Each year, Griffin's mom, Jenni, does an Ironman Triathlon to raise awareness and money for SMS. This year Jenni did Ironman Canada in Whistler, B.C. Here's the race report:
Ironman Canada - July 30, 2017
It's been three weeks since Ironman Canada. I wasn't sure if I should write a race report this time because it's IM number 3 (aren't you sick of reading these?) and because it was my personal worse Ironman time. I realized though that a PW is where, if you are listening, you will learn the most. So here it is. Leading into this race I thought a lot about my goals. Ten months ago I wanted to shoot for the moon but life had other plans for me this year. My parents who were a huge support system in our lives are no longer a part of our lives. This took a toll on our family and my training took a hit. So the goal for Ironman Canada went from shooting for the moon to having no expectations.
Fast forward to race day. I woke up at 3:30am. Surprisingly, I was able to sleep a few hours. I had a lingering cough from a cold I had a few weeks prior that kept me up the nights before the race so getting some sleep was essential. I made coffee, prepared a bagel with peanut butter and ate as much as I could. I have a hard time eating much of anything at 3:30 am. Jon was sweet enough to come down with me to the shuttle. We walked through the village and down to the shuttles. My nerves were fine until I saw other athletes. It was chilly, perfect race weather. I got to the shuttle, gave Jon a hug and kiss (they didn't let spectators on the shuttle) and hoped on. It was a 15 minute ride to Lake Alta/T1.
Did I mention Whistler is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen? The sun rising over the mountains above the Lake was breathtaking. I took it all in then got to work getting my run and bike bags packed with my nutrition. We check our Transition bags the day before but you can't put food in them because of the bears. I put everything in and double checked to make sure my socks, shoes, hat/helmet were still there. I also brought a dream big hat for a volunteer that helped me during the race. I stuffed that in my Run bag thinking that was when I will need the most help. I borrow a pump to fill up my tires then head out to the lake with my wetsuit. I look for Jon but can't find him. I get in line for a last potty stop before the race and wait. The lines went pretty fast. I’ve learned triathletes are faster potty-ers than marathoners.
I get my wetsuit on and head to the lake to warmup. I'm still in awe of the beauty of this lake. It's giving Mont Tremblant Ironman’s swim a run for the money. I hop in the water, is cool but not too cool. They closed the warm up area and called all the athletes out of the water, so I walked to the start to seed myself. It's a rolling start and they let the athletes self-seed by estimated finish time. My last two IMs I swam 1:05 and 1:04 so I put myself in the second group 1:00-1:05. They played the Canadian anthem and I spot Jon in the crowd near me. It was so good to see him before I start! 5 minutes later the canon fires and we are off. Rolling starts are odd because they make you walk single file and because athletes are walking front of you you have to walk (instead of run) into the water.
I get in and try to position myself near the buoys but it's too crowded. Rolling/self-seeding starts are supposed to eliminate crowds and having to swim over people but it was still hectic. I got hit in the head and pushed around at the start but finally found a spot to swim. My googles fog up immediately so I stop to clear one eye as much as possible so I can see where I'm going. I get through the first loop and start the 2nd and realize I’m too far from the buoys. I adjust and come in closer. The swim is the shortest part of an Ironman but for some reason it always feels really long. I finally get to the last turn to go into the finish of the swim, I look up to make sure I’m going the right direction, scissor kick and my calf cramps. Eek this is not good. The cramp is so bad I’m forced to flex my foot and try to kick. With 400 meters left in the swim I’m trying to swim in with mostly my arms. I finally get to the ramp, stand up and start to run to transition. I look at my watch, 1:02. A two minute swim PR! I stop at the wetsuit strippers and cannot get my arms out of my wetsuit. They help me maneuver it off, I sit on my butt and they stripped that thing off in 1 second. I grab my wetsuit, goggles and cap and I’m off to the changing tent. A nice woman helps me get all my bike gear on and I head out to get my bike. I see Jon and he yells “you are first in your age group out of the swim!” What? No way, he must have that wrong. I’m so caught off guard I cannot get my bike off the rack.
