UmYazan's Blog

I’ve been struggling with words and overwhelmed with the fact that I completed my first IronMan. I can’t tell you how HAPPY I was to finish. And I’ve been trying to start writing this blog about my experience and yet the words don’t want to come out. For the first time in a long time, I am at a loss for words!

Let me backtrack to IronMan Austria. It was there that I took the decision that I will not be defeated mentally or emotionally by the fact that I was pulled off the course. I was with my friends Perrine and Pierre and my son Yazan. We were having lunch the next day and discussing what event I could consider when Perrine recommended IronMan Vichy. I looked at the course and the date. August 27. Fifty-four training days.

Fifty-four MORE days of training… I struggled with that thought for a while. I was so ready to recover post Austria. But it looked like I would be in for another 54 days of serious training.

I went for it.

August 9. ย My amazing friend Caroline sends me a WhatsApp. She tells me that she is considering coming to Vichy to support me! I was going to travel on my own and I was ok with that. But in retrospect, having Caroline with me was such a relief!!!

So Caroline is suggesting she comes as my support crew and I’m thinking… Caroline can do the 70.3 the day before! So I start playing mind games with her… convicting her to join me… not only to support me but I could be HER IronFan on August 26! Caroline is a great athlete… fast swimmer, great biker and has solid runs! Didn’t take her long to revert and say that she will do it! So with less than 3 weeks to go, Caroline had to crash course train! And I had a travel buddy! Caroline planned her flights so that we could both arrive and depart on the same day and only a couple of hours between us so that when she arrived I could greet her at the airport and when we departed, she could say farewell to me!

August 24. Travel Day. Leading up to travel day I was feeling well-prepared. I had read the athlete guide over and over. I had studied the course over and over and over again. I had reviewed all the rules in detail. I had written down all the cut off times and points so that I wouldn’t miss them. I did not want a repeat of Austria. I was also feeling unusually calm. I remembered when I was going to Austria I was so excited. But this time around, I was just calm. Like it wasn’t happening. Like I wasn’t going to put my body and mind to a grueling test of endurance.

My flight was a 1:30am so it was going to be a long day ahead. I arrived to Paris at 6:35am, grabbed my luggage and headed to Caroline’s terminal to wait for her there. I burst into tears when I saw her upon arrival. I couldn’t believe she had traveled all this way to be with me.

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Meeting Caroline at Arrivals CDG Paris

We grabbed our things and headed to get a cab to take us to the train station so we could head to Vichy. We got to the train station around 11am and they told us that the next train would be available at 1pm (by the way, taxi dropped us off at the wrong train station, but with Google Maps Caroline discovered that the correct station was 850 meters away, so we dragged our bike luggage and walked to the station). A two hour wait. We grabbed coffee and sandwiches for breakfast and chitchatted until the train arrived. It would be a 3 hour ride to Vichy.

We arrived at 4pm. Grabbed a cab and headed to our hotel. We checked into the Ibis Budget Hotel. We soon came to discover the location was absolutely perfect as it was only 2km from the race venue! We decided to unpack and build our bikes. We were done by 6pm or so and decided that we would walk over to the race venue to check it out. Registration would be open if we hustled so we decided to go for it.

Again you have to understand my mental state. Completely calm. I was jumping with excitement previously. And it’s not like me to be so calm before any event. We arrived at the race venue. Saw that there was a short line for registration and decided to collect our race packs. We walked around the venue, took photos, and did some shopping. We had to buy matching support crew t-shirts! We finally made it back to the hotel by 10pm. Tired but happy. We had been traveling for over 20 hours by now. Slept like a baby!

August 25. Vichy and the Pasta Party. Caroline and I made it a habit of getting out and riding or walking to the venue or to town. Either for dinner or to grab groceries and enjoy and scope the town. We had gotten up in the morning, had breakfast and attended the swim at the Aquatic Center. We came to learn that it was forbidden to swim in the lake before race day. That was a bit surprising as I really wanted to test what this lake would feel like. Firstly, it was all brown and muddy. So I was kind of put off. Secondly it felt like it was not going to be an easy swim. Lake Worthersee in Austria was so clean and pure you could drink straight from it. Lake Allier looked beautiful on the outside, with all the greenery… but it was a lovely shade of brown green! It also started to rain. Still I was calm and if you saw me, you’d think I was just a normal tourist with no race jitters or ANYTHING… again, I kept wondering at myself and why I was so calm. So NOT normal. I chatted with coach post my swim and he told me I would be feeling the jitters and butterflies come race day.

That evening Caroline and I attended the Pasta Party and race briefing. I really wanted to know how the swim would be. I had never been in a race swim in which we swam the first 1.9km, got out, ran to another dock and jumped to swim for the next 1.9km. I didn’t get much info out of race briefing so that kept playing in the back of my mind… how how how? I finally decided that I would just follow the crowd and do what they did. The Pasta Party Venue was set up quite nicely with table cloths and red napkins and cups. And of course the French Baguette laid out in front of every 3 people. Caroline’s race was the following morning, so we ate up and then walked back to the hotel for a good night’s rest.

August 26. IronMan Vichy 70.3 – Proud IronFan of 580. Caroline was up early for her race. ย She insisted I sleep in but I had put my alarm to make sure I would be at her swim start. Coach told me I had to keep resting that whole day with my feet up and when watching Caroline I had to be seated. Ok I honestly don’t know how I walked so much that day but it was 18,248 steps that day! HAHAHA (oops). I made it to Caroline’s swim start, saw her out of the water and out of transition onto the bike! I was super excited for her. I knew I had three hours before she would ride past our hotel which was on the race route on the way back so that I could cheer her on and then a couple of hours and I would see her at the finish line.

