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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

IM Lake Placid-the (not very short) story!


  Well...where to start? (Warning: this about to get really long, and probably go into further detail than most care about.  Then again, the Ironman is long.)  I've spent the past eight months of real Ironman training thinking about, dreaming about, and visualizing Sunday.  When bike intervals on the trainer got tough, I'd close my eyes, and take myself to the Olympic oval with Mike Reilly calling out my name, a place I'd only to this point seen on Ironman live coverage.  But, superstitious as I am, I'd never allow myself to imagine finishing as high as I did, and as race day drew closer and closer, I kept reminding myself of all the work it'd take beforehand to get there-obviously, the finish would only be one snippet of a long day of mental and physical fortitude.

  Overall, the days leading into the race went smoothly.  Dave and I arrived into Saranac Lake (I was a bit relieved to be somewhat removed from the true commotion for one more night) on Thursday evening, and then headed to Placid Friday morning.  I had the opportunity to do an interview regarding what Ironman has done for me, and how it's changed me, we went for a brief swim, and then spent the rest of the day checking in and prepping the bikes.  I also met up with coaches Mary and Jesse to discuss my pacing plan, which I was comfortable with and clear on.  I had goals in mind heading in, but I had kept a bit tight-lipped about them when asked prior to the race, just saying that I'd control what I could (nutrition, pacing, mental state, etc), and would let the times fall where they may, especially given that this was my first attempt at the distance.  With that said, I secretly had been hoping to swim under 1:10, bike under 5:40, and run around 3:15, for a total time in the 10:10-10:15 range once transitions were thrown in.  Luckily enough for me, the pacing plan Mary and Jesse had laid out for me echoed where I thought my abilities were to the dot, and gave me some comfort beforehand.  I also have to admit, I did want my first podium spot...badly.  I had looked at the listed women's field, and felt that I could make it up there, if all went well.  But, I'm not a fan of setting goals that involve aspects beyond my control, so I focused on what I could do, and hoped that it would put me in the mix.

Being showed how to pose on my bike at the Friday morning interview.  I'm so NOT a natural model.
Who doesn't love a decked out port-a-potty during their travels?
Friday at the expo/finish line area
#34 for a day!
  Saturday morning featured out QT2 team breakfast-always a good time!  After stuffing face, Dave and I packed our gear bags, and headed to transition to deposit our Igear.  I have to say, I did enjoy having it all out of my hands before race morning.  After that, the I began to grow antsy, as we spent the rest of our afternoon lounging around by the lake at various times with friends Michelle and Welby, who'd come up in support of us and some of their other friends.  The evening was capped off by a brief visit from my parents, and then and early bedtime.  Surprisingly, I was able to sleep quite well, despite the increasing jitters.






Transition bags, set up and waiting
My Kestrel, decked out and ready for battle
  Sunday morning, I woke up ready to go, with a healthy but not overwhelming level of nerves.  We made it to transition with plenty of time to fill bottles and pump tires (even though filling the Zipp extensions on my new latex tubes from ridecarbon.com took me an embarrassingly long time).  All was going smoothly, until I realized that my timing chip was back at our rental house.  Whoops!  Luckily, I figured this out a good 50 minutes before the start, which gave me a plenty of time to walk back to our residence at the Mill Hill House (great place-and only a five minute walk, at pre-Ironman walking speeds) and grab it.  And, being separated from the masses at that time probably helped the nerves more than I realized.  Plus, I didn't have to deal with port-a-potty lines-always a plus!

