I made it to the Ironman website!
Well as most of you all know by now, I finished the race. Yes, I am an Ironman! It was 10X harder than I ever imagined it would be. Also 10X as rewarding. The race threw me a million curve balls and it took everything I thought I had to give and still demanded more!
How do I begin to capture one of the most amazing and difficult days of my life with mere words? This was a three year journey that started with a simple informational meeting at my local YMCA. It was at the Y where I first saw an Ironman shirt. It read 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run.
I thought to myself, “who would want to even attempt such a ridiculous feat?” Well fast forward three years later and yours truly was attempting such a ridiculous feat.
Just because I wanted to subject myself to this type of abuse, didn’t guarantee that I could get into the race. The really cool, good weather Ironman races are very popular and sellout every year. You have to either volunteer at the event the year before or get selected through an online process akin to trying to get tickets to a Michael Jackson concert.
I and my two good friends Willie and Sincy were all sitting at our pc’s at 11:59 am waiting for the website to open for online registration. As soon as the clock struck 12:00 pm we began trying to get one of the coveted spots to Ironman Arizona. To my surprise my application was accepted on the first submittal . My friend Sincy who was sitting right next to me could not get in and neither could my friend Willie who was only a few blocks away. I guess you could say Ironman Arizona was my destiny.
Every year I and my inner-circle of friends meet for a football game and goal setting workshop. This year everyone was conflicted and could not agree on a game. I suggested that they come to the Ironman in Arizona with me and they all agreed. The only thing better than attempting to do something this momentous is to attempt it with family and friends around to support you.
What makes an Ironman journey so difficult? It’s that the race challenges you on so many fronts. You are challenged physically, mentally, socially and financially.
To say that the Ironman is expensive is a grave understatement. Ironman is even more expensive when you don’t know what they heck you’re doing. I would estimate that I’ve spent close to $10,000 this year towards becoming an Ironman. I completely depleted all of my funds, maxed out my credit cards and spent every spare coin I earned pursuing this goal and it was worth every penny!
The challenge was that all the equipment that I owned started to deteriorate after 3 years of use and training. Add to the equation my lack of knowledge in regards to repairing/replacing my broken items and you have a recipe for disaster. Also my “I can figure it out on my own” mentality hurt me when trying to buy equipment such as aerobars, bikes and wetsuits on line and through craigslist (I always forgot one little detail that stopped the purchased equipment from working).
For example, I got what I thought was a great deal on a bike off eBay. However, I forgot to calculate the cost of a bike fit. Then the aerobars broke on the new bike. The wetsuit I bought off slowtwitch.com was way too small. I saved a lot of money, on equipment that I got no use out of at all.
For some reason, I never learned the valuable lesson of consulting others before purchase. Unless you’re an expert, it’s better to buy at your local bike shop. Not only can you get expert advice, but you can try things on to see if it fits. You can take the item back to the store if something should not perform as promised. Pay the extra money and support your local economy you’ll be better off in the long run.
Along this journey, I was blessed to receive donations, sponsors and loans from supporters, family and friends. For example a perfect stranger paid for the cost of shipping my bike to Arizona.
Had it not been for the love and support I received along the way, I don’t think I’d be here writing this race report. My training plan would have certainly been derailed while I waited to earn the money to get the things I needed repaired etc. I would say one of the best side benefits of this journey was finding out who my friends and supporters really were.
In addition to the equipment failures I was concerned about the cramping that I was starting to get the two weeks prior to IMAZ. Even though I was I was in the tapering phase of my training my legs were getting cramps with decreased training. I began eating lots of bananas and taking vitamins to make sure I wasn’t nutrient deficient and to stave off cramping.
Anyways, I gave a little background to say that I arrived in Arizona depleted of my funds after spending all my money on gear. I traveled with no money, counting coins to buy a payday candy bar between my connecting flight. I asked for double peanuts on my flight and tried to curb my hunger with coffee. I wondered how I would fuel my body for my toughest life challenge over the next three days with just $100? I thought I’d buy rice and split my meals in half. I could always rely on my college survival skills.
Had this been any other goal, I might have postponed it or tried for next year. But, I had come too far to quit now. I didn’t think I could put myself and my family through another year of this extreme training and sacrifice.