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I got to the hotel, finished packing my race bags and special needs bags (bike check-in would be at 4:30pm that afternoon) so I got that out of the way. I checked on Caroline’s race data and she was flying on the bike! Averaging 29kph I was super excited for her. I figured I could nap for an hour and then go down to cheer her on as she came down the last hill into the final 2km before the run. I slept so much during those few days before my IronMan. Really good long deep sleeps. I guess I really needed the rest. Woke up from the nap and went down to the hotel parking where other fans were waiting to cheer everyone on. It wasn’t long before Caroline came zooming down the hill and I was so happy to see her there, smiling and looking strong and in control.

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I knew I had another 2 hours to go, so I grabbed a light sandwich and went back to my room. Caroline was scheduled to finish at 1:59pm or so and for some odd reason, I needed another nap. So I took my nap and woke up at 1:30pm. OMG! I was going to be late for Caroline’s finish. I checked her time and saw that if I hustled I would make it before her predicted finish. So I ran out of the hotel to race finish. I kept checking my time and praying that Caroline wouldn’t sprint the last kilometer so I could get her at the finish line….

Guess what?

Yep. You guessed it. She sprinted the last kilometer and I missed her finish by a minute! ONE MINUTE! Feeling like the biggest loser fan I waited by the bike park exit for 40 minutes. Then I started getting worried! What if I missed her altogether and she was on her way back to the hotel? I decided to walk around to where the swim start was (from there you could see the bikes on their racks) and I looked for her race rack. Luckily 580 was still racked :-). So I sat on the side walk and waited. About 15 minutes later I saw Caroline come to get her bike! I yelled out to her and she saw me. Told her I was waiting for her there so we could both walk back to the hotel.

Caroline finished in 6:32:42. I was so proud of her. She got her medal engraved and I had her tell me all the details of the course. Asking me how I was feeling, I told her I still felt calm. A really odd feeling for me. We got to the hotel, Caroline jumped into the shower and I grabbed my things to take my bike and bags to bike check-in. It didn’t take long. The organizers were super fast. Officials and volunteers were wonderful and I was done with all the formalities in less than 20 minutes! With my bike checked in and my bike and run gear bags racked and ready to roll, I headed back to the hotel so that we could order dinner and sleep. My second attempt at IronMan 140.6 would be in less than 12 hours!

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August 27. Race Day. Woke up early and well-rested. I think it was 4:30am. I went down to breakfast and had a good race meal. I was still feeling calm and ready for a good race. Caroline woke up at 5am, grabbed her breakfast early and we both walked together to race venue. And that’s when I started to feel sick and nervous. I had dry heaves and I wanted to throw up. I was relieved that Caroline was with me so she could talk me through my nerves. Man… it hit me like a 10 foot tidal wave! I was especially nervous about the swim. Caroline had warned me that it felt heavier than a pool swim. So I knew it was going to take me two hours. Basically because I don’t swim straight and with the water being heavier I knew it would take me longer than my usual 1:45 pool swim. Looking at my swim data, and if I swam straight, I could have finished in 1:27. But as predicted I swam 5km and as predicted it took me 2 hours!!!

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The Swim. I was scared. Nervous. Anxious. Worried. My face said it all. I was one of 218 women participating in the full IronMan along with 1,300 male triathletes. Two athletes saw my face and gestured for me to smile and that all would be ok. I laughed nervously and took long deep breaths. As the line to jump in moved forward (rolling start, 3 athletes at time), I started to let others move ahead of me. I was really scared. Finally, I moved ahead and got to the timing mat start. I ran onto the dock and dove into the water. It was a no wetsuit swim as the water temperature was 26C, well over the 24C limit. As soon as hit the water, I suffered a panic attack. My chest stopped and I was struggling. This had never happened to me before. So I treaded water for a few seconds and spoke (well I berated myself) mentally. Come on Wajeeha! You’ve done an open water swim before. TONS of them! What are you freaking out about. I was grossed out by the water and I guess I had accidentally swallowed some so I freaked out. I managed to get a hold of myself and swam 500 meters before a second wave of panic hit me. And I was hyperventilating in the water. Again I mentally berated myself. YOU ARE NOT GOING TO DNF FROM THE SWIM LITTLE MISSY! YOU WILL BECOME ONE.

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Another few seconds and I managed to gather myself up once again and continued the swim. It was long. It was awful. I hated every stroke. I knew it was going to to take me two hours so I continuously spoke to myself, chanting my usual swim chants to maintain my swim and my speed.

As predicted I made it out of the swim in 2 hours. I was so happy it was over. T1 was very close to the swim exit, so I was in and out of T 1 in about 5 minutes or so.

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The Bike. I was planning for this. I knew the bike had to get me to run. I knew that I had to manage all the cut off times – at 92km. At 136km. At 152km. As I jumped onto the bike I was shocked. I was going painfully slow! I couldn’t find my riding legs. They just wouldn’t move. I told myself it was ok… that I will manage this temporary bit of paralysis and that as the course wore on, it would improve…

Caroline was waiting for me shortly after the bike exit on the course. With a sign that read Go Waj Go! I couldn’t help but smile! She was great and again it felt comforting to know that someone was on course tracking my progress and updating my family and friends back home.

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As I made my way out of town, I was looking at my data and painfully slow progress… why couldn’t I get more than 23kph out of my legs? What was wrong with me? I decided to crank up the gear and just push hard. It would be painful but I had to make the cut off times and I had to get to the run.

The course was beautiful. Farmlands, small villages, greenery everywhere. The course was constant 1-2% gradient most of the time. I kept thinking about Caroline and how she was flying on the bike so that gave me encouragement to push harder and get my speed up. My main target was passing 136km. That was where I was pulled off in Austria and that was what I had to beat. If I sailed past that mental pain point in my head, then I knew I would make it.

The first lap was uneventful. I was fueling well and hydrated and kept track of my time. As I made my way back into town I was a good hour ahead of the cut off. My watch had failed me so I relied on my Garmin for average speed data and used my watch to keep track of the time. In my head were my coach’s words… Do the Math Waj, keep doing the math.

Caroline was there at the turn point, holding up another sign! It was great… I think it was You Are Awesome and again a sense of relief. I gave her a thumbs up and smile… maybe a grimace? LOL, not sure but I wanted to get to the aid station an access my special needs bag. Lays Salt and Vinegar chips were waiting for me to consume!

