The Undeniable Ruth Rotating Header Image

David Roher

Ironman Lake Placid – The Run

Previously on The Undeniable Ruth: I had just finished the 112-mile bike ride on the grueling hills of Lake Placid. After I handed off my bike to a volunteer, I walked into the transition area, grabbed my run gear bag, and made another pit stop at a porta-potty before heading into the women’s changing tent.

Transition Two (T2)

After sitting on my bike for nearly 8 hours, my quads and butt did not want to sit on a chair to change my shoes, but I forced them to do it. I also exchanged my cycling helmet for the Ironman Arizona 70.3 hat that Coach David gave me after he did the race in 2018.

I peeled off my cycling socks and placed my bare feet on a small towel from my bag. Then I sprinkled them with baby powder, making sure both sides of my feet were dry before pulling on my running socks with built-in arch support and then my shoes.

I snapped my race belt around my waist with a click. Our race numbers were given out sequentially based on when we checked it, but volunteers customized them upon request. Most people opted to get their name, but I asked for “Baby Duck.” This was a nickname my gymnastics coach Rocky used for his gymnasts, much like how someone would use “sweetie” or “buddy.” 

As I prepared for the run, I heard Mike Reilly’s voice coming through the speakers across the transition area, announcing people’s names as they crossed the finish line.

There were people finishing the race, and I literally had a marathon (26.2 miles) to go.

There were other athletes who weren’t as lucky as me. Some of them DNFed during the bike due to injury or they opted to stop because they knew they wouldn’t make the cut off time. (During an Ironman race, not only do you have to finish in under 17 hours, but each section has its own cut-off time.) Behind me in the tent was a woman lying on the ground being tended to by medics. Her race day was done.

I sprayed myself down with sunblock one more time, put my sunglasses back on my face, and headed out.  

Running a Marathon with Sore Legs

In every picture of me running during this race, my feet are barely off the ground. That’s because it felt like I could barely lift them.

The run course was 2 loops of 13 miles each followed by a final turn into what was the Olympic outdoor speed skating track to reach the finish line. Within each loop were several out-and-back portions.

Not as severe as the bike portion, the run course had several hills, which was nice on the way down, but not so nice going back up. During the first loop, I walked only when going up the steepest hills, and even then, I power walked.

Even though my body hurt and I had miles ahead of me, I was still smiling. A spectator looked at me quizzically and said, “You’re having fun, aren’t you?” I responded with “Fun is what you bring with you,” my favorite quote from Drew Barrymore in Riding in Cars with Boys.

Aid Stations = Buffets

Ironman does an impressive job of taking care of its athletes, and nowhere is this more apparent than the aid stations during the run. They were placed every 1-1.5 miles where volunteers offered water, Gatorade, Coca-Cola, Red Bull (they were a sponsor), chicken broth, electrolyte gels, fruit, chips or pretzels, and granola bars. Whatever you needed, it was available.

My stomach does not want to eat when I work out. I ate a gel at Miles 5, 10, and 15, and took a hit of BASE salt from my vial every mile. I mostly drank Gatorade at every aid station. I tried the Coke a few times to treat myself to the sugar but realized my body didn’t like that. There was a final table at each aid station that held cups of ice cubes. “What’s this for?” I asked the volunteer. She responded, “Put it in your bra.” I shrugged and thought, “When in Rome,” grabbed a cup of ice, and dumped it into my sports bra. It did help me feel cooler, and I regularly reached in to grab a cube to suck on between aid stations.

I Have to Poop Again?!

Along with the buffet, each aid station also had 2 porta-potties. As I approached the aid station at Mile 5, I felt a familiar sensation in my stomach.

Seriously?! How do I have anything left in my system?

I hadn’t seen Coach David since he passed me early on during the bike portion of the race. Stepping into the porta-potty, I figured it would be just my luck that he’ll pass me going the other direction while I’m going to the bathroom.

Using a porta-potty after it’s been available to literally thousands of racers and baked in the afternoon sun was an assault to the senses. Getting my triathlon onesie back up my skin that was slimy from sweat while standing in a warm, smelly, plastic box was a bit of an ordeal.

Catching Coach David

Throughout the run, I was constantly watching for Coach David. I scanned the group for an athlete wearing a neon yellow jersey and a backpack. (It’ll make sense later.)

Finally, near Mile 13, I saw him as we passed each other going in opposite directions. (I called it! He must have passed me when I was in the porta-potty.) I knew he knew I was ok because he’d been tracking me on the race app all day, and it alerted him each time I went over a race sensor.

I later learned he was worried about me and relieved to finally put eyes on me. Apparently, I dropped off the app for a bit.

David was doing a run/walk, and I pushed myself to run even faster, determined to catch up with him. I finally caught up with him at Mile 17 and we took a selfie – still smiling.

I continued to run ahead of David. The sun was going down and I moved my sunglasses to the top of my head. One of the volunteers on a golf cart drove through the course, turning on the portable lights to illuminate the road for those of us who would be finishing the race after dark.

Someone from Ironman snapped a photo of me on the road and put it on their Instagram story. That was so cool to see after the race.

Around Mile 19 or 20, David and I passed each going in opposite directions again. He yelled to me, “In 45 minutes, you’re going to be an Ironman!” (Looking back, that wasn’t accurate given my pace, but I appreciated the sentiment.)

Race Math

It started on the bike. I determined when I was 100 miles into the bike, I was over 70% done with the total distance of the race. When I finished the bike, I was over 80% done.

With every passing mile of the run, I recalculated how much of the race I had left. Six miles to the finish line meant I had only 1/23 of the race left. Five miles to the finish line meant I had only 1/28 of the race left to do. It gave my brain something to do and distracted me from my sore legs and feet.

For the last portion of the race, whenever there was any incline in the course, I walked. I had plenty of time before the 17-hour cut off, and I wasn’t going to torture myself more than necessary.

As I jogged and walked along, I saw others who couldn’t finish the race. Some were driven back to the transition area on golf carts with foil blankets wrapped around them to keep warm. I saw another racer puking on the side of the road. There were several people who looked like they could only walk the last remaining miles. I wondered if they were at risk of not making the 17-hour cut off.  

