Tuesday. Well it is official, as of 11:20 P.M. July 20th, 2008, I crossed the finish line and they said (so I hear, the crowd was releasing a deafening roar so I didn’t actually hear it) “You are an Ironman!” Hopefully they will post the finishline video so I can watch it.
I don’t feel any different today other than soooo appreciative of the amazing support from my brother and friends, teammates and coaches. Truly, truly I would not have been able to have finished without their support. I think through these epic adventures you find out a lot about your own inner workings but you also find a new appreciation for the sometimes unimaginable depth of caring of other people. Ironman was certainly my own journey, but I sit here this morning overwhelmed with the outpouring of support and love that was showered on me for the last year and through last night. People stood by my side from pre-dawn to the bitter end and I will remember that for the rest of my life.
I am not unhappy with my performance because I will say honestly given my level of fitness and the conditions of the race (acknowledging every race has it’s own adverse conditions), I did the best I could with what I had on that given day. Demons were out in full force, dissapointment, futility, fear and anxiety took turns shooting arrows into my psyche. I am a stronger person for completing the Ironman not because of the physical effort (I believe any generally healthy body could be trained to do it) but for the mental effort and ultimate victory over my own self-doubt.
Pre-race I had a lot of excitement at registration. When i got there, I had to stand in line while they pulled each athlete’s name printed on an 8X10 card from fileboxes neatly lined up. When I walked up and said “2503” she said “how funny, look that is the card that is sticking up out of the box. 2800 or so names and it was my card sticking up about 3 inches from the rest. I thought that was weird. I took it as a good sign.
Then when they handed me my swim cap and we saw it was bright pink (my signature color) the Boas sisters (who had been accompanying me on my rounds) let out a small yell. We all took it as a sign that this was to be my race.
I tried, to the best of my severely lacking organizational abilities, to follow all the pre-race checklists and pay attention to every detail that I could. I think I did all my prep work pretty well as far as packing and planning. I had been following weather.com daily to track the weather. The forecast changed every day but ultimately called for scattered showers in the p.m. Hopefully I would be off the bike by the time the rain hit.
Here is one of the pictures of my race morning set up with little notes I wrote to myself reminding me to do everything from take my pills to go to the bathroom. I even had to write on my bottles to remind me of what the heck they were for. I still managed to leave one extra one behind (it was okay it was an extra bottle for the run in case I felt like carrying it which I didn’t). I particularly like the juxtaposition of the bottles of Tangueray and red wine (in the background) against my race day formula in trilife bottles. (Don’t worry I didn’t drink any of that although I may experiment for next time!)
Everything pre-race went as planned and expected. No real sleep (few people get sleep the night before a big event day), couldn’t decide what the heck to wear in case it got cold so I put three different outfits in my special needs bag. You’d think I was packing for a vacation, not a race.
My swim was uneventful. I was seven minutes slower than last year which was a great disappointment to me and frankly I just don’t get it. I know I lost a lot of training time due to my accident but I truly thought I had worked threw the hitches and bad habits I had developed. I thought I was doing everything right. Rotating, rotating, rotating. Reaching long. Leading with my elbow, catching the water and trying to push myself forward in a streamlined position. If you had asked me before I saw the clock how I thought I was doing, I would have said “very good.” I think the biggest problem with my swim in my own delusions of how I’m doing. At least in tennis you get immediate feedback. I may think that serve was fantastic but the fact that hit hit the back fence tells me immediately to adjust. Swimming gives me no feedback so I just continued merrily on my way until I was finished. Second loop of the swim I literally swam beginning to end on top of the infamous line (a rope that runs underwater the length of the swim course.) I was positive I had done everything right. I was surprised to see 1:38 on my watch when I exited. Even more suprised to see that the rain had already started and it was coming down seriously. Oh well, hopefully the bike wouldn’t be too slippery and wet.
When I got on the bike it was raining. For the entirety of my bike and 20 miles of my run it was just non-stop. Anytime I thought for one second that it was about to let up, the skies let out a little rumble laugh and just rained harder. I have to say from beginning of the bike to the end of the bike it was a nightmare. I mentioned to my friends that in all the triathlons I have done there was never a single one where I did not think at some moment on the bike that I was enjoying the ride. I love to ride. This was horrible. This was frightening. This was everything I had dreaded and more. The entire time I was yelling to the heavens, ‘you have a very sick sense of humor mister, sick!”