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I have to say, the volunteers throughout the course were simply amazing! They were so helpful, they clapped, they cheered, they really gave such positive vibes that it was ‘easy’ to get back on course and ride.

I wolfed down my chips. Drank more water and filled my bottles with my special mix of UCANN Starch, BCAA Trainer and Fireworks and was off. This was the second lap. I will make every cut off! And I did! At 136km I knew I’d made it. But I had the most excruciating pain in my feet. The metatarsal area on both my feet were killing me. I can’t describe how painful it was, but I knew I just had to suck it up and move on. I shifted my pedaling position slightly to alleviate the pain and just had to move on. Both my feet supinate… so you can imagine how much that hurt!

The second lap was harder. But I was making each cut off at least 40 minutes ahead of schedule. I was also getting thirstier. The sweet fuel drinks I had were not quenching my thirst. I wanted WATER. As I came upon a village I asked the volunteers that were routing traffic how much longer to water… 5 kilometers… I wanted to cry. I started looking at the side of the road, seeing water bottles that were thrown on route (someone should get disqualified for that… you can only discard your rubbish in the designated eco zones). But I found myself scanning for discarded bottles that had some water left! LOL. Yes I was desperate… All of the bottles were empty… so I tried to push harder to get to the next aid station which happened to be just before the long climb. I stopped for water and bananas. And to get water down by a hose. The volunteer that was giving me water asked me where I was from. He spoke in French only so I tried to sound all Frenchy and told him Jordanie… he said OOOOOOHHHHH! And made a heart symbol with his hands and said Bethlehem! Jerusalem! And I said yes! I am from Jerusalem! He patted me on the back excitedly and gave me thumbs up and kept cheering happily for me. I was overwhelmed. Allez Allez! And he patted me on the back as I started my way up the long climb… (well it felt long, I think it was only 1km). I knew after this point I was home free… It would only be a short while longer before I made it back to transition!

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The last bit of the course was through a forest which provided the perfect shade from the hot afternoon sun. The day had mostly been cloudy but as afternoon wore on, the sun came out. As I got to the left turn to the bike finish I was ecstatic… HUGE smile on my face… I MADE IT! It was long… it as hot… but I did it! And I did it close to my predicted time… I was 27 minutes longer than I wanted.. but I DID IT! And I was well ahead of bike cut off! Home free! I HAD MADE IT TO THE RUN! And there was Caroline! 500 meters from transition, with another Awesome sign and cowbells ringing for me! I think I yelled out, I DID IT!!!!

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Into T2, about 7 minutes, but I did take my time… I needed to gather myself and get my running legs back. I didn’t have my TT bike with me so the run legs were still wobbly from the bike.

The Run. I started the run with my strategy of 6 minute runs to 30 second walks. As I started I noticed that my chest was unusually heavy… like there was gunk in it… and I was wheezing. I knew it was all the sugars I was ingesting… internal inflammation. I try to avoid processed carbs and carbs in general as it tends to make my asthma worse. And I knew, now on the run, that my body had had enough. But the competition wasn’t over yet. I had to meet the run cut off time which was at 9:50pm. I had to have started my third lap by 9:50pm or I wouldn’t make the cut off. My run slowed to a walk… a fast walk, but my chest was hurting badly… so I changed my run strategy… I would run for 200-500 meters and walk 100 meters… it was the only way that I would make the cut off. I chanted a new rhythm in my head… Walk till you Run… Walk till you Run… Run till you Walk… Run till you Walk… and for my fast walk breaks, sometimes I would chant the European terms for ‘Yallah’ or ‘Allez’ – Hop hop hop! Hop! Hop! HOP!

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Caroline was on course again… with some awesome new signs… my favorite being Touch Here for Power! I came to learn later that many other athletes Touched for Power ๐Ÿ™‚

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Caroline had her bike and she kept riding ahead of me, stopping and holding up her signs for me… it was the best motivation. As I completed my first lap, I started to notice everyone else’s arm bands. Each time you cross the lap point, you get a different colored band. I was on my first and as people passed me or I passed them I saw that they had two or three bands even. And I started to get depressed… I also started to panic… I wasn’t going to make the cut-off.

Keep Doing the Math Waj. Keep Doing the Math.ย Caroline rode up to me somewhere halfway into the second lap and asked me how I was holding up. I was depressed. I told her, I’m not going to make the cut off. She said, yes you will! You have plenty of time… at my pace, and in retrospect, yes I would make the cut off… but during that lap, I was utterly depressed… I knew it wasn’t nutrition because I had taken a gel and was hydrated… but I was second guessing myself and my pace… Caroline told me to pick up my pace and I will make it… that she knew I would make it…

The Run course took us through the lovely little town of Vichy. Through the park, along the boardwalk and over the bridge to the finish area and back. It was a 10.5km route, which felt like it was much longer… but it was gorgeous and shaded. The fans at the restaurants and bars on the boardwalk were awesome… cheering us on, clapping, reading our names and telling us to go go go! Again, the volunteers at the aid stations were AMAZING… they were full of energy and life and that seemed to help power us along.

As I finished my second lap I saw Billy and Dorothy Weymouth in the fan zone cheering me on! I couldn’t believe it! I was sooooooo happy to see them there, cheering me on… and Billy running along the fan zone lines to tell me that I would make the cut off and keep up my pace! He was also doing the math!

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Two fingers for Second Attempt!

Also on the course was Hasan Itani from TriClub Dubai. My cousin Shukri and my friend Perrine had told him to look out for me and on that second lap he was there… he ran up to me and ran alongside me for a couple of minutes, introducing himself (as I didn’t know him personally) and letting me know that they were cheering me on throughout the day.