Swim

  My instructions for the swim had been simple: swim hard the whole time, stay focused, and try to keep contact.  If I lost contact, then get on the buoy line, and push.  Ten minutes before the start, we gathered ourselves in the water, and I was able to warm up a bit.  Looking at the mass of wetsuit-clad bodies around me, I had to say I was quite relieved to not have to deal with the mass start.  I was getting crowded just trying to position myself toward the back left of the pro women, as the age group men were already vying for position at the front.  Of course, as soon as the cannon went off, this became a total non-issue.  I lost contact with everyone within the first couple hundred yards.  So, I had no choice but to jump on the buoy line and plug away.  Of course, "jumping on the buoy line" also ended up meaning "swim into/under all of the large marker buoys", which became a bit frustrating after a while (I kept thinking I was clear...), but I felt like I was swimming hard.  That was until I exited the water, and saw 35:10 on my watch.  Really?  By that point, a couple of age groupers had already caught up to me, something I was mentally prepared for on the second lap, but the first?  I need to learn how to swim.  Given I felt like I'd been pushing the first lap, I started the second lap a bit frustrated, convinced I was going to fall short of the 1:10 swim goal.  I was told that an Ironman involves a great deal of highs and lows, and that it's possible to recover from the lows and continue on.  While, after one loop of the swim, I was already in a low.  Was I that tired already?  Did this bode poorly for the rest of the day?  By that point, large, physical packs of fast age group swimmers began to literally engulf me, and I had a few moments of struggling for air while trying to continue moving forward during that trip back out to the end of the lake.  Soon enough, though, I looked up, and found myself at the far turn buoy.  It had come up more quickly than I had expected.  By this point, I'd have a few moments of clear swimming, followed by more packs.  As the second lap stretched on, though, the packs weren't moving quite as quickly when they passed me, and I began trying to make at least some sort of attempt to use their current to pull me along.  With about 400m to go, I was caught by a pack that I really made a concerted effort to stick with, and I was able to, to some degree.  Before I knew it, I was making my way out of the water.  I checked the Garmin, and saw 1:09 (the seconds were 58, but my Garmin doesn't show that above the hour...thanks, Garmin!).  Despite the fact that I was dead last amongst the professional women, I had managed to use getting passed to my advantage, negative split the swim, and hit my time goal.  After my discouragement at the start of the second lap, this ended up being the little mental boost I needed as I headed towards transition.  I'm well aware of the fact it's easy to look at my splits and criticize my swim, but trust me...we're working on it.  It certainly frustrates me that I can't stick with anyone in the water, but I'm not a natural-born swimmer, and results aren't going to come overnight.  So, while on paper my swim looked bad, for me, it was a decent enough first IM attempt.

Bike

  After several of the day's multitude of awesome volunteers basically outfitted me in my biking gear, I was off on the bike.  The early portion of the ride passed in a blur.  I had been instructed to be careful not to push too hard on the first climb out of town; this ended up being easier than I expected, as my heart rate was sky high coming out of the water, and I was having a bit of trouble finding my cycling legs initially.  I felt a bit worried that the rest of the bike would feel miserable, but managed to convince myself to take it easy, get in my initial nutrition, start hydrating, make it down the Keene descent, and then regroup at the bottom.  Once I had gotten into Keene without incident (there was some braking, but I really tried to keep it to a minimum...still, I maxed it out at 38mph.  Still can't convince myself to hit that 40 mark!), I tried to settle in.  From there, the race became a bit tactical, as I found myself surrounded by hoards of age group men that had caught up to me.  With race officials watching closely, I began having a little bit of difficulty with striking a balance between keeping my wattage steady, completing passes in time, and maintaining a safe distance behind riders in front of me.  Although I did become a bit frustrated here and there, I tried to use the times I was forced to let up a bit productively, eating or refilling my aero bottle, which I can now happily say is something I can do fairly comfortably!  At one point, a large, fairly blatantly drafting peloton of riders passed me.  I dropped off the back as soon as they did, which ended up being a smart decision, as the race official motorcycle then pulled around me, flashed a red card at the end rider of the pack, and then warned the rest of them to break it up.  I was pretty grateful towards that official at that point.  Another rider who I'd been going back and forth with a bit (who was doing his best to ride honest in the circumstances) echoed my statements the next time we passed.  As I approached the first out and back, I was able to catch a glimpse of some of the other pro women, and felt a little bit energized, seeing that I wasn't as far off the end as I'd feared I was.
These guys were all over the course.  I loved it.
  Soon enough, it became time for the dreaded bottle handoff- the day was heating up, I was already way ahead of my planned fluid intake, and I didn't have to pee in the least.  So, the time to suck it up had come-I reached the next aide station, slowed up, let go, and missed the first bottle.  A guy behind me yelled at me to watch out (sorry, dude.  I go slow through aide stations).  No biggie; the final volunteer in line saw the flub, and we connected.  From that point on, I was successful with all the handoffs-I wasn't going to win any speed awards through them, but given that I ended up drinking practically twice as much as planned and never had to pee the entire day (including the eight hours I was up after the race), I would have been entirely screwed otherwise.  The rest of the first loop then went by pretty uneventfully.  As soon as we started to climb, the crowds I had been dealing with on the flat out and back began to thin.  The first trip up from Wilmington to Placid went smoothly-my power numbers were under control, I was nailing my nutrition without a problem, I was beginning to feel a bit stronger (might have been the caffeinated gels!) and I think I might have passed a couple other women to move myself out of last place amongst the pros.  One of the highlights of the day came during the first trip up through town.  The crowds were absolutely electric; I couldn't help but smile as soon as I began to spot family, friends, teammates, and coaches.  Jesse yelled to me that I was 15 minutes back; I knew with my best leg still to come, I stood a decent chance of placing well if I could avoid losing ground on the second lap of the ride.  My garmin read 2:43 as I turned back onto 73 and exited town, putting me well ahead of my goal pace.

