It's so interesting to me how running is the sport I have been doing the longest and yet it is where I feel I am so weak. I picked up swimming about 2.5 years ago and cycling the summer before last, but running I've been doing since I was a squat college sophomore. Not a lot of it and certainly not even close to fast, but it's been a constant, the impetus behind so many decisions in my life. And probably the most interesting thing about training for ironman (that may surprise you) is the fact that I have never run a marathon before. I've heard it's actually kind of far. My longest run before race day ended up being three hours and that was that. And I feel, in this situation, the ignorance of never having run the distance - not even one time! - was total bliss.
I headed out of transition and as I jogged out onto the street, the pair of feet I tried to hang onto in Knoxville was coming around for her second loop (hi Katy! I'm not your stalker, I promise!). I figured I had probably either just missed Sonja or she would sneak up behind me before too long, and that made me happy. I had absolutely no idea where we were on the big overall race clock of the day, but the sun was shining and I was off the bike and barring a natural disaster, I had more than enough time to make my way to the finish line.
I had a very loose race plan for the run, but one goal was to see if I could run the whole thing, even if all I was doing was making running motions with my body at a 13 minute/mile pace. I had a heart rate plan, but just as I do in all my long runs, as I started running, I started making mini-plans. There was a heart rate cap that was marked DO NOT EXCEED in my brain for the first mile, and I decided I'd extend that cap to four miles. I also decided to skip the first aid station and to walk briefly at the second to gulp water with my nutrition, then repeat. The first mile felt breezy, and I was warned it would. Most people told me that the second mile would feel less good and by the third mile I'd be pretty cranky. So I was pretty surprised to chug past this mark and still feel sort of okay. Not great, but not in any kind of deep black hole, just tired.
I saw Emily at some point near the beginning of this loop and was surprised when she whooped and hollered because she warned me that she would probably be serious-face-digging-deep-Emily and not to be sad if she didn't wave when we saw each other. But instead she yelled, "PONYYYY!!!!" at the top of her lungs as she flew in the other direction. I was thrilled to see her having a good day. Sonja also seemed happy when she tapped my ass on the way by somewhere in the first loop, and I spent a few miles being glad that the unofficial pony race plan of the day appeared to be straight up JOY.
There's a hill that everyone talks about on the way out, and the first loop, I trotted right up it and down the other side. When I looped around the cones to head back into town, I felt solid. I wasn't moving fast and I knew my aid station walk breaks were dragging me down a bit, but my stomach felt good, my legs weren't dead yet, and my brain was just off somewhere in dreamland not bothering anyone. I ran back up the little hill, heading back in, and told myself that when I saw my family back in town, I could stop and hug them. That got me up, over, and jogging down the other side.
Split 1: 6.6 miles, 1:15:44
Running back down the little hill was actually worse, because there was a strong slant to the road and after about a half-mile, my right ankle started complaining because of the deep pronating it was doing to keep me upright. I kept right on going, through, and it was only a few minutes later when Nicole caught up with me from behind. It was nice to have someone to run with for a while, especially as she was moving at a pace that was faster than what I was doing but not unmanageable. We chatted for several miles about our day and our friends, and as we came back into town I warned her that I was going to stop at mile 12 and see my family. I really do wish we could have run together longer, but I also had promised my just-now-starting-to-complain legs the break.
My family was actually much closer to the mile 13 mark than the 12, and I was happy to see them, but once I stopped, it was hard to get moving again. I gave a round of hugs, redid my hair, moved around my nutrition, and retied my shoes. I told them that I was moving slow but doing all right, then finally headed into town. I skipped my special needs bag because the only thing in there was an EFS flask with a scoop of PreRace, and I decided I didn't need it because I was getting enough from my gels and the course. I looped through the turn-around, back through town again, and slowly made my way past my family, telling them cheerfully and only a little sarcastically, "See you in about three hours!"
Split 2: 6.8 miles, 1:21:34
However, I had skipped the aid station at mile 12, and it was a long loop through town and back with no aid. By the time I got back to that stop, my stomach was growling. I pulled up next to a volunteer holding a silver tray full of potato chips and proceeded to eat and eat and eat until I felt full again.
By this time, for whatever reason, my feet hurt quite a bit. I knew something was going to start complaining on race day and it didn't really upset me, but I was surprised how much they flat-out hurt. It felt like someone had filled my socks with broken bricks and glass. I kept moving forward, a little running then a little walking, but the miles from 14-19 were tough and long. I tried a lot of mental tricks to get myself moving again. I thought of Sonja telling me that when you see people walking, they were making a choice, and I didn't like that I was making that choice but it wasn't enough to get me running again. I promised myself that I could have cookies, oreos, beer, ice cream, ice shoes, all kinds of stuff, I tried to think of all the things I would want and promise them 50 times over, but I still spent most of those 5-6 miles walking. I thought of my first two splits that were blasted out to everyone, and how sad they would be when they saw that I was very obviously spending a lot of time walking and not moving forward in a running motion. And when I reached that long slow uphill the second time around, I walked every step.
But when I got to the top I told myself that I would run down the hill to the turn-around, and that I could walk again after that. The first ten steps of running were unbearable, but then the pain receded a bit and I realized that walking was really just as excruciating as running. And as I got to the split mat, in one of the best decisions I made all day, I finally flipped my Garmin over to total race time.
Split 3: 6.1 miles, 1:38:42
As I plodded back up the hill, I started doing math. For some reason I thought the split mat only left a 10K to go (it was actually 6.7 miles but I'm psyched now that I didn't know). I had a little over 1:20 left in race time before the clock rolled over to 14 hours. Walking up that little hill, I made my first time-related goal in months. I wanted to get in under 14 hours. I have no idea why I suddenly decided that time mattered, but it got me moving again.
