Pre-Race Day:I got up at 7a.m. to get ready. By 8 a.m., I left for Fort Wilderness and got on bus to the park/race area. I had a breakfast with the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF)...so inspiring! Maj. David Rozelle is a really fascinating and entertaining guy, and a great figurehead for the organization. I met so many other excited fund-raising racers. I tried to eat breakfast...choked down 1/4 cup of scrambled eggs, 1/4 of a biscuit, and some fruit. Food was so not appetizing at that moment. I checked in at the CAF breakfast and (you only really see the greats in pictures in Triathlete magazine or on TV or such, right?) didn't even realize Heather Fuhr was right across the table from me! She didn't check me in personally, but I felt like a total moron that I didn't recognize her!
After breakfast, I rode the bus back to the parking area to change into some more casual clothes (I had worn a very casual dress to breakfast), but there were three guys putting their bikes together right next to my car! I did the incognito change in the car, grabbed my bike, and rode to the set-up area while hubby hopped on the bus. I was NOT about to put my new baby in the luggage compartment under a bus! It was just what I needed...sunshine, me and my Orbea, a casual ride and the hummm of the wheels. So good for the soul.
Transition was the biggest I've ever seen. We with CAF were lucky enough to have our own transition compound away from the fray. However, it was quite a jog out of T1 with bike shoes on! (I didn't get time to master the shoes-in-on-the-bike thing with my tri shoes.) I did my usual taking in of the atmosphere and walking the transition routes. Which took me to the water...
Boy. 1.2 miles looks really, really far. The buoys looked like tiny specks. And then the panic set in...all of a sudden, I thought to myself, "Stop it. You've worked too hard for this. Fear won't help anything. Embrace this experience. As a good friend told me, 'You only get one first.'" And then it dawned on me...”Oh My God. I'm really HERE. I'm going to do THIS.” And I thought of all I've had to overcome. I thought of the fear and panic I've had to deal with to learn to swim. I thought of the times I hid in the girls’ locker room in high school so I wouldn't have to run laps. I thought of all the times I didn’t attempt something I wanted to do because I was too afraid of trying something new or of failing completely. I thought of the endless laps, the miles and miles, the knee pain I've been staving off to get to this point. So I said a prayer. I said a prayer for faith in myself, for guidance when I felt alone, for perseverance when that inevitable moment would come when giving up would feel better than taking one more step. And I cried. A solitary tear slid down each cheek. Then I looked down. Immediately at my feet were two of the prettiest orange-rainbow iridescent shells that I've never seen anywhere. They were common mussel shells, but the insides were beautiful. I love this color of orange. And rainbows are promises, right? So I took this as a sign that my prayer had been heard and that everything would be all right. I smiled, causally wiped the tears from my face, and turned to grasp my husband's hand and leave. It would all be all right.
I prepped all my gear that night, so I couldn't worry. I soaked in Epsom salts in hopes that it would help. My knees had ached all day the day before. I fell asleep with an ice pack on my knee. I went to bed at 6:30 p.m., and woke up every hour. When I did sleep, it was good at least.Race Day: 3:30 a.m. came really early. I prepared, and slathered on the Body Glide and 70-spf sunscreen. I rechecked my gear and got my hubby up. He's been so unbelievably great and totally supportive. It's really taken a lot of stress off me this weekend. We grabbed bagels, and I choked a cinnamon raisin bagel and a bottle of Infinit down. Solid food is always near impossible for me on race day.
We left for the race at 4:30 a.m.. We were really sleepy and moving slowly. We got to parking at 4:50 a.m. There were already so many people in the parking lot. On the bus, you could feel the stress. Everyone was absorbed in their race-day preparation rituals: iPods, sleeping, sitting quietly with that focused (or afraid?) expression... It was nice to know I wasn't the only one nervous. And yet, I was somewhat calm.
I got to the race site and set up my transition area. I like to take my time. It's kind of meditative for me. I had to remember to set up my race belt so I would wear my number on the bike. I've never had to do this before, and I didn't want to get a penalty for forgetting. I made sure to drape it over my bike shoes with the ends tucked under so it couldn't blow off. There was no way to get to my shoes unless I picked up the belt first. Then I searched my bag for two identical items: two halves of a shell. Inside I had written on each "It'll be ok. I promise." One went into the back of my tri jersey, and the other into my bento box.
