My First Ironman Journey
I don’t even know where to start this blog. I can go back 4 years ago when I first started triathlon, not even interested in doing that type of distance. I thought it was crazy, “No way” “There’s no time” “That’s just nuts” “That’s amazing, but my head is not even there right now”
Being in the city of San Diego, you get to know many triathletes in the circuit. These athletes did all distances 10 times over. So me even talking about this race doesn’t give me bragging rights at all in comparison with their long lists of accomplishments, podiums, and so on. Or does it?
So if you read my blogs you would probably know something about me. My half a decade of being a single mother, nursing a special needs child back to health in the hospital for years, struggling with who I was and who I wanted to be. If I could explain to you in so many words, I think of the movie the Pursuit of Happiness with Will Smith. I always knew I was in the Pursuit of Happiness, and that’s all that mattered. It didn’t matter if I had a 12 year degree, a high paying career, or even if I had the biggest house in the richest neighborhood. Wherever God put me, I had been surrounded by love and had everything I had ever needed….this was content for me coming where I have come from. My favorite line from that movie, was when Will Smith told his son….
This really sits deep in me, as I was told no so many times growing up and this threw me into a rebellious loop for years as I had no outlet. I always knew I had an athlete within me somewhere, locked into the confines of what my parents could control.
I have to first start with being thankful with having the financial means to even be able have all the equipment needed to do triathlons, there’s also the costs involved, travel, hotel, food, oh, and a whopping $700 just to do the race! Again, God provided for us, and that’s the only way I can explain where I am today.
Second, I always give thanks for having the health to be able to continue to do what I do. After losing my father in law to pancreatic cancer earlier this year, it was such a hard thing to swallow. Shortly before that, my Aunt won her battle with lung cancer but not with pnuemonia. Death is a never ending reminder that life is precious.
Earlier this year, my husband DNF’d at Vineman Full more than half way through the bike. If it weren’t for his DNF we would’ve never made it home in time to say good bye to his father. While we made funeral arrangements, hosting the rosary for 9 days and taking care of family who flew in from Guam, we didn’t train for a straight 2 weeks, this was the most for me ever since being a triathlete. With heavy hearts, we resumed training again for the next race shortly after, Silverman 70.3 in Henderson, NV. Unfortunately, due to work and inability to focus on training, my husband DNF’d a 2nd time. I knew this stung his ego, his heart, and he questioned his father as to “Why? What are you trying to tell me?” I felt in my heart that it wasn’t in his timing this year, and he had to learn to let go and let God take over. I knew I had to make this my motto moving forward and race for him and his dad.
THE TRAINING: So everyone knows, training for an Ironman is no easy task, especially the last 2 months when you are building and building. brick after brick, swim- run, bike-run, run-bike-run, repeat! I usually spend the winter months with strength training and some cardio, occasional running races and just enjoy the time with loved ones and catching up on endless responsibilities. Earlier this year, I was given the opportunity to be a part of the “A Team”, founded by Andi Neugarten and her awesome clothing line Alii Lifestyle (fka Active Angelz). Shortly after joining the team, I then became her Social Media Director and the rest is history.
Breakaway Training was also a part of the A Team and I took on Felipe Loureiro as my coach he is also the founder of Breakaway Training and the Men’s Nytro Team. His plan was very easy to follow. Although, I probably only got 85% of the workouts in because of my busy schedule and different injuries, blisters, etc. I trusted my training.
This year I wanted to make sure if I did this race, that I wouldn’t get to the point where I was sacrificing everyone’s time, sacrifice happiness, or my physical capabilities. I listened to my body. Rested when I needed rest, moved the days around that fit best for me, I didn’t make myself feel guilty if I could only do a 4 hour bike ride instead of a 5 hour bike ride because of my kids busy sport schedules. I had my priorities straight, and felt good about that the entire time of my training.
I love triathlon, but I love my family more.
