Authored by: Jas Lee
I had been training for my first full Iron(Wo)man since January 2022, and I’m happy to report that I finally completed it — and survived! It was 140.3 miles made up of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and then a marathon (26.2 miles) in Maryland. It took me 11 hours 50 minutes and it was a pretty crazy, exhausting race. I came 9th in my age group and am pretty happy with how it went considering all that could have gone wrong.
The race started at 6:30am and though I set my alarm for 4am, I woke up at 2:30am and couldn’t fall back to sleep. Luckily I had slept pretty well the night before, and had caught up on sleep the weekend before, so I felt rested. I followed my pre-race nutrition: oatmeal with berries and banana, granola, decaf coffee, and a bottle of electrolyte. I was feeling pretty good and calm, much like my other races. I was ready to do this!
The swim was in the Choptank River in brackish water. We were warned of the jellyfish and that we’d get strung on any skin that was exposed, so we applied Sea Safe and Vaseline on our faces, hands and feet (it didn’t really work). For parts of the swim the jellyfish were so concentrated that it was like running your fingers through someone’s (electrical) hair. What was worse though was that there were so many people in the water that it felt like we were crawling on top of each other for parts of it. I knew it would be bad when at the start of the race I had crossed the start line and just stood there while waiting for the person in front of me to get into the water. We were really packed in there from the start.
I was hit by others, and swam into others, so many times because the person in front of me stopped swimming to sight, that it was really hard to find a rhythm. I was thinking to myself – this is really not for me – but I kept hearing my swim coach’s voice in my head saying that I have to be more aggressive! The water was murky, it was too dark to see what was in front of me, and I was afraid of being kicked in the face and losing my goggles, so I tried to keep an arm in front of me for most of the time (that’s the catch-up stroke, right?). They also changed the direction of the swim course the day before and didn’t put up the swim buoys until late, so I never got to map out the course in my head. I was so disoriented during the race that I didn’t even know when I was starting the second loop and didn’t know where the finish was. I just had to trust and follow the people in front of me. A little unnerving!
In T1 I wanted to see what it would be like to use the wet suit strippers so I laid on the ground and expected the guy to just take the wet suit off. My guy was slow and just stood there staring at me until I asked him to do it. In retrospect it would have been faster if I had just done it myself. Running with my wetsuit, I found my bike gear bag and ran into the change tent to put on my bike gear, chamois cream and sunscreen. It was quite far from the swim exit to the change tent to my bike so all of that took 7 mins. After the race I overheard a woman say it took her 4 mins for reach of the transitions, so there’s gotta be a faster way to do this!
I made some mistakes on the bike that I’ll remember for next time. First, I froze my Speedfill bottle so that I’d have cold electrolyte, but it had not melted by the time I started the ride! This strategy had worked in my other, shorter triathlon races but I guess it was too cool this particular morning. Second, I lost a water bottle on the ride because during my special needs transition I had not inserted it all the way into my bottle cage. Third, I decided to change to thicker socks last minute. During the last two weeks leading up to the race, I was having some foot pain on the bottom of my foot near the toes and thicker socks had helped, but I didn’t use them for the long rides. What I didn’t know was that the thicker socks would cause the side of my other foot to hurt and cramp. I should have gone with what I had ridden with and what had worked for my long rides.
The bike is usually my strongest discipline but my lower back started hurting at mile 30 and continued until the end of the 112 miles. I’m used to riding hills which allows me to change position but this course was really flat and didn’t have any variation. Apparently my 4 hour flat ride on my trainer was not enough! I changed positions often on the bike but then I’d become less aerodynamic so I had to balance the two. Let’s just say I was super happy to be done with the bike portion. My foot cramped at the end of the ride and I was pretty spent at that point.
My diet on the bike included my own electrolyte mix, Gatorade, caffeinated Clif Blocks, 500 mL of maple syrup, Honey Stinger Waffles, and a Twix bar. I also took water at several of the aid stations and poured it down my front and back to cool me off. This worked pretty well. I had stopped at the special needs station half way through the ride to give my back a break and refill my water bottles with my own electrolyte. I would definitely do that again on this type of ride.
I was a hot mess at T2. My foot hurt so much that I had to walk and couldn’t run to the changing tent. My lower back was aching, and I was in much rougher shape than I usually was after a century ride. I was so exhausted that I lost bladder control while sitting in my chair in the changing tent. Thank goodness for the amazing volunteers who kept bringing me more water and asking me for what I needed! Luckily, I had planned to change into run shorts – that was probably one of the best planning decisions I made. I was so dazed in T2 that it took me forever to get myself together. I was planning on putting blister pads on my feet to prevent blisters but they wouldn’t stick, I put on my socks before Run Goo on my feet, so had to start all over again, and I couldn’t tie my shoes properly so the laces ended up coming undone later. T2 took me over 10 mins.
My foot cramp lasted for the first 5 miles of the run and was quite painful, so I was limping for the first part of the run. But luckily it eventually went away. I tried not to think of running a marathon after all of that and broke it down into smaller parts – just three 8.5 mile loops! We rented a house on the run course and because the run was a bunch of out and back loops, I got to see my family several times which was great! Every time we did a loop we got a wrist band to help us remember how many we had done, because all of our brains were fried by that time and it was hard to keep track. I ran my first loop and was excited to get a wrist band from Kelly Chiu, my bestie and training partner whom we travelled with and was volunteering at this station (her husband Jeff was also racing).
It was mentally challenging to run by the same places so many times. What made the run bearable for me was tagging onto Polly, an amazing woman two age groups older than me who kept a steady pace but was one loop ahead of me – we ran for maybe 16 miles together and she was so bad ass that she won her age group by 30 mins! She offered me her ice when I didn’t get any at an aid station, then eventually her electrolyte tabs, taught me how to run tangents, and introduced me to Red Bull.
It was 83 degrees F and there was no shade for most of the race, so at every aid station where it was available, I would pour ice water on myself to keep cool and put ice in my bra and under my hat. My diet on the run included my own electrolyte mix, Gatorade, ice, energy gels, and I tried Red Bull for the first time out of desperation (there are exceptions to “try nothing new on race day”).
I got teary eyed when I had 1 mile left and heard the announcer announcing peoples names along with – “You are an Ironman!” When it was my turn, of course he butchered the pronunciation of my name. 😊 (It’s spelled Jessamine, pronounced Jazmin – but I go by “Jazz”, spelled Jas.)
But the finish was sweet – sweat tears and all! Kelly gave me my medal at the finish line and essentially had to hold me up from collapsing. She has been my rock on this journey ‘til the very end.
My mom flew in from Vancouver and saw me race for the first time (ever) so that was special. It was also special to me to have my kids there to experience my first IM race and see all my hard work pay off.
Beyond the training, there was just so much planning involved with this race, from nutrition and gear to lodging and logistics. It was both mentally and physically challenging to fit everything in on top of a demanding job (I’m a patent attorney and partner at a law firm). Can I just say? – I’m so glad to be done with this one!!
Special kudos to my family for their patience with my long hours of training this year. Another special thanks to my coach, Will Kirousis@Tri-Hard for his guidance, encouragement, support, enthusiasm, and responsiveness in answering all of my many many questions!
Last but not least, thank you all for all of your support and encouragement during my journey! I have thoroughly enjoyed “the process” and a lot of that is knowing I’m not alone. We are all doing hard things, putting ourselves out there, setting high goals we don’t know if we can achieve, embracing our failures, and celebrating our successes together. I love the triathlon community!
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