“Susan, You Are an Ironman”
My Ironman journey officially started back on November 16, 2015 when I submitted my race entry for the 2016 Ironman Arizona, or IMAZ for short. One year later I heard those sweet words, “Susan, you are an Ironman,” announced over the intercom as I crossed the finish line. All of what took place in between created my story that I now get to share with you. My intention is to leave you feeling inspired to go after your own version of completing an Ironman.
The IMAZ race takes place in Tempe, Arizona. It consists of a 2.4-mile loop swim in Tempe Town Lake, a 112.0 mile ride (broken into 3 loops along Beeline highway), and finishes with a 26.2-mile run (looping twice along Tempe Town Lake).
I had once read somewhere that the average person my age did a 13:00-hour ironman. Striving to be above average I set a sub 13-hour goal to complete my first ironman. To do this I estimated a 1:45 swim time, a 6:00 bike time, and a 4:45 run time with 15 minutes of transition time and 15 minutes to spare.
This seemed doable. It was time to start training.
Many of you know me as an avid cyclist and runner. Having previously done marathons, century rides, and challenging race events like Leadville, it’s evident that endurance sports are not foreign to me. Despite my confidence in my abilities to endure long distance races, I had never trained for something of this caliber.
With a fairly decent base I decided to start my training 6 months out. I could have easily created a training schedule of riding, running and swimming but if I wanted to hit my goal I knew I would need the support from someone who knows how to train for an ironman. I was looking for someone who could give me a week-by-week training plan that was tailored to my schedule and my goals. I hired Coach Adrian with Cloud 9 Endurance.
He delivered and I executed.
Most weeks I averaged 15 hours of training time. This of course doesn’t include all the time dedicated to travel, prepping, recovery and rest. You’re looking at taking on a part time job when training for an ironman. Thankfully my profession gave me the flexibility needed to get in the prescribed training plan. I give major kudos for those that train around a 40+ hour work week and a family – I have no idea how you do it!
Now I can’t say there weren’t days when I wanted to sleep in or skip out on a training day, in fact I did have those days. I even had those days when I looked at my training plan and thought my coach was crazy to think I could go for that long that fast, and then I would surprise myself after I did it. And let’s not forget the days when I cursed my coach for how much I hurt after all was said and done only to realize he was prepping me physically and mentally for the real hurt come race day.
Many say the hardest part of an ironman is the training and to enjoy your victory lap called race day. Having now gone through the experience I would have to agree.
For training specifics check out my Strava activity log: www.strava.com/athletes/139680
After years of practice and learning how to fuel my body so it can perform optimally, the nutrition part of my ironman journey came easy. I didn’t have to adjust much despite the additional training I was taking on.
My nutrition philosophy is simple: eat clean, supplement the gaps and indulge every once in a while.
I’m pretty routine with my diet. I typically eat the same foods throughout the week and treat myself on the weekends when I can get out for a meal or have time to use a cookbook. My macro breakdown typically consisted of 30% carbs, 40% fats and 30% protein. I ate a lot of almonds and peanut butter, egg whites, salmon, meal replacement shakes, post recovery protein shakes, broccoli and quinoa. Given I didn’t have a ton of time to cook, meal prepping and drinking shakes helped tremendously.
Around my training I consumed Herbalife supplements and Cliff Bars. The Herbalife24 sports nutrition line has a pre-workout with a NO precursor (Prepare), a low calorie hydration drink (CR7), a high calorie hydration drink (Prolong), a post recovery shake (Rebuild) and an anti-inflammatory (Restore). On light training days I could get away with the CR7 and Rebuild, but on heavy training days I used every product available.
Could I train without all of these supplements? Yes. Would I want to? No. If I have a way to improve my performance, recovery faster, and enjoy the process then you better believe I’ll take advantage of all the help I can get my hands on.
I used to train solo a lot but as my distances continued to increase I quickly realized how much more fun it is to have a training partner or group.
I had already been running with the Cloud 9 Endurance trail running group (thank you Katie Stapleton for the introduction) for the past year and half and joined the LA Tri Club in January. By summer time I had found and started swimming with the Swim Mechanics Ocean Group (SMOG) and joined the South Bay Triathletes, a group of local triathletes.
I’m grateful for all of my athlete friends and organized groups I had the privilege to train with this past year. It is without a doubt I would not have had the same type of accountability, competitive push and sense of camaraderie if I had to go at it alone!
Arrival and packet pick-up was Friday.
Mandatory race meeting and drop-bags drop off was Saturday.
Race day was Sunday, November 20, 2016.
Leading up to race day I rested. I felt a cold coming on so I made sure to get plenty of sleep, fluids, and vitamin C. I didn’t get a chance to go to swim practice or do a test ride or run. I kept it pretty chill the 2 days leading up to the race.
I arrived to the race start with ease. It’s not to say I wasn’t nervous but I came with confidence knowing I had put in the training, I was feeling good and I wasn’t trying to break any records. My plan was to listen to my heart (rate), keep a steady pace, and stay fueled.
The weather was perfect! It was overcast the entire day with comfortable temperatures, no rain, and no heavy wind gusts. It was a dream day.
I was most worried about the swim. It was my weakest skill and it would be the first time swimming 2.4 miles. I anticipated a swim time between 1:30 and 1:40. As we slowly crept forward with the rolling start I finally plunged into the water at 7:07am. After the initial shock of the cold water wore off (65 degrees is a tad chilly for me) I got into my rhythm. While there were moments that I got kicked by other swimmers, had to stop swimming to adjust my goggles, and the feeling of my toes and fingers going numb, I was feeling pretty good. As I exited the lake I was shocked to see my Garmin watch with a 1:24 swim time.