I finally get it together and my bike and I are off to ride 112 miles. It’s a little chilly but with all the climbing ahead of me I was not worried about being cold. The Whistler course is known for the climbing. I knew this going in but I really had no clue what I was in for. There’s some climbing at the start of the ride, then you have a steep descent then it’s a fairly flat out and back. This part felt great until the turn around then BAM a head wind. I power through this section making sure to eat at each aid station and take in fluids knowing there’s still a lot of climbing ahead. At mile 90 we start to climb back to Whistler. The head wind is still there and its getting hot. This section was brutal. My feet hurt so badly at this point I can’t even fathom a marathon. At mile 100 I’m cannot believe we still have 12 miles to go and the climbing continues. I finally get to T2 and I’m exhausted. I hand over my bike to a really nice volunteer (they take them for you in IMs) and I’m walking. Typically, I run in T2 but my feet hurt so badly and I was feeling loopy. I knew at that moment the best thing to do was just take a minute to regroup. I get into the changing tent and switch my bike gear for run gear and take a deep breath. I can do this. 26, 1 mile repeats at whatever pace will get me to that finish line.
I remember I have my dream big hat so I give it to a young girl helping out in the changing tent. I could tell by the look on her face she had no idea what it was but I was too out of it to explain anything. I just hoped she find my note tucked inside the brim. I head out for the run and its hot. I feel bad from the beginning so I walk in hopes it will make me feel better. After a minute, I start to run and tell myself just one foot in front of the other, get to the first aid station and you can eat and drink. I get there and the food helped immediately. I start to run again and look around. The run course is beautiful. It’s two loops which are out and back. I get through the first loop and a few miles into the second loop I’m feeling the best I’ve felt the entire run so I’m able to pick up the pace a little. I see Patty Bryant on the run a few times which was such a nice surprise. With a couple miles left to go, I said to myself don’t rush through the finish, take it all in and enjoy the moment. When I rounded the corner into the finish I saw Jon and started to choke up. I high fived anyone who had their hand out and ran across the finish line to “Jennifer Miller from Santa Barbara, California, YOU are an Ironman!” What a day. During the race, I told myself many times I will not do another Ironman. Now three weeks later I’m not sure where I land on that. Only time will tell. All I know at this moment is how lucky I am to have such a great support system. I could not have made it through the last 8 months without them.
Ironman Lake Placid - July 24, 2016
I set my alarm for 3:30am but woke up on my own at 3:20am. Got up, made coffee and caught up on emails, texts and FB/IG from the night before. There were so many nice messages from friends and family. The flowers my parents sent to wish me luck made me smile and gave me butterflies. They send flowers for every race they can't come to. How sweet is that! I made some toast, drank some ensure, got dressed and used the bathroom. I woke up Jon at 4am and we headed out by 4:30am.
Mirror Lake was beautiful race morning. It was foggy and the mist coming off the Lake was ominous. On the way there I stopped at transition to drop my bottles and nutrition off, check my bike and pump up my tires. It rained the night before so my bike was soaked. The forecast called for a sunny and warm day so I hoped it would dry by the time I got out of the water. Jon and I made our way to the lake and dropped my special needs bags off for the bike and run. I put mini donuts and a spare tube in the bike special needs bag and triscuits and extra socks in the run special needs bag. I didn't end up stopping for either.
We were out to the lake by 5:30am. We found a spot to sit and hang out. The swim was a self seeding rolling start. The pro women started first and then we started at 6:40. I seeded myself in the second group 1-1:10. I did a 1:05 at Mont Tremblant so I used that as a guide. The course was two loops. Going into it I thought the self seeding start would be great. I was wrong. Once I got in the water it was a battle to just find space. I eventually moved to the inside and was able to find a little breathing room. I got to the end of the first loop and looked down at my watch 31:35. I was surprised and excited about that. I got out of the water and heard Mike Reilly say "Jennifer Miller from Santa Barbara, California!" One lap down, one to go. I thought things would thin out by the second lap but I was wrong again. I kept swimming up on people and they would swim into me. It was crazy. When I turned back toward shore it finally thinned out. I swam the second loop comfortably. I didn't want to get tired too early. I got out of the water and looked at my watch quickly. 1:04! A 1 minute PR.
I came up to the wet suit strippers and boy are they good. They stripped that thing off in 2 seconds, handed me my wetsuit and I was off running to transition. It's a fairly long run but it was carpeted so you don't hurt your feet. Into transition you grab your bike bag which was hanging from a rack and run into the women's changing tent. Surprisingly there weren't very many women there yet. A very nice woman emptied out my bag, helped me with my shoes and helmet and I was off to grab my bike. The unique and great thing about the Ironman is they call out your number as you come in to transition so when you come out of the changing tent voila there's your bike! I grab it, run up to the mounting line, clip in and off I went.