THE INJURIES (Suck it up Buttercup, this is Ironman): Early on I had been recouping from hip flexor issues, neck and shoulder issues, all on my right side. Then it navigated to my left foot and I had Plantar Fascitus. I must have spent thousands in Chiropractor, ART, massages, different shoes, just for the one injury which I have had on going since my 20’s from carrying my kids in the middle of the night when I worked 2nd shift for years. Either way, I stayed on top of it and was able to control the pain towards the middle of my training, then I got it under control as my training really started to build. This was important.
As the hours on my bike increased 3 hours plus, my shoes started to feel tighter on the bike. So much so that after 3-4 hours my left toe felt like it was going to explode! So painful, every little bump I went over, felt like someone dropped a hammer on my left big toe. Every hour I had to take my foot out of my shoe to alleviate the pain, just so I could bike back home.
Because Ironman Arizona is flat, 90% of the bike is in Aero Position. Early in my training it was hard for me to sit in aero without some kind of shoulder and neck pain on my right side. I was so inflamed on my right side that the pain shot up through a nerve on the side of my head and was like needles stuck in my skull and behind my ear.
So the result, my feet actually expanded, which required for me to get new cycling shoes, a whole size bigger! The pain in my right shoulder and neck subsided when I changed my helmet for better visual and head placement and continued with ART at the League Chiropractic, and weekly adjustments at Sweat Haus Chiropractic. I also had to cut back on my swimming a little because the breathing side to side was aggravating my neck and shoulder pain.
My plantar fascitis was a little stubborn, I tried different shoes, Newton’s and Hoka’s. The Newtons felt good at first, but as soon as I stopped running, I could barely use my left foot. Hokas felt great and I was able to rid of the PF pain, but I had nasty blisters, on top of blood blisters. My one and only 20 mile run was a blister fest!!!! My shoes had to go!! So, 2.5 weeks before Ironman, I switched to Zoot Solanas and everything including blisters subsided almost completely.
RACE WEEK: During my last bike tune up before the race, Trek realized my 2nd hand wheel had a crack in it when I realized it was out of true. Great! Thankfully my good friend and neighbor let me borrow her wheelset. Because of this little mishap it delayed me “testing” my newly tuned up bike for my final brick which included an 80 min bike and an 8 mile run. This whole workout didn’t happen. Sorry Coach! The week prior to this I had stomach flu for a day and spend the entire day in bed, 2 days were lost. Basically the last 2 weeks leading up to the race I did nothing. I did a couple 1 hour runs and 1-40 minute bike preview. I did no practice swim, no running at all race week.
Arriving in Arizona, I was already having flu symptoms. I was tired, achey and my eye balls felt like they were going to explode. I literally could not feel like I could even run a mile, much less an Ironman Triathlon. I stayed positive and kept a smile on my face as best as I could.
Saturday we did the Ironkids Run with the kids, it was there Ironman productions asked our kids to be interviewed and myself, my friend Jeff, Linda and their kids (you can watch the video below). They wrote down my bib number and the rest my husband texted them to let them know where I was the entire time, this was the only reason I was featured so much on their video. During the initial interview you can see that I was almost falling out of my chair and had no make up on, I was a hot mess and did not feel well at all.
I prayed every night for God to watch over me and I reminded myself, there was nothing else I could do, it was in God’s hands. After 4 days of chugging Emergen C, Chlorella, CoQ10, Omega 3’s, multivitamins, I still felt the same!
A few months prior, I was introduced to Race Quest Travels. Because Alii Lifestyle, was their apparel sponsor, I was able to participate in their VIP services amd help promote them on Social Media. I not only got to meet Meredith Kessler and Felicity Joyce but felt firsthand what an amazing company they are. If you ever do an Ironman, do it with them! Additionally, through them, a rep from Vector 450 gave me some supplements for recovery. I immediately took 4, then 4 before bed, and 4 more in the morning. My husband also ran around town the night before the race to get me a Wellness Formula that was recommended to me. I immediately took 8. I only had a protien box from Starbucks and a Chamomille tea for dinner that night. I couldn’t eat and felt horrible! I kept saying it is in God’s hands now and that kept me calm.
