IMMD Race Report: The Run

Transition 2:

After racking my bike, I headed to the gear bag area where a volunteer was waiting with my run gear bag. Similar to T1, the volunteers in T2 were amazing. My volunteer pulled everything out of my run gear bag and laid it on the ground so I could see what I had packed. As I was switching my shoes she went to grab Vaseline because my feet already had some blisters showing (by the end of the night it felt like I was walking on bubble wrap…ouch!). She told me that she volunteers every year because her daughter does Ironman races and she tries to treat each athlete she encounters like she would if they were her daughter. I think that sums up the heart of most Ironman volunteers.

  • If you do these type of races and haven’t volunteered before, please make that a priority. Without volunteers, there is no Ironman. It takes thousands of volunteers to put on any Ironman event. I recently volunteered at an Ironman 70.3 race and it was a great experience seeing the race from another side.
  • As an athlete, make sure you are ALWAYS nice to the volunteers.

The Run:

At this point in the race, I knew I was going to finish because I had 7.5 hours to complete the marathon. When I left T2, I was smiling because I knew that the only thing standing between me and the finish line was 26.2 miles. After 114.4 miles, 26.2 really doesn’t sound that bad. My original plan was to try and run (more like a slow jog at this point) to each aid station then take a small break to refuel. The aid stations were placed every mile. The first 10 miles were great! I was on such a high from doing well on the swim and the bike and had zero doubts about finishing the race. The run was a 2 and a half loop course which means you actually passed by the finish line FIVE times before you were able to finish. During my first loop when I passed by the finish line, I got a big kick of adrenaline from it. This was also the point in the race that I was able to see my friend Caitlin and the adorable sign she made for me! She lives in Maryland and made the 2.5 hour drive to watch me finish. I remember thinking, “This really isn’t so bad! I see why people get addicted to Ironman.” This is around the point where “pride goeth before the fall” comes to mind.

The Wall:

Maybe I should change that phrase to “pride goeth before the wall” because shortly after mile 11 I found the metaphorical wall that plagues runners and endurance athletes. I don’t know how to fully describe the wall that I hit because I have never experienced anything like it before. I felt like I was trying to run through quicksand, my vision was tunneling and I felt like I was going to pass out. It just got really hard, really fast, and seemingly out of nowhere. I looked at my watch and the time was 7:07. I started doing the math in my head to see how fast I had to do the last 15 miles to make sure I finished by midnight. My slow jog turned into a slow walk as I tried to figure out how to fix how I was feeling. I had followed my nutrition plan perfectly, stayed hydrated during the day, and my salt intake was up. In my head, it just didn’t make sense that I was bonking so badly. I tried to run once more time after the wall hit, and only made it about .2 of a mile because the tunnel vision returned immediately. I knew that if I passed out, and the medics had to help me, Ironman wouldn’t let me keep going and I would be pulled off the course. So, I made the choice to walk the rest of the marathon instead of trying to run and risking passing out. I knew I had enough of a time buffer, that as long as I kept moving I would be able to finish in under 17 hours. Around this time in the race, I found another girl (Hi Rita!) who was also walking. We ended up walking together for four hours.

The Finish Line:

I have started and stopped writing this part of my race report several times, and each time I end up getting writer’s block. How can I possibly describe the way the finish line felt? I can’t. I can’t explain how it felt to see my dream and goal of two years come true. I have visualized the finish line thousands of times over the past two years. The finish line, and hearing, “Sara Lilley, you are an Ironman” was my driving force for 5:30am workouts, having Saturdays of training that were longer than my workdays, and having no social life for months. The red carpet finish line exceeded every expectation I had.

Thank you!

I am so blessed to have an amazing village that surrounds me and supports me in all of my crazy goals. I fully believe that no one becomes an Ironman alone. To everyone who cheered me on, sent care packages leading up to the race, joined me for runs/rides, helped talk me off a ledge when I was in cromit mode, prayed for me, tracked me during race day, and believed that I could do it – thank you.

