I survived my first Ironman. Yes, I am using the word “survived” because that is what I did through the swim, bike, and run. It was not the race I wanted, nor the one I planned for, but it’s one in which I am so proud of. I have to honestly say that I didn’t enjoy the race, and for two days after the race, I was upset about that. I love this sport, it’s literally my life, and I didn’t enjoy my first Ironman – the race I have been dreaming of for 17 years. But then it dawned on me, how can you enjoy a race when during the swim you are purposely submerged by men, forget part of your nutrition on the bike and in a nutrient deficient state have to fight 25 mph headwinds and 40 mph crosswind gusts AND get a flat, and then on the run have your leg lock up and force you to walk? It sucked. I entered too many dark places to count. But I came out of them. And in the words of a local triathlete, Herb Abrams, he messaged me before the race and wrote, “remember for every dark place you enter, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.” I took those words to heart. I used them in all my dark places. His words were true to the very end – the finish line was so bright and it was my light at the end of the tunnel. I could see the finish line lights a half mile away and not once taking my eyes off of them, ran my heart out and with every painful step, I kept moving towards my light at the end of the tunnel. I crossed the finish line and heard the words that kept me moving forward for 140.6 miles, “Bree Soileau, You. Are. An. Ironman.”
My race was full of what I like to call, “beautiful lessons” and I plan to share them with you in this race report. I’m a coach, I can’t help myself. My passion is to help athletes have great race experiences. My hope is that it can help you in your next Ironman, whether it’s your first or fifth.
In the days leading up to the race: Liana (my Alamo 180 triathlete who ROCKED her race with a 12:30 finish time!!!) and I arrived in Arizona onThursday. Upon landing, we ate lunch, and headed straight to Ironman Village.
We picked up our packets and checked out the expo. That evening was the infamous Underpants Run put on by a local tri team, but we were too tired and ran out of time to make it to the event. Disappointed, we decided to create our own version at home. It was one of the highlights of our whole trip. I literally laughed so hard, I peed my panties. True story.
On Friday, we did a swim workout in a pool, as to avoid swimming in Tempe Town Lake and risk getting sick. Last year when we volunteered, the locals made a point to tell us not to swim in the lake before the race. We did as we were told and enjoyed a swim in a nice, clean pool. Liana and I wore our matching swimsuits and felt adorable as we swam up and down the lane.
On Saturday, we picked up our bikes from TriBikeTransport and did a 30 minute spin out ride on part of the bike course. Our legs felt great, we felt strong and ready. We racked our bikes in transition and headed home to rest up for race day.
Beautiful Lesson – This might be TMI, but I know one of you will encounter this. I had a nervous gut on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday – as in the toilet and I became good friends. I should have taken more electrolytes during the day, because I know this affected me on race day. If I get another nervous gut in the days leading up to the race, I will drink Pedialyte.
Staying in our rental property were 7 other athletes. Two of them, Crystal and Bud, were our sherpas. They woke us up at 3:00am and had breakfast made for us. It was amazing to just wake up, get dressed and walk into the kitchen with a huge breakfast already prepared on the table. Our sherpas spoiled us the whole day.
Beautiful lesson – I didn’t enough for breakfast. I was so nervous, I couldn’t stomach food. I could only manage to eat one egg, one piece of bacon and a bite of a waffle. I had a half of a banana before the swim start, but it still wasn’t enough. I consumed less than I normally do on race mornings and this race was twice the distance. I plan to look into other sport drink offerings by EFS (my electrolyte brand of choice) in the event I can’t eat the morning of a race.
Our sherpas, along with Doug and David, drove us to the race start. They dropped us off and we began prepping. Pre-race nerves were making my brain fuzzy, so my To-Do list helped keep me organized. This was the first time I did this, and I plan to make it a staple. I suggest you do it, too!
Wetsuits on and time to get started!
