I had some grilled chicken (gasp… no, I’m not vegetarian any more). I had had some the night before, and it didn’t seem to upset my stomach as much as some of the other foods I had eaten, so I gave it a try. I don’t know if it was the chicken or the probiotics, or some combination, but the gamble seemed to pay off because my pre-race morning bathroom time seemed almost normal.

I went to bed at 8:45pm and woke many times. I finally got up at 3:45am and started getting ready. I had 2 PB&J rice cracker sandwiches and my vitamins, then mixed all my fuel bottles, plus a bottle of cytomax for pre-race. The drive to the race site was quick and I found myself at transition shortly after the 5am opening. I proceeded to futz with all my stuff, drink my cytomax, go to the bathroom twice (which is one less than usual), eat some Sharkies, and get my wetsuit on.

At approximately 6:45am, I climbed down the wall along the bank of Tempe Town Lake and joined the throng of people in the water. It was cold, but not unbearably so. I believe the announcer said the temp was 60 degrees Fahrenheit. I had my sleeveless wetsuit on, plus my neoprene cap. I had discovered in previous races that if my head is warm, I can handle the cold in my extremities much better.

I wasn’t sure where to seed myself, but based on a perusal of past IMAZ results decided I should be relatively close to the front, so I started working my way forward. Just about the time that I was trying to decide whether to move up more, the announcer began the starting count-down. When the cannon went off, I started swimming and immediately got pummeled. Within the first few minutes, I got kicked in the right eye and had to stop briefly to release the pressure on my eye. A few minutes later I got an
elbow in the left eye. Somewhere else, I had some guy swim next to me and grab my shoulder and push it down. After he did it a few times I slowed a bit to get away from him. A number of times someone grabbed my feet and gave them a slight yank. Whenever that happened, I kicked more vigorously and that seemed to scare them off.

The pummeling continued for quite a while. I didn’t look at my watch, but I would guess that it went on for about 10 minutes. After that, I mostly swam without incident to the turnaround point. I had no idea what my pacing was, but on the return leg, I made a conscious effort to rotate through the hips to help loosen my back. That, combined with the previous days ART session, really did the trick. I exited the water in 1:10, which wasn’t stellar, but in line with what I was shooting for. And, my back didn’t bother me on the run through transition. In fact, my back didn’t bother me through the entire race!

We exited the water up some steps and a nice volunteered pulled my wetsuit off. I carried it to the bag area, got my bag and headed to the port-o-potties. For the first time in my triathlon carrier, I had to pee during a race… I guess I did a good job with my pre-race hydration! From there, I went to the changing tent and another volunteer helped my go through my bag and get ready. She then packed it for me while I ran out of the tent to get my bike and head out.

The bike is a 3 “loop” (really an out-and-back) course with a slight elevation gain as you get near the turn-around point. On the first leg out, I felt like I was flying. Even though there was a slight headwind, I was averaging between 17 and 20mph for most of the way – way ahead of my expected pace (I was hoping to average 16mph overall) – and, best of all, I was staying in my aerobic zone!

Around mile 20, as the road was beginning to rise, I heard a loud pop, followed by a hissing sound. The front tire went immediately flat. I changed it (took about 7 minutes), and checked for anything embedded in the tire. I didn’t find anything. I didn’t take the time to look at the tire, but I’m guessing it burst either from being pinched or old. I was really wishing I had changed the tube with the tire two days earlier!

I hopped back on the bike and headed to the turn around. After the turnaround, I was once again flying, averaging 29 mph for initial downhill segment, then holding 20+ mph for most of the rest of the return leg. My first “loop” was around 2:05 and I didn’t feel like I’d overdone it.

The next loop was similar. I caught and passed many of the people who passed me while changing the flat. Unfortunately, I needed to pee again! So, around mile 50, I stopped to use the facilities. Then hopped on the bike and headed to the turnaround. At mile 63, I stopped to get my special needs bag to get more fuel and to get another tube and CO2 cartridge. I still had one spare tire and a full cartridge left on my bike, but I was afraid that if I tempted fate, I’d end up getting two more flats and be kicking myself for not stopping. Even with the two stops, by second loop was once again around 2:05.

When I started the third loop, I was really psyched. The bike was going much better than anticipated, and I still felt great. I rode out to the turn around without any stops, and was ready to fly back to transition. My only concern was that I needed to get some more calories in before the run. I had two choices – stop and put the bag of Infinit Nutrition powder into my aero bottle (which already had water in it from a previous aide station), or grab some gels along the way back and take them with the water. I opted for plan B, figuring that I wouldn’t lose as much time getting the gels as I would stopping to put the powder in. This turned out to be a big mistake!

