Woah. It’s been a little while since I posted anything on here. I feel like I haven’t seen y’all in a month of Sundays!
So, I’m an Ironman now. I don’t really feel any different. But I have a medal and some finishers stuff and 3 fewer toenails than I did before the Ironman. Also, I vomited on the guy who won. The winner. The one who finished the 144.6 miles more than TWICE as fast as I did. He put the medal over my head and said, “You’re an Ironman! Congratulations! Are you ok?” I said, “Yeah. No.” and proceeded to vomit on his shoes. He was so super nice. He just put his hand on my back and said, “Let’s get you an IV.” But honestly, who better to know what it’s like to push your body to the point where you vomit than the guy who WON the race?! (I need to send him a “thank you”/”sorry I vomited on you” email…)
Apparently people who finish races do race reports. Trust me, it’s a thing. I’m wordy, so it will be long. (You might want to break it up into chapters. Take an intermission for a snack and a bathroom break.)
It wasn’t my first Ironman (first one to finish, but I’ve started a total of 3) so I knew a few things. The first two Ironman races I had attempted, I did with my husband, a true Ironman. He is the reason I ever thought I could do this crazy thing. And he is the reason I was able to finish. He has confidence in me when I don’t. That morning, I was just really, really excited to have a Sherpa. (It’s not a person from Everest. Well, it IS, but not in this context. A Sherpa is what a triathlete calls a super awesome person who lugs all the triathlete’s crap around and wears themselves out as much as the athlete just trying to make it as easy as possible on the racer. [THIS pregnant-at-the-time Sherpa once ran – RAN – a mile back to the car – down and back up a hill – to get a bike computer for her triathlete. Just saying.] A triathlete appreciates his or her Sherpa a WHOLE bunch. And if he/she doesn’t, they suck as a person and should be cursed with only disgusting porta-potties for the rest of their races.) Having a Sherpa meant that I could bring a bunch of stuff with me to keep me comfortable before the race and I didn’t have to discard it when the race started. It could be carried back to the car!
Having a Sherpa was especially important to me for this race. Like Ironman Louisville, Ironman Chattanooga is first come, first serve to get into a line for the swim start. The further ahead you are in line, the more total time you have to finish. This is important to slow pokes like me because to be an Ironman, you have to finish the 140.6 miles in less than 17 hours. Except Chattanooga. Because the sunrise is late that time of year, you only get 16.5 hours, if you start at the front of the line. You might only get 16 hours if you start at the back of the line. “What’s 30 minutes, when you’re going to be out there all day?” you might ask. It’s about 6 months worth of training if you’re already cutting it close anyway. Plus, Chattanooga’s bike course is 4 miles too long, so the total distance is actually 144.6 miles. Not that I was counting.
My Sherpa and I got up at 3 am to get to transition (where the bikes are located) when it opened at 4:30. I pumped up my tires (thank you for carrying my bike pump, Sherpa!) and we hopped on one of the first buses to the swim start. (We chose not to walk the 2.5 miles to the swim start because I was cranky and nervous and it was cold). We were at the front of the swim line!!!!!! Yay!!! I stole an idea from someone I had seen at Louisville. I brought an inflatable swim float to lie down on. The cold, dewy ground is not something I enjoy lying on in the cold 3 hours before swim start. I am apparently old and it makes my bones hurt. But the float? It. Was. Awesome. Highly recommend. I also brought a blanket and some headphones to drown out everyone else’s nervous (or confident) chatter. I didn’t like being around people before a big exam in school either. STFU TYVM.
Michael Franti’s “Life Sounds Like” was playing when I jumped into the water. It’s really a topic for another post, but Michael Franti is incredible and it’s crazy how his music has synched with things going on in my life and really helped me through some hard times. The chorus of that particular song is “I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive. Woah, I’m alive.” Many of you don’t know how significant that is, seeing as how I haven’t really written about that on here. But there I was, less than a year after The Incident, jumping into an Ironman swim, even after this challenging year. I couldn’t help but smile. And then pee in the water.
The swim was GREAT!!! So fast. All downstream J It was so fast, I had a hard time maneuvering around the buoys! I had a flask with Gatorade in it tucked into my bra, so I didn’t get thirsty like I usually do when I swim for so long. The right eye of my goggles was apparently too tight and was cutting into my face, but I didn’t dare break the seal and risk leaking! I had a pretty nasty headache by the time I got out, but it went away not long after I took the goggles off. When I was fast walking (no running up the swim exit for me!) to transition, I pulled the flask out of my top and a spectator yelled, “So that’s what those are for!” I laughed and waved. I changed out of my swimwear and into my bike shorts and a top. I put on my sunscreen, put on socks and shoes, put on my helmet, and put body glide in any crease on my body. There was no shame in that changing tent.