Being a fast swimmer, I planned to position myself in the front. At 6:45am, they let us get in the water, so in I went and swam the 200yds to the swim start location. The water was colder than expected. By 6:55am, none of us could feel our feet. It was mostly men up front and a few women. I was already getting kicked with size 13 feet in my shins before the race started, and that’s when I knew it was going to be a rough swim. My athlete, Liana, said it best after the race, “I don’t remember a swim, I remember a brawl.”
Gun goes off and within three strokes, a man looks at me, puts his left hand on my head, completely dunks me and attempts to swim over me. Unsuccessful, because when I came up, he was still on my right side. What happens next, still to this day surprises me – I put my right hand on his head, dunked him with more force than he did to me, and when he came up gasping for air, I screamed in his face (our faces were an inch from each other) “YOU ASSHOLE!!!!!!!” My response was appropriate, but it upset me. He was being an asshole, and very unsportsmanlike, but so was I. I was just as bad. For half of the swim, I was disturbed by that moment. When I finally shook it off, I take a left turn at the first turn buoy, and a guy next to me decided he needed a better look at the next buoy, and put his arm on my shoulder, dunked me in an attempt to get higher. I decided against yelling, “you asshole,” and instead yelled, “REALLY!?!” and swam on. The pack thinned out on the return side (it was an out and back swim) and when I finally got into a groove and was picking up speed, my right calf cramped. I couldn’t point my right foot and had to let it drag. After a few minutes, it let up. Then, my left calf cramped. And then, my right again. I just pretended I had a pull buoy between my legs and was doing pull sets in the pool. That mental imagery helped, but I knew those cramps would stick with me the whole day, and sure enough, they did. However, considering my calves cramped up, I am happy with my swim time. It was 3 minutes faster than I anticipated. I was so relieved to know I survived my first mass start. And hearing my team cheer for me, amazing!!!
I am not used to getting help in a race, so I wasn’t prepared to have a volunteer next to me as I put on my cycling gear. I have a system – socks, shoes, helmet, sunglasses, nutrition, GO! My volunteer was trying to help, but she was really getting in my way. When I am in deep concentration, I am not vocal, so as I’m trying to put on my socks, she’s giving me a helmet. We weren’t a good team, and that’s not her fault. My order was off, and as a result, I left my second bottle of EFS in the bag. I didn’t realize this until mile 20 on the bike when I sucked down my first bottle and was reaching for my second, which wasn’t there.
Beautiful Lesson – vocalize your thoughts during an Ironman transition. So now I will say out loud, “socks, shoes, helmet, sunglasses, nutrition…” as I do each and that will help my volunteer best help me.
I settled into a comfortable rhythm, and let the fast guys go. I got passed a lot in the first 10 miles, and I was fine with that. Too many athletes go too fast in the first part of the bike only to fade in the last miles of the bike and/or run. At mile 10 I thought my race was over. A guy came up on my left to pass me, but somehow his front wheel hit a traffic cone, and at 20 mph he completely flipped in the air. He landed on his back, and he and his bike came flying towards me and I missed going down with him by inches. In fact, I had to move far right, almost riding off the road, to avoid him. An athlete behind me said how I lucky I was. I was!!! That moment shook me up a bit.
At mile 20, when I reached down to get more EFS liquid shot, I realized I only had 1 bottle on me. The other got left in my T1 bag. Bike special needs was at mile 66, so I had 46 miles to ride without my race nutrition. I tried eating my peanut butter and honey waffle, but my stomach didn’t want it. I ate a few bites anyway knowing I needed calories. At mile 40ish, I took a gel at the hand-up station, and it helped some, but not enough. It actually upset my stomach. By mile 50 I was fading. Then I entered a dark place and stayed there for 16 miles steadily climbing uphill, going 11mph, into a 25mph headwind. I began ugly crying. I had thoughts of quitting. I was getting dizzy. It was bad.