Of course I was nervous about revisiting the scene of the crime of Ironman 2007. I was ready for that. I was rehearsing over and over in my head “relax your hands, relax your shoulders, relax your back, look for anyone doing anything stupid, focus, relax your hands….” It seemed everywhere I looked I saw one yahoo after another doing strange things. Is that person really stopping her bike and unclipping on the road? “You should pull your bike off to the side and not stop in the road” I yell to her as I maneuver around her and pass her. Yahoo number 1. Two guys talking to each other like they are on a Sunday ride as they climb up a hill. Note to self, yahoo number 2 and 3, stay away from them. The sad irony was I was actually passing people on the uphill this year but as soon as we hit a downhill they passed me. I wanted to yell “hey, I can go a lot faster than this” but then in a quiet voice had to admit ‘if i wasn’t so darn scared for my life.” I would like to say I was frightened but that really wasn’t the right word. I think I was really almost terrified. The rain, the yahoos, the hill. This was a 40+mph hill I was riding 15 mph. I had to abandon all hopes of a good bike split within the first hour of being on my bike. It took me an hour to get to Keane (I believe my normal time in practice had been 48 minutes but I’ll have to double check that.)
I kept breaking the ride up into segments. Trying to concentrate on nutrition and constantly reminding myself to stay focussed. Puddles can hide cracks and bumps and rain can bring debris onto the road. A flat tire or two could put me out of the race. Oh lo, please don’t make me have to have come this far just be be denied again. Why are you doing this to me? I got the pink swim cap. Wasn’t that a sign that this was to be my race? Why would you make it rain like this during the only part of the race where I can gain a little advantage? What did I do? (It did occur to me for one second that perhaps the weather patterns of the universe were not revolving totally around me and my Ironman goals but I quickly dismissed that and returned to thinking this was a personal attack against me and another attempt to thwart my efforts.)
And that’s how the bike went and went and went — rain and yahoos for 112 miles. I took it one section at a time but was denied over and over again any spot where I might open up and ride with any freedom. The rain never stopped, the idiotic behavior of other cyclists was non-stop. Granted they were probably freaking out too so let’s cut them a little break. One woman passed me on the right going up a hill and as she passed she said “oh my God, I’m so sorry, I didn’t even realize what I was doing, I know I shouldn’t pass you on the right.” I told her no problem but I called her yahoo number 17 under my breath.
By the second loop I started getting cramps in my right leg and achilles pain in my left. I tried to drop my heels more and take more stretches but my legs were really hurting. What the heck? I’ve ridden 100 miles plenty of time. I’ve never gotten cramps. I had even added an extra salt tablet to each of my bottles just to make sure I would get enough salt. I couldn’t understand why that was happening. In retrospect I think that maybe I was so tense and nervous going down the big hills that I caused my legs to cramp. (And I am also thinking that is why I have suspicious residual soreness in my deltoids — from white knuckling 112 miles of road.)
I knew that I was losing more and more time on the bike when I didn’t see a single member of my team on the second loop. That was dissapointing, it would have been nice to see a friendly face but I was glad that they were rallying on and got through the yahoo soup to where it seemed I had been banished. Just do the best you can, I kept telling myself. One section at a time. My new bike computer had stopped working because I had put the aero bottle too close to it so when I hit bumps it must have hit buttons or something because I had no data. I had my watch going but I had to keep subtracting the swim and adding back in my transition time and my math skills were suspect at this point. I was riding with no data. I’m not sure having any data would have changed anything, I was still petrified so I think I would have had the same results with or without a computer. Here are some pictures that the race people took. I was not looking very happy in any of them.
I think the last picture says it all.
Towards the end of my ride I see one of the coaches coming down the hill. Oh great, they sent the troops out looking for me. I must be way over the time limit or something. I had stopped trying to do the math on my time. My brain was in a knot and all I knew is had to get off the bike or I might scream. The coach told me I was doing fine which was probably his way of talking me down off the ledge. I was no longer scared, I was just tired and achy and starting to doubt whether I should be out there. Maybe this was just not meant to be, maybe this is just going to be another nightmare. I finally made it up to civilization and God love my friends they were out there standing in the rain cheering for me and waiting ever so patiently for me to drag my soggy butt up the final hills and get off the bike. (I found out after the race that my bike time was 7:55 which in my wildest dreams I would never have taken that long unless I had flat tires, I was thinking about 45 minutes less than that in my race plan.)
