I write this with the intent to share my story, passion, efforts, obstacles, high and lows with the objective to inspire others to fight for their dreams, and to be better at whatever they love and in all areas as human beings.
It is challenging to explain a whole life in words; I have a million and one excuses that anyone could use to renounce my dreams, which is what makes my story more inspiring. If God and the universe allow me, I will someday write an autobiography of my crazy life that will be when I have less physical energy and a bit more clarity.
I will start with the decision to do a Full Ironman.
My coach Mark Olson has been telling me for a few years now that I should consider the option to race in a Full Ironman, given that my life is a bit complex, a few moves, job changes, parental responsibilities and sponsor commitments plus other sports opportunities, my goals have mostly been based on opportunities that arise as I go along. For instance, R.H. Mejia & Corp. who have always believed in mi and that in many ways have placed their trust and support in a moral and material means such as giving me the TT bike(The bike of my dreams as a child). For me it was as if they had trusted me with the responsibility of caring for a precious sword.
After a few very challenging years, competing as Elite and professional, this 2018, I had decided to take some time and compete at the age group level and in local events. During the summer, I had the honor to be asked by the DominicanTriathlon Federation to compete in aWorld Cup in Huatulco, Mexico and a Pan American Cup in Quebec, Canada.
As some say, the conditions are not always perfect; I felt that I have what it takes now to try a Full Ironman, together with my coach, we decided to start training for an event, which I would do as part of the Athletic mentors’ team. Long story short, I received a few work related opportunities in coaching so my daughter Chantal and our dog Phoenix moved to Virginia, that decision was 8 weeks before the event, a full Ironman, so we looked for an event that was near our new home and found the Ironman Maryland event that was in 8 weeks. I signed up and made plans with some friends that had also registered for the event and I was happy with the challenge. Two days before the Race I was contacted by the Ironman race staff to let me know that due to my status as an Elite ITU competitor, the rules did not allow me to compete in the Maryland event as an Age Group competitor, and the event did not have a Pro category. After several e-mails and phone calls between my coach and the event referees, they signed me up for the event in two weeks, the Ironman in Louisville, where there was a Pro category.
Honestly, this situation made me loose concentration; it was a shock, as I had decided not to ever compete as Professional, and as I felt that I did not have the condition and support to be competitive at that level, at least at this moment in my life. I took it lightly, and concentrated in what I had control, which was to prepare all of the logistics to get ready to be at that starting line in 2 weeks. My parental responsibilities, work commitments etc.
The strategy changed in all aspects, as I was planning to drive to the event in Maryland and I had almost everything packed. I had to now find a plane ticket, bike transportation and my home responsibilities. I focused on giving priority to each item, while keeping up with the training as best as possible for the next two weeks.
When I pack, I always make a check-list one or two weeks before the trip, I start preparing all articles and place them together in a corner of my room, for instance:
- Swimming gear, Neopreno or wetsuit, cap, goggles, competition suit, Vaseline, etc. etc.
- Running gear, Shoes, socks, glasses, visor, thermos
- Biking gear, Helmet, glasses, thermos, Gear changing charged, Powermeter changer, tools, straps, tape…etc.etc.
- Nutrition Plan. After a few years in the ITU and 70.3 events and trying many types of nutrition, with many failures, where I vomited and had other stomach problems of all kinds, during the training (Training Blog about my 1stIronman) I was able to make a plan 1 month before with the products that my body could tolerate. Fluids seem to work better for me (Everyone is different), I can tolerate them better, I digest them better and they are easier in all aspects for me to consume fluids. With only two weeks and doing a lot of reading and investigating I was able to plan and prepare a way to carry on me all of what I was to consume during the race. I had trained for 4 weeks with all of my utensils, on my bike and during the running. I felt comfortable with them. Just as I planned, I was able to implement during the race having prepared everything the day before.
- Bike: 4 bottles, 3 with carbohydrate fluids, 1 with Gel and water. In my Vento Box, salt pills, I only took about 4 as it was not hot and a few extra gels, in case some fell off the bike, one did but it was empty.
- Run: One bottle with carbohydrates and 6 salt tablets, I only took 1. I drank all the fluid and twice a few sips of Coca Cola, I did not drink water as I realize that it will upset my stomach and I have read that water sometimes will create a sensation of bloating.
The bike was shipped a week before the race with the Tribike Transport service, it is offered as special service to Pro athletes. I used the road bike for those few days.
When I arrived in Louisville the climate took a big turn and it became windy, rainy and cold. Nor anyone or I had come prepared for the weather that was going to be on event day. I concentrated in fining what I was going to need the next day to deal with the weather conditions. I went to the Ironman Village and was only able to find a small winter hat; they had sold out of everything. They suggested a store that was about 6 miles away and they said it had gloves and other gear. Since I had not been able to train, I rode my bike to the store as I figured 12 mileswould do great for my metabolism. Luckily, my coach and others from Athletic Mentos let me borrow special gear for the cold temperatures and for the rain conditions.
