For those of you who know how painfully long winded my written race reports can be, here are the cliff notes: perfect (watch-less) swim, self-entertained ride, and happy but hot and wet marathon made for one blissfully happy day. Almost afraid to do another, because no way I’ll be able to repeat the perfect, flawless race that was Ironman Texas. Want the details? Read on…
Where to begin…I guess I’ll start with race morning. I woke at 3:30am
, anticipating the butterflies and Vegas’ return to my hotel room (Vegas, my wonderful sherpa, was over the night before doing all my pre-race thinking for me, making sure all my transition bags were packed properly, including ensuring I had a sports bra for the run, which I would have forgotten without her – ack!). More on Vegas’ awesomeness later. First thing I did was drink a monster and eat a bagel, and sit there thinking about all I needed to do before leaving: “get dressed, grab transition bags…? That’s it? Surely I’m forgetting something…this is too easy…” Vegas showed up about 4, and by then I’d decided that I really didn’t need to do anything else but get dressed and walk out the door with my bags. All my nutrition was mixed and bags were packed Friday night
, so getting out of the room was shockingly easy – too easy. Vegas realized halfway to transition that I’d forgotten the bike pump. Thankfully (and thanks to Vegas’ diligence, again) we’d left plenty early with time enough to turn around and go get the bike pump before returning to transition.
Headlamp donned and nutrition in tow, I headed out from the car (leaving Vegas and my sister behind to find parking) towards where I’d left my bike
(nicknamed rocketship) to load her up with Infinit and spare tubes with racing tire tube extensions. Huge shoutout to Infinit by the way – if you’re training for an ironman and aren’t using it, you should be!! That stuff’s liquid gold. Anywho, got to my bike, sat down my gear to load her up, and people immediately started asking to borrow the pump – again, thanks Vegas for prepping me for this and advising me to keep an eye on it if I decided to loan it out while working on my bike (which I did, cause why not). Got the rocketship loaded with 8 hours of Infinit and spare water, aired up the tires, and after a final checkover went to find Vegas and Kristi just outside of transition. Once again, thanks Vegas for the tip on the super-secret line-less porta potties – saved me a ton of time pre-race!
After triple checking the rocketship and both my transition bags, we headed over to the swim start – which was about a mile away from transition. So lucky to have Vegas and Kristi to drive me, to avoid the mile-long trek from transition to swim start that most athletes were making on foot. Thanks again ladies! Once there, I dropped my remaining gear with the crew and set out in search of: 1) the special needs bag drops, and 2) another line-less porta potty. Found the first easily, but the second presented more of a challenge. Luckily I’m not afraid of peeing in the woods – thanks girl scouts for that one. Took care of business and headed back to the group just in time for body marking and sunscreen, the latter of which cancelled out the former. Whoops. Donned my swim cap, handed off my morning clothes bag, and headed towards the swim start.
This is when the butterflies really started churning: every barefoot step I took inching closer to the start arch increased the ball of nervous energy in my belly – was I really here? Did the last 6 months really come down to this? Had I put in enough hours of training? Did my body really know what was coming?? Vegas told me it would all vaporize as soon as the starting gun went off, but that didn’t dispel my nerves. I kept going back to the advice a good friend of mine gave me, which essentially came down to this: your body knows what to do. No need to be nervous, just relax and let your body do what you trained it to do. So I kept repeating this mantra as I said goodbye to everyone and stepped across the timing mat and made my way down to the water. This was it: this was what I’d been working towards. The hard part was over, today was just about 140.6 final miles to the finish line. Mel gave me one final piece of advice before I left: take it one sport at a time, and break it up as much as you need to. Advice that I carried with me throughout the day, and that got me through the toughest parts of the race.
After venturing into what seemed like a solid starting position, I treaded water and waited for the starting gun. In the midst of all that chaos, I tried to find the peace to thank God for the ability and means to attempt something like this. So incredibly grateful. I braced myself for what Vegas had vividly described as a full-body assault in the water, waited for the starting gun, and BAM! We were off! I took a quick inventory of the bodies around me, and took my first few strokes waiting for the onslaught. And waited, and waited…I kept expecting the foot to the face or the elbow to the belly, but it never came. Somehow, I had found the perfect starting position to avoid a black eye or bruised ribs, but still benefit from drafting off a vortex of 2,000 swimming triathletes. Could it be this easy, I kept thinking? Could I really escape without any major traumas? I tentatively appreciated the lack of a beating, but kept bracing for the possibility of a bloody nose or black eye just in case.
