So without further ado, here’s the story of the longest and best day of my life.
Alarm goes off right before 4:00am and I got a surprisingly decent amount of sleep. I made sure to pack everything up the night before so I wouldn’t have to think before we took off to the race site at 4:45. So once I was all dressed and the crew got some normal breakfast, we headed out to face the unknown. Most of my pre-race jitters were staying at bay while I talked with Katie and my parents or listened to some pump up music.
Once at the race site, the next two hours were fairly uneventful. I setup my bike, made sure I had everything packed in my transition bags, made a couple trips to the bathroom, sipped on Gatorade, and chit-chatted with some fellow racers to pass the time. My favorite sister called me around 6:00 to wish me luck and then I met up with my amazing parents and friends right before 6:30 to watch the pros start their day, then watched some of my favorite Ironman YouTube videos on my phone before putting on my wetsuit to kick off my long day. This was about the moment when I started to freak out. Looking out at the lake, I just kept thinking – what did I get myself into?
Secret: Even though this might make me seem pathetic, I’ll admit publicly that about one minute before the race started, I teared up (with my goggles on so no one could see) because I couldn’t believe the day was finally here. It was a very surreal experience.
Ten, nine, eight…pump up music…three, two, one…
BOOM. Cannon goes off and it’s now or never.
I decided to take the inside line to the buoys and enjoyed the washing machine for the first mile. Fortunately I avoided most of the kicking feet but I did get a nice punch to the lip ten minutes into the swim. I never really managed to avoid the mass of people but I caught a nice draft off a couple people that seemed to be swimming well. I didn’t even have to look up because they did all the sighting for me. My favorite part was at the first turnaround when there were 200-300 people trying to get around a buoy and you had to stop swimming to wait for people to make the turn. Everyone was obviously in a rush but some people were having a good time with it. Especially the two guys in front of me that started “mooing” because you couldn’t help but think of herding cattle.
I came out of the water after the first loop and I was feeling good. I knew I held a little back and even with all the bumping and stopping for the mass of people, I came out exactly where I wanted – 36 minutes. Quick jog around the timing mat and back into the lake for round two. This time, the field thinned out a bit so I wasn’t in a battle for position. I just kept finding feet to draft off of and moved up a few spots when I felt like pushing it. The last 15 minutes was just a blur. I knew I was on the home stretch and I was already thanking the Ironman gods because nothing had gone wrong so far.
Out of the water and I try to find my support crew to wave to them, but they’re nowhere in sight. I was still a little dizzy from all the water in my ears and all I could remember was volunteers waving their hands in the air directing me where to go. Once I had my bearings, I ran towards the wetsuit strippers and found (yes, I was conscious enough to do the right thing) two no-nonsense guys who had my wetsuit off in two seconds flat. I grabbed my bike gear bag and ran into the changing tent, or what I liked to call, a giant week-old gym bag. It was easily one of the most foul smelling places I’ve been. A nice volunteer dumped out all my gear for me and I was out the door. As I grabbed my bike, I heard a familiar, deep voice scream my name and I knew I had found my best friends and parents. Seeing them was nice motivation for the long six hours of cramps and butt pain to come.
I planned on pacing myself during the first loop of the bike course after seeing how brutal some of the hills were when we drove the course on Friday. While this leg is definitely my best, I was a little nervous, thinking I underestimated the climbing throughout the course. With that said though, I was clocking great speed leading up to the hills at mile 20 and my legs were feeling great. Once those hills came, I used the other racers around me to gauge how hard to push it and I just settled in behind a few guys that were climbing well. One fun part of the course was the bagpipe players at the top of the first big climb. Talk about a sweet way to put in some hard work on the bike. From that point to mile 45, the hills never stopped coming. Big climb, easy downhill, gradual climb, steep downhill. It went on and on and on. It wasn’t too hard at that point, just endless. I was focused on packing on as many calories as possible at that point so I couldn’t really think about anything else. The only problem I had was forgetting to pack my salt pills so I was stuck eating half a banana at every aid station to keep the cramps at bay. It actually worked well although I think I’ve had my fill of mushy bananas for a little while. Other than all that potassium, I was eating my fair share of gels, bars, and chews to hold me over for a few hours. The one thing I didn’t want was more Gatorade. I decided to stick with Gatorade coming into the race but after two bottles on the bike, I couldn’t stand the sight of that stuff and I was cursing that gross sugary drink the rest of the bike ride. I was forced to take a couple sips when I was stuck with the deciding between yellow Gatorade and a latte flavored Powergel, but other than that moment at mile 50, I wasn’t touching that stuff for the rest of the bike ride.
