by Alice Hohl
After years of being mediocre or just plain bad (last in my age group) I stepped it up to attack the iron distance. It was not out of reach, since I had been improving steadily since my kids were born. I guess training and racing became an escape I needed, and I pushed myself harder once I was a mom, despite the challenges of work and family obligations.
Here's my race report.
Things were interesting at Cedar Point. Places I needed to go were a bit farther away than I imagined when looking at the map, and they were pretty serious about no biking in the park. We had the RV, which was securely in its spot, awning extended, plugged into the electric, windshield cover on, and not going anywhere. So that was not a transportation option either. Fortunately there was a 24-hour courtesy shuttle and I had a couple good friends willing to haul me around: Mark and his wife Julie, and Margaret and her boyfriend Evan.
Saturday morning began with a practice swim, hosted by the race company at the site of the real swim. I came around the corner from the campground to the beach, and the size and sound of the breaking waves, I must admit, was pretty intimidating.
The sound and sight was nothing compared to getting out there in Lake Erie. The waves didn't look all that bad from shore, but when I started out toward the practice buoy, a half mile away, the swells were astounding. I've never swum in the ocean, so I don't know what that's like, but this was crazy.
It was a little fun, too.
Most of the time I couldn't see the buoy at all, because of the waves around me, so I was using the sun and the roller coasters behind me to keep my bearings. The strangest thing was, after about 10 minutes, I couldn't see anyone else.
Every few minutes I would happen to lift my head as I was being lifted up on top of a wave, and I'd catch sight of the buoy before falling back down into a trough, so I knew I was going the right way. I really didn't see another soul out there for a long time, and it started getting creepy.
They had lifeguards on shore, but I knew they couldn't see me. They did have a list of people who had gotten in the water, and were checking people off as they came back out. But I still felt like that scene in Castaway where the Tom Hanks character is lying on a shred of his raft, and they zoom out and all you can see for miles is water and nothing else.
I did eventually make the turn at the buoy and head back to the beach, where I started seeing other swim cap-covered heads around me. Then I started mentally revising my expected swim finish time to accommodate raging seas.
The practice swim was great for socializing, if not for building confidence about the swim. I met a few people from the race staff, saw Margaret from my training group in Columbus, saw Amy (amymengel) and Abbie (AbbieR) from BT, and later on the beach I spotted a wheelchair I assumed belonged to Bob (mberries), and I found him, too. I met some new folks, as well. One guy had completed Ironman Louisville a couple weekends before, and was doing the full Sunday. He said he felt fine. (!)
After the swim, we had breakfast as a family: David (david tri's), the kids, and my niece Madison, who came along to help with the kids and hopefully have a little fun, too.
At 10 a.m., my friends Margaret and Evan were nice enough to swing by the campground and drive us all down to the race expo and Transition Area, which was at the other end of Cedar Point in the big parking lot. We picked up our race numbers (441!) and all the other things we would need, plus whatever free stuff they were giving away.
After that, the rest of my family headed into Cedar Point with my complimentary tickets, and a couple other people's complimentary tickets. (We were at an information booth at the expo, waiting to ask where to buy the fourth ticket we needed, when we ran into a guy who was at the same booth asking what to do with his extra tickets. He gave one to us, no questions asked. I love triathletes.)
Margaret, Evan, and Margaret's friend Dave headed out in a car to drive the bike course, since Margaret and Dave hadn't seen it before. The race company was out on the roads, sweeping and putting out cones and signs.
By the time we made it back to Cedar Point, Mark (my 57-year-old training buddy) had arrived from Columbus and was willing to pick me up and take me to the 2 p.m. race meeting with my bike, even though I made him a few minutes late. Since I was so excited about the race, I had already read the Athlete Guide three or four times and didn't really learn anything new from the race talk, but it was nice seeing Eric, the Race Director, and it was good to know nothing was a surprise. He said they were confident the winds would change and the swim would be more calm than it had been that morning.
Mark and I put our race number stickers on our bikes and checked our bikes into the Transition Area. The bike racks had little signs with our names on them, and our race numbers. Mark had bought plastic sheeting to cover his bike in case of rain. It was already sprinkling, and he graciously covered my bike, too, which was far superior to the Kroger bags I had planned to stick over my shoes. I saw a really old-school metal frame road bike with downtube shifters in the Full Distance section. I figured whoever it belonged to was probably a pretty strong rider and would pass me at some point, no matter how much my carbon-fiber bike cost.
