I wasn't really sure what to expect come race day. I had imagined it 100 times over and over in my mind. Each time was slightly different, but all ended with the same glorious finish. Fingers crossed that my day played out like I had imagined.
My alarm rang at 3:30 AM, although I had been watching the minutes tick by starting at 3:20 AM. Kevin groaned and I tried not to make too much noise as I puttered around the room. I made my way to the kitchen. I knew I had to eat something (I was planning on exercising for 17 hours straight). I should have given this more thought before today, but I went with the English muffin with peanut butter and jelly and coffee. I know, people cringe at the word coffee before exercise, but that's what I'm use to - so I stuck with it. I anxiously puttered around the house some more waiting for everyone else to wake up and hoping my bowels would get things in order so I didn't have to use the port-a-potty at the race site (no such luck). Finally I put on my race gear, applied Body Glide to all the right places, and inserted iPod ear buds. 4:45 AM - Let's do this.
Mom, Dad, Kevin, Michaelene, and I piled into the "big-ass" truck. Funny, it's not so "big-ass" when you have 5 people riding in it. The whole ride I was waiting for my stomach to start doing back handsprings, but I remained surprisingly calm. Weird. We arrived at the venue, parked in athlete parking, and joined the herds of athletes headed down to the transition area. My ear buds were blasting Lady Gaga (of course. Refer to post #2). I even found myself dancing around. Had either my high school or college swim coach been there they would tell me to stop jumping around and rest my legs. But, alas, they were not - so I danced.
I parted ways with my support crew for a bit when I went to drop off my special needs bags, add a few things to my bike and run bags, and get my bike all set. I found Team Jen again and hung out with them for a little while longer. I hugged my crew, kissed my husband, and told my mom not to worry (although I knew she was going to be worried until I finally crossed that finish line). I made my way back into the herd of athletes and although I was surrounded by about 2,500 others I felt surprisingly alone as I put my wetsuit on (wedgie tight). The girl next to me started talking to me. Asked where I was from, was this my first Ironman, etc. I told her it was my first and then I started to get nervous. Kind of like, "Oh shit, you actually have to do this now." She recommended I put body glide all over my neck or else the wetsuit would tear up my skin. THANK YOU girl in transition, I think she saved me from a week of torture.
Swim 2.4 miles:
We made our way to the swim start. They herded all 2,500 athletes into the Tempe Town Lake. As I jumped in I thought "Well, no turning back now." Then I thought that the 61 degree water seemed warmer than I remembered from yesterday's practice swim. Nonetheless, I proceeded to pee in my wetsuit for a little extra warmth. Delightful. I then made my way to the swim start. I've read others triathlon blogs and I always hear people say that you have to enjoy the day, take it all in. So I did. I stopped and waved at he mass of people on the bridges above us. I saw my family and friends and waved frantically, but they didn't see me (come on, I was the girl in the black wetsuit and pink swim cap with goggles on, geesh). I started to see the sun begin to rise. 7:04 AM was projected sun rise. Right on time.
Mike Reilly said, "Go" so I went. I entered the washing machine of flailing arms and legs. It was chaotic. The whole start I was very thankful that I was a strong swimmer because I could see how this would be terrifying for some people. I got knocked in the face a few times and I probably knocked others in the face. Sorry if I did that to you. Eventually, the crowd thinned out a bit. My goal was to stay calm and controlled and kick very little to save my leg energy. I made it to the turn around in about 32 minutes, which I calculated to be right on schedule. I had to deal with a few people drafting off of me. I also had to deal with some guy using my leg to propel himself forward. After the 3rd time he tried this my knee somehow found its way into his hip. Oops. After about an hour I was ready to be done. I was starting to really notice the cold. I reached for the stairs, scrambled up and out of the water, used the infamous wetsuit strippers to get that thing off of me, and headed through transition. 1 down, 3 to go.
