It’s here. Race day.
4AM: Time for breakfast and a quick dance party (thanks, Maroon 5) before getting dropped off at transition. We whipped through the race day to-dos (pump up tires, load nutrition on bike, drop off gear bag nutrition) and had an hour and a half to try to stay warm in the 45 degree, wind-riddled weather. Despite all my layers, the wind was getting to me so I squeezed into my wetsuit extra early for that added insulation; I was determined not to be cold before the race even started. As I shivered (from nerves and cold) the wind picked it up a couple notches and forced the race directors to announce a shortened swim with a delayed start time. This bummed me out. If it wasn’t 140.6, what was it?! We wound up swimming around 3,000 yards and started 30+ minutes late, but for someone who had been struggling to keep their head in the game for awhile this was a tough blow.
Finally. This happened quickly after waiting around for two hours and suddenly I was in the water, doing an Ironman. No biggie. This swim was a bizarre experience for me; I was disengaged, cruising along, taking in the scenery. I noted that the paddle boarders silhouetted against the sky looked really beautiful. I took a solid kick to the face and calmly adjusted my goggles, laughing at what was probably payback for something I had dished out in a previous swim. The second loop was more crowded, but I chugged along thinking that I should be swimming harder, but then the swim was over and I was out of the water. 48 minutes and change. I didn’t know how far we’d swam so had no idea what that number meant. Story of the day for me. Jon was out of the water six seconds ahead of me so we got to get our wetsuits stripped together (how romantic!) and my spirits were boosted from seeing my better half.
Given the chilly temps, a full change of attire was in order. I parked myself in front of the heater (yes, there was a heater in the changing tent) and like I’d just stepped out of the shower, wrapped my hair up in a turban style towel in hopes that it would dry just a tiny bit more. I layered up, grabbed my bike and started the long run to the bike mount line. T1: 8:33.
Ugh. Aside from a super short pre-race brick, I hadn’t been on my tri bike for over a week and it showed. I felt unstable and terrified for the first hour (concussions will do that to a person), but kept telling myself that I would eventually settle in. I sort of did, but then the wind upped its game and the battle began. Headwinds, crosswinds, you name it. We were lucky enough to have some semblance of a tailwind for roughly 20 of the 112 miles, but other than that it was a knock down, drag out fight. There were times near the end of the bike that I wondered if I’d be better off getting off and walking my bike for both safety and ease of forward progress. It was a miserable ride, and I was physically and mentally exhausted. My brain was working hard to convince me there was no shame in quitting and I was so discouraged that I couldn’t help but agree with it.
As I neared the end of the 112 miles, my bike split was right around 6:17, but I assumed that I needed to add at least 30 minutes to that time since I’d gotten off the bike five or six times during the ride and accidentally left the autopause feature on my watch on. With the delayed swim start, the time of day wasn’t helping me figure out where I stood either so I assumed that I sucked and dejectedly pedaled my way back through town. I felt like crap when I got off my bike and was in no hurry to see what the rest of the day held. I leaned my bike up against the transition fence, took my shoes off and started the long walk to rack my bike. Actual bike split: 6:24:51 (I still don’t know how five+ times off the bike equates to less than eight minutes. I must pee fast.)
I overrode my brain’s plea to give up, headed the changing tent and decided I would take things from there. I plopped down in a chair and asked the nice volunteer “if we still had until midnight to finish”. She explained to me slowly that “yes, we did, and probably past midnight” since the swim had started late. I couldn’t wrap my head around that one. I could only grasp that because the swim was shorter we should get less time for the race. I dunno. I did have the lucidity to realize that I had nine hours to complete a marathon and I’d never forgive myself if I gave up because “I didn’t feel like it”. I went to take my bike shoes off and noticed the prominent m-dot and crab tattoo on my ankle. Looking at my tattoo sealed the deal – I would have to complete the marathon because that tattoo would certainly not represent one finish and one DNF for the rest of my life. (#ironmanlogic) I grabbed a throw away shirt that I had thrown in my T2 bag for extra warmth (thank goodness!) and headed out for the second marathon of my life. T2: 9:26
As I exited the changing tent I tested my legs out with a light jog – might as well get this over as quickly as possible. My legs felt fine… practically good! Where is this coming from?! The announcer noticed me coming out of T2 and enthusiastically cheered me on over the loud-speaker; I threw my hands over my head and let the energy of the run course start taking me on my 26.2 mile journey. The announcer lifted my spirits, but I was still bummed and thrown off by the short swim and what had felt like a terrible bike ride. I ho-hummed along thinking I might as well not kill myself out there since I couldn’t PR (#ironmanlogic) again). I got to the Team Z tent and my mood was lifted even more. Being on Team Z is liking having your own personal fan club. I was handed off from one friend to the next offering encouragement (“You killed it on the bike!”) and logic (“Why aren’t you running? You seem fine.”).
Since the day wasn’t panning out the way I had hoped, I adjusted my plan to salvage my race by embracing the run and having fun out there. Cue running into Sherri out on the course. We ran the next 10-15 miles together chatting, enjoying the scenery, having snacks and drinks from the aid stations, and embracing the energy out on the course. We marveled at the changing sunset colors – who does that at mile 125 of the day?! I was so distracted by our conversation and Sherri’s positive energy that the miles flew by and before I knew it we were at mile 20. What you got legs?? I gave the last six miles what I had left, but also took time to enjoy the chicken broth and take in the candle-lined streets. With two miles to go I fell in on a group that was running well; we formed two, orderly lines, chatting and killing it* on our way to the finish line. [*Killing it is a relative term at this point in an Ironman.] Then I was high-fiving the BASE salt lobster for the last time (awesome energy, that man) and passing the raucous Team Z tent on my way to the home stretch.
On the dark streets before sprinting through downtown Cambridge, I started to cry. That bike ride crushed my soul, but I persevered. I won, wind! I hate your guts, but I won. And that concussion? SCREW YOU. I beat you too. That is what this is about for me – fighting and conquering, and ending up on top of the world with an indescribable feeling of accomplishment and joy.
I ran through downtown high-fiving every outstretched hand and smiling until my cheeks hurt. It was magical and gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. I savored my final steps and wanted those last few minutes to last forever. Run: 5:16:13
I charged towards the finish, but not without stopping to hug my amazing husband. Then I was there, at the finish, cameras flashing, lights shining. I jumped. I punched the air. There wasn’t enough spastic movement my body to capture how powerful, proud and happy I felt in that moment. I had done what I didn’t think I could on that day, and what I didn’t think I would be able to do three months before following my accident. I laughed and cried and hyperventilated. I couldn’t believe that I made it. I clutched my space blanket tightly around my shoulders and made my way over to Jon who was giddy with excitement at my time. I had shattered my time from last year on a day with some pretty rough conditions.
My official time for the day was 12:47:41. Because of the shortened swim, I’m saying that I could have easily continued on at my 1:33 pace for the remaining 800 yards which would have added 12 minutes-ish to my time, leaving me with a slightly sub-13 hour Ironman time. WHAT??!?!?!
There are many lessons to be learned from this one, namely trust and confidence in myself, but that’s a post for another day. Right now, we’ve got to work on deciding what Ironman I’m racing in Europe next year. 🙂