Two and a half weeks ago, I embarked on one of biggest accomplishments since I began competing in triathlons. I crossed the line in the wee hours of the night to hear my name announced followed by four amazingly sweet words – “you are an ironman!” It wasn’t an easy day, and it definitely wasn’t pretty. I wanted to quit more times than I’m willing to admit to myself or anyone else for that matter. And I felt more emotions in the sixteen hours it took me to complete the race than I typically do in an entire year. Reflecting back, I’m still not sure how I feel about myself and my performance other than I’m relieved it’s over. I think I would be lying if I said I was truly happy with my performance because I feel everything was subpar on that day.
I went into the day of the race with lots of anxiety after experiencing some of my worst rides and swims in the weeks leading up to the race. I had focused a lot on these two disciplines because my run was already questionable going into the race with an aggravated groin injury that has plagued me for more than a year now. Thankfully, I had my parents, my teammates, and Rick to help calm my nerves the days leading up to the big day. And before I knew it, race morning was finally here. The gun (horn) went off, and it was time to race.
My swim wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great either. My biggest problem was I didn’t go out with the faster swimmers, and so I ended up getting stuck between slower swimmers and had to swim my way around people, costing me time. I did, however, find time to slow down as I approached the bridge lined with spectators cheering us all on. I took a moment to look up and take it all in just as so many friends told me to do. Then I set out to find my rhythm and set a pace for the rest of my time in the water. I exited the 2.4 mile swim just after one hour and twelve minutes. Not bad. Not great.
Transition was slow. I completely changed and dried myself off so I wouldn’t be wet on the bike. I knew it was going to be a little chilly out on the course. I hate being cold and didn’t want that to be an excuse when I set out for my longest ride ever. I had ridden 100 miles but never 112, so it was to become a first for me.
The first lap on the bike had a lot of promise … until … I stopped to use a porta-potty and the clip on my right shoe broke. At first, I thought it was just mud packed into the bottom of my shoe (and it may have been), so I tapped my shoe against the curb a few times. Well, that didn’t help much. I still couldn’t get my shoe to clip in (by that time, it was definitely broken), so I rode the rest of the first lap and the last two laps praying that my foot wouldn’t slip off my pedal. I slowed down and stayed to the right. I didn’t want to be that person that takes out other athletes because I was riding too fast with faulty equipment.
I experienced a little drizzle on the first lap, but nothing to write home about. On the second lap, it wasn’t a little drizzle anymore. It was raining, and eventually, it became a downpour. I was soaked to the bone and shivering, so much in fact, I was having trouble pushing on my pedals, changing gears, and taking in nutrition. At some point, I dismounted my bike, and volunteers came over to rub my arms and legs trying to warm me up. I kept telling myself and the volunteers I wasn’t ready to quit. I had come too far to stop now. I just needed to push through the cold and focus my energy on getting back to transition. I kept repeating to myself, “suck it up buttercup,” over and over again. My biggest mistake was when I stopped taking in anymore nutrition or fluids on the second lap. My body was beginning to shutdown. Everything was upsetting my stomach. I tried taking small sips of fluid and nibbles of food, but my stomach just wasn’t happy.
At the top of the third lap, I needed to make another pit stop. It was a quick one; but when I went to start pedaling again, my chain slipped off. My hands were so numb and frozen, I couldn’t grasp my chain. Thankfully, a volunteer standing close by came running over, put my chain back on, and sent me on my (not so merry) way. I rode the rest of the way back into town repeating little sayings to keep myself motivated.
Riding back into transition, I heard my parents and then spotted them among the crowd of people. I was so happy to see them. It was just what I needed. I’ve never had so much trouble dismounting my bike before. I was terribly cold. I waddled into T2 (serious waddling, and there is video somewhere out there to prove it).
Those that were tracking my progress during the race would probably think I was having a picnic in T2 after seeing the time I took in there. Twenty-five minutes is a frickin’ long time to spend in any transition, but I couldn’t stop shivering. Volunteers pulled me to the back of the tent, brought me warm broth, stripped me down, rubbed my legs and arms, and covered me with one of those shock blankets. I sat there contemplating whether or not I could even stand up to finish. My LPHC was tight and sore. It hurt to sit, it hurt to stand, and it really hurt to walk. I was told by one volunteer I could stay in the tent for two more hours if I really needed, but I decided it was time for me to get going. Thankfully, I had a completely dry kit and socks in my T2 bag. I got redressed with the help of volunteers. I think the only thing I put on by myself was my visor. I wrapped the shock blanket around my torso and set out to finish what I had come to do. Whether it be by running, walking, or crawling, I was going to finish because I was ready to become an ironman and the thought of doing this all again just to get my medal wasn’t something I was willing to do.
The Run (Or In My Case – A Really Long Walk)
I set out for the 26.2 miles with the intention I would walk a few miles to warmup and stretch out my legs and then reassess how I was feeling. I thought for sure I could run at least half of the marathon. Right around the first little bend coming out of T2, I could see my parents and puppy. Again, I was so ecstatic to see them. My dad snapped a picture or two of me. I told my mom I didn’t think I could do this. She told me I wasn’t allowed to quit, and I could finish what I had come to do. She reminded me it was okay to walk and I could still finished even if I walked every step of the run. Those words were exactly what I needed right at that very moment. So with my blue lips, I exchanged a few kisses and then began the long walk to the finish line. I grabbed my special needs bag on the first lap, emptying the contents and immediately putting on my long sleeved top I had packed for the later hours of the run.
Thank goodness the run at IMAZ is so spectator friendly. I saw so many familiar faces at just the right time – my parents, Heather, Erin, Kalani, other friends who were racing, and too many Coeur teammates to name them all. A few miles into the first lap, I tried to pick up my pace and run. Yeah, that wasn’t happening. So I decided I would just walk as fast as I could for as long as I could. My pace on the run wasn’t bad considering I walked pretty much every step except for maybe a dozen. I found a few other walkers and walked with them as long as I could before setting off by myself again.
I crossed paths with Rick when he had just about three miles to go before he would cross the finish line and become an ironman himself. We stopped, embraced each other, had our picture snapped by Kalani, and then continued on. And of course, it had to start raining again on the back half of my second lap. At that point, I stopped at an aid station and asked a volunteer if she could help me shove my swollen hands into the gloves I had been carrying around. Then she made me a poncho out of one of the few remaining trash bags she had. She was a lifesaver. That trash bag really helped warm me up. I tried to pick up my pace. Eventually, I ran into Kalani again, and she kept me company for a few miles.
Soon I was in the last few miles before the homestretch. The huge emotional buildup could be felt in the pit of my stomach. I came up and around the curve before the beginning of the finish chute. I found Rick. I gave him all my extra layers and a big kiss. Then I saw my parents. They were out there waiting for me. I stopped, collected myself, and then set out for the last few hundred yards of my race. I saw the lights. I heard the cheers. I blew a kiss and raised my arms as I crossed the line and finally earned the title of an ironman – another first for the day along with finishing my first full marathon.
Like I stated before, I’m still not sure how I feel about my performance. Am I happy? I think so. Am I disappointed? A little. Will I ever attempt this distance again? I’m still not absolutely sure (even though I say heck no for now). One thing I do know – I have an incredible circle of friends and family that believe in me more than I believe in myself. This year hasn’t been an easy one for me – from injuries to surgeries to moving away from all my family and friends and leaving behind a career that I put all my heart and soul into for the last ten years – but I still earned a special title no one can ever take away from me. I became an ironman!!!!!