Looking happy heading through town!
One of the few bike pictures of me where I actually sort of look aero-thanks, Michelle!
  My second loop gave me a good chance to focus on executing my race and fueling plans.  After another little break down Keene (I did breathe a little sigh of relief at the bottom!), some fatigue did start to set in on the out and back, as the second loop was the polar opposite of the crowds of the first- I had no one near me.  I managed to pass another couple of pro women somewhere in there, although my memory is admittedly foggy.  Jesse and Mary had instructed me to try to push the final quarter of the ride; I was trying to make it there feeling halfway decent.  My stomach was holding out well enough, although my quads would occasionally throw me a sinister little crampy zing.  With that, what happened at mile 92 probably turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  I shifted into my big ring-which caused my bar end shifter to totally detach from the end of my aerobars.  With the vast majority of the last 20 miles being uphill...this was not a positive.  This also happened to be the moment that Dave pulled up alongside me (on his way to an AG best bike split).  Our exchange went something like this:
Dave: Excuse me miss, I think your helmet's crooked (hilarious Dave, hilarious).
Jennie: My bike just broke.  I'm stuck in big ring.
Dave: What??
Jennie: (wiggles broken bar end shifter around to demonstrate)
Dave: Are you ok? Do you need bike support? I'm sure they're close.
Jennie (in her normal state of being half out of it and needlessly irritated at Dave at this point on long rides, thinking she can make it up 20 miles of climbing without small chain ring): Go away.  You're going to get us penalties.  I'll be fine.
Dave: I'd be the one that'd get the penalty.
Jennie: GO AWAY.
(Dave drops back.  In a last ditch attempt, Jennie pushes the broken shifter down.  By some miracle, the derailleur responds, and shifts into small chain ring.  The bike is then stuck in small ring.  Worse things have happened in Ironmans.  Jennie relaxes.)
Dave: It looks like you're in little ring now.
Jennie: I'm now stuck there.  I'm fine.  WOULD YOU PASS ME ALREADY?
  After that, the rest of the ride was uneventful.  Losing my big ring would prove not to be a huge issue at all, as I only found myself spinning out briefly a couple of times.  To some degree, I was able to forget about the threats from my quads and calves.  I soaked up my second trip through town.  Spectators were telling me I was anywhere between fifth and seventh place as I neared transition.  When I reached T2, I could barely believe that the ride was over already-it had absolutely flown by, especially in comparison to some of our other rides of the distance.

Sweet backdrop!
My poor broken bike.  I suppose there is some irony to this, given I've been yelled at multiple times to ride more in little ring :)
Run

After the wonderful volunteers again helped to outfit my somewhat dazed self for the run, shoving my nutrition in my back pockets for me, I was off.  The first thing I noticed upon exiting T2 was that my hands were cramping, and my quads and calves were feeling slightly funky.  My pacing plan for the run had been to start off with a HR about 8bpm higher than what I ended up averaging on the bike.  Well, despite being right near or even slightly below my planned wattage, my bike HR was oddly through the roof in comparison to my training rides.  Maybe it was the heat; maybe the adrenaline; maybe, despite countless bottles of Perform, some dehydration.  I don't know.  Whatever it was, I decided starting the run out at a HR of 170 wouldn't be a smart move, and stuck to the original plan based upon what I'm normally around on the bike.  The first thing I noticed as I started (after screwing around with my Garmin, it was showing some weird screen) was that my left hand was doing some fun little cramp thing.  Mary and Jesse asked how I was feeling at that moment; when I responded that I was cramping a little, they yelled out "SODIUM", almost in unison.  I nibbled some pretzels, took in a gel, and began to settle in.