Out of the 2,273 people who started Ironman Lake Placid that day, 456 DNFed because they either couldn’t finish the race or they didn’t finish it in time.

The Finish Line

Some people cry when they cross the finish line at Ironman. Around Mile 25, I felt my emotions start to bubble up. When I made the final turn towards the finish line, tears welled up in my eyes.

After nearly 3 years of training, 3 years of early morning workouts, training in the cold and the heat, managing sore muscles and injuries, and overcoming mental setbacks, I made it.

My sore feet hit the red and black Ironman carpet as I approached the finish line, and I heard Mike Reilly’s voice: “You finally got here, huh Ruth? From Phoenix, you are an Ironman!” (He knew from my bio that I filled out when I signed up for the race that my Ironman races in 2020 and 2021 cancelled due to COVID.)

I raised my arms as I crossed the finish line – 15 hours, 21 minutes, 42 seconds after I plunged into Mirror Lake that morning to start this 140.6-mile journey. My race started at 6:39 a.m., and I finished it right at 10 p.m.

I was an Ironman.

Overcome with joy and gratitude, I burst into tears.

Thankfully, David paid for his family to be VIPs so they could meet him at the finish line and his wife, Janet, could put his medal around his neck. She wrapped her arms around me in a big hug and told me that David was only a few minutes behind me.

I got my medal, took a finisher photo with the Ironman backdrop, and walked into the athletes’ post-race area where a volunteer handed me a bottle of water. Another volunteer doublechecked that I was ok, and I hadn’t been crying in pain.

At 15 hours, 24 minutes, 53 seconds after we started the race, I heard Mike Reilly’s voice again: “David Roher, He looks just like him! Look at him! David Roher, you are an Ironman! Tony Stark – right there!”

I watched as my coach crossed the finish line in his Ironman costume. That’s what was in the backpack.  (He really does look remarkably like Robert Downey Jr.)

After he kissed his wife and said hello to his family, David and I gave each other a big hug, and of course, I started bawling like a baby again. Once I regained my composure, he excitedly said, “Let’s take a picture!” It’s so cute when he’s in proud coach mode.

Post-Race

Prior to the race, I paid for valet service so Tribike Transport (the company that transported my bike to and from the race) collected my bike and gear bags. I’d pick up my gear bags from them the following morning.

After the race, all I had to do was walk back to my hotel, which thankfully wasn’t far from the finish line. Unfortunately, it was also on a steep hill. My calves and quads screamed with every step. My body felt cold as my heart rate slowed and the adrenaline rush of the finish line wore off.  

All I wanted a hot shower and to brush the film of Gatorade off my teeth. Oh my goodness, it hurt to bend down to untie my shoes. I posted a picture of my medal to Facebook, and I think I called my mom to let her know I survived the race.

There were pizza, French fries, and chips at the finish line, but it would be hours before my stomach would settle enough to eat anything. I climbed into bed. I was exhausted, but my body was so sore it was hard to get comfortable. It hurt to move, and it hurt to hold still.

At 2 a.m., I woke up ravenously hungry. I shuffled out of bed and ate 2 calorie bomb cookies before trying to get a few more hours of rest before I had to get up, pack my bags, and drive back to the airport to fly home.

Next week on The Undeniable Ruth: Ironman Lake Placid – The Supporters.

Ironman Lake Placid – The Swim

Six years ago, I said I’d never do an Ironman race because I don’t like swimming. It’s monotonous and boring. And yet, there I was, standing on the shore of Mirror Lake in Lake Placid, New York. I spent more than 4 years swimming laps at the pool at 6 a.m., rain or shine, preparing for this swim.  

Pre-Race Swim with my Coach

On the Friday afternoon before the race, I had a special swim lesson with my coach, David Roher, that he calls Direct Recovery of Open Water Navigation and Guidance (DROWNG).

Yes, I paid him to try to drown me.

As we swam together in the lake, he purposely bumped into me, grabbed my foot, and even tried to swim over me, all things that could happen during the race.

I have a history of panicking during open water swims. My wetsuit will feel like it’s choking me, and my brain can’t perceive that I’m propelling my body forward. The most recent incident was only a few weeks ago when I bailed less than 400 yards into a 1500-yard swim. I was dedicated to staying in the lake with my coach until I was immune to his attempts to rattle my cage.

Guide Cable = Linus Blanket

I acclimated to swimming in Mirror Lake remarkably quickly thanks to the guide cable. There is a yellow guide cable submerged about 3.5 feet under the surface of Mirror Lake’s navy blue water. This cable was my “Linus blanket.” As long as I could see that cable, I was fine, both during practice and on race day.

Race Day with Team Roher

Coach David is dedicated to taking care of his athletes all the way to the starting line. On race day, I’m a bundle of nerves and my anxiety can cause me to wander. To keep from losing me, Coach David literally had me hold onto his shirt as we walked to the transition area to put our water bottles on our bikes and put last-minute items in our bike and run gear bags.

Once we were in our wetsuits, we were literally wearing leashes (attached to the zippers on our backs). I held onto his, and my teammate Shimon held onto mine, as we navigated through the packed crowd of athletes lining up at the lake’s edge.

The race began with the elite triathletes entering the water first, and then a “wave start” for the rest of us. Every few seconds the race official would release the next group of 4-6 athletes into the water. David, Shimon, and I clasped hands and raised our arms high as we walked into the water. From there, each of us was on our own.

Lap 1: Thonk

The swim in an Ironman race is 2.4 miles. In Mirror Lake, that meant two laps where we had to exit the water after lap one, walk/run back to the starting line, and swim lap two.

At the athlete briefing, they told everyone to stay outside the rectangle of buoys. This was to ensure that everyone completed the distance without cutting corners. It also makes it easier for people who breathe to their right to keep an eye on the guide cable.

In truth, we could be on the inside of the rectangle, as long as we went around the outside of the furthest buoys. I breathe to the left. I made a conscious decision to take the “inside track,” and watch the guide cable as much as I could.