RACE DAY (Here we go!): That morning I woke up, I didn’t feel 100%. If I asked myself, I felt 80%, so I took another 4 Vector 450 tablets, and 6 Wellness Tabs. I received some wonderful notes from my husband and it gave me one last push that morning that I needed. I ate my usual oatmeal with ghee butter, a banana and my green tea and I was good to go. I hopped on the Race Quest shuttle about 4:30 and got to transition realizing it was windy-I thought “oh no! there goes my bike split” Shuffling through transition I immediately dropped off my special needs and went to pump my tires. After filling up my water bottles it was porta potty line time. Realizing my husband wasnt going to make it in time to get my morning bags I hustled to turn those in and got in the line to the water to avoid being in the back when the gun went off.
SWIM: This year because of loss of water due to drought we were only allowed to enter from the stairs. We were hearded like cattle and jumped in and scurried to the swim start. I lined up next to the buoys about 4 rows back. Then 6 rows. Ironman started 5 minutes later due to the bottle neck at the stairs and a ton of athletes still not in the water. I was by myself. No familiar faces in sight. It was ME vs ME.
Off went the gun and then madness of 2700+ athletes swimming for their lives. I got pretty beat up the first half, punched in the jaw, kicked in the nose, head dunked under twice, at one point I chugged so much water I had to stop, throw it up, then continue on. I could not wait for the turn around so I could go wide, it was here finally I could swim, I then made up time here. 1:36 was my time.
BIKE: running to transition I saw my family, hugged and kissed them all and then ran for my bag to change. I felt a gust of wind and it was freezing. I rushed whipped my wet Alii tri shorts off and put my Alii bike shorts on. I zipped my prepacked Alii bike jersey on, and Alii bolero sleeves on, helmet, shoes and off I went.
The first 6 miles I took easy. Small sips of fluid. No food. Get the feel of the course and temperature. It went by so fast. My nutrition consisted of Organic chews from Pro Bar,(I like these because the caffeine comes from Yerba Matte which doesn’t give you the crashing feeling), Skratch Labs, both Hyper Hydration (a whopping 1700 mg of sodium) and Skratch Labs Matcha Green Tea flavor which I love Green tea, and this flavor has some natural caffeine in it also. I also use the Non-GMO Carbo Pro from The Triathlete Store. I added water and perform along the way. My plan was to stop half way and use the restroom. It was here I noticed what every woman dreads, yes fellas, I started my period. I had to make next stop at special needs to grab a tampon, and topped off my fluids. I continued on and stopped to use the bathroom to take care of my womanly issue. Then I hammered. Loop 2, I made 3 total stops. 3rd loop the wind got stronger, but so did I. I felt like I had my groove, I took an advil as menstrual cramps started coming. I took 1 immodium and 1 gas x, as I could feel from the swim possible GI issues coming on. I nipped everything right away! I ate sweet potato with sea salt and ghee butter (thanks Tamara Renee DNA for this idea). Real food makes me feel better!
The last lap I was worried as I saw a few of my friends at the bottom of the hill as I was headed to town. I checked my clock and hoped they would make the cut off. The bike was done and I felt amazing!! I stopped and hugged and kissed all of my family …AGAIN! I dismounted the bike at 7:12 which included 4 stops total on the bike.
T2: I ran to get my bag, even hopped over bags, what? My legs weren’t dead! Thanks Coach Felipe! I planned to change into fresh clothes because I didnt want wet clothing into the night. I changed into Alii tri top and Alii Tri shorts. And of course another tampon change in the porta potties. Seeing my sister in the change tent was heaven. She gave me a big hug and told her I felt amazing! We laughed as she gave me homeopathic cloves which I threw in my mouth, and then spit out. It was too strong hahah. She massaged my knees with my Do Terra Deep Blue rub that I had in my bag. I got my hat and glasses on and then off I went! Oh, after I kissed my family… AGAIN!
