I read this quote on another blog a few days before the race. It's a favorite of mine right now, for obvious reasons. When I got hit, on the bike, all my initial thoughts were negative. You're such an idiot, who gets in a crash when you aren't even riding, you hate drama and now there's going to be drama. Maybe I just won't even tell anyone that I crashed, maybe I'll just call it an off day and never talk about what happened, maybe I can get through the run without anyone knowing or noticing. That's how I felt, what was going on mentally, for the rest of the bike. I felt like an idiot. I wanted a calm, no-drama day, and now no matter what happened, there was no chance of that race coming true.
I started to run. The up-and-down motion of running was jarring my upper arm flab, and that was pretty darn painful. Every step felt like my arm was being slammed downwards. I made it through the first mile, then the second, and somewhere after the second mile marker, a medic stepped out and grabbed me with a slightly alarmed look on his face. Running had caused all the carnage to start bleeding again, and I had bled through the tiny bandage and blood was dripping down my arm. I tried not to say anything while he rewrapped my elbow and lower arm and sent me on my way.
It was hot out, I remember that only vaguely, boiling hot, and I had filled up my belt bottles at the first aid station and was working through my fluids, but I felt detached from the race. Like it just didn't matter. I had made it almost to the turnaround when I finally gave up and walked over to a medical tent. I explained what had happened and that my arm was really painful, and was there anything they could do that would allow me to finish. They immobilized my arm to my body but wanted me to drop out. And I almost did. Sitting there, thinking about running ("running") 22 more miles, it was enough. Almost.
They let me go with the promise that I would only walk because the bleeding hadn't really stopped yet. So I walked. Up to the turn-around, over the mat, and back down the other side. I finally ran into the poet and Allison who were walking back from town to find me, and as we talked, I looked at my watch. It was 3:54pm, I remember that so clearly, and I said to them I have eight hours to run 21 miles. I can walk 21 miles in eight hours. The poet was upset that I wouldn't drop out, he left the decision up to me but I could tell that he also thought I was being an idiot. And as we stood there, it started to rain, and I couldn't decide what to do, so I said, Give me your phone, let me call Sonja.
And that led to more feeling like an idiot thoughts, because who calls their coach in the middle of a race from another country? But the poet turned on his phone and I made the probably-$390-phone call to Sonja. I told her what was going on, and that I felt like I wanted to finish but everyone I talked to was making me feel like I was being a bit stupid to finish, and that maybe I had a broken arm, or maybe I didn't, I wasn't really sure because my ability to translate Spanish medical jargon is nonexistent, but I wasn't in good shape. And I stood there in the rain, talking to her on the phone, covered in bandages while kick-ass ironman athletes jogged by me in a flood. That was rock bottom.
But we talked, and I don't even remember exactly what was said, but I figured out after the race that what I desperately needed was someone to make it okay for me to make the choice to continue. And Sonja did that, she said, Well then maybe today you are an ironman with a broken arm. And just like that, my tides, they turned.
The last thing I said to Sonja before I hung up was please don't tell anyone, please don't say anything, but I found out after the race that had gotten lost in the wires somehow. I didn't want anyone to worry, but I also didn't was to create a firestorm of drama while I was out walking my 21 miles. So I hung up the phone and the poet headed towards our hotel to drop off all of our electronics and I asked Allison if she would walk with me. And she did, I don't know what kind of friends you have but I have the kind that will walk with you in Mexico in the pouring rain when you are covered in bandages and dirt and blood. I had just signed her up for about eight more hours of standing around soaking wet while I walked a marathon and she said okay, well, let's go.
Miles 1-7: 10:04, 10:23, 14:43 (medic one), 13:30, 17:30 (medic two), 17:49, 20:21
We walked about a mile, at least, and then I wanted to try jogging. We were coming back into town, so we jogged a few steps, and it hurt, so then I started walking again. And then, I'm not exactly sure why, but I told Allison that I wanted to try and run without her. She left to go find Thom and I started to run. Don't think about it, just move. That was the only thought really in my head.