Before I left for Lake Placid, I counted how many strokes it took me to get across the pool where I swim laps. Depending how hard I push off the wall, it took me 10-11 strokes. In open water, I figured 12 strokes would take me the same distance. For the first lap, I mostly counted strokes, knowing every time I hit 12, I’d gone another 25 yards.

Everything was going great until THONK!

The top of my head hit a wall. What was a wall doing out in the middle of a lake?

I popped my head up in confusion and pain and found myself looking directly at the red plastic side of kayak. The volunteer in the kayak apologetically said, “I meant to hit you with my paddle.” I was approaching the last buoy, and she needed me to change my trajectory to go around it.  

Lap 2: Holding My Own

I walked between the end of Lap 1 and the beginning of Lap 2, giving a cheesy double-thumbs up to the camera. My goal for the swim was to survive. I didn’t care about my speed.

Some of the other swimmers were so fast! One passed me during the beginning of Lap 2 and at first, I thought she was wearing (illegal) paddles on her hands. It took me a few seconds to realize there was an orange logo on her wetsuit near her wrist. She was moving so fast that it was hard to tell where her wetsuit ended and her hand began.

During Lap 1, I was passed by elites who were already on their second lap. When I was on Lap 2, I was passing people who were still on their first lap. By Lap 2, my confidence was growing. As a rule, swimmers ahead of you have the right of way, and it’s your job, as the passer, to navigate around them. As I zipped between other racers, I refused to be pushed around, staying in my invisible lane, undeterred by the errant arms of less experienced swimmers.    

I do not have a swimmer’s build with my long torso and short T-rex arms; however, my arms were an asset at the end of each lap. Coach David said don’t stand up to walk out of the lake until your fingers can touch the ground. Shorter arms meant I could swim longer than many of my counterparts.  

77 Minutes

As I got out of the water after Lap 2, I looked down at my watch – 77 minutes! In the workouts leading up to the race, the fastest I ever finished 2.4 miles was 82 minutes, and that was with pushing off the wall every 25 yards. I wasn’t trying to haul ass, and yet, somehow I managed to do it.

I also wondered if there was a whirlpool effect happening in the lake with 2,200+ people moving in the same direction.

Once I was out of the water, I headed over to the volunteers we lovingly call the “strippers.” These are volunteers who work in pairs and trios to efficiently unzip and peel your wetsuit off your body. As I approached them, I said, “Who wants to touch me?”

After the strippers handed my wetsuit back to me, I walked the blue carpet back to the transition area. Others opted to run, but I know I’m clumsy enough without outside help. Both sides of the blue carpet were packed with supporters cheering and holding signs and giant heads of their loved ones doing the race.

Next week’s post: Ironman Lake Placid – The Bike.

50 Days Until Ironman

Smiling at the Beginning of my bike workout on South Mountain

It’s 50 days until my first full Ironman race – Ironman Lake Placid. It’s taken nearly 3 years to get here.

After my coach and I did the Half Ironman Maine in 2019, we signed up for Ironman Mont-Tremblant (near Montreal, Canada) for 2020.  

And then COVID hit.

Our race was cancelled, and all got deferred to Ironman Mont-Tremblant in 2021. Then that race was cancelled, not because of COVID infection rates, but because the Canada-U.S. border was still closed. Ironman gave us the option to change to a different race that year or get a refund. I took the refund, and we signed up for Ironman Lake Placid 2022.

What is an Ironman Race?

The Ironman race is a 140.6-mile triathlon consisting of:

  • 2.4-mile swim
  • 112-mile bike
  • 26.2-mile run

The race will start at 6:30 a.m., and you must finish by midnight to be an official Ironman.

Many people have asked me why we swim, bike, and run in this order, and my best guess is because they want the risk of death to decrease as we get more tired throughout the day. If you get tired and stop while swimming, you could drown. If you stop pedaling on your bike, you’re going to fall. If you stop running, you’ll just be standing there.

How’s Training Going?

I’m quite pleased with how my training is going. Each week, my coach sends me my custom training schedule that currently consists of 2 swims, 2 bike rides, and 3 runs. My hardest workout of the week is a “brick” workout, which is a bike ride followed immediately by a run.

It’s getting warm in Phoenix, so I try to start my workout early, at sunrise when possible. The bike course at Lake Placid is hilly, and I’ve been preparing by riding my bike at South Mountain, which has steeper inclines (up to 7%) than what I’ll have to ride on race day (up to 3%). I want to be in a position where nothing I do on race day is more difficult than anything I’ve done in a workout.

I’m probably the healthiest I’ve ever been heading into a race. My coach, David Roher, is diligent about getting his athletes to race day without injuring them along the way. He understands that the goal is to finish the race, not kill myself on my way to the starting line. I also see my physical therapist (who is also an Ironman) twice a month for maintenance, primarily focusing on my hips, quads, and back.

My workouts from this week and last week.

How am I Feeling?

I oscillate between squee-we’re-doing-Ironman and holy-fucking-shit-how-am-I-going-to-do-this. I’m trying to enjoy the excitement as we ramp up and do final preparation for the race. When the scared voice creeps into my head, I try to remember to breathe, take it one thing at a time, and remember that 1000s of people have done this before me. If I stick to my training, I’ll be more than ready for race day.

With each hard workout, I feel my confidence growing. This week, I ran 16.5 miles, and while I was tired by the end, I could have done another 10 more if I needed to.

Why Lake Placid?

I’m going to Lake Placid because Coach David is going to Lake Placid. I didn’t want to do my first full Ironman without him, so that means I go where he goes.

Actually, it was his wife who picked our race. Based on our availabilities, we had our choices down to two, Lake Placid and Maryland, and she said she wanted to go to Lake Placid. My coach’s race weekends often mean a vacation for the rest of his family.

Lucy Jane likes to lick the sweat off my face after my workout.

How Do the Next 50 Days Look?

I’m probably at the point now where I could complete an Ironman race, but it wouldn’t be pretty. Then next 50 days will be the buildup of my strength and stamina, doing my hardest workouts in early July, and then tapering down for the last few weeks before race day. In the process, I’ll be working on my mental as much as the physical as well as practicing my nutrition and hydration strategy for race day.