I easily made up for that time gained in the changing room with an 11:56 minute transition time. This was definitely not an area of the race I practiced.
Once in my biking gear I ran through the bike corral, located my bike, and got started on my 112 miles. With the course being 3 loops I was told to take the first loop easy and then pick it up the next two. Going out for the first loop I could feel the slight incline and headwind and I kept a steady 13-15 mph pace. Coming back in was a blast, cruising at a top speed of 30 mph pace. Going out for the second loop I picked up my pace a little but could sense something felt different coming back in. It took a little more effort to keep the same fast pace. With the final lap to go I wanted to push it a little bit more. Cruising at 17-19mph it dawned on me that the wind had shifted and that the way back wasn’t going to be as fun. By that point my bottom was annoyed with my seat, my back and shoulders were tired of being bent over my aero bars, and mentally I was about done with being on my bike. It’s one thing to ride 100 miles, it’s another thing knowing you still have 12 more windy miles to go. I pushed on and finished in 5:53, having averaged 19 mph for 112 miles.
The volunteers were waiting to grab my bike. I was eager to give it to them. As I crossed into Transition 2, I made sure to get in and out a little faster. 5:24 minutes later I exited the changing tent onto the run course.
I was a little worried my legs would buckle when I started to run. Surprisingly I think my body was just happy to be off my bike that this new position felt good. My coach told me to keep a 10-minute mile pace for the first 8 miles before picking it up but for some reason my legs thought differently. They wanted to go faster. I had to force myself to slow down. I had 4+ hours to go and didn’t want to burn out. I was feeling great, seeing everyone cheering along the sidelines and knowing I was more than half way done.
At mile 8, my body began to show its wrath. It started with a blister on my toe and a mile later my IT band started to act up. I’ve been dealing with a tight IT band for years and knew it was going to be an issue…I just didn’t think it would act up this soon into the run. At this point, it wasn’t up to my body to finish anymore. It was all up to my mental toughness. I tossed back and forth the idea of walking (at least I wouldn’t feel pain) but then it would take way longer to cross the finish line. Instead I gave myself mile goals. I would run a mile and then stretch, run a mile and then stretch. I did that for remaining 17 miles. I’m not going to lie – it hurt like hell. But I pushed through and as I came upon the last mile of the run, the last mile of the ironman, I picked up my pace knowing the pain would soon stop and that it would be all worth it!
I turned the corner into the finishing shoot where crowds of spectators were cheering you to the finish. I could hear my name being called out and my smile got even bigger. In the few seconds it took to cross the finish line I got present to this amazing accomplishment and what it took to get to this point. Soon after I could hear, “Susan Gibson, Redondo Beach California, You’re an Ironman Susan.”
My finishing time was 12:12:23. I crushed my sub 13-hour goal.
After the Race
After a celebratory drink with friends and ironman finishers I eventually got to rest my worn down body. The next day every inch of my body felt the 140.6 miles from the day before and was my reminder of a job well done. This was day one of ‘off season’ and my road to recovery.
It’s been 5 weeks since joining the Ironman Club and while I’ve been enjoying all the free time, sleeping in, eating less clean, and recreationally working out, I do look forward to getting back into my training routine come January. Somehow I got convinced to do another ironman in Switzerland and should probably start training again. So much for being a “one and done!”
If I Knew Then What I Know Now
– Put in the training but don’t over train. If at any point your training feels more like work than fun you’re probably better off just not doing it.
– Make time to stretch, strength train and foam roll. Your body will thank you!
– Expect challenges. Some days you’ll miss training. Other days the weather won’t cooperate. Sometimes your equipment needs to be repaired. Other times you need repairs. Shit happens. Regroup and keep after your goal.
– Be prepared to spend money. It’s not just the cost of a race entry but also your travel costs to the race and for your training, the equipment, the nutrition, the coaching, the group training, the practice races, and any unexpected costs like medical or repairs.
– Create space for new friends. You’re going to meet a lot of awesome people throughout your journey who are on a similar journey of their own.
– Don’t let FOMO (fear of missing out) get the best of you. Your new friends are going to encourage you to do this race, or sign up for this event, or do this awesome thing. Choose wisely and enjoy the ride!
Division Rank: 31
Gender Rank: 169
Overall Rank: 807 (out 2445)
Race Day Nutrition Supplements
Day before: 1-2 servings CR7 to pre-hydrate
Night before: 1 serving Herbalife Niteworks
Breakfast: Peanut butter Toast + ½ serving Herbalife24 Prepare
On Course Bike Supplements:
Bottle 1: 3 servings Herbalife24 CR7 + 1 serving Prepare
Bottle 2: 1.5 servings Herbalife24 Prolong
1/2-1 Clif Bar
Bottle 3: Water
Bottle 4: 1.5 servings Prolong + 1 serving Niteworks
Bottle 5: 2 servings CR7 + Liftoff
Bottle 6: Water
On Course Run Supplements:
Hand bottle: 2 servings CR7 + 1/2 serving Prepare
(ate on course fruit – grapes & orange wedges)
Post Race Supplements:
After Race: 1 serving of Herbalife24 Rebuild Strength
Before Bed: 2 servings of Herbalife24 Restore
Thank you to everyone who joined me on my journey – whether we trained together, you gave advice or coached me in some way, ‘liked’ an Instagram or Facebook post, or are reading this race report – I couldn’t have checked off this bucket list goal without each of you!!
If you have specific questions please shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Looking for a triathlon coach, contact Adrian Valdivieso at email@example.com
For more information on Herbalife24 visit www.goherbalife.com/sg4wellness