I checked in the hotel before my brother arrived and was excited to see the apples and bananas on display at the hotel. Even though my brother used his points to pay for my room, the clerk announced that he needed to hold a credit card for incidentals. He assured me that they would not place any charges on my card.
However, by the time I made it to my room I was met with a text notification that my account was in the negative! The hotel had placed a $200 charge on my account for incidentals. Now keep in mind this is a Springhill Suites hotel that did not offer movies, alcohol, meals or anything that would cost $200. All they had for sale was water, candy bars and potato chips. That would be a lot of freaking snacks to eat in 3 days. Feeling hungry and frustrated, I sad despondent on the hotel couch as I wondered how I would eat this weekend and fuel the biggest challenge of my life?
I decided to wait on my brother who to my surprise was arriving in just a few hours. I hoped he was hungry, so I could eat off his plate. I soon got a call from my lil bro whose first words were “I’m starving”. He picked up my meal without me even asking and the entire weekend went that way as I proceeded to bask in the love that all my family and friends poured on me as they paid for my meals, handed me money etc.
Everything happens for a reason and had I not been dead broke, I doubt if I could have experienced the love and support that received from everyone all weekend.
The next day was athlete check-in, which was very surreal. To see all the triathletes of all different walks of life coming together for a common cause was very exciting. There were lots of great exhibits with snacks galore, cool bikes, clothing and last minute necessities like swim goggles etc.
Chilling at the Ironman Villiage
Everyone was really nice
One of the highlights of the weekend was test riding the superbike
Checking in my bike Zoey
All the cool Ironman race stuff that they give you! I always wanted one of these!
This is definely going in my tool bag!
This takes me to Saturday which is for the most part a chance to relax and enjoy the venue. With one small to do item which is the 800 meter pre-race swim. To me this is when the actual race started. One thing about events like this is that you will get lots of advice from amateurs, experts, people who have never done an Ironman but think they have it figured out, etc
One of the first pieces of advice I got was to not do the pre-swim the day before. This well intentioned individual went onto say that he did the pre-swim last year and caught a virus. Seems like good sound advice coming from a seasoned veteran. However, the swim and its 3,000 person mass start was my major concern going into IMAZ. Therefore, I felt that I had to meet my fear and access the situation ahead of time and I am so glad I did!!
Simply put I was awestruck at the sheer number of swimmers and the choppiness of the water. I was getting kicked, bumped, swallowing water when turning to breathe etc. I completed my 800 meter test swim with a sense that I was grossly unprepared mentally to battle this lake the next day. I spent the rest of the evening recalibrating what it would take to swim 2.4 miles in Tempe Town Lake with 3,000 of my closest friends. Someone commented that they had never seen swells before in the lake! Another takeaway was that I needed to be prepared to alter my swim stroke to whatever was needed on race day.
Pre-swim with the one and only voice of Ironman Mike Reilly
Whether this adjustment would be holding my head a little higher than normal to avoid swallowing water, breathing to one side more than the other, sighting more etc. Just be ready to be flexible and do what works versus what is proper swim technique.
My plan was to get to bed early (8 or 9pm), wake up around 3:20am and eat my rice and drink a protein powder for breakfast. But also on my schedule was the annual inner-circle goal setting workshop. This is where I and my friends all gather and review our yearly goals and get feedback from the group on how to achive these goals. By the time I made it up to my room it was closer to 10pm and I was really tired. I laid down for a second instead of gathering all my things and being ready for the morning. Of course you know I fell asleep before getting any of my race items ready.
Inner-circle goal setting group
In retrospect, this one decision to lay down instead of packing and prepping for the race, set off a chain of events that made my day a lot more stressful than it needed to be.
I tossed and turned all night, never really settling in to a restful sleep. I woke up way early (1am) and just laid there with my thoughts trying to not wake my little brother Jerry.
I should have just gotten up and begin my warm-up and stretch routine as I would later learn I had no time for a proper warm-up once I arrived at the venue. Instead of getting up, I laid in bed until it was my scheduled time to wake. I got dressed and started on my breakfast of rice and protein powder.
I ended up adding a bowl of oatmeal with my rice because I was still a little hungry. I knew I couldn’t have anything really heavy like bacon and eggs, but I did “carb up” in prep for the huge energy demand on my body.
After breakfast is when time seemed to start really flying by. Upon further review, I should have just gotten up and headed to the venue.