An important part of the next 50 days will also be getting enough rest. On my Rest Day each week, I won’t be partaking in any major activities, nothing more extensive than running errands. Getting enough sleep will also be imperative. I can’t let myself stay up late, lying in bed, dicking around on my phone.  Instead, I’ve been making myself put my phone out of reach when it’s time for bed.

Training for Ironman Mont Tremblant 2021

I’m doing my first full Ironman race in 229 days – Ironman Mont Tremblant in Canada. I was supposed to do it last year, but the race was cancelled, and we all got deferred to this year.

I’ve never done heroin, but this is what I say every time I pay for something expensive related to my race.

What is the Ironman?

The Ironman is a triathlon, composed of the following distances:

  • 2.4-mile (open water) swim, then a
  • 112-mile bike, followed by a
  • 26.2 (full marathon) run,

All in under 17 hours.

The race starts at 7am, and you must finish before midnight to be an official Ironman.

Why Are You Doing This?

I learned a long time ago that if I don’t have a race or other athletic event on my calendar, I will not be motivated to work out.

I enjoy the challenge of pushing myself to do something I’ve never done before. Races like this take dedication and mental toughness to get through not just race day but also the training to prepare for the race.

In 2017, I hired David Roher to help me train to complete my first marathon. During Mile 20 of the race, even though every part of my body hurt, I knew I wanted to do more marathons. I knew David did triathlons and coached triathletes, so I expanded my training in the off season to include swimming and biking as cross-training. Within months, I was signing up for my first sprint triathlon. About 30 seconds into that race, I knew triathlons were for me. I did the Half Ironman in 2019, and after that went well, I signed up for a full Ironman.

Are You Following a Program, Have a Coach, or Creating Your Own Thing?

Coach David is overseeing my training. Every Sunday, I get a text from him with my workouts for the week. Most weeks, I have two swim workouts, two bike workouts (one on the stationary trainer, one outside), two run workouts, and a rest day. I also have strength work that I do three times a week and stretches that I do every day. 

In addition to this, I also go to physical therapy once a week. I’ve been having long-term issues with my hips and back. My physical therapist is also an Ironman, which is helpful, because she has a greater understanding of my goals as well.

How Many Hours Are You Spending Training, Prepping, and Planning?

Oh geez. Right now, my shortest cardio workout is about 28 minutes (1,500-yard swim), and my longest is about 3 hours (48-mile bike ride). My strength workout is probably around an hour each time. Stretching takes around 30 minutes each day. A physical therapy session can last over 2 hours with all my exercises.  

In addition to all of this, there are other activities like checking on airline ticket prices for the race, bike maintenance, and replacing gear when it wears out like running shoes, workout clothes, and swim goggles.

In terms of diet, I mostly try to eat healthy, avoid excessive sugar, salt, and white flour. I also try to make sure I have enough protein in my diet, which might require more planning since I’m vegan.

Triathlon Shoes: Flip flops for the pool, bike shoes that clip in to my pedals, and running shoes.

What Will be the Longest Training Workout/Brick in Your Ramp Up?

That will be up to Coach David. In passing, he’s mentioned a 50-miles bike ride/5-mile run and a 100-mile bike ride/3.1-mile run.

I’m also planning to fly back East to do a 3.1-mile open water swim with my coach and the rest of the “Jewish Swim Club” in the Atlantic Ocean. During the race, I’ll be able to remind myself that swimming 2.4 miles is easier than swimming a 5k.

What Are You Most Looking Forward to Related to This Race?

So much. I’m excited to be an athlete who is capable of completing an Ironman race. Every time I can go faster, go farther, or see more muscle developing, it’s exciting.

What’s especially exciting about this race is the fact that I’ll be doing it with my coach and almost all of his other triathletes. There’s a strong sense of family and camaraderie in this group.

What Are You Least Looking Forward To?

My race is in August in Canada, but most of my training will be in Arizona. My longest workouts will be in June and July, when the low for the day can be in the high 80s. We’ll have to be careful to make sure I don’t overheat. On my long workout days, I may have to start at 2am or 3am to beat the heat.

Are You Practicing Peeing on the Bike or While Running?

To date, I haven’t needed to use the bathroom during a race. I’ve heard this is a thing. I even heard from another triathlete who was peed on by another racer while they were both on bikes. That must have happened while one was passing the other, because Ironman has strict rules about maintaining a minimum distance from other cyclists unless you’re passing.

Are You Going to Get the Tattoo?

Oh yes! I’m looking forward to getting the classic “M-Dot” tattoo.

Half Ironman Maine 2019: Race Recap

My first Half Ironman triathlon is in the books: 70.3 miles in 7 hours, 18 minutes, 25 seconds. I’ll take that.

This race was about a year in the making, ever since I did my first sprint triathlon last September. Less than 30 seconds into that race, I knew the Half Ironman was next.

Getting to Maine

Leading up to Maine 70.3 was training – lots of sweaty training – in the Phoenix heat. I was usually slimy with sweat by Mile 3 of a run, no matter how early I left the house. Coach David and I had to be careful about not having me outside too long on the 110+ degree days.

I also spent the last year dealing with a hip injury. I had to defer both my half marathon and full marathon over the winter because my hip wouldn’t let me train the way I needed to. Thankfully, my physical therapist is also a triathlete, so she was the perfect person to help David and me build up my mileage and adjust my strategy to manage the pain.

Pre-Race Prep

I had many calls and texts with David leading up to race day. We talked about how I was going to fuel during the race with protein powder, gels, and salt. He reviewed my packing list to make sure I brought everything I was going to need. I even made little lists to remind myself of what I needed to do during each transition (swim-to-bike and bike-to-run).

I arrived in Old Orchard Beach, Maine two days before the race. Our hotel was minutes away from the race expo and the starting line. We hit the race expo first to get our race packets (timing chip, race number, bike stickers, swim cap, etc.). I was so jittery-excited I could barely take it all in.

That afternoon, David took me swimming in the ocean. It had been over a year since I’d last swam in an ocean, and it was my first time swimming in my wetsuit. We worked on my form and cadence (which is hard to maintain in choppy water), and he lovingly reminded me of what it’s like to swim in a race by purposely running into me. He calls it Direct Recovery (of) Open Water Navigation (&) Guidance (D.R.O.W.N.G). It sounds cruel, but during a triathlon, people hit and kick you all the time during the swim. It’s better to be ready for it – because it will happen – so it won’t freak you out during the race.