A few more climbs after the turnaround and I was back into town feeling great. Foolishly, I was feeling ambitious after I did some quick math in my head and found out that I was on pace to hit 3 hours on the first loop; way ahead of schedule. Once I reached downtown, I slowed to scan the streets of people for my family and friends but they were nowhere to be seen. Oh well, I was pushing 23+ mph at that time and nothing was going to get me down. “NUNNNEZZZ”. I know that voice! Denny and Katie spotted me flying past them around mile 56 and it was a perfect location because I was just about to hit another turnaround spot where I would pass them on the other side of the road. I slowed down to say hello and tell them how I had foolishly pushed too hard on the first half of the bike leg. Then it was back out for the second half of my date with Cervelo.
The second loop was way worse than the first. My legs were flirting with moderate-bad cramps the entire time and I was freaking out because I had fallen behind on my calorie intake. The irony of the whole thing was that, by this time, I was praying for the hills at miles 70-95. I started to hate any flat surface because it meant I had to fight the wind and pedal fast, instead of the hills where I could sit up in my saddle and go to work. Flat roads became my worst nightmare during those final two hours. Thankfully, a lot of other people were suffering by this time so each time I would pass someone, we’d chit chat about how the day was going. Even though each interaction was identical, there was joy in hearing everyone around me say “yea, I’m just ready to get off this damn bike” or “these hills didn’t seem so bad the first time around.”
The last 20 miles were an absolute blur. I was thrilled to be counting down my final moments on my bike and I was waving to every spectator or volunteer I saw. At that moment, running a marathon seemed like Christmas morning if it meant I could get off that bike. Then, there it was, “this way to bike finish” written on the road. Yes, please! Quick look at my watch and I realize I just broke six hours on the bike. Screw the next leg of the race, that was a big accomplishment in my eyes.
Unclipped from my bike, passed the Cervelo to a young volunteer, and hobbled over to get my run gear bag to change. Sadly, this meant back into that giant gym bag again. I remember thinking to myself, “I feel bad for these volunteers that have to stay in here all day”. I took off all my stuff, threw it on the ground, and another great volunteer organized my stuff for me while he called another guy to go get me some water. Talk about service! (Close your eyes now if you don’t want to be grossed out) I really had to pee at this point and there was a conveniently placed trough right in the tent. Unfortunately, I had the worst pee-anxiety and stood there for over a minute waiting to let it flow. Finally, I was in business and I waited another 90 seconds chatting with the guy next to me about how great that feeling was. Gross, I know. But during that race, it was the little things that kept me going.
Game time. Here is where I knew the pain would really set in and I would enter my own personal hell. To start, my legs were feeling pretty good. During the first few miles, I had to consciously tell my feet to slow down a bit and save as much energy as possible. I felt even better when I passed one of my favorite triathletes – Desiree Ficker – while she was on her second loop. We ran together for a few seconds and I gave a few words of encouragement but she was clearly having a tough day and I was in no mood for jersey-chasing so I moved along.
Shortly after, this is where I made my first mistake of the run. My body was craving some whole foods so when I strolled through the second aid station, my ears perked up when I heard someone screaming “pretzels, chips!” I went straight for them and ruffled Lays have never tasted so good. Sadly, I would learn my lesson about those chips because immediately after eating them, my stomach gave me a quick sign to mean “no-no, that’s not in the race nutrition plan.”
Mile 2 or 3, and I was strolling through downtown/hot-corner where I heard my family yelling for me. I was still feeling great so I took some time to hug my parents as well as Denny and Katie since they were heading back to Seattle. You can see it in the picture below, but I had the biggest smile on my face because I was so happy to be on that run course with a healthy, cramp-free set of legs.
The rest of the way, I started ticking off the miles and tried to think as little as possible. I told myself to keep right below a 10 minute mile pace and walk the aid stations to keep my nutrition on track. I was passing people left and right, feeling like a million bucks. Since our names were on our race bibs, every spectator would scream my name when I passed and I returned the favor by flashing a smile and my best hang-ten hand signal to let them know I appreciated the love.
Each aid station became a buffet station of goodness. It was clockwork. I would grab two cold sponges, one for my back, one for my head. Then it was three sips of orange Gatorade. Then I either took a gel with some water or just sipped on half a cup of ice cold water.
