Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"Today is going to be your day, I just know it!"

And with that, I teared up for the 4th time race morning. Those words were said to me by one of the fabulous IMAZ volunteers as I dropped my gear bag with her. I had several ‘mantras’ ready to talk my mind and body into staying as strong as possible throughout the day and now I had one more thanks to the kind words of a volunteer. 

Heading out to the water from Transition

In Transition, I nervously checked my bike a million times, searched for Pam spray to get my wetsuit on and hugged all of my teammates as tightly as possible. When we lined up, I wanted to get into the water with my friend Beth R. We held hands and tried to walk to the water’s edge together despite the crowd pushing around us. As we neared the inflatable swim arch with timing mat, a volunteer was yelling, “Climb the fence, climb the fence, the race is starting”. Beth and I hurried, scrambled over the fence and jumped as far as we could out from the wall into the 61 degree water. Yes, 61 degrees is cold, especially when the health club pool is 83 degrees. I had double swim capped and plugged my ears for the race. Luckily the day before, I had found out on the practice swim that my head really doesn’t like that cold of water, especially in my ears. I had been very dizzy and nauseous after the practice swim. A teammate gave me some ear plugs and I crossed my fingers that they would work.
Holly(me) and Beth

Swim - 2.4 Miles
After we jumped in, I lost Beth.  We had to swim under a bridge and a little ways past to get to the official start. I was treading water now, exchanging looks with other athletes around me. I kept thinking, how many of you are going to beat the crap out of me on this swim? I was way too far up in the crowd for my abilities but it was too late to move back, I just had to wait for the inevitable beating. The cannon went off and the most aggressive swim I’ve ever been involved in began. Believe me, this isn’t my first rodeo so I’m always expecting a good amount of contact. This was, well, brutal. I was convinced I was going to come out with black eyes after getting some really good hits to my goggles and pushed under water multiple times but I stayed calm. No panic just kept thinking to myself, “I’m swimming at freaking Ironman!!!”  It seemed like it was almost until the turnaround before I had some space. I stayed up by the buoys and sighted pretty well. Took in a good amount of water during the swim, the water was so choppy with 2600 people all swimming at the same time.  Got to the steps at the finish and 2 big guys basically lifted me up to the bottom steps. I was a little shaky but walked the chute to the wetsuit strippers – Shwoop, off it went.

Coming out of the water with a smile

T1 – Got my gear bag, carried it and my wetsuit to the tent which was was packed. Found a seat eventually and tried to towel off for my full change. I had decided to completely change so put chamois butter on, bike shorts, fresh jog bra, socks and jersey. I wasn’t too cold since I changed fully. I paid the price on time doing this but really, I just wanted to finish Ironman so I wasn’t too concerned. I ran out and grabbed my bike from an awesome volunteer.

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Jersey and off on the bike

Bike - 112 Miles
The bike felt great but I was really taking it easy. I saw Brooke as I headed out for loop one and that was just awesome! I had hoped to reserve energy on the bike for the run and just take it all in. The bike was 3 loops with some false flats but not bad compared to Georgia. The headwinds were pretty strong on the way out for me, but then on the turnaround, the wind cooperated and was behind so I was flying. I thought, this is going to be GREAT. Gut it out for the first half of each loop and then tear it up on the second half. Unfortunately, the winds in the desert aren’t that predictable. The winds on the 2nd and 3rd loops were constantly changing so you just never knew if it was going to be a headwind or not. I didn’t feel any tailwind on loops 2 or 3, just always head or side winds. It was awesome though, people would come by and call you by your name (on your bib) and say good job. It was a mental pickup to just hear someone say your name out there when you were in the tougher miles and mentally a little off.

I over hydrated – stopped at the porta potty 5 times, yes 5 times. Can’t even imagine how much time that took since each time I had to wait in line to get in but it did feel good to stretch and get off of the bike for those moments. I met a really nice guy, John, while waiting in line. He’s 68 and was doing the race with his son, though his son was way ahead of him. We talked a few minutes more and then off we went. He got ahead of me coming out of the porta potty and I passed him a few minutes later and said, 'See you on the run John'! I later saw him on the run which was heartbreaking– more about that later.

I was really hungry on the bike. I did try to eat some Pringles (in my special needs bag) and some Luna bars in addition to my liquid calories but was still hungry. Not a good sign unfortunately but my stomach wasn’t upset, just grumbling and hungry. Finished the 3rd loop and was THRILLED to get off of the bike.

T2 – I grabbed my gear bag and saw my awesome girlfriend, Paige. I gave her a quick hug and jumped into the changing tent for another full change. Just like superman in the phone booth. Come in one way and emerge in a completely different outfit. At this point, I was so slow on overall time; I didn’t have to fight a crowd in the changing tent and had a volunteer that was helping me. I got all of my bike stuff off and started putting on my run stuff and realized I had forgotten to put my body glide in my run bag… Not good but they had some Vaseline so I improvised. Got my hat, sunglasses, threw on my race belt again and out of the tent I went.