RUN: I had to slow down, feeling so strong I was running sub 9 minute pace and something told me to be patient. I saw my coach right away and he cheered. While going through that first mile, I was amazed, there were so many people. I couldn’t help but smile. I walked through every station and hydrated. I took Sport Legs half way through, Papaya Enzymes and Base Performance Salts on and off-thanks Matt Miller! At mile 8, Ironman producers found me and asked me questions during the run, I thought, way cool!!!
Cheers from Tri Club San Diego, cheers from my coach Felipe and his beautiful wife Michelle, cheers from my friends and family out on the course. I didn’t even realize I was smiling the entire time until after everyone told me I looked happy. It made me feel good that what I was feeling inside, transferred to outside.
By mile 20, I was so happy. I was on top of the world. I had it in the bag. I used my time and stopped to give encouragement to a few people. Chatted them up and wished them luck. The last mile I almost cried, a man was walking faster than I was running. I complimented him, he was beaming. “Is this your first?” I asked, “Yes!!!” He beamed. “Oh my gosh congratulations, you got this in the bag!” He warmly said “Thank you, you too!” People kept saying “Almost there”. “Mike Reilly is waiting to say your name” “Keep smiling you are done”
FINISH: I turned the corner into the finishers chute and the Ironman producers who interviewed me came out of no where and shined his light and camera in my face. I was so startled I laughed. He said “You’re family is waiting for you on the left, go give them big hugs and kisses before you finish!! Congratulations!!”
“Oh, ok! I can do that AGAIN!! HAHA” The lights were so glaring, people cheering, my heart was fluttering with excitement. Where is my family, I cant see? I looked and saw them in the crowd, I lost it. Everything that year flashed by me. I couldn’t believe this journey was coming to an end. I wanted to hug my loved ones and take them with me across that line, they deserved to cross as much as I did. It takes a village to train for an Ironman.
They kissed me and hugged me and my husband had tears in his eyes, and told me he was so proud, my heart sang!! He said “You did it baby, I’m so proud of you, NOW GO!!!!” Everyone yelling “GO LUANA GO!!!” I screamed with my hands on my head. “AAAAAAH OH MY GOD! I DID IT. I AM HERE!!” The camera man followed me and I couldn’t see anything. I didn’t even know what my time was. I didn’t care!!!
Here it came, I looked behind me, I looked in front of me. I realized nobody else was running through the shoot. For a minute, I thought…”Did they close the finish chute down for just me?” Um, no Luana that’s insane. But something told me, “God can do anything” There’s behind the scenes talk about getting a good finisher photo and not having someone run in front of you and be in your way. There is always someone in the chute…always, except during my last moments. The lights, the cheers, I literally felt I was walking to the gates of heaven, my ears rang I didn’t even hear Mike Reilly say my name. I felt amazed, it was like the world stood still, that God lifted me up at that moment, the way I did Him the whole day. The way He told me to be patient and I listened. He told me to encourage others, and I did. He told me to love my family, and I did. I trusted. I obeyed, and He rewarded me ten-fold. I felt so lucky, so blessed, so physically and so emotionally amazing, I didn’t want that feeling to end. Most people can’t wait to cross the finish. I savoured that last 5 miles, I helped others along the way, I even walked with some and gave them encouragement.
THE CLOSING OF MY JOURNEY: Without even thinking I was living my motto, “Don’t just race, Be a Light”. As soon as the gun went off….my flu went away, and God took over. I could hear my father in law, my grandparents, my auntie….all of them encouraging me. I had an internal spiritual cheering squad.