At the first aid station after the turn around, I swung in and grab some gels. Right after grabbing them from a volunteer, I noticed a biker in front of me reaching for a bottle from the volunteer ahead of me. I started to swing out around him, but he fell over and I wasn’t able to miss him. I hit him and went flying. I landed on my left shoulder and rolled over onto my right side. My first thought as I lay in the road was “this can’t be happening, it’s just not fair!” I laid there moaning, more out of pity than pain, then decided to stand and assess the damage.

When I stood up, I was a bit wobbly, but managed to walk over to the first-aid table. A volunteer cleaned some road rash on my right elbow (which wasn’t even bothering me), and several people asked how I was. I asked to see my bike and another volunteer brought it over. He said the seat and the aerobars were crooked, and the front tire seemed low. I asked if he had any tools to fix them and he went to look. He fixed the seat and came back to ask what to do with the aerobars. We re-adjusted them as best we could, and I prepared to ride. The sheriff showed up at some point and called an aide car. He seemed a bit incredulous when I said I was going to try to ride. He asked if I wanted to cancel the aide car and I said yes, then headed on my way.

I didn’t ride as aggressively on the way back, partly because I wasn’t sure what kind of shape my bike was in. The front tire looked like it might be a bit wobbly. I regretted not letting the volunteer pump up the tire, because I felt more sluggish on the return. But that could have been any number of things.  My shoulder ached on the way in, but the pain was not intense. My final loop ended up taking 2:20.  Not bad, considering I’d spent about 20 minutes at the aide station.

When I got to transition, I dismounted and a volunteer took my bike. I hobbled to the bag area to collect me stuff. I felt kind of unsteady. I don’t know whether it was from biking for 6+ hours, or pain, or both. After getting my bag, I headed to the changing tent. A volunteer asked if I was okay, and I said no. I told her about my crash, but said I was going to try to finish. She helped me get ready. The last thing she told me was that there was a medical tent just outside of the changing tent. I opted not to stop because I didn’t want them to tell me I couldn’t go on.

I headed out of the tent and let the volunteers slathered me with sunscreen and then I attempted to run. I don’t think I even made it as far as the timing mat before I had to walk. It was just too painful.  The crowd was very encouraging, but I just kept walking and did a mental assessment of my options.

Since the swim and bike had gone so well, I knew I had plenty of time (over 9 hours) in which to complete the marathon. Walking wasn’t too painful, so I started preparing myself mentally for a long walk. But the idea did not sit well. I just didn’t want to be out there that long! After walking about half a mile I attempted to run again. I found that if I kept my arm tight against my body so that the shoulder didn’t move much, it was almost bearable. I continued running this way to the first water stop. When I got there, I asked to go to the medical tent. While I was there, they gave me some ice to put on my shoulder, and one of the volunteers keep bringing me food and drinks. After icing for 15
minutes or so, I asked the medical person to strap my arm down. She put it in a make-shift sling and I headed back out onto the course.

Running with the sling turned out to be workable, and I was surprised to find that my run splits were averaging between 10 and 11minute miles, including walking breaks at all of the aid stations. So, I just kept plugging along. The crowd was very supportive, and the volunteers were great. I couldn’t get the
fuel bottles in and out of my belt with one hand, so I would carry one until it was empty, then stop at an aid station and have a volunteer swap the empty bottle for a full one. I drank or ate something at every aid station, and felt really good. No GI issues, and almost no muscle cramping (except a few twinges in my calf toward the end of the run).

Everyone was very supportive. The course was 3 “loops”, so we passed the same volunteers and fans at least 3 times. On my second and third loops, I heard a lot of “oh my god, she’s back again”, “way to go”, and “hang in there”. A lot of my fellow competitors were very supportive too. More than once, I heard things like “you are an inspiration” or “you really are an ironman!” It definitely helped me persevere.

After the first loop, I stopped at the same medical tent to have some Vaseline put on my feet because I was getting blisters in my arches. The volunteer who helped me was so sweet. She put on my socks and shoes for me, because I couldn’t do it with one hand. She also hung onto my fuel belt while I used the loo, and then put it back on me because I couldn’t do that one handed either!

The miles from around 9 to 20 were uneventful, and I was feeling good, but definitely ready to be done.  Shortly before mile 22, there was a spot where we transitioned from a parking lot to a walkway, and for some reason there was a piece of carpet down. I remember looking at it and thinking there must be some sort of grate or something they didn’t want us to trip on. Well, while I was thinking about that, I tripped on the carpet and landed hard on my right side. I felt it in my left side though. Thankfully, I didn’t seem to have done any additional damage, so I got up and said a few expletives and told the volunteers I was okay, even though I didn’t really feel okay. My shoulder started hurting more, and now my knees hurt too!

