#5 COOL TECH The swim is usually pretty low-tech. Even though we are all wearing timing chips on our ankles, the most information spectators can receive is the time when we got in the water, and 90 minutes later the fact that we got back out. But this swim was different. Halfway through, we swam under an inflatable arch that picked up the signals from our chips and reported our halfway time. It was just cool to swim under a arch, actually. It almost took my mind off the swarms of people around me, kicking and splashing against me, and the masses of jellyfish floating past and occasionally delivering a zing or just being a weird mass of goo.
First time getting help from a wetsuit stripper. Should've practiced.
#6 SURPRISE COURSE MARSHAL My friend John Hogan, who traveled to the race from CT to drive me around, cheer for me, and haul my stuff everywhere, had signed up to volunteer on race morning, but I didn't know where he was stationed. I exited the water, put on my bike gear, and headed out on the course in the beautiful morning air. To my surprise, at the very first controlled intersection outside the town, there was John, waving us to turn right, while a sheriff's deputy held off the traffic. So fun! He took a photo of me riding toward him and there is a strange effect because of the motion blur (I was going SO fast, lol!) and it looks like I'm wearing a white jacket when really I'm wearing a sleeveless top. Anyway, cool pic made possible by generous volunteering. You can see all of the dudes behind me, because I finally got strong enough on the bike to pass people.
#7 A TRAVELER IN MY HELMET The bike course was a flat route through a beautiful wildlife refuge. The only thing about flat routes near large bodies of water is that they get windier as the day heats up. So the first 60% was alright, but just as we were all getting a bit worn out from being in the saddle so long, the wind really picked up. At Mile 80 of the 112-mile bike course, a bug flew into my helmet. It was not just any bug, but a fairly large locust that survived the impact and lodged in the ventilation opening near the back of my head. I'm not sure which of us was more unhappy about the situation. Every minute or so, he would get upset and buzz his wings and make an unhappy noise. I would reassure him that I would release him next time I stopped, but I was not making a special stop. At the Mile 90 aid station, I stopped for a restroom break and to refill my drink, and a volunteer helped me set my locust friend free.
It was somewhere in the middle of the bike course that I made an unusual promise to myself. My mind promised my body that we would take care of whatever my body needed. We would not try to trick or manipulate the body, like putting off getting more water when we needed it. We would work hard, for sure, but we would not be mean to the body carrying us through all of this. It was a good promise that served me well as the hours wore on.
This was rough. Also couldn't find my bib number for the run, which I needed before they would let me out of transition. I finally located it, but not before taking EVERYTHING out of my bag.
#8 "SALT GUY" I was less than three miles into the run when I realized my right arm was gliding happily past my torso about 85 times a minute, but my left arm was catching against the seam on my sleeveless shirt and rubbing my skin about 85 times a minute. It was OK now, but it was sure not to be OK in five hours. I started asking the people around me if anyone had Vaseline or BodyGlide. I struck out with a lot of people until one tall guy said he was sure he had some, and started rummaging in the pocket on the back of his shirt. He didn't find it, but handed me some sunscreen. I said that couldn't hurt, and put some on the irritated skin under my arm. It helped a little, but not a lot, so I continued looking for some kind of lubricant. I came up behind a guy with big shoulders who didn't sound good. I asked if he was OK, and I offered him a salt/electrolyte tablet. He said he ran out on the bike and really needed some, but not to give me anything I would need later. I said I didn't really need them at all today, but someone in my 2021 Ironman saved me with a salt tablet so I was carrying them mostly to give away. He was grateful and ran next to me for a bit. I said, "Hey, you don't have any BodyGlide, do you?"
He said, "Man, I WISH! I USED to have some! I had one of those cool little sticks they make just for running with, but I set it on the shelf in the porta potty and it slid off into the toilet! I really need it - I use it on my feet, so I was going to go after it, but then it started to sink."
I said, "Oh man. That is the most tragic thing I've heard today! I'm so sorry."
We plodded along in silence for bit.
Then I met a guy named Emelio from Chile, and we ran together for a while and I lost track of Salt Guy.