I would have been there early yes, but I would have been able to take my time and avoid the super, super long lines at the port a potties. When I say super long lines, I’m talking 45 minute wait times long. I went from having plenty of time before the race to almost missing the swim start due to still being in line to use the potty.
There were two really nice women behind me and one made the remark that she thought she was going to “shit herself”. She actually found a tent and I was going to stand guard while she did her business. I even made the proclamation that I had the foresight of bringing toilet paper. I was hailed as a hero, until I sadly began to realize that I had put the toilet paper in my bike transition bag. They screamed at me “why the hell would you put it in the bike transition bag?” I had no good reason, except that it was a “race day stupid” thing to do.
We all agonized that our attempt to shortcut the port a potty line had failed. Now peeing in a wetsuit is common and acceptable, but doing a number 2 in your wetsuit is just a no no. So we were reduced to waiting in line in fear of missing the swim start. We were still in line when we heard the cannon go off for the pro men start. We all began to panic, but were only a few athletes away from potty relief.
My turn was next and I dashed into the next open port a potty. I did my business and then realized that there was no toilet paper! Are you freaking kidding me? I was stuck on the potty with the race start looming and no way to wipe myself. The thought of going all day with a nasty bottom was not something I was prepared to do. Then the idea came to me, I could just turn my pant leg inside out and wipe with that. Lesson #2 it’s better to arrive super early than right on time with everyone else. After the restroom drama it was only minutes to my swim start.
I had no time to do my warm-up/stretch routine and get myself settled in before the race start. There was a log jam at the beginning of the race from everyone trying to get in the water before the race start. I’m starting to panic a little as I now heard the second cannon go off signaling the start of the pro women. I was still not in the water. I really had no idea of the exact time as I was trying to save my Garmin watch battery for the actual race.
The 910 watch only has an estimated battery life of 17 hours. Now, I wasn’t planning on taking all 17 hours, but just in case I didn’t want to have my watch die out on me towards the end of my race. As the crowd got closer to the water, I powered up my Garmin watch.
I walked past the last bike rack, and my watch picked up someone’s power meter. My watch then asked if I wanted to synchronize with the power meter. I selected no, and the watch proceeded to go into what I could only describe as a watch exorcism. The watch started flashing, vibrating, giving me weird display messages and refusing to power off. I held the watch power button for about 1 minute to finally get the watch to reboot and not pick up the power meter.
I eventually was able to get in the water and orientate myself to the chilly lake temperature. I was hurried at this point as the race was about to start and I had no opportunity to warmup or stretch. Now keep in mind there is a 200 meter swim before the actual start line. The Ironman folks call it a warm-up swim. I called it an additional 200 meters of swimming because by the time I got in the water there was no time to rest after the 200 meters of “warmup” swimming.
The third canon sounded signaling that it was time for us “age groupers” to begin our race. It was time to swim. As I began to stroke, I caught a lady who was hyperventilating and in total panic mode. I swam over to her and she said “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.” I told her to “relax and calm down.” I then waved my hand frantically for the attention of a kayaker who came over to assist the panic stricken contestant.
They don’t call it the washing machine for nothing.
The kayaker gave me a gesture like why the heck are you helping her, the race has started? But I screamed, I couldn’t leave her panic stricken in the water. I couldn’t assume someone would see her and I couldn’t assume she’d calm down and be ok. Leaving her there would have haunted me all day. I would still be wondering what happened to her. Or worst God forbid I learn later that the race has a dark cloud over it as some lady drowned in the mass chaos of the swim start.
Once I knew she would be ok, I took off swimming post haste. Now the swim portion was sheer pandemonium with swimmers kicking, bumping and getting in each other’s way. Unlike yesterday, I was mentally ready for the chaos this time. I just created a bubble of peace and calm around me and swam in my bubble.
Due to the sheer number of people in the lake, it was almost impossible to swim any distance without hitting someone. After a while, swimming became a game of duck/dodge or start/stop. This game started to take a toll on my legs as I could feel the beginnings of a cramp coming on. I reminded myself to be careful of using my legs too much and that I still had a 112 mile bike and marathon yet to run.
As the swim continued, the congestion began to thin out some and I was able to find my groove. I had a moment of clarity that after all the worry and stress, I was actually enjoying myself. I pretended to be at one with the choppy water and mass of bodies all around me. The realization came over me that I really was loving the swim portion of my Ironman race.