IMMD Race Report: The Bike

Transition 1:

The most memorable thing about T1 was the interactions with the volunteers. When exiting the water, volunteers were placed to yell out your number so other volunteers could find your bike gear bag. This woman followed me into T1 and helped me go through my bag and get ready for the ride. She opened a Gu for me to eat, helped me strap my helmet on and even offered to put on my socks for me! I was told that Ironman tries to put volunteers in the transition area that have either done the distance, or love someone that has, to try and ensure that the athletes receive amazing care. I’m not sure if that’s true, but it makes sense based on my experiences that day.

The Bike:

Leaving T1 I was all smiles because I finished the swim about 30 minutes faster than anticipated so I knew I had some extra time to meet the bike cut-off. The first 12 miles of the bike were with a wonderful tail wind, so I was averaging over 23 mph. To put that in perspective, I NEVER go that fast unless it’s down a hill. I don’t even think I’m capable of riding that fast on a flat without a tailwind. It was great! When I went across the first timing mat, I started giggling because I knew everyone tracking me was going to be so surprised at how fast I was going. Around mile 12 we made a U-Turn and rode 12 miles into a headwind.

IMMD has the reputation as one of the flattest Ironman bike courses in the world and is the main reason I picked Maryland as my full. I’m not a strong cyclist and I knew my best chance of a successful finish would be on a flat course. This course lived up to its reputation perfectly because there wasn’t anything that even resembled a change in elevation. The only downside of this kind of course is that you have to pedal the entire time and your legs never get a break when you coast going downhill.

The next section of the bike was a big loop that we rode twice. This part of the ride was through the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and was gorgeous! The minimal traffic and scenery helped the ride go by quicker than normal. The best part of the bike came at mile 64 when it was time for special needs. I had been looking forward to my special needs bag from the time I started the ride. I had a ginormous bag of chips and two Mountain Dews waiting for me. When approaching special needs, one volunteer radioed your number in and other volunteers would grab your bag. When I got to special needs, one volunteer was holding my bag out yelling “846! 846! 846” The volunteer stayed with me while I ate my chips, drank my Mountain Dew, and popped Sports Legs (runners/triathletes – if you don’t take these magic pills that prevent the pain from lactic acid build up, add them into your training NOW). After special needs it was time for my second loop of the bike course. I said a quick prayer as I watched the miles tick off for the perfect weather (cloud cover and no rain) and no mechanical issues.

I spent 7 hours and 35 minutes on Dixie during IMMD. My goal was to finish the bike in under 8 hours, so when I finally hopped off the bike I was really excited because I knew I had given myself an extra 25 minute buffer to finish the run. At this point in the race I was feeling great and knew that all the long training rides I had done in the months leading up to IMMD had been worth it.

Stay tuned for IMMD Race Report #3: The run and the FINISH LINE!

IMMD Race Report: Pre-Race and Swim

“Sara Lilley, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN” is my new favorite quote and now one of my favorite memories.  Ironman Maryland was last Saturday and despite all my worries about not finishing, I found the beautiful red carpet finish line in time.  I decided to cut my race report into 3 separate blogs, one for each part of the race. Since I’m sticking to my “one and done” mentality about a full Ironman I know that my race report is going to be long because I want to remember every little detail about my race.

Pre-Race:

We arrived in Maryland on Thursday and spent the two days leading up to the race doing athlete check in, first timers clinic, dropping of bike and gear bags, a practice swim with jellyfish, and trying to avoid cromiting (when you’re so nervous you can’t decide if you are going to cry, vomit, or both). At athlete check-in, every athlete gets 5 different gear bags (bike, run, special needs bike, special needs run, and morning clothes). I checked and doubled checked my bags so many times before I dropped them off. My favorite bag was my bike special needs bag that had a HUGE bag of chips and Mountain Dew that would be waiting for me when I reached mile 62 on the bike. Each athlete also received a letter from a local student in the public school system. It was so fun reading the letters from the kids! Each athlete who was trying to complete their first Ironman was given an orange wristband that said, “I will BECOME ONE, class of 2019” to wear during the race. I loved being able to identify other first timers.