I was thirsty from the swim so I drank some water and maneuvered out of town. It's a steep down hill out of town and then it's short flat section followed by a climb. Matt cautioned me about not going out too hard on this section in the first lap. I felt hungry early so I ate some PB crackers (aka cookies). When I got to the climb out of town my bike felt off. At first I thought it was a flat in my back tire. I kept looking down and it was fine. The bike just felt heavy on the back. My tire wasn't flat so I thought maybe it was just me. After the climb there are some fast descents and flat sections. I definitely got some speed on these sections. At some point mid first loop I finished my water, decided to toss my water bottle and grab a water from the aid station. Little did I know at the time this would be a dumb idea. Every time I hit a bump or stood to climb the bottle fell almost completely out of the cage so I had to slow down and grab it. Then to add to the "water bottle fun" a guy behind me tells me my back bottle was upside down. This bottle carried my Tailwind. I look back and the cage broke and is dangling down. Ugh that can't be safe so I pull over to see if I can fix it. I pull my hair band out to try to fix it and it's no use. I toss the bottle and get back on the course. Now I'm thinking I need to make sure I get those lost calories in somehow. I knew I had to keep the one cage I had available to hold water. My plan was to try to drink a few gulps of Gatorade as I rode through the aid stations and toss the bottle at the end of the aid station. The aid stations were 10 miles apart so I was hoping this plan would work. It was getting hot so I knew the electrolytes were necessary, not to mention the calories. Eventually I get to the tough climbing portion of the first loop. It started to get windy. I tried to put that out of my mind and just keep pedaling. This part of the course is especially beautiful. You ride past a river in a valley of trees and rock. It's awesome. I get to the top of one of the climbs and a woman yells "go Jenni!!" It's Vanessa, Matt's friend who I had been texting the two days prior. It was such a nice surprise to see her and hear friendly encouragement. I get through the 3 bears (3 short climbs, Mama Bear, Papa Bear and Baby Bear) and back in to town. I decide not to grab my special needs bag and head on to the second loop.
I had planned to push it harder on the second loop. I wanted to attack the flat sections, take advantage of the descents and push the climbs. Things did not go as planned. My bottle kept coming close to falling out, I had to stop to go to the bathroom (I never perfected the pee on the bike trick) and the wind started to really blow. I tried to stay positive but at about mile 95 I was ready to get off my bike. My neck and back were hurting so much getting into the aero bars was becoming difficult and with the wind blowing being in aero was key. I saw Vanessa again which was a welcome sight. I finally got back into town. I saw my bike time and was disappointed. It was a PR but no where near my goal time (sub 6 hours). I handed my bike off and walked to the changing tent. I was exhausted and thought "How was I going to run a marathon now?" I got myself together, put on my running shoes, Boston Marathon hat and race belt.
Time to run. I started off feeling ok. I was hungry so I knew I needed to get more calories in at the first aid station. The first few miles I ran at a 8:30-8:45 pace and felt pretty good but it started to get hot and the bottom of my feet hurt so badly. I had no clue why. It was only the first few miles. If they hurt now how will they feel at mile 20? I reminded myself what Matt said. Treat the marathon as 26 1 mile repeats. At the first few aid stations I walked through them to make sure I ate and drank enough. I alternated between Gatorade and Coke and ate oranges. I dumped ice down my kit to keep cool. The course has rolling hills. It's out and back and out and back again which can really mess with your mind.
At some point pretty early on in the run I start to feel bad. I decided to walk a little to see if that helped. It did so as soon as I started to feel a little better I ran again. Coming back from the first loop was brutal. It's a steep uphill and they take you by the finish and to a two mile out and back then back out for the second loop. At that point I was so thankful for the people of Lake Placid because they were so encouraging at that point. It was great. My bib had my name on it so they would yell "go Jennifer! Looking good Jennifer." I tried to thank as many people as I could or at least give a thumbs up. I head out for the second loop and tell myself I only have a half marathon to go. I continue to implement the walk run plan but I'm feeling bad. Then this woman passes me and I say good job. I see her shirt and realize it's a woman from Women for Tri who was racing in honor of her fiancé who died in Afghanistan. They were supposed to get married in Lake Placid and she was doing her first Ironman for him. I ran up to her and said I read her story on Woman for Tri and what an inspiration she was. It had me tearing up. How awesome is she? I can do this.
I start to run again. I made sure to continue to take in calories and water. I start to feel rough again. Everything hurts and I'm feeling like the world is coming in around me. I get to a hill and start to walk. I'm feeling awful. It's mile 22. I look up and see Jon. He has a huge smile on his face, hands me a bag of Oreos and says "you are going to break 12 hours, you've got this!" I told him I was feeling rough and he just said "you got this, just keep up your pace." It was exactly what I needed. Once I got to the top of the hill I picked up the pace (sub 8 min pace). I pushed through the out and back and got into the Olympic oval to thousands of people cheering. I turn the corner and see the clock, 11:56. I throw my arms up in celebration and cross that finish line to "Jennifer Miller, you are an Ironman!" It was awesome. I see Jon right away and can't help but start to cry. We hug and I'm thrilled. What a day.