The swim course consisted of three parts: an out-and-back (parts one and two) plus a final stretch down a narrow waterway to the finish. The first third was somewhat tough mentally, simply because I was still shaking off the pre-race nerves, and my watch drowned halfway through the “out” of the out-and-back. I had planned on checking my time at the turnaround to ensure I was under minimal cutoff pace, but when I realized my watch was out, I was left with no other choice but to swim as strong as I could for the next hour and a half. And swim I did. Despite the bodies churning around/over/under/on me, my mind kept going back to the hours in Coach Neil’s pool, and to the various technique pointers he’d given me: tuck your chin, pull from the front of your stroke, kick at the surface, pull hard! Find feet if you can and use them! And use them I did – buoy by buoy, stroke by stroke, all the way to the swim finish. In fact, I didn’t realize I was at the end of the course until about 50 yards out – I thought I still had an extra turn plus 200 yards before the exit. I’ve never been so happy to be so wrong! As I approached the stairs to the swim exit, I remembered yet another friend’s and fellow triathlete’s adivce: swim all the way to the stairs, find the clearest set of stairs, and let a volunteer pull you up (thanks Chad!). And let them pull me I did. I still had no idea what the time was, but seeing Vegas, Kristi, Kacie, Anthony, and the rest of the crew right at the swim exit was enough to momentarily distract me from the clock. I stripped my goggles off and waved with a smile as I ran towards my transition bag and the change tent.
My volunteer in the tent was a delicate little thing named Emily – a gentle flower who seemed very receptive to the polite demands of this drenched, slightly delirious triathlete. She helped me get changed, set my garmin, and donn my cycling shoes. I thanked her for her time and jogged out of the change tent towards the rocketship. I grabbed the bike, jogged to the bike mount line, and set off towards leg two of this adventure. Thanks to Mel I hadn’t let myself think about the bike until now (one sport at a time!) but it was this point that it hit me: I was going to be an ironman! I knew as soon as I left T1 that I was going to make it to the finish line. The swim cutoff was my greatest fear/obstacle on race day, and I had beat the cutoff by 40 minutes! From here, all I had to do was keep moving to the finish and I knew that medal would be mine. I waved to the support crew on the way out and gave a solid fist bump, beaming with happiness and gratitude.
The bike course was also broken into 3 parts: out, over, and back. The “out” was essentially a straight shot north, which with a solid southern tailwind I knew would be fast. And fast it was: I Was on cruise control until mile 40, concentrating on staying ahead of my nutrition and hydration. Chris Garlington passed me early in the bike, and I gave him a shout to wish him well as he flew by. The first 40 miles were a blur of happiness and speed: drink water, drink Infinit, and push the pedals (but not too hard). I stayed out of aero position as much as I could, anticipating the strong headwinds that were sure to assault us in miles 65-90. Somehow I managed to keep myself entertained the whole ride – from singing the Fresh Prince of Belair theme song to myself repeatedly, out loud, to psyching myself up for the wind in miles 55-65 – again, out loud, to personifying the wind and daring it to “give me all it’s got” in an effort to minimize its brutalizing effects on my speed in miles 65-90 (yes, you guessed it, again out loud), to making “woosh-woosh-woosh” noises out loud to myself when I felt my speed dropping to convince my legs to speed back up, to giggling repeatedly in an effort to keep the tears of joy from flowing before the finish line, the mental games I played with myself were shockingly effective. I had a blast with myself and my thoughts out there! Several tidbits from friends’ advice traveled with me throughout the ride:
1. Your body knows what to do. Trust it. (Pixie)
2. You still have the marathon. Don’t push too hard. (Coach Neil)
3. Take it one sport at a time, and break it up more if needed (Mel)
4. Make up a story for yourself to keep yourself distracted (Andi)
Thanks guys for your advice – it worked! The manageable pace I maintained, combined with the killer hills I’d trained on in NY (compared to the pancake flat IMTX bike course) and the great race mantras from friends allowed me to OWN the bike course. I finished in 6:45
, a solid hour faster than I thought would be possible even in my wildest dreams. And to top it all off, I rode back into transition to see my mom’s smiling face cheering me on! I had hoped several months back that she’d be able to come watch me race, but knew that my brother’s new son being born the week before race day made that a near impossibility. I had completely given up on her showing up, and was shocked into tears when I saw her screaming and cheering coming back into transition! I had done so well holding the tears at bay until now – when I saw her, the floodgates opened. I was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. THANK YOU mom for coming out, and for being such an amazing person and role model and inspiration!!