That night, I had a beer with them, had a salmon sandwich and later spent the rest of the afternoon preparing my nutrition for the Ironman. I dined with pasta very light, a cup of tea and off to sleep.
5:00 AM – I placed my numbers on me, drank a coffee, went down to the hotel lobby to eat breakfast a bagel with peanut butter. It was raining HARD, so then I decided to wear my wetsuit and walk warmer to the transition area, it was cold, dark and rainy.
6:00 AM –It was a bit uncomfortable to prepare the transition and to walk from T1 to the start of the swim, approximately 2 KM away, the massive number of people walking, talking saying “we are signed up for this so let’s have fun and do our best!”
7:30 AM – When the race was about to start, they announce that the swim start will be delayed while they adjust the buoys as the weather and the currents are not apt for the race as initially planned. They announced that the swim will be done in a different direction and that it will be, .09 Miles shorter and it will start 30 minutes later.
Swimming 3.86 KM
Dark, raining and cold, I was very calm, as I had prepared mentally to stay calm no matter what happens. My coach Mark and Coach Criket stayed with me in the start area, I was able to stay warm and they even gave me hot handbags, which helped my more psychologically than physically. I had already decide to take the swim part of the race as a warm up as this was my first Ironman and I had no idea what I was doing. My goal was to be conservative and concentrate on nutrition and mental state.
It was a water start and the currents were strong, you could not see absolutely nothing with more reason for me to take it slow and try to tail someone to be able to reach the markers. Because of the rain, the water smelled terrible and I could not wait to get out of the water.
T1 (Transition #1 Swimming to Bike). When I got to the transition I decided to use the people that help you strip off the wetsuit, it was something I was not planning to do, they could not take it off …LOL so I lost a minute or so….more was lost in the war. The volunteers were very friendly as they helped you find your gear and to prepare, as I was arriving I said out laud …”Raquel Take your Time” I had improvised what I was going to war for the 180 KM with such low temperatures and the rain. I wore gloves, a winter cap, two cycling scarfs a winter jersey and a raincoat. I ran barefoot as my biking shoes were attached to the pedals and I carried my socks in my hands, when I reached the mounting area (600 Meters) I put on my socks and mounted the bike.
Cycling 180.25 KM
The bike was the hardest part and challengingof the event. First, I noticed that my Powermeter was not calibrated. I tried (with gloves) to fix it and it was even worse as the screens kept moving as it is a touchscreen system and it was so cold that my fingers where frozen and having gloves made it impossible to adjust the screens. After about 10 KM trying, I gave up and said to myself “Raquel, just go for it”. The first 40 KM was super cold, I did warm up later and was able to take off the raincoat and was able to hand it to a volunteer (avoiding penalties).
I saw 4 deer that crossed right in front of me and it was beautiful, I was focusing on the views and as I could not see how fast I was going nor my power output, I placed attention to the time and distance so I decided that every ten minutes I would drink some nutrition and anytime I had a negative thought, another drink! LOL
About 100 KM mark my bike chain came off and was able to replace in less than one minute, then the second time the chain came off, same result, then the 3rd time the chain got stuck real hard and luckily I had gloves on was able to pull as hard as I could and got it out. I remained positive and said to myself “Raquel, this is what it takes, keep going and focus!”
Without a doubt, the hardest part was the las 20 KM as I was so tired of being in the aero position and my neck and back really hurt. I was counting each second but kept focusing on the moment, not what was coming ahead.
T2 Transition Bike – Marathon
This is when I said to the volunteer….”Now a Marathon?.. She smiled and they helped me. I sat down and removed my clothing slowly, I stretched my back and took my time as I wanted to be ready to feel the best possible way and take my nutrition to the marathon, Thanks to God I got the clarity and judgement to do it.
Marathon 42.20 KM
During the run, I was impressed how well I felt. It was as if my body had forgotten that I already had 7 hours in action. The first 10K my job was not to go too fast, I felt better that what I would have imagined, so then my mantra was “Raquel, keep in the zone” and I did, taking small sips of my nutrition often. After 20 KM, I was starting to feel the pain and noticed that my pace was starting to slow down, I then changed my mantra to keep mental focus and the pace, breathing and form.
Watching the people on the streets, the music, enjoying the people as they greeted me, I focused on the smells, homes that smelled as laundry, I keep thinking “I was I was there drinking coffee and doing Laundry” LOL
There was a hippie on a bike with music, another person playing a harmonica during both running laps, another guy that was yelling very laud saying “If it was easy everyone could do it”. When I got to the first lap 21KM, my coach yells, “You need to be tough now!” I thought…..”Now Tough?”
The last 10 KM were hard. I could feel the challenge physically and mentally so I kept saying to myself motivational things “Raquel only 10 KM which is nothing for you” Later, Raquel, a simple 5K, you made it keep going!”
The finish was a culmination of emotions, I was happy, tired (mentally and physically), I believe more because of the event challenge then for the physical demands and resistance. I laughed, cried, laughed again and then I finished.