For nutrition: I have a timer set on my Garmin watch for every 15 minutes. I assess how I am feeling, and either drink water, sip on my EFS sport drink, or take a squirt of my EFS liquid shot. This method worked for the first hour in the race and then for the next two hours, it was just my water and sports drink – which were not near enough calories. I certainly paid for it later, and I had no doubt that it would. Once I got my EFS liquid shot, I was able to get back on schedule.
Beautiful lesson – train with other types of nutrition just in case your priority nutrition is left behind or falls off your bike. Maybe even test out course nutrition during long workouts. When I became desperate, I used course nutrition, but my body wasn’t used to it and it actually upset my stomach.
When I approached the special needs station, I said a quick prayer, “God, please give me the right volunteer for the job.” I pulled up, and a volunteer held open my bag. I grabbed my EFS and told him I wanted to quit. I was still ugly crying. He said to me, “no, you don’t want to quit.” And the volunteer next to him placed his hand on my shoulder, and said to me, “it’s the weather that sucks, not you.” Those words were a light at the end of my tunnel. He was right. I didn’t suck, I had trained for this. It was the wind that sucked, not me. I thanked them, and once the EFS got into my system and began working, I was feeling so much better.
Pee! Most people don’t share this in a report, but I will. I peed four times on the bike course. I made sure to look back first and with no one behind, let it out. For me, I have to visualize my saddle is a toilet seat. It helps. The process starts off with one drop, and after pushing hard (like grunting hard), it begins to all come out. A few minutes later, I push it out again. Yes, it’s gross, but it’s instant relief. Ladies, you have to raise your butt off the saddle, so there’s two methods for that – put your feet at the 3 and 9 o’clock position, coast, and lift your butt, and let it out 🙂 You can also have your feet at the 6 and 12 o’clock position, and move your butt to either side of the saddle and let it out 🙂 I used both methods successfully.
Beautiful Lesson – I packed extra items in my T1 bag, it’s always best to overpack, but my “priority nutrition” got hidden among the extras. Next time I plan to put neon orange duct tape on my “priority items” so they stand out. I can even tell the volunteer, give me the orange items.
Around mile 80, I noticed my front tire was flat. Fantastic. I pulled over to change it. To my surprise, two men stopped to help me. I asked them, “are you sure?” and they responded, “yes, we aren’t getting PR’s in this weather, so we welcome the rest.” I wasn’t about to decline the help, so I said, “yes, please!” But, where I got my flat ended up being right by the sag vehicle, so two bike mechanics hopped out and changed my tire. They forced me to eat my food and stretch while they took care of my flat. This flat was a blessing in disguise because it forced me to stop and eat. With 40 mph crosswinds, it became dangerous on some sections to grab food and eat. You needed both hands on the bars to maintain balance. I witnessed athletes wreck trying to reach for nutrition and bottles. This was when I knew my Shiv was the best bike for the job. It has a hydration system in the down tube, so even during the crosswinds, I could safely remain aero, reach for the straw, and sip water. Anyways, turns out I got a desert thorn in my tire. 4 minutes later and I was back on the road. Another 32 miles to go before I would get off the bike and out of the wind. Finally, after what felt like forever, I saw the bike turnoff point and was overcome with joy to get off.
Beautiful lesson – take your bike shoes off before attempting to walk/jog to T2. I hobbled for a few steps before I realized the shoes needed to come off. Once I did, I moved with ease.
As I ran in, I yelled, “I don’t need help” as to avoid a repeat of last time. I sat on the grass, and while putting on my run shoes, peed. I grabbed my hat and visor, my EFS bottle, and sat up. I asked the volunteer, who stood by me the whole time, to put my items back in the bag. I thanked her and took off!
I got my left leg taped the day before the race (the one with the nagging ITB/TFL injury) in hopes it would prevent my leg/knee from locking up on me during the run portion. In training, by mile 15, my left leg would lock up and force me to stop. I hoped to avoid this by having it taped.
