Friday, June 29, 2012

JEN'S HALF-IRONMAN! Grand Rapids Race Recap

Bear with me on this one -- it's going to be difficult to do this race recap justice.

A few weekends ago, Jen and I headed up to Grand Rapids, Michigan for the biggest race either of us has ever raced.

It was finally time for Jennifer to race her Half-Ironman.

Yeah, she was really about to swim 1.2 miles, then bike 56 miles, then finish things off with a little 13.1 mile run... all without taking a break!

We drove up the Friday before the race since that's when her team headed up. The drive itself wasn't too bad; it took us around 6.5 hours to get there. After checking into our hotel and getting settled, we met up with the team for dinner at Founder's Brewing Company (I've had their beers at home before and they are incredible, so it was really cool seeing the brewery). We didn't stay out late since we were all pretty tired and Jen had a full day planned for Saturday.

Saturday morning, Jen went with her team to scope out the transition area and drive the bike course, so mom and I headed out for a run. We parked near the transition area, and the plan was to run a nearby loop that I thought was somewhere around 6.5 miles.  Since I had to do 14 miles, and mom had to do 6-7, it was perfect. By the time I made it back to the car, though, I was at 10.5 miles and rushing to get back to Jen so she could eat some lunch before heading out for a swim.

We made it back in time, but we didn't get a chance to grab lunch.

Side note: the last 3 miles of my run was on the run course for the race, and let's just say it wasn't exactly flat. I warned Jen so she could mentally prepare to take on a few hills.


I decided to tag along with Jen since I hadn't seen her do an open water swim yet. Even though it didn't go very well for her (the water was really choppy, and not eating lunch certainly didn't help), it was really cool to see. And they were setting out the buoys so we were able to get a feel for just how far she'd be swimming.

It. was. far!

Saturday night, Jennifer, B, and I went to the inspiration dinner which was really cool. It was awesome to see how all of her training and money raising actually went toward helping people fighting blood cancers. It was even more incredible to see some of the Grand Rapids team members who were doing the race were actually in remission!

After the dinner, we went back to the hotel and got everything ready for the race, then turned in early; 5am would come way too soon.

RACE DAY

The morning of the race went off about as smoothly as it could have. Since we had everything ready to go, we got up, did what we needed to, and were out the door without any problems.

After dropping Jen off at the athlete drop-off, I parked and walked the 3/4 of a mile to meet her in transition. As expected, the water was much calmer, so that was a big plus!


Here she is getting her transition area set up.



The only real problem with this transition area is it was really long and narrow (we're talking around 1/3 of a mile long). I couldn't imagine trying to find my spot!



Once her transition was ready to go, we headed over to the water for the start. Here's a good shot that shows how calm the water was.


It's hard to see in the pic above, but she would be swimming out to a triangular buoy that's about dead center of the picture (circled in red).

Here are some closer shots:




Here she is getting her wetsuit on -- she didn't even seem nervous!


Things were getting started just as the sun was coming up -- such a pretty morning!


Here she is heading into the water with her wave. That's her waving in the middle.


And they're off!


I ran a few things back to the car while she was in the water, which helped pass the time. I think I was most nervous about her during the swim, and that helped to distract me a little.


Here she is coming back in. She lost her swim cap, but luckily it happened right at the end.


In T1, I know she was out of it (wouldn't you be after swimming for nearly an hour??), but she looked like she knew exactly what she was doing. Like clockwork, she changed her gear, grabbed her bike, and she was off.



I had been live-tweeting her progress to keep our friends at home up-to-date. Right after she set out on the bike, I tweeted this:


After waiting around for a few hours, I made my way to the other end of the transition area (the side where the bikes came in) to wait for her there. It was around 11:15am, which was an hour before the deadline (she had to finish the bike by 12:15pm).

I watched anxiously as biker after biker returned to transition. At one point, another Team in Training member rode up; from a distance it looked like Jennifer, and I started freaking out that it was only 11:30am (which would have meant she did the bike with an 18mph average!). As she passed, though, I realized it wasn't Jen.

Minute after minute went by with no sign of her.

I had been waiting around with the husband of another TnT member, and when his wife came in just under the deadline, he came back and told me the race director and Jennifer's coach were talking about pulling her off the course.

Are you serious??

She was 6 miles away.

That's when the tweeting fell silent.

Her coach and I argued with the race director (who really was being understanding about everything) that her swim wave started 9 minutes later than it should have, so she should be given extra time.

The extra time wouldn't have mattered. When she got back to transition, they pulled her timing chip off.

Talk about feeling defeated.

I knew how much this race meant to her.

I knew how hard she trained for it, and how much of herself she gave just to make it to this point.

And just because she missed the cutoff by a few minutes, that's it?? She was done?? DNF???

Emotionally and physically exhausted, she walked her bike back to the rack.

