Luke, Wes, and I headed into the Ironman expo
There's nothing that compares to Ironman, not a thing that would remotely do justice to the energy and excitement, nerves and anxiety, and constant pulse of expectation that hums, all week long, leading up to race day. It's like no matter what you're doing or who you're with there is that constant sound, beat, and rhythm just barely under the surface of everything you do. 2,800 athletes from all over the world, hundreds of volunteers, and hundreds of spectators come to Tempe with amazing positive energy that radiates through the city and is so tangible that it almost leaves a shine on everyone's skin.
One of my favorite parts of Ironman is the athlete's village. Vendors line the sidewalks, athletes in their compression clothing walk amongst the booths buying a last minute pair of goggles, or trying out the latest Shiv, talking tri-talk, walking tri-walk, and of course heading through the Ironman store where one can purchase anything from an Ironman necklace to Ironman flip flops. IMAZ's athlete village was outdoor and it was heaven! With the sun shining, free massage, and two days till the big dance...life was perfect!
Wes and I met up with some friends and registered. When I got my packet with my bib # I think my heart literally stopped for a beat. 312. What a perfect number!
I loved taking my packet back to the hotel and relishing the organization and planning that goes into the race bags. Ironman is a tactical race! You have to prepare for every eventuality, every what-if. No one is permitted to help you during the race, it's up to you. So each bag needs to have what you need, and you need to be prepared to make it to your bag pick up, during the race, so as I filled my bags I also went over all I needed on the bike. Tubes, fuel, CO2, Gu's etc...It is a ritual for me, a sacred time. It is a time I like to have to myself where I visualize the race, go through different situations, and check to make sure I have what I need. I do it once, twice, change things around, and then do it again. It has to be right, it must be perfect, because the next morning you check it all in! The day before the race you check in your bike, your run gear bag, your bike gear bag, and you leave it there. So organization is a must and planning is required. I love it all. I love the mental preparation an athlete has to hone, down to the very last detail.
At the hotel we met athletes from all over the world including Australia and Nicaragua. Felicity (Aus.) was our neighbor on the third floor. She was so nice and come to find out, a pro. I wonder if she has a sacred routine before each Ironman.
The night before the race I felt great. I actually slept...for 3 hours. And that was just fine with me because I was ready to go. Despite being forced into a long taper (6 weeks)due to strep throat, I knew I had trained well. I had worked smart, hard, and I feel like I balanced life great this time around. I was in the best shape ever! Matt, Neil, and Jen had all flown in. The Ultra chicks were all there! Kenz, Kate, Jenny, Wendy, Julie, Amy, and Candice. I was overwhelmed with so much support and surrounded by some of my very dearest friends. And the rain that was forecasted had disappeared. Race day conditions were going to be perfect! Oh...all the stars were lined up. This was going to be IT! The greatest race!
Matt, Neil, Amy and I the day before
Race morning we arrived at 5 am to the transition area. As the music played and everyone started to file in, we pumped our tires, got our body markings, talked with friends and tried to time the visit to the honey bucket juuuuuust right. With 40 minutes to start we put our wet suits on and gave our clothing bags to Matt. All the athletes, in neoprene and green and pink swim caps, started lining up. 2,800 athletes, shoulder to shoulder were given permission to jump in a lake, so we did!!! 61 degrees is cold enough to make it so you have a hard time enunciating your words, gives you a brain freeze. But I loved it. I felt so confident and ready. It was a trip to see so many athletes treading water and gathering...more and more...closer and closer together. We watched the pros line up and start. Then we gathered to the start line. I think we tread water for 20 minutes and each minute brought us closer together, shoulder to shoulder, legs kicking, tread strokes getting shorter and shorter. Until finally...the cannon blew.
Immediately arms and legs starting knocking, 2,600 pairs of arms and legs. It was a suffer fest the entire swim. All of us right on top of each other, the whole time. It took all my self control to keep from panicking, especially when I started coughing. I had to consciously slow down my breathing and heart rate to prevent myself from screaming. I was a little scared, I have never been through a swim like this before. Constant fight, constant vying for space, hyper awareness of other feet and fists. There wasn't a second of clear water. Well...except for the turn around when all the swimmers came to a dead stop.
I looked up in confusion at the green and pink heads all holding still. Once I heard the screams I knew why. Someone was in trouble. We knew better than go try to grab the drowning swimmer, as he would use us as a safety floatation device. So we all yelled for a kayak and thank Heaven the volunteer was quick. Once the man had a hold of the swimmer, instantly it was back to mayhem and we all starting climbing over each other towards the last 1.2 miles of the swim.
The Friday night, a week before Ironman, I raced in the Utah Masters swim meet. I raced the mile and Pr'd with 25:30:38. Ironman morning and the 2.4 mile swim should've taken me an hour and ten minutes. But I climbed out of the water at an hour and 30 mintues. I was done. Hacking, beaten, confused, and emotionally wasted. I smiled when I saw all my friends and family, but headed into the changing tent shaking.