Another outfit change to TNT Purple and the run begins

Run - 26.2 miles
I came out and started the first loop (3 loops total for the run) and it was packed with spectators. It was so nice to hear all of the cheers. I felt pretty good for the first three miles and was able to run then walk through the stations. My plan had been to run a mile walk a minute. HA! That plan fell apart quickly as my stomach started revolting. Though I had been able to do ‘number 1’ multiple times, not a chance for the alternative. Not all damn day which makes things uncomfortable to say the least. I eventually had to move to all walking which was really defeating mentally for awhile. Everything felt fine except my stomach. I stopped taking in fluids, food at about mile 6. I just couldn’t do it anymore, got dizzy, nauseous so that was that. The good news was that I was walking faster than I could’ve jogged at that point so I just changed my mindset and said to myself again, ‘This is freaking Ironman, take it all in and smile.’ I knew I would make the cutoff even walking the entire marathon so with that pressure gone and my ego back in check from not being able to run, I relaxed and enjoyed myself. The Vaseline had not worked well and I now had multiple blisters with the worst being on the bottom of my left heel and back of my right heel. I had gotten rocks in my shoes from the 'off pavement' portions of the course so fearing I wouldn't be able to get back up if I sat down and took my shoe off, I left them there the whole race. Suck it up buttercup, this is Ironman!

At about mile 7, I met Angela who was also resigned to a walking marathon at this point. We stayed together for almost 10 miles talking about everything under the sun. There we were, at Ironman in the complete dark talking like old friends though we were complete strangers. We tried to run a little but my stomach just couldn’t do it. I had cut off fluids, food, and gel for awhile and it hadn’t helped. Probably hurt me but that's the way it went. Again, I took it all in. The awesome company of Angela, who was in the navy and raising a step child with Cerebral Palsy, the lights from the bridges shining on the water, the amazing volunteers at the aid stations. Angela had started to feel better and was going to try to run, so we parted ways and a few minutes later I saw Paige and my Coach Mary again. So great to see them. A couple of minutes later I saw my daughter Brooke and just broke down crying again. It was SO amazing to see them; I really needed a kiss from my 4.5 year old to finish that 3rd loop. She said to me, ‘Go get those boys Mommy’ and I laughed and took off after the guys in front of me.

I thought about so much when I was in the dark walking by myself. My family, teammates, Paige, friends throughout the country tracking my day online and my friend Paula who had lost her battle with cancer this year. Paula was with me out there throughout the entire day for sure. Smiled when I saw signs that my friend Frank had his family hang for me. At around mile 23, I met Reggie. He was from Tempe and this was his second Ironman. He was having a rough night and was off of his goal but in good spirits too. What can you do? Accept that it didn’t go as planned and keep moving. We chatted for a while and reached mile 25 where I saw an athlete in bad shape being helped on the course by 2 other athletes. He was being supported by them and was trying to walk and finish the race. Reggie and I came by and it looked like there was nothing we could do so we carried on. Later I found out that the struggling athlete was 68 year old, John, that I had met on the bike earlier. I believe he fell late into the run and fractured his pelvis. The heart of an Ironman. The athletes that were helping him had no worry about their time, their races; they were going to get John to the finish no matter what and they did. To me, that is what Ironman is. Not what time you finish but everything you learn about yourself and experience with others over those 17 hours. I’m pretty competitive about a lot of things in my life. Racing for a time goal just isn’t one of them anymore and truly it hasn’t been for a long time.  I’m 43 and a mom with a full time job. I got exactly out of this race what I wanted, to make the cutoff, have Mike Reilly call me an Ironman, have the experience of a lifetime doing something I wasn’t really sure that I could. A true stretch goal if you will. Though I finished at the BOP for my age group and about an hour later than I had expected, those ironman miles in the sunrise, sunset and dark were some of the best of my life. The finisher chute is the most unbelievably amazing finish in the world. People are screaming for you, banging on the side boards and just giving you so much energy. I swear I ran a sub 7 minute mile pace in that chute. It was the first I had run without pain or stomach upset since mile 3.

Crying and laughing crossing the finish!

The day after Ironman, they showed a short video of a guy that they discovered still out on the course at 2am. He was 2 hours past the cutoff but wouldn’t stop until he finished the race. He got no medal, he is not an 'official' finisher but it didn't matter, he was going to finish that race for him. Again I say the heart of an Ironman. What an amazing individual. Some people hold the winners of the races as their inspiration. For me, its people like him and John. I’m so thankful to have shared this experience with such amazing teammates raising $320,000 for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
GA IronTeam at the IMAZ Practice Swim

Team, I’m going to miss training with you every week, thanks for sharing your last 10 months with me! Here's a link to the video I put together from my clips in AZ. Thanks for the memories of a lifetime!