When I was finished with transition, I left to go find my husband. I wore my long track pants and a t-shirt over my tri-gear. The pockets in the pants were handy for holding the bagel I was STILL trying to eat. There were so many dazed and sleepy people wandering around in the dark. I tried to eat more bagel as I wandered around trying to find my husband, Rod. I found body marking and got numbered. I wandered around some more. I was starting to panic that I wouldn't find him at all. When I did, he followed me to a little quiet patch in a playground area nearby. I put on more sunscreen, stretched and meditated, and tried to quell the sickening nervousness. Today was a big day.
People started meandering to the swim start, and the butterflies got bigger. I gave up on the last bit of bagel. I thought about a porta-potty when I realized I didn't have time with that line. So, I massed in on the beach and found the other CAF people. Thank God we were getting an early start. It relieved so much stress to know I really had two hours for the swim if I needed it.
It was so dark out. The sun hadn't come up yet, but was trying, and then... the start for the pro men went off. Wow, I was in the front line to see the pros! And then the pro women were off. The sun was starting to peek above the horizon. The clock wouldn't stop counting! “Oh my god!" I thought, “We're going next! Put on the goggles. Put on the cap. Oh why won't this darned cap go on! Will it stay on in the water? My hair is dry and it's sliding off! Forget about it, just deal. Focus. Calm. Breathe deep and open the lungs. Toes in the water. Make sure you won't get swam over. Oh my god, we're starting!” I waded in. I was surprisingly calm. I was not going to hurry. Hurrying never helps me. I took a few big steps, hit the drop off under water, and thought, “Well, time to swim.”
The Swim:I've learned that my breathing is never three-count in a race like it is in the pool. So I've learned to accept this and work with it. I started thinking to myself, “Breathe on the left, two-count, four strokes, sight. Good pattern. Lengthen. Glide. Rotate from the hips. Exhale under water. Relax. Get in to a rhythm. Uh oh, too much rhythm. I'm off course now. I need to sight more.” I forgot to sight for about ten strokes. This pattern repeated itself for the first third of the swim. Then I realized I was sighting fine, the rhythm was good…but I was being drifted off course. “Great,” I thought, “now I have to swim against this current and back into the fray. Dark water, warm water. Gray blue sky. Dark water, warm water, sunlight on the horizon. Breathe, lengthen, glide, rotate, exhale.” I realized I was falling behind and being passed by everyone. My shoulders tensed, and I couldn't breathe well. “Focus. Relax. Swim your swim. You've swum twice this distance once. It'll be ok. I promise. I'll be ok. Just keep going. Keep moving forward. Readjust my position.”
"Are you ok? " asked a life guard. I always get this. Every single race. I expect it. "Yep. I'm just slow. Thanks." I treaded water for a few seconds and got my bearings. Then it was time to move forward again. “Breathe, lengthen, glide, rotate, exhale,” I thought. “Keep moving forward.” And then I could see the finish getting closer and closer. “Relax. Focus. Kick more. Keep going. Sand. Stand up. Breathe easy. Run.” I saw my husband. "That was easy!" I said with a smile. I glanced at my watch. Under an hour! For that distance! And in open water! AND with going off course constantly! That's a record for me! I knew that it was going to be a good day. A good day indeed!
Transition 1:In all my excitement, I ran right past our CAF area for T1. Oops. I grabbed my race belt and snapped it on. Next came the shoes. Gloves? I decided against them. Spray sunscreen. Purple sunburn is not a good color for me. Helmet. Shades. I grabbed the bike and off I went! I waddled like a duck with bike shoes on. “Should I run? There’s 69.1 more miles to go,” I thought. Running in bike shoes tweaks my knee, and it already hurt. So I decided on a waddle-run. “Go! Go! Go!” I thought. “Clip-in, clip-in, clip-in! Ok ready. Spin easy. Warm up the legs.” I looked down to check my speed and saw.…nothing. Nada. Crap! My brake was rubbing AND my odometer wasn’t registering. I forgot to check that. I needed the distance and time to track my nutrition plan, so I pulled over. Everyone was passing me. “Erg!” I thought. “Oh well. Have fun. Hop back on. Go!”
The Bike:By mile four my knees were swelling. I was in an easy gear, too. My speed was terrible--16 mph . I had to loosen up before I could gear up. There was a head wind, then a cross wind. I got funny looks from people as they passed me. I could read their faces: "She's awfully slow for having that bike." Oh well—it was my race, not theirs. Endurance was my goal, not blowing up my knees early. "Looking good! Have a great race!" I called after them. Then I started thinking, “Wow, I have to pee. Wow, those clouds sure look dark. Oh! Drink! Spin, spin. Repeat.” I stopped at mile 22 to stretch. There was supposed to be an aid station somewhere around there. I needed to readjust my nutrition and stretch a lot. I hopped back on. Two more miles down the road I found the aid station. Boy those bushes looked tempting. I really had to pee! I just kept moving forward, hoping it would go away. I told myself I could stop at the next aid station if I needed it. My legs began to feel better. I geared up, and began to spin high gears. Yeah! Faster speeds…that is what I wanted. That’s when it started to rain. Lots. At least it wasn’t sunshine.