  Within a couple of miles, I passed another woman, and found myself running alongside the volunteer riding the fourth place female bike.  We chatted a bit.  I'm your cyclist now, she informed me.  For now, I replied.  It's my first Ironman.  This run is still early.  I just hope I can hold this.  You're doing great, she replied.  At that point, I recognized that I was entering some great unknown.  I'd ridden faster than I'd expected.  I had no idea what was to come.  I kept telling myself, you've been wanting to run a marathon since you recovered from your last one.  You've been waiting for this for how long?  This is your podium spot.  Breathe.  Drink.  A couple of mantras kept repeating through my head, throughout the run.  Keep calm and carry on.  You're stronger than you think.  I started to feel pretty good as I turned onto River Road.  The aide stations kept calling out splits to me, telling me how far in front of me the other women were.  Seeing QT2 teammates Jessie and Jacqui leading the race as I made my way to the first turnaround provided another little energy boost.

  I moved into third around mile 10, I believe, passing a very sweet and supportive Suzanne Serpico.  By that point, I was being informed that I was also closing on Jacqui, as we began to head up the spectator-lined streets towards town.  Two minutes back.  One and a half  One.  I did my best to keep my wits about me, as I ventured further and further into uncharted territory.  I was gradually feeling worse and worse.  I didn't know if this was normal; I didn't know if I was too far over the edge to hang on; I still had a lot of running to do.  As we got closer and closer to town, the crowds became thicker.  My family, friends, and QT2 teammates were cheering; the Score-this! tent was chanting my name; numerous spectators were telling me that I looked good, I looked strong (looks can be deceiving, although I was doing my best to smile here and there still). Mary said to me, quite simply-this is your day.  I went with that.  By the turnaround in town, I had moved into second behind Jessie.  The day continued to become more and more surreal.  Steady, I reminded myself.  You still have another loop of that run to go.  And you just keep venturing further and further into the unknown.  You've heard that anything can happen that last 10k.

Entering town the first time, still smiling at this point!
  As the run continued to progress, the quad and calf cramping continued to threaten me.  At that point, my experiences in my first marathon and the NYC marathon became my greatest source of comfort, as I knew I could get through 8-10 miles on muscles that were complaining with every last fiber.  I also knew that no matter what, I had to just keep on running.  I don't remember much of the next out and back.  I focused on making it from aide station to aide station, grabbing every liquid I could (including Coke, which, at that time, could not have tasted better).  At some point, I saw Dave on his way out, who was going nuts for me.  I forced in one final gel at mile 19, accepted at that point that I'd be running on fluids only the rest of the way, and felt fortunate that my stomach had allowed me to get in fuel for as long as I had.  My splits began to slow, but I stopped caring after a point.  

  The last 10k was, as expected, an exercise in fortitude.  By that point, my quads were done, my calves would throw out a small cramp every now and then, very much on the edge of seizing up completely, my left hand kept contorting into weird shapes beyond conscious control, and the toes on my left foot were curled up in my shoe.  Every few steps, I felt like I was on the verge of something giving out entirely.  My second place cyclist became my saving grace as I worked through those final miles-I can't say enough about how awesome he was.  He'd periodically turn around and cheer for me, telling me I still looked strong (I'm sure I didn't!), he'd clear the way through some of the crowds of runners for me, and as I very slowly and painstakingly made my way up that final steep climb towards town at mile 24, refusing to walk, no matter how slow my run pace was, he threw his arms up in the air to draw further cheers for me.  Even though I was in an absolute world of pain, certain moments stood out to me in those final miles- from Pat Wheeler's little kick in the butt "Don't give me that look!  Run!" as I must have shot him some sort of awful glance with a couple of miles to go (it worked!), to Tim Snow's comforting, "She can't be caught, you can't be caught, just get there!" less than a mile later, to my family and numerous Rochester contacts all over the course, to the QT2 athletes that were all over the course, to the again chanting Score-this! tent, to my high school friends/teammates (and the entire Coon family, who also had their son Craig to cheer on as he qualified for Kona!) cheering wildly, taking me back a few years.  Even then, I wasn't entirely sure of my lead, especially knowing what a strong, experienced, and talented competitor I had behind me in Jacqui, who's so accomplished in this sport.  It took until the very last couple of minutes of the race for me to realize that I was going to make it into the finish, holding second place.
My bike leader in action, riling up the crowd for me.  LOVED this kid!

