Monday, March 28, 2011

The Puerto Rico Experience...Island life...Sigh

I will begin by saying that I had no expectations, none, I was going to be completely open minded.  This trip was the first time out of the country for me but certainly not the last.  To begin the adventure, the flight out was awesome.  Landing there, seeing everything being this brilliant shade of green, the sky and the ocean, well they were the same hue of turquoise blue, an extension one of the other.

Life was simpler there for me any way. I, the one whose life is scheduled literally every fifteen minutes, was able to breathe.  I was able to let my hair down, no one knew me.  

No one knew my name, no one knew my profession, no one cared what I was eating. No one knew me.  When people spoke, they did because  they wanted to, not because it was expected.  There were no expectations placed on me, I, for the first time in my life, did not have to be "ON!"  Oddly enough, having no pressure on me, I was bursting with energy, laughter and no stress.  I joked with Nik and said that if everyone could experience this feeling of no cares that Botox would be no longer needed, as it is used to make you appear  relaxed.  Why should any one settle and be ok with appearing relaxed, experience it. I am saddened to think that I as well have willing to settle for appearing relaxed.

I didn't wear makeup on the trip, no one noticed, no one cared.  My hair was usually in a ponytail, flip flops and bathing suit were the uniform for the trip after the race.  It was so nice to be unplugged. 

The food, let me just say the fruit was the best I have ever eaten.  The fish was plentiful and delicious of course.  Mostly we ate where the locals were, the stalls.  Rotisserie chicken, rice and pigeon peas (which Irma's is still better) any kind of plantain you could want and yucca.  Empanadas and Bakalouitos and Pina Coladas on the beach were the best even though I had decided that my cup had a hole in it.  The pina coladas would be gone before I got back to the towel!  Coconut ice cream, mango and passion fruit, sold by a little man pushing his cart on the beach, was amazing. 

Fajardo was my favorite.  The sounds of the birds, the fruit trees, coffee trees, the natural beauty there in the mountains cannot adequately be described with words. 

Imagine waking up to these glorious sights and sounds every morning.  Imagine wanting to wake up so you could see the sun come up over the mountains, wanting to just sit still and be quiet to breathe it all in.  Imagine not turning on the television because you're so wrapped up in what beauty surrounds you.  Imagine having time, time to do much or nothing depending on the mood.  Imagine watching the moon come up, the stars making a grand appearance just for you.  Imagine crystal clear ocean water, clean natural beaches.  Imagine.

Old San Juan was nice but too commercialized.  It reminded me of Charleston, I can go there anytime.  Don't get me wrong it was great but a little busy for my liking, cruise ships port there so a lot of tourist activity. 

On the beach, there were no boundaries of time, other than appplying sunscreen to Nik, nothing was pressing, no agenda.  The hammocks lined the palm trees, Salsa music was in the background, people speaking Spanish, I couldn't understand them and I didn't care.  It felt so right to be there, simpler, easier.  I could just let down my guard and breathe. 

Fighters were running to cut weight while we were eating at an open air restaurant, La Parrilla.  We went there two days in a row, the food was fabulous.  Irma called for the owner who was concerned when he approached our table, but was well pleased upon coming over.  She had told him that we came back because we had enjoyed our food so much the night before.  He was thrilled and so was the wait staff.

It ended too abruptly though, a deep sadness I felt when the time on the island was coming to an end.  A simpler time, a part of me I left there as I boarded that plane.  I did not want to leave.  I missed my children and inside I just wanted to pack them up and move them to where I was.  I'm am uncertain if I just wanted them to experience what I felt, the state of mind I was in or the whole trip.

Island life was so easy, addictive even, it was really nice being unknown.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Ironman 70.3

March 19, 2011

The realization that it would soon be over as I passed the Mile Marker for 10 miles, 67.2 miles were completed, sadness crept in, knowing that the race was going to end. I was not ready for it to be finished or to see the Finish Line. I wanted this instant to last forever.

The morning started early, the alarm set for 3 am as the transition area opened at 4:30 am and closed at 6 am. I had forgotten on thing in packing when we left South Carolina, the alarm clock, so a trip to CVS was a must once we were settled into our room there. Who knew that an alarm clock would be a commodity but I guess a lot athletes had also forgotten their clocks. I was also the lucky one who would have my monthly friend visit! Gees, just one more thing. With all that squared away and after having packed, repacked and repacked again my transition bag, we decided we might better give the clock a whirl to make sure it would work.