Mile 35 had the next aid station. I wanted to stop, but this is where the hills were. I needed my momentum. No way was I stopping to pee. I had a good rhythm going. I kept spinning and paid attention to gearing. “Haha!” I thought as I sped down the hill. “Fat girls can go down the hill faster than you!” That helped catapult me partway up. I knew my extra baggage would come in handy like this. And I knew I could do these hills...even if it was at 5 mph near the top of one! “Keep moving,” I told myself. “Don't fall over! Keep pedaling! Done! I rock!” My legs were feeling much better. My knees hurt, though. “It's only one day of pain,” I thought. “Don't focus on the pain. Keep moving forward.”
By mile 45, I REALLY had to pee. There was no skipping this one. Too many people were behind me for me to try it on the bike. I stopped. A gent was nice enough to hold my bike. I took advantage of the pause, took a gel and stretched some more. We chatted while I loosened my knees. I mentioned heading for the trees for a pit stop. “Pretty innocent little orange trees,” I said, “you have no idea.” "Well, there's a porta-potty a little ways up the aid station," he said. “Great!” I said. I clipped one foot in and turned to check traffic behind me, and felt a familiar feeling…Crash! I jumped back up. I noticed blood from my thigh and from my knee and from my left heel. It was not going to kill me. I hopped back on. "You ok?" He looked worried. "Yep. That was dumb and embarrassing. Thanks. Have a great day!" I rode down and passed a woman who was not so fortunate. She had an ice pack and bandaged shoulder. I heard the ambulance coming behind me. Wow. I hoped she was ok.
A young boy was standing further down. "Would you be a dear and help me by holding my bike while I head to the porta-potty?" I asked. He looked awestruck and jumped at the chance (and in the process unknowingly saved some pretty little orange trees). "You need a fill-up?" he asked as he looked at my Profile bottle. "Nah, I'm good. Thanks!" I headed off, and came back well relieved. "Thank you! I really appreciate it!" I said as I left on my bike. Was it just me, or was that just a really sweet kid? I felt the rush of wind past my face. I heard the whirr of my wheels. “God, I love this,” I thought. “And it's all easy road from here. Time to go. Good spin, I can get some speed here.” I went to take a drink. My bottle was full.... huh? The sweet kid filled up my bottle anyway. He had no idea it was nutrition replacement in there and not just water. I could deal. He meant well. I'm not a pro. This was my race.
Transition 2:The rain let up, but the streets were wet and slick. Soon, mile 56 showed up on my odometer. And there was no bike finish.... hmmm... About two miles later, I saw the finish, glided to a stop around another triathlete and hopped off. I went back completely through transition, again with a waddle-run. I saw Rod. "That was fun!" I smiled and shouted. The lady next to him laughed. As I waddle-ran, I thought to myself, “Rack the bike. That was a good ride. It's going to be a good day indeed.”
I took off my helmet and shoes. I sprayed on more sunscreen. I grabbed shoes and socks and sat down. “Wait,” I thought. “This feels funny...” My socks and shoes were soaked. It must have really rained. My stuff was under a tree. I looked at my feet. They were already blistered and soaked from the rain and the bike shoes. Something told me this was going to be an interesting 13.1 miles. I grabbed the rest of my run gear and headed out. It was a little overcast. "It'll be ok. I promise." Thank God for any cloud cover right then, even with the humidity. I started to jog. I felt good. Squish, squish, squish. Water seeped out of my shoes. The sun came out. It was hot and humid. Yuck. I slowed down. “Gotta stay cool,” I thought. “It's all about finishing today. Next time, I can go faster. I don't know how well I'll hold up in this heat/humidity, and I don't want a DNF this close. Take it easier. Push later if I have it. Stay cool. Stay hydrated.”
The Run:I hit the first aid station and grabbed sponges of ice cold water. I shoved three into my shirt and one down my back. “Ahhhh.” I tried to run over the grass and dirt. “Ouch,” I thought. “Hot. Ugh. Just keep moving forward. Run 0.1, walk 0.2. Repeat.” My average pace was 16:30. Beyond pathetic. But I really don't care right then. It was getting hotter and brighter, and feeling desolate back on that grass trail. Everyone looked miserable. I smiled. I always smile. It helps. When lap one was done, I saw Rod. I smiled. He gave me a thumbs up and cheered me on. I love him.