Sure I was rotating to breathe more than I liked, but this adjustment allowed me to not take in anymore water. I just kept swimming and enjoying stroke after stroke. I was trying to remember what the color of the buoys meant, but my mind was drawing a big blank.
Before long my heavenly swim was interrupted with a sudden splash in front of me. It was one of the kayakers hitting the water with his paddle to get my attention. He was trying to tell me I was swimming the wrong way. I had missed the turnaround point by about 150 meters. Instead of being disappointed, I was excited, because that meant I was half way finished with the swim. I screamed out “hell yeah” and proceeded to turn around.
After the turnaround, I was just thrilled that I knew I was going to survive the big bad dragon known as the swim. It was pretty easy going coming back and I started getting a little competitive and picking up my pace. I was a bit peeved when I noticed one competitor swimming with closed fist and he wasn’t working on this balancing drills, he was clearing out whoever was in his way. What a Jerk! It’s just not worth being mean and hurtful to people. I wish I could have remembered his race number.
Anyways, I started swimming past people and before I knew it I could see the end. Me, the guy whose first piece of advice given to him three years ago was to “stop wearing shorts that turned into a parachute in the water.” I was reflective of all the coaching sessions, hours in the pool and lakes I had put in over the past three years. I became overwhelmed with emotion and was shedding tears of joy in the water while trying to swim. The swim portion of Ironman Arizona (IMAZ), had required every second of the training time, energy and effort that I had put in over the past three years.
Getting out of the water was a bit of a trick. You had to swim up to a set of bleachers then pull up in a seated position to lift yourself up. I felt very energetic, and was totally jacked with emotion and achievement. I had slayed the dragon! I was greeted by my support team with pictures, screams and hi-fives! I was in nirvana, such a great feeling being proud of myself. I pumped my fist in victory. Little did I realize that the worst part of the race was yet to come.
I’m elated to be out of the water.
I laid down so the wetsuit strippers could help me out of my wetsuit. I proceeded to take off my googles, swim cap and ran into the transition tent. I grabbed my bike needs bag and proceeded to the changing tent. The tent was pretty crowded and I waited for a spot to sit down.
I was slowly beginning to realize that the weather was a lot windier and cooler than I thought it would be. I took the time to dry off because I didn’t want to cause myself any health issues getting sick from the cooler temperature. I took my time to be comfortable in transition. I put cream on my feet/crotch and slipped on a dry shirt. I did all this because I knew it would be hard to stay warm on the bike with the way the wind was blowing.
Now 112 miles is a long time to be cold and miserable on a bike and I made several comfort decisions instead of trying to save precious seconds in the first transition. Comfort decisions like putting on gloves, lathering my feet and crotch with protective cream and putting on a dry shirt. I also put on leg and arm sleeves for added warmth and comfort.
I was hoping the weather would warm up and I could take the arm and leg warmers off later on the bike course as it was still early in the morning. The only speed choice I made in T1 was to not put on socks. I was quite comfortable during my training with no socks on and still stay relatively comfortable. I was surprised that my total T1 transition time was 11 minutes! Only 8 minutes off my goal time. LOL
I darted out of the T1 tent and located my bike Zoey. Zoey was somewhat towards the end of the isle and not too hard to find. I was glad to see Zoey and looked forward to settling in for a nice steady comfortable ride.
As I rode out on my bike I was met again with cheers from my support crew and the crowd which lifted my spirits even higher and gave me a boost of energy. I really love being on my bike and love the feeling of freedom I get when I ride. Before the race I had anticipated that the bike would be my best and most enjoyable event.
Happy to be on my bike Zoey.
I made sure I started hydrating myself with my NUN drink concoction and taking in my nutrition which was a packet of generation UCAN with protein. I also began to really administer my salt protocol. I began to take a “hit” of base performance salt every 5 miles or so. In my drink out of T1, and then every 5 miles on the bike and every mile on the run. This last minute idea that I got from one of the exhibit booths, ended up being a life saver as my body was ‘almost’ cramping a lot. So when I felt a cramp coming on, I would take an extra hit of salt and that would make it all better.
I enjoyed looking at the different bikes on the race course. So much bike beauty I could hardly contain myself. “Oh look at that Shiv” or “Ooh look at the new Speed Concept with the custom flame paint job”. Some like to people watch, but I could bike watch all day. The fact that I could get a first-hand glimpse of some of the most expensive bikes manufactured in action was a bonus for me.
