Wednesday, September 1, 2010
My First Triathlon: Ironman Louisville 2010 - Race Day
With zero hesitation (or snoozing), I am up. A quick shower (to really make sure I'm up), and I immediately start eating my breakfast.
Some light stretching while breezing over my race plan.
And a special music playlist on the iPod to get the energy and race day juices flowing.
I meet my parents; brother (Albie); Sandy; Sandy's Dad (Jim); Sandy's good friend (Leann) & Team Manager Merla in the lobby. With smiles on our faces and our green morning gear bags in hand, we are ready to head over to the Start.
Sandy, Leann, my Dad & Albie take the car immediately to the Swim Start to get a good spot in line. Jim, my Mom and I head to Transition on foot, with icy-cold bottles filled with water and fuel; and a bike pump.
We arrive at transition promptly at 5:00 a.m. A handful of athletes had a mishap and due to the very humid conditions of the day before, they arrived to flat tires. I was relieved to not have pumped my tires at all since I sent my bike off a week ago. My psi was down to 80 so all I needed to do was pump them to 113. A check of the brakes and filled up my aero bottle with 50 oz. of water. I also took care of Sandy's tires and bottles as she held our places in the swim line.
I get body-marked and covered in sunscreen from head to toe, then join my teammates (from all IronTeam chapters) in the very front of the swim line.
Here's a photo of my wonderfully supportive Mom & I :)
As the morning progresses and the sun slowly starts to make its way out -- the temperature also rises, and the line starts to move forward.
I finish my bottle of electrolyte mix, and then follow-up with a Gu packet, chased down with water, by 6:40 a.m.
The annual Kentucky Bugle sounds and plays the National Anthem, as we all -- in red and white swim caps, salute the flag and prepare to start our day.
At 7:00 a.m. the gun fired and in 3s and 4s, the line began to rapidly advance and seconds later, I jumped into the Ohio. I had just officially began my Ironman Race.
I had apprehensions about the mass open water swim. We had simulated it in our training, but nothing really teaches you about the experience like the real thing. I'd remembered to swim defensively, and always guard my head. Because I was up front, the likelihood of the faster swimmers charging right for me (and swimming over me) was high and I needed to be prepared for anything.
The swim course is a point-to-point, which had all 2,500 of us swimming through a narrow channel, to try and get around Towhead Island.
I stayed to the right and immediately found my groove. The wonderful thing about my experience so far was that I wasn't nervous. I wasn't scared and I wasn't anxious. I'd swam in countless bodies of open water before and was already comfortable doing so without a wetsuit. It felt exactly like a training day. And the water was nice.
A few bumps and nudges here and there. But I knew right off the bat not to take any of it personally. We were all salmon (swimming upstream) trying to get to the same place. And exerting any kind of added energy to hit someone back was pointless to me. I was selfish about my energy reserves and knew I had a long day ahead of me. Last thing I wanted was to spike my heart rate trying to club someone who had inadvertently hit me during a mass swim.
Getting to the turnaround point at the end of the island seemed to take longer than I thought, but I stuck to it and eventually saw that giant red turn buoy and made my way toward the bridges.
The morning felt fresh and beautiful and it was about at the second bridge I'd swam under that I realized... wow, I'm really doing it. "How and at what point did my life take me to this experience of swimming in the Ohio River?"
My swim strokes remained fluid and strong, and I made every moment count.
It was around the third bridge that a man (red cap) elbowed me extremely hard in the left leg. I immediately knew it would create a bruise. The immediate impact surprised me, but rather than let it slow me down, I just kept on going. I thought to myself -- this is what Ironman is about. Something unexpected or even painful happens or gets in your way, you find a way out and just keep on going. I slightly changed my line if ever some other swimmers repeatedly got in my way or were swimming crooked. Whatever happened, I thought, I just needed to keep digging and power through the water effortlessly and keep my heart rate low.