I switched to a pattern of run 0.1, walk 0.1. Still pathetic. I grabbed ice whenever I could. I re-soaked my sponges for fear that they would run out of them later. I had them, I was keeping them. I shoved ice into the back of my tri jersey pocket. I dumped ice down the front. I doused with cold water at the aid stops. What could it hurt? My shoes were soaked anyway. And I could feel blisters growing with each step. I carried a cup of ice with me. I squished it at the top. The rhythm of the shaking ice when I was running kept my pace. The cold water was there to pour on me as it melted. It just made me feel cooler holding it. I had found a new addition to my plan.
Then, suddenly, I saw a man in front of me swaying across the run path. Was he stopping? Was he tired? No, this was wrong. This was bad. He nearly took a nose dive off the embankment and into the murky dark water when his friend saw him. He called to him in Spanish. This guy was severely overheated. I ran to him and his friend as the friend guided him to some shade among the trees. I gave him my trusty cup of ice and the last gel I had. I decided, “I'm not running as much. I'll be ok. I have liquid fuel. I have nothing left to give.” His friend smiled thankfully and took both items. I apologized and headed off. I would get help as soon as I saw it. The next aid station appeared, I told them what I saw. Someone had already told them. I was too slow. But at least he was getting help.
I grabbed ice. I was walking more. I could walk and average the same pace as I was with running and walking, and I was staying cooler. I saw the Major approaching. We slapped high fives and kept going. He was almost finished. I had 1.5 laps to go. And I kept smiling. I kept cheering people on. I kept moving forward. I focused on the moment, the work that had gone into this. I tried not to focus on my knees tweaking or throbbing, or on the blisters growing more painful with each step, or the tendons in my legs and quads so tight that they felt like they’d snap. I refused to think about anything other than staying cool, staying hydrated, and moving forward. I imagined the finish line. I kept going. I couldn’t believe I was really there.
When lap two is over, I saw Rod. I gave him a thumbs up. He saw I was walking. I was still smiling. I had quite a few people ask me how I was still smiling. “Easy,” I told them. “It makes things easier.” I focused on the moment, enjoying it, and then the moments passed by quickly. Lap three began and I couldn’t believe I was only about four miles away from the finish line! It quickly got hotter and lonelier. Every time I passed the spectator point on the run laps, there were fewer people there to cheer us on. Such is the life of the back-of-packer. We become our own cheering section. There was a camaraderie, spoken or unspoken, among us bringing up the end. We smiled more. Not because we were stronger or working less than anyone else of course, but because we knew that it was this that will pull us to the finish.
Suddenly, “OUCH!” My right foot was searing pain. I felt a blister on my toe pop, and the bottom of my foot was a giant blister as well. I limped. I was getting slower. There were only 2.5 miles left to go! “No!” I said. “I WILL finish.” This was the moment they told me would come. Stupid blisters. My pace time dropped slower and slower. I refused to think about my feet. I focused on putting one foot in front of the other. I reached the last aid station. I bypassed it. Only one mile or so to go. I could do this. I was cramping. I drank more of my Infinit. I focused on putting one foot in front of the other. My feet were killing me. “They'll heal,” I thought. “It's just one day.”
With one more mile to go, I met a gentleman and we kept each other company. He told me about his kids and how this was his first HIM and how triathlon has changed his life. With 0.5 miles to go I began to feel dizzy. “What is going on?” I thought. I felt like it was hard to concentrate. I felt hot. I drank more. “NO,” I thought. “I WILL finish. This is ridiculous. These last 2.5 miles have been the hardest, and this last 0.5 is the hardest of all.”
I saw the turn for the finish. I saw my husband. It was so close. I could see the last 100 yards and I started to jog. I just couldn’t run. I couldn’t believe I was there. I couldn’t believe I did this. The finish was just like I imagined. Tears streamed down my face. I pumped my fist in the air. A photographer was in my face catching it all. He smiled at me. I couldn’t quit crying. I DID IT! I worked so hard for this. I accomplished so much more than I ever thought I would. I'm so proud of me! The finish line was just like I imagined. But crossing it was infinitely better than I could have dreamed.
Read more Race Reports of Ironman 70.3 Florida.
Simple pleasures. Personal challenges. And most of all - my son's smile every day.