One of my worries since St. Croix is dry socks. I had such a miserable experience there with wet socks, wet shoes and having to borrow my friend’s socks that I packed several pairs in every bag to which I would have access during the race. (They allow all the athletes to position what they call special needs bags on the bike and run course that you can access as you ride/run by). When I got to the transition chaning tent, I immediately pulled out my running shoes with socks tucked neatly in them. Drenched to the core. Oh no, not again, please God, don’t make me run in wet socks again. I had no choice I put on the wet socks and the gal who was helping me dress pulled out a small baggy with bandaids and said “looks like you have another pair of socks in here.” Yes, yes, oh yes, I had packed another pair of socks in a baggy just in case. Thank you God, thank you. I put the socks on only to discover the only way out of the changing tent was to walk through a deep puddle that had formed by the exit. No way out but through the puddle. There would be no dry socks today.
I started my run. Despite my disappointing swim and my horrific bike, the most important part of my Ironman experience happened in the first hour of my run. I had said all along that if I was off my bike by 4:30 in the afternoon I would be able to finish the Ironman because I could walk it in 7 1/2 hours. But now it was 5 p.m. (or close to it) and I was not 100% sure that I could walk it in 7 hours. Right then every demon I had ever experienced in my life came out for a party. It was their Carnivale in the streets of Lake Placid. Self-doubt, self-loathing, fear and insecurity all had their own special floats in the parade. The biggest float was the one with “WHAT IF?” painted all over it in bright Brazilian colors. What if I can’t get to that finish line by midnight? Am I going to be denied again? I’m not sure I can do it. I was starting a marathon with legs already cramping and achilles pulling and I knew that it was only going to get worse. So there is was, my worst nightmare turning into reality right before my eyes. A marathon? A freakin’ marathon? I have to run a M.A.R.A.T.H.O.N. now? After what I just went through? My emotional energy was all spent on that freakin bike I had nothing left for 26.2. It was over and I how was I going to tell my friends and family that had all come yet again to Lake Placid to watch me finish this thing that yet again I didn’t have what it takes to cut it.
My plan had been to run to every aid station and walk one minute through the aid stations. When I hit the first mile I saw it was a 12 minute mile and I was kind of surprised. Okay it was downhill so that’s why. But it was a weird little feeling of “how did that happen?” I was expecting to have walked it. The next mile was a 13 minute mile but that was still better than the 15 or 16 minute mile I had in my head. The third mile was back down to a 12 minute mile (another downhill.) Hmmm, wait a minute, I ran down both of those hills and I didn’t feel any pain. Was that a glimmer of hope I saw peeking through the clouds? Then I heard something so softly whispering deep, deep in the back of my head. It was barely audible but I strained to hear it. “If you try, you can do this.” Whaa? Whaaa? Are you crazy? Do you know how long a marathon is? That’s 26.2 miles. ‘If you try, you can do this.”
That’s when the most important dialogue of my Ironman (and maybe my life) started in my head. A really strong voice took over and started to lecture me. You must banish doubt. From this moment on you will not entertain doubt. You will believe and if you want to survive this you must from this moment forward believe. “buh, buh, I’m not sure I can believe.” You must believe. And then I took that mythical leap of faith. I decided that I was going to believe. I decided that no matter what I would keep going and keep moving forward. Focus Forward, Failure not an option (weight watchers lives in Ironman!)
Then I started focussing on all the positive things. Slathering my legs in Tiger Balm made a lot of the cramping go away. HEY, NO KNEE PAIN. Not a smidge, not any. My calves were fine. I had wet socks but they weren’t really bothering me, my feet were not sloshing around. My head was really clear so I knew that as horrific as that bike had been I had done my nutrion right. Every new positive thought strengthened my resolve. By the time I had reached mile 5 I was in it to finish it. I wasn’t thinking 26.2 miles any more I was thinking next aid station. I was in the moment and focussing on just what I had to do right then and there. I would do this aid station to aid station and trust that I would continue doing what I was doing until I couldn’t anymore.