From a distance I could see the Transition Area approaching. Holy crap! I thought. Could it be that close? I didn't let myself get too excited just yet; as we often know -- perception can often be a little funny when it comes to swimming. Yes, you're gradually moving toward landmarks, but objects often look closer than they appear :)
With continued forward momentum, I got closer and closer. My goal was to swim 2.4 miles in 1:45; however I allowed myself the whole 2 hours in case I was having a slower swim.
Without looking at my watch just yet, I emerged from the Ohio feeling strong and calm.
I worked up a shuffle to Transition 1 (Swim-to-Bike) and the crowd cheered along the sidelines. I watched my step since we were all sopping wet and there were a few uneven surfaces on the ground.
I was so proud of my swim and my mind was truly in the zone and remained focused.
I grabbed my blue bike gear bag marked '105' (my bib number) and went straight for the changing tent. I'd practiced my swim-to-bike transitions in weeks prior -- actually getting out of the shower in my swimsuit and toweling off quickly to immediately put on my dry cycling clothes. So by the time the real thing happened, I knew exactly what to do. The volunteer inside the changing tent was extremely helpful, putting all my wet clothes into the additional plastic bag I'd put inside the gear bag. I still kept my heart rate low, thought to myself, "slow is smooth, smooth is fast" and made sure I had everything. My GPS was on, heart rate strap linked up to the device; nutrition in pockets; helmet on; hair tied up into a bun. I thanked the volunteer and went straight over to my bike.
The transition chaos I had anticipated and had been intimidated by was non-existent. It was now time to go for a bike ride. Nothing felt very new or foreign to me.
So I made my way to the mount line of the bike course and made an immediate left turn onto River Road. I was now about to embark upon my first 112-mile bike ride.
I started up my Garmin GPS and was pleased to see I was ahead of my own race schedule with timing. I had conservatively planned to be out of the water at 9 a.m. and on the bike at 9:15 a.m. (allowing for a 15-minute transition).
Cruising out on the bike course, my clock read 8:46 a.m.!!
The more margin of time I had, the better -- that way if anything (like flat tires or any mishaps out on the course) occurred, I could allow for that.
A few hundred yards up the way, I started to hear a subtle sound coming from my front tire. It sounded like my tire was rubbing up against my brake. The last thing I wanted to do was stop so early on in the ride. But my gut instinct told me the smart thing to do would be to stop, inspect the issue, correct it, and be done with it. After all, I was ahead of schedule. And this problem could get magnified 100x given the fact that I'm riding over a hundred miles on it. So I pulled over.
I jiggled the wheel a little and spun it around. The sound was gone. Ok, quick fix! Back on the road! I stuck my left arm out to signal to other cyclists in the race that I was going to come in. Most were very courteous and pulled to the left to allow me to join them back on the course. Off I went, feeling confident and ready to roll and see this town of Louisville!
Near seconds later, the sound came back. It was so evident that something was rubbing up on the wheel and I couldn't for the life of me figure it out.
The interesting thing was... I thought of my countless bike rides. I thought of Coach Mike, who whenever I'd hear anything that sounded off on my bike, would always have me pull over so he could check it out. I'd watch him closely to see what he was doing to make the adjustment. It didn't matter what it took; if this was an issue that would only be exacerbated by riding a hundred miles on it, the smartest thing would be to get it fixed EARLY on. Otherwise, if it gets worse, it could end your day and you may not even make it to 112 miles.
So I ended up having to stop about 3-4 times (only for about 30 seconds to a minute each time), because this sound would go away and then come back. The good news was that I was now getting very familiar with how to signal my left hand and enter the course again each time :)
During one of these short stops, Sandy passed me. I was surprised to see I made it out of the swim a few minutes earlier, and she was now catching up to me on the bike ride. I felt awful asking her to stop and help me, but she gladly did and took a look at the brake-wheel situation. "I can see it," she said. "I can see where it's rubbing but I don't think there's anything you can do to fix it. It'll likely make that slight noise during your ride (which could get a little annoying), but it's not bad."
I'd been a little concerned, but rather than get worked up, I calmly got back onto the course and just put all my trust in the moment.