Caught up with Caroline once again and she was there… cheering me on, letting me know what Coach had to say… to keep up my pace… to keep going… I needed to make that 9:50pm cut off. I asked Caroline for the time and did the math in my head… Hop! Hop! Hop! Hop! Hop! Hop! As I entered the finish area for that third lap I was ecstatic, I was 50 minutes ahead of the cut off and Bill and Dorothy were still there! Cheering me on… I yelled out… I DID IT! I MADE THE CUT OFF!!! And they kept cheering me on…

The last 10km! Oh yaaaaaaaaaas!!! I was soon happy! This was it… The last 10km! That’s it… almost done! I slowed down a bit to relax and walk… I had to finish before 11:30pm but I was also getting tired and relief had set in. I had plenty of time to finish… Caroline was on course again… worried that I was going a bit slow… she told me to keep up my pace… I told her I just needed to walk to the next aid station and I would pick up my pace again. My chest was hurting and I was wheezing and had a small nasty little asthma cough… But I. Was. Happy!!! Soon, I would Become One! An IronMan! Too surreal!!!

I went back to my chants and started high fiving the volunteers… thanking them for their help… it was just a few of us left on course and we were all weary but almost done! As I was getting through the last 5km on the boardwalk, the fans would run up to us, ask for our name, number and country… then they would run back to the restaurant area so that everyone would cheer as we passed through. It was soooooo much FUN! Thank you fans! Some of them were 70.3 finishers, 140.6 finishers, friends and family of other athletes. They kept the vibes up in the dark and ย it was awesome. The officials were high giving us… we had MADE IT! Volunteers had gotten creative at meeting us at the aid stations as they knew I was one of the final few on course… it was so uplifting and so motivating.

At about 3km I looked at Caroline who was riding along next to me and said… Caroline, in 25 minutes I will become one! She smiled and said, come on, you can do it… I was soon happy… almost relieved. She left me at 2km to go and I picked up my pace as much as I could. I was happy tired. And I could hear the finish line cheers and music and You. Are. An. IronMan announcements for the athletes that were finishing ahead… I couldn’t believe it… I was going to become one!!!

As I turned into the last 750 meters I saw Hasan again… he was cheering me on! Filming me for the family… I blew kisses and told him NO TRAINING TOMORROW!!!! And I turned into the start of the finish line red carpet… not expecting what I was going to see there!

The Red Carpet. Wajeeha Al-Husseini. You. Are. AN IRONMAN!!!!ย The red carpet was lined up with all the remaining fans! They were ON the red carpet! They had their noise makers and as I passed through they would raise them, like a salute! I was overwhelmed by all the cheers and the lights. I didn’t know it at the time but I was also being filmed on the live stream! My friends and family were all watching seeing me running the last few hundred meters of the red carpet with a wave of cheers and fans! It was the most amazing celebration EVER! I was lucky that they chose that moment to be filmed. I was even more happy to learn later that my family and friends got to see the finish with such fanfare! It was an amazing moment! And then I crossed the finish line arch! 22:59. One minute before 11pm, 31 minutes before the cut off. 15 hours. 44 minutes. 16 seconds. I Am An IRONMAN!!!!!!

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I thought I would be more weepy emotional. But I was ECSTATIC HAPPY! HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY! I did it! I finished! I was so proud of myself. I was so relieved! Caroline was there. Dorothy and Billy were there. Hasan was there. And my family and friends were with me in spirit and watching live!!! I knew they were all happy for me and I felt lifted!

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I made my way into the finish tent for a massage. Caroline had given me 20 Euro during the run to get my medal engraved and that was the first thing I did. Please engrave my medal! And onto the massage tables… Oh what a relief. Since we were only a few athletes left, I was lucky to have two working on my legs. A four-hand massage. Lord knows I needed it.

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I was hungry too. After picking up my engraved medal and admiring it, I made my way to the buffet… donuts, bananas, brownies… UGGGGGHHHH I wanted to vomit. I didn’t want to see anything sweet… for a long time. I needed greasy salty food. I went to get a pizza… but it had ham in it… so I tried to find something else but all they had were crepes. I took a crepe without anything in it, had two bites and was disgusted. It was a bit sweet. I wanted a juicy cheeseburger, french fries… pizza… with ooey gooey cheese melting off the sides… I was craving real nasty junk food! But I would have to wait until I got to the hotel… there was a MacDonald’s across the street from the hotel, so I would wait just another 2 more kilometers…

Wait. What? TWO MORE KILOMETERS??? WTF… I realized that I had to pick up my transition bags and my bike and… ride… RIDE… back to the hotel… TWO MORE KILOMETERS! Ok… deep breath… my butt was killing me from 180km. I couldn’t imagine another 2km… but there was no other way… suck it up.. buttercup!

Caroline was waiting for me just outside the exit to transition and after a big happy finish hug, we started making our way back in the dark. I put my gears into the easiest gears and started riding… It hurt. Boy did it hurt. And I was ouching oohing the first couple of minutes… shifting position on the saddle to avoid the pain… wasn’t too successful… so I rode standing for about 500 meters, seated for 500 meters, alternating positions until we got to the hotel.

Crap. Our room is on the second floor. No elevators. I laughed. DEAR GOD… stairs???? Caroline was awesome, she took my bike and I pulled myself up the stairs, using the railing for momentum. Triathletes aren’t that good and going up stairs. I think that was the hardest bit for the entire day! Caroline went off to the MacDonald’s while I stepped into the shower. What a relief to be under water. My clothes were DISGUSTING. Sweat and pain. It reeked. I washed them best I could and got into my jammies and opened my mobile. I guess it was 1am by this time and I was immediately hit by all the wonderful messages coming in! The WhatsApp messages, the FB posts, the Instagram and FB direct messages! I was overwhelmed again! So many were happy for me! I think that reenergized me… and I was really hungry…

Caroline returned about 15 minutes later… no food. MacDonald’s closes at 10pm in this town. Not to be defeated, I told Caroline I would be happy with the beef stew from the vending machine and left over pizza slice from the day before. Bless her Caroline, she got me the beef stew and heated it in the microwave downstairs and watched me as I inhaled the food in under 5 seconds. It was 1:30am. I was tired but happy and I knew Caroline must have been exhausted too. She spent the entire day tracking and following me and cheering me on! She had her own 15:44:16 IronFAN event going on for 314!