My transition time was 18 minutes. It could've been because I was freezing. It could've been because I couldn't stop coughing. No, it was because I sat there for 10 minutes debating about whether or not to continue. That swim really messed with my mind. But all I wanted, 20 minutes before that, was to be on my bike, so that's what got me out of that tent. Finally I won't have people grabbing at me.
Over the last 9 months I have really focused on my biking. Coming from a running background, cycling really was not a strength. But after a lot of work I felt like my bike was no longer a limiter. IMAZ's bike course is three loops and only 400 feet of elevation gain on the out going stretch. It is not a difficult course, except that it felt horrible! I couldn't figure out why I couldn't move. I struggled so much on the bike course I was actually, at several points, wondering why there weren't any, and I mean not ANY, rocks on the stupid road! Couldn't I just hit one?!
I was so upset and so confused as to why none of my training was kicking in. Why I could ride the course two days before, feeling great, maintaining 20 miles per hour during several short pushes, and then on race day be completely out of gas. My mind was a mess. I tried to stay focused by sticking to my fuel plan, but when things were coming back up I tried to just stay focused. Just when I was about to stop, literally looking for a good place to pull over, coming the other direction was a man who was obviously paralyzed from the waist down, using his arms to pedal a hand cycle.
I kept riding.
My T2 time was faster, by a lot. I was ready to get on my feet. Running has always been my strength, my comfort, I was hoping to make up buckets of lost time. Within minutes I knew something had to be wrong. I didn't have the shaky legs from biking, honestly my legs weren't tired. But immediately my heart rate jumped and I couldn't catch my breath. I thought maybe it was because I couldn't take in any fuel the last hour or so on the bike, so I committed to the 4:1 stand-by. Run 4 minutes, walk 1 minute. I was able to maintain a 10:00/mile pace for several miles like that but then things got fuzzy. The run course is three loops around Tempe Towne Lake. Each loop is just over 8 miles. By the second loop I was dizzy and coughing. After 13 miles I was dry heaving and couldn't eat or drink anything, it wouldn't stay down. It was dark, I knew my goal time of 12 hours had come and gone, it was cold, and I had a hard time remembering why I was even doing this.
There were some long, solitary hours where I would jog for a minute and then walk for four. I came around the last loop and saw the Ultra Chicks, Matt, Shawn, and Neil. Then Wes and Chip (who had already finished) and determined to put on a smile. I was grabbed and hugged, good-gamed, and high-fived. I was loved through the last loop of the run, those last eight miles were shaky, lonely, discouraging, painful, and confusing, but it was like I could still feel their arms around me.
Coming around for the last 2 miles I could see a woman out in front of me with an awkward gait. I caught up to her and realized why. She had only one leg. Her name was Karen and this was her 22nd Ironman, but her first with only one leg. I could tell she was in pain. We walked together through an aid station and I will always be grateful for her example and inspiration.
I would like to say I wasn't in my right mind, that I was out of my skull with the whole experience and can't remember the last loop of the run. Truth is I remember every mile. I think it was much worse to be totally aware of my inability to perform the way I trained and expected myself to. I was totally aware of the humiliation, the confusion was only that I knew what I was capable of and for some reason I couldn't live up to my expectations. For some reason I couldn't catch my breath, couldn't keep food down, and couldn't even walk fast with out black dots swimming in front of my eyes. When I saw Matt, I was less than 200 yards from the finish line. I lost it and started sobbing. "This was not how it was supposed to go." I cried for a minute, Matt cried for a minute, then he and I separated to make our way to the finish line.
Shawn met me with about 100 yards to go and I tried to run with him, but started to cough and dry heave again. Poor Shawn, he almost got thrown up on! I saw the Ultra Chicks and Chip and Wes before I saw the finish line. I didn't come to Ironman to walk across the finish line, so I ran. My finish time was .08 seconds slower than my St. George IM time. I couldn't hide my disappointment.
My brother surprised me at the finish line and I didn't want to let go of him. I am so grateful that everyone hung-out so long waiting for me. I am so blessed with such loving friends and family. They even waited outside the medical tent while I threw up and got an I.V.
The next several days were rough, I wasn't physically sore at all, but I couldn't make it up the stairs with out almost passing out and being completely out of breath. A chest x-ray showed water in both lungs, I had aspirated Tempe Towne Lake and now have pneumonia. Apart of me is relieved that there is a legitimate reason why this race was such a battle, I wasn't getting enough oxygen! But there is a bigger part of me that still feels cheated. I love Ironman, I love the challenges and the battles that are fought physically, mentally, and emotionally. I love the power that humans posses and the drive that ignites that power. I love that IMAZ 2012 sold out in 10 minutes, because there are a lot of peple that want to and NEED to do the hard stuff, the scary stuff. That is why I am going to do another one. And why I am definitely going to do Arizona again.
"Sometimes races aren't won with the body, sometimes they are won with the heart."