So I jogged. Through the flooded streets of Cozumel, down towards the turnaround. And I had some bad moments, when I went through the end of the first lap and heard you are an ironman! coming from the finish line, and thought to myself you probably have seven more hours before you hear that, those thoughts almost defeated me, I deflated. But as I jogged, people were talking to me, cheering for me. More than once I jogged past someone walking, and when they saw me jog by, said oh hell no, if you can run I'm coming too and started running again. There was a group of spectators under Punta Langosta that went absolutely wild when I went past the first time, and I felt sheepish, but after seeing them the second time, I let them lift me up, I smiled and waved with my other arm and floated on their good cheer as long as I could. And by the time I had jogged back out of town, soaked head to foot in all kinds of ironman reside, I was back on top of my day. I felt a tiny bit like the badass that people were yelling to me from all over the place.
I finally bumped into the poet again coming up to special needs, and I told him hey, look at me, I'm doing okay, take my picture now! My arm felt a billion times better being strapped to my body. By that point, my socks and shoes were soaked through so I grabbed my dry socks and all my other special needs crap and sat down on the curb to change socks. This turned out to be an incredibly bad decision because my wet socks had body glide in them and my dry socks didn't, and my wet shoes soaked my dry socks in about ten steps and then I spent the second half marathon jogging lightly on a million forming blisters that felt like shards of glass, but I didn't know that then. I chatted with the poet for a bit while I changed the socks and then headed out towards the turnaround. And when I crossed the mat, I thought that's it, that's halfway, you're going to be an ironman again today.
Miles 8-14: 12:08, 12:02, 12:36, 11:44, 10:09, 12:33, 17:32 (sock change)
It was dark, heading back into town, and the course was starting to quiet down as runners slowed and retreated into their own battles. I made a few friends as I moved forward, I had company here and there, but for the most part, those miles were blank and empty. I realized somewhere that I hadn't been doing a good job of nutrition, so I started working through my chews and grabbing water and gatorade at aid stations. But mostly I just listened to the sound of my feet on the wet streets of Cozumel and let my brain be quiet, I let it rest. I dug the advil out of my bag of special crap and took some, and that helped the pain in my arm retreat a bit. I was doing a bit of walking, mostly through aid stations once I started working my nutrition again, but mostly it was just a steady light jog, like the millions of "easy jogs" that are on my schedule all year. I crossed the timing mat in town and headed back out for my final lap. 18 miles into the marathon, the only thing to do is to start counting down towards the finish, so that's what I was doing. 10 miles to go, 9 miles to go, 8 miles to go.
I saw the poet and Allison again somewhere in here, they had gotten separated but finally linked up again. I told them to go change into dry clothes and not worry about me, I was fine, I was going to make it, and I would see them at the finish line. I saw them around mile 19 or 20, I guess, I stopped to chat for a moment, and the poet said to me, we've been doing some calculations and you have about two hours and twenty minutes to beat your Coeur d'Alene time. Any thoughts about the clock went out the window hours before, but I turned that thought over and over in my head as I jogged away. I did some math, I knew what my mile splits had been, and 12 minute/miles would do it, that was my thought, I need 12s.
Miles 15-21: 12:30, 13:23, 11:02, 12:17, 11:01, 12:49, 10:58
Coming up to the turnaround, I made another friend, he asked what happened and we started chatting. He was a big tall guy, he was really nice, and I asked him why he was walking, what was going on. And he said to me, I'm just so exhausted. That made me laugh, in a kind way, I have been there, if you had asked me at Coeur d'Alene what was wrong with me, why I was walking, I would have said the same. But I'm different now, I'm not that athlete anymore. As we walked, together, over the mat at the turnaround, I said that to myself. I'm different now. I don't have to walk. And as I crossed the mat, for the last time, I started to run.
Instead I ran, I ran towards the lights of town and my family that was waiting for me and the loud and quite drunk spectators that I couldn't wait to see for the last time at the shopping mall. At some point my IT band on the left side started hurting - turns out running a marathon with one arm strapped down fucks with your motility, who knew - and I bent over and yelled at it like a crazy person, NO YOU WILL NOT and it went away.