I passed out almost immediately but didn’t have a good sleep. My chest was really hurting and I was wheeze coughing most of the night. I woke up several times and finally at 6am I woke up HUNGRY. I needed to eat. I didn’t want to wake Caroline and I knew breakfast would be served at 6:30am. I tried to go back to sleep but hunger won out. 6:31am I was down in the breakfast area, gorging on everything I could get my hands on. Man was I HUNGRY!

I stayed downstairs for a while and then quietly went back to the room to lie down and still go through all the messages that I had received earlier. Coach had messaged me to do a recovery walk or swim. I told him I would walk as we planned to attend the Award Ceremony (there would be food there too!)… Caroline was up at 9:15 and I went down to breakfast with her and we discussed the plans for the day. Walk to and from race venue. Taxi to town for lunch and taxi back. Eat junk food for dinner. So maximum walking I would do would be 5km. I could handle that. I woke up stiff but not dead and my hip flexors needed a good oiling but other than that, all was good.

On our way to the race venue my hips started releasing and my sore legs were starting to feel better. Little did I know that this day I would end up walking 11 kilometers! We didn’t find a taxi after getting to town! HAHAHAHAHA… we could only walk back… hehehe… what a day. Next day was travel day and well I was an IronMan!!!! I still couldn’t fathom the moaginitue of what I had just accomplished. Actually, writing this now, exactly one week later, and I still can’t believe it! So surreal… like a dream… it was one EPIC day and I DID IT!!!

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Wearing our official FINISHER T’s the day after my IronMan

Homecoming. Coming home I was in for surprise after surprise… my team from work had gathered at the airport to greet me with fanfare and flowers and a photographer! Wow! I was overwhelmed… Tuesday morning I walked into work to only find my office filled with balloons with the theme colors of IronMan… and on top of all that HR had sent to all staff ย my accomplishment and to join for an afternoon ceremony of celebratory sweets of traditional knafeh… band and photography in tow! And not to mention the surprise arrival of my two boys to watch the fanfare!!! But it wasn’t over yet… post the employee celebrations I was back in the office and my team had edited the film of my surprise airport greeting. Was I emotional… OH YES… So happy, so honored, so blessed to feel the love from SO MANY PEOPLE. So much to be thankful for… so many people to say thank you to!

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THANK YOU.ย To my family who tolerated all those hours of training and sacrificing weekends with them to achieve this dream. My sponsors – Betty Designs and Kristin Mayer for the custom kit she designed for my first IronMan. KABS Fit Factory for the supplements and support! They were with me every step of the way! ย My Coach. Ryan Bowd and RNR Sports. Thank you for tolerating me during all those hours of training. The bus got me there! ๐Ÿ™‚ Caroline van Aartrijk, who was my IronFan for the day and came all the way from Qatar to support me! My girls Perrine Fages and Eulogy van Dyk for your constant support and encouragement. My team at Umniah and in no particular order Manar Shaath, Zeid Nasser and Zaid Mahadin, Nicole Shahin and Ali Abdelhafez and Ali Hamad and Myassar Abu Ragheb and Ammar Mismar and Yazan Sawalha and Rula Nasraween and Rimaaaaaaaaaaaaa (my twin) Mahafza! Umniah Youth Unit, Eyhab and Amr and the entire team… The Umniah Marketing Team, Zaid Ibrahim. Thank you for tolerating all those hours of talking about my training and my IronMan goals! Umniah Employees… all of you for coming out to celebrate! Osama, Sales Manager at the airport… for taking care of me! Billy and Dorothy Weymouth for 5 hours of waiting for me to finish! Hasan Itani for finding me and cheering me on! My personal trainer Abdullah Arman who helped me stabilize my core in preparation… Marouf and Pierre for being who you two are and making fun of me every step of the way! Helen and Shukri… my Dubai Tri-Team. Rum Cycling Team for pushing me out of my comfort zone and helping me learn to climb those climbs! Laura Wesley Al-Wir for joining me on those training rides discovering Jordan. My Betty Squad 2014-2017 all of you for your cheers and support… you gave me butterfly wings and I flew!

I hope I didn’t forget anyone… I am sure I missed a lot of names but THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!

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Well… all of my friends and family members know… I’ve been training and blogging about it for a while now… and working my buns off to my first full IronMan attempt in Austria. One of the most beautiful venues for an IronMan; and with fans lining up the climbs and the little towns and the finish lines, it would have been idyllic To Become One.

But, July 2, 2017 was not to be the day I would become one… it simply didn’t go to plan. Not because I gave up. Not because I couldn’t do it. Not because I wasn’t ready. Not because I wasn’t determined. But somewhere, 136km into the bike ride, with only 41 kilometers left, 7hours and 33 minutes into the competition, I didn’t make an invisible second cut off time and I was pulled off the road by the judges.

IronMan Austria has a longer cut off time. Meaning that the entire race, 3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42.2km run, must be completed within 17 hours:

2hr 20min for the swim

7hr 50 min for the bike

(Cut off swim + bike (90km) 6hrs

(Cut off swim + bike (180km) 10hrs 10min

6hr 50min for the run

Cut Off 17hrs

So how well did I fare with those numbers and what lessons did I learn?

I should try to swim straight! LOL! I swam the course in 1hr 47min. Here’s the LOL part… I over swam by 700 meters! Which means I swam 4.5km instead of 3.8km. So I could have been out of the water after 1hr 25min!

Transition Time was 11 minutes! I was aiming for under 7, but the transition area (where I get out of the swim and get to the changing tent, changes my clothes, grab my bike and get on the bike and start the bike course) was 700 meters away… so maybe I needed to be a little faster!

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Always remember to smile for the cameras!