Mark and Julie and I walked around the Transition Area getting our bearings, and then headed back "home" to get our bags organized for the morning. Mark was planning to catch the Ohio State football game. I was planning on some quiet time to myself.
Since my family was still in the park riding kiddie rides, I was able to sort out my race gear in peace. Of course, I already had it sorted it out in labeled bags, with a checklist on yellow paper in each bag. It was just a matter of filling a couple water bottles and putting things into the official race bags, which I would later hang from pegs in the Transition Area.
After that, I went for a run down the jogging trail along the beach. It was pleasant, and as I headed south I realized I'd be passing the swim start. Once I made it that far, I decided to just go ahead on to the Transition Area and take one more look at it, running through from the beach to the bags, through the changing tent, and to my bike.
I ran back north to the RV, and took a shower at the campground shower house. By then it was really pouring. I did my best to prep dinner for David, and was ready with towels and dry clothes when my soaked and shivering family arrived at the door.
Dinner was low-fiber, high protein. Salmon burgers, pasta salad with spinach, and white potatoes and cheese. I was planning to eat an energy bar later that night to top off my sugar reserves, but I ended up hitting the bed just after the kids did, around 8:30 p.m. David and Madison went back to the park to ride some grown-up rides. I barely remember hearing them return.
I slept pretty well (thanks to my ear plugs and sleep mask), although I was up at 2 a.m. checking the alarms, and again at 4:15, which kind of nullified the need for the 4:30 alarm. I received a text from my friends Jeremy and Judith on their honeymoon in Ireland, wishing me the best in my race!
Breakfast was a disaster. I usually have steel-cut oats, and I was too tired to make them the night before to heat up, so I figured I better make them in the microwave instead of on the stove, to save time. That meant using water instead of milk, so I wouldn't boil over the milk in the microwave. Well, they tasted like garbage made with water, and I hadn't packed any syrup to mask the flavor, so I took a couple bites and threw the rest out. I also made some green tea, which I had taken one sip of when I knocked the whole cup over and spilled it all. At least I was outside when I did that.
Mark and Julie picked up David and I at 5 a.m.and drove us to the Transition Area. (Mark's hotel was next to the campground, and Julie is a saint.) FYI, for those who don't know, Mark is someone I know through my job at The Salvation Army. He is the chairman of our board. He's also the person who introduced me to the triathlon group I trained with most of the summer, swimming at the quarry and riding on Three Creeks bike path.
There was really nothing I needed to do at Transition except hang up my two Swim-to-Bike bag and Bike-to-Run bag on the pegs, pump up my tires, put my drink bottles on my bike, and drop off my Special Needs bags. These are bags they make available to you at the halfway point on the bike and run courses. In my bike bag, I had a spare tube, in case I had already had a flat tire at that point. In my run bag I had a long-sleeved shirt, some chocolate-covered Espresso beans, Tums, some skin lubricant, and some Chex mix. (Remember this because it will be important later.)
I took the plastic off my bike, and then sat down in the camping chair David had brought along. Matt Dixon from my Columbus training group came past, and we chatted. He was experienced at the distance, and had some ambitious time goals for his marathon. David was great and held on to the bike pump and all the miscellaneous stuff I had with me. I was eating my energy bar from the night before and drinking Gatorade. Shortly we were surrounded by people we knew from BT, including Amy and Abbie and Trixie. We just sat around and talked and joked. I wasn't even really thinking about the race much, just enjoying the company and keeping my head clear.
At 6:30 or so, we started putting on our wetsuits to head down to the beach. Once we got close, Amy and Abbie were not in a big hurry to get in the crowd of racers, but I was getting nervous and wanted to be in the group. I did not warm up in the water. I never do before races because I get cold easily and my muscles become tight while I'm waiting.
I headed to the outside edge of the left side of the horde, like I had planned, and we watched the pros take off into the water. I later learned they delayed the start a few minutes because the predawn sky was so dark, and they needed time to take lights out to the boats sitting at the turn buoys.