The really cool thing about our Ironman bibs (which were now placed on our backs (I had mine on a race belt), is that in addition to your number, you also have your first name on it. So cyclists on the course would actually pass by, saying "Go Maria!" Or "You're looking great, Maria -- keep it up!" I even had several "Go Teams!" shouted my way, as I proudly wore our IronTeam 'flames'.
I think it was somewhere between miles 5-7 that a man rode up next to me to overtake, and he said, "Great job, Maria. I know you from your blog."
What?! Really?! I said. He had recognized my name and jersey and said he had been reading about me this season. I was floored when I heard this and again so humbled and thankful of those of you who've followed my journey. I'm sorry I didn't catch your name (and ahem, your bib wasn't on your back ;) -- but I remembered you mentioned you're from Indiana, so if you see this -- thank you for being out there and I'd love to hear about your race!
A few minutes after my Indiana friend passed by, we entered the section of the bike course where the roads were open to traffic. One distinct car sped by and drove over something, which spouted liquid directly onto me.
It was like a squirt/splat sound I'll never forget! I was the only cyclist in sight so I knew I was the only one who got hit with it. "I sure hope that's water," I thought. My arms and part of my face were covered in it and my jersey now had drops of it stained into the fabric.
I licked my lips. VANILLA. Yep, the car definitely drove over a Gu bullet and splatted me with its contents!!
I HAD to laugh and again said to myself, "Well, that's Ironman!" Ride on through!
I had actually rode with the Vanilla Gu as my companion for 65 miles. It eventually dried and must not have been terribly sticky because I totally forgot it was there.
I rode the out-and-back portion of the course (which put me at about mile 15), which I was told was the most difficult section. I watched as cyclists with disc wheels and aero helmets zoomed past me, exerting all kinds of energy very early on in the day. I hope they know what they're doing, I thought to myself.
During the out-and-back, I saw my first accident. I must have been about 3-4 bikes away so I actually missed seeing exactly what happened. But this man had fallen off a steep section of the road that dipped down into a grassy field. I don't know if maybe he tried to overtake another rider and lost his bearings, or what -- but this road was very narrow, so that may have been the case.
There were some fun descents in this section of the course (which only means you'll have to climb up them later ;) -- what goes down.... but I managed to see several of my teammates: Paula, Jessica, Sandy & Jane.
The turnaround was coming up (which, during our drive of the bike course two days prior, prepared me to anticipate a VERY sharp left turn). Left turns are not my forte :) I've feared them all season, and when I've ever had the option, I'd get off my bike and walk the turn.
The 'back' to the out-and-back of my Ironman Bike Course had such a turn and I was going to face the dragon. There was but one orange cone and spectators surrounding it. Oh, and a water stop immediately after it so more crowds. Not to mention the timing mat was there too.
I clipped my right foot out to prepare for it. Rather than thinking too hard, I made the turn and counter-steered intuitively. I even recall telling the volunteers who were watching me, "I'm not the best with left-hand turns!" They laughed and must have taken the edge off (no pun intended) because I cleared the turn!!
Before I could celebrate though, I had to make my way through the water stop -- which I recall also had a huge truck in the middle of the [narrow road] so I couldn't veer totally to the left to avoid getting caught up by those who had literally stopped at the water stop.
I was about to do something else I had never done before: attempt to grab a water bottle while I was moving, and fill up my aero bottle with it; then toss it in the "last chance trash drop".
I took charge of my bike, let go of my right hand, and did what I what I could. Perhaps not as smooth as I could have made it -- but sure enough, I successfully grabbed the water bottle, turned it over and squeezed its contents into my aero bottle (which is right in front of me) and actually poured the rest of it on top of my helmet, to cool off my head.
I was afraid of tossing the bottle "just anywhere," because in Ironman races there is also a littering penalty. It's all about where you throw your garbage. Unless it's in one of the properly designated areas, it's not ok, and you could risk getting a yellow card.
So -- lots of things to think about out there! But sooner or later, I got the hang of it, as there were about 5-6 other water stops up ahead along the course.
