Less than forty-eight hours after I crossed the finish line at Vineman, and I can hardly believe that my long, hard fought journey has been completed. It all feels so surreal, that I expect to wake up and realize that it was just a dream. All the hours of training, all the days of sleep deprivation, and all the emotional ups and downs have been worth it, because I can now call myself an Ironman. So many of you followed me all day, and I want you to know that I felt your energy with me throughout each leg of the race. I also had your words of encouragement running through my head when I hit rough spots in the day where I thought I might not be able to go on. I told you from the beginning that this was going to be as much an emotional race for me as it was a physical one, and it was. I don’t think I can fully convey exactly what it was like to swim, bike, and run for almost fifteen and a half hours, but I hope that I can give you a little glimpse into what it is like to take part in an Ironman competition:
3 am on Saturday, July 27--The alarm goes off for Emily and I to get up to eat our breakfast and make sure we have everything we need packed into the car before we head off to the swim portion of the race. We only had to bring our bikes down to the car. The night before we had carefully packed all the essentials we would need for each leg of the race. This race was a little different than many triathlons in that the place where we did our swim was about 17 miles from where we would start our run. The challenge was that we had to double pack things like sunscreen, skin lubricant to ease chaffing, and nutritional supplies, so we would have what we needed in both spots.
We arrived at Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville where we needed to set our swim to bike transition, put on our wetsuits, and mentally prepare for the fact that we would be on the course for 15-16 hours. Emily and Leslie were in a different swim start wave than Karrie and I, so we were able to cheer them on before entering the water for our wave. Despite all my previous fears about the open water swim, I was calm and ready to take on what I perceived as my biggest challenge of the day.
Phase 1: The Swim--
When the siren went off, I took a deep breath, put my face in the water, and tried to get in a zone where I didn’t worry about everything around me. I concentrated on counting my strokes, breathing in and out consistently, and made sure that no matter what I was not going to let my surroundings panic me. Before I knew it I had completed a quarter of the swim and had to stand up and walk around the shallow turnaround point. As I looked behind me I noticed I had actually passed people—I was not the slowest swimmer out there!
As soon as the water got a little deeper, I put my head back down and concentrated on making it to the next turnaround point. The problem was that I was concentrating so hard that I swam too far to the right and ended up in the weeds on the bank. I didn’t panic and just headed more to the left of the course, only this time I headed too far to the left of the buoy. Luckily, on my second trip up and back I realized I needed to look up every once in a while to make sure I was swimming straighter. I think at the end of the swim I had done well over 2.4 miles, but I was so happy not to be the last one out of the water that I didn't mind the extra yardage. My goal was to be under two hours on the swim and I came in at 1:31:54, well under my estimate--just 138.1 miles until Ironman glory!
Phase 2: The Bike--
The next challenge was to transition from my swim to my bike, and because the next transition was 17 miles away, I had to take the time to pack and seal all my swim equipment into a plastic bag so the crews could transport these items over to the finish area. Once I was packed and dressed in my cycling gear, I ran up to the spot where I could jump on my bike and begin my 112-mile bike journey.
While this route was super hilly with poor road conditions (lots of potholes, bumps, and shady areas), it was also some of the most beautiful landscape I have encountered on any of my rides. This made the trip a little easier on a day where I just wasn’t feeling it. Usually the bike portion is my strength, but once I got out of the water, I pretty much felt a hint of nausea for the rest of race—not enough to stop me, but enough to make it tough to stay on the pace I had planned to do. On my training rides I had been able to consistently keep up a 15-16 mph pace on the flats, but on race day I was lucky to keep up a 13-14 mph pace. It took me over 60 miles to catch up to one of my Ironman teammates, Karrie, but that was just the boost I needed to continue on.
Karrie and I like to talk, so the next 30 miles passed pretty quickly as we took turns telling stories to pass the time away. Karrie also made sure I ate by sharing her snacks with me. At one point she pulled out a Ziplock bag of potato chips, which would provide us both calories and much needed salt. She opened the bag and held it out between our bikes so I could grab a handful. Once I had some in my hands, she asked if I had it, to which I replied that I did. The problem was that I thought she was asking if I had my handful of chips, but she was really asking if I had the entire bag. Our delicious treat dropped on the ground, and within seconds was too far behind us to go back and get them. We had not trained to share food, but we learned very quickly to be clear about whether we were sharing a bite or the whole thing.
Unfortunately, I lost track of Karrie at around mile 90 and I had to do the final 22 miles on my own. I was tired, my back and shoulders were killing me, but I was shooting to be back at the next transition by 4:00 pm, so I knew I had to keep going. It is amazing how after going 100 miles, the last 12 seems like such a long distance. I thought I was never going to arrive at Windsor High School, and then I saw my friend Kay who had flown up from Murrieta for the day just to support us. I don’t think I have ever been so happy to see her smiling face.
