Once I exited the swim, I experienced the joy of wetsuit strippers and then easily found my bag for T1 and headed to the women’s changing tent. What a scene! A volunteer directed me to a chair where "my" volunteer helped me out (I hope to say more about the volunteers at some point – they may have been one of the BEST things from an organizational and emotional standpoint about the entire day). I planned on a full change of clothes and am still glad that I made that decision because I wanted to be comfortable on the bike. I have NO idea what I was doing in transition for 16 minutes however! Of all the parts of the day, that is the only one where I can say “I wish I could do X differently”. But, I also think that I took a long time because I was pretty cold coming out of the water and I wanted to collect my thoughts and make sure that I had everything before I set out on the bike. So, 16 minutes later, I was finally ready to ride!
FINALLY getting my bike from transition!
Michael and I had driven the bike course on Friday, and I had ridden the shorter segment on Saturday morning, so I was somewhat familiar with it. The course is basically 2 segments – one shorter one and then a longer one, both out-and-backs that we repeated. On another day, I think that I would enjoy the course, you know, if I were riding 112 miles just for fun! As I started the bike leg, I was still happy that I had survived the swim and moved on, so I really did not think much about the reality of riding 112 miles. I broke it up mentally, knowing that I’d be good for 56 miles (a half-iron distance), and then I’d hit special needs and then it would be a mere 60 miles more or so after that. My pie-in-the-sky goal was sub-6:50, possible on an ideal day. Sunday, however, was not that day!
Riding along the lake
The first 16 miles or so were pretty fun – they took us through town, which was really great with all of the spectators lining the streets and cheering for us, and then we rode along the lake – this was mainly flat with a few easy rollers. The real work began around mile 18 or so when we started the first real climb, into a headwind. If I had thought about the bike course during the swim, I would have confronted the reality of a windy ride, but I pushed that thought away whenever it crept up, telling myself to focus on the bike when I got to the bike. Well, I got the bike, and the wind was brutal for one section – basically, miles 20-40 or so. I just put my head down and tried to stay steady, but I did worry about two things: a. getting enough food and drink - it is hard for me to take in calories in those conditions; b. what if we had a head wind coming back into town too?!
Once we hit the turnaround and there was a nice tailwind (duh), I settled in and tried to get in calories, hydrate, keep a faster pace and enjoy this part of the course! Riding back through town, I saw my ‘spectating crew’, which was a nice surprise and really lifted my spirits. At that point, I also knew that my sub-7 goal was definitely out-of-reach, but I decided to focus on finishing the second lap as strong as I could.
Coming back through town.
I did get comments that I was smiling - I don't think too many people did.
While my bike-to-run transition was pitiful too (7 minutes plus some change), it doesn't bother me nearly as much as T1. I did a full-on-change, sacrificing a speedy transition for comfort on the run. In the transition area, I had tried to see where I was time-wise (could I still finish under 14 hours?), but mentally I couldn't do the math. Total brain fail there. So, I told myself to not worry about the swim and bike legs - they were over, I survived them, and now all I had to do was run a marathon. Starting the run, my legs felt pretty good, and it was a boost to see my parents, Michael and family friends as I started the run portion.
The plan going into the run, as crazy as it sounded to me, was to stick to 9-minute miles. Beth encouraged me to visualize a 4-hour marathon and told me “I really think that this is possible for you”. Like the bike portion, I couldn’t think about running 26.2 miles, a feat that I hadn’t accomplished in almost 18 years, so I focused on getting to certain parts of the course and being as consistent as I could.
The run course, like the bike, was beautiful, and I reminded myself of my good fortune to be in a beautiful part of the world. I worried about going out too hard or too slow, so I stuck to my plan and tried to nail those 9-minute miles, even with frequent bathroom breaks thanks to some stomach issues. To be honest, the run at this point is a bit of a blur – I just told myself to keep moving, a bit like the Little Engine That Could, and I seemed to keep a steady pace. It didn’t feel fast to me, but at times I had to rein myself in when I saw an 8 on my Garmin. At the end of mile 6 or so, there is a nice hill that you run up and run down, hit the turn around and then run back up and down – I had planned to walk it, but I decided that I’d run as much as I could. So, I did! I had ups and downs during the first lap and probably stopped in the bathroom at least 5 times, but I held that steady pace. Around mile 11, we were heading back into town, and I totally got a second wind and decided that maybe the rest of the marathon would be easy. While that was not the case, I ran through town, saw my parents and Michael and gave them a big smile, and then headed back out for the final 13.1 miles.
Still smiling at the half-way point.
As I started the second half, I knew that this was where things could really go south, but I wanted to keep moving forward. I told myself to get to mile 20 - that was my goal once I got through town. The bathroom breaks continued, and I also quit taking in any nutrition/hydration except for cola, chicken broth, some water, and pretzels. Yep, that was my fueling for the final 14-16 miles, but it worked. Somehow, repeating “turn-o-ver, turn-o-ver” to myself, counting my steps in groups of ten, and thinking about the finish line all helped me continue to move forward. I hit the big hill around mile 19 or so, and while I slowed down going up it this time, I kept pushing forward – up the hill, down the hill and then only 6 more miles to go! A 10k – how many 10ks have I done? My favorite distance? Yes, I could do this!
I was incredibly happy and thankful during those last miles, as I counted them down to 5, to 4, and as I did the math – 50 more minutes, now 40 more minutes – and it bolstered my confidence that I would finish strong! When I hit the final miles, I told myself “No more walking!” and I really tried to push it, even running up the final small hills into town, and then turning onto Sherman Ave – wow, what an experience! The crowds line the street and cheer on all the participants – it is just fantastic! In the days leading up to the race, so many people told me to take in the experience. It’s crazy because so much of it still seems like a dream, and yet, running those final blocks, I felt as though all of my energy focused on this one goal – running across the finish line. I saw my parents and Michael again, waved, and then headed towards the finish line, which was amazing. I will say this - an Ironman finish really does make you feel like a champion, no matter what your time is. People are lined up, cheering for you, and it is an incredible moment.
Running towards the finish line
At the finish!
While I just missed my 4-hour marathon, I slipped under the finish line with a run time of 4:11:55! I thought that my ‘goal’ time of 13-14 hours was shot after my swim and my bike (and slow transitions), so I'm proud of myself for not dwelling on those times. I just focused on each part of the day as it came to me. This tactic helped me out on the run, when I just kept moving forward, and I realized at some point on the run that I could actually finish within my ‘goal’ time. I know that there is a bigger picture to all of this and that a time, a number, shouldn’t determine the sense of pride, satisfaction and the emotion that one feels when crossing a finish line, but I was damn happy to finish in 13:31:50!
While I experienced plenty of physical discomfort and much frustration at different times during the day, IMCDA taught me so much – throughout the day, I found myself humbled and filled with gratitude. Just like the training, race day surprised me – not because of the course or the conditions, but because of the physical and emotional pain and joy that people experienced and the fact that pure luck sometimes comes into play. I don’t know how to summarize or neatly conclude this experience. So many people say that an Ironman changes you forever, and I have yet to sift through that, but it gave me the chance to work toward a big goal, to push myself, to learn about myself and my limits. Ultimately, it was an amazing experience and, a week later, I'm still grateful that I made it to the finish line on a strong and positive note, and I'm so thankful for the people in my life who supported me and for the many volunteers and spectators on race day who helped make it such a great experience.
The ubiquitous post-race finishing photo