My friends were great, they had come down the back roads and positioned themselves out in the more desolate areas. I saw my coach who reminded me to keep a positive outlook. I said with 100% conviction “I have a positive outlook.” And every mile I was getting more and more confident that I could do 26 miles, the only problem was I had no idea if I was on track to finish by midnight. My watch was working but for some reason I couldn’t do the simplest math. I ran a mile with a guy who was super nice. He was on his second loop but he had this perfect little pace going that was just a little faster than I wanted to go but I liked his foot fall. He told me I was doing great and if i just kept going I was going to finish with no problem. “By midnight? Can I finish by midnight?” I asked him. “Absolutley, just keep this pace going.” He ran off to use the bathroom and I was left running by myself again.
On the way back of the first loop I met another guy who assured me that if I kept to under 15 minute miles I would finish in plenty of time. Just do the math he said, 4 miles in an hour. You have 20 miles to go, that’s 5 hours. It’s only 6:15 you have plenty of time. Do the math, do the math. I couldn’t do the math. I was looking at my watch and it meant nothing. Why couldn’t I do the math? I started to do little math problems in my head. What’s 4 times 15? What 60 divided by 4? What’s 1 plus 1? I had to let go and just trust someone else’s math. I’ll just keep running to the next aid station and walking. Every time anyone ran up to me and tried to walk or run with me I kept asking them, will we make it? Yes, yes, they were all so confident. I wasn’t. But everyone kept telling me “you are looking great.” I was feeling pretty good.
I knew I had dry socks in my special needs bag. I wanted to stop and change my socks but I was so afraid that I wasn’t doing the math right. What if I change my socks and those would be the two minutes I needed to cross the finish line. I saw my other coach and asked him to do the math. If I do less than 15 minute miles can I stop and change my socks and still finish? Suddenly dry socks became the only thing in the world that mattered to me besides finishing by midnight. He ran by me and said you have time to change your socks. I stopped at the special needs booth and I opened my bag and found all the clothes I had packed. I chose the rain resistant jacket (because yes it was STILL raining.) I pulled out my ziplock baggy and there were two of the most beautiful things I had every seen in the world. Dry, plush and comfy socks. I took off my wet socks and some guy came over and asked if wanted some lube. Yeah good idea, thanks. My feet were totally water logged. I rubbed them with lube and put on the dry socks and my jacket. 13.1 miles to go and I was feeling okay, better than okay. Dry socks = empowerment.
I stuck to my plan and just made sure that every mile was under 15 minutes and they were. Unbelievably, they were mostly 14 minutes including the walk time. I ran that way up until mile 20. My friends and coach were out there on the most desolate stretches. God love them. They stood out there in the cold and dark and rain waiting for me. I know my friends drove back but my coach just stood out there in the dark and rain and waited for me for hours. Above and beyond the call of duty. I felt so guilty. I was okay, I’m slow, everyone should go home and get warm. I wanted them to go back and not have to be out there but I was so appreciative of them being my little lighthouses out there. Here is a picture someone took of me running in the dark.
Believe it or not, I was feeling pretty good. Whodda thunk that the first smile on my fast during the Ironman would be on the run?
After I left my friends it was very lonely and dark out there. Though the rain let up, I started to walk more. The speed walkers that I had been followed left me behind. (I couldn’t walk as fast as them but my walk/jog kept me close). Some guy ran past me at a really fast pace and I was surpised to see someone running that fast. Then he stopped to walk and I jogged to catch up to him. We chatted for awhile and we had some similar interests (losing weight, getting fitter in the later parts of our lives.) He said he was running fast now because he had been walking most of it and his plan was to get to the top of the hill and run the rest. I told him I was sticking to my run/walk but i would start running with him at the top of the hill. When we got there we started running but he lost me quickly. I didn’t make it too far before I had to walk. He turned around and was so encouraging “Run, Run, swing your arms it will help.” I thought that was so nice that he was trying to help me as he was swallowed into the night.