It did but….come race morning the alarm went off and it read 7:04 am. I looked at Nik and said, “ummm why does the alarm clock read 7:04?” He quickly turned on his cell phone to check the time and it was 3:04, thank goodness.

Due to lack of parking in Old San Juan, we had to park the rental car in a parking garage. Knowing that our having to leave so early in the morning Ni went to check to confirm that we would have access to the car, well that was supposed to be the plan but not everything works out that way. Come race morning, Nik goes to get the car which is not accessible, taxi ride to the transition area. All right so with everything getting thrown into the mix this morning, I am trying to remain calm, which I did. I mean come on what else could go wrong really? (insert chuckle here)

Unbeknownst to me, an impromptu storm had brewed up the night before so, any guesses on what happened to the nice serene swim that I was supposed to be having……well let’s just say the water I had looked at the day before appeared angered, there was no seeing any bottom, choppy cross currents and during the last 500 yards, though the water was only about 3 feet deep, the sand was coral and sea grass, stand on that, get cut feet, get cut feet detrimental to the rest of the day!

The moon was full that morning, strong wind blowing. After setting everything up in transition, getting marked, getting sized up by other athletes which was probably the funniest part considering I had no clue whatsoever what I was doing. I get air on my tires, the guy in front of me was probably 5 feet tall standing on his tip toes, turns around to ask me if I’m ready. The nice man who was pumping up my tires responded snippy back, of course she’s ready, she wouldn’t be here if she wasn’t and rolled his eyes. I just laughed. There I became known as “Biohazard Girl” which would follow me the rest of the day.

I find a retainer wall to sit on so that I can do my stretches, writing the alphabet with my feet. In my hand I am holding my trusty swim cap that Lori had given me. I am replaying in my mind what things she would say in practice, what she had gone over and over with me, different scenarios and her preparation to do my first open water swim which subsequently to take place at the start of this race. Yes, I’m insane. Oddly enough I am not nervous, I am so excited that I am about to finally get to release all the pinned up energy. I was ready, in my mind I was any way, and really I didn’t care if people doubted me or not. Who cares if this is my first ever triathlon and that I had jus learned to swim, I was ready. I had worked my butt off literally in preparation and forced myself to rest though I didn’t want to, I was so ready to do the damn thing. As long as the mind is strong the body can endure most anything.

6:45 am

National Anthem is being sung. The lump in my throat and tears in my eyes are evident, pride American pride. Time to put on the swim cap and goggles and walk to the swim start. The cannon sounds for the pros to start and they are off. I get my “GOOD GAME” smack on the butt, hug Irma, hug and kiss Nik and I’m off to somewhere I’ve never been before.

7:00 am

Age groupers begin, every five minutes. We are identified by the color of our caps, baby blue was my age group only 85 in the group and mostly filled with girls with the “deer in the headlight look.” Weirdly I was still calm, ignorance is bliss but training and preparation is everything. Just let me say though that when the buoys are stretched out to show the mile 1.2 that I was about to swim, it was quite a reality check, but I was ready. My coach had told me to just wait and let everybody else go in, remain calm and just swim.

7:15 am

And we are off, the timer have started, is streaming live feed of ME, Pam Gainey, bib 468, me, little old me from Elgin, South Carolina, ME! Truthfully I cannot even remember how the water felt, I just started swimming, being tussled around by the water, kicked in the chest when I swam up on someone’s feet, I can spot the buoys, they are huge. I am at the turn, I see the guy on a surf board. I swam to his board checked my watch, 23 minutes have passed. I asked him where I was, the expression of horror on his face made me realize what he thought I meant. He thought I was so disoriented that I was unaware of WHERE I was. I had to restate what I meant, I meant in the course how much longer I had because I could not see the exit from the water. He said that I was at buoy number 9. I said listen here, I need specifics, yards, and how many buoys do I have left. He smiled. He said you have passed the half way mark, when you go under the bridge you will see the finish. He said here is a cross current, be careful and save some energy. There was another girl in my same age group who was also there with the same guy. She said she was having a really hard time, she was trying to back stroke because she unable to put her face in the water. She said are we going to make it through this, I said I’m making it though, I don’t know about you. Take it one buoy at a time, I told her and wished her luck. I was following my own advice. I just swam, the way I had been taught, calm smooth strokes to propel me through the water. I get to the bridge, I spot Nik and his mom. She is wearing a white shirt, I came up, start treading water to let them know I’m just fine, I give them a thumbs up and swim to the finish. There was a “fun house” effect in the water as I approached the last few hundred yards of the swim. I was being pulled one way, the sea grass was waving back and forth underneath me and I knew not to stand. I shut my eyes and I swam right up to the finish mat when two people grabbed my hands to help me up the steps and to insure that I was ok. I stood there for a moment, I was smiling from ear to ear, I said I am great, you just don’t understand. I had done it, I did my first open water swim in the race and it was awesome all 1.2 miles of it.