Around mile 10, I made mistake #2 when I tried to take two salt pills because I felt some cramps coming on. In theory, the idea was a good one, but two minutes after I got those down, my stomach became a balloon. I felt like someone had stuck a helium tank in my mouth. That officially sucked. I had to walk a couple more times than I wanted until my stomach finally settled down to where I could run. Needless to say, miles 11-13 were not pretty.
By this time, I wasn’t as friendly to the spectators as I would have liked because I needed to save all my energy, but I was still aware of all the amazing supporters out there. My favorites were the house hosting a raging tailgate party with dozens of cute girls cheering, the guy sitting in a lifeguard chair spraying people with a hose, and the Hollywood themed aid station with people in prom dresses and ties.
Now, it was around mile 17 and all I was thinking about was what was around the next turn. I had been up and down the same lakeside road at least half a dozen times leading up to the race and during the race so I knew where I was and I knew exactly how far I had to go until the turnaround at mile 20. Surprisingly, the next two miles flew by and I was making the turn to see the massive bridge that marked both the worst and best parts of the day – the giant hill on the run and the turnaround for the home stretch of the race.
I almost couldn’t believe it. I was so close and it was at that moment that I knew I was going to finish. I even remember hearing the woman on the microphone at the turnaround aid station say that the official time was right above 11:30. Hmmm, 6.2 miles in an hour… no more time for walking through the aid stations, I had a 12:30 finish time to hit.
Those last 6 miles were a gradual build of energy. I started out pushing through each mile and cherishing the little signs that said 20, 21, 22. Then, once I hit 23, it was game on. Most of the other people were walking by this time but a few were running and enjoying the moment. I joked with a 30 year old first timer female who was having an incredible race and talked about beer with a couple guys in my age group. I made sure to high-five the cute girls at the big tailgate around mile 23 and I let a couple kids soak me with cups and cups of water around mile 24.
Around mile 25, I looked at my watch and saw something around 12:10. Hellllllloooooooooooo, ideal race goal. As long as I didn’t stop for the Dixie cup beer at the final turn, I was taking that sub-12:20 time home with me. I thought about the finish and then just kept moving my feet to make sure I still hit that time.
The only downfall of this was that I completely screwed up my celebration. I intended to enjoy the moment down the finish shoot and take my time. I even had ambitions to do a little dance (a la Charlie Davies stanky legg) at the finish line but my mind was in run mode and I unfortunately/lamely powered the whole way, forgetting to do any fun celebrations or dancing. Note the boring finish photo of me clapping.
All I can remember is two volunteers grabbing me at the finish line and asking me 20 times if I was ok. Each time I said “I’m perfect, I could do another one of these” but they wouldn’t let go of me. I guess it was just their job to make sure I wasn’t delirious. I spotted my parents scanning the finishers for me and snuck up behind them to give them a big, sweaty hug. We were all ecstatic and it was surreal to think that I was actually done. What now?
I skipped the post race pizza and massage, opting to hobble back to the hotel for a shower. We hung out there for about an hour and then made our way back downtown for dinner and the midnight finishing party. I have to give major thanks to my parents who made it all day out there and still decided to stay with me to enjoy the craziness of the midnight finishes at the Ironman. They were troopers. Also, even though they couldn’t be there for my late Sunday finish, Katie and Denny being there with me was beyond amazing.
I’m sure I missed hundreds of little stories and I definitely could write another few pages on the culture of Ironman and the people I met, but right now, I think this is enough. The past six months of training, year of dreaming, and week in Idaho has been the greatest experience of my life. Just watching the finishers at the 17 hour mark cross that line with tears streaming across their faces and smiles from ear to ear shows you how inspiring an Ironman can be.
It definitely requires some unfortunate sacrifices and a sick mindset, but this race tests your limits and you can’t help but become a different person once you cross that finish line. I still don’t know if it has fully set in and I know I won’t really do it justice, but racing an Ironman is something in between an emotional, spiritual and physical battle with 2,500 strangers that feel like your best friends after it’s all done. It’s a fraternity of those who are crazy enough to push themselves to their limits just to get a t-shirt and bragging rights.
So in closing, I’ll steal two quotes from a couple of the pros:
“Ironman racing is the only time you’re really true to yourself, it’s the only time you really face yourself.”
“I encourage anyone who wants to see what they’re made out of to come try an Ironman. You’ll get a true sense of if you’re a fighter or not.”
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Here are a few more pictures from the weekend or just go to this link to see all of them:
Cheesy picture my friends made me take at the hotel
Day before the race at the swim start
Great picture from our drive to Montana on Monday
Recapping my form for my parents. Note the big bridge marking the run course turnaround.
|Thumbs up after a lakeside dinner on the run course Monday night|