My bike fascination also served as a distraction of all the miles I had ahead of me to ride. As the winds picked up, I slowly began to realize that this would not be the fun bike ride I had anticipated. As a matter of fact, the winds reminded me of my last training weekend in Florida where they cancelled the swim portion of Ironman Florida due to such high winds. In places where I hoped to go 18 plus mph I was going 8 or 9 mph.
This was also the point where I experienced my second Garmin watch fail which was the watch not giving me correct heart rate numbers. This was a huge problem as I trained all year using heart rate and cadence. Now I was reduced to cadence and feel, which I had not practiced at all.
I tried my best to concentrate on saving my legs for the marathon I still had to do after the 112 miles, but some portions of the course I knew I probably over exerted myself.
The bike portion of the race consisted of a three loop ascending hill and descending hill course, which would have been so much fun had it not been for the really high winds. I noticed quite a few people with flats as the winds blew onto the course what they call burs (pointy plant parts).
At the first bike aid station, I saw one of my best friends Ike who had signed up as a volunteer at the first bike aid station. I was thrilled to see him and he was excited to see me. Ike was full of contagious energy and I paused to take a picture with him and say hi to the other volunteers as Ike had been telling them all about me. I also stopped to use the port a potty and refuel as well. I gave Ike a big ole hug and off I went.
One of my life angels Ike
Going up the first hill was really a challenge as the wind blew fiercely and unforgivingly. I noticed plenty of people out of their aerobars and standing up to push themselves up the hill. Another fellow racer who was very familiar with the course remarked “I have lots of experience on this course, I know every landmark and corner, but have never ridden it with constant 20-25 mph winds”. Last year the winds were a calming 5mph!
I chose to save my legs and just grind it up the hill a lot slower staying in my aero position and trying to keep my RPE (rate of perceived exertion) down as low as possible. I also made sure to drink plenty of fluids and tried to go through my hydration between aid stations. This hydration strategy would be another tactical error that would add countless minutes to my bike ride in retrospect (more on this failed strategy later).
I also noticed the pros literally flying by on their rocket ships disguised as bicycles. They seem to be on a whole different planet that was not impacted by the high winds. Also along the bike path were beautiful cactus and mountain scenery.
After getting beat up mentally and physically going up the seemingly endless gradual climb on the bike, I finally reached the turnaround point. I was glad to see the aid station at the top of the hill. What song would you want to hear to motivate and inspire you after enduring howling winds for miles and miles up hill?
How about the theme from Rocky or something from Lil John like turn down for what. No, we were greeted with YMCA by the village people. I was so annoyed by this grossly inappropriate song that I wanted to hop off my bike and smash the stereo.
After stopping at the aid station to use the port a potty again, refuel and add more cream to my crotch I was headed back down the hill. It was at this point where I had my most enjoyable moment on the bike course. My Garmin wasn’t giving me the speed, but I was flying past everyone trying to keep my bike at 90rpm. I actually ran out of gears going downhill and my pedals begin to spinout to the point where I just had to coast. I was back in Nirvana again as I would later learn I was going almost 42 mph down the hill.
On the second loop, the wind seemed to pick up even more. I continue with my hydration and nutrition plan. One major problem arose when I ran out of my favorite mocha coffee GU gels. The race course had lots of GU gels, just not my flavor. I had to continue with my GU nutrition protocol, so I tried the strawberry/kiwi flavor.
I see why they say don’t try anything new on race day. Shortly after trying the new flavor, I started to get the “bubbleguts” really bad. As a matter of fact, I thought I was going to poop on myself. I spent the next 16 miles holding on for dear life and feeling like I was going to go any minute. I had thoughts of pulling over to the side of the road, but feared being seen and getting disqualified.
I was so glad to make it to the top of the hill and the port a potty. I couldn’t wait to sit down and relieve myself. I waited and waited for something to come out, but nothing happened. Absolutely nothing was willing to come out of my stomach. I couldn’t believe that after holding it for so long that nothing was happening. I feared getting back on my bike only to have the sensation come back minutes down the road. So, I sat there for almost 5 minutes waiting impatiently. But after awhile, I had to get up and get on with the rest of the race. I prayed the sensation would not revisit me soon after mounting my bike.
