Sunday was up and down in more ways than one.
My day started with a 4:30 am wake-up call so we could leave the house by 5:15. Neil, Betsy, Mike B and I made our various race day breakfasts: oatmeal, bagels with peanut butter and banana and a big glass of water. We sat in silence as we attempted to eat. We all had the race day jitters and you could feel the anxiety in the air. I had so much anxiety built up from my last tri racing experience at Pigman last summer where I didn't finish. I was paranoid that I wasn't eating enough pre-race, I would get hungry during the swim, I was going to bonk on the bike and not even start the run. I had so much of this anxiety building over the course of this training season and I needed to prove myself wrong. I needed to really believe that I was going to be OK and fully rely on the hundreds of training hours I put in over the last 36 weeks.
At 5:15, Mike drove us down to the transition area where we dropped off our special needs bags for the bike and run, checked on our transition bags for the bike and run, and got ready for the swim. I felt marginally better when we arrived at the race site, but I knew that we still had an hour and a half before the cannon went off. Neil took off to check on his things while Mike B. and Betsy waited in the long port-o-potty lines and I put on my wetsuit. The four of us regrouped around 6:40, dropped off our morning clothes bags with the volunteers and then made the slow walk to the beach. There were so many people trying to get down to the beach that we only had to wait a few minutes before the cannon went off. When we got to the beach, we said our last "good lucks" to each other before the boys went closer to the water while Betsy and I found a somewhat comfortable area in the middle and off to the side of the pack. We ended up being more in the exact middle than we anticipated, but with 2,460 racers, it was hard to find your way to the perimeter.
The cannon went off at exactly 7am and all 2,400+ of us made our way from the beach to the balmy, 57 degree waters of Lake Coeur d'Alene. I had an idea of what the swim would be like based on my experience at Ironman Wisconsin where there was a mass start with everyone starting in the water. That was a stepping stone to the mass beach start. There are few words to describe that experience, but one of them is definitely, "Chaos." There were arms and legs everywhere, people swimming over other people, and I feel lucky to say that I only got hit in the face and kicked in the stomach once. It was incredibly difficult to find space the entire first lap of the swim, and with females comprising only 27% of the racing field, I was constantly surrounded by men. No offense to all the guys out there, but I don't like to swim by y'all. I hate to stereotype, but I have rarely found this stereotype to be inaccurate especially when it comes to longer distance racing: men are notorious for grabbing ankles, throwing elbows and being generally obnoxious in the water. I think I did a fairly good job of holding my own during the swim and made it out of the water without injury. In Ironman, that is called a successful swim. On the second lap of the swim, I noticed that my ring finger on my right hand was quite literally frozen in place. The water was so cold that my finger was stuck in a half-way bent position and I could tell that my middle finger was soon to follow. Thankfully, the beach was in site.
(On a total side note, there is absolutely no shame during Ironman. None.)
The water was so brutally cold that getting out of the swim and going into T1, I couldn't feel anything. My legs were numb, I couldn't grab anything with my hands and my feet were white. I got my wetsuit stripped, grabbed my T1 bag and ran into the changing tent. Thank God for the amazing volunteers in the changing tent because without them, I would have struggled to get my bike gear on for another 20 minutes. The volunteer that helped me was great. She dumped out my transition bag and said, "What do you want to put on first?" and then she jumped into helping me get dressed. My volunteer completely undressed and dressed me all the way down to my socks, shoes and helmet. I could not do a thing and every time I tried to help she just said to me, "Don't worry, I've got it."
I was so thankful to be out of the water and on my bike that I didn't think much about the fact that I would now be biking for the next 7 hours of the race. I didn't care and it didn't much matter to me at the time since I was no longer in the water. Until mile 20, I didn't have feeling in my legs because they were numb. They were moving and they were doing the work I needed them to do, but I didn't have a clear idea of how hard I was pushing. I was grateful when the feeling finally returned; just in time for the hilly section of the course. From mile 20-45 the course consisted of all of the hills with the exception of 2 (which make their appearance at the beginning of the course). In between these two sections, there is a flat section that I looked forward to hitting on both loops of the course. This was by far the most challenging bike course I have ridden. It wasn't just the elevation gain that was a challenge, but the technicality of the course is unmatched in my racing history. This course is riddled with steep climbs followed by fast declines, sharp turns, and blind approaches. From the start of the bike, I couldn't get my nutrition under control. At first, I took too much. Then, during the hilly section of the bike, I couldn't take in enough calories. This routine unfortunately repeated itself on the second lap of the bike and I was really concerned about how I was going to feel on the run. Riding the flat section back into transition, I knew I was right where I wanted to be as far as my time. I came into transition around 8:30 hrs with my stomach still feeling pretty queasy and feeling hopeful that I could remedy my nutrition woes on the run.