So at the top of the hill, I started jogging down the back side. Every step was painful, every time I landed it felt like fire and ice and nails being stabbed into my feet, and then my knees and my hamstrings and my external hip rotators. And everywhere I looked, every single person around me was walking, had been walking for hours. When I got to the aid station, I stopped and did the same water-perform-coke-water-ice-coke-water I had been doing all day. I walked the length of the aid station and it ended and I couldn't convince my brain to start running again until at least another minute had ticked by. I'm sure I groaned audibly when I started running, but once I got going again, I decided I wasn't going to stop running until I got over the finish line. I pulled my visor down as far as it would go, until I could see nothing but darkness and a tiny strip of the path, and I ran. I ran past all the incredibly fit men walking and talking about how they went sub-10 at IMC last year, I ran past the little family on their lawn chairs, I ran through aid stations and off the path and under the trees and back through the neighborhoods towards the finish line. I'm sure I was hauling ass at the blistering pace of 10:40 minute/miles but I was moving. I had just crossed over the "23" taped on the ground when, through my haze, I heard someone ask the time and clearly heard the response. 8:30pm on the dot. I knew I had 3.2 miles to go and 30 minutes to do it.
When I came back into the neighborhoods that make up the last mile or two of the course, it was very quiet. The athletes still on the course were mostly inside their own heads or chatting quietly with friends they had made, but all I could hear was the sound of my shoes brushing the ground. The sun was starting to go down and it was cooling off a bit, but I honestly don't remember anything about these last few miles. I just kept staring at the darkness inside my visor and moving forward.
I made one of the last turns before the turn onto the main street, and Amy was there. She rattled off some crap about me beating her to the finish line in her chipper-and-taking-no-bullshit voice that I am used to from times when she has paced me on runs and races. I'm sure I told her to fuck right off if I said anything even remotely understandable, and she took off towards the finish line as I ran up the little hill and turned left onto the main street.
The first thing I noticed, which everyone had warned me about, is that the finish line was still really far away. Like several
Spectators were cheering a little, not loudly, but cheering, so I lifted up my visor and started waving. Then I started making the raise-the-roof motion with my hands to get people to cheer louder. I heard Sonja yelling at the top of her lungs somewhere on the left and tried to run a little faster, and I saw the poet and tried to wave. When the clock was finally visible it said 13:58:58 on it. I knew it was going to be close and I felt kind of bad for passing someone so close to the finish but I gritted my teeth and hauled ass for the line. I kept my eye on the clock and saw every second go by, and the last number I saw before I went under it was 13:59:56. I heard the beep of the timing chip and threw my arms up in the air.
Split 4: 6.7 miles, 1:22:4326.2 miles, 5:38
140.6 miles, 13:59:59
I have no idea what I'm doing here. I think bringing my "just won the race" arms back to their normal position. (Dear FinisherPix, I will replace this photo with the one I bought if it ever shows up in my inbox to download, pinky promise).
As soon as I crossed the line, I had a volunteer grab me. I asked her over and over if I had made it under 14, and she said absolutely (I think she was just agreeing with me so I would shut up).
She gave me a finishers cap, which I swapped out my sexy visor for immediately, and before I even got a medal, I heard my family yelling for me at the fence.
I couldn't believe it was over.
We hugged over the fence for a few minutes, and then I started trying to figure out how to escape from the finish line maze. I picked up some chocolate milk and a slice of pizza from somewhere, and we ended up in a pile on the sidewalk. Sonja turned up a few minutes later, and I was so happy to see her. The first words out of my mouth were (and I still laugh when I remember this), "WHY IS IT SO FAR?!"
She just laughed at me and said, "I know, it's real far."
And that was my day. I am completely happy with how it played out, but I think it's safe to say that I'm also completely happy about how this whole event played out from way back last July when I signed up until now. I feel confident that I did things the right way and in the end, had exactly the race day I wanted. I hate to launch into the Oscar-acceptance-style speech of thank you's at the end of what is already an excessively long blog post, but I feel like I need to just drop a few.
I have to thank Mac at Quintana Roo for getting me hooked up with such a sweet ride last fall. I never thought I could love a bike more than my road bike, but it's taken over. Since CdA, I've been on my bike 4-5 times and only once have I ridden my roadie, and that is probably the biggest compliment I could give to QR. Scott Geffre and everyone at Kompetitive Edge who helped me get all the fiddly bits squared away on my bike this spring - you guys are amazing, and I'm so sad you aren't around the corner from here so I can drop in all the time. SOAS, your kits are amazing and comfortable and there is nothing I would rather have between me and my bike seat.
When I was younger, I didn't have a lot of female friends, but as I've arrived at the grand old age of 31, that has changed. I have a lot of amazing girlfriends who put up with my cranky pants all spring - both on and off the bike - and I love all of you. I'm beyond thrilled that my parents decided to come out and support me through this whole event. I know that it was an extremely long day for them but it was so incredible to see their smiling faces all over the race course and it meant so much to me that they made the trip. I'm so lucky and grateful to have crossed paths with Sonja, who has been an unrelenting force of good crushing evil in my life, despite the fact that I send her 8-page emails with no punctuation or capital letters on a daily basis.
And I have all the wonderful things you could ever want in a husband, who puts up with all my crap (and there is a lot of it) and it still my number one fan.
He is the one who taught me that the theme of your life should be: you have no idea what you can do.