Ten minutes later, David had found me in the crowd, where I was standing next to the lady with the starting siren. I was looking around me and could hardly see another woman. It was a sea of men. I asked David if it looked like I was about halfway back in the pack, since that was my plan. He said I was at least halfway back, if not farther.
The siren went off, and we were off, too, running into the water, and then trudging through several yards of shallows and past the breaking waves. The waves were nothing compared to the day before, and there was a lot less contact in the water than I had thought. The first 10 minutes were a little stressful, because it was hard to find a place to take a stroke, with bodies all around. I had a few people grab my legs, and I got a good kick to the arm, but it didn't really hurt much with a wetsuit on. I didn't get kicked in the face, which was my biggest fear. I tried to stay on the outside and get to some clear water, which I managed to do.
After that, the swim was really unremarkable. I tried to appreciate that I was really here, really doing it, after all this time. But there was a lot to think about, and I had to sight quite a bit to make sure I was going straight, and that I wasn't running into anyone.
The swim course was two squares next to each other. So we swam out, made two right turns, and swam back to the beach. Then we ran out of the water, ran away from the swim course we just completed, across a timing chip, and got back in the water to swim another square. On the beach between squares, I heard a familiar voice calling me, and looked over to see Mark on my right shoulder! What were the chances?! I also saw David on the beach taking photos.
We got back in, and I swam a strong second half, really focused on the catch and pull of my stroke. On the last section, I went through my planned Transition in my head, and started kicking my legs some to get them ready. I swam through the shallows and stood up, walking out of the water as planned. When I hit the sand, I started a light jog, and spotted David.
I waved at him and he turned to the people around him. All at once, about two dozen people started singing Happy Birthday to me! (It was my 34th birthday.) It was awesome! Once I was up at Transition, David told me my total swim time was 1:17. I had been visualizing 1:21, so I was doing better than I had hoped, and I didn't feel tired at all.
I ran into Transition, grabbed my Swim-to-Bike bag, and ran into the changing tent. I had been expecting a sea of chaos in there, but there were maybe six or seven other women in there, plus volunteer helpers. I stood in front of a folding chair and used it to sort out my stuff. I took out my checklist and went straight down it.
There was an older lady standing there, a race volunteer, offering to help me with anything, so instead of putting my wet stuff in the bag, I handed it to her and had her do it. I gave her my wetsuit, which I had taken off right outside the tent where there was a big barrel I could hold onto to step out of it faster. Then I turned on my bike Garmin so it could find the satellites. I changed my sports bra, washing off quickly.Bike jersey on. Clif bar in pocket. Bandana on. Helmet on. Shades on. Sunscreen on arms and legs. Socks on. Grab Garmin. I asked the lady if she was putting my bag back on the peg and she said yes, so I headed out.
I clipped the Garmin (David's, actually, which I was borrowing) onto my bike and ran to the mount line. Saw David at the fence. I got my pedals/shoes in the correct position and hopped on as I always do, getting my feet into my shoes while I was rolling. I felt great, and not at all cold as I was worried I might feel. It was overcast and probably about 65 degrees.
I passed Bob (mberries) on his handcycle. I passed a few other people. Then we headed through Huron and out into the cornfields. After about 20 miles, things were fairly sorted out. The faster people had already passed me, and the slower people were already behind me. Mark came up behind me, and we passed each other a few times, and he ended up ahead of me. He was averaging a slightly faster speed, but I forced myself to let him go and race my race. There were aid stations every 10 miles or so, and I planned to stop at 40 miles and 80 miles, just as I had on my last big training ride.
The big course is kind of like an upside-down lollipop, and you go around the circle part twice. On my first time around I was on the straight stretch when I heard a motorcycle behind me. I was at Mile 35, and the leader of the pro male field was already on his second loop. He was absolutely flying. (I later saw a video of him passing one of those police speed trailers, which clocked him at 27mph.)
