I laughed the other night at a Louis C.K. quip that the hardest part about having kids is… every day of having them and it seems to apply pretty well to Ironman too. The hardest part about Ironman training is every day of Ironman training. Not the race day; not any one particular workout; but having to be consistent every freaking day for many freaking months.
So the race was actually a welcome step outside of that routine and in the days leading up I was busy, but surprisingly calm (ahhhh, ignorance!).
Pre-race, I woke well before the alarm and was at the swim start by 5:30. I picked the body-marking volunteer with the neatest handwriting, just to have her mess up and send me off with a 2-8-giant-blob-of-Sharpie-with-an-X through-it-next-to-an-illegible-3 on my arm. Dammit, woman!
I kid - the thousands (!) of volunteers were amazing and continue to inspire me as I think back on the event. Triathletes are such a selfish people, while the volunteers cancel that out and then some.
So, headed for the swim - I walked nearly a mile to the end of the single-file line and then plopped myself on the sidewalk to chill until it started moving. Once it did, the water pulled us in like a vacuum sucking up one Skittle at a time - beep-splash-beep-splash-beep-splash - over the timing mat and off the dock 3000 times. I was in the water about 35 minutes after the start, happy to be spread out, never even remotely thinking that having less time to complete the race by midnight would be an issue (foreshadowing alert).
Swimming itself went about as I’d hoped - nice and calm. I have one speed in the water right now no matter how much effort I put out, so might as well go with easy! The route was great, and while it felt like that first damn bridge was moving away from me for 30 minutes, I finally caught it and then made it out of the water feeling pretty untaxed.
Onto the bike… I spotted Sam & the kids looking like they’d given up on finding me, No! I’m not that slow, I just started 35 minutes later than you think!
We had driven most of the course on Friday, and I knew the first 10 miles were deceptively easy. Next came the out-&-back on a rolling narrow road that had made me the most nervous, but that went by without incident (for me). On the loops, I saw the family several more times - Sam must have been driving around like crazy following that little GPS triangle - managed to avoid the tacks that a disgruntled local had thrown out on the road, and focused on taking in calories/hydration and keeping my effort consistently conservative.
Hopping the ledge into transition and successfully dismounting while worn out from 112 miles were perhaps the hardest parts of the ride for me - small victories! I handed the bike off to a volunteer with zero regard for whether I’d ever see it again, and got ready to run. Transition felt like the blink of an eye, but really it was more like 8 minutes - where does all that time go?
Yes! I was finally running! I felt miserable, but ecstatic. In my mind, there were so many things out of my control on the swim and particularly the bike, but the run… if I can just get out there on my own two feet, I can manage anything. Sure, my pace was extra slow - 10:45+ per mile - but, eh, slow and steady.
Nutrition-wise, my run plan had been to switch to water and at least one GU per hour. I got down 2 GUs, but the pineapple vurps were getting alarmingly “productive” so I started aid station shopping. Pretzels and flat Coke became my go-to calorie source, with water from my handheld bottle between stops.
By mile 8, I was desperate for the first turn around, discouraged that that difficult first length of the double out-&-back would have to be done THREE more times. And then the dizziness hit.
It wasn’t anything dramatic, but I couldn’t keep my balance running or stand still without getting the spins, yet I could walk, so walk I did. The RFP (Relentless Forward Progress) mantra written on my hand came in very useful here. And I would have given anything for a calculator to help with the math on how long I had to finish. Was it even possible at this pace? A guy next to me came up with 15 minutes per mile needed to finish by midnight (in hindsight, I have NO idea where we got that number). But I wasn’t even going 15 min/mile. I couldn’t walk faster than 17.
I walked all the way back to the 2nd turn-around by the finish (so fucking cruel) and was at my low point before I saw Sam and the kids. For miles leading up to that I’d been thinking: Don’t quit here, just get to the turn around. I can’t walk fast enough to finish, but if I make it back to town, at least I don’t have to ride in the Van of Disappointment again. And I was still saying those things out loud to Sam, but I walked on thinking: There is no way I dragged them here to see me quit. I’m walking until they close the course and that van is going to have to scoop me up off the road. It was indeed a turning point.
I heard a chipper woman coaching a barfer (no shortage of them out there) on how to walk through nausea - look where you want to go, swing your arms, widen your stance for better balance - and it was just what I needed to hear - a plan! I hustled my walk pace down to 16 minutes per mile, and it started to look like I could make the midnight cut-off. Every once in awhile I’d run a few steps, but now I had nausea and dizziness and… well, the rest is probably TMI.
Around this time I made a buddy - Super-Janet from Ontario. We chatted, cheered on other walkers, and helped each other get running for the last few miles. Sam and a stroller full of two very sleepy kids found me a mile or two from the finish and followed along the course.
I let Janet go ahead and had to slow back down to walk, but I started to accept that I really would make it on time. I felt a huge sense of relief as I walked next to my little family and saw the fleet of course-closing vans head out on the course the other direction, miles behind me.
And I didn’t cry at all at the finish - just smiled… a lot :)
Final time: 16:01.