Now is the time I am going to give a shout out to all of the AWESOME volunteers out there! As I ran (jogged) into the changing tent with my bag o' stuff, a very nice volunteer by the name of Amy escorted me to a chair and asked if she could help me. I said, "sure" not really knowing what her help would consist of. But she proceeded to dry my feet (!), put my socks on my feet (!), remind me to zip up my bike jersey (that would have been otherwise embarrassing), and helped me with sunscreen. I felt pampered in that I'm-doing-an-Ironman kind of way. I had everything I thought I would need and I left the tent in search of my bike. As I ran through the bike racks I realized that there were still a lot of bikes left in there so I must have made good time on my swim. As I headed out of transition I saw Team Jen and gave them a big toothy grin. I was off.
Bike 112 miles:
As I rode away from the crowd I had a few statements I kept saying over and over to myself: "race with gratitude and joy," "just keep pedaling," and "people are going to start flying by you. Ignore them." And the people did start flying by me, in droves. But I knew it was coming and was not going to let anyone push me harder than I wanted to go or make me feel like I wasn't going to make it. On the way out it took about 10 miles or so for me to "find my biking legs." I needed my legs and my feet to warm up because they were all pretty numb from the swim. At one point I was fiddling with my Bento Box and didn't see one of the cones in front of me. THUD. Oh my god, I ran over a freakin' road cone! Who does that? (someone not paying attention, that's who). Luckily I managed to stay upright on my bike and not lose any water bottles or food. My heart was pounding from my incident. Eventually I settled back into the race and my heart rate settled.
On the way out of town and up Beeline Highway there is a steady uphill false flat as you ride toward the mountains. I took a few moments to enjoy the sun rising over the mountain side. On the way back down into town on the first lap there was a nice tailwind. I was coasting, conserving energy, and thinking that if it was like this for the other 2 laps I might actually enjoy the 112 miles.
At the turn around I was quickly looking for my family. I didn't see or hear them so I figured they went to get some breakfast. Apparently, I never turned on my GPS tracker that I rented so when they logged into the website it said I was in Florida (last race venue). They had no idea where I was on the course. They showed up a little after I had passed by and became increasingly worried that I was having bike issues - no one thought I was actually ahead of schedule. The way out on the second lap felt even better. I couldn't believe how well I was doing and that I had not even thought about butt pain yet. At 56 miles I was 10 minutes faster than my 1/2 Ironman split! And just as I thought the wind gods were with me that day I met up with a terrible headwind on the way back down. I actually was riding slower and with more effort on the down hill compared to the uphill. Bah! It was getting hard. My back started to hurt. I had to stand on my bike every 10 minutes or so to relieve the pain. I just kept telling myself to keep pedaling. At the end of Lap 2 I saw my cheering section. I gave them a big smile and wave. And when I was out of sight was when I had my first breakdown.
I had just under 40 miles left and I started to let my mind get the better of me. I was thinking about how hard this day is, how long 40 miles feels when I am out training, how this crappy wind is really slowing me down. I was not grateful, nor was I joyful. I started to cry, which made things on the road blur. I said to myself, "Self, if you hit another road cone you get Moron of the Year award." Then I told myself to pull it together. One of my good friends at work told me that when it gets really hard out there I should think about what I am going to name my second dog and my children. Well, I've already got that picked out so it occupied me for about 5 minutes. Then somehow I just pulled it together and continued on. I checked my watch and I was still on pace for what I had planned. At the top of Beeline I was very grateful to have no more laps. The other part I enjoyed was being able to see people coming up the hill as I was going down. There were still a lot of people behind me. That gave me hope.
Eventually I made it back into transition. I don't think I could have lasted much longer out there as I could barely swallow any more Powerbar Gel packs. As I slowed my bike to the dismount line the guy asked if I would like a little help. I looked at him and thought you can hold this bike steady for me as I get off or you can pick me up of the ground after, your choice. He held my bike steady and I have never been happier to have both feet firmly planted on the ground.
I waddled through transition picking up my run gear. Again, there were fantastic volunteers in the tent asking if they could do anything to help. Basically I just wanted to sit and rest. I was in no hurry. I still had 8 hours to complete the marathon (SWEET!). But thankfully the volunteers did keep me moving - otherwise I would have stayed there all day long. Finally, I got up and headed out for my first ever marathon.