An hour later, I was on the western end of one of the six trips I had to make out and back along the same route. I saw Salt Guy ahead of me by about 100 yards, and Emelio, too. I came into the next aid station and slowed down for a cup of water. A tall guy was there, standing still, and seemed to be waiting for me. He said, "Hey, I found that BodyGlide I was looking for. It's here in the pocket of my bag." We fished it out together. He told me just to keep it, because he was almost finished with the run. I was surprised he recognized me and spent the time to give me the lubricant. I swiped some on my arm, which immediately felt better. Then I realized I had a very fun mission to accomplish. I had stopped completely to get the BodyGlide from the tall guy, so I estimated Salt Guy was 150 yards in front of me now. I had a slight downhill ahead, and I set out to track him down. I ran down the cobblestone street, and rounded the corner onto the asphalt. I spotted him up ahead. When I was five feet behind him, I said, "Hey man, I scored some BodyGlide." I saw his head turn left, and then back to the front. All business. He was sure that whoever that was, they weren't talking to him.
I came up quickly along his left side and silently held the precious stick of lubricant in front of his chest.
Salt Guy's eyes nearly popped out of his head.
"YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING!! ARE YOU KIDDING? FOR ME? FOR REAL?! Where did you get this?"
I grinned and passed him, high on the feeling of creating a miracle.
#9 THE LETTERS, PART TWO The sun was setting behind the houses and the broad Choptank River was growing dimmer. I decided this would be the lap when I stopped for my headlamp and my notes to read. I called out my race number to the group of young volunteers pulling the supply bags for us. "#1059 Please! #1059." To my utter astonishment, the girl who had taken my bag from me that morning (and filed it in its proper place before the sun was up) was the same girl handing me my bag at sunset. I can't imagine the dedication. On top of it, the whole group of them lined up and did cheers and dances they had written for Ironman. Total, beautiful insanity.
#10 THE FINISH I had casually told people I hoped to finish "around 9pm" not even knowing exactly when I would get into the water at the start of the day. My super fancy Garmin watch ran out of battery at Mile 11 of the run, so I was having a hard time figuring out if I could make it in by 9pm. When I reached Mile 21, I asked a group of strangers for the time of day. They said it was not yet 8pm. I was speed walking with a guy named Joe. I was on my last lap, and he had one more to go after me, so he was doing a different mathematical calculation: whether he could finish before the midnight cutoff time if he kept walking. We talked about our kids and our training and what brought us to this moment. Then, as these things go, he stopped to use the restroom and I picked the pace up to a run and didn't see him again. At Mile 23, I passed the marker on the ground and asked someone the time. They said it was 8:20. I thought, OK, I have 3.2 more miles, and 40 minutes. I can make it if I push. I was planning to walk up the cobblestone hill, because the road is uneven and I don't want to fall. I could still walk up that section if I ran the rest of it. I ran pretty steadily, with a few walk breaks, until Mile 24. Someone at the Mile 24 marker said it was 8:32pm. OK. I had 2.2 miles and 28 minutes. Easy. I can still walk the cobblestone hill. But then a minute later, my body demanded I walk right NOW. And I had made a promise much earlier in the day to give my body what it needed. So we walked. Quickly, but we walked. After a couple of minutes, I felt alright again and brought my pace back up to a run. 9pm was pulling me home. I felt faster. I made the turn up the hill on the cobblestones, not knowing the time but knowing it would be very close, and I decided to run the cobblestone section for the first time, although this was my fourth time traversing it. At the top of the hill I skipped the aid station, ran across the final check-in mat for the timing chip (to alert our fans we were about to finish) and came back down the cobblestone hill.
The runners in front of me had already crossed the line, and the finish chute was wide open. Hundreds of spectators were lining the outside of the chute, ringing cowbells and banging on the plastic barricades. It was amazing because for that 20 seconds, they were all cheering for me! I ran through and heard the announcer say, "Alice Foeller, you are an Ironman." It was 8:58pm and 59 seconds.