Onto the bike! I was so happy to finally be on the bike… I was aiming to finish bike course within 7.5 hours. But as the course wore on, I knew that it would take just a little bit longer, but that I would still make the cutoff. The bike was the real challenge, as the course included SEVERAL climbs including two major climbs that really took their toll on me. The first hard climb I was able tackle without having to get off my bike and walk. And then it was time for the ‘famous’ Rupertiberg. That alone should tell you enough about the climb. It is a 2.2km climb, at one point reaching a gradient of 14%. Yes… I had to half walk, half climb it. It HURT and I simply didn’t have the right climbing legs. It took me 21minutes to complete that climb. Did I mention that this was a 2-lap course? Meaning, I was going to have to do this climb again before getting to the finish line. I made a mental note that I wouldn’t give up when I would next tackle it. In total I completed 21 climbs. Total time on the swim + bike was 7hr 33min. Well within the time limits and I had 42km left and still another 2 hours to finish.

 

I am still struggling to understand which cut off point I didn’t meet. I was really upset because I didn’t give up… I was well within my time limits… I am sure there was an intermediary cut off time after a certain point for road closures. If only I knew about it, I might have maybe descended a little faster, run up the hill a little faster? I don’t know, but what I do know for sure is that THE NEXT TIME I DO THIS…

I WILL BECOME ONE.

Big shout out to everyone that supported me. My IronMan Support Crew – Yazan my son, who accompanied me to Vienna. And my family… the ultimate support and encouragement.

Yazan at IM

Mira and Dana from KABS Fit Factory, my nutrition sponsors, who came from Jordan to cover the event live. And of course KABS Team back home, Nour, Nadine and Mazen.

Dana and Mira

Perrine and Pierre, who completed IM Austria in awesome times and who didn’t leave my side and kept me in their thoughts when they didn’t see me on the run course.

with Perrine and Pierre

My coach Ryan from RNR Sports, I wouldn’t have been anywhere near the finish if it wasn’t for his constant support and coaching throughout.

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My Betty Designs sisters who were tracking my progress and sent messages of love and support and encouragement. And shout out to Kristin, Betty Designs founder and the original badass is beautiful, who designed my kit for my first IronMan!

My team from Umniah who cheered me throughout and sent messages and words of love and encouragement and pride.

Umniah Team

My Friday Triathletes who keep me going and serve as a constant source of inspiration that we CAN do it!

So many people to be thankful for… and if I missed anyone, I didn’t forget you, I was just so overwhelmed with all the messages of love and support from you all! Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

 

So every time I try to explain triathlon and what I’m training for, I get the same reaction every time… Woah! You’re doing what??? What was that distance again? Over how many days? WHAT? One day? All in one day???

I can’t tell you how much these reactions make me think… wow… really, what am I doing and at the same time push me to WANT to do this even more…

I will admit, I am VERY anxious at the thought… I mean really… a 3.8 kilometer swim, followed by a 180 kilometer bike, followed by a 42 kilometer run… who wouldn’t be anxious… especially coming into their first long-distance endurance event!

Yes this is my first full IronMan. I’ve done two other 70.3 IronMan distances, multitudes of sprint distances, an Olympic distance and one short distance at Abu Dhabi International Triathlon which was a 1.5 kilometer swim, a 100 kilometer bike, followed by a 10 kilometer run.

I’ve also participated in a couple of half marathons a couple of 5km runs and 10km runs. I’ve never completed a full marathon (perhaps that should be my next goal after the IronMan, although it DOES include a full marathon distance post the bike).

So here we are, I am 44 days away from IronMan Austria. It’s crunch time and these next six weeks are essential for my training. The training load will be high as I build my endurance. Of course, I have been training regularly but it hasn’t been easy with work and family commitments a priority. But somehow I’ve managed and I’m sure I’ve sacrificed on the personal front to dedicate my training time to this baby!

Today I have a rest day as tomorrow my coach has me on a 2/3’s day. This means that I will train exactly 2/3’s the distance I will do in Austria. Which means a 3km swim, a 120km bike ride following by a 28km run.

That’s a full day! A few weeks ago I did a 70.3 distance but I didn’t do the full bike I was meant to… a 1.9km swim, biked for 90 minutes and ran a 21km. That was tough. It’s not easy to train here in Jordan. We have hilly courses and I’m still petrified of riding my bike on the roads here simply because cycling culture is still in its infancy and people still don’t understand that a car against a bike, well the car will ALWAYS win! So I’ve been training mostly indoors on my turbo trainer. And let me tell you… training indoors is a lot more difficult than competing in a full IronMan. You can’t imagine HOW BORING IT IS to sit there, stationary for 4 hours, staring at your computer screen, hoping it will all go away soon. Takes a lot of mental strength let me tell you!

But I must say the support of friends, family, sponsors and those following on social media has been overwhelming… not a day goes by that I am not thankful for the support and motivation to keep going.

Thank you my Betty Designs sqaud, KABS Fit Factory and KABS Athletes, RNR Sports… so grateful for all your support!

Tidbits…

Posted on: May 5, 2017

So I was asked to present to a group of 11th and 12th graders at Mashrek School for Career Day… I always get apprehensive when asked to present as it’s the most nerve racking thing for me to have a room full of eyes staring at me while I talk!

Flattered that I was asked to present, I decided that my presentation wouldn’t be about my job but rather what I’ve learned through my years at work, at home and at play…

So I thought I’d share it here on my blog… since I didn’t write any blog last week, I did spend time working on my presentation.

Enjoy by clicking on the link below!!!

Career day

Stardate April 21, 2017

These are the voyages of the Betty KABS Try-Athlete…

750m swim. 20km bike. 5km run. A sprint distance at the lowest point on Earth. 

Let’s just say I am NOT a sprint distance athlete. All my respect to the sprinters but I have no idea how you can go all out, full burst speed and finish by barely breaking a sweat! Give me the long distances please! 