I was sad to not see my friend Ike on my third and final lap. As a matter of fact, there were decreasing amounts of cyclist on the course.
Another mistake I made during my race is that I drank too much liquid for a day that was not that hot and I wasn’t sweating that much. The lack of sweat caused me to have to pee way too many times. It seemed like every aid station my bladder was about to burst.
However, it never dawn on me during the race to stop drinking so much fluid. It just wasn’t hot enough and I wasn’t pushing hard enough to sweat out anything. The time spent stopping at every port a potty really added up.
I was vaguely aware of the time, but I purposely did not keep track of the time of day on my Garmin watch, because I did not want the added pressure of “clocking myself” during the race.
Once at the top of the hill on the third lap, I thought it would be a good idea to stretch out my hamstrings. This seemingly harmless action, caused my hamstring to spasm in the worst way. I cursed myself for trying such a silly thing. It took several minutes for my hamstring to unlock.
The final descent down the hill was glorious as I knew the toughest part of the bike course was behind me. This was the good news about my race day. The bad news was I still had a marathon to run.
I coasted into the bike transition area to the cheers of the crowds and the chants of “Simba, Simba, Simba”. I felt like a rock star at this point. I dismounted my bike and headed to put on my running gear. I was handed my bag and greeted by my good friend Sincy who had volunteered during the race too. Sincy told the workers all about me and it was nice for the volunteers to take such a personal interest in me.
A long 112 miles in the books
I was a bit delirious at this point having spent so much time on the bike. I remember remarking that I was shocked that the sun was starting to set and I didn’t realize that I’d be running in the dark.
I sat down and proceeded to take off my bike and arm sleeves. I then put on my Ironman visor, race belt, socks and running shoes. I grabbed my nutrition and realized I needed to pour my powder into a drink bottle before my run.
Prepping for the dreaded marathon
One of the volunteers had a water bottle and I asked him to get me one. He mistakenly thought I was asking for his drink and gave me his half drank water bottle in which he replied “yeah sure, I don’t have any diseases”. At this point I just shrugged it off and said “what the heck” and poured my generation UCAN in the water bottle and shook it as I started out for my marathon run.
Again, all my friends were there at the run start cheering me on and taking pictures. In my haste to begin my running, I neglected to take out my bike changing tools that were in my back shirt pocket. I started out running with bike tools clanking in my back pockets. This clanking sound became very annoying and the weight seemed to get heavier and the sound more annoying as the run went on. I just could not throw away my bike tools. I thought I’d find one of my friends and unload when I saw them (which I forgot to do).
The first tent I came across was the Endurance Nation tent where Coach Patrick was there and I told him my legs were cramping really bad. He screamed to “drink some coke”. I was a little leery of this as I had not trained at all with coke and didn’t want to start the sugar train so early in my run as I knew I would have to drink coke at every aid station from there on out.
My running plan was to stop at every aid station (about a mile apart), grab some nutrition, drink some hydration, walk for 30 seconds or so and begin running again. This seem to be an effective strategy that I have to thank Endurance Nation training for.
Shortly after passing Coach Patrick my left ankle locked in an L position and would not move. I had to spend quite some time walking gingerly and hoping my ankle would warm up and unlock so I could at least start running. I was determined to walk the entire 26.2 miles if my ankle was not going to cooperate.
My initial plan was to run 30 seconds slower than my goal pace of 11:15, which was no problem at all as I was running a lot slower than that. I was running about a 12:30 pace.
One of my tools to make sure I was running correctly was my Garmin footpod. No matter what pace, I was going to try to keep my running cadence around 85-90spm (steps per minute). The only problem was that my footpod was giving me a low battery warning about 1 mile into the marathon. Arrgh, yet another Garmin race day failure.
I had to disable all the notifications on my watch as the entire screen was covered with this low battery warning. This warning message is after replacing all batteries before my trip with brand new ones to make sure this wouldn’t happen.
The run portion of the race was a two loop course that seemed to wind and curve forever. The terrain altered from concrete, to gravel to sand with rolling mini hills which seemed a lot steeper by this time. Okay, maybe they weren’t hills, but they sure were some very long ramps.