Saturday was all about resting. I think I was the only non-Orthodox Jew in our group. It was fun participating in my first Shabbas lunch and learning all the rules. Since I was the “Shabbas goy” who could do “work,” I walked both David’s and my bikes to the race transition area. He came with me and we timed how long it took to walk from the transition area to the swim start and back to our hotel.

It was windy on Saturday, and David and I talked about what that would mean for my race. I shrugged and said, “I’ll still PR.”

https://www.flickr.com/photos/newenglandcoast/10902548214/
Old Orchard Beach, Maine. This is where we went into the water. Photo by NewEnglandCoast from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Race Day!

Race day morning was nerve-wracking. I was so nervous/excited as a powered down my oatmeal, pulled my wetsuit halfway up my body, and packed my gear bag for the race. David was cool as a cucumber as I was powerwalking to bike transition area, afraid I wouldn’t have enough time to lay out my gear before we had to report to the beach for the swim. (We had plenty of time.)

1.2-Mile Swim in the Atlantic Ocean

For the start of the race, we lined up based on when we expected to finish the swim. Instead of going in all at once, the organizers had us going in four swimmers at a time, each group five seconds apart.

Even though David is a faster swimmer than me, he lined up with me so he could be there to give me a last hug and be the proud coach to who told the announcer that it was my first Half Ironman. We walked into the ocean together, and within minutes we were apart, swimming our own races as we expected.

The swim was brutal. The water was cold and choppy. I had so much adrenaline coursing through my veins that I didn’t feel cold, but it was cold enough that the race was “booties legal” (below 65 degrees). Even though I was wearing goggles, I could barely see anything underwater, except the air bubbles coming out of my mouth. I couldn’t even see the hands and feet that were coming towards me until right before they hit me in the face. With 2,400+ racers, I got hit a lot.

The race route was a rectangle – out, over, and back again. Throughout the route, there were volunteers on paddle boards and kayaks where you could grab on if you needed a minute to rest and breathe. I checked my watch when I grabbed onto the first kayak – 4:45 into the race. I was panicking. I couldn’t find my cadence and I it seemed like I was getting hit by the other racers every few seconds.

There were three other racers holding onto the kayak. We gave each other a few encouraging words before letting go to swim on. 

At the buoy signaling the last turn for shore, I began to get pulled off course. In my wetsuit, I was essentially a floaty on top of the water, being pulled by the sideways current. A paddle boarding volunteer caught up with me and told me to aim back towards to race route. I tried, but it didn’t work. I was too tired and too light to get back to the group. Instead, I aimed for shore and walked back when my feet hit the sand.

One of the challenges of Ironman is you’re stuck listening to your own thoughts for the entire race. (No earbuds or cell phones allowed.) I kept myself going with words of encouragement using “Baby Duck,” my gymnastics coach’s pet name for his gymnasts.

I was so tired after the swim. I finished it in 1 hour, 2 minutes – 12 minutes longer than I wanted – and because I got pulled so far off course, I ended up doing 2,800 yards (including my walk back) instead of 2,100.

As I walked back to the official swim exit, I saw two lifeguards carrying a swimmer out of the water because they were too tired to walk. After the race, I heard a rumor that 70 people didn’t finish either because they were too tired or got seasick.

Transition One: Swim-to-Bike

As I walked over the sensor that indicated that I finished the swim, I said, “Fuck Ironman” and flipped off the photographer getting shot of all of us coming out of the swim. I was so tired and angry. That’s also when I finally felt how cold I was.

At the end of the swim, there were volunteers called “strippers” who peeled off our wetsuits. As I walked up to them, I said, “Who wants to touch me?” Two women held up their hands to help me. They pulled off my wetsuit and handed it to me to carry back to the bike transition.

Once I got to my bike, I pulled off my swim cap and googles, sprayed down with sunblock, put on my socks, bike shoes, bandana, helmet, and sunglasses, and I was off again.

56-Mile Bike Ride

The bike ride took us through the back roads of many towns in the area. I loved that this bike route was a single loop rather than several laps on a smaller loop.

Near the beginning of the ride, I saw a street called Ruth Way. I smiled and thought, “My race. My way.”

This area of Maine is gorgeous – lots of houses with barn stars (for good luck), cows, big trees, and open pastures. The route had rolling hills, and only a few were brutal. It was much nicer than city riding.

Throughout the ride, I found people to pace with – we learned each other’s names and said hello as we passed each other. I was pleased to see that I frequently passed people, especially on the hills. As I climbed each hill, I muttered, “We train on hills because we race on hills.” It felt gratifying to pass other people in my division. (The organizers write your age on the back of your left calf in black marker before the beginning of the race.)

There were three aid stations along the ride that had bananas, water, and Gatorade. I came to a full stop at each one to have a banana and switch out my Gatorade bottle. I was like a Minion, smiling, and saying, “Mmm, banana” each time. Most of the other racers near me could grab and consume these without falling. I wasn’t that skilled yet.

Based on our training rides, I knew there was a chance I’d catch up to David during the bike. I passed him at Mile 36. He was unmistakable with his tzitzit and his neon yellow “Do Epic Shit” socks. I was impressed when he passed me just before the end of the ride. We finished with only two riders between us.

My race medal. I earned this thing.

Transition Two: Bike-to-Run

I made sure I did three things before I headed out for the run:

  • My shoes were tied the way I like them.
  • I sprayed my skin with sunblock again.
  • I put on my hat.

Even though we were in Maine, I didn’t want to finish the race looking like a lobster.

David is much faster in the transitions than I am. (He’s done 6 Ironman and more than 20 Half Ironman races.) By the time I got out on the run, he was already about three minutes ahead of me.

13.1-Mile Run

I felt better than I expected during the run. I’ve heard that some racers have to walk the first part of the run until they get their “legs back.” I could run from my first step. I wasn’t fast, but I was running. Actually, I was surprised by how many people I passed during the run portion.