Transition 2 went much more smoothly than the first. I took care of dressing myself this time! I still couldn't really feel my toes from the swim, but I knew that when I started running, the feeling would come back. The volunteer that was helping me dumped out my bag, handed me all my items, and helped me put on my race belt. She gave me some words of encouragement, I grabbed some pretzels on the way out of the change tent, stopped at the sunscreen ladies just outside the tent and they slathered up my face, arms and legs, and then I was on my way out to the run course.
Starting the run, I knew I would have to pace myself. My legs felt pretty good coming off the bike and I wanted to be able to push it. My goal on the run was to run a 4:30 marathon. I knew it was possible, but I had to watch my pace and make sure I didn't push it too hard out of the gate. I tried to keep my pace and heart rate in check, but the excitement of being off the bike took over and I ran my first mile in 8:30min. I kept telling myself, "SLOW DOWN!" Finally, by mile 2.5 I found my pace and goal heart rate, and my stomach started to even out and feel better. I started the run eating pretzels, keeping that up between water stops, and I supplemented that by taking in oranges, bananas, powerade, water and finally succumbing to cola near mile 21. This seemed to calm my stomach and allowing me enough calories to keep going.
The same big hill we started on the bike was the same hill we had to run up and over, and then turn around and run up again and back down. This hill was a killer, but I decided early on in the race that I wasn't going to stop and walk going up or down either side of it. I gave myself permission to walk only during the water stops and that was it. I didn't want to fall into the trap of walking any other time during the run because it was so hard to get going again. I ran focusing on the pavement 10 feet in front of me, thinking about a quote from Clarence DeMar a friend posted on my wall before the race, "Run like hell and get the agony over with." So, I did. I ran like hell. I ran as fast as I could go without going out of my zones.
The first lap was a little faster than I intended so I knew the second lap was going to be a little slower. And, it was slower, and more painful than the first. The bottoms of my feet started to ache and felt like they were swollen. Everything started to ache including my skin, but I knew in just over 2 hours, it was all going to melt away when I ran down the finisher chute. I remained focused on the hill; up, over, turn around, up, down. Run to the water stop, orange, banana, Powerade, water, cola, start running again. This was my schedule, and I stuck to it. I saw Neil going up the hill shortly before the turn around, on the way back down the hill, I saw Betsy. We stopped to give each other some encouragement, and she laughed as she picked out some ear plug from my hair that had been there since the swim. We parted ways and I found Mike B. on his way to the turn around. He had a rough day and his expression said it all. I yelled to him to keep going, and he smiled and waved. I shuffled through the remaining miles, and got to the last water stop before the finish line. The last woman at the stop had chicken broth and she asked if I wanted some. I looked at her, smiled and said, "No thanks, I'm going home!!" She laughed, yelled at me, "Take it home!" and I was off.
Finally, I was to the split in the course; second lap to the right, finish line to the left, and I got to run to the left. Running around the corner to Sherman Ave was nothing less than glorious. The street was packed with spectators, I could see the finish line at the end of the street, and it was all downhill. Turning the corner, I couldn't help the flood of emotion. It felt as good as it did the first time I finished Ironman, and the tears came running down my face. (At least I was hydrated enough to cry!) I hit the carpet of the finish line, and the spectators in the bleachers were going crazy. I ran down the left side of the finish line giving high fives, and I found Mike and my cousin Paul in the crowd going crazy! I gave them both a high five, and then (literally) danced across the finish line. My dance wasn't coordinated or on beat, but who cares. I am an Ironman again.
Finish Time: 13:07:45