I repeated the hydration mistake I made on the bike and this drinking of fluids made me have to go to the restroom at almost every aid station. The one time I decided to skip the restroom, I couldn’t hold it until the next stop and ended up peeing on myself. That’s right warm pee running down my left leg and into my shoe. This temporary warmth quickly turned to an annoying cold wet sensation that would never quite dry.
I was already quite chilly, but halfway through the first loop the sun set on the desert and it became even colder. Actually it was bone chilling cold with no jacket or long sleeve shirt to put on, I began shiver. I also realized what the run special needs bag was for. Not only could I have put more of my favorite nutrition in this bag, but I could have put a warm shirt with long sleeves, hat and possibly gloves. Yes it was that cold!
One of the highlights of my run on the first loop was seeing my entire crew on the bridge overpass of the first run loop. I was really feeling fatigued and tired and hearing their unexpected cheers was just the boost I needed.
Remember I told you it was cold? Well my crew were all in coats, hats, gloves, scarfs and they still were cold. I was just running in my sleeveless tank top, tri-shorts and sun sweat visor (which I never needed) as it was just too cold and I was moving too slow to break out in any sweat worth buffering.
The first loop seemed to go on forever and I secretly wondered how I would complete another loop in the cold and snail like pace that I was currently using? I was greeted by energetic cheers and ego boosting shouts like “keep it up, you’re looking great”.
I was also uplifted by a local bike shop giving out pieces of bacon. Now from my training, I knew I shouldn’t have anything heavy like bacon in my stomach. But I just had to, the bacon smelled heavenly and I was really hungry by this point. The bacon was delicious as I imagined. I experienced temporary images of a warm kitchen. I wasn’t sure of what the bacon would do to my stomach, but I was willing to pay the price.
I was out of my GU nutrition packs at this point in the race. I was feeling really run down and out of options. As luck would have it, they only had the GU gels that gave me the runs on the bike. The strawberry/Kiwi flavor, so I took in a coke a few miles later. Another portly gentleman handed me a snickers bar in which he commented “I’d thank him later”. I thanked him then, but put my favorite candy bar in my pocket and never ate it. I remember the number one rule, nothing new on race day.
Because of this being a two loop course, the volunteers didn’t know who was completing their first loop and who had an additional loop yet to go. As I got closer to the halfway point or mile 13.1, the course split in two directions. To the right for those finishing their final lap and to the left for us embattled racers who still had another lap to go.
I became increasingly annoyed with shouts of “you’re almost finished”, “only a few more miles to go” etc. I wanted to scream “I’m only on my first lap, I’m very tired, cold and don’t know how I’m going to finish”. But I just smiled and thanked them graciously. The volunteers really make the race a great experience.
For the most part the course was well lit. But there were a few underpasses where lighting was limited and I was very worried about spraining an ankle on a divot or worst.
As the night went on, the temperature continued to drop. On my second loop, I noticed a big burly man lying in a fetal position in the grass. A race volunteer was talking to him and I couldn’t help but go over and see if I could help?
The volunteer asked the man “what he was doing lying in the grass like that?” The man replied “it’s warm here, I need to stay warm”. I knew the man needed to get up and keep moving. Because by this point people started yelling pace times that you had to maintain before cutoff.
I started my conversation with the man lying in the grass by saying “sir you don’t know me and I don’t know you. But one thing I know about you is that you’ve sacrificed too much, trained too hard, missed a lot of sleep, family outings, spent too much money to go out defeated lying in the grass in a fetal position!” I then reached my hand out and shouted “now get your ass up and get moving!” His eyes opened wide and he reached his hand up and I summoned all my strength and pulled him up.
I told him, to just walk for a while and he replied “that’s all I’ve been doing.” I didn’t have a good rebuttal for his reply, so I said “well just keep walking, but don’t lay down again.” I told him “if he was going to go down, to go down fighting not lying in the grass!” I wonder if he made cutoff or was a race casualty?
Further down the loop I was told I had to just keep my current pace and I would be ok, I would make it. From that point on at every aid station I was reminded of the pace time I had to maintain to make the cutoff. These announcements of pace I had to maintain only added to my determination to finish. I thought “no way am I not finishing this Ironman!”
I tried to pick up my pace as best I could to allow myself a little cushion just in case. By this point my right knee started making a crunching sound every time my foot struck the pavement. I wondered if I would need some sort of surgery after the race? I just couldn’t allow myself to start walking as I would be in serious trouble of missing the cutoff. I continued on, in agony, pain and fearing the worst.