The first few minutes were rough, but soon I began to feel my legs. I didn’t look at my Garmin to see my pace, I just wanted to make sure I was listening to my body. My plan was to use the first 6 miles to hydrate, take in nutrition, and run conservative. I walked through each aid station – my method is to take 20 fast steps while I fuel up and then start running again. I could tell I wasn’t 100% on the run (because of a nutrient deficient bike and tired legs from riding 112 miles in hellacious wind), but I was still moving forward stronger than I expected. I saw my teammates (Barbara, Crystal, Doug, Bud, Frank, Mary and David) all along the run course, yelling and screaming, and it brought a smile to my face. They really were amazing! Best team ever! Later on I saw Herb and it was perfect. I wanted to tell him I was using his words of encouragement, but that would have to wait. All that came out was a smile.
Nutrition: I carry my EFS liquid shot in my hand and sip on it before I enter each aid station, which is one mile apart. I trained with a handheld bottle on my long runs, so on race day, I actually missed it. I think I might race with it next time. There were many times that one mile apart wasn’t enough as the air was very dry and I was needing to play “catch up” as best I could with nutrition. I began taking sips of Coke at mile 15, and at mile 22, got my first taste of chicken broth and it was heavenly. Only in an Ironman will broth and heavenly go together in one sentence.
Mile 13 – yes! Halfway! Let’s pick it up! Mile 15 – my right leg begins to lock up. I actually laughed. My left leg was the one with problems the whole season. Ah well! And then I entered another dark place. I didn’t know if I would make it, I wanted to quit, and my brain was too tired to do math in figuring out how many miles I had left.
I knew I needed to run for something. Mile 16 I ran for Danae – my friend/athlete that survived breast cancer. Mile 17 became running for Monica Caban – a local triathlete that was hit by a truck training for this very Ironman 2 years ago. Those two miles went by but then I needed something else to think about. Then, I saw a sign that said, “If you got a divorce, you trained hard enough….but if you’re still married, your spouse is pretty awesome!” I cried happy tears. Jeff IS awesome. Cora, too. They sacrificed so much for me to train and race. I kept moving forward for them. Somewhere after this sign, I saw Kris Cordova and Orissa Loftin. Kris’ bubbly personality was just what I needed. She asked how I was doing and I told her I felt crampy. She said, “focus on the fun times we had at Worlds.” So I did. For a good mile I thought about all the fun times we had together. Then, at mile 19, mile right leg was pissed. Mile 23, it completely locked up. I had to walk more than I wanted. And by mile 24, I figured out a way new to run – if you want to call running. With 2 miles to go, I gave it all I had, sucked it up, and ran towards the light. I could see the finish line in the distance and my eyes were glued to it.
Next, I see Bud. If you know him, you know he rarely smiles. The grin on his face was from ear to ear, and he was yelling, ‘C’mon BREE!!!!” and running alongside me up to the finisher’s shoot. This image is glued to my brain. It was an awesome moment!
Coming into the finishers shoot is an experience I will never forget. It was euphoric. Spectators cheering so loudly it was deafening. Lights so bright it was blinding. I was overcome with happy tears. I could hear my team yelling my name as I ran past. I came up to the finish line and heard the words I have dreamed about for years, “Bree Soileau, from San Antonio, Texas… Bree, you are an Ironman!” Wow. Simple words that change your life.
I persevered through this race. I never gave up. I am tougher than I thought possible. I accomplished one of the world’s hardest one day events – a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run. It hurt, parts of it were ugly, but in the end, it was beautiful.
I love this picture. It fits my coaching philosophy, “the winner is not the one who finishes first, but the one who doesn’t quit when things get tough.” I was a winner on Sunday. I not only survived my first Ironman, I also “won” it.
And I believe anyone can do it. I witnessed it. The athletes that tow the line – ones you would never guess could finish such a grueling event – cross the finish to become an Ironman. It’s beyond incredible! Train for it and you can achieve it.
