Amy Gluck, MS, RD, CPT

Registered Dietitian
Certified Personal Trainer
5 time USA Triathlon All-American
5 time Kona Qualifier
Boston Marathon Qualifier

China 2010

The question that would be answered at Ironman China is whether I would be able to prepare for an Ironman during a Michigan winter. I went out and bought an indoor bike trainer and hoped for the best. Although I love biking in the summer, I struggle through a 1 hour spin class and I wasn’t sure how many 5 hour trainer rides I would be able to endure. My training went fairly well. My run training was the best it had ever been. I feared that was due to a lack of bike mileage on my legs. Only time would tell.

As we arrived in Haikou on Wednesday, the temps were in the 60’s. This was a little too chilly for me to go for a practice swim and certainly didn’t help our acclimatization for racing in 90 degree weather in March. The roads around our hotel were completely unsafe for biking, so I opted for a 5 mile run.

Thursday, we had temps in the 60’s again. I kept checking the weather. Could it really make it up to 93 for race day? We took the shuttle over to the host hotel with our bikes, checked-in, and went for a 10 mile ride out by the host hotel. The roads over there were better, but still too dangerous to risk more than just a quick ride. Prior to our ride, I threw my sling bag on my back and hopped on my bike to catch up with Ryan. The sling bag shifted to the right as I clipped in and before I knew it, I had landed right on my hip on the cobblestone road. I had no time to react. My hands were still on the handlebars as I hit the ground and I had some nasty bruises on my hip and elbow. This was not a good start. I was now walking with a serious limp 3 days before the race.

Friday is supposed to be my day of complete rest, but since I had yet to make it down for a practice swim and it was finally warming up to a balmy 70 degrees, I decided it would be best to do a quick practice swim and then relax the rest of the day. We took the shuttle down to the transition area and pulled on our wetsuits. The race website had said something about the water being about 78 degrees when I signed up. It probably wasn’t even 68 degrees. I wasn’t the only one who was a little surprised by this. In the days prior to the race, people were scrambling to borrow wetsuits. Lucky for them, the IM distance and the 70.3 distance were on the same day, but the 70.3 swim didn’t start until the IM swim was over. I was very glad to have my wetsuit as I jumped into the chilly water to swim a lap.

The swim at Ironman China is a 4 loop swim course that is shaped like a “Y” and the end of each loop includes a short run up on the beach. I actually liked this swim course. Although, making five sharp turns on each loop was a bit frustrating, I liked the feeling that I had accomplished something every 1000 m and the smaller course made it much easier to spot the swim buoys along the way.

Saturday, the temps finally made up into the 80’s. I was starting to believe the forecast might actually be accurate. We started our morning with a quick 10 min ride outside of our hotel to go through the gears and make sure everything was in working order. I’m not sure how I survived. The traffic in China is crazy. There are no rules of the road. Cars, bikes, mopeds, and pedestrians move in every direction all at once. I had no major problems with the bike. I just needed a few minor adjustments from bike support. We headed down to the transition area for a quick 10 min swim. All was good. Then I was on my way to the host hotel for a massage and the pre-race meeting. After that, it was time to pack our transition bags and drop our things off in transition. I stopped in for a quick adjustment at bike support, racked my bike, hung my bags, and attempted to walk the route through transition. I couldn’t figure out the route and none of the volunteers seemed to know it either. Ugh. I knew I’d have plenty of time race morning to figure it out.

I had 15 min before the last shuttle left to head back to the hotel. I had just enough time to go out for a quick 10 min run. My hip was still stiff and sore, but I was able to run without a limp as far as I could tell. We finally made it back to our hotel and did the last thing we should have done at this point. We headed out on the streets of China to purchase our pre-race meal from the street vendors without Alan. We got our favorite: stretchy noodles with lamb. YUM!

Race Day:
Race day morning we got up at 4:00am, ate breakfast (2 whole wheat bagels with chocolate peanut butter and a banana) and caught the 5:15 am shuttle down to transition. I pumped up my tires, put my nutrition on my bike, and tried to find somebody who knew the route through transition. Still, no luck. Now, I was getting pretty frustrated, but trusted that the volunteers would usher me through at race pace. The morning air was warm, but there was a steady wind blowing. They had predicted 13 mph winds, but it was surely blowing harder than that already and the sun had yet to rise.

We put on our wetsuits and headed down to the swim start. The swim start was a time trial start. The pros started 1 min ahead and then the amateurs went 5 athletes every 5 seconds by AG. The first time I had heard that this would be happening was at the pre-race meeting. I loved it! I really liked the TT start in Louisville and, as luck would have it, I signed up for the only other IM with a TT start without even knowing it. With 5 turns every loop, there was still plenty of contact on the swim, but it went by fairly quickly. I really looked forward to the run on the beach between loops where I was able to pass more people than in the water. By the 4th loop, the sun was up and the wind had started to pick up. The waves had really increased in size and I was glad it would be my last lap.

Each time I came out of the water, I scanned the shore for a swim clock. I never saw one, but as I entered the changing tent, there was only one other female in there and she was a pro. As my 3 volunteers helped me out of my wetsuit and into my bike gear, I heard Whit announce another female pro coming out of the water. (Yes, 3 volunteers to myself. Can you believe that?) I figured I must have had a decent swim if I was coming out with the pros.

As I headed out onto the bike course, I passed the pro that was in the changing tent with me and a few other athletes from my age group. The bike course is a 2 loop course with gently rolling hills and a steep 5 mile climb through some villages in the middle of each loop. The winds were picking up all day long and we had a steady, strong crosswind which sometimes shifted to a headwind or tailwind, but never let up. I had passed a few females along the way, even 2 pros, but none of the females had passed me back. This had me feeling pretty good. Towards the end of the first loop, I was finally passed by a female, but she was a pro, so I was ok with that fact.