Probably the least amount of training I did was on the bike. Mostly doing spin classes, I had only been out on my Trek about six times and the furthest distance was about 35 miles.

There was a quarter mile run on concrete to the first transition area, T1. I spot my bike and all my gear, here begins the next step. Getting shoes on, eating a Powerbar, drinking water, sunscreen, helmet, glasses, garmin, number belt, all checked. Head on to the road, the first 5 mile marker appears out of nowhere. I cannot believe that I am going fast, but I am and I remember being advised to not go out too fast I slow down a bit to enjoy the ride. I have made a conscious decision that I will stop every 15 miles and drink, I am uncomfortable drinking on the bike, so this is the game plan. Drink one is down and I am back on the road, it is cloudy with many iguanas running in the road. Warning was given during the athletes meeting, about falling coconuts and iguanas. As I am riding I see the escorts and here the helicopter, Macca just passed me going to finish his bike loops that I have just begun. I start riding out, parallel to the beach, breathtaking views, then POW! Know what that sound was? FLAT TIRE! Now I couldn’t get so luck that It would be the front tire, no it had to be the back one. I am trying to remember what Henry had said at the bike shop, I took my time, started changing it and then assistance arrived in time to pump it up and I was off again. Tire change took 15 minutes, but I did it. I am still feeling really good, nothing is aching, quads feel strong, back is good. I am just enjoying the ride. I turn the corner and spot a biker down, this scared the crap out of me. He was still clipped into his bike, face down in the dirt in a pool of blood, knocked out. He had collided with a water bottle on the road.

I have moments of lost time on the road, I missed miles where I am not sure if I was zoned out or if it was when I was crying, tears of joy and accomplishment. Tears flowed twice during that ride as I was amazed by what I had done and how far I had come. I remember mile maker 40 and thinking this is the coolest thing I have ever done. I stayed far right the whole time, to not deter anyone who was faster than I, words of encouragement were shared as I was lovingly called “Biohazard Girl.” The same guy from that morning who had started calling me that passed me on the bike saying looking good and push yourself. I told him to go around, I was racing against myself and was enjoying the last miles of my ride. I finished up strong, feeling great. I proceeding into the transition area to return my bike and head out for the run, two down one to go, and I had said I would be satisfied just completing the swim on this very day! I am doing it, I am doing it!! At this time my face is perpetually frozen in smile position, my feet are on ground, where I know to just do my thing. It’s the run, my all time favorite.


I rode and ran in the same shoes and socks, put on my visor, ate some shot blocks, then I was off - Entrance into and exit from transition was awesome. There were volunteers to apply sunscreen to say drink this water, dump water over my head, give me Gatorade. I was well taken care of.

I here my name being called, it’s Nik and he’s wielding the video camera and the shoot and click camera in his hand, poor guy and his mom have been out here all day. He yells to me how are you feeling, my response to him was such a shock that his face told he whole story. I yelled back with a squeal, I feel great, I feel great!! He said really? I said really! See you later and I took off. Coach G had warned me about this leg too, don’t go out too fast. I look down, pace 8:02, I can hear him so slow down. I slowed down then I approached my first hill, spray painted on the road “IRONMAN BURNOUT.” Imagine looking up at Kelsney Ridge on steroids, those hills were no joke. I hit the brakes and decided I could walk up the hills and run the flats and down. That is precisely what I did. My legs were great, no bricks at all, back is good, neck’s good, shoulders are good. What is going on here?