Exactly 7 days after the Dead Sea Half Marathon I was back at the Dead Sea for this sprint distance. I definitely was not recovered from the week before. And I had a very tough week at work. If last week I was at 75% this Friday I was running on fumes… 

The location was perfect. The Lagoon Resort is a conservative resort located just before the shores of the Dead Sea. It’s tucked away into the hills of the Dead Sea surrounding area. And by conservative I mean they serve the Islamic community… I.e. Islamic principles define the clothing inside the resort. The Lagoon is gorgeous. Equipped with a swimming pool with a perimeter of at least 2km and with a women’s kingdom closed off with probably the same size area! 

Transition was located on the Lagoon and it served as an idyllic backdrop to a short but intense event. The organisers did a fantastic job of making sure the set up looked top notch. 


Got my race chip and number 111. Lucky 1s! Last week I was 333. In retrospect I was exactly 1/3 the effort too ๐Ÿ˜‚. 

I had driven down with my girl Laura who was attempting her first triathlon after a 25 year hiatus. Although Laura is an accomplished swimmer and great runner, she was somewhat hesitant about the bike leg. But I knew she’d be awesome (and she WAS)…


After setting ourselves up we were heading to the Athlete Lounge to wait for the swim start. That’s where I bumped into number 1 and 11. The ultimate opportunity for a photo! Couldn’t resist! We found each other. 

In the Athlete Lounge we watched the Duathletes start their race and then got ourselves mentally prepared for the swim. Water temperature was perfect. Although nervous about the swim I knew that if I considered the event a training session I’d be ok. I was very apprehensive about it though. 

Horn went off and so were we. At first I felt I was pushing to hard and reminded myself that I always performed better when I was relaxed in the water. I’ve noticed that my warm up sessions are always faster than my interval sessions and that was because I wasn’t trying to go fast. So I attempted to relax and focused on the gold buoy waiting for me some 350 meters away… 


All was coming along well until I noticed the guy to my right… he kept swimming sideways and into me and then finally, being the expert sighter he was, he swam across me in the completely wrong direction. I stopped dead in the water… let him pass and I continued. Seriously folks, look up to see where you’re going! 

Swim done. 877 meters. I overcame about 125 but whatever. That was a much better performance than Bahrain in which I overswam an entire kilometre thanks to the currents ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚!

Into transition we go. Got my bike. Helmet on. Shoes on. Sunnies on. And onto the bike leg. And speaking of legs… CEMENT LEGS! I have never felt my legs so heavy? I didn’t understand what was wrong… I was on a gradual descent, wind to my back, but my legs just wouldn’t give me any power. Nothing! I had planned to finish the 20km route in 40 min. That would not be the case today. My legs just refused to give me any support. So rather than be frustrated I just decided to cheer everyone else and suffer through it. There were the elites that were flying and the new Triathletes that didn’t have bikes but rented mountain bikes! And they were awesome! The route wasn’t that difficult but it was one way descent tail wind and the other way a horrible ascent with a headwind. And my legs were cement. I cheered extra hard for the athletes on Mountain Bikes. They were moving faster than me, and I was on a super sleek bike… sigh… it was going to be one of those days! 


Bike leg complete (in my head THANK YOU GOD) and I was back in transition and onto the run. My run legs were fine. They were actually moving. I was still trying to figure out in my head why the bike leg was so awful. Two days later and I’m still it a loss. I think it might have been that I wasn’t fully recovered from the half marathon the week before. Anyway, on my run and was pleasantly surprised when my friends hubby also showed up and cheered us on! Great boost to have crowds cheering you on. Even managed to get a few run pics as well!


I was on my way back towards the finish line, last loop of the 5km when the newbie next to me (just behind me) didn’t see where he was running as he was looking at his feet, ran right into me. I did an awesome somersault, flipped, landed on knees, rolled over and back up on my feet in a split second. He tried to help me up and I didn’t want him near me. I said… Thanks I’m good I’m good. Yallah Go! We’re on the clock! ๐Ÿ˜‚. I wasn’t angry just shocked. 

Limped my way to the final. Discovered that during the fall I sort of twisted by neck so it was a bit painful but all pain was gone when I reached the finish line. A mediocre performance but I didn’t really care. It was done and dusted and was a good day overall! 


Don’t really know what I could have done differently on the bike. I knew I was tired and I knew it was going to be tough. But mind over matter and for me the important thing was to finish and get my training in for the next big one. 

Big shout out to KABS FIT FACTORY, RNR TRICAMPS and BETTY DESIGNS for the support. 

Big shout out to Laura who attempted her first triathlon in 25 years and she managed to finish in the top 10! Not bad for someone who was worried about the bike! 


Big shout out to the ladies on the mountain bikes for finishing their second Triathlon ever and who joined just for fun! My kind of ladies!

Thank you once again to the organisers for a great event. Chapeau ๐Ÿ™Œ๐Ÿป

Finally big love to my family who support from afar โคโคโค. 

And so it was… the LG Dead Sea Ultra Marathon, held yesterday April 14, 2017 at the lowest point on Earth!

This would mark my 4th half marathon distance and my first 21km in Jordan. Was pretty excited, had trained for the last few weeks for this and I felt I was ready.

It’s kind of interesting in retrospect. I was ready but I was having one of those days where you feel ready but you look in the mirror and you feel 75%… I was worried as I started to unpack my bags and lay everything out for the following morning. I wanted to rest as much as I could and wake up and be ready to take on the day!

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Getting Ready for the Race

After re-reading all the race material several times I decided I would wake up at 4:05am which meant that according to sleepyti.me website (that I swear by) I should be falling asleep by 8:35pm. Fine by me! I wanted to sleep early. I had slept well the night before, had a long day at work, so I just felt ready for bed anyway.

I like to wake up with enough time to go through my morning routine… drink my coffee without having to gulp it all down, have my breakfast shake, get dressed, make sure I have everything I need and get to the race gathering point on time – 6:15am.

After a somewhat chaotic organization… the other 21km runners and I finally made it to the starting point with 7 minutes to spare before the race (which was meant to start at 7am). Mind you I was at the gathering point by 5:35am, but as mentioned before, a bit of chaotic organization and last minute changes, we had to deal with the ‘adjustments’. As if we needed the extra stress.