Just like the end of the bike, quite suddenly, the finish line was there, I was turning left into the chute and the lights were blinding and my friends were yelling and when I got to the finish line, I had no idea if anyone was watching, my mom or Sonja or anyone, but I leapt into the air (and they missed it and got this dork instead).
Miles 22-finish: 14:57 (tired friend), 11:37, 11:33, 10:52, 10:55, garmin gibberish 2:44 for final run time of 5:39:36
Ironman Cozumel: 13:12:11 (how'd I do that?)
I got my medal picture taken and then was hustled directly into medical. A very kind nurse unwrapped me and cleaned out all my road rash and gross blood, and an actual MD came over and, quite painfully, examined my arm. He told me that he was confident that it was not a complete fracture, it was either a partial fracture or a very bad bone bruise. I had another pretty serious bone bruise on my elbow underneath all of the carnage. He wrapped me back up, offered me pain pills (I declined, obviously wasn't thinking clearly), and told me with an upper arm bruise or break, there is no treatment except rest and maybe a few days of immobilization, but I could wait until I was back in the US to see how I was feeling and get treated. And obviously, if I was in great pain, to scoot off to the Cozumel ER.
I was bonking pretty good by the time I got out of medical, so a really nice volunteer helped me find a chair in the recovery area and scarf down some pizza. I eventually found Allison and the poet and we schlepped all my crap back to the hotel and finally sat down for some dinner.
We had a wonderful few days visiting in Mexico after the race, it was sunny and warm and perfect. However when I got back to the US and reentered reality, I was struggling with this race. Struggling with how I felt, I still am a bit. Yes, my day did not go as planned; yes, I almost quit but managed to make my way to the finish line. Those are the things that happen in ironman, those are guaranteed moments you will have on the day. But it still feels like a missed opportunity, like I failed a test. My arm was banged up, sure, but not my legs, so why couldn't I run? I was in pain during the marathon; has anyone ever run the ironman marathon that wasn't in pain of some sort? I thought of a coach I know that says, it's supposed to be hard, it's an ironman. Looking at the second half of the run - hell, looking at everything that happened after mile seven tells me that I had it in me. That everything that happened over the first six miles was me choosing to let the pedal up on the run. Again. Making that choice. I know that I can run a 5:30+ marathon off the bike, I've done it three times now. So I feel like I didn't do anything special or magical or out of the ordinary that day. I did something that I've done before, and the challenges of the day were different but I still didn't manage to overcome. But the flip side of disappointment is every race is an opportunity. To get the chance in life to see what kind of person you are, when you are in pain and struggling and a lot of voices, both internal and external, are allowing, even encouraging, the easy choice. I lost to those voices at Cozumel, for almost two hours I lost, and then somehow I found my way again, but I've done that before too.
Three times now I've stood on the line, filled with courage and hope and dreams for the day. And three times now, I've made it to the finish line, each time a little bit faster than the last, each time with some questions answered and many more left hanging in the air, until next time. There will be a next time, of that I am sure (actually at least two more next times based on saved emails that start out with Congratulations!), because I'm not done with ironman. I've competed three, true, but I have yet to race. To break through the barrier that is up inside my head, to really chase myself down on the run. But is this race a complete loss, am I disappointed to the point where I can find no value, no positive moments from the day? Honestly? No. Because this is my journey, it's mine, and no one else can travel it for me. And while I'd like to hope that I can someday accomplish the goal off the bike that I've missed out on so far, that doesn't mean my journey will be done. Accomplishing a goal doesn't mean it's time to retire, it means it's time to chase new goals. Right now, I haven't yet unlocked the day of ironman. But I'm okay with that, because that is why we race, why we are simply addicted to the start line, why we as athletes keep putting ourselves through months and months of training to spend an entire day hurting only for the sweet peace of the finish, and then when we arrive home, often dissatisfied, we sign up to do it all over again. All of these reasons are why we race, why I race, why I can't walk away from this distance that keeps chewing me up in its big grinding gears.
To find out.