From that stretch on, it was all rollers from there. Now, the concept of a "roller" I don't think I understood so much. Also, my "tame" perception of this bike course wasn't exactly in line with reality ;)
I spent most of my time in the small ring. There were plenty of climbs to go around; and although their level of steepness was manageable (I had felt very confident in my climbing abilities and strength for this course) -- there were few chances to really gain speed on the descents, as basically, as soon as you'd go downhill you're back to climbing right after.
The day grew warmer and warmer, but my mental state remained focused. I was happy and enjoying each moment.
Passing through La Grange was fantastic. The entire town came out to cheer and you could tell it brought all our spirits up as we rolled through. I also got to see my parents and brother with their brightly-colored t-shirts, balloons, and hand-made posters.
Somewhere in the midst of my first loop (of the lollipop-shaped course), I started to see people off their bikes. But rather than fixing a flat or mixing up their nutrition in bottles -- it looked somewhat off. A few were sitting on the side of the road, possibly awaiting the bike support vehicles to help them with a repair. But others were seeking shade and didn't look like they were waiting for anything, but rather -- looking pretty defeated.
It was difficult; because I had wanted to ask if they were alright. But in truth, if something was wrong, there was little I could do. I didn't bring a cell phone (none allowed on the course); yet there were also several support vehicles roving the course so each of these people would at one point or another, be seen and assisted. But it was a shame, and I felt for them.
Soon after, this epidemic of people on the side of the road grew. What was going on? I thought.
I continued to stay on top of my water and salt tablets, as well as my calorie intake.
I took one break, and that was at Special Needs, at mile 65. This was when I finally got the chance to wet-wipe off and de-Gu :) Also used the restroom and filled up my new 4-hour bottle of nutrition. Naturally, the mini Snickers bars I had packed were of a soup-consistency (as I suspected they would be); but I took a few Pringles and thanked the volunteer who held my bike as I munched on my real food. He told me that a handful of the volunteers on the course were part of the same church, who gave up their weekly Sunday service to serve the athletes during our race. It was so kind and generous. We'd had an average of 2-3 volunteers PER athlete that day, which was astounding. Southern Hospitality is truly something else.
So I bid my friend at Special Needs goodbye, and he also told me I could get more water at the next stop, just a mile or two ahead. I prepared to take on my second loop of the lollipop-course.
A few miles down the road and I started to hear a different sound coming from my front tire. Ssssssss. "Ok," I said. "Flat tire. But I know how to do this; I've practiced. So time to get off the bike and fix this thing." I stayed calm.
I pulled over and inspected the tire. Not flat. But then I tried to spin it. It wouldn't spin. I took a closer look and saw something that looked like rust near the brake. It looked like something had oozed out of the brake and hardened. It was gross and it made me concerned. As I looked even closer and wiped the sweat from my brow, I saw another piece of silvery aluminum. Part of my wheel? And just as I looked even closer... I pulled out... A GU WRAPPER!! Gu strikes again!!
This time, it was chocolate. The rust that I thought I had seen, had actually been chocolate Gu coming out of its wrapper and hardened. I pulled that sucker out of my wheel and spun my wheel around again. I was back to pristine condition! How long that wrapper had been lodged in there, I will never know. But if the extent of my bike 'equipment failure/issues' had to do with GU, I was and am more than happy to take it!!
I was so relieved and back on my merry way... but it was odd. I never saw that water stop the volunteer told me about. It wasn't until about mile 70 (when I started seeing fewer people out on the course with me), that a resident, mind you, not even an on-course volunteer -- was standing outside of his home, with his own personal coolers of water. I stopped and graciously thanked him for being out there with us. I had no idea what the temperature was, but it was HOT HOT HOT and there he was, giving of his own resources to us out on the course.
It was then that he told me that the water stops were starting to run out of water.
So it turns out, the reason I had 'missed' the one awhile back was because it had been shut down. I kept on through the rollers, but now started to see worse things out there.
During my second loop, I saw ambulances. Several of them. I saw people now laying in the grass under the direct sun, with their bikes tossed to the side.