After that, I pretty much passed and was passed by the same three or four men. One of them had a little cheering section of two people, who kept getting in their car and moving to different places. They started cheering for me, too, because they knew if they saw me, their person was coming soon. I stopped at Mile 40, got off the bike, used the bathroom, ate a banana, refilled my bottles and got back on my way. I'm capable of peeing on the bike, but two minutes on this day was not going to make a big difference. Knowing I had to sleep next to my bike in the RV that night may have swayed my decision to use the port-a-potty. After that was the tough section (rough roads, headwind, gradual climb) that proved to be just as tough as I had remembered. I knew it would only be worse the second time around, and I tried to conserve my legs by shifting gears a lot. On the way out of that section, there were two race volunteers standing on top of the bridge with a two-way radio. They were giving our race numbers to the folks up ahead, who would have our Special Needs bags ready. I didn't need anything out of mine, so I didn't stop.
When I started coming back west, our course came together with the bike course for the half-iron distance race. I was passing the people who were at the back of the pack on the half distance. We were all struggling into the wind, but I was passing them easily, and the rest of the pro field started to pass all of us on their second loop. I thought I was taking it easy on the bike, but seeing my speed in comparison to the half participants, I thought maybe I should back off a little more. On the other hand, I really wanted to do a 6 hour-30 minute bike split. And it was going to be close. It wasn't worth chasing that specific goal if it would cost me on the run, but I was still doing the math in my head to see if I could make it without pushing too hard.
I turned for the second loop, and saw Mark on the out-and-back section. He was just a few minutes in front of me.
I hit "my" aid station again. Same routine.
Then it was time for the tough part of the course again. It was worse this time, of course. It was a little windier and my legs were more tired and I was more worried about saving myself for the run. I got through that, but knew the way back up the lollipop stick, such as it was, was not going to be easy. Miles 90 to 100 were not too bad. There was a lot of tailwind on that part, but instead of going 21 or 22 mph or so, like I should be going in a tailwind, it was more like 19 or 20.
Miles 100 to 112 were brutal. It was mostly a headwind heading northwest. I passed Sawmill Creek Resort, my home base for my two training rides up here. I turned onto Cedar Point Road and just slogged along into the wind, along the rough road. Most of the people who had been standing outside their houses were gone now. It was already afternoon. There was no one behind me. There was no one really ahead of me, either, that I could see. After a few miles of this (being able to see the roller coasters and practically smell Transition, but still not being there) I was getting sick of it.
I was putting my focus on the road conditions, as I had practiced. There were rumble strips and potholes and jagged lines in the asphalt. I caught up to another cyclist who was going really slow and realized with a sort of respectful horror that this lady was part of the HALF iron race, and she was still out here. So she was at more than seven hours, and she hadn't started the run yet. I gave her a few words of encouragement, and pressed on. When I came into transition, I felt I had done a good job of eating and drinking on the bike, but my legs were a lot worse than I had hoped for. I felt better after my 120-mile training ride in August than I did today. A lot better.
My flying dismount went fine, but my first few steps on the ground were not encouraging. My legs felt trashed. I handed off my bike to a volunteer (having a bike catcher made me feel like a rock star!!) and headed to my Bike-to-Run bag.
In the women's changing tent, there were even fewer people. In fact, there was only one other racer in there. I had my own volunteer again, and we made conversation while I went through my checklist. She had some questions about triathlon, and I was handing off the items I was done with as we talked. Helmet and bandanna off. Fresh coat of sunscreen. Exchange yellow jersey for my even brighter yellow shirt. Change socks. Running hat on. Drink water. Running shoes on. Thank volunteer. I stopped on my way out of the tent to stretch my hamstrings some.
I headed out of the tent, stopped at the bathroom, then saw the Race Director and went over to say hi. He called my name when he saw me, and gave me a high five. My legs were feeling a bit better by now, and I ran across the timing mat and out onto the run course.
05:20:21 | 26.200001 miles | 12m 14s min/mileAge Group:10/39
I'm surprised I only moved down one place in my age group on the run. That is a shocker considering how slow my pace was compared to my standalone marathon pace.
The run is the most social part of the event. On the swim of course you can't talk. On the bike, you can only talk for 15 seconds at a time, since being too close for more time than that is a rule violation for drafting. The run is the only time you can really get a break from your thoughts and just BS with people.
On the way out the causeway (the major road into Cedar Point, that leads to the main entry gate) I talked to a guy named Jim, and a guy named J.R. I enjoyed the view of water on both sides of the road, and enjoyed the wind.