Willing myself uphill...looking pretty.  The sponge is a nice touch.

Deep in the pain locker, but almost there!
  When running through town the final time, I was thinking of how I wished I was in less pain, so I could have enjoyed the experience a bit more.  Once I hit the oval, the enjoyment came.  Everything ounce of effort that had gone into the preparation for that race had come to fruition.  I threw my arms up, actually smiled for once at the end of the race, crossed the line, covered my face with my hands in some sort of weird state of shock and joy, and more or less fell into an equally emotional Mary.  After some time with my thrilled mom (and later dad, as well), friend Michelle, and Jesse, I sat down next to Jessie, who I could not be more happy for after her victory, for some interviews (I actually got interviewed??  What??), and then waited in a chair for Dave to cross the line shortly thereafter in 10:16, good for a podium spot in his first Ironman race-pretty darn good for someone who started this whole competing thing a couple of years ago.  

Grimace finally became a smile again!
Two seconds after crossing the line...
My mom and I!

My finish line greeting from Dave

My PXC support crew of Michelle and Bridget and me!  Love this picture!
Jessie and I congratulating each other

Interviews!

The Aftermath

  Obviously, everything hurt, and I couldn't walk well (who are we kidding...two days later, I still can't walk well.  My left Achilles is currently some nice form of red and swollen).  So, I'll focus on the more positive stuff.  After the longest half mile walk back to the house, the most horribly painful shower of my life (I won't go into the details), and pizza that was awesome for a piece and a half before my stomach turned on me, we headed back up to the oval to watch the last 1.5 hours of the race.  I had the opportunity to hand out finisher's medals for a bit, and then Jessie, fellow female pro and podium finisher Leslie LaMacchia, men's champion Andy Potts (who was getting asked for autographs and pictures left and right, while Jessie, Leslie and I joked about people wondering who the girls were), and I were allowed out onto the final straightaway with Mike Reilly to bring in the final finishers during the last hour (men's runner up Peter Jacobs was also out there for a bit).  Hands down, I think this was my favorite experience from the entire weekend.  The lights, music, crowd energy, unfiltered emotion of the finishers, and Mike Reilly's enthusiasm made the atmosphere amazing.  While handing out medals, I had several finishers ask if they could give one to their spouse/brother/sister/father; I loved these interactions, as well (sorry, Dave, that I didn't give you your medal.  I was rather enjoying my chair).  And, at the end of the day, first or last, every finisher was an Ironman, after all.
Handing out medals
On the final stretch with Mike Reilly-great times!

Cheering for some happy Ironman finishers
  The next day, we headed up (verrryyy slowly) for rolldown and awards.  Poor Dave, once again he had no luck with the rolldown, but we at least both got to get up on the stage, along with many other QT2 athletes, who, as usual rocked the podium.  Standing up on that podium sandwiched between QT2 women was awesome-Jessie and Jacqui, your presence out there helped get me through the day, and you both deserve so much credit.  I was a bit surprised throughout the day at how many people around town recognized and congratulated me later on (maybe just because I'd made no effort to scrub my race number off my arms, as I wasn't about to spend any more time in the shower than absolutely necessary).  I appreciated all of the congrats, kind words, and compliments-especially given that tomorrow I'll be limping around work, back to life as normal.  Even though I have no basis of comparison for an Ironman, I can't imagine a better venue than Lake Placid.  For a weekend, the entire town seemed to come together in support of us.  One store owner made a point to thank Dave and I as athletes, saying how seeing these ordinary people accomplish something not so ordinary helps to inspire some of the kids in the surrounding, somewhat impoverished areas.  This was something I never would have thought of, and it was just nice to hear.  Overall, I can't say enough positive things about the entire experience (once again, volunteers and spectators, you ROCKED).
Dave on the M25-29 podium