The race organizers had aid stations every 1 to 1.5 miles along the route with Gatorade, water, Coke, bananas, oranges, and pretzels. I stayed hydrated with Gatorade, treated myself to Coke twice, and gave myself hits of salt from a race vial that I was carrying with me.

About a third of the run was on a nature trail. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t like trail running. I’m clumsy enough without outside help. I caught up with David around Mile 4, while we were on the trail. As I approached him, I said, “Fuck you, David,” and he responded, “That’s my athlete.” He “forgot” to tell me that part of the race was on dirt. I passed him and kept going. (He and I have a running joke about cursing his name.)

My strategy for the run was to alternate between running and walking. I started with run 9 minutes/walk 1 minute. At minute 58 of my run, my hip started to hurt, so I shifted to run 6/walk 1.

Crossing the Finish Line

I ran as hard as I could for the last half mile of the race – pushing myself for a strong finish. I raised my arms triumphantly as I crossed the finish line. To be honest, I was so tired, I was surprised I could still lift my arms.

I hung out in the finish line area, knowing David wasn’t far behind me. He crossed the finish line five minutes after me and gave me a big hug. He was beaming with coach pride.

Athlete and Proud Coach

Post-Race

It felt so good to step into a hot shower after the race. I was covered in salt, sweat, and sunblock.

The next morning, I flew home to Phoenix. I was tired and sore, but thankfully, the pain was nothing like I feared.

So many thanks to Ironman, the volunteers, everyone who cheered along the race route, all my loved ones who supported me in this journey, and especially Coach David and his family. I couldn’t have done this without you.

Winter Swimming is for Masochists

I’ve never doubted that I’m a masochist. Between being a gymnast, going to law school, getting 14 piercings, and now being a triathlete, I’ve put a lot of time and money into torturing myself for fun.

Winter swimming is definitely in the category of being an act of masochism.

This is my pool – steam coming off the water at 6am.

I live in the desert. Compared to the rest of the U.S., it usually doesn’t get that cold here in the winter. As a result, my blood has thinned since I lived in the Pacific Northwest. When it gets cold here, I feel extra cold. When I walk my dog on these chilly mornings, I’m bundled in running tights, jeans, socks, long sleeves, a sweatshirt, and a hat. I don’t wear that many layers to the pool, instead opting for sweatpants, a long sleeve shirt, sweatshirt, and a hat over my swim suit, and only flip flops on my feet.

When it’s 45 degrees outside, going to the outdoor pool is chilly experience. When the temperature is in the low 30s, it’s almost painful. It’s basically a reverse polar plunge to strip off my outer layers and jump in the water.

Recently, I went to the pool when it was 36 degrees outside. As I waited for the staff to open the door at 6am, I shot a quick video to send to my coach:

It’s 36 degrees outside.

I’m wearing flip flops.

My lips are blue.

I’m going swimming.

Fuck you, David.

Don’t worry it’s not offensive. My coach has a not-so-secret goal of making his athletes curse his name. I enjoy the challenge of training, so it’s rare that he gets me to curse. I’m sure a giant grin spread across his face when he saw this. (Every masochist needs a sadist.)

Coach David and Athlete, Post Swim at the Atlantic Ocean (July 2018)

The pool itself is heated, but it’s not hot. Typically, when it’s this cold, it takes about a lap before I can fully feel my hands and get used to the temperature. The other day, a fellow masochistic swimmer jumped in the water before me.

“Is it warm?” I asked.

“It’s refreshing,” he responded.

That means “No.” I put on my goggles and jumped in, submerging my whole body. When I resurfaced, I looked him and said, “It’s infuriating.”

By the time I finished my first two laps, the water felt fine, but the experience of getting to that level of comfort shows how much we really want to be there.

Of course, getting out of the pool is the reverse experience – going from the comfortable heated water back onto the freezing cold pool deck, this time soaking wet. I stay outside only long enough to step into my flip flop, throw my towel around myself, and head inside to the family bathroom.

In the summer, when I get out of the water, I pull on my short over my wet bathing suit and sit on my towel to drive home. That is not happening in the winter. I want to get out of that wet swim suit and dry as soon as possible. I usually peel of my swim suit and throw it across the room to the sink before toweling off and pulling on my warm sweats. I wrap my wet suit in my towel and drive home with the heat blowing through the vents.

Why do I go swimming outside in the winter (besides being a masochist)? I’m training for my first Half Ironman, and training doesn’t take a day off because it’s cold. Seeing consistent improvement in my time and technique makes it all worth it.

First Marathon in the Books!

After more than five months of training, I finished my first marathon – the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona on January 14, 2018. I had never been more nervous for a race.  I had calls with my coach the day before and morning of the race. His last piece of advice to me was, “Breathe.”

Being around friendly fellow racers helped too. They all had words of encouragement when they heard it was my first complete marathon.

My race bib, shirt, and medal

Spectators Matter and Dogs!
The spectators for this race are awesome. Seeing their faces and hearing them cheer makes a difference. Some set up extra water stations; handed out orange slices, bacon, and beer; and held up signs. Hat tip to the spectators who made multiple appearances along the route. I was happy to see so many people with their dogs along the race route. Each one made me smile.

Your Backside Matters
More racers need to understand that their backside is entertainment for the people running behind them. I want to see more shoulder and calf tattoos and shirts with interesting backs. Several racers during the last 7 miles complemented the back of my shirt as they passed me. One said it was “dirty lie” because we were only at Mile 19. I responded that my shirt doesn’t say, “Last Mile.”

Watching so many people’s backs confirmed my idea of getting a variation of the Ignite Phoenix bird tattooed on my right shoulder blade and wearing t-back tank tops on race day.

How do these People Know my Name?
At several water stations, the volunteers cheered for me by name. I thought, “Do I know them? How do they know my name?” as I examined their faces for something familiar. And then I remembered, “Oh right, it’s on my bib.”

Still smiling after 26.2 miles and walking home from the light rail. Those numbers of my hand reminded me of when to take my gels.

“Coach, It Hurts.”
By Mile 20, I was in pain, and seriously contemplating whether I could finish the race without walking. I was afraid if I started walking, I wouldn’t be able to start running again. A frequent thought that crossed my mind was, “Coach, it hurts.”