My time was 11:56, a 43 minute PR, 16th in my age group and 83rd woman overall.
Last year Griffin's mom did an Ironman triathlon in Mont Tremblant, Canada to raise money and awareness for SMS. Below is her race report....
Jenni's Ironman Mont Tremblant Race Report
I'm not sure where to start with this. As a child I watched the Ironman on NBC on the beautiful island of Kona in awe of the athletes that were able to complete such a tough athletic endeavor. I watched it year after year and every time I was in tears watching the athletes accomplish their dreams. I knew from those memories that one day I would want to go for that same dream. But the question was when? Fast forward to a little over a year ago, May 2014, when I felt a pea sized lump on my neck behind my ear. I was diagnosed with a tumor and was scheduled for surgery in July. This made me realize how short life is and reminded me of that Ironman dream I still had yet to accomplish. I didn't mention it to anyone at the time. My focus was to get through the surgery and hope the tumor was benign. Meanwhile I signed up for the Santa Barbara Sprint Triathlon. I hadn't done a triathlon since 2008. My bike was dusty and I hadn't swam laps or in the open water in years. I got through the surgery and the tumor was benign. Best news of my life. Then I started to do a lot of research on Ironman races and what the time commitment was. I sat down with Jon and told him I think I need to go for my Ironman dream. He was completely on board and excited to pick a great location for my first Ironman. We landed on Mont Tremblant.
Fast forward to race day. I woke up at 3:30am, ate some toast with peanut butter, drank an Ensure and had a few sips of coffee to wake me up. I sat in bed for a little while, responded to some really nice messages I received from friends and woke Jon up. I gathered up my special needs bags, wetsuit and off we went. We left the room around 4:45am. I was nervous but kept telling myself to treat it like a long training day and stick to the nutrition plan. The goal was to get across the finish line before midnight and hopefully before dark. My secret goal was to finish in under 13 hours.
When we got outside the village was beautiful. It was dark still but the strobe lights were going and the athletes were all heading down to transition. The butterflies in my stomach were intense. I brought a second Ensure and water and continued to sip both. I checked on my bike. (We checked them the day before) Tires were good. I put in my bottles of Tail Wind and water. I dropped my special needs bags and we headed out to the lake. It was foggy and beautiful. There's nothing like the pre-dawn light over a beautiful lake. The pros started at 6:39 and there were seven waves every 3 minutes. Mine was the second to last wave, women 19-39, white caps. At 6:57 we were off! I started in the front to try to avoid too much congestion but quickly caught up to the waves in front of us. All the men started before our wave so there was a lot of congestion. I was punched in the head at one point and kicked but just kept swimming. I treated it like an easy day at the pool and kept sighting to the next buoy. There were 13 out, three across and 13 back. I counted each buoy as I went to make it seem not as long. I looked at my watch at one point and realized I was swimming pretty strong. I got out in 1:05. My fastest open water swim ever. I saw Jon as I was coming out of the water and was so excited to be done with the first event. The wet suit strippers were next and boy were they quick! The run to transition was long but in the excitement it went by quickly. I got into the tent found my bike bag and changed completely into full bike shorts (Rapha shorts that Drea recommended and I love) and a bike jersey. I knew from Raleigh 70.3 that a Tri kit would not work for me. Comfort was key. Once I was dressed I got sunscreen put on me, grabbed my bike and was off. 112 miles in two loops ahead of me. It was foggy and wet but not cold. Matt suggested I ease into the bike so I did. I drank some water and started to pedal. There were some rolling hills to start and as one woman and I played cat and mouse she said "you are good on the climbs." It was so nice to hear especially as I'm getting passed left and right (really just left.)
The nutrition plan was to eat something every 20 minutes. A quarter of a peanut butter and honey sandwich or a couple dates. Drink water and repeat. At mile 18 of the bike I pulled out a sandwhich started to chew it and gagged. I basically threw up in my mouth. Oh sh*&!! This is not good. I couldn't stomach the sandwhich. This was something I had practiced repeatedly during training. I needed a new plan and I needed one fast. I took a deep breath and told myself to wait until the next aid station to see what I could stomach there and in the meantime drink Tail Wind. When I reached the next aid station I grabbed a half a banana and figured that and the Tail Wind should work until the next aid station came. They were 11 miles apart so I hoped that would be enough until I got my special needs bag at mile 56.