I was told that ambulances needed to be brought in from two additional nearby counties to accommodate the athletes who were suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration. The air temperature during the day got up to about 95 degrees F, with a heat index of 110 degrees.
The word I had never heard used so many times to describe the day was carnage. It was deeply disturbing.
I checked my watch and was now a little behind on timing, due to what probably held me back a bit -- a few of the frequent stops to check my wheel and a little added time at Special Needs. According to my watch, I was falling about 30 minutes short, but still ok to make the second bike cutoff at 6:20 p.m. Miles 70-90 were probably my most difficult. They seemed to just take the longest out of all of them. I now started seeing people getting off their bikes to physically walk up the hills instead of ride them.
I felt confident that I could do them just fine -- I just reminded myself of all the Mount Diablo rides I had done during the season, and gently told myself to take my time, remain calm and keep the heart rate down. Never once did the thought cross my mind to give up or stop.
I also recollected faces. The faces of our Honorees. One in particular, one of my personal honorees, Greta. Greta had submitted a photo for the scrapbook that Megan made me (as mentioned in my last post). It was a very graphic photo. I had never seen Greta like that; she was in the hospital, receiving treatments for her lymphoma. The image of Greta struck me out on the hot bike course and I was filled with emotion. Sadness for the suffering; inspiration to keep fighting for a cure; and gratitude to be where I am and for the opportunity to live stronger for those who cannot.
Eventually, I was coming up on my final miles of the ride and anticipated a descent to the end of the course and into Transition 2. It let up a little, but I kept on working. I leapfrogged with a few male cyclists and we kept each other in check. I came in, finishing 112 miles strong and so very proud to have made the bike cutoff.
9:01:34 (moving time: 8:36:32; additional bike stats)
A little disoriented from the heat, I walked carefully in my cycling shoes over to the changing tent, with my red run gear bag. I told the volunteer it was my intention to take my time. If I had attempted to do a rapid-fast transition and started the run without finding my bearings, I knew I would have regretted it later for fear something bad might happen.
I changed to my run clothes and turned on my second GPS for the final leg of the Ironman. I put ice underneath my cap and drank two cups of water. Out of T2, I realized it was still well into the mid-90s and the humidity wasn't letting up.
Out onto the run course, I immediately started my usual 4:1 run/walk intervals. I stayed patient with myself, remembering to start off slow and let my muscles adjust to the bike-run transition. The good news was that all our brick workouts from the season came in super-handy, as my legs were adjusting great and almost seamlessly :)
I saw our Team Manager, Merla, along the bridge (the out-and-back portion of the run course) and smiled. I took the chicken broth offered at the first water stop, which gives the runners extra sodium. It's also very comforting :) Yes, even after over 10 consecutive hours of exercise!
After running the bridge, I came upon my Mom. She had a huge smile on her face and the look of pride and astonishment as to how far I had gone during the day. She told me my Dad was just up ahead. When I saw my Dad, I smiled and waved and he took a short video of me.
I headed into downtown Louisville and saw countless other runners. I was not alone. And it didn't feel like a marathon. Just a shuffle and long-sustained effort to keep moving forward.
Each time I passed through a water stop, I grabbed the sponges and wrung out all the water on top of my head. I kept one in the back of my tri top and one under my hat. The girls on my Team and I laugh about them now of course ~ back then, we didn't really get the concept of discarding used sponges on the ground, and having them be re-used, only to use them again and again, through a circulation of 2,000+ other people. It's a pretty gross thing; and yet each time we saw these water-drenched sponges from a distance, they appeared to us like manna from heaven and we were all but too thrilled to wring them out again and again on our faces!!
I saw Coach Simon at about Mile 5, and told him I was a little disheartened that my pace couldn't get up as high as I would have liked (and planned: 12:11 mins/mi). It was my Ironman Marathon pace and all I could muster up for the first 5 miles was something in the 13-14 mins/mi range. But I stayed as patient with myself as I could and kept moving forward. I also had finished one pack of Shot Bloks to cover one hour's worth of calories.