Here’s my amazing village!
I came down the escalator to a welcome party by my parents, Jeff and Cora. My family, to include my aunt Karen, have sacrificed so much to help me train. My family watched Cora nearly every day while I was gone. No easy feat with my firecracker! And my grandmothers, Granny and Momee, with more love, support and spending money. It takes a village to train for an Ironman. My village is quite awesome. I would add my dear friends to that list, too. They have supported me through words of encouragement. And my team, athletes that daily inspire me, inspired me to keep going. What kind of coach would I be if I gave up? I knew I needed to keep going for them.
Bicycle Heaven: This bike shop is another part of my village. I am so thankful Beau and Matt talked me into getting a Specialized Shiv Elite. The Shiv has been the best addition to my triathlon endeavors. I believe every triathlete should have one. In fact, I was selling the bike to one of the bike mechanics who was changing my flat. He asked how much I liked it and I said I LOVED it. He said he was trying to convince his friend (the other mechanic) to buy one over a Cervelo. I think I sealed the deal!
We Run San Antonio: I called Edgar Gonzalez a week before the race asking if he had Hokas in a size 9. He didn’t, but quickly ordered me a pair. They arrived just in time and thanks to him, my feet were happy during the marathon. And these shoes are amazing for running on tired feet. They plan to be my Ironman staple.
Sherpas: Our sherpas were amazing. I cross the finish line, and Bud and Crystal already had my bike returned to TriBikeTransport, our race bags picked up and put in the van, so all Liana and I had to do was hop in the van and head home. They picked up dinner for us, had an ice bath ready, and spoiled us with love and champagne. This is our new Alamo 180 tradition!
Liana Torres: My athlete ROCKED her first Ironman! Her overall time was 12:30!!! During training, I told her she would go 12:30 or faster, and she did. For months she didn’t believe me, but I called it, and I was right! She knew it, too, when she was about 6 miles away from the finish. After the race, she said, “yeah, Bree you were right.” The training plan I gave her was aggressive. We have worked together for years and have a great athlete/coach relationship. Her goal was to finish, but as a coach, I don’t want an athlete to “just finish” I want them to “finish strong.” I also knew she was stronger than she believed. In her plan, there were lots of miles, lots of bricks, and lots of speed intervals. All those speed interval sessions on the bike paid off when it required a lot of force to pedal through those headwinds. The taper was perfect, too. She never felt flat, nor did she feel tired from being over-trained — ever! She was strong and ready to go on race day! As a coach, I am beyond proud and happy for her!
So what’s next?
With all my lessons learned, I can’t wait to put them into practice and sign up for the next one, but I plan to race full Ironmans every other year. My family is important to me and I need to make sure I am there for them. Ironman takes up a lot of training time, so I need to make sure I don’t keep taking from my family. I need to give back. Liana and I have planned to race Ironman Texas in 2016, but in the meantime, we will do some local sprints, Olympics and Half Ironmans. And during my 2015 season, I will work on my muscular imbalances to avoid another injury, and probably race Ironman 70.3 Buffalo Springs again to practice riding in the wind. I hate wind – with a capital H – so I need to toughen up and sign up for races that are known to have it. To get stronger, I need to face my fears – my fears of wind pushing me a foot or two to the side. For now, I plan to lay low, build my coaching business, and begin designing custom training plans for my athletes. In 2015, I have 5 athletes that will tow the start line of their first full Ironman. Another 10 will do a spring Half Ironman, and countless others doing sprints and Olympics. It’s going to be an awesome, busy year for Alamo 180!
Thanks for reading my very long race report. I hope it helped you! I welcome questions, so if you need clarification, or want to run ideas by me before your next Ironman, hit me up! I left out a lot because it’s hard to condense every single detail that happened over the course of an 11:23:02 Ironman. firstname.lastname@example.org or 210-371-6515.