At the race meeting, we were informed that we would be riding on the left side of the road and the aid stations would be on the left. HUH?!?! This was completely new to me. I had never ridden on the left and passed on the right, but most importantly, I had never grabbed bottles on the bike with my left hand. I was a little nervous about this going into the race, but it was fairly seamless after the first few aid stations.

After the second climb through the villages and a near miss with a cow, I was ready to be off my bike. I started to wonder what I always do at this point in the race. “Why does the bike have to be 112 miles?” I rolled into transition, excited about my place. (I didn’t actually know what my place was, but I had a feeling it was pretty good.) I was also really excited about the run. My run training had been better than ever and I had just had my fastest swim split and my second fastest bike split. As I stepped off the bike, one thing became very clear: I did not leave enough for the marathon. As I shuffled into the changing tent, all I could think was, “This is really bad…so much for all that great run training.” I hoped to feel much differently after I sat down for a second to change my shoes. Two or three volunteers helped me with my gear and I was quickly out onto the run course.

By this point, the temps had soared to 93 degrees and the heat index was 98. We fought strong winds on the bike all day and this day had really taken its toll on me. To combat the heat, I focused my mind on my long training runs in the cold winds, ice, and snow. I checked my split at the 2K mark. I don’t remember what it was, but I do remember that this was the point at which I decided I wasn’t going to be checking my time splits on the run (something I had never done before in an Ironman). I knew I wasn’t going to like what I saw and I knew it was going to negatively affect my mental game. Time no longer mattered. It was simply about place. The out and back run course would allow me to assess who was ahead of me and by how much. That was all I needed to know.

I ran the first out and back and saw one athlete in my age group ahead of me. I HAD to catch her. With only one Kona slot in my AG, it was all or nothing. As I approached the 10K mark, I spotted her and made the pass. There weren’t any other T2 bags missing in transition, so I had to be winning my age group. Right? I trudged along. My high points were seeing Ryan and James coming back after the second turn around. Ryan stopped and gave me a high-five and lots of words of encouragement, which really boosted my spirits. James was a man on a mission. I’m not even sure if he saw or heard me. Either way, it looked like he was having a great race, which made me charge on as well. My legs were aching and my skin was burning. I wanted to walk so badly, even for just a few seconds. My pace was slow and painful. I was just putting one foot in front of the other, trying to hold my place as first in my AG.

As I headed towards the turn around, I saw another female running towards me. She wasn’t a pro and her number was out of sequence to be an amateur doing the full distance. Strange. All of a sudden, it hit me. At registration, I noticed that there was one athlete in my age group who had registered on site. Her number was out of sequence, which meant her gear was not racked with the rest of the athletes in our age group. This HAD to be her. She was in my age group, about 1 mile ahead of me, and her stride looked as though she was floating on air. She looked light on her feet and I could barely pick my feet up off the ground. There was no way I was going to catch her. I wasn’t in first. I was in second. There goes my age group win and my Kona slot. It was a tough mental blow. It was difficult to continue on. I wondered why I thought I could do this while training in Michigan in the winter. I wasn’t in my top shape and I hated that fact at this point. I hated the wind. I hated the heat. I hated China.

As I got to the second turn around, there was noise, crowds, horns, music, and Whit announcing the play-by-play of the race. It was almost too much to take in my altered state of consciousness. I heard the motorcycles behind me and saw the cameras. Luke McKenzie was coming into the finish for the win. He looked strong and smooth. He looked completely unaffected by the winds and the heat of the day. Like any great athlete, he made it look easy. It’s not.

As I made the turn around and headed back, I decided it was time to get the negative thoughts out of my head. We still had 13 miles to run. You never know what can happen in 13 miles. She looked strong, but she could bonk or cramp. I had to keep moving. No matter how bad it hurt and how tough it was for me to keep my mental game in check, I had to keep moving. As I headed back to the final turn around, I saw Alan, James and Ryan again. I got another pep talk from Ryan again, just as I really needed it. Next, I saw the winner of my age group coming towards me, still running strong. I looked to see how far up the turn around was. Was it a half mile down the road? Did she still have 1 mile on me?

Wait, was that the turn around? Right there!?!?! I was about 100 yards from the turn around. I had made up almost a mile on her over the past 8 miles. I was gaining on her and quickly. After making the turn around, I spotted her before too long. She was walking! This was too good to be true. As I passed, she cheered for me, told me I was first in our age group, and told me to go get my Kona slot. Sweet! I was on a new mental high, but I was still in serious pain. My legs hurt, my back hurt, my skin hurt, and my lungs were burning. There was no way I could stop now though. I knew there was still one amateur ahead of me. She went charging past me around mile 10 on the run and she was holding a steady pace. Around mile 23, I passed another amateur from a different AG that I didn’t even know was ahead of me.

As I neared the finish line, I was so glad to be done. I crossed the finish in line in 11:07:15. After swimming my fastest swim split and biking my second fastest bike split, I had run my slowest marathon. Ironically enough, it was my slow marathon that won the race. It wasn’t fast, it wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t my best performance, but it was done and I had plenty to celebrate. I accomplished my goal. I won my age group and secured my slot to Kona. I finished 7th overall and I was the 2nd female amateur. This was the first time I had ever finished in the top 10 in an Ironman! I no longer hated China, I no longer hated the heat, and I no longer hated the wind. I was able to manage these factors just enough to use them in my favor on this particular day.

Did I answer my question? Am I able to prepare for an Ironman during a Michigan winter? I believe I am. However, there is a learning curve for successful training indoors and I have a lot of things I would do differently next time. Wait a minute. Did I just say, “Next time!?!?!?”
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