The first part of the bike goes out on a highway for 20 miles then you turn around and come back into town. I stopped to used the porta potty around mile 35. Coming back into town was a welcome experience because the crowds were awesome. Yelling "Allez," "C'est Bonne" and other things I had no clue what they were. Little did I know coming back into town meant we were about to really start climbing. At the start of the bike I was passed by what felt like every dude and their high end TT bikes and wheels. Whoosh whoosh whoosh as they rode by. It was demoralizing but I reminded myself of the goal (to finish) and needed to stick to the plan. When we got to the climbing section I didn't push too hard but was starting to actually pass people myself. Thank you Matt. I finally arrive at the special needs bag area and the volunteers called out my number in French and voila there was my bag. I dumped all the PB sandwiches, grabbed my trail mix and the special treat Matt suggested I pack. I had Smarties cadies which I ate and loved on our Jalama ride. They ended up being a great treat. I filled my bottle with Tail Wind and was off. It was getting really hot at this point. It felt like we were riding in a furnace. Back out we went the 20 miles on the highway. I kept taking inventory of my nutrition. I tried the trail mix and couldn't get it down so I stuck with the bananas and Tail Wind. Eventually I ran out of Tail Wind and filled my bottle with Gatorade. It was so hot at this point so hydration was key. I alternated between water and Gatorade. I broke up the ride into 10 mile increments telling myself "ok Jenni you made it to mile 60 now you get to 70." Breaking it up this way made it seem less daunting. As I head back into town I was excited to be almost off the bike but knew I had the most difficult climbing ahead. Once I got to that section people were dropping their chains and some were walking their bikes up the hills. There was also a serious crash at one of the descents. I reminded myself to ride smart. The goal is to finish. Riding into transition was awesome. The crowd support and volunteers were so great and I was ready to drop my bike off. My bike ended up being a little over 6:30 hours. I was happy with that.
When I jumped off my bike my legs were tired but I felt ok. I fully changed into my Lulu run shorts and Santa Barbara Running Tank. Boy did it feel good to change. I lathered the sunscreen on and started to run. I felt a little disoriented running out of the changing tent but felt good. The start of the run is uphill and it was so hot. I dumped water on my head as soon as I could. The first mile felt pretty good but then the nauseousness hit. I had to be careful I wasn't dehydrated. I decided to walk and take inventory of what I needed to do to get through the next 25 miles. My nutrition plan on the run was what it has been for my last 5-6 marathons. Eat Stinger Chews every 15 minutes. I tried that the first 15 minutes and could not get them down. What was going on?! Nutrition plans for both the bike and run were shot. Time for plan B. Matt suggested I try Coke from the get go. At the second aid station I found pretzels and Coke. It tasted so good and was exactly what I needed. It saved me. The nectar of the gods. Another savior was the ice cold sponges the volunteers gave us and the water and ice I dumped on myself. Unfortunately I dumped a little too much and my feet were soaked early on. This meant blisters early on. Not smart. The run course was beautiful. It takes you on a path along a river with beautiful trees. It's a double loop out and back course so you saw athletes constantly. Many were all smiles and many were suffering but still moving forward. I alternated between the two in that first lap. I stopped to use the bathroom a few times which was encouraging that I was drinking enough water. Coming back into town on the first lap was so tough because they take you right by the finish. You can hear Mike Riley announcing the finishers. I told myself, "one more lap Jenni, you got this. Do this for Griffin, Chloe and Gwendolyn." On the way out I felt tired but saw Jon as I was going up the first steep hill. He said I was 4th in my age group out of the swim and may finish in under 13 hours. I was shocked. It gave me a little boast and I started to run a little faster. I was feeling pretty good for a mile or so and then started to feel light headed. Time to walk again. I reminded myself my goal was to finish so it was ok to take it easy until I felt better. I ran when I could and walked when I had to, continued to drink coke and ate pretzels when they had them. The turn around on the run was such a great feeling. A little over 6 miles to the finish! I picked up the pace and ran most of those 6 miles. My watch died but it was nice to just run by feel the last 3 miles. I tried to take it all in. So many people cheering "go Jennifer" "looking good Jennifer" in their french accents. It was awesome. Then the run into the village was epic. Unlike anything I've ever experienced. I was tearing up. This was it. I came across the finish and Mike Riley said the words I was hoping he would "Jennifer Miller, you are an Ironman!" Best feeling ever. I finished in 12:39. Such a crazy, amazing and great day I will never forget.