My trophy-it has a Moose on it.  I like Mooses.
  So what's next (just in case anyone actually read this far)?  Well, for now, some recovery!  But then, it'll be time to get back on the training bus.  As much as I was looking forward to some time to relax from training after this race, I'm now already feeling a bit eager to get back into the swing of things.  I've currently got a couple of fall 70.3s planned, followed by Ironman Florida, which I'm already excited about.  As well as Sunday's race went, as happy as I am to have left it all on the course and met/exceeded my goals for that day, I know there are still many, many aspects I can learn from and improve upon.  In retrospect, I know how close to the edge I was during that run, and I'm still feeling pretty lucky, in some ways.  I want to keep the race in perspective.  Even though it was a bit of a personal breakthrough, I want to use it as a starting point, not an ending point.  Maybe I'm more on the radar now, maybe I'm not.  I guess I do believe in myself a little more now, especially on the bike, but overall, I don't plan on changing my attitudes or approach towards training, racing, and life.  I still have tons of work to do (swimming, anyone?) if I want to succeed in this sport long term.  For now, I just want to give one more giant thank you to everyone who supported me and offered me kind words and congrats throughout this entire weekend- my family, my friends, my fellow competitors, every acquaintance who sent me any sort of message, my teammates, my coaches, Lake Placid as a whole, QT2 systems (I can't say enough about what they've done for me as an athlete and a person, and I'm looking forward to what's to come), ridecarbon.com, Woolsports, and anyone else who I might have missed-I couldn't do it without you!  And Mary-I could go on here, but then again, I don't know what else needs to be said but...thank you :).    


Mirror Lake in a rainstorm the next day...how can you not love this place??



  

21 comments:

  1. Jennie! I am so amazed at what an athlete you are! Congrats!

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    1. Sorry to jump in on this comment, I can't see where to post a new comment. Anyway I just wanted to say congrats Jennie!! I logged in Sunday to watch the IMLP online and recognized your name on the pro list right away from local Rochester races. I followed your race all day and even found this blog and read it in between the live feeds. I just finished my first 70.3 IMSyracuse and while I am nowhere close to the level you are, I felt that same exhiliration you showed at the finish line. It is within all of us regardless of our finish time! It was great to follow you and I was anxiously awaiting your race recap. Thanks for sharing your journey.

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  2. Well, I read the whole thing, your amazing.

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  3. Just awesome. Kleenex please.

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  4. Very well written! I feel inspired to run a 5k! Congratulations again!
    Dan Canavan

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  5. great race report Jennie! you did awesome.. but where is the photo of YOU on the podium!?

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  6. Congratulations, Jennie!! What an awesome day :)

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  7. Congratulations! We were cheering you on loud and proud in the ROC! I also think it is super awesome that the pro athletes were at the finish line for the finishers toward the end of the race. First class all the way.

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  8. Awesome race report!!! So happy for you and I felt like I deliver my IMLP day for a minute....minus a fee hours of course:-)

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  9. Congrats! Nice report, a little long though :-)

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  10. Thank you everyone! Won't be forgetting that day anytime soon :). Alexa-I actually already gave Dave a hard time about not taking any podium pictures, he said he didn't because my parents were taking them. I replied that didn't help with blog purposes, haha!

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  11. I just had tears in my eyes Jennie! What a wonderful recount of your day. I'm so so excited for you. You have so much to feel good about with your day! Your mental fortitude was so so impressive. Very happy that things went so well and that you HUNG in there like a champ never giving up on yourself or your goals!! Way to go!

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  12. Congrats on a Awesome race. I loved your amazed look at your accomplishment at the finish line!! You should be proud!! PS..I cant believe you wear make-up and earrings!! ha ha!

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  13. You have so much to feel good about with your day! Your mental fortitude was so so impressive. Very happy that things


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  14. I kept reminding myself of all the work it'd take beforehand to get there-obviously, the finish would only be one snippet of a long day of mental and physical fortitude.

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  15. I loved your amazed look at your accomplishment at the finish line!! You should be proud!! PS..I cant believe you wear make-up and earrings!! ha ha!

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  16. I read the whole thing, your amazing.

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  17. I kept reminding myself of all the work it'd take beforehand to get there-obviously.

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  18. I lost contact, then get on the buoy line, and push.

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  19. it is super awesome that the pro athletes were at the finish.

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  20. 'm not a fan of setting goals that involve aspects beyond my control, so I focused on what I could do, and hoped that it would put me in the mix.

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