I was walking, trying to swing my arms, trying to count, trying to figure out 15 minute miles, what if, what if? Then I saw Jackie. “Hey there.” She said like she stands out in the dark streets all the time looking for lone walkers to encourage. I was glad to see her. It gave me a little hope. I wasn’t feeling that bad, it was just my muscles were exhausted. I kept telling them to move but my legs were heavy and it was hard to lift them. But then I decided to do the old, 4 lamposts on 2 off like we would do in practice. So that’s what I did. Ran a couple of telephone polls and then walked a little. I told Jackie when I hit the corner that’s when I would run all the way to IGA hill. She was good morale support and stayed far enough away that it didn’t appear that she was pacing me.
We rounded the corner and I knew I would hit the Boas sisters and Linda and Karen. I wasn’t sure if they would still be there but even if they weren’t I was okay. I was pretty sure I could finish. Of course they were all there, waiting and cheering. I was chasing midnight but my fears were going away. I was feeling better than most. Then I saw coach Scott and he and Jackie ran ahead across the street shouting out occasional words of encouragement. We hit IGA hill and I started to walk. I promised that I would start running again at Art Devlin (That had been my strategy in practice). I didn’t remember there was little hill after that. Ugh, I’ll have to walk again. That’s when I saw Donald and the rest of my SHBC gang on the top of that stupid little bump, they were all cheering for me. Oh, okay, okay, I guess I can run up this stupid little, annoying bump that seemed like Mt. Everest. I started running and all the cheering fueled me up and around the bend.
Then the coach started yelling to me “You did not train to walk this finish, run. Tell your legs to run. Do whatever you have to do, count, swing your arms, sing.” Oh God, I don’t want to run, my legs were like cement pilons. They felt so heavy but I didn’t want to dissapoint anyone. My coach was out there running ahead. He must be so tired. My friends must be exhausted. Everyone is waiting for me me. I can’t run, I must run. One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four. If you can’t push your legs back, swing your arms back. Ouch, ugh, ooph, how far do we have to go? There are the walkers that I had been trying to catch up to. Now I was passing them. They will start running now I am sure but I passed them, I passed them. Then I saw the guy who walked with me up the hill “you’re doing it, I told you you would do it!” So nice, how could everyone be so nice after so many hours?
We reached the turn around. Marisol was with the coach. Oh God she shouldn’t be running. Stop running. Go sit down. It’s late, everyone go to bed, I’ll finish this. Then I passed the guys with the disco music. It was some song from the seventies that I knew and it gave me a little push. They saw it pushed me. They all cheered and slapped my hands. They were great. It’s all come down to this? These last two miles that are killing me? 16+ hours, rain, relentless, torential rain, darkness, muscle cramps, two years of waiting and it is down to this? Making my legs run even though they didn’t want to? Get to the finish line. Get to the finish line. Don’t forget that the run around the oval will seem like forever. Remember St. Croix, the finish is not until you see it.
The most gracious thing about the race is that you run downhill into the finish oval. Unlike NYC marthon where they make you finish running uphill, the Lake Placid Ironman finish is actually kind. Okay, okay, you made it this far we are going to give you a little push and let you run into the oval. I saw a guy walking in the oval and he turned to me and said “you did great.” I wanted to tell him to run with me but I was too afraid to say anything. I took the night light off my neck (they gave it to me out in the dark) and I handed it to some strange guy. I don’t want this thing. Then I saw my friends hanging over the side of the barrier. I slapped their hands as I turned the corner. Whoa, the finish line is right there, it is not far at all.
The music was loud. It was a big blur of people. I looked for my friends and saw their faces but it was all moving too quickly. I couldn’t hear the announcer it was just a roar of people and the white clappers everyone was pounding. There was the finish line, the finish line. I ran toward it and I couldn’t believe my eyes as I ran through. There was my teammate Jen from last year in her Trilife jacket with a medal to put around my neck. How did Jen get there? It was over so fast. So long and yet so fast.
All my friends had pushed through and everyone met me behind the finish line. One of my teammates Lynne was there. She was crying, all my SHBC and all my Rumble Girls and Deluca and Coach Jay and of course my Brother and Peter, and so many people there to cheer and give me hugs. Everyone so happy. I think I was happy, my face said I was happy. It was just so fast, it all happened so fast. The fastest 20 months, 16 hours and 20 minutes of my life.