After four miles, we entered downtown Sandusky. The first section there was along the water, through some parks and past some fountains and a skate park. It was nice. People were talking, commenting on each other's shirts, etc.
For the next few miles, we were weaving back and forth through some retail, some industrial and some residential areas. I met the owner of a tattoo shop in a suburb near my home, and another guy with really big, curly blond hair who had barely trained for the race. The tattoo guy was doing a run/walk strategy and would walk for a certain amount of time at each mile marker. Since I was stopping at most of the aid stations to make sure I was getting what my body needed, we usually ended up running together for a few minutes each mile. After a while, I think he fell back, or he could have passed me while I was making a bathroom stop and maybe I never caught up.
At Mile 10, things started getting difficult. The total number of hours I had been moving was beyond anything I had ever done before, and my body was letting me know. Mentally, I was starting to struggle, too. For one thing, we could see the mile markers for the second loop. So I would pass Mile 10, and then a minute later I would pass the sign for Mile 23, which did not apply to me, but taunted me.
On my way over the causeway bridge the second time, my mental plan called for picking up an imaginary friend - one of my training buddies who wasn't really there. I picked up Hutch, and the idea was that I would picture myself running with him just like in training, and I would feel strong and pick up the pace. As it turned out, I ended up pleading with an imaginary Hutch to please stay with me even though I was slowing down. I was alternately trying to stay tough with good running form, and then lapsing into total begging for mercy. I walked some. It was rough. Fortunately no one was around to hear me arguing with someone who wasn't there.
I knew I would see my husband, David, and my niece and my kids at Mile 13 in the park, and I wanted to look strong, so I started running again. I was planning on taking a little time at the turnaround to get some sports drink, use the bathroom (again) and rummage through my special needs bag. I saw David and he took photos and told me the kids were up ahead. I could see them easily in their bright shirts that matched mine. Nora (5) was excited and cheered for me and was yelling, "Go Mom! Go Mom!" Michael (4) was complaining that the stuff I wrote on duct tape on his shirt was coming off and it wasn't working. I thought that was funny because he said it as if I were going to stop and fix it. I smiled at them and at Madi, and headed deeper into the park. I passed the place where folks turn right to go down the finish chute.
Not me.Not yet.
Matt Dixon from our training group would already be in there, for sure. He had passed me looking really strong on the run, finishing his second loop when I was finishing my first.
The aid station in the park had neither sports drink nor port-a-potties, so that plan was sort of foiled.
I headed to Special Needs and they had my bag ready. I was looking forward to my Espresso beans, but they were melted into a puddle in the corner of a Ziplok. I ate some anyway. I was trying to decide whether to grab my longsleeve shirt, and asked the time of day. The volunteers said it was 5:50 p.m. and should be cooling off soon. I took the shirt. Stupidly, I did not take the Tums and I did not take the skin lubricant. They were small and would have fit into this little plastic bag I had pinned on my hat. But I did not take them. I was feeling bad now and my brain wasn't working that well, and honestly I wasn't even being very pleasant to the volunteers, which is horrible.
My mental plan was to stay in the moment and not think about the rest of the marathon, but when you are steps from the Finish Line, it's really difficult not to think about it. I walked out of Special Needs and David was there. I had hoped he wouldn't see me walking, but there it was. He asked how I was doing, and I can't remember if I was honest, or if I gave him a thumbs up and a smile.
I started running again as I approached the kids, and gave them high fives. The energy from that lasted me until I got to the overflow parking lot, where I saw Margaret and Evan again. They were cheering like crazy, so I had to keep running. I could see up ahead that there was a turn behind the hill, and they wouldn't be able to see me after that, so I decided I would keep running until then. After I was around the corner, I started walking. I saw Amy at some point in there, as she was finishing up her race. I saw Abbie, who was behind me, finishing her first loop. Then the joke was on me, because Margaret and Evan had gotten in their car and were heading out the main road, so they totally saw me walking anyway. But they cheered, all the same.