Riding on the bus I realized that the race profile was not going to be easy. The lowest point on Earth seemed to have some decent gradients and the finish was going to be on a lovely downhill… but uh, you had to go up to go down! So I prepared mentally… told myself, I was training in Amman, which had some decent elevations and so this would be easy… well… easy is relative!

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Start Gun went off on the updated time of 7:10am and we were off. Constant uphill gradient, God bless the organizers souls, for the first 10km of the race. Well… at list there was some ups and downs. I glanced at my watch to make sure I was pacing myself. My goal was to finish! I didn’t want to push too hard yet at the same time I wanted to beat my other times… and I wanted to beat Susan!

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Finally at the 21km Start Point!

Ahhhhh… Susan! Who is Susan, well my good friend Haya told me about her mental run nemesis Susan, who soon became mine. Susan is an 86 year old 21km marathon runner who beat Haya significantly… 2:16. When Haya told me her story, Susan became my goal too… I wanted to beat Susan! I’m turning 45 in November so with a 40 year gap, I thought I had it in me. Please note I’ve been trying to beat Susan for the last 3 years! HAHAHAHA…

Glancing at my watch I calculated that if I kept up with this pace I could beat Susan! I was scheduled for a 2:15 finish and I was so proud of myself… thus far ๐Ÿ™‚

Then we turned into the Sky Dive Jordan location to run the loop around and back towards Amman Beach where the finish line would be. There, we started to see the Ultra runners who were competing over a distance of 50km. I couldn’t help it…. I had to cheer them on… whenever someone passed me I’d yell out GO ULTRAS!!! And clapped… those guys had 36km to go still! There were true athletes running the course, their pace was unbelievable (p.s. anyone faster than me is unbelievable) but truly amazing efforts! There were the truly inspiring Ultra runners on wheelchairs and the blind! I believe the blind gentleman that was running the Ultra finished in 3.30 hours or even less!

And then the 21km elites were already on their way back… they deserved cheers too cause they were HAULING… the guy that won first place in the 21km finished in 1 hour 7 minutes… yes JAW DROP!

So back to mental me… there I was, happy with my pace knowing that soon I would be finished with this constant uphill and reach a nice downhill and can up my pace… My timing was still good and I still felt fine, but again, I felt I was at 75% anyway…

We finally got to the 10km to go (so 11km under my belt) and we were met with the cheers of the 10km athletes who were gathering at the start point. It really feels good to have anyone cheer you on, so I felt a great burst of energy and continued a good run. N.B. the good run was on a downhill gradient… hehehe so of course it felt good… until I hit 16km. With only 5km to go I was heading into trouble. That was no gradient up ahead. That was a decent ascent. Add to it a head wind that suddenly picked up out of no where and for the first time on my run I was starting to feel defeated.

I changed to walk run strategy… 9minute runs, 1 minute walks, to help me get through and give myself a bit of a breather. But DAMN YOU ascents! It was just getting harder. With only 3km to go, my walks were taking longer than 1 minute. And I said to myself, that’s ok Wajeeha, you are here to finish. The last climb before the finished line and there it was, ahead of me… about 500 meters. I picked up my pace, naturally of course, thanks to the ascent and sprinted the finish line. Big smile on my face. I always finish wit a big smile. A big smile of RELIEF! Boy was I ecstatic that was over.

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The volunteers were awesome. Greeted me with water, an apple and then I saw the coffee. I grabbed it all… sat down for a good stretch and then went up to the finish line spectator area to wait for my team from Umniah to finish their 10km race.

I finished in 2:26:08. At first I was quite disappointed with myself until my Garmin Fenix told me that it was my fastest 21km to date! I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t beat Susan, but I did beat my previous PB! Later when I was back home and stalked my own data I discovered that not only did I PB, but my pace had improved significantly by about 30 seconds per minute! That’s a massive improvement for me and gave me the boost of confidence I needed to think that a 42km attempt may actually be something achievable for me.

There are so many people I want to thank for their support and their constant cheers. You know who you are even if I don’t name you but my parents first and foremost, my family, my sons, my cousins, my sponsors,my Betty Squad, my KabsTeam, my Dietician, my workmates, my FB friends, my Friday Triathletes, my Friday Pacers, My Cleanse and Beyond twins, my Besties on the Bike, my Qatar Sandstormers, My Carbon Wheels family, my Horror Squad, my tri Coach, my personal trainer and everyone in between… THANK YOU!

So, I’ve been meaning to start blogging again I think for the last three years… and I don’t know what sidetracks me… until I read an article recently and I realized why I keep putting it off… Force of Habit!

Motivation starts with consistency… planning… sticking to the plan… and with consistency comes the habit! In summary, plan to do whatever you want to do on a regular basis, don’t skip it… it could be good, or bad, or both but eventually it will become a habit… and eventually you will get better at it and eventually, it’s not about motivation, it’s more about the habit you have formed!

It’s the same for everything we do… starting a clean eating lifestyle… starts with developing the habit. And you will go through all the stages of wanting to give up before it becomes a habit and it no longer needs motivation to get you where you need to go!

For example… we start something new, like a workout. The first day you wake up all excited and ready to hit the gym! At the gym, you are awesome, you are invincible and no one can beat you… you go throughout your day, feeling great! And then… the next day… you wake up… SORE, muscles aching… your body be like… WHAT DID YOU JUST DO TO ME??? Well the simple answer is, dear body, is that I just used muscles that were laying dormant for the last few months! And this is where motivation either makes you or breaks you… Do we get up and do it all over again? Or do we give up… If you give up… you haven’t forced yourself to build a new habit… it has to start from within you… you have to WANT it, to force it to become a reality, to force it to become a habit, where, when you wake up… you are ready for it and ready to start all over again…

So here is my commitment to keep blogging… I pledge to blog every Friday… won’t be easy…. but the tip is to make it a habit… so every Friday this will be my habit… to return to my blog. I do have a lot to say… and I’m looking forward to sharing it with all of you…

Waj Um Yazan, signing out

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