Race Morning:

The morning of the race I was awake well before my alarm (which was set for 4am) because I didn’t sleep at all the night before. I was so nervous that I was wide awake all night. Transition was open from 5-6:30am, so the plan was to be in transition when it opened to have plenty of time to get ready. An hour and a half seems like a lot of time to finish getting ready, but there is a lot that has to be done the morning of. Nutrition has to be added to gear bags, both special needs bags and morning clothes bags must be dropped off (in 3 separate locations), body marking, pumping bike tires, and trying not to cromit made the 90 minutes fly by.

Swim:

The swim was a self-seeding start which means everyone lines up based on their estimated swim time. I had done the 2.4 mile swim in the pool in about 1:50, so I lined up with the 2 hour crowd. The first athlete entered the water at 6:40 the last athlete entered at 7:02. I started the swim at 7:00, so I was really close to the back and there were only a handful of swimmers behind me. The beginning of the swim was shallow, so everyone was walking/running/jumping in the water until the first turn buoy. Shortly after I started swimming I realized I had seeded myself too slowly because I was actually passing people (I was passing people in the swim?! What?!)

I had two realizations during the swim:

  • An Ironman swim feels more like roller derby in the water. I’d been told open water swimming was a contact sport, but had never experienced that until this race. My biggest race leading up to IMMD, was Ironman 70.3 in New Orleans which only had about 1,000 people. IMMD had around 2,100 people at the start. I got grabbed and hit so many times during this swim.
  • The jellyfish were EVERYWHERE. It was impossible to avoid them. Every few strokes it felt like my hand was running through tall grass. Every inch of exposed skin (with the exception of my face thankfully) got zapped. One sting was so sharp I picked my arm out of the water because I was convinced I was bleeding. There was vinegar waiting in the transition area to help with the pain from the stings, but I don’t think it helped much. I even used Safe Sea lotion as a precaution against the jellyfish that obviously didn’t work.

This swim was a two loop course and the time limit was an hour and ten minutes for the first lap and two hours and twenty minutes for the entire swim. My goal for this entire race was simply to finish, so when I finished the first lap (44:19) well under cut off time I was thrilled. It took me 1:32 for the entire swim. I have never swam this fast! When I got out of the water I was SO EXCITED! I came out of the water giggling to myself because I couldn’t believe I swam so fast and giddy because my time with the jellyfish was over!

Stay tuned for IMMD Race Report #2

Reflecting on Why

Why do you think a 140.6 mile race sounds like “fun”?  Why are you torturing your body? Why would anyone want to sit on a bicycle seat for hours and hours?  Why are doing this?! I can’t count the number of times I have been asked in the past year, “Why would anyone want to do this?” when referencing the amount of time, energy, and emotion I have put into training for my upcoming Ironman race.  My race is NEXT Saturday and in exactly one week I will be traveling to Maryland. I can’t believe the time is finally here. Throughout the peak of my training, and now that I am tapering, I have had a lot of time to reflect on the journey that brought me to this point, starting with my initial idea of doing something I thought was crazy and seemingly impossible, complete an Ironman.  