I walked for a short stretch after falling and did another mental assessment. It was getting close to 7pm and I only had 4 miles to go. Once again, I considered walking the rest of the way, but didn’t really like the idea, so I started running. My shoulder hurt more, and I was not having a lot of fun, but I was determined to keep going.

When I finally got to the point where we got to peel off and head to the finish, I heard a volunteer say only 200 meters to go. I was prepared to turn the corner and see the finish, but such was not the case.  I zig-zagged through the cheering crowds for what seemed like a long time before I finally saw the finish arch. Several people tried to give me a high five, but after the first one, I had to stop because it was too jarring.

When I got to the tape, I couldn’t decide how to “break” it. I couldn’t put both arms up, so I just kind of reached for the tape with my right hand. I think one of the volunteers let go of it before I actually touched it because I almost missed it. While I was distracted by the tape, I forgot to pay attention to the announcer, so I never even heard whether he made the traditional “Kris Solem, you are an ironman!” announcement.

A volunteer wrapped me in a mylar blanket and took me to get my chip removed. Then I posed for a photo and headed to the medical tent. I’m kind of sorry I did that, because I missed out on savoring the moment in the finish tent. The doctor in the medical didn’t even look at the shoulder, he just told me to go to the nearest emergency room. I did see the guy who fell in front of me in the medical tent.

Apparently he finished not long before me. He had a mangled thumb and his back was hurting. He apologized for causing the accident and asked how I was. We exchanged some pleasantries, and then one of the medics helped me collect my bike and bags. Thankfully, I only had to take my bike back to the transport area. The medic was really nice, and carried all my stuff to the car.

When I got to the car, I decided to go back to the hotel to clean up a bit. I didn’t want to sit in ER in my sweaty smelly togs for hours. Driving was a bit tricky, but there wasn’t a lot of traffic. Getting my tri top off was fun. Thankfully, I had worn a sports bra with the zipper in the front, so I was able to get that off fairly easily. I showered and put on jeans and another sports bra (didn’t think I could manage to get a regular bra on). I was wishing I had some button down shirts to wear, but alas, all I had were T-shirts and tank tops. I picked the loosest tank top I had and awkwardly pulled it over my head. Then I drove to ER.

I had lots of company in ER. There were a number of dehydrated athletes there and we chatted about the race while waiting for our turns. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait excessively long to get called in, and got x-rayed fairly quickly. Then I had to wait a bit to see the doctor. When he came in, he asked what happened and told me my scapula was broken. He said that because it takes a lot of force to break a scapula he needed to check that I hadn’t also torn my aorta! He didn’t really think I did, since I’d run a marathon afterward, but said he needed to be sure. They wanted to give me morphine for the pain, but I told them I had to drive home. I didn’t really want it anyway. Unfortunately, they couldn’t give me anything orally until they had the results of the scan, so I couldn’t even take Tylenol. Thankfully, the pain just wasn’t that intense.

I had to wait a while for the CAT scan, then I had to wait an hour or so for the results. As expected, they didn’t find any damage to my aorta, so they wrote me a prescription for pain killers and antinausea medicine and sent me home. By now it was almost 4am, so I skipped the stop at the drug store and went to the hotel. It took a while to get ready for bed. I finally laid down at 4:45am. I really wasn’t as exhausted as I expected to be, so I must have gotten more sleep in ER than I realized.

I got up at 7:45am on Monday to begin packing everything up. I needed to get my tri bag back to the expo area for transport with my bike. I really didn’t want to have to lug it through the airport! I packed everything, checked out of the hotel and drove to the expo site. I hauled my tri backpack to the transport area, collected my special needs bags, puttered around and ate some lunch. By now, it was noon and I didn’t fly out until 9pm. My original plan had been to do some site-seeing, but I wanted to minimize my driving, so I just hung around Mill Avenue, which appears to be where all the ASU students spend their free time. For the most part, I hung out in a Borders Bookstore reading “The Shack” (which my brother recommended while Paul was in the hospital).

The trip home was uneventful, and everyone was asleep when I got there. They had had their own adventure while I was away. Apparently, both girls caught a nasty virus and spent race day throwing up. Paul got to clean up. I don’t know whose day felt longer!

It’s nice to be home, and I feel surprisingly good. It’s a bummer to have my arm in a sling, because I really would have liked to have gone to my tri swim class this week for some active recovery. Maybe I’ll hop on the elliptical trainer 😉

Despite the accident, I had a great race and I’m really happy I opted to finish.

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