It was after about an hour and a half of run/walking that I realized that none of my run fuel had been digesting. It sat in my gut and jostled pretty badly in my stomach, making it really hard to run, let alone keep pace.
I asked myself, "what will it take?" I was running low on run time and started to get anxious about the 9:45 p.m. run cutoff (which was at Mile 14). Part of me became really sad because it was like the rest of my body could run. But I felt defeated, because all my mind wanted to do was stop. Something clicked in my head somewhere near miles 8-9 (which felt like an eternity to get to, because I saw everyone on the team up ahead and already about to start their second loop -- another lesson learned / reminder to stay in my own head and run my own race) -- I had worked WAY too hard all season and during the day to not at least put up a fight and do whatever I could to get to mile 14 by 9:45. I felt like I was moving at the speed of molasses -- and then I saw Josh; he was rounding his second loop and on his way to the finish. I started to get choked up and told him how glad I was to see him, because he too was struggling and could barely work up a shuffle. We leapfrogged and I was able to hold some kind of 12-13 mins/mi shuffle that got me to bounce less than a run, so it was easier on my stomach. Although I had done a few good intervals, it wasn't long before my heart started racing and I had trouble breathing. The on-the-spot creativity, last-minute flexibility and resourcefulness and willingness to get myself OUT of that mindset of feeling defeated was one of the best lessons that came to me during my Ironman, and that's something I'll always remember. That I wasn't willing to go down without a fight. No matter what.
I made it to mile 14 with 15 mins to spare before the cutoff, and my brother was behind me along the sidewalk pushing, encouraging and supporting me in a way I've never seen, and it was remarkable to see even our relationship evolve to a level of more love and confidence in me, which was another gift of the day. It's like he knew I was going to do whatever it took to keep moving forward, despite how shitty my stomach was feeling.
By about mile 15, it was really bad. Tums weren't working, mentally coaching myself that "this too shall pass" wasn't turning out to be true, and I just couldn't up my pace. In order to finish out the remaining 11 miles, I would have had to keep a 10 min/mile going. Something I knew I COULD do, and HAVE done, under different circumstances. I was told that by about 10:00 p.m. the air temperature was still at 93 degrees.
By this point, I had ditched my Shot Bloks, and decided to make this as easy on myself as possible. Scrapped my water belt because it felt like it was digging into my stomach, exacerbating the issue. I was prepared to ditch my nutrition plan, because I know that's common in Ironman marathons. Again, Plan A, B, C, and so on :)
Alas, it was getting even worse. I wanted to throw up every time I started to run again, and felt if I had -- I would have risked losing all the nutrients and fuel I had taken in. It was then that I recalled ALL the people I saw on the course -- both during the bike and run. The bodies laying around, many unconscious. Ambulances and sirens were the sights and sounds of the day and it all felt inhumane.
It was then that I realized something. My mind now wanted to move forward. But my body, for now nearly 4 hours, was in distress. It wasn't going away and I had 2 options for the next 2 hours: Push it, balls-to-the-wall and possibly make/miss the midnight cutoff by 1-2 minutes and run the risk of feeling utterly sick and depleted; or respect and listen to my body when it was trying to tell me something very important.
Part of the beauty of my personal Ironman Journey was that I felt I was not only patient in letting my physical/mental strength develop, but that I respected my body's needs through all the rigor I put it through for 10 months. And that was another gift -- having an injury-free season.
If I were to stop caring for it now and risk not only burning myself up AND out, refusing to listen to what my body was telling me, I could also risk not even making it another mile and passing out completely on the side of the road. I weighed my options and it just wasn't worth it. I chose the latter option and stayed true to myself.
Coach Simon met me again at Mile 15 and decided to walk with me, to make sure I took down more water. I had drank multiple 50 oz refills of H2O on the bike & 1-2 Thermolytes an hour, yet with some more conversations after the fact -- I believe we've concluded that somewhere along the way (perhaps between the bike and run), I had taken down too much water too fast, and it failed to distribute to my veins, digestive system and ultimately -- where it needed to go in order for my body to perform the way it normally does. Instead the water sat in my gut, leaving me dehydrated as a whole.