I recently asked some of my friends who are training for races/make a healthy lifestyle a priority to tell me their “why,” here are some of the responses:

  -To overcome obstacles, both physical and mental. -SF

  -Reaching my goals keeps me pushing forward,  Without that driving force, I would just be driving to Chick-Fil-A. – KM

  -I was given the blessing of a healthy body so there is no reason not to be active. – AK 

 – My girlfriend told me she wanted to do an Ironman and my ego is too big to not do it with her. – JJ

  -I want to do something that challenges me on different levels.  Something that takes me out of my comfort zone. – DM

– My muffin top. – LF

  -I have this friend named Sara who makes me do it. – AK 

-First and foremost has been my health, physical, mental and emotional.  I have always been a loner and competitive and this allows me to feed both. – JW

My “why” was born out of the worst six months of my life.  I spent weeks in a hospital watching my body shut down. For the majority of 2017, I didn’t think that I would ever be able to run again and that my body had turned against me.  In addition to the physical issues I struggled with that year, the mental aspect was also really hard. Did you know there is such a thing as illness-induced PTSD? I had never heard of that, until I was diagnosed with it (side note – I’ve been told that around 20% of patients with a life-threatening illness develop PTSD afterwards).  Learning to trust my body again is something that I still struggle with.

My “why”:

*Simply because I can

*To celebrate how far I’ve come in 2 years

*Hearing my GI doctor tell me I am one of his “favorite success stories” and that he would have never believed the progress I made with my health in such a short time 

*To prove to myself that my body isn’t broken anymore

Since the beginning of 2018, my goal has been to hear “You are an Ironman” and that day is (hopefully) coming very soon.  I still have worries about being too slow and DNF’ing, but focusing on those negative thoughts isn’t going to help me find the finish line!  10 days and 140.6 miles stand between me and the title of Ironman!


A quote from one of my favorite books “Iron Heart”

Speed Bumps

It’s been awhile since I blogged last.  I have intentionally been pretty quiet about my Ironman training because, for the most part, up until recently everything was going exactly as it should.  Until last week, I didn’t have much to say about training because my miles were increasing, my body seemed to be adapting well, and I was enjoying the journey (for the most part…no amount of butt butter will make a 100 mile bike ride comfortable).  

Last week, my training plan called for a 20 mile run.  My weekly long runs have been around that distance all summer, so the distance shouldn’t have been a problem.  On mile 3, I felt an old familiar pain on the right side of my leg. Two years ago when I was training for a marathon I spent some time in PT because of a painfully tight IT Band. On mile 5, I was convinced my IT Band was flaring up.  Miles 6-10 I was in denial and thought I could keep running through the pain. I was stopping after every mile to stretch. Mile 11, I physically couldn’t run anymore and had to limp 2 miles back to where my car was parked. Considering my race is at the end of September, I started to panic.  If you can’t run, you definitely can’t try and complete an Ironman. I made a few frantic calls to local PTs and have been seen twice so far. Earlier this week I had my first experience with cupping and have a dry needling schedule planned. For someone who hates needles, I am NOT looking forward to that.  As long as it fixes my IT Band, and helps me get through the marathon next month, it will definitely be worth it.

In addition to my right IT Band screwing up my training, my left arm is currently out of commission.  Tuesday, I went in for an appointment with my doctor. He told me that he had been reviewing my file and noticed I was missing 3 of the necessary vaccines I’m supposed to have since I don’t have a spleen anymore.  After my surgery I had 4 shots before I was discharged from the hospital. I thought I didn’t need anymore shots until 2023. Evidently I needed those boosters and got 3 during my appointment in my left arm. The next morning, I felt like I had been hit with the flu (nauseous, light headed, cold sweats, overall achy) and couldn’t move my left arm.   I was planning on swimming this morning, but realized there’s no point in going to the pool because I can’t lift my arm over my head. It takes me about 5 painful seconds to lift my arm, which means that swimming isn’t going to happen. Side note – Yes, I am forcing myself to move it, yes, I know this sounds wimpy, and NO, I can’t just swim through it (If I could I would be in the water right now instead of writing this blog).

I feel like the online presence of runners/triathletes/athletes is usually summarized by pictures of finish lines and medals.  The triumphs are seen, but not the struggles that it took to get to the finish line. My ultimate goal is to find the finish line next month and earn the title of Ironman.  However, right now I’m in the middle of a pretty discouraging week. I’m only 5 weeks away from a race I’ve been training for since the beginning of last year, and I can’t run or swim.  School starts back Monday so my free time is dwindling. Here’s to hoping the rest of the month is better!

