The unexpected Ironman: a race story

December 11th, 2018 by Marie Dershem

Written by Raquel Torres

I write this with the intent to share my story, passion, efforts, obstacles, high and lows. My hope is to inspire others to fight for their dreams; to be better at whatever they love and in all areas of life.

Though I do not have the space here to write my life’s story, you’ll have to trust me that I have a million and one excuses that anyone could use to renounce my dreams. Maybe someday, I will write an autobiography of my crazy life, but that is for another time. So, today, I 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 racing a full Ironman. But, because my life is a bit complex a few moves, job changes, parental responsibilities, sponsor commitments, and other sports opportunities) my goals have mostly been based on opportunities that arise as I go along. 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 Dominican Triathlon Federation to compete in a World Cup in Huatulco, Mexico and a Pan American Cup in Quebec, Canada.

With a little less pressure and some other changes happening in my life, I felt that the timing was right 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 compete as Professional in a full Ironman competition. I felt that I did not have the condition or support to be competitive at that level; at least at this moment in my life. I realized, however, that I needed to concentrate on what I could control, which was to prepare all of the logistics (my parental responsibilities, work commitments, packing all necessities, shipping the bike, etc.) to get ready to be at that starting line in 2 weeks.

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.

Race Week:

When I arrived in Louisville the climate took a big turn and it became windy, rainy and cold. Neither I nor anyone had come prepared for the weather that was going to be on event day. I concentrated in finding 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 miles would 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 afternoon, 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 on light pasta, a cup of tea and off to sleep.

Race Day:

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. There were so many people walking, 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 Cricket 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 decided 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, and you could not see absolutely nothing. This gave me even more reason 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, but they could not take it off … so I lost a minute or so. The volunteers were very friendly as they helped you find your gear and to prepare, as I was arriving I said out laod …”Raquel Take your Time.” I had improvised what I was going to wear 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 challenging of 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!

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 last 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. 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.

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 as I felt better than what I would have imagined. So, 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 of fresh laundry, and kept thinking “I wish I was there drinking coffee and doing Laundry.” It’s funny the things that go through your mind when you are pushing yourself so hard.

There was a hippie on a bike with music, another person playing a harmonica during both running laps, another guy that was yelling very loud, “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.



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