I was unaware of how hot it was that day until I got to the run portion. There is no shade in Old San Juan, just sun beating down and heat. The volunteers on the run course were phenomenal, I hate that word but to say they were anything less would be an underestimate. There were water stops every ¾ mile. Sponges, ice, people with water hoses, gels, orange slices, bananas, Gatorade, ice machines were every where. I distinctly remember a female volunteer that I saw in the same spot 4 times, she would say, good job, I’m here. I passed her again, she said the same thing. The third time she said I’m still here. I said so am I. On the final time that I passed her she came out and hugged me, and said you made it. The run was so breathtaking, running parallel with the ocean, out near the fort, views were incredible and easily kept my mind distracted.

I am uncertain if it was being in the zone or delirium but I have miles of loss during the run as well. I remember hitting Mile Marker 3 then I remember being at mile marker 10. I remember thinking I had sand all over me, well it wasn’t sand it was salt that I had sweated out. I remember smiling the whole time, I had reviewed the day in my head, the past months getting ready for that day. I thought about still feeling good, that my stomach had cooperated, I was never nauseous, and that I had to go pee. I stopped at a port-a-jon to pee, out of character for me but today I had time. I think unconsciously I was stalling, I was not ready for this day, this minute to be over. I was not ready to cross the finish line, I was saddened that it, my first triathlon, Ironman 70.3 San Juan was drawing to a close. It was still surreal.

I started making my entrance into the finish line area, I spot Irma, I start waving at her fiercely. She starts screaming and running towards me, I am smiling and she knows that if I am smiling that I am good, great even. I laugh at what she was screaming but will not disclose it here, she probably doesn’t even know what she was saying. I will not ever forget though. She is the VP and PR of the Pam Gainey Fan Club.

I am still just running, and lo and behold guess who I see and I know that I can catch him? Mr. “are you ready, biohazard girl, push yourself,” yes that is who it was. As I PASSED him on the run as I proceeded to the finish, I could not have been more proud, for a multitude of reasons. ;)

I didn’t even here them call my name, I was so excited have done what I had set out to do. I was stopped in my tracks, medal, finisher shirt, paparazzi, chip removed. I hear Nik, but I cannot get to him. I am still in the confines of the race course. Here is where it gets interesting, I found a cop/security guard and I ask him how I get around the barriers to get out. He just looks at me and I proceed to start screaming at him. DOES ANYBODY SPEAK ENGLISH AROUND HERE? I told him if he didn’t tell me how to get out I was climbing the fence. All he could get out was YELLOW. He pointed for me to go around the yellow sign at the end. All day on the road, directions had been given in Spanish, and I could not take it any more.

I finally got to Nik. He was so excited, burned and worn out. He asked me how I was feeling and again being completely blown away by my response that I felt great, he was more tired that I was. I was waiting for the adrenaline to wear off, which subsequently still has not worn off, to be either so sore or so sick that I could not move but it didn’t happen. I never even had a cramp, upset stomach, sunburn, or even a blister.

He and I proceeded to transition to get my bike ready to be sent back to the US of A and head back to the hotel. Still looking at me in disbelief (because he is fully aware that Pam Gainey will not let you know if she is hurting unless she has to be thrown over his shoulder and carried up steps after Charlotte Full Marathon in December) but I was fine, really.

I told him that I was hungry, so let’s shower and go get some dinner.

I had a little soreness in my quads, not even anything to write home about, my muscles were so loose that they could be shaken. I never threw up, my stomach never flipped. No swelling. I even slept that night.

As soon as we got back to the room, I called my swim coach. She was so excited to hear what had happened. She told me that I have a new nickname, “FIERCE BEAST!” I told her thank you for helping me, that without her I would not have been able to do the race. She said she was proud to say that she had been a part of the whole thing and that she just wished she could heave been there. In my mind she was there, I could here her saying “Good work, Kiddo.”

Saturday, March 19, 2011 is a day that will never be forgotten. It’s the day that I defied every thing. The day that I proved that with dedication, discipline and determination that anything is possible.