Two words describe T2: blissfully euphoric. I had been on cruise control from mile 90 of the bike, realizing that I was well under the cutoffs and had time to coast into transition with ease and happiness. And my mom’s surprise appearance made it all the more joyful. I once again chatted up my volunteer (who’s name I’ve since forgotten – my apologies you angelic stranger!) as I was changing from my smelly, pee-soaked bike shorts (yes, I peed on the bike, 6 times I might add – a stat I’m quite proud of, and one that most assuredly contributed to the lack of pain I felt on race day). Once changed, I thanked my volunteer again for her help, exited the change tent, and stopped for a chat with the support crew (this stop’s video was posted on Facebook by Anthoy, thanks buddy for catching that on film!). I was so happy at this point not only because of my phenomenal bike time, but also because I could talk to someone again! I’d been in my own head, entertaining myself for the last ~7 hours, and though I thoroughly entertained myself, I was ready to share my joy with another mind or two. So I stopped, basked in the joy that was the assurance of an Ironman medal, and set off for the last leg of my journey.
Then run course was broken into, once again (you guessed it) three parts. This time it was three loops of the same path, which meant I got to see the phenomenal cheering crew 3 times EACH lap! The back half of the run loop was quiet and sunny, so I took those times to regroup and do a body check: was I in any injury pain? No. Was I staying on top of my water and infinit? Yes. Now there was just one thing between me and an Ironman medal: a distance I’d completed eleven times prior to this day, a pain and a journey I knew intimately, a distance I both respected and knew how to conquer. The last 26.2 miles of this journey were upon me, and I KNEW, in my body and in my soul, that this victory was mine. I completed the first lap with relative ease, finished up the first lap with Coachey Coach and annoyed her with my sunny disposition as she was finishing up her final lap, and saw the support crew for the first time. The grin stretching from ear to ear started to feel like a permanent fixture on my face as I entered the second lap, saw Jane for the first time at the T3 tent, and checked in with Joey and Chad on the back half of the loop. By this time the sun was journeying towards her bed, and the aide station drenchings diminished in importance. My mom joined me for a short jog at the beginning of loop 3, and almost made me cry again with her assertions of pride. I completed the back half of the final loop, ran through the cheering crowd for a final 3 times, and jogged with Vegas for a bit before heading towards the finish chute.
There are no words to describe the experience that is an Ironman finish chute: the roar of the crowd, the high fives, the music, the lights, the euphoria: aside from the birth of my children, I can’t imagine another life experience that matches it. Joy was emanating from me in what felt like palpable waves, a joy that was received and returned by the crowd a half dozen times in that last quarter mile of the race. I high-fived and fist-bumped my way to a victory that I wasn’t even sure was possible a short 24 hours before. A perfect finale to a perfect race, a full 60 minutes faster than my wildest dreams of a finishing time: 14:51:15.
If you raced with me, or if you were out there spectating, you know that many people struggled on this day. It was unbelievably hot and humid, and it’s understandable that there were so many less-than-euphoric experiences. But even crossing the finish line in these conditions is a HUGE victory, and I say to those of you who had a less than perfect day: YOU STILL SUCCEEDED. You still conquered the beast that is Ironman! And even if you didn’t make it to the finish line, just toeing the start takes courage and perseverance. So take your experiences for what they are: true victories! I am so proud of all of you, and so thankful to count you amongst my friends. THANK YOU to all of you who raced with me and supported me! You are what makes life worth living!