I had tied my longsleeve shirt around my neck so I'd have it when it got cold, but it was really annoying, swinging around like that. I decided I'd rather be hot than annoyed, so I stopped in the grass to put it on. I wanted my yellow shirt on the outside, so I took it off and put the longsleeve on first. Some of the cars leaving Cedar Point started hooting a hollering, and someone yelled, "Yeah! Take it OFF!" which I thought was pretty funny. I started feeling a little better, thinking how I did probably look pretty decent even though I felt sweaty and dirty and like I was falling apart. I got my shirt situation settled, and headed across the bridge and back into Sandusky.
That's when things really started to go bad.
At the first aid station after the bridge I hit the bathrooms again. I had been having intermittent stomach/bowel issues, and figured I would eventually have nothing left to give to the potty gods, but in fact it was not letting up. When I emerged, a race volunteer handed me a cup of water and a cup of grapes and said, "Well, it's a nice evening to walk through Sandusky." I furrowed my brow and said, "No, I'll be RUNNING through Sandusky."
At the next aid station, I stopped again, now aware of some really uncomfortable chafing that was going along with my bathroom problems. My first mistake had been failing to grab my little tube of Aquaphor at special needs. My second mistake was just about to happen. I was in the port-o-potty thinking about that awful rough cheap toilet paper they have in there. And thinking about the chafing, which hurt even worse when using the toilet. And I was thinking, geez, if I could just get the toilet paper wet somehow, it would be better. The only thing I could see was hand sanitizer, so like a complete idiot, I got some of that on the TP. As soon as it made contact with my skin, I realized my horrible mistake. Hand sanitizer contains rubbing alcohol. Even water on chafing would have burned. Rubbing alcohol? I tried not to yell so loud that someone would worry out on the sidewalk, but oh my did that burn.
The next aid station I knew was in a park next to a real bathroom with a sink and paper towels. So that was heartening. Right after stopping there, which I had termed "My own private Idaho" for some reason (I guess because it had a locking door and light and a sink) I saw Laurak11 from BT, who recognized me and said hi. It was great to see her. I think it was easy for BT people to spot my because my first name was on my bib number and my last name was on my shirt.
Every time I would pay my respects to the potty gods, I would emerge looking drained and haggard, and some nice volunteer would suggest pretzels or a banana or grapes. For some reason I kept taking them, and then about three minutes later when I would start to run, all that crap would start jostling around and send me into another round of stomach cramps, which would force me to walk, or stop at the next potty, or both. Why I didn't recognize this vicious cycle at about Mile 5, I'll never know. Even if I had, who knows if I could have done the whole marathon without any food? Maybe I could have. But it was getting pretty late in the day (sunset) to have only eaten a couple Clif bars on the bike and some sports drink.
A lady pulled up next to me in a car and said, "What's going on down here tonight?" I said, "There's a big triathlon today." And she said, "Oh, that's coming all the way over here from Cedar Point?" I looked at my Garmin and said, "Yeah, Mile 19 baby! That's right!" She smiled and drove off, probably thinking I was nuts.
At Mile 19, I decided I had just had enough of this. I was sick of it. I was sick of walking, sick of cramps, sick of still being in Sandusky.
It was really getting dark now, both outside, and in my mind. I started shutting off the stimuli. I was moving along at a shuffle-run, now, and I determined that I was only stopping for emergencies and that was it. No more stupid walking. No more stupid checking out all the food at aid stations. No more eating. As it turned out, I really didn't do anymore talking either.
Every once in a while, folks would cheer for me, and I would manage a little thumbs up. A Sandusky officer gave me an encouraging shout and asked which lap I was on. I held up two fingers, unable or unwilling to speak. He was happy. Maybe for me, and maybe for himself since he wouldn't have to be out there longer if I had another loop left.
At the aid stations, if I heard someone shout "Water!" I would point at them, grab the cup, squeeze the top into a spout, and drink a couple gulps without stopping or speaking. I felt sad about not thanking the volunteers. They were having a long day, too.
I got a sharp, sharp pain in a tendon near my knee and instead of walking, I pressed on the spot for a second, and then started cursing at myself, saying I didn't care about my F*ing knee and I wasn't going to listen to any of this anymore. That's the point when I think my mind really started to separate from my body.