Simon said I could continue walking and that the finish line would stay open for another hour after midnight so I could at least take an unofficial finisher's photo. It's interesting to see how things turned out, given all my thoughts about DNF'ing. But in that moment, my plan was to walk it out and complete 140.6 miles, in honor of the challenge I gave myself and in support of TNT & our fundraising efforts. We'd try to make it there by 12:30 a.m.
We made it to mile 20 together. I was looking forward to crossing the timing mat (at about 11:40, so those tracking me online could see I made it that far). But alas, even though I had made the 9:45 cutoff, they took my chip then and there and said a vehicle would be by shortly to pick me up, and that the finish line would be taken down right after midnight, so no photos could be taken with it, etc. I explained I'd sign a waiver to release liability from Ironman, and the guy who actually gave me the paper to sign said, "This happens to a lot of people. I've attempted several Ironmans, myself, and haven't made it a few times." There were also 2 other men behind me, who would have the same fate.
When Simon and I asked the man behind me if he wanted to walk with us to the finish, he said, "What is the point of that? There won't be a finish line so why would I do that? I'm getting in the car." It was then that I realized that I was doing the right thing for me -- I wanted to complete the distance, with my head held high and with the integrity I've grown to develop as an endurance athlete. So we kept moving toward Fourth Street Live.
Mile 21 of the marathon: I began to feel dizzy and lightheaded, in addition to the nausea that crept in. I had been drinking cups of water regularly, sipping slowly, for the past 5 miles. One mini-pretzel from the last-standing water stop, and I could barely stomach it. Simon told me to try and nibble on a nutrition bar he gave me. I just kept taking deep breaths but felt delirious and it was at this point that my safety and health were potentially on the line and that is exactly what Ironman was trying to prevent with releasing liability to me. If I passed out right there, there would be zero medical assistance to help me.
If this decision is about honoring and respecting my body's needs, I thought, then I need to stay consistent with that. I need to stop and rest. Lie down. Stop moving. Be in bed and taking care of myself. An Ironman shuttle came by shortly to pick Simon and I up from the marathon course and drove me straight to the medical tent at the Convention Center to attempt to get an IV and flush liquids immediately back into my system. They had actually ran out of IV bags. The place was PACKED -- with finishers and non-finishers alike, all wrapped up in foil blankets, with their heads held down and depleted. It was recommended that I call an ambulance directly to take me to the hospital to receive my IV.
I never got the IV, but with the water I'd been slowly taking in and once I stopped moving (and the need to yak subsided), I started to feel better.
My race ended at Mile 135.6, with an overall time of 16:37:47.
It was truly bittersweet; and despite not being able to really speak to and encourage/cheer on my teammates as they rounded their last lap toward the finish line, I am so very proud of what the did that day. It was a tough-ass day, and they endured and achieved true greatness. I was also told that the DNF (did not finish) rate at Louisville this year was 16%, which is very, very high. Additionally, I was told that Ironman Louisville has been ranked by Triathlete Magazine as one of the top ten most difficult race courses because of the weather and bike course. Now how did I go the whole season without knowing that? ;)
So to take on an Ironman as my very first triathlon; to raise over $10K in funding for cancer research; to form new relationships with some truly wonderful and selfless individuals; to challenge and push myself far out of my comfort zone and expand it to a size I NEVER thought possible; to develop a unique kind of confidence that anything really IS possible; and to successfully complete 135.6 miles of a 140.6 mile tough Ironman Course and remain injury-free -- yes, I am incredibly proud of myself and so grateful for my personal Ironman Journey and story. It has been a blessing in so many ways and now shapes the woman that I am.
I think it'll always be a little tricky trying to explain this story to those who have never done an Ironman. But regardless of all that -- just as all Ironman participants and competitors, we each have our own unique experience and story. And medal, finisher's tee and official finish time aside, I do feel my own personal sense of victory & success. And an unforgettable story of the day I did an Ironman.