What I didn’t realize at the time is that some of the aid stations began to close up. By this point in the race my body had a “natural sense” of a mile. But when I thought a mile should be upon me, there was nothing. I thought I must be getting delirious?
You also start doing the “you pass me, I pass you dance” with the remaining competitors on the course. Most people were doing some sort of walk-run protocol to the finish line. We became common race warrior companions as we all struggled to make the cutoff.
While running during the second loop, I spotted one of my mocha flavored GU’s that I had ran out of long ago on the ground! I reached down to pick it up and almost broke myself in half. I had the sharpest pain ever shoot down my back as I struggled to pick up my favorite flavored GU. I remarked to a fellow runner “that was hardly worth the pain.”
The run cutoff times started to get shorter and shorter, but I was going as fast as I thought I could. I had one remaining hill and then about 2 miles remaining to complete my impossible dream.
I was sad not to see my support crew at the bridge the second loop, but I carried on. What I hadn’t realized was that they couldn’t be on the bridge and at the finish line too?
With about a mile to go, I heard two familiar voices. My little brother Jerry and my good friend Sincy had ran onto the course because they were concerned I was laying down somewhere defeated! They were excited to find me still moving forward. They offered words of encouragement and also began to run alongside me. At this point my run pace was about the same as a fast walk pace. As a matter of fact, I was annoyingly amused that some people were walking faster than I was running.
I did my best to pick up the pace and the race volunteers began to say things like “you’re going to do it” and “you got this Ironman!” I struggled to hold back the tears and overwhelming emotion building up inside of me.
I began the see the finishing chute and large crowd up ahead. My heart began to race and I felt the tears begin to flow. I knew I had about 10 minutes before cut off, so I began to savor the moment. Running down the finishing chute was the most incredible feeling I’ve ever had.
The crowd on both sides cheered wildly, reaching their hands out for a slap or high five. I veered back and forth between both sides of the people on the chute giving out high fives and shouts of ecstasy. I wish I could have high fived every person that stuck their hand out. The last person to stick his hand up was the one and only Mike Reilly who had announced “Simba Durio, You are an Ironman!”
I was overwhelmed with emotions, my eyes teary and I just couldn’t believe that I was an Ironman. I was greeted by the Woman’s champion Meredith Kessler who put the official finisher’s medal around my neck. My good friend Sincy embraced me with a hug and a finisher’s shaw to help warm me up. I walked over to all my friends and gave them all a high five and a hug.
From the finish line I was ushered to the photo booth and then the finisher’s tent. Once inside the finisher’s tent, I could opt for some chocolate milk and pizza. I opted for neither as I was really cold and exhausted.
After such a draining experience, you still have logistical things to do. I had to retrieve my bike, and all my equipment. Luckily my support crew was there to assist me as I could barely walk. At this late hour everything is closed, even my bike transport station was closed.
Once back to the hotel, I took a long hot bath. My little brother ordered a pizza and I fell asleep in bed with half an eaten slice of piece of pizza in my hand knowing that I was indeed an Ironman.
Many have asked me what was the hardest part of my Ironman journey? Was it the long hours of training? The lack of sleep from doing most of my training after working third shift? What about the fear of being eaten by an alligator in one of Florida’s lakes? The thought did enter my mind a time or two.
But no, the absolutely hardest thing for me during this journey has been asking for help. I’d rather run a 100 miles than to ask someone for help. To admit I didn’t have this whole thing figured out. To open myself up to criticism, to admit I made some costly mistakes in my zealousness to complete this task. To say “I need you” or “could you help me with?” These were questions that equaled my kryptonite, my mountain to climb, this growth in my character has been an unexpected bonus of the journey.
It’s been said that everyone will eventually get their 15 minutes of fame. I felt like I had an entire week of fame. With all the ups and downs, strategy failures, cramping, financial shortcomings this was the best experience I’ve had in quite a long time. I’m still wrapping my mind around the fact that I trained for a year hard core and still barely made the time cutoff!
After it’s all said and done, I enjoyed every minute of my journey and I wouldn’t change a thing.I’ve been overwhelmed with all of the well wishes before the race, and all the congratulations after the race. I thank you all and each one of your messages touched me in a unique way and help me get through when my day was the darkest.
My finishers medal up close and personal.