Who knew this was supposed to be fun??

   Something magical has happened this year, I’ve stopped being so afraid of a 140.6 mile race and have started being excited about it. I’m not sure if updating my bike (my new bike’s name is Dixie) or successfully completing 70.3 NOLA in October was the magic pill, but something has definitely changed in my mind for the better.  Most of my training last year was centered around fear and thinking of all the things that could go wrong during a race (what if you get the hiccups during the swim??). This year, I’m a lot more confident and am actually having fun!

       Last weekend I completed the Beaverdam Olympic Triathlon (1500 meter swim, 24 mile bike and 6.2 mile run) and brought home this adorable squeeze beaver award for second place.  As much as I would like to leave this picture here and pretend that I’ve become this amazingly fast triathlete, the reality is when there are only 3 people in your division – you get to podium no matter what!

Beaverdam, like most triathlons to me, was a learning experience. Thanks to a lot of wind that day, the swim was choppy and the bike course had a brutal headwind. I know I need to spend a lot of time practicing swimming in open water to improve my stroke when conditions aren’t ideal. Overall, I was pleased with how the race went because I am seeing major improvements in how I’m preforming.

In two weeks, I am racing in The Crystal Coast Half Booty 70.3 and in about 5 months I have Ironman Maryland waiting for me. It’s hard to believe that the Ironman is coming so quickly and some days I don’t think I’ll be ready for it. However, I’ve learned over the past year that triathlon is a lot like most things in life: doing your best, quality preparation, and celebrating the small victories (like “winning” second place in a race of only 3 people).

  • #IR4Ellie
  • #DIFH


A Savior

Have you ever needed a savior?  Have you ever felt like you were dying and needed someone else to save you?  As a Christian, I know what it feels like to know my eternal salvation is dependent on Christ and being saved by Him, but until two years ago I had never felt like my life was actually contingent on another person saving me.

In April 2017, I caught a small glimpse of what it must be like to finally see Jesus and know that it’s all going to be okay because my Savior is here.  I rarely tell this story because it’s hard to get through it without getting choked up. The background: I was in the hospital (again) because I needed to have a stent placed in my pancreas due to a post-surgical leak.  That stent ended up getting clogged in the central bile duct of my pancreas which caused the fluid to start increasing rapidly and becoming infected. After six days in the hospital, the doctors figured out what was going on and decided I needed to be sent to Chapel Hill to see the only doctor in the state who could do the specific procedure I needed done (shout out to Dr. Baron who literally wrote the textbook on these GI procedures).

The majority of those six days are a blur thanks to all of the pain meds I was on, but I distinctly remember how it felt to feel my body shutting down.  I remember being on oxygen and how hard it was to breathe because the fluid was pressing on my lungs and I remember being too scared to ask my parents if they thought I was dying.  Since Dr. Baron was the only doctor who could help me it was imperative that I get to him ASAP. When my doctor called, he told him it was an emergency and I needed to see him that day.  He agreed to take me that afternoon because he was leaving the next morning for a week long vacation. When the ambulance that was supposed to transfer me didn’t show up, my dad found out that my transfer papers weren’t put in the hospital system correctly and there were no plans to get me to UNC.  At this point, I had missed my appointment and UNC told WakeMed, they would wait for me until 4:30, and after that – they wouldn’t be able to see me. After the idea of transferring me on their helicopter was tossed around (how cool would that have been?!) an ambulance finally arrived and I made it to UNC with just a few minutes to spare.  

Despite all the things I want to forget about that time in the hospital, one of the things I’m glad I’ll always remember was how it felt when Dr. Baron walked into the operating room.  I felt this huge sense of relief because I knew that man was going to save me. He was going to make the pain go away. I’d never experienced emotions like that before and I know that is just a small fraction of how it’s going to feel like when I see my real Savior one day.