During my training, I did a 23.8-mile run. Coach David said my body could handle the 26.2-mile distance, even if I had to walk the last miles.

I didn’t want to walk, or entertain that possibility, so I flipped from thinking about the pain to distracting myself by mentally going through gymnastics routines. (I was a gymnast for 17 years. I’ve completed many challenging runs with this trick.)

Mile 23 – 5K to go
At 5K to go, there was no way I was going to walk. Even exhausted and in pain, I could run a 5K. At the water station at Mile 24, a volunteer cheered, “Looking strong Ruth!” I didn’t feel strong, but appreciated it.

Mile 25 had the steepest hill on the course. I had some choice words for the organizers at that moment, and then I thought, “This is why I train on hills.”

Finish Strong
I had a good end of the race, coming down the hill at the end of the Mill Ave Bridge and turning the corner towards the finish line. I raised my arms and smiled as I crossed the finish line. Despite being in pain, I look happy in all my photos from the race.

I started walking after I crossed the finish line. I didn’t want to stop moving because I knew more pain would set in.

Post-Race Pain
Oh, and did it hurt. I had pain in my hips, quads, knees, and feet. I had been dealing with a sore ankle for the last week and taped it with KT Tape for the race. It did remarkably well during the race; I felt no pain until I took the tape off post-race.

I hurt so much after the race, I couldn’t get comfortable enough to nap after I got home and showered. Instead, I laid in bed for an hour and watched YouTube on my phone. I had Gatorade and chocolate milk after the race, and I didn’t want to eat for a few hours after the race.

The next day I had substantially less pain than I expected. Most of pain was in my quads. Surprisingly, I’m not going to lose any toenails from the race. I only lost one during training.

Got the Bug
I’ve heard marathoners are one-and-done or get the marathon bug. Even before this race ended, I was thinking about my next race. My goal for this race was to just finish. Now, I want to see if I can improve my time and feel stronger.

Here are my stats from this race:
Finish Time: 4:44:37
944/1852 Overall
344/809 Gender (Women’s)
63/141 Division

Undeniable Recap of 2017

2016 was bad. I felt as if that year couldn’t end soon enough.  But it’s as if 2017 started the year saying, “Hold my beer” and it went downhill from there. I had a lot of challenges this year including reconstruction at Castle Carter after my condo flooded, death of my childhood coach, being in a car accident, studying for the California bar exam, and processing my gender identity.

My jar of happy memories

Thankfully, I started a new tradition of keeping a jar next to my bed where I wrote notes about things that happened in my life that made me happy or giggle. Even on bad days, I could look over at my jar that was filling with notes and be reminded that life doesn’t suck all the time. It was a joy to go through them while I wrote this post. Here are my top 5 events/activities from 2017:

Me and my skateboard

1. I got a Skateboard at CMWorld
Content Marketing World always does an excellent job taking care of its speakers. I look forward to this conference every year and I’m proud to be part of Team Orange. When they announced that Casey Neistat would be one of the keynote speakers, I started tweeting at them that I wanted an orange skateboard as my speaker gift. (They usually get us each a wireless mouse/laser pointer.) Shortly after I checked into my hotel room, the hotel dropped off a big box for me. It was a mini orange skateboard! I love this thing, not just because it’s awesome, but because it made me feel like part of the CMWorld family. Once I finish my marathon in 2018, I’m going to take a skateboarding lesson and learn how to ride it properly.

I love this tattoo

2. “Don’t Be What They Made You” Tattoo
I saw Logan in the theater. When I heard this line, I instantly knew I wanted it tattooed on my wrist. A few months later, Hollis at Iconic Tattoo made it a reality. This is a daily reminder and inspiration for me.

3. “But I’m still your Tranpa”
Accepting that I’m non-binary made me feel like I was a baby queer all over again. I felt especially vulnerable a few months ago and sent an email to trans entertainer and advocate Buck Angel, just an open invitation for lunch the next time he’s in Phoenix. He responded and signed it “Tranpa.” I wrote back and said, age-wise, we’re more like cousins. (We’re only about 7 years apart.) He responded, “Hahaa but I’m still your Tranpa ❤️.”

This warmed my heart. It matters to talk to people who “get it.” Buck is someone I reach out to when I experience dysmorphia or feel like I live in a world that wasn’t made for me.

Still smiling after running 20 miles – and rocking some mad hair

4. Running with David
I’m training for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon 2018. After getting a DNF at my last marathon attempt, I decided to hire a coach, David Roher. He lives on the east coast, so we communicate over email, text, and phone. He gives me my assignments and tracks my workouts via Strava, plus we talk about nutrition, stretching, injuries, and life in general.

David always has a word of encouragement when I need it – often to remind me that I have the ability to do any assignment he gives me and not to push myself too hard. When I finished my 20-mile training run a few weeks ago, I was pleased with my pace and by how good I felt at the end of it.

5. Ethics and Ice Cream
I had a flash of brilliance at the beginning of August to do a continuing legal education seminar looking at what Arizona lawyers were being disciplined for during the last few years to look for patterns and commonalities. I pitched the idea to do this for ASU CLE and call it “Ethics and Ice Cream.” They loved it and we scheduled the event for about a month later. I recruited fellow lawyer and comedian, Matt Storrs, and we reviewed all the Lawyer Regulation reports since 2015 and pulled off a successful event.

This event made this list, not because I created a CLE, but because I put this idea into action and made it work.

As I read all the notes in my jar, I noticed there were at least six notes that mentioned hugs or being the “little spoon.” Besides giving me a warm fuzzy trip down memory lane, these notes reminded me how important the people in my life are to me.