There was still light in the sky, but the sun was definitely down now. It was hard to read the mile markers, and things were starting to get a bit sketchy in downtown Sandusky. I heard a lady on her front porch saying, "How far? No thank you. I don't think I'd even make it to the bike part." Then I heard a little kid say, "Well I would!" Kids are always so optimistic about their abilities. It reminded me of my kids. I thought about whether or not they would be at the finish line, or whether they would already be in bed.
At the next aid station, my mind could not convince my stomach to remain calm, and I was back in the bathroom. But I came out of there running, ignoring the water and food.
At the next mile, I finally relented and took a glow necklace offered by a volunteer. I had resisted the offer before, saying I was planning to finish before dark. The volunteers had smiled at each other, obviously able to do the math and knowing I was not going to have a daylight finish.
I still did not speak.
Thus began the final section back to the park from Sandusky.
It was really, truly dark now. I could see runners and walkers coming toward me, who were just a few miles into their second loop. I felt so sad seeing them. What a long battle they had ahead in the dark. But I couldn't muster a word for them. Even when someone spoke to me, it was jarring and took me out of the virtual trance I was in.
Still clinging to my plan, which I was about an hour behind on, I allowed myself the final luxury of imaginary friends. At Mile 22, I decided I would pick up imaginary Nicole. I was straining and straining to see that mile marker, to get there. When I reached her, she was cheerful as always, talking a lot. Mostly I was ignoring her, which is pretty funny because she wasn't even really there. I couldn't even keep up my end of a conversation in my head.
At Mile 23, imaginary Doc was waiting. I saw him waiting up there ahead, next to the mile marker. Thank goodness I finally made it there, so he and Nicole could talk to each other and leave me alone, right? It was comforting, though, conjuring memories of training swims and rides together. Hearing familiar voices.
In real life, I was actually passing a few people, because most of the folks still out on the course had been reduced to a walk, and I was managing a modest run, not even slowing at the aid stations. I wanted to feel happy about it, but I just felt sad for the people I was passing.
At Mile 24, the three of us (me and two imaginary friends) picked up imaginary Hutch. That livened things up considerably in imaginary world. We all talked about the drinking and cigar smoking we would do when this was over.
Cars coming out of the park as I ran past the exit seemed to be about half made up of racers or race spectators. My yellow shirt was REALLY REALLY bright, so they could see me. There was horn honking and cheering, and I really wanted to smile, but I was almost catatonic, so narrow was my focus on continuing to run.
At Mile 25, I let my imaginary friends go, and thought the nearness of the park would pull me the rest of the way in. To my surprise, I had to slow to a walk again for a minute. There couldn't possibly have been anything left in my stomach, yet the cramps persisted. I found my way in the dark to the last of the race bathrooms and then re-emerged. I was greeted by the grim sight of a steady line of people headed west, just beginning their second loop. I wanted to cheer for them. I wanted to cry for them. They were so brave, heading out of that bright park into the darkness. But I was silent. Every ounce of me was focused only on moving forward.
At the overflow lot, where Margaret and Evan had been sitting before, I guess hours ago now, there was a racer heading out, accompanied by two friends who seemed to have already finished. I was almost mad at them, because pacing someone is against the rules. But then I heard the one woman shouting at the racer, "Come ON. Dammit! You have to quit quitting! You cannot quit! Just keep going!" And my heart ached for her. How could she start out again, heading away from the very place she wanted to be? But her other choice was to waste a whole day of pushing herself, maybe a whole summer of training, maybe a whole year.
And I thought about my summer. My whole summer. Now the leaves were crunching on the ground and all of those hours and all of that sweat was all for this moment. But I still had running to do.
I came into the main parking lot and past my RV. It was dark, which meant either the kids were asleep, or they were at the finish line waiting for me.
At Mile 26, I heard a voice behind me reading my Tshirt. "'Team Hohl.' Is that Alice?""Yeah, who's that?" I asked in a scratchy voice.They were the first words I had uttered in more than an hour.I turned my head and saw Bob sailing up behind me from the left in his racing wheelchair."Bob!!"
It was good to break the silence, and the trance, because although Bob was heading around the Special Needs building for a second lap, I was heading to the finish. Now all of a sudden there wasn't enough time to take it all in. I was swinging my head from side to side, staring hard at people who were standing along the finish chute, trying to make out faces.
I turned a corner and the bright lights were in my face.