I crossed the finish with a camera in my face and held back tears of joy. The volunteers were so kind, wrapping me in a blanket, putting on my medal, guiding me to get my hat and shirt, still no other athlete was in the finisher area…just me! I took my photo and waited for my family. When they greeted me, my son Kai was borderline freezing and I felt for him. I didn’t go to the tent for a massage from my sister like I was supposed to. Instead we rushed to the meeting place with Race Quest Travel to warm my son up.
After I felt amazing, I drank a chocolate milk immediately and then threw it up on the way back to the hotel. I felt so nauseas and was over the toilet before I went to bed and could only drink smart water. I didn’t eat until almost 10am the next morning.
I woke up at 3:30am checking my Facebook, my husband did an amazing job updating my friends and family. The videos, photos and tracking was nothing short of an Iron Sherpa. I reached over and cried as I hugged and kissed him in his sleep. “Thank you honey, I love you! You gave me an amazing day out there.” He was so proud of me and supporting me. I went in expecting the worst. My first Ironman ended up being….. the best race I have ever had.
SPECIAL THANKS: Thank you to Ironman Productions for choosing me and my children to highlight that day. What an honor! You can see the video here.
Thank you to Andi, for creating Alii Lifestyle and such amazing clothes and for introducing me to Race Quest Travels as I experienced first hand how awesome their programs are.
Thank you to Jerry, Nancy, Mary and Mike who would watch our dogs when we were racing!
Thank you to my bros, Pat, Brandon, Frankie and Wandah, for always helping us when you can while we do this crazy sport. We love you!
Thank you to Krista, Kelli, Chris, Ryan and Julie from Race Quest Travels for taking care of me and my family on race day, for introducing me to Meredith Kessler and Felicity Joyce who are such amazing athletes with amazing heart, and got some precious pointers for that day. Chris Jarc, sorry for throwing up on the shuttle!! #racequesttravel @racequesttravel
Thank you to Roka Sports for Creating an amazing wetsuit, by far the best I have ever tried! Thank you for sponsoring our A Team!
Thank you to A Team Sponsors, Dave and Amy from Speedfil for some last minute hydration tweeks to my bike. It was perfectly set up by the way! #speedfil
Thank you to Felipe Loureiro, for your seamless training plan, I truly felt like a million bucks the entire day! I will forever remember you as getting me to that finish line, while understanding my ups and downs.
To Trevor King, from Energy Lab for your amazing Swim expertise, without that, my swim may have been a lot different. By far the best swim coach I have ever had!
To all of my training buddies, Juliana, Tina, Toni, Jackie, Lisa, Kris, Stuart, Tristan, Lori, Steve, Mike, Mary, Alexis, Tristan and the rest of the IMAZ San Diego Group, you all kept me on the up and up, challenged me, and kept those long hours seem less burdensome.
To Noah Lam for creating the best support page on Facebook, all my Cactus Buddies, you helped more than you know both online and on the course!
Thank you TCSD for taking care of my family and feeding them when Rob needed to feed my kids!
Thank you Paula Munoz and Marcus Serrano and Lisa Rielly for the amazing photos that nobody else could capture!
And last but not least, thank you to my amazing family…..
To my amazing son and daughter in law, Keone and Mari for pulling an all-nighter to see me race until the end.
To my Sister Lani, for spending countless volunteer hours at races that I participated in and for giving me smiles in the changing tent. I love you!
To my Auntie Vicki, for your endless motherly support, and for being there for us during Vineman, I wish we were closer as time is precious with you!
To Norma and Alecsaundra for your wonderful home cooked meal, for helping Rob take care of my beautiful family and for staying until I finished!.
To my wonderful mother in law, Julie, you are such a strong woman, a wonderful grandmother and mother to your sons, I know Dad was shining down on you that day!
To my husband Rob, who countlessly and unselfishly followed me throughout the day, you made me feel so special even when I felt like just another face in the crowd….but then again you do this every day and I love you for that. Your sacrifices will soon pay off my love, my best friend, this amazing man of mine!
Everyone who texted me and sent words of encouragement on Facebook, I love you all!