Rosie Dog – Go check out her Instagram

Firsts in 2017
Flying in/out of a city in one day (for Ungagged Las Vegas)
Standing ovation for singing “O Holy Night” at the Community Church of Hope Christmas Show
Love and Complements Rally
Interview on The Out House Podcast
Foods: Almond butter (meh), Vegan gourmet shreds (cheese-like, not bad), Cashew milk ice cream (best non-dairy ice cream), Almond milk yogurt (not food), Cashew yogurt (not food), Pumpkin seeds (so good), Spirulina (meh)
Events: ICON, Law Launcher, TBD Law, BlogHer

Minions make me smile

Celebrity Sightings
Tom Green
Joseph Gordon Levitt
Chris Guillebeau
Casey Neistat
Paul Risser
Minions

In Memoriam
George Seivert
Don Rickles
Andrea Esquer
Laurel Graver
Dorian Kreiling

Vampire Running

It’s been about three months since my last post about running, and I’m about a month away from the 2018 Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon. Training with Coach David has been going well. He still has me running three days a week: two 10Ks and a long run these days. Thankfully I’ve graduated from short sprints and 5Ks with negative splits. Coach David says I’ll curse he name sometime during my training, but I just don’t see myself cursing the person who’s trying to help me.

This is what I look like after running 20 miles. Look at that hair!

Last week, I coined the phrase, “vampire running.” I really enjoy finishing my run and getting home before sunrise. (Yes, I wear a snazzy reflective belt so cars can see me.) The world is so peaceful then. I rarely see other runners out with me – usually just the Uber self-driving cars, a handful of delivery trucks, and people who have to be at work before 7am. It’s nice to start the day running under the last few stars.

David’s been working with me on maintaining a steady pace during my runs. I’ll admit I don’t always care about pace, like last Tuesday when I woke up super angry and I just felt like hauling ass. Looking back, I can’t tell you why I was angry (maybe PMS) but I was spitting nails. I ran 6.6 miles with an average 9:04/mile pace.

Two days later, I was ready to be more even-keeled. I switched out my fast-paced running music for podcasts and ran the same 6.6 miles at 9:39/mile average. Looking at my data on Strava, I wouldn’t call it a steady pace, but it was less chaotic than the first run of the week.

Real conversation I had with Coach David last week

Last Saturday was my first 20-mile run of this training cycle. Even though David’s steadily increased the lengths of my long runs over the last 3 months, I was still nervous for this distance. And since I’m a vampire runner, I set my alarm for 3am so I could be out pounding pavement by 4:30am. (I have to feed and walk Rosie dog and get a peanut butter bagel with banana and a coffee in my system before my long run.)

Running during that quiet window when the night owls have gone to bed and the early risers aren’t up and out yet is wonderful. It helped me find my zone and I kept my most even pace to date. I chose I route that faced west for the first half, so I could maximize my enjoyment of the darkness, and faced east for the run home. I got to see the first light peaking over the horizon and then I watched the sunrise during my last few miles home. It was glorious. I finished in substantially less pain than I anticipated with an average pace of 10:31/mile.

One thing that’s changed since September is the temperature. Autumn finally arrived a few weeks ago and it’s actually chilly in the morning now. I had to ask Coach David about if/when I should switch to long pants and sleeves. (On race day, the expected starting temperature is around 45 degrees with an expected high of 65 degrees.) He said the magic number for that is 40, though he follows a different rule for himself.

Running Notes: Marathon Training, September 2017

As I said after the bar exam, I’m back to pounding pavement and training for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Arizona 2018. This time around, I’m hired a coach – David Roher – who gives me my running assignment every week and monitors my progress. I also pepper him with questions about diet and nutrition.

For my previous races, I used the Hal Higdon program, but given my chest pains and heart issues with my last marathon (where I DNFed), I decided having more personalized attention would be best.

I’ve been training with Coach David for 6 weeks, and so far every week I get to 3 runs: 1 sprint, 1 race pace, and 1 jog. I wanted to share some thoughts from last week’s runs:

Why am I so tired? Oh yeah – I ran 10 miles this morning.

Sprint – 1.5 Miles
As a gymnast, the furthest I had to sprint was 72.5 feet down the vault runway. This is not that kind of sprinting. The goal is to run as fast you can and sustain for the whole distance. Finding my sprint pace has been a challenge; I keep starting out too fast. I figured the best way to make myself run at a consistent pace would be to use a treadmill – aka the human hamster wheel. So last week when I was in Cleveland for Content Marketing World, I made myself do my sprint on a treadmill in my hotel.

I’m not a fan of the human hamster wheel, but I set the machine for 7.2mph, and ~12 minutes later, I was done.  While I dislike running in place, I hope it gave my muscles an experience of running at that pace that I can replicate in the real world.

Race Pace – 6.2 Miles
I did this run in Cleveland too. In Phoenix, the sky is starting to lighten by 5:30am. Not so much in Cleveland. It was dark, raining, and 54 degrees outside. Thankfully the rain mostly subsided in the first mile, and I put my contacts in so I could see where I was going more clearly. I’m near-sighted so I don’t really need lenses to run, but I think it makes me feel more secure, especially in an unfamiliar part of the city.

I mapped out my run on Google Maps the night before, but according to Strava, I ran 6.5 miles instead of 6.2, and at a faster pace (9:05/mile) than my previous race pace run (9:30/mile). Perhaps it’s easier to run faster when it’s 54 degrees outside than 84 degrees.

Jog – 10 Miles
Speaking of 84 degrees, that’s how hot it was when I started my 10-mile run at 6:30am. For the long run, my instructions are to just finish, preferably without walking. This was my first double-digit run, and to be honest, I was a bit nervous about whether I had the stamina for this distance. Remember, I’ve only been running for 6 weeks after taking a nearly 3 month running hiatus due to my car accident.

I picked a route that took me up into a desert park and around Tempe Town Lake, so I’d at least have beautiful surroundings. And since I started so late, I got to see lots of boaters and people walking their dogs at the lake – at least when I wasn’t blinded by the sweat dripping into my eyes.

It was a hard run, including hills in the last two miles. But putting one foot in front of the other, I finished with an average 11:11/mile pace and I didn’t walk. It was a win for me.

As far as I know, my plan is to do three runs a week and working my muscles every day with stretching, foam roll, and The Stick. I have no idea what my assignment will be one week to the next. Coach David decides it based on the previous week’s performance – he monitors my progress thanks to my data on Strava.

This week’s assignment: 1.5-mile spring, 6.2 miles at race pace, and a 12-mile jog. I’m so glad it’s finally starting to cool off in the desert.