I scanned the left side of the finish chute and saw a familiar face."Alice! Way to go!"It was Eric, the race director. I veered off to the left and gave him a high five. Actually, I kind of missed, but I smiled a real smile - not the forced grimace-smile I had been putting on for the volunteers - for the first time in a long time.
I saw spaces where kids would run out and cross the line with their parents, but mine were not there. I realized it was probably past 9 p.m. by now, and if Michael had been grumpy about his shirt at 6 p.m., he surely couldn't still be awake now.
A picture of me went up on the Jumbotron, and the announcer called out my name and congratulated me on finishing. David was there as I was running under the big sign with the time clock, and I was so relieved and happy to see him.
They held up the finish line tape for me to "break" and I ran through. Then I heard the announcer say that it was my 34th birthday, and he started singing a little.
David caught me and pointed out some more friends who were waiting on the sides. Tom was there (bananatoes), and I'm sure he wasn't waiting there just for me, but in that moment I believed he was. I thanked him. And next to him was sushigirl. She congratulated me, too.
A more concrete question was posed: "How about we take you to the Medical Tent?" That was easy to answer. I nodded and let them put me in a wheelchair. Then it was onto the scale to be weighed again."How much did you weigh this morning?""115.4""What's your race number?""441""What's your name?""Alice Hohl. H.O.H.L."These were easy.
It appeared from the scale that I only lost one pound all day. How this was possible, considering the volume of poo I had deposited in a large number of race potties, I can't fathom. Nonetheless, getting an IV was off the table, which was fine with me.My blood pressure was low, 90 over 76 or something, but nothing panic-inducing.
My eyes stayed closed now.
The medical director came by again. I recognized his voice from when I first came into the tent. He was talking near me, and I wanted to respond, but all I could come up with was, "Today is my birthday."
He said his was the day before. My eyes flashed open. Poor guy. He returned my gaze, knowing what I was thinking about the 9/11 birthday. "Well, someone has to be born on that day," I offered. He agreed.
David stayed with me and helped me fend off the offers of drink and chicken broth, the thought of which made my stomach hurt something fierce. After a while, things got better. After 30 minutes, Abbie came in, with Amy. Abbie had a bad blister she wanted them to look at, but seemed otherwise OK. The banter between the three of them pulled me out of my fog. I decided to sit up and try some broth after all.
After 40 minutes, David mentioned that the beds were starting to fill up with people who had been out there a good deal longer than me. I knew it would only get worse, so I stood up and trudged with tiny, creaky footsteps out of the tent and over to the food, which still did not sound good. We stopped at the bathroom (a real one with running water), and then sat down next to a guy who was sitting all alone, and started talking to him. He was friendly, and we had a good chat. I ate some chips and a cookie and even tried some sandwich.
We headed toward the RV, passing by the finish line on the way. As we neared the bright lights, you'll never believe what song was coming on from the speakers. Eye of the Tiger. Yep, the song I had joked about with a training buddy for weeks, and eventually memorized the lyrics to, since the chorus kept getting stuck in my head. I got a huge smile on my face and asked David to take a video of the finish line with the song playing in it. The video ended up being of me, singing and dancing like a fool. I felt pretty marvelous after that. We started past the chute, but when I looked up at the screen, Bob's picture was up there. I looked at David and he said it looked like he had just come through. I shouted after Bob, and David gave chase, but Bob's support crew said they were hustling him to medical. Later he told me he heard me shouting, but wasn't feeling well enough to stop.
So that's the end. I'll spare you details of my post-race shower. I slept like a log. I'm still in kind of a weird place mentally.Quiet.Focused.Patient.Maybe it will last.
This was Rev3's first full distance, and I think they did a heroic job. My only comment in the negative is that they may have overpromised on the spectator-friendly stuff, with regards to the actual race. Trakkers didn't come through, the chip time splits were showing up weird on the Web, video was only of the pros, or so it seemed to my family, and the promised computer kiosks to check on racers on the course were either not there or not obvious.But seriously, it is hard to put on something like this. They did great. From a participant perspective, it was near-perfect.
Editor at Beginner Triathlete, web marketing consultant at SiteInSight, writer, entrepreneur, advocate for unstructured nature play for kids.