I jumped off my bike and ran over to the spot with my running gear. My transition time was horrible (16:20), because I stopped to hug and kiss my family and friends who had waited over nine hours to see me, and I also had to stretch out my sore back and neck before heading out for the marathon. My goal for the bike leg was to finish in seven to eight hours, and at 7:31:38, I had once again met my goal!
Phase 3: The Run--
Right from the beginning, the run was a tough one. We had to go out and back three times on another hilly course with lots of uneven pavement. My biggest concern for the run was my knee. For the last three weeks I had suffered from some IT band issues, and despite resting for several days before the race, at mile three I could already feel pain in my knee, and I still had over 23 miles left to go. At this point of the race I was starting to get delusional and was beginning to lose my confidence. I started to wonder if I was going to make it to the end, and I was getting a little sad thinking that I was going to let everyone down. I had so many people supporting me both online and in person, how could I not finish after almost ten hours on the course? That’s when I reminded myself that I had almost seven hours left to finish, and I just needed to take it one lap at a time.
The nice thing about the out and back is that I was finally able to run into both Leslie and Emily as they passed me headed back for their second loop. I could see they were about thirty minutes ahead of me, so I made it my mission to try to catch up with them. I ran up the hills and on the flats since that seemed to bother my knees the least, and then I walked down many of the downhill stretches. I also walked through most aide stations for Gatorade, water, and my new favorite race snack, peaches. Before I knew it, I ran into Kay and my family as I headed in to grab my first purple bracelet that would signify that I had completed a third of the marathon…one down, two more to go.
For some reason, the second lap was the easiest to complete. I knew what I was in for on the run, I had more energy than I had at the beginning of the marathon, and I was trying to catch my friends ahead of me. My knee was still bothering me, but I just ran when I could, and I walked when it started to bother me again. The support along the route was amazing. There was a water station at every mile filled with the most amazing, helpful volunteers. In addition, Team in Training was out there supporting their IronTeam, and they were cheering almost as loudly for the non-Team runners as they were for their own members. There were spectators along much of the route, and it was easy to stay motivated along this second lap.
Once I was headed in for my second purple bracelet, I knew I could finish this race, I just had to stay tough for the final 8+ miles. The only problem was that as I headed in and out I could not find Kay or my family. I think they didn't expect me to come in so soon, and they were not there to hand me my long sleeve shirt or my head lamp. I was a little concerned about getting cold and running in the dark, but I was more concerned if I looked around for them I might not finish in time, so I headed out.
I was still trying to catch Emily and Leslie, but my knee was starting to really act up, so I began the final loop by walking. It was then that I met Rafi. He was walking quickly, but looking a little dejected. He shared with me that this was his first Ironman as well. He had completed the swim in 1:23:11, and his bike time was 7:06:54. He knew that he was going to have a good finish, because running was his strength--his half-marathon times were under 1:30. Unfortunately at mile three he felt his IT band rip, and he couldn't run without great pain. He had made it to the final loop, but he was thinking about quitting. I reminded him that he had three hour to complete 8 miles, and that if he just kept up the quick walking pace he was doing, he was certain to be an Ironman. When I felt like I had him convinced not to quit, I ran on to try to catch up with Emily (and he did finish in 16:10:34).
I am not going to lie...the last 4-5 miles were some of the most difficult miles I have ever endured. I was freezing, because I still only had my t-shirt on, and without a headlamp, I couldn't see anything. They had given me a glow necklace, but it was only good for distinguishing you as a runner, but not for any actual light source. It was pitch black, and I could only run when a car came the other way, or when a smart person with a headlamp passed by me. The ground was too uneven to run in the dark, and I was afraid if I fell down, someone might not find me. It was tough, but when I saw Kay waiting for me in that last half mile, I knew my journey was coming to an end. She ran me to the end of the chute, and then went back to wait to run Karrie in as well. It is a surreal feeling to finally cross that finish line after 15:20:29 out on the course, but with my 5:51:33 marathon time, I had not only finished my run under my 6 hour goal, but I had also become an Ironman in well under 16 hours.
I was cold, and actually got a little sick at the end, but I did it. All four of us finished in under 16 hours (and Leslie finished in under 15 at 14:59:58), and we all ended sore but in one piece. It was amazing to finish with my husband, son, and friends around me, and knowing all of you were following me every step of the way. It was also special having Kay and her husband there to support us, so that Kay and I could finish our difficult journeys together. Kay has beaten cancer, and I conquered a little thing called Ironman! This story could not have ended any better!