I realized just what kind of impact I have on people, I had people at home following me on line watching my progress, people that said they were proud to say they know me. So many people that once I turned my phone on, it froze from the influx of calls, fb messages and texts. It was the most incredible day of my life.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Time is winding down, but the adrenaline rush, well not so much...

As the clock is ticking downward to start time is literally 16 days, 21 hours, 28 minutes and 5 seconds at this very second.

The journey began as a personal challenge that has grown to change my life and imagine that, I have not made it to the start line yet.  July 7th was the profound day that which I was reminded of while printing off all the information I would need to carry along on this trip of a lifetime. The day was when I registered for the Ironman 70.3 San Juan.  The vivid memory and immediate nausea I felt upon receiving, the congratulatory and needless to say computer-generated message that I had successfully completed my entry and was no a proud participant, caused me to immediately be filled with an emotion I cannot adequately describe.  I phoned the people who needed to know immediately and proceeded to fight back the urge to vomit, literally. 

Vomit? Yes vomit.  Here are a few facts that must be placed on the table, they follow:
1) I was a beginner swimmer, very beginner.
2) I did not have a bike.
3) I had and still have not done a triathlon at all.
4) Did I say I could not swim?

For those who are unsure, let me inform you what an half-ironman distance triathlon is.  First it's a 1.2 mile swim in the ocean, followed immediately by a 56 mile bike ride, and topped off by a 13.1 mile run, yes all in one day and in a matter of hours.

I knew I had a lot of work cut out for me, I mean come on, I'm no idiot.  There's also one more thing that I am not and that is scared of hard work.

I am a firm believer that with a little, ok a lot of determination, discipline and dedication anything can be accomplished as long as working hard is not a problem.  Thus began this incredible journey that has lasted mere months but along the way my entire life has forever been changed.

I have come to believe in myself, unfaltering.  In the throws of training, I have learned who my greatest supporters, biggest cheerleaders and mentors are.  I have learned not necessarily through the training but through the sense of awareness, who true friends are.  New friends have been made, those who started as some people that I knew from the pool, gym or just out on the road running, have developed into full-fledged friends. Friends that I know that I could call anytime day or night, the kinds of friends that  change you for the better by knowing them.

I have learned that in the midst of being so tired, pass the point of exhaustion, there is still much in the reserve tank, waiting to be used up. I just have to be willing to reach down and grab it. 

I have learned that I can overcome any fear. My swim coach has been patient and from her I have learned many things.  She shares my excitement even way back when I really was barely able to swim a 25 yards length of the pool.  Now with consistency and determination and an awesome coach, I can swim for days.  I conquered my fear of the water.  When she says, "Good job today, Kiddo,"  I smile for the rest of the day.  Unbeknownst to her she has become somewhat of a mother figure to me. I am truly grateful to have her in my life.

Then there are the Howells, Greg has become my informal coach for running and cycling.  They have set up mock transistion areas, work out schedules, and REST days.  They have both been willing to do long sessions on the bike, including double spin classes when the days were shorter.  Laura was responsible for getting me in with my swim coach. Funny how things just fall into place, coincidence, I don't think so.

Last but not least is the President of the Pam Gainey fan club, my personal cheerleader and my body guard, of course that would be Nik.  For countless hours he has listened to me complain, talk his ears off about training, waited patiently for me to finish running, swimming biking, even tagged along on some things jujst to sit and wait patiently.  He has followed me in the car with gatorade held out the window while I would run 20 plus miles in one clip because he didn't want me to be out on the road alone. He's waited at many finish lines even in the rain and snow to video my finish, with a Coke in hand.  I'm lucky to have him.  He has also been the shoulder that I cry on and the ear that listens to me whine during taper weeks. I am not a good rester!

Then there are my kids who think that their mom is crazy but one day they will understand.  Whether they are chasing the Ironman dream, a career that most people would just shake their heads at or whatever causes them to examine themselves inside and out, one day they will remember that their mom always pursued whatever she wanted to do even when it seemed impossible.

Last but not least Cindy who has been crazy enough also to tag along on many extended workout sessions. Who has herself done more things in  a few months that a lot of us would even attempt, she decided to start a new career and run her first half-marathon.

To all the clients who have lovingly listened and become part of my family I would like  to extend a big thanks. Believing in me means a huge deal to me and your support, words cannot express how much it means to me.

Let the countdown begin...