Run 26.2 miles:
The run, like the bike, was a 3 loop course in a figure 8. My goal was to hold 15 minute miles or faster. I did some quick math and even with 15 minute miles I was still going to finish in under 16 hours! That realization hit me and I was pumped! I knew I just had to keep moving.
The first lap of the course was crowded, some people were on their second and third laps already and I admired them immensely. The sun was still out but was starting to go down so it was getting cooler. I admired the signs in the crowd - signs of hope, signs of determination, signs of support. I think 2 of my favorites were "This parade sucks" and "If you haven't pooped yourself by now you've already won." They made me chuckle.
As I started the second lap I passed by Team Jen. I was determined to not let them see that my feet were starting to hurt and that I wished the day was over. So I started into a steady jog, gave them all a wave and headed out again. The second lap started to get to me. I could feel blisters forming on the bottom of both feet. I could also feel the muscles in my hips start to get really achy. I was following a 9 minute jog 1 minute walk pattern but adjusted it to 4 minute jog 1 minute walk. I passed some people, others passed me. Some were much older than me, some had prosthetic limbs. Impressive. I had reached 13 miles - half way. And then it struck me that I still had 13 more miles left to go.
My second real moment of darkness happened at this point. Again, I was starting to let my mind get the better of me. I couldn't think about my family because that just made me tear up and my throat felt like it was closing in on me. I took a short rest at the special needs area. As I sat there a woman ran by me with her 10 year old son. She was sobbing to her son, saying that this was the hardest thing she had ever done and she didn't know how she was going to finish. Then her son, running along side her, says, "Mom, I am so proud of you! You are doing it and you WILL finish!" Well, talk about a tear-jerker. That was enough to get me off my butt and start into a slow trot. That woman was going to finish, and dammit, so was I. But the hardest miles were the last 4. The finish line seemed so close, but so far away. I just kept thinking, "just keep moving" - even if I had to walk the rest of the way. But to be honest, with the combination of my blisters and pulled hamstring/calf it felt better to shuffle along. (Then I started singing LMFAO - everyday I'm shuffling- in my head and started thinking of some of the girls at work - that made me smile).
Finally I reached the last mile. I kept wondering what the finish line would be like. Was I going to have an emotional breakdown and cross the line sobbing or was I going to be so excited that I felt no pain while I danced my way to the line? Well, about 1/2 mile before the end it was actually pretty quiet on the course. Most of the spectators were at the finish line chute. But all of a sudden I hear my 2 best friends (Michaelene and Mike) shouting "PECKER" (my nickname) at the top of their lungs. I had a surge of energy. They were going to run with me the rest of the way! Michaelene kept telling me to "go, go, go" and I told her this was as fast as I could possibly move at this time. I rounded the corner and entered the final home stretch.
You can read all the race details you want. You can watch all the YouTube videos out there. But to truly appreciate the finish line at an Ironman you have to take the 140.6 mile journey yourself. Only the person who crosses the line knows what it took him or her to get there. No one else put in the sweat and tears during training sessions. No one else truly knows how much was sacrificed to get to this point. As I entered the finisher's chute this wave of excitement came over me when I realized I MADE IT! That was the greatest feeling I have ever had. I looked at the spectators to my right and let out a loud yell. Then the noise of the crowd seemed to surge. I gave my high 5's and tried to dance along (although I don't really think I looked very graceful). Mike Reilly was not on bathroom break (!) and he officially pronounced me an Ironman. Were the past 6-8 months of swimming, biking, and running worth those few precious moments at the finish line? You bet they were.
I'm writing this about a week after the actual race. My blisters have healed, I am no longer limping, and the pain is gone. I am left with a huge sense of accomplishment. I know that much of this was not possible without the love and support of my family and friends. I was lucky enough to have a cheering squad there with me. I am grateful that Kevin, Michaelene, Mike, and my parents were able to share in this moment with me and that many of my friends at home followed along online throughout the day. I know that when I think I can't, I can. Ironman finish line - I will see you again one day :o)