Her coach -- who is always supportive -- was yelling at her to not quit. She had already asked me if I would walk with Jen on the run course for a bit. Essentially, she forced Jen to transition into her running gear and at least start the run course.

And she did.

Her coach and I walked with her to make sure she was okay, and we were forcing her to take fuel and water so she didn't overheat.

It turns out that around mile 15 on the bike course her vision started getting blurry. She barely ate anything for breakfast that morning, so when she set out on the bike she didn't have much gas in the tank to begin with.

And thanks to the advice of another competitor, she flipped her new aero bottle around the other way because it was supposed to fit in better that way. In doing so, she couldn't reach the straws without coming completely out of her seat. Since her stomach was cramping, she could barely ride in the aero position, much less stand up to hydrate.

And it didn't help that a lot of the bike course was through farmlands, so she was completely exposed to the blistering sun.

After a few minutes on the run course we could tell she was coming back. Apparently flat Coke will bring you back from the dead in these conditions.

Her coach ran off to check on other TnT members, so I stayed with Jen.

As we walked, we talked about a lot of things. It was incredible and depressing at the same time. I couldn't believe they had pulled her chip when they let others who had missed the deadline continue. But it was incredible that she didn't want to quit. She was very critical of herself. Throughout this whole process, all she wanted was to be able to say she has completed a half-Ironman. But since she was disqualified, would it even matter if she finished the course?

I think everyone will agree that of course it still counts.

She questioned why she ever thought she could do something like this.

I simply reminded her that she was doing it.

There were a few times where she felt like she could run, so she did.


But it was so hot out that she couldn't run much. Average temperatures in Grand Rapids around that time are in the mid-70's; that's part of the reason why she chose this race!

Unfortunately for us, a heat wave came through sending race-day temps into the 90's.

So we walked.

We made sure to load up on ice water and Gatorade at every aid station, and she was eating salty things too, which really seemed to help.

The run course was an out-and-back that she had to do twice. Based on how she felt during the first couple miles, I really didn't expect her to set out on the second loop.

But she did.

So we kept going.

Even though the police had opened some of the roads back up, the drivers didn't seem to mind us out on the roads. That's one thing that was really nice about Grand Rapids -- the drivers were really respectful of runners and cyclists.

During our final stretch Jennifer's coach loaded up a cooler and met us out on the course to give us more Gatorade since the aid stations had closed.

That's a perfect example of the kind of person she is.

She even brought the boys along with her so they could cheer Jennifer on.

Even the guys who were cleaning up the aid stations checked on us every time they rode by on their golf cart.

She had decided she was going to keep going until they said she had to get off the road.

But they never did.

It seemed like we would never make it back to the finish line, but finally it came.

And like the badass that she is, she ran to it.


The race directors left the finish line up so Jennifer could finish.

Even though the cutoff was 3:15pm, and it was nearing 5:00pm.

They even gave her an official time: 9 hours and 11 minutes.

So even though she was technically pulled off the course, Jennifer completed her first half-Ironman race. She raced 70.3 miles in the blistering sun, with barely anything to eat or drink.

And even though I'm sure she wanted to numerous times, she never quit.

This is just a glimpse of why she's my motivation in life.

I couldn't be more proud to say she's my wife.


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UPDATE: As you now know, Jennifer was PREGNANT during this race!! That's a big part of why things didn't go as planned. Talk about an amazing woman!

That's also why I was such a nervous wreck, and didn't want to leave her side for a second during the run! haha

8 comments:

  1. Not gonna lie, I just cried a little. Had no idea this happened but I DID notice that the tweets stopped at a certain point in the day. Jennifer you are so inspiring and such a good role model for B. I love the Cooks. :)

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    1. Yeah, sorry the tweets stopped so abruptly... I was just a little worried about her...

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  2. i cried a little bit too. so amazing. she is still awesome in my eyes :D

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  3. I usually don't comment on blogs, but this is a really beautiful, inspiring story. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  4. I'm not sure how I stumbled on your blog but absolutely love love love this post! You did an amazing job recapping her race from a super supportive husband's perspective! Love her power and will to pull through those dark times on a course and really respect her determination! Awesome job Jen and I'm sure those little guys are super proud of their momma! Really awesome how you stuck through and hope I can pull some motivation from your story! Well done and congratulations!!!!

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    1. Thanks! Sometimes I feel like the only thing I can do to show her just how much I support her is to jump right in and do it with her!

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  5. I'm about to race a 70.3 (my first) in September on the road to an Ironman someday, and I have been googling race recaps to stay inspired. Most are 4-6 hour finishers (which I definitely won't be),and I have to say, this is the most inspiring one I've read thus far! Awesome job! I hope she sticks with it! :)

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    1. Thanks for the comment, and good luck on your race!

      If you haven't heard of it, you should check out You Are an Ironman by Jacques Steinberg. I definitely don't have the desire to do a race that big, but it really makes you feel like it's possible.

      And she's already planning her next race. As I'm sure you're aware, this sport is addicting!

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