The bike made me smile. It’s my favorite part. Until about mile 90. Then it’s the worst thing ever and I never want to see the bicycle again. I didn’t realize I was going so fast. It was just fun. I had ridden the loops of the course before, so once I got to the loop, it was familiar and I knew how to prepare for the hills. I saw people I know who live along the course and they cheered 🙂 I finally saw my awesome Sherpa husband and our volunteering friends. I saw my boss and his wife at their aid station and then I started the second loop. The second loop wasn’t as much fun. I cursed the hills and my stupid lungs. I ate better than I had in previous races, but I still didn’t get as much nutrition as I needed to, so I cursed my gut too. But I saw my Sherpa husband and friends and my sweet baby girl (who is almost 5) and my in-laws. Then it was a downpour. Along the longest hill of the course. It stopped for a minute just in time for me to have to carefully hold the brakes on the downhill that normally makes up for the long-ass uphill but didn’t this time because I was too afraid to do the usual 30 mph on wet asphalt. And then it started raining again once I headed back toward town. That’s when I realized why it was so fun on the way out. It had all been downhill. It was a difficult grind for those last 10 miles. But then I saw Lee and Christie and Jack standing in the rain, waiting to cheer for me, and I smiled again 🙂
I was thrilled to give my bike to some stranger (volunteer) and walk away to the transition. I didn’t know what they were doing with that bike, and I didn’t really care.
I was soaking wet and kind of chilly and the body glide had worn off. I had the foresight to bring more body glide to put on before the run, but I hadn’t thought I might need a towel. (I made a mental note. I won’t forget it again. Just like the mental note I made at my last marathon: Put body glide on the insides of your upper arms, you moron.) I did have dry socks and I put them on, along with my running capris and a visor. I tried to choke down a gel (it finally went down) and I walked out onto the run course.
I realized that I hadn’t done enough brick workouts (training workouts when you bike, then run – or swim, then bike) when my legs wouldn’t go up and down as smoothly as I had hoped. Mental note: more bricks. I walked up the hill and saw bunches of people I knew (Christine and Debbie and all kinds of awesome spectators). The first 10 miles weren’t that bad, but it was hard to run. My skin was sore. When it bounced, it hurt. Then I hit that Damn Hill. I realized that I had made another mistake. (Mental note: ALWAYS run the damn marathon course.) As a stand alone marathon, it would have been a difficult one. As the marathon in an Ironman, it made me cry. Steep. Ass. Hill. Downhill for a while, circle around the area where The Incident occurred – great. let’s bring back those traumatic memories during the hardest part of an Ironman. ooooh! let’s do it twice. – then BACK UP the Damn Hill, but from further down, so it’s twice as long. Andrea met me part of the way up the Damn Hill and cheered me along, even running on the downhill when I could make myself do it. Not too much further, I found Barb and my husband, J, who came along too. Andrea went missing before I even had a chance to thank her. I grabbed my special needs beer and headed out for the second loop. I was grateful to have some company along parts of the riverwalk. It was desolate and I was not near other runners. Not well lit along that path, either. About mile 15, Joe and his crew joined me. About mile 18, Kelsey found me and cheered me all the way in.
She and J encouraged me, even though I occasionally gave them looks that might have been deadly to lesser humans. At one point, J said something about the course going right by the site of The Incident. Kelsey just said, “Well, you guys are kind of a big deal. It’s like a tourist attraction now.” (Which makes me smile now, even if my face couldn’t manage it at the time) Crossing the pedestrian bridge, I knew I was running out of time, so I started running. I hadn’t been able to stomach much of anything for the last 8 miles or so. I remember looking down at the finish line. It was so far away. Now that is a completely ridiculous and utterly irrational thing to think. It was less than a mile away. I had just gone more than 143 miles. One hundred forty-three miles. And 1 mile was so far that it seemed impossible. They laughed at me and I cried. “There is no way I can get there in time!” J said, “Just don’t stop. You’re an Ironman.”
I ran the last mile. I saw the lights and the chute and I started to run faster, excited to give high-fives and smile at the spectators. Then I vomited. It wasn’t the dramatic, my-stomach-is-turning-inside-out kind of vomiting like when you have a stomach virus. It was just going to come on out. So I vomited and kept running. Then I vomited again. And I wiped my hands off on my pants and keep going. People were still trying to high-five me. But I spared them. I did smile 🙂 And I knew that I was going to hold my arms up when I crossed the finish line if it took the last bit of energy I had. I was going to smile and be triumphant. And I was.
Mike O’Reilly came down beside me and said, “You’re an Ironman.” He put his hand on my back and said it again. I smiled at him (and gagged, but luckily he had walked on to the next finisher). The winner gave me a medal, and I thanked him by ruining his shoes. My friends and family were there cheering for me, but I didn’t get to hug them. Volunteers took me to the medical tent and gave me 2 liters of fluids and some Zofran. They even tried to get me a clean medal to replace my gross one, but the medal people had already left. I wanted to go hang out and watch the very last finishers, but they wouldn’t let me 😦 Finally I left the medical tent, and I was suddenly VERY tired. I wanted to hang out with my sweet family and incredible friends but it was time to rest. I knew I had some really wonderful friends, but I never knew how much they meant to me until that night.
If you have never been at the finish line of an Ironman between 11:30 and midnight, you should put it on your bucket list. You will cry and cheer and pull perfect strangers over that finish line with nothing but your energy and your love and it is incredible. You will cry for people you have never met and you will be more proud of perfect strangers than you ever thought possible. Those people who are finishing with no time left on the clock and with nothing left in their bodies except determination are amazing. They are Ironmen. I am proud to be one of those last finishers. It wasn’t the training year I had planned last August, before my life changed. It wasn’t the race I had envisioned. I had some pretty good excuses for not doing as well as I hoped or even for not finishing at all. To even start that race took some determination. To finish…. Well, I’m still processing what that means.
And if I can find the money, I’m signing up for Ironman Chattanooga next year. I can do it faster and without winding up in medical. But I can never do it better than I did in September 2014. I gave it everything. I am an Ironman.