EPILOGUE: I really did my best and felt great about a 14 hour, 7 minute finish. I was not in the top half of my age/gender, but about the 40th percentile overall. I spent about an hour lying in the grass outside the finish line, with John patiently chatting with me, covering me with a blanket, and waiting while I pulled myself together enough to sit in a camp chair. After 20 minutes of sitting in a chair, I worked up the courage to start the walk to the shuttle bus. John went back later for my bike and gear bags.
It was an epic weekend in an amazing town I likely would never have visited. The volunteers were amazing, the locals were amazing, the course was beautiful, and the jellyfish were ... well, honestly I'd prefer my open water swim with no jellyfish.
I'm feeling fine today, and back at my usual pursuits.
Great course, amazing volunteers, supportive locals. Would definitely do it again. Thank you Cambridge!
Last updated: 2023-01-16 12:00 AM
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The nice thing about doing more than one Ironman triathlon is that it's no longer that interesting that I swam, biked and ran really far, so I can focus on the really cool stories that happened during the day.
I'd love to share some.
#1 THE OPPORTUNITY I'm very thankful to my friend Mark for registering for this race. Even though he couldn't participate, he persuaded me to do it. I spent time in Maryland for the first time ever and had the privilege of racing in the amazing town of Cambridge!
#2 EARLY KARMA AND NERVES On race morning, I took my own jug of fresh water to mix my energy drink and put three bottles of it on my bike. Next on my list was to put my phone in with my bike stuff so I would have it in case of emergency on the bike. I had half a jug of water remaining and I heard another triathlete say, "Does anyone know where the water bottle fill station is?" It was a very large transition area and the bottle fill station was probably not nearby, so I calmly walked up and handed him my jug to use instead. He was very happy. Two minutes later I needed some light to see in the pre-dawn darkness and my phone wasn't in my pocket anymore. Race jitters set in. I retraced my steps. I called out, "Water jug guy, I think I dropped my phone when I handed you the water!" Right away, three triathletes turned on their lights and started helping me look, and Water Jug Guy offered to let me log into Find My iPhone on his phone. Just for kicks, I looked in the bag I was carrying and saw that I had already tucked my phone into its carrying case/belt next to my bike helmet. Crisis averted.
#3 PEOPLE POWER My water-sharing karma returned to me so quickly, I had to help someone else right away. I walked to the bike bag area. This is a grassy spot where more than 1,000 plastic bags were lined up in number order, so I could come out of the swim, grab my bag quickly, and run into the changing tent with all of my bike stuff. I was heading to my bag, which I had been required to place in its spot the day before, when I saw someone in real distress. His bag was not where it was supposed to be. He was looking in nearby sections to no avail. A volunteer from Ironman was there, but he was perplexed. "That's a real bad problem, dude, I know, but I don't know what to tell you," I heard the volunteer say. Of course this guy would not be able to participate without his bike helmet and shoes, so he was facing the end of his day before it even started. I asked him his number and started looking for his bag, but I felt a bit like Horton in Horton Hears a Who. After a minute, I stood up and in my loudest voice announced, "Hey everyone, we're looking for Bag #1020. It's not where it's supposed to be." A dozen athletes promptly stopped what they were doing and started looking. The bag was found within three minutes and we all went back to our business.
#4 PART ONE OF MY RUNNING LETTERS Another race morning task is to drop off any supplies I might need during the bike and the run. There is a special plastic bag for each, and I would be able to access each just one time. If I didn't retrieve the bag or didn't take the contents with me, it would be thrown away. For the bike, I had a few simple supplies that were OK if they went in the trash. I have never stopped for the bike supplies bag before. I put in some additional drink mix, and some first aid supplies for any lingering jellyfish sting problems. My run bag contained a nice headlamp for running after dark, as well as a ziplok containing tightly folded letters from loved ones. These were a little incentive to keep going, since not making it to my bag meant the notes would be tossed and I would never know what they said.
This was precious cargo.
I hustled over to the drop-off for the run supplies bag with my carefully labeled bag. An extremely young volunteer (I thought she looked about 10, but later learned she was in middle school) took my bag to file it by number under the bright lights. I admit, I was worried. I thanked her and then walked slowly away so I could make sure she put it in the right group for number 1050 to 1100. She did.